Tag Archives: heresy

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


If you recognize the quote in the title you are a die-hard fan of my music. (If you don’t, it’s the opening lines from ‘NT Wright is a sound theologian‘ on my almost finished album ‘cyberluddism‘ that can still be listened and downloaded on bandcamp)

Now to the point, There is a a video that has been going round on facebook lately that is so viral that it seems everyone remotely Christian (from die-hard evangelicals to vaguely Jesus-inspired hippies) has been sharing it. It actually reminded me that the word ‘viral’ is derived from ‘virus’, like in a computer virus or a flu virus… It’s called “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus” by some Jeff Bethke guy who does some spoken word poetry with music behind it. And by now I’ve had it with everyone and even their goldfish sharing the bleeping video on facebook. Please, I’ve seen it pass like 20 times today… Have mercy…

Now there’s a lot of things that I like in the video, Jeff Bethke does makes some good points. (read the words of the poem here) And the production quality is great and the speaker is very articulate. That’s not my issue. But there are some things I find quite shallow, not to say cliché, and the ‘a relationship, not a religion’ rhetoric is getting a bit irritating sometimes….

Some interesting remarks about the problems with this video are written by the American Jesus, Sarah Moon, Elisabeth Esther, Jake Belder and Patrol Mag and by this girl on youtube. I’m not going to repeat everything those people say, so they might be interesting to read too…

So what’s my problem with this video and the ideas behind it? Actually there are several and maybe they indicate my theological disagreement with some articulations of popular evangelical theology. The first disagreement is a question of semantics. The definition of religion used is completely shallow, it seems like that word is used to describe all that those people don’t like. Which is kinda stupid, since everybody knows that Christianity IS a religion for most people.

Now I do know where the ‘it’s not a religion’ thing comes from… The simplest version I’ve heard is that religion in man’s way to get to God (or to get salvation), something which will never work, but that Christianity is God coming to man and we just need to accept that to be saved. That’s more or less the core of charismatic and post-evangelical idea behind ‘I am not religious’, like I’ve heard it for years and years…

But there is more to the word religion. Religion is something that innate in humans the way God created them, and the solution to wrong religion is not to abolish all religion, but to find good religion. Religion is something broad and is very hard to pin down, and the word has too much behind it to dismiss it all with an evangelical cliché… I find the seven dimensions of religion by Ninian Smart very interesting. (thanks to Matt Stone @glocal christianity)

Ninian Smart suggested that, whatever else a religion may be, it usually contains certain recognizable elements:

Ritual: Forms and orders of ceremonies (often regarded as revealed).

Narrative and Mythic: stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human’s place in it.

Experiential and emotional: dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss.

Social and Institutional: belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often rules for identifying community membership and participation.

Ethical and legal: Rules about human behaviour (often regarded as revealed).

Doctrinal and philosophical: systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form.

Material: ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural.

I think most of these are in one form or another present in almost every form of Christianity, (yes, the sacraments of bread and wine and baptism are clearly rituals!) except maybe the material aspect in protestantism. There might be discussion about this… And I do know there could be much more definitions of religion. But just re-defining religion so you can denounce it, like the evangelical tradition seems to do, is a bit weird. But they’re in good company. Bonhoeffer already did it. And people like Greg Boyd (a thinker I generally like and respect, like I do with Bonhoeffer) are doing the same.

But I would say let’s quit it please. It creates a sense of superiority in some christians who feel high above those poor ‘religious folks’. And it complicated conversation with a lot of people who just see religion as a word for believing in God or gods. Or have academic definitions like Ninian Smart.

Oh, and if we’re biblical christians, maybe we should look to the bible, where the book of James defines for us what good religion is supposed to be:

James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Or is that a liberal social gospel and being saved by works? Nah, it’s the bible!

Shalom

Bram

(stay tuned for pt II about the gospel like it’s presented in the video!)

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!!!

do we need a hell in order to forgive our enemies????


Reading up on the universalism controversy I was kinda shoqued by a blog post by a bloke called Kevin DeYoung, of whom I don’t know anything, but it seems that he’s a rather vocal (neo)calvinist. I have no idea if he’s known or not, and frankly I don’t care at all, the inner kitchen of this kind of aggressive calvinism is as far from my spiritual bed as are the pope and the magisterium…

Now the guy, in a response to Rob Bells alleged ‘universalism’, quotes 8 reasons why we need hell and eternal punishment (or more precisely Gods wrath), which he seems to quote straight out of some book he has written. I don’t think I completely agree with one of those, but I was kinda repulsed by and utterly disagreed with the second one:

we need God’s wrath in order to forgive our enemies. The reason we can forgo repaying evil for evil is because we trust the Lord’s promise to repay the wicked. Paul’s logic is sound. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). The only way to look past our deepest hurts and betrayals is to rest assured that every sin against us has been paid for on the cross and or will be punished in hell. We don’t have to seek vigilante justice, because God will be our just judge.

Maybe I’m outing myself as an anabaptist now, but I find this reasoning to go against the message of Jesus himself, since this goes against the commandment of enemy-love, and against Jesus’ last prayer ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’, which was echoed in the last words of the early church’s first martyr stephen ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge’. I think those two examples of enemy-love show us that we need Love in order to forgive our enemies. We are to want forgiveness for our torturers at our moment of dying. I suppose that such a thing requires the help of the Holy Spirit, but the whole thing is that we need to have the mind of Christ!

(and I think the Rom 12 passage is exactly about that btw. )

I don’t agree at all that the fear of hell as motivation will ever lead to loving God more. It might scare people into some kind of conversion, but I’m not convinced it will be able to make people love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. We should have a positive gospel, not a negative one: Jesus is Lord, death, sin and evil are conquered, and He’ll make all things new. A gospel that says that we are saved from God by Jesus, as some versions of penal-substitution-only does not at all sound like a loving God to me.

The bible says God is love, not God is wrath, and love is more important than faith and hope says Paul, so his wrath will be in function of His love. Surely, if God loves us he will have a lot of whitehot wrath; He will be pretty mad at the things that are going on in this world, and causing destruction in our lives and all of his loved creation. If He’s to make all things new a lot of things are to be erased, in my life, and in the whole of the world. But the good news is that Jesus is doing that, and that in the end the whole of creation will be renewed. At the final judgment all evil will be erased. And probably some creatures will keep on hating God and not be able to live in this renewed world, or even cease to exist if all evil is erased from them. If God will allow them to exist outside of His love or if they will annihilate in His presence I do not know. I do know he wants none to be lost.

So we need some concept of hell, unless we do away with human free will and say that in the end everybody will bow and accept Jesus as Lord. But I’m not calvinist enough to be such a Christian universalist, sorry… And if we ‘accept Jesus’ out of fear and not out of love, we might still be in problem if we have to spend an eternity with God in all His glory… I don’t think we win anything with converts who are more interesting in escaping hell than in following Christ and being reconciled to their savior. What you with then with is what you win them to…

shalom

Bram

just in from a spammer


You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

from someone with the word ‘porn’ in the website, on my ‘about me’ page…

it’s a strange day…

 

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

a tip for heresy hunters: The american conservative religion


Wow

The world is scary these days. For some reason we are bombing the moon (they call it science) and on the same day unexpectedly Obama get the nobel peace price. But that’s not what I mean

Some really freaky things are happening in American ‘christian’ circles. So while all heresy-hunters are for some reason busy looking at the emerging church (because they are so immersed in modernist worldviews that they cannot understand postmodernism) , something realy weird is emerging calling itself conservative christianity. Something that’s weird synchretism at best and pure heretic idolatry at worst.

Take for example this picture, which just scares the hell out of me. But Greg Boyd can explain better than me what is wrong with it. I just wonder where the native americans are, and why everybody is white (including Jesus, whose skin as a middle-eastern guy should have been a lot darker than this all-american pretty guy…) And why claim founding fathers who were all for the separation of state and church, who were deists or non-believers?

And oh, get over your stupid constitution. it’s NOT  inerrant word of God. And America isn’t the center of the world.  The world isn’t even flat, it is round you know…And the US of A isn’t  the most important culmination point in the history of mankind either.

And who can explain me why Obama shouldn’t be taken serious as a president, but when anyone opposed Bush every shouted Romans 13? Can you be consistent please? If Bush was appointed by God and no-one should have criticised him, then please honor Obama all the same.

Oh, and speaking of not just intellectual honesty and dumb amerericacentrism, but even of plain rewriting of the bible: the conservapedia conservative bible project wants to rewrite the bible and rid it of ‘liberal bias’. Liberal being everything they don’t like, including the story of Jesus and the adulteress, and Jesus’ prayer on the cross ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

My advice to all heresy hunters: broaden your scope. In the conservative corner some weird idolatry is emerging that is really worth examiining. They re-write the bible, they ignore history and claim historic figures who would be totally opposed to them, and they make Jesus into a tribal idol of some American godly super-empire.  They ignore the words of Jesus and worship America and capitalism… And it’s an insult to all genuine conservative believers. God have mercy!

Isn’t this troubling?
Isn’t this scary?
Or am I a weird european that is excluded of having common sense since I’m not American and part of your blessed evil empire???

Father forgive them,
for they know not what they do

shalom

Bram