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!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Meaning of Life, Part 14


So, then, Christ may be said to be a fiction in the four senses that (1) it is quite possible that there was no historical Jesus. (2) Even if there was, he is lost to us, the result being that there is no historical Jesus available to us. Moreover, (3) the Jesus who "walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own" is an imaginative visualization and in the nature of the case can be nothing more than a fiction. And finally, (4) 'Christ' as a corporate logo for this and that religious institution is a euphemistic fiction, not unlike Ronald McDonald, Mickey Mouse, or Joe Camel, the purpose of which is to get you to swallow a whole raft of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors by an act of simple faith, short-circuiting the dangerous process of thinking the issues out to your own conclusions.
--Robert Price, Jesus is Dead, p. 279

19 comments:

  1. They once said "God is dead" too, but he still seems to be making himself known in the lives his children...

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  2. Bob Price is a wealth of Biblical and religious historical information. I love hearing him. He challenges me to rethink what I once thought.

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  3. Rob--I think that is the power of it all. What we have projected on to God or Jesus is what we have in ourselves.

    Mike L.--I, too, appreciate Robert Price. He and others have challenged me to think about things I thought I had already settled. It is unsettling, but freeing.

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  4. Find--and deal with--well-documented serious historical information that is avoided, evaded and glossed in Christian circles at

    www.netzarim.co.il

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  5. The eternal God is infinitely more than reality idealized or the universe personalized. God is not simply the supreme desire of man, the mortal quest objectified. Neither is God merely a concept, the power-potential of righteousness. The Universal Father is not a synonym for nature, neither is he natural law personified. God is a transcendent reality, not merely man's traditional concept of supreme values. God is not a psychological focalization of spiritual meanings, neither is he "the noblest work of man." God may be any or all of these concepts in the minds of men, but he is more. He is a saving person and a loving Father to all who enjoy spiritual peace on earth, and who crave to experience personality survival in death. (23.5)

    As a reality in human spiritual experience God is not a mystery. But when an attempt is made to make plain the realities of the spirit world to the physical minds of the material order, mystery appears: mysteries so subtle and so profound that only the faith-grasp of the God-knowing mortal can achieve the philosophic miracle of the recognition of the Infinite by the finite, the discernment of the eternal God by the evolving mortals of the material worlds of time and space. (27.2)

    The religionist of philosophic attainment has faith in a personal God of personal salvation, something more than a reality, a value, a level of achievement, an exalted process, a transmutation, the ultimate of time-space, an idealization, the personalization of energy, the entity of gravity, a human projection, the idealization of self, nature's upthrust, the inclination to goodness, the forward impulse of evolution, or a sublime hypothesis. The religionist has faith in a God of love. Love is the essence of religion and the wellspring of superior civilization. (1124.5)

    The realities and values of spiritual progress are not a "psychologic projection"--a mere glorified daydream of the material mind. Such things are the spiritual forecasts of the indwelling Adjuster, the spirit of God living in the mind of man. And let not your dabblings with the faintly glimpsed findings of "relativity" disturb your concepts of the eternity and infinity of God. And in all your solicitation concerning the necessity for self-expression do not make the mistake of failing to provide for Adjuster-expression, the manifestation of your real and better self. (2078.8)

    God is not the mere invention of man's idealism; he is the very source of all such superanimal insights and values. God is not a hypothesis formulated to unify the human concepts of truth, beauty, and goodness; he is the personality of love from whom all of these universe manifestations are derived. The truth, beauty, and goodness of man's world are unified by the increasing spirituality of the experience of mortals ascending toward Paradise realities. The unity of truth, beauty, and goodness can only be realized in the spiritual experience of the God-knowing personality. (2095.8)

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  6. You might enjoy these short reads from the Biblical scholar Stephen Finlan, who deconstructs the atonement doctrine revealing its origins were not in Jesus’ own original message:

    Problems with Atonement

    Options on Atonement in Christian Thought

    Theosis: Deification in Christian Theology

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  7. It seems biblical scholars have given us a wealty of information about how to distinguish between the original message of Jesus - the gospel of Jesus - and the later message about him and his person - the gospel about Jesus.

    It is this original message that holds the greatest meaning and value it seems, regardless of whom one thinks Jesus was as a person.

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  8. To "follow Jesus" means to personally share his religious faith and to enter into the spirit of the Master's life of unselfish service for man. One of the most important things in human living is to find out what Jesus believed, to discover his ideals, and to strive for the achievement of his exalted life purpose. Of all human knowledge, that which is of greatest value is to know the religious life of Jesus and how he lived it. (2090.4)

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  9. This: " the Jesus who "walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own" is an imaginative visualization and in the nature of the case can be nothing more than a fiction" is peculiar. Given that this imaginative visualization has enormous power and transforms countless lives, it is impossible to dismiss it with the insult of calling it "fiction." Yes, fiction can be powerful, but Price is diminishing a great power and it makes him sound dishonest.

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  10. Three things:

    1. I wholeheartedly endorse the notion that our first calling should to embrace and seek out the religion of Jesus instead of focusing on the religion about Jesus. I think this is part of the importance of the Jesus Seminar and the quest for the historical Jesus. The whole point of showing a self-sacrificing love is to demonstrate the idea that "its not about me". Sometimes I envision us standing next to Jesus and worshiping his outstretched hand instead of at the direction he's pointing.

    2. I respect John's proddings by these posts -- there's value in being challenged to examine what you believe and why you believe it.

    but,

    3. I don't get why one would become a Presbyterian pastor (or keep working as one) if one doesn't subscribe at some level to at least some of the essential propositions. The retirement is pretty good, and the job has its perks, but the ordination vows require one to affirm some statements of belief.

    I follow this blog somewhat infrequently and comment rarely, and I mean this quite respectfully. But how do you square what seems to be an essential contradiction?

    I haven't completely settled some of these questions in my own mind, so I'm not asking from some sense of higher moral authority. I'm married to a Calvinist and he often reminds me we're all miserable worms. :-)

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  11. Russell,

    Thanks for pointing that out. Actually, that was one of the things that bothered me as well about this statement. We do that very thing in worship. I find it helpful personally as well.

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  12. Thanks Brian.

    I appreciate that you visit!

    I will take your question in the spirit it is offered, as a sincere question rather than as it is often addressed here in some sort accusing way.

    My honest question is a reply:

    How do you know whether I subscribe or don't subscribe to the "essential propositions" and can you list those propositions for me?

    Again, glad you (and your husband) visit and comment!

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  13. Well my sense from what you've talked about here is that you don't believe in the divinity of Jesus, or perhaps even his historical existence, the resurrection, etc. I haven't done a very careful reading, so this is just my impression of "what John believes".

    There's a whole bunch of "I do"s and "I will"s in W-4.4003 that constitute the ordination vows. I certainly felt challenged by them when I was ordained as an elder. I certainly included a "with God's help" at a couple of points in the ceremony.

    Maybe my question is a bit broader: at what point when one finds ones beliefs departing from the "orthodox" view (however narrow or broad one wants to set the boundaries) is one no longer an adherent of the same faith?

    Or am I just asking "what are the essential tenents" or, for heaven's sake, the "fundamentals"? And round and round we go...

    I suppose this is what we've been arguing about for a long time now, with the sexuality stuff as a sort of a proxy war. :-)

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  14. “Maybe my question is a bit broader: at what point when one finds ones beliefs departing from the "orthodox" view (however narrow or broad one wants to set the boundaries) is one no longer an adherent of the same faith?”

    The Christian historian Wilfred Cantwell Smith has written a book on the difference between Faith and Belief, which says essentially the following:

    Belief has attained the level of faith when it motivates life and shapes the mode of living. The acceptance of a teaching as true is not faith; that is mere belief. Neither is certainty nor conviction faith. A state of mind attains to faith levels only when it actually dominates the mode of living. Faith is a living attribute of genuine personal religious experience. One believes truth, admires beauty, and reverences goodness, but does not worship them; such an attitude of saving faith is centered on God alone, who is all of these personified and infinitely more.

    Belief is always limiting and binding; faith is expanding and releasing. Belief fixates, faith liberates. But living religious faith is more than the association of noble beliefs; it is more than an exalted system of philosophy; it is a living experience concerned with spiritual meanings, divine ideals, and supreme values; it is God-knowing and man-serving. Beliefs may become group possessions, but faith must be personal. Theologic beliefs can be suggested to a group, but faith can rise up only in the heart of the individual religionist.

    Faith has falsified its trust when it presumes to deny realities and to confer upon its devotees assumed knowledge. Faith is a traitor when it fosters betrayal of intellectual integrity and belittles loyalty to supreme values and divine ideals. Faith never shuns the problem-solving duty of mortal living. Living faith does not foster bigotry, persecution, or intolerance.

    Faith does not shackle the creative imagination, neither does it maintain an unreasoning prejudice toward the discoveries of scientific investigation. Faith vitalizes religion and constrains the religionist heroically to live the golden rule. The zeal of faith is according to knowledge, and its strivings are the preludes to sublime peace. (1115.1)

    I have come to believe Jesus was a divine being, a Creator Son of God, incarnate in mortal form. This "belief" has value in that it enriches my faith experience and enlarges my cosmic perspective from just this life to encompass and eternal career of loving service in the family of God.

    But, this belief is not the core of that which is ultimately of value in my experience, which is my living faith experience in and with the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Truth as they are discerned in a balanced life of prayer, worship, and service.

    And I have seen the fruits of this indwelling Spirit and truth expressed in the lives of those who happen to follow other faiths, and do not hold similar beliefs about the divinity of Jesus. Yet, they too have other belief-frameworks from within which they find enlarged spiritual values.

    So, in the end, I have come to believe that if my "belief" about Jesus' divinity is correct, he will have the wisdom and compassion to sort these issues out when we reach the Father's many mansions.

    Also, I would not have reached this place of acceptance and belief in the divinity of Jesus if it was not for my finding the Urantia Book, yet, I will no doubtedly be criticized for this statement by some Christians. Oh, well, it is my myth, or as John says, "fantasy religion."

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  15. Maybe my question is a bit broader: at what point when one finds ones beliefs departing from the "orthodox" view (however narrow or broad one wants to set the boundaries) is one no longer an adherent of the same faith?

    Your question may even be broader than that. What does it mean to be a Christian today?

    Little old John Shuck in East Tennessee isn't the only person asking that question. Although, I ask it.

    Terms that we have previously taken for granted are being questioned. What is "divinity" for instance? What does it mean to say Jesus is divine?

    It is an exciting time.

    It is not without its stress as we struggle and wrestle with what is essential about faith and life.

    I don't think I have "left the fold" although there are certainly folks who wish I would.

    Here is my creed (and I think Jesus the myth, the man, and the god, would agree):

    1) Never stop searching and asking. Think for yourself and allow others to do the same.

    2) Try to be a good person.

    To me, those are the vows in a nutshell. The other stuff is window dressing.

    Now, if the PCUSA decides that I am not fit for its holy order because it thinks that the only questions that are allowed are those for which it has the answers or if it is preferable to be a judgmental shit than a good person, then I will part ways and finish however many days I have left doing something else.

    The true believers are going to have to kick me out first.

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  16. I don't get why one would become a Presbyterian pastor (or keep working as one) if one doesn't subscribe at some level to at least some of the essential propositions. The retirement is pretty good, and the job has its perks, but the ordination vows require one to affirm some statements of belief.


    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!


    Sorry, you've touched on one of my personal pet issues in church history. I won't give the whole Machen speech again (my fingers are still aching from the last one), but basically, last time we came up with a list of "Essential Beliefs" for ordination, we had a huge fight and split the church. The folks who remained in the church and their descendants came down firmly on the side of "NO".

    Long story short, it's encapsulated by this paragraph from the Westminster Confession:

    "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe
    such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."

    Westminster also notes that the "synods and councils do err", meaning that any confessional or constitutional document created by humans, INCLUDING WESTMINSTER ITSELF, are inherently imperfect because humanity is imperfect.

    This is not to mean that there are no confessional standards for ordination. However, when we are truest to our traditions, we fall back on the idea of "scruples". The candidate should honestly state his or her objections to any part of the confessions, and the examining body must then prayerfully and with the Spirit's help ascertain whether or not such a departure is over an "essential of the faith". No two cases are identical (just as no two candidates are identical), and imperial top-down proclamations aren't useful, particularly considering how we govern ourselves.

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  17. Thanks for sharing this Flycandler:

    "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe
    such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."

    Having not been raised in any church because of the requirment to hold certain beliefs that I could not with a sincere mind accept, I find this kind of statement liberating.

    "When a member of a social religious group has complied with the requirements of such a group, he should be encouraged to enjoy religious liberty in the full expression of his own personal interpretation of the truths of religious belief and the facts of religious experience. The security of a religious group depends on spiritual unity, not on theological uniformity. A religious group should be able to enjoy the liberty of freethinking without having to become 'freethinkers.' There is great hope for any church that worships the living God, validates the brotherhood of man, and dares to remove all creedal pressure from its members." (1135.2)

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  18. Fly--you need to write a pamphlet for us!

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  19. Rob: funny you should say that. Westminster has a notorious reputation of sturm-und-drang dour Puritan Presbyterianism (it also brought us "by the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained unto everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished."). The old Northern church and the reunited PC(USA) were and are both regularly lambasted by the conservative splinters (OPC, PCA, EPC) for shifting in the 1960s to the "Book of Confessions" model, where instead of Westminster serving as the sole doctrinal standard of the church, we use several spanning the entire history of the church. Westminster, they say, is the gold standard of Reformed theology and should be the only standard.

    They all too often like to ignore the fact that one of Westminster's most powerful statements as a doctrinal standard, especially of its time (the 17th century), is the "universal escape clause" I quoted in the above comment. And it comes from two bedrock Reformed principles: God is totally and completely sovereign, and humankind is inherently imperfect.

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