Christianity Without A Cross?

On this week’s TNT I introduced an interesting thought experiment: take the cross out of the Jesus story and see what you can still do.cross-150x150

This this thought experiment appeals to me for two reasons:

  1. Modern Protestants have overdone it on the cross
  2. The incarnation and resurrection hold far more interest and power

 

I have started to get some great responses to my assertion that one could still come up with over 90% of Christianity without the cross.

I thought it would be good to give it more form here and open it up for conversation.

Keep in mind what I’m saying and what I am not saying:

  • Just because Jesus’ story went the way it did doesn’t mean that it had to go that way.
  • Just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean that they have to stay this way.
  • Jesus’ resurrection could have followed any death – not just the cross.
  • The incarnation is where the old formulation of divine/human or transcendent/imminent are breached or fused.
  • The Christianity that we have was formed in the aftermath of the cross and resurrection … that is not evidence of the cross’ necessity.
  • Had Jesus died some other way, he still would have died once for all.
  • The satisfaction, propitiation, expiation and reconciliation that so many focus on in atonement theories are still there without the cross.
  • The Christianity that would have emerged would have been slightly different but still largely the same.
  • Jesus’ jewishness, the incarnation, resurrection and Pentecost are the 4 things that still anchor the Christian church.
  • The cross really doesn’t play that important of a role – not like the previous 4 – it’s main purpose is decoration on our buildings, necklaces and t-shirts.

Those are some of my thoughts about the variable of the cross.

My final point is not included in the same manner as those above, but to be honest: once the Roman Empire co-opted christianity (the Constantinian Compromise) the cross has mostly been a hood-ornament on the machine of empire. Except for a few places on the periphery and during a few periods of severe oppression and domination … the powerful church has been better, as Tripp says, at building crosses than bearing them.

This point does not prove the thought-experiment, so I don’t want it to distract the conversation, but in the end … I’m not sure how much the cross really does for us.

This is one of the many reasons that I promote being an Incarnational Christian. That is where the power is – incarnation and resurrection!

  • Jesus could have died of sudden-infant-death-syndrome or of old age and still died once for all.
  • Jesus could have been stabbed or beaten to death and it is still the resurrection where God vindicates the victim.

I would go as far as to say what the cross was meant to expose – the scapegoating and victimization mechanism – is still firmly in place and actually still employed by those who sing ‘The wonderful cross’ and ‘on a hill far away’ on Sundays.

 

There ya go! I have tried to make a case with this thought experiment – I would love your feedback, concerns, and questions!

Let’s have some fun with this.

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TNT: The Resurrection, Divine Knowledge, & Other Todd-Picks

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This is a very special edition of the Theology Nerd Throwdown.  Not only does the BoDaddy try to provoke me (theologically speaking) toward a rowdy defense of the resurrection but we have a very special guest – Todd Littleton.  Todd is the greatest Southern Baptist Minister on planet earth.  He is also the technical brains behind our High Gravity online classes, pastor to the HBC Deacon of the Year, & now officially an Elder.

Hence forth all ye Homebrewed Christianity Deacons shall know Todd Littleton as Elder of the Okie.

Over the course of the episode we discuss the nature of the resurrection, the divine attributes, the function of doubt in faith, atheism as a spiritual practice, the church and its obligations to the poor, the World Vision debacle, and a number of other goodies. Here’s the blog post where Bo provoked the first segment.  It was a blast to have a group of local Deacons in the room hanging out after we finished the High Gravity session on Mary Daly.  If you are ever visiting LA tweet us up & maybe we will have a recording you can join in on.

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Resurrection – whether physical, spiritual or poetic – Really Matters!

I awoke to a provocative text from my friend on the East coast yesterday morning. He had a 3 hour head start on me and I assume he was at an Easter sunrise service.

My friend knows that I now minister in a context where not everyone believes in physical resurrection, preferring a more ‘spiritual’ interpretation or even a poetic one.

He wanted to know how you preach hope without a physical resurrection. I informed him that it is was almost no different. For all the energy and effort we put into defending the Evidence That Demands a Verdict reading of the Easter story, the reality is that:

  1. You can say almost everything you used to say
  2. It has the same impact on how people live their lives either way

That was a sobering realization for me a couple of years ago.

Side Note: This is why I get into it with Tripp when he insists on THE resurrection and scoffs at my preference for Resurrection. [you can read about his disdain for my friend ‘Al’ here]

I thought it would be fun put my response here and compare notes with others who have been on both sides of this fence.

Here is what I said about preaching hope on Easter:Palouse2TreeSunsetFusion2_2

“In the same way that the disciples experienced the presence of Christ after Easter, we experience God’s presence with us.

Through the presence of God’s holy spirit we both re-member Christ and are empowered to obey Jesus’ teaching and as we do this we are the Body of Christ and the presence of God in the world.

We know that in Christ there is a life beyond death and the grave does not have the last word.”

It is strangely both encouraging and discouraging a the same time to realize.

  • Encouraging that living as Easter people, no matter your view of resurrection, means living out the life of God in the world and bringing/being good news to the world.
  • Discouraging that so much time and energy is expended on getting this right when in the end we all basically live the same way, serve with grace, and spend our time, talents and treasure in almost identical ways.

Living as Easter people is a privilege and joy! We proclaim good news in the Gospel of incarnation and emanuel.
We live into the new life and know that there is life beyond death! It is actually really good news that we have share – no matter if our view is physical, spiritual or poetic.

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TNT: Easter, Cross, Songs & Demons

Tripp and Bo talk about Easter, the cross, bridging gaps and demons.TNT

First up is Bo’s blog on Blood and Easter – then they talk Concerns about the Cross.

They listen to an amazing song about differences and they tackle the topic of demons.

If you want to look into the background of these conversations, check out previous TNTs about

We appreciate all of the feedback on the speak-pipe! Keep the comments coming.

You may also want to check out the HBC interview with Michael Hardin about Easter, Jesus, the cross and the Bible. 

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Between Radical & Confessional Theologies: Whitehead’s God

Guest-post by  Austin Roberts.
He is a PhD student at Drew University, studying with the incomparable Catherine Keller.  
[listen to her podcast here
You should 100% follow his blog and you might want to read his book on eco-theology Process pairing Jürgen Moltmann and John Cobb

As a process theologian, I often find myself in the position of needing to explain or even defend the God that Whitehead affirms.  I have these conversations with fellow academics and intellectual types who just can’t see how some of us can still call ourselves theists after the ‘death of God,’ as well as fellow Christians who struggle to see how one could reconcile process panentheism with the God of the Bible.

While the former group tends to be extremely critical of any hint of transcendence (whether in reference to God or otherwise), the latter group gets uneasy with the process theologian’s special emphasis on God’s immanence.  For the former, transcendence is more-or-less relativized – if not entirely eliminated – by immanence.  For the latter, it is usually the other way around: God is infinitely transcendent and created everything out of nothing.

For those who care to go into this kind of discussion, the core theological question up for debate is this:
how immanent and/or transcendent is Whitehead’s God?

I’m certainly not going to try to answer this with any sense of finality.  What I primarily want to do here is to point out the difficulty of this issue when we have, broadly speaking, two types of theologians reading Whitehead in different ways today:

  • those who resonate with Radical Theology
  • those who are committed to Confessional Theology.

This is exciting to me, even as it brings new challenges to process theology.  I’m not claiming that there is a full-blown contradiction between these two approaches, and perhaps there’s a way to bring these two approaches closer together.  Even so, they are starting out with different assumptions and concerns that certainly shape their contrasting readings of Whitehead’s theism.

At the risk of oversimplifiction, there’s a sense in which Radicals tend to read Whitehead primarily through a poststructuralist lens (Derrida, Deleuze, Butler) while Confessionals read him primarily through the lens of tradition and scripture.

This makes for a rather striking difference between the two.

One could always follow the “Whitehead without God” approach (Bob Mesle, Donald Sherburne). One can also see Whitehead’s God as nothing more than a cosmic function – and therefore wholly “secularized” – that is necessary for a coherent process worldview but totally uninspiring for spirituality or religion (Steven Shaviro’s reading in his “Without Criteria”).

Personally, I think there are serious problems with these interpretations (that’s for another post) and they remain minority reports within the process community.

Let’s consider two streams of process theology, what I’m calling the Radical and Confessional paths.

On the one side are those who read Whitehead’s God in ways that strongly emphasize immanence – a kind of Radical theology, perhaps, usually with the help of Deleuze’s poststructuralist philosophy of immanence.  Few process thinkers go so far as to deny God’s transcendence entirely (although see Kristien Justaert’s process pantheism in “Theology after Deleuze”), but the concept as more commonly understood is very much relativized by a more immanent God.  This is rapidly becoming an influential way of reading Whitehead (I can confirm this based on my experiences at both Drew and Claremont where most students of Whitehead tend to lean this way).

My former professor Roland Faber, signaling a stronger shift towards immanence with his Deleuzean reading of Whitehead, argues for “trans-pantheism” as opposed to the more standard reading of Whitehead’s panentheism.  He digs deep into the Cusan paradox of God as “Not-Other” and places a stronger theological emphasis on Whitehead’s immanent creativity.  He interprets the later Whitehead as seeming inclined “to replace any remaining connotations of God’s transcendence with a totally immanent divine creativity” (Process & Difference, 216).  As with John Caputo’s radical theology, Faber will also say that God does not exist but insists as the interrupting event of the new.

For Faber’s radical process theology, God is always “In/difference”: the insistence on difference and relationality of all differences.  For the Radical approach, questions of Christian doctrine (Christology, Trinity, Revelation) tend to be secondary (at best) to the political and ethical implications of theology.  The thinking here is that an immanent theology is better equipped for this-worldly activism based on democratic practices, over against difference-denying oppressive forms of hierarchy that are rooted in transcendence.

On the other side are those who read Whitehead’s God in ways that try to maintain more traditional theological intuitions of transcendence.  I see this as a kind of Confessional trajectory for Whiteheadians that has been much more common for Christian process theology over the last fifty years.  Confessional process theologians are not necessarily Orthodox in their beliefs, but they tend to have a stronger concern than the Radical process theologians to maintain ties to the Christian tradition and to more thoroughly align their theology to the Bible.

John Cobb is an obvious example here, especially evident in his rather high Christology in which he intentionally remains close to the creedal confession that Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” By reading Whitehead’s God as a balance of immanence with transcendence, he can affirm that God is the most powerful reality in existence, that our existence is radically contingent upon God as our Creator, and that we depend upon God’s grace.  Attempting to do justice to key themes of the Bible and Christian piety, Cobb will claim that because God is always working for the good in the world and truly loves her creation, God can genuinely reveal herself in particular ways, our prayers can be answered, people might even sometimes be healed through God’s action in the world, and that death ultimately does not have the last word.

Unlike Radical process theology, Confessional process theologians unequivocally affirm God’s existence as a real being (e.g., David Ray Griffin’s cumulative argument in his Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism).  A neo-Whiteheadian approach, as in Joseph Bracken’s theology, pushes even closer to traditional commitments and asserts a stronger (“asymmetrical”) sense of transcendence than even Cobb.  Like Thomas Aquinas did with Aristotle and Augustine did with neo-Platonism, Bracken will use Whitehead as a general philosophical framework for special revelation in scripture and tradition, allowing the latter more authoritative sources to revise the former when necessary.  The doctrinal results for him are an orthodox view of the Trinity, creatio ex nihilo, and bodily resurrection.

Some of us might cringe at the Radical approach, others at a Confessional approach.  To Confessionals, the Radical approach might sound even more esoteric and complicated than Whitehead himself and irrelevant for practical or spiritual life outside of the academy.  To Radicals, the Confessional approach might sound outdated and naïve at best, or imperialistic and oppressive at worst.  Or some of us might instead be able to see the two as constrasting rather than contradicting and perhaps look for a way to learn from both, even if we share the more basic assumptions of one or the other.

If the Radical approach is helping to keep Whitehead relevant to postmodern intellectuals, religious skeptics, and academics – perhaps even effecting a “Whiteheadian revolution” or a “return to Whitehead” in contemporary philosophy and science – the Confessional approach tends to have much more traction for pastors and laypersons.

This distinction seems to me to exemplify the challenge of identifying the task of theology today: is it important to do theology primarily for the sake of the life of the confessing church, or can we (should we) move on and do theology primarily because of its continuing politically subversive and ethical power for society?  This is not a question just for those of us in the process community, but rather for any theologian who finds herself in this predicament, between the Radical and the Confessional.

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Bo is friends with Al – Tripp not so much

In the this week’s TNT Tripp and I field letters from listeners. The fourth letter was unique in that it was:church-300x199

  1. snail mail
  2. by a person outside the christian faith
  3. lengthy
  4. illuminated a key difference between Tripp and myself.

Starting around the 50th minute, the topic of resurrection highlights a slight different in focus between the two of us.

In the episode I explain that while a venn diagram of Tripp and I would show a 90% overlap, the important place of variation comes in our relationship to ‘al’.

Tripp is a big fan of ‘the’: the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the mission.

I appreciate (and treasure) the reality of those seminal events – but I have no interest in arguing about them or contending for their historicity.

My interest is in the outworking of those concepts. The church is inherently incarnation-al. I want to see new life break forth and the rupturous power of resurrection lived out. Mission-al thinking leads us to participate in our communities differently.

I would even make a case for Biblic-al or Radic-al themes that have surfaced on Homebrewed over the past two years. I might even be able to make a case for institution-al and attraction-al models of church under the right circumstances.

This difference might also help explain why Tripp is in Philosophic and I am in Practical theology. 

Tripp ends by saying that if ‘the’ leaves the room and all we are left with is ‘al’ then we have a problem. There would be no reality behind what we were attempting to incarnate or enact.

Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

I would contend that it is less problematic than the inverse of that duality!  If we contend for ‘the’ like fundamentalists and have no concern for ‘al’ (incarnational, missional, etc.) then our tradition is dead. We have nothing to offer the world but propositions.

Clearly this is not an either-or situation … but the contrast does help illuminate a topic that seems to plague the church in every generation.

I hope that you will take note when you listen to that 10 minute segment of the episode. I would love to hear your feedback.

 

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TNT: Letters Edition

A cast of two halves! In the first half Bo and Tripp respond to 3 letters from listeners.

Then we get a call with Micky Jones about choosing a seminary (43rd minute) – and when we come back for the 4th and final letter things get a little rowdy.  It turns out the resurrection is a topic that brings some important distinctions between the nerds.

Here are some resources that are mentioned on this episode.  tntpcsubad

How to read the Bible by Kugel

Chalice BIble Commentary series

How to take the Bible seriously but not literally by Borg

The Everyone series by N.T. Wright

Exodus by Fretheim

a mother’s lament

Evangelical defense of same sex

Elizabeth Johnson Barrel Aged

Triune Atonement by Sung-Park

Saved from Sacrifice by Heim

The Non-violent Atonement by Weaver

Contemporary Christologies by Schweitzer

Cross & Covenant by Larry shelton

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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TNT: reading, resurrection and a rollicking conversation

Tim and Josh joined Tripp and Bo for the John Caputo book release broadcast and stuck around afterward for a TNT. TNT

This is a rollicking, swashbuckling style of conversation for 44 minutes – then the topic turns to ministry contexts and the tone changes a little bit.

If you are looking for books to read this year HERE are a couple of suggestion from Bo.
*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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Jesus, the Cross and Another Way

Guest post by Ken Alton –
one of the stars of the Easter Call-In Challenge TNT has sent us his thoughts from the northern forest of British Colombia, Canada. cross-150x150

Did God send Jesus to die on a cross? Did God send Jesus to die for our sins?

 My reaction is to say no. God sent Jesus to save us.

And I want to say that there was a possibility, even way back in biblical times, that Israel, responding in human freedom, could have realized just who this Messiah was and got behind and between and caught up in the kin-dom, such that all nations would have been drawn to that light, that human flourishing and the kin-dom be proclaimed to the ends of the earth without there being a cross in the story.

I want to say that even with the Sanhedrin being all caught up in shoring up their hierarchy and religiosity, then  Pilate and Herod could have responded, in human freedom, to the invitation of God in their ears at that moment, to the invitation of God standing right in front of them, and set Jesus free, not only set him free but got behind and between and caught up in the kin-dom and taken it to the ends off the earth in a different way, also without there being a cross in the story.

Jesus could have lived to a ripe old age, teaching thousands of brew-babies brought to him from miles around, sitting on a swing hanging from a tree to fulfill the prophecy. And after he died in his sleep, God still could have raised him from the grave and the lesson of new life could have been learned, and the giving of the Spirit could all have happened without a cross.

If none of that was a real possibility on Christmas morning, then something is wrong in how I understand our human freedom to say yes to Sophia’s divine wisdom whispered in each and every ear. I know we live in a world where the cross did happen. Thank God that cross is not the end of the story. Maybe if we spent less time focused on Jesus having to die for us, we could open ourselves to being able to live into that kin-dom that is always coming near, so near that it is among us even now.

Thoughts?
Questions?
Concerns?
Comments? 

Tripp and I called it a ‘hat-trick’ and a ‘home-run’. What do you think?

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TNT: Easter Call-In Challenge

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The deacons have responded to the challenge!

That is exactly what we were hoping for when we cooked up a little obstacle course around issue of crucifixion and resurrection. The callers navigate the obstacles with ease and in doing so get to show off some their best theological moves!

In this hour we hear from folks all the way from the forests of northern British Columbia, to the island of Jersey. In fact, we got calls from Africa, Asia, Australia and Eastern Europe.

Here is a hand-selected sample to showcase a variety of approaches.

We want to thank everyone who called in and all of those that made donations to help support the podcast!

 

You can read the link to the original challenge here if you need to get up to speed.

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