I is for Infallible, Inerrant, Impassible and Immutable

Note: all relevant ‘I’ words will be placed in italics.I-Inerrant

It is an unfortunate quirk in the English language that leads negatives – or negations – to begin with the letter ‘I’.

The resulting effect is that some of the most problematic and even disturbing words in the theological tool-shed begin with ‘I’.

  • Infallible
  • Inerrant 
  • Impassible
  • Immutable 

These are just a sample, but are the 4 that we will focus on today.

These four ‘I’ words are just a sample of the kinds of words that lay-people can find both intimidating and infuriating about theology. Some have even lost their faith over these ‘I’ words.

Don’t even get me started on irresistible grace and infralapsarian – two concepts that hard-core Calvinists will bring up.

I say this in all seriousness. There is something about ‘I’ words which exhibit the most intense aspect of the difficulties when delving into theology. Many people point to words like these as an example of exactly why they are not interested in theology.

I have named 6 problematic ‘I’ words so far – but I will offer 2 more (inspiration and incarnation) as examples of ‘keeping it simple’ as an antidote to becoming disillusioned.

Let’s deal with the Bible first and then with God.

We live in a unique time of history where those who claim to believe the Bible the most attempt to place two words not found in scripture upon the Bible:

Inerrancy: The idea that Scripture is completely free from error. It is generally agreed by all theologians who use the term that inerrancy at least refers to the trustworthy and authoritative nature of Scripture as God’s Word, which informs humankind of the need for and the way to *salvation. Some theologians, however, affirm that the Bible is also completely accurate in whatever it teaches about other subjects, such as science and history.

This is admittedly a tough line to hold. The more that one learns about Biblical scholarship or historical criticism the tougher it gets. Inerrancy is an outside idea imposed upon the Bible that the Bible itself and thus has a tough time living up to its claim. It does not, however, mean that the Bible is not trustworthy!! This is my point! One can trust the Biblical narrative without having to elevate it to the level of inerrant.

Infallibility: The characteristic of being incapable of failing to accomplish a predetermined purpose. In Protestant theology infallibility is usually associated with Scripture. The Bible will not fail in its ultimate purpose of revealing God and the way of *salvation to humans. In Roman Catholic theology infallibility is also extended to the teaching of the church (“*magisterium” or “*dogma”) under the authority of the pope as the chief teacher and earthly head of the body of Christ.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 726-731). Kindle Edition.

Infallibility is better than inerrancy. Infallible can simply mean that the Bible will accomplish that which it is meant to accomplish. That seems fair enough on the surface.

Here is my contention: Why do we need to assert that it is guaranteed to accomplish the task? Where does that need for certainty come from?
Why isn’t it enough to say that the Bible is ‘inspired’ and leave it at that?

Inspiration: A term used by many theologians to designate the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the human authors of the Bible to record what God desired to have written in the Scriptures. Theories explaining how God “superintended” the process of Scripture formation vary from dictation (the human authors wrote as secretaries, recording word for word what God said) to ecstatic writing (the human authors wrote at the peak of their human creativity). Most *evangelical theories of inspiration maintain that the Holy Spirit divinely guided the writing of Scripture, while at the same time allowing elements of the authors’ culture and historical context to come through, at least in matters of style, grammar and choice of words.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 731-736). Kindle Edition.

2 Timothy 3:16 talks about scripture being ‘god breathed’ . I think that should suffice and that attempts to impose external expectations upon the scriptures are futile (impotent?).  Whenever someone wants to talk about the ‘original’ texts, one only has to ask about them to see this folly.

It’s like calling the Bible ‘the Word of God’. The problem is that the New Testament refers to Jesus as the Word of God. Christians rightly refer to the testimony about Jesus as the scriptures. In this sense, they are words about the Word.
The problem starts when we want to upgrade the concept beyond its capability to sustain that we which we are attempting to assert upon it.
I would love if Christians would simply be satisfied with believing that the Bible is inspired by God’s Spirit and not attempt to make a claim on it that it can not sustain.

Now let’s talk about God.

The God that is revealed in Christ is, for the Christian, both informative and formative. It both sets a precedent and provides an interpretive lens.
As with the Bible (above) it is disastrous when we import foreign concepts of God (in this instance from Greek ideals) and impose them upon the revealed nature of Christ seen in the incarnation.

Immutability: The characteristic of not experiencing change or development. Certain understandings of God posit the divine reality as incapable of experiencing change in any way. Some theologians, however, assert that this concept owes more to Greek philosophical influence than to explicit biblical teaching. Many contemporary theologians distinguish between God’s eternally unchanging, faithful character and God’s ability to respond in different ways to changing human beings in their temporal, earthly situation.

Impassibility: The characteristic, usually associated with God, of being unaffected by earthly, temporal circumstances, particularly the experience of suffering and its effects. Many contemporary theologians reject the idea of divine impassibility, suggesting that it reflects Greek philosophical, rather than biblical, concerns. However, the Bible clearly teaches that God cannot be swayed in any way to be unfaithful to what God has promised. Still, it is seemingly impossible to associate pure impassibility with God in light of the fact that Jesus Christ, as the fullest manifestation of God, experienced suffering on the cross.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 704-709). Kindle Edition.

You can see why these concepts are contentious. They are imported from somewhere else and then imposed upon the narrative of Scripture. In my opinion they are incompatible and thus unsustainable.

Our great hope is found in the in-carnate god. We will return to this concept in two days with the letter ‘K’ for kenosis.

I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns, questions and comments.

 

BIG thanks to Jesse Turri for providing the artwork for each letter!

If you are interested you can see the early post about reading the Bible according to Genre or check out the art of Hermeneutics (interoperation).   You may also want to look into the temptation of Fideism.

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Jesus Isn’t Superman

As you may be aware, with the release of the Man of Steel movie earlier this year there was a major push by evangelical marketing types to get preachers to focus on the messianic imagery that had been intentionally spliced into the movie. Comic-Con- Superman A_Cala

This is not my concern (although insights about that whole phenomenon would not be discouraged).

My concern is with the real and inherited christologies that show up around both Christmas and Easter. I am content most of the year to naively pretend that we all are basically talking about the same thing when we use the name of Jesus. That fiction is often shattered in Advent and Lent as we build up to the high holidays holy days.

I have often been given opportunities in recent years to introduce lay people to the concepts of ‘christology from below’ (instead of the dreaded  ‘low christology’)  and to illuminate the dangers of starting – not with a cosmic christ – but with a pre-incarnate Jesus. [selah]

Most people have never thought about the difference and the importance that it might make in how they both believe and worship … let alone live their christianity.

What I am hoping to do here is to offer you a gift exchange:  you get something from Homebrewed and in exchange you help me out with something!

The offering: The current ‘Barrel Aged’ Homebrewed Podcast is a chat with John Cobb about Advent and Incarnation.  It is in my top 10 favorite episodes that we have ever done and I got Tripp to post it specifically for this conversation. It is a delicious audiological delight. 

The request: What I am asking in exchange is for ya’all to help me come up with and clarify a list I am working on for the conversation this week at my church.  We are starting a new series called ‘Jesus Isn’t Superman’ and I am coming up with tweets to get people thinking.

Here is what I have so far:

Jesus didn’t crash on earth sent from a distant planet – Jesus was born of a women. #JesusIsntSuperman

Jesus doesn’t get powers from the yellow sun – Jesus’ power is in his relatedness & availability to God’s spirit. #JesusIsntSuperman

Jesus isn’t Christ’s Clark Kent secret identity that can be taken off when its time to walk on water. #JesusIsntSuperman

Jesus wasn’t an alien pretending to be human & secretly had a fortress of solitude to retreat to. Jesus was fully human #JesusIsntSuperman

 

So you can either post your thoughts or tweets here – or if you tweet them I will try to move them over here later.

Thanks in advance, I look forward to hearing your contributions! 

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Reclamation, Religion and Consumerism’s Bricolage: in conversation with Philip Clayton

A couple of weeks ago I had a very interesting conversation with Philip Clayton. Several of us went out for lunch after the High Gravity session on Religion & Science. We were at a restaurant where the walls were decorated with a busy collection of reclaimed signs, old pictures and repurposed trinkets.

Dr. Clayton was across the table from me and at one point I look up to notice that above his head was a sign that read ‘Holy’ on one side and ‘Holy’ at the other end. The words ‘Holy – Holy’ were framing either side of his head. IMG_2884

I tried to come up with something clever to say, scouring my memory for some passage from the Hebrew Bible or the book of Revelation to tweak. The window of opportunity closed because the conversation was quite intense. That morning the topic had been ‘Science & Religion’ and now we had expanded it to ‘Religion & Society’ – or more specifically to ‘Church & Culture’.

The conversation intensified and it became clear that neither Dr. Clayton nor Tripp was too happy with my cynical take on consumer mentalities when it comes to consuming religious experiences within a capitalist framework.

At one point I said “it is like that sign behind you: it’s not like the holy is absent from the space and all the activity that happening here – it’s just that it blends in and goes unnoticed in the midst of all the bricolage that it melts into.”

Somebody had reclaimed that wooden sign. There is a story behind it – there might have even been more to it (I wondered if it used to have a 3rd ‘Holy’ further down the line that had been lost).

But that is my point! In any gathering there are going to be those (like us at that table) who think that what is happening is legitimate, sincere, authentic, important and worth organizing your life around. The congregation is also going to be largely made up of those who are consuming a religious experience – and it is financially worth about the same amount as a movie, a meal, a game or a show.*

I will go even further: this is my great hesitation with those who want to ‘go back’ or ‘conserve’ with their religious participation. This impulse was never more evident to me than when I began interacting with those were into Radical Orthodoxy or with evangelicals who had converted to Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism. The ‘zeal of the convert’ can be a telling element when it comes to the anti-modern or counter-modern impulse.

An incongruity is exposed in the counter-modern impulse of these conserving movements. Never mind for a moment that often what is being conserved is born out of a patriarchal model – set that aside for a second.

I will attempt to make this in 4 succinct points:

  1. You do not live in the 14th or 16th century.
  2. You do not think like someone in a previous century.
  3. You do not engage in the rest of your week as someone in a previous century.
  4. You chose, as a consumer within a capitalist framework, to participate.

Those four things signal to me that even the most sincere, authentic, devout, and thorough engagement – whether a Pentecostal, Evangelical, Orthodox, Anglican, RO, Catholic, Mainline or Congregational expression – must account for the ubiquitous consumerism within which we all are saturated.

Dr. Clayton rightly said that I while I had a good point I was proceeding in far too cynical a manner with it. He is correct of course.

My aggressiveness is born out of a deep concern. What we say the church is about – what we believe the very gospel to be – is so vital and so needed in the world today, that we can not afford to ‘play pretend’ about previous centuries and blindly participate in consumerism all the while trumpeting the virtue of our chosen ecclesiastic community.**

The danger, in my opinion, is that religious communities will become nothing more than decorations on the corner of a neighborhood or one more option at the mall food-court. 

For christian believers, the holy is all round us. We can not afford for it to disappear among the bricolage nature of our hyper-advertised media-saturated existence.

The gospel, at its core, is incarnational. Our central story as Christians is flesh and blood in a neighborhood. The whole project is contextual – it only happens in a time and a place. We can never escape that. That is why romantic notions of past centuries or early manifestations can be dangerous distractions and fantastical facades.

We can’t afford to fade into the bricolage. IMG_2886

 

* plus it usually comes with free babysitting. 

** Some might object that they have not chosen but rather have ‘stayed’. I would argue that they did within the consumer’s capacity to do so. 

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Beauty, Bodies and Blunders

President Obama got in some hot water for a compliment he paid California Attorney General Kamala Harris. He said:

You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It’s true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years. [via The Los Angeles Times]

A remark like that is never going to go over well. It was just one sentence but we could talk for days about it!

I know that I am an odd bird in that I often see the silver lining in things that other people think are really bad – like taking the Lord’s name in vain. I like that people do it. It means that the name of God still carries some gravity. No one is cursing Thor when they smash their thumb with a hammer. No one is blaspheming Zeus when they get cut off in traffic. Anyway …

I was happy to see the outrage and level of outcry over the President’s remarks. I love when stuff like this happens outside the walls of the church and I think to myself “Ok, it’s not just us that are sensitive, reactive and protest-ant. Good, I was starting to worry”.

You have to forgive me. I come from a very muscular – testosterone – ‘Wild at Heart’ brand of Christianity. In the last decade I have migrated to a progressive – critical theory – ‘She Who Is’ brand of faith.

The thing that has been most difficult for me is to figure out what to do with the body. 

As a contextual theologian and an Ancient-Future practitioner, I am deeply concerned with issues of incarnation and embodiment of the gospel. Our faith can not be merely intellectual, super-natural or institutional. Our faith must embodied, or in-bodied and lived-out. 

I have figured out, through 6 years of blogging, how to talk with conservative, evangelical, and charismatic Christians about almost everything  related to faith and practice in ways that they can hear. The issues of sexuality remain the most illusive.

The problem seems to relate to a giant pot-hole in the road to understanding that is so treacherous it almost doesn’t leave enough room to move without careening into the pit of ‘natural design’.

What complicates matter all the more is that there is a serious ditch on the other side of the road – one that was dug by Augustine’s legacy  (I hate Augustine’s influence on church history) regarding the badness of the body, a specifically sexuality.

Here then is the issue: If I am talking about somebody and I’m listing all of that they bring to the table in areas of smarts, relationship, experience, and capacity … am I to act like they don’t have a flesh container? It asks me to act like they have no body.

Yes. That is what we want you to do.  Jonathan Chait at New York explains:

For those who don’t see the problem here, the degree to which women are judged by their appearance remains an important hurdle to gender equality in the workforce. Women have a hard time being judged purely on their merits. Discussing their appearance in the context of evaluating their job performance makes it worse. It’s not a compliment. And for a president who has become a cultural model for many of his supporters in so many other ways, the example he’s setting here is disgraceful. [New York]

Even while I write this I can hear my more conservative Christian brothers saying “That is ridiculous! This is the sissy-fication of our culture.”  To which I can only reply,”Yes. It is the leveling of a historically unequal playing field.” obamakamala1_1365167806

I get why culturally, we don’t want the President even acknowledging her flesh container at all. We don’t want pastors commenting on congregant’s looks. I get it.

But as thinking christians, is anyone else worried about the implications for this kind of willful charade? Do we think that President Obama doesn’t see her? Are we under the impression that he doesn’t notice her beauty? Do we think that she, in her private moments, doesn’t want to be found attractive? Do we think that she doesn’t invest time and energy in her looks?

“It doesn’t matter! Just don’t say it. Not ever ever ever.”  And I get that. What I am asking about is the ramifications for the embodied practices of the life of faith. What we have learned from church history  (and reality TV)- from fundamentalist pastor’s daughters to celibate priests – is that repression of desires in one place (public) is bound to cause pressure which bubbles up some place else (private).

We have to break the ‘old boys network’ mentality. I get that. I am worried about the secondary effect of perpetuating a deadly dualism between body and mind/soul.

I clearly need help thinking this through. Anyone want to chime in on this? 

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Local and Second Naïveté (Day 20)

In chapter 20 of his book Neighbors and Wisemen, Tony Kriz talks about the virtues, and limitations, of the move toward local. Neighbors & Wisemen

A couple of months ago, Tony took my on a walk about his neighborhood as we were on the phone for our interview for the Hombrewed Podcast.

Tony loves his neighbors and also thinks that it is important to love your neighborhood. Those are not always the same thing

“In addition to loving my individual neighbors, I also want to love my neighborhood as a place, the place where God has planted me. Every one of my neighbors is an expert in our shared locality. Each one lives, studies, watches, interprets, listens, and contributes to the DNA of our particular precious place in the world. If I am going to know how to love my place well, I need to harvest the intelligence of everyone: rich and poor, young and old, conservative and liberal, every culture and every background. They are the textbooks and we are the activists.

Finally, and most important, my neighbors transform me. So much so that I no longer believe I can be spiritually whole with- out them.”

The move toward local is important. In an era of trucked in vegetables and national franchises, global economies and multi-national corporations, it is important to think about this stuff in ways that show integrity and conviction.

 

In many ways the conversation about local reminds me of the concern regarding Second Naïveté ( you can read a quick summary of Paul Ricoeur’s idea here).

Second Naiveté (SN) is way to read the bible or engage religion that is not like first naiveté in a surface reading or literal approach.  SN has also gone past the desert of disbelief (simple deconstruction) to a place of informed engagement.

Take the story of Jonah. There is a 1st way we are taught to read it children’s church and there is a desert of disbelief where we come to say “it is impossible that story is real” – not just the 3 days in the belly of a big fish but the repenting cows of chapter 8 – and more toward a Second Naïveté.

This is where we read the story with fresh eyes again and allow it to have it’s intended effect on us. We don’t get caught up in the physics of the story or the literalness of the history but we hear the word of the Lord for us in the story.

 

Since I have the local conversation as well as the Second Naïveté one frequently – I have noticed a similarity is the arguments or resistance against both.

Let’s take the move toward local.

The first objection comes in the form of

“I live in a small town and we have been doing local the whole time. We never stopped doing it. We have been going to the same local breakfast diner for 30 years. It is owned by Mom & Pop and so there is no problem.”

The second objection says

“Sure I shop at Walmart and eat at Applebee’s but I know both the cashier and the waitress by name – so that is local.”

While both are valid points, they are not engaging the issue. Those are valuable conversations but they are not the same as addressing the larger systemic issues that the local conversation is attempting to examine.

  • Where does the produce come from? How far is it trucked in and what it the fuel cost for the ingredients?
  • What percentage of the profits stay in the community? How much flexibility is there to respond to local challenges and needs? Where are the decisions made? 

In just these 6 questions, both shopping at Walmart and eating at Applebee’s fail to meet the local expectations – even if you happen to go to church with the person who checks you out or serves your table respectively.

We are part of a system, a larger chain of supply, that local it attempting to address. We do ourselves and our community a disservice when resort to easy dismissals and prefer to stick with our first naiveté.

There is a great need to pass through an intelligent examination and arrive at a second place of informed engagement.

 

The christian has no excuse to hide behind elementary dismissal. The christian message is one of incarnation and local engagement. The word became flesh and moved into a neighborhood.

  • Jesus didn’t speak every language. He spoke his local languages.
  • Jesus didn’t live everywhere. He ministered in a 20 mile radius.
  • Jesus didn’t address every issue. He changed the world by addressing his local concerns and touching the people he crossed paths with in a day.

The christian message is first and foremost a local and contextual one. We are called to love our neighbors – by name – and our neighborhoods as well.

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Our Theology Starts 100 Years Ago: an experiment

I want to throw something out and see if it has legs. I will be playing a character today – feel free to play along! 

My great-grandmother was born into a world that no longer exists in many ways.

I’m preparing a presentation for the Subverting the Norm Conference. I have been reviewing a book called Modern Christian Thought and I am haunted by the reality that there is something significant about the late 19th and early 20th. One-Room Schoolhouse

The world changed 100 years ago. The changes weren’t just technological and societal. The changes were in areas that deeply impact the realms of belief and the way that we live out faith in community.

As a constructive theologian who is getting ready to present to a group of radical theologians, I keep circling around this idea:

 

The way that we think about theology and engage our faith has been fundamentally altered in the last 100 years.  

I am tempted to say that we would be far better off if we just started theology at the turn of the 20th century.  In some ways, the way that we all approach the christian faith begins about 100 years ago.

  • Radio was becoming a technology for mass communication. Somewhere between 1909 and 1920 the medium emerged. 1920 sees the first public stations.
  • TV didn’t exist yet.
  •  Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.
  • 100 years ago – World War 1 had not started.
  • The Great Depression is almost 2 decades away. That is important because it wrecked 2 things that ruled up until that point in the American psyche: 1) the myth of perpetual growth & prosperity 2) the illusion of independence and not be inter-connected with other nations.
  • The 1906 Pentecostal Revival at Azusa Street was on the move.
  • 100 years the large of majority of American churches were preaching ‘post-millennial’ theology: that we would usher in the kingdom of God through societal improvement. 100 years later almost no one believes that.
  • In 1914 Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic and was arrested. A decade later she would do it again with success since venereal disease had become a reality for soldiers in WWI. By the 1930s legal victories would make contraception normative.
  • 1903 the Wright brother famously took flight. 1909 air travel began to go commercial.
  • 100 years ago the psychology of Sigmund Freud was starting to be popularized.
  • Movies were still a few years away.
  • Vatican II, Nuclear War, and the Internet were not even shadows to be hinted at – and those three have perhaps impacted the greatest number of humans as anything else on the list.

One Downside: 

In fact, there is only reason that I am hesitant to say that we would be far better off to just start theology at the turn of the 20th century. The reason for my hesitation is that matters of racism and the colonial legacy might be lost.

I would argue, however, that these concerns are accounted for in my 100 Year proposal because the implications of African slavery, First Nations genocide, and other historic legacies are so deeply embedded in the current structures that they show up continuously. *

Huge Upside:

It seems to me that those who are most into things from the 13th century (Aquinas) or 16th century (Calvin) or even the 19th (revivalism and holiness) are most prone to the ‘silo mentality’ that has then focused on ‘in house’ matters to the apparent neglect of the culture around them. I know that it is dangerous (and ill-advised) to paint with such a broad stroke but …

There is something self-satisfying when we get fascinated with a historical expression that tends to pull one into a more … I don’t know how to say it … internal place?

It’s not a lot different than when people get really into quilting, or tying flies, or video games. That becomes their big things, takes much of their thought energy and time. But in the end … it is just another thing. Like collecting Precious Moments figurines – it’s not harmful – it’s just not worthy to be the thing.   Like a kid so enthralled with playing in the sandbox being totally oblivious to world around.

It doesn’t pass the ‘so what’ test.

Conclusion:

Because the gospel is about incarnation, we are supposed to be the body of christ fully embodied in our time and place. That is how I read it.  So much has changed over the past 100 years that to not put all our energy into the world in which we live is the equivalent of  – at best fantasizing/day dreaming … and at worst to live in denial and prefer the fantasy.

I am growing suspicious that it is that stark.
The consequences are that dire.
The realities of our century are that severe.

It is why I’m growing suspicious that Radical Political Theology may be far more faithful an endeavor than attempts to recover a romanticized notion of something lost.

I don’t want to talk about Aristotle and neo-Platonism one more time. I don’t care about the Greek polis. It doesn’t matter how pre-moderns conceived of substance and essence. I don’t care how the Reformers argued about communion and baptism. It’s time to move on.

 

* There is no greater danger in them being lost anymore than they are now, nor is there much progress being made by our current approach which is white-washed simply by ‘look, I didn’t own any slaves and I didn’t steal any land – that has nothing to do with me.’ So I’m not sure how much the 17th 18th and 19th century are really helping us in matters of justice. 

 

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Keeping up with Epperly

I was so pleased to turn on the Doug Pagitt radio show podcast and hear the voice of Bruce Epperly. Several months ago I had the chance to interview Dr. Epperly – he made my job pretty easy.

As we get ready for 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation – which will feature conversation partners like Epperly – I wanted to highlight 3 recent connecting points with his work.

Doug Pagitt Radio Show (hour 2)  - also available on I-tunes

Blog about the Incarnation over at Patheos

A quote from his book “Process Theology: a guide for the perplexed

The world emerges from the dynamic interplay of flux and permanence, in which the eternal and unchanging finds its relevance through its relationship to the temporal and changing world, and the temporal and changing finds completion in its role as contributing to the ongoing universe, embraced by God’s everlasting and ever-expanding experience of the universe… God is not the exception to the dynamic nature of the universe but rather the dynamic God-world relationship is the primary example of creaturely experience in its many expressions. – p 21

I find Dr. Epperly’s thinking and writing to be so accessible and helpful for really wading into a thoughtful engagement.

Two other points of interest: 

You can get Doug Pagitt’s books – like Church in the Inventive Age – on Kindle instantly if you need a book for the plane flight home this holiday season.

My mentor Randy Woodley was on Doug’s show for Thanksgiving to talk about Native American theological and historical perspectives. It was a fantastic 46  minute interview

 

a thought from the blog listed above:

…God is present in every moment of experience as the source of possibilities and the energy to embody these possibilities in everyday life. Accordingly, we are all, in varying degrees, incarnations of divine wisdom and creativity. The greater openness toward God’s presence in our lives, the more God can be present, guiding, energizing, and inspiring our lives.  Jesus’ uniqueness is not to be found in an absolute discontinuity between God’s presence in his life and God’s presence in our lives, but in the nature and intensity of God’s presence in Jesus’ life.

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a big difference between Christianity and Islam

I continue to be very excited about the Claremont Lincoln University Project to bring together Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars and practitioners. It is essential for the future that each tradition initiate its young leaders and thinkers in at atmosphere of mutual exchange and understanding.

The reason this is so important is that these three religions are not the same. They are not simply three expressions of a common understanding. They are vastly and distinctly different from each other. Of course there is commonality and overlap – for instance all three are a covenantal people and point to a covenant they have with God. I am interested to hear how each of the three groups reflects on and lives into their particular understanding.

Many Christians seem to think that the big difference between Christianity and both Islam and Judaism is what they believe about Christ. I do not think that views on Jesus is the biggest difference between the three. In fact, I am suspicious that any Christian willingness to revisit a wooden-literal reading of passages like John 14:6 or reexamine the language and meta-physics of the creedal formulations would easily result in an understanding that did not violate the Quranic understanding that God has no children. Vocabularies of ‘how God was present in Christ’ are already being worked out by followers of the prophet Isa (Jesus) in Muslim countries. [Link: an article on c-6 contextualization]

In my mind, there is a much bigger difference between the three religions than an understanding of Jesus’ identity. It has to do with the earth.

Christianity is primarily time based. While the Christian gospel is one of incarnation, ironically, Christianity has become something that is not place-based and especially not land-based. This is easily illustrated by looking at some Muslim practices and noticing their absence or contrast in Christianity.

  • Prayer Direction: When Muslim pray, they face Mecca. This is a directional earth-relative orientation. Christianity lacks this orientation.
  • Pilgrimage: Once in their lives Muslims are expected to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This is an intentional journey to a specific location on the surface of the earth that holds special meaning. Christianity has no such thing.
  • Sunset: Certain holy days are marked as beginning at “sundown” or when a specific phase of the moon first appears as observed in a set location. This shows an awareness of the seasons, the sun, and the moon. Christian holy days and holidays are based on a calendar and clock.
  • Language: If you want to read the Quran you need to learn Arabic. The Christian gospel is not only translatable into any language – Christians believe that it should be translated into every language. The Gospel is equally valid in any and every language.

In his book Whose Religion is Christianity?: the Gospel beyond the West, Lamin Sanneh puts it this way:

Being that the original scripture of the Christian movement, the New Testament Gospels are translated versions of the message of Jesus, and that means Christianity is a translated religion without a revealed language. The issue is not whether Christians translated their scriptures well or willingly, but that without translation there would be no Christianity or Christians. Translation is the church’s birthmark … Christianity  seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder (p. 97-98)

I have several more examples of difference (including names of God and views of “holy” land) but I simply wanted to illustrate that these are three covenantal religions that all point to Abraham, they are significantly different from each other in practice and understanding. That is why I am excited to hear what they each bring to the table and what we might be able to learn from each other… because we bring such unique, distinct, and particular expressions to the conversation.

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The Big Theological Throw Down with John Cobb & Paul Capetz: Homebrewed Christianity 101

With this mind blowing episode the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast crosses into the second 100 episodes!!  Chad and I are thrilled to still be trying out this audiological and theological adventure with all y’all Deacons!  Going forward we would really like to know more about who you want on (and back on), topics or themes to cover, and some smack talk on the HBC call-in line 678-590-BREW!

It is not on accident that our corner turning podcast features not one…..but two amazing theologians.  John Cobb, the living legend of Process Theology, is joined by my favorite Calvinist Paul CapetzBoth John and Paul have been on the podcast before but this conversation transcends the possibilities available to any one guest! In this episode we will discuss…

- Religious Pluralism

- The importance of the Incarnation

- Question the necessity of the Trinity

- Discuss fall of the Mainline Churches

- Liberalism? Progressive?

- The Mission of the Church Today

Check out John Cobb’s monthly FAQ about Process Theology if you want to know more. You can even submit a question!

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Incarnation and Imagination with Darby Ray: Homebrewed Christianity 71

We finish up the second year of the podcast with Darby Kathleen Ray, professor of religious studies at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. Dr. Ray’s book Incarnation and Imagination: A Christian Ethic of Ingenuity is about the incarnation as the key to God’s ingenious and imaginative response to human evil. Her work inspires Christians to be creative in confronting injustice. She’s also a really fun and engaging guest.

And we have an additional treat! Ryan Parker of PopTheology.com returns with film reviews of Avatar and Invictus, using some ingenuity of his own in finding a common thread to tie these two very different movies together.

We will be back in 2010 with Season 3 of Homebrewed Christianity Podcast, starting with another visit from Tony Jones.

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