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. 

 

What About Isaiah 53?

We talked about the dangers of a penal substitution theory of atonement yesterday. I want to thank everyone who shared, retweeted, emailed and commented. The sincerity and the level of interest were very encouraging to me – as was the level of pushback. It reminds me of exactly how much all of this matters to people.

The overwhelming theme of yesterday was “what about Isaiah 53?”. I would never have thought it would come up as much as it did. It apparently is a linchpin that holds a whole system of biblical interpretation, belief and practice together.

As we prepare to look at the role Isaiah 53 plays, I want to begin with some general confessions.

1) I was raised loving Isaiah 53. My first live rock show was Stryper for heaven’s sake. I get why this stuff is important and that is why I attempt to handle it so carefully (except for the random cheeky hyperbole to keep readers alert).

2) My point yesterday was the New Testament never refers to the wrath of God being poured out on Jesus. It is the one thing that we know didn’t happen on Good Friday. For people to continually, then, refer to a passage for the Hebrew Testament was supremely telling for me.

3) There are going to be three types of readers of this post.

  • The first person says “who cares what a poetic/prophetic piece. It was centuries earlier and not even about Jesus.”
  • A second kind of reader holds that the Old Testament (that is what they call it) is predictive. So even though the writer from BC would not have explicitly been writing about Jesus, God – who knows the future – slipped it in there through inspiration and double-layered the meaning of passages like Psalm 22.
  • A third kind of reader understands that the writers of the four gospel texts were well acquainted with passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 which would have shaped the way they told the Jesus story.

You can see this in the 7 Saying of the Cross. None of the 7 appear in all 4 gospels. We have assembled them. We have amalgamated them. We have harmonized them.

It is called a construct. The 7 Sayings of the Cross are a construction. The traditional order of the sayings is:

  1. Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
  2. Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.
  3. John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.
  4. Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34 My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
  5. John 19:28: I thirst.
  6. John 19:29-30: It is finished.
  7. Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

This might be eye-opening to reader 2. When you are taught to read the Bible in a harmonized way, Jesus said 7 things from the cross. You may not know or even care that you have to turn to 4 different accounts to accumulate the 7 sayings. It may never dawned on you that they were telling four different kinds of stories within the bigger story.

In the same way many readers are making the mistake of mashing together The Day of Atonement’s “scapegoat” and the Passover’s lamb. This is causing great confusion. BUT when you are comfortable harmonizing Old and New Testament, the four Gospel accounts and Jewish holidays/imagery into one big thing … this is going to happen.

It would take too much to write for all 3 readers. Since #1 doesn’t care anyway and reader #3 is probably not building a theology around a poetic/prophetic passage from the Earlier Testament (that is what they would call it). I will focus on Reader 2!

 

What follows are the words of Hardin, Heim and Jones on Isaiah 53 – all texts are available in Kindle.

” This is not about an economy of exchange.  Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus say God is angry or wrathful with sinners, nor does he ever say or imply that God’s wrath must be appeased before God can accept sinners back into the fold.  lamb

None of the logic of the sacrificial principle can be found in anything Jesus says regarding his death.  If Jesus death was not a sacrificial act, relating to the logic of giving and receiving then what was it?  First, it was a political act.  It was Pilate, as representative of Caesar, who gave the order of execution.  It was pagan Empire that actually carried out the crucifixion.  Although it is true that Jesus was ‘handed over’ to the Jewish leadership by one of his disciples, and it is also true that Jesus was ‘handed over’ to Pilate by these same religious authorities, it was the pagan sacrificial system of Empire that killed Jesus.

The Passion Narrative has a certain structure that is familiar to readers of ancient stories, the structure of all against one (5.2, 6.3).  As we noted earlier, virtually everyone with the exception of a few women, participated in the execution of Jesus.  No one is left out.  To put it bluntly, Jesus was lynched by an angry mob.

Like the victim of Psalm 22 or the servant of Isaiah 53, he was alone; no one came to his aid, no one stood up for him, no one cried out that what was being perpetrated was an injustice. Sometimes Christians look at the cross of Jesus and see a singular unique event.

The fact that Jesus so clearly ties his death into the deaths of other victims (like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53) ought to indicate that he does not see his death in sacrificial terms.  In fact he sees a clear connection between his death and all of the unjust deaths of his sacred history.  In Matthew 23:29-36 Jesus addresses his contemporaries with a warning: they will experience the cataclysm of social disintegration because they persist in using violence against individuals to solve their social crises.

  “I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.  Some you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar.”

Jesus points out that the history of the Jewish people is a history bounded by murder: the very first murder of the Jewish ‘canon’ was that of Abel (Genesis 4:8) and the last murder, that of Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20-21).  His death will be like that of every prophet sent by God to Israel.  The difference between Jesus’ death and that of the prophets, from Abel to Zechariah, was that their deaths took place in or by sacred altars; it was in the context of sacrifice, near a bloody altar that they die.  Jesus does not die in the Temple or near an altar.  His death is completely secularized; he dies on a hill “outside the city gate” (Hebrews 13:12).

This becomes an important clue that Jesus’ death was to be interpreted as other than the usual sacrificial practice of making an offering to appease the deity.    So, Jesus’ death is not to be interpreted in the logic of the sacrificial principle but as the subversion and end of it. (1)

Jesus’ death was God’s way of coming into the machinery of sacrifice and tossing in a wrench to stop it from working ever again.  The sacrificial principle is the dark side of religion of which Jesus’ death is the light.

Mark Heim in his book Saved from Sacrifice sums it up best:

  “The truth is that God and Jesus together submit themselves to human violence.  Both suffer its results.  Both reveal and overcome it.  God does not require the death of the Son anymore than Jesus requires the helpless bereavement of the Father.  Jesus’ suffering is not required as an offering to satisfy God anymore than one member of a team undertaking a very dangerous rescue mission ‘requires’ another dearly loved member to be in a place of peril or pain.  They are constantly and consistently on the same side.  By virtue of their love and communion with each other, each suffers what the other suffers. They are not playing out a war in the heart of God.” (2)

 

So how does this apply to PSA?  Tony Jones explains:

When Anselm wrote Cur Deus Homo, there was “penal” in the substitution. There was no penal code in his day, no forensic understanding of justice. In fact, Anselm’s theory is better understood as “satisfaction” than as “substitution.”

According to Anselm, we owe God a debt, and that debt is obedience. But because of our sin, we are incapable of paying that debt, we are incapable of obedience to God. Jesus Christ, being perfectly obedient to God, is able to pay that debt, and he did so on the cross. We are not thereby freed of our obligation to obey, but we are freed of the arrears that we owe.

Five centuries after Anselm, along came Calvin. With the mind of a lawyer and the government of Geneva in his sights, Calvin took Anselm’s satisfaction theory and turned it up a few notches. It’s not just that we owe God a debt due to our disobedience, it’s that divine justice demands that we be punished for our disobedience.

Basically our sin cannot be forgiven without punishment. Christ’s death satisfies that demand, and we are forgiven of our sins based on Christ’s death. (3)

________________

When you put all of this together, I hope that you can see:

  1. that Jesus’ death was unjust.
  2. that Jesus’ death was not transactional.
  3. that Jesus’ death can be read as satisfaction but not substitution.
  4. that PSA is a historical development (construct) and not THE Biblical truth about Jesus’ death.

I would love your feedback and look forward to your thoughtful responses – concerns – and questions.  I hope that this has been helpful.

You can listen to that interview with Hardin here.  The original post about blood and the cross [here] and the Concerns of the Cross [here].  Our nerdy conversation about the cross on TNT [here].

(1) Hardin, Michael. The Jesus Driven Life: Reconnecting Humanity With Jesus $8.99

(2) Heim, Mark. Saved From Sacrifice: a theology of the cross  $15.12

(3) Jones, Tony. A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin  $2.99

Help Needed: Contrarian Game – Youth Pastor Edition

Last week at the Phyllis Tickle live event in Pasadena we played round 2 of the contrarian game “Au Contraire Mon Frère” between Tony Jones and our very own Tripp Fuller. The audio of that will come out this week. IMG_3698

Round 3 of the game (Youth Pastor Edition) will be held in Chicago at the Progressive Youth Minister Conference. Jonnie Russell will take my seat as the mediator.

We want your help in coming up with statements. 

Below are my statements from round 2 this past week as samples. The trick is to frame it in a way that the first person to take a position forces the other person to take the contrarian view that may not represent their actual conviction – but without knowing which one of the contestants will go first.

Each statement also needs a [secret phrase] that, if used, automatically wins the round.

This is a fun excercise and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!
_______________

  • The much hyped debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye the Science Guy was positive step in the right direction – we need to have public exchanges around contentious issues.

[Ray Comfort] 

  •  The abundance of Bible themed movies coming out this year – Son of God, Noah, Nicholas Cage in the Left Behind remake – is a sign that people are spiritual hungry and will pay to see their faith reflected on screen.

[Megachurch]

  •  The new Pope’s lasting legacy will not be his public persona (or even recognition by outlets like Rolling Stone) – but his appointment of Cardinals from the Southern Hemisphere  like last month when 14 of the new 19 were.

[European Hegemony] 

  •  Things like process, Moltmaniacs and emergents will always be small – but that is OK – because their function is to catch disillusioned young people who are slipping out the back door of the church.

[Nones ]

  • Twitter has become a toxic atmosphere and blogging is barely worth doing anymore.

[Hash tag wars]

  •  The life of the spirit (or life IN the spirit) has been largely neglected historically and is a glaring absence in the protestant church in N. America.

[Pentecostal]

  • Joel Osteen, while not my cup of tea, is telling the rest of us ministers something that we need to hear and wake-up to.

[Crystal Cathedral]

  • The age of Ministry Conferences is over, and Identity Politics killed it.

[Tokenism]

  • Youth ministry is an intrinsically untenable job description and that is why see such high turnover.

[relevant] 

  •  Fuller Seminary is straddling a dangerous divide over this LGBT issue between its ability to recruit future students and its older donor base.

[endowment  or baby boomers] 

 

 

 

 

A Process Response To Tony Jones’ 5 Questions

By Austin Roberts – follow Austin’s blog imago*futura here 

Tony Jones’ love of Jürgen Moltmann’s theology is absolutely contagious. His status as a ‘Moltmanniac’ strongly influenced my master’s thesis topic that I wrote at Claremont with Philip Clayton a couple of years ago, which was a comparison of Moltmann’s eco-theology with John Cobb’s. If it were not for Jones, I would not have fallen in love with Moltmann’s social Trinitarian theology. But perhaps to Tony’s disappointment, Moltmann then led me deep into the world of process theology. As any close reading of Moltmann’s God in Creation or the Spirit of Life will suggest, the later Moltmann is profoundly influenced by Whitehead (see my post on the topic here). I still love Moltmann, having read most of his work, but I’ve moved closer to the process theologies of Clayton, Cobb, Joseph Bracken, and Catherine Keller, my professor for my doctoral program at Drew.Today, I would join Clayton in describing my own view as neo-process theology. I would not resist the label of process theologian for a minute, but I try to draw on a deeper well of philosophers and theologians than just Whitehead. With Bracken, I’ve learned to draw on Thomas Aquinas, Teilhard de Chardin, and Meister Eckhart; with Clayton (and Tripp Fuller), I’ve learned to draw on Wolfhart Pannenberg and a bit of Schelling; with Cobb, I’ve learned to draw on liberation-political theologies and to think interreligiously as a Christian; with Keller, I’ve learned to draw on poststructuralists like Derrida and Deleuze, feminists, postcolonialists, and the Christian apophatic tradition (especially Dionysius and Nicholas of Cusa). In my own studies this semester, I’ve been relating my process thinking to Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Hegel, and René Girard

I say all of this in response to some of Tony’s questions that he has posed to those of us in the process camp. Let me respond to them one by one:

1) Do we get nervous about being so deeply rooted in Whitehead? Not at all, but that’s because I think Tony perhaps isn’t aware of the depth of philosophical engagement that process philosophers have been involved in for the last sixty years or so. Process philosophy in the most general sense is of course older than Whitehead, who is the philosopher to provide the most systematic synthesis of this way of thinking. Process theism is deeply related to Plato, with his understanding of God as persuasive in power and creating the world out of unformed chaos rather than nothing. Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa both arguably developed embryonic process-theistic relational ontologies – with Cusa even denying omnipotence. The process ontology of interrelated becoming events connects back to Heraclitus and resonates with much Buddhist and Taoist thought. The process cosmology was developed with the theories of Einstein in mind. We find analogies for process thinking in much of the American pragmatist tradition of Peirce, Dewey, and James as well as in poststructuralists like Gilles Deleuze and Judith Butler. On Deleuze, who is now reportedly the most influential poststructuralist philosopher in the English-speaking academic world today (in terms of research and dissertations being published), rivaling even Derrida’s dominance over previous decades, his entire cosmology (or “chaosmology”) is explicitly developed on the grounds of Whitehead’s magnum opus Process and Reality, which he called “one of the greatest books of modern philosophy.” Let me also mention that Whitehead is no small-time philosopher these days. Aside from a deep interest in his work amongst Chinese philosophers over recent decades, according to Catherine Keller, he is increasingly one of the most written-about philosophers in Europe today for dissertation topics. So Whitehead is hip, make no mistake. (; Having said all of this, I think I’ve made my case that process theologians have moved beyond any Whiteheadian orthodoxy. We’re a diverse bunch and draw on lots of different philosophers and theologies today. Keller is clearly one of the leaders of process thought today, and I have rarely known someone who is so intellectually diverse and cutting edge.

2) As one who continues to learn from (and disagree with much of) Aquinas, I don’t agree with Bo’s comments about not needing him today – but then again, I’m not a practical theologian, so I’m not going to speak for him here. As a philosophical and constructive Christian theologian, I am absolutely committed to taking the tradition seriously. That’s why I have been trying to engage with people like Aquinas, Eckhart, Cusa, Dionysius, Barth, Tillich, and Moltmann. On the issue of respecting the past while being open to transforming it, I follow John Cobb’s distinction of secularism and secularizing that he outlines in his Spiritual Bankruptcy (see my post on that here). While secularism is a perspective that neglects the wisdom of the past in favor of almost exclusively standing on present knowledge, secularizing is a dynamic of respecting the past, committing to a particular tradition, and taking its accumulated wisdom seriously, but critically engaging it and being willing to transform it when finally deemed necessary. Cobb sees Plato, Aristotle, the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and Paul as great secularizers. I think Cobb’s Christ in A Pluralistic Age, agree with its conclusions or not, exemplifies such respectful, secularizing engagement with the wisdom of our Christian tradition.

3) I certainly wouldn’t say that process theologians are the first to get the gospel right, no. I would say that the way we understand divine power as omni-potential and persuasive rather than omni-potent and coercive makes more sense to me of the picture we have of Jesus in the gospels. Classical theism generally denied that God has the power to act in a way that would contradict God’s nature, and process theists simply add to this that if God’s nature is truly primarily defined by love (as even Barth in fact states, 1 John 4:8 being one of the two abstract definitions of God in the entire Bible), then God does not have the power to unilaterally intervene. In that sense, God can be said to be omnipotent, but unilateral power contradicts God’s nature and it is thus impossible for God to act in that way. After the horrors of the 20th century, from Hiroshima to the Holocaust, process theism’s notion of power is extremely helpful for the problem of evil. While it does complicate the issue of resurrection and miracles, so central to Christian theology, it certainly does not exclude them. Unlike most forms of progressive theology, the process God literally, specifically acts in the world.

4) I believe process theology can strongly affirm God’s unique identity, contra what Tony has argued. This is the most misunderstood part of process theism, with both Moltmann and Tillich joining the ranks of theologians who believe that Whitehead’s God is dissolved into the cosmic process. I firmly believe that this is a tragic misunderstanding. First of all, Clayton and Bracken are what you would called “asymmetrical” process theologians who affirm creation out of nothing. This provides a clear image of a God who is ontologically distinct from creation, who is infinitely other. But what of those like myself who don’t affirm creation out of nothing? Moltmann in particular thinks this is the big problem with process not giving a place for the uniqueness of God, so he tries to maintain creation out of nothing. God is unique in that while God is always in creative relation to some world, God did not have to create this particular world. Our world is radically contingent upon the Divine Other who graciously chose to take the risk to lure this kind of world forth rather than one that could not produce conscious, complex beings like ourselves. God is also unique, in Marjorie Suchocki’s words, as “The Supremely Related One.” God is the most effective power in reality as the necessary ground of order and novelty and is omniscient of the entire past and present of creation. Furthermore, God’s primordial nature (which Whitehead almost always talks about when speaking of God) is God’s radically transcendent and eternal pole, the source of infinite possibilities for creaturely becoming, as opposed to the consequent nature, which is God’s immanently related temporal pole. And as Catherine Keller explains, following Nicholas of Cusa’s logic, rather than God’s difference being diminished in relation (which is always the concern for non-relational substance thinkers – even in Tillich, despite his intentions to be relational), process theologians believe that, once you get rid of substance metaphysics, difference heightens in relation. This insight is why process theology today has been so reenergized by the apophatic tradition.

5) I admit, many process theologians eagerly relativize the incarnation. No argument there. But others do not. Cobb believes Jesus is the center of history, the decisive revelation of God who saves us from sin through his life, death, and resurrection. Cobb’s atonement is a type of Christus Victor mixed with Abelard’s moral theory. He can say that Jesus, because his subjectivity, his ‘I’, was co-constituted by God by perfectly responding at every moment to God’s call or lure for his life, he is qualitatively, not just quantitatively different from other humans. Cobb thus even says Jesus is both God and human, quite literally, since in a process-relational rather than classical substance paradigm there is no problem with two things (God and Jesus) occupying the same space at the same time. That’s not a low Christology – it’s an attempt to take the creeds as seriously as possible in our contemporary world! The incarnation is literally true, unique, and universally important. Bracken is very similar, though a process social Trinitarian, and Clayton can say much the same of Jesus with what he admits is an adoptionist Christology in his book The Predicament of Belief. But Christ remains uniquely the incarnation of God for him, unlike any others, and saving through his work.

I hope this helps the conversation about process theology that’s been going on lately.  Thanks to Tony for engaging it so seriously!

Marcus Borg, Tony Jones, & the Resurrection w/ Jonnie #NerdOut

Follow Jonnie on Twitter.

Jonnie joined my in the HBC Headquarters in Redondo Beach. In the podcast we start discussing the resurrection exchange between Marcus Borg & Tony Jones [aka ToJo] & then end up on the necessity of a physical resurrection, atonement, eschatology, evangelical’s Easter concern, and Pannenberg.

Attempting to fill in for the BoDaddy is a difficult task but Jonnie did a pretty good job.  I think I will let him back on the TNT w/ the BoDaddy so Bo can make sure we actually stay on topic.  You will notice I actually start a couple lists of theological options and then get distracted by Pannenberg and John Cobb.  The BoDaddy is a pro and knows to limit such theological temptations.  During the podcast we drank the Burning Bush IPA and gave a shout out to 350.org for climate change info.

In the podcast we discuss these books:

1) Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies? & Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism by  Nancey Murphey

2) Jesus: God & Man by Wolfhart Pannenberg

3) Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg

4) Old Testament Theology by Gerhard von Rad

 

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference, Live Podcast and Craft Brewery Fun.

Come Join Tripp & Jonnie for the Conference and Craft Brewery Fun.

*** 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!***


Subscribe on iTunes Here!

Subscribe on iTunes!

Subscribe on iTunes Here!

Subscribe on iTunes

Subscribe on iTunes

The Limits of Labels

I have insomnia tonight – a rare occasion these days. I’m not in the mood to read any more about the use of Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle in Practical Theology so I brewed some coffee and revisited some of the online happenings from the past couple of months.

I found 3 pairs of things that I think are worth bringing up again. I will attempt to state everything in the positive as much as possible.

A couple of months ago, I made a case for the usefulness of labels. That included a couple of clarifiers:

  • that the label was used to more accurately locate a person or a thought – and not as a pejorative.
  • that the label was used accurately and not as a means to marginalize or discredit someone.

As I have attempted to make clear in various places, that when those two conditions are not the case it can be not only unhelpful, but flat-out inaccurate.

The second thing I thought was worth revisiting is that original Roger Olson article that got all of this started. Dr. Olson proclaims why he is not a liberal christian. I too have declared that I am not a liberal christian. However, I vary from Olson in my approach in several key ways.

  1. I say that being a liberal christian is a perfectly valid thing to be and that if I were one I would be so proudly. Dr. Olson doesn’t seem to have such a favorable disposition to it.
  2. I attempt to make a distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. Dr. Olson uses them seemingly interchangeably – especially in the beginning of his article. That impacts his conclusions later on.

These two points of departure are illustrative. I say something positive about the liberal tradition and I distinguish it from the ongoing trajectory of some of it’s heirs.

Here is why that is significant:

First, Dr. Olson references 2 renowned scholars as to their summation of the Liberal tradition.

  • Claude Welch: “maximal acknowledgment of the claims of modernity” in theology.
  • Gary Dorrien: defines liberal religion as rejection of any authority outside the self.

I find myself in neither of these maxims. I know people who fit them to a ‘T’ though.
I ,however, have engaged far too much post-colonial, liberation and feminist theology and am too deep into the hermeneutical turn to be there.

Second – and most importantly – Dr. Olson uses the term freely to say “If you don’t hold to this traditional/classical position .. I think of you as a Liberal.” I am saying that the term should be used very specifically by:

  1. Its historical connection to the tradition of Schleiermacher. 
  2. Its basis in the centrality of the conception of the self as primary.
  3. Its ongoing expression as a ‘constellation of loyalties’ that are in line with the previous two as well as in contrast with Conservative/Fundamentalist positions on the ‘foundationalist’ spectrum.

I don’t follow Schleiermacher, I don’t subscribe to the primacy of the self and I am post-foundational. I am therefore 0 for 3 in the classic conception of liberalism.

I hope these clarifications help clear things up. I have been very grateful for the robust conversation of the past weeks. The pushback has helped me greatly to clear up my position here and hopefully to avoid some of the confusion in future conversations by listing the 3 distinguishing marks of liberalism as well as Welch’s and Dorrien’s summations.