Debate Stinks

We all know the experience of walking into a lift after someone has…..ahem…

Watch two politicians on our various news programs from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and you get quite the same nauseating experience.  A whole lot of hot air and nothing is settled, nothing is gained.

And it’s not just in politics, you see the same thing in Christian circles.  Theology is a smoking hot topic, and if you raise a question on dearly-held beliefs, look out – the gospel police will be out to get you.

Jesus dealt with the gospel police constantly – of course, we know them as the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Today’s gospel police claim that since we know what Jesus said, we can rest on those words and have surety what they mean and how they apply.

Isn’t it funny how people can make claims of a text written in a very different context, in a very different language?  Jesus demonstrated that even the most pious, even those whose biblical knowledge was supreme, could be so very far from God.

I pray the gospel police of today would look again at the example of Jesus, but with new eyes.  These eyes would see his compassionate reach to all of Israel.  They would begin to understand the Kingdom of God afresh.  They would baulk at injustice.  They would reach out their hands in healing and their voices in faith.  Rather than subscribe to an old story of a God who makes incessant demands, they would consider a merciful Father who loves both the rebellious and obstinate child.

Debate is the path of the self-righteous.  The penitent sinner can never enter into debate, for they already consider themselves defeated, beating their chest in shame.

Have mercy on us, O God, for our sin stinks.


The Unfathomable Mysteries of God

For quite some time I have been caught up in the process of trying to get to the truth.  Psychologists recognize that our minds crave certainty; we tend to require a ground on which to stand.  And it is on this path that I have explored, searching the myriad of opinions so that I may arrive at something solid.

In watching a debate between a theologian and an atheist, I was disappointed.  I found myself more in sympathy with the atheist than the theologian, given that the atheist had some very reasonable questions.  It felt a little like reading Job, like those religious voices who assumed to know why Job was suffering.  Except in this case you had a person who has reached the conclusion that there cannot be a God, and another person who attempts to suggest on the grounds of reason why there is.

And I realized why I was disappointed and sympathetic towards the atheist.  God cannot be naturalized.  God is utterly unreasonable.  Debates about God are doomed to failure.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians about this, and it’s captured beautifully in The Message translation:

We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (1 Corinthians 13:9-12 The Message)

That puts to shame anyone who suggests that they have arrived at truth, or suggests that we can find words that perfectly express the nature and ways of God.  We’re lost in the unfathomable mysteries of God, such that we are squinting in a fog and peering through a mist.

So I make Paul’s words at the end of this chapter my prayer:

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 The Message)

Why I love the perspective of Brian McLaren

In response to reading Brian’s book A New Kind of Christianity, I wrote him an email, and he has just responded on his blog.  I’ll repost it here.

Q & R: hell and 2 peter

Here’s the Q:

First of all, I want to express my utmost appreciation for your writings, which have been by and large the greatest influence on my faith and journey. It all started several years ago when I downloaded your interview with Leif Hansen, which opened me up to a new vision of the scriptures which had previously been dark to me. The question of hell as metaphor rather than a real place of condemnation just destroyed the conservative, literalistic, fundamentalist faith in one fell swoop – so much so that I went immediately into a crisis, a ‘dark night’ if you will, leaving the church and my devotion to God. It happened exactly like you describe in note 1 of Chapter 10 in A New Kind of Christianity: “For this reason, I would grimly prefer atheism to be true than for the Greco-Roman Theos narrative to be true.” For a long time atheism seemed the only viable alternative, for the only God I knew of was precisely that which you characterize as Theos.

Fortunately the story did not end there, for God is not capricious, not intent on my destruction, but is probably best represented like the father in the story of the prodigal son. My recent journey back to faith really began upon listening to The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity and thrilling in the fact that everything I’ve learned about the world since my faith crisis is completely compatible with a new appreciation of God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Church. Of late I have found myself in a new church home which unfortunately is rather conservative but not constrictive on my own journey. I also managed to purchase a range of your books at a very good discount, am working my way through A New Kind of Christianity, and have A Naked Spirituality on order.

Now to my question. In Chapter 11 of A New Kind of Christianity, you write of your disturbance with the account of the flood, and how through the narrative of scripture God moves from a capricious deity to be ultimately represented in the person of Jesus as love, mercy, and grace. Out of curiosity I put the keyword ‘flood’ into my Bible software, checking for the New Testament references, and was pointed to Second Peter. The character of God represented there does sound an awful lot more like Theos and Jehovah of early Genesis. For Peter first speaks of a kind of salvation by works (2 Pet 1:10-11), and later uses the genocide accounts of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of God’s judgment. He really does paint an awful picture in these verses!

How do you reconcile one of the latest documents in the Bible with your understanding of an evolving narrative? Is it possible that Peter was captured under an ancient worldview, making his writings more representative of an earlier rather than later stage of development? If so, this narrative business is messy stuff!

I really appreciate how your thoughts have captured my focus back to a vital and living faith. I have suffered greatly through my departure from God and the church, and am now appreciating the healing that is just beginning. May God richly bless your efforts.
Here’s the R:

Thanks for your note. Really, I don’t have a lot to add beyond what I said in New Kind of Christianity … whenever we find passages that promote or seem to promote a violent or cruel view of God, I think we need to re-interpret them through the prism of Jesus in whom we who are Christians most truly encounter the Word of God. We might say that at least some of the writer’s views were “captive to an ancient worldview … at an earlier stage of development.” That doesn’t require us to throw him under the bus … it just makes us more grateful to have Jesus as the “norming norm,” or we might say as the Rosetta Stone through which to interpret any and all Scripture. (Of course, even this requires interpretation … because we learn about Jesus through media – the Bible, the church, mentors, experiences, etc., … which must also be interpreted. It’s interpretation all the way down.)

One additional thought – sometimes I think it helps to read many of these passages rhetorically, i.e. in light of the main point they’re trying to accomplish, rather than analytically (scrutinizing every detail with equal weight). That allows us to put some of the secondary issues aside. For example, I might write, “We need to be like the Tin Man – always seeking for more knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.” In making that reference to the Wizard of Oz, I’m not asserting that the Tin Man was a historical figure, nor am I intending to validate the original novel from which the epic movie was made. I’m simply using a figure in a well-known story to make a point. For 2 Peter, the point seems to be to endure all the trials of the moment, and to resist temptations to compromise to false teachers who are really more about self-indulgence than spiritual formation. Thanks for your question … and glad you got the books at discount! I especially hope you’ll enjoy Naked Spirituality …

I’d even go so far as to suggest that sometimes we need to read Jesus in light of Jesus!  What most Christians I’ve encountered seem to glibly report is that God authored the Bible.  They fail to take into account the unique slant of each author.  In any case, I’m kind of weary of nit-picking and debates.  Depression and poor health has driven me to seek meaning and simplify.  So I’d much rather just err on the side of faith and grace.

Musings from a Fool

I need to make a confession.

I am a fool.

I have used this blog as a platform to speak of things that I could not understand, things that I could never understand.

If you have read any articles here prior to just recently, you’ll see what I mean.

Treat this as an autobiographical journey, and you will either love or loathe it.

For my atheist friends, you will deride the fact that I have again embraced faith in God as demonstrated in the way of Jesus;

My Christian friends may be shocked by some of what I have written before.

I will not attempt to erase what was done, as it serves a valuable purpose in revealing a mind void of meaning, a restless soul wandering in total darkness.

Neither will I now attempt to say that I have arrived in the light, being saved and filled with purpose and meaning.

Rather, I’m just a little bit closer to the light. It’s not so dark any more, I’ve got a tiny glimpse of some light ahead.

That light is what many now consider to be pure fiction; I now consider this faith journey towards Christ to be the most wonderful thing imaginable.

So I will happily remain a fool.