A Provocation on missing the point of the Prophets

It has been years since I have read through the Hebrew prophets continuously. On this read through it strikes me that the “standard” American interpretation of these texts is almost perfectly engineered to get people to miss the point of the prophets. (Engineered by whom or what? This is a great question!) This “standard” interpretation is to treat the prophets as some cryptic road map to a mythic future “end times” scenario. This places our attention in the future, rather than God’s action, and our responsibility, in the present. 


Why is the Pope "changing" the Lord's Prayer?

Recently, a very thoughtful Roman Catholic student of mine asked me the following questions: "What do you think about the changes [in the Lord's Prayer] Pope Francis plans to implement? Will TMI be adopting the changes, or will TMI not? Is there a centralized Episcopal authority that decides things like that, or does it depend on the Priest/Pastor?"

In response, I sent him the following essay, in addition to the video posted above, which is a fairly good, basic level summary of the proposed "change". And it is important to note that while this "change" does involve altering the words, it does not actually change the meaning of the text, but actually better brings out the intended nuance Jesus almost certainly meant when he originally taught the prayer. But, before we get to that, we need to look at the diversity of translations of the Lord's Prayer.


The Enduring Challenge of Nietzsche

When teaching Introduction to Philosophy, we often end with a discussion of the "Masters of Suspicion": Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. These thinkers mark the so-called "Interpretive Turn" (or "Hermeneutic Turn") into what is often called "Postmodern" Philosophy*. What this means is that ideas and beliefs are no longer what they seem to be about, but must be interpreted to see what values or commitments are REALLY motivating these convictions. All three of these "Masters of Suspicion" insisted that surface readings of our ideologies-- ideas about God, ethics, beauty, social order-- missed the true deep intent of the discussion. The deep, structural insight is this: Our ideas are always about something other than what we represent them as:


Passage Meditation for Busy Humans

Recently I've started practicing what is called "passage meditation". This is where you take a short chunk of Scripture and repeat it prayerfully over and over for a period of time, until it is driven deep into your consciousness, and it becomes a kind of prayer or mantra for you. It is based on ideas such as this:

Psalms 119.11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

How does one hide the word of God in your heart? While there may be many methods, one sure fire recipe that has been used across time, across cultures, and across religions is this: Mindful, committed, intentional, repetition. Repetition. Repetition. When we repeat something over and over again intentionally, it will bubble up later in daily life, in stressful situations, and even in dreams. 


Christarchy 2018

A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday 2018. Based on Romans 6 and John 18:33-37.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. And in a democratic culture where we have no King, where we are free to pursue anything we can imagine, and purchase anything our heart desires, it can be hard to wrap our minds around what it means to think of Christ as OUR King. 

So, to help us wrap our minds around Jesus Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords, I would like to begin with a story:


Virtue, Vice, and Cognitive Distortions

The chart above is also available in an INTERACTIVE PDF with live links to Scriptures and online materials that elaborate the brief descriptions in the chart.

For a long time I have had a fascination with the intersection of Theology, Philosophy, Psychology, and Pastoral Care. As a pastoral counselor, I have always trended toward the insight from forms of Cognitive Therapy that we tend to make ourselves miserable by the way we think, and the distorted thought patterns that govern how we process reality. As a philosopher of ethics and moral theologian, I have always been drawn to virtue theory as a way to describe how a person becomes more (or less) Christlike. In the Catholic Tradition, this centers on the Seven Cardinal Virtues as descriptors of Christlike character, and the Seven Deadly Sins as descriptors of the vices that inhibit Christlikeness. However, I prefer to adapt St. Paul's list of the "Fruit of the Spirit" (cf. Galatians 5.22-23) as a more robust description of Christlike Virtue, with a corresponding list of "anti-fruit" (or Vice) which describes unhealthy personality traits.


A Provocation on the Humanist God

At this stage in history I feel the need to qualify the statement “I believe in God” with what KIND of God I believe in. It is no longer enough to consider God as merely the singular Divine Source and Destiny of all worlds, the Ultimate Reality in which all beings inhere, and Ultimate Value toward which all beings are drawn. Because that template of God is used to support radically different visions of God’s character. For many God is at worst hateful and meddling (as in the God of so many Brands of angry Fundamentalism), and at best apathetic and neglectful (as in so many rehashed versions of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). Rather, I see God in and through Jesus Christ, and ONLY in and through Jesus Christ. And the God I see in Jesus is a thoroughly HUMANISTIC God, because God became thoroughly HUMAN in Jesus. Jesus reveals God’s chief concern is humans, or more precisely, persons made in God’s image (since these are the only fully sentient, metacognitive, communicative persons we find on this particular planet). God wants persons, each and every one of them, to not only survive, but thrive, and have the opportunity to grow into the fullness of the Divine Potential embodied in them. Full human flourishing for every human life: This is what God wants for us, and what God has shown us, in Jesus Christ. Full freedom. Full capacity. Full healing. Full knowledge. Full bellies. Full minds. Full hearts. Abundant life for all humanity. This is the goal of the Humanist God, because Jesus is God incarnate in a Human life. We may need to widen this thesis to include other persons, once we discover or create other kinds of persons, who are also made in God’s image (whether Aliens or Artificial Intelligences or Genetically engineered beings). But for the last 10,000 years, it seems we are having a hard enough time grasping how much God loves all of humanity. So for now, let us start with humanity, and focus our attention on Jesus Christ, the Humanist God. 


A Provocation on Polytheism

I used to think polytheism was ludicrous. But if I didn't know better, I would think that old gods with names like Mars and Mammon, Eros and Eris, Thanatos and Dionysios, are actually orchestrating events in our society. What is more, it seems like they are all perfectly willing to dress up as Jesus of Nazareth, so long as we worship and sacrifice to the values they embody.

A Provocation on socio-economics and mental health

In our society we systematically deny the social aspect of psychological health primarily because of our economic system. The engine that runs our society is profit. Profit is driven by consumption. Consumption is driven by demand. And demand is driven by human cravings. So we have to develop a system that maximizes existing cravings (through greed, anger, fear, hedonism, addiction) while also creating new cravings for new products (think smart phones, social media, virtual reality... none of which existed 15 years ago). A society of people that deeply engaged in insatiable craving will necessarily be sick sick sick (ask Jesus and Buddha: They agree on this!). So, if we raise social awareness, we would heal people of social sickness, which would drive down craving, driving down demand, driving down consumption, driving down profit. And so the best way to keep the machine running is to deny the socio-economic aspect of mental health problems altogether, and create a myth that everything is the result of individual sickness and individual responsibility (this also drives up demand for pharmaceuticals to medicate and placate, thus creating profits for those corporations). And that is precisely the society we live in. This myth is the very essence of libertarian political and economic thought. 


A provocation on Spiritual Liberation

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Freedom” (2Corinthians 3.17). This is a manifesto of Liberation. The Spirit liberates us from bondage to death so that we may be free to actualize our full potential in life. Thus the hallmark of the Spirit’s presence is precisely Liberation to Love, that is freedom to give ourselves for the abundant life of all. We are set free from selfishness and self concern and self serving, so we can engage with the life of the Other. Cf. Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity. Page 13. 

A provocation on Technology

“Any sufficiently advanced technology must be regarded as magic [or miracle]” (Arthur C. Clarke). Technology is miracle explained and magic democratized. Technology— the capacity to act and effect change— is unconditionally good in the same way as Creation is unconditionally good (cf. Genesis 1). But, like Creation— which is the environment upon which and within which we act technologically— Technology can be used for good (the giving of life and fulfilling of potential) or abused for evil (the taking of life and destruction of potential). 

A provocation on Scriptural inspiration

God inspired Scripture not only to show us what to DO, but also to show us what NOT to do. The Bible is not only filled with positive examples to imitate, but also negative examples to avoid. So beware, lest you model your life on a negative example and invite your own destruction. For we can tell the intent of the Spirit’s inspiration of a text by asking what end it resulted in. Did the text result in death and destruction and character that is the inversion of Christ? Then the Spirit inspired it that we may avoid its example. Did the text result in Life and Love and striving for Christlikeness? Then the Spirit inspired it that we may follow its example. 

On Provocations

I have a great many short and incomplete thoughts that I think might be worth discussing. Call them "provocations" to thought and discussion. I hope they give you something to ponder and meditate on. I will be posting them under the title of "A provocation on..." These will be a couple of sentences, and not more than a paragraph. I will keep them all topically under their appropriate topic, as well as under the topic of provocations.


The Trajectory we follow in interpreting Scripture

For the last several years, I have been tweaking a Hebrew and Greek daily Scripture reading system, with a lectionary for reading through the English Bible every year and a half. If you are interested in viewing or using it, a PDF is available HERE

What is of interest here is that, in the introduction to this reader (pages 2-3), I most clearly lay out how I interpret Scripture, and the main concerns I pay attention to when seeking to understand what God has revealed to us through Scripture. I have written elsewhere about how I apply the Biblical laws to our ethical life, and how Scriptural difficulties are worked out when we see Scripture as a process of Developmental Revelation, which is on a trajectory that is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. In this understanding, to use words spoken by Martin Luther King Jr.: The Moral Arc of History (and Scripture) is long, but it trends toward Justice. This view has been shaped by voices as diverse as CS Lewis (in terms of overall narrative development of History), NT Wright (in terms of looking at the Old Testament from the perspective of the New Testament), Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (in his work on confronting violence in the Torah). 


When Goodness is repellant and Evil is seductive

I just saw Venom, and along with it a preview for Captain Marvel. Very enjoyable movie, and interesting preview. But I realized something that has always struck me as hollow about the Marvel Universe, and most other movie universes* from DC to Star Wars to Harry Potter to Indiana Jones. That is this: Evil is not evil until it is truly seductive, and Good is not good unless it is truly repellant. 

Let me explain. 


Things left behind

Some prefer to leave behind
Buildings and statues
That stay static and inert
Until they crumble
To dust

I prefer to leave behind
Ideas and stories
That ever change and evolve
Until they inspire us
To live


Childlike Faith and the Neverending Story

I watched the Neverending Story with my kids this morning. This movie impressed me deeply as a child with a view of imagination, and multiple dimensions of reality, which shaped me at a deep level. In many ways this movie and several other books I read as a young person “baptized my imagination” to experience our co-authorship, with God, of the great unfolding Story of Creation and Redemption centered in Christ. What I did not realize until watching this movie as an adult: 

First, this movie may be the best illustration of Jesus’ saying that the Kingdom of God belongs to those with childlike faith which I have ever seen. 

Second, it is a potent critique of living in a world culture of Consumerism, in which every Corporation and advertisement seeks to co-opt our imagination, and stop us from dreaming, with the lie that their products can satisfy our every desire, and bring us to true happiness. 


On Sickness, Healing, and Unforgiveness

“But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” (Jesus, according to Mark 3:29)

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors... If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Jesus, according to Matthew 6:12–15)

Out of all the things Jesus said and did, at the top of his list were Love, forgiveness, and healing. Jesus taught and acted as if all things could be forgiven and healed, no matter how big or how small. From little children, to squabbling siblings, to women caught in immorality, to a thief dying on a cross, to his best friend denying him in his time of need: Jesus forgave everything, and healed everyone, out of his deep Love. 

All except for one thing.


Bart Ehrman, Theodicy, and Leaving Evangelicalism

Recently I posted a chart about various models of dealing with "Theodicy" (the problem of how evil and God can co-exist in the same reality). Someone asked me if I had read the 2009 book by New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman on Theodicy entitled "God's Problem". Now I have read a couple of Ehrman books on Biblical studies, and heave seen several of his debates, lectures, and interviews (including him talking about his deconversion and the problem of suffering). But I have never read this book, although I have heard him sum it up several times in his videos on YouTube.

Ehrman's book and his talks strike me as having very similar themes to other books I have read, particularly by Evangelicals who have lost their faith. As a former Evangelical, I have experienced much of what Ehrman (and others like him) have experienced, except that it turned me to a broader and deeper faith in Christ rather than abandoning Christ. While I disagree with Ehrman on several core ideas, from the Divinity of Christ to the basic reliability of Scripture, I do find him to be a rational, honest, and well-intentioned thinker who is pursuing the truth as best he can. Erman’s story, as I understand it, points out several gaping holes (or persistent heresies) in American Evangelicalism:


Models of Theodicy Chart

How do we deal with God allowing evil and suffering? This ever-daunting "Problem of Evil" is one of the biggest perennial problems in Theology and the Philosophy of Religion. It is one of the things I have blogged about the most on this website, with articles big and small discussing the problem from all kinds of perspectives. Today in teaching Philosophy, we talked about the subject once again. And as a result I decided to turn my class notes into a chart. You can click the image above, or download the PDF here, to see it.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.