Are We Reading The Same Book?

Back like never before!

 

Sunday mornings have become a sort of ritual for my baby daughter and I. 

Most other days of the week, she wakes up between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning. My wife will feed her then try to coax her back to sleep as I roll over and over in an effort to convince myself I’m not really awake. Lately, Adelaide will fall back to sleep, at least most of the time, which is good for Julia, too. But eventually, I will glance over at the clock some five or ten minutes before the alarm should sound, 5:45, then shut it off, roll out of bed and get ready for work.

But Sundays are different. 

On Sunday, after Adelaide eats in the morning I’ll often take her into the living room with me and let Julia get another hour or two of sleep while the baby and I sit in the living room watching televangelists. The greatest part is that she is the happiest thing in the world when she first wakes up, so the morning is full of her cooing and giggling noises, which makes the early hour seem less of a challenge. Plus, nothing beats baby giggles as contrast to a good, old fashioned fire and brimstone sermon on the tube. A good time is had by all.

Now, let’s go back a few years, really lay the foundation for this comparison today.

I remember in my parent’s house, growing up, if the TV was on Sunday morning, it was probably on Charles Stanley. And I like the guy, for the most part. I never paid a ton of attention to him back then, but the snippets I did tune in to never struck me as anything weird or out of whack. He seemed like a normal guy. He was never yelling, never trying to scare people or pass judgement. I saw him as a wisened philosoph, though I probably wouldn’t have phrased it like that at ten to twelve years old.

But then we’d go to church, and it was anybody’s guess how the sermon would go.

Depending on what time of life I go back to, what city we were in, what kind of church we were at, I might hear a message that seemed to fly in the face of common sense, or I might hear a message that seemed too watered down for me to make heads or tails of. And of course, anything and everything in between; good, bad or ugly. 

Creepy pastors, smiley pastors, quiet pastors, beady-eyed pastors whole looked like caricatures of themselves; we ran the gamut over the years. And their sermons complimented or contrasted their personality differences. I noticed those contrasts, the differences in how each person came across, how they read the Bible, but again, at that age, it was my understanding and my vocabulary that lacked the depth necessary to explain those observations.

But this morning ritual with Adelaide has brought these contrasts to a very interesting head. 

The main four televangelists we end up channel surfing around any given Sunday are Joel Olsteen, John Hagee, Kenneth Copeland and good old Charles Stanley. I’ve seen it happen many times, these guys will be discussing very similar topics and purveying drastically different messages, and all of it based on the same Bible. One morning sticks out in my mind in particular.

First, Copeland was talking about money. No surprise there, he has sort of a prosperity bent to most of his career. I’m not making a judgement call here, just stating a fact. But, this time he was talking about financial adversity, so I stayed tuned in. It was probably only a couple months ago now, right after the first round of government bailouts are getting talked about, banks are going under, and this was his good, Biblical advice in tough financial times.

He went back to a time in his career (well, ministry, whatever) when he was preaching every day, working really hard to become established as a speaker, but then he felt prompted to make the move to radio as well. However, he was unsure he could afford it. My mind pictures him living in hotels, driving a crappy car that someone gave him, wearing the same suit gig after gig. Basically the same deal as a lot of my college friends who went into evangelism right after school.

So he essentially says no to God, he just doesn’t have that much faith, unless God can convince him it’s the right move. Long story short, Jimmy Swaggart calls up and offers to set him up, out of the blue, of course, on some radio shows. God told him to call, he says, so Copeland agrees. And here is where it got … weird for me.

He retells how he went from making $300,000 a year to $400,000 a month during this transition, thanks to finally obeying God’s command to go into radio.

Wait, what? He’s telling me about financial adversity? About a time in his life when he only scraped by on $300,000 a year? And then he was “finally” blessed when he “finally” obeyed God and went on the radio as well?

I had to click away. I mean, I make less than 10% of that a year and I’m pretty darn happy where I am. More money would be okay, but I’m not hurting, either.

Anyway, as I clicked around, the other guys were hitting the topic as well. Hagee was talking about Financial Armageddon in a multi-part series (isn’t the world always ending for him?), Stanley was talking about God’s provision and blessing in hard times (very down to earth and pragmatic), and Olsteen is smiling and blinking an awful lot about… well, about something to do with finances, anyway.

I just can’t wrap my head around it some days, and with Adelaide giggling in my lap, I flip from one guy to the next, wondering what their Bibles have in common.

I’ll be honest, I have a sort of bias toward Stanley. Of the four, he seems to be the most sensible guy, the most in tune with the central theme of the Bible the way I tend to read it, and the least emotional, flamboyant or inflammatory. Plus, he’s sort of part of my childhood, so I’m used to him. But this is only in my opinion, so while I would love to just toss the other guys, the outliers, out of the mix completely, I can’t help but think back to many of the church experiences I had when I was a kid. I know where these guys come from, each of them, I’ve been to the sort of churches that turn these guys out en mass. I also realize that Stanley probably seems watered down to a person who expects a fire and brimstone sort of urgency in a message.

* * *

And there’s the rub. This is all just my perception. My take. My perspective based on my personal experiences, tastes, and dozens of influences, many of which I may not even be aware of. I go to a church where I feel comfortable, a church that has drastic differences with many of the churches I grew up in. And the pastors of all those churches from my past, I guarantee if they were all in the same room they would disagree on many of these topics and how to Biblically interpret and respond to them. And I would disagree with many of them, too. 

That one Sunday morning, with Adelaide on my lap I was being told to expect the end of the world, or to trust God and obey his commands in quiet confidence, or to tell God what I need him to do for me and know that he’s promised to bless every last Christian abundantly above and beyond our wildest expectations. And sorry, but those ideas are not mutually compatible. Someone’s got to be right, but more someones, then, have got to be wrong, at least on some level.

So where does this leave me? I like how Tony (adhunt) recently characterized his place in Christendom, the Whatever-I-am-now category. Trouble is, this feels so subjective, so dependent on my mood, feelings and experiences. I want something authoritative and genuine and stable and constant, but as my life changes and my family grows and I get older, my ‘taste’ in church and my ‘understanding’ of the Bible invariably dictates what sort of church environment I’m comfortable in, which invariably changes how the Bible is taught to me, which invariably changes how I read the Bible. It’s a vicious cycle. And even if I find a place where I fit, what happens when life takes you somewhere else? Try moving to a different state and duplicating your church environment (if you’re not Catholic, that is, they’re pretty consistent, right?). Even if you stick with the same denomination, like we did growing up, the different varieties are numerous.

I always believed these differences were like personal tastes, so that people, who are all different, can find environments where they are each comfortable and worship the same God. And I still see that as valid, to a degree. But I also see that those differences often boil down to personal taste, to pastoral leanings and how each pastor, church or denomination interprets the same Bible.

If it feels like I’m floundering, it’s because I am. 

I wonder if it’s even possible to establish a consistent way to read the Bible these days, when life will be constantly changing and through it our circumstances and, often as a result, church affiliation. 

Uh... yeah.

And if this is possible, what’s the standard? The typical ‘Use God’s word as a measure’ rule doesn’t seem to apply here, because it’s not a question of morals or judgement, it’s a question of how to interpret God’s word in the first place. You can’t measure a ruler with a ruler, it is itself. So what is the measure?

And I wonder because I have a daughter who will be learning all of this the same way I did. When my place in life changes, how consistent can (or should) my wife and I try to be when it comes to church environment? On the one hand, I’d love to think my daughter might have a chance to be more grounded in one tradition and style of church than I was, but on the other hand I think my diverse experiences have been invaluable in shaping me into who I am today. As conflicted as I often feel, I also feel like I can see more of ‘the box’ than some people who’ve done it one way their entire life.

So I’m stuck. It’s like I can see the problems with all the various ways to read scripture and apply it to one’s life, since there are eventually conflicts with these interpretations, but I can’t seem to establish a way outside of my own subjective and changing tastes to establish the best possible route. 

Go ahead, quote a scripture, tell me how your way is the way to go. Then someone else can quote a different scripture to say you’re wrong, or misinformed, or a little off target. Then someone else can grab another passage or two, and say the two of you are close, but over here or there is the right path. And it goes on and on and on…

And I wonder, after a while, are we even reading the same book?

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56 Comments

  1. Another great post Tony. I appears you are Gordon’s favorite and your post is making it to the Featured Post section again on the CC Blog network!

  2. I think this is where Tradition comes in, Tony. How has the church through the ages interpreted the Bible? There are certain points of agreement in the Tradition: the Creeds, for example, and lots of points of disagreement. In my experience, the weirdness comes when you start to make the points of disagreement (considered over centuries) articles of orthodoxy. But that’s just my opinion. An excellent, thought-provoking post.

  3. Tony (and George),

    Is this the problem of making a move from an environment ruled by orthopraxy in the early church into the environment of the State Church and its orthodoxy (and ensuing madness for 1800 years)? I have, for the record, surreptitiously been hoping that my generation will see the end of Christendom and the advent of a renewed orthopraxic Christianity.

    Shawn

  4. Tony,

    I am assuming you are referring to the orthopraxy/orthodoxy statement, no? In which case, I would like (briefly if needs be) to hear why you think it a false dichotomy, let alone a “modernist” false dichotomy.

    Blessings

  5. Shawn:

    It seems to me that you’re assuming orthodoxy is a post-Constantinian phenomenon, which I think is incorrect. Orthodoxy predates Christendom and will outlive it.

    For me, authentic Christianity is both orthodox and orthoprax (if that’s actually a word). We can see this in the earliest, most basic Christian creed: “Jesus Christ is Lord.” This phrase not only teaches that a man (Jesus) is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy (Christ) but also that he is in some sense divine (Lord). But Lordship entails submission to God and obedience to his way of life. If we call him “Lord,” in other words, but do not listen or obey, we are not in fact acting as if we’ve been mastered by him.

    So, in my opinion, this fundamental Christian creed teaches us orthodoxy (who Jesus is), but it also entails orthopraxy (how Jesus wants us to live).

    George

  6. I retreat – was not my intent, never said it was dichotomy… false or otherwise – have fun fellas

  7. George (et al)

    I’ll be honest, I did leave Tradition out of this one. I wanted it to come across from the point of view of a layperson, not a theologian. I went to Bible college, sure, but I studied music, so my Bible classes were only the basics, the requirements.

    I agree that Tradition informs a lot of these grey areas, but again, I’m almost relying on personal preference to decide which traditions I see as valid. Unless, of course, I move to a more Orthodox type of church altogether.

    And I don’t know if I can make that move. Not yet, at least. But the idea has tempted me before.

  8. ADJ:

    There’s a difference between Tradition and tradition.

    The Christian Tradition (capital T) embraces all Christians of all ages. The creed most emblematic of this Tradition is the Nicene, which just about everyone seems to agree on: Catholic, Orthodox, magisterial Protestant, and radical Reformation (when they’re not being ornery).

    Within this Tradition are the various denominational traditions: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, evangelical, Pentecostal, etc.

    My perspective is–to borrow an image from C.S. Lewis–that the choice of Tradition is the choice of whether or not to be a Christian, while the choice of tradition is the choice of what kind of Christian to be.

    That formulat keeps me happy, so I offer it as a suggestion that you may or may not find useful personally.

    George

  9. Tony good post.

    This line struck me in great big bold underline and highlighted in red.

    “I go to a church where I feel comfortable, a church that has drastic differences with many of the churches ”

    Is that a scriptural was to select a church? I’m not throwing stones here, in fact I get the impression that is the way most protestants select churches.

    We all draw from what our parents taught us and what tradition they selected. Well did they select a church based on what made them comfortable? And their parents on back through time until folks didn’t have much of a choice it was the kings choice and if you chose otherwise it created economic trouble at best and prison or death at worse.

    “THE” church based on the individuals personal filter is “THE” pilar of truth. But is that scriptural?

  10. quickbeam,

    I think that is a great point, and one that I ask a lot. I think that the catholic idea of “Ceteris paribus” is one of the most Christian practices of roman catholicism. And I mean it! When we only go where we feel comfortable, and even drive a ways to get there, then how is the Body not reduced to a social club?

    Plus then “ministry” is focused in the local community where one lives and we are not allowed to the sin of attending the liturgy some other place if some people “annoy” us at another parish.

    So let me ask you this; Besides becoming roman catholic, which of course you can and should suggest, how might a protestant avoid church shopping?

    For instance I travel 15 minutes to a different city to commune. I do this because it is where I first came to be at home in TEC. There are a couple parishes closer, but of course, they are far more liberal than I am currently comfortable with; what would you do, speaking hypothetically? And there is even another complicating factor. There is only 3 blocks from me a pretty healthy ELCA church, and TEC is in full intercommunion with them; in essence (though not de facto) we recognize each others ministry and eucharist.

    I sometimes wonder if I should attend there, but I feel that I would be abandoning my Rector who has been aiding me in the ordination process and who has a heart of gold and a passion for Christ.

    Likely it is silly to ask you these sorts of questions, but they are things that I ask myself often.

    Tony

  11. George,

    That is a useful comparison on Tradition versus tradition, thanks.

    Quickbeam & Tony,

    I don’t mean comfortable in the sense it came across, I think.

    I chose my church because they are very involved in the community (averaging more than one service project for every day of the year) and they emphasize church community and personal growth, discipleship, things like this. They also have multiple, smaller venues with different atmospheres that appeal to different people. This is not quite as important, but it’s a nice thing to have. The first condition, though, is the important one. Outreach, personal growth.

    That is where I am comfortable.

    I was uncomfortable with earlier churches, when I wasn’t the one choosing them, because they had their one, annual “outreach” and then their annual church picnic, and a special Easter service and a Christmas service (when the heathens all come to church, you know); then everything else was geared towards keeping the church people happy. There was no discipleship, no growth, no substantial outreach, no getting your hands dirty and caring for the down and out on just down the street from the church building.

    That was uncomfortable for me.

    But… there is an element of choosing a place where I find their beliefs comfortable, too. I think this is the element that resonates with many people my age, as well. We choose churches also based on if our last church pissed us off. If it did, we say, “Well, let’s go somewhere where THAT won’t be an issue this time around.”

    Our generation doesn’t dig in so much, our generation doesn’t split off and form a new church. We just go shopping. So yeah, that’s in the mix, too.

    Personally, it’s not as weighted as outreach and growth, but it’s still definitely a part of my decision, even though I don’t want it to be. It’s like I can’t help it.

  12. Oh no Tony, I pretty much did what you did. I was thinking out loud mostly. You’ve gotta search this out just like I am. I didn’t mean to sound judgmental if I did.

  13. Tony,

    Since St. Benedict’s anniversary was March 21 that’s what came to mind for me when you asked your question what location as much as what church.

    One of the rules of St. Benedict is the vow of stability. I laugh when people ask me what is the most difficult vow for a religious, while most everyone thinks celibacy is the most difficult, IMO obedience and stability are the most difficult in this modern age. Imagine entering a Benedictine monastery and taking that vow, knowing you’d never leave those grounds again.

    If you have children then IMO that exempts you from changing parishes because they have to have a healthy spiritual environment to be raised in.

    For singles however I think God places you in your work, in your community and your church to either make changes or uphold what is currently in place.

    At one of my old churches I had to step down from teaching RCIA, because I simply could not teach converts about Sophia goddess and anagram heresy. The then new pastor implemented a lot of what I call the “spirit of Vat. II” ideas. Its not that the guy was evil, just mislead.

    I did not however leave the parish. The parish priest hired on an ex-nun for liturgy and we got almost every novel horror story there was (liturgical dancing, combya music, lay women giving the sermons etc.

    Myself and a group of like minded folks fought the good fight for 10 years and finally the bishop removed the parish priest. It was bitter sweet, there was no joy when he finally left just relief. However that parish now is very healthy because in part because of what we did back 20 years ago.

    The most difficult part was in how to deal with the parish priest. He was the authority figure in the church and I and the rest of the parish owed him respect and when he teaches what the universal church teaches obedience. And we stone wall when he didn’t.

    So I guess the first question is are you a grown-up Christian or still an infant or teenage Christian. I’m not speaking about chronological age but spiritually.

    If your an adult IMO (this probably comes from my Catholic background I guess) you get feed by the Eucharist but your are soldier in Christ now. You fight to take back those in bondage, take the high ground from the enemy – that’s workplace, home, community and church.

    In fact God may have placed you where you live to take that church on. So if your an adult Christian and you know that the local church is feeding young Christians sour milk then do you have an obligation to stop it? If your not an adult you have the obligation to continue your path until your are an adult. But if you’ve been a Christian for several years or more and can honestly say your not an adult Christian then something else is wrong somewhere.

  14. Quickbeam:

    Thanks for your input. It’s a very interesting perspective and I respect your candor with the story.

    You guys always seem to bring me back around when I feel like I’m … losing my grip!

    I’m confident I’ll get to a place where I’m solid in what I believe (well, in those things one can be solid on) and at the same time okay with the circumstantial grey areas.

  15. Quickbeam,

    I am not sure that I agree with you on this one. Your rhetoric seems to equate causing a ruckus in the church with being mature in the faith. I know that is not probably how you would see it. I guess the issue I have with your position, is that you seem to take a rather lofty stance without acknowleding that maybe God likes diversity in the church. I am a little disheartened by your story of running off your priest, because he was too liberal. I think the greatest aspect of V2 was that it was the Catholic church acknowledging that there are other valid ways of practicing Christianity outside of the Catholic way. I am all for sticking with a church even when things may not be perfectly aligned with your belief system. I guess I am just a little put off by your fight for the “real Christianity” perspective.

  16. I think Jeremy that quickbeam would say that he was merely defending what Roman Catholic christianity is (some might say “always has been since St.Peter himself”) Did you not just recently concede to me that highjacking Christian theology to serve other purposes is unfair to Christians? It seems that this priest was not just a little liberal.

    Christians, and especially catholics, don’t believe in this idea of ones “own” (individual) belief system; but you consistently assert that what one believes is merely their “own beliefs,” which is not just rude, but inaccurate. What “I” believe is not simply my but the Church’s belief.

    Though I don’t fear a *gasp* lay woman preaching as quickbeam seems to.

  17. Tony,
    I agree that it is unfair for one to take a specific groups theology and change it while still claiming to be the same. I also partially agree that their is a communal value to ones beliefs. My issue is that Quickbeam seems to conclude that those whom he disagrees with are some form of enemy that he must fight against. It is his equation of mature Christianity with his own perspective as mutually exclusive that bugs me. I have always argued for tolerance and humility in action. It is one thing for quickbeam or anyone to conclude that anothers perspective is lacking, it is quite another to draw battle lines and wage war, when a little perspective would show the frailty of both positions.

  18. “Your rhetoric seems to equate causing a ruckus in the church with being mature in the faith.”

    Not my intent. Note that respect for the authority of the parish priest and the obligation towards obedience. Its actually a tight rope.

    As far as Vat. II goes I support it 100%. However the implementation of it especially by from the 60’s to 80’s was tragic. Weekly Catholic church attendance was 75% back in the early 60’s and its around 35% today. Teaching Sofia goddess theology (as i stated in my original post) has nothing to do with Vat II. When I and others used “spirit of Vat II” it is in a very negative sense. Generally it refers back to Pope Paul VI “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God” – source -Insegnamenti di Paulo VI Vol. X, 1972.
    Apparently the pope had a vision and he departed from the sermon that the evil one desired to reduce the fruits of the council. It was in reference to proper worship of the mass.

    So the label was placed on the liberal bishops and theologians who basicly controlled the post council church for 20 years. Liturgical dance is acceptable in African liturgies because the culture has always had spiritual aspects to dancing. In the west generally dancing does not have spiritual ties, but it does have suggestive sexual ones which aren’t acceptable in a church setting.

    “I think the greatest aspect of V2 was that it was the Catholic church acknowledging that there are other valid ways of practising Christianity outside of the Catholic way.”

    Well I wouldn’t call it the greatest achievement but I do think it has opened doors for dialogue and I support those efforts. Its difficult to explain what occured when those changes happened. It would take more then a case of beer and really none of it would have any bearing on relations btwn communions simply disputes within the Catholic church at were settled within the first 600 years. Catholic bishops attempting to raise them as open for discussion now is simply disobedience by them at best and outright heresy on the other. Some of it was outright pantheism.
    Those are issues with taking a stand against. The destruction of church art, architecture & music are all desired and needed in a Catholic service and these individuals traded in Palestrine music for Bob Dylan. Its like giving away a Porsche and buying a yugo.

  19. Jeremy,

    Catholicism is a society within the world. As a member I have rights and responsibilities. Its directed by Canon Law, liturgical law and collective faith of the church.

    When one (in this case a priest) goes against the church society its an abuse of spiritual authority. Note this guy still heard my confession! You can imagine given what it takes in child abuse cases to remove a priest, my case was bad with no child abuse involvement.

    In any case the appeal to stand and fight is against what Traditional Christianity (pre-reformation, really pre-eastern schism) stood for.

    On lay women preachers I shouldn’t have mentioned that one, because males would be just as bad. If they want to pitch something its just prior the the end of mass, not during the homily. That’s strictly reserved by canon law for deacons and priest.

  20. Jeremy,

    “I have always argued for tolerance and humility in action”

    I agrue with your method, especially humility. Even when one feels they are standing on truth, it is not something held exclusively by them, but given to them from previous generations and ultimately from God Himself. My passion in this regard again is not with protestants but with fellow Cathoic’s who attempt to tolerate that which has either been rejected for centuries and label it as open for reconsideration.

    For example this is what has been rejected by my church in this country which was held as a sacred means to speak with and praise God all the way back to the Jewish temple.

    And this is what they traded it in for

    Note that Vatican II specifically requires Gregorian Chant to remain as part of the liturgy not the rejection of it.

    Architechure and its destrution in this country has even earned a term which is called WRECKOVATE.

    Great Cathdrals have been stripped of its art which is a means to convey religious truths visually. The design of the building itself conveys the same religious truths as well in stone.

    So across the country liberal bishops (who it appears are also commonly link as the ones who harboured child molesting priests) removed the main altar from the center of the worship space; placing an organ where the altar once stood; replacing pews with chairs, and removing the baldachin.

    There is inherent in this elimination of sacred music which appeals to the spirit, the deconstruction of the architechure of its theological meaning and the removal of religious art a transition from the spiritual to the physical. From yes its true the Christian to the pagan, from the worship of God to the worship of man.

    I don’t expect you to understand since its likely that unless you come from a high church mainline protestant tradition to be able to internalize all this. However these issues are very much worth fighting over.

    Now I don’t know what issues AD or anyone else faces in your own communions, but its clear that many churches today are marketing the gospel. The focus is to get as many into church, but no focus in retaining them. In the financial service industry its called churning for a profit. As far as I can tell is does the Body of Christ will help.

  21. quickbeam,

    We are dealing more with exclusive clubs that want to keep traditionalists OUT. Sadly, the most injured are the massive amounts of immigrants who come here and discover a church sometimes hostile to what they expect to be there and moderate evangelicals AND liberals who just want to stay within Nicene orthodoxy.

  22. Quickbeam,

    Thank you for your tone, you have done an excellant job of clarifying your position. I agree with you that the value of many of the symbolic aspects of high church Christianity are overlooked. You are also right in assuming that these mean far less to me, as one who is not from a high church tradition. I think the important thing for me is the recognition that these are aspects of a kind of Christianity. In the sense that you are fighting to keep your distinctive brand of Christianity unique, I agree. However, often, though I am not attributing this to you, those from high church traditions tend to see their brand of Christianity as somehow more authentic simply because of its rich tradition. I have a problem with fighting to keep Christianity, in a wholistic sense, any one thing. There is certainly room for liberals, moderates, and conservatives in the church. Each has the right to interpret Christianity as they see fit, so long as they do not impune on the rights of the others. The issue comes when arguments about normative Christianity dictate what the church ought to be. The more we learn about early Christianity the more obvious it becomes that Christianity has never been one thing. I can appreciate your passion for the brand of Christianity that you have chosen. I hope that you can appreciate other brands as well without labeling them inadequate or pagan.

  23. Jeremy,

    I think we are on the same sheet of music, but then there are some statements you make as well that I shake my head. I hate to use terms like liberal, conservative in a theological context. Those are political terms almost exclusively so (but I recognize that the majority of Christians actually used those terms in everyday use). I don’t believe that they should.

    “Each has the right to interpret Christianity as they see fit, so long as they do not impune on the rights of the others.”

    See this simply doesn’t equate in my world, nor in my opinion with Christianity for the first 1800 plus years that I’m aware. Like selecting ones church approach, could you show me how you are drawing those approaches from scripture. I simply don’t recognize that much leeway in the text, but I’d be interested to learn.

    “The more we learn about early Christianity the more obvious it becomes that Christianity has never been one thing.”

    I really can’t disagree more with that one, unless you would expand the source base to include gnostic materials.

  24. Quickbeam,

    I am fine with striking political terms from the conversation. I was simply using the terminology that had already been laid out. In regards to the first 1800 years of Christianity, I am not sure how relative interpretation is not prevalent. How else would you see the numerous sects and denominations within the Christian church? I would also say that scriptural interpretation is quite relative. So appeals to scripture seem a bit pointless. Also clouding this issue is the obscure nature of what can be deemed normative Jesus teachings.

    This relates to my previous point about early Christianity. I would certainly include various gnostic sects as well as ebionites, marcionites, and countless undiscovered forms of early Christianity. As we know, the winner tells history. With that understanding, it is difficult to argue that what emerged as orthodox had any more legitimate claim to normativity than any other. It seems that there have been a plurality of interpretations of the meaning of Jesus teachings since the beginning. In fact, one might argue that Peter and Paul had differing interpretations of what Jesus meant. Because of this ambiguity I am forced to conclude that the Marcionites were no less Christian than the proto-orthodox Christians that would form the Catholic church. Concurrently, the multitude of modern interpretations, in my opinion, have equal rights to the bible, images, and namesake of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that relevance is a far better barometer for judging the value of any given interpretation of Christianity.

  25. Jeremy:

    To me, the following seem to be implications of the argument articulated above:

    1. Paul and the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) were wrong to read the Judaizers out of Christian orthodoxy since both the law-free gospel and the legalistic gospel are equally authentic expressions of Christianity.

    2. When John read the proto-gnostics out of Christian orthodoxy because they denied that the Word of God had come in the flesh, he was wrong to do so, because both proto-orthodoxy and proto-gnosticism are equally authentic expressions of Christianity.

    3. When James read the antinomians out of Christian orthodoxy on the basis that faith without works is dead, he was wrong to do so because antinomianism is an authentic expression of Christianity.

    4. When Paul urged the Corinthian church to abstain from sexual immorality and to discipline the brother who was not doing so, he was wrong to do so, because both sexually chaste and sexually profligate forms of Christianity are equally authentic expressions of Christianity.

    On you interpretation, it seems that there is no one “right” form of Christianity doctrinally or ethically. Rather, there is a plurality of authentic expressions of Christianity–even if they are mutually exclusive and contradictory. At least that seems to be an implication of your argument, although perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Then again, given your nonchalance about the battle royale between orthodoxy and gnosticism in the second and third centuries, I’m pretty sure I’m reading you correctly.

    But if so, that leaves one really startling implication, namely, that Jesus’ teaching and actions were either too vague or too incoherent to generate an intellectually and morally clear and consistent practice among his disciples.

    Which raises the question in my mind: Why would anyone follow such a man?

    George

  26. One more implication that seems to arise from your argument:

    You write: “Concurrently, the multitude of modern interpretations, in my opinion, have equal rights to the bible, images, and namesake of Jesus Christ.”

    Now, my guess is that you have written this to provide an intellectual defense of liberal Protestant interpretations of Christianity, such as those of Marcus Borg. But isn’t that a bit much? After all, how do you then exclude Christian white supremacists, anti-semites, and homophobes who cite the Bible in support of their position? Do they too have “equal rights to the Bible, images, and namesake of Jesus,” or is your argument merely a tendentious defense of your own position?

  27. Jeremy,

    Thanks for your candour it was unexpected on this topic.

    While you are correct that normally “the winner tells history” particularly with respect to Patrology verses out right ecclesiology. Note the groups you would have included didn’t go through any more trials then did the true Christian believers. They failed in that they did not endure to death like those of Christians. It wasn’t a military victory that Christians secured, but one of martrydom. Diocletian’s reign was the acid test for what documents would endure. Was a given community willing to die to protect those documents or surrender them to the imperium?

    St. Papias fragments come from two sources (Peter & Andrew) and “the words of the Presbyters”. They don’t favor your view.

    Next would be St.Hegesippus so even if you don’t accept George’s interpretation of scripture verses his view is backed up by St.Hegesippus on the position of both the Gnostics and Marcionites.

    Indeed St. Hegesippus visited most of the Christian church’s from Syria to Rome and found the same doctrine taught in all locations i.e. Catholic – as in universal and unified which is established in 130 A.D.

    Note also during this period that one didn’t just “visit” a Christian church in a different country.One had to have papers from a given Christian church to another church. Otherwise the secret police would find the church and eliminate them.

    So while the position of Gnostics or the Marcionites was at one time a gray area, it was eliminated by the collective church after a time. Once closed they aren’t reopened.

  28. quickbeam,

    Going way back to the Gregorian chant thing, if you ever are in the Twin Cities send me an email as the anglo-catholic parish down the road from me has a trained gregorian ‘choir’ and they do truly sound like angels, complete with handbells.

  29. George,
    Sorry for the delay in responding to you, I have been away and not checking our beloved site. To your first critique that my position promotes a Jesus which is too unbelievable to have created such an ardent following, I would say that you put too much faith in the intellectual honesty and capacity of Jesus early followers. I am reminded of another Jewish Messianic figure by the name of Shabbetai Zevi who produced no clear or intellectual teachings, yet whose followers ardently followed out of need more than rationale.

    In response to your second critique that my position would validate all forms of haenous Christianity, I would say that you are partially correct. My position does require that I validate the rights of a homophobes interpretation of the Bible, symbols, and vernacular of Christianity. Since absolute certainty about the normative teachings of Jesus is unattainable, I am forced to allow on historical and traditional grounds that Jesus could have taught anything. From Manson to Luther everyone has the equal right to claim that their interpretation of Jesus teachings is the true interpretation. What this means is that history and tradition hold little value in evaluating any claim to the true normative teachings of Jesus. This does not mean that I believe we are without ability to evaluate claims. The measure, however, is not normativity but relevance. Does a persons interpretation of Jesus’ teachings hold any relevance for the betterment of individuals or society? If the answer is yes, then in my opinion the claim cannot be invalidated. However, if the answer is no, then the claim can be dismissed. For if a homophobes claim to Jesus teachings is normative, then we are left with 2 options. Either Jesus teachings are simply antiqueted and thus no longer of any use, or they have always been completely useless and detrimental in which case it seems that all of Christianity should be discarded. So we can sift through counterproductive interpretations, however there still remains a plurality of interpretations that must be held as equal due to their relevance. Those interpretations must learn to coexist. I know this is a fairly long answer, of which is founded on a premise for which you completely disagree. I just wanted to share why I don’t find my position untenable.

    Quickbeam,
    I would have to say that I do not agree with your sentiment that Diocletian served as an acid test for the endurence or viability of forms of Christianity. As far as Papias and Hegesippus, I must preface by saying that I am only briefly familiar with each. In regards to Papias there seems to be much contention as to his perspective on Christianity. Irenaeus loves him while Eusebius despises him. Papias only proves that proto-Catholic Christianity was among the contenders in antiquity for the teachings of Jesus. In regards to Hegesippus, very little is actually known of his writings. While it seems clear that he played a part in the demise of the marcionites and the gnostics, I am not sure this proves much. Both Papias and Hegesippus can easily be explained by an understanding of Christianity as being told by the winners. I am all for tradition and history, but neither can definitively prove a specific interpretation of Jesus teachings as normative. The position of the gnostics and the Marcionites may have been gray to some, but to their adherants they were absolute. To dismiss them simply because they lost is unfair, in my opinion.

  30. Jeremy:

    I was wondering where you had gone to.

    I think you’ve ably clarified your position, to wit, that relevance matters more to you than Jesus, since the former is crystalline clear while the latter is more than a bit foggy. Although it seems strange to me that you would even want to bring Jesus into the picture at all–given how historically unsubstantiated, polymorphous, and mutually contradictory are the portraits painted by his followers. So, in the future, I won’t bother bringing Jesus into religious discussions with you. I mean, really, what would be the point?

    As for relevance, perhaps you could answer one simple question: To whom? Relevance is by nature a relative concept. What is relevant to one age may not be to another, what to one culture not to another, what to one person not to another. You seem to absolutize relevance, which I suppose means that you would be a homophobe in Saudi Arabia and a homophile in some places in America.

    But, of course, you would never be a homophobe. So, it seems to me, that your moral lodestar is neither Jesus (whose Jesus?) nor relevance (to whom?) but something else. What that something else is I cannot tell.

    George

  31. Just re-read my post, and it came across as a bit jerk-ish, so if you can dejerkify the tone of my argument when you read it, I’d be appreciative.

  32. “Irenaeus loves him while Eusebius despises him.”

    Well perhaps this may help. St. Irenaeus was the generation right after St.Papias where as Eusebius lived 200 years after him. It like saying Jefferson’s opinion of George Washington on executive powers differs from Katie Curic.

    Additionally Eusebius was a semi-arian and was inclined to support the emperor as ruler and protector of the church and therefore St. Papias view would undermine that point. That doesn’t detract St. Papias it does detract from Eusebius.

    “Papias only proves that proto-Catholic Christianity was among the contenders in antiquity for the teachings of Jesus.”

    One can use St. Polycarp who knew & was appointed as bishop by the St. John himself and rejects Marcion.

    As far as I know one can’t claim these individuals as “winners” in the secular modern sense,because they all died at the stake. They would be the classic losers not winners.

    The only one who is a winner in this discussion was Eusebius who happened to be in league with the political trappings of the imperial court. If any one was a winner it was him and his opinion didn’t stand.

    I’m not dismissing them at all. One rejects their position because its false for a number of reasons. Marcionites rejected that Jesus is the Son of the Jewish God only son of the “good” God. Hence there are two God’s not one which is illogical on its face. They were not destroyed they were co-opted by Manichaeism. Gnosticism as far as I know pre-dates Christianity so one can’t claim that as being a valid variation of Christianity.

  33. George,
    Consider your post dejerkified. 🙂

    Quickbeam,
    I think perphaps I have been unfair in this discussion. Let me be clear, I give little if any weight to tradition when evaluating history. This means I am inclined to argue all sorts of heretical points such as the fact that I am not convinced that st. John represents one of Jesus actual disciples, and if he was I am not convinced that he actually appointed Polycarp. Finally, even if I am wrong on both accounts, it still doesn’t prove that John’s interpretation of Jesus teachings was the correct one. My point has always been that multiple interpretations of Jesus message began the moment he died. This means from day one we had winners and losers. Also when I speak of winners and losers, I do not do so in the individual sense. Rather, I am arguing that the interpretation for which they propogated either won or lost in the hearts and minds of the people.

    As far as rejecting Marcionites based on their inherent falsity, I would ask by what measure are you determining truth claims? I would also like to ask how having two seperate God’s is any more illogical than having three forms of one God? If we measure the truth claims of these ancient interpretations by the church’s current understanding of truth, of course they are false. However, our current understanding of truth comes from the very perspective that sought to invalidate Marcion’s claims in the first place. This doesn’t seem a very good tool for evaluation to me. We have really digressed on this discussion. I think it seems apparent that we are unlikely to establish a concesus. Thank you for you tone and willingness to engage.

  34. “I would also like to ask how having two seperate God’s is any more illogical than having three forms of one God?”

    By definitiion if there are two God’s then neither can be actually be God, since neither pre-existed before the other one. God the prime mover/uncaused cause does not have an equal otherwise He would not be God.

    Now to address the biggest problem I have with your position is that you appear to claim infalibility in either defining what is or is not acceptable as valid primary sources, how much weight to give to each data point and what interpretation to get it.

    In summary you appear to claim more authority to determine what is truth then any ecumenical council, pope or saint in history? It doesn’t appear to be your intent, but it such appears to be the result of your claim. Indeed your acceptance of Gnostic sources as valid is a claim to greater authority the Marcion himself. No offense but at least he attempted to restrict that which was already accepted. Your attempting to expand that which has been rejected, both in intellectual and physical captial which spans 2,000 years.

    “I think it seems apparent that we are unlikely to establish a concesus. Thank you for you tone and willingness to engage.”

    Agreed. We can’t agree on what sources are valid so there’s little common ground to reach any commonality.

    Regards,

    Tom

  35. Tom,
    I am very glad to know your real name as I was beginning to feel a bit ridiculous addressing a fictional character. I guess my issue with your logic is the pressumed definition of deity. I believe the difference lies in our definitions. Your position assumes an Aristotilain definition that I do not believe can be claimed as absolute. Thus the logic you speak of is relative to the presuppositions you hold. In regards to our “biggest problem” the issue seems to once again be epistemoligical. I find no issue with affirming traditions validity in speaking to the metaphysical. However, we are speaking of historicity in regards to normative doctrine, which in my opinion remains fools gold. All that we can say is such and such is normative to said tradition. However the normativity of said tradition to a fixed teaching such as that of Jesus will forever remain obscure. This is why my position has been that one Christian tradition cannot critique another tradition on the grounds of normativity.

    In regards to how one tradition can critique another, I must confess I am still searching. To address George’s previous post, relevance does seem a bit too fluid for critique on any form of large scale. This seems to get into the issue of ethics. What universal truth can be used to determine relevance? I must confess this vexes me. Since metaphysical truth is subject to revelation which is inherantly subjective, and truth pertaining to nature seems of little relevance to the question of ethics I am left with little for critique. I believe that the answer lies in innaliable rights which are afforded humanity, but these may prove nothing more than the illusion of the ego. I feel I am beginning to ramble, so this seems like a good place to wrap this up. As far as claims to truth, I would have to say that in terms of universal truth we have not greater but equal ability to determine such as those of our traditions past. However, in terms of truth in relation to the essence of Christianity I would argue no one has any authority outside of their own tradition.

  36. “Your position assumes an Aristotilain definition that I do not believe can be claimed as absolute. Thus the logic you speak of is relative to the presuppositions you hold.”

    Of course that’s a given. We all start with presuppositions, yours apparently is that the only reality is the senses. Attempting to grasp the infinite, when we are finite is impossible as an absolute.

    “In regards to our “biggest problem” the issue seems to once again be epistemoligical”

    I think our biggest problem is revelation. I accept some truths a priori (Divine revelation) and supplement it with a posteriori (Tradition) knowledge based on historical data.

    I don’t understand your method, because on the one hand you seem to accept a canon of the bible a priori and discount it a posteriori on the other (based exclusively on your own personal judgement?)with historical data. If that isn’t accurate it would help if you could clarify.

    “I believe that the answer lies in innaliable rights which are afforded humanity, but these may prove nothing more than the illusion of the ego.”

    But it you accept truth only based on the senses (which seems to be one of your presuppositions) then there is no innaliable rights since God can not be determined in any absolute sense of the word. You & I then are simply assembled atoms with no more rights then a electron.

    “Since metaphysical truth is subject to revelation which is inherantly subjective”

    Only if one does not accept Jesus as the Christ. The Incarnation is either True or False in absolute terms, its not subjective or relative. All else flows from that epistemological premise.

    If that’s true then what He established is true and has His support and can not fail.

    If its false then its all illusion and we’re just randomedly here based on the physical laws of the universe.

  37. Tom,
    Allow me clarify my position, as I currently hold it. I am not sure how you got that I believe reality is found only in the senses. While I do tend to gravitate toward existentialism, this is only for what can be deemed personal reality. I do not deny an absolute perspective on an external object such as the Bible. I simply deny the ability of someone to know if their perspective is absolute. Thus my method is simple. I have no problem with affirming the absolute value of revelation in terms of personal beliefs.However, due to the nature of interpretation when acted upon by pressuposition, I cannot affirm a universality to any individuals revelation. This does not mean I do not affirm the existence of universal revelation, but I am unsure how one would determine what such untainted revelation would be. Which leads me to your claims of Jesus incarnation as absolute. It is innevitable that there is an absolute position to hold in regards to the incarnation. However, it is impossible for us determine what said absolute is. Add to this the obscurity that surrounds normative Jesus taught theology, and we are stuck in a never ending pool of relativity. This is why I claim that no argument for invalidation can be made on the grounds of normativity outside of ones tradition. Furthermore, no tradition can claim presidence when it comes to interpreting Jesus. All that to say that your distinction regarding the incarnation, IMO, is irrelavent. It is impossible to know whether incarnational theology is normative and if so what version of it is absolute. This is why I argued that our disagreement is epistemoligical. You argue for a world of black and whites, while IMO we live in a world full of grays.

  38. Greetings Friends,

    Jeremy,
    I do agree with Tom – devaluing tradition cannot allow one to hold ground. We are far removed from the historical events of the scriptures and equally removed from the earliest interpretations of these events. One must, on some level, suspend the act of evaluation for the purpose of taking part in the tradition. What we have of Christian Theology now is what survived: so we can accept it as what has been passed down.

    I think this is where one must make the distinction between choosing Christianity or choosing what seems more reasonable. Your initial comment on how history survives is the unfortunate reality of the matter. So which truth (knowledge) is closest to its origination? One cannot know. But I choose to read the writings of John (ie: the 11th chapter) as true.

    On the same vein I think it reasonable, if not essential, to doubt (question) the claims of the scriptures and of the church. As history has shown us, god is not in the details – we are.

    Tony Jr – and to your post,
    I think this journey is what makes being a religious person exciting. The quest is for truth. Allow me for a moment to gush at my spiritual experiences …

    I remember finding glimpses of truth at the altar during pentecostal summer camp. I find truth in the consumption of the host. I find truth in opera music, romantic nights with my wife, the insatiable love of my puppies. I find truths in scripture.

    I think of that passage in Kings:

    The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
    Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

    In my rather feeble opinion – I am constantly trying to find my Lord. The scriptures are as much a distraction for me as, I imagine, the earthquake; wind and fire were for Elijah.

  39. Thanks for engaging. I keep thinking the discussion has concluded, but your clairifications seem to bring up more questions then answers for me. I guess that a given since each of our presuppositions are in conflict.

    “While I do tend to gravitate toward existentialism, this is only for what can be deemed personal reality”

    Well I hope it doesn’t flower into Nihilism ;>)

    “I do not deny an absolute perspective on an external object such as the Bible. I simply deny the ability of someone to know if their perspective is absolute.”

    See- this doesn’t make any sense to me at all. The “bible” (no matter how many books you have in it) was determined by Tradition over a minimum of 300 + years. If your second premise is correct then the first fails, because it is a consensus of the fallible second. One can add Tradition supplies who authoried the Gospels. Tradition supplies the copyist, the scholars, the martyrs, the preachers to preserve the scriptures, the liturgy, and the commission from Christ. If all of that is flawed then you can’t get to a “absolute perspective on an external object such as the Bible”.

    “This does not mean I do not affirm the existence of universal revelation, but I am unsure how one would determine what such untainted revelation would be”

    Now most every one claims to have the grace to point to where tradition or traditions went off the rails, but they never claim to jettison centuries of Christian thought and witness and return to 33A.D. to recapture the essence of it.

    “All that to say that your distinction regarding the incarnation, IMO, is irrelevant.”

    Sorry can you restate that one. Your saying that the Incarnation doesn’t matter if its true or false? Or are you claiming that Truth doesn’t of necessity flow from the Incarnate Christ? Either position if true as far as I can see invalidates Christianity. What would be the purpose of professing Christianity if you believed that?

  40. You’re barking up the wrong tree quickbeam if you think Jeremy believes his beliefs need to make coherent sense 😉

    Love you Jeremy

  41. Tony,
    With all love intended, who the heck gets to choose what makes a belief system coherent? I know your statement was in jest, but it seems a bit off color to me considering the candor and vulnerability I have expressed in this conversation. I don’t mean to overreact, but it bugs me when anyone patently dismisses a persons perspective as incoherant or illogical without addressing the critiques that said position has offered.

    Tom,
    To quickly respond to your last question, I am saying that it is impossible to determine whether incarnational theology is normatively “true”. So it follows that I don’t believe a universal litmus for truth can be made from said theology. One can apply its truth relatively to their lives but they cannot make a universal mandate based upon it. As far as professing Christianity, the list of reasons is far too long to express at this juncture.

  42. Jeremy,

    Your sound like your more influenced by Kierkegaard then I thougth initially. Well I think my input has run it’s course. I’m pretty set & happy with my phyisophical assumptions and nothing against you but I would feel like I was in literal hell if I had to deal with your assumptions.

    I wish you well in this and you have my prayers and ask for yours.

    Tom

  43. Tom,
    Thank you for the discussion, your tone and input were quite refreshing.

    George,
    I forgot that Aristotle was refering to you when he postulated about the unmoved mover. I will give you this, you are definately obstinate.

  44. Jeremy,

    Really it was just a jest. I’m sorry if I offended you. I have read your comments with great care and have learned a lot about you. I was not patently dismissing you, merely a joke.

    Tony

  45. Jeremy:

    LOL. I thought you might get a laugh out of my little two-word joke. (And it was a joke!)

    On a more serious note, if Aristotle read your question–“who the heck gets to choose what makes a belief system coherent?”–he would ask several questions:

    1. Is this a rhetorical question or a real one?
    2. If it is a rhetorical question, is its implied answer, “No one”?
    3. If its implied answer is, “No one,” we can rightly ask a similar question of you: “Who the heck gave you the authority to decide that no one can choose what makes a belief system coherent?”
    4. If the question is a real, as oppposed to a rhetorical, question, then shouldn’t you be open to the possibility that someone might get to choose what makes a belief system coherent?

    If the answer to Aristotle’s 4th question is yes, then I would add a 5th question:

    5. Why not me? Or Tony? Or you, for that matter? Who’s to foreclose the option that one of us–or all of us, after we’ve put our heads together–can identify the criteria for determining a belief system’s coherence?

    George

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