Monthly Archives: April 2011

atheists of all gods except for one?


Let’s start with a popular Richard Dawkins quote:

“We are all atheists about most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” – Richard Dawkins

Now, this sounds plausible at first sight, given the fact that one of the accusations for which Christians were fed to the lions in the Roman empire was the charge of atheism, since they did not believe in the gods of the Roman empire.

But even then we need to bring more nuance, so here’s a second quote:

“If you are a Christian,” Lewis says, “you do not have to believe that all other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.” – C.S. Lewis in Mere christianity

I’m with Lewis here. It’s not because I’m an ‘atheist’ to Zeus or Odin, or ‘the God of the violent Jihad’,  in the sense that I don’t believe in them, that I have to reject all of the religion of the people who do believe in them in exactly the way Dawkins reject all religions. I do believe that their view on the spiritual world is wrong, but I will affirm with them that it exists. More like the way a Darwinist rejects Lamarckism than how she rejects Special Creation theory.

(a slightly irrelevant side-note: i do believe that Lamarckism is a valid theory for the evolution of most things without DNA, like cultures, musical genres and languages, mich more than Darwinian evolution…)

So I do disagree with muslims over the character of God (for whom some arabic Christians also use the name allah), but I affirm a lot of things they do believe about the monotheistic God of Abraham, creator of heaven and earth. I do disagree with a lot of the animistic worldview, but I will not say that all of their religion is placebo. I would say that the explanation they offer might be wrong, not that there’s nothing behind their faith… There are traces of the Creator all over creation, and seeds of light are likely to be found in every religion, mixed with human and other influence though… And every truth that can relly considered to be truth has its ultimate source in Him, wherever we find it. And truth is not just found by Christians or enlightened Westerners. We probably can learn from every human being and every culture, and even from most religions… Probably the most uncivilised Indian from the rainforrest can teach us a lot about a lot of subjects… there are seeds of light everywhere, Logos spermatikos as the church fathers called it.

I even do agree with some atheist critique on things done in the name of religion, or even in the name of Christ. Just like a lot of Christians had similar critique, and even Jesus was pretty harsh for the religious elite of his time. But that critique should be used by christians to re-evaluate, not to throw out the baby with the bath-water…

Atheism like the word is used today is not the rejection of a certain religion or God, but the rejection of all of them, even the slightest possibility of any spiritual entity even.  that’s way too drastic: I can say that I don’t believe in the Mokele Mbembe, but that does not mean that I have to reject all reptiles or the existence of living dinosaurs long ago…

shalom

Bram

Holy saturday meditation: Friedrich Nietzsche – the parable of the madman


It’s Holy saturday today. Jesus is dead, lying in the tomb. All hope is gone for the disciples. To think about the desparation of the disciples is not easy. I already did one controversial try with a Peter Rollins parable before, but this year will be even more extreme I guess, with our good friend Friedrich Nietzsche:

THE MADMAN

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?—Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]

questions to meditate on:

1.I don’t know about you, but I live in a post-christian culture, in which Christianity is dead. What do you think? Would the madman, being too early in the time of Nietzsche, be on time in 2011?Would the masses agree with him?
2. Think about Peter, who loved Jesus a lot, but who had betrayed his rabbi Christ in the hectic situations of the trial, which is still unresolved while christ is dead and all is lost. How would you feel?
3. Looking forward to resurrection sunday: What would it mean for God to come alive again in our life story? what would be the impact on our life, this society, this planet?

Is this the good news of the gospel?


why does this video give me the creeps? It’s just explaining the gospel…

Is it the matter-of-factly stating of strange statements like ‘holy just means perfect’, that are not very accurate nor make much sense theologically?

Is it beacuse God seems everything but loving and omnipotent in this presentation (He can’t even forgive the smallest sin) and just a puppet of something called ‘justice’ that does not seem very just nor consistent with the bible?

Is it the popular semi-gnostic dualism (‘your soul is the real you’ and goes to a disembodies ‘heaven’ after this life) combined with the gnostic idea of ‘only knowledge (of the cross in this case) will save you’?

Is it because framing the whole problem of sin and it’s solution as a legal problem is missing a lot of dimensions of the story? And how do paper that give you ‘a perfect record’ make you perfect enough to not spoil heaven with your imperfectness? sounds more like cheating with administrative paperwork to me.

why is the resurrection reduced to just a sign that ‘Jesus is God’? Is good friday the most important christian holiday or easter?

I do believe in a loving God, in justice that does set things right and does not just punish all of us by default. I believe in a God who’s able to forgive sins.  I believe  that God will one day erase all evil and will be ‘all in all’ and that “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.” (C.S. Lewis)

What do you people think of this video? Am I exaggerating?

(yes, I do agree that we have to turn from evil and surrender to Jesus by the way)

Bram

hiding the Resurrection life like a candle under a bucket?


(This post was written for the April Synchroblog. It’s one of the most important subjects possible by the way!! )

Like those who read some of my recent posts will know, I’m still struggling with the question ‘what is the good news of the gospel?’ I know there is more to the gospel than ‘we are all evil and deserve hell, but Jesus got killed in our place by God so we can avoid hell if we accept that and pray the sinners prayer. The good news is probably bigger and better news than any scheme I or some smarter guy could come up with anyway.

There is more to the gospel than forgiveness and substitution. (read those 2 posts by 2 guys who are able to explain it much better than I am.) The gospel Jesus preached was about the Kingdom come, Gods reign that’s breaking in into this broken world. And then I’m not even spreaking about the resurrection, something incredible: death has been reversed. Something bigger than we can understand. Jesus, God-who-became-man, died and shared in our suffering, and surrendered Himself to be taken by the powers that hold us humans captive: death, evil and sin. But even though they killed Him, they didn’t have the last word. Death, evil and sin got defeated by Christ. This is why I think the idea of Christus Victor is very important.

But what do we do with the resurrection? Do we believe Jesus died and came back from the death? Do we live like it’s real? Does it change something in the way we live? Should it change sometjing about what we are?

I am here reminded of emergent theolgian Peter Rollins, who famously denies the resurrection with the following reasoning:

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

There’s a lot to say about Pete’s reasoning here. I am indeed affraid that I deny the resurrection most of the time if we take it the way he does in this piece, but I wouldn’t make a either/or of it anyway. We can proclaim the resurrection by just believing that Christ did indeed rise from the death, speaking historically. But what will it help us then? Why is it important to believe in the resurrection? I know that some supposed conservative evangelicals like something like a cross-only gospel, based on Jesus death for us as the most important thing in the universe, which makes good friday more important than good friday, and who find the cross mainly important as an impossibility to be believed in as fact, as if there is any magically saving power in just believing that something happened that goes against our common sense…

No, the resurrection is at least as important as the cross. It’s a new beginning, and without it our faith is worthless, as Paul says. Not because believing the impossible has any power of saving us, but because the resurrection has enormous power, and if we don’t have faith in it we won’t see that in our lives.

As a Charismatic I believe there’s more to believing and living out the resurrection than just the radical love for the poor and downtrodden, but neither the supernatural reality nor the radical love for the least should be minimised in favor of the other, and most of the time I don’t see neither in my own life. So I guess something is wrong with me. Not with the gospel or with the resurrection, but with me, and maybe the christianity I’m part of, but who am I to judge?

To quote Bono:

I believe in the kingdom come,
Then all the colors will bleed into one, Bleed into one
Well yes I’m still running

You broke the bonds and you Loosed the chains
Carried the cross, and all my shame, all my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for


The bonds are broken, the chains are gone, the powers of death, evil and sin are defeated and Love and Life will win and have the last word in the end, when heaven and earth meet and God will be all in all. But Christianity is more than looking forward to heaven.

It is also about the inbreaking of the Kingdom in the here and now, about the power of the resurrection becoming manifest in this groaning creation!

And still I’m like a singing bird who’s walking rounds in an open cage. Probably I’m just blinded by the gods of this world, distracted by the life of everyday, but I don’t proclaim the resurrection, I don’t bring it to the world around me who needs it. Maybe some splinters of it from time to time, but I don’t feel like this is it. There is more.

Why am I so distracted? Why is my faith so small. Why am I occupied by the irellevant wasting all my time on things that don’t matter? If time is an indicator of what’ s important to me, then I’m not at all giving much op for the ‘pearl of greath worth’ for which some sell all they have to obtain it. Following Christ is not just a hobby! No greater news can there be…

Then why am I just wasting most my time?

Lord Jesus Christ, Living son of God, have mercy!!

shalom

Bram

Here are the other contributions to the synchroblog:
Phil Wyman at Square No More –  Apocalyptic fervor spurs benevolent giving
Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms - Getting Out From Behind The Rock
Mike Victorino at  Simply A Night Owl - Crawling Out From Under A Rock
John Paul Todd at E4Unity - Still Asleep In the Light
Patrick Oden at Ravens - A Resurrection
Brambonius at Brambonius’ blog in english - hiding the Resurrection life like a candle under a bucket?
George Elerick at The Love Revolution - (for)getting the resurrection
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules - I Will Answer That Question In A Minute, But First, I Want To Talk About Jesus
Jeff Goins at Jeff Goins Writer - Resurrection
Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved - Rock and a Hard Place
Kathy Escobar at the carnival in my head - little miracles
Christen Hansel at Greener Grass - Resurrection Rhythm
Alan Knox at the assembling of the church - Living The Resurrected Life
Christine Sine at Godspace – Palm Sunday Is Coming But What Does It Mean
Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity – Living The Resurrection
Steve Hayes at Khanya – Descent into Hell and penal substitution
Bill Sahlman at Creative Reflections – Do We Live Under a Rock of Belief?

“Bolivia enshrines natural world’s rights with equal status for Mother Earth”


Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all”, said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

Read the rest of the article here in the guardian.

We need more of this. And we as Christians should be on the forefront of this. the creation groans and wiaths for the sons (and aughters) of God to manifest themselves. When will we Christians be known because we take care for the least of our human brothers and sisters as well as for the creation God has given us??? Do we really need worshipers of Pachamama and Gaia to teach us what’s evident?

Who has bewitched us?

Or do we really want to lose the planet and all we have as earthlings in return for some temporal economic advantages? How dumb are we???

I pray that we might repent of consumer capitalism, the rape of our sister, Mother Earth, the neglect of our brothers and sisters in poorer countries, without whom our Western richess wouldn’t be there.

Lord have mercy!

Bram

our sister, Mother Earth…


And now for something completely, but not unimportant: how do we view and treat our Sister, Mother Earth, as Christians?

For those who think that the use of this title is inspired by new age ideas or the pantheistic worship of Mother Earth as the godess Gaia, think again. I’m quoting in fact one of the most important Christians of the last 2000 years, Saint-Francis, from his famous ‘canticle of the sun’.

This prayer/poem is so important that I quote the complete text here:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve him with great humility.

A lot can be said about every verse of the canticle, but I don’t have the time and the knowledge to go into all of that. I’ll just note here the parallels with teh basic idea of psalm 148, in which elements of nature are commanded to praise God. It’s a theme that is found more in the bible, not only humans but all of creation worshipping God. Like in ‘let the trees of the field clap their hands’.

But let’s go back to ‘our sister, Mother Earth’.:The earth and her ecosystems are part of the same creation as we are, hence the word ‘sister’, used by Francis, but she also gives us everything we need to stay alive, she can be considered a mother too. God has placed us on this planet and in this global ecosystem, and there’s only one of it. If we destroy it, there’ll be nothing left.

And one a side note: no, I don’t see Mother earth as a personal entity, these words are just methaphors. but even then so-called scientific materialistic reductionism doesn’t isn’t doing much justice to nature either, and we might need some pushback against our modern naturalism! There is much more to life and nature than just matter and things that can be scientifically explained away. Such a way of thinking is an insult to the Supreme artist!

All of this creation is indeed the work of the hands of God, who is the Supreme artist. If I would make an artwork, and you would destroy it, not respect it, and in the end dismantle it to make money, I would be very hurt. I think it’s the same with God: If we’re commanded to love God with all that we are, we are to respect the Creator, and we can’t repsect the Creator if we disrespect His Creation…

What about our responsibility to ‘tend the garden’. I think the recent increase in interest in the concept of creation care is not unimportant. We are sometimes influenced by horrible theology that sees all of creation as disposable, since all of this world will be destroyed and only the souls of the good believers will be taken to heaven. There ideas are actually much closer to gnostic dualism than to biblical Christianity.

So, how do you feel about our sister, Mother Earth? How do you show your respect to the Supreme Artist?

shalom

Bram

Substitutionary atonement and Christus victor


I was reading this article by Mark Galli of Christianity today on ‘the problem with christus victor atonenement‘, and, to be honest I found it a very strange article.

Update: While I’m writing here about the nature for substitutionary atonement, the framing of the gospel in christus Victor atonement like explained here by Ed Cyezewski is equally important, or even more important. Why do I always miss the most important part??

Firstly he does seem to impose a dichotomy between Christus victor atonement and what he calls ‘substitutionaty atonement’, and secondly he does seem for some reason to equate the second term with ‘penal substitution atonement’.

What’s behind the lingo and why do I find this strange? Let’s start with the second one. ‘Substitutionary atonement’ means in simple words that Jesus saved us by taking our place. That surely is an important idea in christian theology, from the beginning on, but it shouldn’t at all be equated with the so-called theory of penal substitution, which says that Jesus died in our place to take the punishment for our sins. The latter one is a relatively new invention in the history of Christianity, dating from the time of the reformers, and one only embraced by some protestants. Even the satisfaction model of Anselm, one of its precursors, did not see Jesus taking punishment in our place, but doing penance in our place as far as I understand. This article by Derek Flood on substitutionary atonement and the church father, which I linked to before, is very interesting for those who have time to read it all… The problem is that some christians for a reason unknown to me seen to equate the gospel with the idea of penal substitution. (what was the gospel then for all christians in the first 1500 years?)

I never really understood substitutionary atonement in the penal way, and I still have a lot of problems with that theory. (Some version of it could rightly be called ‘divine child abuse… God punishing Jesus in our place because he isn’t able to forgive us otherwise) but yet I’ve always seen the atonement as substitutionary. Jesus died for our sins.

Growing up as a pentecostel kid my idea of atonement was that Jesus on the cross endured all sin, disease and pain of the world, in our place. He absorbed it, and there destroyed it, and then rose from the death. That’s clearly substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal.

The second thing that shaped my understanding of atonement is probably the story of Edmund in the narnia book, who betrays the others and gets enslaved by the witch. Aslan then gives himself in Edmunds place to get killed by the evil one. This could be called classical Ransom atonement,(Jesus liberating us from enslavement to the devil by taking our place) which is probably the most important atonement theory of the first millenium, and it’s purely a substitution model of atonement, but still not penal substitution.

Now for the dichotomy Galli creates, I don’t know where he gets that idea to separate Christus Victor from substitutionary as if they can be opposites..I would think that Christus victor atonement and this Ransom motif are closely connected and two sides of the , same coin. Jesus on the cross suffered evil, sin and death in our place, and destroyed it and came out as Victorious!!

And here do we come to something else Galli seems to overlook: the definition of justice (and sin). Penal substitution seems operates on the idea that God needs to punish because He is just, and that He can’t forgive without having punished someone (and so Jesus taking the punishment in our place) but I don’t see why this would be. Why would the omnipotent God not be able to forgive? The problem with sin is tha it destroys, not only individuals and their relationship to God, but the whole of creation, and so it needs to be destroyed. There also is a lot of power in the Eastern orthodox emphasis on Jesus destroying death. But the question here is how do we view Gods justice: Is justice punishing the bad guys (everybody in this fallen world) or is it first and foremost setting things right? I would go with the second one, and say that Gods justice first and foremost is restorative, not only for individuals but for the whole of creation!

For those who like to read more on this discussiopn: Read more here on the covenant of love blog for the first post in a series on the subject. I also have a quote  from Scott Morizot (who I respect for his knowledge on the orthodox church and the church fathers) from a comment on the Jesus Creed blog:

Galli’s post is interesting. If Christus Victor is “clearly a secondary atonement theme” and substitutionary atonement is the primary and dominant theme, why did it take the Church a thousand years to come up with the latter? From an historical perspective, the claim seems absurd. I would also say he clearly misses the point even of the Orthodox prayer he quotes. The “consequent wrath of God” is not interwoven into it. The prayer thanks God for his goodness and long-suffering and for *not* being angry.

There’s a reason Passover is and has always been the dominant theme. The Paschal lamb in the Exodus story guarded those protected by its blood from the angel of death — from death, not from the collection of a debt for sins committed. So Christ breaks the bonds of sin and death and frees us from the powers who used them to enslave us for all time.

It is, I suppose, possible that some Protestants are taking some of the Christus Victor themes in a more shallow way than they have traditionally been taken. I don’t particularly have an opinion on that. But Galli’s characterization of the traditional Christus Victor view of Christ and the atonement is flatly wrong.

To finally close this post:  as we’re coming closer to Easter we shoul realise that the big day is not good friday, but easter. Christus Victor should be very important for all Christians, unless they have a truly ‘good friday only’-gospel.

Jesus is Lord, and Victor over death, sin and evil

He who was God, became the least of us and suffered with us

All praises to the slain lamb!!

shalom

Bram

related posts:
Rethinking my childhood atonement theory
Psalm 51 and atonement theories
Rob Bell on atonement or the bible versus (reformed) tradition