Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Doing My Best to Undermine the Authority of Scripture

A new Presbyterian break-off has been formed.  I wrote about it here, ECO?  Seriously?   According to this chart, this latest denomination would be the tenth Presbyterian denomination currently active in the United States.   


Why so many?   It is about Truth of course.   It is about the Authority of Scripture.   
  • That is why in 1861 the PCUS broke away because the Truth of Scripture was clear that slavery was ordained by God.
  • That is why in 1932 the OPC broke away because the Truth of Scripture was clear that  "Modernism" (ie. Historical Criticism of the Bible and Evolution) was wrong.
  • That is why in 1973 the PCA broke away because the Truth of Scripture was clear that women should stay out of the pulpit.
  • That is why in 2012 the ECO broke away because the Truth of Scripture was clear that gays should stay out of the pulpit, too.
As with the other break-offs it is not slavery, evolution, women, gays or other worldly reasons.  It is about how the Truth and the Authority of Scripture have been compromised by the main body of Presbyterians who are chasing after that harlot "Culture" and her wicked ways.  

Now the cynics might say that it isn't the Authority of Scripture at all, just unwillingness to change with a dash of prejudice.  But that wouldn't be fair.  I believe them.  It is about the Authority of Scripture.  Not only that, the PC(USA) is awash in heresy and it refuses to do anything about it.  

Take for example, me.  I think the Bible is wrong about most everything.  It is wrong about evolution, slavery, women, and gays.   It has no authority on those topics.   I think the Bible is wrong about cosmology, history, our future, Jesus, and God.   The texts were all written by human beings without any supernatural or special revelation.   Yet I preach in a PC(USA) pulpit.  Run!  Flee!  Escape while you can into the refreshing waters of pure doctrine!   

Ten denominations aren't near enough.  We will need plenty more break-offs before we finally give up on the oppressive notion of the Authority of Scripture.   The Bible contains no truth outside of what we can discover through public means of inquiry.   Don't misunderstand.  I enjoy the Bible.  It is a marvelous human book.  I read it and study it with all the critical means at my disposal.   In so doing, I will do my part to undermine its Authority which I think is the next important step for religious freedom.     



20 comments:

Alan said...

Interestingly, if you read their documents, while they have created a list of fundamentals (of course they have, but no, no, no, they're not fundamentalists) they claim that there is plenty of wiggle room around them ... that is, they're supposedly willing to allow some dispute about their fundamentals.

So.... what's the point, exactly?

Oh right....the gays.

Reverend Sax said...

Thank you, John, for such a clear statement of the history of biblical authority. Of course now there is no authority! Whatever shall we do?

Pastor M said...

John,
I want to thank you. Our church was having a difficult time trying to decide whether or not to leave the denomination. After showing your post to our elders they unanimously voted to leave.

...and no, it's not about "the gays." Our Session cares very little about basing our decisions on issues such as that. Their decision to leave was made easier by the fact that an openly heretical person can stand in the pulpit of a PCUSA church and not come under church discipline from your Presbytery. This denomination has no courage and is completely unwilling to bring a pastor who clearly and has openly stated that Christ is not the only way unto salvation. Unbelievable.

May God bless the PCUSA - and by that I mean, may his blessing pour out in such a way that people would have their hearts touched by his unchanging word and not their itching ears by heretical teaching, and may they run to solid teaching and a place they might be blessed.

John Shuck said...

Score!

You are most welcome.

I am happy to be of service to any other fundamentalist churches who need help making a decision to flee to more true believing pastures.

Alan said...

Wow.

I am happy to bestow the award for "Most Fragile Human Beings on the Planet" to the session of that church. The award consists of plaque printed on a microscopically thin piece of glass and a bottle of smelling salts.

One wonders how such fragile people are able to make it through the day without retiring to their fainting couches hourly. God forbid they get caught outdoors during something as terrifying as a gentle spring breeze.

And John, of course, we'll give you the Golden Hammer award inscribed, "John Shuck: Ridding the PCUSA of the flaccid and fragile fussbudgets since 2012."

Seriously, I'm not sure what I find more amazing, 1) that someone would actually make such a decision, or 2) that someone crow about said decision as if being such a bunch of pantywaists was something to be proud of? "Yay! We're pathetic and let me write a comment on a blog to brag about it!"

Well, bra-vo, kitten. You sure showed us!

Well, best wishes and many blessings on your new pursuits, Pastor M. Yours is clearly a decision that is best for all of us.

Alan said...

(BTW, I now notice that Pastor M is SO proud of his decision he remains anonymous. Quel surprise!)

Pastor M said...

It's good to know that the love of Christ dwells richly in you, even as my frustration runs over about John's sermons and lack of beliefs.

I have never claimed to be perfect and don't always have the tact I should. I just love it though when the Progressives talk about how loving they are and hateful the "Fundamentalists" are and then when you get poked in the eye you come out swinging without an ounce of grace and love.

Furthermore, if you are unable to read a post and see sarcasm or recognize that I'm overstating the point then you need to read more of John's sermons about reading metaphorically. If you really think our Session's sole decision comes as a result of this post you're crazy. Man Alan, you guys are wound up tighter than I thought!
But I will concede that the Progressives won the day and therefore we should simply leave with our mouths shut. So for that I apologize and will leave it alone.

Sarah S-D said...

John, you know that I respect many of your views and much of the work that you have done in and for our denomination, but I suspect you also know that I find troubling a smug tone of glee at another moment of schism in the history of our denomination (and of Christ's church more broadly speaking).

Further, I am troubled by the sweeping statements you make in your declaration of all that the Bible is wrong about. The Bible is wrong on women? Universally? So it is wrong to record the faithful leadership and discipleship of numerous women (counter to the patriarchal culture in which those stories were composed)? It is wrong to affirm there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female in Christ Jesus? While certain popular NT prohibitions of women's fitness for church leadership may rightly be called wrong, particularly as interpreted in the context of the Bible as a whole and while there are numerous "texts of terror" that do nothing overtly to further the liberation of women and the overcoming of patriarchal oppression, and while we should read the Bible prayerfully and critically why do we need to evacuate all authority from the text? Rejecting plain-sense literalism need not entail rejecting authority.

I know you love the Bible. I know you have encouraged its reading to excellent effect in a congregation you once served and loved and (who loves you). I imagine you still do.

But I grieve the tone of this post and the sweeping assertions which further discord and alienation in the Body of Christ- surely not our calling as those ordained to lead it.

Alan said...

"Man Alan, you guys are wound up tighter than I thought! "

Wound up? It isn't clear to me why you'd think I actually care from what I wrote. See, here's one difference between the fundies and me, I don't actually care what you're doing in your church. I'm not your babysitter, I'm not your mother, I'm not the Church Lady and unlike the fundies, I don't care to be any of the above. Want to leave? Leave! Any Presbyterian can leave the PCUSA at any time for any reason.

So as I said in my previous comment: Fly! Be free! We'll both be better off. Not sure what's "tightly wound" about that. It isn't like you actually disagree that we'll both be better off or you wouldn't have made this decision in the first place, eh? So why pretend to either disagree or be annoyed that I agree with you? Instead of posting a comment full of phony indignation, I'd think you'd be proud of your decision and not be here begging for my approval.

Love and grace? Hey, I'm not going on some witch-hunt against you. I'm not going after your job, your pension, trying to get you kicked out of your home or Presbytery. The same cannot be said for the activities of your fundy brethren over the last couple decades. Compared to their actions, heck, I'm positively overflowing with kittens and sunbeams! So drop your persecution complex and get a grip on reality here, ok? If you're that overwrought by a blog comment from a complete stranger, then I'd say my observations about your fragility hit pretty close to the mark.

John Shuck said...

Sarah,

Welcome and thanks for your comment. I appreciate all your work for our denomination and for your critique of my post. It may be well deserved.

In my defense, I am not gleeful about schism. I am alternatively bored and disgusted. I am certainly not going to pander or grovel. I will treat people like adults. If they want to leave, they have my blessing and we will figure out how much of the silver they can take.

This last gentleman wants to blame me for their leaving. While I think that a tad co-dependent, nevertheless, if true, then fine, I will happily be his excuse.

But I never lose sight that the reason they need to leave is because they are losing power to hurt people I love. For twenty years I have been ordained in a denomination whose official policy has been one of discrimination and dehumanization. That discrimination was present long before my ordination. My theology is a preferential option for those put down by religion.

The refrain from the schismatics is that it is because of the "authority of scripture" that they wish to harm my friends (or leave the church because they cannot harm them anymore).

This post was simply taking that consideration seriously. If the authority of scripture is the authority to hurt my friends as it has hurt countless people before, then maybe it is time to destroy the authority.

We get no benefit in my view by putting a halo around oppressive texts. The Bible has been oppressive. You shall know them by their fruits. The fruits of the Bible's authority has been slavery, violations of human rights, anti-science, and religious war. This is not because of the individual texts of the Bible. It is because of its supposed "authority." Who benefits by the authority of the Bible? Those who want to do harm by it.

It is time to kill the authority. Take out its teeth. Let it be a human book. Then we can regard it as a word of the ancestors, wrong on most accounts, but surprisingly insightful on occasion.

John Shuck said...

Sarah (again),

I have much admiration for you. You are a friend. Even as I stand by my evolving position regarding the Bible (the authority of which I really think is the problem), as my tone offended you, I am sorry for that.

Blessed Be,
john

Sarah S-D said...

You're welcome, John. I apologize for characterizing your tone as "smug glee"- when you say things like "I will happily be his excuse" that's what funds my reading of glee, but I take your correction. I appreciate your loyalty to the wounded and the oppressed, your preferential option for the much abused by Bible beating and otherwise. I do not hold you accountable for the departures of brothers and sisters in Christ who make that grievous choice of their own accord.

I just invite you to reflect on the message we're sending the world by splintering again and again. It is important to send a message of justice for the oppressed, of radical inclusion, of awe inspiring grace-- and i would agree with you that the reversal of our denominational policies re: sexual minorities is a move in the right direction. But it is also important to send a message of grace that transforms human lives and relationships, that overcomes all that divides and sets in opposition, when we mirror the culture wars again and again and break fellowship again and again... seriously, people can legitimately ask- what difference does the grace of Jesus Christ make?

What is the basis of your passionate commitment to justice, John? What underlies it? What drives it?

Sarah S-D said...

I don't ask that last question out of a lack of respect for the commitment. I have deep respect for the commitment. I ask because if you do not stand on the authority of scripture, I'm wondering to what you do ascribe authority, and, in particular, what theological sources inform your convictions.

Sarah S-D said...

Thanks for your kind additional word, I saw it after my second comment!

John Shuck said...

Sarah,

The tone isn't glee it is more of a "I won't be bullied or play into passive-aggression" kind of tone.

Yes, the grace of Jesus Christ is valuable. The more valuable ethic I draw from Jesus is his humanity. His willingness to be executed before giving up his humanity. He would not be treated as less than a human. He encouraged others to do the same.

In Memphis, the summer MLK was shot, the garbage workers marched with signs that said "I am a man."

I don't know if that is the grace of Jesus but that is the strength of Jesus needed in 1968 and today.

There may have been a time for the garbage workers to forgive and use gracious speech with the mayor, but it wasn't then.

This little schism in the PCUSA is not the end. This battle (and it is a battle) is long from over. I am in no position to shed tears over those who wish to leave the PCUSA because they can no longer treat my friends as less than human. Someday, when there is justice, there can be reconciliation. I look forward to that day.

I think that is a fine witness to any culture. Don't ever let anyone treat you less than a human being.

That has to do with authority.

Buddha said, "Be your own light."

Jesus said, "You are the light of the world."

It isn't because Jesus and Buddha said those words that they are authoritative. It is because what they said is true that their words have authority, at least for me. Authority is earned by the truth it tells.

The people who wrote the Bible had some points of truth. But it is a 2000 year old collection. I don't read Aristotle for physics. The Bible was a product of its time.

Personally, I draw a lot of strength from the historical Jesus, as I have reconstructed him with the help of scholars, parishioners, etc.

I would say that the critical study of the Bible and Jesus, coupled with my lay knowledge and love for science, plus the many incredible people who fight for justice who I work with everyday has done more for my commitment than anything else.

That is in spite of, not because of, the creeds of the church including the authority of scripture and all the rest of the stuff we are supposed to believe.

I think the church and its theology needs a shakedown. It needs to catch up with science, let go of special revelation (which is related to the authority of the Bible), and address the crises that we are facing.

If the denomination and its institutions cannot do that without getting out of their creeds, then I'll just do it over here on my blog.

I am becoming more convinced that the supposed authority of the Bible, Qur'an, or of any text is detrimental to our future. Not just the church, but Earth and the human species.

That doesn't mean there may not be good things in the texts. In fact, there are and we need to extract them.

But as a whole all "sacred" texts need a demotion, in part so that we can truly read them in respect for their human authors, and in part to cease thinking that these books can solve our problems.

That is up to us.

Snad said...

John - your last comment is worth a month of Sundays.

Paul Rack said...

John, you seem to share with the fundamentalists the modernist bias that says the Bible is a collection of facts, historical, scientific, and otherwise. You have concluded these facts are wrong, thus the Bible has no authority. In this you are mostly right. The fundamentalists insist the facts in the Bible are true. They are mostly wrong by any modern definition of facts.

What if it's not, and never has been, about facts? What if the Bible has always been a collection of stories, myths, poetry, hymns, prayers, parables, metaphors, visions, dreams, memories, and analogies never intended to be taken literally in the modern sense?

The Bible is true because it's not factual. It is true because it is good and beautiful; it's goodness and beauty and truth is enhanced because it embraces even evil and ugliness and falsehood.

Sometimes I wish the liberals and the fundamentalists would take their obsolete and anachronistic argument about the facts outside.

As for authority, it is an imperialist category to begin with. And I'm pretty sure making myself (my reason, my bias, my prejudice, my desires, my perspectives, etc.) the new authority doesn't solve anything.

The prophets, up through Jesus and Paul, were in the business of knocking down authorities, including the Scriptures. "The letter kills but the Spirit gives life."

I wonder if we aren't entering into an "open source" age of the Spirit in which gathered communities reflect together on the quality of their discipleship of Jesus in light of Scripture's manifold witness, and life's blizzard of confusing challenges.

Surely there is some way forward that is neither "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it," and "all the people did what was right in their own eyes."

I pray that as those holding to the former depart from the PCUSA, we will not be left to the latter view, a laissez faire spirituality which leads is into the same kind of tyranny as laissez faire economics.

Sorry for the lengthy post....

John Shuck said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the comment.

John, you seem to share with the fundamentalists the modernist bias that says the Bible is a collection of facts, historical, scientific, and otherwise. You have concluded these facts are wrong, thus the Bible has no authority.

No, and I think those who have heard my sermons or read anything I have written about the Bible would see that is not how I view it. But it must be fun comparing me with a fundamentalist.

What if it's not, and never has been, about facts? What if the Bible has always been a collection of stories, myths, poetry, hymns, prayers, parables, metaphors, visions, dreams, memories, and analogies never intended to be taken literally in the modern sense?

No disagreement here.

The Bible is true because it's not factual. It is true because it is good and beautiful; it's goodness and beauty and truth is enhanced because it embraces even evil and ugliness and falsehood.

I guess. My issue is not with what the texts say or whether or not they are beautiful, ugly or whatever. The issue is the theological authority placed on the collection.


Surely there is some way forward that is neither "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it," and "all the people did what was right in their own eyes."


I am sure there is. That is what I advocate. That would include having a conversation about what is right, wrong, and so on and so forth. The wisdom from various texts can be resources for making those decisions.

You might enjoy my post, What Is Religion?

Sarah S-D said...

I think we need to connect for lunch, John. We're in the same state afterall... And my schedule is super flexible these days. I truly appreciate your lengthy response to my last comment, and want to discuss it, but keep starting and deleting responses. I'm out of practice at dialogue in the blogosphere. So, when can we connect? Would you do me the honor?

John Shuck said...

Sarah,

I would love to have lunch with you and catch up on a lot of things. Maybe if you e-mail me we can work out specifics? johnashuck at embarqmail dot com