Shuck and Jive

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

Thursday, July 19, 2007

WISDOM, IMMANENCE AND ELECTION



Bob's turn in Conversations with Bob!

John

Thanks for your last post. It does leave me a bit confused, which I will address. I do want to say, in response to one of our listeners that if anyone understood me to say that progressivism is what’s wrong with the world, let me correct that. The big problem in the world is sin. All of us sin. A related problem is human fallibility. We may think we are making things better but sometimes our better turns out to be worse or at least leads to another problem. Progressives don’t sin any more or less than anyone else.

I’m also all for using whatever we have in this world to make things better for all people, including science. I agree with you, John, that the core human problem in this age and in any age is spiritual. I suspect, given one of the things you said, that we disagree how the problem is spiritual and maybe even about what spiritual means. Anyway, more agreement first.

I agree that God is both immanent and transcendent. In fact I think that is a core belief of Christianity. I am not entirely sure that we agree on what immanent and transcendent mean because you used the word, “panentheism,” to describe where you are “adrift without a rudder.” If you are a panentheist we disagree about how God is immanent. But I’ll let your respond to that before we argue the point. I agree with you that God is intimately involved in creation. That is particularly true since Jesus was on earth and was/is God incarnate.

I agree that God and humans are to work to make God’s good earth and human society better. Since I am Reformed I would say that God works through humans. Since I am Reformed but also human I have to say that sometimes I think God pushes us into things that we don’t want to do, (sometimes God drags us kicking and screaming into missions we wanted to avoid at all costs!), and sometimes I think, “Wow! What a coincidence!” Of course as a believer in the doctrine of providence I don’t really believe in coincidence, but it is difficult sometimes to see God at work, particularly that God would actually want to work through me.

I agree with what you quoted from Evan Almighty. Harry Emerson Fosdick used an illustration in a sermon one time about a person who prayed for patience and that person then went out and hired an incompetent cook. Yep, time for patience!

I would use different words to describe where wisdom might be found. I believe that Jesus is Wisdom, that being one of the possible translations of logos in John 1. But I also think that while Jesus is the center of life, the one way of salvation and true wisdom incarnate, that we need to listen to people from other faiths as well, particularly when they point out what they see as our flaws and how our flaws touch their sensibilities. When President Bush used the word crusade to describe the war against terror and particularly as he proposed a war in Iraq I winced. Didn’t he get it that using the word crusade when talking to or about Muslims is like waving a red cape in front of a bull? Crusade to a Muslim means those Christians are coming here to rape the women and girls, steal our lands, houses and cities, and kill us all!

On top of that and this will probably upset some of my Evangelical friends, I think that other religions may have things partially right. Is God omnipotent? Traditional Christianity says yes, as does traditional Judaism and Islam. I don’t think traditional Christians mean exactly the same thing by the word as do Muslims but we agree that God is omnipotent. Curiously, I suspect that you and I will disagree about this. So yes, I do think that other religions have things to teach Christians and this includes how to care for God’s creation and how to love other people. We need to listen.

As to the quote from the Progressive Christianity site, you say it isn’t strong enough and then strengthen it with words that sound more traditionally Christian to me than the words from the site. Certainly people can be faithful to their own faith traditions. The quote from the site suggests that the truth claims of other religions, (and I think the quote suggests all the truth claims of other religions), are also true. I disagree with this. I believe all claims to truth, and I’m speaking theologically here, not scientifically, must be held up to the Truth that God shows us in Jesus Christ and the truth that God reveals to us in the Bible.

So I think there is certainly a task of evangelism, loving others into the Kingdom of God, or maybe I should say that the Holy Spirit may use us to love others into the Kingdom of God. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t learn from those of other beliefs about ways that Christians have misused the Bible in the past. The idea that I can use Creation as I see fit because I have dominion over Creation and the idea that Christians are somehow more deserving than others because they are Christians are simply evil. Being a Christian is election by God, yes, to God’s forgiveness but also to service to God in many and varied ways on a daily basis.

Finally, I find your use of the word election curious. I agree with you that election means that we can put life beyond this world in God’s hands. We don’t have to worry about whether God loves us or not and whether we will be received into the Kingdom of God or not. Your earlier statement that you don’t expect to experience any kind of life after death says to me that we may disagree about what finding peace through election means. Have you changed your mind about life after death? Further, I believe election does mean that one has faith in Jesus.

Enough for now.

Grace and Peace in Christ

Bob

5 comments:

  1. Certainly people can be faithful to their own faith traditions. The quote from the site suggests that the truth claims of other religions, (and I think the quote suggests all the truth claims of other religions), are also true. I disagree with this. I believe all claims to truth, and I’m speaking theologically here, not scientifically, must be held up to the Truth that God shows us in Jesus Christ and the truth that God reveals to us in the Bible.

    I don't know that all religions are "true", but I do believe that all religions have a claim on truth. But I also think that all religions are human enterprises and can never claim but a piece of this truth. That is how different religions can address people's needs for transcendence in different ways.

    The reality is that we all can learn wisdom from other religions. Bob cites omnipotence as an example. Since I disagree with the doctrine of omnipotence, I naturally don't agree with that example. In any case, I think it ignores the unique and valuable insights of other faiths to reduce their contribution to Christianity to those areas where they can just remind Christians of their own theological principles (be it omnipotence or whatever.) That is too simplistic and condescending.

    When I look at Buddhism, I see wisdom, for example, in its understanding of the impermanence of our attachments, or the interrelatedness of all things. These are uniquely Buddhist concerns. Christianity may or may not accept those ideas, but it certainly does not focus on those two issues in the way that Buddhism does. So here we have an example of where two religions can complement one another. Similarly, the historical role of Jewish and Christian prophets can offer something for Buddhists to consider. That isn't to say that I favor syncretism of all faiths into one giant mega-religion. I don't think that is possible. But I do think that wisdom can be found by considering the different approaches to infinite truth that different faiths take. We do indeed have things to learn from one another.

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  2. I am also a little curious about what he thinks immanence means, since he agrees with panentheism that God is both immanent and transcendent but then says that his concept of immanence is different.

    The notion that God is both immanent and transcendent is essential to what panentheism is all about. Marcus Borg spends time talking about this in one of his books (I think "The God We Never Knew", but I'm not sure)

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  3. Regarding other religions and truth, revelation is not exclusive to Christianity. Look at Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, in Exodus 18, and a priest of pagan religions. But God uses Jethro to rebuke and redirect Moses.

    That said, there are significant elements of other religions that we can see with our own eyes are categorically false: such as the belief in karma that dalits are born to be slaves, numerous factual claims in the Qur'an that can be traced to earlier fictional writings as well as women's inferiority in Islam. I agree with Bob, that Jesus is the measuring tape for truth. I have never heard a complaint about Jesus that wasn't an obvious misrepresentation.

    I like Bob's common sense here. He was also against the Iraq war for Christian purposes so he doesn't have to bother with this "Bush fooled me about the WMDs" nonsense. WMDs or not, there was no Christian argument for war.

    Count me as a fan of Bob!

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  4. Mystical Seeker,
    There is a difference between the orthodox view of immanence and the panentheistic view. The biblical view is that God is intimately involved with creation but not a part of creation. The panentheistic view is that God is to creation as the head is to the body. In other words, creation is not God or God creation as in pantheism, but creation is a part of God. Or to put it another way God is more than creation.

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  5. I really like what Bob is saying here. I want to add something else to the mix. Bob says to John: “I agree with you that God is intimately involved in creation. That is particularly true since Jesus was on earth and was/is God incarnate.” I have been working on an article on the sacraments as seen by Calvin, and I am enriched by his views about God’s deep involvement with the Jews in their sacraments such as washings and sacrifices. He sees Christ promised in each. My point being that in Christ before and after the incarnation God through him is intimately involved in creation. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all God's promises to his people.

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