Thursday, February 25, 2010

Presbyterian Middle East Study Team & "The Kairos Palestine Document" no longer a Jewish Nation?

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, sent out a press release on the 22 of February, entitled, “Wiesenthal Center: Presbyterian Recommendations Delegitimize Israel; Sure to Damage Interfaith Ties,” or in another place a bit emphatic, “Presbyterian Church USA Ready to Declare War Against Israel.” This was all about the Presbyterian Middle East Study Team which is set to release its recommendations probably within a week.

But a great deal of information concerning their report has already been written by the
Presbyterian News agency. I want to look at one of the documents that the study group is commending The Kairos Palestine Document.

The Kairos Palestine Document: The document is entitled “A Moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestine suffering.” It is partly written as a confession, partly as a political declaration with practical recommendations. It also has its own missional viewpoint for the Church. Each of these particulars, confession, political declaration, recommendations, and missional outlook are flawed.

The political viewpoint is intertwined with Palestinian suffering. The suffering is very real; there can be no denying that point. When writing about this the authors of the document list such problems as the separation wall, the military checkpoints, military actions of Israel and settlements. It would be foolish to write that this is not real. But the real cause for all of this is not addressed truthfully.

As is the usual case the document insists that the Israelis ‘own statements are lies. The authors insist that the wall and the check points as well as the military actions are not intended for self defense. They write:

“Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no fear and no insecurity. This is our understanding of the situation. Therefore, we call on the Israelis to end the occupation. Then they will see a new world in which there is no fear, no threat but rather security, justice and peace.” (2)

It must be said, Israel has never known security, justice and peace from her neighbors, not in 1948, 1967 or recently. As long as some radical Muslim States, groups and individuals insist that Israel does not have the right to exist the State of Israel will experience insecurity and lack of peace. And due to this lack, all in the area, both Israelis and Palestinians, will experience, no matter how hard anyone tries, injustice.

The main flaw in this area of the paper is that the whole truth is not being told and guilt is not shared. Nowhere in the document is Israel’s right to exist stated. Nowhere in the paper is there any sense of guilt on the part of Palestinian Christians for the death of innocent civilians from either suicide bombers, rockets or other forms of maiming by radical Muslim groups or individuals. Only confession for failing to resist is offered at the end of the document. This is in grave contrast to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s confession of both his and the German Church’s guilt offered in his book Ethics. There is also Daniel’s confession of guilt before God on behalf of himself and all Israel.

The Confessional section’s Christology is incomplete; its view of scripture faulty. The authors surprisingly use the idea of land in just the same manner as the harbingers of Nazi Germany; only hidden under a biblical cloak.

Under a “Word of Faith” the author’s give an orthodox view of Jesus Christ. “We also believe in God’s eternal Word, His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent as the Savior of the world.” (3) They also write, “Jesus Christ came in order to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and in his light and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we read the Holy Scriptures.” But too much is left out and too much extra added.

There is no cross, no redemptive reference in the statement except to call Jesus Savior. No cross, minus no confession of guilt has deep implications for where this document ends. Rather than turning toward the redemptive actions of Jesus Christ the document heads toward an understanding of the kingdom of God as revolution. “He [Jesus] provoked a revolution of faith in the life and faith of all humanity.”

The revolution supposedly rests on a new teaching by Jesus. Using Mk 1:27 the authors see Jesus giving new light to reinterpret such themes as “the promises, the election, the people of God and the land.” I will list and explain each error of their continuing thoughts.

1. “The Word of God is a living Word, casting a particular light on each period of history, manifesting to Christian believers what God is saying to us here and now.” (3) “Casting a particular light on each period of history,” is the huge mistake here. God’s word gives light to all periods of history. But it is always the same light. He and his words do not change. What God speaks to one era through his word he speaks to another.

2. “For this reason, [see above] it is unacceptable to transform the Word of God into letters of stone that pervert the love of God and his providence in the life of both peoples and individuals.” While the authors go on to castigate what I would suppose is Christian Zionism referring to “fundamentalist Biblical interpretation” which deprives the Palestinians of the rights to their land, the authors misunderstand proper biblical exegesis. What is written is God’s word, this is not separate from Jesus who is the living word; he is both fully human and fully God. His word cannot be changed.

The Jewish content is always true. It is the story of the Jewish people, of God’s dealings and care for his people. But it also carries within it God’s plan of redemption that is before God’s creation. Neither can be changed. Because the redemptive cross is missing from their document and thoughts the authors have invented a different theme that is not biblical.

3. “We believe that our land has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from the peoples of this land. In light of the teachings of the Holy Bible, the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the preclude to complete universal salvation. It was the initiation of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth.” (4)

The authors go on to write of how it is God that makes the land holy. And in that work they include three religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But notice the land has become a substitute for the cross. The land becomes the focus for a universal plan that wipes out even secular reasons for the Jewish people to have a land of their own. The authors write, “Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other-people to the land it lives in.” (4) Here the writers turn on the West accusing them for moving the Jewish people into the land that belongs to the Palestinians.

So the final outcome for this theological quest is their understanding that Israel as a Jewish state does not have a right to exist. And this is made clear later in the document when the authors write:

“Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority.” (Emphasis mine) (11)

A Jewish state is not by necessity a religious state, and notice the term “numerical majority” has been slipped into this equation. All of this is to say that the Kairos Palestine Document is asking that there no longer be a Jewish State in the Middle East and its authors are basing their thoughts on a poorly constructed theology of sacred land. They may be using universal terms and speaking of God but in their substitution of sacred land for a redemptive Lord they have turned toward a nineteenth century view of romantic theology which was badly used by later Nazi ideologists.

It is only the Lord Jesus Christ and his redemption bought on the cross that universalizes the Kingdom of God. And in reality this has nothing at all to do with the secular state of Israel or the religious states and movements of Islam. Good-will and kindness are a part of Christ’s coming Kingdom, but since he himself stated that his kingdom is not of this world (A verse the authors have noted) it does not include any sacred land. The facts are that God has not withheld his goodness from the Jews because he is faithful. The other fact is that Israel is a Jewish nation. She must remain so in order to insure that there will always be a place of safety in a world that has always been hostile to the Jewish people.

Practical Recommendations and the missional Church, in this document are tied together. The authors insist that the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of God which entails standing with the oppressed against the oppressor. But in this case the documents view of the oppressor is tainted by ignoring the complexities of the situation. The authors see only one oppressor, Israel. And therein lies the fault of making the gospel or the good news of the kingdom about fighting oppression rather than the good news that Jesus Christ has lived, died on a cross and is alive for our salvation.

While love is called for as resistance is used, this is not a pacifist paper. While advocating for a logic of love the authors write “We respect and have a high esteem for all those who have given their life for our nation. And we affirm that every citizen must be ready to defend his or her life, freedom and land.” Since the acts of terrorism against Israel have, in this document, been blamed on Israel it must be concluded that with the above words the terrorist are condoned by the authors.

Following these words are sections which plead with the churches of the world to denounce any theology that would cause Palestinian oppression. Another plea is for the different Palestinian sides to come together. (This is the only near admission that something or someone besides Israel is in the wrong here.) And at the end there is also a call for “individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation.” This is of course a boycott against the whole nation of Israel. It is, in fact, a boycott against the Jewish people.

Conclusion: As I have stated in the first part of this paper, the Kairos Palestine Document fails in so many ways. The author’s many assertions and recommendations are anything but biblical. The document pretends to be a confession filled with love and a practical but hard solution to the problems of the Middle East. It is neither. Instead it is a declaration of war against a Jewish homeland.

The Cross: new religions, new theologies and the only difference in a pluralistic society 5

So to push this question of contextualization deeper, how, for instance, does one go about offering the gospel to Delores Williams who believes “People do not have to attach sacred validation to a bloody cross in order to be redeemed or to be Christians?” She is not asking the same questions that early Jews and Athenians were asking about God, nor is she seeking the same kind of answers the medieval scholastics were when they formulated their theories about atonement. (Picture of Warehouse Ministries in seventies ministering Jesus for the sake of rock fans and hippies. I am in the picture somewhere.)

We might start from her questions or even from her weaknesses. We would surely start from her position as one who is an advocate for the needs of Afro-American women, and as one who is concerned for those who are ancestors of slaves. Williams sees Afro-American women’s survival in the present, as well as the survival of those who were slaves, rooted in their strengths. She believes the cross, understood as sacrifice, harms her position. So she needs to see the cross as neither advocating for slavery nor wimpishness on the part of women. Nevertheless she still needs to see the cross as Christ's great sacrifice for sinners. She needs a clear picture of God’ holiness, humanity’s sin, and God’s redeeming love.

Paul the Apostle is an example of a Christian who proclaimed the Gospel contextually. In his preaching in Athens he appealed to his listeners using the words of some of their Greek poets. And he used the many gods they worshipped as an opener to speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 17:22-34) In 1Corinthians 9 verses 19 through 22 Paul speaks of becoming as a Jew, becoming as a Gentile, (those without law) and becoming weak for the sake of the weak, that he, “may by all means save some.” Paul, however, has not denied the Gospel here, he has not compromised the person of Jesus nor found fault with the atonement. Rather, he is avoiding offending their scruples that he might either bring them to Christ or if they are Christians “win them for greater strength.”25

But Paul is strong in his emphasis on the doctrines of the faith in particular the cross of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians he writes, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24)

Jesus Christ, the one who is fully God and human, who died for us, who carries our sin away on Himself, who stands before God the Father for us, this is the great offer to the religions and cultures of our day. We must come in a spirit of humbleness and empathy, shedding any of our cultural layers that are contrary to the gospel and harmful to Christ’s message. But we cannot compromise the gospel; we must preach only that good news which is scriptural, the crucified and resurrected Christ.
Those in Christ stand before God robed in the righteousness of Christ enjoying and pleasing their creator because of the death of Christ on the cross. Those in the religious world, including those who call themselves Christians, who deny the cross of Christ, stand without, striving to encounter God, and sometimes accepting a doorway toward evil rather than the One who is the Truth, the Life and the Way. (John 14:6)

25 Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, revised version, (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company 1996) 135-137.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Cross: new religions, new theologies and the only difference in a pluralistic society 4

At this point I will look at one example of a new religious group and how their misunderstanding or neglect of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross caused irrefutable harm. In their very early beginnings in Sacramento, California, Aggressive Christianity, at first known as Free Love Ministries, began by putting more emphasis on demonology and a aberrant teaching known as “Manifested Sons of God,” than on the scriptural teaching of salvation by grace because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

According to Jim and Lila Green, founders of the group, the sins of humanity were in some ways caused by demon possession.20 They also believed that a group of people more spiritual than the average Christian would arise in the last days to overcome God’s enemies and death. This is the manifested Sons of God teaching. The Greens, of course, forgot that Christ has already done the work of overcoming enemies and death on the cross. We live in the already, not yet time, united to Him, waiting for our complete salvation. (Col. 2:13-15)

Both of these teachings, Manifested Sons of God and demon possession, negate the grace of Christ’s death on the cross. That is because both teachings use humans and techniques to rid humanity of sin and problems. For Aggressive Christianity righteousness comes by removing demons from bodies and by becoming more spiritual. They believe that any encounter with God happens through a deeper spirituality and knowledge that is arrived at by such religious techniques as praying in tongues for several hours and fasting for excessively long times.

In order to keep new converts to Aggressive Christianity purer and free from demons, they were encouraged to move into the group’s commune and to not communicate with their families. Eventually several wives were branded as demon possessed and spiritually dead. They were made to live in a small shed and expected to do heavy labor. Their husbands were separated from then and encouraged to have nothing to do with them. One small boy was tied to his mother’s leg while she worked since it was revealed that he also was demon possessed.

Thankfully one of the women walked away and sued the group, which ended their time in Sacramento. This group divorced their concept of Christianity from any real work of grace. 21
On the one hand, Aggressive Christianity began with strident and harsh concepts and methodologies devoid of the true meaning of the cross. And the outcome led to the abusive destruction of families. On the other hand, a kind of sloppy sentimentality, that divorced Christianity from the orthodox teaching of Christianity, helped to shape a far more violent ideology. Nineteenth century liberal theology in Germany developed a theology that was devoid of many orthodox Christian doctrines.

To Friedrich Schleiermacher, (1768-1834) the father of liberal theology, human consciousness or experience led to knowing God. And that knowledge based on experience was intended to lead to an understanding that Christianity was the highest form of religion. The emphasis was on experience and the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity; original sin and the need for a cross were eliminated. Adolf Harnack (1851-1930) insisted that “the whole Jesus’ message may be reduced to these two heads—God as the Father, and the human soul so ennobled that it can and does unite with him--” 22

Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) who William Placher describes as ‘the leading theologian of the ‘history of religions,’ posited a view of religion which insisted that various religions were shaped and held by differing national groups due to their religions dependence on “the intellectual, social, and national conditions among which it exists.” He did not invalidate other religions but rather insisted that the various religions and civilizations connected the people to various experiences of God in different ways. Troeltsch saw European culture as a product of a “deorientalized Christianity.”23

This easy theology, devoid of serious Christology, atonement, or any other important Christian doctrine was a seedbed ready for the German Christians to spring from. Arthur C. Cochrane in his book, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, writes:

The “German Christians,” regarded from the standpoint of Christian faith, were a liberal, nationalistic sect which, at the initiative of the National Socialist Party, formed a union of various schools and groups. These schools and groups, in spite of all differences, were united in their nationalistic tendencies and liberal Christianity.24 (Emphasis mine)

In an attempt to make love and brotherhood the basic doctrines of a reconstituted Christianity Liberal theologians and church leaders backed one of the most tyrannical rulers in history. Walking through a door that eliminated the holiness of God, the sinfulness of humanity and the cross of Jesus Christ, they had no way of comprehending the great evil that was on the other side. They joined forces with what some have seen as the greatest cultic movement in contemporary times.

Interestingly enough the views of this liberal Christianity began with attempts to do apologetics with people involved in enlightenment thinking and then with the Romantic Movement. Which means in contextualing the gospel for a different or diverse culture one should proceed with great care. How do we proclaim the good news to the many diverse new and old theologies and religions in such a way that they will hear the message? How do we do this without leaving behind the truth of God’s word?

20 For a paper refuting the idea of Christians being demon possessed see, Gunther Juncker, “Doctrines of Demons,” at Naming the Grace,
21 For information on Aggressive Christianity when they existed in Sacramento, see Viola Larson, “Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps,” Noticing this link is gone I am replacing it with this
. (Paper also on file at Naming the Grace) For an excellent update taken from El Paso Times see,

22 Adolf Harnack, What is Christianity, in Placher, Readings, 150.
23 Ernst Troeltsch, “The Place of Christianity Among the World Religions,” in Placher, Readings, 154,155.
24 Arthur C. Cochrane, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press 1962), 74.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Cross: new religions, new theologies and the only difference in a pluralistic society 3

Thomas Oden points out that it is important to note, [when thinking about the moral influence view of atonement] "The tradition of Abelard and Socinus, anticipated by Pelagius, is not a consensual tradition, but a distortion that reappears in heavier or lighter tones periodically.”11 Abelard, in his Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, questions how God could forgive humanity for killing his Son if He was not able to forgive them before this event.

He also questions the goodness of God if it was true that God demanded the death of His Son for the sins of the world. He writes, “Indeed, how cruel and wicked it seems that anyone should demand the blood of an innocent person as the price for anything, or that it should please him that an innocent man should be slain—still less that God should consider the death of his Son so agreeable that by it he should be reconciled to the whole world!” Abelard concludes that we are justified, “in that his Son has taken upon himself our nature and persevered therein in teaching us by word and example even unto death-- ”12 At the instigation of Bernard of Clairvaux the Council of Sens condemned Abelard’s view.

Oden offers nine problems with this theory. The first three deal very much with problems in contemporary theology. That Christ was simply a “noble martyr,” and therefore there is no transforming aide for the sinner is the first problem. As an answer to this problem, Oden writes, “Humanity does not need merely to be instructed but to have sins forgiven, not merely enlightened but redeemed from sin, for we are not only ignorant but corrupt, not merely finite but sinners, not merely those who feel guilty but who are guilty.”13

Oden’s second problem with the exemplar theory is that it often “does not say enough about who the teacher was.”14 This is very much in line with both the milder and more radical contemporary theological views that attempt to change or do away with Christ’s work on the cross. In Anna case-Winters’ speech referred to above, she not only questions orthodox views of the atonement she also attempts to say that there is more to Christ than Jesus thus separating the person of Jesus from Christ.15 Delores S. Williams places the incarnation, first in Mary, then in Jesus then in the Church.

As Williams puts it, “Incarnation in a womanist understanding of it in the Christian testament, can be regarded as a continuum of the manifestation of divine spirit beginning with Mary, becoming an abundance in Jesus and later overflowing into the life of the church.” 16 Carter Heyward totally dismisses the incarnation of Jesus Christ writing:

"In making Jesus the sole proprietor of the title ‘Christ,’ we Christians not only have heaped violence upon those who are not Christians (Jews, Moslems, pagans, Buddhists, et al.), but also have disempowered ourselves as Daughters, Sons, People, and Friends of the Sacred, bearers together of the same sacred—Christic—power that jesus experienced in relation to others in the Spirit that drew them together."17

Oden’s third problem with the exemplar theory is that its proponents have “too optimistically assumed that the will is not radically bound by sin and that no punishment for sin is required.” He adds that this is often linked to a “humanistic pantheism that views each individual soul as a spark of divinity.”18 One can note that the above remarks by Heyward falls into this category.

This expectation of the human ability to conform to the holiness of God without the gracious work of Christ is one of the areas that lead to the rise of evil in the religious experience of even Christianity. The desire for an encounter with God, without His provision of the door of encounter, means failure and can be disastrous. I have addressed the problem of evil in religion in a book review of Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and The Search For What Saves Us. The two authors, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, see Jesus death on the cross for our sins as child abuse. I point out in this paper the problem of evil inherent in any religion that minimizes the cross:

"For some, Islam is an example, God is so transcendent, so other, that he would not become human nor could he enter into our suffering. For others, for example Paganism, God is so “us” or “nature” that to know humanity or nature, even with all its/our corruption is to know deity. For still others such as Zen Buddhism, God is all there is and yet a void or emptiness, entered into only with the loss of self-consciousness.

The human propensity to do evil can be nurtured in very human attempts to connect with God by either trying to imitate God’s perfection, integrating the good and evil or seeing such dualities as good and evil as unreal. If God is totally other and does not enter into our world in an act of grace and atonement we are left to overcome evil with our own will. If we are deity then all of our nature is divine, the evil included. If God is that which is all and non-dualistic, in the end evil does not matter.

Humans do not have the ability to live by religious moral codes perfectly. In fact, for some the attempt toward perfection leads to the radicalization of their religious beliefs. That is, in an attempt to obey the laws of their religion as a means of connecting with God, they apply the moral code so stringently to themselves and society that they become authoritarian in nature. For instance, in radical Islam women become non-entities, hidden people, in order to prevent lust and adultery. Radical Islamic men reach for God through the suffering and humiliation of their women.

In paganism, since God is seen as creation, the desire to embrace an ethic that honors and cares for nature often leads to nudity and sometimes sex is accepted as religious rite. Every human protection against vulnerability, including clothing, is removed in order to manifest and connect with the divine in humanity.

A God who comes down in love, who suffers for humanity, is lost in this religious maze. The God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ removes the human effort to connect with God as well as any insistence that somehow evil is necessary or unreal. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross speaks to the awful truth of human sin while at the same time providing a way past humanity’s guilt. Individuals are set free to serve God knowing that it is the work of Christ rather than their own righteousness. In deed, whenever Christianity moves away from the implicit meaning of the cross—there evil begins to rear its head—whether that means selling indulgences, burning witches at the stake or replacing Jesus as the suffering savior with a Jesus of noble blood as a means of elevating war as the German Christians under Hitler did.19"

11 Oden, Word, 404.
12 Peter Abelard, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, in Readings in the History of Christian Theology: From its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation, vol.1, editor, William c. Placher, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press 1988) 150,151.
13 Oden, Word, 406.
14 Ibid.
15 Case-Winters, “Who Do You Say That I Am,” 4.
16 Williams, Wilderness, 168.
17 Heyward, Saving, 32.
18 Oden, Word, 407.
19 Viola Larson, “A Book Review” on Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and The Search For What Saves Us, Rita Nakashima Brick and Rebecca Parker, (Beacon Press 2001) at Voices of Orthodox Women ,

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Cross: new religions, new theologies and the only difference in a pluralistic society 2

F.F. Bruce and J. Denny’s commentary [see end of the first posting] are important in light of the attacks occurring on the theology of atonement and in the context of religious evil.

First, God’s desires for Old Testament people are not different than His desires for New Testament people. His desire is that sacrifice be made with a willing heart; the desire to obey God was all-important. In the Old Testament the willing heart was bound-up with the sacrificial animal. However, only Jesus Christ could offer that perfect willing obedience. He made the perfect sacrifice and was the perfect sacrifice.

To eliminate Jesus as sacrifice on the cross is also to destroy the theology of the Old Testament. Secondly, Christ’s death on the cross was not just the Father’s will it was the “spontaneous choice” of Jesus Christ. Atonement theology is infused with the doctrine of the Trinity. To redo or give up the meaning of the atonement tends to eliminate the Trinity.

Thirdly, the understanding that “the atonement explains the incarnation” clarifies the biblical understanding of God’s purpose in the incarnation. If a theologian says that for our salvation the incarnation “would be enough,” but fails to acknowledge the redemptive purpose of the cross they simply do not understand the biblical view of the incarnation. The biblical statements of the purposes of God concerning the incarnation are very clear. Peter’s first sermon emphasizes the purpose and meaning of the incarnation in the death of Christ on the cross. “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts2: 23) Furthermore, Paul writes to the Colossians:

"For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. (Colossians1: 19,20)"

The final important note is that the sacrifice is “once for all.” This also speaks about the God of the Old Testament, who is of course the compassionate God of the New Testament. His grace of redemption covers all of the scripture, both old and new. The scripture confirms all of this:

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:8-10)"

There have been several theories of atonement theology through more than a thousand years of Church history. Thomas Oden in his book The Word Of Life points out “four essential types of atonement exegesis.” He names “exemplar [moral influence], governor, exchange, and victor motifs.” Oden believes that these are all incomplete without each other. He writes, “They are best viewed as complementary tendencies rather than as cohesive schools of thought represented by a single theorist.”

Although Oden explains each giving both their usefulness and problems, I want to look at the one connected to Abelard since that is the one which has gained popularity with those wishing to eliminate the atonement as the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.10

First, it is true that the death of Jesus Christ for sinners should cause us to want to follow Him and to live a life of self-giving. That is very biblical. However, most of the theologians attempting to use Abelard’s view wish to eliminate God’s part in this act. That is, they do not believe that it was necessary for God the Father to send His Son to die for our sins. Rather they believe Jesus was killed for political reasons because He was friends of the poor and the outcasts of society. (This is of course, not an either/or situation; He was sent to die for our sins and he undoubtedly was killed partly because of His care for the poor and the outcast. It was not only the sins of the whole world that sent Him to the cross, it was also the particular sins of some Jewish and Roman leaders in Palestine two thousand years ago.)

Those who call themselves progressive theologians see Jesus as someone to emulate and one who pictures how God works and moves within a human totally given over to Him. They reject the classical view that humanity is fallen and Jesus died for our sins.

9Thomas Oden’s two chapters, “The death of Jesus,” and “In Our Place,” in his book The Word of Life: Systematic theology: Volume Two, is highly recommended for anyone wishing to understand the atonement. 403. Also for a Reformed view see, louis Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines,( Grand Rapids:Baker Book House 1937) also, Andrew Purves, “The Ministry of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ: A Reformed View of the Atonement of Christ,” TheologyMatters (Vol3 No 4. Jul/Aug 1997) and , J.S. Whale, Christian Doctrine: Eight Lectures delivered in the University of Cambridge to Undergraduates of all Faculties,reprint, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1984.)

10One author who sees the idea of atonement leading to violence does reject Abelard ideas. Speaking of Abelard’s position J. Denny Weaver writes, “The result [of removing the devil from the equation], is an atonement motif in which the Father has one of his children – the Son – killed in order to show love to the rest of the Father’s children, namely us sinners.” “Violence in Christian Theology,” Cross Currents, at 4.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Cross: new religions, new theologies and the only difference in a pluralistic society 1

Parker Williamson, of the Layman wrote an article several days ago entitled “Breast Theology Uplifted at Union Seminary.” He wrote, “Union Theological Seminary’s 2010 Sprunt Lectures will feature a feminist speaker who favors replacing the cross with a lactating breast. The event will occur May 3-5 on the seminary’s Richmond, Va., campus.” Williamson also linked to an article in The Christian Century, “God’s love, mother’s milk, an image of salvation” by the lecturer Margaret R. Miles. (picture: Fountain of Diana of Ephesus by Yair Haklai)

Miles who attempts to make the image of the breast, via Mary the mother of Jesus, as important as the cross as a symbol of God’s love writes this comment with a question, “There are problems with the crucifixion scene as a representation of God's love for humanity. It presents a violent act as salvific. Are crucifixion scenes the unconscious origin, deeply embedded in Western Christian societies, of the sacrificial rhetoric that surrounds war?”

Miles goes on to suggest that, “In societies in which violence is rampant on the street and in the media, the nursing Virgin can perhaps communicate God's love to people in a way that a violent image, the image of one more sacrificial victim, cannot.” In the face of this I will be posting in parts an article I wrote several years ago for a workshop for Evangelical Ministries to New Religions. It has just recently been published in the Midwestern Journal of Theology of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary among several other papers given at their conferences.[1]

My article:

The Cross: New Religions, New Theologies and the Only Difference in a Pluralistic Society.

Recently, in her address to the 2002 Covenant Conference,
* Anna Case-Winters, Professor of Theology at McCormick Theological Seminary, suggests that for our atonement, “‘The incarnation’ would be enough!” She also advocates for the theological position of Abelard, the medieval scholastic who held a position of atonement referred to as moral influence or example.[2]That is, the death of Christ on the cross becomes an example of the willingness to suffer for others and for that reason Jesus Christ is followed and loved. Other proponents of this view of the cross and salvation were Socinus, a sixteenth century theologian who also denied the Trinity[3], and Friedrich Schleiermacher the father of nineteenth century liberal theology.

Pelagius is seen as an early anticipation of this view, since he believed humanity capable of living up to God’s requirements of holiness.[4]At present, some contemporary theologians are attempting to get rid of the meaning of the cross in far more radical ways.

Delores S. Williams, Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Union Theological Seminary, in her book, Sisters in The Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, writes, “People do not have to attach sacred validation to a bloody cross in order to be redeemed or to be Christians.”[5] Going further, Carter Heyward, Professor of Theology at Episcopal Divinity School, pictures atonement on the cross as a feature of a violent aspect of patriarchal Christianity. She writes:

"The deity we must reject is the one whose power over us is imagined to be his love, the god who morally can destroy us. Such a concept of deity is evil—a betrayal itself of our power in mutual relation—in a world being torn to pieces by violence done in the names of gods who demand blood sacrifice. Such god-images feed twisted psychospiritualities that normalize sadistic and masochistic dynamics, rape and intimate violence, abuse of children, relationships of domination and control, violence against people and all creatures, and wars justified as holy.[6]"

Contrary to these distorted views of the cross and atonement I wish to hold up the orthodox view and show how it is in reality the central difference in a world of diverse religions both old and new. My central theme is that Christ’s atonement on the cross is the place where evil is expelled from religious belief; that where the cross is emphasized in its true biblical meaning there is true transformation. I also want to emphasize that all religions, including Christianity, hold within their traditions the seeds of evil. Where the cross loses its meaning there Christianity itself stands in danger of being overcome by the evil within humanity.

I will begin by examining the biblical and historical views of atonement. I will look at the potential for evil in religion including Christianity and explain the importance of the cross in addressing the new religions and the new theologies of our time. This entails explaining how Christ’s death on the cross is God’s answer not only for our salvation but cuts through the violence of human attempts to connect with God. I will show how both ruthless violence and sloppy sentimentality in religion are answered by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The biblical view of atonement begins in the Old Testament. The sacrifices of the Old Testament are looking forward to the coming of Christ and to the work of Christ on the cross. They are incomplete without Him. We find in the first part of chapter 10 of the book of Hebrews that the Old Testament sacrifices are a “shadow of the good things to come.” The author of Hebrews weaves the verses of Psalms 40:6 into the picture of Jesus’ body as sacrifice.

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God.’” (Heb. 10:5-7)

These verses, which seemingly deny the need for sacrifice as a means of salvation, really illustrate the need for the death of Jesus on the cross. F.F. Bruce, writing about these verses, sees the Old Testament sacrifices as requiring the “obedient heart” and Christ offers that “wholehearted obedience.” Quoting J. Denny’s The Death of Christ, Bruce writes, “Our author’s contrast is not between sacrifice and obedience, but between the involuntary sacrifice of dumb animals and ‘sacrifice into which obedience enters, the sacrifice of a rational and spiritual being, which is not passive in death, but in dying makes the will of God its own.’”[7]Bruce goes on to explain that while it was the Father’s will for Jesus to die, “it was also His own spontaneous choice.”[8]Elaborating further and once again quoting Denny, he writes:

“It is the atonement which explains the incarnation: the incarnation takes place in order that the sin of the world may be put away by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” The offering of His body is simply the offering of Himself; if here sanctification and access to God are made available through His body, in verses 19 and 29 they are made available through His blood. Whether our author speaks of His body or His blood, it is His incarnate life that is meant, yielded to God in an obedience which was maintained even to death. So perfect a sacrifice was our Lord’s presentation of His life to God that no repetition of it is either necessary or possible: it was offered “once for all.”[9]

[1] The Editor, Professor N. Blake Hearson, writes that all the papers were given at the 2009 conference but mine was given much earlier. Some of my readers may find several of the other articles very interesting including a debate by Craig Evans Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College & Steven J. Patterson Professor of New Testament Eden Theological Seminary. Their topic “Doubting Thomas: Is the Gospel of Thomas an Authentic Witness to Jesus?”

* The Covenant Network is an independent group within the Presbyterian Church USA whose members advocate for the ordination of homosexuals and for Progressive Theology.

[2] Anna Case-Winters, “Who Do You Say That I Am? Believing In Jesus Christ in the 21st Century,” Address to the 2002 Covenant Conference, November 9, 2002.

[3] For information on Socinus see: I. Breward, “Socinus and Socinianism,” New Dictionary of Theology, The Master Reference Collection, editors Sinclair B. Ferguson, et al, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press 1988) 649.

[4] Thomas C. Oden, The Word of Life: Systematic Theology: Volume Two, First HarperCollins paperback edition, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco 1992) 404.

[5] Delores s. Williams, Sisters In The Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books 2001) 201.

[6] Carter Heyward, Saving Jesus From Those Who Are Right: Rethinking What it means to be Christian, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1999) 175.

[7] J. Denny, The Death of Christ, (London: 1951), p131, in F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to The Hebrews, The New International Commentary On The New Testament, reprint, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing 1981) 234.

[8] Ibid, 235.

[9] Ibid. Denny, Death, 131. in, and Bruce, Hebrews, 236.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I'd Rather Have Jesus: Worshipping at Presbytery

Beautiful music, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” Our Presbytery meeting began with a wonderful worship service. The meeting at Capital Korean Presbyterian Church started with the Reformed understanding of the proclamation of the word. The pastor using a text from Ezra preached about the meaning of reformation. Not evolving to something new, not a revolution, but returning to the gospel, the good news that our Savior died on the cross for his church. And the music also proclaimed the word. We sang all the verses of “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”

Because we are splitting from a three-way partnership called Sierra Partnership that has encompassed three Presbyteries, Nevada, Stockton and Sacramento we are now going through a visioning process in order to discover what we will be. Today we sat around tables deciding what kinds of behavior goes with such things as openness, congeniality, listening and respect, a very interesting process.

Within the reports in our docket was the Administrative Report concerning Westminster Presbyterian Church and their past pastor David Thompson who is no longer Presbyterian.
Also today we voted on pastor commissioners for General Assembly. With the final vote we now have both an evangelical and a progressive going as commissioners.

I left slightly early with my pastor who had to leave, but as we passed through the door, an Elder who was ordained by the pastor who is no longer Presbyterian (but the pastor who filed the complaint against the Presbytery for allowing Fair Oaks and Roseville to go with their property) got up and asked for a clearer report on the recent court decision concerning those two churches. He will have to wait for that but …

All I could think about was-- openness, congeniality, respect ….. trust


I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.

Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out of the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs,
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rock of Ages

Saturday the 20th of February is Presbytery time for Sacramento. We will be voting for pastor commissioners for General Assembly so please pray for us.

I am posting an old hymn that we sung long ago in country church. The picture is of the country church I attended when I lived on a farm in Northern Missouri. The song is still both true and beautiful.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law's commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Surveys, Belhar and the Confession of the Church

A friend sent me the Presbyterian Panel’s survey of opinions about the Belhar Confession. I have placed it just below and I want to make some comments on his thoughts and mine:

“✓ One in six ministers (pastors, 17%; specialized clergy, 18%) are very familiar or familiar with the Belhar Confession, a 1986 theological statement about church unity that Reformed churches in South Africa developed during the debate over that country’s policies of racial hierarchy and segregation.

✓ About a quarter of ministers (pastors, 30%; specialized clergy, 23%) are familiar with the proposal to incorporate the Belhar Confession into The Book of Confessions.

✓ Almost no laypeople are very familiar or familiar with the Belhar Confession (members, 1%; elders, 2%) or the proposal to incorporate it into The Book of Confessions (2%; 1%).

✓ During the past 12 months only a few panelists in each group (members, 2%; elders, 0.4%; pastors, 8%; specialized clergy, 5%) have consulted a study guide about the Belhar Confession that the PC(USA) Theology and Worship staff published and posted on the Web. Most of those who have consulted the study guide found it to be very helpful or helpful.

✓ Majorities of panelists in each group are not sure if they would support incorporating the Belhar Confession into The Book of Confessions. More members (14%), pastors (25%), and specialized clergy (34%) would definitely or probably support than oppose (5%; 18%; 10%) incorporation. Elders are evenly split (8% each).”

To be absolutely truthful surveys always bore me. Truth is truth no matter what anyone thinks. And at first I disagreed with my friend that a majority of Presbyterians need to understand and approve before a confession is adopted. (To be clear, anyone who has read my blog for long knows that I do not think we should adopt Belhar.) But after thinking about it for awhile I began to find some truth in my friend’s thoughts.

So here are my thoughts on the lack of awareness or care for the Belhar Confession exhibited by Presbyterians.

Last night I began a book by Alister McGrath entitled, Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. One of his thoughts started me thinking about the Presbyterian awareness of Belhar. McGrath wrote”

“It [the early Church] faced new intellectual challenges that demanded that it prove itself capable of engaging with religious and intellectual alternatives to Christianity, especially Platonism and Gnosticism. This process of the conceptual expansion of the Christian faith was extended in time and cautious in execution. The final crystallization of the process of exploration can be seen in the formation of creeds—public, communal authorized statements of faith that represented the consenus fidelium, the ‘consensus of the faithful,’ rather than the private belief of individuals.” (28)

That statement started me thinking through the historical formation of creeds and confessions and the public awareness of the process. My first thought was of the Nicene Creed. And I remembered an incident in a History of Christianity class at California State University, Sacramento. In the middle of the test a group of people outside started chanting something. Our professor said, tongue in cheek, they are chanting “There was a time when he was not.” One student quipped “and what council was that and what was the name of the heretic?” We laughed.

But the truth is Gregory of Nyssa tells his readers of that time in Constantinople:

“In this city if you ask a shopkeeper for change, he will argue with you about whether the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you inquire about the quality of bread, the baker will answer, ‘the Father is greater, the Son is less.’ And if you ask the bath attendant to draw your bath, he will tell you that the Son was created out of nothing.”[1]

The point here is that most of that part of Christendom was taken up with the subject “who is Jesus,” although from the statements they made they were in need of a good catechism.

Another and far more recent Confession is the Declaration of Barmen. The need for a new Confession in Germany was bandied about for many years. Barth rejected the idea feeling that it was not the right time But as the church situation in Germany grew worse church lay people as well as pastors and a few theologians, such as Barth, began writing declarations and confessions as well as simple statements. That many in the Church were both aware and concerned can be seen by part of the contents of a letter Barth wrote to Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer went to London needing space to think about the church situation in Germany. He was rightly afraid to tell Barth and wrote him a letter after arriving in England. Barth tried to be kind in his reply but his distress is clear. One thing he writes is about the need for a confession. He writes:

“Don’t you see that any biblical saying you like formally cries out to us that we, lost and dammed sinners, should now simply believe, believe, believe? With your splendid theological armoury and your upright German figure, should you not perhaps be almost a little ashamed that a man like Heinrich Vogel, who, wizened and worked up as he is, is just always there, waving his arms like a windmill and shouting ‘Confession! Confession!’, in his own way – in power or in weakness, that doesn’t matter so much – actually giving his testimony.”[2]

My point: the Church is not ready for this new confession because the church is crying out for something else, something more, and that needs to be confessed. The church, many lay people, many pastors, a few theologians, are crying out for the church to more boldly confess Jesus Christ. Belhar is being imposed from the top down while most of the church is seeking something more. Belhar does not meet their cry.

[1] The last two statements are what the Arians believed. That Jesus was a created being although higher and first of all creatures. That is a heresy of course.
[2] Edwin Robertson, The Shame and the Sacrifice: The life martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 102

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Submission to God or human opinion

This morning reading in Auguste Lecerf’s An Introduction to Reformed Dogmatics, I noted this statement, “Submission to God is the means and condition of liberation from enslavement to human opinion. If we wish to restore legitimate authority it is only the better to true liberty.” (262)

I read this before listening to the second video make by More Light’s Michael Adee. The videos are entitled God’s New Family. The second one continually insults those who believe it is unbiblical to ordain those who are unrepentant about their homosexual practice. Homophobic, inhuman and unchristian are the terms used. And then there is Adee’s thought that the 1978 Church’s adopted policy that homosexuality is sin actually moved beyond scripture, as well as “medical science, compassion and common sense.”

Submission to God or enslavement to human opinion, these are the two realities the Church must choose between. Choose the first and the Church will be the Church under the Lordship of Christ holding on to Scripture. Choose the second and the Church will succumb to enslavement to the world. Choosing sin, the Church will find only the world’s glory, a sorry, tarnished thing.

If we keep traveling down this same road, pushing for the ordination of practicing homosexuals as well as seeing other sexual sins as normative, the mainline churches, will find what they believe to be a haven. However, the haven will not be the Lord but rather the state.

I am remembering the Scripture where Pilate is so relieved to find that Jesus is from Galilee and that he can be sent to Herod for judgment. Now the interesting thing about that scripture text is that although Herod did not take control of the situation and instead sent Jesus back to Pilate the two leaders who hadn’t liked each other very much, in fact, they were enemies, became friends that day. (Luke 23:1-25)And why was that? They agreed with each other’s opinions.

They agreed that Jesus was innocent but they also agreed that he was bothersome and his words were hard to hear. He spoke with authority and he was too much trouble to save. Each political leader had him mocked and beaten. (Matt 27:26)

Jesus submitted to his Father. They, Pilate and Herod, were owned, each by their desires for acceptance. They didn’t want to submit to anyone who was referred to as the King of the Jews, or the Son of man, or the truth or the only way to the Father. They didn’t want to be overcome by his words. So they submitted to the prevailing opinion.

Yes, Jesus’ disciples, who continued to submit to the authority of Christ, who held on to his word which is the word of God, suffered for their willingness to preach Christ. Still, they now glory in his glory. But Pilate and Herod? One was eaten by worms (Acts 12:23); the other became an obscure politician, whose history is incomplete. Except for this, all those who love Jesus will always remember that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Radical Islam disrupting our free speech- a form of anti-Semitism Up-date

Radical Islam does not believe in free speech. This is so sad that this is happening in our country in Irvine California. This is anti-Semitism indeed. Pray for our Jewish friends.
I have replaced the video with a much better but longer one. If you are interested in what is happening in the Middle East you will want to listen all of this video.

The Orange County Register:

11 arrested for disrupting Israeli ambassador. Here is part of the text:

Eleven people were arrested Monday evening during a raucous lecture at UC Irvine where Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren came to talk about U.S.-Israel relations. (UCI earlier said that 12 were arrested.)
Here are the identities of the 8 UCI students and 3 UC Riverside students who were arrested.
Oren was interrupted 10 times Monday while trying to give his speech before 500 people at the UCI Student Center, where there was heavy security. Oren took a 20 minute break after the fourth protest, asked for hospitality and resumed his speech, only to be interrupted again by young men yelling at him every few minutes. Many members of the audience also applauded Oren.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ghost Ranch : tired by the length of our journey

The imagery in Isaiah 57 is poignant and cuts to the heart of idolatry. It begins with the death of the righteous person as blessing. He will not be present in a time of trouble. She will rest in peace. Picture by Stephen Larson

The idolater in these verses is constantly active in the worship of false gods, even to the point of slaughtering children. But here is one of the poignant images: a person so given over to their false gods or false ways, their denial of the Lord, that in that place where children have been killed they worship the ‘smooth ‘stones on which they were killed.
Another image: a person so bent on his false ways that he will send his servants into the world of the dead for luxurious items. But the saddest of descriptive language is God’s words to his own people, “You were tired out by the length of your road, yet you did not say, ‘It is hopeless.’”

All of this comes to mind when I read the many retreat descriptions under Religion, Spirituality, Theology in the catalog at Ghost Ranch one of our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)Conference grounds. One would expect retreats focused on God’s Word, Biblical Christology, discipleship as well as peacemaking and justice.

But instead, not among the smooth rocks of the Middle East, but in the middle of the hauntingly beautiful desert and mountains of New Mexico, Christians are encouraged to sit at the feet of other gods. To “deepen” their “connection to the Divine through nature with hikes on the ranch, a labyrinth walk, soaking in mineral springs and a ceremony to connect with” their “spirit animal,” a concept that has its roots in the spiritualism of the nineteenth Century.

Those who belong to the Lord are invited to experience a “new consciousness” which supposedly has to do with “a growing awareness of the interrelatedness of all things.” This retreat which is titled Ancient Wisdom & New Consciousness, tells the interested, “Ancient wisdom from the Hebrew scriptures, the words of Jesus, and the teachings of the Qu'ran can play an undergirding and inspiring role in the development of the new consciousness.”

Yet another retreat allows women to listen to their deep inner wisdom and find their woman soul. Perhaps the most troubling retreat is, “Discovering Christ: Mother & Lover,” taught by Wendy Farley. Part of its description is:

“We will spend some time working with contemplative theologians like Origen for whom intimacy with Christ was a path to our divine nature, Julian who envisioned the infinite compassion of Christ for suffering, and de Chardin whose depiction of Christ healing the mind/matter split provides spiritual resource for meeting the environmental crisis. These are strands of Christianity in which Christ is not an atoning sacrifice but rather a power that heals the wounds which separate us from our divine source, from the earth and from one another.”1

Beyond all of this are retreats that consider the works of many different religions. And one retreat that bypasses any god, focusing on silence with this descriptive tag: “We come from a great Silence, we return to a great Silence. In the interval we call Life, Silence can be our most helpful companion, coaxing us to hear the Wise One Within (WOW!). When we travel in Silence through our inner terrain we can find important clues to the life we truly want.”

Jesus spoke of harming the little ones. Millstones and the sea are better adornments, he said, then harming the little ones.The sheep of his pasture are to be given special care. Paul knew. "Savage wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men [and women] will arise speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them."(Acts 20:29b)

We are tired by the length of our journey. We have failed to say it is hopeless. We need to return home to our Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Please do not believe this statement. At the least, Julian of Norwich had a beautiful understanding of the atonement of Christ.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Longing for revival or not....?

Part of the Scripture text for my Pastor’s sermon this Sunday morning was Jonah 4:1-2. That is the place where Jonah laments that God is “gracious and compassionate,” that he is “slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” He is angry because God will not destroy the people of Nineveh although they have repented at Jonah’s preaching.

How sad that God brought about a great revival in an extremely wicked city and a follower of the Lord is angry enough to want to die. I have always wondered what happened to Jonah. Did he learn to walk in the grace and love of His Lord? But we know what eventually happened to Nineveh, she grew wicked again and eventually she was destroyed. But we know something else also.

Eventually many Assyrians became Christians. God once again had mercy on them as he has mercy on many of us. I have a wonderful daughter-in-law who is part Iraqi-Assyrian. And she is a vibrant Evangelical Christian. She and my son belong to a Christian motorcycle club. I think of God’s mercy reaching down through all of those years.

But there is another question that I think about when I read the story of Jonah, “is it grace and mercy time for us, will we receive it, or will some grow angry if God changes hearts and lives today, in our nation, our cities, our Church? I remember reading about David Wilkerson and his call to minister to the gangs of New York. I was a young married woman when he started Teen Challenge. Young men and women came off of drugs and out of gangs to live for Christ. I still remember the criticism. Too much emotionalism, too much religion, too much, it wouldn’t last, etc. …

I always think of the Welsh revival when I think of God’s awakening of a nation, a people, a Church. So to end my thoughts, the Welsh song born from that revival:

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heavns eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of Gods mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heavens peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Final Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage: my thoughts

After reading through “The Final Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage,” several times, I do have some thoughts.1 My thoughts are focused around faithfulness to historical research and the proper use of the Bible for Christian discipleship.

My beginning thoughts have to do with a paradox. The report in its material seems to suggest that marriage norms, even Christian ones, have changed over the centuries. The theme of change runs subtly through most of the report and might be helpful to those people who advocate for same sex marriage, but the paradox here is that in all of those marriage scenarios there is absolutely no record of same sex marriage. Marriage has always been between a man and a woman.

But here is another paradox, the Committee, which is a Christian Committee, looked at the Bible’s historical accounts of marriage. But in doing so rather than using the Bible as the word of God they simply used at as any other kind of historical document. That is they used it as a primary source that you would read to understand how a certain group or groups understood laws and customs in their time. To understand how this works as opposed to using the Bible as the word of God the reader can look at one particular statement.

Under the passage which lists four benefits of marriage, the fourth benefit is:

“A political tool to form alliances between nations and advanced political ambitions (1 Sam. 18:17-27; 19:11-17; 25:44; 2 Sam. 3:13-15; 6:16-23; and 1 Kings 11:1-4).”

Now it is true that people in ancient times, and really through all times have used marriage as a political tool. The Biblical writers tell the truth, they record how people actually lived. But does God’s word insist that this is a proper way to understand the benefits of marriage?

The truth is that Solomon in his attempt to gain many political alliances with other nations married numerous wives and lost his heart to their gods. In Deuteronomy God’s word to Israel about future kings includes, “He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away …” (17:17)

In at least this case in Scripture there is a prohibition about marriage alliances but there is never approval. We are not hearing “thus says the Lord” in this study.

Some help is offered in the latter part of the Old Testament section. There the Committee looks at how marriage is used as analogy concerning Israel’s faithfulness to God and at least allows the reader to see what unfaithfulness means in marriage. But even here one does not hear straight forward words from the Committee about sexual faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man. The text is still used as simply a primary source.

Looking to the New Testament the Committee uses the text in a slightly better way as they study the words of Jesus, Paul and others. But even here the text is seen more as a primary source concerning what people thought about marriage rather than the Church’s guide about marriage.

And the idea that marriage, even among Christians, is always in flux, is supposedly reinforced by suggesting that ideas about marriage changed somewhat when the Church realized that Jesus’ return would not be imminent. (Although it could be argued that the Church has never let go of their understanding of the imminent return of Christ that is for a different posting.)

One has to laugh somewhat about the first thought given after suggesting that “several trends emerged” as the “church prepared itself to be a continuing institution.” The authors write, “Qualifications for church leaders (ministers) included being married, but only to one wife (3:2).” 1Timothy 3:2 is used and it seems the thought is that now that we know Jesus isn’t coming back so soon instead of telling disciples not to marry we should tell them they must marry.

But that isn’t the emphasis of the text. It is instead about monogamy; if you are married, you can’t be married to more than one woman. As Greek scholar, Dr. William D. Mounce, in his Word Biblical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles translates the verse, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he is desiring a good work. Therefore, it is necessary for an overseer to be above reproach: a ‘one-woman man’, clear-minded, self-controlled, dignified, hospitable, skilled in teaching, not a drunkard, not violent but gracious, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, managing his own household well, having submissive children with all dignity ….”

These were attributes contrary to the cultural norms in this particular place and the church was struggling against that culture. This is not a command for overseers to be married.

Another area in which one perceives attempts to push the idea of marriage norms in flux is the history of the Church. The Reformation era at one place in particular bothered me. The authors write, “Some radical reformers extended the principle ‘Scripture alone’ to justify polygamy using the example of the Patriarchs and Old Testament laws. Others understood Christ’s redemptive act as freeing true believers from sin, so that nothing done in Christian love was sinful.”

The Committee goes on to explain that “Reformed church leaders distanced themselves from such unorthodox beliefs and unruly behaviors.” That part is good but the information about the ‘radical’ reformers is so twisted that one can make all kinds of misconstrued suggestions from it.

For example one might think that many, many radical reformers saw marriage differently. That wouldn’t be true, and was a lie that plagued the radical reformers for years causing them exceeding grief and persecution. One might think from the statement that God’s law approves of multiple marriages. But it does not. One might think that ‘Scripture alone’ was what the radical reformers used to justify their actions of both polygamy and freedom in sexual issues. But that would also not be true.

There were three kinds of radical reformers. The Anabaptist, the Inspirationists and the Rationalists, were all considered radical reformers. Only the Anabaptist appealed to Scripture. The Inspirationists appealed to the spirit, the Rationalist to reason. Almost all the extreme radicalism of that period can be attributed to what those involved considered personal revelations of the Spirit. (see: The Anabaptist Story by William R. Estep)

All through the historical part there are problems such as the above. I am disappointed that the Committee didn’t spend time explaining and even using the Scriptures that uphold Christian marriage. If they were going to apply Scripture to the problems it should have been used as God’s word. If they were going to apply history to the problem it should have been done in a more careful and complete manner.

I am praying for those who are preparing a minority report.

1. Read the report and recommendations in their entirety. (from the OGA)