Monday, January 28, 2013

Diana Butler Bass' new American religion

The idea isn’t new: a new civil religion that encompasses all spirituality, leaving out only that which stands in contradiction to contemporary ideology. It might be called a new spirituality for America but it isn’t; it is simply religion (or spirituality) minus Jesus’ lordship and his cross. Hans Cornelder of linked to an article by Diana Butler Bass, “In Obama’s inauguration speech, a new American religion.” 

Bass in her recent book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, insists that a new spirituality is unfolding out of the death of an older religion. But in the book she does not so carelessly connect her predictions to the leader of the United States. With this essay, Bass has laid the American flag across her progressive thoughts.

 Bass writes, “It was not only a politically progressive speech, however, it was a masterwork of progressive theology: a public sermon on the meaning of America, a creedal statement and a call to practice that faith in the world.” Bass has turned Obama’s thoughts into her thoughts, from her book, and equated the new spirituality she waits for with civil religion. The cost of that equation, if true, would be more than civil religion, it would be state sponsored religion because it entails political measures.

 Speaking of the pluralism of America, Bass writes that the President has had to, “find new ways of expressing the transcendent meanings of community?” And there lies the problem. Christianity does not find its meaning in community but rather in Christ and always in Christ. A strong orthodox Christian faith does not acknowledge itself as that which defines itself—rather the community of Christ is defined by Christ. He alone, has that right and that authority. And that authority is found in his word.

Bass happily writes that Obama “linked his progressive political agenda with transcendent values, with a spiritual appeal to the new American pluralism.” And she eventually explains the content of a spiritual, political, pluralistic and inclusive creed which she states the president articulated:

1) We believe in community; 2) We believe in shared prosperity; 3) We believe in mutual care of one another; 4) We believe in stewardship of the Earth; 5) We believe in peacemaking; and 6) We believe in equality and human rights.

Because the list begins with “we believe in community” all the other beliefs in that list must be questioned. The orthodox Christian who does not believe in community but believes in Christ and his word must filter each of the other five beliefs through Lord’s commands. 

Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together: A discussion of Christian Fellowship, after explaining that Christian community is founded solely upon Jesus Christ, writes:

The basis of all spiritual reality is the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ. The basis of all human reality is the dark, turbid urges and desires of the human mind. The basis of the community of the Spirit is truth; the basis of human community of spirit is desire. The essence of the community of the Spirit is light, for “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) and if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1:7). The essence of human community of spirit is darkness, “for from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts” (Mark 7:21). It is the deep night that hovers over the sources of all human action, even over all noble and devout impulses. The community of the Spirit is fellowship of those who are called by Christ; human community of spirit is the fellowship of devout souls.

The human communities that believe in community for its own sake and believe in “shared prosperity” rarely wait for gifts and too often individuals become thieves and leaders become tyrants. (Jonestown was such a community) This inward turning affects each of the beliefs. They become busybodies and maligners.  Their call for “stewardship of the earth” can turn toward fascism. That is, only some humans and nature are worthy of survival. It is not well known but many of the fascist of the 1930s, who believed in community for community’s sake, (the volk) were environmentalists. In such a community “peacemaking” too often ignores the cries of the oppressed. And as for equality and human rights—orthodox Christians are already finding that with their resolute stand on the definition of marriage and human life they are being pushed out of the public square.

This is not to suggest that orthodox and biblical Christians don’t build communities that are based on purely human ideals. It happens much too often. But Bass is writing about what she sees as a new progressive spirituality for America, and her basis for that new spirituality rests in progressive communities that believe in community for its own sake. Without Christ there is the possibility of the essence of darkness.

Still, “The essence of the community of the Spirit is light, for “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) and if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1:7).” Let us walk in his light.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A very helpful video- for the Church in these times

I found this wonderful interview on Thabiti Anyabwile’s Pure Church site. The interview is of Rosaria Butterfield a former English professor at Syracuse University. She was a lesbian who found Jesus (He found her) after reading the Bible as research for a book on the Religious Right. It is long, but so good. Two things I want to point to—the Bible is wondrously upheld in its inspiration. The other is how the church can best bring the gospel to the LBGT community.  That includes friendship.

Butterfield has written a book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. I have ordered it and will write a review after I after I have read the book.

The interviewer is Marvin Olasky of World Magazine. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Center for Reproductive Rights and pure evil in a video

The media Center for Reproductive Rights in celebrating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade has created a video that is pure evil. One can almost smell the sulfur burning about this video.  And since it is often the man that encourages the woman to get an abortion perhaps it is right that the CRR is using a man to celebrate, with a seducing leer, the anniversary.  

The Center makes a statement about the video, “Center also releases new video starring Mehcad Brooks (True Blood, Necessary Roughness) to celebrate the landmark court decision.”, along with a statement about the anniversary. Although they hope to encourage the public to fight for abortion, the video should open the eyes of the public to the outrageous evil of our time: the killing of innocent children who have no defense and have done no wrong. 

Thank God for righteous men who stand beside the women in their lives as they prepare to birth the child God has so graciously given them.  Thank God for women who are faithful to the children, even when there is no righteous man to stand with them—except the truly righteous One, Jesus. Thank God for those who do no harm—who stand against the evil perpetrated by such groups as the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood.

With unease I put the video here, but only so that some will begin to understand the extreme evil vexing our souls in these days:

The Scripture tells of the wicked king of Israel, Manasseh. The word of God tells the reader, “Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord.” We are told that Manasseh caused Judah to sin more than any of their pagan neighbors. He even killed his own children by burning them before the false god Moloch  This was recorded in 2 kings 21.

Yet in 2 Chronicles we read that he was carried away to Babylon where he humbled himself and begged God to forgive him and restore him. And God did just that. Because of God’s great mercy, because of Jesus’ death on the cross there is forgiveness and new life for the sinner.

The apostle Paul called himself the chief of sinners because he had murdered Christians. But he was given graciousness through the cross. Gross evil, calls for denunciation and the proclamation of repentance and salvation. We in the PCUSA who are heavily burdened by a denomination that aligns with such evil must bring that sin before the Lord in repentance and with great grief. 

"Empty Cross, empty spirituality," a review of Christianity After Religion

“Empty cross, empty spirituality” a review of
Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
By Dianna Butler Bass, HarperOne, 2012

Dianna Butler Bass, author and blogger for The Huffington Post with a PhD in Religious Studies writes of what she sees as the end of the Church and religion, but with a gloss that transforms Christianity into a faith that welcomes multiple visions of divinity and spirituality. Her book, Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, begins with what to many are depressing statistics showing how evangelical and orthodox faith is declining. In fact the statistics show most religious faith in the United States is in decline. However, Bass sees this as a new awaking of spirituality which includes not just Christianity, but all faiths. Bass’s vision is one of pluralism minus doctrine and absolutes.

While I admit I generally find statistics boring, Bass held my attention with her constant optimism and her push toward what might be the answer to some rather dark tomorrows. But there were too many redefinitions of Christian history, the aspirations of faithfulness and the very meaning of Christian faith. Bass, while rejecting outer kinds of religious trappings like structures, buildings and even beliefs, favors good works, (spiritual practices),  and community making. She never sees transformation lodged in divine redemption, but rather in inner or outer human practice.

Focusing on the practice of prayer and/or meditation, Bass writes, “In spite of variation, the tradition still insists that a faithful spiritual life consists of practices of both devotion and ethics, and it is through such practices that one will, as Jesus promised, experience ‘eternal life.’ (148) Bass goes further:

Although Western Christianity would eventually be defined as a belief system about God, throughout its first five centuries people understood it primarily as spiritual practices that offered a meaningful way of life in this world not as a neat set of doctrines, an esoteric belief, or the promise of heaven.  … Members of the community were not held accountable for their opinion about God or Jesus; rather, the community measured faithfulness by how well its members practiced loving God and neighbor. Not offering hospitality was a much greater failure than not believing that Jesus was ‘truly God and truly human.’ Early Christians judged ethical failings as the most serious breach of community, even as they accepted a significant amount of theological diversity in their midst. (149)

The first five centuries of Christianity did entail Christian practice and love of neighbor and God. But members of the early church were held accountable for their theological opinions. In fact, most New Testament letters were written as a means of correcting misunderstandings about the faith. For example, John in his first letter not only insists on love of one another, he also calls those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ, antichrists. (1 John 2:22-23, 4:23)

Peter refers to those who make fun of the second coming of Christ as mockers. (2 Peter 3) Paul rebukes those who insist that salvation is possible through the law. (Galatians) Colossians is clearly aimed at gnostic like ideas. As Dorothy Sayers correctly put it, “The drama is in the dogma.” One does not live out the faith well in community without the beauty and wholeness of the right set of doctrines.

Writing about the Christian experience of God, Bass dwells on the idea of God in us. She writes of the disciples, in particular Peter and then Thomas identifying who Jesus and the Father are. She moves from the importance of knowing who Christ is, to knowing who we are, but believes that knowing the God within is the ultimate encounter with our own spiritual position. As Bass puts it, “Finding one’s self in God is also to find God in one’s self. There is biblical truth in this but Bass ruins it with her final statement in this section:

God is not only “in” the Body of Christ, that is the church, but God is in each and every human being ever born. That image is intrinsic to our identity. We belong to God, because God is in each and every one of us. (190)

Bass’ thoughts, after connecting self to all of creation, leads in a rather Buddhist direction and one feels as though they are reading Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha as Bass writes, “Thus the self is discovered in Christ, with others, through the nature on the river of change. Everything is connected. A spiritual awakening entails experiencing the full range of prepositional relationships in which we live and move and discover our being.” One must ask, where is the cross—the death of Jesus, the resurrection?

It is true; all are created in the image of God. It is the image that gives dignity to all humanity. But this is not the same as saying that God is in everyone. The in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit was promised to all those who trust in Christ. Jesus states:

“I  will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper, that he may be with  you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see him or know him, but you know him because he abides with you and will be in you. (John 14: 16-17)

Finally toward the end of her book Bass, summarizes what she sees as the final outcome of a new awakening-which is surly her vision of universal wholeness:

Conventional religion is failing and a new form of faith, which some call “spirituality” and can also be called religio, is being born. This is a new spiritual awakening in line with other American awakenings, part of a complex web of spiritual renewal throughout the world, which is in process of reshaping most religions by emphasizing relationships, practices, and experience that connects people to a deeper awareness of self, to their neighbors in global community, and to God. There are powerful new forces of egalitarianism, communalism, environmentalism, economic life, and mutual responsibility being born from the emerging spirituality, opening the possibilities for new forms of compassion toward others and toward the planet. (259)

Bass makes this rather new age spirituality seem compatible with Christianity by never referring to the gospel of the cross and redemption but only referring to discarded and unwanted dogma, systemization of beliefs and a set of doctrines. Of course this has to  entail rejecting the atonement, the deity of Christ, the resurrection and the Trinity. And orthodox belief is defined as old light while progressive awakening becomes new light.

All true revivals are seen as progressive with an element of old light trying to reinsert order and the faith as it was once known. As usual the main conservative religious persons that are used are those who have made headlines as televangelists. At the end, for Bass, all conservative religion becomes political. All new spirituality is creative, life giving and communal. But it isn’t truthful and it isn’t Christianity.

The new spiritual awakening that Bass writes about is not new. Over and over in the history of the church, God’s people have stood within the darkness of such times. The Arians almost over ran the church from the fourth to the sixth century. The Christians of 17th century Japan were mostly annihilated. True Christianity in Germany would have disappeared had Hitler lived on. Christianity in North Korea is hidden and suffering. And yes, Christianity in the United States is under attack, broken by false teaching and antinomianism. But the church prevails because of Christ who is known in the Holy Scriptures and the proclamation of his word.  If the light dims in one corner of the world it shines bright in another. The next Christianity is always the church under the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Thabiti Anyabwile: two articles on Martin Luther King Day & a suffering minority

Thabiti Anyabwile, a Baptist pastor in the Cayman Islands and one of the members of the Gospel Coalition has two very important postings for Martin Luther King Day. One is a posting on his blog, Pure Church, “A Few Reasons King’s Vision for America Remains Unfulfilled.” The other is an interview of him by Trillia Newbell, “What we need to learn from the minority experience.” The latter is also on the Gospel Coalition site.

Anyabwile begins has article on King’s vision and why it is still unfulfilled with this:

Across the United States, persons will commemorate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rightly so. God used Dr. King to save America from her fratricidal hatred of her darker brothers. In an unanticipated and much longed for historical moment orchestrated in the councils of Divine Providence, God raised Dr. King onto the national scene as the visionary, orator and martyr for Civil Rights. Before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, full civil rights seemed distant and nearly impossible to achieve. After roughly 20 years of public ministry and agitation, the denial of full Civil Rights seemed unthinkable. What happened in between must surely be one of the most remarkable records of God’s deliverance of any people in any place.

After explaining how King should be seen as the only true American hero since the ending of WWII, Anyabwile gives several reasons why the dreams are not fulfilled. One is the lack of any in-depth knowledge of King, his concerns, purposes and writings. Anyabwile writes, “Most Americans–White and Black–know little more of King than the fact that he was a preacher and a “slain civil rights leader.” Fewer still have read any of his writing while assigning him iconic status. But the problem with icons is that they rarely communicate the depth and substance of the thing pictured.”

Anyabwile goes on to write of the impersonal American wars of our times, which include the use of drones in “civilian areas,” and of President Obama and abortion. He writes:

Does anyone else find it a tragically sad irony that the new icon of civil rights progress, President Obama, has with his presidential policies regarding abortion ended untold numbers of Black lives when King fought to save them? President Obama’s position on abortion actually represents the most vile and fundamental betrayal of King’s legacy. King fought against the country so that the country might live up to its ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” King sought the extension of life and the full thriving of humanity for African Americans who were systematically denied it. President Obama’s policy systematic ends life even before it begins. His policy on abortion must surely be the grossest violation of basic humanity and civil rights in American history. Grossest because his victims are unborn and defenseless children. Those with tender consciences will object to this word choice, but we can only call the President’s policy and its effects “demonic.”

These are strong and important words with a clarity that should cause many to take notice. There are also words on King’s view of the “Beloved Community.” Read the article here: A Few Reasons King’s Vision for America Remains Unfulfilled.

The other article, an interview, centers on how Christians in the United States might learn from the minority experiences of the black community, as they themselves enter into a similar experience. To get a sense of the kinds of answers that one can find in this article here are two of Anyabwile’s thoughts:

3. Learn how to suffer.
What American believers are now calling "persecution" is mild compared to the brutality Christians face in other parts of the world. What we're facing is almost loving treatment compared to what African Americans from the early 1600s beyond the mid-1900s faced. Black people have been a suffering people and have managed to endure that suffering with tremendous dignity. Right now, the church in the United States doesn't seem to know how to bear reproach very well. The theologies dominating the airwaves are prosperity theologies—of the materialistic word-faith type as well as of the more mainstream American triumphalistic and moralistic type. So when the church hurts it quickly finds the fetal position and whines its way through the conflict. African Americans didn't have that luxury of meeting suffering with whining—and no one was listening! We had to learn that suffering wasn't the end, and that our humanity was proven by our suffering even if it was sometimes distorted by it as well. The church must draw from those resources.

4. Learn how to persevere when everything is against you.
Are we going to close our churches, withdraw from the public square, avoid our neighbors, and hide our faith because we're opposed? We won't if we're genuinely Christians. We'll have to press on in the face of minority status and systemic repression. This also means learning not to whine and to get on with living. So what if the deck is stacked? It's not going to change by complaining. No one is going to give you anything. If you have a case to make, you're going to have to make it from the floor of the lion's den. Everything about it is unfair. Get over it. Get on with it.

Again here is the link to the article, “What we need to learn from the minority experience.”

Friday, January 18, 2013

A friend of friends is in jail for being a Christian

A friend of friends is in jail because he is a Christian. The Al Abrabiya News reports:
A 32-year-old Iranian-born American Christian convert, Saeed Abedini, was arrested in September on his return visit to Iran. (Courtesy: American Center for Law and Justice)

A Tehran court will next week put on trial an Iranian American Christian on charges that could carry the death penalty, his wife said Thursday, in a case that has raised concern among U.S. officials.

The article continues:

Saeed Abedini, a naturalized U.S. citizen who converted to Christianity, was arrested in September on a return visit to Iran and in a recent letter said he suffered beatings in prison, his wife and his U.S.-based lawyer said.
 His wife said that the 32-year-old will face charges of harming national security starting Monday at a trial under Abbas Pir-Abassi, a revolutionary court judge who has been criticized overseas for harsh verdicts.
Here is a video with the letter being read:

A petition can be signed at ACLJ
And please continue in prayer. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Joseph Massad, IPMN and a false history of Zionism

With the words, “Zionism, anti-Semitism and colonialism,”the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network using Twitter linked to Aljazeera and the article, “Zionism, anti-Semitism and colonialism” with the subtitle “Zionist leaders consciously recognised that state anti-Semitism was essential to their colonial project, writes Massad.” Palestinian Joseph Massad is a controversial professor of modern Arab Politics at Columbia University. Massad, in his article is attempting to portray Zionism as a parasite that feeds off of anti-Semitism.
He gives a history of Zionism and reverses all truths that are related to Zionism. But before considering the article, one needs to understand Massad and his views about European Jews who now makeup a great deal of the population of Israel. Massad believes that European Jews are not related to ancient Israel. And he blames Protestants for forging what he considers a lie. In doing so he shows some ignorance of Christianity. Massad, in a 2004 article in the Egyptian news site Al-Ahram Weekly writes:

In keeping with the Protestant Reformation's abduction of the Hebrew bible into its new religion and its positing of modern European Jews as direct descendants of the ancient Hebrews, post- Enlightenment haters of Jews began to identify Jews as "Semites" on account of their alleged ancestors having spoken Hebrew.
In a conversation with Jewish historian Benny Morris, Massad states:

The claim made by the Zionists, and by Professor Morris, that late nineteenth-century European Jews are direct descendants of the ancient Palestinian Hebrews is what is preposterous here. This kind of anti-Semitic claim that European Jews were not European that was propagated by the racist and biological discourses on the nineteenth century, that they somehow descend from first-century Hebrews, despite the fact that they look like other Europeans, that they speak European languages, is what is absurd. [1]
Massad’s background ideas are interesting but much of it is invented to fit his outlook on the Middle East. He seemingly does not understand that all Christian Bibles contain the Hebrew Bible. Massad believes that the European Jews are not descendants of ancient Israel. He believes that the Holocaust did happen, that it was a horrible occurrence. He rightly believes that the word anti-Semitism was invented in the nineteenth century by those who hated the Jews. But Massad incorrectly believes they were mistaken about the Jews being Semites. He also believes that the Arabs are not Semites either but he believes they are now the ones being treated as Semites by anti-Semites.

The Aljazeera article is lengthy and simplistic as well as incorrect. Pages could be written correcting the article. Massad goes to great lengths to insist that Zionists were glad for the rise of Nazism and collaborated with them. Here are some examples of Massad’s twists and turns:
The first one I will note is a simplistic account. It is this:

In 1933, Labour Zionism signed the Transfer "Ha'avara" Agreement with the Nazis, breaking the international boycott against the regime: Nazi Germany would compensate German Jews who emigrate to Palestine for their lost property by exporting German goods to the Zionists in the country thus breaking the boycott. Between 1933 and 1939, 60 percent of all capital invested in Jewish Palestine came from German Jewish money through the Transfer Agreement. Thus, Nazism was a boon to Zionism throughout the 1930s.
Of course this was something the Nazis wanted and it did break the boycott. But the important thing to consider is that most Jews in Germany had or were losing their jobs, property and rights. The boycott was only Jewish and as Walter Laqueur in his A History of Zionism puts it, “Neither the western powers nor the Soviet Union considered for a moment reducing or breaking off trade relations with Germany.” [2]

Laqueur also states that during that time half the Jews in Germany were able to leave, but they only had six years to do so. With the start of war “the doors closed.” [3] It was not that the Zionist needed Nazism and anti-Semitism to build Israel; it was Nazism and anti-Semitism that nearly destroyed the Jews.

As Laqueur points out, “… the imputation of cooperation and collusion with the Nazis is pernicious nonsense.” [4]
The next statement by Massad is a twisting of facts. He states:

… Zionism would always claim that its collaboration with anti-Semitism was strategic, namely to save Jews.

This however does not square with the facts that during Nazi rule, Jews from Britain and the United States were given priority by the Zionists over German Jews for immigration to Palestine. Indeed, two-thirds of German Jewish applicants to immigrate to Palestine were turned down by the Zionists, whose criteria for the ideal immigrant was a Jew's commitment to Zionism, youth, good health, training, wealth, needed skills and knowledge of Hebrew.
The first sentence simply isn’t true. The rest is the twist. It was the Palestinian government which set the standards. As Laqueur puts it:

The labour schedule became the bone of contention between the Palestine government and the Jewish Agency. In 1934 the Agency asked for 20, 000 certificates for labour immigrants and received 5, 600. For the year starting in April 1935 it asked for 30, 000 and obtained 11, 2000. In 1938, after the outbreak of the Arab riots, the government severely restricted immigration. Of the 22, 000 certificates requested by the Agency, little more than 10 per cent, 2,500, were granted. [5]
Laqueur goes on to explain that slowly, year after year the certificates for new immigrants were cut off.
Writing about the supposed later attempts by Israel to create anti-Semitism in other countries so as to encourage their Jewish citizens to move to Israel, Massad writes:

In light of the new post-war period that saw the end of state-sponsored anti-Semitism, the Zionists set out to attack Jews in a number of countries and to conjure up the spectre of anti-Semitism in countries that opposed Zionism. In Iraq, the Israeli Mossad planted bombs in synagogues, libraries and cafes in the early 1950s, which killed and injured Iraqi Jews and spread panic amongst them that Iraqi Muslims and Christians were targeting them. Collaboration ensued between Israel and the British-sponsored Iraqi regime to bring about the exodus of Iraqi Jews to Israel.
This is utter fabrication. In her book, Last Days in Babylon: The History of a Family, the Story of a Nation, Marina Benjamin writes of her family and community as the British were victorious over the Axis powers occupying Baghdad at the end of WWII. She writes of the thugs and looters who ravished the Jewish Community:

In Bataween, cries of horror and suffering could be heard throughout the night, drifting up from the old mahallah where women were being raped, babies crushed, children mutilated. In this free-for-all slaughter, Jews old and young were killed. Some were shot and some stabbed. Houses big and small were broken into and plundered [6]
This was after two war years of continuous harassment.

As Israel won her independence and Palestinian refugees fled to Iraq the Jews lost their freedoms. They lost jobs and property, there was a bomb thrown at a group of Jewish men in a coffee shop. Four were injured. The Jewish people of Iraq had been encouraged by the government to leave if they would renounce their Iraqi citizenship [7]
One final statement by Massad, he writes:

Israel and Zionism have been in deep mourning over the passing of actual anti-Semitic regimes and of regimes that they could cast in that role, as these regimes had provided them with so much propaganda power to justify their colonial project. After the fall of the USSR, the Zionists ran out of arguments and of regimes they could label "anti-Semitic". In this new situation, Israeli propaganda would become outright hysterical. Attempting to cast some of the anti-Zionist pronouncements of the Iranian President Ahmadinejad as genocidal anti-Semitism, Israel is hoping it could cover up its ongoing colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
President Ahmadinejad is a hate filled leader who denies the Holocaust and has made it known that Israel should be pushed into the sea. He is the supreme anti-Semite.

There is so much more that could be said about Massad’s article. He rightly blames Israel for encouraging Egyptian Jews to bomb buildings in Egypt. But he states that it was to encourage Egyptian Jews to flee to Israel. Instead it was to encourage the British to stay in Sinai so that Egypt would not invade Israel.

Massad’s words are not trustworthy—so why is the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network linking to it. Their intentions are not trustworthy either.

 [1]Note 21 at “Joseph Massad, Wikipedia, Joseph Massad, quoted in Andrew Whitehead, "History on the Line, ‘No Common Ground’: Joseph Massad and Benny Morris Discuss the Middle East," History Workshop Journal 53:1 (2002), pp. 214-215)

 [2Walter Laqueur, A History of Zionism: from the French Revolution to the Establishment of the State of Israel, paperback reprint (New York: Schocken Books 2003) 501-02.



[5] Ibid, 509.

[6]Marina Benjamin, Last Days in Babylon: The History of a Family, the Story of a Nation, (New York: Free Press 2006) 123.

 [7] Ibid, Chapter 11.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Emergence Christianity and the Word of God

A conference to honor Phyllis Tickle and her recently released book, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters, was recently held in Memphis Tennessee. Given that I had just written a review of her new book I followed the event on Twitter. Since the conference many emergent writers have written about the event, and I have also read those. One such posting was “Emergence Christianity ’13: Questions,” by Terry Ramone Smith. He is co-pastor of Church of the Misfits, a Disciples of Christ church. Smith, in his article, is basically troubled by the idea of Scripture as the sole authority for Christians (sola Scriptura). His arguments are spurious but nevertheless important enough to examine.   

Smith gives a history of women beginning to work in factories during WW II and explains that many became single after their husbands came home with post-dramatic stress disorder. He states, “The “Biblical place” for a woman started to change.  Biblical inerrancy was challenged.”

Not only does this leave out huge stretches of women’s history in the United States, relying simply on a small few decades, it also fails to note any place in the Bible where women are confined to the home. 1 Timothy certainly encourages younger women, if they are widows, to remarry, “bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach.” This is in contrast to going about the neighborhood gossiping and getting into other people’s business.

But nothing in these verses confines a woman strictly to her house or the vocation of house-keeping. In the New Testament one can read accounts of women sewing for the poor (Acts 9:36-42), doing business for the church (Rom. 1:1-2), teaching others (Acts 18:24-28), prophesying (Acts 21:7-9), being sent to do the Lord’s work (an apostle) (Rom. 1:7), mothering house churches (Acts 16: 14-15; 40)[1] and more. 

In fact in the Gospels, Jesus commends his friend Mary for leaving kitchen duties in order to listen to him teach. A woman working outside of the home does nothing to contradict the Scriptures. In fact, if one searches both the New and Old Testament one finds women busy in many ways inside and outside of the home.

Next Smith suggests that in the push for LGBT rights the authority of Scriptures was challenged. Yes, it has been challenged but Christianity has stood, and will continue to stand against the activist push. There is no place in the Scriptures where homosexuality is praised or blessed; instead the Scriptures offer love, forgiveness and transformation. Jesus upholds, in his words about marriage and divorce, the biblical definition of marriage which is between a man and a woman. He goes back to Genesis and places the definition in God’s account of the beginning of marriage. One cannot answer any question about human sexuality and morality without the Genesis text.

Next Smith suggests that the church see the Scripture as true but not factual. Using the book of Jonah as an example Smith wants to see all of the text as metaphor or as an analogy. And he suggests reconsidering the canon. He even goes so far as to state that the Coptic New Testament contains 87 books in contrast to the western New Testament  which contains 27.

F.F. Bruce in his book, The Books and the Parchments: How we got our English Bible in the chapter “Other Early Versions,” under “Coptic” does not state that the Coptic version contains that many more books than the western versions. The same is true of Bruce M. Metzger’s two books on the formation of the N.T. text. In his, The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission and Limitations, there is a whole chapter on Coptic early versions of the N.T.; there is nothing about 60 extra books.

Finally, Smith suggests adding manuscripts to the canon of Scripture. He writes:

I think next, we need to realize and live into the fact that we are living in a world that is extra-Biblical.  Until and if our canon is revisited, it is incomplete.  I urge you, pastors of faith communities, to consider what books are worthy of the canon for your community.  What makes sense to be in your Holy Book?  Does some works by Brian McLaren deserve to be in there?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer   Phyllis Tickle?  Charles Darwin? Henri Nouwen?

While Tickle and Darwin might think that was appropriate, I doubt that Bonhoeffer or Nouwen would. I am uncertain of McLaren. Smith’s posting is a mockery of all that belongs to the follower of Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his small book, Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible writes:

The Holy Scriptures is the Word of God to us. But prayers are the words of men. How do prayers then get into the Bible? Let us make no mistake about it; the Bible is the Word of God even in the Psalms. Then are these prayers to God also God’s own word? That seems difficult to understand. We grasp it only when we remember that we can learn true prayer only from Jesus Christ, from the word of the Son of God, who lives with us men, to God the Father who lives in eternity.

Bonhoeffer goes on to explain how praying through Christ allows the prayers of God to become the prayer of men and then again the prayers of men become the prayers of God. But the important thing I wish to be seen here is that Bonhoeffer is very clear that the Bible is the Word of God. Bonhoeffer would declare, alongside the Church universal, that any attempt to add extra material to the word of God is heresy—it is sticking a knife into and wounding the faithful. And, most of all it is an insult to God who has given his word as a gift to his people.

The church’s prayer should be that God would pick up the poor, misguided, wandering sheep of the Emergent movement and carry them on his shoulders until they are established again in his green and healthful pastures.

[1] In this case one reads of a woman who was not only a merchant but also provided a place for the church at Philippi. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Links that lift up Christian hope in the midst of suffering

I am putting together several excellent links for Monday reading.

Before all our Christmas thoughts are totally forgotten here is a link to theologian Ben Witherington’s bog and his thoughts about Christmas of 2012 after losing his daughter just a few weeks after Christmas of 2011. His loss lifts up a Christian’s grief, yet is filled with the hope and faith that truly belongs to the ones who belong to Jesus Christ. The title is: “Seeing Christmas with new eyes.” After explaining that his daughter had died and that he was looking at Christmas through different eyes he writes:

Our Christy girl will be celebrating Christmas with the saints above this year. My father got there before she did, and my grand parents long before that. They know far better than I do that the primary family is the family of faith, the everlasting family of which Christ is the head. Any other kind of family is temporal and temporary. So I have resolved to see Christmas this year as not a revisiting of family affairs of the Witheringtons but rather a celebration of family affairs which began in a manger in Bethlehem.

The Christian celebration of Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with paganism, or the feast of the winter solstice on December 21 (wrong day anyway) or Saturnalia. It has to do with the celebration of the coming of the Christ child into this world sometime between 2-6 B.C. to form a forever family of followers. And I am thankful to be a part of that number. The name which I bear that matters most and is everlasting is Christian, not Witherington, however much I may be proud to be a Witherington.

Jared Wilson at The Gospel Driven Church wrote a posting which I think is golden in its approach, As It Gets Worse, It Cannot Get Desperate. Although Wilson does not say so directly I believe he was urged on by the event of Louie Giglio being pushed aside after being picked by the president to pray at his inauguration. Here is one of his exceptional lines, “But cheer up. The worst thing they can do is kill us (Matthew 10:28). And we all know what Jesus does with dead stuff.”

Another great section is:
Christ the Lord sustains the universe by his powerful word, he declares the end from the beginning, he laughs kings to scorn, he walks on the storms, he stirs the mighty seas, he makes the mountains his footstool, he brims with sovereign glory from everlasting to everlasting. He is God.And so:
 Will we bear the derision and disgrace? Yes, and count it wealth (Hebrews 11:26). Will we suffer the plundering of our property? Yes, and count it joy (Hebrews 10:34). Will we suffer division in our families and communities? Yes, and count it worthiness of Christ (Matthew 10:37).
 Last but not least, I discovered a Catholic blog, "God and the Machine," written by Thomas L. McDonald, who writes of himself:

 I’m a Catholic revert, catechist, theologian-in-training, tech reporter, religion reporter, author, editor, gamer, husband, father, traditional conservative, Distributist, medievalist, Ratzingerian, Augustinian, chicken-owner, newt-fancier, and some other things I forget at the moment.

So there is a lot of technical information on his blog but how I discovered him is through his interest in poetry. He has a posting on Adelaide Procter a Catholic and Victorian poet who was a friend of Charles Dickens. He has two poems by her and notes that one will do well for today. I will place it here:

by Adelaide Procter

OH, mighty Mother, hearken! for thy foes
Gather around thee, and exulting cry
That thine old strength is gone and thou must die,
Pointing with fierce rejoicing to thy woes.
And is it so? The raging whirlwind blows
No stronger now than it has done of yore:
Rebellion, strife, and sin have been before;
The same companions whom thy Master chose.
We too rejoice: we know thy might is more
When to the world thy glory seemeth dim;
Nor can Hell’s gates prevail to conquer Thee,
Who hearest over all the voice of Him
Who chose thy first and greatest Prince should be
A fisher on the Lake of Galilee.

Of course with the last part I thought not of Peter but of Christ the Carpenter (He is both the Lord and prince of the church). But for me the important part is that God choose all his church from those who are sinful and often trembling. But in faith, we look beyond this day knowing Christ's redemption, promises and coming.

Picture by Ron Andersen

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The fringe side of Emergent Christianity & our union with Christ

On the fringe side of Emergent Christianity there are too many departures from the faith. There is this:

Jesus came as an evolutionary breakthrough in modeling, demonstrating, and seeing what human consciousness is capable of. It was missed in his own time; people flatlanded it. Only today, by God’s grace, are we getting to grasp today what Jesus is getting at in significant numbers.

Our seminaries, churches, and Sunday Schools are largely flatland, passing on a diminished vision.

A kindling is needed, another way of seeing whose roots are in spiritual practice. As we practice, we begin to see the world with Jesus’ eyes.

One of the unfortunate curveballs that Christian theology has given us is immense theological distance from Jesus – ‘Christology’ as it developed was bent no [to] proving how Jesus is different than everyone else, the only Son of God instead of Paul’s “Jesus is the firstborn of many sisters and brothers.” We couldn’t handle this invitational revelation; we needed to admire Jesus more than be Jesus. (Italics mine)

The author is Michael Morrell, and his post, “The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 2: See What Jesus Sees; Do What Jesus Does.” I blogged about something he wrote last year—“Heretical evangelicalism merges with progressive goddess worship.” In this particular posting, created in 2011, Morrell is writing from his notes after attending “Servant Leadership School in Greensboro, North Carolina.”

Morrell took notes during sessions with Cynthia Bourgeault who is considered a “wisdom teacher.” Morrell’s emphasis is on centering prayer and meditation. But via his teachers he takes the ideas into the new age realm:

 It is unitive vision; uninterrupted sight; what the sages and mystics called union with God. It’s seeing from a whole different perspective. Our field of vision does not natively separate the playing field; our unconditioned eye sees from a kind of wholeness, a single grasp of the bigger picture. We call this nondual seeing. And yet we've devolved into separation-based seeing. Practices that invite nondual seeing represent an evolutionary advance in thinking and perception.

The problem with the information Morrell provides in nine posts-(they are found at the end of each posting) - is the total misunderstanding of who Jesus is and our relationship to him. Yes, we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus but by adoption; unlike Jesus we are not eternally begotten of the Father. And it isn’t a non-dualistic consciousness or unitive vision, which Jesus came to advance, but redemption and reconciliation with God.

We are at an “immense theological distance” from Jesus—but he bridged that distance by first taking on humanity, including living among us, and then dying for us. In his resurrection he gave the gift of eternal life. But there is something more and it is where this metaphysical religious viewpoint of both Morrell and Bourgeault gets utterly confused.

In our redemption we are by the Holy Spirit united to the resurrected Jesus. We are not only nourished with the wine and bread of communion but are nourished daily by the Lord in his resurrected body. In fact, as John Calvin puts it, the elements of communion are a sign of his nourishment. Calvin states that the body of Christ, “invigorates and keep[s] alive the soul.” The blood of Christ is meant to “foster, refresh, strengthen, and exhilarate,” the soul of the believer.[1]

Our union with Christ is given important focus by Calvin in his Institutes. Taking the same stance as Augustine’s in On The Incarnation, Calvin writes:

Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth, he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.[2]

The difference between being another Jesus with his supposed non-dualistic consciousness and being united to the resurrected Christ is vast. It is the difference between works and grace. It is not a matter of contemplation, meditating or centering prayer, rather it is a gift. We do not strife to bear the righteousness of Christ. We are given the gift. We are given heaven, heavenly riches which have to do with righteousness and Christ himself.  We are received by Christ; therefore we are received by the Father.

There is a mystery that has nothing to do with methodology in prayer, meditation or thinking, but rather with the love of Jesus. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)  This is the knowledge and fellowship with God that all believers experience. John in his epistles warns about those who come teaching some strange doctrine insisting there is something more that the church has not yet grasped. “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9)

Picture by Melissa Tregilgas

[1] See Viola Larson “John Calvin on the Sacraments: A Summary,”9,  at Theology Matters. Quote taken from John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Henry Beveridge, Trans., John Murray, Intro., reprint, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing 1989) book 4, chapter XVII, paragraph 3.
[2]ibid  “On the Sacraments,” 9; Institutes