Re-post from Peter Enns: Are Christian Fundamentalists Actually Polytheists?

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Peter Enns is one of my favorite theologians. He writes in ways that are accessible to non-theologians. As an introduction to him and his work, I have posted his entire most recent blog post below, word for word, putting in red the things that resonated with me most deeply. I encourage you to join the discussion here on my site, but also to definitely check out Dr. Enns’ site for yourself. In today’s post, Enns writes:

I came across this quote recently from James A. Sanders, Old Testament scholar, translater and editor of the Psalm Scroll (Dead Sea Scrolls), and former professor (retired) from Claremont School of Theology

Another form of idolatry or polytheism that has emerged in Western Christianity in reaction, in part, to Enlightenment study of the Bible, and that needs also to be eschewed, is that of bibliolatry – viewing the Bible as somehow divine. God is divine, not the Bible! Hard-core fundamentalism and literalism, born in extreme reaction to contextual study of the Bible, have so idolized the Bible as to abuse it. Canonical criticism proposes to understand the Bible as canon not as a box of ancient jewels forever precious and valuable, but as a paradigm of the struggles of our ancestors in the faith over against the several forms of polytheism from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire. (From Sacred Story to Sacred Text, p. 5)

Maybe not the most subtle way of putting it, but Sanders makes a good point.

I resonate with a couple of things here. First, I regularly come across a phobia in Fundamentalism concerning the historical context of Scripture. The reason is that such study presents regular challenges to Fundamentalist ideology. But, a serious study of Scripture in its historical context, however unsettling at first, will sooner or later lead to a deeper, more real place.

Second, when seen in historical context, the Bible is not a collection of proof texts, like loose earrings in a jewelry box, but a canonical narrative. The Bible, despite its historical variety, is a grand narrative compiled and composed in the wake of Israel’s grand national struggle in Babylonian exile, which recounts Israel’s religious struggles throughout its history, both as they contend with the polythiesm of the other nationsand with their own struggles with their own God.

From this perspective, the Bible is not a series of verses that tell you what to do or think, but a grand story that shows you what the life of faith looks like.

To paraphrase Sanders, he is saying something like this:

Put the Bible in its place and then you will see its deep religious value. If you treat the Bible as a rulebook dropped out of heaven, you will miss the purpose for which the Bible was written in the first place. 

Just something to think about in this Labor Day afternoon.

Why I Will Be Posting Less Often

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It is clutch-time, dear reader. I have completed my book, Living Truthfully. I have spent the last few months building a platform, partly because I need a platform to get the book out, but also because I love the challenge of platform-building and finding “my people,” and the regular writing discipline is good for me. However, I need to devote most of my writing time to editing the book, finishing the proposal, and finding an agent who believes in it as much as I do. Though I have fears about losing my audience, it obviously doesn’t make sense to not follow through on getting this book published.

I will post one to two new posts per week for the next few months, and will re-post some stuff my readers might like that has been written on other blogs by other writers. My Twitter and Facebook posting schedule has also changed. From here on, it will be less frequent, less repetitive, and less annoying, and there will be days of silence.

God’s Love, prt. 4

No wonder we suffer from the spiritual schizophrenia we do in the church. No wonder the history of the church is full of outright atrocities, committed in the name of Jesus, prince of peace and Lord of Love. These spring directly from human beings who ultimately don’t know whether they are loved or hated, and from the difficulty of living in love. When we come to know the depth of God’s love for us, and that we are secure in that love not just for this life but for all eternity (a la Paul in Romans 8, and all through Philippians), we then have something to stand on other than threat of punishment. We then can find ourselves loving others for the right reasons — not out of fear for them, or for ourselves, but because we have finally found what we have always searched for — love that is truly unconditional, that never changes, in which there is truly no shadow of turning.

Good parents know there is nothing more important to our children’s development than their knowing beyond all question, suspicion, and doubt, that their parents always will what is best for them, that mom and dad will never under any possible circumstance, inflict suffering upon them that is unredemptive. People can say all they want about God’s sovereignty and mystery, and the importance of trusting in God, but whether you are in relationship with God or with a human being, you do not cease being human. Humans, in order to function healthily, need to know they can trust those who say they love them, and this includes every single personal being in relationship to them, whether other human beings, Martians, God, or hobbits. If God is going to harm you beyond any hope of redemption, you cannot trust him, and you cannot help that. God made you to shy away from people and situations you cannot trust. As long as you believe God is willing to punish you beyond all hope of redemption, you will ultimately struggle to trust him, and that is not lack of faith on your part.

The gospel I preach at Wildwind Church starts not in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but in Psalm 139. That plants our minds and hearts in fertile soil in which we can begin to imagine that we are truly loved, beyond any and all ability for us to screw up. Then we read the rest of the Biblical text and God’s love is apparent to us. In places in scripture where God is loveless, we realize the writers, too, are struggling to imagine this love (some of the verses toward the end of Psalm 139 are a perfect example of this). We have to make a choice here and that’s why I wrote http://davidkflowers.com/2012/07/right-and-wrong/. We’re scared to death to make that choice. Yet we must.

In this series of posts on God’s love, I have not dealt with any of the implications of what I believe about the love of God. What does this mean about salvation? Where is the need for Jesus? What is the purpose/point of evangelism? Am I a universalist? I will take on those questions in a future series, but I am going to give theology a rest for a while. It has been a long series, and fairly heavy, at least for people who are not accustomed to digging into theology.

Question: What does God’s love mean to you? How far will God’s love ultimately reach?

God’s Love, prt. 3

 

God's Love w/ Pencils

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Remember, Jesus himself invited the comparison of God’s love to the love of human parents for our children. If you extend your love to your children constantly, every second, for a specified number of years, are you then justified in killing or torturing them for having not responded? Could you even desire to? If you were capable of doing that , wouldn’t that mean — by obvious definition — that you never really loved them to begin with? Wasn’t Jesus example on the cross saying that love transcends death — that it pays the ultimate price, that it goes to hell and back again, that there is nothing that can come between us and God? Wasn’t Paul saying that in Romans 8? If so, doesn’t that sound to you very much like the love we human parents know for our own children, even though our love is so imperfect?

It’s hard enough that our humanity prevents us from loving fully. It does not help  matters that we don’t allow ourselves theologically to integrate what we already know about love as parents with what we believe about God’s love for us. If God’s love for me ultimately will allow him to do something horrible to me, then as far as I’m concerned God doesn’t love me at all. As a parent, I will love my girls forever and ever, no matter what they do, whether they ever respond or not. No matter how badly they would ever treat me, my dying breath would be a wish for their well-being. Don’t you love your kids that way? If you do, it is heroic or kindly of you? Of course not. Good parents just can’t help loving our kids that way. There’s nothing we can do about it. They are ours, and we are forever in their corner no matter what. Every decent parent on earth knows that. Are we supposed to deny this natural knowledge of love in order to lower the standard for God? Jesus seemed to be saying God’s love is superior to, greater than, ours. I believe it.

Let’s face it. As parents the only reason many of us can tolerate those terrible doctor trips to get vaccinations is because we keep reminding ourselves it’s for a greater good. We innately understand this to be the only possible justification for allowing or inflicting suffering, except where God’s love is concerned, in which case we seem okay holding God to that lower standard I referred to. In our teaching, the God who was enfleshed, lived, and died specifically to redeem us somehow transforms into a God whose redemption was limited to the briefest span of our lives — that being our lives on this planet in these bodies. (Sidebar: One of the best contributions of the idea of purgatory is that human suffering in the next life at least has redemptive purposes. In fact if one believes God consigns humans to hell, it is perhaps only the idea of purgatory that makes it rational in any sense.) If I have to believe God will dish out wanton and unredemptive suffering to me or anyone I love, then God would be my enemy. That is a realistic thing to consider. Perhaps God is an enemy of his creation. Perhaps there is no God at all. I do not believe either of these two ideas and, along with rejecting them, I also reject the notion that God’s love does or ever will inflict or allow the infliction of non-redemptive suffering. If I am wrong, then in the final analysis, God either does not desire my well-being, or does not ultimately have the power to secure it. If either is the case, I cannot trust him.

However, if I believe God is love, and all that must be true in order for that to be the case, I am quite secure. So are you. You wanna know the really awesome thing? If I’m right, you are secure whether this is the God you believe in or not.

 

 

God’s Love, prt. 2

love is eternal

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[Start at the beginning of this series]

Jesus invited us to understand God’s love by thinking of our love for our own children. He did this mainly in two places. One is the parable of the prodigal son. The other is when he said, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13). In this passage, Jesus is saying that God’s love as a heavenly Father far exceeds our love as the parents of our children. This means God must love in a far different way than how the church often teaches it. The church tends to teach God’s love as a contingency.

God loves you if…
God loves you, but because of his justice he will still…
God loves you infinitely, but that doesn’t mean he won’t…
God loves you, but you better…

Vast parts of the church simply will not face the fact of contingency. It amounts to teaching love without actually teaching love at all. If we assume that Jesus modeled love on the cross, and if we assume that Paul wrote accurately about love in 1st Cor. 13, then God cannot love in any of the ways above and still have it be the love Jesus modeled and the love Paul wrote about. It is because the church teaches love as a contingency that so many basically good and loving Christians could have prioritized politics over love in last week’s Chick-Fil-A event, saying, “This isn’t about love, it’s about politics.” Only when we have learned about a world where some things are about love and others aren’t (e.g., God’s behavior toward us and love for us before our deaths versus after our deaths) could we even think this distinction makes sense.  

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