Tag Archives: Christ

On magic, miracles, and the differences between them.


I know I’m not posting here very regularly lately. This new post is part of what could be seen as ‘the occult-mergent series’, in which I will look at the ‘supernatural’ world (even though I disagree with that very word already) as a Christian, also looking at the viewpoints of other traditions too while staying centered on Christ. (Btw: the word ‘occult’ is not in the bible, so there is no commandment ‘against the occult’ as some seem to think. I probably use it in a more or less neutral way here than it is commonly used.)

So, on the the 2 m-words in my title: Magic and Miracles are both not very popular with most moderns, at least outside of the realm fiction. As a believer in both (although I do certainly not at all believe in all things portrayed in fiction, it IS fiction after all…) I also see that there’s a lot of confusion about the two, as there is about all things that are dubbed ‘supernatural’ in a very ‘unsupernatural’ world as ours.

I do think a lot of the confusion comes from the word ‘supernatural’ itself. I do believe that ‘nature’ is a lot broader than the physical ‘laws of nature’ as we know them, and that magic and in many cases miracles too are perfectly part of it, and therefor perfectly natural. They only belong to a certain ‘hidden’ (occultus to use a word in latin) part of nature that is not as easy to understand as the realm of what we call ‘the laws of nature’ and can speak about in scientific terms and manipulate with technique. The line between those 2 parts of nature is nothing but the line between what we can investigate and understand as humans, and is only a limit of our abilities and perception, not a real line at all. The visible and invisible nature are not disconnected nor are they necessarily really different worlds. (There might be different worlds in the realm of the invisible, but that’s another story…)

So what is magic? Igargamel would define it as a manipulation of the invisible part of nature by humans to get a certain outcome. Magic is thus for the invisible world an exact equivalent of what science applied in technique is for the visible world. (I’ve written about that earlier, see also this and this post) The difference between both is that magic is not something most people in societies we know grow up with and thus learn, and that probably only a fraction of the people have a real talent for it.

There are roughly two kinds of magic, which probably do have a blurred area in between. The first kind is where the practicer uses his own power as a human being (which might be quite extraordinary in certain individuals), or channels the powers of nature for his goal. This could be energy healing or reiki for example. Some people have a gift for it, most don’t…

A second form of magic is invocation magic, in which the practicer calls upon other beings in the invisible realm to accomplish his goals. These beings can be very diverse, from natural spirits do djinn or demons, or even servitors that are called into existence by the magician itself.
While I am not sure that all invisible beings fall into the demon/angel dichotomy from my pentecostal demonology, even if there are being that are neither black nor white but ‘in the middle’ that does not mean that they are safe. It’s not because something is spiritual that it is safe, and we moderns have a lot of dangerous spiritual ‘ecological naivete’ that sometimes makes us as vulnerable to the invisible world as a dodo to an axe-wielding Dutch colonist… But that’s another story…

So what is a miracle, and where does it differ from magic? A miracle is something God (or in other religions other deities) does, often through a human vessel. So while it might be done with natural ‘energy’, it does ultimately come from God, and even though the miracle might be wanted by humans too, the idea comes from God, and it is done by God.

I can’t claim to have seen and experienced that much miracles, but I can’t deny that there have been ways in which God acted to interrupt the normal in my life or lives around me. But I do have one thing in mind very recently, where God indeed started healing while I was praying, and while it probably looked a lot like ‘energy healing’, I myself as a not-so-magically-talented guy could in a normal situation not have produced that kind of healing energy at all, and the outcome was more than and different from than I had prayed for (much better). So while this ‘healing energy’ might be in a way a part of nature and work like that in some instances, it came from God this time, it did what God wanted. And I was just a clueless vessel, not knowing what I did (my prayer grew more clumsy when I started noticing that something WAS happening) or that I could have done at all.

(And I have no clue why God chose to act that time, and completely surprisingly answered with healing, while a lot of other prayers have been left unanswered. I have no philosophical or theological answers here, only my very limited experience that seems to ridicule much of our human categories. I do think God does not like to be put in a box anyway…)

So the difference between a miracle and magic is that a miracle is an act of God, leading to the accomplishment of Gods purposes, and that magic is something done by humans, with or without the help of other entities, to accomplish human purposes. This might sound vague, but it is a very important distinction. In we bible we see a guy called Simon the sorcerer who is impressed by the power the apostles have through the Holy Spirit, and who wants to buy that power. Which is impossible, the Holy Spirit is God, and Gods power follows Gods purposes, and will not be enslaved by any sorcerer…

A last note that’s not unimportant here is that, for all the fear of ‘the occult’, some Christians who are well-acquainted with supernatural powers should better watch out more to not cross the line, and go from miracles to just performing magic. Like I said, some people do have more talent for such things (that others would call energy-healing for example) and if those people are Christians they will be attracted to more supernaturally-inclined churches (pentecostal/charismatic for example). Some Christians put so much pressure on ‘there can be miracles if you believe’ and ‘have more faith and you will move mountains’, and ‘name it and claim it’ that God disappears out of the picture. Have enough faith and your goals will be accomplished. And then we land in the terrain of the ‘prosperity gospel’.

But all of this ‘have faith and you will accomplish your wishes’ stuff is very similar to very basis magic outside of Christianity. The projection of ones will as a power to get a certain outcome is very prevalent in a lot of occult systems. Think of the new age ideas of ‘the secret’ for example. Another example would be how the postmodern chaos magick has ‘the power of belief’ as a tool very foundational. Others have seen influences of ‘new thought’ (actually a more old-fashioned occult stream) in the prosperity gospel stuff long ago, so I don’t think I’m telling much new stuff here.

Miracle-workers can slide into magic, especially if people do have certain ‘gifts’(and those people are attracted by this kind of Christianity) and they might at a certain moment lose touch with the Christian God, but keep the miracles going when ‘Elvis has left the building’. This can go on without gods power being replaced by other more dark entities, although that always could be the case too…

It can be less subtle even though. I’ve noted already that cursing someone in the name of the Christian God (even disguised as a bible verse and [ab]using bible verses) is a form of black magic, and is misguided invocation magic which tries to use the Christian God to kill people. (Which God won’t do, luckily…) ‘Conservative’ Americans praying for the death of their president Obama is a weird example of this mix of Christianity and black magic(k)…

Christians should watch out that they always keep centered on Christ. The ‘supernatural’ in itself does not have to be a sign of anything, even though we always find it very impressive here in this very ‘un-supernatural’ world. hristians are by definition pledged to Christ, and what makes them special goes beyond just ‘the supernatural’! It leads to the Creator through the Spirit and the Incarnate Christ.

So what do you people think?

Peace

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

Prayer for today (E. Stanley Jones)


Michael Frost posted this prayer by .E Stanley Jones today on facebook. I think it fits well with my posts about language being fallible, especially with the ones that aren’t finished yet probably… E. Stanley Jones has done very interesting things in India in the 20th century, so if you have the chance to read anything by him, do it! (I think ‘Christ of the Indian road is a recommendation, even if I’ve only I’ve read it in weird old-fashioned Dutch…. The English version is probably much more interesting…)

“O Christ,

I know that Thou art greater than all our descriptions of Thee.

When we have said all, then we stand in mute adoration

before the wonder of Thee – the Inexpressible.

But I see enough of Thee to love Thee

and to give my heart to Thee fully.

I do so, and I do so now.

I thank Thee. Amen.”

E. Stanley Jones

shalom

Bram

It may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition (pt II)


For those who missed part 1, this is part 2 of my reaction to the viral ‘hating religion but loving Jesus’-video that everybody even remotely christian and even their atheist bulldog seem to be posting on facebook nowadays. Part one, in which I elaborated on definitions of the word ‘religion’ is here, and should probably be read before this one…

After the semantics it’s time to go to a problem that’s way more serious, and dig deeper in the message itself: It seems like Jeff Bethke makes his way of being a christian, and thus the gospel, antithetic to everything he denounces as ‘religion’ (which seems to be all that can go wrong with Christianity, and all he dislikes about some other christian groups) which makes the word ‘religion’ useless.

So let’s look at some of Bethke’s statements:

Now back to the topic, one thing I think is vital to mention,
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums,
One is the work of God one is a man made invention,
One is the cure and one is the infection.
Because Religion says do, Jesus says done.
Religion says slave, Jesus says son,
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.

I still do not know what Bethke’s definition is of religion, but it seems like his ‘religion’ is something really really bad nonetheless, and actually a very good scapegoat to dump all the problems of Christianity and the rest of the world on, sometimes leaping into ridiculous exaggerations. The above part is a good example.

I disagree completely with some of his statements… Religion is not the infection. Or doesn’t he agree that God himself instituted the religion of the Jews? Which would be very strange for a bible-believing evangelical, like he seems to be. Okay, religion did get infected with a lot of bad things (just like the Christian religion) but the problem was not ‘religion’ but the things infecting it. It’s a very weird deduction actually… Will you get rid of your child when it has a disease?

But it goes a lot further:

This is what makes religion and Jesus two different clans,
Religion is man searching for God, but Christianity is God searching for man.
Which is why salvation is freely mine, forgiveness is my own,
Not based on my efforts, but Christ’s obedience alone.
Because he took the crown of thorns, and blood that dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, that’s why we call it grace.
While being murdered he yelled “father forgive them, they know not what they do”,
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
He paid for all your sin, and then buried it in the tomb,
Which is why im kneeling at the cross now saying come on there’s room
So know I hate religion, in fact I literally resent it,
Because when Jesus cried It is finished, I believe He meant it.

I know the “Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man” theme, and there’s something to that, but still I don’t completely agree. It’s easy to say, but in the end the Jewish religion was also instituted by God when He, and not some evil people or delusional demons, but God Himself gave the laws to Moses! So I don’t see his logic why he can renounce and literally resent religion as a whole here, or proclaim Jesus and religion two different clans. And Jesus never abolished the laws, he fulfilled them, transcended them. But He surely never went denouncing them as evil. And religion-bashing is not the way to further the gospel.

It almost looks like the problem of the new atheists. They see a problem with fundamentalist religion and so keep the fundamentalism and ditch the religion. The anti-religion rhetoric does put all the blame on whatever ‘religion’ is supposed to be and then declared Jesus something completely different.

But there is something more that’s troubling in his approach. Now look at the above presentation of the gospel? What’s missing?

Firstly, like more evangelicals tend to do, the resurrection is completely ignored for some weird reasons, as if a ‘good Friday only gospel’ will ever be complete. But let’s not go into that, and also skip the idea that ‘Jesus thought of me’ while on the cross for now… And how he sees the ‘it’ that has been finished at the cross as ‘religion’ is beyond me.

But now we come to probably the weak point of common ‘born-again theology’. We are born-again because our sins (or the punishment for it) have been taken away by Jesus on the cross and now it’s all finished…. But that’s just the beginning. We have a whole life of growth before us. Being a spiritual baby alone is not enough. It’s even quite risky, babies are vulnerable beings that cannot survive without aid from others, and that are meant to grow into adulthood. (so they can make babies themselves, spiritually I mean) We are saved, and we are being saved, the bible used both, and they must be in tension. Salvation is not one moment, but an ongoing process that will never be perfected in this life, and something we have to bring to the world around us.

Sin is not just a problem that needs to be forgiven, Jesus destroyed the Power of sin, the infection that the fall brought has been recapitulated when He overcame the powers of evil, sin and death which were not strong enough to take him. Sin is something much more serious than just an offence to God, it’s a destructive force that pervades the whole universe…

Jesus didn’t finish all things at the cross, he started them. The resurrection was the beginning of the New heaven and earth. We are not just reconciled to God, but called out to proclaim the Kingdom of God ourselves. We gain a whole new life in Him, we are called to follow Him and further that Life in this fallen world. Which means action and a changed life, and the word ‘relationship’ implies that too.

And this is the last big problem with the ‘relationship with Jesus’ idea, which is actually quite troubling if you think about it. Sarah Moon has pointed to it in her excellent blog post. The view on relationships one would derive from this theology would be a very defunct one. Firstly nothing at all is said about what the relationship with Christ means in the poem, so we have to read between the lines if we want to know what he means. The hints in the beginning where he describes what religion is not are not that bad, but there’s no connection at all to the main dish, which is the atonement theory in the end, that seems to trump all, and doesn’t even try to say what our part is. 

There seems to be not that much about how to maintain the relationship in this view. Don’t we need to do certain things to keep a relationship healthy. Just accepting something from someone will never makes us lovers as far as I know… And being ‘in love’ with Jesus all the time is not a relationship. A relationship requires effort, interaction, and sometimes blood, sweat and tears…

In the words of Sarah who expressed it more eloquently:

Relationships are about action, not just desire. That action will look different in every relationship, just as different people approach religion in different ways. But if I “love me some Jesus,” then I’m going to do things for Jesus. I’m going to love the people that Jesus loves. I’m going to help him accomplish his task of redeeming a hurting, broken world. I’m going to embrace rituals and ceremonies and organizations that bring me closer to him and that provide an outlet for me to love his people.

This “love for Jesus” that so many evangelical churches support seems like the immature love of a 13-year-old girl scribbling  on a bathroom wall a heart and the name of her crush.

I’m tired of settling for that shallow, intangible, romantic emotion of being in love with Jesus.

Let’s get off our asses and love.

What do you all think?

Shalom

Bram

Christianity, economy and neoliberalism…


This is from a facebook discussion (slightly rewritten for literary aesthetic reasons), where someone asked me what the Christian views on Ron Paul and Austrian economics would be. I am not an economist myself, but I believe that economical theories that are built on the idea of ‘constant growth’ are unrealistic and dangerous for various reasons, and I believe that we should cultivate an economic of enough, not too much, for ourselves, and generosity for all who need it. I know I’m not living up to that the way I should, but there’s not other way to live the way of Christ, the way of love, the life of good news and reconciliation…

I know this is a messy text, but I just wanted to keep it for myself, and maybe one of my readers may be interested…

Me: I would say that the teachings of christ and the NT, and almost all of Christian traditions are completely incompatible with hyperindividualism or any systems where economics are elevated over people, or any jungle law system including economic neodarwinism. Instead taking care of the poor, the downtrodden and those left behind should be prioritised over any system of economics or ideology…
The conservative christian right would say otherwise probably…
Okay, I understand. But Ithink they all want the same outcome for the poor, they just differ in their means. I think liberal see the means mostly in assets as responsability. Socialist thinkers and christians more in charity. I think that last one gives us a good feeling about ourselves, but I just isn’t that effective but more culturalimperialistic and bougeoisstyle.
Me: Whatever you see as superficial outcome for the poor, I don’t think the outcome for the person itself and for the world is even remotely the same. Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus can not live for themselves only, like the idea of the american dream and similar ideas would, nor for the hoarding of stuff and posessions. Btw, Charity originally did not mean the ‘give and stay on a distance’ but it comes from the latin word ‘caritas’ or ‘universal love for fellow humans, like loving and being friend and giving. From the church in the book of acts in the bible to St-Francis to Shane Claiborne in this time, the Christian tradition that cares most for the poor is the one that is content with ‘enough’ and shares the rest -not just stuff, but time and life- with those who need it.
The neoliberal underlying dogma seems to me that everyone is equal in chances of making it, and therefor blames those who didn’t. which is completely unfair and utterly unrealistic, but for those who did make it it’s easy to blame the ones who didn’t… Jesus would care most about them, and we Christians need to relearn this.

Like Paul writes in the bible:

1 Tim 6:7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. 8 But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
11 But you, man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.
so what do you think? (except for that I could’ve used a lot of Jesus’ words instead of this quote from Paul)
shalom
Bram

C.S. Lewis on the resurrection as true mythology


I thought that this might be kind of relevant in the light of the discussions about truth and myth in the last post. Thaks to Matt Stone, from whose blog I stole this quote…

Now as myth transcends thought, incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the dying God without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. I suspect that men have sometimes derived more spiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than from the religion they professed. To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other is.

[C. S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact,” in The Grand Miracle and Other Selected Essays on Theology and Ethics from God in The Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: Ballantine, 1970), pp. 38-42 (41-42).]

What do we want? (reflecting on a sufi prayer)



Sufi Comics: Imam Ali's Prayer

I was reading a blog by a sufi muslim, and found this prayer which made me think:

O My Lord,
if I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell;
and if I worship You from hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your own sake,
do not withhold from me Your Eternal Beauty.

~ Rabia

I have no intent to convert myself or anyone to sufi islam, but I think we all need to reflect upon this prayer, and we all should investigate our heart. For this is a serious matter!

We should also question the way we communicatie Christ to the world. Like the saying says ‘what we win them with, we win them to’. If we ‘win people to Christ’ with flashy videos and rock’n roll, will they stay in our church if we cut down on the electricity?

If we win people to Christ because He is the way to not go to hell, do we really bring them to Christ? Or would they pragmatically choose any other way to get out of hell?? Would we bring animal sacrifices or buy indulgences if they were convinced that was the way out of hell, or do we follow Jesus for who He is?

It’s not up to me to judge anyones intentions or faith, but we all know God sees the heart… Accepting Jesus to get something (like a free ‘get out of hell’ card) and not because of Jesus Himself. If we don’t really love God but just want to ‘get out of hell’ we still won’t have much fun in heaven, because it’s being with God for all eternity. There’s no point in believing in God if what we want is not God, we cannot use God to get something else. There’s no point in following Jesus if what we want is not Jesus, and there’s no Christianity without Him at all.

Christianity revolves around Christ. God incarnate who became one of us and shared in our humanity, even til death, and who conquered death and evil in the resurrection. And he calls us to follow, to bring His Kingdom, and says the gates of hell will not prevail against us, His Church.

So what do we want?
Do we want Jesus?
Let’s go for it then, brothers and sisters!

Let us pray

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done
on earth as in heaven

Amen

Bram

the fossilisation of Christian tradition…


so what’s the core of Christianity? Go to 10 different Christians and there are 10 different stories. Go to 10 churches and you get maybe 10 different ways of telling it. Which is not necessarily a problem: everybody has his own unique way of telling the story that is much bigger than us… Everybody has his own context, in which God intervenes in another way. The things Christ done on earth were already so much that all the books of the world could contain them, so what about what He’s done in all those places in all those years after that…

I think all christians agree that we have the bible, but then the next question is: what should we do with it? how should we read id? And then we take this verse here, and this idea there, and build theologies on them… And in the end we come with some systemathic theology or some fundamentals and stuff. and no it’s not an exact translation of the bible into our systemathic thinking, but it mostly can be proved with this, verse here, and then this verse, so it’s biblical. And so it’s important… Problem is that pastor A sys X; and church B says Y, and theology C says Z, and they are all not compatible and yet al very biblical… And that’s when christianity gets very exhausting: you have to be very unhealthily post-modern to accept all these stories that are all built on ‘the truth of the bible’ as equally true and all leading to the God of the bible…  And on the other hand it is very unhealthily modern to think that these 5 point or this list of dogmas is all there is to say about the gospel, and that it would totally sum up the bible…

Now, it’s true that every time and culture has its own contextualisation of the gospel. he gospel must be explained in terms the people can understand, and lived in a way that Christians can be salt and light in that particular place where they are…

Something new happens, and maybe God does something, and people built their own structures around that. I guess that’s unavoidable ti a certain degree, but the problem is that in the end the structures and systems take over, and the dynamics get static, and in the end the Holy Spirit has no place to move anymore (so He may start a totally new movement in this stagen totally opposed to the old one…) But the old tradition then is in danger of just getting fossilised…

So in this 2000 years we have accumulated fossilised tradition. I won’t say that a lot of it is initially started as a movement of the Spirit itself, but lots of it are not relevant anymore, and more of an obstacle between us and Christ than that they’re very helpfull… What to do with them?

I would say that all that does not lead to a life closer to the following of Christ should not be given too much time and credit… We should worship God, and not try to just uphold any human tradition…

So maybe it’s always time to rethink all those old ‘fundamentals’ and ‘lists of doctrines’ from older ages that may be based on the bible (but also on a historical context. That’s what I like about fresh expressions that I meet in the blogosphere like ‘the doctrines of grace‘ (the acronym BEERS instead of the old ‘calvinistic’ TULIP) or the ‘five fundamergent fundamentals’. We need that, if we want the bible to be living and if we don’t wat to get fossilised…

Now one note: the other opposite of fossilised tradition is as evil. We have to see that we stand in that Big Tradition, and that we need it, even when there are dangers attached to it. If we throw everything over board and we try to reinvent the wheel and the warm water we are really really really stupid too. Surely we can and should learn from all those Christians and followers of Jesus in other times and places. But we should never let one tradition be absolute. The incarnation of Gods will in Jesus, not a human construction of ideas and practices…

shalom

Bram