Friday, March 25, 2016

One Story, Two Revelations, Four Voices: Reading Biblical Narrative Christocentrically (Brad Jersak)


Read the essay by Brad Jersak at Clarion Journal here.

A profound, thoughtful, and challenging essay regarding the multi-vocality of the Jewish and Christian scriptures.  Any Christian tradition - Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical - can benefit from the scholarship and arguments put forth here.

My interpretation of the argument put forth in the essay is that multi-vocality is inherent within scripture, and thus argues that the allegorical interpretations (edifying as they may be), the absurd harmonizations that render theological language equivocal, and the gatekeeper terminologies of "infallibility" and "inerrancy" are unnecessary at best, harmful at worst.

This multi-vocality isn't a bug, it's a feature.  This multi-vocality should be permitted to be what it is.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Random Thoughts - 3/22/16


Haven't posted anything in awhile. Why not a few random thoughts?
  1. There is a scene in Jurassic Park (the original) where the raptors are systematically testing out their electrified containment fences for weaknesses.  They probe and test every inch of it, ramming their bodies into it, trying to escape.  This is my 2.5 year old daughter right now.  A velociraptor testing the boundaries.  Of every.  Single.  Thing.  But she’s my velociraptor and I love her desperately.
  2. What better time to argue about Atonement Theory than Holy Week?  It’s SO important.  In the end, atonement theory is simply the question of “Who is this living God of whom we speak?”
  3. In getting older, time seems to slip away.  Work.  Responsibility.  How rare is a true, deep, intimate friendship as an adult!  How I long for one.  Just one would be enough.
  4. This March Madness Bracket has to be my worst one ever.
  5. To my wife: I’ve come to realize that in my own spiritual wanderings – this painful deconstruction and isolation – I have not wandered alone.  No Man Is An Island.  I wanted it to be a noble, lonely, heroic journey – whether selflessly, or selfishly.  I do not mean this in a Footprints in the Sand way (my how I hate that poem).  Not in a “with you in spirit” way.  I mean this in a tangible human way.  I have brought you with me (not metaphorically) – whether we recognized it or not, whether you wanted to or not.    It is the price you pay for loving me.  I’m afraid that I’ve brought you down into the mud of cynicism.  I am sorry.  I have said it many times.  Forgive me.
  6. I’m really looking forward to baseball season.  Next year is here, Cubs fans.
  7. I wish that Truffula trees were real.
  8. “Children’s Bibles” suck.  They really do.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Childhood, an image of the Divine


First, click on this link to go to the website of A New Liturgy.  Press the play button at the top of the screen and listen to Chesterton's words being spoken aloud.  It's barely a minute long.  Listen first, read later.

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“The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grownup person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

**********

Imagine the child in this scene.  Perhaps you can't, never having seen or experienced it, or having forgotten it.  Perhaps you have better things to do.  Perhaps your own kids demand your attention.

Nevertheless, close your eyes and try for a moment.  Perhaps you've seen it somewhere.  A movie.  The park.

"Again!  Again!"  Laughter.

Rightly do we treasure childhood.  It's a crime to violate it, because it's a picture of humanity.  And what Mind conceived of and created it?  What Heart decreed that all of us, each and every one, should enter the world in this way?

**********

36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9:36-37 (NRSV)

**********

But when we receive the child in the name of Christ, the very childhood that we receive to our arms is humanity.  We love its humanity in its childhood, for childhood is the deepest heart of humanity - its divine heart; and so in the name of the child we receive all humanity.

God is represented in Jesus, for that God is like Jesus: Jesus is represented in the child, for that Jesus is like the child.  Therefore God is represented in the child, for that he is like the child.  God is child-like.  In the true vision of this fact lies the receiving of God in the child.



Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Wrath Of God & The Bible, 3 Options? (Michael Hardin)


The following excerpt is taken from What the Facebook? by Michael Hardin, a compilation of roughly a year of Facebook posts.

The content of this post cuts right to the heart of many of the issues that I've been wrestling with over the last few years as it relates to the Bible, wrath, and the very nature of God and the Gospel.

What IS the Bible?
How far do we take "God is love" as an interpretive axiom?
In the end, is the ONLY way to be done with the "angry alcoholic in the sky" to extract the Bible from the umbrella of verbal plenary inspiration and infallibility?  Is this, then, to confirm that a "plain reading" DOES reveal a God who's wrath is ultimately just as axiomatic as love, as I often suspect?
And on, and on.

What I Believe (4) Aug 19 

Yesterday one of my FB friends from Melbourne asked me a question. She said, “The biggest problem I have is the one everyone has OT God can be the least loving thing imaginable, and yet the most loving at times also. NT God (as shown in Jesus) is nothing but loving. Jesus lost his temper pretty badly (only once that is recorded, granted), but frequently showed signs of frustration and what I'd call mild anger at the disciples and some of the crowd. I often wonder if there isn't a bit of 'selective editing' going on in the NT stuff to play down the anger side of Jesus (and hence, of God) or if the 'angry God' of the OT still exists but we chose to ignore him?”

The concept of the wrath of God is so deeply embedded in us that to understand what the Bible is doing with the concept can be difficult. Basically there are three positions one can take.

1. The texts that speak of God’s wrath or anger are literally true. God gets angry at sin, unrighteousness, idolatry, injustice and any number of other things. Heck, God gets angry if the ark of the covenant tips over and you try to help out! In this view, wrath is an attribute of God. This understands wrath as an affectus of God.

2. Texts that speak of the wrath of God are to be interpreted in the light of an emerging dissociation of the affective view (#1) and see wrath as an effect: God allows us to go our own way and suffer the consequences of our actions. This view uses Romans 1:18- 32 which begins by saying ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven’ and three times uses the verb ‘to give over’ with regard to the consequences of sin. Wrath in this view is not so much anger as it is resignation.

3. Both views #1 and #2 are grounded in a view of the Bible’s infallibility. However, if one is willing to come to the Bible critically, one can understand texts about God’s wrath as projections. That is, these texts are not really about God but instead reflect Israel’s and the church’s inability to break free from pagan notions of God’s wrath.

At one time or another, I have held all three views. I began at #1, moved to #2 in seminary and then have since moved to #3. My Melbourne friend is right to notice that there are two seeming contradictory trajectories in the Jewish Scriptures, sometimes God is like an angry alcoholic in the sky, at other times God is like a gentle grandmother. When these views are put together they create what I call a Janus- faced (or two- faced view of God), and this way of conceiving God has been the heritage of Christianity even going back into certain New Testament churches and documents.

When the early church sought to understand the character of God in the light of the revelation of Jesus what they produced was the doctrine of the Trinity. It took several hundred years for this to fully emerge and even then, there were splits, some deeper than others. There still remains a split today between the Eastern and Western churches on the Holy Spirit. It has never been completely settled. Today we stand at the cusp of a new Reformation, a time when Christians the world over are rethinking the doctrine of God. Who is this God we worship? How shall we understand God’s character? Is God like Jesus? What is the relation of Jesus to God? What is the relation of the various traditions about God in the Jewish Scriptures to the One Jesus called Abba? If I John says “God is Love” how does this statement play out in our thinking as an interpretive axiom? What is the role of the Passion and death of Jesus in the light of God’s love? These and many more questions can be raised.

The Big Hurdle is in the way we understand the issue of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. It is what sets apart view #3 from views #1 and #2. Those who are willing to rethink the Bible (and I don’t mean those who throw the Bible out, whom I call “fundamentalist” progressives), but to do the hard work of rethinking theology within the context of the larger historic Christian tradition, are the ones to whom we can turn fruitfully and find answers to these difficult questions. The fact is that just as the “fundamentalist” position is outdated, psychologically crippling, moldy and no longer intellectually viable, so also those who would throw out the theological baby with the ecclesial bathwater are just as ill informed and ungrateful for the real valuable positive gains that have also been made in Christian life and thought for the past 2000 years. We seek a third way, a genuine intelligent, spiritual, faith oriented, Jesus centered way. I believe this way is manifesting itself all over biblical scholarship and theology these days. I see it in hungry congregations and pastors willing to risk their ministries for the sake of the gospel. I am glad to be part of those who are helping move us into this wonderful new theological space that I believe is being created by the Spirit of Jesus.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Nihilism Of The “Age Of Accountability”


I've written previously on the so-called "Age of Accountability" here. It's been a big deal to me over the past few years. 

I left the following series of thoughts over in the comment section of one of Fr Kimel's posts at Eclectic Orthodoxy.  Thought I'd reproduce them here.

I'm of the opinion that the mere presence of the question of an "Age of Accountability", an impossible question that arises inevitably from infernalist (or annihilationist) formulations of Christian eschatology, finally either deconstructs that eschatology or forces us to choose existential nihilism - to irrevocably move on from the concept of God's universal salvific will and love as a divine attribute.

I feel the strain of this tension.  I teeter on the edge of an abyss.

I don't wish to say a whole lot on the Calvinist (double) predestination scheme in regards to the age of accountability.  A brief story:

A few months ago I started writing a satirical piece framed as an interview with a "guardian" angel divinely chosen to "guard" a child divinely "elected to perdition for the glory of God" & chosen for lifelong illness and a painful death at the age of 3.  As the story goes, this angel (always present before the Lord per Matthew 18:10) was also present both at the moment of the child's conception and at the moment that the child entered the world and fell into the loving arms of her parents. "A thousand kisses wasted" - words of reflection that I placed in the mouth of this guardian angel in observation of that scene.  That line haunted me and I ultimately lost the ability to continue writing.  Theological language becomes equivocal in this universe.

Sticking with the free will model of perdition (and it's pillars of both universal divine love and irrevocable eternal torment), I've observed that many of the most ardent infernalists believe in (and actually have a soft spot for) an age of accountability whereby babies and other young children who die young enough are sort of automatically given eternal life (though I'm assured that the appearances of it being "automatic" or a "loophole" are false).

But whether one believes in it or not, I'd argue that the very question of an "age of accountability" is a necessity and an inevitability arising inexorably from an underlying hermeneutic of perdition.

And the implications of an "age of accountability" are so clear, so problematic (I think) and so inextricably tied to the assumptions that generate it in the first place that I think there is no choice but to examine the assumptions themselves - either divine love and pascha and/or irrevocable torment.  It's starkness creates theological problems with enough clarity that they can't be so easily dismissed as "philosophical speculations" or the "faulty reasoning of men".  You're damned if you do and damned if you don't (pun intended).

Without this "age", hell is thoroughly populated with babies but "a span long" (Calvin).  No doctrine of love as divine attribute can tolerate this, not without rendering "love" as virtually meaningless.

Could the heart that sustains such a created order really be one that wills the salvation of all?

So suppose there IS an age of accountability.  What are the implications?  This could be it's own book.

William Lane Craig has stated in regards to OT genocide, for example:

“If we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.”

You die young, you go to heaven. Period.  I wonder why there haven't been more "crusaders" like Andrea Yates, determined to save children from the flames.  Thank God there haven't been.

Again, please understand how much I dislike talking about this.

I don't have the nerve to say much because the implications are so dark.  But essentially, from the moment of birth, each subsequent moment of existence is characterized by infinite eschatological risk with no additional reward.

Die as a child?  Eternal bliss.  Live long?  Eh.  50/50 at best. Probably far lower.  Lower mortality rates, better health care, etc, actually have a negative correlation to "going to heaven".

Few things could make life more meaningless.

Furthermore, an earthly "free-will" choice (it's lack of development being the whole reason for this so-called age of accountability in the first place) apparently ceases to be a metaphysically inviolable obstacle for God in redeeming people if they're young enough.

Perhaps one can keep this at arms length or reason through this on paper or in a classroom. But start looking at actual babies or children (whom the Lord calls us to become like) or the mentally disabled (and incidentally I have a 2.5 year old daughter and a brother with Down syndrome), and one realizes that this isn't an abstract theological problem to be solved.

Rather than go through the hermeneutical gymnastics to justify an age of accountability, look instead at the system that necessitates such insanity in the first place.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Diary Of An Old Soul, March 3 (George MacDonald)


And in the perfect time, O perfect God,
When we are in our home, our natal home,
When joy shall carry every sacred load,
And from its life and peace no heart shall roam,
What if thou make us able to make like thee-
To light with moons, to cloth with greenery,
To hang gold sunsets o'er a rose and purple sea!
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