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Scripture and the supernatural

It makes sense to continue the conversation with Danutz about the scripture and the supernatural in a separate thread.

Why would anyone write a gospel of Jesus and not have it line up with the prophecy that everyone was familiar with?

1. There are explicit and implicit allusions to the Old Testament in many of the ‘miracle’ stories in the Gospels. The traditional conservative view has been to regard these as ‘accidental’ fulfilments of prophecy - ie., God made it happen and people saw the connection only after the event. Liberal theology has tended to attribute the correspondence to the (non-malicious) creativity of the Gospel writers: Elisha miraculously fed a hundred men with twenty loaves of barley brought by a man from Baal-shalishah, and there was some left over (2 Kings 4:42-44); so let’s have Jesus do something similar, only more spectacular, to prove that he is a greater prophet than Elisha - and hey presto, you have a fulfilment of prophecy!

It seems to me that there is something in that, but I would rather give Jesus the credit for acting by faith in the light of his understanding of the Old Testament. I think we have underestimated the conscious theological creativity of Jesus himself in bringing together both reflection on the Old Testament and the power of faith. We don’t have to assume from the correspondence between the Gospel stories and Old Testament texts that the miraculous element is secondary or subsequent to any actual event. I would regard these events as acts of the prophetic imagination, not acts of the literary imagination.

2. Conservative interpretation has not helped itself by often missing the point of the miracle stories, treating them as evidence for divinity or innate supernatural power - rather like the stories of the Greek gods. I think the virgin birth story (funny how that comes up at this time of year) and Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 are a good example.

3. I have read Marcus Borg’s dialogue with N.T. Wright (The Meaning of Jesus) and have reviewed on this site The Heart of Christianity.

4. How would the disciples have reached the highly controversial conclusion on the basis of prophecy that it was fitting to claim that God had raised Jesus from the dead? There are precious few references to resurrection in the Old Testament as it is and then it is always, as far as I am aware, the resurrection of a group, not of an individual. The ‘third day’ allusion is significant - Paul sees it as a matter of agreement with the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4). The scriptural source is Hosea 6:2, which uses resurrection metaphorically for the restoration of Israel: ‘After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.’ Obviously the metaphorical sense still works perfectly well in the New Testament; and there was the hope available to them that Israel’s righteous, including Jesus, would be raised on a day or judgment and vindication (cf. Dan. 12:1-3). So why take the extremely hazardous and unprecedented step of inventing a literal, individual resurrection of Jesus on the third day after he was crucified?

5. I agree, Danutz, that we all need to demonstrate much greater humility, openness and willingness to learn. I agree that there is a need for depolarization. But I distrust the (polarizing) argument that we will ‘embrace the story for its beauty and truth not for its historical accuracy or scientific proof’. On the one hand, I think a powerful retelling of the historical narrative is emerging that cannot be so easily dismissed. On the other, I believe that we can grasp the transforming power of the Spirit of God without getting ensnared in the ‘bible-thumping, fundamentalist, conservative, republican’ mindset that you escaped from. We are all limited in the scope of our understanding of these issues by our intellectual context, our history, our experiences, our fears, our hurts.

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Re: Scripture and the supernatural

First let me say that if I make assumptions about your beliefs here I’m really stating facts about the beliefs that I personally held when my theology more closely aligned with yours.  So pardon me if I inadvertently misspeak about your views. 

1) I think that you feel if the miracle stories are not historically factual that would mean you have to also renounce God’s ability to work any miracle.   That is not so.  Viewing scripture as not historically accurate doesn’t mean that God is not accurate or that God is incapable of doing those things.  The traditional view comes from the decades of being told that scripture and God are inseparable or that scripture is “God’s words”.  I struggled with letting go of that concept for a long time.  Any theology that is built on the necessity of biblical inerrancy or absolute truth of a particular text is a house of cards waiting for a collapse.  It requires too many little theological nuances to make it all fit together and hold up.  It also invites the fighting among Christians about minor differences.   This is why I have searched for a “better” understanding that would be void of little holes or need of elaborate explanations for discrepancies.  This newer understanding has been taught for many decades (maybe centuries) but it took someone like Marcus Borg to distill it for people less trained in theology like me.  I don’t automatically fall in line with everything he says, but after struggling through his work I tend to agree with the majority of it.

I think you also assume that I mean the gospel writers to have taken intentional creative license with the story.   I don’t believe that.  I think the resulting texts were a natural process that happens any time there is a long lapse (literally decades) between the events and the documentation. I imagine that you also assume I believe this lessens the quality of the documents, but I don’t.  The origin or authorship is irrelevant to the value or level of truth, but it is very relevant to gaining the proper interpretation.  Names of apostles were used as a normal means to apply weight to documents.  Other documents have been found also labeled with names of apostles that were not included in our sacred texts or considered authentic.   Again, I don’t see authenticity as adding or subtracting from the truth.  2 + 2 = 4 and it doesn’t matter if I say it or a mathematician says it or if it was a truth revealed in a metaphorical story.  “Turning the other cheek” is the correct way to live if you want to see evil completely overturned (as opposed to temporarily defeated which is what happens when you strike back in violence) and it doesn’t matter if those words were revealed by someone divine or an elaborate creative work of art (I’m NOT suggesting the latter).

It is interesting that the miracles were there to help differentiate the Christian traditions from others (Roman, Greek, etc) but it is those very stories that now seem to liken our tradition to those other mythological traditions.  

2) I agree that conservative interpretation causes problems. It forces every word to be divine or no word is of worth.  That view is too limiting for me and is really holding back the maturity of Christianity in a post modern world that understands and embraces poetry and prose.  In the modern world, metaphor was frowned upon as having value so detailed fundamental interpretations were outlined causing the value of the story to be missed.   

3) Obviously we are rehashing that same debate of Wright and Borg and I’m sure we won’t be the last.  Maybe we could somehow convince Mr. Borg to respond to your post.  He would do better than me. I’m actually planning to hear him speak next month.  

4) How could the stories of a resurrection have NOT developed.   Any group of people that believed in resurrection as a realistic possibility would naturally believe in the resurrection of their leader.  It is natural based on their understanding of life and death at the time.  Even followers of Elvis irrationally thought he was somehow still alive given their despair and given rumors that swirled around. Having faith in historical accuracy of these stories does not equate to having faith in God.  Believing that Jesus existed or was somehow divine doesn’t equate to having faith that the vision of Jesus (the kingdom) is the best vision for our future.   I’m not refuting the resurrection so much as I am the importance of its historical events.  I’m sure as with all legends there is an underlying historically true event that started and fed the story.  

5) I hope you have the foresight to realize that retelling the same stories likely yields the same results.  I think the emerging church needs to use different metaphors/stories to tell the same underlying story. This is more than just using different language.  It is a more radical and deeper change but one that I think will be necessary.  This requires seeing the bible not as a book that contains our only stories about God but instead we should see it as an example of how to tell stories about God.

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

Danutz, I’ve been enjoying your contributions to this site’s conversation for the past few weeks, and so I thought I’d chip in with a couple (hopefully short) thoughts of my own.  I’ll follow your same points.

1.  I think you’re absolutely right that denying the historicity of a given miracle account is different from denying the possibility of miracles.  I think it is important for the emergent church not to be swayed by the modernist’s a priori dismissal of the miraculous, but it is also important for the emergent church not to be gullible.  I have personally come to rethink certain Old Testament stories in light of possible mythological inflation and have come to enjoy Walter Brueggemann’s take on the question of historicity (he focuses on the utterance of Israel—its testimony, and its language; he thereby gives primacy to questions of speech and argument—which makes the ‘did it really happen?’ question somewhat secondary, and less important).  I think many on this site however, will argue that the nature of the Old Testament and New Testament texts are significantly different, and that this has bearing on the historical question.  Additionally, the meaning of certain New Testament miracles is arguably tied to their historicity—deny the latter, and the former disappears (I think Andrew is thinking along these lines concerning the resurrection of Jesus).

2.  I think you’re basically right here.

3.  Let us know how the Borg talk goes, will you?

4.  I think what Andrew (and NT Wright, and myself, and others…) would say is that the resurrection is precisely what the disciples were not expecting.  Their hopes were dashed at the crucifixion, and it is only in retrospect that they understood Jesus’ previous claims about dying and being raised again.  So then we can have a conversation about why the Jews would or wouldn’t be expecting their dead Messiah to come back to life, but I’m not sure how fruitful that would be (since this seems to simply be a point of disagreement).  The argument is simply that mythological inflation tends not to be particularly innovative, and that the resurrection accounts we have of Jesus go against what we would expect to find had such inflation occurred. 

5.  Once again, I think you’re right on.

Well, that’s all for now.  Cheers!

-Daniel- 

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

I have also enjoyed the conversations here. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I don’t get to discuss these topics much and outlets like this site are extremely valuable for learning what language works to create harmony and what language is destined to cause division.  I have been surprised to see so many conservative responses but I appreciate the acceptance of everyone here i’ve met so far.  There definitely seems to be a spirit of generosity in the orthodoxy discussed here. 

There is one issue that I could use your help with.  I hear so many people here and elsewhere that seem to embrace this idea of the emerging church conversation (as do I) and you all mention the need for changes to theology to allow the church to emerge.  But when I open discussion about changing any views of significance most of you seem to revert back to square one (i.e. conservative TULIP type theology).  It appears to me that the only changes you expect from the emerging church conversation are cultural or social value changes and the actual theological ideas are off-limits. 

Am I missing something or is that intentional?  Being more tolerant to homosexuals, accepting the idea of women in leadership, or becoming more socially active is not actually changing theology. I feel it is a step in the right direction, but I don’t seem to see any difference in the theological ideas that I’ve read here (maybe I need to read more but time has been limited).

Correct me if I’m missing something, but please let me know if your intent is to simply make the theology of traditional Protestantism more accessible via a new set of cultural expressions or do you see yourselves as having concrete differences on theological issues.  If so what are they and how do they relate to this discussion of scriptural interpretation?

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

danutz,

There are some anti\post\non Protestant ideas proposed here.  I have no idea how to link to the threads on hell, the trinity, judgement… but if Andrew would be so kind as to pick a few favorites and edit my post, I would be most grateful. 

I think it is easy to perceive emerging church as simply a different presentation of the same product. I don’t think revamping our marketing stragegy is enough and I don’t think that is an accurate evaluation of what many of us are thinking.  Curiously enough my brunch club was discussing the topic this morning.  To look at us you wouldn’t suspect we would pass the "You might be emergent if…" test.  One woman in particular was upset trying to reconcile theological debate between denominations, trying to decide for herself what it means for something to be true.  We decided (or at least decided to play with) the ideas that there is absolute truth, we probably don’t know what that is exactly, it isn’t shaped like what we were looking for and that doesn’t make us relativists (cause that’s a dirty word). We also thought maybe the community we find ourselves in (we decided church is a bad word too) might include people who believe differently than we do even on the "essentials."  Because of that you lose the corporate "we believe statements."  Crud, I’m going to be late picking up my kids and I wanted to ramble longer. Oh, well.   

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

Danutz, at the heart of our (very stimulating) disagreement appears to be a fundamental question of how we understand the nature of ‘Christianity’, which has little to do with whether we believe in the miraculous or not.

The approach that you have taken is to suppose that Christianity consists essentially of a certain type of belief in God that expresses itself in certain abstract universal convictions about faith and behaviour. You have mentioned turning the other cheek as a means of defeating evil, which I would agree as a principle lies close to the heart of what it means to be authentically ‘Christian’. This form of belief can exist more or less independently of any particular historical circumstance or text, with the result that historical events or narratives might as well be regarded as metaphors rather than as concrete, determinative instances of the particular truth at issue. It is telling that you give an analogy from mathematics.

What I am arguing for, by contrast, is a much stronger sense of historical and realistic continuity with the story about Jesus, which is a story set within a larger narrative about Israel and its self-understanding as a covenantally defined people of God. If we are going to regard this connection as ‘historical and realistic’, we cannot simply assume that everything in it is literally true as tradition has interpreted it - I am not making a case for a return to crude literalist and inerrantist modes of interpretation. ‘Historical’ does not mean ‘literal’ - the sort of comments that Daniel makes about ‘mythological inflation’ are entirely relevant.

These are judgments that we have to make and recognizing the force of them brings us a long way from traditional conservative theology. But I don’t think we have the option of running away from making these difficult judgments in the pursuit of a higher platonic form of spiritual truth that transcends the historical. In response to your very perceptive remarks about emerging theology, I would suggest that there is a highly significant hermeneutical space between crass literalism and the sort of complacent allegorizing that post-liberalism is still inclined to pursue that the emerging church really needs to inhabit and explore - ‘explore’ because we only have a poor idea of what that space looks like and have a lot to learn.

(In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that Borg’s spiritualizing of the texts is much closer epistemologically to conservative hermeneutics than he realizes.)

The incarnational principle, however, requires us to take very seriously the awkward, ambiguous, elusive contingency of ‘revelation’ - God is revealed, sometimes decisively, in historical events. I would say that it is not mathematics that supplies the appropriate paradigm for judging Christian truth but something much more complex and difficult like historiography or journalism. A journalist cannot argue that the source of her information about an event is irrelevant because it is the ‘inner’ or ‘metaphorical’ truth of what happened that really matters. I think we have to take very seriously the concrete particularity of events - not only those events that form our own experience but also the formative events of Christian faith. This has nothing to do with how that story might subsequently be creatively retold and developed - it is a question of what gives definition, self-understanding, to the people of God.

On the question of resurrection, why didn’t the followers of other executed messianic pretenders at the time (there were plenty of them) claim that God had raised their leader from the dead?

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

You are correct to assume that we start from a different definition of Christianity.  In your definition, I am probably not a Christian.  I am actually am glad about that.  I am hoping that the result of the emerging church will be to develop a new term other than Christian.  I think originally it was a term meaning “like Christ” or “of like mind and mission to Christ”.  But as people built a religion around Jesus and began worshipping him rather than following his instructions it became to mean something different.

Actually the approach I’ve taken (and others) is to stop seeing Christianity as a “belief” or “belief system”.  I don’t see it as something that is “believed in”.  It is instead a lifestyle or set of lifestyle principles I have pledge too or adopted as my own. My reference to “turn the other cheek” was only ONE of the particular lifestyle principles that Jesus spoke about but they all revolve around the idea of becoming “other-centered” rather than “self-centered”.  This is the theme that Paul picked up on and highlighted more than once with the metaphor of “dying to self”.  It has nothing to do with what I may or may not believe about the creation of the world or other historical figures and events.  My understanding of faith is emerging from “belief” to “practice” and it has nothing to do with what I think will happen after I die.  This could be expanded more by delving into the Greek word “pesteo” and its derivatives which commonly is interpreted as “believe” but is not so easily translated to English without becoming a more simple statement of “believing to be true” rather than an action or lifestyle.  There are many essays available that highlight the details of that difficult translation. 

95% of all disagreements among rational people are more the result of people actually debating different topics in the same debate.  And I think that is where we are at.  I apologize because I’m so different in my basic understanding of Christianity that we really can’t debate the finer points of a particular view without having the discussion disintegrate.  In that way, I probably shouldn’t be sticking my nose in these debates on this site.  Our debate is obviously destined to failure if the definition of success is to change the opinion of the other.  However, I don’t see that as my definition for success here.  I feel like our debates here have succeeded because they allowed us to delve beneath the superficial differences we have and uncover the underlying core similarities in the framework of our faith.  That process is a key to the emerging church’s success.  For the last 500 years people didn’t seem to have the grace to do this.  They just argued about the superficial differences and splintered off into a growing number of competing denominations.  We have a chance to lay the ground work for correcting those mistakes in future generations. 

If nothing else, I hope you glean from this conversation a good perspective of how people outside of your particular theological circle would respond to literal interpretations of the supernatural in scripture. I think we can learn some valuable lessons as we reach out beyond our own boundaries.  For example, I’ve listed below some things that I have discovered as positive results to my particular understanding of scripture and the supernatural as I reach out to others.  You may not agree with my understanding, but I think you would have to appreciate some of the benefits.  Maybe our discussion would be better served to focus on the effects of our differing theologies in our lives. 

What effect does my view of scripture and the supernatural have on my life and witness?   

  1. I’ve developed a sensitivity to how mentioning of the supernatural can be an immediate show stopper for most people in today’s world.  I no longer turn them off right away since the need for belief in the supernatural is not essential to my faith. 
  2. I have found a new sense of compassion for the physical needs of people once I stopped focusing on their security in literal afterlife.  
  3. I find that the message “of” Jesus is one that most people accept and can get excited about where the message “about” Jesus or “about his origin/divinity supernatural qualities” is an immediate turn off.   It is actually hard to find someone that disagrees with Jesus but easy to find arguments with Christianity. 
  4. I now try to lead with compassion and humility to prove the authenticity of my faith where I use to lead with stories of the miraculous to prove my faith. 
  5. Scripture has more meaning for me because I don’t feel like I’m constantly trying to provide excuses for how it can be historically true.  For example; I love the story of the Garden of Eden now that I don’t see it as a misguided history lesson, but see it as a profound metaphor describing our state of relationship with creation.  The “stories” of the Bible have come alive to me now where as before I was brushing them aside. 
  6. Supernatural view of afterlife created a great deal of anxiety. I’m glad to be rid of it.  A message of hope for the “here and now” is more motivating than a message of hope for the hereafter. 
  7. The dreaded “Us vs. Them” mentality is no longer a part of my vocabulary.  I no longer see the world as the “in group” and the “out group”.  I just see everyone as people with diverse needs that I may be able to help. 
  8. Prayer is an action item.  Rather than just praying that God will help the people around me I see myself as Christ to those people.  So I use prayer as focus of my attention on their needs and realign myself mentally with the fact that I am going to “be Christ” to all the people I will meet today. If that doesn’t challenge and motivate me then nothing could. 
  9. Church is no longer an act of ritual worship to please God; it is a gathering of community that helps me find people in need and get my needs filled. 
  10. Western culture turned Christianity into a competition for “market share”.  I don’t feel a need to defend or protect my faith from the competition (i.e. other religions or even atheists).  I am perfectly happy if people adopt the message of Jesus without leaving their own religion or even if they choose to be atheist.  I’m more concerned that they undergo the death/re-birth of their self-centered character and have their real physical and emotional needs meet.  The religion or Christian denomination they use to express their faith is not my concern.

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

Danutz, I trust no one on this site has tried to argue that you are not a Christian.  I would argue that your take on what it means to be a Christian is right on—a Christian is a disciple of Christ.  Many of us in the emerging church feel that praxis rather than mere belief is (or at least should be) at the center of our ‘Christianity’.  Moreover, it is undeniable that Jesus’ teachings emphasize a ‘turning outward’ of one’s focus.  It is no surprise that great thinkers such as CS Lewis and Greg Boyd view hell, not as a place of eternal torment, but rather as a trajectory of the mind, a curving in on oneself.  So in a sense, I think you’re right on.  I agree whole heartedly with your 10 points, and have seen the same evolution in my own faith (although I would probably re-word your approach to prayer—in this area I am deeply influenced by Boyd).

I think what Andrew is trying to do is be more respectful of the biblical text and the story it tells—which is a description of God’s salvific plan for humankind and for the world.  Your own emphasis is on what that story points to, namely, a certain (systematic) way of understanding the world, God, and our relationship to the two.  I think Andrew is simply pointing out that we are indebted to the former for the latter, and that since the emerging church caters to po-mo people, there is great value in highlighting and retelling the grand narrative we all have our place in.  I think ultimately your approach is more systematic.  As such, it may appeal to a different (more modern) audience.  The reason I’m blabbing on is simply because I find myself agreeing with the two of you.  As you have said Danutz, your differences may simply be a matter of phrasing, or of emphasis, which is what I have tried to highlight here.  Wittgenstein was on to something when he attributed most philosophical problems to clashing language games and linguistic inaccuracies. 

The moral of the story (and this applies to the Jesus is God thread), is that the emerging church needs to develop an inclusive vocabulary, one which does not flinch at formulations of biblical truth which are outside of our particular cultural box.  The emergent language game must be carefully nuanced when it is specific, and open-ended when it is general.

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

Don’t worry, if anyone argued that I’m not a Christian it was me :-)

I apologize in advance for this post, it is not an attack, but an attempt a humor and to show how people might have trouble with the supernatural aspects of scripture.

If the definition of Christian is one having a strict theistic view of God and requires believing Jesus was literally God and literally the physical son of God (himself?) who impregnated his own mother (spiritual incest?) to be killed as punishment by himself/God (cosmic suicide?) and still alive physically today via supernatural resurrection and ascended to somewhere in the sky or a separate space/time dimension, then I’m not a Christian. 

I really don’t need the term to include me to feel good about my faith so I would not argue for more inclusion into the "fold".  In some ways I am ok with keeping the term Christian to be very narrow and exclusive and using another term to include all those seeking the vision of Jesus to be fulfilled.  I’m still searching for the term, but thankfully I’m no longer searching to make sense of my faith.

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

I think the Bible called those seeking the vision of Jesus "followers of the Way."  I’d like to think of myself as one of those too.  I’m still not sure what’s wrong with TULIP, which I hold to for the most part.  While my theology over time has changed somewhat (particularly to a non-violent atonement) I still consider myself quite "orthodox." 

What has changed for me are the implications of this theology, much of which has been the result of these narrative-type conversations with a focus on the kingdom that Jesus was talking about.   "Worship as a way of life" is something that we talk about often in our congregation.  I’m not sure that orthodox theology is the culprit here.  In fact, I would suggest that your "average" Christian is not really sure what orthodoxy, much less TULIP really is.  I don’t know that we need a new orthodoxy, after all it’s gotten us to this point.  We do however need to find a way to get people to focus on orthopraxy.  There is a lot of resistance to this, but the emerging church seems to be making some inroads into a segment of the population that is hungry for it.

At the same time, I wouldn’t be too crushed if my theological framework came tumbling down.  As long was we’re talking about a loving God, a good & fallen creation, constant attempts at redemption culminating in Jesus, and the growth of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (to which the church points in a particular way as sign, instrument, and foretaste), I’m all in.

In addition, there is also a lot of resistance to new views of Scripture.  This is another place where my theology has changed and, I think, another culprit in the problem we are facing in the church.  Seeing the Bible as a witness to God’s mighty acts throughout history, or as a witness to God’s Word rather than the Word itself has been freeing.  Again, good luck getting Joe or Jane Christian to reconsider that.

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

Pete, I’m intrigued by your mention of a view of non-violent atonement (which I would tend to agree with).  But I wonder how you see that as still in line with TULIP (specifically the Limited atonement part). Maybe you could shed some light or maybe I misunderstand your interpretation of non-violent atonement.  The Unconditional election point is hard for me to swallow becasue it always seems to lead to an "Us vs. Them" attitude.  Are you also a "literal afterlife" guy? It would seem you would need that view to accept the Perseverance of the saints part of TULIP.

Basically I just wonder how you seem to sit in the middle between liberal and conservative on issues.  Brian Mclaren and much of emergent calls for a moving beyond this debate but the more I study and the more I see the effects of conservative theology the more I move toward liberalism (although I hate the term because of such close ties in our society with liberal political views).  I agree with the goals of emergent to move past this debate, but I also like where I’ve landed because of the positive changes it has had on my orthopraxy and motivation for social issues.  I guess because I live in the bible-belt I see so much spiritual devistation as a result of conservatism that I’m struggling to have a generous orthodoxy when it comes to fundamentalism.

For me it was impossible to change my orthopraxy without changing my orthodoxy.  I wonder if emergent is trying to stay away from mentioning orthodoxy much because it/we are afraid to rock the boat that much right now.  I get such a backlash from mentioning liberal positions even on sites like this where is is "semi-welcome". 

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

Danutz, I think I understand where you are coming from. I am quite happy to develop a liberal/evangelical synthesis in my own life, that is until I have contact with hardcore fundamentalism and feel so revolted by the experience that I feel like reverting to full blown ‘Spong’ism (or as I live in New Zealand, that would be ‘Geering’ism).

I am not yet comfortable in bringing myself to type “Jesus is God”, though I’m quite happy with “Son of God” and a whole bunch of other things. I find the concurrent discussion on the “Jesus is God” thread very interesting, including your comments. I have no idea whether redemption involves the continuation of my consciousnesses and memories in a new independent body, or maybe something else that I don’t currently understand. That is not an important part of my faith yet; right now I’m going to do my bit and I’ll let God work out the rest. I would probably not call myself a fundamentalist or even evangelical.

But I can’t throw out my evangelical heritage because, when I’m not around fundies, I see too much that it has to offer. The most important aspect of this for me is that we are called not just to “turn the other cheek” etc. (personal ethics) but we are called to be part of God’s redemptive mission that is working towards the holistic redemption of the universe. This is what I get from the story of God’s work through history, as told in the Bible.

When I was in my more liberal phase, I didn’t appreciate that as fully as I do now. If I throw out the historicity of God’s work in the world wholesale, I find much of God’s plan for the world gets lost also (babies and bathwater). I have no interest in arguing for the verbal plenary inspiration of particular texts, but I think stories that have a basis in history are much more worthy of continuation than works of moralising fiction, which it seems to me is what is left of Bible once the fact has been removed. Not that moralising fiction is bad; it can be educational and inspiring. But there is a certain power to something that has actually happened and proved itself that can’t be matched by a prophet’s metaphors (which the Bible has much of and which are still good things).

To grow out of my old evangelicalism, I had to develop for myself a whole new metaphysical system, including a new ontology and epistemology, all based on a new axiology, inspired by Genesis 1. Now I’ve got here, I can see that it wasn’t actually necessary (though it was fun!), and it is possible to be a new style Christian while still having an old style understanding of reality, because it’s based on who God is and how we respond to that, not on metaphysics. I would suggest that it is even possible to believe in a flat earth and maybe even verbal plenary inspiration and still be a new style Christian.

Danutz, I would be most interested in what you see your role being in the redemption of individuals, communities, and our environment. This is a supernatural endeavour, only capable of being embodied/achieved by something that is both God and man - the body of Christ - the church. As long as you are a co-worker with God in this endeavour, as I strive to be, then you are part of this body with me, no matter what labels either of us choose. (The same goes to any fundies to whom I apologise for previous disparaging remarks)

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

First, I agree that throwing out my evangelical heritage seems difficult because it contains the traditions that led me to God and introduced Jesus’ vision.  For that I will always be grateful. But I can’t reconcile the underlying current of what I call “market share mentality” that is the basis of the evangelical community.  This “market share mentality” creates a fear-lead defensive protection of their ideals from the enemies (other faiths or non-faiths).  I don’t really blame evangelicals for having that mentality because their theology says, “the most important thing we do is get people saved from hell”. If that is your starting point then it makes sense that you would see serving people, restoring earthly justice, showing compassion, etc. as only “a nice side effect” of your faith rather than the central theme.  If you decide that afterlife and the supernatural is real then fundamentalists are correct in their practices and we should all support Christian fundamentalism.  The 70-80 years we spend here is really a drop in the bucket compared to a literal eternity in heaven or hell.  Having said that, I really don’t understand the argument of those (most of the people on this site I think) that have a middle ground view. It seems that these middle-grounders are either not taking serious their supernatural beliefs or they are not really practicing their true beliefs.  The main point is that your views on the supernatural do (and rightly should) affect your behaviors and actions.

Danutz, I would be most interested in what you see your role being in the redemption of individuals, communities, and our environment. This is a supernatural endeavor, only capable of being embodied/achieved by something that is both God and man - the body of Christ - the church

That is a strange comment to me.  If you accept the supernatural then why would you think we as mere humans have a role in this redemptive process?  Wouldn’t you see God as running the show? Of course this opens the door to pre-destination debates that led to denominational splits so I almost hate to bring that up at this point to get us side-tracked.

In your view (call this fundamentalism or post-protestant or whatever you prefer), individuals are redeemed through death and resurrection to a physical afterlife. Communities are redeemed by building protected and “God-sanctioned” groups (churches, private schools, gated communities, religion based political groups, etc). The environment is redeemed through destruction and re-creation of the universe in a literal end-time defeat of a evil.  I visualize this view by thinking about a large city with a protective wall that grows by inviting people to come inside of its protection and assimilate to the established culture.

In a non-supernatural view (call this modern liberalism or post-liberal or whatever you prefer), individuals are redeemed by being “saved” from whatever it is they need saving from (addictions, pride, poverty, racism, injustice, etc) through the actual actions of those of us who are willing to love and serve. Communities are redeemed by the outward spreading of people who will share the loving way of life expressed to us by Jesus. We spread his message that an abundant life of love, compassion and community is available to all that are willing to embrace this way of life. The environment is redeemed by the individual and public activism that results from understanding our collective responsibility to enjoy, conserve, and preserve our resources.  I visualize this view by thinking about individuals dispersing throughout existing communIties and cultures and exposing them to their way of life and serving them.

The subconscious result is that those who belief in supernatural salvation tend to wait for supernatural intervention and direction which produces feelings of uselessness and complacency where those that drop supernatural views feel an empowering sense of responsibility that leads to activism.  The practical result is that the older supernatural view is an easier sell to new converts because it is mostly an adoption of a belief system (a mental exercise) but it tends to have less impact on individual growth and maturity since it is a non-action oriented approach.  The modern non-supernatural view is more difficult to sell because it is requires real action but it tends to lead to more maturity and activism amongst those that do eventually buy into it.

I acknowledge that there is something to be learned from conservative fundamentalism.  They have done a much better job in the last 30 years of packaging their faith for consumption. Part of that is because the level of requirements in terms of service is much lower.  The modern liberals have done a poor job in the last century of packaging their faith.  Liberalism actually has a theological view that would be easier for most of the un-churched to accept (no need to believe in ghosts and goblins), but it has mainly been embraced by the mainline denominations that are very unapproachable by those that were not born into their traditions.  For example I have a more liberal view but the only churches I know of that might share those theological views would never appeal to a person like me from a cultural perspective.  We seem to have 2 main types of churches (I know this is very general).  The first type of church has a modern view of theology but a cold, stale, traditional culture and practice.  The second has a warm, inviting, modern cultural expression but rejects modern thought process in its theology.  Isn’t that bizarre?

I hope that the result of the emergent conversation will be a generous orthodoxy and generous cultural awareness that will embrace the best of both these worlds as well as other exploring the benefits of other theologies and cultures.

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

We are coworkers with God

If you accept the supernatural then why would you think we as mere humans have a role in this redemptive process? Wouldn’t you see God as running the show?

I don’t see where you get the idea that any human could be described as ‘mere’. Adam was the first son of God (luke 3:38), an image of God made flesh in the world. One foot in the ‘mere’ physical world, and one foot in the transphysical world. This is a way of being creative in or redeeming the physical world while respecting the integrity of the physical world. Humans acting creatively in the world is God’s was of redeeming the world. By the way, this is not only a modern conception, it was described by Isaac Luria in the 16th century.

It is also Biblical as we are described as coworkers with God ( 2 Corinthians 6:1), and friends of Jesus, rather than his servants (John 15:15). Also remember in Genesis 1-2 that all we know about God is that he is creative, and he makes man in His own image - his creative image. Redemption is inherently creative, and we were designed for this creativity from the beginning.

Dualism and the true nature of redemption

I really don’t understand the argument of those…that have a middle ground view. It seems that these middle-grounders are either not taking serious their supernatural beliefs or they are not really practicing their true beliefs.

In your view (call this fundamentalism or post-protestant or whatever you prefer), individuals are redeemed through death and resurrection to a physical afterlife. Communities are redeemed by building protected and “God-sanctioned” groups (churches, private schools, gated communities, religion based political groups, etc). The environment is redeemed through destruction and re-creation of the universe in a literal end-time defeat of a evil. I visualize this view by thinking about a large city with a protective wall that grows by inviting people to come inside of its protection and assimilate to the established culture.

I have no interest in middle-ground. We need to find a synthesis that transcends the tired old arguments of a worn out philosophical system. They have done no good for the last 100 years, why should we imagine they will do any good in the future?

I don’t understand why you are intent on reinforcing a dualism that most of us seem quite happy to throw out. Most dualisms just don’t explain reality. The results of accepting that dualisms have validity is generally that you either accept both halves and have a disjointed view of the world (what I see as fundamentalism), or you reject one half and have a partial view of the world (the problem with Spong style liberalism). I reject that spiritual dualism has any validity, so I am in no way bound to your either/or descriptions of my faith options.

Redemption involves the knitting together of a person’s entire life and self into an integrated and unique whole, healed from past hurts and able to relate to others in loving integrity as a whole person. And this is just the beginning. We are then free to grow into our role as co-creators with God, and participate in limitless creative fulfillment of our potential in community with others and with God. Whether it happens here or here-after, this is the nature of personal redemption. You can’t reduce redemption to being saved from character flaws, or the consequences of other’s character flaws. I’m sorry if this seems fundamentalist to you, but it suits me fine and seems quite a reasonable direction in which the church can grow.

Communities are redeemed by Christians standing with all the fragments of our broken society, affirming each of their viewpoints and cultures, and also straddling the gaping chasms which keep us apart, and pulling the fragments together. The differences are preserved but do not stand in the way of renewed communication and cooperation. In time, these communities will learn to work in harmony, and then integrate together so that each keeps its identity while forming a new interdependence that enriches all. This new, healed, interdependent community then plays its part in redeeming the communities around them and around the world. At the same time, members of the community will continue to create new cultures, each building in different ways, maybe in harmony or creative tension with each other, but always with the result that all members are enriched. If this is fundamentalism, then I’m a fundamentalist.

I don’t know what direct role God intends playing in redeeming heaven and earth, but I think it is unlikely that he will plonk down a massive cube of concrete and say ‘done’. God’s pattern keeps the old but weaves it into something new. And we are the people that God expects to do the weaving, though we are never alone. Again, a philosophy of conservation and preservation just doesn’t cut it. Redemption involves the creation of new wholes, transcending the old as it heals the wounds that were inflicted. Restoration is not enough. The fundamental characteristic of our God is creative, and until we get that, we can’t fully understand what our roles as Christians are. A return to the fundamentalism of Genesis 1 is the only way forward.

It is what we do that counts

Individual growth and maturity” is not enough. We have a collective destiny to figure out and then creatively realise in the world. I find that a proper understanding of this is motivating rather than demotivating; I am not sitting around waiting for God to act.

I’m quite happy to be a fundamentalist, or whatever you want to call me, but if you have a similar vision for the world then I will call you brother. I don’t think you currently understand much about the true nature of reality, knowledge, or existence and you probably think the same about me. Who cares? You might be right, or I might be right, and maybe in 10 years we will have swapped views. But correct metaphysics is not what its all about. It is about how we respond to the truth that we currently have. So lets call it quits and work together to realise our faiths in the world.

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

I apologize if the word "fundamentalist" was offensive. I thought that was the theological view you intentionally claimed. If I misunderstand your position please correct me, but allow me to do the same. I don’t particularly like the word liberal but I recognize that it has come to be accepted as the generic term for people with a non-literal view of scripture and don’t believe in 6-day creation, virgin birth, literal end-times, etc. So I’ll gladly accept that term. It works to reasonably identify my views for the purpose of discussion.

As far as the term dualism; either I don’t understand what you are saying or you don’t understand that term. It is pretty clear that I’m not in that school of thought. I’ve not said anything here that could lead you to think I believe those things. Actually your traditional Christianity (I’ll try to use that instead of fundamentalist even though I mean it to be the same) is closer to dualism than my views. The difference would be that strict dualism sees the two opposing forces in the world as equal where traditional Christianity views the good force as all powerful and the evil force as subordinate. My views are much different than either of those because I don’t believe in personified supernatural forces but instead natural forces that we just have not yet (or may never) been able to comprehend and explain. I acknowledge a creative force that I refer to as God just like you do, but I understand the reality that either God can’t or has choosen not to directly effect our reality in a supernatural way. I see the evil in the world as our pride not a literal satan.

I agree with you that we should look to understand the book of Genesis to find truth. I believe that Genesis contains a profound and accurate truth about the destructive power of our pride and the need for dramatic change. I believe this is the exact same message we were given by Jesus as he urged us to undergo a dramatic change from pride to humility, non-violence, and service of others over our own needs. I think Genesis also gives us the earliest reference to evolution through the metaphor of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve eating this fruit and discovering their nakedness is a clear reference to the fact that man is unique from animals in our intellect and awareness. Man was once like animals in their mental inability for "self-awareness" and eventually became self-aware (a key mental ability only found in highly evolved species and most highly developed in humans). The serpent in the story described this as becoming "like God" after they ate the fruit.

In this newer understanding of scripture we can view scripture as profound and very much "true" where the literal interpretation just comes across on par with all the bizarre views of other religions like reincarnation, pagan sun/moon/water/fire gods and goddesses, divine explainations for plagues and natural disasters, end-time stories, snake handling, etc.

I think it is good to say you don’t care about our differences and we should work together, but the purpose of this particular forum is to discuss the differences. If you didn’t really care then you wouldn’t come here to share and learn and neither would I. Instead of "not caring" I think we should see how these metaphysical and theological views help us in our sevice and learn from each other. I think theology is important because it does and should effect your life. More than anything our theology represents the priority we place on particular truths found in scripture. By honestly addressing our theology and our lifestyle we can address the problems that result from having improper priorities and from living a life that doesn’t line up with our intended priorities. By making changes in my theology I’ve been able to begin the process of correcting some problems in my life.

Liberalism and Dualism

Danutz,

The dualism to which I am referring is the natural / supernatural division common in discussions of theology vs. science. I see this as being similar to the Cartesian dualism common in older discussions in philosophy of mind.

People can accept the intellectual validity of a dualistic definition, even though they do not themselves accept that dualism. What ends up happening is that they can totally throw out one of the sides of dualism (reductionism) to create a monism rather than actually creating a synthesis to create a monism (my prefered method). In accepting the dualistic characterisation of supernatural vs. natural, you can either throw out the natural world (some forms of philosophical Idealism), discard the supernatural world (scientific Physicalism), or create a synthesis in order to achieve an integrated view of reality.

I see both liberalism and evangelicalism as different responses to the same intellectual structure. Evangelicalism (in particular fundamentalism) opts to accept the dualism as is, and elevates the supernatural world over the natural world. They could go all the way and deny the existance of the natural world, but I don’t know any fundamentalists that have gone that far.

In my opinion, liberalism (or progressive -ism? if you prefer) accepts the same analysis of reality but often elevates the natural over the supernatural. Only extreme liberal positions actually get rid of the supernatural altogether.

I deny the theological and maybe even intellectual soundness of the division of the world into ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’: God is in all and through all, the universe is grounded in and energised by God. You can not cut the spiritual out of the natural, because the natural is an outworking of the spiritual. Can you separate my speech from me (dualism) and then deny that I exist as a physical entity (reductionism)? Neither can you deny that my speech exists as an objective reality. I would suggest that there is a similar relationship between God and the universe.

I also have seen far too much evidence of the activity of the transphysical to accept any denials of this aspect of existence. It has been said that “there are no atheists in Africa”, where I have spent many years.

God’s creativity is seen in every aspect of how the universe operates, down to its most basic level. I wouldn’t reduce God to a personality, but I’m fairly certain that he is at least a personality, and may describe him as transpersonal, the next step on the ladder from physical to living to conscious personality to God. Each step contains the previous in itself, so I think God is at least a conscious personality.

Evil is a destructive principle that is parasitic on the creativity of the universe. Natural evil often seems to be inherent to the way the universe is currently set up. Systematic evil is often inherent in the way we currently organise our relationships. Evil often springs up in the way that we hold onto things or move on from them. Pride is only a very small part of evil. This is why I believe that a reduced personalised definition of good and evil leaves out most of what brining about God’s reign on earth entails.

Literal vs. Metaphorical interpretations

I would agree that there is little to be gained from a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3. You are preaching to the choir! However, I see each book, and sometimes individual passages, in the Bible as stories open to evaluation independent from the rest of the cannon. As to which I take literally and which metaphorically, I would look at the historic reliability and the stated intention of each passage (among other textual tools). Early Genesis consists of writings about events 15 billion to 6 thousand years ago, written a minimum of 1 thousand years after the most recent event. The Synoptic Gospels are about events 2 thousand years ago with manuscripts written only decades later where eye-witnesses and established intermediary oral and written traditions exist. The existence of these traditions has been generally accepted by the Jesus Seminar and other groups. Also, the purpose of Genesis 1-3 is within a larger mythological ‘where did we come from’ framework, while the context of the stories about Jesus is explicitly stated to be a recent historical exercise

I do accept the usefulness of textual criticisms in establishing the likely historicity of individual passages. I probably differ from the majority view of the Jesus Seminar (The Five Gospels reports a variety of views on most passages, not a consensus) in what passages I would take to be reliable. For instance I think the universality of the “Son of Man” motif is hard to deny, and I am slowly accepting the evidence of the self-aware Messianic characteristics of many of Jesus’ words and actions. To claim that Jesus’ only purpose was in the personal character of each individual disciple does not address the context in which Jesus seemed to consciously set his ministry, not only as a prophet calling each person to repentence (as John the Baptist was), but as somone addressing the imperial, priestly, and messianic expectations of the Jewish people.

Praxis as the test of doctrine

The reason that I said that ‘it is what we do that matters’ is that one of the characterisatics of the emergent church is a focus on praxis rather than doctrine. There may be many ways to an appropriate praxis, and although this is affected by theology, I think we can learn to work in a limited theological flux, as we agree that our praxis demonstrates true acts of spiritual worship. The character of the God we worship will be evident in our actions, even if we are confused about how we talk about this God.

I do not see how the position you are proposing contributes to better praxis. I admit that it is better than plain evangelicalism, but my position is considered heresy to most evangelicals I know. That is why I asked what you see as your role in the holistic redemptive practice. I believe that so far the praxis that I have shown as an outworking of my doctrine is superior (forgive my arrogance) to what I have seen from simply liberal/progressive positions without any evangelical synthesis. I am genuinely open to a demonstration of how your position can enhance my praxis. I myself have only recently become convinced of the necessity of the evangelical component (sorry about the zeal of the recent convert!).

I hope this clears up my meanings in my previous post.

Re: Scripture and the supernatural

I like the phrase "generous orthodoxy."  To me it means that we are taking seriously our traditions and Christian heritage, but not being so rigid about it and claiming we have all of the answers.  Since TULIP is part of my upbringing I don’t want to throw it out completely, but I do want to "reform" it a little. 

Total Depravity - rather than saying that we are incapable of any good, I would like to say that we, while capable of good, are incapable of saving ourselves.  I might say that some people stumble upon salvation (like the atheist you mentioned) but they would need Jesus to know what they’ve stumbled upon.  At the same time, movements like civil rights and human rights don’t give Jesus much credit for their ideas, but would they have come about without him?  I mean to say many people enbody the Jesus life without giving Jesus any credit.  Because Jesus’ way has influenced culture for millenia I don’t know if anyone can say their values (equality, justice, etc.) are not the result of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  I, on the other hand, would never have found salvation on my own and needed Jesus to show me the way.  I may have lived a good life without Jesus but never a holy and righteous or self-sacrificing life (which leads into an experience of salvation).  To me, that’s a difference of degree.

Unconditional Election - All this means to me is that salvation is not something we earn, but is given without condition.  If there is an elect, it is a body chosen to make God known, not for any special blessing.  People who use it for "us vs. them" get even the orthodox understanding wrong.  So the problem is with the people, not the idea.

Limited Atonement - If there is violence in atonement it comes from our direction.  I think we see at the cross what happens when God’s love encounters human sin.  The cross is the extent to which God will go to reach out to us.  While I don’t doubt that God desires everyone to be saved, it doesn’t seem reasonable to think that everyone will receive God’s gift.  However, I will continue to hope so.

Irresistable Grace - Once I encountered God’s love and it’s breadth, depth, and width, I was hooked.  It connected with something deep within me (an image of God buried by sin) and is setting me free (uncovering the image of God).

Perseverance of the Saints - I think we’re important to God.  I think, by God’s grace, the work that was begun in us will be brought to completion.  Am I a literal after-life guy?  I have to say I believe in a new heaven and a new earth.  It gives me the most hope and sustains me for today.  But that phrase can mean a lot of things which brings me to staying the middle ground and your "semi-welcome."

In the end, it’s difficult to be comfortable with mystery.  By that I don’t mean unknown (though that’s part of it), but sacramentum or a place we find God.  I’ll keep "Jesus is God" because it’s been passed on to me through the centuries.  Do I need to systematize that conservatively or liberally?  No.  Does that mean I’ll look to Jesus before any other?  Yes.  The same with "new heaven and new earth" or "Christ is present" in communion.  These are things which our tradition has passed on to us.  So if I want to be a part of that tradition I have to keep them.  But I don’t know that I need to keep their definitions.  Let’s find out what we can agree on, celebrate it, and trust that God has given us what we need to know.

As I consider my definitions of TULIP above, I suppose that means I have changed my orthodoxy.  I’d like to think that I’ve made it more generous.  Regardless, it wasn’t a change in orthodoxy that lead me to action.  It was the added emphasis on message OF Jesus, namely "the kingdom of God is at hand/come near" that lead me to action.  "The kingdom of God" emphasis also changed the way I read Scripture and shone a bright light on all of the passages that deal with the poor and outcast.  The more generous TULIP (shall we say the message ABOUT Jesus & other things) has made that action more worshipful and less fearful.

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