Friday, 20 December 2013

Pain and Promise: Thoughts on Historical and Figural Interpretation



                The misuse of Scripture by the historical critical perspective has been well documented. Whether it is the silliness of the Jesus Seminar, or trying to prove that Adam and Eve once existed as historical people, these interpretive experiments have often been adventures in missing the point of the canonical Scripture. The central interpretive purpose of the Christian church should be to see Jesus Christ as the “golden thread which runs through the whole of the Scripture” (Gertrude Hove). 

For theologian Ephraim Radner this implies a “deliberate setting aside of certain historical presumptions” for the sake of seeing Jesus Christ in the text. When parts of a text identify characteristics of Jesus, we are called to see the text as a description of Jesus Christ. When a texts’ “narrative whole resonates with the grande themes of Jesus own life” we are called to see Jesus Christ. This way of thinking about Scripture rests on the presupposition that God is ordering “the Bible according to his own creation and recreation of human history” (Hope Among The Fragments, 98-99). It should show us that Christ’s suffering, his broken body, is calling us to suffer for one another as his Church (Colossians 1:24). 

In our modern context the problem that sometimes occurs with this Christological reading of Scripture is that we jump straight to our new life in Christ without recognizes the reality of suffering that still exists in a world that is not yet. We assume that reading Christ into the whole of the Scripture means that we can ignore the pain and brokenness of a Hebrew people, and say “well things were pretty bad before Jesus, but now that we have been made new we don’t have to worry about that anymore.” We assume that because were in Christ things will be so much better, thing will be so much happier, everything will be “so radically new” as Brian Walsh poignantly suggests in his most recent Advent blog post.

 A lot of this is due to the influence of the “principalities and powers” that surround us. The empire wants to numb us so we don’t feel the pain of our own lives, and the lives of those around us (so will continue to operate without question in the system it has designed). This is where a historical look at Scripture can reveal the pain of the people in that text, and relay to us our own pain that we so much want to resist. In Walter Brueggeman’s “Unity and Dynamic in Isaiah” he critiques the father of modern canonical interpretation Brevard Child’s for jumping to quickly from the Judgment of early Isaiah to the promises of God in later Isaiah. For Brueggeman the Judgment or social critique of early Isaiah leaves room for an embrace of pain in the middle of the book and slow movement toward God’s promises. Child’s is moving too quickly from the old to the new without recognizing the pain that is involved. It is here where a historical look at the people in Scripture can keep us in the reality of our brokenness as we “wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). While Radner sees the over emphasis of historical critical tools as “an almost gnostic yearning for release from a world that is to be cut loose from God” (Hope Among The Fragments, 108) Walsh and Brueggeman see an overly spiritualized view of Scripture as its own gnostic denial of pain in the Christian life.            

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Stephen Harper is not the Problem; You Are


I have to admit I am getting a little sick and tired of quasi-marxist Christians demanding a radical shift in the global economic system, when positive change is more likely to occur from compromise, negotiation, and relationship. The reality is that Saint Paul likely sold his tents for.....wait for it......money, Jesus Christ likely sold his furniture, and Lydia sold her purple clothe. They operated within a market driven model. This wasn't compromising Jubilee or the early Christian model of giving to one another “as they had need” (Acts 2:45, 4:32-35) it was choosing to operate in the world they lived. It was choosing to exist as Christians between the now and the not yet. It seems so often people want to operate out of a black and white moral compass regardless of their political or theological worldview. Calgarians are the conservative Christians who even entertain parties like the Wild Rose, yet their Mayor is Naheed Nenshi. People from Toronto are the progressive liberals, yet they elect Rob Ford. Maybe the reality is that people are more willing to entertain different political and religious systems if they perceive them as coherent to their context and social need. My Dad is a small-c conservative Christian who voted for the Green party in the last federal election. He votes Wild Rose provincially. He didn't do it because he was blinded but God himself on the road to Damascus, he did it because Elizabeth May had the most fiscally responsible budget model, aside from an obviously corrupt and manipulative Stephen Harper. We don't have to operate as black and white ideologues to enable change, we need to listen to each other and be willing to compromise. This is true courage. I long for the day when Jubilee is enacted by God himself, but until that day comes we need patiently and relationally promote Kingdom values even as we choose to work within our social and economic context.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Canada’s Broken Prophet -- Theoren Fleury



The popular television series Friday Night Lights has a special resonance for those who have been influenced by and recognize the deep relationship between a specific sport and country whose national identity is affiliated with it. In Friday Night Lights that “country” is Texas and their sport is Football. In Canada it is hockey.  As a Canadian kid whose only dream was to be a hockey player until I was 19 years old, Theoren Fleury was my role model. Theoren Fleury was a smaller player whose ability was not fully recognized until he proved himself on the biggest stage (The NHL). He was skilled, fast, and most importantly, he was fearless. Like Fleury, hockey was the best way for me to glimpse heaven, to glimpse God’s glory. “Salvation and escape” and are not too strong of words to describe this game for young kids in Canada (Playing With Fire, 8). Hockey was the constant, in the midst of whatever we were dealing with off the ice.  I can only imagine what it would be like for a young player’s coach to betray him the way Graham James did. As a young boy Theoren Fleury was sexually and emotionally abused. But Fleury would stay quiet because he decided that in order to reach his promised land (The NHL) he would have to be willing to descend into hell itself.  

This breach of trust and abuse from his coach would lead him down a trail of drug, alcohol, and sex addiction. With how the media critiques the Catholic church it might seem unbelievable to learn that his childhood priest was a source of comfort and friendship for him, while Graham James the noble hockey coach was the villain. But this is the reality of power, it doesn't matter where it is coming from, it will almost always lead to corruption. In an interview with sports writer Eric Francis, Graham James is reported to have said he wished he was born in Roman times because back then “it was acceptable to have boys as partners” (Playing With Fire, 154).

In his own life, Fleury has not always been a good husband or father. Yet he has asked those he loves for forgiveness and is often a powerful voice against the corruption of his sport and country. While playing for a First Nation’s team toward the end of his career (he is part Cree and Metis) he experienced first-hand Canada’s racism against Native people.  In an 2005 interview with the Edmonton Sun Fleury states:

"The one thing that's really bothered me through this whole thing is the prejudice, still, in this country when it comes to Native people. I've seen it first-hand in every building we go into, how these people are treated, and it's absolutely embarrassing to be a Canadian and know that stuff is still going on."

This is coming from a guy who is deeply in love with his country and has helped us win a number of gold medals on the world stage, including the Olympics in 2002. I have never seen anyone more excited to make a team than when Fleury made Team Canada in 2002.
                
              Today, Fleury is sober and grounded in the reality that there is a power greater then himself.  He uses the tradition of his ancestors to keep himself centered and in relational awareness of God (The Great Spirit). He uses sage, sweet-grass, and smudging, to “get rid of negative spirits” and buries ashes in the four corners of his yard “every morning for protection” (Playing With Fire, 337). He also uses the ancient method of “sweats” to purge himself of negative thoughts, and is a public speaker for Native kids all over the country. In a time where a more militant secular worldview is challenging people of all religious worldviews, the elders of the First Nations people all over Canada fear that “the heart of the people will disappear because their children don’t speak the language or follow the traditions” (Playing With Fire, 322).     
               
               I fear this for Christianity as well. While it is the most popular religion in Canada, it is being transformed by powerful societal undercurrents of corporate division, and individual autonomy. Fleury’s mom was a Jehovah’s Witness, which according to Fleury taught him mixed messages against his Catholic upbringing because the Trinity was taught to be “inspired by Satan” yet here he was “praying to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost every day" he thought he "was in league with the devil” (Playing With Fire, 12). Fleury is moving in the right direction by looking into the tradition of his ancestors, and concerning himself with the public good of his community. He has begun to appreciate what Christian theologian G.K. Chesterton calls the “democracy of the dead.”

      

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Ignoring Pain with Post-Liberal Theology


Remember the good ole days when Christianity was all anyone ever talked about? You know those good ole days...sometime between 400 and 1800 Common Era. When all we talked about was the nature of Christ instead of Miley Cyrus. We knew the Bible inside and out because MTV didn't exist yet. The Bible was about something more then just who wrote it, when, and why...it was about canonical inspiration, absolute truth...

The great theologians of the middle ages and the reformation had a lot of important theological insights, and much of it relates to the world we live in today. But the people who wrote the Bible itself also have a lot to say to our world. They often speak as a community in exile, often in the midst of persecution, often as sinners...they like us lived outside of Christendom. We like them live in a world where suffering and pain is a reality that exists all around us and the Bible has a lot to say about pain. Scripture is about more then just intertextual alignment.

In his unpublished systematic theology Post-Liberal theologian David Yaego tells us that before we engage in modern historical interpretation we need to first and foremost see Scripture as a signpost for our new reality in Christ. I would believe Yaego if every reference to our current culture context wasn't about theological correction...here is how the feminists get it wrong..here is how our Christian culture falls into modalism...Who are you defending Orthodoxy to anyway? Who do you think is reading your book?

If we want Scripture to point to Christ in this world, here and now, then we need to acknowledge the suffering that is in it. Israel was God's chosen people and they failed. They got into bed with idols, they committed genocide, they were people enslaved who chose to enslave. Why? To build a temple. Even if God remains faithful to them, there is still consequences for actions and this consequence is often exile.

In the new covenant Christians are God's chosen people and we to have failed him. Christ called us to live counter culturally against the oppression of women, against the segregation of human races, against the slavery of people. There are consequences for actions and refusing to face this reality will not helping anything. I get it. If you read scripture solely for intertextual insight you never really have to deal with the emotional consequences of the people your reading about. Even better you can further transpose an Augustian, Lutheran, or Thomist perspective and get another step further away from the contextual reality and another step further away from the suffering and injustice that is in the Scriptures and in the world around you. You never really have to deal with the emotional and physical reality of how Israel failed and you never have to deal with how Christians failed and continue to fail.

Intertexuality is great, but it is meaningless if it isn't interrelation. I am not saying we pander to political ideologies or stop declaring the creeds. I am saying that only being a good Christian who reads his Bible, reads theology, prays, and goes to Church is ignoring reality; it is living in a fantasy world. Peter J Leithart declares that “Only the good can be good teachers; only the obedient can hear.” I am not convinced. I think the broken also hear God, the broken teach us about his true nature of Grace. Israel is desperate and God calls them to listen, Peter denies Christ and the prophecy is remembered, Paul is broken on the road to damascus and God speaks. The consequences for their actions have only just begun, but God is heard loud and clear. If we assume that we are to just live moral and obedient lives and relevant interpretation will come, then we are fooling ourselves.
Leithart goes on to say that “Again and again, Israel closes herself to God’s word. Isaiah preaches to the deaf and dull of heart, and Jeremiah’s audience closes its ears to his stern message of doom. Jesus, the last prophet, hears and does his Father’s will, and he spends his days making priests. With a touch, he loosens tongues to sing his praise. By the finger of his Spirit, he bores into our ears so the Father’s word can enter and capture our hearts.”

Amen. But we don't look like Jeremiah or Isaiah. We look more like King Saul desperately trying to hold onto his Kingship, we look more like David on his deathbed. If we want to convict culture and inspire new realities like the prophetic voices of old, we need to to first admit we have lost the kingdom, and for good reason.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Russell Brand the Postmodern Prophet



            The first time I encountered Russell Brand's thought was when he interviewed the Westboro Baptist Church and juxtaposed them with some rather liberal Christians. I found this exercise pointless and doubted I could ever give him another chance at bringing forward any meaningful conversation or thought to my universe. However, after a couple months I realized that if I can still enjoy Richard Dawkins on occasion, despite that fact he makes similar types of fruitless arguments toward the end of his book God Delusion (as though a handful of rude Christians or a handful of really open minded Christians represent any real spectrum of Christian thought) then I can give Brand a second chance as well.  
            My girlfriend also happens to be rather fond of Brand, so in an effort to give him a second chance, I acquired tickets for his Aug 23rd show in Calgary. The stand up show which is entitled Messiah Complex represents an interesting mix of religious pluralism, a touch of postmodern philosophy in the vein of Jean-Francois Lyotard's incredulity toward's metanarratives (whether Brand realizes it or not), along with a few standard sex jokes.
           
            Brand is fully aware that in today's context we have to be intentional about who we are and what we want to follow; otherwise what we understand to be true will be falsified and manipulated for the purpose of those who seek to control us. State authority, corporate advertisers, and religious leaders will often seek to manipulate what is true for their own gain. Che Guevara was a man who was respected for his firm communist ideology along with being incredibly violent. Today he is reduced to a t-shirt logo. Ghandi has become the symbol of all that is good in the world, yet he treated his wife in a way that most today would not approve. In order to describe the world faithfully it requires nuance.

Most impressive was Brand's introduction of modern philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and G.K.Chesterton. Brand described how Nietzsche declares that “God is dead” because society is no longer under the authority of a Christian nation. According to Brand, Chesterton counters that despite this reality; people will still create objects of worship of their own accord. This warning of idolatry continued all throughout his show. In the midst of a diverse and packed out crowd of young and old, Brand was preaching to an audience that most Canadian churches today would dream of having.


While I am excited for the ideas that Russell Brand is bringing forward in his most recent tour, my warning to him is that as a religious pluralist he will never truly be able to immerse himself in the truth of any one religion. For Brand the central message of Christ is simply to love one another. And this generically seems to be what he believes to be the centrality of most religions. By denying the particularity of a belief system, he will never be able to experience the truth of it from the inside out. It will always be as a passing critical observer. While Brand is correct in suggesting that there really is no conclusive historical evidence for any one faith over another, this doesn't mean that the best way to engage them is as though you are at a buffet. Christianity is most real when you are inside of it, and I assume that most people of faith who believe their religion to be ultimate reality would suggest the same. This doesn't mean that there isn't truth in most religions; it simply means that in order experience the heart of a tradition, you have to enter into it fully and submit yourself to it. For us Christians this means that Jesus Christ has never given us the option to simply see him as a good guy or a great teacher. He demands that we see him as God incarnate; he demands that we see his death and resurrection as the ultimate work of his power and glory for the world he created. If we refuse to see this, the truth we see in Christ will always be but a hint of who he truly is. If Russell Brand refuses to dive into one religion with all his heart, he will always be left with crumbs of truth, and never the meal.   

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Where the Newsroom goes wrong and the idolatry of Nationalism


Over the last few days I have had the chance to catch up on a few episodes of my new favourite television show the Newsroom. It is a powerful show about journalists working to properly inform voters about political and economic forces running their country. So far it has been a show which has stood for truth, equality, and democracy. Unfortunately this has not been true for the most recent episode I watched where the center of the plot surrounds the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the relief/excitement everyone has at the declaration of his death. Osama Bin Laden was a pretty awful guy. He manipulated his own people into believing in him as a spiritual leader and force for good against western powers, all while accepting money from the United States. He has also likely been behind several violent attacks against opposition countries including American embassies in east Africa. However, there is very little evidence he had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. He did not take credit for the attacks until three years after, and had repeatedly denied he had anything to do with them up until then, though he praised whoever did commit the atrocity. It seems all to convenient for him to claim credibility for the attacks in '04 and would use his new stage to further his message of hate.

I don't like Osama Bin Laden, but the Newsroom has still lost its integrity with me at this episode. While the show tries to come off as a supporter of libertarian thought, it reeks of a nationalistic liberal agenda. The killing of Osama Bin Laden was plain and simply about making the American people feel better about themselves and their country. We caught the bad guy, America is safe, secure, and indestructible once again. Don't mess with America or you will go down like Bin Laden.

It was another Canada yesterday, another year I felt like a Jehovah's Witness on Halloween. I don't celebrate Canada day. It's not because we're a country that supports the abuse of the homeless so we can play sports with other countries, its not because one segment of our population believes justice is locking people up and throwing away the key, while another segment celebrates doctor's who kill unborn babies. It is because Jesus Christ tells me that I am a citizen of absurd grace, I am subject to a King who despite his anger towards injustice loves Osama Bin Laden. While Barack Obama understands very little about theology, he has one thing right about Jesus Christ, His teachings will never cohere with the American ideology. You cannot support the absurd message of Jesus of Christ and support nationalism, it will simply never make sense.



Sunday, 2 June 2013

"This Too Shall Pass" Treeplanting and the Importance of Death and Ressurection in the Midst of a Static Empire

The prominent tone of our culture is to embrace superficial change and promote static living. When God frees his people from Egypt and sends them out into the wilderness to rely only on him the insecurity is barely tolerable. They have no way of physically seeing how or when God will feed them and sustain them and so they complain if "only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death" (Exodus 16:3). Yet it is these periods of change and limited resources where we are most open to growth and change. The problem of living in a well-established empire is it is easy to become numb to our true purpose and the suffering of others. As long as you play by the rules of the empire you will remain fed, clothed, and housed. Your God given potential to build, imagine, and live for the betterment of others may never be reached, but your hardship will remain small. This is the quandary of the Hebrew people in this passage. They can go back to Egypt and live as slaves to the empire of Pharaoh or they can live into the promise of Genesis 12 that through them "all peoples on earth" will be blessed. The human heart was made for more then just a static slavery to the empires of our world. We were made for a radical dependence on God where we name, produce, and take care of his planet. Our unique gifts our purposed for relationship. These temporal tasks allow us to continually live into a life of death and resurrection. We are made for life and death.  In Tolkien's Middle Earth imagination the greatest gift God bestows on humanity is death. The great elves grow weary of life overtime, while we die and our made new in Christ. Leaving the mystery of our final apocalyptic home aside, this is what we are made for.

In my own life treeplanting has helped me to experience this reality. A few days ago I was planting trees on a particularly cold and rainy day. While it had been raining in intervals throughout the week it came crashing down on this day. The temperature dipped to zero, the wind and rain cut inside me, the cold earth caused my hands to be barely operational, and the reality of death and resurrection moved me forward.
"This Too Shall Pass" allowed for each step to continue. "This Too Shall Pass" allowed for one more tree to be planted until the truth of that day's death and next day's resurrection became reality.

It is no wonder then that great empires of our world want nothing more than to deny this reality. All efforts are made to maintain the status quo, death is discussed at a minimum. Conversations about suffering are about as impolite as the Religion which so deeply promotes its discussion. Even as the collapsing utopian fantasy of the empire becomes blatantly obvious, the establishment will deny their future death until the very end. Until that end those who suffer will remain unheard, the homeless will continue to be sent to the outskirts of Vancouver, the jails will continue to be full of first nations people who barely had a chance, and the empire of Stephen Harper will continue to form a ridiculous line between the criminal offender and the victim as though they are not interconnected. Those of us born on the track of the empire will continue be numbed by the suffering all around us when our central value is based on the measurement of that empire. It is here where we must be continually open to deconstructing the false fantasy of the empire through poetry, music, art, and story. This is a major purpose of the prophets and poets in the Hebrew scripture, and every empire interested in maintaining their stability and oppressing our imaginations is "threatened by the artist" who is willing to speak truth to their power (Walter Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination).

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

In Response to Pope Francis: A Call For Mystery



In a recent article Pope Francis declared that some people can be good and not Christian; I agree. In fact both the Pope and I agree with the some foundational principles of creation and redemption. Everything is originally created good. Man and woman as image bearers of God are created very good. This original blueprint becomes the ultimate redemption promise of Christ who through his Death and Resurrection has sought to restore and work all of creation for his purpose. Colossians 1 tells us that in Christ "all things have been created through him and for him" (Colossians 1:16). This includes Atheists, Buddhists  Muslims  etc. "Through him" all things have been reconciled to him, "whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Colossians 1:20).

Beyond this agreement however I am uncomfortable with the  "if-then" clause he is proposing. The Pope suggests that in this life we should "do good" and "we will meet one another there.” While poetically beautiful and reminiscent of  Maximus' famous line in the popular movie Gladiator ("What we do in life echoes in eternity") it is a false order of reality. The central difference between Islam and Christianity as an example is that we receive the grace of God before repentance. Repentance is but an important fruit of what has already been given. I should be clear however that I am not proposing the modern Christian call to intellectual acceptance of Christianity in order to be saved; nor am I proposing the popular understanding of Universalism (ie: we are all touching one part of the same truth).  Rather I propose we accept the beautiful reality that this is God's mystery. Salvation through an intellectual acceptance of Christianity is simply another form of what the Pope is proposing. The prerequisite for salvation in both instances is in human action. Whether through the mind or the body. The mystery of salvation is that Christ has redeemed everyone, but for whatever reason, in the end not all will be at the wedding table. We can you use different passages of Scripture to support our arguments for why that may or may not be. But nobody really knows, and I think that is how Christ wants it.

Just because all have been saved by Christ, this does not mean that all live into that salvation. While those who experience the ultimate power of grace will seek a new life in him we can (and often do) choose to cheapen this by living without discipleship. We rely on a grace that is devoid of the cross, a "grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship). But we must always remember that it is "only because he became like us that we can become like him” (Bonhoeffer). This fruit bearing life is always "miraculous" and created by God alone.

"It is never the result of the willing, but always a growth. The fruit of the Spirit is a gift of God, and only He can produce it. They who bear it know as little about it as the tree knows of its fruit. They know only the power of Him on whom their life depends” (Bonhoeffer).

In short the Pope and I agree that God chooses to work good through all people, but this does not mean that  the good that is done will be the reason for our place in the new Jerusalem. The source for all redemption, reconciliation, and new creation is in Christ alone.



Thursday, 23 May 2013

Loyalty and the heart of Hockey in Valleyview Alberta



Small towns in Canada represent the heart of Canadian hockey. I was walking around Valleyview, Alberta on my day off today and saw this sign. The call to bring back the Winnipeg Jets in the late nineties became a grassroots movement which moved into a matter of national identity. This is an example of the heart of that movement. Long before the possibility of the Jets ever coming back, people from local communities all over Canada rallied around their long lost team.


2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The only team that will be able to stop the stack Pittsburgh Penguins  is the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago is the only team that can match the wave of experience, power, and skill the comes shift after shift from the Penguins. Not only does this team have the two best players in the world in Malkin and Crosby; but also have a plethora of other offensive options like Iginla, James Neal, Brendan Morrow, Dupius, Letang, and Kunitz just to name a few. The key to these players is not just their offensive ability but also their character. Iginla and Morrow are proven leaders who will do anything to help their team win. That said if the Chicago Blackhawks catch fire I do think they can mount a challenge....all of this is prefaced on Chicago overcoming the pesky and always dangerous Detroit Red Wings. While some might suggest that the power and grit of the Bruins could be enough to end the Penguins Stanley Cup hopes, my guess is that with the additions of Iginla and Morrow will give them enough character to push through. P.S. John Tortella is ridiculous.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

A Treeplanter's View of Pentecost



In a treeplanting camp the tension between a deeply knit community and the desire for individual wealth is strong. People of various backgrounds and worldviews come together in pursuit of being pushed to their limits and making money in a short period of time. Restoring the earth of the trees that have been lost and the strong relational ties that are created in a diverse community are often considered secondary benefits to the money that is made. It is incredibly difficult on both a mental and physical level, so earning your reward is crucial for most (for me!). Yet God chooses to work with our individual aspirations in creating a community of people who genuinely care for one another.

Pentecost is a re-visioning of God's purpose for our lives. It is the healing of Babel and a reflection of Jubilee. In Babel the community becomes one for the purpose of idolatry. The virtue of relational coherence runs wild into a desire to become monolithic gods of one language and purpose. But God does not give up on his pre-designed purpose of diversity and unity in him. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit allows us to speak to one another coherently within the diversity of our languages. In the last few days I have had passionate and respectful conversations with friends from a range of worldviews and perspectives. Whether they know it or not we have come together under the uniting of the Holy Spirit, and fed each other with the wisdom of Sophia written on the heart of all humanity through the power of Christ (Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:15-20; Proverbs 9).

While we often unite under the purpose of individual wealth, Christ purposes us into giving of ourselves for the sake of the other. Leviticus 25 calls us to reset our desire for individual wealth and give to each other equally. At Pentecost the early Christians re-vision this call of Jubilee in their own community as "all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need" (Acts 2:44-45). While this often goes against the central purpose of an individual's purpose to go treeplanting, the mutual suffering and hardship that a treeplanter goes through in a summer often decreases the value of the money that is made (at least in midsummer perception). In order to remain sane and loyal to the daily task at hand individual's turn to one another for support. While the early church experienced much greater hardship then any treeplanter or most western persons today could imagine, I have seen how even the smallest amount of daily suffering can either bring us together or force us apart. May the power of the Holy Spirit continue to bring us together for the purpose of the common good in our communities and global humanity.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Idolatry of Community


The narrative of the Tower of Babel reminds us that simply being in a strong community is not what God wants. Scripture tells us the people of Babel had such a coherent identity in relation to one another that they all "used the same language and the same words." They became such a unified force in the world that nothing they purposed themselves to do was "impossible for them" (Genesis 11:6). This lack of diversity and fear of God forced God to scatter them and confused their language. God fragmented their strong tight knit community...

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Creational Law and Scripture


Creational Law as understood from the Bible was formed before the creation of the world, and is God's blueprint for creation (Proverbs 8):

Friday, 3 May 2013

The Problem of How to Understand Sin and Righteousness

Understanding original sin is a complicated issue. Should we fully accept Augustine's perspective? Or Luther's? Or how American evangelism has altered the original understanding of those perspectives?

The purpose of original sin is centrally to show us that we need God. Not to solely judge us on some personal level. Judgement is primarily intended to be a positive thing where God makes the world right. Psalm 82:3 declares that God will “judge the poor and the orphan.” The only coherent way to read this passage is to see Judgment as God’s bringing justice to the world, and making all things right.

I think Jesus often uses the term "righteous" as a rhetorical strawman to make a bigger point.

In Luke 5 Jesus is said to be eating with sinners and tax collectors when the Pharisees come to ridicule him for associating with such people. He responds that he has "not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” We know from other passages that Jesus obviously does not think the Pharisees are "righteous" in its most literal meaning, but is juxtaposing their self-righteous piety with people who are fully aware of their brokenness  It is not about who is good or bad in the individualistic modern sense, but God's grace which is over all of us.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Post-Liberal vs. Contextual Theology


A major problem in Modern Christian theology has been the tendency to emphasize methodologies like historical critique and the contextualization of scripture over and above understanding scripture as God’s word preserved by him throughout time as his canonical revelation through the church. Post-liberal theology wants to affirm that God was in control of the canonical process, and continues to speak to us to through his word in the here and now. Furthermore we should not be so arrogant to assume that God’s voice was muffled in Christian theology before the modern age. The theology of Irenaeus, Luther, and Augustine should be taken just as seriously as modern historical critical thinkers like N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg. At the end of the day, the revelation of Scripture speaking into our lives is God’s work not our own. The methodology of inter-textual canonical reading is used heavily by post-liberal theologians along with examining the patterns in past Christian theology to see how God was and is continuing to work in the Scripture. Post-liberal theologian David Yeago, as an example, likes to show how past theologians like Martin Luther would actually agree a lot with what folks like N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul have to say. In his commentary on Matthew Stanley Hauerwas gave himself rules that he would not fall into the historical critical trap of theorizing Matthew’s historical context. Instead his only exegetical reference would be scripture itself (how does a passage in Matthew relate to other passages in the Old and New Testament?) and how it applies to our current context today.    

While Contextual theologians like Sylvia Keesmaat, Brian Walsh, and Ellen Davis understand the danger of thinking historical critical lenses will allow us to more objectively understand scripture, examining our context as it potentially relates to the context or narrative of scripture is seen as important in understanding how God might be moving in our lives. When we see the human context of the scripture, we are able to relate to each in other in our joys and our suffering...

Monday, 29 April 2013

A Response To My Friend James Wilt


Dear James,

When I read your article A Fall From Grace I deeply resonated with the frustration and pain the Christian religion has caused you. I too have had a two year relationship ended because of Christian misperceptions of sexuality and marriage. I have also had close Christian friends attack me for dating outside of my faith. On a deeper level, this is a misunderstanding of the most fundamental Christian principle: Grace.

And James I think you are closer to this then I have ever seen you. Your realization of Christianity’s corrupted “anthropocentric belief system” is a profound one. You see Christianity is never meant to be centrally about us, but about God and what he does for us. The mantra of mature evolutionists that we stop seeing ourselves as “special” but should work towards cooperative and communal adaptation with nature is a strong one. It is also not as far away from the Christian tradition as you might think. The central tenet of Christianity is not meant to be about us fulfilling a "divine mission" but is most centrally about a shepherd who would sacrifice his life for one lost sheep. It is most centrally about a God who chooses an obstinate and ever failing nation and refuses to abandon them, in spite of their ignorance and betrayal. This is a God who suffers for us and therefore understands our suffering; all of us; humans, lions, and lambs.

The central goal of the human ideal is not our human fulfillment of it, but how it exposes our need for God, and his promise of loving reunion for all creation. Redemption is not a slow evolutionary process. It is and it isn't. We are all paradoxically found and lost. At home yet homeless. I am glad your new direction has humbled you, and I pray that if you feel the need for Christ’s unconditional grace in your life, you will see he never left you. I realize this may sound arrogant, but hopefully it is also comforting. In my own attempt to run away from Christ, this has always brought be back.

Your Friend,

Jesse

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Problem of Forgiveness, Righteousness, and Self-Loathing


We all fall short of God's ideal completely and absolutely. This reality has sometimes caused us to think that
if we let God know how bad we think we are, he will like us more. We forget that forgiveness is not conditioned by anything we do.  If it were conditional no one would make it. Our pride makes us loathe this reality. It is a great and humiliating gift. We so desperately want to contribute something to God's unconditional gift that we will even try to offer the pain of our self-accusation and self-rejection. The prodigal son was not saved because of his humiliation, but because of his Father's unconditional love. We want God to see how unworthy we feel, and the anxiety of our despair and guilt. We perform emotional works of self-punishment because we think this is what God is asking us to contribute. But God's grace is independent of anything we do, even our self-accusation and self-punishment. Forgiveness creates repentance, not the other way around. 

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Problem with Christian and Muslim "Fundamentalists"


Fundamentalists like Muslim Egyptian Sayyid Qutb and American Christians like John Hagee and Dyson Hague are trying to compete with modern rationalism’s search for objective reality by declaring their interpretation of scripture to be their own supposed objective realities of pure revelation.  

While the Quran and the Bible have always been seen as God’s Word and therefore true, by Muslims and Christianity respectively, understanding the interpretation of scripture as a complex weaving of lenses and methodologies has almost always existed to some degree. This traditional reality is often ignored by these fundamentalist. This is not to say that all methods of interpretation should or have been accepted as legitimate, but even within an Orthodox perspective both Islam and Christianity have made room for a variety of interpretations within the central tenets of their faith.

The categorical definition of “fundamentalist” being referred to in Christianity has specific roots in early 20th century Protestant movement which sought to hold onto to the supposed “fundamentals” of the Christian faith against supposed liberal theology and secular reason based criticism support The categorical definition for Fundamentalist in Islam refers to the early 20th century subsets of Islam which sought to emphasize Islamic law as something which should be forced onto a society, and exists outside of an interpretative framework. For these specific sects, it often means that God is revealing the truth of scripture to them in such a specific way that they refuse to allow any other theologians to reason with them, and usually damage the society along with the religion in which they dwell...  


 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Injustice In The Quran And The Bible


God allows humanity the freedom to sin or make mistakes even as he is patiently pushing us toward his ideal. God meets us where we are at. We will always be free to sin, and God will always try and work with the mistakes that we make. In 1 Samuel 8 God’s people demand that he give them a monarchy even as he warns them of the corruption and violence it will create. Even in the most obscene instances of our injustice God tries to make the world a little more just. In Deuteronomy 22:28-29 God commands that if a man rapes a woman, he must marry her. From our perspective today this is seen as a horrific injustice. Yet in the historical context of the ancient scripture a woman’s virginity was her central possession, and it would be more of an injustice for her to lose it without the promise and protection of marriage.Despite how unjust we may make society, God is always looking for a way to bring justice, however limited that justice may be in order to allow us our freedom to sin.
Muslim theologian Amina Wadud is in agreement with many Christian theologians today that men and women were originally created equal based on her reading of the creation story in the Quran. Sura 4:1 declares men and woman to be created from the same divine substance and they are equal in the eyes of God. Yet just one verse later in Sura 4:2 the Quran states that man can marry up to “two, three or four” women who have no homes to protect them. The central condition of this is that the man must treat all of them fairly and justly, and if they cannot do so then they are called to marry “only one, to prevent you from doing injustice.” For Wadud God’s ideal marriage is about harmony “which is mutually built with love and mercy.” However, God is also patient with society’s “cruel heart” and “inability to submit to truth and justice.” The Quran is doing something similar to Deuteronomy 22:28-29 in this instance. In the patriarchal context of a woman being primarily an economic resource, those who have no protection through marriage should be provided protection by the grace of God. The ideal is that men and women are equal, however God will once again allow us to operate out of our sinful context, even it means there will be some measure of injustice for the time being. From this perspective, Wadud declares that: 

 Evolution in society which is indicated in the Qur'an that explains why many Muslim countries have instituted further legal and social reforms with regard to women. These reforms operate outside the literal content of some Qur'anic passages and make modifications on the basis of greater Qur'anic intent with                       respect to such issues as repudiation, polygamy, inheritance, and the rules for witnessing, etc.[5]  
            For Wadud it only makes sense that countries trying to be faithful to the ideal of the Quran would continue to push toward a greater sense of gender equality. Most of what the Quran and the Bible depict is not the ideal, but it is alluding to a greater telos in God’s story of redemption. Slavery and the oppression of women are a reality throughout the Bible, yet we can see signs of God pointing toward a larger story of justice and love throughout the Biblical narrative in both the Old and New Testament. Yet both Scriptures point toward a creational beginning where there is peace, justice, and a proper social order. 


 William J. Webb, Slaves, women & homosexuals : exploring the hermeneutics of cultural analysis (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2001) 14
 Phyllis Trible, God and the rhetoric of sexuality, (Fortress Press, Chicago, 1978) 15-22; Amina Wadud, Quran and woman: Rereading the sacred text from a woman's perspective. (New York, Oxford University Press.) 19-21; N.T. Wright Women’s service in the church: The Biblical Basis. (September 4 2004) http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Women_Service_Church.htm
 Sura 30:21; Sura 4:128
 (Wadud 1999) 82
 (Wadud 1999) 82

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Lauren Winner on Sex and Marriage



Lauren Winner is awesome, and has some great things about marriage. However throughout my reading of her 2005 novel “Real Sex”I am not convinced she fully gets what she is saying.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Idolatry and Heavenly Escape


The Orthodox Christian lives in a strange tension. While the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ makes all things right and under his authoritative kingdom, the creation still longs for this final consummation.[1] The prolepsis within the Christian tradition has often made it difficult for the Church to know how to understand, share, and live out the Gospel. How do we declare that the world is being made new when all around us we see endless violence, sadness, and death? What does the fully sufficient and complete work of the Cross have to do with us living lives of peace and justice? 

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Otherness of God


Everything we do has God’s signature on it. Our lives are so intricately tied with God sometimes this can cause us to think that God needs us, that we can change his mind, and influence his decision making process.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Fallacy of Modern Marriage

Our culture is obsessed with individualistic love. I am obsessed 

with it. I blame it on disney. We get married as a symbol of our

love to one person. But that is NOT the purpose of marriage...


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Creation based Gender Equality in the Quran and the Bible


For Christian theologian Phyllis Trible Genesis 1:27 is the central biblical clue for how to understand the whole of the biblical metanarrative: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 

While Muslim theologian Amina Wadud observes that in the Quranic version of the story the genders relate to God and themselves in God’s creating them from the same genderless soul. While both versions have slight nuance, both show the equality of the genders from the beginning of their creation...