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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Actually, my new blog is found here: www.pastor2pew.org/blog. Sorry for sending you to a site you can't access without a subscription.

Steve Kindle

I hope you join me in my new venture

Dear subscribers—

I am closing down this blogsite soon. I have, however, begun a new one at www.pastor2pew.org/discuss. I invite you to look it over to see if it's something you would like to follow. If so, you can subscribe just like you did to this one. It's focus is on promoting understanding of Progressive Christianity, and a part of the ministry of www.pastor2pew.org

I am very appreciative of your interest in my work and look forward to seeing you on my new blog. 

All the best,
Steve Kindle

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Has the multiplicity of interpretations made the Bible incomprehensible? —YES


by Steve Kindle


For those of us in the West, once the Roman Catholic Church lost its hegemonic hold on the content of the faith, it’s become “every man for himself.” Or in the words of pope of the Reformation period, “With every man his Bible, soon everyman his own church.” Quite prophetic, wouldn’t you say?

The Reformation’s emphasis on the right of every believer to interpret the Bible soon became warrant for any old interpretation that suits the interpreter. Who is there to suggest otherwise?

Add to this that the scholarly biblical academy can’t seem to come to a consensus on, well, you name it. We’ve arrived at a point where biblical inquirers are presented with a smorgasbord of options, and we pick and choose as it suits us, with no better reason than choosing a Ford over a Chevy, merely personal preference.

This all begins with the complicated nature of the Bible itself. In order to make sense out of the 31,102 verses, 1,190 chapters and 66 assorted books, it is necessary to employ a schema, or template, to organize its contents into a manageable whole. This is truly a “can of worms,” as the options for this are mindboggling. Additionally, the Bible is a product of people with a worldview quite different from ours. It’s a very difficult task to enter into that ancient world and think as they did. It requires immersing ourselves in cultures two to three thousand years old. Many bypass this step and just read it like the daily newspaper. This “what it means today must be what it meant then” approach is sure to yield disappointing results.

What this has done to the church is create oases of partisanship based not on what is found to be the highest truth, but on, as we know from H. Richard Niebuhr on down, economic and political confederacies. It means, “I belong to my denomination because I was raised in it,” or “The people were good to me and so nice.” No matter that you are led by a Jim Jones (Peoples Temple), or a Martin Luther King, Jr. People who, indeed, attempt to find the church closest to the Bible soon learn that it is a fool’s errand. Even the New Testament churches present a wide range of doctrines and differ in many ways. What would the doctrinally perfect church look like? The fact that there are hundreds of options (if not thousands) reflects the difficulty, if not impossibility, of making sense of the biblical data to anyone but the interpreters.

The classic creeds from the Nicaean forward were attempts to cull the basics from Apostolic Christianity to bring order and clarity to the church. All they did was divide the church then, and today make understanding them as difficult as understanding the Bible. Homoousios, anyone?

A literal understanding of the words in the Bible is no help either. Whether the literalist understands it or not, there is no such thing as an uninterpreted text. Whatever lens we view the Bible through will control the outcome. And we all wear lenses.

Now, as to the meaning of incomprehensible. The dictionaries basically define it as “unable to make sense.” My overall point is this: because the Bible does not speak with one voice, but covers a variety of points of view, and even contradicts itself from time to time, one can’t expect its interpreters to do any better. This cacophony of interpretations is bewildering and finally debilitating to the average Bible reader who ultimately surrenders to what seems best, unable confidently to sort out the best among its many contenders. “This makes sense to me,” serves as the final judgment, because we make it make sense.

Any “sense” made from the Bible, is a derivative sense, derived primarily from the approach taken in the reading. There is no obvious sense lying on the surface for any fool to see.

None of this is, of course, the Bible’s fault. It has the inconvenience of being made up of words. Words are, after all, symbols, and symbols are capable of wide meaning, especially when read by people with different backgrounds and experiences. The meaning taken from the Bible varies greatly among women, minorities, third world, poor, oppressed, and oppressor (to name only a few). The meanings are so dissimilar that one sometimes wonders if they are reading the same book.

The real question is, is this a problem? Not if you understand that diversity of interpretive outcomes is inevitable. In fact, diversity of interpretation, for those who remain tentative in their work, is welcome. Why? Because it acts as a corrective. If we remain humble before the text and are willing to listen to others, inch by inch, we may actually come to a more suitable outcome than simply camping on what seems good to us.

This diversity of interpretations is also good for us. Paul’s advice that we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” puts the burden on seeking and finding for ourselves, but not just for ourselves, but in community with other seekers. Only in community can we be exposed to correctives and also the motivation to live out our discovered truths. Even though we may never find the ultimate answer (we see in a mirror, darkly), journeying together has its own rewards. In a very substantial way, the enigma of the Bible is also its greatest good.

Now I know what you're thinking. I may be right about some of the more difficult areas of biblical interpretation, but the Bible is very clear on what we need to know for our salvation. Oh, really? Is Paul the authority that we are saved by grace through faith--not of works? Or is it James who says that we are not saved by faith alone? Or are the Restoration churches correct in insisting that baptism for the remission of sins is necessary for salvation, or the Baptists who believe that baptism follows salvation? And all are against the Calvinists who insist that humans have nothing to do with the decision! (We could go on, couldn't we.)

Therefore, in the words of Micah,
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Or, as Ecclesiastes would say, "This is the end of the matter."
 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

How Has Modern Science Changed How We Understand the Bible?

by Steve Kindle
“By identifying the new learning with heresy, you make orthodoxy synonymous with ignorance.”
~Erasmus

What follows in this post is my personal reflection on Dr. Vick's post which ran yesterday on the Energion Publications blog (for which I am the editor). Although I hope he finds this compatible with his own view, he may not. He is only responsible for prodding me to think through some of the implications of what he wrote.

The heliocentric model of the universe changes everything.
Since the Copernican revolution, we can no longer accept the Ancient Near Eastern three-tiered universe with heaven “up there,” and Sheol “down below.” Paul’s vision of a man transported to “the third heaven” reveals a psychology steeped in that worldview. Elijah taken to heaven in a fiery chariot, and even the ascension of Jesus, can no longer be taken literally. Given the vastness of the universe, the psalmist’s question, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” takes on deepened meaning. Can we still speak of God “in the heavens,” or literally understand that “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built.”? I think not.

The biological Theory of Evolution changes everything.
No longer can we think of the world as created in six days, or Bishop Ussher's 6,000 years ago, or the Creationist's 10,000. The creation narratives in Genesis can no longer be taken literally, but as a poetic ode to creation and the Creator. Adam and Eve can now be seen as a primordial myth that speaks to the human condition, not of the actual First Parents. The Flood has shrunk to the area surrounding the Black Sea about 12000 BCE. (The universality of flood stories can be traced back to the melting of the great ice sheet that covered most of the northern hemisphere at the same period, and how it affected its people.)

The only answer that literalists can give in response is that the Bible is the word of God and must take priority over any other presumed authority…regardless of the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. “The Bible says” trumps scientific findings.

Literalists do claim a kind of science on their side, Creation Science. They marshal “evidence” that no scientist in the academies supports, even continuing to cite long overturned arguments from John Whitcomb, Henry Morris, and George McCready Price. The Creation Science movement proved too embarrassing for many scientists of faith, because it was tied too closely to biblical arguments. They began the Intelligent Design movement and eschewed any taint of religion in their deliberations. However, virtually all are aligned with some form of Christian Evangelicalism or Fundamentalism, which drives their efforts, not pure science. They have yet to make significant inroads into the wider scientific community.

So what does the consensus scientific worldview do for biblical interpretation and theology?
  • It removes biblical supernaturalism as an explanation of events.
  • God’s transcendence is not physical (out there), but “wholly other.”
  • Literalism is no longer the first and preferred reading.
  • The biblical notions of sin and salvation (atonement) need to be understood as arising from the ancient milieu, and not appropriate today.
  • The Bible, rather than being a scientific textbook, can be recognized as the record of a people trying to understand their world and their place in it. It is the people’s record, not God’s.
  • The apocalyptic undergirding of the New Testament needs to be seen as a yearning for hope in a world gone mad, not as a timetable for the ages.
  • It ends the dualism that turns the world into a battleground instead of a paradise.
What are some of the applications that can be made from these assertions?

It removes biblical supernaturalism as an explanation of events.
God can no longer be seen as acting from outside the cosmos upon the Earth shaping events and suspending natural law at will. Things have proceeded over the past 14.5 billion years in a natural fashion and continue to do so. We know that the Earth rotates about 25,000 miles per hour and orbits the sun, which is stationary (relative to the earth). The story of the battle for Jericho includes God causing the sun to stand still in the sky to allow for more daylight. This is a perfect example of the ancient worldview’s explanation for how Israel wins battles: God intervenes for them. This, for me, serves as an archetype for all such interventions.

God’s transcendence is not physical (out there), but “wholly other.”
By removing God from beyond the cosmos (heaven), we have not demoted God, but made God immanent—within all things. In certain ways, God is closer to humanity than before. Gone are such notions as “the Man upstairs,” “the Old Man in the sky,” and other figures of speech that make God remote and far removed from human life. God being intimately related to and involved with every aspect of life, from the smallest subatomic particle, to the fullness of the cosmos, makes everything sacred and gives humans motivation for proper care of creation.

Literalism is no longer the first and preferred reading.
Knowing that we are reading ancient documents that are informed by a worldview vastly different from our own, we can no longer accept their understanding at face value. Taking the text literally is to overlook this fact. We begin interpreting by asking what informed the author to understand the text in this way, and then compare it to how we find things in our world today.

The biblical notions of sin and salvation (atonement) need to be understood as arising from the ancient milieu, and not appropriate today.
Can you imagine anyone operating out of the modern worldview attaching the remedy for sin to blood atonement? The gods of the Ancient Near East were capricious and vengeful. In agrarian societies, the only thing they had to offer the gods to appease them were what they grew or the livestock they raised. They saw these things as an extension of themselves, and, in a way, the offering of themselves. Blood, life, in exchange for their lives.

Even the Bible comes against this notion from time to time. From Amos: I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream. 

 Even the pagans such as King Nebuchadnezzar found peace with God away from blood atonement. From Daniel: Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.”

Not all the atonement theories arising from the New Testament and later required a blood sacrifice for efficacy. Specifically, Luke sees salvation arising out of being faithful to the end, even as was Jesus, who models our means of salvation.

The Bible, rather than being a scientific textbook, can now be considered a record of a people trying to understand their world and their place in it. It is the peoples’ record, not God’s.
Rather than this being woeful, it is an amazing realization. Humans are capable of spiritual insights and profound realizations about the world and themselves. God will be seen as a participant in this, but the record is from humans. Therefore, for humans to engage the Bible as human to human is to do precisely what the ancient people were doing that resulted in the Bible. The tradition continues into our own time and much spiritual good is reaped in the process.

The apocalyptic undergirding of the New Testament needs to be seen as a yearning for hope in a world gone mad, not as a timetable for the ages.
Apocalyptic theology, that is, the understanding that God shapes all world history according to God’s will, and that good will ultimately triumph over evil, arose out of a need, indeed, a longing, that this is the case. I believe that God will ultimately prevail in securing a world typified by shalom, and I recognize this as a faith statement. But the notion of God superintending history, much as a mother hen, doesn’t give free will its due.

The Hebrew Bible is full of instances where God is depicted as “changing his mind.” First, with being sorry, actually repenting making humankind, and rectifying this by the genocide of the race. Then there is Moses pleading with God in the wilderness not to destroy Israel. God relents when Moses argues that the Egyptians will laugh at him. These and many other examples suggest that not all things are set in place “before the foundation of the world.” That the future is unknown and not predicable, as apocalyptic would have it.

It ends the dualism that turns the world into a battleground instead of a paradise.
Religious dualism is the idea that there are two supernatural forces diametrically opposed to one another vying for dominance. For nearly 4.5 billion years of the formation of planet Earth, down to our own day, dualism was irrelevant. Actually, the idea that there is God and an anti-god (Satan), is very new to humanity. In fact, the Hebrew Bible’s recording of the history of Israel from creation to the return from Babylonian exile got along without it. Satan, as known in the New Testament is absent. Dualism emerges in the Intertestamental period and flourishes in the New Testament. Many scholars believe that Jewish theologians were introduced to dualism during the Babylonian captivity with their exposure to dualistic Zoroastrianism. Dualism tends to divide people, institutions, and things into good or evil. Monism (the metaphysical and theological view that all is one, that there are no fundamental divisions) promotes world unity and peace and is the basis of Shalom.

Conclusion
We in the 21st century have been given a marvelous inheritance in the Bible. If we can learn to view it as a human enterprise encapsulating the wisdom of a people who earnestly sought to find answers to the human predicament, we, too, will find our way out of darkness and into the light. But only if we are not imprisoned by an outmoded and now harmful worldview that would keep us from finding our own way.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Great Commission should not be used to make enemies

 by Steve Kindle

Most of the foreign missionaries I talk to hold in common a belief that God always precedes their arrival at the mission field, and prepares the way. This notion is fraught with theological insights. Not the least of these is that God is with people whom we may consider “lost,” yet, there God is. With charity, we can call this a relationship.

A human characteristic we all share is the tendency to regard our culture superior to all others. This would include our religions. In America, we regard democracy as the best form of government and actively seek to democratize the rest of the (backward) world. This is certainly true for most adherents of Christianity—we want the whole world to adopt our faith.

This is, of course, an extension into the modern world of ancient tribalism. Not only do we find the presupposition of “We are the best,” but also the accompanying fear of those who aren’t like us. Couple this with the capitalistic notion of “win or lose” and you have the recipe for constant and continuing strife among the religions and peoples of the world.

What’s to be done about this? If you are a hardcore tribalist, you will insist on winning over all. “We have the truth and you must come to us for salvation,” is the rallying cry. Nothing will change if this predisposition dominates, and it dominates throughout the world. I find it ironic, if not humorous, that those who most exemplify this attitude are the very ones most upset when they find it in others. “Radical fundamentalist Muslims” deplore evangelistic Christianity. Fundamentalist Christians deplore “radical Muslims.” They are two sides of the same coin.

It has been said often that the only hope for world peace is that people give up exclusive claims about their own religion and accept that they are not the only ones with the truth. This is surely at least partially true. Religious strife is as ancient as Cain and Abel (the proper way to sacrifice), and as recent as ISIL. Yet it is an impractical solution; it will never happen, at least for the foreseeable future. But this doesn’t mean that the adherents of these religions can’t take this step.

Gandhi is reputed to have said, “Be the change you want to see.” If you feel that the answer to world peace is acknowledging the value of other’s truths, at least for themselves if not for you, then by living this out, there is one less person in the world agitating for division. Who knows? It might catch on.

When I read in the Bhagavad Gita, for instance, “They alone see truly who see the Lord the same in every creature, who see the deathless in the hearts of all that die. Seeing the same Lord everywhere, they do not harm themselves or others. Thus they attain the supreme goal,” I marvel at the truth therein, and my soul is enlarged. I love meeting people of other Books, and often find my own self failing in comparison to their lives and loves.

Now I know the objections to this approach are many. “The Bible says…” and “We have been given the Great Commission,” just to name two. Fundamentalists will never abandon these “truths.” It’s true that the Great Faiths are not teaching the same thing, but I believe that they are capable of producing the same kind of person—loving, considerate of the earth, peaceful—and that is the point, after all, isn’t it? In fact, if Christianity produces hateful people, willing to kill others for its “truth”, who condemn all who disagree, and hold them in contempt, why bother with it?

If I must go into all the world and preach the gospel, I will affirm that God loves all people, that God wants all people to love each other, and that God supports all who obey the Great Commandments regardless of where it is found or who said it. And you know what? God will already be there ahead of me, teaching the world through its own culture the way to Truth.


I recently published a short book that looks at why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it. Order I'm Right and You're Wrong! here: https://energiondirect.com/biblical-studies/im-right-and-youre-wrong It's only $4.99.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Striking Omission

by Steve Kindle


Today, representatives of the major world religions gathered at 9/11’s Ground Zero memorial to commemorate the lives lost and comfort the still-grieving families. The centerpiece, of course, was Pope Francis. However, the presence of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Hindu, Baha’is, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Christian Protestant leaders was striking for its omission: Franklin Graham was not on the stage.

The opening visual was of the rabbi and the imam waking to the microphones, pausing to embrace one another. A Jew and a Muslim hugging. A more appropriate beginning to a prayer service on behalf of the whole world could not be imagined. No wonder Franklin Graham was nowhere to be seen. For he represents a different notion of Christianity, typified by blaming 9/11 on Islam, calling it a “very wicked and evil religion.”

It’s easy to blame the fundamentalists in Islam who wage jihad against all perceived enemies. But what about Christian fundamentalists whose only concern is the world domination of all people and religions under the guise of the Great Commission, typified by Graham? Conservative American Christians keep adding fuel to the fire of antagonism by insisting that only Christianity is valid, and all other religions are of the devil. When we get blowback, what did we expect? A warm welcome?

The idea that a pope could address a joint session of Congress was unthinkable until maybe the installation of Pope Francis. And the message he brought? Learn to live together in our diverse world. Perpetuating the animosities of the past only serves to prolong them. Finding ways to acknowledge the good in peoples other than one’s own serves to diminish age-old antagonisms.

The absence of Franklin Graham from the prayer service at Ground Zero speaks volumes. In another day, we would have expected his father, Billy Graham, to be on that stage. Apparently some apples do fall far from the tree.