I might like Pete Rollins on the Apocalypse

Pete Rollins is planning a talk in Belfast in September to explain that The Apocalypse isn’t coming – it’s already happened.

“Fundamentalist Christianity has long expressed a view of apocalypse as some future event that will consume the present world and replace it with a new one. Yet while this is a bloody and destructive vision, I will argue that it is inherently conservative in nature… For those who hold to such a vision are willing to imagine absolutely everything around them changing so that their present values and beliefs can remain utterly unchanged.  In contrast I will argue that a Christian apocalypse describes something much more radical, namely an event that fundamentally ruptures and re-configures our longings, hopes and desires…”

This resonates with me, although I’m waiting to see where Rollins will take it.  If he has not forgotten his Greek, he will oblige us I hope with a vision of a true ‘apocalypse’ – not earth-scorching destruction but paradigm-shattering revelation.

In January I articulated my own growing sense that the Apocalypse is already history when I called out the folly of Harold (“I did the math”) Camping’s predictions of a Day of Reckoning for May 21 of this year.

Hell a big deal with pagans – with Jews not so much

Finding evidence in ancient texts for a future place of punishment for the unrighteous is much easier and more straightforward in pagan literature than in the Bible.  In fact, references to anyplace resembling Evangelical or medieval Catholic concepts of Hell are almost non-existent in the Bible.  What little we think we find there is almost nil compared to what we find in Plato.

Plato thinks nothing of including in his chief dialogue a lengthy remark by the father of Polemarchus regarding the man’s own beliefs in “the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there” (Republic 330d-331b). Cephalus is grateful that his wealth has afforded him

“no occasion to deceive or to defraud others, either intentionally or unintentionally; and he is not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men when he departs to the world below.”

He implies that an old man without wealth must be unhappy because:

“suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider what wrongs he has done to others.  And when he finds that the sum of his transgressions is great he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep for fear, and he is filled with dark forebodings.”

This place in The Republic is not the usual stop for scholars discussing afterlife concepts in Plato (see Republic X., Phaedo, the end of  Gorgias, etc.).  But evidence right here for widespread folk-beliefs about future punishment among the Greeks seems to me more ‘historical’ in the everyday sense and less rhetorical than elsewhere.  At least it is clear that in the fourth century BC the belief was already ancient enough to be a commonplace of casual discourse.

My advice is to avoid trying to squeeze Hell-doctrines out of Scripture.  And you evangelicals who admit of Greek influences in the primitive church take note.

Yesterday I found a post by fellow Christian blogger, neglitz, who I think is trying to be honest about the problem of afterlife concepts in Christianity and their meaning for evangelical religion.

I hope I can get something up soon about why a Biblical and textual challenge of Hell-concepts does not necessarily justify that other questionable doctrine of predestination – universalism.

Empyrean Dialogues 4 – The Mandate

While Moses briefs the Divine Son in the Empyrean prior to the Incarnation, the subject turns to the difficulties inherent in the Incarnation Mandate, and the possibility of rejection by Israel.

MOSES:  All the saints pray for Israel’s acceptance of your mission, Sire, but anyone can see Father’s mandate for your incarnation is bad news as far as priesthood and temple are concerned.

THE SON:  No question.  Father wants me to feature nothing less than the whole truth about his divine forgiveness.

MOSES:  So he’s clearly talking about a complete de-authorization of the temple system of atonement – both ritual and sacrifice.

THE SON:  You know yourself it wasn’t Father’s idea in the first place.

MOSES:  We had no temple – nor any of the current sacrifices – during the 40 years in the wilderness, Sire.

THE SON:  Right.  But what is left of the sacred record of such truths?

MOSES:  The Book of Amos, Sire.  End of Chapter 5.

THE SON:  Yeah great.  It’s going to be front-paged when I’m finished.

MOSES:  Don’t be too sure.  Sacrifice is an ancient meme.  What if they spin you as the new sacrifice?

THE SON:  Oh God.

MOSES:   I’m just sayin’.  Never mind.

THE SON:  We know it won’t be popular with the priests and scribes.

MOSES:  But the temple sacrifices are a lucrative business for some of the biggest names, Sire.  They can invoke the highest sanctions against you and could really hurt your overall numbers.

THE SON:  And it’s not just the temple, Mo.  Father wants a new Sabbath as well.

MOSES:  I saw that.  So the temple gets common cause with the synagogues against you.  Terrific.

THE SON:  A perfect storm.

MOSES:  But I understand why He’s upset about how that day of rest turned out – we set that day aside for the people in order to free them from man-made taboos, not to bind them.

THE SON:  Well He’s calling it all in.

MOSES:  Clearly.  This is the big one.  The saints are in awe of Father’s new dispensation. It looks like He’s preparing to shake both the highlands and the low places.

THE SON:  Even the very foundations of Jerusalem.  Nevertheless I’m getting one more chance to gather her under his wing.

MOSES:  Nice, except she believes she’s already there.

THE SON:  Yes, but I find this very real and present trust in God an irresistible quality in this people Israel.

MOSES:  It can’t be denied – even in the face of all their historic failures.

THE SON:  Their sublime trust in Father’s faithfulness has surpassed in power all human intellectual assent to beliefs about Him and His Anointed.

MOSES:  And always will.

THE SON:  In fact, the hope inspired by such trust is what forbids my knowing their final decision until they make it.

MOSES:  Sire, everybody here is thrilled by your sworn faithfulness and hopes you will be preaching forgiveness in the temple right down to the elders’ last possible moment of decision.

THE SON:  Count on it.

MOSES:  It’s just … You may never be able to convince them.  I know this people.

THE SON:  Nothing is impossible with God.

MOSES:  Maybe not, but I think Father is showing a lot of wisdom in featuring both an acceptance scenario and a rejection scenario.

THE SON:  The thing with that is either one of Father’s scenarios manifests His will for man in full.

MOSES:  Believe me, I think you’ll get a pretty good idea which one is in play before the end of your first year in public.

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues:

1 – Annunciation

2 – Of Times and Seasons

3 – The Forerunner

Empyrean Dialogues 3 – The Forerunner

The meeting of Moses and the Son goes on in the Empyrean prior to the Incarnation.  Moses has expressed concern that the Forerunner may be adversely influenced by Jewish apocalyptic writing.

MOSES:  The saints are of course thrilled, Sire, that a native son of Israel will be harbinger of your mission.

THE SON:  The son of Zechariah will be the last of a great line.

MOSES:   His birth will precede yours by only months, and your minister has already contacted the parents.

THE SON:  I heard.  They’ll call him John – ‘God is gracious’.

MOSES:  Gracious indeed, to send one last prophet to the Jews in these latter days.

THE SON:  But the saints are concerned that John will be influenced too much by the Jewish end-timers?

MOSES:   Nobody’s kidding themselves, Sire.  As things currently stand, the forerunner is a cipher, an unknown factor.  Left to himself, we think he’ll come out fighting, and with so many answers blowing in the wind, there could be a down side to putting him out there ‘cold’ like this.

THE SON:  But I like the idea of contingencies.  And the contrasts.  You’re suggesting what – that he should be guided by special divine inspiration?

MOSES:   Think about it, Sire.  Many of your best people will probably come from among his followers.

THE SON:  So you’re saying John’s views – whatever they turn out to be – will be a major context for my own teaching in the minds of those who listened to John.

MOSES:  Seriously.

THE SON:  Nevertheless my mission needs an advance man, some grassroots, a native ‘bellwether.’

MOSES:  Some of the saints are saying ‘loose cannon.’

THE SON:   I don’t deny that we have a lot riding on him.

MOSES:   Maybe too much, Sire.  But I heard Father wants this.

THE SON:  Absolutely.  And no cue-cards – one last prophet of the old school, somebody alone with his doubt and his righteousness, and the still, small voice.  It’s in honor of the Promise.

MOSES:  But the parents, in their advanced age, already marvel at his conception.  And our minister’s visit has caused the old man to start fermenting his own ideas about God’s promise.

THE SON:  These things are in Father’s hands, really. 

MOSES:  And I’m not sure I understand the blood tie – a cousin in the flesh?  You know what that will look like in a more skeptical age?

THE SON:  There’s some backstory there that you should know.  First of all – what we already know – Father has made it clear there won’t be any earthly thrones for me – even if I am accepted by Israel.

MOSES:  Right, whether Israel goes with acceptance or rejection, you’ll be back with us when it’s over, ruling from the right hand of Power.

THE SON:  OK, but Moses, the thing is that Father’s acceptance scenario – if it comes into play – may yet feature a king in Israel.  If all goes well – think of it –  John himself could be that King, after I depart.

MOSES:  Sire, I am increasingly in awe of this acceptance scenario!  And Father’s right – your blood relations will be on their short list, if you can’t be king.  This is all very well.  But I’ve also seen the Mandate for your mission, and it’s not all sweetness and light – especially as far as the temple cult is concerned.

So how are you with Father’s plan as far as the rejection scenario goes?

(to be continued)

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – Annunciation

Empyrean Dialogues 2 – Of Times and Seasons

Apocalypse now and then

I have absolutely no doubt that warnings about a day of the Lord scheduled for May 21 of this year are false. In fact, somebody who was as sure as I am that this preacher is making a bad call would need to have a vision of his own on the matter.  All right then.

Except my vision doesn’t grant me a view of the future; it gives me hindsight into the past – and I most solemnly warn you that the end of the first Christian dispensation has already happened.

I cannot account for the fact that this is still old news; perhaps others are too cowardly to come forward.  But I know those ‘others’ wouldn’t be the Pope or the Archbishops of any denomination – they were never told. No Synod or any other conference of churches had a clue.  And forget about the Evangelicals and the Jews – God can’t tell them anything any more.

I claim no knowledge of specific dates, but only a kind of ballpark figure.  But what I’m seeing is that, at some point during or shortly after the First World War, God very quietly and unequivocally wrote off the old Christian dispensation as ‘not good enough’ for his Son.  Believe me.

NO, I’m not talking about the alleged Apocalypse called by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for the year 1914 – that was no different than this latest 2011 deal – a makeshift built on Daniel’s well-known figure of 1260 and other textual cyphers.  Funny how it always comes down to these numbers in Daniel, and it’s always wrong.  It was just a lucky hit for the Witnesses that they came up with a year in which a World War started.  But the excitement ended for them on January 1, 1915, when it became evident God was featuring nothing more spectacular than the destruction of Christian civilization. The mistake was soon forgotten; membership was up, they moved on.

But for God this was a big thing.  Again, I can’t pin-point the year for you, but ‘the End’ of the old Christian dispensation was brought down in unheralded despair and gloom during one of those crazy, shifting, catastrophic years between those two monstrous secular conflagrations (WWI and WWII).  After a near-total failure by the Christian leadership to stand by the Gospel of Jesus in the summer of 1914, the Reformation gospel  was out on the dung heap with the Pope’s tiara as far as God was concerned.

Meanwhile God’s life goes on in temples not made with hands…  but those external, sectarian forms of Christianity we see ‘still rolling along’ are moving not by the grace of God any more but only by virtue of an original divine impetus – the same kind of motion a long train would exhibit on a very gentle but steady backwards downgrade after being decoupled from its engine.

The plan was not for Christianity to go away (clearly) but God definitely wanted a new model, a second dispensation, with an effective peace testimony and an end to the awful man-made creeds which had been mistaken for faith and only got in the way of his Son’s offer of love and salvation to all who sought him in spirit and in truth (God’s still waiting).

Empyrean Dialogues – 2

Moses has greeted the Son in the divine Empyrean prior to the incarnation.  The prophet has suggested a review of future ‘possibilities’ – since the Father has not yet unequivocally revealed whether Israel shall accept or reject his Anointed.

The Son:  It’s just as you say, Moses – our Father’s counsel of mystery with regard to Israel’s reception of my mission extends even to myself.

Moses:  Many of the saints marvel, Sire, that you are no less ‘in the dark’ than the rest of us on this issue which seems so central to your success.

The Son:  I hope it will not offend the saints to learn that our ‘success’ is not dependent upon either acceptance or rejection by the Jews.

Moses:  Right.  On the other hand, many of us take the view that Father’s decision reflects material conditions perfectly.

The Son:  Well it would be disingenuous of me to offer peace to the world through Israel without my sincere hope of her acceptance of Father’s actual terms.

Moses:  Exactly.  In view of the ambiguity of Israel’s prophetic record regarding his Anointed, the feeling is that – depending on how they read it – the Jews could go either way.

The Son:  But these unfortunate ambiguities mean we can only hope that Israel will find and choose the thin but golden thread revealing Father’s true will.

Moses:  Don’t look at me, Sire.  You know I have not vouched for the clarity of their sacred history for over 400 years – not since the Priestly re-write during the exile.

The Son:  And it is not my intention to sort that problem out for them, Moses.  Father and I are going with the current textus receptus.

Moses:  So you must fearlessly feature the new over the top of the old, and desire their complete acceptance of your mission. 

The Son:  There you have both sides of the issue in a nutshell.

Moses:  It always comes down to human free will, doesn’t it Sire?

The Son:  That, and the authority of Scripture.    But I will not see my mission descend to acrimonious debate over the twin unfathomables of written history and editorial fictions.

Moses:  Verily.  I agree that literary criticism of their scriptures would be a fool’s game at this point.

The Son:  On that – and the rest – I am completely one with Father.

Moses:  How did I know? – – But speaking of unfathomables, Sire, things have been recently complicated by a kind of pre-millennial, futurist thing that has been ‘in the wind’ down there at least since Daniel.

The Son:  Actually since Malachi

Moses:  All those guys.  We’re seeing a lot of ‘end-time’ writers lately featuring rather violent scenarios about the Day of the Lord.

The Son:  There has been a certain amount of informed and disinformed anticipation of my coming.  It seems it couldn’t be helped.

Moses:  Well the more recent apocalypses have hooked up with certain miscues in the canonical texts to create a frothy boil in the minds of many of your people.

The Son:  We’ve seen it, and heard it in their prayers.

Moses:  I trust, Sire, that in holy prayer Father will steer your human mind clear of these vain eschatological desires.  But I worry that the Forerunner may not be spared from entertaining such thoughts.  Can we talk a little about that?

[to be continued]

Empyrean Dialogues – 1

Empyrean Dialogues 1 – Annunciation

The scene is the Empyrean just prior to the divine Son’s incarnation.  His servant Moses enters.

Son:  “I can see you have good news.”

Moses:  “Everything’s at the cusp, Sire.  Mary will hear your new name by announcement of our messenger as soon as she’s with child.  You’re to be ready at a moment’s notice.”

Son:  “Then call me Je’shua – ‘God is salvation.’”

Moses:  “The name, Sire, is supposed to help you remember it’s not about you.”

Son:  “We both know that a true Son of Man cannot forget God and neighbor.”

Moses:  “First order of business will be son of Mary and Joseph.”

Son:  “My immersion in the flesh.  Dear Moses, it’s a mystery even to me how I shall ever, in the fullness of my humanity, recall my divinity.”

Moses:  “Trust in God.  His will for you now is that you be made man.  And the child is always father to the man.  You have a nice family there, I’m sure eventually you will find him who sent you.  But you find him best by seeking him first with all your human mind and heart and strength, as the God of your fathers.”

Son:  “I know it must be first things first, if one day the last shall be first, and the first last.”

Moses:  “May those words come to mean more to them than directions for leaving synagogue after Sabbath service!”

Son:  “I so look forward to childhood, youth, and manhood – to know and suffer them as you did.”

Moses:  “Aye, in family and in tribe and temple, for duty and country.”

Son:  “Day in, and day out – until I find him who sent me.”

Moses:  “And remember how you shall seek him.”

Son:  “Neither here, nor there…”

Moses:  “Perfect.  And when he reveals himself within you, you will preach this inner reign of God so that all might hope that a saving measure of what is yours by divine nature may be theirs by divine grace.

Son:  “I’m solid, Mo.  And so is Father.  If I can learn to get some private prayer time down there we’ll be on the same page by the time the forerunner finishes his course.”

Moses:  “Well enough, Sire.  And since you mention your later career – you know Father hasn’t revealed to us whether your person and teaching will be accepted or rejected by the rulers in Israel.  I think we both see the wisdom of that, but it wouldn’t hurt to run down the possibilities one more time before you’re off …”

[to be continued]

Note:  the Empyrean Dialogues is a recent experiment of mine to see if I can manage a piece of didactic fiction which both entertains a little and presents interpretations of the Bible I believe to be worthy of reflection and discussion from the standpoint of incarnation and divine pre-existence.

Simon Peter – Man and myth

Kevin at Diglotting put up a book give-away offer that has my interest: Peter – the Myth, the Man, and the Writings, by Fred Lapham (2004).

The apostle Peter has already come up for criticism on this blog as one of my special NT problems.

I currently judge Simon Peter as chiefly responsible for the wrong-headedness which introduced error into the early kerygma.  Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14-41), in my view, twisted the evangelism of Jesus in a way which eventually submerged the Galilean gospel of grace beneath the new church’s post-resurrection news-for-Jews:  Repent before the crucified and very angry and very soon to be returning Jewish Messiah brings down the whole age on your heads in the manner depicted by your apocalyptic writers.

It was this ill-considered sermon of Peter which, in my view, changed history for the worse by fomenting all the distracting ‘success’ of fear-based evangelical preaching.  Peter channeled the enthusiasm of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem into the first Judeo-Christian megachurchagogue (Acts 2:40-42) of the type which now proliferate in places like Texas.

From that point the progress of the Holy Spirit was ‘in check’ until it made two key moves:

(1) to go out ‘in person’ and turn Paul (Acts 9), and then

(2) to speak sense to Peter (a thing which required that the Apostle be semi-conscious – Acts 10) in order to loosen him up and get him over to Caesarea to witness God’s real plan in action (Acts 10:34-45).

The damage was already done to the kerygma, but at least Paul was inspired enough by the news from Caesarea (Acts 11:18-26) to take the mission out to the whole world (Acts 13ff).

Maybe Lapham’s book will cool me off a bit 🙂

History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – III

The first and second parts of this series described the moral and intellectual dilemmas created by the inerrancy principle.  This third and final post describes a spiritual problem.

“All men know that ‘to err is human,’ and a mere man who received and gave forth an infallible word of the Lord must be, for the time, not himself, not at home in his own brain and senses – in other words, beside himself.  Human values could not be brought forward as tests of such revelation; and human reason could have no power to criticize it.”  (Lily Dougal, The Lord of Thought, 1922, p.19-20)

Neither Dougal nor I would discount the value of honest humility in the face of religious texts alleged to be revealed.  But uncritical belief in a massive plenary inspiration does not truly ‘humble’ the mind in any spiritual sense of the word.  What takes place instead is an unnecessary belittling of the mind’s reasoning powers – unnecessary because it requires a surrender of reason in scientific and moral realms where reason has legitimate powers and jurisdiction.  The premature surrender of reason only frees the mind to wickedly indulge its craving for certainty amid systems of authoritative ‘facts.’

“Contradiction between man’s highest ideal and what he conceived God to be, felt even when not admitted to open-eyed consciousness, produced necessarily a complex system of doctrine at variance with the plain man’s reason and values” (p.39)

Where historical contradictions and immoral assertions about God are not submitted to the process of doubt and discernment, an unreasonable theology is easily elevated to a position independent of both reason and living faith.  This kind of believing mind is worshipping its own convictions as if they were a type of certainty.

 “With such inconsistency in his God, if man is to be truly religious it must be by exercising his affections and imagination upon the only attributes of this complex and inconsistent God that do not contradict human values.” (pp.40)

This kind of guilty ‘cherry picking’ is the only spiritual outlet for the inerrancy principle.  But it tends to encourage an emotional approach to God which is completely distrustful of a reasonable criticism of scripture.

“That is precisely what the best of the Jews did, what the saints of every religion founded on an ancient and closed revelation must do, with the result that emotion is supposed to find God where reason can produce only skepticism.”

For the ‘seer’ unable to take the emotional high ground of the ‘saint,’ the mind has no ground for carrying out its duty to discern the difference between sacred and profane history.

“in a nation believing in such revelation, man’s values and reasons were held to be on a level inferior to his religious visions…”

Dougal argues that the result was a failure of religious visions – the embarrassment of Jewish eschatology.  The apocalyptic prophets lowered their views to match their canonical texts and missed the truth of God’s shalom in Christ for Israel and the world.

History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – II

In this series I’m featuring an old argument by English theologian Lily Dougal that belief in the inerrancy of their canonical scriptures caused the Jewish apocalyptic schools from Daniel to John the Baptist to be dead wrong about the plan of God and his imminent action in Christ. (The Lord of Thought, 1922, p. 18ff).

Dougal sees the adverse influence of belief in inerrant scriptures to be threefold:  moral, intellectual, and spiritual.  My first post introduced the moral dilemma created by a principle which tends to equalize diverse texts of unequal moral value.  The apocalyptic writers beheld the God of blessings and woes who had been written into the scriptures by the Deuteronomist, and turned around and ‘predicted’ a very predictable day of blessings and woes for the whole world.  These would-be seers were unable to see the imminent revelation of a new truth – that God and the Christ of God were beings dominated by self-giving love for both saint and sinner.

The second part of Dougal’s argument moves from the moral to the intellectual realm and shows how the belief that the Jewish canonical scriptures were all-truth played its part in making a ruin of the efforts of these would-be prophets to correctly see and ‘call’ the Incarnation.

“The paradox created by contradictory statements, to all of which equal value must be assigned, creates mental confusion…  The sacred scripture taught God’s love, but its history of the past was self-contradictory; the laws laid down in it were not consistent with each other” (p.18,19)

The idea is that the principle of inerrancy does not enhance but disqualifies and disables a believer’s god-given power of discrimination between fact and fiction, truth and error, good and evil.  It disallows the right of faith to go out on a limb with a teaching that might change everything.  Instead it magnifies the need to pay lip service to infallibility with energetic rationalizations and harmonies of the discrepancies and contradictions which inevitably arise among texts originating at different times in the history of Israel.

The eschatological schools might have benefited from an insightful cherry-picking of superior texts but were prevented by that fatal corollary to inerrancy which disallows intelligent eclecticism.   And so they completely missed the singular truth that the coming kingdom was opposed to the majority viewpoint of the canon.

“Reason never quails before the realization that knowledge is inadequate, that there is more to know about the object of research than is, or apparently can be, known.  It is only before contradiction that reason quails, and thus has always quailed and been unable to accept the God of an ancient and final revelation.”  (p.39)

Great verb, ‘quail’ – perfect for depicting stunned inaction, human reason gone to hiding in the bush.  In my third post I will say more about the flight from reason which so often belittles the religious mind unnecessarily, putting it in thrall to its own idols of infallibility.

History and inerrancy – around the blogosphere

Casting about for the like-minded this afternoon, I was gratified to find a link to Pete Enns’ series on The Book of Chronicles and the problem with literalism at BioLogos.  Pete discusses the role of the Chronicler’s messianic history in ‘setting up’ Jesus to be misunderstood,

The postexilic Israelites were yearning for a king to rule and guide them as the people of God. …For the Chronicler, that means a king who will honor temple worship, follow the law, teach the people to do likewise, and be God’s instrument for reestablishing Israel’s national glory among the nations… This messianic expectation is the context of Jesus’ coming, and what does he do? Not what his followers expected.  Jesus …is not like the kings of Samuel/Kings. He is not even like the idealized king of Chronicles. He …did not fulfill the messianic expectation of Chronicles; he transformed it.

Pete’s series is a good one.  I owe the link to Daniel Kirk, doing his own excellent series on inerrancy and history over at  Storied Theology, where we read: 

“For me, the question of “inerrancy” versus not, or the question of how “historical” the Gospels are, or the question of whether or not we should harmonize different passages pushes in this direction: When we push for inerrancy, harmonizations, and historicity, we show that we have a fundamentally different desire for what these texts might give us than the biblical writers themselves had when they composed them.”

I note that comments at both sites have a fair share of that wonderful tendency of inerrancy buffs to offer fantastic harmonizations of discrepancies in the texts.

In my own previous post, I attempt to expose the principle of Bible inerrancy as anti-prophetic  with the help of Lily Dougal’s 1922 criticism of the Jewish eschatological schools.  I don’t deny that these pre-Christian seers seemed to grasp that something of cosmic significance was brewing in the not-distant future for the God of Israel.  But they all blundered into gross error with respect to the nature of God’s coming king and kingdom, and fell to depicting scenes of great cruelty and destructive disaster for the enemies of God and his people.  All were proved wrong by history.  The irony of Dougal’s hypothesis cannot be missed – the apocalyptic writers erred because they labored under mistaken notions of inerrancy.  They were betrayed by their belief in the infallible trustworthiness of the Jewish scriptures to which they turned for guidance.

Meanwhile, Steve over at Undeception has been reflecting on his own journey out of the inerrancy cults.

“certainty in either direction is simply not in the cards. The dichotomy is not between doubt and faith — doubt is the qualifier that distinguishes a reasonable faith from an altogether blind faith — but between acknowledged and unacknowledged uncertainty. Christians and avowed atheists alike are simply going about their delusions of certainty in a different way. Christians who refuse to peek under the cover are not exercising faith but fear: fear of having to deal with uncertainty.  When former believers who embrace a thorough atheism as though it were the only option other than fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity, they are not exercising healthy skepticism”

History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – I

Not all learning disorders are inherited.  We commonly see persons with otherwise high-functioning minds and no adverse family history who are selectively disabled in music, art, mathematics, etc.  And we often find an acute narrowness of mind in selected areas of philosophy, politics and theology (including atheists with impossibly narrow views of theism).

Few would contend with the idea that some of these selective kinds of disabilities can be acquired in the course of the thinker’s learning experience.  Just as work-related disabilities are acquired as a result of bad work habits and unsafe conditions, we can easily imagine that adverse or unsound circumstances in the inner and outer learning environment of mind can contribute to temporary or permanent disabilities in mental work.

English theological writer Lily Dougal used a concept of acquired learning disability to answer the question, Why was the eschatology of post-exilic Judaism so wrong in its depiction of God’s coming kingdom?  Dougal argued that, for these apocalyptic writers, history and doctrine had combined to create an unhealthy environment for the kinds of mental work involved in truth-seeking.  Error overwhelmed truth in the minds of these Jews because their work was burdened by false principles of knowledge.  Above all, it was the dogma of scripture inerrancy  which most dominated and disabled (and ultimately embarrassed) the spirituality of the Jewish eschatological schools.

Dougal argued that the inerrancy principle ruined Judaism’s prophetic power because it tends to (1) demoralize, (2) confuse, and (3) belittle the human mind.

(1) Scripture inerrancy demoralizes the mind.  The principle of inerrancy is fatal to the morality of any religion – but especially those whose writings extend over a long history of spiritual development.

“The sacred scripture taught God’s love, but … within it there were the noblest visions of goodness and mercy, together with savage conceptions of deified cruelty… God in his relation to man was seen, not simply as the best and wisest being of whom man could conceive, but as a mixture of good and evil, and therefore hostile not merely to all those things to which man at his best was hostile, but also to much that was best in man.”  (Dougal & Emmet, The Lord of Thought, 1922, pp 18, 19, 39.)

The mind looking for inspiration from religious texts held to be inerrant is liable to apprehend all inspiration at a common par value.  This equalizing tendency contributes a source of drag on the highest teachings of any tradition.  It may compromise the balance of good in an individual’s moral compass.  It may even threaten the moral destiny of an entire religious body, rendering it unable to discern a turning point in history, when God offers the gift of a new light which transcends some point of earlier inspiration.

Next up (continuing with Dougal’s analysis): 

(2) The principle of scripture inerrancy confuses the mind by magnifying the importance of discrepancies and contradictions.

(3) The principle of scripture inerrancy belittles the mind by encouraging a fantastic view of inspiration and forcing the mind to create incredible rationalizations and harmonies to resolve its contradictions.

How faith in Jesus can trump faith in scripture

“Our aim in the present study is to show that Jesus did not expect a speedy and supernatural destruction of the world.” (Lily Dougal and Cyril Emmet, The Lord of Thought, from the Preface, dated Sept. 1922).

At the time of their writing, these two New Testament critics were very much alarmed at a growing bias in NT criticism.  “It is now widely held that the whole thought of Jesus was governed by the belief that the end of the world was very near, or, at least, that this belief was a confusing element in his outlook.”  Of course the authors were discussing a 15-year trend inaugurated by Albert Schweitzer’s 1906 book, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (The Quest of the Historical Jesus).

Schweitzer had claimed that the teaching of Jesus is inconsistent with itself except when everything is viewed from the perspective of a thorough-going eschatological frame of mind.  Except the problem with his view is that it makes Jesus inconsistent with reality – because some scripture texts make Jesus wrong about the proximity of the end, and his return in glory.

Dougal and Emmet agree with Schweitzer that the eschatological teachings attributed to Jesus are inconsistent with his higher teachings, but they reject Schweitzer’s means of achieving consistency for Jesus.  Schweitzer, they argue, has only created his own false pattern of consistency in Jesus teaching, “by forcing upon all his sayings and parables an interpretation in harmony with the more fanatical Judaism of his time.”  (p.2)

They offer a solution which can only alienate both fundamentalists and moderns:

“Considering the circumstances in which the Gospels were compiled, it is more becoming for us, in the first instance, to suspect the records of inaccuracy than to assume that the inconsistency lay with Jesus.” (p.9)

I’m fine with the authors’ rejection of plenary inspiration.  Trouble is, they imply a new principle which skeptical critics are sure to hate – the principle of an inerrant Jesus  But I like it! 

“In the history of any one of the canonized Christian saints, when sayings and acts are attributed to him or her which to us appear inconsistent and unworthy, our first proceeding is to suspect the accuracy of the narrator … on the hypothesis that the inspiration of the saint for goodness and wisdom was greater than the inspiration for accuracy enjoyed by the disciple.” (p.7-8)

Seriously, a hermeneutic principle like inerrant Jesus is unapologetically faithful – only it requires that our faith in the perfection of Jesus trumps our belief in the perfection of scripture.  There’s bound to be difficulty discriminating the inerrancy of Jesus from the inaccuracy of apostles and gospel writers.  But the result for eschatology is an important one – the axiomatic rejection of a merely human Jesus who is either self-contradictory or  a fanatic and delusional Jew yields refreshing fruit in a healthy critical skepticism regarding all assertions or allusions in scripture which suggest that a destructive end-of-the world scenario is a necessary adjunct to the true Gospel.

No necessary link between atheism and humanism?

[Revised Sept 18, 2010 – changes in boldface]

I recently found a very stimulating set of posts going back to July over at The Immanent Frame, featuring critiques and discussion of Stefanos Geroulanos’ new book, entitled An Atheism that is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (Stanford U Press 2010).

In two related posts, Geroulanos outlines the development of an anti-humanist line of thought among high-profile French atheists writing from 1925-55.  What follows is not a review of the book (there’s a link to the book at the site).  This is a simple Sunday afternoon take-off from my view of the book’s historical thesis.

I suggest that these French writers have uncovered a truth about atheism as well as a “new” negative view of humanism.  This discovery was made available to them in the chaos of their unique experience of the apocalyptic failure of civilization between 1914-1939.  Leaving aside the meaning of this collapse for Christian sectarianism (which is certainly implicated and condemned in that catastrophe as well, in my view), I would argue that the atheist’s sudden aversion to humanism represents more than a ‘localized’ historical artifact.  It seems more likely the case that the intensity of the historical crucible in which they lived and thought had attained the specific toxicity required to show the link between the two to be dissolved – proving atheism and humanism to be ultimately unrelated.

I’m tempted to go so far as to suggest that all philosophical atheisms which call themselves “humanist” are simply naive – that atheism has always had the seed of anti-humanism within it.  Admittedly that’s a bit of a stretch.  I doubt Geroulanos would consent to all or any of my conjectures, but I can say he has caused some wheels to turn from my side.

And I’m perfectly cognizant of the fact that there is a brand of theism whose anthropology might be called anti-humanist as well.  This theistic anti- humanism is not new, however, and I believe it is wrong, and that the true Christianity is one which has the seed of a true pro-humanism within it.  But this could be easily misunderstood.

Still interesting, I think, to consider both atheism and humanism as quite independent impulses rather than joined at the hip, as all of our benevolent and self-righteous new atheists imply.