Friday, March 13, 2015

There will be blood: about Aric Clark's installation sermon for John Shuck

picture by Stephen Larson

In 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson produced the movie There Will be Blood. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, the movie begins with a man who is not blatantly evil but who in his quest for wealth and power becomes, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, that ‘monster’ who darkens our nightmares. There is no question—his obsession led to blood. I thought of the movie as I listened to teaching elder Aric Clark give the installation sermon for John Shuck at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton Oregon.

My thoughts were caused by the laughter when Clark spoke of John’s blogging about how the resurrection of Jesus Christ was not true. As Clark put it, “And of course he denied the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” There was interspersed in the service more denial, more laughter.

Now I suppose that there was something funny people were looking at as Clark preached. Someone referred to watching fades of pastors as Clark spoke. But for a Christian there is nothing funny about a pastor denying the resurrection. But perhaps the most troubling part of the sermon and the laughter is that generally a committee from the presbytery is formed to help with the installation. And generally that includes someone from the committee on ministry and the executive presbyter. Were there other people from other PC (U.S.A.) churches, teaching elders and ruling elders, who were there participating in the laughter?

And this is the main point of my posting—this is the probable future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The future of a denomination which allows the careless disregard of Christian teaching and leaves in leadership those who think it is all very funny is staggering with great speed into evil.  If one loves to make fun of the faithful, as this sermon does, and lifts up a non-believer as the epitome of faithfulness where can those who bear the righteousness of Jesus turn? Where can sinners (all of us) turn?

Clark uses the book of Job as a way of lifting up Shuck as someone who rightly scrutinizes faith. But no, Job questions God about why, since he has followed and obeyed the laws of God, he is suffering. He demands a hearing with God. None of this is disbelief. The book of Job carries some of the most fervent statements of faith in the whole sacred canon. And they aren’t just at the beginning or the end of the text, they are mixed in with the despair and questions.

Take for instance Shuck’s denial of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Here are Job’s words:

As for Me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take his stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God, whom my eyes will see and not another. (Job 19: 25-27)

Even in Job’s greatest despair, writing of death, in chapter 14, he asks and gives an answer:

If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait until my change comes. You will call, and I will answer you; you will long for the work of your hands. (14: 14-15)

Job’s great statement of faith, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him,” has not been spoken by Shuck. 

Is a whole presbytery complicit in making fun of the faith and will other presbyteries take this path because they now feel that it doesn’t matter what one believes? Striving for wealth and power (and the main character in There Will be Blood even attempts to use Christianity in his quest) leads to shattered broken lives and finally murder. Jesus speaks of the person (or a generation) who has had a demon cast out but is empty. He states that the demon will return bringing seven more demons more wicked then himself. Jesus states. “… and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” He goes on to say “That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”

More doors keep opening to darkness and the Church must not laugh but weep, and pray and speak of the glories of Jesus Christ which are the redemptive purposes of God.


Anonymous said...

I don't know whether they have made fun of the faith, but any presbytery and any church that allows the likes of John Shuck to serve as a pastor has forfeited any claim to be Christian. They should be honest and convert to Unitarianism.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Stephen Schlarb said...

The 219th GA in 2010 could not affirm Jesus as "the only Savior & Lord". That phrase & others were deleted from the Book of Order in 2011. From that time on there have been MANY "Teaching Elders" who have come out with one form or another of Universalism- Christian Universalism or General.
Each church member is on his or her own to formulate and defend their faith in PCUSA.
Steve Schlarb
Irving, Texas. March 14, 2015

Jodie said...

It is said that for everything there is a time. It is also said that some times are the best of times, while other times are the worst of times.

I wonder if we who are apprentices of Jesus are mostly called to keep our faith, live in hope, and to follow the way of love, because these three remain through all the times, the best and the worst.

But I still have favorites:

Time to give birth
Time to plant.
Time to heal;
Time to build up.
Time to laugh;
Time to dance.
Time to gather stones;
Time to embrace
Time to search
Time to keep
Time to sew together;
Time to be silent
Time to love
Time for peace.

I guess this post wasn't any of those times

Henry Paris said...

I agree that Aric goes beyond the pale of Christianity into childishness, we can hope he will grow up. However, before you invoke Job as the proponent of resurrection, you should read the remainder of Job 14 for his conclusion to his rhetorical question, namely 18-22:
18 “But the mountain falls and crumbles away,
and the rock is removed from its place;
19 the waters wear away the stones;
the torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so you destroy the hope of mortals.
20 You prevail forever against them, and they pass away;
you change their countenance, and send them away.
21 Their children come to honor, and they do not know it;
they are brought low, and it goes unnoticed.
22 They feel only the pain of their own bodies,
and mourn only for themselves.”

Anonymous said...

No, Jodie. This post was a time to weep.

Viola Larson said...

Henry chapter 14 is poetic and complex. The answer to the question is not necessarily toward the end of the chapter. It is too long to copy out the technical part in the Tyndale commentary- but I like this, Francis Andersen's explanation at the end:
"All Job's hopes are summed up in the belief that God will, remember him. God's thought names people into real existence, in fact or detail, except in the continued willing of his Creator. Here is no doctrine of immortality as intrinsic and inalienable property of the soul. For any person to live is ever the act and gift of God."

Andy Vloedman said...

Viola I listened to Aric's sermon on John's website and had the same reaction when I heard the laughter. You might be interested in John's latest blog post. You can reach it through his Religion for Life site. He has posted an article he wrote for the Friendly Atheist. The title of the article is "I'm a Presbyterian Minister who Doesn't Believe in God" It's interesting to read the comments posted by presumably atheists who blast him for wanting to identify as Christian when he doesn't believe any of the tenets of Christianity. Atheists appear to have a better sense of Christian beliefs than the PCUSA leaders who installed John.

Aric Clark said...

Anything I say in public is of course open to criticism, but I have previously on several occasions requested that if you intend to write about me that you do me the small courtesy of dropping me a message to let me know. I'm extraordinarily easy to get in touch with.

But I understand that you don't actually want to talk TO me. You just want to talk ABOUT me. Much as you're not actually interested in understanding where all these people you call apostates and heretics are coming from. You just want to condemn us and feel self-righteous.

While you're at it you might enjoy the YouTube series I'm doing on the lectionary.

Viola Larson said...

Aric I apologize; I had forgotten about your request. I will be happy to talk to you any time you want to talk.

I have already watched two of your videos. I may write about at least one of them. but I am not sure.

Doesn't it bother you that people were laughing about denial of the resurrection?

Doug Hagler said...

@Andy: I'll agree in that New Atheists and Christian conservatives and fundamentalists seem to agree on what Christianity is. One side just rejects it while one side embraces it. There are a lot of us, and have been going all the way back in Christian history, who do not agree with either characterization. The thing that conservatives support and New Atheists reject is not the Christianity I practice, for better or worse, and I am hardly alone.

Tom said...

Goodness, what would you people do without John Shuck to complain about?

Get a life.

Andy Vloedman said...

Tom We both know the original post and comments have little to do with John Shuck. The only reason he is mentioned is because of his very public insistence through his blog, radio show and recent column in the Friendly Atheist that he be viewed as the face of progressive Christianity in the PCUSA. He's an illustration,through his own efforts a very public illustration,of a denomination that has little or no regard for it's Confessions.When a PCUSA minister is installed after clearly stating publicly he doesn't believe in God, the resurrection or the divinity of Jesus Christ but it's okay because Jesus was cool can we at a minimum stop telling our brothers and sisters in Christ in Presbytery meetings that their statement that they are leaving because of a disagreement as to what constitutes the essential tenets of the Christian faith is a ruse and they are a bunch of homophobes.

Henry Paris said...

Yes, Viola, Job is a quite complex "book," whose Hebrew is quite refractory to translation. There is quite a distance between "God remembering him" and an argument for resurrection. That argument awaited another post-exile epoch. I personally find Jack Miles' treatment of Job to be quite useful, and his is not a solitary commentary.

Viola Larson said...

Henry. I don't think you quite grasped what the quote in my comment to you was about. To put it another way, it reminded me of something one of my favorite writers wrote about his coming resurrection. He was explaining both damnation and glorification. Here is my long quote from Walter Wangerin:

"But I shall not perish! I, like the prodigal, will rather be coming home again!

No, this is not a wishful denial of the reality nor some incompleteness of the third death. My body will die. Every single relationship in which I now experience life--every relationship!-- will break. I will at once lose my place in the created world and friends and family and breathing, my reason, my senses and all my strength, yea, and my self--until the darkness is complete, until I am, from earthly perspectives, a nothing in a nowhere. I will die.

But I will not perish!

I shall not be lost utterly. I carry to the grave this promise: that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish--' Perish: now what Greek word do you suppose is used there? Right, me apoletai, the familiar 'loss' in its extremity, apollumi. 'Should not perish' says the promise, 'but have eternal life.'

How can this be? If death is my impotence to maintain any sort of relationship, and if life is lived in relationship, how could I ever live again?

Because the God who created once is Creator still. Because God established a new sort of relationship by his Son--a new covenant in which God does it all, and we allow the doing. Its a one-sided relationship, wherein the impotent one, the monstrously incapacitated one, receives the benefit--as when a weak child falls, but the father holds her hand and lifts her up again. The lifting is pure gift. The new covenant is Grace.

This relationship can endure even when I am helpless. Especially then. This relationship endures though I am nothing in a nowhere--because I remain a something in the heart of God! This relationship endures in spite of the flat reality of the grave and my own dissolution, my crumbling into dust, because my side of the covenant is not fulfilled by my flesh and blood but by Christ's--who continues to live, yes, even while they bury me and the worms translate my subtle brains to soil.

'My sheep,' says Jesus, 'hear my voice, and I know them, and they shall never perish [me apolontai!] and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.'

I will die. All my resources will exhaust themselves. In myself and on my own, I will not be.

But the Shepherd remembers my name.

The Shepherd will whisper, 'Walter'--and though I have no ears to hear, yet the whispering Lord will give me hearing.

The Savior will cry across the divisions: Walter Wangerin, Junior!'-- and though I have no tongue at all, the calling will give me voice. The Word of God has always contained my own capacity to answer it.

Walter Wangerin, come forth!'

And straightway I will rise up, laughing and loving and leaping, alive: 'Here I am! For you have called me!'

Alive again, eternally."

You see God's remembrance has a great deal to do with our eternal life--everything to do with it. When we belong to him through his Son he never forgets us or lets go of us.

Viola Larson said...

Here is a link to where I have that posted: