Tag Archives: christian tradition

scepticism about the age of scepticism


Some people call tthinkerhis ‘the age of scepticism’. Sometimes because as a Christian we feel that there is a lot of scepticism against our tradition, which used to be the main influence in our Western part of the world, but it is also because the humanist tradition in line of the Enlightenment finds itself to be very ‘sceptical’.

I myself am very sceptical here, and sort of have my doubts about this self-proclaimed age of ‘scepticism’ in which we are in tough. Most people I know that use that word to describe themselves are not exceptionally sceptical at all, they just fully subscribe to a tradition that likes to apply that word to itself (it’s even more weird when you have people call themselves ‘freethinker’ and they all parrot the same enlightenment-light clichés) and that is sceptical of other traditions, but they never seem to questions the dogmas that every Westerner seems to breathe in and out like a fish does not notice the water.

I wish there was more scepticism about the foundations of our way of life and our Western ways of thinking, but except in new age circles and among conspiracy theorists I do not find much of that kind of scepticism, and those people in most cases completely unsceptical about whatever kind of alternative truth comes their way…

It’s not really a surprise though. Real scepticism, and the willingness to question everything does in most cases lead one away from the tradition one is in. Most of those people are seen as heretics of some kind, except when they gain enough followers to throw over the old order for a new one, or at least establish a separate tradition… And in both ways the real scepticism will die…

Yes one could establish a tradition of scepticism, but that would kinda be self-defeating. Scepticism and the forming of a tradition are very strange bedfellows. Except for the first generation, you never get real sceptics in an existing movement: every sceptic reconstructs a new system by himself, that might be adopted as the new orthodoxy by their followers, and the it will just  fossilise into a new tradition.

I don’t find those who adhere to the scientist tradition to be sceptics at all, except for that they are (like everyone) sceptics about traditions not theirs. But that’s true for almost everybody…

And I wish we’d have more real sceptics…

peace

Bram

Rob Bell on atonement or the bible versus (reformed) tradition


I was reading this article on Mike Morrells blog, about some preaching on aworship conference hosted by David Crowder. Looks like they had a very interesting and diverse worship conference over there, with not only Mr. Crowder, but also people like Matt Redman, Gungor,  the Welcome wagon, Derek Webb, and Rob Bell. Especially this last name still is very controversial for some people I think, and it seems that his talk about ‘the use of words’ has stirred something up in some people. Now when I read the article by Bob Kauflin @ worship matters, I get the impression that Mr. Bell has been on the more extreme side of his creative self, doing a vague talk about contextualisation and finding new ways as a poet to express the truth of the bible in new words.

He seems to have been saying something about finding new ways to communicate the gospel, and more specifically the atonement:

The Friday morning speaker was Rob Bell. His premise was: Words can be used in lots of ways. He reminded us that the Bible is made up of different literary genres, which should be interpreted differently. But he went on to suggest that the metaphors Scripture uses to describe Christ’s work on the cross are varied and influenced by the understanding of a particular audience, and that we’re responsible to come up with other creative metaphors to describe the purposes of the atonement. While I appreciate relevance and clear communication, developing our own metaphors for the atonement potentially undermines and distorts the gospel. Yes, it’s important to recognize and communicate the vast and multiple effects of Christ’s death and the resurrection, and yes, Christians can overemphasize theological precision and definition at the expense of actually communicating the good news. But every description of Christ’s work on the cross is connected to our need to be forgiven by and reconciled to a holy God. If we fail to communicate this, we have failed to proclaim the biblical gospel. To better appreciate why all metaphors for the atonement are ultimately grounded in penal substitution (Christ taking the punishment we deserved as our substitute) I’d highly recommend Pierced for our Transgressions, In My Place Condemned He Stood, or the article by Mark Dever, “Nothing But the Blood.”

But ‘deveolping our own methaphors’ and vague contextualisation thoughts are not exactly the first thing that I find when I look up what other people write about Robs talk on the fantastic worship conference (see here and here for a summary) The part about atonement is deeply rooted in bible verses from Pauls letters (like mostly, but Rob is very good at hiding his biblical back-up behind poetry and creative explanations) Rob is pointing to the way Paul in the bible uses a lot of methaphors explaining the atonement, and Mr Kauflin is narrowing down to the penal substitution version, influenced by his own particular tradition.

I’m sorry, but whatever your tradition says, penal substitution still isn’t the only way the atonement Jesus acomplished at the cross could be explained. In fact this way of explaining the atonement is only half a millenium old. I know some Christians see the atonement in terms of Jesus taking our punishment and God pouring out His wrath on Him and not on us, but that’s not the way in which Jesus sacrifice has been explained by Christians before the reformation. Ransom or Christus Victor ways of explaining the atonement are much older, and still present in evangelical thought (or in the classic narnia story).

The difference is not unsubstantial. In the old view Jesus is giving himself over to evil/death in our place as a ransom, which can not hold him. In the penal view Jesus’ sacrifice is to God himself, who needs to punish in order to be able to forgive. There are other views too, but I’m not getting into that now. I only want to point out that there are different views in the church.

(For an interesting rebuttal of the quoted book’pierced for our transgressions’, read this interesting but very technical article by Derek Flood, that shows us a lot about the church fathers views on atonement, and the way they have been misquoted in that particular book. )

So while I got the idea that Rob was more into cultural recontextualisation in postmodern context stuff with his talk about atonement methaphors (which is fine by me, even our way of wording penal substitution originates from such a thing half a millenium ago) the thing Rob is doing is starting from how Paul speaks about atonement. Which is interesting, since all the theories built around it are from hunderds of years after the New Testament was written… even from after the apostles creed… so they cannot at all be the core of the gospel.

In fact you can’t be more biblical than this: looking at how Paul uses different methaphors for atonement… If you don’t like someone going back to the bible te come up with something that is a lot broader than your tradition might say, maybe it’s time to evaluate the place your tradition has. Especially if you have a tradition that doesn’t like tradition at all like all reformation churches do for obvious historical reasons. If you don’t like new ways of saying what the bible tries to communicate, let at least the bible say what it wants to say, instead of giving your tradition the last word over someone who reads things in the bible that don’t agree with it.

Those are different things. I can understand that some people don’t like finding new ways to communicate the Truth, but it’s a wholly different thing to censor the bible from the lens of your tradition. That would be even more dangerous than miscommunicating the Truth of the gospel out of clumsiness…

Shalom

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