Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Contradictions of Scripture

Fr. Stephen Freeman

We can, however, only express the Truth if we foresee the extreme expression of all the contradictions inherent in it, from which it follows that Truth itself encompasses the ultimate projection of all its invalidations, is antonymic and cannot be otherwise.

-Pavel Florensky

I wrote in a previous article about the importance of contradictions in the knowledge of God. The Orthodox faith utterly delights in paradox and contradiction and liberally salts its language of worship with shockingly antonymic expressions. This is intentional and inherent to the nature of the kind of knowledge (koinonia) that alone is saving knowledge. Remembering this is important when we come to the study of the Scriptures. Doubtless, the most devastating practice with regard to the Scriptures is ridding them of contradiction. Today, this is done regularly, and from a number of directions. Apparently, human beings dislike contradiction and have a passion-driven instinct to minimize it. This diminution of reason goes by many names – some of them being so bold as to claim that this is reason itself. It is not. True reason is at home with contradiction.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brexit: Democracy at Work?
Posted by: vinoth-ifes on: June 28, 2016

I arrived in London the day after the results of the British referendum. I found many of my friends in a state of shock and dismay. The Brexit vote has revealed the deep fissures in British society- between London and the rest of the country, between economic classes, between urban and rural populations, between Scots and English, and even between generations (the young voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU).

The vast majority of non-Europeans are unaffected by what has happened here. But what has been most troubling- indeed horrifying- was the way the political campaign was fought. It mirrored the vicious obscurantism of the current American presidential campaign.

God, Violence, and War in the Old Testament

1.    God’s purpose and design for creation is divine-human communication/communion/community with humanity on this earth (pictured in Gen.3 by God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden). In other words, God always intended to come among us and be with us as one of us. It was always his plan to send the incarnate Jesus Christ into the world to effect his purpose.

2.    God’s strategy was incarnational: to identify and enter into solidarity with his creatures in ever more intimate ways as his purpose unfolds through history. Development, change, and deepening were always to be features of this history. The principle: God meets the people where they (takes history seriously) and takes them on in the direction he wants them to go.

3.       After the Fall, this strategy is complexified. God now has to deal with the problem of sin and its distorting effects in his world to achieve his purpose. Violence is the chief effect of sin (Gen.6:11). He continued to do that through the new family he created by calling Abraham and Sarah out of Ur and leading them to Canaan. There this family was to declare and demonstrate God’s will for human life (Dt.4:5-8).

4.       At the Exodus God rescues and claims Abraham and Sarah’s people as his nation over which he is king. This is a new step toward fulfilling his purposes. And at that time, in a fallen, violent world, being king meant protecting the people’s boundaries and interest for the sake of their survival. That meant repelling and defeating enemies. And God played his role in a way the people could recognize and embrace. Remember, the people are on the way with God meeting and identifying with them ever more closely as their sovereign. This is not the end toward which he is heading but a necessary incarnational step in that direction. The strategies of Holy War (literally YHWH War) is appropriate for this stage of the relationship. It is a but a moment in Israel’s history which God sets on a trajectory that ends in the nonviolent Shalom of Jesus. We can trace this development in a number of ways, particularly in Isaiah 40-55 where God’s New Exodus and Holy War to free and return his people is headed by one “suffering servant” who is God’s ideal and from whom God’s people will derive their identity and practice forevermore.

5.       Old Testament scholar Stephen Chapman from Duke offers the most cogent summary of this process I am aware of in his essay in the book Holy War and the Bible:

“Warfare in the Old Testament, as indeed all killing in the Old Testament needs to be recognized within Christian theology as a strictly circumscribed divine concession to the brutal reality of human sin (Gen.9:3-6). However, someone still might ask, ‘Couldn’t God design a world in which war wasn’t necessary?’' The appropriate theological response is that God in fact did so (Gen.1-2), but human sinfulness spoiled it precisely by generating violence (Gen. 6:11-13). Someone might push further and say 'Even with the advent of human violence, couldn’t God have devised a strictly nonviolent method for dealing with it?" Here again the theological response is that God did just that in Jesus Christ, but in order for Christ to appear in the fullness of time (Gal.4:4) it was necessary for God to elect and preserve the people of Israel. And apparently - this is the hard part - God was not able, given the violence of the world, to preserve Israel purely nonviolently although, even so, Israel's history witnesses to and moves toward nonviolence as it moves toward Christ.” (63-64)

Yes, that “hard part” is where many stumble today. They prefer to believe the authors of these kinds of texts got God wrong erroneously painting him in the colors of the deities of the surrounding cultures they knew. Thus, knowingly or unknowingly, they painted their “genocidal” wars of aggression into Canaan as carried out at God’s behest and with his support. But God, whatever he was doing in and with the people at this point (which is not clear), was not involved in these wars and did not approve of them. Others take the same tack but actually accuse God of perpetrating these atrocities and is thus himself morally in the wrong.

Yes, this is a “hard part.” Simple answers here usually play us false. One such answer, we might call “justifying” says “The stories are true. God did what they say he did. And if he did it, it is alright because God after all can do whatever God wants.” I hope none of you readers want to take that line! Another too simple answer, the “suspicious” one faults God or the narrators for doing wrong or falsifying the story to justify the nation’s nefarious, self-serving acts.

I don’t believe either answer suffices. It seems inadequate to me justify God by appealing to a dubious “God can do whatever he wants” principle or because they’re in the Bible they’re true. Equally, the “suspicious” answer seems inadequate too. Vindicating God by removing him from the stories is too easy in my judgment. As is blaming him for involvement in these wars. How else could God show himself a faithful king able to guide and direct his people in that time but by so acting. If God incurs guilt thereby, so be it. That seems part and parcel of the incarnational movement from God to humanity. Jesus incurred guilt through his baptism into full solidarity with his people and the world and so too we as his people incarnating him in our world are to bear sin and incur the guilt of responsible action in the world (Bonhoeffer). If that’s the price incarnation costs, that’s a price God is willing to play. And it seems to me a cost we as readers must pay to keep God ever-increasingly involved in the life of the church and the world.

I realize these brief comments require much further argument to make them compelling. But I want to register them here as a warning against a too easy acceptance of what I deem inadequate answers. Especially the “suspicious” answer because it is widely trumpeted on the internet. More and better thinking on the matter from all of us can only be a good thing!  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Being the Church in an Age of Racism, Misogyny, Nationalism, Hate, and Conflict

Jun 25, 2016

I used to wonder how large percentages of nations—including many Christian leaders—could support political leaders who advocate racism, misogyny, torture, hate, division, conflict, and authoritarianism . . .

But, recently, we’ve seen the rise of political figures (all over the world) appealing to xenophobia and nationalism (and even Christendom). We’ve seen the magnetism of this message, in various parts of the globe, and the acquiescence of Christian leaders.

I don’t want to name any particular politician here. In fact, I can think of many contemporary politicians who are appealing to these toxic cultural and social phenomena, all over the globe.

The contemporary social conditions are ripe for a certain kind of politics and politician (as we’re seeing in many parts of the world at the moment). Those conditions support racism, misogyny, torture, hate, and authoritarianism. The church needs to address its complicity in these things, and cultivate a distinct way of relating to power and these contemporary conditions.

We’re in a Perfect Storm

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit as Theodicy and Idolatry

Luke BrethertonABC Religion and Ethics 25 Jun 2016

When the world is out of control, the absurd can begin to feel like common sense to those who have the absurd notion that the world should be controlled for their benefit alone.

Trump and Brexit are the result. They are responses to the sense of precariousness and disorder we experience now.

This sense of disorder is no illusion. We are in a moment when we are beset by foundational and basic questions about what human flourishing consists of, in every area of life. Among the many questions being asked in our present moment some are these:

Monday, June 20, 2016

CBC interview with Jean Vanier about euthanasia promotes culture of death

June 20, 2016

Brett FawcettRebel Blogger

If you ever wanted to know what some observers mean when they speak of “the culture of death,” just listen the recent interview by CBC Radio’s Carol Off with Jean Vanier.

Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, “the Ark”, an international network of communities that care for the mentally disabled by putting them, not in hospitals or “care centres”, but in homes—real homes. Rather than treating those with intellectual disabilities as inconveniences to be shuffled out of the way, L’Arche assistants treat them as core members in the community life they share.

In a recent editorial for the Globe and Mail, Vanier commented on the looming physician-assisted suicide legislation in Canada, warning that “we must take care not to obscure or forget the innate dignity of those who are vulnerable”.

He believes we should always ensure that . . .
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Friday, June 17, 2016

Seven Christian responses to gay marriage

OPINION  |  Centre For Public Christianity

Friday 17 June 2016

The first step in navigating your way through any complicated topic is to work out what the main approaches are and try (as best you can) to identify what is appealing about each position, as well as what might be a weakness. In our efforts to think through the fraught topic of same sex marriage, the Centre for Public Christianity has developed the following brief guide to seven approaches we’ve encountered amongst Christians wrestling with this topic. It does not claim to be exhaustive. It cannot capture every nuance. But we thought it might still be helpful to describe the various perspectives in a simple, convenient format, and invite readers to evaluate their own position in light of the alternatives. 

1.    Innovators: moving beyond scripture

Innovators enthusiastically support same sex marriage. They do so with what they hold to be a generous moving beyond the Bible’s teaching. For some this will be justified on the theologically liberal grounds that the Bible is a historically-conditioned document which contains some limited human teachings (hard Innovators may go so far as to accuse parts of the Bible of being wrongheaded and harmful). For others, this moving beyond Scripture is seen as a freedom granted by the Holy Spirit himself, as he moves the church into deeper expressions of love. Love, after all, is seen as the true heartbeat of Scripture.

Innovators may be vulnerable to the question of whether their approach to the Bible is too radical a departure not merely from ‘fundamentalist’ readings of Scripture but from the approach to the Bible found in all three historic forms of Christianity (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant). It may also be asked whether ‘love’ in the Bible can so easily be set against God’s moral demands.

2.    Reinterpreters: reading the Bible afresh . . .

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Following Christ, Relinquishing Rights

gunLast fall, around the time when Donald Trump first made his infamous call to ban all Muslim immigration to the United States out of fear that it may be a “Trojan Horse” of terrorist infiltration, I wrote a blog post calling for Christians to welcome immigrants and refugees, even if it is costly to us. I wrote:
The way of Jesus Christ is not closing doors to asylum-seeking refugees or building walls to keep out foreigners. The way of Jesus Christ is not about forsaking the well-being of others in order to protect one’s own livelihood. The way of Jesus Christ is the cross. It is the way of sacrificing one’s own well-being in the name of love for others, however uncomfortable or risky or countercultural that may be.
Seven months later, after the tragedy in Orlando and after Donald Trump has reiterated his “ban” and after his support has broadened (even among Christians) beyond what any of us could have imagined, I think the point needs to be made again.
Christians: Being like Christ does not mean looking out for your self-interest and safety and comfort and rights above all else. . .


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Were there non-abusive same-sex relationships in New Testament times? 


Short answer: yes.

But why is this significant? Because some scholars try to make this case:

1. There were no loving, non-abusive same-sex relationships in New Testament times.
 - What relationships there were (so the argument goes), were abusive: master-slave, or older man with younger, teenage boy (pederasty).
2. So when New Testament authors condemn same-sex sexual activity, it's because those relationships were abusive.
3. Therefore, the New Testament does not speak to loving, non-abusive same-sex relationships. As a result, we can affirm loving, non-abusive relationships that involve same-sex sexual activity.

The underlying moral logic to this revisionist argument is: same-sex sexual activity condemned by Scripture is sinful because these relationships are abusive, not because they are two people of the same sex

Read more at 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Craig Keener and the fallacy of mutual submission

 Craig Keener, who certainly knows a thing or two, has written a piece on Jesus Creed reaffirming the common egalitarian argument that Paul prefaces the instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33 with an exhortation to mutual submission. I count myself as a dyed-in-the-wool egalitarian, but I am still not convinced that this interpretation is exegetically correct.

We get off to a rather disconcerting start with Keener’s argument that Paul expected masters to obey their servants. How does that work? Well, Paul tells slaves to obey their masters in Ephesians 6:5 and then in verse 9 says that masters should “do the same to them”. In Keener’s view Paul has “expressed one of the most radically antislavery sentiments of his day”.

I really don’t think that’s very likely.

Paul is not telling the masters to obey their slaves “with fear and trembling”. That is simply a social impossibility—and Keener has to admit that no one in the first century would have taken Paul literally. Christian slaves should act as slaves (douleuontes) with a good will, as to the Lord, “knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free” (Eph. 6:8). The free master should act according to the same principle: knowing that he will receive back from the Lord whatever good he does. He should act towards his slaves, therefore, on the same basis: he should refrain from threatening, “knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him”. The specific requirement is that he should not threaten, and he does so for the same reasons that the slave renders service with a good will. . .

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bonhoeffer - An Annotated (?) Bibliography

Communio Sanctorum – Christ is Not a Billiard Ball (and Neither are We)

Act and Being – It’s Jesus, Folks!

Christ the Center – Of Everything (Enough Said) 

Discipleship – Jesus Doesn’t Want to Make a Difference in your Life; He Wants to Give You a      Different Life, Now!

Life Together – How the Church Matters

Ethics – What Does It Mean to be a Christian Anyway?
Letters and Papers from Prison – Becoming Silent Servants of the Used, Abused, and Utterly Screwed Up (Thomas Klise, The Last Western)                     

Friday, June 3, 2016

What if the Gospel is Different, Better and Bigger than We've Been Told?

What if we preached the gospel as the good news it is: That God has defeated all our enemies in Jesus Christ and we are free to be who God created us to be?

What if?

And what if who God created us to be is “royal priests” in his temple of creation mandated and gifted to represent our Great King and extend and prepare the whole creation to be his eternal habitation with us?

What if?

Again, what if being “royal priests” in a defeated but still-not-yet-fully-pacified world entailed God’s people being a “subversive counter-revolutionary movement?” A community of Christ-followers committed to undermining the attitudes, actions, patterns, and systems inscribed by the fall into the world and beginning in Christ to live out the same in accord with the creational design of God which is the world’s future and destiny?

What if?

What if Jesus’ life of pouring himself out for the world in love resulting in the cross and climaxing in the resurrection is the very life of God lived out under the conditions set by human sin and rebellion? That is, what if his call for his followers to “take up the cross” and follow him in pouring themselves out, even to death, for the world is that same life of God, Jesus’ life, lived out under the same conditions as he did? Whose resurrection validated and vindicated his life as that very life of God? The very same life we will live eternally in the new creation forever? The same pouring ourselves out to serve and care for one another we know here sans the conditions generated by sin and rebellion that made the cross inevitable? The eternal life experienced in part here and now and in full then and there?

What if?

What if the church lived as a “subversive counter-revolutionary movement” armed only with the word of God (Eph.6:17) and practicing the “violence of love” (Oscar Romero; see also Gal.5:6)?

What if?

What if we approached every person we meet as a person called to join us as the “royal priests” we are all called to be, welcomed them to our company, and lived together with them the “subversive counter-revolutionary” life which is life indeed not only for this life but for the one to come?

What if?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Defeat Worth Celebrating!

           Carl Trueman and Rod Dreher

“both believe that the culture war is over and that ‘our side’ has lost. We both believe that it is pointless simply to shout Bible verses louder, or to base arguments on the private religious convictions of the Founding Fathers, or to huff and puff that we must be taken seriously because Christianity was important way back when. And we both believe that the language of exile is appropriate for the imminent condition of Christians in the USA. (

          Whoa! What’s going on here? Culture warriors waving the white flag? Admitting defeat?

Astonishing! Unbelievable!

Now we’re getting somewhere! Finally!

This is a benchmark moment in the history of the church in this country. Another irrevocable step in the demise of Christendom. You know, Christendom. When America was a Christian country. A people chosen by God to inhabit this new land (forgetting the Native Americans who were already here) and be a beacon to the rest of the world of freedom and justice. When the Ten Commandments were the law of the land (at least in theory though never in practice). The people through whom God would reach out and save the rest of the world. Where Presidents close every speech with “God bless America!” and pastors and priests offer invocations at public civil events. You know – that Christendom.

It’s been dead and dying for some time now. But many American Christians have been very reluctant to accept this defeat. They have fought tooth and nail to resist it and turn the struggle into a reaffirmation of the Christian America they always believed it was. But now, maybe with the widespread acceptance of gay rights, even they realize the game is up. At least some of them, publically known and respected figures, do.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer experienced all this in a highly compressed way in the twelve years of Nazi rule in Germany in 1930-40’s. He saw the whole Christendom project dismantled right before his eyes. And somehow, in the midst of that hell, he was graced to “peep around some corner” (as Karl Barth put it) and see something of the lay of the land beyond Christendom. He left us his reflections on what this meant for Christians and the church in his Letters and Papers from Prison. There’s no denying that these are provisional and fragmentary ideas and thoughts, easy to misunderstand and dismiss. Yet, in my judgment, these are the most valuable pieces of testimony we possess for what we are going through now. In other words, Bonhoeffer has been where we are just getting to now. He was a man ahead of our time! And we are still trying to catch up with him.

Thus when we read Carl Trueman’s assessment of the way ahead it is gratifying that it breathes the spirit (if not every detail) of Bonhoeffer’s own vision for a church beyond Christendom.

·         Conventional politics will not save us  . . . This is . . . a claim about the limited expectations we should have regarding political engagement, particularly at the national level.

·         The church is not the world . . .

·         Christians must retrieve their own traditions as the fundamental sources of their identities . . .

·         Christians must prioritize the local community as their sphere of action . . . .

·         What we face is not a struggle within a culture but, strictly speaking, a clash of alternative cultures. This is where the language of the end of the culture war needs to be understood correctly. It is not that we are to surrender to the dominant culture. It is rather that we are to model an alternative culture. And we are to do so first in our local communities.

Three cheers for Truman, Dreher, and others of their ilk. May their number increase and may the Spirit of God continue to draw all Christians who have been at odds in this culture war in America together around this kind of agenda for the way ahead through the end of Christendom. Not as a gathering of victors and the vanquished but as a people with the humility to confess that “Christian America” was a heresy we all participated in and benefitted from, that our division into traditionalist and progressive parties is something God wants to call us out of and into something new, that the church as a whole has participated in. Some of us were guilty but all of us are responsible.

One caveat. Bonhoeffer called his church to a time of waiting for God to raise up the church as a public presence and voice in Germany’s post-Christendom culture. He advised that prayer and doing good deeds and practicing the “arcane discipline” (of worship) in secret should occupy Christians as we wait. I think this is a good idea for us to consider. We await the decision and call of the sovereign Lord as to whether we still are of any use to him here.

At any rate, the times “they are a changin’” as Bob Dylan sang fifty years ago. For the church in America that change appears to reached another benchmark moment. Thanks be to God!