Archive for category biblical literalism
Posted by Christian Beyer in Bible, biblical literalism, Calvinism, Catholicism, Christianity, Church, Crime and Punishment, Culture, Current Events, damnation, Emerging Church, Ethics, Evil, Faith, Fundamentalism, God, Gospel, grace, Heaven and Hell, Hell, Heresy, Heterodoxy, Jesus, Justice, Morality, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, reformed church, Religion, Religious Right, Religious Tolerance, sacrifice, salvation, Sin, Spirituality, Substitutionary Atonement, Theology, Universalism on March 10, 2011
As long as I can remember my mother has said, “As a Christian you have to believe in Hell but you don’t have to believe anyone is there.” This is her gracious understanding of an essential Christian doctrine. Though she didn’t know it, this understanding is a Christian “heresy” called Universalism, a heresy that says all of us, even non-Christians, will go to Heaven. And it was expressly against Catholic, and most Christian doctrine. But wasn’t she right about one thing: Don’t you have to believe in Hell to be a Christian? This must be the case, if Universalism is a heresy.
Not long ago Rob Bell was in the hot seat with many Evangelicals (and some Catholics) because his recent book, “Love Wins”, suggested that no one goes to Hell. He set the conservative Christian bogs on fire and most of them essentially condemned Bell to hell for not believing in Hell.
The ensuing progressive Christian defense of Bell was great. Many Emerging Church and progressive Christian bloggers busted the chops of people like the Three Johns ( Piper, MacArthur and Hagee) for accusing Bell of Universalism . They rightly criticized the conservative Christian tendency to make Hell such a big part of their theology, to the point where this doctrine obscures a lot of the Gospel message. But, unfortunately, few of them go far enough.
Because in their defense of Bell they made it quite clear that they also believed in the doctrine of Hell, they just adapted it to make it more palatable. Most seemed to accept the conventional orthodoxy of a Final Judgment and the potential prospect of Hell (even with little or no scriptural support for it) coupled with the salvic solution of Jesus dying for our sins on the cross, as God’s blood sacrifice, to free us from eternal damnation. Which, to me, flies in the face of what Jesus spends a lot of time telling us about God. As I heard a pastor once say, God is either merciful or God is just, but God cannot be both.
I think one reason why so many Christians are unyielding about Hell, and why the progressives still can’t shake the doctrine off, is that, in reality, Hell is the cornerstone of the Church, not Jesus. Because without Hell, what is there for Jesus to do? What does he save us from?
No Hell = no Jesus. Or at least the Jesus that many Christians claim to believe in, have faith in. Without Hell he loses his job description. He loses his purpose along with the primary meaning he may have for millions of Christians. So the idea that there is no Hell is just too damn frightening to consider.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
The Bible is a collection of diverse ancient Hebrew writings by many authors who never intended their works to be collected between the bindings of a book. It is full of spiritual stories, poems, myths, biographies and various historical accounts. It may or may not include recorded attempts at predicting the future. Wisdom and beauty abound within its pages and the reading of this book has helped millions of people, in many spiritual ways, to encounter God. By this definition alone, it is a sacred book. But as St. Paul once said, the scriptures are useful for instructing a person in the ways of God, implying that they are only some of the tools at our disposal and not the sole repository of spiritual wisdom.
The common thread that runs through this assortment of writings is how a particular group of people interacted with their God over a very long time, in ways that were both moral and immoral. Inspired by a sense of wonder, the authors attempted to understand God’s nature, God’s will and how, why and if God works in their lives, often depicting God as speaking and acting within the natural world.
The second, smaller part of the Bible concerns Jesus of Nazareth, his life, crucifixion and resurrection. It also includes his teachings and the teachings of some of his disciples. These teachings have undoubtedly inspired generations of people to live lives of peace, mercy and love while at the same time championing justice. At the same time, different interpretations have helped others to rationalize behavior not so commendable.
The Bible had no release date, there was no publishing date. At some point, around 1700-1800 years ago, powerful religious men decided what Jewish scriptures would be included in what we call the Canon and the Apocrypha. Everything else (probably more than what was included) was discarded or destroyed, though some of these manuscripts survive today. Throughout its history the Bible has been translated in different ways and there have been a few cases where it has been altered to serve a religious agenda, but these were rare occurrences. There has always been a very active, and often heated, debate over what many portions of the Bible actually mean.
The Bible may, or may not, be relevant to us today. The stories and poems and letters within have been used as a guide for morality, compassion and self sacrifice. They have also been used to justify genocide, torture, slavery, misogyny, bigotry and war. If God has spoken through the Bible then some have certainly heard the voice of Satan as well.
Although a great work of historical literature and sacred to millions, it has no magical qualities or powers. It needs to be interpreted contextually, framed within the time and circumstances of the people who populate it, lest whatever lessons it might contain remain hidden. It is undeniably a very, very important book. It is certainly a great book, one of the world’s greatest. But it is not the GOOD book any more than it is a bad book. In the end, with all that it has to offer, it is still…just…a…book.
Posted by Christian Beyer in Bible, biblical literalism, Christianity, Emerging Church, Evangelism, Faith, Fundamentalism, God, Gospel, Heresy, Heterodoxy, History, Jesus, Orthodoxy, Religion, Religious Right, Religious Tolerance, salvation, Spirituality, Substitutionary Atonement, Theology, tolerance on January 28, 2011
Over on the Wall Street Journal blog, one of the members has (hopefully) started a thread by asking this question:
How do Christians define Christians? What makes you or not a Christian?
I often come across the argument that “said person is not a real Christian”, many tend to use this argument to exclude particulars who happen to shame the religion calling themselves part of it, or act in the name of it.
I think it would be interesting to see, how does every one define it, is it simply believing in a higher authority?. Is it taking every literal word of the bible?. Is it following the “reasonable” aspects of the bible?
Now, so far, only one person has given an answer, and it is one that I suspect the majority of American Christians would agree with:
A Christian is somebody who believes that Christ died on the Cross and shed his blood as the ultimate atonement(replacement for the blood sacrifice of the Old Testament law) for the sins of mankind. They believe that Christ is who He said He is. ie, The Son of God, and therefore God Himself. The concept of the Trinity applies here. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Christ was the product of the immaculate conception. Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy. Isaiah 53:3-7 is an example, among others of the prophesy.
The first chapter of John in the New testament, gives a good representation of what Christians believe about Christ.
To be saved (ie a Christian), is nothing more then the realization that man is born into sin, and the acceptance and acknowledgment of the free gift of eternal life(made possible because of Christ sacrifice on the Cross), that is offered to mankind, should they(exhibit their “free will”) except it. It is nothing more then Gods grace being demonstrated through mans faith.
If all of the above needs to be believed in order to be a Christian, then I guess I am not one. Of course, for many reasons I think the above definition, although perhaps “orthodox”, is incorrect.
Over on Ric Booth’s blog there is an interesting conversation taking place about a new organization that John Shore is spear-heading called ThruWAy Christians, particularly their controversial acceptance of gays and lesbians. The stated goal of ThruWAy Christians is to provide moderate Christians with a new forum. As it says on their website: “If you find conservative Christianity too oppressive and exclusionary, and progressive Christianity too theologically tenuous, you’re probably a ThruWay Christian.” Which means that, though I agree with much of the content of their founding document, my theology is much too “tenuous” (something which I am sure the Conservative Christians could accuse the ThruWay people).
Surprisingly, I don’t believe my theology is any weaker than theirs or any one else. It’s different to be sure. Maybe not as orthodox as they would like. And like Christianity, it is evolving. But that doesn’t mean that it is “flimsy, insubstantial or lacking in strength”. This is a charge that the orthodox have always levied at those who had the audacity to question theological authority.
The good folks over at ThruWAy Christian are not really challenging conservative Christian theological authority, though. They are only challenging the conservative interpretations of certain scriptures that they believe lead to intolerant and mean spirited attitudes and behavior. But I would suggest that the overarching theology that both the moderates and the conservatives still hold in common ( much of which has been condensed by the commenter from the WSJ blog and jives with the first line of ThruWay’s creed ) is actually what drives this intolerance. And has for centuries.
I ‘ve found that it is nearly impossible for Christian moderates to engage Fundamentalists in any meaningful dialog that might result in a change of perception on the part of either, so I’ve given up on it myself. If this is the goal of the folks at ThruWAy, well then, have at it. But if they would be open-minded enough to engage some Christians whose convictions are not quite as solid, substantial or strong as theirs then perhaps they might find that ‘progressive’ is not such a bad word after all.
I’ve finally realized (as some have suggested here) that for years I have been dishonest. In order to help rectify this I’ve decided to change my tag line. Though it’s always said “Sharp Iron: testing the mettle of conventional religion”, my focus has really been on questioning the validity and the intentions of Christian Fundamentalists. I never seriously wanted to take Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists to task (enough Christians were already doing that) but did so occasionally to throw the odd bone to my Fundamentalist critics. I wanted to be perceived as being fair. But I have dropped the charade and my new tag line now reads: “testing the mettle of Christian Fundamentalism” (which if you think about it, is a much simpler task than the previous one).
Over the years my opponents often accused me of being just as intolerant as those I accused of intolerance. I no longer waste my breath trying to point out the fallacy inherent in this argument. But I am not going to pay lip service anymore to the idea that there is value, perhaps hidden, in the theology and politics of the Christian Fundamentalists. I strongly feel that Fundamentalist of all stripes are allowed, by the Constitution and just plain civility, to voice their skewed opinions but there is no reason for me to pretend that they might edify me or anyone else.
I know this because I used to be one of them. I believed all that they believe. I was once a Right Wing Christian Fundamentalist and believed that all those outside of that particularly narrow interpretation of the faith were destined for eternal damnation, that other religions were evil, and that all people needed to convert to Christianity before they died. I shared their paranoia: that there was a great conspiracy of non-Christians (the media, the United Nations, homosexuals, Muslims, Liberals, socialists, communists, the Supreme Court, New Agers, environmentalists, feminists, secular humanists etc.) out to destroy America and the ‘true’ Church. I believed that God uniquely favored America and that only the ‘right’ Christians were his means of recovering the country from perdition. I believed that everything and all one needed to know was in the Bible. I believed that the End Times were near (or hoped that they were) and was proud of the fact that I was among those who would avoid the promised violence and suffering. I was a utopian longing for a return to a strong (and mythical) Christian Nation: a Christian Dominionist.
So, I know what they believe. I also know their character. They are not bad or evil people. On the contrary, most of them are good people, well-meaning yet led astray by ‘false prophets’. Up until recently, I never took them as a serious threat to America (and consequently, the world).
But in these recent difficult times Christian Fundamentalists have developed an ever stronger voice and this voice is angry. Their words are divisive and at times violent. They leave no room for dissent. Insulting and ridiculing those who disagree with them is the order of the day. They make broad political statements that are not grounded in facts but in their theology. And they are influencing large segments of the voting population: they are putting like-minded people in office and on the bench and exerting political pressure on our leaders.
Just as I could no longer tolerate my own fundamentalism, I will no longer pretend to tolerate theirs. Because they are always controversial and frequently entertaining, the media (including bloggers like me) gives them extraordinary exposure, helping them grab hold of the insecure populist mindset of America. They have essentially become the face of Christianity to the non-Christian world. If we are in any way concerned about this, if we can imagine any danger from this, then we need to drop the tolerance card and confront them wherever and whenever opportunities arise.
In the same way that they demand all Muslims denounce Islamism, it’s time for all Christians to rigorously denounce the Fundamentalists (and their version of Islamism: Dominionism) who claim to represent our faith. We need to be intolerant of the intolerant. It’s time to declare jihad on Fundamentalist Christianity.
Having once been an adherent myself, this is my understanding of why Christian Fundamentalists are so zealous about Creationism:
… accept the theory of Evolution as the most reasonable explanation for the variety of life on Earth
….accept the geological evidence that says that the Earth is billions of years old
…accept the astronomical evidence that the Universe is much older than even the Earth
…obviously do not read the Bible literally
…do not believe that the Biblical creation account is true
…cannot trust that anything else in the Bible is true
…cannot accept God’s Word as true
…under the influence of Satan
So, in fundamentalist eyes, conventional scientific inquiry is not necessarily flawed but profoundly dangerous. In order to protect the philosophically unassailable conclusions of Creationism, which are based solely upon Biblical texts, any tactic that can discredit the conventional scientific wisdom is acceptable, particularly the ad hominem argument
But the defense of Creationism becomes more difficult as scientific research continues to reveal evidence for the natural history of our planet and the workings of the Universe. This evidence cannot be ignored so it must be re-interpreted, but always through the lens of the Bible. In this way the geologic and fossil evidence can be explained ‘scientifically’ through the extrapolation of Biblical stories, particularly the story of the Flood.
As it turns out, the Flood is a convenient refutation of just about all the physical evidence that supports evolution and an old Earth, at least for those who believe in Biblical Creation. It is the point at which the Creationists and the Evolutionist continue to bump heads. Because, though the Evolutionists can say that the Flood is merely a convenient myth that neatly gives religious answers to questions about the Earth, the Creationists can reply that yes, indeed it does. The Flood explains everything. But it is no myth
Without the Flood and the story of Noah and his Ark, there would be little if any support for the theory of Creationism. This is the mechanism that provides an air of ‘scientific’ legitimacy to their position, one that incorporates physical evidence coupled with a theory that is irrefutable, as it cannot be tested. When this theory is questioned on the basis of obvious evidence to the contrary, the Creationists are left with no choice but to fall back upon a supernatural explanation that is often the result of a non-contextual rendering of a Bible verse. ( i.e. “all things are possible with God”)
It obviously boils down to a question of faith, not science. If one definition of faith is that it is a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence, then Creationism cannot be called science. Yet another definition of faith is trust, confidence in someone or something, without the necessary evidence to support it.
If ultimately the Creationist position is supported by an article of faith that cannot be tested, then why spend all this energy on modifying school science texts so that they teach Intelligent Design or the ongoing construction of numerous Creation museums (one intent of which is to ridicule modern science and scientists)? It is a classic example of “preaching to the choir” and comes across as a desperate attempt to present evidence necessary to “prove” the existence of God. Because there just isn’t enough faith.
Sven Splinquist, a Creation Scientist and entrepreneur in Stockholm, contacted Swedish authorities today, saying that his meticulously detailed life-size reproduction of Noah’s Arc was vandalized over night. An estimated 50 tons of thinly sliced deli turkey had been mysteriously layered atop the 450 foot wooden vessel, completely burying its superstructure.
Authorities have no suspects in the case but Splinquist believes it has something to do with his theory that not all animals were taken aboard by Noah, particularly birds. Instead just 2 each of all “kinds” of animals were saved. Every species of dog would not need representation, but just a few, as the other varieties would have developed in the ensuing 4300 years. But this view has some people upset, including many of Sweden’s 1500 turkey farmers, who have waged a market war with neighboring Norway’s booming chicken industry for years.
“Ja, dere vas no need for all da birds to be on d’ark. Just a few. So da tink is, dere vas no turkey on ark, just chickies. Da turkey of today is just a big chickie.” says Splinquist. “Da turkey varmers are mad ’cause dey tink I’m sayin Gud don’t luff de turkeys. But he luff effertink. Efen pastrami.”//
Splinquist is not too terribly upset about the cold-cut prank. In fact he has a big grin on his face.
“Look! My ark not tip ofer! Dis proof dat de ark vas ferry sea worty. An tomorrow ve haff smorgasbord fer de whole friggin’ town! Gud bless!”
That’s right. Through meticulous historical research, rigorous scientific study and the application of advanced mathematical concepts, the academics over at Harold Camping’s think-tank have determined the precise date the world will end. And it’s right around the corner.
Since we know the year the Earth was created, and using surprisingly simple and obvious formulas, it can be clearly seen that earth’s last day will be Wednesday, October 21, 2011, just a little over one year away. Surprisingly this beats the conventional wisdom about the world’s end ( based on the otherwise accurate Mayan calendar) by over two months. But the predictions are very close. Coincidence? I think not.
4990 BC—The flood of Noah’s day. All perished in a worldwide flood. Only Noah, his wife, and his 3 sons and their wives survived in the ark (6023 years from creation).
7 BC—The year Jesus Christ was born (11,006 years from creation).
33 AD—The year Jesus Christ was crucified and the church age began (11,045 years from creation; 5023 calendar years from the flood).
1988 AD—This year ended the church age and began the great tribulation period of 23 years (13,000 years from creation).
1994 AD—On September 7th, the first 2300-day period of the great tribulation came to an end and the latter rain began, commencing God’s plan to save a great multitude of people outside of the churches (13,006 years from creation).
2011 AD—On May 21st, Judgment Day will begin and the rapture (the taking up into heaven of God’s elect people) will occur at the end of the 23-year great tribulation. On October 21st, the world will be destroyed by fire (7000 years from the flood; 13,023 years from creation).
This body of evidence is conclusive and undeniable. Of course there will be skeptics and others quite happy with their heads in the sand. Some have already spread nasty rumors that these same scholars claimed that Jesus would return on September 6, 1994. But we all know that the Enemy is well versed in the use of lies and distortion.