Jennifer Grace Bird – Permission Granted

Permission GrantedJennifer Grace Bird teaches at the University of Portland and Portland Community College. She is a bible scholar and Permission Granted is her first “popular audience” book (she talks about that dubious category in the interview) and is intended for people to use in their communities to read scripture together.Jennifer Grace Bird

The text itself is chock full of great stuff and comes along with questions to guide folks in reading along together as they make their way through the book, making sure they have their Bible nearby. Callid was able to catch up with Jennifer earlier this month and so we’re able to bring the goodness straight to you.

Resurrection-al

On today’s TNT podcast a well-meaning caller tries to close the gap between Tripp and my perspectives by appealing to Whitehead’s process view (minute 55).

Let me try to articulate my perspective as quickly and clearly as possible so that there are no misunderstandings – even if you disagree with me.

My 3-fold thought is pretty straight forward.

The gospel and thus the church are:
A) Incarnational
B) Resurrectional
C) Pentecostal

Incarnation means embodied and enacted. It is not abstract ideas, universal concepts or timeless truths … it is local, particular and timely.

Resurrection means the church is a new-life people with perpetual hope. Death is not the last word and we serve a God who vindicates the victim and unmasks the powers that be.

Pentecost means that God’s Spirit is at work in the world (ahead of us) in-filling us with power for a transformed life resulting in sanctification-holiness (within us) and opening us to the possibilities and opportunities for ministry (all around us).empty tomb

 

So let’s zoom in on the Resurrectional aspect more specifically.

An argument that I hear over and over is that the resurrection must have been real because
A) the disciples lives were transformed by what they experienced
B) they were so convinced that they were willing to risk –and ultimately give – their lives for it.

I don’t disagree with either one of those lines of reasoning.

 

My contention comes from Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).

Follow my concern:

1) Whatever kind of body that Jesus had after Easter Sunday BUT before the Ascension was the kind of body that allowed him to both walk through walls (John 21:19) and make breakfast for his friends on the shore (John 21:12). He looked enough like himself that Thomas could touch the wounds (John 20:26) but different enough to be mistaken for gardeners (John 20:15) and strangers (John 21:4).

Jesus has a kind of body that we can expect to have when we are resurrected (Romans 6:5) – it will have some relation to our present earthly existence but be glorified/improved as to constitute a new existence.

2) When Saul meets the Lord on the road and was blinded by the light … his life was transformed and he was willing to sacrifice and eventually offer his life because of what he had experienced.

 

But is anyone suggesting that the Jesus Spirit that Saul met on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5-6) is the same bodied-one the disciples met after Easter/ pre-Ascension?

NO!

So apparently you don’t need a resuscitated corps or molecular/cellular consistency to result
A) a changed life
B) the willingness to give ones life for what they experienced.

Therefore, I am not interested in getting into arguments based on the certainty of THE resurrection – however one understands that.

THE resurrection is whatever it is/was. Understanding/articulating it is not my primary concern!
I want to know in what way the people of god are a resurrectional community that celebrates new life and offers perpetual hope because of what we have experienced … the presence of Christ.

 

 

Cynthia Shafer-Elliott on Bible, Archaeology & Food

Cynthia-Shafer-Elliott-SMCynthia Shafer-Elliott is the Professor of Hebrew Bible at William Jessup University specializing in the historical, cultural, and archaeological contexts of ancient Israel and Judah.

Her interest in the daily lives of the average Israelite and Judahite household include economics, food preparation and consumption, religion, and the roles and relationships of the family. She is an experienced field archaeologist in Israel and is currently part of the archaeological excavation team at Tel es-Safi/Gath, Israel.

Dr. Shafer-Elliott is also the author of an academic book Food In Ancient Judah – and joins Bo to talk about all of these things!

Deacon Distillery: calling all Nor Cal Deacons! May 28 after the NT Wright lecture (tickets here) Cynthia and Bo will host a pub talk (in Roseville just outside Sacramento) to debrief and distill the ideas from that evening’s talk on Paul and Tomorrow’s World.  Please RSVP when the page goes up later today! 

The Danger of ‘Re-‘ Words

We have some work to do and I am not sure ‘Re-‘ words are sufficient to get us there.R-Revelation

Omar Reyes is the fourth call on this week’s TNT episode. His question relates to a High Gravity class that has been taking on the new interest in Paul by philosophers.

One reason that Paul is attracting so much attention recently has to do with his view of universal implications from the particularity of the Christ event.

An example of this would be the famous unfolding-progressing inclusion of more and more people by dissolving established categories of separation-exclusion: male/female, slave/free, Jew/gentile.

This trajectory continues in the ongoing work of God’s spirit for reconciliation and restoration in more contemporary categories: gay/straight, black/white, rich/poor, citizen/foreigner, etc.

Now reconciliation and restoration are two good (and biblical) words that start with ‘Re-’. Two more powerful words that would complete that constellation would be :

  • Repentance
  • Reparations

In fact, I would suggest that these last two words need to come before the previous two:

  • Reconciliation
  • Restoration

 

Unfortunately, these four ‘Re-’ words are not the ones that I see/hear the most in many Christian circles. ‘Revelation’ and ‘Religion’ may be the big ones but they are not the only ones. Many seem to be fond of words like:

  • Revisit
  • Reclaim
  • Restore
  • Return
  • Renew
  • Renovate
  • Re-imagine
  • Revive
  • Retreat

 

I am not sure the above group of ‘Re-’ words is sufficient for the challenge that we are up against. As I argued last week in The Problem With The Future Is Its Past and Christianity Isn’t Conservative, the nature of Christianity is incarnational – so the past is not the determining factor for our present or future expression.

The problem with the past is that it is too easy to romanticize some notion or concept in isolation without addressing the larger structures of injustice and exclusion that it was embedded in.

That is why we can’t just reach back and reclaim-recycle-repurpose old words and concepts.

Here is an example: there is a popular desire in certain circles – from Radical Orthodoxy to my field of Practical Theology – to reclaim some Aristotelian notions like polis, habitus and phronesis (enacted wisdom).

This desire comes from a good place! There is a recognition (admittedly an ‘Re’ word) that the modernity project has dried out and withered the Christian soul and left it without vibrant connection-in-community and stripped of nearly all its practices/praxis.

I agree with that diagnosis.

The solution, however, is not simply to reclaim/recycle/repurpose ancient, antiquated or Aristotelian concepts from the pre-modern world. I have written about this a while ago in After MacIntyre and have since found the work of Susan Hekman very illuminating.

 MacIntyre’s approach exemplifies a disturbing characteristic of much of the communitarian literature: the romanticization of premodern societies that ignores the oppression and hierarchy that was endemic to those societies. Even Sandel (1984, 17), despite his modernist leanings, sometimes falls prey to the tendency to glorify traditional communities. The narrative selfhood that MacIntyre lauds can only be obtained at a high price: the ascription of traditional roles. 

She explains: 

When it comes to the highly charged issue of the sexism and racism of the traditions he praises so highly, MacIntyre seems to abandon his interrelationship thesis. With regard to the Aristotelian tradition, he tries to deny the claim that sexism and racism are an integral part of this system of virtues.

… throughout his writings MacIntyre unambiguously asserts it is this traditional community we must foster if we are to return to any semblance of a moral life:

“What matters at this stage are the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us (1984,263).”

 

This is a significant difference! To those like MacIntyre and Hauerwas, we are descending further into an age of darkness. Their answer is to reclaim-return to some former understanding or manifestation.

Hekman is right though – we cannot even attempt to do so without acknowledging and addressing the inherent racism, sexism, and disparity built into every level of the structures from which those romantic notions come.

 

This concern in the root of my unease with the popularity of ‘Re-’ words among groups including evangelicals, missio-alliance, radical orthodox, and post-liberals.

3 things in closing:

1) This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Tomorrow I will address the fiction of the End of History. Part 1 and part 2 can be found here.

2) Please sign up for Living Options in Christian Theology if you are interested in ideas like this. It is a High Gravity study group this June and July. Here is an introduction.

3) The words that we use indicate what impulse is behind them. This is why the critics can’t just say ‘semantics’ and dismiss the charge. I would love to hear the words that you would put forward to further this conversation.

My tri-part configurations of suggestions would be:

  •  Examine – Imagine – Adapt
  •  Explore – Address – Evolve
  •  Investigate – Interrogate – Innovate

 

I would love to hear your suggestions! 

The Problem With The Future Is Its Past (part 1)

The Future Of Christian Theology was purchased with great anticipation. I had read David Ford before and appreciated his innovative and insightful perspective.

Gordon Kaufman’s Theology For A Nuclear Age has probably been the most influential book I have read outside my reading for school. Most of my reading for school is in Practical Theology, Post-Colonial Studies and Critical Race Theory. I am a big fan of going forward so The Future of Christian Theology was an exciting proposition.

Ford does an amazing job. In raising up the 20th century as the most prolific and creative era of Christian Theology he is masterful at articulating the diversity and accounting for the plurality in communities represented. I love his emphasis on Pentecostal, Liberation, Feminist, and Post-Modern approaches. He does a wonderful job addressing global-regional diversity as well as the full denominational spectrum.

Yet when it comes time to highlight the legends of the 20th century, in order to avoid perpetually reinventing the wheel, he picks the following six legendary theologians to lift up:

  • Karl Barth
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Paul Tillich
  • Karl Rahner
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Henri de Lubac

 

Lists can be fun – they can also be telling.

Around here we might want to supplement the list with John Cobb, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann or the Niebuhr brothers. Students at my former seminary might want to add Stanley Grenz. All of these have written prolifically and systematically.

Those who wanted to branch out from Systematic Theology might add voices like James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez. Somewhere else you might get Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. Even in my master thesis on ‘contextual theology’ I utilized Robert Schreiter and Stephen Bevans.[1]

 

The trend is clear and problematic. That men do theology is not the problem – if only men are seen as doing theology, it is a problem. This stems from the habit of calling some theologies ‘particular’ or classifying them as “theology +” (race, gender, sexuality, etc.). We have inherited a long history that loves to compartmentalize, categorize and then control who is qualified (and who is not). MP9004065481-196x300

This situation results in classifying Feminist theologians in exactly that way: with a modifier. The result is that you have plain theology and particular theology, generic theology and specific theology, regular theology and something-other-than- regular theology.

The works of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Johnson, Sallie McFague, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Bonnie Miller-McLemore get qualified within a sub-discipline.

The future of theology has got to be better than its past in this way.

I have 3 suggestions for moving past theology’s past.

 1 – Get rid of the category – and very notion of – ‘particular theology’. It is all particular theology. There is no universal or timeless theology. All theology is contextual theology. It all comes from a time and place and utilizes the constructs of its era. The fact that we have not recognized this truth in the past is part of the problem.

2 – Or add modifiers to every theology. Pannenberg wasn’t just doing theology – he was doing German, 20th century, white male theology. You can see, however, that this might become a cumbersome and laborious way to proceed … which brings me to my third point.

3- Christian theology is not Identity Politics – it comes from and represents a community. Every time we adopt and adapt another way of doing things we compromise the central Christian reality that there is no ‘us/them’ – there is no ‘they’, it is all ‘we’. Christian theology is born out of and can only be done in community. Inherited notions of the ‘individual’ or the ‘autonomous self’ are both false and hurtful and need to be left behind as we move forward.

Yes, every author and thinker must be socially located, but while any specific author can be classified by their race/gender/class or geography … the future of theology is not about the social location of any particular voice but the community that formed them and in-forms their contribution to the greater whole.

 

When listening to podcast with Grace Ji-Sun Kim (coming out Thursday), it is not enough to say that she is doing Korean-American, Feminist, Liberationist Theology … she is doing Theology. She is a part of the Christian community and her work is the future of theology – as is mine – because she and I are part of the same global Christian community. Her work and my work are related in Christ.

I might employ methods from my field of Practical Theology but that doesn’t mean that Grace’s work is not practical.

This is how language both helps and hinders us. Her work and mine might come from different perspectives and be in-formed by different experiences – and it is all theology.

The future of theology is not to be found in individual voices but in collaborations and connections that form community.

The way that we have talked about theology and particular theologies in the past is going to be a problem in the future.

 

If Randy Woodley wants to locate himself and his work as Native American Contextual Theology because it brings some corrective to the past oversight and omission – that is wonderful. It becomes an important and illuminating distinction. It is not, however, merely a particular theology : it is theology.

Bring out the modifiers! Biblical, Historic, Systematic, Philosophical, and Practical are the Big 5 historically. Fine! Just as long as we are clear that no one is doing ‘plain old regular theology’.

In fact, Randy’s work is the future of theology. We are all socially located and contextually particular, which is why there is no ‘plain’ theology and ‘particular’ theology.

It is all particular theology in the same way that it is all theology.

The mistake of the past was thinking that there was ‘regular’ and ‘specific’. In reality, it is all specific. Which means that we are all ‘us’ and we are all contributing to the future of theology – together.

The trick is not to say ‘we have one of these theologies and one of these types of theologians represented’ – the change is to say that ‘in all of these we have theology’. Without ‘these’ we have something less than theology.

_______________

 

[1] One sees the problem even in the critics of theology when theologian Paul Ricouer talks about the ‘masters of suspicion’ in Marx, Nietzsche and Freud – a list that I would expand to include Feuerbach, Wittgenstein and Foucault.

Liberal Christians Are Not Going To Hell

Liberal Christianity has a problem. I am not a liberal myself, but I do get to hang out with many liberal Christians and I can say with some confidence that I see where the problem is seated. [1]

Liberal Christians ‘get it’. They are more mature or wise than their fundamentalist cousins from the back-country. They see the harm of backward tribalism and hear the hurtful rhetoric of the mean-spirited and judgmental brand of Christianity and don’t want to participate in it.

 

Don’t get me wrong, they can be very condescending and pretentious … but they are not going to get caught up in the name-calling and mud-slinging … it just goes against their green-meme nature.

The most aggressive thing they are comfortable participating in is a pronounce rolling of the eyes. This gives them the reputation for being spineless, or not standing up for anything, or being unwilling to dignify the argument by responding.

You saw this last week when one of the Duggar daughters (who I admit to having no point of reference for) wrote some stuff on FB that was detailed in a provocative post entitled ‘Liberal Christians are going to hell.

“I don’t even believe in hell” was the most vicious response I saw from my liberal brethren. [2]

See? It is so passé and beneath them that they can’t even be bothered to muster a response. Hell is so medieval and remedial … as we say: Rob Bell wins.

So I thought I would have some fun and do my friends a favor by lobbing a response over the battle-line. This sort of accusation isn’t going anywhere and is bound to come up again – so here is a ready-made response for the next time it comes.

 

If I were a liberal Christian, here is how I would want someone on our team to respond:

Liberal Christians are not going to hell! To even say something like that shows that you have not understood the very nature of being a Christian.

You are like the man at the bar who approaches a group of women having cocktails and asks if they are alone. You don’t even understand the words that you are using! You think you know what you mean by them … but a group of women can not be alone.

No Christians are going to hell! To be a Christian is to have received the work of Christ on our behalf . It is to be swept up in the gracious act of God for creation’s salvation and thus to participate in God’s covenant faithfulness.

Christ reconciled us to God – something that we could not have done on our own – and so to be a Christian, of any type, means inherently that you are not going to hell. You belong to God in Christ.

What you are saying show that you have yet to understand either the teaching of Paul, as in Romans 5, or the promises of scripture, like the end of Revelation.

In Romans 5 Paul says that the work of Christ – the second Adam – has a far greater effect and further reach (impact) than the sin of the first Adam.

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In your mislead scheme the first Adam affected all but Jesus only gets to some. You have got it completely backwards.

 

And look at Revelation chapter 20. The only ones who end in the lake of fire (which I assume you think is the same as hell) are those whose names were not written in the book of life. If your name is in the book of life then you are not judged according to your deeds (which can not save you) but are exempted from that fate by virtue of your name being in the book!

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

To be a Christian, is to have ones name written in the book of God’s life! So while you make not like my brand of Christianity or think that I am not a good or the right kind of Christian, the very nature of being a Christian means that I am not going to hell.

 

Now we can get into all sorts of things about if Jesus’ Gehenna is the same as Revelation’s lake of fire … and I am willing to do that, but for Christ’s sake stop saying that any kind of Christian is going to hell. That is like saying that married people can be single or that fathers can be virgins – the very use of that category precludes your sentence having the ability to be true.

 

If you want to talk about being a different kind of Christian or believing the right things, we can do that. Just get the initial premise right: to be a Christian of any type is to have received that gracious work of Christ on our behalf. It is a gift of God and not something that we can earn on our own.

Then we can talk.

__________

[1] I am a progressive hyperTheist. I subscribe to a social constructivist worldview and politically would probably be a communitarian if anything.

[2] It is impossible for a Christian to not believe in hell. As I have argued before: you have to believe something about it.