Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Discussion - Part II

This is the continuation of an inter-blog discussion. Haven't caught up? Here are the previous posts:

  • Trev's first post and comments HERE
  • Tim's first response and comments HERE
  • Tim's second response and comments HERE


To Tim, Travis and others who have jumped into this discussion: Thank you! I appreciate where each of you are coming from and your comments and posts have helped round out and shape the way I'm thinking about such things.

Let me be the first to say that my original post - "Thoughts on What It Means to Be Christian" - is a flawed discourse. The fact that I submitted it for publication on a website is somewhat ridiculous as it was originally written for myself and has sundry problems that I will be free to admit.

That being said, while I enjoy this conversation and I think it is allowing all of us to learn and more fully listen to one another, I'm not sure we will ever reach any sort of conclusion besides that of mutual respect. The reason for this is that we are beginning in different places.

The following statements made by Tim...

  1. Quoting John 14:6 as de facto justification for an argument
  2. "humanistic compassion will not get anyone to heaven"
  3. (humanity's image of God) "was shattered in the fall"

...very clearly elucidate that he believes the Christian Bible to be the only inspired, perfect, God-breathed text in existence. I have lived with that view for many years but can no longer rationally or mystically make that claim. I found that all of my "evidence" for such a claim to be a defensive rationalization. How do I, then, see the Bible? Let's start there.

The stories, legends, poetry, songs, and myths that we've come to know as the Bible - in a phrase - is one certain culture during one certain period of human history trying to understand God. Based on their cultural experience and short history, their image of God (the tribal God "YHWH") looked and behaved a certain way. Here is where most "liberal" Christians (who discount or play down the Bible) fall short. What I DON'T think this means is that we should throw out our Book. It's our story. It tells of God's love and power and mercy and forgiveness and blessing and truth. But my shift is that it is not God talking to us word-for-word, it is man talking about, testifying to, and trying to understand the God that can be known yet ultimately in which all words fall short. Does that mean that the stories, myths, testimonies, songs, etc. aren't true? By no means! A story does not have to be historically accurate to obtain truth. This is the curse of modernity - that science/reason trumped the other two: art and morality. Truth is not a measurable quantity - it is immaterial - and can exist apart from scientific data. The Bible tells us mounds of truth about God and as Christians is our primary book!

One might interject here and claim that the Bible was (in its original form anyway) handed down (or breathed through) writers FROM GOD and all of what I'm saying is rubbish. While I do not intend to offer a streamlined evidential reasoning on why you should think how I think, I ask you: Why do you not believe that the Bhagavad-Gita is the perfect word of God (as do Hindus)? Or why do you not believe the Tao te Ching is inerrent and inspired by the Almighty? You might even be so bold as to say that they DO contain truth, but not the truth direct from God's mouth. In other words, for every reason you can give to discount another faith's book (which don't even get me started on how we overly emphasize text in religion to the point where it's Father, Son and Holy Bible) that is also the reason why I cannot fully accept the Bible en masse.

The phrase that most beautifully explains where I am coming from is "One River, Many Wells" (Matthew Fox). Here is a line from the introduction to the book with the same name:

"There is one underground river - but there are many wells into that river: an African well, a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a goddess well, a Christian well, and aboriginal wells. Many wells but one river. To go down a well is to practice a tradition, but we make a grave mistake (an idolatrous one) if we confused the well itself with the flowing waters of the underground river. Many wells, one river. That is Deep Ecumenism."

I do not quote this passage to validate my claim rather to run alongside it (for I know that Matthew Fox is as errant a man as any ... of this I am sure).

Just two more things, then I will discuss a few of Tim's points. First, where am I with Jesus then? Is he the one, unique Son of God and did the cross wipe out the sins of mankind? To be blatenly honest, I don't know. I don't have any reason to say so, except that's what some people say is true and its what someone (namely Paul) wrote down in a few letters a few century ago. In actuality I find in Jesus an example - a goal - a life which one should seek to emulate. One of many who figured out what it meant to fully live. To be filled with God's spirit. To heal and love and teach and all the things that made up my initial post: "Thoughts on What It Means to Be Christian." Therefore following Jesus is following the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Secondly, as I said in the post on Dan's website, I am not a proponent of extreme postmodernism where there is no truth and everything is equally true. That is completely ridiculous. (Afterall, we have differing views about these various topics, no?) I am not a Universalist in this regard because I believe that evil will not go unpunished (even if by natural processes) and that Love, Truth and Beauty are always victorious in the end. As far as how heaven and hell fit into this picture, I surrender to the mystery and allow God to be God in this regard.

Now about a few of Tim's points:

  • Again, comments like secular "compassion will not get anyone to heaven" can only stand on an inerrant Christian Bible as the only truth of God. Apart from the text, such thinking is ludicrous. Of course simple compassion (yes, even divorced from Christianity) is living up to God's Best (we need no 'text' to prove this, it is in our guts) and as far as the requirements to heaven, even the inerrant text that would back such a claim is divided and provides no clear picture.
  • Tim said: "Just as Buddhism negates aspects of Hinduism, it is indelibly true that Christianity does, and at times must negate other forms of religiosity; and even if it does not negate, it will entail addition." Of this, I agree. It is silly to say that all ways are "the same thing" and do not contradict each other. A man cannot commit horrendous and unnatural crimes and claim to be reaching for God. But even while Taoism, Islam, and Christianity are different in many ways, their aim is the same (though their methods are different) and they are each flawed and each full of truth.
  • Regarding Tim's comments about the Fall - again - we cannot fully have a conversation about this issue because we both begin in different places. I think it is a travesty to see people "already in debt," fallen, and born into sin. The concept of Namaste ("God in me recognizes God in you") from Hinduism resonates better with my soul and provides the fertile ground for love, healing, and compassion.
  • Tim said that if I am providing a Universalist philosophy then "it is quite likely that following "the way" doesn't even matter...Belief and action become meaningless." Again, I am not trying to provide a religious or philosophical "theory of everything" that has all the answers. And this is one area that I - again - allow the mystery to remain. I do not believe that truth, love, compassion, and beauty go "unanswered." These are the highest aims of life and provide total meaning and purpose both for the individual and society. But regarding those who have no spiritual life - no arms outstretched to God - and no heart for love - I am not sure what becomes of them. I simply do not have the answers and can only speak and act for myself.
  • Finally, regarding Travis' comment about "evening the social playing field." He argues, with truth no less, that the Bible does talk about "slaves obeying your masters" and uses the example of the story of the woman pouring expensive perfume onto Jesus. These are indeed two examples that show that oftentimes we are supposed to "render to Caesar..." and to give God/Jesus our best even when that requires us to be lavish. However, time and time again... story after story... we see the small, simple God-community abolishing the Empire (the Jews with God over Egypt, the call of the prophets to cease living in ivory towers while your neighbor starves, the voice of Jesus commanding us to give to the least, the last, the lost - even to the book of Revelation - which in some circles is about the fall of the Roman empire). To see much more about the entire Bible being a book about the "underdog" rocking the Empire, see Marcus Borg's "Reading the Bible Again for the First Time."

Thanks again to everyone who is following this discussion. I welcome any and all comments. God bless and Namaste! ;)


Amy Harden said...

I know I am biased, but very well written honey. You have explained your stance beautifully and even if Tim and anyone else reading this, doesn't fully understand and will once again take offense, I get it. I understand where your heart is. I admire that you are willing to admit your flaws and yet defend your God and His grace and love, to the utmost. Just so you know, I am so unbelievably proud to be married to someone so thoughtful and intelligent.

Dan Price said...

I think you mean "Tim" not "Dan" as to the links. Now, we wait for Tim's rebuttle!

Trev Diesel said...

Oops... my bad. I fixed it. It's correct now.

kev said...

Not that Tim reads the comments from each blog for sure, but just in case, I thought I'd add the point that even amongst the myriad of friends and acquaintances Trevor has, there is dialogue about these sorts of things. Worthwhile dialogue comes when there is actually something to discuss. If the weather's warm, there's a little breeze, and it's raining, there's not much point in talking about those three facts for hours on end. What I have begun to realize is that it's not warm, breezy, and rainy EVERYWHERE. In that case, dialogue about the weather becomes more relevant; HOWEVER, we still can't change the weather. My point being this: that's the mysterious nature of Creator God; who are we to say in what ways G-d does and does not work? Therefore, if we don't know the relationship of God to all the world, we should not make argumentative assumptions that send 70% of the planet straight to hell. If it's raining, let it rain.

tim said...

Thank you Trevor.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts, and your stance has become clearer, though it has also confirmed my earlier suspicions.

I will try to reply sometime this evening (I suppose it has to be this evening; for tomorrow I embark for Kansas City to spend a long weekend with my family and girlfriend).

It has been good to dialogue so far; I do appreciate the attitude with which you have approached things, especially in light of my early polemicism. Of course, debates don't last forever (even though disagreements often do), so I will conclude my formal thoughts on the matter (hopefully) with the next post.


dave said...

Again, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. I think that we probably have somewhat similar histories, and have both spent a decent amount of time unlearning those histories in favor of something new.

Several thoughts come to mind in reading this discussion. Here are a couple that will hopefully add to the discussion.

I heard a description recently of the bible:
It is "the story of one people's relationship with God." It is one that I like very much. My wife and I were talking about this definition last week. I would have to say, similar to your thoughts on the bible, I think that there are many places to find truth and many places to see, and hear from, God. I would also agree with the flaws in looking at the bible as the only Word of God, literally inspired by God. I would say though that those stories, etc. are inspired by God, though not word for word, and that all truth about who God is is contained within that book, though it isn't the only place. That truth isn't neccessarily in the word for word text, but often times it is hidden in interactions and such. It's one of those things that I believe all I need to know about God is in there, but for all of my searching I will probably never find it all. But sometimes the mysteries are the most beautiful part of faith. It is just a matter of searching, and seeking to understand, to find God in the bible. And it would be foolish and shortsighted to stop searching at those pages because there is so much more information out there to compare to and to learn from.
Just some random thoughts on the bible.

Also, some thoughts on how the different religions interact. At this point, in my admittedly human understanding, I think faith is a matter of choosing a path. I love the river and wells analogy. Quite beautiful. I would agree that there are many paths to God and one working doesn't neccesarily mean another has to be wrong. I think that is a flaw in many of the major religions as they are currently taught, that if someone believes something different than me that must somehow be a threat to what I believe, or that the two can't co-exist. That's just ridiculous, and has contributed to so much hate and division in the world. Sad really.
But I think we must each find our path, one that fits who we are and what we can understand, one that requires of us some surrender to something unknown but greater.
I have chosen the path of following Christ and living in His grace. That path obviously doesn't fit with some people. It may be that I am wrong and another path is right. There may be only one path. But there may not be.
There was a lot of good stuff in your post, and well thought out. These are just a couple of thoughts that came up as I was reading. Hopefully they make some sense.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

I will be so bold to say that none of these views you have espoused are Christian. This is no reactionary charge born out of fundamentalist anger. It is simply an honest characterization that is informed by 1) the Bible, 2) Christian history, and 3) reason and experience.

Starting with the Bible, the OT texts claim there is ONE God and he alone is to be worshiped. This One God lays out very specific rules for worship. He is not to be worshiped in the same way other "gods" are worshiped and He calls EXCLUSIVELY his people to be holy (set apart). In the NT texts Christ is the exact representation and image of the invisible God, and reveals the mystery of the Trinity—three persons in one God. Christ teaches exclusively that he alone is the way truth and life and that no one comes to God but through him. Not only so, but no one comes to Christ if they are not drawn by God. What Christ teaches here is very important and is radically different from what you are proposing: Christ teaches that a PERSON (himself) is the exclusive way to know God because he IS the SON OF GOD.

You are simply saying that Christ teaches a moral way of life, and to follow it, is to find "salvation." This is not the gospel of the Christ, the Apostles, nor the Church. The church has always taught that Mankind is born essentially significant, yet existentially estranged. The church has ALWAYS believed that Christ's work on the cross is objective (propitiatory, victorious, ect) and subjective (demonstrative of love and justice, ect.). The Church has ALWAYS believed that God reveals himself to mankind in a general sense (that has been suppressed and not believed) and in a special sense (inspired canonized records).

What about other religious texts? They speak of similar moral teachings (giving, sharing, care for creation, ect.), but they do not teach monotheism (see Hinduism), they do not teach creation out of nothing , (see Buddhism), they do not teach that God became man (see Islam), they do not believe Christ is God (Judaism), nor do any of these religions teach that all other religions are good and contain elements of "the way." How you simply gloss over these massive differences is astounding!

But the greatest travesty is that you substitute the Gospel of grace to sinners for a moral regiment called "The Way." This is where I highly doubt you have any understanding of Christianity, because Christianity has ALWAYS taught that man is unable to fulfill any kind of moral regiment whether it is made by God or by man and that any good work wrought within the human race comes from divine grace.

I know this comment has been very negative. I will completely understand if you find me insolent and "fundamentalist." But that matters very little to me. Your beliefs matter a great deal to God, and it would be profoundly unloving of me NOT to say anything.

Please feel free to rant.

Anonymous said...

Dave, you don't know me but I love what you said and i totally agree.

jaxun said...

Dude, you quoted Matthew Fox... I love it!

dave said...

I don't mean to step on Trevor's toes with this as I have sort of jumped in on the conversation, but I just have to make a comment in regards to adam's comment. First, I would agree that Christianity, the way, is the Gospel of grace. I am one who believes that we, as humans, are limited, born missing something, and, because of that, are flawed. While a significant part of our creator does exist within us we are missing that intimate connection with him. In my view, based on scripture (both the words and the meaning), this is heaven. Based on my experience and simple observation, this is what our souls long for, intimacy with our creator. A lot of different religions are striving for this, in lots of different ways. The way of Christ is to offer that connection through himself. Through him we are given that intimate connection with God, and then we go through our journey seeking to understand that relationship and that grace. I am one who usually believes Christ is who he said he was. I am also one who thinks that there are still many ways to get to God. Some require adherance to a moral code, others require observing specific rituals and traditions, following Christ requires leaning on him, the imitation of him follows as a result. I don't think we have to even understand fully who he is, and doubting him is normal and expected. But leaning on him, and pursuing him is the key. This is how I see it. As always, I may be wrong.
But, contrary to what Adam suggests about the church and teaching the following of a moral code:
That is precisely what the church in America is teaching today, and has been for centuries. Even if a preacher doesn't get up and say that "salvation" for lack of a better term, requires grace and then living "right" that is definately the message the church gets across (and many preachers do say exactly that). This is based on a lifetime of research. I grew up in protestant church and throughout my life have been in various places in various churches, catholic, charismatic, and protestant. I see it running through all kinds of christian literature and through the jargon that church people speak. So, to claim that the church preaches grace and not a moral code is just not true. If you will look a little closer at church history you will see that this conflict has been a consistent thread through christianity from the first century. Paul had to contend with trying to teach grace while the Jerusalem church wanted that gospel to include living according to the Hebrew moral code. That trend continues today as the church is quick to quote that we are "saved by grace, through faith" but then makes sure to include that we shouldn't smoke, drink, or cuss (along with the other outwardly measurable things the "good christian folk" like to keep on the list of why they are better than the rest of the world). I'll have to cut this thought short, but I am thinking I will be posting something along this vein on my blog soon as it is a pet peeve, and it is something I am always trying to understand better.
I'll leave the rest of the arguement with Trevor as I have probably put in more of my opinion that is neccessary here. He and I may differ a bit on some of the finer points regarding human nature and grace, but maybe not. Regardless, different views are all part of the journey we are on and as soon as we quit learning and being challenged to explore then we may as well be dead.
Thanks for the opportunity to think out loud.

Dan Price said...

Actually, I see Adam saying the exact opposite of that. He says that it is wrong-headed to think that we find salvation through the moral code of religious texts. Instead we find salvation from God's grace through faith. By following "the way" that is really a works-based salvation. As far as there being moral teaching in the Bible, who will argue that there isn't? But I don't think that Adam is saying that we must follow these moral teachings to reach heaven. Instead we follow these moral teachings because we love God and want to be more than just "saved" we want to be followers of Christ. Am I making any sense?