Born Of A Virgin? It happened a lot back then

I posted this 2 years ago today and thought it might be fun to revisit. 

As Christians we confess that Jesus was born to a virgin.  Some people doubt the accuracy of that – but they may not realize that it was not that uncommon back then.

Here are just 10 people born of a virgin in the ancient world: 

  • Buddha
  • Krishna – born without a sexual union, by “mental transmission” from the mind of Vasudeva into the womb of Devaki, his mother.
  • Odysseus
  • Romulus
  • Dionysus*
  • Heracles – Son of a god (Zeus)
  • Glycon – son of the God Apollo
  • Zoroaster/Zarathustra
  • Attis of Phrygia
  • Horus

One theory is that when somebody who led a deeply impactful life died, those who wrote about them later would attempt to say something special about them. One of the ways that they could do that was to say something extraordinary about their birth. It was a way of that there was something significant, even about they way that they were conceived.

Sometimes it was that they were born to people that were really old (past the age of child-bearing age).

Think of Issac born to Abraham and Sarah in the Old Testament or John the Baptist born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in the New (Advent).

Now, If somebody wanted to take the origin of their hero up a notch, they could say that there was no human dad … it was a god!  (like Zeus)

This is why some think that Jesus’ autobiographers took it up even one more notch! Not only did a God not have sex with women … there was NO sex at all!

 Now some say “yeah, lots of people were said to be born of a virgin … but Jesus actually was.”

This is where the problem starts. As best as I can discern, there basically three ways to approach the problem: physics, meta-physics or linguistics. 

Physics:

Some people take an approach that is so certain that even science itself would be proved wrong. This usually comes up around issue like the Shroud of Turin (the cloth Jesus was buried in). I once heard a very confident person say that if we did DNA test on the blood on the shroud it would show that Jesus was fully human with 46 pairs of chromosomes – only instead of 23 from the female mother and 23 from the male father – Jesus would have 46 human ones from Mary.

I find this problematic for the same reason that I do not believe in the super-natural. It concedes the rules of the games to science (reductive naturalism) then tries to fill in the gaps with God.  That is a losing game-plan if ever I heard one.

Meta-Physics: 

Other people try to get around the whole reductive scientific debate by saying “Look, if God could make the world in 6 days out of nothing, then what is to make a virgin pregnant?  God does whatever God wants to do and who are we to question that?”

I am not a big fan of this approach either. It seems to say that revelation doesn’t have to report to reason and that God can not be evaluated on any reasonable standard conceived of by humans.

It seems just a short leap to say that God can elect who God wants for salvation God can pick favorites if that is what ‘He‘ wants to do.

It seems to retreat into the silo of ecclesiastic isolation and unaccountability. I think we have to look a little deeper ask some bigger questions.

 Linguistics:

This is an interesting approach that some in the post-liberal camp or comparable schools of thoughts might take.

The basic line is that it’s not the physics or meta-physics of the virgin birth that matters, its the way that it impacts us as people and forms us as a community. The importance of the language found in the gospels has to do with how it functions for us as a community and tradition.

Some folks don’t like this linguistic approach because it seems like theologically ‘thin soup’ to them. They look at the formulations that are quantified in the early creeds and they make definite and literal assumptions about what is behind them.

I am however nervous that all of this controversy is simply because we don’t know how to read a gospel. It’s like when we get sucked into debates about talking snakes in the garden of Eden or trying to prove scientifically how a man like Jonah could stay alive in the belly of a whale for 3 days and not be eaten by the stomach acid (or something).

It would be the equivalent of people 1,000 years from now arguing that we actually thought there was a place called Mudville and that a man named Casey was literally up to to bat.  It is because we don’t know how to read the genre of literature.

Jesus was born of a virgin – we confess that by faith, it is affirmed in our ancient creeds and it functions in our community to form us as people.    

 

 

* I even found one internet source that claims Dionysus was born of a virgin on December 25 and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger. He was a traveling teacher who performed miracles. He “rode in a triumphal procession on an ass.” He was a sacred king killed and eaten in an eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification. Dionysus rose from the dead on March 25. He was the God of the Vine, and turned water into wine. He was called “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.” He was considered the “Only Begotten Son,” Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Sin Bearer,” Anointed One,” and the “Alpha and Omega.” He was identified with the Ram or Lamb. His sacrificial title of “Dendrites” or “Young Man of the Tree” intimates he was hung on a tree or crucified.

Share

Theology for the People: Publishing, Emergent and God

Tripp sits down with Tony Jones to chat about the new series with Fortress Press: ‘Theology for the People”. 10653370_807752369288009_1575330671555985864_n

HBC-1024x1024They chat about everything from the publishing industry to the emergent church – from theological education to the death of God.

If you have not heard part 1 of the AAR live event featuring Catherine Keller and John Cobb, make sure to subscribe to the HBC stream on iTunes or Stitcher.

Enjoy listening to two friends chat about some current and future issue that have grabbed their attention. 

 

Share

Wake Up! It’s Time For Advent

We are trying something new for Advent this year here at Homebrewed Christianity. Each week we are looking at the 4 suggested texts from the lectionary and talking about how we would approach them.

In week one there were 3 texts that we resonated with and a fourth that we struggled with. That fourth text was Mark chapter 13 where Jesus talks about signs of the end, fig trees and catastrophe.

The one thing that I do like about the fourth text is the exhortation to ‘stay alert’. There are many passages in the Bible that call us to wake up or stay alert. It is a theme that always gets my attention.

 What are we in danger of falling asleep to?

What is causing that slumber?

Some would want to answer with a classic concepts like human nature, the effects of sin, or some other predictable formulation. While those may all be true, the danger has never been greater nor the effects as pervasive as they are in 21st century.

We live in an odd time of global markets, multi-national corporations and rampant consumerism. Ours is an age of media saturation, electronic daze and commercial overload.

I have found the tool of Critical Theory helpful in analyzing our age of what Cornell West calls ‘weapons of mass distraction’. High modernity has brought us both amazing goods and services (think cell phones and the internet) as well as unprecedented capacity for destruction and devastation.

The formative thinkers in the field of Critical Theory were responding to the massive shifts of the 20th century and the realities of two World Wars that exposed human suffering and the capacity of evil in new ways. Not only did we have Hiroshima and Auschwitz but we had them on film. Some talk about this being the end of ideology (utopia) and the resulting loss of hope.

I have adapted and modified some relevant concepts from my reading and will be using them this weekend for Advent week 1. The questions this week are:

What have we fallen asleep to?

What is causing the slumber?

To what do we need to be awakened?

Black Friday is the high holy day of capitalism. Consumerism is a seductive and intoxicating atmosphere – it is the air that we all breathe in late modernity.

Consumerism, however, has a numbing effect that dulls our senses and saps our energy. This happens in 3 predictable phases.

  1. Alienation
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Resignation

 Alienation is the result of humans being commodified and thus separated from that which they produce. It also isolates us from one another as we are simultaneously objectified as consumers and subjected to an onslaught of ads that inform us we are not good enough, we don’t have enough and that the thing we don’t have would make us happy-attractive-successful.

 This leads to disillusionment because we buy stuff, we pay for services, we upgrade, we super-size … and yet it does not satisfy. We are dis-couraged. Aren’t we supposed to live in a post-racial America? What is one supposed to do in the fallout from the recent economic collapse and ongoing environmental devastation?

The final stage is resignation. The machine is too big. It feels like we are just cogs in a giant mechanism of consumption, corruption and growing disparity. The game is rigged and we know it. But we need stuff so we work more than we ever have and are less satisfied. We watch the news and see how bad is out there and we want to retreat into our screens and games. From Candy Crush to Fantasy Football we are active participants relegated to passive spectators.

We are slowly lulled to sleep in the system and numbed to the needs of our neighbors.

What can one person do in the face of this overwhelming and all-encompassing structure of society?

 Wake Up! Stay Alert! Don’t be dis-couraged.

That is the call of the texts this week. Don’t get distracted by falling stars and light-less moons. Listen to what Jesus is saying. He is telling you that it is going to get bad. Yes there will be progress in certain ways … but don’t be deceived: evil just morphs and takes on other forms.

We can celebrate that slavery ended for one part of the population… but realize that there are more humans in slavery right now than at the height of the slave trade.

Racism is not as overt as it once was … but now it morphed into a New Jim Crow and Dog Whistle Politics.

Wake Up! Stay Alert!

If the slumber results from alienation, disillusionment and resignation then the beginning of waking up is three-fold as well.

  • Realize that the game is rigged. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
  • Admit when you feel like giving up, giving in and checking out. We need each other (see the 1 Cor text from Advent 1)
  • Listen to a community that is different from your own. Don’t be deceived that all you can see is all that is going on.

Do these three things and you will be amazed at what you are awakened to.

 

If you are interested you can listen to the episode - Mark 13 starts around the 1 hour mark.

You can also sign up for the class for December.

Share

Transgressing Emergence: AAR and the Church

Last year in Baltimore the Open and Relational Theologies session took a look at the Emerging Church. IMG_3152

This session involves three conversations, with three participants in each. These conversations pertain to papers written by participants, but there will be no formal reading of the papers. The conversations explore issues in the emergent church as they relate to open and relational theologies.

Presiding:

Thomas Oord, Northwest Nazarene University
Presenting:

Jeremy Fackenthal, Vincennes University
Process Theopoetics and the Emergent Church: Inviting Collaboration and Relationality [pdf]
Callid Keefe-Perry, Boston University
Theological Epistemology in The Emergent Church: A Form of Paul Ricoeur’s Relational Attestation
Responding: Diana Butler Bass

Presenting:

Sara Rosenau, Drew University
Becoming Emergent: Theorizing A Practicing Church
Timothy Murphy, Claremont Lincoln University
The Emergent Church in its Planetary Context [PDF]
Responding: Bo Sanders, Claremont School of Theology

Benjamin Cowan, Claremont Graduate University
John R. Franke, First Presbyterian Church
The Pluralist Reformation: Open Theology and the Practice of Emergent Christianity
Responding: Philip Clayton, Claremont School of Theology

Share

Theological Approaches: Constructive and Comparative

Preparing for qualifying exams is intense. Going back over every book and paper that might be relevent to your five topics is helpful for compiling the work you have done over the last four years.

I am constantly thinking and reading about theology. One of my fascinations is the various models or frameworks that others employ to outline the theological endeavor. Some use a ‘landscape’ motif, with this group over here and that group over there, while others utilize a ‘spectrum’ analogy often moving from one ‘direction’ to the other.

One can do this in a historic sense,  from classic on the left to contemporary on the right, or more of a conviction/conclusion breakdown with conservative at one end and liberal at the other.*

The first list I encountered was in my pre-doctoral prep when researching the discipline of Practical Theology I would often see the field contrasted with the ‘Big 4′ schools of theology:

  1. Systematic
  2. Historical
  3. Biblical
  4. Philosophic

Practical Theology is different in that, like Sociology, it utilizes qualitative methods like interviews, case studies and ethnography.

I also like Grenz and Olson’s approach in “Who Needs Theology: an invitation to the study of God“, where they move from:

  • Folk to
  • Lay to
  • Ministerial to
  • Professional to
  • Academic

They don’t seem to find much value in either the Folk or the Academic (who only write for or can be understood by other academics) but they make a good case for the middle 3 approaches.

Recently I have come up with a  different spectrum:

  • Creedal
  • Confessional
  • Constructive
  • Radical

Creedal asks “What has the church historically believed about this?”

Confessional asks “What do we as Christian say about this?”

Constructive asks “What can we as Christian say about this?” or “What do we want to say about this?”

Radical asks “If we weren’t bound by institutional constraints, what would we say about this?”

 

It wasn’t until I was updating my blog’s ‘Big Ideas’ page that I realized that my real passion is not a ‘constructive’ but a ‘comparative’  approach. I am fascinated by the diversity and complexity of faith communities and historically situated or contextual approaches. I love to survey the landscape first (comparative) and then figure out where I want to travel to or settle down (constructive).

This approach has been very helpful to me so I wanted to pass it along.

 

What about you? What spectrum or framework have you found helpful?  

 

 

* Those who have read me before will know that I contest this second spectrum because there are schools outside or past liberal schools of thought and they are not accounted for but simply lumped into the liberal camp for lack of nuance and specificity. 

Share

Plug in ‘the Church’ as an experiment

An interesting way to expose the difference between two things is to take out the subject of great quote and replace it with something else to see if it still works.church-300x199

If your replacement X cannot work in place of the initial Y then you are forced to ask ‘why is this the case?’

Let me give you an example:

(The Church) was there to remind the (society) of what it had flouted: art, pleasure, gender, power, sexuality, language, madness, desire, spirituality, the family, the body, the ecosystem, the unconscious, ethnicity, life-style, hegemony. This, on any estimate, was a sizable slice of human existence.

When I find a great quote or list, I try to plug-in ‘the church’ and see if could be true historically.

I would love to be able to say that the church has been about these things:

  • art
  • pleasure
  • gender
  • power
  • sexuality
  • language
  • madness
  • desire
  • spirituality
  • the family
  • the body
  • the ecosystem
  • the unconscious
  • ethnicity
  • life-style
  • hegemony

If that has not been the case, then, I have to ask “why not?” and it is often that search which is telling.

If the church has not, or is not, about promoting those things then what has it represented? It is that search which is illuminating.

What is keeping that sentence from being true of the church?

 

Here is a second set of examples. All of these quotes are from the same chapter:

(The Church) refuses to identify freedom with any institutional arrangement or fixed system of thought. It questions the hidden assumptions and purposes of competing theories and existing forms of practice. It has little use for what is known as ‘perennial philosophy’. (The Church) insists that thought must respond to new problems and the new possibilities for liberation that arise from changing historical circumstances.

I want the above quote to be true! If it is not, then what is keeping it from being so?

 They investigated the ways in which thinking was being reduced to mechanical notions of what is operative and profitable, ethical reflection was tending to vanish and aesthetic enjoyment was becoming more standardized. (The Church) noted with alarm how interpreting modern society was becoming even more difficult. Alienation and reification [turning people into things] were thus analyzed in terms of how they … robbed the world of meaning and purpose, and turned the individual into a cog in the machine.

The above quote is challenging because it is almost possible.

The next one is just for fun.

(The Church) lost its ability to offer an integrated critique of society, conceptualize a meaningful politics, and project new ideas of liberation. Textual exegesis, cultural preoccupations, and metaphysical disputations increasingly turned (the church) into a victim of its own success. The result has been an enduring identity crisis.

Any guesses as to who this was actually referring ?

  • Textual exegesis
  • cultural preoccupations
  • and metaphysical disputations
  • victim of its own success
  • enduring identity crisis

These 3 quotes are from chapter 1 in Critical Theory a very short introduction. The first quote was from Terry Eagleton. After Theory (Kindle Locations 325-327) in reference to Cultural Theory and the traditional Left.

Why am I attracted to both Cultural and Critical Theory? Maybe it is because they are often about the things I desperately wish being a pastor was about …

I find this experiment helpful in attempting to crack assumptions about what the church is and has been.

I will never tire of reminding people that there is a gap between what many think the church is and what the church can be.

 

What do you think? Does the experiment work? Is it helpful? 
Any quotes that you love we could try it with? 

Share

Bo’s Bookshelf

I like Top 10 lists … and I love books.  These lists of books that have been going around FB lately have been an interesting snapshot to see what books have impacted folks. old-books

Here is my ‘Top 10 Books that have stuck with me’ list and I would love to see yours.

 

Books that Changed the World (earlier edition) by Robert Downs

The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen

The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garraeu

Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone

She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson

Native and Christian by James Treat

- The Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges

What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by John Caputo

- Process Theology by Cobb and Griffin

 

Best Books I have read this year: 

The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class

 

Share

We are at war again?

The President just finished his news conference about the plan to combat ISIS (ISIL). 11obama_video11-master675

I am somewhere between confused and infuriated – baffled and livid.

The beheadings are horrific. The threat is undeniable. But … is this really the American response?

 

My concern is that the US has created a Frankenstein.
 America is combatting a hydra of its own creation!
You cut off one head and another pops up.

 

The revival of ‘jihad’ in the 80’s to combat the Russian threat … the subsequent ‘war on terror’ after the events of 9/11 2001 … have lead to this newest manifestation … how does it possibly resolve?

 

  • There are those who buy into the ‘Class of Civilizations’ myth.
  • There are those who point to the ‘End Times‘ idea.
  • There are those who hold to the ‘American Exceptionalism’ party line.

 

One thing I know is that our Homebrewed listeners are more intelligent and insightful than I am.

 

Does anyone have some insight on this? Some thoughts to point a way forward?

I would really love to hear some alternative perspectives. 

 

Share

Catholic, Quaker, Evolution, Apocalypse: final TNT for ABCs

We finish with a BANG! Callid and Bo conclude the ABC’s of Theology series with: W-WordofGod

Thank you for all of your feedback and encouragement.

A special thanks goes to Jesse Turri for the artwork for this series!!!!

You can find the Unfolded narrative podcast here.

 

Share

W is for the Word of God (and Wesleyan Quad)

There is no phrase that is more misused, or more contentious, than The Word of God. We might need to take a vacation from throwing the phrase around as a tight summary until we pull it apart and clarify its multiple uses. W-WordofGod

The Word of God, when used properly, carries three layers of meaning:

  1. Divine Communication. The prophets used the phrase in the Hebrew Testament to convey weight and authority. They had a message for the people of God that could be encouragement, directive, corrective, or illuminating.
  2. Logos – divine wisdom. New Testament believers are treated to a syncretistic twist when the Gospel of John prologue draws off the greek notion of logos and then shockingly says what no greek thinker could fathom saying: “the word became flesh and dwelt among us”.
  3. Revelatory elements in the scriptures. When the Spirit who inspired the original works illuminates the message again for a contemporary audience, it is said to be ‘the word of God’. (Thanks be to God)

For clarity I will now refer to the first and third meanings as ‘the word of the Lord’ and the second as the ‘Logos made flesh’.

The pitfall that some fall into is that they take this last sense (revelatory elements within scripture) and attempt to make it concrete (or foundational). Doing so is to erroneously confuse the messenger and message, the vessel with the element, the sign for the object.

Calling the Bible the Word of God is as inaccurate as it is accurate. It is not exactly true … but it is true enough that it is tempting. The problem is that it confused the ‘curves ahead’ road sign on the mountain road for the road up the mountain. It is not that they are unrelated – it is that they are not equivalent. The map may be accurate, and trustworthy for the journey, but it is not the landscape itself.

Knowing the map well is not the same as going on the journey.

This is the important difference between a sign and symbol.

  • A sign points to a greater reality … even if it does so imperfectly. The yellow and black ‘curves ahead’ sign on the mountain road is not telling you the exact sequence of twists and turns ahead. It is not map. It is alerting you to something bigger than itself.
  • A symbol, when used theologically, is a sign that participate in the reality that it points to. In this sense, the Bible contains the potential for the word of the Lord, it records instances of the word of the Lord, and it tells us about the Logos made flesh. The Bible is thus not unrelated to the Word of God but is not exactly equivalent either. It records and points to a greater reality (like a sign) and under the influence of Holy Spirit inspiration participates in that reality to which it points (symbol).

One can see the problem in legal court and in Sunday school. It is ironic to place one’s hand on a Bible and swear ‘to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God’. The irony, for those who have actually read the Bible, is that it says in two New Testament passages not to do such things. We are not to swear by things but to simply let our yes be ‘yes’ and our no, ‘no’. That should be enough. We don’t need to swear by heaven or earth or anything like God. It is an odd practice.
Similarly we see things like this in the songs we learn as children:

The B-I-B-L-E,
that’s the books for me,
I stand alone on the Word of God

The Bible is not a book. It is a collection of 66 books by different authors in different centuries representing different histories, perspectives and opinions utilizing diverse genres of writing. This is part of why you can not say ‘the Bible says’.
When we say that ‘the word of God is living and active’ or that ‘all scripture is God breathed and useful’ we are right … but we must avoid the temptation of too quickly boiling those three into down into one interchangeable phrase lest we miss the awesome power and invitation provided by the interplay between them.

Now, if we mean that because of what we learn in the Bible, we hear the word of the Lord and believe in the Logos made flesh … that would be fantastic. ?If, however, we mean that the Bible is equivalent to the Word of God, then we have set our children up to be confounded, frustrated and spiritually impotent.
We have given them a road sign and told them it was the adventure. ?The word of the Lord propels us on a journey! To walk the way of the Logos made flesh, to know the truth of that which was in the beginning – with God and was God – and to live the life of the ages (eternal life).
To paraphrase a famous line – we are like children making mud-pies out of dirt in the back alley while there are real pies waiting in the kitchen.

Part of the problem is that we have try to cram too much into the phrase ‘the word of God’ and asked more from it than can be expected from any sign or symbol.
The most helpful thing I have found to address this problem is called the Wesleyan Quad. The quadrilateral is composed of 4 elements:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Experience
  4. Reason

Those 4 elements also work best in that sequence.
– We go to scripture first for it records examples of the word of the Lord and points us to the Logos made flesh.
-We next consult the tradition, for religion has a given-ness to it. We inherent a living tradition and participate in its practices, rituals, ceremonies, train of the thought and teaching.
– We also recognize that importance of our community-experiences. No one is spiritual or religious on their own like no one uses language alone. We learn a language from others and use a language to communicate with others. It is not enough to know of a religion – one participates and thus experiences. We learn from and incorporate our community-experiences.
– Finally comes reason. We are made in the image of God and that divine Logos (reason) was given to us to exercise responsibly. We are not called to be robots who mechanically parrot the inherited sentences in rote repetition. There is a deep need to think about things so that our tradition does not become a dead artifact, or worse, a false idol.

The danger of what has been called ‘Bibliolotry’ is not simply that it makes the Bible ‘a paper pope’ or ‘the 4th member of the trinity’ (as bad as those seem). The danger is in missing the way, the truth, and the life that is available to us by instead settling for a road-sign instead of an adventure.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about my distinction between the Word of God as the word of the Lord, the Logos made flesh and the Bible. 

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri

For more read my earlier posts about Inspiration and about Revelation.

Share