Category Archives: post-evangelicalism

farewell, online American Christianity…


dear readers,bla

I know, my title sounds dramatic and probably is an overstatement, but I’m afraid it’s time for me to draw the line I’ve been drawing earlier a bit more more clearer, for my own health. I need to get away from certain stuff because it just is an unhealthy distraction, and not relevant even for where I am in my faith journey.
There’s enough stuff enough already to wrestle with in my own life here on the old continent, and moreover I don’t think the things that come through are even representative, but for some reason the loudest voices are the most bitter ones. But those are the things I stumble across, on blogs, FB, twitter, etc…

Okay, let me be frank here what the problem is: I don’t want to read anything about people calling others ‘heretic’ or ‘bigot’ because they are not X or Y enough because of verse Z and Q read in a way that I don’t understand or because of this theology or tradition or scientific theory or academic consensus or political correctness or whatever. And yes, both sides come across as equally toxic to me in calling out and disowning and naming enemies. I don’t care about your dichotomies, it’s just 2 sides of the same coin for me. anyway your liberal and conservative American Christianity…

And actually this is not at all my story. I as a lone European weirdo can’t carry the problems of a defective, divided church and culture in our rogue ex-colonies. Taking in too much of it appears to be toxic to me, and the tragic thing is that they probably are as toxic to the people inside of them too. I completely can understand if people are losing their faith at the moment. I completely would understand an ‘evangelical collapse‘. And I sincerely hope you will be able keep it on your side of the ocean, and don’t infect churches here or in the global South with it. There’s enough problems in Christianity without being infected with those from the US too…

But like I said this is not my story and I want to keep it that way.

I already live in country where Christianity (cultural catholicism) has collapsed. Equating Christian with a narrow version of fundamentalist evangelicalism is not an option for me in a secular country where most people think ‘catholic’ when you use the word ‘Christian’, and then think a bout something of the past (or even worse, child abuse and stuff) although it seems our friends Francis does have a good influence.
Evangelicals are not on the radar, and to be honest, what I see coming from over the ocean (the loudest and most visible stuff) has nothing at all or even less in it that could give people a better image of Christianity, or point to Jesus.

And oh, If you want me to be interested in anything you say about your faith, disconnect it from your weird politics. They make no sense to me. None of our 8 parties of so can be equated with either of yours, so your weird dichotomies are alien to me. I live in a country where ‘republican’ means someone who doesn’t like our king (I don’t care about him to be honest) in favor of a republic, be it an independent republic of Flanders, Belgium as a republic or the united states of the EU under one president. Nothing at all about ‘conservative’ politics, although the capitalist-centered part does exist in our liberal party and some nationalists. (Economic neo-liberalism and similar stuff like a colder and extremer version the oldschool liberalism of the founding fathers, people, has NOTHING to do with Jesus. Real conservative Christianity would more ‘communist’ than ‘capitalist’ although it would transcend both and annul every form of slavery to Mammon, the demon to which our lives and all of Gods creation are sacrificed by our current political systems) A democrat to me is anyone who believes in democracy in one way or another. I don’t even see the difference between the 2 American parties, and I find the whole dichotomy-thinking dangerous and unhealthy. I don’t want to waste any more time or reading about it, our own politics are crazy enough and full of problems already. And no, your ‘left’ isn’t automatically more interesting than the right-wing stuff. The political correctness of a world that I don’t understand only looks like ot leaves no place for anyone to even breathe. And it seems that (like always, the problem is prevalent here too) people on both sides are completely misrepresenting the other side, not listening to the other it at all. We have enough of that here already…

Yes, I AM interested in Christians anywhere, including America, who show the fruit of their walk with Christ, who show love to the least, and to the ones they disagree with, no matter if they are sinners, heretics or bigots. If I don’t see that love, you might have the letter, but I don’t think you have the Spirit. You might have theory, but do you have Love?

Like someone said, without love we are nothing, and a tree will be known by his fruit.

Maybe the world needs more fruit.

Where is the fruit? The fruits of the Spirit? Where is the love? The love among Christians that the world will see so it will see Christ? Where is the good deeds that will make the world say that God is great?

Don’t boast in having the right theory, and especially not in how you exclude whatever group you see as heretics or bigots. Show your love through your life and your writing (which is what I see of your life). If something like heresy or bigotry is damaging people, show me how it is damaging to everyone, both oppressor and oppressed, and how you love all of them and want the evil to disappear so it will not be able to separate people anymore.

I want to see visions of light, and the Light itself. Not more descriptions of darkness. Denouncing darkness alone will never bring any light. Dissecting everything you see to find more darkness in it neither.

So I’m going to cut myself loose from some things even more, for it seems that the distraction of the struggles of a world that isn’t mine will only bring me further away from God. Yes, I might read Rachel or Robs series on the bible or some of my blogging e-friends from time, but I will avoid every blog-storm, every new ‘crisis’ in which people are leaving evangelicalism and in which Christians behave like a bunch of politicians of the type that never became more mature than a spoiled toddler. Even a critical commentary on it can channel something that is detrimental to my faith.

I’m not bound to whatever people on another continent call ‘evangelicalism’. I’m bound to the Way of Christ, the Incarnated and Risen one who conquered death, evil and sin, and to the Spirit who lives in me.

I need to be turning to God Himself, to the bible and the words of Jesus, to books from a lot of angles. To the believers around me, who are part of my journey with me.

And I am probably very privileged in a way not to be an American here if all you can see is America and its problems and me telling that it’s not my problem. But actually there are problems enough already in my own life and in this country, wo don’t have to import any.

But for those alarmed by the title: no, if you’re an American Christian reading this and we know each other from online conversations;I’m not going to cut off people. If you are my friends you stay my friends, but I need to disengage your overall culture, for my own spiritual health.

I will love you but not carry the baggage of your culture as if it’s mine. I will talk with you and pray for you, but I cannot share the axioms and certainties of your culture and act as if they are normative for all earthlings. They are not, and some of them are alien. Just as mine are…

peace

Bram

2014 as a year of demodernisation for me


I know I’m babelnot very active as a blogger right now, and most of my posts at the moment are older writings that I’m finishing now and finally posting after a long time of waiting in the pipeline. There’ some stuff I need to finish (about Christianity and capitalism, and about racism for example) but I don’t have the time and energy at the moment, and I’m focussing on work, children, gardening lately, and most of my writing has been fiction in Dutch, so it doesn’t fit on this blog.

(My fiction can be found at Oranderra, but most of it is Dutch. I do hope to one day continue my series of ‘the paralian priest and the acosmist nun’ though.)

I will still be writing blogposts here about a whole variety of subjects when I have the time and inspiration for it. (And there are some unfinished things that will be finished and posted too…) But in 2014 I will be starting a new project, which I call the ‘demodernisation’ of myself, which will most probably lead to some blogposts too.

So what do I mean with ‘demodernisation’? I feel it is the natural next step after my ‘postmodernisation’, that might have helped me a lot in some areas, but it did not help me much in a lot of other things…
Some years ago I found the ‘emerging church discussion’ through the internet, and learned a lot from it, or learned the right words to describe how I already saw the world, for I am a native postmodern. But I must say that the whole ‘emergent’ stuff has become more and more frustrating to me. A lot of it is just American anti-reaction to a fundamentalism that I don’t know, and acts more like a photo-negative of that fundamentalism. No-one can expect me to be interested in a photo-negative of something I don’t care about. The photo and the negative will generally be equally uninteresting to me.

And the other problem is that the more photo-negative of fundamentalism enters the picture, the more modernist Christian liberalism (the natural negative view of fundamentalism), which has never interested me at all. I think it was Scott McKnight who said that McLaren at the time of ‘A new kind of Christianity’ did not arrive at a new one at all, but an old one (referring to older protestant liberalism) that actually wasn’t old enough. Although I like a lot of McLarens earlier books and have benefited greatly from them, new liberalism just makes me lose interest, and I’ve seen that in most corners of the ‘emergent’ dicussion. (Also, I and just clueless about the American ‘liberal PC’ stuff. It’s just alien for me and feels like a new form of fire and brimstone preaching from a new corner to me.)

So, the project now, with my postmodern identity established, is to go way beyond postmodernism and Western though to reconnect with my Christian (and human) roots outside of modernity. My flirting with Eastern Orthodoxy is already part of that, and I will try to read more about non-modern, non-Western forms of Christianity, and also other religions and philosophies from everywhere. (I want to know more about native American thought systems, taoism and pre-Christian European thought for example.)

I do think that I will also go back more to my Lewisian roots, and explore Chesterton and MacDonald more for example.

(Not that I don’t value some things about modernism, like human rights and gender equality, the realisation of how serious the destruction of ecosystems and extinction are, and general growth in scientific knowledge about the natural world, and modern medics. But apart from those and other advancements, there is so much we have lost, and so much dark side to even a lot of advancements, and so on…)

My ideas on magic and the occult are part of what you can expect, but I will try do ‘deconstruct’ more  things and look from other angles than both Western modernism and post-modern hyper-enlightenment thought.

I hope to I can keep on having very interesting conversations here with all of you…

peace

Bram

 

to the guy searching for ‘brambonius cools emerging’


(warning: just a rant full of christian theological  lingo)

Looking at my stats today I saw that my blog has been found 5 times today looking for ‘brambonius cools emerging’. Makes me wonder if anyone still uses the term ‘emerging church’, and why people would bother finding out if I (using my internet nick) have something to do with it.

To be honest, I don’t even know myself :p

I can’t deny that I’ve been following the ‘emerging church dialogue’ (even if I was quite late to the discussion.) and that I have learned a lot from it. I am a postmodern evangelical after all, so I found in it the words to explain how I look at the world; On the other hand, I think I’m too post-modern and too evangelical (once a charismatic, always a supernaturalist…) to ever fall for modernist forms of christianity, be it either fundamentalism or liberalism. Thank you very much, both are completely inconceivable for me… So if you mean some kind of ‘liberalism 2.0′ I’m not your man. I’ve found out that I’m allergic to all forms of liberalism, from liberal theology to liberal humanism and oldschool liberal politics and economics (like the stuff they call ‘conservative’ in America).

So if you mean the ‘tall skinny kiwi‘ type of emerging church, or the Shane Claiborne type of christianity, yes!: I’m in…

If you mean some kind of updated liberalism, as some seem to use the word ‘emergent’ (maybe mainly the critics, see cartoon) count me out. It won’t ever work for me. I’m a supernadoctrinemongersturalist who is quite critical towards the enlightenment.  For me that’s just the negative-picture version of fundamentalism… I will readily affirm the apostles and Nicene creed, but I will also place them alongside the sermon on the mount as foundational to Christianity. And I believe in the gifts of the Spirit for today (and the fruits), Christian non-violence and peacemaking, equality of the sexes [and egalitarianism], the priesthood of all believers, the trusworthiness of scripture (I don’t care about the modern concept of ‘innerancy’ though),  creation care and stewardsghip over nature, and the incompatibility of capitalism and christianity… I believe God works in all of His Church, even though I have no use for a lot of things in various traditions that I believe to be abominable (like double predestination, rich TV-preachers asking money from the poor, relic worship, christian materialism etc…)

To satisfy the heresy-hunters even more some labels I could wear: I’m a Wesleyan anabaptist-inspired postmodern charismatic evangelical with both orthodox and organic church sympathies, inspired by Francis of Assisi, christian mysticism and apophatic theology, who thinks Christianity is a way of life restored in relationship to God than accepting all the right theologies.

Love God, love your neighbor as yourself. In the end after the day of Judgment that’ll be all that’s left, with all evil and everything incompatible with God erased….

And as you might have noticed, I’m as non-reformed as a protestant can be…

May the Spirit lead me and bring me to the right path… May God bring His Kingdom and reveal Christ to me more and more, so that I can follow Him!

peace

Bram

The unhelpfulness of words like ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’.


Foto0067People love to live in a simple understandable world, I guess that’s why a lot of people divide the world into simple categories,  and apparently very often in a very polarizing way even, with only two black and white categories, which gives us very warped worldview.

The English example dichotomy between “liberal” and “conservative” for example has little use for me, on the contrary. Firstly because they are often used as a false dilemma: there are many more options than these two (especially when used in the way some people use them),  it just crams everything in two black boxes, which is a bit as watching the big colorful reality on a small black’n white  TV: it’s dangerously reductionist … In itself there is a very diverse and complexe spectrum that falls into multiple dimensions … A worldview that tightly to one of these two sides will sit very definitely false ‘us-against-them “feeling without ever understanding the other while projecting a lot of naive prejudices out of the own ideology onto the other…

Moreover, those words given are no real opposites of each other, “liberal” refers to a school of thought that has its roots in modern thought, and ‘conservative’ is an appeal to a tradition that should be preserved. Ironically  in an American context (where I see those words used most btw.) the tradition to be defended is built on a kind of old-fashioned modernist liberalism, from the time of the founding fathers… The details of what is considered ‘conservative’ will vary enormously depending on the context and tradition: for a Flemish person like m ‘conservative ‘will be quite different from the ‘conservative’ of an American, or Japanese, or Inuit, or Piraha person…

‘Liberal’ is also not quite the same as ‘progressive’, which would be a more logical opposite of “conservative” that gets used as well. But that word is equally problematic, since  it is equally something that is positioned towards a given tradition, so depending on the specific context the meaning will also be completely different. Moreover, it is impossible for any person or group to ever be completely progressive or conservative. There are also things to be conserved and in which one is then  ‘conservative’,  and others that need to change in which one is progressive…

(Left right there are similar unhelpful terms anyway, but let’s not talk about  them here…)

But there is more, and it’s something that we as children of modernity will not notice because it is a way of thinking that surrounds us as the water surrounds a fish. The connotation for many people is that “progress” is something undeniably positive. This is a purely modern idea that people of other times and cultures do not have, and that I fully doubt and reject. One does not need the aforementioned Piraha to see this: for example, in the Middle Ages our culture held to the opposite idea, that the older thing would be better the newer thing. The word ‘primitive’ for example had in earlier times no pejorative meaning (rather the opposite, the primitive church was considered cleaner than the later church for example), in Beowulf we find the idea that an ancient sword would probably be better than a new for example.*

(Maybe there are people on the conservative side that see ‘back then’ as the ideal as the medievals would. Of course that is just as counterproductive and pointless as well)

But we should not give this kind of meaning to progress on the time axis. Advancing in time simply means change and evolution, and that is neutral in itself. Or better, that change can be positive or negative, or neutral. The use of the word ‘progress’ for ‘it becomes better’ might therefore be just a problematic illusion of the Spirit of our age. It reminds me of the modernistic naive optimism of the Enlightenment.**

So let’s stop this polarization, please between ‘conservative’ and either of the 2 other sides please. We make it very difficult for us to really leave behind the things that we have to leave behind on one hand and go forward to something better while going back to the right path were we went wrong on the other hand if we keep in mind two opposite irreconcilable sides.

Now, for a thought experiment to illustrate what I mean, looking at myself to see whether the words do apply to me will every time give both a yes and a no. I’m influenced by modernism Westerner, so I will definitely have some liberal ideas. distinctly theological liberalism is not anything that works for me, but I’ll probably have, like all modern believers and even the very conservative, influences of liberalism-positive or negative-that I can not see myself because of the fact that I live in modernism as a fish in the water… Conservative as in the way of adhering to a tradition I want to preserve  I am, but in a broad sense, with  the great Christian tradition, in mind  but not a specific tradition. Progressive I am too, in the sense that certain things have to change, but that is precisely where I find the terms completely pointless: protection of the environment-and all of creation for example is something I find important, and if there would be any logic in the world this would be a “conservative” idea, but no, it seems to be progressive … (And that while I’ve largely learned the importance of the protection of our planet from my Catholic  teachers in elementary and middle school …) So, none of these words works in describing me or in describing anything that is not me either…

peace

Bram

* C.S. Lewis’ essay and inauguration speach as a professor in medieval and renaissance litterature  ‘de Descriptione Temporum’ is very interesting here. It can be read here.

** This modern idea of ​​progress, which we associate with modern enlightened humanist thought, ironically  has  its theological roots in Judeo-Christian eschatological thought of a very strong teleological nature… It only got stripped of it’s religious roots somewhere along the way  (between Hegel and Marx?) . But that does not mean that this way of thinking can be seen as something else than than teleological (working towards a goal or Telos).

Some of my doubts


Sometimes I doubt everything.

Sometimes everything I’ve been taught and everything that is taken for granted by this whole world seems like nonsense… We all swallow the propaganda and follow the authorized version ‘they’ want us to believe…

And I’m not just talking about my faith here… I’d rather deny all grounds on which Western thought are built than deny Him completely… since in a way I can’t deny God just as I can’t deny myself, but I can deny every system of thought describing Him. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I do not actually exist…

It’s not that I can deny the supernatural, even if I have a hunch that most of it is actually natural but just outside of what we call ‘laws of nature’. I can’t deny miracles and the supernatural but I could attribute them to explanations that we don’t even know about in our thinking, maybe all our our thoughts about it is like medievals knowing nothing about electricity trying to understand how a computer works.

It’s not that I can deny science I can’t deny evolution but I can’t believe that the material world is all there is, so it can’t be the whole story. I do know we can describe enough of the universe in a meaningful enough way to manipulate it. But does that mean that we actually understand anything at all?

I can’t deny that the laws of Love like Jesus articulates them are better and more substantial than anything I’ve seen in the world, and yet hardly any Christian I know even tries to live them. Sometimes I wonder if my own ‘religion’ does even understand a thing about itself….

And I honestly don’t even trust the idea behind all our western thinking that the universe is rational and knowable… Seems like very naive to say the least… I seems sometimes like the other extreme from the Eastern idea that everything we see is an illusion and nothing more, and equally unbalanced…
And worst of all, all of this, all life on earth seems completely screwed up, and still it’s evident that everything is worth more than we can contain. Every human life, every ecosystem, every species that goes down in our screwed-up systems is of incredible worth. And then I get a Pedro the Lion song stuck in my head:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful

if everything would be meaningless?

But everything is so meaningful

and most everything turns to shit

(rejoice)

There’s so much that needs to be saved, but not much stuff that can save in this world. Look at how even our enlightened traditions exchanged the crusades with the nuclear bomb. We are not getting better, we’re getting more (rendabel) in doing work like the factories and computers do, and we’re getting further in death and destruction. From the dodo and the crusades to Nagasaki and drones and cluster bombs we didn’t become better people.

When will we learn that violence will not save us but only breed more violence and destruction? When will we break the cycle of greed and other nonsense?

That’s why I hope in Jesus. That’s why I think nothing else would make sense. Because I love this endagered world and it’s uncontainable creator…

Kyrië Eleison

Christe Eleïson

Kyrië Eleison

Bram

‘Saint’ Constantine the not-so-great vs the sermon on the mount… (E. Stanley Jones)


Regular readers of this blog will know how much I appreciate certain other Christian traditions. Traditions that I love deeply are quite incompatible streams in Church history like for example the Orthodox tradition, Franciscanism, certain strands of anabaptism and the quakers… I guess I do have my disagreements with every tradition (including my own tribe) as they do among each other too, but I believe that we need all of them (probably even those whom I do not like and don’t feel much affinity with, like fundamentalism and Calvinism) to complete the Church of Christ. And I am very likely to be wrong myself on some things too…

I like for example  the Orthodox for their connection with the early Church and the church fathers, which makes them the keepers of a lot of treasures that we modern Western Christians have lost long ago but are needing right now. But on the other hand I could never agree with some other things, like their veneration of someone like emperor Constantine the Great as a saint, and some of the nationalism going on in some Orthodox churches… Which is why I (as a postmodern generic charismatic and more-or-less Wesleyan evangelical) do think we need the Anabaptist testimony too…

The next piece from E.Stanley Jones in my opinion shows why we need to recover the emphasis on the enemy-love and the rest of the sermon on the mount, and it offers -very daringly- a critique to the emphasis of the ancient creeds. (I do not say that the next piece describes all of the fathers, I have read a lot from them that would qualify for good Lovers in the path of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.)

Suppose we had written it in our creeds and had repeated each time with conviction:

“I believe in the Sermon on the Mount and in its way of life, and I intend, God helping me, to embody it” !

What would have happened? I feel sure that if this had been our main emphasis, the history of Christendom would have been different. With emphasis on doctrines which left unaffected our way of life the Christian Church could accept Constantine as its prize convert. And yet Constantine, after his alleged conversion, murdered his conquered colleague and brother-in-law Licinius ; sentenced to death his eleven-year-old nephew, killed his eldest son, Crispus; brought about the death of his second wife; took the nails that were supposed to come from the cross of Christ and tised one in his war helmet and another on the bridle of his war horse. Yet he was canonized by the Greek Church and his memory celebrated “as equal to the apostles.” He talked and presided at the opening of the Council of Nicea, which was called to frame a creed, and he was hailed as “a .bishop of bishops.” Could this have happened if the men who had gathered there had made the Sermon on the Mount an essential part of the Creed? It had no place in it, so Constantine could be at home. What had happened was that the Christian Church had been conquered by a pagan warrior. And the church allowed itself to be thus conquered, for this ideal of Christ did not have possession of its soul.

E. Stanley Jones, the Christ of the Mount

As someone who borders on paleo-orthodoxy this is something I wrestle with, but I indeed do miss in the creeds the emphasis on Jesus as the Way, and on Christians as followers of the Way, which is Christ. And where do we find a better description of the Way of Christ than in the sermon on the mount?

And there is something highly disturbing about Constantine in a lot of ways…

So what do you think?

shalom

Bram

Not a post on sexism, but a post on the uncontrollable power of stories…


Don’t ask me what kind of narrative this picture communicates…

I’ve been following an online discussion between my feminist blogger friends Sarah and Dianne, and some guy called Cory Copeland, a Christian blogger that I don’t know much about. I basically agree with Cory that, whatever the story is, there is always redemption for the fallen sinner. And I agree with Sarah and Dianne that the described story is quite troubling, and full of abuse, and that the difference between consent and coercion is way too important to not be see here. I can even add from a masculist angle that I find it quite sexist to bring up the ‘boy as a dangerous sexual predator’ stereotype, and a flat character in the story. Is there any chance for redemption for him? (And I’m not even speaking of the weird ideas surrounding her virginity here)

But that’s not what I want to address here.  There is another problem, which is quite important, that comes up in the discussion under Cory’s post. Sarah comments on the part of the boy in the story, and I find Cory’s answer quite troubling:

The story wasn’t about the boy. It was about the girl and her struggles. That’s the story I chose to tell. Respect that.

The problem is that a story tells itself, and it can show things that even the narrator isn’t aware of. And the boy in the story is quite problematic:

This girl met a boy and that boy had a way about him. He scaled rooftops and smiled like the sun. He captured the good girl in his madness and she soon fell in the deepest of love. The girl held strong at first, tossing away her boy’s hands as they searched her body, seeking satisfaction. Again and again, she dissuaded him, turning a stone cold cheek and halting heavy breaths before they had pushed too far. But the boy was relentless and vile in his objections to her goodness. He bombarded her wits with fallacies of unrequited love and lacking attention. He had played this game before and he was good.

Soon, the good girl could take no more, so she stripped herself of the righteousness she held so close and took her boy into her bed. Now, she felt emptiness where love used to grow; loneliness where hope once flourished. (please read the whole story here)

You can say what you want, but this tells us a lot about the boy, even if he is just intended a flat character used as a plot device. It tells a lot about how boys are viewed, and (for an outsider) some very troubling things about American ‘purity’ culture. What is described here is a very problematic relationship. I would even say this story tells a lot of unintended things, because of all the unspoken stereotypes and expectancies that drive the 2 characters.

Stories are a powerful and even dangerous device of communication, because they’re not always tameable. If you tell a story, you have to listen yourself too. It might tell you things you didn’t know yourself. And people with other backgrounds might hear completely other things. Like with Jesus’ parables: we think we can pin all of their meaning down, and then someone from another culture sees a lot of details and makes conclusions you didn’t even know where there. And someone like Henri Nouwen has spent a whole life exploring Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, and even he could go deeper.

So, with every text we write, we should be aware with every story that we use to convey a moral, that we create an ‘entity’ that will stand on it’s own, and that will lead a life of its own. We cannot control what it will communicate to other people. The story will just tell its own story. And people will recognise the nuggets of Truth in it, but different people will see different things in it. And there is the possibility that people will see problems in it that are in a ‘blind spot’ of the authors worldview. But that does not mean that anyone outside of that worldview will not see them very clearly…

I do think telling stories is important, and a very powerful way of communicating in postmodern times. But we as Christians don’t have to repeat the same stories of the world over and over again. We need to reframe the stories in the light of Gods Kingdom. We need to tell new stories. We need to go beyond the blind spots of the cliches, and tell stories of salvation, of fallen people of both sexes who find not just forgiveness, but shine redemption in the darkest places of our world. It is darkness that dissappears where light shines! How strong is the light that we posses?

And we need to consider the implications of what we are exactly saying with every story that we tell. We do need to not further propagate the lies of  darkness that bind and destroy people, but dismantle them, and destroy light with darkness. So I applaud Cory for using story to communicate, it’s what Jesus did. But I’d ask him to be more cautious about how powerful stories can be…

what do you think?

shalom

Bram

Language is quite fallible (Chesterton)


What I see in a lot of discussions is how people are just not understanding each other because the same words do mean different things for other people.

Losing my faith in language, and realising I could never naively believe in language as a  trustworthy way to describe the world, and communicate my feelings and ideas to others was probably a big day in my postmodern evolution, but the sentiment of language being quite fallible to communicate sometimes even the most basic things, let alone important matters of Faith, Love and Life, is not new. The Orthodox tradition knows that the most important things that can be said about God are what God is not… More eastern traditions like certain streams of Buddhism and probably Taoism could teach us exactly the same, as could the continental postmodernists like Derrida.

But you don’t have to be Derrida to know this; I found this beautiful Chesterton quote that expresses it very well…

Every time one man says to another, “Tell us plainly what you mean?” he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that there is a perfect scheme of verbal expression for all the internal moods and meanings of men. Whenever a man says to another, “Prove your case; defend your faith,” he is assuming the infallibility of language: that is to say, he is assuming that a man has a word for every reality in earth, or heaven, or hell. He knows that there are in the soul tints more bewildering, more numberless and more nameless than the colours of an autumn forest; he knows that there are abroad in the world and doing strange and terrible service in it crimes that have never been condemned and virtues that have never been christened. Yet he seriously believes that these things can every one of them, in all their tones and semi-tones, in all their blends and unions, be accurately represented by an arbitrary system of grunts and squeals.

G. K. Chesterton, Watt’s allegorical paintings

I know, we all need to trust language enough to use it, but it’ll fail us. A lot of discussions between Christians and atheists, or moderns and postmoderns, are bound to fail because of a paradigmatic and semantic disconnect that goes undetected, and even if detected it would take a lot of time to just make clear from which worldview one comes, and what he or she means with the terms used. And most of the time both sides don’t want to listen to that…

  (And I’m not even talking about linguistic relativity here, which words and concepts that exist in a certain language will shape the worldview and thinking patterns of the persons using it. Some things I can explain much simpler in dutch, and I need more words to explain them in English. Or there are misunderstandings that lead to weird doctrines like John Piper who builds a whole doctrine on Adam meaning ‘man‘, that helps maintaining an injust system. )

So, my question is, what do you people feel about the fallibility of language. What are the implications? Is there any way we can communicate that is misunderstandings-free and if not (which is very likely) what does that mean? And isn’t it true that most things that are Real and True can be described more in poetry, story, pictures and art than in technical and systematic lingo?

Or even be shown in deeds instead of spoken in words?

Shalom

Bram

‘Jesus, the translation of the Ununderstandable Source of Everything’


This blog post is just a rant based on parts of a facebook discussion in which I took part. It’s my way of explaining my faith against ‘scientific’ enlightenment thought, to people rejecting ‘Christianity’ for various reasons, while what they rejected would be something I wouldn’t be that interested in either…

The discussion started with me rejecting the ‘god of the gaps idea’, or something like the idea that ‘God’ is just a hypothesis to explain everything that can not yet be explained by science. I used a lot of words, and pictures that are not part of standard evangelical lingo at all…

A ‘God of the gaps’ is in no way what faith is. Faith is not an obsolete older way to come to the same things as science does now! If that’s the way you look at faith you’re like a deaf man trying to understand an orchestra … There’s no gap to be filled, because the goal is not at all (like in a modern woldview) to be able to describe everyting in an systemathic and abstract way, as if that in any way helps us really understand the world. Facts are the lowest form of truth. A scientific investigation of the world might be able to decribe it and anaylyse it, but it will never get to the core of it.

No, firstly the orchestra isn’t human and part of our dimension system, and the sheet music is not written down in a way we can understand, nor can we ever obtain it, or could we read it if we’d be able to get it. Sure, we can transcibe it like we hear it ourselves, in our own notations (missing a lot of nuances that we might not even hear) and those transcriptions can be good enough to enable us to manipulate the world around us for good (medicine for example) or for bad (atomic bombs, agent orange, …) but whatever our transcriptions, they are only our ways of making sense of our world. Faith has nothing to do with dissecting the music in our metaphor, but with listening to it and let it fill our beings. Fine if you want just a transcription in a human notation system, but that’ll never be the music, and a deaf man investigating the music that way will never get the point of what the music is, not even with the best sheet music transcription… His ears have to be opened.

So let’s move from general religion to Christianity: And as a Christian I do believe that the ‘Ununderstandable’, that also lies at the beginning of everything, has revealed something of itself in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s an accomodation, a translation of that ‘Ununderstandable’ (or God) in a way we can understand enough as human beings for us to connect with it. And I trust the gospel books of the New Testament, I have no problems at all with stories of miracles and the resurrection, even if some details in the stories are not corresponding I don’t see why it would mean that supernatural stories are untrue. Those details are not the point. The bible is there to teach us about God, and to bring us to God in the first place, not about giving us modern science or historical details. It’s usable for liturgt, meditation, whatever. If we can’t see what the facts are pointing too, we’re missing everything…

My own faith is grounded in something that is for me more substantial than any intellectual claim can be, something that has touched me and that won’t let go of me. Even if I know that all of our traditions are full of errors, and that some deviations are more than toxic (and it seems you’ve been hurt by some toxic expressions of Christianity) but that’s not the point. Our traditions are all man-made and fallible, but drop of Truth in them comes from God. (If there’s some left, your TV-preachers may just be like the light of a deepsea devilfish that’s attracting other fishes with his deceptive light to devour them. Any creature that has seen the sun will never be fooled by such monster)

But I just want to say that the substantial reason why I still believe is something beyond reason and intellect, maybe more mystical or existential, I don’t know. I just know that this Truth is more than anything else in this world… And I’m not saying to remove the intellect, but there are places in faith that have to go beyond intellect. But going beyond does not mean abandoning, but take it to it’ss fullest and then go further… But in the end we have to accept the Mystery, and the fact (hmm) that Truth is something that goes far beyond our intellect (or feelings)

You say that only the ‘Lucky ones’ are chosen to be saved, and the others not. Indeed, Christ called some disciples, but the ‘lucky ones’ who know Christ are not just saved for the sake of ‘being saved’, but to bring that salvation to the whole rest of creation. And what they had to share was not just mere ‘knowledge’, but the Way of life. (Christians were first called ‘people of the way’) The idea of secret knowledgde without application is alien to any non-Western human anyway…

Being ‘saved’ is being reconciled (yes, the bible speaks not only of getting saved as a point, but also of being saved as a process) to God, to ourselves, to our fellow humans and the rest of creation. That is the Kingdom of God Jesus announced, in which our human ideas of Power and domination are reversed. The cross, a low and even obscene death in which evil, sin, and death were defeated is also an example of this. Not by power but by self-giving. If Jesus is the ‘human translation’ of the Unknowable source of all things to us, and the idea is that He must be proclaimed to the whole of creation, then there’s no secret message at all. At least, it is intended to be heard by everyone… And in the end it will be heard by everyone, when in the New Heaven and the New Earth everything evil will be no more, and all will be made whole again and reconciled with Him.

To “not believe” makes you reject that reconciliation with the Source of all life… You don’t want it, and so you won’t get it. That why they ‘are already condemned’. Jesus did not come to condemn them, but to save them. The wages of sin (missing the mark, doing what’s wrong,…) are death, not becuse God punishes us with death for it, but because it naturally leads to death. We become cut off from the Source of all life, and we might become something that is not able to stand the Light and Holiness of Gods undiluted presence.

I guess this explanation also shows us the impotence of a lot of christianity: it is indeed reduced to ‘secret knowledge’ one has to believe in to ‘be saved’, but that does not at all transform people, does not fill them with self-giving love and a life reconciled to God and all of creation, that does not bring on a breaking in of the Kingdom of God into this present time… Which is a sad thing. I don’t know who ever said that we are vaccinating the world with a lifeless version of Christianity, and sometimes I’m affraid that’s painfully true…

So, what do you think of my wording? Where am I off? What am I missing? Or am I just a heretic? Does it make sense at all?

shalom

Bram

Moving east to find lost treasures…


In the light of the current Rob Bell controverse (if you don’t know what I mean just google his name and ‘love wins’)  there are some thoughts that are not new, and there’s probably nothing new about them… For example, Kingdom Grace has made similar remarks earlier, but I’ll try to explain how I see it.

While not much seems to be happening here in Flanders in the (very small) evangelical world, it seems like the internet is announcing over and over the end of evangelicalism in the US, or its split. The fights over Rob Bells new book (ironically called ‘Love wins’, how naive of him, you know christians will never exhibit love if they disagree… hmm ) seems to make a division between the hardcore reformed who hold to a theology I find very troubling sometimes (and I’m not the only one) and all the others, who are not considered ‘in’ for some of those… But frankly,  I don’t believe calvinism is the most helpful tradition here.

I don’t think we need to return to seventeenth century ‘orthodoxy’ if we want to find our roots again, and neither do I think we need to read the bible through a few elect pauline verses… Yes we need to go back to our roots, but the problem with sola scriptura is that where we had 4 schisms in the first 1500 years, we have had 30000 church splits since protestantism, so even when teh bible is infallible, everybody seems to have another opinion about what it says… So we don’t just need to go back to the bible, but also look at the others who are going the same way as we do, and/or those who did in the past.

Yes I think that the ‘modern’ protestant church has been navelgazing too long, blinded by our cultural assumptions, and it might need some input from other traditions to refresh its vision (and more open ears to the Holy Spirit!!!). I might be quite unmodern being both pentecostel (which according to some is more pre-modern) and influenced by C.S. Lewis, who called himself the last ancient westerner, but I’m not going to do all the emerging church babble about postmodernism being better than modernism. Still I’m affraid that I’m convinced that modernism and Christianity don’t mix very well. Both fundamentalism and liberalism, the 2 polar opposite adaptions christianity made to late modernism are not the most vital and life-bringing forms of Christianity, and did much harm to the gospel.

So my proposal is to learn from non-modern christian traditions to find back what we’ve lost with the blind spots of our modern eyes. Thats’s in fact one of the things happening in and beyond the ‘emerging church’, and one of the problems for some is that those traditions are far away from standard dispensationalism and calvinism. One of those traditions which we can learn a lot from is the (neo-)anabaptism which probably is the most attractive side of the emerging church to me. A focus on discpleship and following the Jesus of the gospels is something we surely need in our churches! Every church a peace church!!

(another one would be the charismatic tradition, of which I am already part, which is frustratingly ignored in some parts of the emerging church tending too much to naturalism!)

So what’s the ‘new’ one I’m finding more and more interesting? It’s actually a very old one, and unlike anabaptism undeniably totally outside of protestantism, and it was even left out of Brian McLarens ‘generous orthodoxy’, but I don’t think it can really be considered ‘unorthodox’ in any way at all, since I’m talking about the so-called eastern orthodox church here. They own the word!

People who read here regularly know that I recently was very impressed with a video pointing out the differences between the orthodox and protestant view of salvation. I do indeed think that the orthodox have a much more complete, biblical and coherent view on salvation than the good-friday-only penal substitution some of us protestants preach! And we can and should also learn a lot from their non-dualistic view of reality, their insistance of the presence of God, and their embrace of paradox and mystery instead of trying to push all of reality into systematic theology!

And I’m not the only one who has been discovering this, even people in my own denomination (the vineyard) are discovering that the the eastern orthodox are theologically very interesting and very close to the ideas some post-evangelicals are (re)discovering. Yes indeed, the ‘heresy’ of some of Rob Bells or even NT Wrights views is in fact much closer to eastern orthodoxy and the church fathers than to calvinism, which is in return a heresy condemned by both the catholic and orthodox church… The whole idea that Jesus came to save us in the first place from the wrath of God would be totally alien to them. To quote American orthodox priest Father Stephen:

Intricate theories of the atonement which involve the assuaging of the wrath of God are not worthy of the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I can say it no plainer. Those who persist in such theological accounts do not know “what Spirit they are of.” It is not ever appropriate to exalt a Biblical system over the plain sense communicated to us in the Gospel. No matter the chain of verses and the rational explanations attached – we cannot portray God as other than as He has shown Himself to us in Jesus Christ. To do so makes the Bible greater than Christ.

It is very difficult in our culture, where the wrathful God has been such an important part of the gospel story, to turn away from such portrayals – and yet it is necessary – both for faithfulness to the Scripture, the Fathers, and the revelation of God in Christ.

I commend the referenced work, the River of Fire, for its compliation of Patristic sources. I also beg other Christians to be done with their imagery of the wrathful God. They do not know the God of Whom they speak. Forgive me

So, I think we can and should learn a lot from the orthodox (among many other traditions), who have a much more complete view of salvation, and who seem to be able to make a lot more sense of the ressurrection, without which our hope is in vain according to Paul, but which is reduced to just some counterintuitive fact that should be believed in to be saved by some fundamentalists.

but no, I’m never ever going to become eastern orthodox myself. My theology of church would fall somewhere between those of Frank Viola and John Wimber and is quite opposite to the hierarchical liturgical view of an old church with only male priests: I believe in the priesthood of all believers, where ‘everybody gets to play’ and where men and women can excercise the gifts the Spirit has given them. And I don’t buy the stuff about relics and saints (even though their theology of the communion of the saints and the witness cloud sounds interesting to me!)

So if we want to restore a truly ‘evangelical’ faith, we have to recover the good news of God redeeming all of creation and of the hope Jesus brought in the resurrection. The vision of Gods kingdom as layed out in the gospels is incompatible with a gospel that is only concerned with saving individual souls from Gods wrath, it’s about the restauration of all of creation! And here I think can learn a lot from those older brothers in our faith in Jesus Christ.

(Even if we’ll still disagree about a lot of things and not be able to be in communion with them because different views on church, priesthood and eucharist. )

But it’s not about which tradition is best. It’s about understanding God more, and participation in the mission of His kingdom.

shalom

Bram

ps: I am in no way an expert in orthodoxy, so if anyone has helpful links or book titles to enlighten me more, please share them with me and my readers!!!