Thursday, January 31, 2008

Culture and Marxism versus the Revelation of Jesus Christ

Michael Hill a reporter for the Baltimore Sun wrote an article on Barack Obama's Pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.1. Wright is an African American who has been accused of racism by some since he evidently proclaims a gospel of Africentric Liberation Theology.

In that article Hill quotes Professor Dwight Hopkins of the University of Chicago. Hill states that the Professor is a member of Wright's church, Trinity United. Hill writes:

"Dwight Hopkins, a professor in the divinity school at the University of Chicago who is a member of Trinity United, was not surprised by Wright's comments about the Clinton administration on Sunday.

Bill Clinton, he said, may have been from the South and appointed blacks to his Cabinet and opened an office later in Harlem, 'but if you really look at the policies he backed, many were worse for blacks than those of the pre-civil rights days.'

Hopkins pointed to Clinton's welfare reform policies and the criticism of activist Randall Robinson of Clinton policies toward black Caribbean countries such as Haiti.

'That's what [Wright] was talking about,' Hopkins said."

When I read the article I recognized Hopkins' name from an article I posted here entitled: Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 2 . In that article I wrote of Hopkins and the paper he presented at the World Forum on Theology and Liberation which is connected to the World Social Forum.

I wrote:

"One paper totally redefines Christianity into political categories. Dwight N. Hopkins, Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, writes about “Theologies in the USA.”

He names, what he sees as the most pervasive theology in the US, 'neo-conservative theology,” which purportedly understands God as “the open face of aggressive US empire.' (Italics the author) Next is 'liberal theology,' which according to Hopkins sees God as 'bourgeois rights.' (Italics author)

The final category is prophetic theology which the writer states sees God as 'Liberation toward the practice of freedom.' Clearly Hopkins’ ideology is not theology (the study of God) nor is it based on scripture but on Marxism."

Looking elsewhere, Hopkins has written an article, "Black Theology: The Notion of Culture Revisited," posted at The Religion and Culture Web Forum at the Martin Marty Center: Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago. And here, in what he writes, is that area I have written about earlier where a past fascist view of culture merges with Marxism and liberation theology.

Earlier in my second article on Presbyterians Dancing with Karl Marx (Part 2) I wrote:

"In the 1920’s the National Socialists, the Nazis, and the International Socialists, the Communists, fought in the streets of Berlin. Alike in some ways, both political groups considered their movements, movements of the people. Likewise they considered their movements to be in opposition to the exploiters, the monolithic outsiders, enemies of the people.

Yet, one group called for their
ideology to be placed under the control of their national leaders. In the same vein they tied religion to blood and soil. The other group opted for international controls and insisted that religion was the opiate of the people.

Today, in the twenty-first century, within the new socialist movements swirling through many countries, one finds the ghosts of the last century. But they are no longer two different entities they have merged.

Politically the peasant movements are tying themselves to their own ethnic or national groups through such ideas as growing and using only foods that are natural to their regions, using local herbs as alternative medicine, re-awakening forgotten spiritual and cultural practices.

Rejecting such entities as the World Bank or NAFTA they have in some ways become nationalists or at least isolationist. Yet in other ways they are tied to an international body of peasant movements that all adhere to the same ideology of land re-distribution generally for collectives rather than individuals.

Within the various groups is a strong religious under-current that is frightening in its lack of grace. It is human centered not God centered. Because some of the socialism that is prevalent in South America was and still is birthed out of liberation theology that sees God as partial to the poor or to the people, religion is tied to a particular group. It has moved on from there.

Now the sacred or religion is tied to different ethnic groups, to the ethnicity of a people. Or in the case of indigenous peoples to both the people and the land. Through liberation theology, and the many fragmenting theologies of feminism, religion, a kind of pseudo-Christianity, is once again tied to blood. Through Indigenous people to soil and blood."

Hopkins in the "Black Theology" paper attempts to not only define culture but spirituality within a culture. In fact, going beyond that he uses culture to define spirituality. He writes that "Culture is where the sacred reveals itself," and because of that he seemingly implies that a person's identity and purpose is only known through the "human-created realm of culture."

In a statement that is a bit confusing and contradictory, Hopkins suggests that humanity cannot create the "divine realm," but "ultimate vision or divine spirit" enters humanity or is in humanity in order create the divine realm. Therefore he suggests that culture is sacred.

But Hopkins does make distinctions. There is something within culture which is against "divine spirit." He writes:

"However, through all of culture contains the sacred, the ultimate goal or vision (i.e., divine spirit) of what it means to be human in community is continuously challenged by evil or that which prevents individual full humanity in relation to healthy community. Culture is contested terrain between marks of life and death."

Hopkins goes on to state that whatever gives freedom to the individual and "the interests of those structurally occupying the bottom of community (i.e., in particular citizens dwelling in systemic poverty as well as working class people) is good culture because movement towards practicing freedom for the poor marks the revelation of God." (Bold Mine)

Revelation tied to culture has been elevated before, in the last century. That elevation brought ruin and suffering to a multitude of people. Against culture as revelation the Theological Declaration of Barmen was written. But now it is Marxism and culture and as the poet Yeats wrote, "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?"

The Church of Jesus Christ must care for the poor and oppressed. But standing with those peoples and groups who have elevated culture or anything else above the revelation of Jesus Christ is not only to court disaster but to deny the Lord.

And once again and over and over it must be repeated:

"Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation." The Theological Declaration of Barmen 8.11-8.12.

1.I was led to Hills article by another article "Covering Obama’s spiritual guide" by Mollie Ziegler at Get Religion. Org.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Listening to Scripture while Wolves are howling

I recently read some words which caused me to remember a story that haunted my childhood nightmares. The writing reminded me of a gathering of wolves.

One of my favorite stories is Willa Cather’s My Antonia. But within that story is another story that, as I have written, haunted my childhood nightmares. It is the story of Russian wolves and an unfaithful sleigh driver and groomsman. On his death bed Pavel tells the story of a wedding party that headed home on a winter night with all the party including the bride and groom in seven sleighs. Slightly tipsy and full of happiness they spot menacing wolves on a hill top.

Cather writes:

"The wolves were bad that winter, and everyone knew it, yet when they heard the first wolf-cry, the drivers were not much alarmed. They had too much good food and drink inside them. The first howls were taken up and echoed and with quickening repetitions. The wolves were coming together. There was no moon, but the starlight was clear on the snow. A black drove came up over the hill behind the wedding party. The wolves ran like streaks of shadow; they looked no bigger than dogs, but there were hundreds of them.” (42)

The story grows increasingly dark as sleigh after sleigh falls to the wolf packs. One hears the screams of both horses and people and feels the utter terror of those still fleeing. Finally only the bride’s sleigh is left with two groomsmen and the groom and bride. The person telling the story confesses as he dies that he knocked the groom from the sleigh and threw the bride overboard in order to lighten his load and stay alive.

It is a story within a story, full of darkness, terror, selfishness and unfaithfulness.

Often the Scripture uses such images. Jesus sends his disciples out into a world of wolves far more dangerous than those found on a nineteenth century Russian hilltop. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matt 10:16)

And then Jesus goes on warn his disciples of coming suffering: “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! (25) He comforts with promises of his care, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (30-31)

Jesus encourages the disciple’s witness among the wolves so that the wolves might become sheep, “Therefore everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father in heaven.” (32) And he challenges them to courageous discipleship, “And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it.” (38-39)

Paul was later to warn that wolves would enter the Church tearing and rending the sheep. They would draw them away into strange teaching, perhaps into antinomianism as a means of seducing them. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30)

We have no faithless sleigh driver, but instead the Lord who gave his life on the cross. This is his promise: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28) So though you barely hear the first howl, or there be hundreds of savage wolves on dark hills, Christ is Lord of his Church and King of tomorrow.

The Exiled Preacher and Christian Spirituality

The Exiled Preacher, Guy Davies, has one of his "ten things" list up again. This time its a list of Ten things on Christian spirituality . They are all good but this one in particular is what I keep trying to say over and over about the Holy Spirit:

"3. Christian spirituality is rooted in the believer's union with Christ. We participate in the fruits of his atoning death and mighty resurrection. In Christ, we are forgiven and put right with God. The believer has been crucified with Christ to the old life in sin and raised with him to the new life of holiness. The risen Christ dwells in the hearts of his people by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's task is not to draw attention to himself, but to glorify Christ and communicate his life-transforming presence. The goal of Christian spirituality is that the believer should be conformed to the image of God's own Son. "(My bold)

So enjoy the list

Some thoughts about Acts 15, Schism and the Lord of the Church

Here’s a strange coincidence, the person who gave the devotion for my Presbytery’s special called meeting to vote, for one thing, on an overture to do away with recommendation 5 of the PUP report, used Acts 15 as his text. And, Stated Clerk Edward Koster in his article for the Presbyterian Outlook, “Reformanda by schism?” used the same text along with some off beat thoughts about the Reformation.

Now I am not writing about schism. I believe schism is wrong. And I have no intention of leaving the Presbyterian USA although that is simply because my Lord won’t let me. Although I don’t think Christ considers it schism if one stays in the Church Universal. I do think disobeying Jesus Christ is wrong. Doubtless sin is a clearer word than wrong.

Still, I thought there were some problems with both the devotions I heard on Saturday and Koster’s article. But devotions are after all devotions; they are not supposedly meant to change some one's vote so I won’t complain.

But on the other hand, I do have some thoughts about the article, “Reformanda by schism?”

Here’s one problem. Koster wrote, “Though we cherish it, what we Protestants call the Reformation is more accurately described as a protestant schism.” But he also later writes, “When Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door, it was not a declaration of schism but an invitation to debate. It became schism when the Church responded to silence him, excommunicating him four years later.”

Those two statements together are a contradiction. If Martin Luther was pushed out of the Church it was not a Protestant schism, but a church schism because there was disagreement on both sides. And the reason it became schism was because neither side would lay aside what they believed. And as Protestants and Presbyterians we should be glad that our spiritual ancestors held to their Biblical faith.

Another thought I have is that Martin Luther was looking for debate but not for compromise.

There is a difference. One generally debates not to change one’s opponent’s mind but so that those listening may be influenced by the debate. Martin Luther was sure he was standing on Scripture and he wished to influence all who would listen. Those who preached, debated and died in the fires of the Reformation spoke with words and actions meant to turn the Church back to its biblical foundation.

Here is another problem. After attempting to show how Luke and Acts were written to explain why the Christian Church divorced from the Jewish faith, Koster writes, “So we see the dominant role the Holy Spirit plays in Acts. One of the functions is to direct and authorize adoption of practices that violated the accepted interpretation of Scripture.”

This is a problem because Koster has set up a basis for reinterpreting how the Church views its standards as well as its essential beliefs. Supposedly the Church’s official governing body meets and examines events where the Holy Spirit has over-ridden the usual interpretation of Scripture. And what one has experienced during the actions of the Spirit becomes the acceptable norm. And seemingly this can only be done while two opposing sides debate or discuss the issues.

But the early Church, not yet possessing the New Testament, turned of course to the Hebrew Bible and did what the Church must do throughout the ages; interpret it in light of the Incarnation.

So the Church council that met in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 15 turned to both the Scripture text and the Holy Spirit, and their lens was the redemptive act of Jesus Christ. They used the Hebrew text, spoke of how God through Christ had cleansed the hearts of both Gentiles and Jews and how they were all saved by grace.

One cannot gloss over the grace part as though it is simply God’s unconditional love and a new kind of interpretation. Rather it is the Holy Spirit lifting up Christ Jesus who in his redemptive act has cleansed the hearts of the Gentiles so as Paul will later put it, they have a circumcision of the heart. The point is, we are not to focus on what the Holy Spirit is over-riding but who is Jesus Christ and who are we in union with Him.

Here is the final problem as I see it. Koster writes:

“We Presbyterians operate in the model of the Jerusalem Council: We come together to listen to the issues, and discern what the Holy Spirit directs. For those who argue in favor of schism from Scripture, they must bring their interpretation and arguments to a presbytery, so that the Holy Spirit can do its work. Otherwise, their discernment is without substance.”

They, whoever they are, may be arguing for schism, they may not be. But that isn’t the point at all. There are presbyteries, just this week, which although they came together did not follow the Holy Spirit, at least not the spirit of the Holy Scriptures.

More importantly they did not follow the One the Holy Spirit refers to and points to, that is, Jesus Christ the Lord of the Church. So, sometimes one, like Martin Luther, or sometimes a few, like the minority in those presbyteries must stand alone. And their discernment is based on Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He points to their redemption through the blood of Christ which is above gold and is full of substance.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The "Cosmic Christ" and "The Definition of Chalcedon"

So how many Presbyterians know anything about the "Definition of the Council of Chalcedon" formulated in 451 A.D. Some might say "Well its not in our Book of Confessions!" But yes it is. In "The Second Helvetic Confession," in the XI chapter entitled, "Of Jesus Christ, True God and Man, the Only Savior of the World," the Definition of the Council of Chalcedon is affirmed.

This is what is written:

"And, to say many things with a few words, with a sincere heart we believe, and freely confess with open mouth, whatever things are defined from the Holy Scriptures concerning the mystery of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are summed up in the Creeds of the first four most excellent synods convened at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon--together with the Creed of blessed Athanasius, and all similar symbols; and we condemn everything contrary to these." (5.078) (Bold Mine)

If we accept "The Second Helvetic Confession" as truth then we must also accept the "Definition of Chalcedon." To not affirm Chalcedon means we are willing to tear apart the person of Christ. In their non-affirmation of Chalcedon, many progressive theologians and radical feminists fall down before the god of the "Cosmic Christ" or some similar merciless deity.

I thought of this Creed when I was posting my article Presbyterians Pushing Bad Books which is about an article written by Jerry L. Van Marter of the Presbyterian News Service. Marter's news article was about an author, Rev. Brian Arthur Brown of the United Church of Canada, and his book, Noah’s Other Son: Bridging the Gap Between the Bible and the Qur’an.

As I pointed out and actually showed from the text, Brown is attempting to divide the two natures of Jesus Christ. He wants to make what he and others call the Cosmic Christ a different thing then the person of Jesus. But that is un-biblical and the one thing that the Apostle John named as Anti-Christ. I think of the radical feminist Elizabeth Johnson and her book She Who Is. She wrote:

"The fundamental nature of Christian identity as life in Christ makes clear that the biblical symbol Christ, the one anointed in the Spirit, cannot be restricted to the historical person Jesus nor to certain select members of the community but signifies all those who by drinking of the Spirit participate in the community of disciples. Christ is a pneumatological reality, a creation of the Spirit who is not limited …” (162)

The spirit in this passage takes the place of the "Cosmic Christ." And one can see in other works by other progressives where the "Cosmic Christ," takes the place or merges into what is so often referred to as Spirit or spirit. In other words there is some divine something that permeates all of creation and Jesus was somehow more filled with this or embodied it more than other humans except perhaps Buddha or Krishna, etc.

What is not noticed, often with this heretical understanding is that in that case Jesus simply becomes an example of how to respond to or embody the divine something. And once against there is no redemption for fallen humanity. Works of some kind reign supreme. Grace is completely distorted.

But Scripture plus the Definition of Chalcedon rules all such wearisome teaching out of bounds for Christianity. Here is the Definition:

"Therefore, following the Holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Presbyterians Pushing Bad Books

Today Presbyweb was linked to a news story at Presbyterian News titled,
‘Abraham’s dysfunctional family’. The news item was written by Jerry L. Van Marter and was about a book written by Rev. Brian Arthur Brown. The book is Noah’s Other Son: Bridging the Gap Between the Bible and the Qur’an, Continuum International Publishing Group (April 15, 2007) .

According to Marter, Rev. Brown is a Canadian and a minister in the United Church of Canada. In his book Brown, according to Marter who either quotes from the book or the author, "examines 25 familiar figures who appear in both the Bible and Qur’an, 'revealing how these characters can point present-day Muslims, Christians and Jews toward more mature relationships.'”

Evidently The Presbyterian News Service did an interview with Brown who included Presbyterian Churches in his book tour. Brown, it seems, is attempting to bring about change in the way the three monotheistic religions see each other. Marter explains, "he hopes his book will also break down the post-9/11 negativity that has grown around Islam."

Brown evidently stated that, “Christian extremists — Hitler, Mussolini, the Ku Klux Klan — got the upper hand in the 20th century,” . . . “To now judge Islam by Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein is at least as distorted as to judge Christianity by those people.” (Bold Mine)

In the actual text of the book, in an attempt to show that the Jewish people do not need Jesus as Lord and Savior, Brown writes:

"A problem for many Christians is a traditional misreading of chapter 8 of John's gospel and certain 'I AM' passages in John's gospel. For example, in John 14, when Jesus says, 'I AM the way, the truth and the life; nobody comes to the Father but by me," he is here identifying himself as the voice Moses heard from the burning bush, the 'I AM' the essence of the universe, rather than simply Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus spoke as the Cosmic Christ, the Eternal Essence that is in all of us when he said 'I AM the Vine,' 'I AM the Gate,' I AM the Good Shepherd,' I AM the Light of the World,' and in all the other 'I AM' passages. Jesus embodies the 'I AM' as may we." (198) (Bold mine)

Whether Marter and those who officiate knew this was in the book or not, (and there is more) I do not know. Reporters who do interviews generally read the author's book before they do the interview. I believe the news worthy part of this story is not the author's attempt to find a way to reconcile the three different faiths but rather his attempt to use a "hate" card to change the way others understand Christianity.

Marter uses the term "provocative," when describing this book. The Bible uses a different term when describing those who call themselves Christians but deny the Lord Jesus Christ. And any attempt to tear the two natures of Jesus Christ apart is heresy. John writing to a church troubled by false teachers is very clear:

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world." (1 John 4:1-3)

John was very careful to explain at the beginning of this small letter, as he wrote of Jesus Christ, that he and the other disciples had '"heard," "seen with their eyes," and "touched" with their hands, "concerning the Word of Life," the one who was with the Father in the beginning and yet was made known to them. (1 John 1:1-4)

Telling only half the story is not telling the truth. Perhaps the Presbyterian News Service should do penitence by pushing a few really good books like Andrew Purves' The Crucifixion of Ministry or Ben Witherington III's What Have They Done with Jesus" : Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wesley J. Smith on Female Circumcision

This is not an easy subject to discuss but it is important in the extreme to talk and write about. Wesley J. Smith of Second Hand Smoke, has posted this article "Female Circumcision: A Denial of Intrinsic Human Dignity" on his site. Scroll down a bit to find it.

Smith is an advocate for life and against euthanasia. And he writes about other bio-ethics issues. He is the author of Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America and Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted suicide, and the New Duty to Die as well as many other books. His posting concerns an article taken from the New York Times Magazine.

Smith writes: "There is a brutally honest essay in the New York Times Magazine about the dismaying number of young girls in Indonesia whose parents force them to undergo the genital mutilation that goes by the euphemistic term, "female circumcision." It is an awful story of the worst kind of misogyny, and in my view, amounts to slavery."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Stories about Faithfulness

My husband as a child heard the children's story The Steadfast Tin Soldier and loved the romanticism and beauty of the tale. It is a story about faithfulness. A child receives the gift of tin soldiers. One of the soldiers has only one leg. The story includes a paper ballerina who the tin soldier fell in love with, and she with him.

They were quite different and yet the same in several ways. He was tin and she was fragile paper. But they both stood on only one leg. They were both faithful. She waited while he took an accidental journey through the gutters and canals of the city. No one knew for sure whether it was just the wind or the red goblin who "blew the tin soldier off the sill" and into the street.

Eventually the tin soldier made his way back home via a fish. But the red goblin was still at work and he caused the little boy to throw the tin soldier into the fire where he melted into a heart shaped lump, and the ballerina was blown into the fire with nothing left behind but a blackened sequin. Strange that children love this story?

But is it so strange. Why shouldn't children love a story about faithfulness, bravery and love. And perhaps they can love such a story because the truest truth is about a greater love, a love that is given by the triune God in the person of his Son Jesus Christ.

The Christian is loved by God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit and our Lord has promised to be with us. This is no romantic love as portrayed by a tin soldier and a paper doll. This is the love of a God who was willing to take on human flesh and die on the cross for sinful humanity. This is a love expressed by the shedding of blood.

And our story calls for faithfulness also and sometimes bravery.

There is an old song that is often sung in revivalist churches, (and perhaps others as well,) "God Leads Us Along." The chorus goes:

Some thro' the waters,

some thro' the flood,

Some thro' the fire, but all thro' the blood;

Some thro' great sorrow,

But God gives a song,

In the night season and all the day long."

Notice, not every one's story in that song is the same. We are all called to Jesus Christ. He has chosen us. But we are not all called on the same mission field or to the same Church or even to the same battles. Rev. Dr.Thomas Taylor, Deputy Executive Director for Mission, gave the sermon at my church, Fremont Presbyterian Church, this Sunday morning. He told a beautiful story also.

He told of a young woman who originally went to First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City Utah. He told us how she moved to New York City to work and got into all kinds of trouble including drugs. She found herself alone in a scary neighborhood in the middle of the night and without money. A cab driver offered to take her home and right in the middle of the ride, right before she passed out from the narcotics and liquor in her system she voiced her complaint; she was scared that the driver might do her harm.

She woke up the next morning in bed in her clothes. In her pocket was a note with the words "Try Christ." She did come to Christ and went home and continues to serve Jesus Christ. One of the thoughts I had about this story was---

The taxi driver was faithful and maybe that taxi driver was a Presbyterian or a Lutheran, maybe a Baptist--who knows. Maybe,-- maybe it was someone who belongs to the New Wineskins or even perhaps it was someone who is in the renewal movement in the Presbyterian Church USA (in New York City no less), and is staying because God has called them to faithfulness there. But they were faithful, and it is the Lord who sees that faithfulness.

One of the verses of the song goes:

"Tho' sorrows befall us, and Satan oppose, God leads his dear children along; Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes, God leads his dear children along."

So although our stories are different and some may be through the fire, with burnished tin and ashes, still they all end in the Father's house, on bended knee before the Lord Jesus Christ and they are all faithful stories because they are about the redeemed who are in union with the King of the universe.

Song by G.A. Young.: Cyber-Hymnal tells this story about the author of the song.

"Young was an ob­scure 19th Cen­tu­ry preach­er and car­pen­ter who spent a life­time hum­bly serv­ing the Lord in small rur­al com­mun­i­ties. Of­ten his fi­nan­cial sup­port was small, and it was hard on his fam­i­ly. But through all the ups and downs his faith­ful wife nev­er wav­ered in her loy­al­ty to God and to her hus­band. Af­ter a long strug­gle, the fam­i­ly was able to move in­to their own small home (which George built him­self). But then, on an oc­ca­sion when George was away preach­ing, some lo­cal thugs—who didn’t like his Gos­pel preaching—set fire to the house, and it was to­tal­ly de­stroyed. It was out of that ex­per­i­ence that Young re­af­firmed his faith in God by writ­ing God Leads Us Along."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tom Cruise, Scientology and Suppressive Persons

On Friday Presbyweb was linked to this story, Tom Cruise's scary movie. The article is by Neely Tucker, a staff writer for the Washington Post, and is about Tom Cruise and his video about Scientology which I haven't and don't intend to watch. However, Tucker, whose article is a funny jab at Cruise, writes this:

"He starts talking about "suppressive persons!" That's "SPs" in Scientology terminology. These are people who attack or don't like Scientology. Boy, he really doesn't like them.

"They don't come up to me and do that. They won't do it to me. Not to my face. Not anywhere in my vicinity . . . where they feel they can be . . . confronted. They're just not doing it."
But doing what?

We just don't know."

At least a year ago I took my article on Scientology off of my Web Site Naming the Grace.

It was written over twenty years ago when I had access to the Scientology Managerial books written by L. Ron Hubbard. But my article certainly explains how Scientologists feel about "SPs" And it is not funny, so, since it is a small article I am going to post the article here.

Just remember as you read this, it was written over twenty years ago, just as what was then called the Human Potential Movement was in full bloom.

Grabbing The Tiger By The Tail

By Viola Larson

"Get clever, auditor, Thetans are basically good, Them that Scientology doesn't change are good but down underneath a pile of crimes you couldn't get into a confession story magazine.1"

These are the words of L. Ron Hubbard the founder of Scientology in a policy letter from a Church of Scientology publication. Thetans, the life force, spirit, or incarnated gods are "basically good says Hubbard, but he still has to deal with evil, “a pile of crimes" on top of the good.

L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer, began Dianetics in 1950 with the publishing of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. Dianetics began as a private therapeutic technique, but expanded into Scientology with the founder's other writings. Trying to explain evil propelled the movement into a complex religious system. The system supports a massive business that sells books, tapes, counseling aids, courses, and franchises.

Don Pearson, a Scientologist in Sacramento, California "says he has friends who have spent $25,000 - $30,000 for courses and counseling - about the same amount, he says, he and his wife have spent over a dozen years of church study. He said most parishioners would not spend that much - closer to $2,000 for Scientology basic courses."2 The idea of dealing with evil from a materialistic and, supposedly, scientific viewpoint is very attractive to contemporary humanity.

The relativism of modern ethics is one foundation stone of what some have labeled the Human Potential Movement. The devotees of this movement seek within themselves an image; sometimes calling it good, sometimes god, but never evil. Each person creates his own personal truth and reality, which excludes a fallen condition: the continual escalating of evil is not dealt with on a personal level.

The Search for Utopia

The Romantic period of Blake found God in nature and either denied evil or glorified it as Edgar Allen Poe did. Early in the twentieth century a majority of humanity was convinced that people were inherently good; yet, without an explanation of surmounting evil. The foundation was laid for the scapegoat philosophy of Nazism; The Jew and non-Aryan became the sub-human or unacceptable creatures of society. According to this philosophy they were the cause of evil; without them society would reach its greatest potential. Remove the troublemakers and civilization would experience a golden age for a thousand years. Before the ashes of the Third Reich have quite blown away, the emerging Human Potential Movement has begun to hint at a new class of unacceptable people. Friends with negative thoughts, students who make bad grades and traditionalist with old ways of thinking and acting are blocking the personal and social advances of other people. It is becoming important to be surrounded with high achievers in order to realize your own potential.

Scientology' s Answer

Scientology, called by Spiritual Counterfeits, the "bellwether of the Human Potential Movement",3 developed within its system a new category of anti- social people. L. Ron Hubbard built an empire on the promise of freeing mankind of evil including such problems as sickness, crime, and mental illness. These problems, according to Hubbard, are caused by something he called an “engram.” The engram is the single and sole source of aberration and psychosomatic illness."4 An engram is received when a person experiences physical or emotional pain, which causes even a small amount of unconsciousness.

Scientologists believe that everyone has engrams in their reactive mind (somewhat like the unconscious) that causes erroneous or harmful actions and need to be removed. Removal is done by "auditing" which the Scientology mission (called an "ORG") provides. The preclear (the person who needs to be audited) pays for the auditing, which is much like counseling, done by using an electropsychometer or "E meter" and a counselor called an auditor. The auditor gives commands and asks questions; he has the preclear talk about a past experience as though it is a present time experience and continues going over it until the supposed engram is removed.

The Re-defining of Persons

L. Ron Hubbard provided a scale for the auditor to use while auditing. It is called the tone scale, and the auditor uses it to find the survival potential of the person he is working with. He tries to find where the preclear lies on the tone scale using such clues as emotion and speech. Hubbard wrote, "If you can locate two or three characteristics and find the level . . . wherever it is, simply look at all the columns opposite the number you found and you will see the remaining characteristics."5

While the engram is the thing that causes the aberrant person, the tone scale provides a description of the person considered the cause of ruin to society. These people, according to Hubbard, are found on the tone scale at 1.1. Hubbard's description of 1.1 people can be found in his book Science of Survival. “Around 1.1 we reach the level of covert hostility. Here the hatred of the individual has been socially and individually censored to a point where it has been suppressed, and the individual no longer dares demonstrate hate as such . . . the person may claim to love others and to have the good of others as his foremost interest; yet, at the same moment, he works unconsciously or otherwise, to injure or destroy the lives and reputation of people and also to destroy property. "6

In this book Hubbard offers a solution for society to survive this personality. "No social order which desires to survive dares overlook its stratum of 1.1's. No social order will survive which does not remove these people from its midst.”7He continues:

"Such people should be taken from the society as rapidly as possible and uniformly institutionalized; for here is the level of the contagion of immorality, and the destruction of ethics . . . one of the most effective measures of security that a nation threatened by war could take would be rounding up and placing in containment, away from society, any 1.1 individual who might be connected with government, the military, or essential industry; since here are people who, regardless of any record of their family's loyalty, are potential traitors.8"

The Final Act

In his book, The Science of Survival, L. Ron Hubbard leads one to believe that a person on the 1.1 level of the tone scale is anti-social because he has committed or will commit such crimes as murder, political subversion, or stealing; however, in other books by L. Ron Hubbard the anti-social person is called suppressive and his list of crimes are quite different. Hubbard writes:

"Such acts include disavowal of Scientology or Scientologists in good standing with Scientology organizations; public statements against Scientology or Scientologist... advertising or voting for legislation or ordinances, rules or laws directed toward the suppression of Scientology . . . bringing civil suit against any Scientology organization or Scientologist including the non-payment of bills or failure to refund without first calling the matter to the attention of the Chairman at Saint Hill . . . writing anti-Scientology letters to the press or giving anti-Scientologist evidence to press; testifying as a hostile witness against Scientology in public;...failure to handle or disavow and disconnect from a person demonstrably guilty of suppressive ACTS.

It is quite clear from these descriptions that all people who agree and support Scientology are the good citizens of L. Ron Hubbard's world, but anyone who is in disagreement with him and expresses that disagreement becomes an enemy not only of Scientology but also of the state and world in general. Hubbard’s solutions for humanity are really only those of destruction. His advice, "Life bleeds. It suffers. It hungers and it has to have the right to shoot its enemies until such time as comes a golden age.”10 Scientology is a religion that wants to change people, not into caring individuals that want to reach out to a hurting humanity, but into tigers that can overcome their enemies by force. L. Ron Hubbard's promise is, “We’ll survive because we are tough and are dedicated. When we do instruct somebody properly he becomes more and more tiger.”11

1 L. Ron Hubbard, New Word Clearing Co-Audit Course Pack 2.
2 Sacramento Bee- Sat. July 23, 1983.
3 Brooks, Alexander, SCP Journal, “Scientology: Human Potential Bellwether”, 27.
4 L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. 79.
5 L. Ron Hubbard, Self-Analysis, 39.
6 L. Ron Hubbard, Science of Survival, book one 89,90
7 Ibid., 90.
8 Ibid.
9 L. Ron Hubbard, The Organization Executive Course, Vol. 1, 553.
10 Hubbard, Executive Course, Vol. 7, 355.
11 L. Ron Hubbard, Hubbard Standard Dianetic Course, HCO Policy Letter of Feb. 7, reissued June 15, 1970 (corrected per Flag issue 28.1.73)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Two Poems

His Will:

My pen, a pilot, sharp nibbed without sail

awash in ink

splatters the contours of my white empty tablet.

The blotches drifting across hollowed out seasons,

come to their end

with my choosing.

Meaning belongs to Your will;

what You begin You bring to an end

tying all my useless metaphors

into Your bundle of grace.



My voice this morning

clashed against eternal things,

yet, all day long my hands touched everlasting love.

I brushed the cheek of sleeping innocence:

before she woke I knew the child

had buried hurt and hate.

Suspended peace,

redemption slept

beneath a quilt

and grace.

I cleaned and cleared neglected trash,

replenished dying roses here and there,

whose thorns were sharper than the day before.

Monotonous work,

redemptive pain

lay deep their image on my task, and crushed,

the smell of flowers everywhere.

I kneaded bread all pungent with its yeasty life.

It gave and moved beneath my hand,

became elastic,

knew my will,

and gave transcendence to the day.

I move beneath your hand.

Within Your will I grow,

alive and fragrant are all Your saints,

muting words I clasp eternal things,

letting my hands sign out the everlasting love.

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life." (2 Cor 2:14-16)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Perfected versus Hellenized (Hell-In -Ice)?

Earlier I placed a posting about Pastor David Thompson, his associate Pastors, and Westminster Church filing a complaint against Sacramento Presbytery for graciously allowing Roseville and Fair Oaks Presbyterian Churches to leave with their property. For that see The Different Aims of the Presbyterian Church USA and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Yesterday on the Sacramento Presbytery web site I discovered that a
Perfected Remedial Complaint & Request to Maintain Stay had been placed there. This is called "perfected" because according to Merriam-Webster it has been completed and put in a "final form in conformity with law." But given some of the other meanings of "perfected" I prefer to call this the hellenized version. That is not a Greek version but a "hell-in-ice" version.

This version borders on Dante's circle of hell that holds Satan in ice. Not only does David Thompson and his associate Pastors (I do not see Westminster Presbyterian Church's name on this complaint) explain in this paper how valuable the properties of Roseville and Fair Oaks are, they call for the churches to be placed under an administrative commission and a search be made for the 'true church.'

And speaking of Satan and hell and concern for property values one can only think of the three temptations of Christ when Satan has Jesus look out over the kingdoms of the world in an attempt to entice him. "Again the devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to him, 'All these things I will give you if you fall down and worship me.'"(Matt 4:8-9)

Satan salivates over the Church wishing to conquer and control, to not only own its real estate but also its soul. As I have already written may God have mercy on the Presbyterian Church USA and may our Presbytery, Sacramento Presbytery, have peace in its attempt to release Roseville and Fair Oaks graciously.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27)

(There is another paper posted, Complainants' Response to Objection to Stay of Enforcement, but I have been unable to open it.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Does Heresy matter?

Two items grabbed my attention today on Presbyweb and various blogs. Hardly anyone else, I am almost certain, would have seen these two items as related. The first was, of course, the news found everywhere that Lisa Larges, the lesbian activist, was moved forward in the process of being ordained by the San Francisco Presbytery. The other item, for me had a personal ring. That was the news article, Megachurch leader surrenders. This is the story of a church leader and pastor who used his position, and as I will point out his heretical doctrines, to insist on sex from at least two women in his congregation, including his sister-in-law.

In the very early eighties I was writing papers on a movement that pops up every so often in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement. It is often referred to as “the Manifested Sons of God.” Its advocates generally insist that the Church must overcome death before Christ returns. Bishop Earl Paulk was such an advocate. He stated that, “The Church of Jesus Christ has not yet conquered death but this last enemy will be totally conquered before Jesus’ return.” In deed, Paulk offered quite a few weird doctrines.

I wrote a review of his book Satan Unmasked as a means of exposing some of his weird doctrines. One of those doctrines is also held by some in the “Prosperity” movement. That is the doctrine that we are all little gods. But Paulk had another strange thing he wrote about. And it was just a hint of where he was going. One of those things I thought about but couldn’t voice my conclusions. First he would quote (Luke 20:34-36) “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of the resurrection.”

Paulk would then go on to state, “Jesus said in order for the sons of this age to become the ‘Sons of God’ and usher in the age of the resurrection, they must enlarge their concepts.” Now we know what Paulk’s larger concepts were and what leverage he probably used to obtain sex from unwilling women.

Paulk was a well known pastor at the time I wrote my review. He would even eventually be among various pastors who taught during conferences at the Crystal Cathedral. When I wrote my review I sent it to him. His reply included the suggestion that I should probably be careful about touching God’s anointed. However, a few people read the review and were wary. But what does this have to do with the ordination of Lisa Larges?

Scripture has to be twisted in just such a manner in order for Larges to be ordained. It either has to be ignored or twisted to say what it does not say. Some have even suggested that God is doing a new thing and that the homosexual person is God’s additional or new revelation.

Heresy hurts. It has hurt many in Paulk’s church and family. It has hurt Paulk himself. It is tearing our Presbyterian Church USA apart. But worst of all it will destroy the lives of many living a homosexual lifestyle, it will lead many away from Christ. God have mercy on the Presbyterian Church USA.

1 For Instance see, Scott Haldeman, “Receptivity and Revelation: A Spirituality of Gay Male Sex,” or Rebecca Todd Peters, “Embracing God as Goddess,” in Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love. “If we start with women’s bodily experience of sexuality as a window into the divine, its very mutability can offer insight into redefining the way we think about God/ess” (163)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Using History to Understand Evangelicals

Pocket History of Evangelical Theology by Roger E. Olson, InterVarsity Press 2007

A Review

A last minute shopping grab turned out very well. The book, Pocket History of Evangelical Theology by Roger E. Olson is a useful book in the midst of on going discussions. The author attempts to answer such questions as, “what does Evangelical mean,” “who is an Evangelical,” “is Evangelical Fundamentalism or something else.” The book is taken from an earlier book, by Olson, The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology. It is a small book, 151 pages, but densely packed. What makes this so helpful is the author’s use of history as a means of defining.

Olson names seven kinds or types of Evangelicals, and most of the categories are historically defined and therefore defined by the movements of which they were a part. The last category the author names, he thankfully, does not use. It is the popular understanding often used by the media. That is, “those that seem particularly (by the journalist’s standards) enthusiastic, aggressive, fanatical, or even simply missionary minded.”(13) As Olson points out this sometimes includes such groups as Jehovah Witnesses and Muslims.

1. The first category does not belong so much to history but to orthodoxy. That is Evangelical can be seen as “simply synonymous with authentic Christianity as it is founded on and remains faithful to the ‘evangel’—the good news of Jesus Christ.”(8) The other categories can be listed thus:

2. The second definition is from the Protestant Reformation: centered in an understanding of “salvation by grace alone.”

3. The third definition is from the history of the Church of England: That is the “low Church;” those who opposed the Roman type of liturgical service and put more stress on salvation by faith.

4. The fourth definition is from the “Pietist and revivalist attempts to reform and revive Protestant Christianity in Germany, Great Britain, and North America in the early eighteenth century.(10). Many will recognize the name Moravian in Germany and the names John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in England and American. One can already see that this history involves both Arminians and Calvinists.

5. The fifth definition comes from the rift between those who espoused biblical fundamentals and those who pushed for liberal theology. Olson shows how such scholars as B.B. Warfield and J. Gresham Machen were in the Reformed tradition and considered themselves both fundamentalists and Evangelical. The author also shows how this movement later became a separatist “subculture,” disconnected from its early scholarship and ability to interact with the surrounding culture.

6. The final useful category is Post-Fundamentalist or Neo-Evangelical. This is the Evangelical community waking up to its surrounding culture and beginning to deal with it via, schools, institutions, journals and scholars. Billy Graham plays an important part in this movement.

About half of Olson’s book covers the history of these movements. Presbyterians will be interested in such chapters as “The Puritan Roots of Evangelical Theology,” and “Old Princeton Theology and Evangelical Theology.” But the Chapter on “Holiness-Pentecostalism and Evangelical Theology” is very interesting, and the chapter on “Fundamentalism and Evangelical Theology is a must read for everyone.

In his last chapters Olson looks at theologians for the last Evangelical movement; the first and most important one being Carl F. H. Henry. He includes a chapter on E.J. Carnell, Bernard Ramm and Donald Bloesch. I had a few problems with his last two chapters “Postconservative Evangelical Theology,” and “Tensions in Evangelical Theology.”
That is because I felt, a prejudice I know, that Clark Pinnock received too much attention.

While open theology, which Pinnock espouses, is an important movement among Evangelicals, I believe it is a small movement. This could have been more balanced with a greater amount written on the rise of Calvinism among Southern Baptist and others.

Also the author tends to categorize those who are attempting to hold boundaries against an encroaching liberalism as moving back to a more separatist fundamentalist position. He refers to this as a conflict between “traditionalists” like Thomas Oden and “Reformists” like Clark Pinnock. I believe Oden is both a traditionalist and reformist. And Pinnock is moving closer to the Progressive side.

However, Olson does write, “During the 1990s and into the decade of the new millennium it [Evangelical theology] has begun to emerge as a widely accepted legitimate theological alternative to mainline protestant liberalism (e.g. process theology), liberationist theologies (e.g., radical feminism and Marxist-inspired Latin American Liberation theology), and neo-orthodoxy (e.g., postliberal, Yale-New Haven theology).” (150)

This is an important little book packed with important information for those debating the meaning of the term evangelical. The history the author provides is well done, reasoned and full of answers. I recommend the book.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Final Sale

With my apologies to my friends who didn't know what was happening to the theory and in a rather shabby store too:

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Different Aims of the Presbyterian Church USA and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church

The decision to release Fair Oaks and Roseville Presbyterian Church with their property made by my Presbytery, Sacramento, of which I am a member, is being challenged by Rev. David Thompson, his associate pastors and the Session of Westminster Presbyterian Church-- Notice of Appeal & Request for Stay

I will not try to write about this from a lawyer’s point of view which I am not, although personally reading through this materialistic bit of claptrap I don’t think any of it has any validity. But I do have an opinion from what I believe is a Christian and Biblical perspective.

I want to look first at the very end of the document and the statement, “two pastors were allowed to remain in the PCUSA and to work for the Evangelical Presbyterian church to which the property is to be given. One of these pastors is to remain as a commissioner to the PCUSA General Assembly. The Aims of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and those of the PCUSA are different. There is here a clear, direct conflict of interest for this commissioner.” (Bold Mine)

If that statement is declared truthful, Thompson may have done everyone a favor. We can all quit arguing about whether the PCUSA is totally apostate or not because if the PCUSA’s aims are different than the EPC’s, whose aims are undoubtedly to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, then whatever it is that the Presbyterian Church USA is doing is not Christian!!

The document fails to address the foundation of the church which includes the people of the Church. Thompson and those aligned with him are speaking as though their relationship is only with a denomination and not with Jesus Christ the head and foundation of “The Church.” A relationship with the head of the Church Universal puts the Christian in a relationship with all its members making them brothers and sisters. That doesn’t mean there won’t be conflicts that need to be worked out, but it does mean treating other Christians, even non-reformed ones, as real people. Not as buildings.

And the Presbytery and the two churches did work with each other as members of the one Church Universal and as brothers and sisters under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

But this document fails to explain all of the hard work that went into the agreement reached by the two churches and our Presbytery. It fails to note all the meetings our moderator and others attended in order to work out a good final agreement. It fails to note that there are still two very large churches in both of those areas, who although they are not now PCUSA are Presbyterian and Reformed. And they are both doing great evangelism as well as important social work in their two communities.

The first part of the Document disparages “a theology of a ‘Grace filled separation.” Perhaps the old Native American reference to a man without a heart is applicable here. A people of God without a heart? So these heartless people need to hear, again, a word of grace to the Church. They need a new connection to the merciful cross of Jesus Christ. They need our prayers.

“Although our iniquities testify against us, O Lord, act for your name’s sake! Truly our apostasies have been many, we have sinned against you. O Hope of Israel, its Savior in time of distress, Why are you like a stranger in the land or like a traveler who has pitched his tent for the night? Why are you like a man dismayed, like a mighty man who cannot save? Yet, you are in our midst, O Lord, and we are called by your name; Do not forsake us!” (Jeremiah 13:7-9)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Blue Lemons or Costly Grace?

Some images are pretty but not truthful. They must be manipulated in order to make them appear the way you want them to appear. For instance blue lemons.

Sometimes it just seems easier to come up with a human plan or a human idea and make things work. I thought about this as I was reading Jack Haberer's editorial from the last web edition of the Outlook. He was writing about how Pope Benedict XVI wants Catholic believers to be fervent evangelists for the Christian faith.

Haberer suggested that contemporary Christians, in particular Presbyterians, "don't share the conviction of the converts or the passion of the newly persuaded." Continuing, he says "we see the pointing, scolding finger of the Apostle John as he utters to us an echo of his word to the Laodicean Church: 'Lukewarm!' (Rev. 3:16)"

Haberer's answer to our lukewarmness is our Presbyterian camps and conference centers. There, he says, away from the places we are familiar with, out in nature, we might find "our concrete mindsets" softened. And that, in many cases is probably true. But I was bothered, that even there in the web edition of Outlook, there is something working against a Christian's call to be a witness to other faiths.

There is a book review of A Multitude of Blessings A Christian Approach to Religious Diversity by Cynthia M. Campbell. The review is by Rick Boyer who generously recommends this book. Yet the theme of this book is to dissuade Christians from trying to convert others to Jesus Christ. In a book review I wrote for Voices of Orthodox Women I quoted from the book citing Campbell's response to John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” She wrote:
The first thing to be said about this passage is that it is a statement about Jesus’ identity, not a statement about other religions. Most often, however, the statement is read to support the claim that if Jesus (and by extension, Christianity) is ‘the way,’ then there are no other ‘ways.’ But that is an extension of the statement and goes beyond what is claimed in the words themselves. The text says what Jesus is; it does not say what anything else is not. (46) (Italics the authors)
On the same day I read Haberer's essay I also looked at the classes on the Ghost Mountain (A Presbyterian Conference Center) Web site. None of them would be particularly helpful in leading Christians into a deeper desire to proclaim the good news of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. And in fact I was struck by how one class sounded like it was garnered straight from Campbell's book.
The class is in August of this year, and taught by Ofelia Ortega, of Matanzas, Cuba. It is a seminar entitled, The Spirituality of Religious Pluralism: A New Spiritual Experie . The class is described in this manner:

The varieties of religions and cultures are the mosaic of our global human identity, part of the most precious gifts of each country. God created us with a wonderful multicolor light. We should think of each religion as a particular tradition of response to the reality which the Holy Spirit of God has set before our eyes. We now see the plurality of religions with different eyes, understanding it as part of the wisdom and work of God for our humanity – not a deplorable fact but as the positive will of God. We will explore this perspective as a new spiritual experience

So where does one turn besides reading letters from Popes and carefully attending conferences and camps. Perhaps back to the Scripture text that speaks of the Laodicean Church. Jesus counseled the church with these words:
Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent."(Rev. 3:17-19)

This is an interesting passage because Jesus asks the church to buy what is supposedly free, that is grace, unmerited favor. But undoubtedly this is what Bonhoeffer was writing about when he referred to costly grace. It cost Jesus his life. And the sinner, repentant and united with Jesus Christ suffers because he belongs to Christ. Our salvation is free given to us by Christ but the faithfulness this involves is costly.
Isaiah has a passage which refers to such costly grace. Only the wording is changed ever so slightly. "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." (Isaiah 55:1) The whole passage fits. And it directs the people to a witness founded in God's goodness shown to King David. That goodness is of course God's mercy and His "everlasting covenant." (3) And His everlasting covenant is made through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
So while others stand on the sidelines insisting that Jesus Christ is not the only way, or that the Holy Spirit is bringing others to God through other religions be a witness of the grace of Jesus Christ. It is in the acknowledgement of the wonderous grace of Christ that anyone grabs hold of the desire to tell others.

Exiled Preacher, Karl Barth and an Interview with David Gibson

Exiled Preacher, Guy Davies, has begun his new year doing interviews on his blog. His latest interview. I find very interesting. His posting is titled, Engaging with Barth: An interview with David Gibson Gibson has edited with Daniel Strange a book about Karl Barth entitled Engaging with Barth, 18th January 2008, IVP. The picture Davies has posted of Barth is also great.

Here is a small portion of the interview:

GD: This is a good time for such a volume, as Barth seems to be enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment, especially among theological students.
Any idea why?

DG: It’s hard to generalise here, and the situation varies from place to place, but I think you’re right that Barth is the man to be reading in quite a number of places around the world. This interest is probably caused by the number of leading theologians operating at present who have been deeply influenced by Barth in one way or another – they teach courses on Barth, write good books on Barth, and so attract good students to study Barth under them. In reading Barth seriously, I think theological students soon find themselves inside what Henri Blocher refers to as ‘a doctrinal cathedral’. Barth was off the scale in terms of individual brilliance and the sheer size and scope of what he attempts is intoxicating. More

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Supernatural Naturalism, Gnosticism & His Dark Materials Trilogy: A Book Review by Viola Larson

The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil,” the psalmist wrote. Why? Because “You [God] are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.”

“What is your only comfort, in life and in death?” the Heidelberg Catechism begins. The answer given, “That I belong—body and soul, in life and death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ …”

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul the apostle asks. And then he writes that beautiful biblical assurance that includes:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the Love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).”

Philip Pullman, a creative and imaginative writer, has written a fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, which contradicts all of the promises of God. In the three books, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, his fictional children, Lyra and Will, travel through worlds filled with fantastical creatures and people, experience incredible adventures but are never touched by what is truly other. That is, the stories are placed in a supernatural setting which is forever grounded in materialism. Nothing transcendent ever reaches into their worlds.

Furthermore, the whole story is based on a blatant gnosticism which is also grounded in supernatural naturalism. Pullman, an atheist, is at the same time, it would seem, a voracious reader; but one who apparently consumes some of his reading texts backwards. He attributes some of his ideas to such authors as John Milton (Paradise Lost) and William Blake who did not view the world in the same materialistic manner as Pullman.

I will first look at his supernatural naturalism and then at his use of Gnosticism. And thirdly at how these two concepts affect the creative tale he has told. Finally I want to explore how his worldview tends to affect the reader.

There is a type of literature and even worldview that is referred to as supernatural naturalism. Adherents of such a worldview, or authors who create such stories, do not discount strange and seemingly supernatural events, but they believe that at some point in time they can be explained using empirical evidence grounded in the natural world. Often, evolution is seen as the most basic mechanism for such a view.

Surprisingly, many pagans and New Age advocates hold this worldview. For instance some members of Wicca, (witches) although they form circles and perform rites meant to raise a cone of power they understand that power to be connected to the mechanisms of the natural world much like electrical energy. And in their case, as in the story, humanity is both the producer of, as well as the manipulator of the energy.

In Pullman’s stories this is so. Leaning heavily on the idea that human consciousness is a part of the material world and that it is itself evolving the author creates his underlying theme. The most basic particles of the universe, called in the story dust, dark matter, sraf, etc. are conscious.

The author does not really explain whether the particles were at first conscious of them selves and so they caused human consciousnesses or if the consciousness of humanity caused the dark matter to be conscious. But no matter, everything that happens supernaturally in these books is explained by an understanding of the particles which are conscious material needing nurture in order to multiply and grow.

This sets the stage for Gnosticism. The god of Pullman’s fantasy world is like the ancient Gnostics’ god, a caricature of the God of the Bible. In The Amber Spyglass the last book in the series, Will asks the angel, Balthamos, who the Authority is, “Is he God?” Balthamos answers:

The Authority, God, the Creator, the Lord, Yahweh, El Adonai, the King, the Father, the Almighty—those were all names he gave himself. He was never the creator. He was an angel like ourselves—the first angel, true, the most powerful, but he was formed of Dust as we are, and Dust is only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself. Matter loves matter. It seeks to know more Dust is formed. The first angels condensed out of Dust, and the authority was the first of all. He told those who came after him that he had created them, but it was a lie. One of those who came later was wiser than he was, and she found the truth, so he banished her. We serve her still. (28)

Several Gnostic texts including The Apocryphon of John, which I have explained in another essay, picture the Biblical God in a way similar to Pullman’s fake god.
1 The basic idea pushed by both Pullman and the Gnostics is that the Biblical God is the false god who is either ignorant of his own creation or lies. And several Gnostic texts as well as Pullman write of a female who knows the truth and is wiser than the one the Bible proclaims as Lord. Although Pullman does not name the one who the “fallen” angels serve, several Gnostic texts call her Sophia.

Combining this idea of a false, old, weak and lying god with his picture of the “Land of the Dead,” and what it means to overcome death, Pullman lifts up his atheism as a measure of hope. Lyra and Will are the ones who lead the dead ghosts out of the dreadful place. The millions who are entrapped there are thankful because now they can dissolve apart and become a part of every living thing. Lyra tells the ghosts:

‘When you go out of here, all the articles that make you up will loosen and float apart . . . All the atoms that were them, [their dæmons: souls that live outside of their people in Lyra’s world] they’ve gone into the living things. They’ll never vanish. They’re just part of everything. And that’s exactly what’ll happen to you. … You’ll drift apart, it’s true, but you’ll be out in the open, part of everything alive again. (The Amber Spyglass 286)

So seeing already that supernatural naturalism and Gnosticism, hold no hope for a personal nor bodily life after death, how does it affect the creativity of the author and how does it shape his characters?

Well, first of all one should look at how J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings, defines good fairy stories (fantasy tales). In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien writes of the “consolation’ of fairy stories which he refers to as “the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires.” This according to Tolkien gives the story its final and greatest inner consistency and sense of reality. And important to notice he also calls such ancient desires, “the happy ending.” Tolkien explains the happy ending as “the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death.”

Tolkien goes on to look at the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the one true fairy story. The story whose inner consistency is so full of joy and consolation that above all other stories it has such reality that it must be true. After affirming this with more insights, Tolkien writes:

Because this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium [the good news] has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending.’
Pullman’s stories are warped by his atheism. In the midst of his creativity his agenda, to overcome the Christian storyteller, removes both the joy and the humanness of his work. Lyra and Will, barely grown beyond young childhood, find their greatest joy in making love, and when they fear they will be forever parted attempt to dream of an afterlife that is tangible, personal, eternal and bound up with their only joy. Lyra speaks:

‘I’ll be looking for you, Will, every moment, every single moment. And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you … We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams … And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight …’ (The Amber Spyglass 445)

And not only does Pullman’s story lose its consolation it loses its humanity. Like the criticism,
Melissa McHenry-Tregalgis uses in her critique of the movie The Lord of the Rings, when she explains that Peter Jackson tailors the movie “to fit a modern appetite,” and gives the example of “the increase in violence and the decrease of quieter scenes from the story used in the film,” so Pullman in the books has few restful scenes. Although the main plot in this story is the battle meant to preserve that quality which makes humanity, human, Pullman manages to lose the human quality of his story.

The reader will of course bring their own story to these three stories. But, it must be said, their own stories may either shatter and break against the story or some great wall of safety will already be there holding off the putrid waters that every so often churn up in Pullman’s tales.

I found myself, as I walked through the land of the dead with the children, affirming the resurrection of Jesus Christ and praising God for his life and presence. As I read the scenes of lovemaking between the two children I found myself grieving over other real children who have sought for real love and found only a physical relationship.

Here and there in the stories are scenes of peace and happiness. For instance, Mary Malone among the Mulefa discovering them as a real community of creatures; there one longs for the author to know the ultimate consolation. But other places hold the author’s hatred. For instance, the only time a god is pictured in the story he is an old and dying angel.

The old one was uttering a wordless groaning whimper that went on and on, and grinding his teeth, and compulsively plucking at himself with his free hand; but as Lyra reached in, too, to help him out, he tried to smile, and to bow, and his ancient eyes deep in their wrinkles blinked at her with innocent wonder.

…But in the open air there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely … (The Golden Spyglass 367)
And then one prays for grace and that the ultimate Story Teller will walk heavy in to the life of Philip Pullman and all the others like him, not only breaking apart their stories, but making them new creations with new stories to tell.

This story [the life , death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ] begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the 'inner consistency of reality'. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. . . . To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath. . . . Because this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men-and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.
"On Fairy-Stories" by J.R.R. Tolkien

1 The Apocryphon of John, trans, Federik Wisse, from James M. Robinson, Ed The Nag Hammadi Library, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990, [], also see: Viola Larson, “Troubling the Church gnosticism Old and New” at Voices of Orthodox Women.
2 J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, edited by C.S. Lewis, reprint (Oxford University 1947, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing 1978) 84.