First things first

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A quote from the "Progression of Faith" blog:

Christianity cannot become post-modern until it first becomes modern.

49 comments:

Olympiada said...

So define post-modern and modern, please.

Mystical Seeker said...

Not sure I can define post-modern, although if you go to the blog that I linked to, you might get some ideas. As for modern, to me it means accepting the realities of the Enlightenment.

Mike L. said...

Thanks for the nod to my blog Mystical Seeker.

Here are my definitions:

Modern - The time after the modern enlightenment when the world was introduced to modern science, modern theology, modern biblical criticism techniques. This was a time when modern science was hotly debated as many people of faith fought to keep an ancient world view complete with miracles, virgin-births, afterlife, etc.

PostModern - living in the time when modernism is no longer debated or rejected. Science is part of the fabric of our worldview. Mass acceptance of non-literal interpretation of sacred texts is not contested. We are "past" our old debates that occured during the enlightenment period.

The truth is that we are living in a time of transition from modern to postmodern. Obviously we still have the debates but mainly in remote parts of the world (3rd world countries and the southeastern USA where I live).

Mike L. said...

I should add that a key component of postmodern thought is that we no longer reject myths even though modernity disproved them as facts. Postmoderns are happy using myths to convey symbolic truths even though we know the myths are not historical events.

Mystical Seeker said...

Thanks for the explanation, Mike.

Postmoderns are happy using myths to convey symbolic truths even though we know the myths are not historical events.

That sounds a lot like what Marcus Borg refers to as post-critical naiveté, which he considers the next (more advanced) spiritual step after "critical thinking", which corresponds to a post-Enlightenment (or "modern") understanding.

John Shuck said...

Right on! This is the whole issue of fundamentalism. It wants to keep us pre-modern.

We can't get to post-modern until we pass through modernity. The church is having a whale of a time making this step. Nice post Mike and thanks for linking to it, Seeker.

Grace said...

God have mercy, folks. I live in the north-eastern U.S., and tons of people I know, Christian or not, even highly educated folks are open to the miraculous. We must be living in a parallel universe. Teasing, ya, Myst. (laughing)

But, I'll ask the question again, Myst., obviously none of us should be incredulous, or reject the blessings of modern science.

But, why should we be totally accepting, and conditioned by naturalism, either? I can't see it.

And, I don't know if we should call the third world remote with the event of modern tele-communications, especially the internet. The truth is these folks make up the majority of the world's population.

Grace said...

Hey, guys,

I just wanted to add that I really think that questions relating to the nature, and purpose of God are things that lie outside the realm of the scientific method.

What do you think of this quote?

"Miracles can be deemed unscientific only if our knowledge of causation is so extensive that we can confidently dismiss divine causation."

Matthew said...

One aspect of 'Modern' thought that wasn't clarified in earlier posts is it's 'humanistic' bias:

"It is a trend of thought that affirms the POWER OF HUMAN BEINGS (emphasis mine) to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology and practical experimentation. Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was 'holding back' progress, and replacing it with new, progressive and therefore better, ways of reaching the same end." [Quote from Wikipedia]

Isn't it true that the 'Emerging Church' wants to continue this path, by way of re-examining and re-formulating doctrine in an attempt to be 'progressive and therefore better'?

It seems to me that it relies on the belief that current 'scholarship' is more thorough (less dependent on unscrutinized 'authority'), with the conclusion that people are NOW better able to understand the 'true' teachings of the church (God) are?

One aspect of 'Postmodernity' that's important to consider is it's REJECTION, due to disillusionment, with Modernisms imposed limitations on what consitutes 'knowable' reality.

In Christianities case, the Postmodern rebellion implies an attempt to 'expand' religious knowledge to include viewpoints previously considered 'heretical' (or coming from 'outside', that is, from other religious traditions).

Will this lead to another form of 'New Age' thought- which is about embracing an eclectic and individual approach to spirituality?

Can the Emerging Church nurture Postmodern man's move away from authority, into a more subjective and eclectic way of 'knowing'? It's interesting that the primitive church decided against this path, choosing instead a unified dogma which helped it survive during the troubled times in which it grew.

Matthew

Mike L. said...

I found a couple of interesting things in Matthews comment above.

He said "Will this lead to another form of 'New Age' thought- which is about embracing an eclectic and individual approach to spirituality?"

I think the new age "stuff" (I could use a harsher term) that might be observed is a result of those emergents trying to make the jump from evangelical pre-modern thought directly to post-modern philosophy. If we take the time to pitch our tent in modernity long enough to clear our heads, then we avoid that problem. I think that in many ways, we may look back at the modern era as a type of philosophical filtering system that filtered out the junk but let the wonderful stories flow through and become purified and preserved for later generations who will be able to read them without the modern bias.

Mystical Seeker said...

I think the new age "stuff" (I could use a harsher term) that might be observed is a result of those emergents trying to make the jump from evangelical pre-modern thought directly to post-modern philosophy.

I think that's a good point. A lot of New Age thinking seems anything but accepting of post-Enlightenment modernism, tending to accept a lot of pseudo-science and magical thinking. Making the leap from pre-modern thought to post-modern thought, without an intermediate step of modern thinking first, omits the important step of a developing a healthy and mature skepticism as part of the spiritual package. The key point as I would understand it about having a post-modern understanding is that it incorporates post-Enlightenment skepticism; otherwise, it really isn't any different from pre-modern thinking. It seems like some New Age thinking can be just faddish pre-modernism, with the faddishness making it seem "new" but without the newer and more mature paradigm. Not to mention that some kinds of New Ageism give me the impression of being very centered on the self and (at least as it appears to me) lack the broader ethical or social justice foundations at their core that I think is important in religious faith.

Grace said...

So, in post-modern thought, does "truth" about ultimate reality become whatever we want it to be? What seems to work for us?

Who decides? What if the church didn't just arbitrarily choose a path for it's own ends and self-preservation but is sharing timeless truth revealed by God?

And, why is it thought that folks are better able now to understand the apostolic witness, than centuries ago, if that's what's being shared here?

Mystical Seeker said...

What if the church didn't just arbitrarily choose a path for it's own ends and self-preservation but is sharing timeless truth revealed by God?

The very claim that any human being or institution would know with certainty the "timeless truth revealed by God" is itself an act of hubris. Anyone making a claim loses all credibility in my eyes.

Indeed, history has shown that the Christian church willingly used force to insure that one dogmatic interpretation of this supposedly timeless truth was the only one allowed to be expressed, while all others were suppressed. This was true in the fourth century when the church took one of its many strands of theology and elevated it to the official dogma, and suppressed all the other competing strands of thought. We saw this again later when Michael Servetus was burned at the stake by Calvin. The church did not like dissent. But being in control doesn't make one right.

And, why is it thought that folks are better able now to understand the apostolic witness, than centuries ago

How is anyone able to use the tools of modern research and science to understand something that was not understood in previous years? How credulous do you have to be to simply take at face value a set of dogmas that emerged many decades and centuries after the events that supposedly inspired them?

I don't know what you mean by "understand the apostolic witness". The apostles who lived with Jesus wrote nothing down. The first writings about Jesus were from someone who did not meet Jesus and who plainly admitted that he got his gospel from revelation rather than from direct experience of Jesus's life. The gospels that we have were written from 40 to 70 years after Jesus died, are not consistent with one another, and have the signs of metaphor, myth, and imagination written all over them. Everything that we have in the Bible is at least partly the product of the imagination of people who lived long after Jesus died. The early church was a diverse lot with a lot of theological interpretations of the meaning of Jesus's life. There was no single "apostolic witness", and nothing we have comes directly from Jesus's time.

We have had more freedom of inquiry in the last couple of centuries. We don't have to kowtow to church authorities, but can use the tools at our disposal to go back and revisit that official party line. It is the height of naiveté and credulity to simply take at face value the official party line of an authoritarian institutional framework. Academics have research tools at their disposal. How is it that no one discovered the existence of Q until just a couple of centuries ago? Funny how all those years of "apostolic witness" never produced any recognition of the fact that Matthew and Luke both shared a common source. And yet, there you have it.

And much of the theological veneer that sits on top of the accounts of Jesus's life came centuries later is just as subject to scrutiny as it was in, say, the fourth century, when the Nicene creed was imposed on the church. God is always speaking to us, and we have a responsibility to continue to listen.

To ask how it is that the modern world can go back and revisit claims that were made in earlier times is an appeal of anti-intellectualism and pure naiveté. Theology that won't subject itself to being revisited becomes rigid and meaningless, a museum piece rather than a living faith.

Grace said...

Mystical, it would take alot of time to sort all this out on a blog. But, for instance, I'm feeling that the gospels do present variations depending on the audience each writer was trying to reach. But, you see, no major teaching of the faith is contradicted by these variations.

And, I believe that there is evidence to show that oral tradition was carefully preserved, along with source documents, and also that the NT writers did have an historical interest. They weren't just making it all up as they went along.

How can we completely trust the judgement of all of our modern scholars, either,some who obviously have an anti-supernatural axe to grind? Just look at the disagreement that exists among, say, the fellows of the Jesus Seminar. They really can't come to a consensus among themselves.

I think it makes at least some sense to seriously consider the testimony of folks writing much closer to these actual events, don't you??

Hey, Mystical, I don't want to beat you over the head with the Bible, here. And, truly, I'm backing off. But, why not read the work also of some of the more orthodox Christian scholars. You know. It would be a challenge, anyway. Round things out abit. What do you have to lose, Myst??

I'm outta here for awhile, now.
God bless, Mystical.

Mystical Seeker said...

And, I believe that there is evidence to show that oral tradition was carefully preserved, along with source documents, and also that the NT writers did have an historical interest. They weren't just making it all up as they went along.

Not entirely, of course. Obviously they didn't make it all up. I believe that Jesus existed, that he preached, that he was crucified--and the Gospels reflect that. But there are clear mythological elements, such as in the birth stories in Luke and Matthew, which is clear to anyone who reads those stories with a modicum of objectivity. And obviously the Gospel of John cannot be taken seriously in the sayings that it ascribes to Jesus.

How can we completely trust the judgement of all of our modern scholars, either,some who obviously have an anti-supernatural axe to grind? Just look at the disagreement that exists among, say, the fellows of the Jesus Seminar. They really can't come to a consensus among themselves.

The point that I raised when I entered this posting was that much of Christianity is still stuck ina pre-modern mode of thought--which includes a naive pre-Enlightenment belief in miracles. I prefer scholarship that is based on critical thinking.

As for scholars not agreeing with one another, well, I think that's to their credit. Free and open debate and disagreement is part of the process of academic research. That necessarily involves disagreement. I'll take the process of research by those who engage in free inquiry (which means disagreement) over those who unscientifically just parrot the orthodox party line and who reject any science that doesn't conform to their dogma.

The answer to this lack of complete agreement is not to throw up one's hands in despair, say that you can't believe anything, and retreat into theological dogma that does not subject itself to the scientific method. One can make reasonable inferences, one can engage in a little verisimilitude, and one can draw reasonable, even if provisional, conclusions. I will choose science over ignorance every time.

OneSmallStep said...

**But, why should we be totally accepting, and conditioned by naturalism, either? I can't see it.**

I wouldn't call it totally accepting. But the thing with naturalism, or science, is that we have a set of laws that we can measure the events against. We don't have that with the miraculous. A miracle is pretty much something that breaks some sort of law or another, such as the laws of physics, or the law of gravity. Anytime we go into the miracle realm, we have no way of evaluating it, or measuring it, or anything, because it follows no scientific laws.

In terms of the quote, the reason why miracles would not be considered a scientific answer is because science specifically deals with natural causes, and natural effects. A divine anything (including causation) if not bound by those natural laws, cannot be considered a scientific answer.

**How can we completely trust the judgement of all of our modern scholars, either,some who obviously have an anti-supernatural axe to grind? **

Why can't this be reversed,with us saying, "How can we completely trust the judgement of the conservative Christiain scholars, who obviously have a supernatural agenda to push forward?" We could even apply this to the Bible -- how could we trust the writers in the Bible who clearly had an agenda to push forward as well?

The disagreement among modern scholars, especially the Jesus Seminar, is a healthy sign. It means debate is flourishing, and nothing is simply "accepted," but that things are analyzed. They show us where and why they disagree, and support their claims.

**But, why not read the work also of some of the more orthodox Christian scholars. You know. It would be a challenge, anyway. **

Are you assuming that Mystical hasn't? I, for one, have read the works of them, and for the most part, it's precisely why I don't hold with their viewpoint.

Frank said...

I think the new age "stuff" (I could use a harsher term) that might be observed is a result of those emergents trying to make the jump from evangelical pre-modern thought directly to post-modern philosophy.

Woah, that is the most profound thing I've heard in a long while. New Age always seems so unrooted, somehow.

The real challenge for a religious tradition to move toward modernity and beyond is to find a way to demythologize the myths while still keeping the magic and mystery alive. Most people do not know how to do that, so they spring back to fundamentalism. They sense there is something beyond, but science only promises secularism and scholars only give cynicism. There is no victory to demythologize everything if one becomes snide and self-assured in the process. In tragic irony, we learn that the world is round but it starts to feel flat.

If we lose our awe and wonder, we lose something big. We lose humility, which I think is what is lacking among the New Age movement, in general. Humility and awe seem critical to a genuine spiritual journey, one that moves in love and not a desire to make everything "known"--which basically takes the fun and charm (and risk) out of everything.

If you go around proclaiming that 'I'm God and you're God and we're all God', but haven't done the legwork to get there, i.e. if you haven't gotten there as a suffering servant, then its all flower and no root.

The witness of the mystics keeps reminding me that there is much that is good in orthodox Christianity. Some like Thomas Merton and Daniel Berrigan may have ended up more "new age" than Oprah, but infinitely more rooted.

Grace said...

Hey, One, glad that you've checked out the orthodox scholars. :) But, the agenda of the Biblical writers, and the earliest Christians turned them into lion bait.

On the surface, from a wordly perspective anyway, it sure doesn't look like it was all in their best interest.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

** But, the agenda of the Biblical writers, and the earliest Christians turned them into lion bait.**

Do you have any historical proof, though, outside of the Bible as to how the apostles and such died? Early Christians don't validate it for me, just because we can see people following all sorts of religions perseucted for their faith.

Mystical Seeker said...

Grace, Grace, Grace. I can't believe you are trotting out the martyrdom argument once again. Surely you are aware that people die for all sorts of beliefs all the time. In fact, I am pretty sure that this has been pointed out to you in the past. It's really not a very good argument; in fact, it is extremely weak.

I will only note one example--that Michael Servetus was burned at the stake by Calvin's minions for being a unitarian who didn't believe in the Divinity of Jesus. From a worldly perspective, it sure doesn't look like it was all in his best interest to serve as fuel for a flame. So there you have it. So does that prove that he was right?

Now repeat after me: "Just because someone dies for a belief, that doesn't prove that the belief is true." Thanks.

Chris said...

Wow. For such a short post, this sure generated a lot of comments!

Grace said...

But, would a sane, balanced person die for something he/she know was a lie?

If that tomb wasn't empty, for instance, this could have easily been shown. What caused this band of cowering, fearful people in the upper room to suddenly be out there in the trenches risking the ire of the empire, going everywhere, preaching Jesus Christ as Lord?

One, the Roman historian Tacitus, and the senator Pliny, the Younger write of the persecution of early Christians.

Also, writings from the early church fathers share the fate of some of the apostles, and the early Christian martyrs.

I'm not sure to what extent this was documented by early Greek or Roman historians. It maybe that the fate of some of these specific folks was not really of tremendous interest, or on their radar screen.

But, I"m definitely no ancient church history expert. I would have to do more research, too. :)

Mystical Seeker said...

Uh, who said anything about anyone dying for a "lie"?

Repeat after me, slowly: People die all the time for beliefs that they hold dear. That doesn't mean that their beliefs are objectively true.

If this is the best argument you've got, I have to say that you are really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Mike L. said...

Grace,

I haven't found any historical connection between the killing of Christians by Rome and their Christian belief in anything supernatural. In other words, I don't think they were killed for believing in miracles.

1) It is unclear that christian sacrifice and persecution by Rome was any different than persecution of Jews during that period. The Roman Coliseum was built almost entirely from the wealth extracted from the Temple in AD70. Even the labor to build it was in large part Jews captured and taken to Rome after the war. The long list of Caesars in Rome killed whoever was in their way. It was political and financial reasons not their religious beliefs that led to their death.

2) You could make an argument for Stephen's death if that is correctly protrayed and preserved. However, many of the protests against Rome were twisted and pointed back to the Jewish leaders after Rome domesticated Christianity. Note the differences between Paul’s own description of his escape from king Aretas in damascus (2 cor 11:30-32) vs. the later new testament attempts to change the story into “the jews” who plotted to kill him (acts 9:23). The blame has shifted and we have blown that distinction into even greater proportion today. That is a major shift if the politics of being Christian between the time of Paul's letters and the writing of Acts. I suspect (but have no proof) that this motive is behind the description of Stephen's death also. I realize I'm a little far out a on a limb with this 2nd argument.

Grace said...

Guys,

The point I'm trying to make is that the early Christians were primarily persecuted for their public proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord, and their refusal to offer worship to the pagan gods of Rome, including the emperor.

This was all tied to the apostolic witness, the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the center of Christian faith was built on lies or delusion, then folks gave their lives for it.

All that Rome had to do was produce the remains of Jesus Christ, and it would have all been over. And, would the apostles, and earliest Christians knowingly have given their lives for something they knew was false?

Sure some folks would, but not people who are of sane and balanced mind. I'm sure also there were other reasons for Roman persecution, and other groups oppressed by Rome, but this isn't the point I"m trying, I guess pretty unsuccessfully :( to make, here.

God have mercy!

Hey, Mystical, you have to admit, I don't give up easily. I'm hangin in here with ya. I want you with me in the church, Myst. That's gotta count for something.

Mystical Seeker said...

And, would the apostles, and earliest Christians knowingly have given their lives for something they knew was false?

I don't really understand why you keep saying this, since--for the third time--I don't know of anyone who is suggesting that these early Christians thought that their own beliefs were false. No one is claiming this, so why do you keep suggesting that they are? And why is this such a difficult concept? People have died throughout history for beliefs that they held dearly important. And once again, if your argument is that a) sane people don't die for objectively false beliefs, b) so therefore the beliefs of martyrs are objectively true--then are you also willing to use the deaths of martyrs for theologies you disagree with to prove that they were also correct? Was Michael Servetus correct that Jesus was not Divine simply because he was burned at the stake for that belief?

This proof-by-martyrdom argument that you keep reiterating just doesn't hold water--not even a drop. You really have to do better than that.

Frank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank said...

Grace,

I'm leery of tying my faith to the testimony of other people. For all we know, grave robbing disciples took the body of Jesus and declared him risen from the dead. Considering I'm 2,000 years and several thousand miles removed, I can only confidently say that God only knows what really happened.

Like Paul, I think we are all challenged to have a faith based on our direct experience of the risen Christ. Paul gave his life but we know for a fact that he didn't rub elbows with the earthly Jesus nor did he base his faith on someone else's testimony of an empty tomb.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

My question didn't involve the early Christians who were not the apostles. They would've had no proof for themselves, only what others say. It specifically dealt with the apostles themselves, those who had dealt with Jesus directly. From what I've found, their deaths are based on tradition alone, with very little historical "proof." And it's why I don't feel the two examples you offered meet the criteria listed.

**And, would the apostles, and earliest Christians knowingly have given their lives for something they knew was false? **

I have to go with Mystical on this one -- no one is saying that they deliberatly set out to lie. People throughout history have been willing to die for beliefs they thought to be true, such as Mystical's example of Michael Servetus. He didn't know that his belief was false, and yet to you, he was wrong. But you can't say he willingly died for something he knew to be a lie. Mormons would be another such example.

No one is saying the Apostles knew they were lying. We are simply saying that a willingness to die for a belief does not lend any validity to such a belief.

**All that Rome had to do was produce the remains of Jesus Christ, and it would have all been over. **

Assuming Rome could even be bothered to do so. Out of their vast Empire, it might've just been easier for them to kill Christians, rather than attempting to find the body of yet one more Jewish rebel.

Mystical Seeker said...

Out of their vast Empire, it might've just been easier for them to kill Christians, rather than attempting to find the body of yet one more Jewish rebel.

This assumes that they could even find Jesus's body, that he wasn't just dumped in a common grave like most executed criminals were.

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

**This assumes that they could even find Jesus's body, that he wasn't just dumped in a common grave like most executed criminals were.**

Agreed. I think part of the problem here is that in general, people look to the CHristian origins through today's lens. Christianity does dominate the US. It dominated the Western World for a very long time, and thus it was important.

But it took time to build up to that. When it first started, the Romans could've easily seen it as another type of fringe cult, barely worth the time to bother with. Therefore, why would they go out of their way to disprove it? It would be a waste of their time.

Grace said...

Well, guys, at the risk of beating this to death...

Frank, I can't see that grave robbers would have any interest in the tomb of Jesus. What of monetary value was there? It doesn't make sense that the Roman authorities would have messed with the tomb. This certainly would not have been to their advantage.

And, if the disciples moved the body of Jesus, they surely put their lives at risk for something they absolutely knew was a lie, unlike Servantus.

I mean no one can deny that the early Christians were persecuted, regardless of the specific details of what happened to the apostles. There was no earthly advantage in preaching the resurrection, and proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

Anti-supernatural bias aside, I think it makes sense to consider the apostolic witness seriously. It's true that no one can conclusively and empirically prove the validity of the Christian faith. But, it certainly seems to me more than a totally existential leap in the dark.

But, we may have to agree to disagree for now.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**I mean no one can deny that the early Christians were persecuted, regardless of the specific details of what happened to the apostles. There was no earthly advantage in preaching the resurrection, and proclaiming Jesus as Lord.**

The reason why I asked about the apostles specifically is that the early Christians wouldn't have had the same type of "proof." They would've had what others said about Jesus, and maybe spoke to some eye-witnesses. But they would've been persecuted for what they heard from another or the apostles, and for their subjective spiritual experiences. They would not have seen the resurrected body (in whatever form) or an empty tomb.

Therefore, to say that early Christians were persecuted holds as much weight for me as to say the Mormons were persecuted. Or Michael Servetus, because they do not serve as eye-witnesses.

**Anti-supernatural bias aside, I think it makes sense to consider the apostolic witness seriously. **

Are you saying it makes sense to take it seriously because they were persecuted? Being willing to suffer persecution for no earthly advantage does not lend credence to a belief system. It lends credence to the weight the believer puts in his/her system.

Mystical Seeker said...

There was no earthly advantage in preaching the resurrection, and proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

Yes, you keep saying that. And for the fourth time--the world is full of people willing to die for causes even though there is no earthly advantage for them to do so, including people who disagree with you. I am curious--do you actually deny that this is the case? I cited one simple example--the case of Michael Servetus as someone who died for a theological belief that you reject. What was the earthly advantage in that? Please enlighten me.

Another basic problem that I see, though, is your assumption of what it means to say that the early Christians believed in the resurrection and that they preached that Jesus was Lord. You are simply taking for granted that there is only one way that those two statements can be interpreted. But that isn't the case.

I actually believe that the early Christians did believe that Jesus was resurrected. I am not sure what you think, for example, my position is, or what the position of Marcus Borg is. Perhaps you think that Borg and other progressives think that the early Christians did not proclaim that Jesus was Lord and that they didn't believe in the resurrection. If that is what you think, please understand that this isn't true at all. In fact, Borg talks a lot about the pre-Easter Jesus versus the post-Easter Jesus, and he talks about an Easter event.

The question is, what was the nature of this "resurrection" or Easter event? Did it involve Jesus coming out of the tomb, walking around and talking to people, and then "ascending" to a heaven that resides "above" in the sky according to a three-tier cosmology that was prevalent at the time? Or did the early Christians come to believe that Jesus was taken into God's heavenly presence after his death? I would argue that it is the latter that represents the early Easter moment. The mythological stories came later.

I also believe that the early Christians proclaimed Jesus was Lord--Jesus, as opposed to Caesar. Jesus was their Lord--not that I believe that they considered him God. (This was long before the Nicene Creed was to be formulated.) Proclaiming that Jesus was Lord was a radical statement--as Borg and Crossan have pointed out in "The First Christmas" and as Borg pointed out in "God & Empire".

What I do not believe is that any of the apostles saw Jesus, after his death, walking around on the earth, as depicted by the rather contradictory accounts in Matthew and Luke. That is the mythological part of the stories that emerged later, and which did not appear in written Gospels until half a century after Jesus died. The earliest writings we have about Jesus, from Paul and Mark, proclaim that Jesus was resurrected, but say nothing about him walking on earth--and I believe quite strongly that Paul, in his account of the resurrection, equates his own visionary experience of the risen Christ with that of Peter and the other apostles--which is to say, not by encountering him in bodily form. We have no accounts in the first writings after Jesus died of his supposed bodily resurrection. If this bodily resurrection was so important to the Christian faith, it is funny that no one bothered to mention it for the longest time.

You don't have to agree with this point of view, Grace. But I think the problem here is that you seem to be directing your arguments toward a point of view that I, and presumably others, don't take. This is leading to a kind of binary thinking--either the Christians proclaimed Jesus was physically resurrected, or they were deluded liars. But there are other ways of interpreting what it is that they proclaimed that represents neither that of a bodily resurrection nor that of a Jesus who wasn't resurrected at all. And so I think your argument is missing the boat, because it is not legitimately characterizing the position that you are objecting to.

John Shuck said...

Ah, the club meets again on Mystical's blog! Been reading Michael Dowd's 'Thank God for Evolution' and he talks about public revelation vs. private revelation. Private revelation is recorded in sacred texts and can't be disputed. You can only 'believe it" or not. Public revelation is available to anyone. It is how science works. Private revelation can only lead to strife, whose revelation do you believe? Public revelation leads to harmony and truth that builds upon itself. He suggests that religion that takes our universe story will be moving toward public vs. private revelation.

Grace said...

Hi, guys,

Mystical, I don't feel that Paul would dispute the bodily resurrection of Jesus. But, he is sharing that the resurrected body is different than our corruptible physical bodies that we have now. So, Jesus was raised in a bodily way, but He was more than a resucitated corpse. See 1Cor. 35-44

Do you see?

Certainly, the apostolic witness speaks of the reality of the bodily resurrection.

Check out Acts 2:27-36, for instance. The resurrection of Jesus is tied to affirmation of Jesus as Lord.

Also, even though the more elaborate theological formulations of Nicea came later, the earliest confessions of Christian faith realized Jesus as more than a mere man, and this was also tied to their affirmation of Him as Lord.

Look at Phil. 2:5-ll, for example. This early Christian "creed" is
thought to date as early as 20 or 30AD. Paul has a very high Christology which predates even the synoptics.

He writes concerning Jesus:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth.. All things were created by Him, and for Him.. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Col.1:15-20.

John, I know what you're trying to share, but how can we know anything of God, really, except what He might choose to specifically reveal? We can know something of His power, and creativity in the creation, of course, but there's so much more.

But, I don't really feel that our differences need to lead to strife. Personally, I can be the best of friends with folks that I might disagree with the most. And, Jesus wants us to love even our enemies.

Well, I can't say that the reality of Christian persecution absolutely proves the truth of the gospel. Of course not, guys. But, it should make us stop and think.

What caused the explosive rise and growth of the Christian church? And, if the preaching of the resurrection was false, then surely the apostles would have known this. They went on at great cost. Read the book of Acts, and the history of the early church.

Hope we're not just talking around each other, and that I've managed to address some points of your concern. If not, guys, there are better apologists out there than me, brillant men and women.

Please don't ever give up on your quest, Mystical. God loves all of us, and He is willing to guide each of us to "truth."

You are all a blessing!!

Mystical Seeker said...

Grace, although you did not answer my question, I think we can agree that there was no earthly reason for Michael Servetus to have allowed himself to be burned at the stake for his belief that Jesus was not Divine. Thus we can hopefully drop, once and for all, the assertion that martyrdom proves anything at all about the truth of one's beliefs.

And, if the preaching of the resurrection was false, then surely the apostles would have known this.

There you go again. This is why having a discussion like this is so frustrating. I have already stated that I do not believe that the early Christians believed that the resurrection was "false". How many times do I have to keep saying this? The reason we keep "going around in circles" is that seem to be missing the point.

The same thing with the proclamation that Jesus was Lord. I already stated that I agreed that early Christians proclaimed that he was Lord. So giving me a passage stating that the early Christians proclaimed him as Lord--well, what exactly does that prove again? I already am in agreement that the early Christians made such a proclamation.

As for Paul's statements, 1 Cor 15 makes it clear that Paul equates his own visionary experience with the risen Christ with that of the other apostles. In other words, he states that he and all the other apostles experienced Christ in the same way. There is nothing about 1 Cor 15:35 that contradicts this. On the contrary, it is consistent with the idea that the resurrection of people in heaven involves a new kind of body. It says nothing about any belief that Jesus walked around on earth. It says nothing whatsoever about any supposed incidents of Jesus on earth after the resurrection.

Citing the book of Acts has no bearing on any of this, since that book was written by the author of Luke, and I have already argued that Luke-Acts is a later book that introduced mythological statements about the nature of Jesus's resurrection. (The "resurrection" was, in my belief, a conception that evolved from a belief that Jesus as Lord was taken up in God's presence after he died to the creation of a set of mythological stories that came later about him walking on earth.)

But this isn't really the point. Rather than getting bogged down in arguing over whether the first Christians believed that Jesus walked on earth after he died--although I think that the biblical evidence is overwhelming that they did not, I think the more important point is that you seem to keep arguing against something that I (and Marcus Borg, for that matter) are not even asserting in the first place.

It is almost as if you are so stuck on echoing your proselytization talking point that you aren't really paying attention to what I am saying.

Frank said...

Recent scholarship is acknowledging more and more that there probably was a high Christology very early in Christianity. Some of the prayers and statements in Paul's letters really point to that, and Grace's examples are in line with this thinking.

It used to be assumed that high Christology was a later development, after people reflected more and more on the experience of Jesus. That is one reason why people thought the Gospel of John was written later than the others, for example. That assumption has been seriously called into question, lately. Many now see John as reflecting an independent but equally "authentic" tradition as the Synoptics, composed during roughly the same period as Matthew and Luke.

My thoughts on this is that there was probably a high Christology very early, then a dip, then a gradual building back up to a higher Christology as the years went on.

This does not discount the evolution of theology over time nor does it discount the role of myth in the New Testament.

Mystical Seeker said...

As far as the Phillipians hymn goes, I will only suggest that the passage "therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name" clearly distinguishes Jesus from God.

I think that the proclaimed Lordship of Jesus goes back very early. As Crossan and Borg point out, calling Jesus "Lord" was a very radical statement to make, because in that time in the Empire, it was Caesar who was proclaimed Lord. Thus the very act of calling Jesus Lord was a seditious act of rebellion against Roman Imperial authority and values.

Given that, it is hardly surprising that early Christians were persecuted.

(The question, of course, is what it means to say that Jesus is "Lord". But I think that the belief in his "Lordship" goes way back to the Easter moment.)

The Gospel of John is a little interesting, in the sense that it probably does represent an independent tradition of its own--after all, it doesn't seem to have the commonality of Mark or Q--but its lateness in time does influence its Christology, I think, and it results in John having Jesus going around making lots of ethereal, parabolic statements about himself that don't even remotely resemble the Jesus of, say, Mark. So you might have an old tradition, but it is filtered through late 1st century (or very early second century) theology.

Frank said...

You'll have to take up your argument about the Phillipians hymn with Joe Fitzmeyer or perhaps Ray Brown. There seems very little that is cut-and-dried about it, the way Brown presents it in Introduction to the New Testament.

Mystical Seeker said...

There seems very little that is cut-and-dried about it

That is so often true about so many things.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

**And, if the preaching of the resurrection was false, then surely the apostles would have known this. They went on at great cost. Read the book of Acts, and the history of the early church.**

I am sharing Mystical's frustration with this, in that nowhere do we argue that the two options are either either 1) it all happened or 2) the apostles knew they were lying and thus they were crazy.

This is also assuming that Acts is historically accurate.

The growth of the Christian church also does not prove the validity of the claims. It merely proves that many people came to believe a certain set of statements, or had an experience they attributed to Christianity.

Mystical,

**therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name" clearly distinguishes Jesus from God.**

I agree. I also see this hymn as setting up a contrast between Jesus and Adam -- Adam did try and seize equality with God (as I've seen it translated that way: "He did not try to seize equality with God, but rather emptied himself ...). Jesus did not.

I think we can hold the same position with Colossians, given that it describes Christ as the firstborn of all creation, which then ties into Christ being the firstborn of all the dead. And, if you want to get technical, if we're all made in the image and likeness of God, then we're all the image of God to some degree.

Have you ever read "Truth in Translation?" by Jason DAvid BeDuhn? I think you'd enjoy it.

Mystical Seeker said...

And, if you want to get technical, if we're all made in the image and likeness of God, then we're all the image of God to some degree.

Exactly. The hymn talks about Jesus being in the image of God, but then, so are we all, and so was Adam. As you point out, the hymn says that Jesus handled his being in the image of God (which I think clearly distinguished him from being God) in the best way possible, which is why he was so deserving of praise.

I also see this hymn as setting up a contrast between Jesus and Adam -- Adam did try and seize equality with God (as I've seen it translated that way: "He did not try to seize equality with God, but rather emptied himself ...). Jesus did not.

Excellent point, and I agree.

Thanks for the book recommendation. I will check it out.

Frank said...

I will only suggest that the passage "therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name" clearly distinguishes Jesus from God.

Why do you say this? The "name above every name" is the name of God, Yahweh, which does everything but distinguish Jesus from God.

Other lines about "every knee shall bend" may resemble emperor worship, but it is worship, nonetheless. To the Jewish people who worship one and only God, this puts Jesus on the level with God.

"He was in the form of God" which we can argue is true for all of us. But he "made himself nothing" which is not something we can do. It seems like he actively chose to take on a human form (I think these lines have less to do with Christological identity and more to do with what God is like, i.e. divinity is not about power and control (i.e. "not... something to be grasped") but rather the point about self-emptying).

I'm playing a bit of a devil's advocate here, because I don't know how I feel about this passage, only that it seems about as clear as mud to me. The question we're arguing, though, is whether Paul and his audience would have understood a high Christology or not. I don't think we can establish that there wasn't a high Christology early on.

Mystical Seeker said...

Why do you say this?

I say this because God is the subject, and Jesus is the object of the sentence. It does not say that Jesus exalted himself himself, or that God exalted himself--there is no reflexive verb there--but that God exalted Jesus. Two different entities in the sentence. If I say that x exalted y, then I would contend that x and y are two different people. It just seems clear to me from that sentence that it distinguishes Jesus from God as two separate entities.

I am not denying that this hymn exalts Jesus to a very high level. I think the idea of Jesus as Lord was seen as a counterpoint to the idea of Caesar as Lord, for example, and so was not only theologically charged, but politically charged as well.

But he "made himself nothing" which is not something we can do

Well, if we all could do it, then all of us would be Jesus. :)

I'm playing a bit of a devil's advocate here, because I don't know how I feel about this passage, only that it seems about as clear as mud to me.

Nothing wrong with playing devil's advocate. I appreciate your contribution to this discussion.

Frank said...

If I say that x exalted y, then I would contend that x and y are two different people.

True. However, the "name above all names" is Biblical lingo for God. God gave Jesus God's own name. Of course, even if that is true, that raises other issues concerning whether Jesus was God while in human form or just got the name after his death, or whether we was God, gave it up, then got it back again (based on a loose reading of Phil 2).

Trinitarian theology probably would argue that this is an example of the united-but-distinct nature of God, Son and Spirit.

OneSmallStep said...

**Other lines about "every knee shall bend" may resemble emperor worship, but it is worship, nonetheless.**

To me, this doesn't indicate "worship." Even in the Tanakh, people were bowing to the prophets. Rather, the bending of the knee is the sign of the person's position. And Jesus, being Lord and the Son of God, would've had the highest position, except for God.

Besides, wouldn't the Jews have bowed to the Messiah?

There's also the fact that God bestows this name upon Jesus, almost as a reward for Jesus' obedience. Jesus has this "name above all names" after he is raised to the heights.

That, and at the name of Jesus, every knee bends, and confesses that Jesus is Lord, in order to glorify God the Father.

The passage just doesn't seem to set up them as equals, if going with the idea that he didn't try and "seize" equality with God, the way Adam did. Jesus doesn't exalt himself in any way, but rather remains humble throughout the entire process, and then receives the title "name above all other names" from God. If Jesus had all this from the get-go, why would he have to be given anything?

I'm not denying that Jesus is seen as unique, either. I don't think our only options are "mere man" or God. I do think there's a third, and it is the Son of God.

Matthew said...

frank said:

>>But he "made himself nothing" which is not something we can do<<

Mystical responded:

>>Well, if we all could do it, then all of us would be Jesus. :) <<

Why is 'making oneself nothing' difficult to grasp?

This is a common practice of Mystics and Contemplatives; it's also part of the language. It's core Buddhist practice (and Buddhists never claim to be supernatural).

If people could recognize mystical language (without trying to make it fit their non-mystical views) I believe many 'troublesome' NT texts would become clear and simple.

Here's an example (often quoted as proof Jesus claimed to be God)-

"The Father and I are one."

Is this Jesus claiming to be 'supernatural' (equal to God), or is he simply stating his experience as a mystic?

You can choose to believe whatever you like...and you could die for that belief, but that wouldn't necessarily make it 'true' ;)

I choose to view Jesus' teaching as a call to action. A call to follow his example and 'empty' ourselves of 'self', which is prideful and desirous to become 'as gods'. Look around at the problems we see in our world today...pride and the desire to reshape the world in ones own image (of how the world should be) abound.

The Beatitudes are beautiful statements of 'emptying oneself'.

It's very easy to get on the 'narrow path', but extremely challenging to stay on it. That's probably why most fall away, to trod the wide path, and you know where that leads.


Matthew

Mystical Seeker said...

Actually, Matthew, I pretty much agree with you. I was being perhaps a little flippant in my remark. I do think, however, that making ones self "nothing" is not an easy task, one that not many people do. I think that Jesus was one of the people who could stay on that narrow path, which most of cannot easily do. That is what I meant when I said that "we'd all be Jesus" if we could do that. But I agree that Jesus's example is one that we would all do well to try to follow.