Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Reading The Bible, Interpreting The Bible

February 20, 2018 by Scot McKnight

A friend of mine recommended that I read David Steinmetz’s well-known essay, “The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis,” in his book Taking the Long View: Christian Theology in Historical Perspective

Here’s at least one of the problems: Bible reading intimidates many ordinary Bible readers, and one reason why is specialists — names not given — are so good at what they do, so insightful in what they teach, and so industrious in their efforts (footnotes galore, historical sources cited galore, knowledge galore) that the ordinary Bible reader has done two things: (1) read the work of specialists and (2) stopped reading the Bible for the sheer delight it brings.

The specialists are saturated with history so so much so that many of my friends see themselves as historians, not Bible readers. They see through the text to what happened (or didn’t happen) and spend their time reconstructing the history behind the text. Hans Frei tore into this approach years ago in The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative.

That is, many scholars today care about one thing: the intention of the author in the author’s (reconstructed) historical context. Ah, but I care about this and we should care about this. The point is not to abandon historical undertakings but to realize it’s not the whole picture.

David Steinmetz blows this theory apart and advocates that medieval Bible reading was superior.

Here is what most are taught in Bible colleges and seminaries today: the author’s intention is the meaning of the text, and the author’s meaning is God’s meaning, and therefore, to talk of Paul or Peter or Isaiah is to talk of God. This is the historic approach:

In 1859 Benjamin Jowett, then Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Oxford, published a justly famous essay on the interpretation of scripture. Jowett argued that “Scripture has one meaning—the meaning which it had in the mind of the Prophet or Evangelist who first uttered or wrote, to the hearers or readers who first received it.” Scripture should be interpreted like any other book, and the later accretions and venerated traditions surrounding its interpretation should, for the most part, either be brushed asideor severely discounted. The true use of interpretation is to get rid of interpretation, and leave us alone in company with the author. (3)

It’s still with us, in spades . . .

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/02/20/reading-bible-interpreting-bible/#jsA2sbDSzERbqAXt.99

Friday, February 16, 2018

Whitewater Faith for the 21st Century (Part 2)

The World in Which Theology Works

Theology addresses the drives, dreams, dynamics, and dysfunctions of human life but it does so in a shape bequeathed to them by a particular place and time. It cannot speak about sin, grace, hope, salvation, justice and the like generically. It must do so in inflections derived from the specific shape and location of those drives, dreams, dynamics, and dysfunctions.

My argument is that we live in world of spiritual powers created by God for good but which have rebelled against God and hold creation in a death grip. Death is the chief of these powers. Satan’s powerful right hand (Heb.2:14). These powers keep creature and creation bound to futility and forever seeking their security and significance in the wrong places and against one another. In America the lethal roux (Baxter Kruger) that keep our cultural rapids boiling and roiling I call an I.C.E. Age – Individualism, Consumerism, and Experientialism.  Let’s see how this works out.  

Principalities and Powers

The Apostle Paul speaks of realities like our I.C.E. Age in the idiom of his time and culture. In that world a multitude of spiritual forces inhabited the cosmos besides God and humanity. Evil figures such as the devil, fallen angels, and good figures such as faithful angels we are familiar with (even if we don’t quite know what to make of them). But other figures exist as well that we are not so familiar with. Among these are a group of beings Paul calls “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph.6:12). Often called simply “the principalities and powers,” they are key to understanding the work of Christ and the church.   

Walter Wink argues that New Testament’s language about “principalities and powers” (and other terms for the same ideas) refer to the realities of all human social dynamics – our institutions, belief systems, traditions, and the like.  Each and all of them have what he calls an inner and outer aspect.  “Every Power tends to have a visible pole, an outer form – be it a church, a nation, and economy – and an invisible pole, an inner spirit or driving force that animates, legitimates, and regulates its physical manifestation in the world.  Neither pole is the cause of the other.  Both come into existence together and cease to exist together” (Naming the Powers, 5).

The key insight about these realities is that they

-are part of God’s good creation which provide the conditions of human social existence needed to make and keep human life human

-are fallen with the rest of creation and attempt to seize God’s place and twist God’s purposes for creation’s well-being, and

-are also an object of God’s redemptive intent as he seeks to heal and restore his creation to its creational purposes.

Wink writes:

“To put the thesis of these three volumes in its simplest form: The Powers are good.  The Powers are fallen.  The Powers must be redeemed.  These three statements must be held together, for each, by itself, is not only untrue but downright mischievous.  We cannot affirm governments or universities or businesses to be good unless at the same time we recognize that they are fallen.  We cannot face their malignant intractability and oppressiveness unless we remember that they are simultaneously a part of God’s good creation.  And reflection on their creation and fall will appear only to legitimate these Powers and blast hope for change unless we assert at the same time that these Powers can and must be redeemed” (Engaging the Powers, 10).

What drives these powers and gives them hold over us is the fear of death.  In the beginning of his book Instead of Death William Stringfellow writes,

“(This book) consists of some essays about the specific reality of death in contemporary life: about the vitality of the presence and power of death over human existence and, indeed, over the whole creation. The suggestion here is that the power of death can be identified in American society--as well as elsewhere for that matter--as that which appears to be the decisive, reigning, ultimate power. Therefore, for an individual's own little life--yours or mine or anybody's--death is the reality that has the most immediate, personal. everyday significance. In this life, it seems as if everyone and everything find meaning, when we really come down to it, in death.”

Bill Wylie-Kellerman adds that for Stringfellow

"Death, with a capital D, is itself, for Stringfellow, a living moral reality. He draws intuitively on St. Paul, for whom death (along with law and sin) is in a matrix of enslaved existence. Stringfellow sees it as the power behind the powers. Death is a kind of synonym for the spirituality of idolatry, domination, and empire ...  He regarded death as a moral power within the nation and thereby as its 'social purpose.' ... He named the nation-state as the 'pre-eminent principality.'” (William Stringfellow: The Essential Writings [Orbis, 2013], introduction)

Given over to death in their rebellion against God the powers become death-dealing rather life-giving. Driven by our legitimate need for security and significance, we seek them within the ambit of the powers. And thus become both victims and perpetrators of death. We serve the powers because they seem to assuage our fears and anxieties about security and significance. Serving them gives us a sense of freedom even from the power of death.

But they play us false. Beholden to the power of death themselves, the powers offer only bogus hope. Instead, our own personal fears about significance and security become wound around the institutional and organizational fears of the powers whose goal is to survive. When this happens we are sorely tempted to cede or personal integrity to secure the well-being of the institution.

And that, that is idolatry.

In two places in Ephesians (his letter about the “big picture” of what God is doing in the world) Paul identifies these “principalities and powers” as the objects of the church’s ministry. In 3:10-11 he writes,

“so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It is the church’s mission as a transnational, multiethnic, reconciled and reconciling community that serves notice to the powers that their reign is over, that Christ has routed them on the cross (Col.2:15) and restored them to their original good purposes (Col.1:20).

In Eph.6:12 we learn that it is precisely these powers against whom we struggle.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Human beings, even those willingly serving the powers malignant and perverse purposes, are not those against we conduct our “struggle,” our subversive, counter-revolutionary activity on God’s behalf. Those who side with the powers need freedom and healing as much as those they have helped victimize (albeit in different ways). We will return in some detail to both of these matters through this study.

Individualism, consumerism, and experientialism are the foci around which most American tell their stories. Individualism reflects our desire to live independently, avoiding community (though many of us  think it is a good idea), accountability, and liability for one another. We want to make our own way and life in this world unencumbered by the constraints of tradition, commitments, and relationships. As my three-year-old grandson says: “I can do it by myself!” We hope to be self-made people. And self-made people always worship their makers!

“Freedom” has become devalued in the West, diluted to mean only freedom “from” - freedom from any non-legal constraints on our desires and decisions. This kind of freedom creates inherent conflict with commitments, accountability, roots, traditions, community, or relationships. This is a kind of “naked’ freedom, the sheer capacity to chose.

Consumerism has so fully and successfully snagged most of us in this part of the world that it is, in effect, our default religion. This pseudo-Gospel offers a creed (“I shop therefore I am”), a mission (“Whoever dies with the most toys wins!”), a set of “spiritual” practices (the actual processes of acquiring and consuming), a cathedral (the shopping mall), and a vision of the “end” (a life in which acquisition and consumption have filled all our needs and wants, erased worry from our minds, and set our lives in a land flowing with cash and comforts). Our way of life starring ourselves as consumers is evident to all, easy to criticize, and seemingly impossible to escape. When those outside (or sometimes even inside!) the church claim that Christians do not live any differently than non-churched people do, I suspect it is our consumeristic ways of life they have in mind. Our priorities, patterns, and practices of consumption do not differ from theirs in any significant ways.

Consumerism as a way of life operates on the principle that consuming constitutes our identity, our reality, and that our perceived “needs” take precedence over everything else. Thus, the slogan, “I shop therefore I am.” This has the individual “I” at the center. This “I” is active in establishing its own existence. And that activity is acquisition and consumption, a centripetal movement. Whoever or whatever sits at the center of our world, is our “ultimate concern” as theologian Paul Tillich famously put it, that without which we cannot conceive of being truly happy, or “God.”

Experientialism is the last element of our new I.C.E. Age. We thirst for a never-ending series of experiences that shuffle and re-shuffle our emotions, sending them to their boundaries and beyond in search of a life well-lived. I call this the “Cat in Hat” syndrome. You remember Dr. Seuss’ famous children’s story, don’t you? Two children sit at home on a wet rainy day with nothing to do while their parents are at work. Then the Cat in the Hat appears with all sorts of different and amazing spectacles that keep pushing the entertainment envelope and leave a swath of destruction in its wake. A cardinal sin in our I.C.E. Age is having nothing to do, which easily and quickly morphs into boredom. And boredom is never to be tolerated! And the explosion of new media technologies beat back every threat of time with nothing to do.

Affluence creates mobility which leaves fewer experiences or spectacles out of reach for many of us. And accumulating such experiences is now touted as the way to the good life. “Spend ever less of your time and money on stuff, and ever more on experiences instead,” advises James Wallman, advocate for what he calls the “experience revolution” (“Spend Less on Stuff, More on Experiences,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/spend-less-on-stuff-experiences-materialism-experientialism). Mobility decreases the importance and significance of locality, friendships, and commitment as we believe we can find satisfying experiences with interesting people wherever we want. Each of these experiences, however, raises our threshold of satisfaction, creating a need not only for another experience but a better, greater, more spectacular experience. And on it goes. Such a way of living, centered upon our search for “life” by experiencing as wide an array of spectacles and wonders as possible, results in living “a mile wide and an inch deep.” 

This seems to be the default mode of life in our time - breadth without depth, always deferring the question of meaning through an ironic search for the next great entertainment. This restless and relentless quest for the next and the new fuels a situation in which, if we are not “amusing ourselves to death,” we are condemning ourselves to life without depth, without roots which ground us in place and relationships.

Each of these three I.C.E. Age features are centered on or have us at the center of life. Until we get the issue of who runs our lives sorted out, none of the rest of that matters anyway. And a theology worthy of the name will continually face us with this reality in every way possible.


The world we live in, then, is driven by ideologies, isms, institutions, systems, and the like which, though created to do the work of establishing and maintaining conditions for the flourishing of human life, have betrayed that mandate and sought to wrest for control of creation for themselves and their (cross) purposes. Driven by a fear of death both these powers and human beings collude in trying to satisfy their desire for security and significance in each other. The debris of this collusion is everywhere evident within and around us.

Christ has defeated these unruly powers at the cross and begun the process of pacifying and restoring them to their created purpose. The church is the chief agent God uses in this pacification work (the church’s subversive, counter-revolutionary service). Its existence, and way of life as a people who can live free of the powers determined efforts to maintain their illicit power over us as well as begin to develop patterns and practices of new life that point to the kingdom of God which is coming and is our destiny.

Both the perpetrators and victims of the power’s malign rule are enslaved to them and need liberation, healing, and reconciliation. In our age, our I.C.E. Age, the chief manifestations of the powers’ rule we face in America, individualism, consumerism, and experientialism form the witch’s brew of confusion, corruption, conflict, and conceit that bedevil us. It is this cluster of forces we must seek to subvert and provide alternatives to. This is, according to Paul (Jesus too with his Kingdom of God movement), our vocation as God’s people, following God in his work to reclaim and restore creatures and creation for his good purposes.

And because these powers have both an inner and an outer reality, “spiritual” means embodied, not something inward, inner, immaterial or the like. Within us, among us, and around us the struggle we undertake will be intimate, social, and cosmic, often at the same time.

This is our world. The world God loves and has acted in Christ to save. The world his people do battle in against the powers of deformation and destruction in the power of his saving victory over said powers. Defeated but not yet banished, these powers continue to resist Christ’s will and push their I.C.E. Age agenda. Herein lies the crux of our calling.  

We can picture all this this way:


                                                                             Principalities & Powers

                Individualism    Consumerism     Experientialism

(Part 2)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

59. Mark 15:1-15

Jesus Before Pilate (15:1-5)

Brought before Pilate Jesus refuses to answer the prefect’s question not the charges the chief priests brought against him, apart from a non-committal “You say so” to Pilate’s question whether he was the “king of the Jews” (v.2). The change of venue from the Sanhedrin to Pilate’s court accounts for Jesus’ reticence here when he has just robustly affirmed Messiahship to the Jewish leadership. Pilate had no interest in Messiahs; but he had a keen interest in putative “kings”! Even at the 11th hour here Jesus wants to avoid a dangerous misunderstanding.  

“The governor could have cared less as long as matters religious did not become matters political. Thus, the high priests reformulate the charge against Jesus in a way that the Roman governor will understand and have to take seriously. Since Pilate’s first question is, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (15: 2), presumably this is the official charge against Jesus (cf. also 15: 12, “the one you call the king of the Jews”). If Jesus claims to be a king, he is guilty of a crime against the sovereign power of Rome. Sending him to Pilate in tethers also insinuates that he is a threat to public order” (Garland, Mark, 577).

Jesus’ silence (Isa.53:7) places the onus on Pilate to make a decision and entrusts his fate to God in a most radical way!

Barrabas (15:6-15)

“And therefore, within Mark’s story, we find also the deeply personal meaning.  The story of Barabbas invites us to see Jesus’ crucifixion in terms of a stark personal exchange. Barabbas deserves to die; Jesus dies instead, and he goes free.  Barabbas was the archetypal Jewish rebel: quite probably what we today would call a fanatical right-wing zealot, determined to stop at nothing to bring in a version of God’s kingdom which consisted of defeating Roman power by Roman means – in other words, repaying pagan violence with holy violence. No doubt many Christians in Mark’s community, and others who would read his book, had at one stage at least flirted with such revolutionary movements. Reading the story of the guilty man freed and the innocent man crucified, it would not be hard for them to identify with Barabbas, and to view the rest of the story with the awestruck gaze of people who think, ‘There but for God’s grace go I.’  Just so, Mark is saying. God’s grace, God’s sovereign and saving presence, is exactly what we are witnessing in this story. When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves – that insight produces, again and again, the sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience” (Wright, Mark, 257-258).   

Monday, February 12, 2018

58. Mark 14:53-72

A trumped-up trial matches the over-the-top squad sent to arrest Jesus and testifies to the overall questionability of the whole action against him. False testimony against Jesus was given and received, false testimony that was inconsistent at that.

Finally the high priest imperiously demands some answer from Jesus for all this (inconsistent) witness against him. Jesus still refuses to answer. The high priest persists: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (v.61).

-“are you the Messiah?” is the very same statement Peter makes in his confession or faith in ch.8 (“you are the Messiah”) cast as a question. We know Peter’s witness is true there. Thus we know that Jesus will answer the high priest’s question in the affirmative.

-the high priest’s unwitting testimony to the truth of Jesus’ identity is matched by Peter now languishing in the courtyard waiting to deny Jesus!

-“Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“When he adds ‘The son of the Blessed One’, this doesn’t mean he is thinking that the Messiah will be God’s son in the later Christian sense. ‘Son of God’, as we have seen, is an honorific title for the Messiah, and had been since the Psalms at least. But for Mark, and for Christian readers since, this phrase forms a transition to Jesus’ shocking reply – as well as a link with the very beginning of the gospel, where the voice from heaven, repeated at the transfiguration, assures Jesus, and then the disciples, that this is indeed who he really is” (Wright, Mark, 252).

“Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” There it is. Finally, something the high priest can use! Jesus is not here simply claiming to be divine. That is an anachronistic reading. Rather, it’s his use of Psa. 110 (Mark 12.36) and Dan.7.13 (Mark 13.26) plus his assertion of being vindicated and exalted packed into his favorite self-designation “Son of Man” that creates the opportunity for the high priest to bring charges of sedition and blasphemy against him. “At last the masks are off, the secrets are out, the cryptic sayings and parables are left behind. The son of man stands before the official ruler of Israel, declaring that God will prove him in the right, and the court in the wrong” (Wright, Mark, 252).

“Blasphemy!” cries the high priest. And he tears his robe in witness. The court agrees. Jesus is sentenced to death. And the abuse begins.

The scene shifts back to Peter in the courtyard. A servant-girl three times accuses Peter of being with Jesus. He first claims not to understand this charge. And the cock crows for the first time. The servant-girl then tells others that Peter was one of Jesus’ followers. He denies it this time. Then the other take up the charge and Peter angrily denies it with a curse and an oath. And the cock crows again, the second time.

And Peter remembers Jesus’ prophecy. And that, crushingly, it has just come true! Small wonder he dissolved into tears.

On why God allowed a great future leader of the church to undergo a catastrophic failure of faith, Gregory the Great explains:

“Why did almighty God permit the one he had placed over the whole church to be frightened by the voice of a maidservant, and even to deny Christ himself? This we know was a great dispensation of the divine mercy, so that he who was to be the shepherd of the church might learn through his own fall to have compassion on others. God therefore first shows him to himself, and then places him over others: to learn through his own weakness how to bear mercifully with the weakness of others” (cited in Placher, Mark: 4422-4426).

Ash Wednesday 2018

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflection “After Ten Years,” written for Hans von Dohnanyi, Bonhoeffer’s close friend and confidant, and Major General Hans Oster, a German military officer involved in the resistance against the Nazi regime, reports on what happens to human decency, courage, and wisdom when a political culture disintegrates. Of even more importance, for Bonhoeffer, Bethge, and the church, the ten years he reflects on are years in which the whole edifice of Christendom, the church-state symbiosis regnant in the West for more than a thousand years, came crashing down around their feet. Bonhoeffer’s reflections, then also attest to a failed church culture that assimilated so fully with the large culture that Bonhoeffer indicted it in these damning words: “Our church has been fighting during these years only for its self-preservation, as if that were an end in itself. It has become incapable of bringing the word of reconciliation and redemption to humankind and to the world” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison: DBW 8 (Kindle Locations 10999-11000). Augsburg Fortress. Kindle Edition).

Without suggesting an equivalence between Nazi Germany and American culture today, there are similarities in at least two ways. The American church is every bit as assimilated to its culture as the German church in the 1930’s. Both provided their people no ballast against the incursions of pagan idolatries and tyrannies blessing them instead as part of God’s good plan for his people. And second, we too are living through the death of Christendom on our continent. Whereas Bonhoeffer experienced this death in a total and comprehensive way, all at once as it were, we are experiencing it in a piece-meal, episodic way that confuses and obscures what is happening from us.

And therein lies the poignancy and value of these reflections for us. As a culture and a church we are in a crisis situation. It would not be surprising to discover similar pathologies at work here as Bonhoeffer discerned there. It seems appropriate to allow his observations to season our own Lenten reflections this year.  

For Ash Wednesday we’ll take the first two sections of this letter to enter into Lent this year.

After Ten Years

Ten years is a long time in the life of every human being. Because time is the most precious gift at our disposal, being of all gifts the most irretrievable, the thought of time possibly lost disturbs us whenever we look back. Time is lost when we have not lived, experienced things, learned, worked, enjoyed, and suffered as human beings. Lost time is unfulfilled, empty time. Certainly that is not what the past years have been. We have lost much, things far beyond measure, but time was not lost. Indeed, the insights and experiences we have gained and of which we have subsequently become aware are only abstractions from reality, from life itself. Yet just as the ability to forget is a gift of grace, so similarly is memory, the repetition of received teachings, part of responsible life. In the following pages I want to try to give an accounting of some of the shared experience and insight that have been forced upon us in these times, not personal experiences, nothing systematically organized, not arguments and theories, but conclusions about human experience—lined up side by side, connected only by concrete experience—that have been reached together in a circle of like-minded people. None of this is new; rather, it is something we have long been familiar with in times gone by, something given to us to experience and understand anew. One cannot write about these things without every word being accompanied by the feeling of gratitude for the community of spirit and of life that in all these years was preserved and shown to be worthwhile.

Without Ground under One’s Feet

Have there ever been people in history who in their time, like us, had so little ground under their feet, people to whom every possible alternative open to them at the time appeared equally unbearable, senseless, and contrary to life? Have there been those who like us looked for the source of their strength beyond all those available alternatives? Were they looking entirely in what has passed away and in what is yet to come? And nevertheless, without being dreamers, did they await with calm and confidence the successful outcome of their endeavor? Or rather, facing a great historical turning point, and precisely because something genuinely new was coming to be that did not fit with the existing alternatives, did the responsible thinkers of another generation ever feel differently than we do today?

“Time is lost when we have not lived, experienced things, learned, worked, enjoyed, and suffered as human beings.” Losing time, we can be sure, is among the enemy’s prime tactics against us. Robbing us of experience, learning, working, enjoying, and suffering “as human beings” by narcotizing us to aspects of our humanity takes different shapes in different cultures. Two complementary analyses of this narcotizing stratagem and its effects on American life are worth taking another look at here.

George Orwell, in 1984 (1949), envisioned an authoritarian pan-optic society in which the governing authorities impose a way of life upon the people enforcing it through a perversion of language (e.g. “enhanced interrogation,” “surgical drone strikes”) and authority backed with the threat of force. Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World (1931) posited a more “fist in a velvet glove” vision.

“In Huxley's seemingly dystopic World State, the elite amuse the masses into submission with a mind-numbing drug called Soma and an endless buffet of casual sex. Orwell’s Oceania, on the other hand, keeps the masses in check with fear thanks to an endless war and a hyper-competent surveillance state. At first blush, they might seem like they are diametrically opposed but, in fact, an Orwellian world and a Huxleyan one are simply two different modes of oppression” (http://www.openculture.com/2015/03/huxley-to-orwell-my-hellish-vision-of-the-future-is-better-than-yours.html).

Each and both of these modes of oppression cause us to “lose time.” And each are present in varying degrees in American culture today. Huxley’s version seems more progressed and deeply ingrained in us. Affluence, comfort, expectation, and entitlement are its chief narcotizing agents. Life becomes an “all you can eat buffet” lived “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Life and time are lost in a haze of self-absorbed consumption. The suffering and pain of others are denied, diminished, or dismissed. Our ability to commit and even suffer for something greater than ourselves atrophies. The Orwellian version of this oppression has been more latent though some troubling aspects of it have come to light in the wake of the 2016 election.

These oppressions disorient us, pull the rug out from under our feet, make us feel as though we have no solid ground under our feet. Will anyone deny that we too find ourselves bereft of a place to stand? Does not our world seem but a hall of mirrors designed to deceive and confuse us. Economic life is precarious for most of us. Political life seems remote and uncontrollable, run by interests inimical to a general well-being. Sexuality and marriage are up for grabs. Our country is in a permanent war state and economy. Dorothy’s lament to Toto in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas anymore” resonates with all of us old enough to remember or at least imagine a different America.

Where do we look for hope and vision in times such as this? Are there mentors for us who, free-floating as we, found hope in undreamed of possibilities and visions beyond present perceptions of reality? Is Bonhoeffer one such mentor?

These are our questions too, aren’t they? Lenten questions? Life questions? Questions for a time such as this. And questions for those of us who are dust and to dust we shall return.

More next time!

The Voice Evangelical Men Wish They Had How Jordan Peterson is the father and pastor of thousands of young Christians

Written by: Anthony Bradley

Published on:

February 12, 2018


For about a month now, I’ve been trying to sort out why so many of my male students—Christian guys in their twenties—are such huge fans of Jordan Peterson. By the end of chapter two of his new book, The Twelve Rules for Life, I had my answer.

Peterson understands something about the world of men that evangelical pastors seem to have been clueless about for almost thirty years. It is simply this: since the 1980s, young men have been shamed and emasculated in a culture determined to destroy the archetypal masculinity of figures like Jesus Christ.

How We Got Here

Evangelical pastors and leaders have been exegeting the culture of men from an outdated, mid-1960s cultural playbook—a playbook that often reduced men to lustful sinners who think too highly of themselves and need to be tamed by someone reminding them of their destined depravity. Excoriating men, then, is what sensitized men to the gospel. The Builder generation taught the approach to Baby Boomers, who taught it to GenXers, who taught it to emerging Millennial leaders. What did they miss? Perhaps because of a non-biblical fetish with the “culture war,” or lusting after access to power by syncretizing Christianity with the politics of the Republican party, many evangelical leaders paid too much attention to the social disintegration of archetypal masculinity that pervaded American society in the 1970s and 1980s instead of the masculinity implosion within the walls of their own churches. . .
Read more at https://www.fathommag.com/stories/the-voice-evangelical-men-wish-they-had?utm_sq=foe9wh4ejy https://www.fathommag.com/stories/the-voice-evangelical-men-wish-they-had?utm_sq=foe9wh4ejy

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Whitewater Faith for the 21st Century (Part 1)

Our culture is often likened to whitewater rapids - ever-changing, unpredictable, dangerous. It would be hard to gainsay the analogy. Experienced rafters know the key rules for successfully negotiating the whitewater rapids. I suggest these rules give us some critical guidelines for navigating our cultural/social rapids. I've tried to translate them into biblical/theological guidelines for just such a purpose.

The Nature and Purpose of Theology

Theology is the work of the church that evaluates and directs its journey into and through the unpredictable and treacherous rapids. According to Karl Barth this means that theology

-is contextual and conflictual: an instrument of the “ecclesia militans” (Church Militant), theology guides the Church of a specific time to address and/or contest the needs and hopes of that time. (Church Dogmatics 1.2, 841)

-is communal and missional: “...theology . . . can be put to work in all its elements only in the context of the questioning and answering Christian community and in rigorous service of its commission to all men.” (The Humanity of God, 63)

-is scriptural and critical: theology's role . . .  is to invite the church “to listen again to the Word of God in the revelation to which the Scripture testifies" (Church Dogmatics 1.2, 798).

-is contested and tempted: After all that has befallen it, church dogmatics will not become "church" again i.e., free from the alien dominion of general truths and free for Christian truth, until it summons up sufficient courage to restore what is specifically Christian knowledge, that of the Trinity and of Christology, to its place at the head of its pronouncements, and to regard and treat it as the foundation of all its other pronouncements. (Church Dogmatics 1.2, 124).

Learning to see the world and church through the lens of God’s triune nature and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, existing in and from the church, for the sake of the world, under the Word of God, and amid all the temptations and struggles of a world intent on domesticating and defeating it, theology plies its humble and human task of seriously reflecting on the church’s presence and practice in the world.

For theology to ever become an abstract, arcane, intellectual hobby, believed unnecessary and perhaps even deleterious to faith and church life, is a profound betrayal of this practice and the church!

Rules for Whitewater Rafting

I believe the following rules for whitewater rafting suggest the focus we need and focuses the content of the faith we need for living faithfully in these times. They are:

1.       Rest during the calms because there is more turbulence coming

2.       When a rock looms ahead, lean into it not away from it

3.       Whatever else you do, never stop paddling

4.       Let everything else but your life jacket go if you fall into the water

I suggest we can translate these four rules for whitewater rafting into the following directives for faithful church life and ministry in the 21st century.

1.       “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Ex.20:8).

Keep the Presence always present. Live from the “big picture” of what God is doing in the world. What he has accomplished for the world in Jesus Christ. The destiny God intends for himself and his creation. That which alone is real, true, good, and beautiful. God’s presence with us – his plan and eternal purpose for us. That for which God bends his every effort to achieve with every act of his love.

2.       "Take up your cross and follow me" (Mk.8:34).

God’s way runs counter to very intuition and direction our hearts and the world teach us to follow. It’s called the “theology of the cross.” Most of time the church has preferred a “theology of glory,” however. A theology that glosses the world’s way of triumph and success and models Christian existence after it. A theology of glory does not lean into an oncoming rock. God’s way, the way of leaning into that oncoming rock, the way of the cross as victory, death to life, is very much an acquired taste. One we today must work extra hard to acquire.

3.       "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess.5:16-18).

Gratitude, “giving thanks in all circumstances,” is the chief mark of all Christian living. Gratitude refuses to let the pervasive and ever-present fear of death have the upper hand. The stench of the latter energizes and infects all our individual and cultural efforts to achieve significance and security no matter how grand, successful, and wonderful those achievements may be. The particular character of Christian gratitude distinguishes it from competitors and cultural surrogates.

4.       "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)

Whoever finds salvation and wherever they find it owe it ultimately to Jesus Christ. He alone is the one who saves and who saves whomever he wills. He is the one in whom God is gathering up all things and beings in creation (Eph.1:10) – the Omega Point as he has been called. The uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ is the key to what God is doing in and with our world, the good news of God for everyone!

Sabbath, cross, gratitude, and Christ, then, offer four points of entry to the whitewater rapids of life today. David Bentley Hart argues that “In the most unadorned terms possible, the ethos of modernity is—to be perfectly precise—nihilism” (Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies [Yale University Press, 2009], 20-21).  People may and do believe all sorts of things today but at bottom, according to Hart, they rest on “nothing” (nihil, Latin) more than our individual choice or preference. A modernity and post-modernity built on this nothing (and post-modernity was honest about this than modernity ever was) faces a yawning abyss of meaninglessness which cannot forever be papered over with the nihil. 

Jesus Christ is the Logos of God, the “word” or “meaning” of God, inscribed in creation itself by his creative labor (Col.1:15-17) and ruling over creation as its Lord and Ruler in redemption. Christian faith, the church, theology, cannot but be about meaning-making. The waves of our whitewater rapids tossing us to and fro seek to submerge us into its nihil. This where the struggle must be joined. In all the ways noted above theology must play its vital and irreplaceable role in equipping the church to be what God intends it to be.

As we will see, though, this requires a theology reoriented to a church revisioned in a world reconsidered to serve a Christ long-unknown to us.