Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Response to Atoday blogs a few words from the Emergents

Over at Adventist Today there have been a couple of Blog authors who have been attacking the Emergent Church movement. Usually with some pretty poorly reasoned and biased arguments such as the opening lines from Cindy Tutsch most recent article which reads like this:
Retreat centers, seminars, and worship experiences that focus on mystical rituals and ancient practices are often seeking to find "the God within." In the ensuing blur of sacred, secular, and mystical, the God who transcends the universe vanishes and is replaced by pantheism or panentheism. Thus, the Creator God cannot be distinguished or worshipped over creation. As a result, each person's interpretations or ideas are as valuable or perhaps more valuable than the expressed Word of God in Scripture.
Cutting edge generalizations there and as with most of the blog articles at Atoday without any source material being given. Because when you actually deal with the actual words of people it is much harder to smear them with banal generalities.

Now I can agree with all the teachings of the emergent church leaders just as I don't agree with all of any other denominations or all of any independent church leader. I don't expect to agree with everyone but I do expect to be able to present my side of an argument and to have the other side accurately be presented. Sadly such objectivity is becoming harder to find in Adventism...maybe also in general Christianity as well.

So in my effort to confront the perversity of such authors as Herb Douglas and Cindy Tutsch lets take some time an hear what an emergent church leader actually says. His own words even, we don't have to go to someone interpretations of what he said we can all look at it. So here is some material from Brian McLaren found in his article A New Kind of Bible Reading He lists 13 points in regards to Bible reading I will abbreviate them here but it offers a nice demonstration between the thoughtful emergent church and the dogmatic traditionalist as seen in Cindy Tutsch's opening lines.

1. Reading the Bible narratively: This means reading the Bible in context of the nested series of stories it is telling.

2. Reading the Bible conversationally: If a culture is a community of people who
converse (or argue) about the same things across many generations, it makes sense to learn the contours of the main players in the conversation.

3. Reading the Bible missionally: If we believe there is a narrative arc to the Bible, we would agree it has to do with God’s creative project, the missio dei, God’s mission of making a world, healing it when it goes astray, and calling it to ever-greater justice, beauty, goodness and truth.
4. Reading the Bible politically/economically: The God of the Bible loves justice,
especially for people who suffer under the domination of violent and oppressive empire. God’s counter-imperial mission is therefore both personal and public, individual and social.

5. Reading the Bible rhetorically: Often, we focus on what a text says and miss what it is trying to do. For example, a mother might say, “If you hit your brother again, I’m going to lock you in your room for a year!” Grammatically and logically, we might say she is making a conditional promise that would qualify her for a charge of child abuse: I will do this if you do that. But rhetorically, she is using hyperbole to encourage one of her children to stop hurting another child. She wants what is best for both children – for one to be non-violent and for the other to be a non-casualty. What seems at first glance to be a threat of cruelty is, in a rhetorical light, the opposite: an expression of love flowing from a desire for peace.

6. Read the Bible literarily: When people claim to interpret the Bible literally, they often unconsciously mean, “like lawyers who write and interpret constitutions.” Constitutional readings trap readers in the grim and limited hermeneutics of the past. But when readers of the Bible develop sensitivity to the ways poets, protesters, storytellers, activists, priests, and mystics use language, the Bible is liberated from its constitutional captivity to be the wild, inspired, and impassioned collection of literary artifacts that it is.

7. Read the Bible closely: One of my favorite theologians asks how we can distinguish a better interpretation from a less satisfying one. Better interpretations, she says, account for more of the details in the text than their counterparts. In other words, we should prefer an interpretation that makes sense of details – showing why the author or community that produced the text decided each detail was worth including.

[He either forgot 8 or miss numbered in the PDF]

9. Reading the Bible communally: The Bible is not, as many preachers of my childhood affirmed, so easy to understand that any child can interpret it. A grown-up can’t even do it on his or her own. Nor can all the scholars of a generation. Nor can all the scholars of all generations. One dimension, in my experience, of the Bible’s inspiration is its depth, its absolute saturation with meaning, its ability to generate meaningful insight again and again, across generations and cultures, and across each individual’s lifetime as well.   That’s why, with so much meaning to be explored, we need to engage with it communally.

10. Reading the Bible recursively: Readers of the Bible have seen it in widely varying ways across centuries. For example, who today would guess that the Song of Solomon would have been the book in the Bible taken most seriously by certain late-medieval commentators, much the way that Romans has been primary for Lutherans and Calvinists, or Daniel and Revelation for Dispensationalists? Just as readers across the centuries have seen it differently, so will we across our personal and denominational life cycles.

11. Reading the Bible ethically: Even a cursory review of the use of the Bible in relation to slavery, anti-Semitism, the treatment of Indigenous Peoples, or Galileo’s discoveries about the solar system should remind us that interpretation is a moral act. People suffer and die because of bad interpretations, and they thrive and celebrate because of good ones. That’s why I believe that we should test an interpretation by reason and scholarship, using our rational intelligence – as we have traditionally done. But we must go farther, and also test our interpretations by conscience, using our emotional, ethical, and social intelligence - which we have too seldom done, raising questions like these: How might I treat people if I follow this interpretation? Whom might I harm? What unintended social consequences can we predict if this interpretation is widely embraced?

12. Reading the Bible personally: The Bible scholar or reader who is a follower of Christ can never pretend to be apart from the textual community as she reads the text. She must remember that she is a part of that community of faith, accountable to the God to which the text points and by which the text is inspired. It becomes dangerous to the soul to practice reading the Bible outside of this relational, personal context.

13. Reading the Bible mystically: To take the personal dimension a step deeper, the
faithful reader must develop the habit of mystical openness, receptivity not only to
understanding from the text but to enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, not only to
interpretation but to revelation, not only to intelligent engagement with the text but also to personal abduction by its message. As we read about people having dreams and visions, we must remain open to the possibility of having our own imaginations invaded and surprised.

Scary isn't it, the Bible actually calls for interpretation, much different than just letting some traditionalist tell you what it means. Though of course if you let the traditionalist tell you what it means they won't spend their time bad mouthing you. Of course you won't really grow and you can only tell others what the traditionalists believe and you end up digging a deeper hole that you can't get out of, but then getting out of traditionalism is never high on a traditionalist's agenda.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Traditon and the God that kills so Adam isn't naked

With the following I am beginning a new blog which moves away from the limiting tenancies of Adventism and denominationalism. For a while I will post the articles from the new blog here also. I have not decided if I will continue to cover Adventism as I have on this blog. Maybe just one more entitled : "you can't get there from here".

As we will see as this blog progresses there are so many ideas in Christianity that are simply accepted because of tradition or perhaps simply accepted because people never questioned an idea or belief. Much of them are origin ideas that color the Christians thinking in matters that range far from the original idea.

A good example of this is to be found in this comment from my article on Jimmy Swaggart’s Study Bible, the comment is as follows:

“i don't have his bible but i know from the bible that they did animal sacrifices back then.. because of God killed one.. to make there garments. thus starting the animal sacrifices because God covered them with animal so in turn they covered there sins they did and do back then till Jesus came for all.”

If one were to question the above comment they would have to ask did God actually kill an animal or animals just to make garments? Does it not take a good deal of processing before one skins an animal before that skin can be used successfully as clothing? Was this the same God who just spoke the universe into existence and now He has to kill in order to make clothes for humans? Was God really the very first being in recorded Jewish/Christian history to kill another living creature? If this was meant to be the first sacrifice why did the story not emphasize the killing as sacrifice idea rather then just making it about how God provided garments for Adam and Eve? And finally why does not any other part of the Bible reference this incident as emblematic for the sacrificial system?

Those are all very reasonable questions but I bet the writer of the above comment has not thought about even one of them. Reason is not the enemy of faith, in fact reason encourages faith because then there are reasons for the faith. The reverse however is not usually true; faith is often the enemy of reason. Because then they say if I had a reason to believe something why would I need faith. That is the problem that the traditionalist and the Fundamentalist have when they deal with what is written in the Bible. Their faith is in fact their tradition, their belief is not evidence based but tradition based, to question their tradition is to question faith in their minds. That however is not how the entire Bible lays out faith. Faith in God was based upon the multitude of stories that fill the Bible, the evidence of the Messiah, as Jesus came and lived among us. Those stories, the very pages of scripture are evidence to base ones faith upon.

Blind faith is exactly what it says, a faith that is not seen, a faith without evidence, a belief without reason. It cannot be reasonably explained to anyone it is accepted or rejected based upon nothing because it stands on nothing. As Gandhi said: “Faith... Must be enforced by reason...When faith becomes blind it dies.” Unfortunately that is not quite true because it does not die it instead becomes a vice. A more accurate quote by Ray Cove would be “If you don't have faith in your people in the field, you are lost. If that faith is blind faith, then it is not faith at all, just maladministration.” Blind faith is very problematic.

So how do we answer the traditionalist? We must take them back to their source material and ask them to explain their presuppositions. That is why this is a blog rather then simply an article. The subject is simply too vast, it is too vast for one book, with such a vast field of thought to engage in not every possible objection can be covered or every possible explanation given. Thus this is a conversation, a dialog that continues and evolves as we learn more and as we examine more implications. For our friend who believes that God was the first to kill we can answer fairly simply by going to the source. Because the Genesis story never once says that God killed an animal to make the garments for the people.

As the Exposititor’s Bible Commentary says: “The mention of the type of clothing that God made--"garments of skin [`or]," i.e., tunics--is perhaps intended to recall the state of the man and the woman before the Fall: they "were both naked [`arummim], and they felt no shame" (2:25). The author may also be anticipating the notion of sacrifice in the slaying of the animals for the making of the skin garments, though he has given no clues of this meaning in the narrative itself.”

Tunics that is coverings, it does not say animal skins that is the from the early English translations. When you look at the text and then the interlinear of the words here is what we see using the King James with the
Strong’s numbers following the word:

Adam 120, wife 802, Lord 3068, God 430, coats 3801, skins 5785, clothed 3847

When you look at the word skins 5785 we see that it includes man’s skin also:

5785  `owr (ore); from 5783; skin (as naked); by implication, hide, leather:
KJV-- hide, leather, skin.

5783 says:  `uwr (oor); a primitive root; to (be) bare: KJV-- be made naked.

It is not all that hard to see that God made tunics to cover the skin of the people and thus they were clothed. You don’t have to kill anything with such an interpretation. You don’t have to have God kill an animal and then perform a miracle to immediately make the skin usable for sewing or to become supple and move about comfortably in.

Remember “animal” is not in the Hebrew, just skins and skins can have varying meanings. It could be the cover layer of something else, wool is the covering layer of a sheep, various barks or leaves could be considered to be coverings, a snake sheds its skin, so there are other options available.

All we have is the quick aside in the story that God had seen their nakedness and covered them. God cares, He assists them even when they disobeyed He maintained their interests at heart. It is a simply line in a simple story that people want to pour so much meaning into that it eventually loses the initial meaning.

After this we have to consider what the author was trying to say. Was he trying to reference sacrifices and just did not know how to create the implication very well? Was he trying to express his idea of how God could have done things, without the conception of God that the Bible progresses through. Say for example God in his estimation could kill anything and anyone with impunity and it would not matter because God is the ultimate power and as such can do what He wants and the character…the very essence of God…how He acted and how He loves would be of little concern in his story. God cared enough to cloth them it did not matter how he did it.

We have a lot of questions and perhaps not a lot of answers. The people with all the answers like the original commenter seem to have none of the questions. They don’t know how to ascribe original meaning to the text or application to the present but they do have the answers that their traditions maintain. I prefer the method of the late A. Graham Maxwell who would constantly ask “what does this say about God”.

If that is you, stay tuned to this blog as we explore past the traditions.