Tag Archives: evangelicalism

What can Christians learn from neo-pagans and ‘magickal’ traditions?


esoMatt Stone at curious Christian recently asked the question “Can Evangelicals Learn from Occult Traditions?” on his blog. It’s a questions that deserves way more comments and discussions than he did get. In it he did refer in his post to a book with a similar title called ‘Can evangelicals learn from world religions’ by Gerald R. McDermott that I haven’t read but that looks very interesting.

McDermott wrote a superb book entitled, “Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?” The text explored the ways theologians of the likes of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin had historically engaged with Pagan philosophers of the likes of Plato and Aristotle and asked what a similar exercise might look like today. In the process McDermott explored aspects of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Islam that Christians, evangelicals included, could profit from … even if only to rediscover forgotten aspects of their own tradition.

I do believe that every tradition, Christian or otherwise, is most likely to have things we can learn from, and things we should not learn at all. So I would definitely answer the question with ‘yes’, and for my own post (which is also part of the March 2015 Synchroblog – What I Appreciate About [Other Religions] I will broaden it a bit “What can evangelicals learn from neo-Pagans and ‘magickal’ traditions?’.

I’ve been having online conversations with neo-pagans, witches, other ‘occult’ folk and newagy types for a while now. A lot of my prejudices, weird stereotypes and outright lies that some Christians told me about them were shattered there, and I did meet a lot of wise and interesting people (as well as negative creeps and dangerous idiots, but Christians, atheists or Muslims do have those as well…), and I did learn a lot of things from them.

(Yes, I might have entered conversations and places that wouldn’t have been safe without Divine protection and the gift of spiritual discernment, but hanging out with other people, even Christians isn’t without risks either and might require the same amount of discernment and Divine protection actually…)

So what could we learn from Occultists, neo-pagans, wiccans and others who practice magick as a part of their religion?

1. Recover some of what we’ve lost in modernity
Modernity as we know it is a strange place for Christianity to find and contextualise itself, and getting too modernised can be quite dangerous for the Christian faith even. (Which is true both sides of modern Christianity, fundamentalism and liberal Christianity, although often in opposite ways)
A lot of modern Christians for example are quite handicapped when it comes to the ‘invisible world’ after what the enlightenment did to our culture. (See also Thoughts about the spiritual ecological naivete of modern Westerners for a more thorough exploration of that problem)
There is much more than meets the eye and can be dreamt of in our modernist philosophies, but even if we try to go there can can really struggle with finding ways to understand and conceptualise it from our modern paradigm in a way that makes sense…
Yes, we lost a lot in the age of disentchantment that protestantism and the Christian renaissance-humanism of Erasmus started and that has been influencing us for roughly 500 years now, creating a very non-supernatural world for us. (Which might ironically be the biggest magical trick ever , seeOur nonmagical modern world as the biggest magical trick ever…)
But Christianity is deeply connected with the supernatural world, and has a lot of claims that are quite useless in a purely naturalist/materialist paradigm. Which is not so strange; Christianity as we know it has pagan and Jewish roots, not enlightenment ones, and was born inside of a much more enchanted world than ours. And no matter how hard we try, we won’t make much sense of a lot of the gospel writings without an understanding of a world that is more than our modern materialist one.

Pentecostalism and Charismatic Christianity are probably one of the ways in which the Spirit sent us a correction of this disenchanted false worldview, but sometimes even those religions are through and through modern in a photonegative way. And here it can be interesting to connect with those who have retained their connection with the supernatural. (Yes, I know neo-Paganism and Wicca are mostly modern reconstructions, but we still can learn a lot from how they try to make sense of the Spiritual world in modernity sometimes.) I also think that the thoroughly postmodern chaos magick and its chaosunderstanding of paradigm shifting could have taught the emerging church a lot that it needed to not fall into the rigid and very dogmatic bounded-set neo-left-liberal trap that it ended up in… Which doesn’t make sense for a disappointed postmodern oecemenical evangelical as myself…
(See also: Some postmodern paradigm-shifting: from C.S. Lewis to chaos magic and back…)

2. See who the other really is without prejudices
In some Christian circles there are very scary views of ‘the occult’ that are worse than fiction, and that should be placed in the library net to stuff like the medieval maleus maleficarum. Some people even paint a view of non-Christians being just different groups of demon-influenced groups that all work together to hinder Christianity,  mostly in the form they regard as ‘the one true faith’, liberal Christians or even churches who have a slighly different view on god knows what bible verse might even be on the other side too with all of the other evil infidels… Which does not mean that there’s a lot of dark stuff going on among the magickal folk, but sometimes what Christians think occultism is is complete nonsense. (Take this Carman song as a good example)

We should never forget that as Christians we should care for the truth, and not spread lies about anyone, not even about Satanists. (most of which follow Anton Lavey and don’t believe in the entity Christians call Satan anyway) So it is always etremely inmportant to listen to people and let them self-identify instead of spreading wild stories and conspiracy theory. And even if we completely disagree with what someone believes we should not distort it if we describe it.

A lot of Christian descriptions of ‘occultism’ are not just slander but just outright ridiculous. Frank Peretti in his ‘darkness’ books for example lets new agers, devil-worshipping Satanists and atheists work together to oppose Christians (of a very conservative American variety). I’ve you’ve ever met people of any of those groups, the chance that they will work together and have common goals with the other 2 groups are not bigger than with fundamentalist Christianity. No atheist will like new-age or satanist superstition more than Christian superstition. A Satan-worshipper will not bother with secular atheism andd look down upon fluffy new-age BS. And no Newager in his right mind (hmmm) will get involved with either inverse-Christian Satanism or a worldview that excludes the supernatural…

Most of these people are not concerned with opposing Christianity, except where it hinders them in being who they are and doing what they want to do. If people are opposed they will try to stop that opposition. But non-Christians who agree with the Christian ideas about God and that want to oppose that God are quite rare. Most have totally different ideas about God/gods/the Divine/whatever… and are not interested in fighting with a misconception although they might fight the power of Christianity when in power, or criticise the things they see wrong in it (sometimes rightly). People generally do not want to attack a God they don’t believe in. Opposing God as Christians see Him is meaningless and out of the question for most non-Christians. There is no specific anti-God conspiracy!

So it can be very interesting to just talk with people like neo-Pagans, Wiccans, and others and let them explain what they believe and practice in their own words. FB groups like the Pagan and Christian moot or Watchtower are very interesting here for example.

It’s true there are a lot of people in and far beyond magickal traditions that are not very positive towards Christians. But that’s often because Christians have been very negative towards them. The least we can do as Christians is try to listen, try to understand who they are. They are all humans like us, and a  lot of them want to do a lot of good in their own way. And there’s really a lot of people in those communities who have been hurt and are still regularly hurt by Christians  who spread all kind of weird accusations about them. Nothing Christlike about that, we can do a lot better, guys!

3. Acknowledge the parallels and learn from them
This will probably be my most controversial point here. But yes, studying magick (even if it’s in theory in my own case) as a Christian can open our eyes to certain parallels between certain beliefs and practices within Christianity and paganism or magickal/occult traditions. (Let’s not forget here that most Western Occult traditions are derived from Christianity btw., except for paganism, Wicca,chaos magick and the like… )

Yes there are parallels between ‘energy healing’ and faith healing, and there is a lot more to say about ‘Divine energies’ (an Eastern Orthodox concept). Jesus seems to be doing forms of ‘magick’ in some of his miracles.  We can even see shamanic motifs in the gospels. (this bible study by ‘Captain Longpost’ on Marks gospel on the Pagan and Christian Moot forum is recommended for everyone.)

A lot of magick is done with the invocation/evocation of deities or other entities, and our Christians prayer can be seen as in the same category. We are oathed to Christ, the incarnation of the Creator of the Multiverse, and we do find our spiritual power and authority in Him.
This does not mean that other gods do not exist btw, we only do not regard them as gods to worship as Christians. My view about them is that they are more on angel/archangel level than the same species as the Supreme Being anyway…

But there also is a grey zone with human power that most people don’t believe in… A lot of magick is about projecting strong will (think also about ‘the secret’, ‘the law of attraction’ and even pop-chaos magick sigils) and recognising this can help us discern where Christians move outside of Christianity to revert to human magick. Without being focussed on God miracles are not something to be impressed by, and not something that needs to even be connected with Christianity at all. Just magick… And some ‘name it and claim it’ stuff very easily rolls into these kinds of magick, with a lot of miracles and rock’n roll going on…

…while Elvis has left the building already…

What we should never forget as Christians
We should not forget that as Christians, we are ‘oathed to Christ’. We are to root ourselves in God, the Ultimate Reality, Ground of Being, Creator of the universe through the incarnated and resurrected Christ, God-with-us, and through His Spirit in and around us. It is important to see this as a Reality, not just an article of faith to intellectually accept. Heaven and Earth are full of His Glory, as the ancient Hosannah-hymn says. In Him we live, in Him we move, in Him we have our being…

We live in a Spiritual world that is bigger than we can understand or grasp, and more Real than we can perceive with our senses. The material dimension is only one part of it (although not unimportant to us embodied beings, and apparently to God, who incarnated in one of us!).

One of the most-neglected but most-needed gfts of the Spirit might be the discernment of Spirits. I do think we should all ask the Holy Spirit for a bigger dose of that, and not only when we participate in interfaith dialogue with world religions or magickal folk, but also within Christianity. A lot of stuff, from theology to miracles does have other sources than the Holy Spirit, sometimes human, sometimes darker than that. And we often don’t recognise that at all…

shalom

Bram

This post is part of the the March 2015 Synchroblog – What I Appreciate About [Other Religions].  Be sure to read the other participants too::

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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

Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…


true love waits
and that’s okay
but you seem to spend your time waiting
ain’t that extremely frustrating?

(the irresistible 21st century virgin boy)

Last week I had a serious flu and I was quite sick, and not able to do much at all, not even reading or thinking, so I was lying on my bed listening to old CD’s with demo songs that I recorded years ago, when I still used the nick/artist name ‘the irresistible 21st century virgin boy’*. One of the old CD’s contained a song I kissed waiting goodbye that I thought was lost forever, one of my earlier attempts to do something with beats and guitars together in a real song. But it also  vocalised  some critique to a book I mentioned in a recent post (‘I kissed dating goodbye’ by Joshua Harris), and I suppose more broadly to the rhetoric of the people of ‘true love waits’ , who then haTLW2d a Flemish division here in Belgium that sent me a lot of news letters because I once had carelessly signed one of their pledge cards on some christian event. (It seems they’re out of the running now though , can’t find anything of them anymore lately…)

The song itself was dismissed later because I hated how I hadn’t been able to find a really fitting melody on the sometimes quite random chord progressions. Re-listening there’s something in it that I like, and some things that I hate (that really bad word flow of the ‘don’t concentrate’ part for example.) But is was a good try, even if it got forgotten without ever been played again…

[please listen to the song ‘I kissed waiting goodbye’ here https://soundcloud.com/bram-cools/i-kissed-waiting-goodbye (lyrics are there also) and tell me; does it suck completely, or is there still something interesting about it?]

The title ‘I kissed waiting goodbye’ does not mean that I (with my weird artist name) had any problem with the idea of sex as belonging into a marriage relationship (I still believe in that, even though I don’t think a state marriage has much to do necessarily with the definition of marriage) but the whole imported ‘purity culture’ had some exaggerations that I found quite weird. And the local people that preached it were quite peculiar specimens too btw… The emphasis on waiting and not doing stuff was what was getting on my nerves…

Like I said earlier in my recent post a purity culture I don’t know, some of the critiques to ‘evangelical purity culture’ I’ve seen lately are describing something I don’t recognise at all, but I did have my concerns with what I did see. If I would have encountered weirdos like the 2 creeps in Sarah Moons latest blogpost my concerns would’ve been a lot bigger. And it might be that I didn’t even register some of the things that didn’t make sense to me, I think that’s how I never picked up those gender roles in Harris’ book if they are there. my brain didn’t even notice them because they made no sense to me, and they got thrown with the ‘this is too American’** garbage bin.

(Remember that an ‘American writer’ for me is as distant and exotic as an Italian cardinal, and Indian Sadhu  or an African Touareg songwriter…)

The whole movement always was a bit too obsessed with sex for my taste. (an obsession with having no sex all the time is just a weird form of sex-obsession.) It seemed like all they wanted to talk about was how to not have sex, and that was not what I was looking for, I was looking for how to actually grow in my relationship in all kinds of areas. All that talk about what not to do is not good for building a relationship. what people need is positive advice about to grow in love, and not just sexually!!!! there’s much more to a relationship than that, and focussing a relationship on that will make it unbalanced, be it a relationship focussed solely on sex or one focussed solely on avoiding sex …

One of the things I probably dismissed as otherworldy nonsense was the idea of ‘never being alone with someone of the other sex’, including the one you’re not yet married to but having a relationship with. As someone who had been always single with a lot of female friends some of which I saw alone regularly such things just didn’t make sense and didn’t get registered in my brain. It was not something that could convince me anymore than the idea that Belgium does not exist… (It would never haver worked with me and my wife either)

Another point that I found troubling was that I did not see how filling people with a ‘no sex’ message and conditioning them all the time to not touch and not be intimate would ever be reversed on a wedding night. I was too realistic to believe such a thing, whatever promises of ‘great sex lives for those who wait’ were gives. I just didn’t see that happen with such an obsessive attitude. And I later read a lot of articles that affirmed, sometimes from people who were completely blocked down sexually, so it wasn’t a false concern… I know it did work for other people, but I who was already blocked on sex and completely turned off by a world around me that seemed to sell sex on every corner but no love was more traumatised about sex on that moment. And in need of simple honest not overly sexual intimacy. It would actually take years of very slowly growing in intimacy before I would even be ready for sex and by that time I’d be ready to get married too.

By the way, there is something really problematic about all the weirdness this kind of movements does attach to the Christian ideas about sex and marriage. There is something dangerous about a good idea or a truth being hijacked by people who exaggerate in preaching it, and lump it together with nonsense and worse… It might work as a really good vaccination to ever believe it again. Those preached to who are first convinced but later see that the ballast is nonsense will most likely throw away the child with the bathwater… (an example of that here)
See also Ken Ham and his weird form of young earth creationism as litmus test for Christianity…

But let’s close with what I think is important about true love: it loves! And loving is not about not doing things, but about doing things. Apophatic theology (saying things about God by saying what He is not) can be an interesting way to communicate truth about God, but not doing certain things is not the essence of any form of love, and if it is you’re distracted from the real thing…

peace

Bram

* There was something sarcastic in that name, mainly the ‘irrestistible’ part… I’ve been single and eh, extremely celibate until I was 22 or so.

** Nothing racist about that. Other cultures always have things that are found to be nonsense and irrelevant by outsiders. But I do think I can indeed say that ‘too American’ is a valid reason for a lot of Europeans to  dismiss something…

Evangelicals don’t listen to Jesus enough?


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Sometimes when I read the gospels and then see myself and fellow Christians, I wonder about the difference between what I read and what is expected as ‘normative’ in contemporary Christianity.  As a non-American I do see a lot of weird Americanist synchronism hiding as ‘conservative Christianity’. Sometimes when I see the Christian subculture with all its distractions I really understand Ghandi who said ‘I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ’

Today I read an article by what looks to me like a good oldfashioned American baptist preacher, that reminds me that evangelicals, that all christians who proclaim to be ‘followers of the bible’ can in no way be expected to sweep the words of Jesus under the mat. There is no alibi for that. Read 10 big things Jesus said which you and I keep conveniently forgetting by pastor Joe McKeever here.

I am quite sure we all need to be reminded of a lot of those, or even if you’d disagree with some of his conclusions, just take all his bible verses as a starting point, or start with the words of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) of the sermon on the plain in Luke 6 read every day and taken serious in all aspects of our lives are enough to shake and challenge a lot of our traditions and assumptions. And let’s not forget that both pieces of teaching  I’ve named are concluded by Jesus with :

Matthew 7:24 “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock.25 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.27 The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!

So would living according to the words of Christ maybe be a good idea for those who claim to follow Him? Is it not the only thing we should expect that anyone who claims to be a ‘bible-following Christian’ tries to do. Love our neighbour, love our enemies, bless those who persecute you (even rejoice when they persecute you for Christ’s sake!), take care for the poor and sick, etc…

And yes, I know I’m still nowhere with that either, but I wish we would see that as a real problem, more than a lot of problems we evangelicals like to see that might be quite irrelevant…

Bram

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!!!

Top-ten posts in 2010


For those to whom it may concern, these were the most popular, or at least most read posts in the year 2010 on this blog. I have no idea if my readers liked them at all, but I do pray my writings would be able to enrich peoples lives… Maybe to some my thoughts are only weird and controversial, and to others they are boring and theoretic, but like a wise man once said, there are too many people, and they’re all too hard to please…

The first one on this list is most likely the most dissapointing for people to land on, since it’s popularity is mainly from people who google for porn…

so (drrrrrumrollll) here is the top-ten:

1) on sexy porn models and human dignity
2) On praying for president Obama’s death and Christian black magic…
3) On cross-gender friendships and christians…
4) the emerging Joneses and my anarchist marriage…
5) Michael Gungor Band – God is not a white man
6) sacred unions, sacred passions I: beyond the romantic myth
7) Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you..
8) Rob Bell on atonement or the bible versus (reformed) tradition
9) Post-human broken sexuality… vs the beauty in this innocence
10) Reclaiming supernaturalism: on evolutionary creationism and angels..

[I always love how the code makes a smiley out of the 8 in this kind of lists…]

other posts worth reading from 2010:
Avatar and the core of the christian view on marriage
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
Rethinking my childhood atonement theory
Christian music as a genre?

I hope to meet all my readers and commenters again in the new year for new discussions, and for growing towards Christ together. We all can learn a lot from each other…

peace and love

Bram