Monday, July 27, 2015

Moving the sheep to barren pastures: John Shuck's "new" bible

While recovering from my heart surgery I found a relatively easy and fun read, Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson, a Catholic priest. The book is fiction, eschatological and written in 1907. The Lord of the world is the anti-Christ who gathers around him all those who believe that humanity is evolving toward a greater future and are the consciousness for the whole universe. A new evolutionary religion is blooming but evil is at its core. I was reminded of the book while reading a sermon on John Shuck’s sermon blog, Sermon and Jive.

Shuck, a Presbyterian teaching elder, is promoting the need for a new “bible.” One that will better fit with contemporary humanity.  He, like the anti-Christ in the book, sees all religious narratives as part of the evolutionary unfolding of creation. As Shuck puts it:

“The Bible gave us a cosmology and a history.  For it I am grateful.  It provided inspiration for the search.   Now we have to create a new Bible.   It won’t be one book as such, but we are in the process of creating a unifying story of origins, identity, and future hope.   We need our artists, musicians, and storytellers, to help in this great work.    This new Bible, so to speak, will contain all of the other Bibles, all mythology, all religion, all philosophy, and psychology, in short, all human cultural evolution.”  

There are errors in Shuck’s sermon, the first trivial perhaps. Contrary to Shuck’s words the Hindu and the Buddhist do have sacred texts, the Hindu Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita, (which Shuck has used before) and the sutras which belong to Buddhism as well as the Pali Tripitaka.

And Karl Barth, he did not, as Shuck states, retreat when he embraced theology. He in fact returned much of modern theology back to the Trinity since so many of Europe’s enlightenment theologians were Arians, denying the deity of Jesus. In fact it is Barth in his small book Dogmatics in Outline who pointed out that when someone hears a complaint against the Christology of the Nicene Creed they should think of a wolf’s snarl. He wrote:

“There have been many complaints and murmurings over this formula and probably, sooner or later in your studies, you will come up against men of letters and even teachers, who also do the same thing and think it dreadful that this matter should be reduced to this formula. I should be happy to think that, when you meet such complainers, this hour at college may come back to your memory and release a tiny check in you. This inveighing against so-called ‘orthodoxy’ is just a ‘wolf’s snarl’, which an educated man should have nothing to do with.”

And to suggest that the person of Jesus as well as Old Testament characters are “more likely to be composite characters in fictionalized accounts of old myths and legends reframed and retold,” is utter nonsense. Few scholars today deny the historical reality of Jesus.

Shuck’s greatest error is his ideology, because he uses evolution as transcendent truth, he elevates humanity to an untenable place:

“Human beings are not insignificant worms in this story.  We are the self-consciousness of this universe.   It is possible that there is intelligent life somewhere else.   But whether there is or not, we human beings are the self-consciousness of Earth and the Solar System for sure.   We are here and able to tell this incredible story.    Before human beings there were no stories of the universe.  There were no stories of gods, stories of love, stories of sacrifice, stories of sadness.   Self-consciousness emerged from evolution and all of our aspirations and hopes have emerged from our interactions, from our storytelling, from our small Bibles to a larger ever-emerging Bible that is our ongoing life story.”    

It is important to notice here that Shuck’s words, despite his disbelief in a personal God, hold to a certain kind of faith—one that is centered in materialism—but nonetheless a faith. I say this because there is no empirical evidence, no scientific explanation, for how self-consciousness could emerge from evolution. Shuck simply believes that evolution produced self-consciousness.

Shuck also believes that good, without an absolute good creator God, emerges from evolution.  The good is centered in humanity and is named by humanity. This is a path towards disaster. Without the absolutes that belong to the personal creator God of the Bible, which include mercy, compassion, redemption and judgement, humanity either falls into anarchy or develops totalitarianisms. It is like the iron mixed with clay in the biblical book of Daniel. The crumbles are constant, but still the iron overpowers.

Shuck often writes of being a “good” ancestor, but tell that to a dying person. In the book, Lord of the World, the heroine, who along with her husband believes in the same sort of evolutionary ideas Shuck believes, experiences a group of people dying because of a volor [Air-machine] crash. Her conversation with her husband is telling:

“Oliver, what do you say to people when they are dying?”

“Say! Why nothing! What can I say? But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone die.”

“Nor have I till to-day.” Said the girl, and shivered a little. “The euthanasia people were soon at work.”

Oliver took her hand gently.

“My darling, it must have been frightful. Why, you’re trembling still.”

“No; but listen… You know, if I had anything to say I could have said it too. They were all just in front of me: I wondered, then I knew I hadn’t. I couldn’t possibly have talked about Humanity.”

Who will proclaim to Shuck’s congregation the good news of God’s great mercy in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All they will be able to speak of will be the self-consciousness of humanity. The whole focus in this sermon is on gathering the world’s ideas for a new, so called bible. That they are not hearing the good news is Shuck’s great sin, but it is also the sin of his presbytery and synod. The sin belongs to all of us when we have not proclaimed winsomely, without fear, the good news of Jesus, when we have not proclaimed the authority of Scripture, when we have not held out to broken people the gracious promises of God.



Jeff said...

Good job. There was a "bit" of hubris in Shuck's sermon. I shook my head reading the sermon and wondered how could both preach than and affirm his ordination vows--especially the question on the scriptures. I can't imagine his presbytery not stepping in and challenging this.

Bill B. said...

First, you need to know that I cannot stand seafood or fish of any kind. So the other day, I went to a Red Lobster, and let me tell you, the food there was the worst I've ever had. Nothing but fish and seafood and more fish and more seafood. They had some dishes that had both fish and seafood at the same time! Not only that, but the inside of this seafood restaurant smelled completely of cooked fish seafood. And that's not the worst part. The worst part is that I have been going to this Red Lobster every week for the last 10 years and they never change. Nothing but fish and seafood, even though I absolutely hate seafood or fish of any kind.

So, don't go to Red Lobster, because the food there is terrible. Nothing but fish and seafood. Which is why I only go once a week.

Jim Jordan said...

To piggyback on Bill's comments, John Schuck is like a Red Lobster that serves zero fish or seafood. They took it off the menu even though it's still called Red Lobster. He's such a joke that anyone who follows him wasn't interested in the gospel in the first place.

Henry Paris said...

Yes, all Karl Barth did was invite his female graduate student to live with him in his home for an extended period to the great distress of his wife and family. So much for walking the talk...

David Stearns said...

I find it impossible to understand how John Shuck could have answered affirmatively to the ordination questions, as he must have done when he recently transferred presbyteries.
"a. Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
b. Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?"

will spotts said...

" I can't imagine his presbytery not stepping in and challenging this."

For my part, I can't imagine the opposite.

Andy Vloedman said...

John can answer his ordination vows in the affirmative and then write an article proclaiming his atheism because there is no intellectual integrity to anything he says.He swears his allegiance to Darwin but then unlike Dawkins who acknowledges that in a "universe ... of blind physical forces ...there is no design, no purpose, no evil and no good..." John as Viola points out finds "good" emerging. His world view collapses under the weight of it's own contradictions. I assume the denomination keeps him so that when they are asked, how big is your tent, they can point to John and say, we even have an atheist. John has announced he has taken on the task of creating a new Bible and reconstructing God. John feels up to the challenge. My challenge to John is before you take on the creation of a new Bible how about inviting a John Lennox or Michael Ramsden or other apologist to a debate on whether we need a new Bible or God. The true test of your beliefs John is not whether a denomination will put up with them but do they support a world view that is coherent and corresponds to reality. Do you believe in what you are saying enough to defend your thoughts? My guess is you don't.

Jodie said...


Every once in a while it's "Let's gang up on John Shuck" time. I really fail to see the attraction. Plus, I doubt any of you have ever walked in his shoes. I don't recommend it, but if you did, I think all of you would show a little more compassion and understanding. At least I'd like to hope so.

There is one thing John lives up to, the rest of you do not. He honestly wrestles with God. It was for just such a time that God changed Jacob's name to "Isra-El". In so doing, John walks in the company of heroes. God does not ask us to be mindless sheep. He asks us to engage Him. To challenge Him. To stand in the breach, and represent humanity to God, not God to Humanity. God does that on his own, very well, thank you very much. But John looks God in the face and tells Him he is not satisfied.

If you all really read your Bibles, you would recognize that he is in good company.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Andy Vloedman said...

Yes really.
First,understand John does not view writing about him as "ganging up". He calls it "free publicity" and he thrives on it. John googles his name daily and proudly publishes recent comments as evidence of his role as the visionary of progressive Christianity. This comment may well make it into his blog.
Second, the majority of the criticism of John is not that he "wrestles" it's the dishonesty involved. Two examples from his ordination.
John was asked "Do you believe in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? John's public response was,Yes. Seeking to reclaim his rep as a progressive John was quick to restate in his blog his belief that while "Jesus may have been an historical figure" he certainly was not divine. He then compares Jesus to an ishta deva which puts him in the same category as thousands of gods and avatars recognized by modern Hinduism. The two statements can't be reconciled without stretching the meaning of words to a point they have no meaning.
John was asked "Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's word to you?" John's public response,Yes. After his ordination he wasted no time in publicly reaffirming that the Bible is a human product and "should not be read as a special revelation from God." Again, the two positions are reconcilable only if words have no meaning. If you think the criticism of John comes only from fundamentalists who are outraged that he would dare raise theological questions go to the Patheos website and read the comments of self proclaimed atheists after his piece about being a Christian who doesn't believe in God was published. Several pointed out that to profess the beliefs he stated in the piece and still claim to be Christian "screams dishonesty". My opinion is John's worldview collapses under the weight of it's own contradictions but let's test it. I was serious when I suggested John bring in a Christian apologist to debate some of the issues he raises. I am sure support for a series of conversations would be easily raised. Perhaps, we could start with the apparent conflicts between his ordination vows and his statement of beliefs.

Anonymous said...

@ Jodie,
You honestly put John Shuck “in the company of heroes?” If that is indeed the case, you have a very weak definition of hero.
“To stand in the breach, and represent humanity to God, not God to Humanity.” So where does Christ stand? It is not a mere weak and sinful human that has the authority to stand in any breach. Only Jesus Christ intercedes for sinful man. Honestly Jodie, you really need to re-read Hebrews 2 or perhaps Colossians 1. And while you’re in Paul’s letters, why not brush up on 2 Corinthians 11; it’ll give you insight.
Finally, if you really want to witness a man wrestling with God? Read Job 24,26-30. Then read God’s response in Job 38 and 39. There you will find true good company.

Charlotte, NC