Monday, April 5, 2010

Time for a change of pace

I was going to push on with Lamentations - but I think I could mellow a bit before finishing the last two chapters. Maybe 70 days from now, there will be another suitable season for it. There are a number of outstanding questions among my blog acquaintances. There are many questions I don't take on any more. I think they are peripheral - like the creation vs science debates. There are many questions that are vital and central that I don't debate because I think there can be no debate - like sexual attraction and the place of men and women in the church. In all these, I apply a rule of thumb - since everyone can get very upset by the polarizations in these debates, I just let my current position be known and then "stop me vitals" so that a little peace can reign.

Science - let's learn what we can, meditate on all the math and thought experiments that we can fathom, and not worry our heads too much about dimensions we cannot see. Let's learn from science too that axioms are open to critique - if you don't need the axiom of parallelism then question it and see where the questions lead.

On sexual attraction - They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh and its desires. (You could ask why this is important - and I would not dare answer - but you could ask the one who made you and you will get a good answer - if you persist as the woman did with the unjust judge.)

On the place of female and male in the Church. It is likely no surprise to anyone who has read my writing that I am probably of the egalitarian mindset. I wasn't always but I should have hesitated when I was a younger man in expressing the apparent inequalities in Christ that are in the NT.

What else do I think are red herrings? Those are the worst of the distractions. So what questions remain for me?

I am stumped over the governance of the churches. - There is a good set of questions on a post from Dr. Alan Wilson here. I don't expect to solve anything in this area, but the questions are ones that I think need addressing.
  • What kind of continuity are we meant to seek and experience with our past sisters and brothers?
  • What kind of accountability do we hold to our present sisters and brothers around the world, especially those beyond our own expressions?
  • How do we interact with our context openly enough to engage, but with a solid enough core to offer something that is salt and light?
  • Law can’t do the discipleship for us; it’s a boundary around the pitch that makes civilised interaction possible, not an end in itself
You will see immediately that the last question is not a question. What do we say about law and grace?  Have we misunderstood Paul? (Yes - of course we have - and more than once.) And I think Bishop Alan is overstating the 'boundary' image. What do we do with some of the central parts of the 'boundary' like the Sabbath? And what of the peripheral - like shellfish?  Here is a brief summary of where I am at the moment on law.
We have a complex relationship with Torah - which through the Septuagint became known in Greek as nomos and hence in English as law. Law is a dreadful translation. Torah = instruction, teaching, such as you were taught by your mother. It is anointed interaction with God. The Pentateuch as 'Torah' is a special gift to Israel - those words are read and studied like no others in history. But they are also an example to the nations and ‘all who fear Hashem’ as the inclusive invocations in the psalms indicate.  I think Christendom has often missed the point of 'the teaching' even though its own history among the nations has included many blessings from 'this instruction'.  How can we interact creatively - and not destructively - with our creator and redeemer as we perceive such through the words that we are given?

It is not helpful simply to put down the 'law' as having been 'superseded'. I admit though I have translated (= read closely) only a few chapters of Torah. Almost all my work has been in poetry. I hope I will get to Torah – if I live long enough, I intend to do my own translation of every book – if this is the will of my hidden teacher. I expect to find in TNK every anointing that I have found through the New Testament witness. It is the same Spirit though Spirit is not explicit in the OT compared to the explosion of references in the New.
And I think the exploration of atonement is a question I would like to approach - well it is really many questions. Is there a coherent interpretation of the sacrificial traditions in Hebrew and Christian history that will help us to rejoice more fully in the gift of the Spirit to us? A friend in our Bible study has prepared a short research paper and a set of questions.

Discussion questions on the subject of Atonement in Christianity and Judaism:
  • How is God related to Humanity, and what if anything can influence this relationship?
  • What is Atonement? How would you define it?
  • Is Atonement a single act in time, or is it continuous, on-going? Does that matter?
  • Is humanity active or passive in atonement or is it strictly the providence of God?
  • What is meant by 'a doctrine of Atonement'?
  • What is meant by 'a theory of Atonement'?
  • Can the Atonement be considered 'dogma'?
  • Are questions of 'doctrine', 'theory', or 'dogma' relevant to the subject of Atonement?
  • Is/ how is Atonement important to Christianity/Judaism?
  • Has/ how has the understanding of Atonement changed since the time of Christ?
  • What does Atonement have to say about the nature of Christ, of God in general, of Humanity?
  • What is the Church's role in Atonement?
  • How is Atonement dealt with in the Old and New Testaments? Do they differ?
  • Do the Prophets regard Atonement differently from the Judaic Priesthood, from the Apostles?
  • What is the difference between the Judaic and Christian concepts of atonement, and how have they evolved over time?
  • What do the Gospels have to say about Atonement? Do they offer a 'theory' of Atonement? If so, is it consistent throughout them?
  • Is there a difference between the Synoptic Gospels' and St. John's Gospel's treatment of Atonement?
  • What does Jesus have to say about Atonement?
  • What do the Epistles have to say about Atonement, and is there any variation amongst them? Do they differ in their treatment of Atonement from the way the Gospels treat the subject?
  • What is Saint Paul's concept of Atonement, does it constitute a theory? Does Saint Paul's understanding of Atonement conflict with the views of other Apostles?

I think the questions on ecclesiology and atonement are important for me because I am a mystery to myself as well as to others and others are a mystery to me. We who are one in the Beloved ought to be better acquainted if we really are members of one body. I hope that studying some of these things will help me be such a member. There is a fear in me that I will isolate myself - not that I would be alone. But there is another fear - that I should conform to some party spirit ... surely we could do better than either of these extremes. What do you think?  Perhaps this post will stimulate some other bloggers to write.  (I will be keeping my eye out for the next Barth conference announced here.)



    There’s an example of how translation can have dreadful consequences. It would have been much more difficult to say “teaching vs. grace” than it was “law vs. grace.”


    I usually hear either that (1) the Torah is superseded or (2) it applies identically to Jew and Gentile. I think you have it just right—a special gift to Israel and an example to the nations.

  2. Carl - thanks for the comment. In fact I have already learned how to speak more precisely from reading your blog posts.

  3. bob--

    i've been looking at atonement in 'original sin' and palagianistic principles... atonement for original sin strikes me as meaningless; atonement in palagian sin is about reforming 'right relationships.' for a paradigm that threw palagianism out over original sin, we sure spend a lot of time thinking in palagainist terms.

    i liked you comment ages ago about typology-- it's not foundational in itself, but rather a response to something you see as foundational. for some of us, scripture is filled with a few foundational priciples, and then surrounded by situational corollaries that are resposnes to the foundational principles. for others, everything in scripture is seen as foundational, and the corollaries are applied to any and all situations.

    thank god for atonement, as we sort thee things out...


  4. scott - nice to hear from you. The only thing original about original is that I understand that I find myself in such a state - one who is fearful, alone, uncertain, and filled with need. None of these by itself is 'sin' but getting the needs met can lead to sin quite easily. I have little opinion from a dogmatic point of view on the why of atonement. On the how, I have written a whole book of stories - I had left them to mellow for 5 years and have just had a request from an old friend, after not being in contact with him for 47 years, to read them. So since this friend has an MA in theology and has studied the first century - maybe I have found an editor also.

    Yes - thank God for atonement - it is done. The why and wherefores can emerge. The how for each of us, can be entered into at a pace we can bear.

  5. bob--

    it's the emerging whys and wherefores that become misconstrued as 'foundational,' i think. 'if it worked for me, it will work for you, all you have to do is go through the same remedial steps i did.' that sort of thing. i can understand how this sort of reification happens, especially when the whys and wherefores are embraced as dogma.

    but if we can stand down from this sort of dogma, and remember (or discover) what is essential, then individually, and supporting and supported in community and friends, we can respond to the foundational principles at a pace we can bear.

    what do you feel are the foundational theological principles for you?


  6. What are the foundational theological principles for me? I have a bunch of them listed on this blog under the label personal theology. 1 John sums it up 'God is love' and 'little children, keep yourselves from idols.' But how? For me the means was and is through the death of Jesus whereby I am allowed to ask anything and by learning obedience in faith, see things that are new in the earth - pace the declaiming preacher of Ecclesiastes. The place of the atonement - the mercy seat - a well of living water... mixing my metaphors but these are words and means that we are given somehow.