Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Douglas Dicks, James M. Wall, anti-Semitism pretending to be missional

I care about where mission money in the PC (U.S.A.) goes. Just this last year my Church had two wonderful speakers who were involved in mission to the Roma. And I am very aware that there are many good mission projects in our denomination. But still I worry. And my concerns are heightened when I see messages like this sent out from mission partners that we support.

Douglas Dicks, who is currently based in Amman Jordan, and is a
Mission co-worker for the PC (U.S.A.), an advisor to the Israel/Palestine Mission Network as well as an advisor to the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee, sends out messages to his subscribers as part of his job and this last one is political in the extreme.

Dicks forwarded an article written by James M. Wall which is posted on Wall’s blog. Both Dicks and Wall, who is a contributing editor for Christian Century, appear to have anti-Semitic leanings. I am going to point out some of the thoughts in the article which is entitled, “
Do Not Call It a Military Conflict; It’s The Occupation, Stupid.”

Even in the beginnings of Israel, according to Wall, the Jewish people were given too much land. He writes, “American Middle East policy has been weighted in favor of Israel ever since President Harry Truman rejected the advice of Secretary of State George C. Marshall and pushed through a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly giving most of Palestine to the Jews, who were then a minority of the population.” (That would have been the 1947 borders.)

Wall refers to the Holocaust as a “horrific by-product of World War.” Well, at least he calls it horrific. But by-product, it was Hitler’s grand plan. And then there is this:

“To really appreciate the manner in which the Israeli narrative has been peddled–a campaign which will be studied in Harvard Business School propaganda classes for generations to come–we need to look closely at Christian travelers who are the targets of this campaign.

Think of these Christians as existing in two flavors.

The first flavor is that church leader who longs to cultivate the magic of “interfaith” dialogue (the mainstream church flavor, cool and sweet). Speak to this flavor group about their church divesting from companies that support the Occupation, and they respond: Can’t do that; have to protect our fragile interfaith dialogue.

The second flavor is spicy, giving off that feeling of absolutism with a bite. This flavor is the fundamentalist Christian flavor, church folk who love Israel as the rightful recipients of a “promise” Yahweh made eons ago.”

Some of those Wall is referring to are those who send money to the Presbyterian Church to support missions. And all are also brothers and sisters in the Lord. And both Wall and Dicks seem to have little care for them as people. They are just someone to caricature and deride.

And then Wall gets to the political part. He writes about Senator Chuck Schumer. This is one of the oldest ways of perpetrating anti-Semitism , accusing a Jewish person of being un-American or disloyal. Wall writes:

“Schumer’s screed gets to the edge of sounding as if he is more a Senator working in the Knesset than working in the United States Senate. This is the 2nd time I know of that Schumer has publicly crossed the line when it came to zealously blaming his own government and colleagues in delicate matters of US-Israel-Palestine policy.”

So why is this Mission work? How can the messages that Dick sends be an important way to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Neither the Jew nor the Muslim will come to Christ because of this article. And the Palestinians, who need care and a State of their own, as well as the Jewish people who need a safe place to be Jewish people are not helped by such rhetoric. In fact, the article is bound to make some Jewish people in the United States feel unsafe. I am wondering is this what missional means? It just can’t be.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Eurydice, talking rocks and the death of death

My husband and I just returned from watching a modern adaption of the Greek Tragedy Eurydice. Our grand son-in-law, Spencer Tregilgas, had one of the lead roles, he plays Orpheus. The play was excellent; Sarah Ruhl, who has adapted the play, created some interesting scenes and made a tragedy speak like a comedy. Talking rocks were substituted for the usual Greek chorus while the lord of the underworld rode around on a red tricycle blowing his silly whistle.

Tragedy or comedy, ancient or contemporary, my Christian faith silently cried out for joy as I watched. Faith answered the demands and mockings of the rocks who were certainly not from the streets of Jerusalem. They did not cry holy.

The demands of the rocks? The first one occurred when Eurydice entered the world of the dead, forgetting her own name, yet greeted by her father, he tried to explain that he was her father. “That name, father, is not known here,” the rocks mocked.

The language of the dead was silent and books were not allowed they insisted.

“The dead are only seen they are not heard,” they persisted.

“There are no rooms in the land of the dead.”

Ah, I thought of a throne where the Father and the Word, who is the Lion and the Lamb, exist in triumph. I thought of the one who “was dead” but is alive “forevermore.” He is the One who has “the keys of death and of Hades. Because of this he says, “Do not be afraid.”

I thought of those who have died a physical death, in the Lord, and how not only do they not forget their names but are given a new name. And something more, they have a promise from the Lord of life Jesus Christ:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

What an amazing message the good news of Jesus life, death and resurrection must have been to so many ancient Greeks. What an amazing story it is for our secular contemporary society. Long ago, when my children were young, I had a neighborhood Good News Club. Then we told stories using flannel graph cutouts of biblical characters. I still remember one little boy who was close to tears when I talked about the death of Jesus. He had never heard that story before. But when I told about Jesus being resurrected, he nearly danced.

Greek stories are beautiful and full of pathos, but the true story is the one that ends with the One who was dead but is alive. The bright and morning Star who is seen but also speaks, he calls us home to himself.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations": a critique

“Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations,”* written by the offices of Interfaith Relations and Theology and Worship in consultation with Christian and Muslim scholars and sponsored by the General Assembly Mission Council, contains some excellent ideas and recommendations. However, theological confusion causes this document to be unacceptable. Misusing the Christian doctrine of revelation and the Trinity, the authors see the God of Islam and the God of Christianity as the same God.

Some excellent recommendations contained in “Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslin Relations” are befriending Muslim neighbors, obtaining correct information about Islamic beliefs, and confessing that Christians in the past have, with the crusades, sinned against people of the Muslim faith.

Some important understandings are acknowledging that both Islam and Christianity believe their faith is a revealed faith and that their God is one. Explaining that the Muslim believes he is capable of living up to all that his God requires, while the Christian believes that she is unable to do so, is also an important clarification of the differences in the two faiths.

However, the scholars who wrote this paper see the two faiths worshiping the same God; each faith with a different understanding of that same God. They write, “For both Christians and Muslims, each in our own way, God is one—unique, infinite, immutable, eternal, eternal, and omnipotent—and to deny this in any way is a grievous transgression.” (Italics mine)(9)

And they write:

“Both Muslims and Christians who speak Arabic call God ‘Allah.’ Christians who are not Arabic speakers often assumed, wrongly, that because Muslims use the word ‘Allah’ it means they have a different name for God, or are referring to a different deity than Christians. But Arabic translations of the Bible use the word ‘Allah’ for God.” (Italics mine.)(9-10)

I think it should be pointed out that many Christians understand that both Muslims and Arab Christians in some parts of the world use the same name to refer to their God. But this does not mean that they believe in the same God, just that they use the same name. And in fact Arab Christians used the name Allah for God before their Muslim counterparts did.

At this point in the paper the authors write that Christians “speak of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And then they list the various attribute and names that Christians and Muslims use to express their understanding of who their God is. For Christianity such names as Redeemer and Holy One. For Islam such names as “All Compassionate” and “All Merciful.”

The authors write of the Trinity, “Christian faith has always been clear, and distinct from Islam, in affirming that within God’s unity there is a Trinity or ‘tri-unity’—God is simultaneously one and three.[1] God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three ‘persons’ constitute the one God.” So, one must ask the authors, “How can it be that the Christian God who is both one and three is the same God as the Muslim God who is one alone?"

It is perhaps their failure to connect two different understandings of the Christian view of revelation and how we know God. And they must be connected if Christians are to be faithful to their Lord. We are speaking here of the economic Trinity and the ontological Trinity. One has to do with God’s outward actions to humanity the other is the inner life of God.[2]

One view of revelation, which concerns the economic Trinity, is given in the paper using the 1987 General Assembly theological statement “Nature of Revelation.” In the section chosen from the statement, after speaking of God’s revelation of himself as resembling how one human encounters another there is this, “Reformed views of revelation have emphasized that God’s self-disclosure gives knowledge of God’s will or disposition toward us , and not only (or even primarily) of God’s inner nature, which remains mysterious and veiled in its revealedness.”

This idea of God's mysterious and veiled inner nature, flows from Immanuel Kant, that is, we cannot know a thing in itself. Therefore we can only know about God from the use of analogy and metaphor which describes our experience of God. And it is apparent that another paper is troubling the paper “Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations”, that is the Trinity paper, “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing.”[3]

An echo of the Trinity paper is heard in this statement “God’s overflowing love, known by us in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, draws us out of ourselves and into life in right relationship with God and others.” (6) The problem, the troubling is that it is not just God’s overflowing love we know in Jesus Christ; we as believers are united to Christ and so we enter into fellowship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We truly know God.

And yet at the same time, after encountering a God we barely know, we learn, later in the paper that Jesus Christ is God’s sufficient revelation. And happily that is connected to the Scriptures. Using both Scripture and the 1967 Confession as their foundation the authors write, “It is in the person of Jesus Christ that we have the ‘one sufficient revelation of God.’ The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are also revelation because through them, the Holy Spirit bears ‘unique and authoritative witness’ to Jesus Christ. [4]

However, that Jesus Christ is God’s revelation means a great deal more than is explained in the paper. Here, in God's revelation in Christ, the ontological understanding of the Trinity is wed to the economic view of the Trinity. It means that through Jesus Christ and our union with him we do know something about the inner-nature of God. As Timothy George points out:

“In John 17:3, the economic Trinity and the ontological Trinity are brought together in a single verse: ‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ The God who wills to be known and the Christ who has been sent to make him known belong inseparably together—which is why Jesus can say with such boldness what no other religious leader has ever dared to claim: ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).”[5]

We know that God is three; we know that God’s inner being is a relationship of love between, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We also know that since God is revealed in Jesus Christ, as he is known in the written word of God, that Jesus is the only way that God can be known. We know we are his and loved. And we know that behind the back of Jesus Christ is no other God. [6]

So the understanding of God’s disclosure of himself must be cemented to his revelation of himself in Jesus Christ, who is very God of very God. There is much to be praised in this paper, but despite all of the distinctions made between Islam and Christianity it fails to make a complete distinction between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity and rather focuses on what is referred to as different understandings of one God. But Christians are admonished to worship only that God known in Jesus Christ. Doubting Thomas worshipfully said to Jesus, and we must also, “My Lord and my God.” (John 21:28)

*Go here to see the paper "Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations"

[1] The statement, “within God’s unity there is a Trinity” is not quite right. God’s unity is the Trinity. As Timothy George puts it, “In the eternal and blessed intercommunion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the one true God is united without confusion and divided without separation.” Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?: Understanding the Difference Between Christianity and Islam, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2002) 81.
[2] Ibid., 76-78.
[3] For an excellent understanding of the problems with the Trinity paper see, Andrew Purves & Charles Partee, “A Name is Not a Metaphor: A Response to ‘The Trinity: God’s love overflowing, Theology Matters Vol 12 # 2 Mar/Apr.
[4] They do, however, ruin this by writing, “Through these writings, the church ‘hears the word of God.”
[5] George, The Father of Jesus, 77.
[6] As Thomas F. Torrance puts it, “He [God] cannot be known aright apart from his own self-imaging or self-naming in Jesus Christ, for there is no God apart from him, and no knowledge of God behind the back of his self-revelation. Thomas F. Torrance, “The Christian Apprehension of God the Father,” Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism, Alvin F. Kimel, Jr., Editor, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans 1992), 140.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Of Serpents and chittering animals

Several stories come to mind, one biblical, one a metaphor. The Bible story is of the children of Israel who, when in the wilderness, complained, they were without meat and water, and the wonderful food that the Lord was sending them was miserable. Yes, they did call manna miserable.

Yahweh sent fiery serpents to bite them, but he also provided a remedy, a bronze serpent on a pole. They were to look on the serpent and be healed. Later when Jesus was speaking to his disciples he referred back to that bronze serpent and put himself in its place.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whosoever believes will in him have eternal life” (John 3: 14-15).

The other story is by Walter Wangerin Jr. who tells of his adventure with cancer, and his dying, in Letters From the Land of Cancer but whose first book is the one I am thinking of now. That is The Book of the Dun Cow. In that fantasy a group of animals who are very personal, different and unique, like the Church, are keepers of God’s creation. And they are watchers against the evil lurking beneath their feet. Like the biblical Satan, Wyrm is angry with God and hates those who watch. Wangerin writes of the animals and their purpose:

“What purpose? Simply, the animals were the Keepers. The Watchers, the guards. They were the last protection against an almighty evil which, should it pass them, would burst bloody into the universe and smash into chaos and sorrow everything that had been both orderly and good. The stars would be no help against him; and even the angels, the messengers of God—even the Dun Cow herself—would only grieve before him and then die; for messengers can speak, but they cannot do as the animals could.”

And then Wangerin describes Wyrm, who is locked inside the earth, Wangerin describes his damnation and hatred:

“He was in the shape of a serpent, so damnably huge that he could pass once around the earth and then bite his own tail ahead of him. He lived in caverns underneath the earth’s crust; but he could when he wished, crawl through rock as if it had been loose dirt. He lived in darkness, in dampness, in the cold. He stank fearfully, because his outer skin was always rotting, a runny putrefaction which made him itch, and which he tore away from himself by scraping his back against the granite teeth of the deep. He was lonely. He was powerful. He was angry. And he hated, with an intense and abiding hatred, the God who locked him within the earth. And what put the edge upon the hatred, what made it an everlasting acid inside of him, was the knowledge that God had given the key to his prison in this bottomless pit to a pack of chittering animals!”

I thought of this as I read a poem by John Donne that I had never read before. And I thought of this again just now as I thought of the class I taught this morning in Church on the issues coming before our Presbyterian General Assembly. This morning it was on Marriage and Civil Unions. And somebody asked the question why does this keep coming back? Why is the struggle still going on? We are after all just a pack of chittering animals. The Church, His people, the keepers and the watchers. But there is something more.

Donne writes about his family crest being a sheaf of serpents but how he laid it aside for a new crest, a cross. And yet, he writes, God allowed back the first crest because on the cross, the serpent symbol, brought healing to his broken sinful soul

Yet may I, with this, my first Serpent hold,
God gives new blessings, and yet leaves the old;
The serpent, may, as wise, my pattern be;
My poison, as he feeds the dust, that’s me.
And as he rounds the Earth to murder sure,
My death he is, but on the Crosse, my cure.
(This was a poem sent to George Herbert and I only have it in the English written at the time.)

So faithfulness church, God takes the troubling times and uses them for his glory. He takes the weak things that the world despises and uses us for his glory.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Benny Morris and the Death of Israel

So I am going to be rather political again. This is about Iran and Israel. When writing about Middle East issues and the involvement of different Presbyterian organizations one particular commenter on my posts often asks me if I have read a history of the problems by Benny Morris. He recommended it. I intend to do so.

I now have two huge books lying on my reading table, 1948: The First Arab-Israeli War and Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionists-Arab Conflict 1881-2001. I will probably get to them after our General Assembly. But one thing I know is how one-sided pro-Palestinian organizations irritate Morris by taking what he has written out of context. He has written so. But yesterday I saw an opinion piece in the LA Times by Morris, When Armageddon lives next door.

He is fearful of what many Jewish people are fearful of and some gentiles too, the ability of Iran to destroy Israel. As Morris puts it, “I take it personally: Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wants to murder me, my family and my people. Day in, day out, he announces the imminent demise of the ‘Zionist regime,’ by which he means Israel.”

Morris also writes, “The American veto [of an Israeli first strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities] may ultimately consign millions of Israelis, including me and my family, to a premature death and Israel to politicide. It would then be comparable to Britain and France's veto in the fall of 1938 of the Czechs defending their territorial integrity against their rapacious Nazi neighbors. Within six months, Czechoslovakia was gobbled up by Germany.”

I was just commenting in a conversation last night at the dinner table, (we were enjoying a sauerkraut, sausage, wine, apples dish that has its origins in Alsace Lorraine, now called Alsace-Moselle) how the dish seemed both German and French. And then all these historical thoughts came to me about how Hitler had used the excuse of mixed ethnic groups and their controversies to invade all of their territories. That included Alsace Lorraine, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Europe and Britain were complicit in Hitler’s intimidation and ultimate invasion.

The destruction of Israel and the death of his family is Morris’ concern, and he has every right to it. I think some of the things we are writing and voting on in our General Assembly offers the world the kind of possibilities that Chamberlain and others offered up during the rise of Hitler’s Germany. For instance I highlighted a part of the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee’s paper “Our Witness
What We Have Seen and Heard” with these words:

“When the reader looks at the paper “Our Witness: “What We Have Seen and Heard” they read about Iran’s attempt to develop a nuclear warhead and then they read this, “While this growing fear [by the Israelis over Iran’s plans] is a deep concern, an equal concern is the number of nuclear warheads that Israel currently stockpiles and thus the growing sense of Iranian vulnerability and insecurity.” (Italics mine) I should now add that Israel does not over and over insist on the annihilation of Iran. Perhaps we, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), should think about being complicit in the death of Israel.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A King for Israel? Update

As most people who read my blog know, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), among other issues, is fighting over whether Israel should be a Jewish State or not. The latest edition of First Things, the journal started by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus has an amazing article by a Jewish scholar and theologian, Michael Wyschogrod. The article addresses the issue of Israel as a Jewish State; it is entitled “A King in Israel.” The sub-title states, “a dramatic solution to Israel’s constitutional dilemma.”

I looked to see if this article was on their web site, but since I just received my copy, it is not yet there. Still, I will write a few words about the article. Wyschogrod looks at all the troubling problems that now exist because the Jewish people need a truly Jewish state. He writes about a constitution looking first at the constitution of the United States and its appeal to “nature and nature’s God” as its foundation. He goes on to explore the Jewish’s peoples covenant with God writing:

“Judaism is founded on a covenant between God and Israel. Instead of unilaterally imposing his will on Israel, God enters into a relation of mutual obligations with a people. This relation is, in content, not only religious but political and legal, and is understood in this fashion in the Bible and rabbinic literature, where god is called ‘the king of all Kings’ perhaps more often than by any other appellation.”

Wyschogrod explains that his suggestions include a Parliamentary Monarchy much like England or Holland has. But here is the unique part. The king would be absent and a regent would take his place. Part of the reasoning for this is because a human king was not God’s best choice for Israel. God was to be their king. But the absent king that Wyschogrod is thinking of would, must, be in the Davidic line. And needless to say the author works out the basics that entail democracy of the people yet still anchored in the Jewish ruling family by a king who is expected but has not yet arrived.

Wyschogrod writes that without ongoing prophecy a king could not be chosen or crowned and yet:

“Israel nonetheless can be declared a Davidic monarchy without a reigning king. This action would build into the self-understanding of the state of Israel the messianic hope of the Jewish people, while excluding a messianic interpretation of the present state of Israel.”

Of course I am a Christian, I believe the King has already come, and he is coming again. But the article is amazing and the idea does go a long way toward laying out a way for Israel to safe-guard her need to stay a Jewish State. When the article is posted you can probably find it here:
First Things. Update -Thanks to Hans Cornelder of ChurchandWorld.com for linking to the now posted story.

"The Lord also declares to you [David] that the Lord will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendent after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me; … ‘Your house and your kingdom shall endure before me forever; your throne shall be established forever.’ (2 Samuel 7:11b-14a, 16.)”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mayor Ed Koch and his article, "A Dangerous Silence"

I don't usually put up political articles that attack our President. But this article by the former Mayor of New York City I believe is something everyone should read. And really it is about more than President Obama. It is about Israel and her needs as well as some information about the past of Jerusalem that many Presbyterians and other mainline church members do not know. Perhaps the most important thing is that Mayor Ed Koch is speaking from his heart as a Jewish man who loves the United States. The article is on the Huffington Report and is entitled A Dangerous Silence.

It begins:

"I weep as I witness outrageous verbal attacks on Israel. What makes these verbal assaults and distortions all the more painful is that they are being orchestrated by President Obama.

For me, the situation today recalls what occurred in 70 AD when the Roman emperor Vespasian launched a military campaign against the Jewish nation and its ancient capital of Jerusalem. Ultimately, Masada, a rock plateau in the Judean desert became the last refuge of the Jewish people against the Roman onslaught. I have been to Jerusalem and Masada. From the top of Masada, you can still see the remains of the Roman fortifications and garrisons, and the stones and earth of the Roman siege ramp that was used to reach Masada. The Jews of Masada committed suicide rather than let themselves be taken captive by the Romans.

In Rome itself, I have seen the Arch of Titus with the sculpture showing enslaved Jews and the treasures of the Jewish Temple of Solomon with the Menorah, the symbol of the Jewish state, being carted away as booty during the sacking of Jerusalem.

Oh, you may say, that is a far fetched analogy. Please hear me out.

The most recent sacking of the old city of Jerusalem -- its Jewish quarter -- took place under the Jordanians in 1948 in the first war between the Jews and the Arabs, with at least five Muslim states -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq -- seeking to destroy the Jewish state. At that time, Jordan conquered East Jerusalem and the West Bank and expelled every Jew living in the Jewish quarter of the old city, destroying every building, including the synagogues in the old quarter and expelling from every part of Judea and Samaria every Jew living there so that for the first time in thousands of years, the old walled city of Jerusalem and the adjacent West Bank were "Judenrein" -- a term used by the Nazis to indicate the forced removal or murder of all Jews."

Finish by going

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Links to my postings on Middle East issues coming to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly

In this posting I have linked to all of the postings I have written on the Middle East that are connected to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly. I hope that will be helpful to some.

On the documents and recommendations made by the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee:

  1. Presbyterian Middle East Study Team & "The Kairos Palestine Document" no longer a Jewish Nation?
  2. Report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assembly: Is it priestly?
  3. "Witness of the Scriptures: A Biblical Theological Reflection: A Reformed Christian's response
  4. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Middle East Study Team-a one sided story
  5. Recommendations & all the documents-breaking faith with the Jewish people
  6. “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis:” false beginnings, twisted thoughts- part 1
  7. “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis:” false beginnings, twisted thoughts- part 2
  8. “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis:” false beginnings, twisted thoughts- part 3

On two overtures coming from San Francisco Presbytery

  1. Two anti-Semitic Overtures coming to the Presbyterian (U.S.A.) General Assembly from San Francisco Presbytery (Update)

On the paper "Christians and Jews: People of God" and the Middle East Caucus

  1. The worm that feeds on the soul of the Church: an exchange of letters

On the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy and their references to the Middle East

  1. The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy: Ignoring Christian persecution, maligning Israel

Monday, April 12, 2010

For my Jewish friends and others ...

For My Jewish friends a story in silent films- (For my Christian friends too.) I can't say enjoy the first part but it needs to be shown. You will like the second part. But they go together.

That means prayers for the dead. If you are not Jewish you may not know much about the history of the Holocaust but the caricatures are Nazi propaganda pictures of the Jews and the pictures of the seemingly handsome men, women and children are the Aryan ideals of the Nazis. (My apologies I cannot remove the ads on the video.)

The second is a film with just music and very old film from the beginning days of the State of Israel.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sweeping Church History: A review of The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why

Sweeping Church History: a review of:

The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.

By Phyllis Tickle

Emergent Village Resources for communities of faith, BakerBooks 2008

Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why is both disquieting and fascinating. The author proposes grandiose schemes of history and offers predictive speculations which trouble me, and yet I met my past in many corners even down to her last footnote on Joachim of Fiore.[1] However, I don’t believe that I or other orthodox Christians will see our future in The Great Emergence.

This is a book which has been picked for some use as a catalyst or under girding for the recommended Presbyterian (U.S.A.) General Assembly Commission on Middle Governing Bodies coming from the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. Tickle is writing about the Emerging Movement in Western Christianity. She attempts to find the movement's cause, define its progress and answer some pertinent questions about its future. And in doing so Tickle looks at past Christian movements as well as the kinds of cultural and historical events that she believes shaped Christianity in different ages.

Tickle’s thesis is that every five hundred years the Church finds itself disconnected from its meaning and must mend or remake the faith story in which it is involved. She refers to Right Reverend Mark Dyer, writing of his idea, “that the only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five-hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.” He also suggested that we are now in the midst of that kind of a sale.

The theory Tickle explores is an idea that groups, institutions even nations are tethered by cable to the thing that gives them meaning, or that thing that is bigger then the individual or group. She uses analogies: the cable is covered by a water proof casing. The cable is called “the story.” That is the “shared history—mythic, actual, and assumed—of the social unit.” Going further there is an interior mesh sleeve which the author writes is “sometimes called the consensual illusion and sometimes the common imagination and sometimes by combinations of those two.” It is the agreement of the members about how things work. (34-5) Tickle uses the idea of a flat earth to describe how that might work. (emphasis author's)

Next she describes three ropes that are intertwined inside. They are called spirituality, corporeality and morality and make up, in order, the internal experiences, the physical evidences and the external outcome of the spirituality. Tickle writes about how each of these can become frayed, torn and need repair. It is here that she looks at Church history and notes the important points when all must be redone or reworked. And it is here that I am troubled with her historical schema as well as what I see as a parochial outcome. I will address both.

Reformation: Tickle points to several Church moments which she sees as times when the Church’s link to its meaning has become so badly damaged that the Church needed to change or as she puts it “reconfigure.” She deals with the Great Reformation and pulls in a multitude of reasons for that event including: Too many men attempting to be Pope at the same time –causing a sense of a disconnect from authority, Greek scholars leaving Constantinople for Europe with copies of the ancient classical writers, conflicts between Islam and Christianity and with that “the acquisition of a library of over four hundred thousand volumes,” the rise of city-states and nations and Gutenberg, whose invention helped spread the writings of the Reformation.

So my first concern: while all of the above historical events certainly changed society and advanced the Reformation, they cannot be the main reasons for the Reformation. Instead the main reason was because of the divine intervention of God. The Lord of the Church heard the cries for renewal, undoubtedly planned for the cries for renewal.

Various groups, in what is now Germany, had been praying for a hundred years for Church renewal. And earlier, though all that first thousand years, and beyond, there had been different renewal events such as the one in the 13th century at Cluny Monastery. Later there was Wycliffe in England, whom Tickle does mention, but not in this context. Next there was John Hus in Bohemia who died for the proclamation of justification by faith among other issues. The need for reformation and God’s intervention for his Church are the reasons. The Church did not adjust its story for the sake of or because of cultural change, but because the Lord called her back to an apostolic witness and Scripture.

The parochial outcome I am concerned about is that Tickle has taken huge worldwide events, such as the Great Schism or even “The Axial Age” and compared them to a relative small movement in the United States and Britain (As compared to the rise of a vibrant and different Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere and Asia ). Tickle’s views of what is happening in Christianity should be read along-side the writings of Philip Jenkins.[2]

Tickle goes on to write about the cultural events which brought forth what she and others call The Great Emergence. They include scientific events such as the evolutional theories of Darwin, Albert Einstein’s “special theory of relativity” and “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.” Her religious events include the newest search for the Historical Jesus, Pentecostalism, Karl Marx, immigration connected to Buddhism entering the United States, drugs in the 1960s and Joseph Campbell.

The authority of the Word: And this is all to say that Tickle believes that these events, alongside others, began to tear apart the story of Protestantism in particular and Christianity as a whole. But she constantly, as in her Reformation account, insists that in these events the church lost its center of authority which is Sola Scriptura (only Scripture). She in fact insists that the ordination of self-affirming homosexuals will bring an end to the view that the Bible is the Church’s authority. She writes:

“When all is resolved [the homosexual issues]—and it most surely will be—the Reformation’s understanding of Scripture as it had been taught by Protestantism for almost five centuries will be dead.” (101)

And this is the real story Tickle is telling. That many in today’s Church in the United States and Britain either do not or will not find authority in the Holy Scripture. Tickle even writes, “The question of ‘Where now is our authority?’ is, as we have noted, always the central and overarching one in every time of upheaval. The great Emergence will be no different from its predecessors in this regard.”

And this is where my review will now focus. Tickle sets up some suggestions for where the emerging movement might find its authority. One is in the Pentecostalism she highlights that exploded onto the twentieth century moving whole continents toward a vibrant Christianity. Tickle writes:

“Pentecostalism by definition assumes the direct agency of the Holy Spirit as instructor and counselor and commander as well as comforter. As such and stated practically, Pentecostalism assumes that ultimate authority is experiential rather than canonical. This is not either to say or to imply that there is a denial of the Holy Scriptures. It is to say, rather that forced into a choice between what a believer thinks with his or her own mind to be from the Holy Scripture and an apparently contradictory message from the Holy Spirit, many a Pentecostal must prayerfully, fearfully, humbly accept the more immediate authority of the received message.” (Emphasis author's.)(85)

Tickle goes on to state that”Pentecostalism, offered the Great Emergence its first, solid, applied answer to the question of where now is our authority.” But she is wrong about the Pentecostals.

At just the turn of the Century in California a group of Pentecostals at a camp meeting were led by one member who believed they were to understand “through the leading of the Holy Spirit” that Jesus was the true name of God and there was only one person in the Godhead. They are now called Jesus only or oneness Pentecostals and exist on the thin edges of the Pentecostal movement rejecting the Trinity. But when they first began they were members of the Assemblies of God. The Assemblies of God leaders, through the study of Scripture, said no, that was not a biblical teaching. While this kind of experienced doctrine can be an ongoing problem in Pentecostal churches it is nonetheless battled by using Scripture.[3]

Tickle follows this up when she calls for a speedy search for an authority base for those who are emerging Christians. She writes:

“The new Christianity of the Great Emergence must discover some authority base or delivery system and/or governing agency of its own. It must formulate—and soon—something other than Luther’s Sola Scriptura which, although used so well by the Great Reformation originally, is now as hopelessly outmoded or insufficient, even after it is, as here, spruced up and re-couched in more current sensibilities.” (151)

She then speculates on the authority that the Emerging Movement will use suggesting that they might find it in what she calls “Networked Authority.” Probably her best picture of this is her picture of the emerging church with its sense of authority. That is, “The Church is a self-organizing system of relations, symmetrical or otherwise, between innumerable member-parts that themselves form subsets of relations within their smaller networks, etc., etc. in interlacing levels of complexity.”

Accordingly none have all the truth but it comes out of the center of the community (158) and yet has run through the “hubs” of the network and is “tried and amended and tempered into wisdom and right action for effecting the Father’s will.” (153) And predicatively all of this may lead to a change in Christian belief. The cable is taken out, remade and stuffed back in. Seeing part of this process as a de-Hellenization of Christianity, Tickle writes:

“Some of the de-Hellenization on religious formation is already discernable. The actual nature of the atonement, for example or the tenet of an angry God who must be appeased or the question of evil’s origins are suddenly all up for reconsideration. If in pursuing this line of exegesis, the Great Emergence really does what most of its observers think it will, it will rewrite Christian theology—and thereby North American—culture—into something far more Jewish, more paradoxical, more narrative, and more mystical than anything the Church has had for the last seventeen or eighteen hundred years.” (162)

In the diagram Tickle uses to explain the Emerging church, she places those who refuse to follow the patterns and process of the emergence off to the corners including some of those who she names social justice Christians (Tickle’s name for all mainline Christians). But mostly the few numbers include those who hold to biblical authority. I do not see this as a correct reading although she might be right.

What I do see is liturgical churches, mainline churches, pentecostal churches and conservative churches who will still acknowledge the authority of Scripture which is after all the word of God. I still see those whom she places in the corners obeying the Lord of the Church in obedience to his word. After all, those who belong to Jesus are not simply connected to a cable which connects to their meaning; they are in a real way united to the resurrected Lord. And Jesus is after all the same, yesterday, today and forever.

[1] This would include a love for History including Church History, coming to Christ in a Southern Baptist Church, spending the first fifteen years of my marriage in an
Assembly of God Church and the next fifteen years in an independent Church loosely connected to the Calvary Chapels, and doing research on several cultic groups that embraced the kind of theological scheme that Joachim of Fiore advocated.
[2] See for instance Philip Jenkins books,
The Next Christendom & The Lost History of Christianity.
[3] J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions Volume 1, (McGrath Publishing Company 1978) 1, 287-8.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Anti-Zionism = anti-Semitsm?

Someone on one of my earlier blog postings about Middle East issues asked if I could explain how anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism?” I directed her to a document I had posted in August 2009, Contemporary Global Anti-Semitism a report to Congress. It is a pdf document prepared by The United States Department of State which explores contemporary anti-Semitism and includes anti-Zionism. Picture taken by Zombie, see note at bottom 1.
The question was also asked how anti-Zionism follows from anti-Semitism. But the question could be turned around. In the above document this is explained:

“This report does not purport to ascribe motive to the various critics of Israel. However, disproportionate criticism of the Jewish State and/or Israelis and demon­izing them as barbaric, unprincipled, selfish, inhu­mane, etc. is anti-Semitic and has the effect of caus­ing global audiences to associate those bad attributes with Jews in general. Similar to the way that constant news coverage associating Muslims with terrorism, or blacks with crime, can have the effect of promoting anti-Muslim or anti-black prejudice, respectively, con­stant and disproportionate criticism of Israel can have the effect of promoting anti-Jewish prejudice.”

Going beyond this is the human tendency to become so engulfed in a cause that one loses the ability to sort through material and choose what at least has a semblance of integrity while discarding the appalling. In this matter an example of using integrity is Martin Niemöller. As a Christian pastor in Germany, concerned about the moral decadence of his country, he at first thought Adolf Hitler was a good person to lead Germany. He would later oppose Hitler, even to his face, with such tenacity that he became Hitler’s personal prisoner.

Dislike for some policies of the State of Israel is leading some organizations and some activist into some very shadowy corners. The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian (U.S.A.) has published a booklet, Steadfast Hope which suggests among other things that the Jewish European immigrants are not descendents of the ancient Israelites; the recent Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee recommends the Kairos Document that would do away with a Jewish State. And some activists join or, perhaps unintentionally, promote organizations that probably years earlier they would have rejected with great repulsion. The slide happens sometimes out of good intentions.

On one well known activist’s Facebook information page she has pages that truly cross the line from her concerns about Israel’s policies to the promotion of vulgar anti-Zionism which can certainly be equated with the worse kind of anti-Semitism. (Pages on Facebook consist of various groups that the person has joined because they care about the issues that organization or person promotes. For instance on my information page or profile I have such pages as Tim Keller, C.S. Lewis and the Simon Wiesenthal Center .

But, besides such recognized organizations as Amnesty International activist Anna Baltzer, who is Jewish and pro Palestinian, somehow, unaware of her pages, moves on to Palestine Solidarity Group-Chicago and further to the World Antizionist Congress . This last site is vile. Another is Anti-Zionism and also vile. In this last one The Protocol’s of the Elders of Zion are discussed as though they are real.

Our society is slipping into anti-Semitism because it is slipping into a vile anti-Zionism. This is very serious. It is changing who we are as a people. It will change who we are as Presbyterians.

1. Zombie does photographic journalism: The picture above is from a rally in S.F. on March 20th 2010. He has entitled it:

San Francisco "Anti-War" Rally:
The New Communist/Truth/Jihad Alliance
Several pictures my bother some readers but the information about those forging alliances is interesting.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A very good new web site: Richard Bauckham-Biblical Scholar and Theologian

A particularly good and new web site is “Richard Bauckham - Biblical Scholar and Theologian.’ Among the books he has authored are Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity and Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

There are quite a few good sermons and lectures on this site. And a clue to what the two books, above, are about are the lectures, Orthodoxy in Christology and Surrounded by Truth.

In the lecture “Orthodoxy in Christology” Bauckham offers various ways to approach the biblical and historical understanding of who Jesus Christ is. One thing he does insist on is that the approach must have three components to be adequate, that is, it must have a contemporary understanding, a biblical component and an orthodox credal one. And he writes about how in the past that list has always been read from the right to the left but now in most cases it is read from the left to the right.

Bauckham does explain how the modern and postmodern way of understanding who Jesus is affects our thoughts on Christology. He states that the post-modern understanding of Christology that attempts to finds its position in a supposedly early diversity of christologies presupposes that the modern historical view has already deconstructed orthodoxy.

Bauckham goes on to explain how the modern historical method has not destroyed credal orthodoxy. And going beyond this he speaks to the way and the need to understand Christology in our contemporary situation. He writes:

“Thinking through afresh the relationship between the Bible and credal orthodoxy enables us the better to understand both. Moreover, it is out of such thinking that the lines linking the Bible and credal orthodoxy to the third corner of the triangle of orthodoxy develop. Who is Jesus Christ for us today? The simplest answer might be that he is God for us - both that he truly is God for us and also that he is God for us today. Here and now as much as there and then, it is in Jesus that we find the God who is not indifferent to us or against us, nor even the God who regards us benevolently from afar, but the God who is with us and for us in a radical identification with the human situation that transforms it.”

The other lecture, “Surrounded by Truth” is, of course, about Jesus who is truth. But here also Bauckham explores what that means to us today and how we live it out as Christians. Here is a quote to whet your appetite:

“That truth is encountered we see most fully in the case of Jesus as truth. As the human person he is, as God embodied in a human life, his personal reality confronts us. He eludes our grasp, as all persons do in genuinely personal encounter. We cannot apply to him the modern rationalist desire to master truth, but nor is the postmodern notion of constructing our own truth for ourselves appropriate – not, once again, if we encounter him in his personal otherness. Of course, it is in fact all too easy to construct a Jesus figure of our own making – Jesus as we would like to him to be, a Jesus who is nothing but a reflection of ourselves or our ideals, even a Jesus as we fear he may be. Quests of the historical Jesus – modern or postmodern - always run that risk. But when they fall for it they evade the experience of encounter, preferring a useful idol to the personal otherness of Jesus. They turn, like Pilate, from the possibility of encounter back to mastery and control.”

So check out the site. There are even some children stories entitled, MacBears,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He is Risen

I have been hesitating about writing an Easter blog. Strange for a Christian I know. But a lingering sadness has engulfed me because of all the written words about how the cross was not about redemption; the sacrifice of the Incarnate one for our sins. And so many of the writers are Presbyterians. First there is Carol Howard Merritt, who suggested such a sacrifice “puts into question the nature and character of God.” And there is Rita Nakashima Brock and her continuing diatribe about the cross and the need for redemption.

The Presbyterian News decided to get in on it suggesting that Reformed Christians hold that the resurrection is more important than the cross. Bethany Furkin
wrote that “Our focus is not the cross or the suffering of Jesus but his resurrection.” And of course the one who loves to mock Christ, Christians and all things that belong to the Lord mocked everything with great glee.

I found myself only wanting to stay by the cross, but that is probably not a problem. The bodily resurrection of Jesus means nothing without the cross. And the cross means nothing without the resurrection. Without the resurrection “our faith is worthless” and we are “still in our sins,” Paul writes. But he also writes that “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us. (Eph 1:7-8)” It isn’t either/or—it is a lavish gift.

When the apostle John saw a mysterious book full of the history of God’s work in the midst of an evil world and his holy people he cried because no one could open it. But an elder comforted him with the news that one had prevailed. “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals. (Rev. 5: 5)” And how and what had Jesus overcome?

The song that the elders and the four amazing creatures sang:

“Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

This is redemption and resurrection wrapped around each other.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The wonder of his gift-Good Friday


by George Herbert

Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
And make a suit unto him, to afford
A small-rented lease, and cancel th' old
In heaven at his manor I him sought:
They told me there, that he was lately gone
about some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.
I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
of thieves and murderers: there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.