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Mystic-babble and psycho-babble: the “new way of being church”: Part 1 No history, no resurrection, but still Christian?

As I sit writing a sermon for this season of Lent, focusing on the historicity of the resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15, I received an e-mail from the PCUSA Presbyterian News Service, which sadly highlighted the essence of an underlying problem. In this news story, we have the promotion of three major speakers at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary – Marcus Borg (of the Jesus Seminar), Brian McLaren (of the Emergent Church) and Diana Butler Bass (author). The news story is relatively benign and talks about the promotion of “new ways of being church”.

What is being promoted? These are writers and promoters of a “faith” that is ultimately humanism in the skin of Christianity. Not long ago, theological liberalism was hidden and worked in secret. Today it is flaunted openly, even within more conservative non-denominational circles as with Brian McLaren. It is fashionable today among those who refer to themselves as “progressive” to avoid almost all definition, to be malleable, fluid, un-categorizable, obscure, mystical, but rarely dogmatic.

There are core dogmas among these speakers though:

  1. Exclusivity of religious traditions is evil and must be shunned in favor of pluralism – all religious traditions, while maybe not equal, faithful adherents can reach the ultimate goal (heaven, nirvana, whatever).
  2. Truth claims about ultimate realities must be discarded as failed aspects of modernism – except in certain scientific views of reality, such as a wholesale acceptance of Darwinian evolution.
  3. The true goal of all those who are truly “religious, mystical, spiritual, etc.” is good works – which predominantly looks like the agenda of the Democratic Party.
  4. History is malleable and can be reinterpreted to mean almost anything we postmoderns want it to say.
  5. The dogmatic assertions of historic Christianity must be “spiritualized” to mean almost anything we want it to mean.
    1. Assertions such as Jesus rose from the dead can mean almost anything except that the physical body of Jesus rose in a historically verifiable way.
    2. The atonement of Jesus on the cross can mean almost anything except that all humans are born into sin and do sin, deserve eternal hell (a real eternal existence) and can only be saved (enter into a real place of eternal life with God) through the substitutionary death of the historic Jesus on the cross in space and time.
    3. Salvation by grace through faith can mean almost anything and everything, but the exclusive message that one must actually come to the place where they trust in the historic, physically risen Jesus to be saved.
  6. Centering prayer, meditation (of the Eastern sort), mystic rituals are the styles of worship, but there is no ontologically real personal God who claims acceptable and unacceptable worship.

These are some of the core similarities between these speakers, which I will address separately in subsequent blog entries.

A Denial of the Physical Resurrection

The physical resurrection of Jesus has historically stood out as the defining doctrine that must be believed (though not the only belief) for one to be recognized as any sort of Christian. If there is one core doctrine that is above the others, it is this one, though all the others are inextricably linked together.

Paul writes to the Corinthians:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.     9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.   12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:1-19)

One of the major points that Paul is making is that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead was not a form of “spiritual” existence. For just as he was truly physically dead and buried, so too he was truly physically raised from the dead bodily…and seen by large number of witnesses at many different times, as eyewitness evidence to the historic fact of the resurrection. Yet, somehow for those of a liberal (skeptic/doubt) persuasion the fact that Paul includes himself in the eyewitness list, means that what Paul is talking about is spiritual. This is utter nonsense, both textually and factually. The point is that Paul, if nothing else, believes himself to have encountered the physically resurrected Christ bodily, not in a “spiritual way”. That on the road to Damascus, what Paul saw was Christ coming from his seated position at the right hand of the Father, for a one-time (abnormally born) encounter and commissioning. For Paul tells us also in 1 Corinthians 9:1 that, he saw the physically resurrected Lord and therefore met a qualification for apostleship. If he had meant, simply some “vision”, then this would have made his argument completely moot in context. What many scholars point out is that nowhere is there found the idea of a non-physical resurrection, and therefore the onus is upon those who believe Paul’s experience is a non-physical one, to explain how it must be interpreted this way, rather the weight of the evidence indicates that Paul, in fact, understood his experience on the Damascus road as a physical encounter with the physically resurrected Jesus. Please see Dr. William Lane Craig’s more thorough analysis of the biblical evidence on this.

Not only do we see that belief in the certainty and historic factual truthfulness of the physical resurrection is central to Christian doctrine, it is also central to salvation. Therefore, by inviting authors and advocates for a “different view” on this issue during the season of lent, Louisville Seminary has in fact chosen to deny the central conviction and saving conviction of Christianity. In a debate with N.T. Wright, Dr. Borg, made these statements:

I do believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I’m just skeptical that it involved anything happening to his corpse…I wouldn’t see these stories as fictions in a modern sense of the word. I would see them as characteristic of the ancient mind, and of ancient storytelling techniques where you do use a story to express a truth of something that has happened. I think the Easter stories are true in the sense that the followers of Jesus really did have experiences of Jesus as a living reality after his death. I don’t think those stories are simply saying his memory lives on. I think they had visionary experiences. I think they had experiences of him as a presence within the life of the community… I think of the great Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” with all its soaring hallelujahs. And I see that hymn as profoundly true even though I don’t think its truth depends upon the tomb having been empty or something happening to the corpse of Jesus. Christ indeed has risen, but to confuse that with an event that you could have photographed, I think is to trivialize the story.

This type of nonsensical whimsy of attempting to retain some modicum of Christianity, while with the other hand dismissing the historic meaning of the doctrine is what has historically been understood as theological liberalism. What Louisville promotes as a “new way of being church” is really just a repackaged form of un-faith or anti-Christ if you will – meaning a denial core tenets of Christianity promoted by teachers who take on the name of Christ. Just as with the new political mantra of “change”, it remains just the same, but in a newer and slicker package. In addition to religiosity (form without reality), are forms of Eastern mysticism and psycho-babble counseling. Here is more from Dr. Borg, as he explains his form of pluralism as Christian.

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March 20, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

32 Comments »

  1. “Not long ago, theological liberalism was hidden and worked in secret.”

    You mean before several centuries ago? Institutionally mainline churches were open places for religious liberals well into the mid 19th century, perhaps we can make a case for the 1920s for the Presbyterians. I’d venture to say that a theology department in mainline schools in 1909 were far more liberal in their appropriation of Christian faith than what you would see in 2009.

    Secondly, I’m still trying to work my way around Paul’s use of the word spiritual when referring to the resurrection as you claim there is no evidence of such a thing?

    “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

    As for your bullet points. I’m not a mystic myself, though it’s odd that such a Christian tradition could be used as a slur against folks. Religious exclusivism is not evil. It can be. But it doesn’t have to be. But it is false. Transformation is self evidently found in any number of contexts (assuming one has not simply walled themselves up in the church and has no general interactions with other religious and secular contexts.)

    And yes some in the mainline seem to treat the Dems as some evangelicals do the GOP. That’s a problem. It’s okay to have different political beliefs (mine vary substantially from your own) but there ought to be some humble assessment of how people of faith get involved in the public arena, the importance as well as the limitations involved in such work.

    As for your last few paragraphs. Christian faith has always taken on newer forms (with hopefully the same fundamental insights). You can make that charge against liberals. I’d own such a charge, so should you.and we can raise questions on whether something vital of Christian faith is being carried forward or not. But to say that Christian faith resides on older forms, in this case including that of creationism, simply only succeeds in making Christian faith intelligible. Something that is increasingly the case in the US today. And something I’d like to slow down.

    Comment by Dwight | March 20, 2009

  2. Something unintelligible. Sorry for the typo.

    Comment by Dwight | March 20, 2009

  3. Dwight,

    Thank you for your comments.
    I do not take issue with you that there were heretics and apostates from the very beginning. Paul refers to them mostly as “false teachers”, while John preferred anti-Christs. As for the extent of “liberalism” within most mainline denominations — I would take issue with the level that you propose. Do you have proof and statistics? Much of the de-mythologizing and development of full-blown liberalism takes time to seep through from the Tubingen schools, though I am sure that there were individuals and groups in many areas.

    Let me see if I understand your point on the Resurrection.

    According to you, this paragraph of Paul’s on the resurrection of the body for believers, somehow contradicts Paul’s previous statement on the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus. Is this correct?
    This would be nonsense. If you were correct, then we ought to discard everything Paul is saying, because he is simply refuting his own points within a couple of paragraphs. Any rational person would immediately discard such nonsense.

    Rather, I would point you to William Lane Craig’s analysis, which I linked to, and which you seem to have ignored. Craig does some excellent exegesis. I would also point you to Gordon Fee’s fine commentary on 1 Corinthians as well as Thiselton — both excellent commentaries.

    Let me further pooint out that this discussion we are having is far from unique or new. In fact, Irenaeus spent a great deal of time attacking the gnostic view wich was “spiritual” and “metaphorical”, not unlike your own. After he quotes 1 Cor. 15:36, 41-44, he points to the Valentinian view as completely different than what Paul is teaching: Paul does not refer to “immortal spirits” but to those in Christ who, just as Christ was raised physically and bodily, will be made alive in “bodies” different from bodies that decompose. He points to the continuity and discontinuity that Paul highlights. Tertullian also makes it quite clear that he rejects Marcion’s views, which are not unlike your own, as he devalues the body.
    It was Luther who wrote: “It is really the work of God…it will not be a body that eats, sleeps, and digests, but…has life in Him…lives solely of and by the Spirit.” I firmly stand on the side of the historic “fathers” of the church, while your view resonates well among the early gnostics.

    As for your comment on Democrats/Republicans, I was clearly indicating that the above named, would identify with this. If you have evidence to the contrary, I would be happy to consider it. I did not make generalizations beyond this, though it is in fact true, that those who hold theologic liberal views, also in overwhelming percentages vote liberal politically and socially. While on the other hand significant percentages of those who self-identify as evangelical, vote Democrat.

    I am not sure what your point or points are in the last paragraph. Certainly one of the hallmarks of evangelicalism is missiological adaptation in style and culture (the whole I have become all things to all people, that I might win some thing). As for theologically, on essentials of the faith, there is no difference, with some minor arguing as to whether certain aspects should be essential or non-essential to the faith (women in leadership comes to mind). Yet those things even among ultra-conservatives, do not rise to the level of the issue of the physical bodily resurrection, or the substitutionary atonement, or the deity of Christ, etc.

    I believe I mentioned this once before, but the clear point that comes out of such discussions is that your view and that of historic orthodoxy are completely at odds. They are in many ways, entirely opposite.

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  4. I don’t think that was my claim. My claim is that liberalism has a history in the mainline. That movement like evangelicalism can date to the 18th and 19th centuries. I could point to popular theologians such as congregationalists like the Bushnells, the debates at Harvard in the 1830s etc. I’m sure there were no surveys.

    But As for divinity schools, most of the mainline was so affected by neo-orthodoxy and now the rise of traditionalism, that much of the debates in many of the seminaries at the turn of the previous century would be rejected in many of these same schools today as not sufficiently Christian. U of Chicago comes to mind.

    As for Paul. I don’t suggest he contradicts himself. I’m suggesting that these spiritual bodies he writes of (neither spirit in some gnostic sense nor bodily resurrections in the Jewish tradition) is affirmed..or maybe both is with a new cagey third category. He spends a lot of time on this. I presume we be charitable to Paul and assume that whatever he means by resurrection and the appearance stories of Christ that they be read in such a light.

    As for orthodoxy, I’m content to be someone’s heretic. But in the church I serve I’m not and believe that I am as much working with the central features of Christian faith as you yourself does. That doesn’t mean we may not disagree on what that is. There’s a huge history of that in the church.

    Comment by Dwight | March 21, 2009

  5. Dwight,
    Once again it is impossible to tell that you have actually done any exegesis of the Greek and the linguistic and literary issues in 1 Cor. 15. You also show no signs of having read Craig’s article, let alone any of the several books written about the topic.

    Once again I have no idea what your claim might be as to what Paul is saying. Maybe you can better explain what you think Paul has in mind. There doesn’t seem to me to be that many choices. Nevertheless, the issue remains the same. Either the body of Jesus remained in the tomb or it was empty. There are only two choices in regards to this. If you choose that the physical body was raised, then we can discuss in what ways it was transformed and different perspectives follow that branch. If you choose that the original body remained in the grave, then you can follow that branch and posit different ideas of “spiritual” resurrection, metaphorical “resurrection”, etc. It clearly sounds like you choose this branch, what you do with it afterward is unclear. My point is that the branch of an empty tomb is and always has been the historic orthodox Christian view. The other views have throughout history been understood to be heretical. You can certain choose that, but it remains heretical.
    You are correct in your assessment that such divinity schools as Harvard, Princeton, Union, etc. have long ago left Orthodoxy and embraced liberalism and Neoorthodoxy. There is no doubt about it. While you would consider this a positive evolution, I would indicate that this is apostacy. There has always been a history of apostacy and heresy, that is true. What is your point?
    As for your own denomination (I know very little about it), I am glad that you feel at home there. It certainly sounds like a good place for you.

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  6. Dwight,

    Does it really matter to you what Paul said? Assume for a moment that I am right and that Paul is following the branch of the empty tomb, would that shake up your philosophy? Does not liberalism “spiritualize” much of the Bible, and interpret it all metaphorically anyhow? John records Jesus saying that he is the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me. Would you not do somthing like Borg, and interpret this as an ecstatic statement of passion and love, therefore true in that John is saying that I am so grateful to have connected to God this way, that I am expressing my love, just like someone would say about their beloved, you are the most beautiiful person in the world.
    Clearly this is taking massive liberalities with the text read in its context. I could just as well interpret Crossan’s statements as saying that Crossan really believes in an exclusivist faith, but because he is so in love with the world that he desires all paths to lead to heaven, but knows that only explicit faith in Mr. Snuffleupugus will lead to eternal rest under the Himalayas. Is this a possible understanding of Borg’s position? Sure, anything is possible. Is it likely? No. Just as your interpretation is possible, because anything is possible. But it is in no way likely, nor is it one of the better ways of understanding the text within the historical and literary context.

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  7. Dwight,

    My point on the deceptive, underground nature of early liberals within mainline denominations stands firm.

    They all had at their outset affirmations, by their leaders and members, essential, quite Orthodox creeds and statements of faith (often highlighting their own emphasis). Can you show any that affirm clear “liberal” theological positions at the founding of those denominations? Therefore early liberals, by necessity would have had to affirm those statements and documents deceptively (redefining them in their own minds something like I did with my posting on a liberal/progressive apostles creed), while denying their plain meaning in their hearts. Or it is possible that some believed those statements, then later did not so, but did not have the courage of their convictions to resign.

    If you would like to refute my point, simply point to some mainline denomination’s founding creeds and statements of faith, where they affirm theological liberalism, while rejecting certain core orthodox positions, such as the bodily resurrection. If you cannot do so, then clearly my point is made. The denominations were founded in Orthodoxy, and liberalism is the heresy, that was allowed to fester to the point that it has eaten away most of the true body, ultimately replacing it or is in the process of replacing it with a dead corpse.

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  8. According to you, this paragraph of Paul’s on the resurrection of the body for believers, somehow contradicts Paul’s previous statement on the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus. Is this correct?

    I would argue that the previous statement wasn’t intended to address the question of physical bodily resurrection. In verse 35, Paul writes “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?'” Why would Paul say this if he believed that he had just answered this question? It only makes sense as a transition to a new issue that he had not previously addressed.

    Comment by Vinny | March 21, 2009

  9. Vinny,

    First, thank you for your comment, and welcome.

    You’ll have to explain your point further. How is the previous statement not about a bodily resurrection?
    Can you explain how this statement is not about the bodily resurrection? “he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 6After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,”

    And how about this statement: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

    He has clearly linked dying and rising — both physical, without qualification. He has provided a list of witnesses to the account, which would be useless if it were simply a feeling or a metaphor. The need and purpose of witnesses were for factual, historically observable incidents.

    Here is another important point. Clearly he is arguing against a group (probably a mixture of Jewish Sadducean background with the possible movement of gnosticism) who denied that a physical resurrection was possible. He could have very easily at this point made it clear that he was not talking about a physical resurrection and thereby there is no conflict. Rather, he tells them that the physical resurrection is a core of the gospel, which is of first importance. He argues with as strong a language as possible, indicating that without a belief in a bodily resurrection, the Christian faith is futile.

    You are correct that v.35 is somewhat transitional as he begins to focus more on the bodily resurrection of believers and the similarities and dissimilarities between that body and our current bodies, no longer focusing on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The transition moves from Jesus’ resurrected body to that of believers in the eschaton. If you read the entire chapter (also the context of the previous 10 verses as he makes some linguistic links) you will discover the clear flow of thought.

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  10. I would say it is not about the bodily resurrection insofar as Paul felt the need to address that specific question in a subsequent passage. I would also note that Paul gives no indication that he is arguing against anyone with a Jewish background and in fact refers to his audience as former pagans in 1 Cor. 12:2.

    I have actually read arguments on both sides of the question that made reasonable points and I tend to lean toward the conclusion that Paul did believe in a bodily resurrection. That seems to me to make more sense of the entire passage. However, I think you engage in hyperbole when you assert that no rational person could reach a contrary conclusion.

    Comment by Vinny | March 21, 2009

  11. Vinny,

    You might want to take a look at the exhaustive commentiaries referenced in a previous comment. The church was mixed and he addresses different groups and emphases in the Corinthian church. What I said about the group, is that we do not know for certain where this belief that rejected a physical resurrection arises from. Many believe that it had Sadducean roots, because of their long historic position on this. Others do see early forms of gnostic thought, and others see some kind of combination, which is where I tend to fall. But ultimately the address in chap. 12, would not necessarily indicate an address to the exact same group. Having said that, you make a good point, and would therefore tend to swing the position more toward early forms of gnosticism, which I am not opposed to.
    Where precisely did I claim that “no rational person could reach a contrary conclusion”?

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  12. “This would be nonsense. If you were correct, then we ought to discard everything Paul is saying, because he is simply refuting his own points within a couple of paragraphs. Any rational person would immediately discard such nonsense.”

    Comment by Vinny | March 21, 2009

  13. Vinny,

    If you read my comment in it’s context you will see my point.

    I wrote: “According to you, this paragraph of Paul’s on the resurrection of the body for believers, somehow contradicts Paul’s previous statement on the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus. Is this correct?”
    Dwight does not deny this, which would make this irrational nonsense and therefore, if he were right, Paul would be speaking irrationally, because he is denying what he has just affirmed. Either Paul is irrational and affirming and denying the same thing, or this interpretation is wrong and “irrational.”

    What I am not saying is that anyone would be irrational who interprets the entire argument of Paul as being “spiritual”. I would say that they are very clearly, utterly and horrendously wrong, but not irrational.

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  14. A few things

    -I’m not arguing Paul contradicts himself. I’m saying the latter of chapter 15 must be read as providing details over the initial claims of the chapter.

    -I’m not saying that Paul considered the resurrection a metaphor or a feeling. He claims he really has met the risen Christ, he saw the light, experienced an actual theophany. But that doesn’t suggest he met a physical resuscitation Jesus. Thus his whole language about light, spiritual bodies and the like.

    -I certainly have disagreements with some texts in the Bible. My concern is not to make Paul agreeable to me. I can find enough to disagree with him on. It’s rather getting a sense of the argument.

    -In terms of liberal protestant churches, presumably statements such as the United Church of Christ’s founding statement of faith would qualify? We can go back to the 17th century to see creedal statements from some radical reformers, unitarians and the like which indicate some form of liberalism.

    -But the charge you have is how could be people reuse words in different ways? Presumably if there was no relation to the word and it’s history, it wouldn’t fly. But that’s not what liberals (and evangelicals and yourself do). There is continuity with it’s history. But it’s taken up in new ways as well over time. I don’t accuse the scientist for being dishonest for using the word universe or earth or species of atom in a way that varies somewhat from the conceptions which these terms originally had.

    Comment by Dwight | March 21, 2009

  15. It is only a contradiction if Paul intended to address the question of physical resurrection in the previous statement. Given the transition Paul makes, I think reasonable minds can differ on that point.

    In any case, is it really “utterly and horrendously wrong” to think that Paul might have contradicted himself? Isn’t that something that human beings are prone to do? Don’t you frequently encounter human beings who are unaware of the internal inconsistencies in the positions they take? Why would Paul be immune to this common human foible?

    Comment by Vinny | March 21, 2009

  16. Dwight,

    I’m glad you are not arguing that Paul contradicts himself. That is good.
    Now, let us use good solid exegesis/hermeutics. We go from a text that is clearer to help us interpret one that might not be quite as clear. The earlier part of the chapter is much clearer, and therefore it is much more helpful to move in that direction, rather than backwards. Once again you show no signs of having read or studied the issue, only given a gloss to liberal writers.
    This is not to say that I believe that the latter half of the chapter is uninttellible, only that it can more easily be confused.
    Your second point is even more confused. God the father who is spirit, chooses to appear at times as a human being for the sake of revelation. God the son, who has risen bodily does not appear in physical form, for he has taken physical form with him. By the way, how is your theophany explanation any different than the usual old-school liberal line of a “spiritual” appearance? I suppose it was this same “theophany” that ate with the disciples, and was touched by them. Also, if he simply believed he saw a theophany of Jesus, why would he refer to Jesus as resurrected? This would be a total twisting of the term, and no where is there any indication that he has this in mind. The onus again is on you to show that he has completely transformed the term resurrection to one that means theophany. Also, you show a complete lack of understanding of the Greek terms used, and I would once again refer you to the linked aricle for clarification.

    If you have to go to Unitarians to show me that there was early liberalism, then you must be kidding. Unitarians are by nature, anti-Trinitarian and therefore not Christian. As for the UCC, what documents would indicate liberalism? I ask, because I know very little about them, except the general history.

    I have no problem with adaptation of terminology, as long as they are understood clearly in context or we destroy our ability to communicate effectively. What is deceptive is, for example, the mouthing of the apostle’s creed or the Nicene Creed, or the Westminster Confession of Faith, being asked to affirm them, and doing so when the person knows in their hearts that they are interpreting them in such a way as to mean the opposite. This has been the heritage of liberalism in mainline denominations, whether you like it or not. I know of many seminaries who tell their students to do just this, telling them that once they are ordained, they can openly espouse anything they want. These are the tools of Satan.

    Vinny,
    You clearly believe that the Bible is a purely human creation, while I believe “no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Scripture is the very word of God, communicated through the Holy Spirit, and therefore immune to human foible as you put it.

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  17. Adel

    I never claimed Paul contradicted himself in terms of resurrection. That was your assertion, not mine. I don’t claim knowledge of the Greek. Just the NRSV and some Bible commentaries I’ve read on the subject. You bring in the Gospels, and they may well contradict Paul on this issue. But that would be a different discussion all together.

    UCC’s statement of faith
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statement_of_Faith_of_the_United_Church_of_Christ

    If liberalism is by definition not Christian then any early example of liberalism and the church would violate your request. That’s a bit of a contradiction. I can point to any number of theologians (some of which you brought up such as the Tubingen school or Schleiermacher) or early popular American theologians. You granted that many seminaries had these discussions pretty early on. Harvard for instance in the 1830s. So whatever you may think about liberalism, it’s not new. It’s been around early on in Protestantism (in the same way evangelicalism has)

    As for your claims about mainline seminaries. I admittedly have only gone to two of them. One UCC, one Disciples of Christ. Never heard the claim you made but I doubt the school has to tell students how they should take up the creeds. I never experienced that. But I come from a non creedalist tradition, so the use of statements such as these take on a different role in my area of Protestantism than in your own.

    Yes we should seek to communicate. But here’s an example: If I say that God is the creator but I don’t mean 7 days, that is a difference is it not? Could I still speak of God creating apart from that? If a mainline student says I believe in God, the creator of heaven and earth and that student means God uses evolution, is that duplicitous? Or is it making sense of the idea of God as creator in the context we find ourselves today? I suppose if folks meant that the authors of Nicene believed in evolution, that would be wrong. But if folks are raising the question, what do these words mean for us today, I would not count that as a dishonesty. Even as I don’t count scientists using words like atom differently (even if there is a relation nonetheless) than it’s founding conception as dishonest.

    Comment by Dwight | March 21, 2009

  18. Dwight,

    Why bring in a statement from 1959? What is your point? Liberalism goes way back before this, and one mainliner that establishes a document in 1959 that has a great deal of liberal elements proves nothing whatsoever. How does this prove the earliness of liberalism?

    I thought you were in seminary? Do they no longer teach Greek? Your ignorance of the Greek language issues in 1 Corinthians is obvious, but let not your heart be troubled, this can be overcome with a little study, and Craig’s article can be very helpful as he explains many of the language issues on a lay level. You really do need to read this article. I will help you overcome some of your Greek deficiencies on this issue.

    As I pointed out very early in this discussion, there have been heretics, apostates, and “false teachers” right from the beginning. Paul refers to them as “false teachers” because they were in the church. This does not mean that he recognized them as teaching Christianity (back to the whole false teacher thing). Much of the church had become quite corrupt and apostate at the time of the Reformation, therefore the need for reformation. Most likely this will happen again very soon and on a large scale. The presence of apostates does not mean that Christianity has included them.

    I could for instance choose to join a pro-gay marriage group in town, do some positive work for them for a while and rise to an administrative position, call a press conference and tell everyone that I and others in the group believe that marriage should only between one man and one woman and that the Cookie Monster saves another soul every time he eats a cookie. Does this mean that this group believes these things? No, of course not. The heresy that began with post-Christian European schools and eventually seeped into all the mainline seminaries only shows what happens when Christians choose not to defend the walls.

    But you highlight an important point which I will discuss in a later post. That is that the Christian church in the last 100 years has been much too lenient with heretics. In an attempt to be sensitive and grace-filled and attempting to be as compassionate and inclusive as possible has brought these things upon themselves.

    You still fail to explain the distinction between your concept of a “theophany” of Jesus and a “spriritual resurrection”. What is the difference, other than terms? And you fail to make even a weak attempt to show why Paul would use the term resurrection for theophany. Why would Paul continuously use the term “raised” for a non-physical theophany? What exactly is raised? Why would Paul make such strong statements about the need for belief in this “raised, resurrected” aspect of Jesus? Why would he say that Christianity is basically worthless, if Jesus was not “raised”, if he simply means that he saw a theophany? Why wouldn’t he just argue that just as Moses or Abraham, etc. had a theophany experience, so did I and so did a whole bunch of people? Why keep talking about being raised after the third day? What is the point of the third day? How is dead, buried and raised after the third day, equal to I had a theophany like experience? It seems that you are saying exactly the opposite of what Paul is saying. In fact, your view would resonate much more with those in the Corinthian church who would be arguing that there is no resurrection. They would not have any problem with spiritual, ecstatic experiences, but had a problem with dogmatic factual Christianity, just like you do.
    You see there were liberals in the Bible, and they were referred to as “false teachers” and anti-Christs, later more fully developed as gnostics. And you are right, there is a stream and tradition of heretics that runs through the entirety of church history, morphing and changing over time, but with many of the same roots.

    Comment by Adel | March 21, 2009

  19. Dwight,

    One other note. Your statement about claiming that God is creator, by way of evolution is seriously problematic from both a scientific pov and the pov of the Bible. The attempt to meld the two satisfies neither. Darwinian evolution properly understood rejects the idea of “creation”. The views that posit either “eternal creationism” or de Chardin’s view, or even the Neorthodox view are completely inconsistent with Biblical revelation.
    I have always been a proponent of clear unambiguous statements of faith. So you are right. It is no longer sufficient to simply state that one believes in creation. There is greater need for more specific statements, without being overly narrow, which takes careful crafting.
    A statement of faith that affirms a personal God, who creates ex nihilo, without evolution is sufficient for me. But I am very sympathetic to views that are more conservative and require shorter time frames. After years and years and tens of thousands of pages, books, articles from serious science journals to theological works, I am unconvinced that the scientific evidence excludes the possibility of a young earth.

    Comment by Adel | March 22, 2009

  20. You asked for founding documents. The UCC statement of faith is one. If you want evidence of older forms of liberal religious thought, you seem to be able to identify them s easily as myself, in folks like Schleiermacher, etc.

    They do teach Greek in my seminary. And I plan to take it. But it’s my first year so cut me some slack *heh* Paul has a real experience with the risen Christ. It’s clearly not physical (he says as much) but it’s not a dream, fancy, or feeling inside. It’s something that knocks him off his donkey and the whole trajectory of his life. So it’s as real as anything else can be. So we may disagree with the metaphysics behind it, not its reality.

    As for the gnostics and other examples in early church history, it seems a bit ahistorical. Liberal protestantism emerges from the enlightenment, so do evangelicalism. They are both conditioned by that experience and their subsequent histories. The early church debates were on very different terms than this.

    As for creation, evolution, a God not indicated by the story of evolution in the end is a fantasy of sorts. And that does no favors to the Christian faith. I don’t accept the 2 magestrium theory of some liberals. I think Christian faith purports to inform us about the kind of world we live in and how to relate to that world appropriately. If we engage in fantasy in our descriptions of the world, the purpose of Christian faith is blocked, or stunted in some measure.

    Comment by Dwight | March 22, 2009

  21. Dwight,

    You were right on the UCC thing, in that I had asked in general for founding documents. What I meant was the older historic ones, such as those that eventually became the UCC much later. I should have been more specific, I apologize. I was asking for such evidence of ones founded in the 18th and 19th centuries, which would give greater credence to your claims. Although it would far from prove your point as I indicated that heresy and apostacy has tended to appear side by side with true believers (that whole wheat and tares thing of Jesus).
    As for your continued comments on Paul saying he didn’t see the “physical” Jesus, this is simply not true, and once again I would not make such a dogmatic statement if I could not read the text in Greek for myself, especially as you continue to show no evidence of having read Craig’s article, which I pointed you to on several occasions. Your obvious refusal to read said article, indicates a person who is not even willing to see the evidence for the opposing position. Certainly he did not meet Jesus before he was crucified and resurrected, but rather he was abnormally born as an apostle (a requirement for being an apostle as Paul himself tells us) by receiving a special commission with the physcially raised Jesus, coming down from the right hand of the Father in heaven, to meet him on the road to Damascus. This is the clear evidence when we put together the claims of Paul in his letters and the accounts in Acts. This is what the early Father’s of the church understood. This is what the great Reformers read. And this is the best way to understand the literary evidence.

    There is no further reason for us to go over this again and again, if you will not even bother to read Craig’s article and wrestle with his points.

    Thank you for the discussion.

    So other than using the term “theophany”, which is somewhat still vague, what would you describe what Paul actually saw. Since in other discussions we have had, you don’t believe in a personal God of traditional theism, what does a theophany mean from your perspective? Is it something like a ghost? Is it similar to an Eastern experience of ecstacy? What was it the others around Paul saw or heard? Was he really affected physically or was it psychosomatic? How would you as a modern/postmoder describe what Paul experienced, or would you just claim ignorance? Where is Jesus now, and what is the condition of his being? Is he just a spirit, and if so, what is spirit? Does he still exist as an individual being, or has that “identitiy” ceased to exist and now has merged with the ground of being, the world, the all, the good, or whatever?

    By the way, since you seem so enthralled with Paul’s discussion of the nature of the resurrected body, do you believe that believers will come back in resurrected bodies? What happens to believers when they die? Nonbelievers?

    Once again, if you read Craig’s article you will at least get a partial defense of the historic/traditional understanding of the language of Paul.

    Whether or not you like it, there are a great deal of similarities between 2nd and 3rd century gnostic thought and liberalism. There are some of the same type of denials of orthodoxy. While there are certainly dissimilarities, there are more similarities between modern liberalism/progressivism and gnosticism than there is between orthodox historic Christianity and liberalism. I did not say they were identical, only that there are a great deal of similarities, such as in the view on such a central issue as the resurrection. Saying that something termed so & so, comes from the enlightenment says absolutely nothing. Where does enlightenment thought come from? Where does that thought come from, etc.? There are strands of thought that echo quite well between liberalism and gnosticism.

    Evolution has more “fantasy” elements involved than creation ex nihilo.

    Comment by Adel | March 23, 2009

  22. I read your eloquent posting carefully. I did not find any evidence to tar Mr. McLaren with the brush of not believing in the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus. There were no quotes from his public addresses nor from his many writings. His only sin seems to be guilt by association. Dr. Borg’s comments are of themselves as they are.

    Comment by Joseph Cejka | March 23, 2009

  23. Regarding the body that Paul proclaims will be raised and changed, it is the same body with which we copulate, given how Paul grounds his ethic of human sexuality in 1 Cor. 6:13-14. In fact, it is on the basis of what God intends for our bodies in the resurrection that Paul says we are to live with chastity now, and so honor God with our bodies.

    That sounds like a physical body to me!

    Comment by Walter L. Taylor | March 23, 2009

  24. Walter,

    Welcome and thank you for your comment and your observation of the human sexuality link in 1 Cor. 6 and that of 1 Cor. 15. This is an excellent obersvation and one that I have not considered before. I will take some time to look into it. This could be very helpful.

    Comment by Adel | March 23, 2009

  25. Joseph,

    Welcome and thank you for thoroughly reading the entry. You are absolutely right that I did not specifically reference anything of McLaren’s in this particular entry. I will look at McLaren a little more closely in a later entry. When reading his books and interviews, one comes away with a sense that belief in almost anything that Christians have considered essential for millenia are of little value. The only essential for him seems to be very broad inclusiveness — which should be no surprise as one of his influential books is titled A Generous Orthodoxy. If you read him carefully, you will discover that faith for him has almost nothing to do with a belief system, but rather certain ethical aspects and social work. So what does he believe about the physical resurrection? That is just the point with his extremely “left-leaning emergent” theology (I am cautious here because not all those who are included within the emergent category are as liberal as McLaren)…he says vey little to nothing, for it just does not matter for him– again I will discuss his particular brand of theology in a later entry. His theology tends to fall more into Neoorthodoxy — which again rejects historicity and presents the statements of belief as a-historical.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Adel | March 23, 2009

  26. A few thoughts. I got sucked into work and school and haven’t had much free time to respond. But

    *I have read the Craig piece. It’s just that I can’t comment on the discussion of Paul’s Greek. I do find it curious that he and you think a theophany only happens in the head, does not include light, audio, etc. I’m not aware of any discussion of this concept that precludes this and most which assume it is included.

    *Christ, the power of God working for our salvation, is ever present and at work today in the church and in the society. In that sense the meaning of Jesus lives on. The biology not so much.

    *I could easily make a case for how conservative religion and gnosticism seem quite at home with each other. A good place to start is Howard Bloom’s work on the American religion. It’s an easy polemical tool (useful because so much early church fights were on the subject) but it doesn’t illuminate much.

    Comment by Dwight | March 24, 2009

  27. Dwight,

    You have answered none of the serious questions posed to you.

    I asked you to give me a serious answer about what it is that you mean by theophany, in the context that you use it. What is theophany with Jesus as opposed to the theophanies in the OT? What does theophany mean within your own view of a non-personal God?

    We have not even touched on how Paul constantly refers to Jesus’ resurrection throughout his letters.
    For instance how is your idea of theophany used by Paul in Romans 6:9?
    “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.”

    It certainly sounds to me like he is referring to a physical resurrection here, otherwise why would anyone think that Jesus could die again? Why would someone who believes that Jesus’ bones are still in a grave even talk about the possibility of Jesus dying again, unless he believes that Jesus was physically resurrected? We can talk about the same issues in at least a dozen other verses.

    Your so-called solution to the problem, only creates dozens of other problems that in no way deals with the many many times that Paul refers to the resurrection. You also have not explained why Paul would use the term resurrection, which as N.T. Wright rightly explains is nowhere else in Koinia Greek used to indicate anything other than physical resurrection. Why would Paul use this term to indicate something other than a physical resurrection? And if he is doing this, how will people read into the word the meaning you think he wishes to give it? I woud posit that your thesis is implausible.

    Your statement about Jesus being alive in the church, sounds fine, but if that is all, then that means he as an individual no longer exists in any way. Would you also use the same language about Mohammed being alive in Islam? Is Mahammed resurrected in Islam, just as Jesus is resurrected in the Christian church? Is Joseph Smith resurrected in the Mormon church? Would you be alright saying this?

    As for your comments on gnosticism being at home with conservatism…huh? What church history books are you reading? If there is one that makes this claim then it must be revisionist history to the extreme. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of church father documents that explicitly condemn the heresy of gnosticism. This does not sound like tolerance and inclusion to me.

    Comment by Adel | March 25, 2009

  28. Theophany might have any number of features depending on what resource you like but at bottom it’s a revelation of God. I’m not sure why that would have to be personal or not. I’m not sure that there should be a substantial difference between how they look in the OT versus NT for the purposes of this discussion.

    I’m not arguing that Paul is against a bodily resurrection. He tells us there was one and will be one. But then he tells us it’s not a physical body. It’s a spirit body. Not the same as disembodied of course. A whole different category. And that’s the distinction being lost. So if Paul uses the word body, and bodies tend to refer to physicality, then Paul in this context is using it for a different purpose than the term is normally used as. Not an uncommon thing then or now. And btw how does a spirit body die again? It can’t. That doesn’t indicate a doggone thing about it being physical or not.

    Yes I would say that Muhammad lives within Islam. And Joseph. Smith does likewise in the LDS. So does Socrates. And we’re still bedeviled by his categories and thought today.

    As for my point on gnosticism. I recommended a book. It’s Alan Bloom’s The American Religion. He’s not saying the church fathers were gnostic. He’s describing American religious groups, who today would be understood as conservative including the LDS and the Southern Baptists. And no, I don’t take the early church fathers to be pluralistic. And am aware of a number of persecutions, heresy trials, and burnings at the stake. When did I ever stake something on if the church fathers were tolerant? I think enough blood had to be shed in Europe before toleration could make sense as an idea. I hope the gain we got from that is not lost (though it seems to be in much of the world.)

    Comment by Dwight | March 25, 2009

  29. Dwight,

    While I have appreciated the conversation, I do not believe we are making any progress.

    You make statements and defend claims without any serious systematic defense.
    For instance, you write, “Theophany might have any number of features depending on what resource you like but at bottom it’s a revelation of God. I’m not sure why that would have to be personal or not. I’m not sure that there should be a substantial difference between how they look in the OT versus NT for the purposes of this discussion.”

    Now this is all fascinating conjecture, but you have made no significant biblical or philosophical defense for this position. You have only created many more problems and answered none.

    What in the world is a “revelation” from a non-personal entity? How does a non-personal “god” choose to reveal? Why would “god” choose to reveal in this manner and to this person? What is “reveal” or “revelation” from a non-personal being? Why reveal as “resurrection” when the body is still in the grave? Why was the body not produced to debunk the whole Jesus, Christian thing anyhow?

    You also say, “I’m not arguing that Paul is against a bodily resurrection. He tells us there was one and will be one. But then he tells us it’s not a physical body. It’s a spirit body. Not the same as disembodied of course. A whole different category. And that’s the distinction being lost. So if Paul uses the word body, and bodies tend to refer to physicality, then Paul in this context is using it for a different purpose than the term is normally used as. Not an uncommon thing then or now. And btw how does a spirit body die again? It can’t. That doesn’t indicate a doggone thing about it being physical or not.”

    #1 You are once again reading the text backwards. You are making incorrect assumptions and interpretive errors about the Greek terms that Paul is using and Craig addresses that issue, so I will not do so here.

    #2 Even if I were to give you the point that Paul is talking about a spirit body (and I utterly reject this), that would still only indicate the transformed aspect of the resurrected body. This would still not eliminate the fact that Paul is clearly speaking about Jesus’ physical body being “resurrected” then transformed, even if I were to give you that it might no longer include anything truly physical (which I don’t). Otherwise Paul’s entire line of reasoning in the first part of 1 Cor. 15 would be complete nonsense, as his opponents would have no problem with a non-physical resurrection, if there were such a thing, which is just pure nonsense.

    #3 The entire idea of a non-physical body, is like the concept of a square circle. It is illogical and nonsense.

    Since you seem to be alright to speak about resurrection of Mohammed in Islam, etc., then that is a complete rejection of Jesus as Lord, for it is by Christ’s resurrection from the dead that he is declared Lord and Christ.

    Comment by Adel | March 26, 2009

  30. A few comments

    I’m not sure the word theophany needs a defense. What is it that your contesting?

    I can gain insight, even an ah hah moment, get some sense of the character of any number of things, personal or not. So whether God is or is not (I leave that to others to decide) doesn’t affect whether it’s possible for God to be revealed, anymore than the idea that the universe can reveal things to folks (in this case to folks engaged in scientific inquiries) isn’t dependent on the universe being personal or not.

    A non physical body is odd to you? Begotten but not made is too. Christians have a history of creating new categories to make sense of our experiences, Paul is no different here. In fact it would make no sense to mak a distinction between a spirit body versus a physical one, if I was to believe that there is no difference.

    In Acts, we’re told that the resurrection puts God’s stamp of approval on the life of Jesus. It’s the sign of, not the substance of what makes him Lord. Folks have risen from the dead in any number of religions, including Lazarus. There’s something about who Jesus was, his interactions, his character, his context, that made the difference. It’s not a physical resuscitation of a corpse. That would indicate nothing special about him.

    Comment by Dwight | March 26, 2009

  31. So let’s sum up your position as I see it:

    Jesus’ body is in the grave.

    What Paul saw was a non-personal god choosing to reveal in a special way to him.

    You believe in non-physical physical bodies — the term bodies refers to physicality — (I still see no evidence that you have read Craig’s article or you would know this).

    Jesus is no more special than Mohammed or Joseph Smith.

    Jesus was special because he was a real good guy.

    Enjoy your very strange parasitic faith.

    Comment by Adel | March 26, 2009

  32. I believe Jesus is central precisely because of who he was. Not based on supernatural tricks, but because of his character. That’s why he is Lord. The world’s religions are filled with the first, the latter is the only thing that ever matters.

    Comment by Dwight | March 26, 2009


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