2005-08-03

And now for something completely different

To make proper sense out of this blog, it might be best to read my original post on “Where have all the good heresies gone?”, followed by my (admittedly vitriolic) reply to Krister’s comments on that blog, found at “Houston, we have a debate”.

I have got to hand it to Krister, he is humble and honest once you get past the rhetoric. He listened to me in one of my feistier moments and had the intestinal fortitude to reply with intellect and honesty. For that, I say that I see Christ in your reply and your attitude, even if I am not (yet) sure where He is in your theology. Thank you sir, and now I will respond in a much more sane manner.

I am sorry my reply was so harsh. But I did it for a purpose: there is a certain agenda of false tolerance in the theological outlook of Krister and many I have found in so-called “liberal” seminaries. This agenda has to be struck right between the eyes to make it realize how false, non-enlightened, and culturally determined it is. Sometimes soft words speak most loudly. Sometimes loud words do. Jesus used both. I felt like loud words were best on the last post, and if I was out of line, I am sorry. I will try to use softer words here.

But, before I do, here is Krister’s kind response to my not-so-kind response to him:

---FROM KRISTER---
Thanks for addressing my comments. It is clear that we are talking past one another. I never intended for my comments to draw so much heat. Perhaps I read your post wrong, and it is clear that you feel free to read into my comments things that are not there. I most certainly accept Christ's parables as having direct implications for my life as well as anyone elses. We could proof text all day long (believe me, Churches of Christ have gone down that road many times). I appreciate that we do not agree on these issues and in no way think that you are more or less of a person because of what you say on your blog.

My comments in regard to the poor, sick, etc. were rhetorical questions, not requests for proof that you are bearing fruit. As a nation with many churches, it seems that we have missed out on some of the simpler acts of faith including those that Christ talks about regarding the poor, etc. I used the word we to imply a collective question. The gap between the rich and the poor grows larger each day. Our prisons are full of people who will likely not receive the rehabilitative training/counseling that they will need to keep from ending up back in prison, and our nation continues to slash medical benefits and spending for those who can't afford healthcare. I think it's great that you do so much for these people, I wish I did more myself, but there are larger systemic issues that need to be addressed, as you have pointed out in your response.

I'm not sure where you got the idea that I was saying that doctrine wasn't important, perhaps the orthodoxy statement? I don't recall saying that specifically anywhere. What I will say is that I believe that Christ has made the call simple enough for all to follow and boils it down to love for God and love for neighbor as self. As much as I enjoy doctrine, philosophy, other theological matters, I honestly don't think we're going to get a quiz at the pearly gates to see if we can explain the significance of the economic trinity. I may be wrong. It's not an unfamiliar feeling.

As far as the white comment goes, I apologize. I am currently in the process of a class on the Black Church and the Civil Rights Struggle that has me truly re-evaluating the power structures in our society. Through my action and inaction I find that I am complicit in many of the ills of society.

I'm sorry that what I said caused you to become so very defensive and quite upset.

However, I find it somewhat disheartening that you would "call me out" by devoting an entire post that basically puts me on trial sentence by sentence, as if you have found the next great heresy. I would not attempt to slander another individual in this manner. If winning is what you are after, I give up, you win.
---END KRISTER---

My first thought is that nobody “wins” until we all find ourselves living in the Kingdom of God filled with the abundant life of God through Jesus Christ in the power of His Spirit. However misguided my words and actions may get, this is the ultimate goal that I strive for. And, in all honesty, I think this is Krister’s ultimate goal as well. And, to be honest, here is the most “liberal” belief I hold: I believe that God will reconcile everything and everyone in Heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth to Himself through Jesus Christ our Lord. I am in no way trying to kick people out of God’s Kingdom, because I believe that God will really get to all of them eventually and bring them to the knowledge of the Truth that is in Jesus Christ our Lord. I view myself as a sign holder, pointing the true way to that Kingdom. People may reject the sign I hold up. They may reject hundreds, thousands, of signs that others hold up. But eventually they will get so lost that they will try the sign and find the fulfillment of everything they ever hoped for in and through the Jesus Christ of Scripture. It is a bold statement, but I believe, along with the ancient Greek Church Fathers, in the ultimate reconciliation of all things through Jesus Christ. I want that to happen for everyone and believe that it will happen for everyone (I know, this probably opens me up for a huge debate with folks who hold polar opposite views to Krister, but we will handle that later).

Anyway, the main problem I have with Krister’s theology (as I understand him so far, and I am willing to be corrected here) is that it seriously misdirects us away from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. It hinders us finding true signs to the real Kingdom. It puts people on the road longer, and does not shorten the trip for them. I hate the terms “liberal” and “conservative” because they have been stretched so far out that they are darn near meaningless at this point in history, but I take Krister to be coming from a more “liberal” type of theology that denies the uniqueness of Christ as the God-man, and denies the authority of Scripture in theological method. Let me use a term I like better at this point: Revisionist. Krister seems to come from a theological method (again, I am willing to be corrected here, so speak up) that is revisionist, which alters the DNA of what it means to be Christian so that it becomes a truly different organism than it was in the first century, or during the age of the Ecumenical Councils. It is not a natural growth of doctrine and practice, such as the Oak Tree that grows from an Acorn, but it is a different tree altogether, calling itself an Oak.

Again, I do believe that whatever theological foibles Krister has, or I have, or you who are reading this has, Christ will work out at the end. I just want to make that path to Christ as straight and clear as I can, and I believe that revisionist “Christian” theology actually points away from the truth in many ways.

HOWEVER, and this is a big however, I will hand it to some of my more revisionist friends: typically the “liberal” Churches have done a much better job of working for social justice and relieving poverty and discrimination, especially in the 20th century. It is probably not good to paint with such a large brush, but sadly it seems like many of the Churches that did the best job of staying doctrinally orthodox did the worst job of being orthoprax in their actions in the 20th century. If I can do anything about that, it will change this century.

I share Krister’s dislike for proof texting in general, and I would like to point out that even as angry as I was in my post, I did not beat him down with proof texts from Scripture. Proof texting is a usually poor way to use Scripture (unless, of course the text was written to be used as a one-liner proof text or guide, such as the Ten Commandments). But 95% of the time, Scripture is supposed to be used as a contextual document, read as a whole, taken as a whole, without slicing the text up into random pieces. I would also like to note that both “fundamentalists” and “liberals” proof text. What is the “Jesus Seminar” doing with picking apart the Gospels by color coding if not “proof texting”? What about Wellhausen era literary criticism that turned much of the Old Testament into a jumble of conflicting proof texts from the “Yahwist”, “Elohist”, “Priestly”, and “Deuteronomic” sources. There are now many schools of both post-liberal and post-conservative textual criticism that treats the text holistically and honestly, not just picking it apart to get what you want out of it. At my theological school I would point out professor Roy Heller (and his education at Yale) as a great example of such an approach to Scripture.

Krister pays me a compliment by saying that it is “great that you do so much for these people”. I thank you, but in all honesty, I don’t feel like I do enough. For instance, I take my youth to go serve the needy once a month on a Sunday, and then have a yearly mission trip. Is that really enough? I do nothing to address larger systemic socio-economic issues, except preaching on not buying into western consumerism and living simply. Shouldn’t I be writing letter to political officials? How about researching what I buy and refusing to buy from folks who are involved in economically or environmentally unjust practices? Heck, I am sitting here writing a blog right now, not feeding the homeless. I don’t do as much as I should. None of us does. Thank God for His grace shed upon us through the atonement of Christ, to forgive us for those things “done and left undone”.

Krister said that the Gospel call is ultimately simple and boils down to “love for God and love for neighbor as self”. Yes, I totally agree with this and have been known to preach this on several occasions. When I get a new Bible, the very first Scripture I underline is this one in Matthew 22:37-40 (Ok, I promise, no more proof texts). Yet, I think there are some important differences in how we would unpack this very simple truth. For instance, for the words to be meaningful and be able to be acted upon, we must define as well as we can what we mean by “love”, “God”, “neighbor”, and “self”. There is also the added epistemic issue of this: Why is this text so important? Why is the command -echoed several places in Scripture, but focused primarily in the text quoted above- why is this command so authoritative? Why listen to it? Why care what some guy says as recorded in some old book? These are very, very important foundational questions. If they are not answered, then the whole importance of loving God and loving neighbor dissolves into personal sentiment, and then a Nietzsche (my favorite non-Christian philosopher because he is so honest) can walk in and declare God to be dead and that the most important thing in the world is not Love, but the will-to-power of the Ubermensche.

Krister also makes a comment about not being quizzed on the economic Trinity at the pearly gates. Amen. I agree that we will not. But the reality of the Trinity provides the metaphysical and epistemic underpinnings upon which we may truly value Love, Community, Unity, and Diversity. Read professor Bruce Marshall’s book “Trinity and Truth” on this. If the basis of all reality is an eternal community –Persons eternally in committed love with one another, eternally sharing in the fullness of one another, eternally interpenetrating each other and sharing in what we call masculinity and femininity, eternally overflowing with a personal love that creates other persons to love- if this is the Source of all reality, then Love really IS what it is all about! And then Jesus IS this Love incarnate! We become what we worship. We transform into that which we love. If we worship and love THIS God, THIS Trinity, then we become as He is: Love. But what happens if we worship ourselves? Our own tastes? Or if we worship an Impersonal “Ground of Being”? Or a despotic God? Or a God who hides behind masks in a metaphysical realm of nouomena that we can never experience? I am not saying we can circumscribe God or put Him in a box. Even with my above description there is much more left to know, much more left to debate.

I am saying that God’s self revelation in History (and particularly through Scripture) either points to who He really is, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, God is first of all not truthful, and second of all we are left to our own feelings to grope and feel for Him. My feelings get me in trouble on too many mundane things to trust them to tell me what Ultimate Reality is. If God’s self revelation does point to who He really is, then the economic Trinity (our experience of Father, Son, and Spirit in History and salvation) actually does point to an Immanent Trinity (God as He is in Himself apart from our experience). And if an Immanent Trinity is the Source of all reality, then it really IS all about Love. But this comes at a cost to our independence: If we submit to God’s Word in telling us who God is, then we must also submit to God’s Word- struggle with it, wrestle with it’s meaning without side stepping it- to show us how to live in God’s Love.

Again, we are back to the core issues of my blog “Where have all the good heresies gone?”.

I am willing and eager to discuss, debate, and revisit ANY moral or ethical issue- homosexuality included- in light of God's revelation of Himself through Christ in Scripture. This is a Christian-to-Christian discussion. I am also eager to discuss issues of epistemology, metaphysics, and whether Revelation from God is possible, and if so, how do we determine what constitutes revelation. This, however, I would usually consider a Christian-to-non-Christian discussion. Yet, it is hard, if not impossible, to come to an understanding on ethical issues when arguing from different metaphysical and epistemological foundations.

I want to thank Krister for the apology about the white comment. The big thing about Krister’s response that just took me over the edge was the racial comment and the “intolerant tolerance” of his approach. I do not deny that culture and socio-economic status affects theology, and I am sensitive to the insights of Liberation theology on this (in the vein of Gutierrez). But, to be honest, between social work, ministry, and seminary, I have gotten beaten up over the race issue. Not only have I atoned for my sins in this area, but I have come to see that pulling the “race card” (all in the name of being open minded) actually destroys real dialogue. It does not open up dialogue.

I also apologize to Krister if he felt I was trying to slander Him. I was not. I was just pissed off over the race comment and “closed-open-mindedness” of his approach. I look at things line by line because I believe words matter. Words start wars. Words heal souls. Words are powerful. Maybe that is why the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. I think Krister’s words are important, otherwise I would not comment on them. And, no, I do not believe I have found “the next great heresy”. I feel I have exposed an age old heresy: the heresy that our words matter more than God’s Word. The heresy that we get to tell God who He is. The heresy that we can develop a theological method which allows us to pick our God from a buffet of attributes.

I will end with this: Krister laments that I spent the whole last post on him (he may lament that I did the same here). But, the last post is not about Krister. It is about truth-claims, worldviews, and things that need to be said about things people are thinking about. These things need to be talked about. Krister just happens to be the person who embodies these beliefs in my life right now. By all accounts, and especially by the last post I got from Krister, he seems to be intelligent, honest, sincere, and the embodiment of dozens (hundreds?) of other Christian virtues. What is perhaps most tragic about my last post is that I do not know Krister personally. I would probably like him a lot, and enjoy talking with him over coffee. But, I blasted him and his ideas before getting to know him. That is unfair, even if His ideas are dead wrong (and again, I am willing to be corrected here).

So, I finish with an apology. You got the blindsided by my sarcasm and rebuke in the last reply. Thank you for your kind reply.
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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.