Sunday, May 24, 2015

Talking about Jesus, or not?


Recently the Laymen posted an article, “Moderator Rada, May I introduce you to the Rev. John Shuck?” The Moderator had stated at a Presbyterian Mission Agency board meeting that all teaching elders must vow to accept the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God. Speaking of the biblical and confessional doctrine that Jesus is the sole Lord and Savior, Rada stated:

“One cannot join a church in our denomination without answering the question in the affirmative that she or he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you do not, you cannot be a member in our churches. And I have not met one single person—member or officer of our church—who does not believe that as truth. There has been a campaign of hate and divisiveness built against us. And it is not a true reflection of our particular body of Christ.”

The Layman pointed out that the Rev. John Shuck does not believe in any of the biblical truths of Christianity; he does not even believe in a personal God. I want to add to this because I believe many in the denomination are totally unaware of the growing apostasy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Scripture and the Confessions may proclaim the Christian faith, but a growing body of people within the denomination are allowed to uphold unbiblical views. Without discipline and censure it simply does not matter what the Confessions and Scriptures say.

In 2012, teaching elder Landon Whitsitt, who was vice moderator of General Assembly at the time, was visiting various presbyteries, speaking about a book he had written, Open Source Church the Wisdom of All. Videos were made of his talks and in the last video he stated, “Just because God has called you into relationship through the work and person of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean everybody has to be in relationship with God through the work and person of Jesus Christ.”

I wrote about the videos at, “Landon Whitsitt, Open Source Christianity and the sovereignty of God.” I stated that Whitsitt was a universalist. He read the article and on Twitter, in conversation with me, said no, he was not a universalist but a pluralist. Whitsitt pointed me to a Wikipedia article which explained that pluralists believe that one can be saved without Jesus’ salvation. (See also http://landonwhitsitt.com/2012/02/08/good-theology-bad-theology/ by Whitsitt.)

One teaching elder who envisions God in female terms and rejects most biblical doctrine and ethics, is Dr. Rebecca Todd Peters. Desiring a god/ess that changes as humans change, Peters contends that:

“An unchanging God generates self-blame and feelings of abandonment in the face of the changing imperfect world. In contrast, a God/ess open to change is consist with images of divine partnership with humankind, working together in the ongoing process of co-creation.”[1]

Peters, using her theological meanderings, passes by Jesus and sees female sexuality as a revelation of god/ess’ attributes. This bolsters her advocacy for LGBTQ sexuality as well as sex outside of marriage.

Teaching elder Aric Clark, more a universalist than a pluralist, nonetheless applauded John Shuck’s unbelief as he preached the installation sermon for his term at  Southminster Presbyterian Church in Beaverton Oregon.

The list is endless. There is Presbyterian, Dr. Eugene March, whose pluralist book The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity was studied by some members of the General Assembly Council during their 2005 meeting. It was meant for everyone but because of some protest its use was limited.

In the recent Sacramento Presbytery meeting we sang a song (I and some others didn’t) by Miriam Therese Winter. It was in the old blue Presbyterian hymnal. (Oh for a world-p 386.) The writer, who is Catholic, has written three books of liturgy for women which focus on women’ issues using female and goddess names for deity. In her book, Woman Wisdom, she has a poem asking about the name of the deity. Some of the verses are:

 I Am the Prehistoric Goddess/ I have many names and myriad manifestations.

Oh Prehistoric Goddess, reveal to us your names and myriad manifestations.[2]

The prayer goes on to name and pray to most of the known goddesses of ancient history as well as contemporary time. Not only is this blasphemous, it erases the very object of Christianity, Jesus Christ. He has no meaning in the context of pagan worship. As an example the song we sang began:

“O for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways, where love is lived and all is done with justice and with praise.  O for a world where goods are shared and misery relieved, where truth is spoken, children spared, equality achieved.  We welcome one world family and struggle with each choice that opens us to unity and gives our vision voice.  The poor are rich, the weak are strong, the foolish ones are wise.”

The tune used is from “O for a Thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise.” That song is about Jesus:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer's praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

Winters replaced Jesus with humanity.

Moderator Rada and many others in the P. C. (U.S.A.) need to understand that eventually the Scriptures and the Confessions will have no meaning at all for those in the denomination who choose our postmodern culture.  A written text unembraced has no purpose or use in any organization. A living, divinely inspired text has life to give to those who embrace its words, because they are the words of God. Without the word of God both the individual and the church is dead. Over and over it needs to be spoken, “Jesus said to him. ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)




[1] Rebecca Todd Peters, “Embracing God as Goddess.” Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love, editors Marvin M. Ellison & Sylvia Thorson-Smith, (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press 2003), 165.
[2] Miriam Therese Winter, Woman Wisdom: A Feminist Lectionary and Psalter: Women of the Scriptures: Part One (New York: Crossroad 1997) 299.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

“One cannot join a church in our denomination without answering the question in the affirmative that she or he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you do not, you cannot be a member in our churches. And I have not met one single person—member or officer of our church—who does not believe that as truth. There has been a campaign of hate and divisiveness built against us. And it is not a true reflection of our particular body of Christ.”

If Rada asked John Shuck, "do you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?", Shuck would say, "sure–I define that expression differently, but yeah, what of it?" One has to wonder what it must be like to work around so many congenitally dishonest people and be so naive (or self-deluded) as to buy their self-serving lies.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Andy Vloedman said...

A good point David. When John Shuck posted his article "A Presbyterian minister who doesn't believe in God" on the Friendly Atheists site, self identified atheists quickly pointed out the absurd and intellectually dishonest position he was taking by seeking to insist on the label Christian while denying all of the beliefs that define Christianity. The only reasonable explanation most agreed was that if he didn't "he'd have to find a new profession which actually expects you to be honest when you fill out applications." As you point out the real question is why can't Rada and other leaders see what is obvious. Naivete or self-delusion may be the answer or it may be as Viola points out the leadership has made it's choice and it's popular culture"

Reformed Catholic said...

FWIW ... Ms. Winters claims to be a Catholic.

There is nothing Catholic (Roman or otherwise) about her beliefs.

She can claim what she wants, but what she believes denies that claim.

Viola Larson said...

I agree, Reformed Catholic. I just wanted to let the reader know she was not Presbyterian. Her writings have, however, been used often by Presbyterians.

Craig said...

I've heard it suggested, and I agree, that those on the theological left are much closer to the JW's or (R)LDS than to Orthodox Christianity. They use terms which historically meant one thing, while imposing their own meaning on the terms. Interestingly enough, it seems as though the meanings that are imposed tend to be self serving and to the benefit of those doing to redefining.

In the case of Shuck, he's been asked at his blog about this very issue. His response was to attack the questioner while refusing to answer the question. While insisting that he was not lying with his ordination questions.

I have seen the phenomenon of atheists calling out folks like Shuck elsewhere. It seems as of they realize the intellectual dishonesty. I've also noticed that those on the theological left hold many more beliefs in common with atheists than with "other christians".

Craig N.
Twin Cities MN

Jill Minnich said...

As someone who lives and ministers in Utah, I agree with Craig. Presbyterians are using terminology much as LDS do-- their meanings diverge significantly from the historical and orthodox meanings of the terms. And some terms, such as atonement, are to be jettisoned completely.

Viola Larson said...

Yes, Jill & Craig,
there is an attempt to redefine Christian terminology which is what happens in the new religions which call themselves Christian. Modern liberal 19th century theology was Arianism and so are the JW's. It is carried forward by progressives today. Some people move from Christian belief to new age ideas while others in their attempt to be rational become complete atheists. Either way they are outside the faith.

Jodie said...

I think John Shuck is saying that a Christian can be an Atheist and still be a Christian just as Jew can be an Atheist and still be a Jew. It's a valid precedent.

But lest you all ride too high on your sacred horses, I would appeal to you to consider that according to the Scriptures, the term "Christian" is a pejorative term applied by those who ridicule the followers of Jesus. We Christians did not invent the term. But we embraced it. Before that we called ourselves the followers of "The Way". That being short for "The way of Love" (1 Cor 12, 13 and 14).

Probably a good thing we changed our name, because it would be much harder for us to make the case that we are followers of a Way of Love. Nevertheless, Biblically speaking, a Christian is a Christian only if a non-Christian says so.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Anonymous said...

Mr. Rada must also be unaware of the PJC case a few years ago that concerned a congregation in Austin. I've been trying to recall the details, but can't without more time and brain-racking than a response to disingenuous statements deserves. The gist of the case was a congregation, through its minister and its session, who admitted to membership a man who would not answer the membership questions in the affirmative but still believed he was entitled to be a member anyway. His attraction to the congregation seemed to have been a resume'-enhancement and a place to do "good works" with other like-minded people. Mr. Rada, of course one can be a member without professing faith in Christ Jesus, and the PJC proves it!

TerryeMac
Sevierville, TN.

Viola Larson said...

Terrye, I had forgotten about that case. I think the person's name was Jensen although I don't remember his first name.

Viola Larson said...

Jodie, Jesus told us in the Scriptures that he is the way. And of course being God he is also love. But we can't forget that God's love includes his judgments against what is evil. And his forgiveness of evil because of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Jodie wrote:

"I think John Shuck is saying that a Christian can be an Atheist and still be a Christian just as Jew can be an Atheist and still be a Jew. It's a valid precedent. "

No, actually it isn't. Jews who don't believe in the God of Abraham are still Jews because they are connected tribally or ethnically. Christians are not connected except through faith that makes one a member of the Body of Christ. Shuck is wrong about this as he is wrong about so much else, because he is looking for a way to justify both being opposed to everything historic Christianity stands for while still keeping his job. He's like a white man who puts on blackface because he thinks it will get him a job at the NAACP.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Anonymous said...

Viola and Terrye, I think you are recalling the case of Robert Jensen, a journalism prof at the University of Texas. He was clear that he was an atheist, and wouldn't affirm the membership vows, but wanted to be a member regardless. You can find more here:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2006-06-23/378612/

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that last was from me as well.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Jodie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jodie said...

Thank you David, you illustrated very nicely my point about it being a good thing we don't call our selves the people of The Way anymore.

"He's like a white man who puts on blackface because he thinks it will get him a job at the NAACP. "

Wow, did you really say that?

On the other point about Judaism, your comment is incorrect because while it is perfectly OK to be an Atheist Jew, it is not OK to convert to Christianity and still call yourself Jewish. In general (there are some notable few self professed exceptions), if you convert to Christianity you are considered to have renounced your Jewishness and your Jewish heritage.

Otherwise, many millions more would today still be considered Jewish.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

John Kerr said...

Years ago, the late Harold Kurtz (who was at the time the leader of Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship) came to meet with us in Grove City, PA. He was speaking of his travels to eastern Europe when he noted that they had ceased to use the term "Christian" in favor of the term, "Christ-follower" or "Jesus-follower." The people with whom they had met there associated the term "Christian" with the kinds of things they saw on imported American television, notably MTV. He said that they were trying to describe themselves more accurately while leaving behind the baggage that we have allowed to accumulate with the "Christian" label. Perhaps we need to follow suit?

Andy Vloedman said...

Viola I just reread your post. I must confess my first reaction when I see Shuck's name is to fire off some snarky reply which exposes his latest post as an absurd statement which is criticized by all as being intellectually dishonest. So I did. In doing so I missed the deeper point you are making that surely must make our Savior weep. To a world that needs grace, forgiveness and redemption, a Savior, many are offering the social justice of postmodern culture. Dawkins was at least honest when he commented on morality and naturalism. " In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice" As Paul said "If all we get out of Christ, is a little inspiration for a few short years we are a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is Christ has been raised up" You are right over and over we need to proclaim Jesus is the way , the truth and the life.

Anonymous said...

Jodie, I am one of those Jews who converted to Christianity, so please don't lecture me about who is and who isn't Jewish and under what circumstances. The reason Jews who convert to Christianity are no longer considered Jews is because they are considered to have committed treason, in a manner of speaking, against the tribe. It has nothing to do with no longer practicing Judaism. That is the point I was making regarding Shuck, and the reason I did not use the word "Judaism." Shuck is rejecting a faith. The Jew who converts is said to be rejecting a people. I don't agree with that, since I still worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But that is the view of my fellow Jews.

As for my statement about Shuck and blackface, yes, I just said that. So what's your beef? He's as much a fraudulent "Christian" as the white man in blackface is a fraudulent African-American.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Jodie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jodie said...

Andy, I tend to agree with the spirit of your last comment.

And taking it one step further, it is not about Rada. It is not even about John Shuck. Or the PCUSA, or about policing other people's experience or lack of experience of God's grace. Its about becoming a vessel of that Grace. Its about living the witness rather than thumping it. As Paul said, we can become noisy gongs or clanging cymbals if we have not love.

Social justice is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. If we live in the Spirit, justice will flow down like a flash flood going down a mountain, sweeping everything in its path.

Post modernism is not a threat. And even if it were, the Gospel is not defined by what we fear. We do not have to understand it. Nor the world we live in. We need only to stand under it. God's Love will do the rest.

Jodie Gallo

Jodie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Viola Larson said...

Jodie, you know my rule about not insulting people.

Jodie said...

Viola, you and David have insulted Rada and John Shuck with wanton abandon. What rule about insulting people are your talking about?

He uses racist terms to refer to John Shuck. He claims to be a disciple of Jesus, as you, but neither of you are willing to demonstrate a shred of Grace, Grace that Jesus extended to you for free, and you accuse me - false witness in my opinion - of insulting someone?

Take a good look in the mirror, Viola.

Whose disciple are you?

Jodie

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Jodie, I have not insulted Shuck. I have called him out for what he is: a fraud, a wolf in sheep's clothing, a man who occupies of position of authority in an organization the beliefs and principles of which he rejects unequivocally. Don't like my analogy? Fine. How about this one: Shuck is like a man who is named CEO of a computer company, immediately sets about undercutting its product line in public, and behind the scenes tries to replace that line with one that does just the opposite (say, abacuses instead of PCs), all the while telling people that he supports the mission of the company, but just thinks it needs to be made more "relevant" to its customers. Oh, and that makes Rada the chairman of the board who applauds the CEO's dismantling of the company. Like that one better?

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Anonymous said...

And I should mention that the reason I used the original analogy is specifically because I reject everything it stands for. Shuck has nothing but contempt for the church of which he is a pastor, and would transform it into a (for now) larger membership version of Unitarianism. He has as much regard for the PCUSA as a Christian organization as the racist has for the NAACP. Near as I can tell, you object to the analogy because you think Shuck has warm fuzzy feelings for his employer. I see no evidence of that, at least not any that go beyond the natural loyalty one has to one's meal ticket. It certainly does not extend to what the PCUSA, at least in theory, stands for, proclaims, and lives by.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Jodie said...

David,

I object to your analogies because they are ugly, inaccurate, and project a lack of grace upon someone in whose shoes you have not walked.

(Apparently Viola thinks that's insulting to you)

The Presbyterian form of government is egalitarian, and the CEO of the church is a council of equals, not a person. A completely different paradigm than the autocratic authoritarian model you are implying. There is nothing to be gained by singling out Mr Rada.

John Shuck is a man who wrestles with God with courage, honor and dignity. God can take it.

Our Faith is founded in part on the principle of wrestling with God. God Himself encourages the practice. Those who discourage it are not in alignment with the Scriptures any more than the claims John makes.

Your expression of frustration with John's claims border more on character assassination than a theological debate. I encourage you to study more closely the teachings of Jesus, and to seek more gracious methods of expressing your disagreement. If you disagree with his concept of God, if you think he is wrong about his claims, then use the witness of the Holy Spirit in your own life as a counter argument. That is what it is there for.

The strength of the Gospel lies not in the character assassination or in verbally assaulting those who don't think it is true, but in witnessing to its power in your own life.

Jodie Gallo

Anonymous said...

I do not assassinate Shuck's character. To the extent that he wants to identify as a Christian pastor, he commits character suicide by rejecting the God with whom he supposedly wrestles. As for my method of expressing myself, I take my cues from the New Testament, which does does not hesitate to label opponents of the gospel–especially those within the church–as wolves, blasphemers, liars, etc., and of them Paul says they are "accursed." Jesus had equally harsh words for those who opposed His mission and the truth that He proclaimed. When someone denies that Christ rose from the dead, or that He atoned for sin on the cross, or that we are to make disciples of the true God, or that God is personal (and may not exist at all), then I have no hesitation using NT language in describing them, if they continue to insist that they be allowed to spread their falsehoods among the people of God. If he wants to be considered a publican and a tax collector, that will be a different story.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA