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10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…


Foto0067Before we close the year with some lists of the most-read stuff of 2014 and an evaluation of my project of demodernisation (and de-Americanisation, see also here) I will post this one last long and maybe to some controversial blogpost. This time we’ll talk about certain basic Christian ideas or at least ancient minority positions within Christianity that are sometimes regarded as new and ‘progressive’ ideas and thus tied to a new and ‘progressive’ form of Christianity which is incompatible with either the old-fashioned nonsense of the past or the true ‘conservative’ Christianity, depending on which side of the false dilemma one finds themselves. Which is very problematic actually…

I’ve seen the combination of the words ‘progressive Christianity’ gain more and more influence over the last years on the English-speaking internet. The term itself is like other words including ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ a term that I find utterly unhelpful and quite ambiguous .  I’ve also seen a lot of very different and sometimes quite contradictory interpretations of what ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be, some of which were interesting to me, and others which weren’t at all… It seems that the expression became more popular (at least in the blogosphere) when the ‘emergent’ brand lost its prominence, and that it also took over some of the content of that label, especially in the form of its ‘updated protestant theological liberalism’ (which frankly doesn’t interest me at all as a moderate anti-modernist).

(The main reason that I’ll never use the word ‘progressive’ to describe myself is that I completely reject the modernist myth of ‘progress’, which seems to be the root of the whole idea of contemporary progressiveness. But that’s another story that would only derail this post)

All of this does not mean that ‘progressive Christians’ don’t  have a lot of interesting things to say. A lot of the stuff that progressive Christians believe in and want us to talk about (but not all!) is very important to me too, or at least stuff I agree with… The problem here mostly the false dilemma that some see that I’ve mentioned already: the mistaken idea that ‘progressive Christianity’ (or ‘emergentism’, or liberal protestantism, or…)  is a new and better and modern thing (or postmodern or contemporary or whatever word  is used to describe both their chronological snobbery and modern-Western cultural imperialism/neo-colonialism) , something completely distinct from what came before disconnected from it, and better than anything before it anyway.

While the opposite is true: most of the prophetic things that ‘progressives’ have to teach us are quite old, and they are important truths that have a long history within Christianity. Some as a minority-view, some as the majority-view in other times or other Christian traditions. Some normative outside of modernism even…

Let’s also talk here  the confusion of terms with some of the other words besides ‘progressive’ before we start. I’ve written before about the term ‘conservative’, which only means an impulse to conserve a certain tradition. For example the American use of the word ‘conservative’ has nothing to do with ‘conservative Christianity’ as some kind of ancient basic orthodoxy, but with some fairly recent (last 200 years mostly) forms of protestantism tied to the political old-school liberalism of the founding fathers and the American constitution (which has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy at all!)

Fundamentalism as a Christian movement has not much to do with a basic Christian orthodoxy either. It’s more an early 20th century reactionary antithesis to liberalism, emphasizing not at all the core of historical Christianity but some areas in which they disagreed with liberal theology of that time, which gave a very unbalanced view of what the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity were that did not follow basic Christian orthodoxy at all. So while fundamentalism might be a photo-negative of classical liberal theology, it still is thoroughly modern in a lot of ways.  (see also this post for my problem with the bad photo-negative copy of it in American anti-fundamentalism, which is itself tied completely to what it tries to escape from)

So let’s list some of the ideas that are rejected by some or all American conservatives and fundamentalists, while embraced by progressives and thus seen as ‘progressive’ (or ‘liberal’)  by a lot of people. Those ideas are not new nor progressive nonetheless but have been part of the rich and diverse history of Christianity from the early days and can be traced back to the bible itself.   Most of them can be solidly defended from a basic orthodox reading of the bible.

(Note also that some of the things that are very important to the current ‘progressives’ are absent from this list because they just don’t fit in the list. Some are new for the modern age or just repackaged old heresies or non-Christian philosophies adopted by liberal Christianity. Rejecting the supernatural -spirits, angels, the afterlife- for example is not a new idea that people  could only come up with after evolving to a new step and entering the modern age. The Sadducees, who were more conservative than the Pharisees, already taught this and Jesus and the NT writers could have easily followed them, but they rejected it in favour of the views of the Pharisees…
But my exclusion of certain progressive ideas from this list doesn’t have to mean that I either agree nor disagree with any of them, just that I did not include them. I probably have forgotten a lot of stuff that could fit in this list….)

1. pacifism and Christian non-violence
I always assumed that pacifism or at least a tendency to non-violence were part of basic Christianity from my reading of the gospels, and especially the sermon on the mount. (I say this as a pentecostal kid living in a post-Catholic Belgian culture btw.) I know that some see it as an ideal that doesn’t always work, but even then, with enemy-love as one of Jesus commandments I could not conceive of Christians who would completely dismiss the idea in favour of militarism.
Great was my shock when I explored the internet as a young twenty-something and discovered Christians (mainly from the US) who completely dismissed the idea of Christian non-violence as dangerous and naive and placed it under the category of ‘liberal nonsense’. Such a view is completely a-historical and completely ignorant of the words of Jesus himself.
Christian non-violence does have a long history. It was prominent in pre-Constantinian times and while it wasn’t the majority position in later times (Even with ‘just war’ doctrine most wars would be seen as illegitimate btw… You can’t defend any of the American wars of the last half century with just war theory for example!) it has popped up regularly in the history of Christianity among groups or people who wanted to take Christ seriously. We see it appear already with the first Christians -who rather died that killed for their faith- over St. Francis of assisi -who went to meet the Sultan unarmed to talk about Christ in the middle of a crusade- and the line goes all the way to the Quakers and Anabaptists, and the modern Christian peacekeeper teams.  Christian non-violence is a deeply biblical idea that has been held in different degrees by a lot of people who took the New Testament and the words of Christ very seriously!

2. Anticapitalism
Recently the pope said some things about capitalism that were not received well by some American evangelicals. But contrary to what some people thought he did not say anything new and did only reword catholic doctrine that was already popetrickleaffirmed by the popes before him. What he said was quite logical for most non-American Catholics and other Christians also. I’ve never understood why capitalism is such a holy cow to certain (mainly American) Christians. It is a very modernist economic idea that has not much to do with classical Christianity but is tied to historical liberalism, and it can devolve very easily into economical and social jungle-law Darwinism, which is the opposite of anything a Christian could ever defend. So while it cannot be linked to the bible being a modern invention, it also goes counter to some Biblical and historically Christian ideas. Look at this list of quotes from the church fathers for example.
I once wanted to write a series about Christianity and capitalism but never got further than this first post  I also have written a post called Abundance is the enemy of capitalism. starting from the biblical idea of abundance as a part of shalom, which is opposed to the capitalist basic principle of scarcity…

I can also add that there is nothing new or ‘liberal’ about vaguely ‘socialist’ ideas and ways of living. The church of Acts was quite ‘communist’, as well as most monastic orders.
And let’s not forget that the only false god that is called by name in the gospels is Mammon, of with Jesus says that he cannot be served together with God…

3. ‘Green’ lifestyles and ecological awareness
If God is Creator (which all Christians including all evolutionary Creationists affirm – as far as I know) , and we are to love God above all, some respect for His creation seems to be very logical to me. Taking care of creation is also a commandment in genesis (unless you see ‘ruling’ as a very oppressive dictatorship, but I would say that we aren’t to do anything to nature we wouldn’t want rulers to do with us…) It always was logical to me that Christians should have a lot of respect for nature as the work of Gods hands, although it might be that this impulse was fed more by my (almost post-)catholic teachers in school than in my pentecostal upbringing.

Premodern people did live a lot closer to nature. Jesus spent a lot of time in nature praying and meditating throughout the gospels. Our modern disconnect with nature is far removed from the world of the bible, but respect for nature as Christians is a tradition that goes back at least to (again) Francis of Assisi, and probably the Celtic Church.
There is no good reason for us to condone destruction of Gods creation in favour of our idols like ‘the economy’ or ‘progress’. None of these does have to have any of our allegiance as followers of Christ…

I could also refer to Pope Francis here, who is rumoured to write an ecological encyclical in 2015  and repeat that there’s nothing progressive at all about conserving nature. If there’s anything at all that deserves to be called ‘conservative’ if that word has any meaning at all, it’s conserving the creation in which God has put us…,
(The same is true for most of the other ‘progressive’ views of Pope Francis. They are -like most things in this list- not new at all and actually quite ‘conservative’ in that they have a long biblical and traditional history)

4. Not taking the first chapters of genesis as literal history
And then for something completely different: I can’t be the only one who has noticed that the debate about a literal reading of genesis does mainly live in fundamentalist and evangelical circles, while it is more of a non-issue in most other classical orthodox denominations, including the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. Which already should say something about how ‘progressive’ the idea of a  non-literal reading of the first chapters of the bible actually is I guess.
There have been a lot of readings of the Creation story throughout church history, some of which were literal while others were completely allegorical. Augustine for example, while writing about ‘the literal interpretation of genesis’ assumes that the seven days where metaphor and that the whole cosmos was created at the same moment…

Even Charles Darwin himself did not think that his ideas of evolution were incompatible with his Christian faith. He did lose it over the cruelness of  nature though.

5. Rejecting the idea of hell as eternal conscious torment for all non-Christians
Another debate that is as old as the history of the Church is the fate of those not in Christ. While universalism has always been a minority position, belief in hell of some sorts seems to be a majority position, the details vary a lot throughout church history. Some of the church fathers seem to tend to very generous inclusivism or even in the direction of hopeful universalism, with some like Origen even arriving at full universalism. (Which means that Christ in his death and resurrection was able to save all from hell, not at all that all religions are the same or so…)
Another part of the discussion is the nature of hell. C.S. Lewis seems (in line with more orthodox church fathers) to see hell as being cut of from God, the Source of all life. Other orthodox thinkers see hell as the same place as heaven, where the undiluted presence of God is unbearable to those who hate Him.

Another alternative idea about the fate of the wicked is Annihilationism (the wicked are just annihilated and cease to exist after the judgement), and old and in origin Jewish idea that has been made popular in more recent times by the seventh-day adventists (also followed by the Jehovah witnesses by the way) for mainly biblical reasons.

6. Rejection of an exclusively ‘penal substitution’ view of the atonement in Christ
And another important discussion, but here the evangelical default itself is historically a more recent minority position: penal substitution atonement as we know it (Jesus saved us by taking Gods wrath upon Himself on the cross) is only as old as protestantism. For the other 1500 years and in other traditions very different ideas existed about how Jesus saved us by his life, death and resurrection. We even see this in the famous Narnia story, where Lewis follows a classical ransom-version of Christus Victor atonement: the sinner (Edmund) is freed from slavery to death and sin (the witch) because Jesus (Aslan) took his place and defeated death and sin in the resurrection… Note that this still IS substitutionary atonement, but not at all penal substitution. (If I understand correctly the idea of penal substitution as some protestants teach it is regarded as abhorrent and even heresy by a lot of Eastern Orthodox thinkers)

I am of the opinion myself that no theory of atonement will ever explain everything that happened so we need a lot of them together to have a more complete picture. Some popular versions of penal substitution, especially when elevated to the level of ‘gospel’ do sound very troubling to me though…

7. Egalitarianism in marriage and women preachers
As a Charismatic I became convinced of egalitarianism between the sexes for biblical reasons. I don’t see how a couple can be ‘one flesh’ as genesis says and still have one who always have to lead and another who always has to follow. I also am convinced by the bible more than by Christian tradition  of the importance of women in every role in the church., Jesus is quite ‘feminist’ (anti-sexist might be a better word) himself compared to his culture, like in the story of Martha and Mary for example, and the early church had a lot of women in a lot of positions, up to the female apostle Junia and the businesswoman Lydia who had a house church in her house.

It’s nonsense to put this kind of egalitarianism away as ‘liberal’ or claim it as solely ‘progressive’. I’ve seen women preachers in African pentecostal churches, and you can say a lot about those, but ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ did in no way apply to them. I’ve never had any interest in the liberal ‘we moderns know better than those dumb bronze-age desert people’ reasoning, and it still doesn’t convince me at all.
I do believe in the need of equality and mutual submission in marriage though for biblical reasons and from experience. I’ve met a lot of women who were used by the Holy Spirit through preaching, and denying that would feel quite a lot like blasphemy against the Holy spirit. God does use women in a lot of roles, and calls individuals for very different things, regardless of their sex.

(Let’s also repeat here that I don’t believe that any idea about ‘biblical manhood’ that does not fit with the fruits of the Spirit as described by Paul has any legitimacy at all. None of that stuff is biblical, it’s just unhealthy cultural stereotypes that are made legitimate by abusing bible verses.)

8. Rejection of the idea of the ‘rapture’ (and of dispensationalism as a whole)
Let’s be short here: the idea of ‘the rapture’ isn’t even 200 years old, so it’s from the same time as a lot of liberal theology. Traditionally most Christians have been amillenialist but there are more interpretations of biblical eschatology that make more sense than the dispensationalist one.
Nothing progressive about rejecting the rapture or dispensationalism, it’s just what every Christian before the 1800’s and most non-evangelicals since then did, whatever their eschatology was…
Some forms of dispensationalism do seem to border on heresy for completely different reasons too though.

9. ‘Mysticism’
Mysticism is a hot word in certain circles, and one that has a lot of different interpretations. The most basic meaning is to experience the presence of God yourself as a believer. It’s nothing new though, there runs a deep mystic tradition through both Eastern and Western Christianity which was already very important in the first centuries of Christianity with the desert fathers and mothers.
What does seem to be new and endemic to certain corners of contemporary progressive Christianity is that mysticism does in some way exclude the idea of supernatural beings. This is completely contrary to a lot of older Christian mystics who did encounter angels, demons and other ‘supernatural entities’ as if it were the most normal thing one could do…

10. Not framing the trustworthiness of the bible as ‘inerrancy’
The bible is very important for Christians for a lot of reasons, and it is one of the means through which we can encounter God. The bible is a library of books that are seen as inspired by God by Christians (‘God-breathed’ according to Paul in a very well-known verse) but the fundamentalist notion of ‘innerancy’ of the literal text of the bible goes further than how Christianity classically saw the bible. It did not by accident come into being around the same time  as the Catholics invented papal infallibility, a time when modernism eroded any faith in trustworthiness of the bible, the Christian tradition or Christian authorities.

This went further than the trustworthiness that premodern Christians ascribed to the bible, and gave rise to the modern ‘new atheist’ reading of the bible which is as far removed from the message of the bible as the fundamentalist one. (They are closely related anyway as purely modernist traditions)

So while I do affirm the trustworthiness of the bible (something that isn’t in the historical creeds btw!) I don’t think we should go looking for scientific or other details that are just not there. And we should not fear contradictions or paradoxes. God can speak truth through things that are not 100% historical as well. We have differences in the 4 gospels, and different theological agendas, even the church fathers knew that, but it wasn’t a problem until modern times (and it still if for the Orthodox and most Catholics…) so maybe we want the bible to be something that it isn’t meant to be.

In the end, the Word that became flesh is Jesus Christ, and the bible is here to point at Him, not at itself… It isn’t a paper pope and if it becomes an idol that distracts from God it’s really sad, not?  We should always seek God and Jesus in the bible, otherwise studying it won’t be of any worth, as Jesus says to the Pharisees somewhere…

So we come to the end of my list of things that are  not at all new to Christianity and can’t be claimed to be exclusively tied to ‘progressive Christianity’, whatever that even may be. Note again that the list is by no means exhaustive, and that I probably overlooked very important ones…

(I didn’t include much that goes against the republican ‘Americanist synchretism’ that some  American conservatives seem to believe in, with America as some holy entity that is more special for God than other countries or cultures. For non-Americans like me such things are too irrelevant and illogical to even address… Neither did I address double predestination for example, which is seen as heresy by the Eastern Orthodox and rejected by most non-protestants…)

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

biblical manhood or the fruits of the Spirit?


There’s a certain kind of rhetoric in some corners of contemporary Christianity (mostly in the US I think) about how the church is effeminate and men need to save the church by taking the lead again and being more manly and violent and dangerous and all that jazz…

The story, which has been sold in many books and preached by good solid manly preachers, goes a bit like this: Men are created to be men and should therefore be,-unlike women who want safety and security-, wild and dangerous and violent and take risks and wrestle and strangle adult dragons with their bare hands and other everyday stuff like that… And it also seems like the biggest enemy here is men becoming like women. And oh, sometimes it’s also very important that God is a man. (Really?)

If you don’t know what I’m speaking about, just ignore me and consider yourself lucky… You’re not missing anything and reading me getting defensive about something that isn’t a problem in your world might be counterproductive, so you better read something else then. I recommend this NT Wright interview done by Frank Viola for example, or this transcript of an interview with a man who learnt a lot from Mother Theresa

I’m an alien?
So what’s the problem? The problem for me is when people tell me what a man is, and they paint a picture that excludes me. Like those books about Mars and Venus, where I felt like I was from Jupiter, or maybe Nibiru. But it’s even more irritating when it’s Christians who use the bible, through the lens of their own culture and with a lot of conclusions that I’d never find in the verses they quote, to say that a man is created to be something that might be some (sub)cultural idea of manhood, but that will never be remotely me.

I’m sorry, I might be a straight white married male, I don’t care about fancy cars, or about machines that make noise, I don’t care about competitive sports, I don’t even care about porn, or things all men should struggle with (I have other struggles though) and I think killing things or people is just a sign of evil, not of manhood. I like beer, but not to get drunk, and we just have good tasty beers brewed by monks in Belgium… I like wine and self-made elderflower lemonade too anyway, or gunpowder tea… Playing brave-heart (like a famous evangelical writer wrote about in a book about manliness that I won’t name but which I’ve written about earlier) doesn’t look manly to me, just childish and immature….

I’m sorry, I’m 100% man, and I suppose the puppy-smashing, binge-drinking, porn-watching machos are men too, just as the book reading, coffee-slurping intellectuals… There are different kinds of people, different kinds of personalities, who all have their strong and weak sides, and their struggles and gifts. But to elevate one certain type of man above the others (mostly by people who either are or otherwise want to be that kind of man) is not constructive. And in this case it can be quite misandric in a bullying kind of way, excluding all who don’t reach your holy standard of manliness. And if this kind of thing happens with bible-verses to back it up harm may be done to the body of Christ. (Others have said enough about how the roles that are pushed unto women, or even the word effeminate itself are quite misogynist, so I won’t go into that now)

I don’t care if you are a man and like to lead, but don’t make it a rule. I don’t care if your wife likes you to lead, fine, but not every woman is like that. Me and my wife both are mutualist/democratic people, who get irritated by both having to serve as a slave or to lead alone… Hierarchy is impossible in our marriage. And I’m not a person who likes to be leading everything, the responsibility gets heavy when I contemplate it, and I like to share it with other people…  I hate to be counted on to be ‘in control’ in most situations and I want to be together with people when things are hard… All people are different, but there are other lines to be drawn than between men and women…

not just men, but people are alienated
But, some say, the church is effeminate, and we need to man up. We need to be dangerous and violent and whatever otherwise we are not like God created man, look at **insert person from the bible killing bears or insulting kings or doing whatever kind of crazy things** Look, I don’t care what kind of examples you find in the bible. If they inspire you and you want to be like them. Fine, except when they lead you astray from the teachings of Christ and the fruits of the Spirit (we’ll get to that later) but there are also examples of men who liked to stay at home with their mother in the kitchen, like Jacob… And there are strong women, like Deborah who lead whole nations. Gender does not say much, in both genders there are a lot of different people, and 2 men can be more different in character than a man and a woman sometimes. (I’m much more like my wife in character than I am like people like Mark Driscoll… It’s just a difference, not a judgement of value…)

The rhetoric would say that we men have been tamed, and need to be wild again and take risks and stop being safe and blah blah blah. Now, I completely agree that we are alienated of our nature in this modern safe society in which we are like canaries in a golden cage. We are trapped in jobs that make no sense at all to make sure we can provide for our families. We have to follow a lot of petty rules and conform to a lot of nonsense.

But there’s no need at all to make this a gendered thing. All human beings in our current societies are alienated and cut off from their roots, and robbed of their connection with their selves, with nature, and with people in a community. And playing brave-heart, of having fantasies about being a biblical man who kills a lot of philistines, insults a dangerous king or slays wild animals with his bare hands is not at all helpful. Nor is it manly… It’s more immature, and the whole ‘be a biblical caveman’ approach is just an adventure in missing the point, a distraction. We see that there is a problem, but we come with a solution that isn’t relevant at all. Being more violent, making more noise, and watching fight club with a cheap beer will not bring you closer to God, nor will it make you more man…

The problem runs deeper, and is connected to the core problem of humanity, which is not at all gendered, even though different personalities (and men and women often have different personalities) might experience it differently. We are separated from God, from ourselves, from each other. And modern society has even alienated us even more from creation, which is part of the problem. We are all tamed by our own systems, which are in the end leading to suicide (as Jacques Ellul writes somewhere) and out of which we are called to live a new life, a new story… This is what the gospel is all about, and the gospel should not be watered-down with self-help ‘be a good American male’ therapy’!

Jesus said ‘follow me’, and gave us an example. He, who was God incarnate, followed the path of love until its final consequence at the cross, where the powers of the world killed Him. But those powers could not hold Him, and He defeated death, sin, bondage, evil and Satan in the resurrection! And we can share in that new life, the Way, which shatters the suicidal powers of the world, which brings life and renewal, and is a foreshadowing of the New earth and Heaven, when all evil will be erased, and we will be exactly what we were created to be, in everlasting union with the tri-une God and each other without any trace of darkness… This is what we men and women who feel caged are yearning for. And trying to fill that void with playing William Wallace the killer is just irrelevant as best, and harmful to the gospel at worst…

the spirit of the flesh…
I once almost threw a book across the room (if it would’ve been mine I would’ve really done it!) by the guy whom I already paraphrased who seemed to thing William Wallace from the brave-heart movie the best example of biblical manhood. The reason was that (after writing a lot of stuff about ‘biblical’ manhood according to him, which to me looked liked baptised American machismo and which quite bored me) he made a condescending remark about men who had learned to be nice and take mother Theresa as an example. And then it was enough… You can do what you want, but some things are going to far, like being so ignorant about Mother Theresa….

I don’t see why men, and women could not learn a lot from Mommy T (like Shane Claiborne calls her) She is one of the best examples there is of an untamed soul. She was an example of a person changed by the Way of Christ, and someone who exhibits the fruits of the Spirit. No, she wasn’t noisy, and not even drawing attention to herself, but that’s the whole point… Giving up yourself in love for others is more manly in the Kingdom than all warriors with shiny swords of all the videogames and movies together…

Let’s go to Galations 5, where the fruits of the Spirit are summed up:

5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 5:23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.

This is the character of a Christian, and living in these characteristics as the Spirit enables them to grow in us will make us do things that go against the grain, things that are wild and untamed. But in a very different way than the ‘men are violent’ proponent preach. Violence and being rude and cultivating our ego aren’t fruits of the Spirit, but fruits of the flesh, and thinking that they’ll solve anything in our problems as Christians is misguided. As misguided as some other stereotypes that are pushed upon women too… If we live in the Spirit, the fruits will grow, and where the Spirit is, there is freedom, or liberation as Kurt just tweeted might be a better translation. Freedom from worldly expectations, cultural standards of manhood and womanhood, and liberation from the suicidal tendencies of the World and the Flesh…

Let’s not push ourselves and each other under a new slave-yoke

Let’s change our ways, for the Kingdom is here.

Let’s follow the Way, the Truth and the Light, into Life eternal,

Let’s shine a light so people might see who God is

let’s bring liberation in this dark world,

and let’s shine light where darkness reigns

Veni, Spiritus!

shalom

Bram

When death dies, all things live


The new gungor record is really good. If you read dutch, I have written a review here for cultuurshock.net. Not only the music, but also the lyrics and the stories behind them are impressive…

And last but not least, Michael Gungor is one of those musicians who can make a brilliant album, and yet play even better live versions. This version of ‘when death dies is just beyond incredible…

[Yes, that black guy is playing cello solo’s and beatboxing at the same time…!]

When death dies (Gungor)

Like the waters flooding the desert
Like the sunrise showing all things
Where it comes flowers grow
Lions sleep, gravestones roll
Where death dies all things live

Where it comes poor men feast
Kings fall down to their knees
When death dies all things live
All things live

Like a woman searching and finding love
Like an ocean buried and bursting forth
Where it comes flowers grow
Lions sleep, gravestones roll
Where death dies all things come alive

Where it comes water’s clean
Children fed
All believe
When death dies all things live
All things live

Beautiful, isn’t it, the idea of the final defeat of death? Why aren’t we more excited about this idea as evangelicals? Especially when even Harry Potter is…

But to get back to the point of this post: Yes, Christian music with roots in the worship scene can be artistic, and lyrically and theologically challenging!

shalom

Bram

the death of Jesus is our death


When doing some reading on the incarnation, I came to this quote by Athanasius, one of the church fathers from the time of the Nicene creed, regarded by some as one of the most important thinkers of the early church:

The Saviour came to accomplish not His own death, but the death of men; whence He did not lay aside His body by a death of His own — for He was Life and had none — but received that death which came from men, in order perfectly to do away with this when it met Him in His own body.

St. Athanasius, on the incarnation of the Word

I never thought of it this way, but it fist perfectly with my intuitive view on atonement and the cross, in which Jesus took on Himself not like some would say the punishment of sin, but sin itself, and death, and evil. The powers of evil overtook Him but could not hold Him down, the darkness wasn’t able to extinguish the Light itself, death was not able to take Him, since He was Life itself!

So He who was Life took our death, and did away with it…
He who was Light took our darkness, and did away with it…
He who was without any sin, took our sin…
He who was Love, took our hate…
All powers of evil overpowerd Him, who was Goodness Himself. And it could not do a thing against Him!

Jesus conquered all the powers!

The mystery of Christus Victor is bigger than we could understand, or than my words could ever describe… And there’s much more to say about this quote than this incoherent rant…

shalom

Bram

Does the gospel require the doctrine of ‘the fall’?


And we’re back after a blogging hiatus with more thoughts that might disturb some people.

I was participating in a discussion about evolutionary creationism on the blog of Rachel Held Evans, (look out for the actual article when it’s ready, it will probably very interesting)  and one of the subjects that always comes up in such discussions is that of the fall. The line of reasoning is that without the litteral story of Adam, Eve and the apple there would be no gospel at all, but I’m affraid that I don’t get the problem here…

Let me sayfirst that I myself have no problem at all with 6-day creation, nor do I have any problem with the idea of evolutionary creation. I do think that the scientific evidence points towards the latter, but by no means does that mean that one of those options is right and the other wrong. Au contraire, I don’t believe that modern science is capable of telling us how the world was created at all, since the visible world comes from the invisible. Investigating the traces left in the material world will never give us a complete view, but if the traces lead us to an old earth and universe, and biological evolution, it’s okay to me. But it will never be the whole story, and the whole story is outside the scope of science, and bigger than we can comprehend…

So I’m inclined to see the first chapters of genesis as a symbolic story to tell us in a poetic way about something that cannot be said in straight and exact ways and modern scientific discours. I would say the same about the story of the fall. The whole forbidden fruit story kinda seems symbolic, but still it says something real: man has at some point rebelled against God, and now we live in the reality described.

That ‘fallen’ reality is clear to everyone: this world in in the hands of the powers of sin, death and distruction. We see it everywhere if we open our eyes, and experience it every day. The power of sin is working inside of us, and also from the outside against us. This is so clear that I don’t believe anyone can deny this. So I’m always surprised that people need to use genesis to explain why we need salvation, just point to anywhere and you’ll see why…

Now we could have a discussion about Augustinian original sin, or ancestral sin. The first says that the sin of Adam is in some way transferred to all his descendants, the second one says that Adam had in his sin polluted the world, which brings all people born into this world under the influence and power of sin. I tend to the second, which makes me probably a bad protestant, but I don’t even see a problem for Augustinian Christianity without the story of the apple being litteral history, let alone non-Augustinian theology which does not place such an emphasis on the idea of ‘the fall’. Wheter or not we know what happened, we see the state the world is in and it’s not a good one, and Jesus came to solve that, and did solve it. Do we really believe that?? Or do we think Jesus came to solve some abstract ideas and man-made theological problems?

Jesus did defeat death, evil, sin and Satan in his death and resurrection, so the problem solved is bigger than the one the apple story explains anyway!

Wait here!

Did I just say that the problem solved is bigger than the story of the apple and the fall?

Yes I did. The hope we have as Christians is the New Heavens and the New Earth, in which all evil will be eliminated. So no more sin, no more death, etc… The whole problem of evil being undone by the work of Jesus; like I said earlier. That is the whole story of Christian salvation. The source of evil here is in a way irrelevant, if we look to explain it in a historical analytical way like we Westerners like to do it; but what we can say is that it defenitely lies outside of God. The whole story of redemprion, culminating in the incarnation, life, teaching, example, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus is about God doing something against evil, and in the end eradicating it.

So evil is NOT from God, but what God is fighting against. And this evil has something to do not only with the fall of men, and the whole apple story, but with evil powers of which the origin isn’t explained in genesis either (the ‘snake’ is just called a snake, not even identified with satan except by the writer of revelation, and why he is evil is explained nowhere)

There’s more going on about evil than the fall of man anyway, and we don’t know that much about it… There are speculations about the fall of Satan, but we don’t have anything really clear about it in the bible.

So what are my shocking conclusions? The first one is that we don’t need a litteral story about the fall of man to see that this world is burdened by sin and evil and in need of the salvation Jesus brought, but we just have to open our eyes, and the second one is that the problem solved by the salvation Jesus brings is a lot bigger than what the apple story explains… The apple story might explain how those forces of evil infiltrated mankind, but not where they came from.

Any additional ideas anyone?

Shalom

Bram

hiding the Resurrection life like a candle under a bucket?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To quote Bono:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Then why am I just wasting most my time?

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

shalom

Bram

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

Harry Potter & Hermione on St-Paul and the defeat of death


(Yes, this is indeed a post about Harry Potter and Hermione discussing a bible verse!)

***warning: there could be spoilers following here about the end of ‘Harry Potter and the deathly hallows’. ***

I’ve been thinking lately about one of the 2 bible verses used in Harry Potter and the deathly hallows. Both of them are used on gravestones in Godrics Hollow, Harry and Hermione are running for Voldemorts death eaters and looking for a clue in  the village where both his parents and the family of Dumbledore have lived.

Those well versed in the bible will recognise the words on the grave of Harry’s parents as those of St-Paul in I Corinthians 15:26.

(the other bible verse is from Jesus in Matthew 6:21: ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ on the grave of dumbledore’s family)

So let’s go to the Harry Potter scene:

Harry read the words slowly, as though he would have only one chance to take in their meaning, and he read the last of them out aloud.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” A horrible thought came to him, and with it a kind of panic.’Isn’ that a death eater idea? Why is that here?’
‘It doesn’t mean defeating death the way the death eaters mean it, Harry.’ said Hermione, het vioce gentle. ‘It means… you know, living beyond death, living after death.’ (HP&TDH, 268-269)

what’s so interesting here? The first thing Harry thinks of when reading these words is the philosophies of Voldemorts death eaters. It’s true thatVoldemort surely wants to destroy death. He uses all kinds of black magic, in which he himself even kills and destroys other people, to make sure that he’s not going to die, and it is clear that he does this because he is scared of death. (Something we see in our culture as well…) Trying to conquer death by all means possible, because we’re scared of it. Trying to master death, but it won’t work. It didn’t work with Voldemort and his black magic, and it doesn’t work at all with our science and technology either, whatever we try. Death is an inevitable part of life in this world, that we can not just ignore… Nor magic nor science and technology (two things closer to each other than we’d suspect, but that’s another subject) will help us to ‘destroy’ death in this way, and if they would, we’d be off much worse.

Hermione is more sensible. Why in the world would anyone write a slogan of dark wizzards on the grave of Harry’s parents anyway? ‘It’s about living beyong death, living after death.’ Now those are clearly 2 different things. Living after death is not only something that’s somewhere in the background assumed by Rowling in the Harry Potter books, but foremost something we as Christians do believe in. even though I’m not too sure about the ways some people talk about ‘heaven’, which are not at all compatible with the biblical idea of the resurrection of the death at the judgement and the new heaven and the new earth. But then we are talking about after this world, or at least after the renewal of this world.

But let’s go further with the first idea, and the r-word. Living beyond death, or resurrection. Even in the Harry Potter book we see such a thing, when Voldemort tries to kill Harry, which does not work, Harry does in some kind of way come back from the death he had accepted. The death he is willing to die to save his friends and the whole society of wizzards.

But here we see the paradox of Christus Victor. The grain of wheat has to die before the plant can grow and bear fruit. Jesus had to die, to give Himself up completely, to be able to resurrect in a new resurrection body and defeat the powers of evil. We even see this in all the Harry Potter books: Harry’s mothers sacrifice protects him against Voldemort. The one who wants to conquer death by killing even more, bringing even more death, the one who does not understand love, sacrifice and anything meaningful, which will be his end.

Our human ways of trying to not have to deal with death are in the end even more destructive. The way of Jesus is different: giving our lives, sacrificing ourselves, so death loses its power and we share in the life of the resurrection.

We are called to take up our own cross and follow Him. We are called to die to ourselves. The so-called prayer of St-Francis (which is most probably not from Francis of Assisi) says it like this:

For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

so what do you all think about death as the last enemy to be destroyed?

shalom

Bram