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how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

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Hi Cherylu,

I didn’t respond to you immediately because I needed to understand what you were asking in the second part of your response, which I see is two questions. I also knew that any response would require some context. I hope you will bear with me in my endeavor to answer you.

But first, regarding your first paragraph: Yes, that you would defend something you think is truth, especially with its historical pedigree, and would put it forward when you see a challenge to it is certainly to be expected. C. FitzSimons Allison, in his book “The Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy” would put it like this: “Who would ever claim one’s own currently held opinion to be false?” So, in one sense, you have confirmed his statement.

In your second paragraph I do indeed think you are asking legitimate questions. Maybe I can answer them by giving you my situation in life. I come out of the Reformed tradition, not because I saw anything wrong while within it, but because I got acquainted with, and therefore saw it in relationship to, how it treated those outside it. When I got acquainted with Anabaptism through a Mennonite friend of mine, I read about their interaction with the powers that be at the time. There is a standing bit of dark humor in Anabaptist circles that says “The one thing both Protestants and Catholics could agree on was that it was right and proper to murder Anabaptists for God’s sake.” It was how the Anabaptists responded to all this that caught my attention, and started me rethinking everything that goes with what is called the “Constantinian Shift,” including the orthodox doctrine that comes with it.

Anabaptists for the most part remained Trinitarian. Mennonites are to this day Trinitarian. So I certainly recognize that the doctrine itself does not make for “bad fruit.” It is that once I saw something not quite right between what Jesus calls his disciples to, and the justifications for subsequent behavior on the part of the Church to defend orthodoxy, I knew I would never fit back in that context again. So, when Jesus says “You will know them by their fruit,” it is his words right here in this context that come to mind, and therefore this is my reason for making the association. But I do also recognize that most groups will defend their self-preservation, violently if push comes to shove; so even Arianism could do the same given the opportunity. If it had won the day, I would still probably be trying to figure all this out. But the nagging questions that kept coming to mind is “Do I really need to figure all this out? Is this the onus of revelation?

Once you ask that question, you move into an entirely different frame of reference. And if you do that, you ask whether in previous history that kind of shift occurred with others. And, of course, it challenges one to try to understand something like what Andrew is doing. The only way I can do that is put aside the apologetics of my “received” frame of reference, get into his world, and understand it on its own terms. And if it is a better fit than what I have been taught, then there is where I will go. Just because a bickering group of powerful church leaders make a decision in their own frame of reference and enforce it on everyone they can does not mean Jesus had anything to do with it. I thought we would have learned this lesson in John the Baptist’s reponse to the religious leaders when they came inquiring about him.

For the past two years I’ve been in a Muslim community, invited in to learn about Islam where it lives, in a third grade class of their children for Arabic and Quran. My wife and I decided we must understand Islam on its own terms. When I told one of my Christian friends where we were, he asked if I thought I could possibly mend the 1400 year Christian/Islam divide by doing what we were doing. I responded, “Well, it certainly has more chance of success than starting the newest Crusade!”

Being a Christian in America right now lends itself to a certain responsibility and call to discernment in light this context.

It is an eye-opening experience - to me anyway - of what Muslims think of us. Not what the Christian textbooks say they say; what they say themselves. I was with a group of Muslim men at an Iftar dinner (the evening meal that breaks a Ramadan day of fasting), asking questions about their life together in America. Being the only Christian there, it was inevitable that someone would begin challenging me to the “pagan idea of trinity” that I believe about the one true God. Well, I was far enough along in my own question about where the onus of revelation lay that I realized this was just going to be a distraction rather than any clarification. So I proceeded to talk about the story of Messiah Jesus and what it meant for God to work through him in relationship to Israel, and then the world. This was entirely new to them (as it was to me as well!).

This has been lengthy, Cherylu, but I wanted to give you some idea of why I interact with Andrew the way I do. As I said in response to his response to me above, it is a Jewish Theologian that fills out Jesus for me better than most of what I get in Christian theology, simply because of that Greek world where most of what is considered paramount belief in Christianity was forged. Something is definitely wrong; it had and continues to produce a history in relationship to the rest of the world that seems to create the next muddled situation that I have to work through if I want to be faithful to relating Jesus. The kind of Christian parochialism that thinks it is presenting Jesus in a framework that even the outside world can show is problematic (Heschel above), especially when it fails time and again, is not something I can sit back and watch without attempting to remediate. It is the toughest thing I have ever attempted to do, mainly because I find myself alone in doing it. But I have no other alternative.

Mark