A Christian Pastor Responds (Part 4)

Pastor Mike Clawson responds to your questions.

You can also read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

writerdd asks:

Do you believe that we atheists are going to burn in hell forever? Or, as Hemant asks in his book, do you believe that we are “lost” souls that need to be “saved”?

I guess I should start by explaining that I don’t believe in the “traditional” (i.e. fundamentalist) conceptions of Hell in the first place, nor do I believe in their particular brand of theology that makes “salvation” all about getting into Heaven and avoiding Hell after we die. That’s just not what I think Jesus’s message was all about. Honestly, the Bible doesn’t really even tell us that much about Hell. The word is only used 14 times, and that’s in our English translations. In the original lanaugages there are actually three different words (Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus) that are translated “Hell” and it’s not clear to me that these three words are referring to the same thing, or that all three of them are referring to a literal place in the afterlife. The first seems to be a metaphor for divine judgment (though not necessarily after death), the second seems to just be a generic word for “death” or “the grave” (like the Hebrew word “sheol”), and the third is a weird borrowing of Greek mythology and conflating it with something about fallen angels. So yeah, I think the traditional doctrines of Hell are not particularly well founded when it comes to what the Bible actually tells us about it.

What we are told is that God has called all people to follow Christ’s radical way of love (for God and especially for others), and that failure to do so has grave consequences. However, I most emphatically do not think this means that God is threatening to punish us for our disobedience (or disbelief). Rather, Jesus simply warns us that the natural result of a life lived apart from love is “hellish”. “Hell”, in one sense, is a symbolic description of what it is like to live a life filled with bitterness instead of forgiveness, with bigotry instead of acceptance, with the pursuit of power and wealth rather than generosity and self-sacrifice, and with hatred (or mere self-centered apathy) instead of love.

And because I do believe that death is not the end, I think it is possible that how we choose to live in this life can have ramifications for what our existence will be like in the next life. However, I don’t think that even then God will exclude anyone from his love. He still invites everyone to the celebration feast of heaven. But consider this: if you lived your whole life as a hate-filled bigot and then you are asked to sit down at the feast table in heaven next to someone you spent your life excluding and despising, will it feel like heaven to you, or would it be more like hell? And supposing you are unwilling to let go of these attitudes and unwilling to accept God’s unconditional love for you if it means you would have to learn how to likewise love others unconditionally, then would God’s love feel like heaven to you, or might not his love actually feel like the “burning coals” St. Paul said your enemies would feel when you respond to their hatred with love? (cf. Romans 12:17-21) Again, all of this is speculation, since as I said, the Bible doesn’t actually tell us a lot about the afterlife – but it’s bascially what I think it was what Jesus was getting at when he warned us about being “judged” by the way that we lived (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

So, looking at heaven and hell this way, it’s not really my place to say whether anyone, atheist or Christian or whatever else, is going to heaven or hell. I don’t know if, in your life, you are pursuing a way of love and reconciliation or not. I do think that all people ought to be called and encouraged to follow this way of Jesus – even if they don’t choose to believe in Jesus in a religious sense – not necessarily so that they can avoid “Hell” when they die, but simply because Christ’s way of love is the best possible way to live. And to be honest, as I told Hemant once when he visited our church, there are some atheists I think who do a better job of following the way of Christ than a lot of Christians I know.

(BTW, I hope this mostly answers Bjorn’s question too.)


[tags]atheist, atheism, Pastor, Mike Clawson, writerdd, Hell, Heaven, Gehenna, Hades, Tartarus, Bible, God, Christian[/tags]

  • Steven Carr

    ‘He still invites everyone to the celebration feast of heaven. But consider this: if you lived your whole life as a hate-filled bigot and then you are asked to sit down at the feast table in heaven next to someone you spent your life excluding and despising, will it feel like heaven to you, or would it be more like hell? And supposing you are unwilling to let go of these attitudes and unwilling to accept God’s unconditional love for you if it means you would have to learn how to likewise love others unconditionally…’

    People who don’t accept God’s unconditional love are ‘hate-filled bigots’.

    This is rich coming from somebody who follows somebody who called others ‘hypocrites’, ‘blind fools’, ‘a brood of vipers’, promised them that they would be punished worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, and ranted that the Queen of Sheba would rise from her grave to condemn people.

    Here is what the ‘Son of God’ said in Revelation 2 ’1I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.’

    Jesus even compare himself in a parable in Luke 19 to a king who has to leave, only to return and be crowned in glory. The context is clearly about when Jesus will return in his kingdom.

    Jesus has a parable about a king returning and what does the king in the parable say? – ‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’

    So let us have less comparing atheists to ‘hate-filled bigots’ who reject God’s love because they would have to live up to the standards of Jesus.

    If we cannot be better people than that self-righteous hate-filled ranting preacher, then we should be ashamed of ourselves.

  • Miko

    I guess I should start by explaining that I don’t believe in the “traditional” (i.e. fundamentalist) conceptions of Hell in the first place, nor do I believe in their particular brand of theology that makes “salvation” all about getting into Heaven and avoiding Hell after we die. That’s just not what I think Jesus’s message was all about.

    Nice explanation. I think I’m beginning to understand how your answer in part 2 relates to the “to save us” clause. But to clarify, what is “salvation” all about then? Do you believe that Jesus died for our sins and that this was a necessary human sacrifice to propitiate the god as a precursor to redemption? Or, as I interpret your response in part 2, do you believe that Jesus died solely as a paradigm of how each of us should live without absolving our sins in the act, so that an individual derives benefit from the action through actions of his or her own as opposed to through faith?

    Again, all of this is speculation, since as I said, the Bible doesn’t actually tell us a lot about the afterlife – but it’s bascially what I think it was what Jesus was getting at when he warned us about being “judged” by the way that we lived (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

    It’s a shame that the Bible is so inconsistent when it talks about this; our civilization would be much better off if all Christians looked to these verses instead of, say, John 3:16, Luke 14:26, or Matthew 5:17-20.

  • Spin Sycle

    I think a thorough study in Gora’s writngs, especially his conversations with Ghandi (http://www.positiveatheism.org/india/gora12.htm#TOP) are in order.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    ‘hypocrites’, ‘blind fools’, ‘a brood of vipers’, promised them that they would be punished worse than Sodom and Gomorrah,

    I never realized that Hitchens got his style from the Bible.

    I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading of blogs self-idenfied as “atheist” blogs and they’re full of the most amazing bigotry to be found anywhere outside of the Aryan Nations and such movements. But you expect people to adopt atheism, don’t you?

  • Miko

    People who don’t accept God’s unconditional love are ‘hate-filled bigots’.

    Did you miss passages like “there are some atheists I think who do a better job of following the way of Christ than a lot of Christians I know” in the above? I could be wrong, but I’d interpret what Mike said as closer to “People who are hate-filled bigots don’t accept God’s unconditional love.”

    The great thing about role models is that you can choose what to adopt from them. If Mike is viewing Jesus solely as a role model, then the fact that half of the stuff Jesus does is pretty odious and disgusting becomes less of a problem, much in the same way that I could call Gandhi a role model without agreeing with his statement that the Jews should commit mass-suicide to protest the Holocaust or say that Bill Clinton was the greatest president ever without emulating his extramarital activities.

  • Steven Carr

    MIKE C
    but it’s bascially what I think it was what Jesus was getting at when he warned us about being “judged” by the way that we lived (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

    CARR
    Matthew 25:41 ‘Then he will say to those at his left hand ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his agents.’

    Why should we feed hungry people?

    Oh, sorry I forgot.

    God won’t feed hungry people, so human beings have to feed each other.

    God will judge us by how we do the work that he shirks from doing.

  • Steven Carr

    MIKO
    The great thing about role models is that you can choose what to adopt from them.

    CARR
    Of course, people are free to adopt whichever role model they like.

    Even fictional ones, if you find a fictional character who behaves admirably in the novel.

  • Miko

    Even fictional ones, if you find a fictional character who behaves admirably in the novel.

    Good thing too, given the shaky historicity of Jesus. If we’re talking about reported actions rather than inherent goodness, physical existence is pretty meaningless in my view.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Hi Mike, thanks for answering my question. I agree with this:

    What we are told is that God has called all people to follow Christ’s radical way of love (for God and especially for others), and that failure to do so has grave consequences.

    Well, at least if you leave out the “God” parts. And I don’t see how it can hurt for people to love God as long as that does not get distorted into hate, intolerance, and bigotry. To that end, I hope that the “emerging church” movement you are involved in is hugely successful.

    As a follow up, since you believe that “death is not the end” how do you suggest that Christians avoid the trap of allowing or putting up with crap in this life because they believe in a better life in the hereafter? I find that idea particularly pernicious when it is used by those in power to try to make people be satisified with poor living conditions, or — even worse — when it is used to convince people that it’s ok to do bizarre things like flying planes into buildings.

  • Steven Carr

    Miko is right.

    If you want to live by reported actions, then historicity is not a factor.

    Buddha sat under a fig tree and received enlightenment.

    Jesus cursed a fig tree for not providing him with fruit.

    If you are just choosing the more admirable way to live, then you don’t really need historicity.

    After all, we can all agree with Aesop that having a dog in the manger attitude is a bad thing, without insisting that there really was a dog guarding ‘his’ hay in a manger :-)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Did you miss passages like “there are some atheists I think who do a better job of following the way of Christ than a lot of Christians I know” in the above? I could be wrong, but I’d interpret what Mike said as closer to “People who are hate-filled bigots don’t accept God’s unconditional love.”

    Thank you Miko. Yes, this is what I was really trying to say. I’m not at all implying that atheists are “hate-filled bigots”. I was trying to say that accepting God’s love means giving up our own bigotry, and that people who refuse to give that up, whether Christian, atheist or something else, will be unable to fully experience God’s love (and fully experiencing God’s love is the definition of “heaven” IMO).

    Truth be told, I actually had someone like Jerry Falwell in mind as I wrote that part. I really don’t know and I it’s really not my place to judge – but I have a feeling that right now in heaven God is offering Jerry a place to sit at the feast table with a gay man on one side and a liberal feminist on the other. I wonder whether he’ll accept the seat. ;)

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Buddha sat under a fig tree and received enlightenment.

    Steven Carr, there was considerably more to it than that. And I know some atheists like to pretend that the Buddha was an atheist, he wasn’t. He explicitly refused to comment on the issue holding it to be unskillful. We don’t know what he thought on the issue.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Nice explanation. I think I’m beginning to understand how your answer in part 2 relates to the “to save us” clause. But to clarify, what is “salvation” all about then? Do you believe that Jesus died for our sins and that this was a necessary human sacrifice to propitiate the god as a precursor to redemption? Or, as I interpret your response in part 2, do you believe that Jesus died solely as a paradigm of how each of us should live without absolving our sins in the act, so that an individual derives benefit from the action through actions of his or her own as opposed to through faith?

    Good questions. My answer is: a little of both but not entirely either.

    I believe that Jesus death on the cross was a demonstration that God had forgiven our sins, not the reason God forgave them. That is, I find the conservative theology of sacrificial atonement rather repugnant (as many of you do as well I’ve noticed), but I do still think that the cross was more than just a moral example (though it was that too). It does have something to do with forgiveness.

    For those who are not familiar – “sacrificial atonement” theology posits that Christ’s death was necessary because God was really, really angry at us because of our sins, and since he needed to take that anger out on someone, he took it out on Jesus instead of us. Now that he’s blown off some steam he can forgive us and everything is cool between us again.

    My question with that theology (besides the fact that it makes God sound like someone with some serious anger management issues) is why, if God wanted to forgive us, he just couldn’t forgive us. Why is punishment necessary? What good does it do to punish someone else in our place?

    Instead, I think God did “just forgive us”, and to demonstrate to us that he has forgiven us of all the evil we could possibly do, he came to earth and took the worst that we could throw at him without retaliation. He took our scorn, our betrayal, our violence, our greed, our hatred – and showed that, rather than “getting even”, God-in-the-flesh was willing to give up his rights to revenge and simply forgive those who had made him their enemy. He was willing to endure one of the most painful deaths imaginable rather than return violence for violence or hatred with more hate.

    Of course, this stands as a moral example for us as well. If God himself was willing to go to death on a cross rather than take revenge on our enemies, then perhaps we too can begin to love our enemies and become “ambassadors of reconciliation” as Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 5.

    Thus, for me, salvation is both about knowing that God has forgiven us unconditionally, and then also about beginning to follow God’s example by forgiving others and overcoming hatred and violence with love and peacemaking.

    (BTW, I realize that for those of you who think this is all just a fictional story to be ignored or mocked, how I interpret the significance of the crucifixion is totally irrelevant to you. I’m simply trying to explain for those of you who are interested how this all works out in my theology. If one already believes in God and in the Jesus of the Bible, then this, I think, is the best way to understand what Jesus’ death was all about.)

  • Miko

    Truth be told, I actually had someone like Jerry Falwell in mind as I wrote that part. I really don’t know and I it’s really not my place to judge – but I have a feeling that right now in heaven God is offering Jerry a place to sit at the feast table with a gay man on one side and a liberal feminist on the other. I wonder whether he’ll accept the seat. ;)

    What a coincidence–I had Falwell in mind when I was writing my response as well. But I have to ask: While I can understand the virtue of unconditional love, do you really think that hypothetical situation is fair to Falwell’s tablemates?

    (and fully experiencing God’s love is the definition of “heaven” IMO).

    That seems consistent with verses like Matthew 22:23-33 (esp. 22:30), but doesn’t it at the same time dilute the ideas of eternal life and of enduring human bonds?

  • Miko

    Instead, I think God did “just forgive us”, and to demonstrate to us that he has forgiven us of all the evil we could possibly do, he came to earth and took the worst that we could throw at him without retaliation.

    That has to be the best explanation of that concept that I’ve ever seen (although a few things like Jesus’ “Why hast thou forsaken me?” cry to god don’t seem to fit in). Does it then follow that you don’t think that ‘faith’ is necessary for ‘salvation?’

  • Miko

    Steven Carr, there was considerably more to it than that. And I know some atheists like to pretend that the Buddha was an atheist, he wasn’t. He explicitly refused to comment on the issue holding it to be unskillful. We don’t know what he thought on the issue.

    In Buddhist thought, the word ‘unskillful’ has a fairly precise meaning that I don’t think really fits here. He did explicitly refuse to comment on the issue, but he did so because it was “irrelevant to his teachings.” I’d say that he did this because he realized that it would be a divisive issue that would only hinder the spread of his actual message. That said, calling the existence of god irrelevant both in this life and in any that may follow goes a long way towards atheism in my book.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    And I don’t see how it can hurt for people to love God as long as that does not get distorted into hate, intolerance, and bigotry. To that end, I hope that the “emerging church” movement you are involved in is hugely successful.

    Thanks writerdd.

    As a follow up, since you believe that “death is not the end” how do you suggest that Christians avoid the trap of allowing or putting up with crap in this life because they believe in a better life in the hereafter? I find that idea particularly pernicious when it is used by those in power to try to make people be satisified with poor living conditions, or — even worse — when it is used to convince people that it’s ok to do bizarre things like flying planes into buildings.

    Good question. I hate that crap too. I avoid that trap by referring back to the ancient Christian belief in the bodily resurrection. In other words, since the time of the early church (unless you agree with my friends here who think that the earliest Christians were actually Gnostics) Christians have believed that “heaven” is not “someplace else” that our non-corporeal spirits go to when we die. Rather our hope is in a physical resurrection to a restored and renewed heaven and earth.

    (Yes Steven, I already know that you disagree with this interpretation. Perhaps we could at least agree that by the 2nd century there were at least some Christians who believed in the “resurrection of the flesh”, as evidenced in the proto-Apostles Creed? Let’s just say that my faith follows in that tradition.)

    Anyhow, if one believes that this world is not temporary, but really is our eternal home, then what we do here matters. My belief is that Christ’s gospel is to bring “heaven” to earth, i.e. to start doing in the here and now what we hope the renewed heaven and earth will be like someday (cf. Luke 4:18-19). So making life better for the poor and the oppressed is not some optional add-on to our ultimate hope of heaven. Serving the poor and oppressed is part of what it means to go to heaven in the first place. (Recall the words of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”)

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    While I can understand the virtue of unconditional love, do you really think that hypothetical situation is fair to Falwell’s tablemates?

    LOL! :D

    (and fully experiencing God’s love is the definition of “heaven” IMO).

    That seems consistent with verses like Matthew 22:23-33 (esp. 22:30), but doesn’t it at the same time dilute the ideas of eternal life and of enduring human bonds?

    How so? I’m not saying I don’t believe in eternal life or enduring bonds. It’s just that “heaven”, IMO, is more than (but not less than) eternal life. Eternal life without the love of God or a love for others would be closer to Hell than to Heaven.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Does it then follow that you don’t think that ‘faith’ is necessary for ’salvation?’

    Well, it depends on what you mean by “faith” and what you mean by “salvation” doesn’t it? I don’t think faith is necessary for forgiveness – that’s already been offered unconditionally. But salvation is about more than just forgiveness (contrary to what the revival preachers will tell you). Salvation is about reconciliation and restoration (and not just of us, but of the whole creation – salvation is putting to rights everything that has gone wrong). So while God may have already forgiven us, there is still a need for us to respond to that forgiveness in order to restore the relationship and begin the process of healing and reconciliation. (Don’t we find this to be true in human relationships as well? You can forgive a friend that has betrayed you. But unless they admit to their betrayal and actively seek reconciliation the relationship still remains broken.)

    But again, I don’t want to make it sound like salvation is just about individuals either. The reconciliation and restoration of individuals is part of the larger work that God is doing to restore the whole world. So in one sense, the response of faith is simply to join in the salvation that God is already carrying out in the world – faith means signing on for his mission of healing and restoring this world with Christ’s way of justice and love.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    If Mike is viewing Jesus solely as a role model, then the fact that half of the stuff Jesus does is pretty odious and disgusting becomes less of a problem,

    Though I don’t deny that there are many things Jesus said and did that are rather shocking and challenging, I’d be curious to know what in particular you find “odious and disgusting”.

    Personally I have found that when I start to read the Bible through the lenses of the marginalized and oppressed, some of Jesus’ more shocking statements start to make more sense. The Pharisees and others whom Jesus tends to condemn are oppressors who are exploiting their own people – and God hates injustice, he hates oppression. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be a good God. I daresay that even atheists would prefer a God who calls genuinely evil people “broods of vipers” than a God who simply winks at injustice.

    (The shocking thing then is not how often Jesus condemns evil people, but how often he pairs this condemnation with an offer of reconciliation and an invitation to follow a better way to these exact same people. Just this morning I was preaching on Luke 18:1-8 and commenting on how the widow in Jesus’ story manages to turn an unjust judge into a judge who does justice – thereby winning “salvation” not only for herself but for the judge as well.)

    In understanding Jesus’ hard sayings, I’ve also found it helpful to recognize what is parable and symbolism, and what is literal. (For instance, the story Steven mentioned about the king killing his enemies is just that, a story, not a literal statement of what Jesus is going to do.) And especially to realize that when Jesus speaks of destruction or condemnation for sin, he is giving a warning not a threat. He is explaining to them what the natural consequences of their injust, greedy, and violent ways of life will be.

  • Miko

    How so? I’m not saying I don’t believe in eternal life or enduring bonds. It’s just that “heaven”, IMO, is more than (but not less than) eternal life.

    Because if god’s love is absolute, it would seem to dwarf all other love and thus exclude it. Also, if we all have unconditional love for all others in heaven, it becomes impossible to have a greater love for certain individuals, destroying the identity of each individual.

    Well, it depends on what you mean by “faith”…faith means signing on for his mission of healing and restoring this world with Christ’s way of justice and love.

    Well, that definition of faith seems quite a bit different from “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Personally, I’d call that works rather than faith. But then I’d also say that things like justice and love are a lot bigger than the idea of god.

    Though I don’t deny that there are many things Jesus said and did that are rather shocking and challenging, I’d be curious to know what in particular you find “odious and disgusting”…The shocking thing then is not how often Jesus condemns evil people, but how often he pairs this condemnation with an offer of reconciliation and an invitation to follow a better way to these exact same people.

    I was going to respond by quoting a passage from a page picked at random from a Bible. Unfortunately, I must admit that I couldn’t find an example on that page, and so had to flip to a second random page, which offered up Matthew 15:21-28. It follows your suggested basic rhetorical format of condemning followed by offering reconcilliation: A foreign woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus responds “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” and “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” The woman then wins Jesus over by offering to eat the breadcrumbs on the floor.

    While this passage was just selected by flipping a Bible open to a random spot (twice) and so is not intended as demonstrating the very worst things he ever said or did, it illustrates my view fairly well: Jesus wasn’t condemning her because she was evil, just because she was a Canaanite. Likewise, he does not offer her redemption despite her two pleas for his help, but rather only agrees to heal her daughter because she buys into his argument that being non-Jewish makes her subhuman. Furthermore, this incident presumably does nothing to affect Jesus’ view of the Canaanites or other non-Israelis: while he accedes to the plea of one, he ignores all others in the same thought. Sure, you can try to take it as exemplifying faith as a virtue, but nonetheless, if god truly hates injustice and oppression, I fail to understand why he would choose to be the source of it.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Christians have believed that “heaven” is not “someplace else” that our non-corporeal spirits go to when we die. Rather our hope is in a physical resurrection to a restored and renewed heaven and earth.

    MikeC, that’s interesting. So you don’t go straight to heaven when you die? You wait until the end of time (or however you describe it)?

    Does that mean you don’t think the sun will consume the earth in 5 billion years or so? Not meaning to be sarcastic or anything, just curious.

  • Darryl

    I believe that Jesus death on the cross was a demonstration that God had forgiven our sins, not the reason God forgave them. That is, I find the conservative theology of sacrificial atonement rather repugnant (as many of you do as well I’ve noticed), but I do still think that the cross was more than just a moral example (though it was that too). It does have something to do with forgiveness.

    For those who are not familiar – “sacrificial atonement” theology posits that Christ’s death was necessary because God was really, really angry at us because of our sins, and since he needed to take that anger out on someone, he took it out on Jesus instead of us. Now that he’s blown off some steam he can forgive us and everything is cool between us again.

    My question with that theology (besides the fact that it makes God sound like someone with some serious anger management issues) is why, if God wanted to forgive us, he just couldn’t forgive us. Why is punishment necessary? What good does it do to punish someone else in our place?

    I was frankly surprised by your view of Christ’s death. I’ve learned one thing about the emerging church—it’s not orthodox Christianity. And your implied reason for rejecting this central tenet of the faith is also surprising.

    I know of few teachings of the Christian church that are more central to its faith than that of the atonement (reconciliation) of Christ. As much as a wrathful God and blood sacrifice may offend modern sensibilities, if you’re going to believe the Bible, you’d better get used to the ideas.

    The passages quoted below were written by Christians to Christians at a time when animal sacrifice was universal and blood offerings were still being made upon alters in the Temple at Jerusalem. Whether former Jews or Gentiles, all converted Christians had participated in ritual sacrifices. It is not possible that the volumes of early Christian writings that draw a straight line from the O.T. passover lamb to Christ the lamb of God sacrificed as our Passover could be misunderstood by the church.

    If any of you get bored reading scripture quotes (I know I do), then just do a internet search sometime about this topic and you will find that my claims are factual.

    First, let’s have a little wrath:

    “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness . . .” (Rom 1:18)

    “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Rom 2:5-8)

    Now, bring on the blood:

    “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6-7).

    “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

    “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins…And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself” (Colossians 1:12-14,20).

    [W]hom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God” (Romans 3:25).

    “Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

    “And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

    “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

    . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished . . . (Romans 3:23-25)

    Now let’s tie wrath and blood together:

    “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6-11)

    Still not convinced? Perhaps this will do the trick. I’ll leave it to you to count all the references to blood:

    “(7)…the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: (11) But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; (12) Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. (13) For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: (14) How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (15) And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (16) For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. (17) For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. (18) Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. (19) For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, (20) Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. (21) Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. (22) And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:7,11-22).

    “(15) Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, (16) This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; (17) And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (18) Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. (19) Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, (20) By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh” (Hebrews 10:15-20).

    “For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Hebrews 13:11-12).

    “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20).

    “But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Peter 1:19-20).

    “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Because if god’s love is absolute, it would seem to dwarf all other love and thus exclude it.

    Did you ever read the Ramona books? I seem to recall reading to one of my nieces where Mrs. Quimby says that love isn’t like a cup of sugar that runs out.

    I don’t think this is even what you would call a logical necessity. Maybe God know some way around it.

    You folks are too limited in your thinking, don’t you ever step of of the narrowest of these positivist straight jackets? I’ve been looking for some free thinking atheists to have a dialogue with but I’m just finding the same old stuff I read in T. Huxley and dear old Bertie forty years ago.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    You folks are too limited in your thinking, don’t you ever step of of the narrowest of these positivist straight jackets? I’ve been looking for some free thinking atheists to have a dialogue with but I’m just finding the same old stuff I read in T. Huxley and dear old Bertie forty years ago.

    I know what you mean, but don’t worry friend, they’re out there. It’s just that the internet typically isn’t a very friendly place for truly free thinkers – whether of the atheist or religious variety. I’ve hung out at a lot of different message boards and blogs and eventually, with only a few exceptions, the hardliners almost always ended up drowning out and driving away the more reasonable voices.

  • http://sweetjazzycat.blogspot.com Jazzy Cat

    Mike C. said

    That is, I find the conservative theology of sacrificial atonement rather repugnant

    Conservative theology???? The Apostle Paul wrote the following about 2000 years ago in the book of Romans verses 20-26. I will let you decide what he meant.

    20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

    We read the following in Hebrews 2:17: For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

    Paul also described Mike in 2 Timothy 4:3. What he calls conservative theology has been orthodox Christian theology for 2000 years and these passages show why. BTW, conservative Christians very much share Mike’s love for mercy ministry and love for all people. While there are hate moungers in all camps, true conservative Christians affirm love and mercy for people. That does not mean we have to affirm bad and ill-advised liberal solutions.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    MikeC, that’s interesting. So you don’t go straight to heaven when you die? You wait until the end of time (or however you describe it)?

    Pretty much yeah. (I think that’s why the NT describes the dead as being “asleep”. We die and all consciousness ceases. The next thing we will experience is resurrection.

    But I should be honest and say that while all orthodox Christians believe that our ultimate destiny is bodily resurrection, most disagree about what happens in between death and resurrection. Others do believe that our “souls” go to an interim waiting place (usually, confusingly, also called “Heaven”) to await the resurrection. I don’t believe in that mainly because I don’t believe in the existence of a non-corporeal soul. I don’t think human beings can “exist” in any meaningful sense without a body. Our body, soul and spirit are an integrated whole – different ways to describe aspects of the same basic thing. Thus I don’t think there is any part of us that could just go off somewhere to wait. I think the idea of a distinct spirit or soul that can be separated from our bodily existence is a neo-Platonic/Gnostic idea that has crept into Christian theology via Greek philosophy.

    Does that mean you don’t think the sun will consume the earth in 5 billion years or so? Not meaning to be sarcastic or anything, just curious.

    Honestly dude, I have no idea. I’m not sure how this all works out in the end. We’re not given that much in the way of details like that, since when the biblical writers were describing it I don’t think they had the questions of modern cosmology in mind. I can make some guesses as to how it might work out but it would all be pure speculation (probably based more on Star Trek than on the Bible. :) )

  • Loren Petrich

    Mike C ought to read his Bible a bit more carefully, since in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ had plainly forbidden both name-calling and trying to get vengeance, abrogating an Old Testament law that clearly permitted a certain level of vengeance. He even called on people not to resist anyone who does nasty things to them.

    And I’m not impressed by Mike C’s argument of “Oh how eeeeeeevil those Pharisees were” — were the Pharisees really as evil as the Gospels portray them as being?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hey Jazzy! Good to see you here. Funny, isn’t it, how you and Darryl are basically saying the same thing even though you’re a conservative Christian and he’s an atheist. Kind of backs up a point I made a long while ago about the eerie similarities between some atheists and fundamentalist Christians. :)

    Anyhow, those verses you guys have thrown out there are all very interesting, but there is nothing about my views that exclude words like wrath, sacrifice, blood or propitiation. It all just comes down to how you think those words are being used and what you think those verses are talking about. Every one of them can be read in a way that supports my views as well.

    And as for my views contradicting the historic orthodox doctrine of the Christian church, well, I’d suggest that you guys do a little more reading in historical theology. There have been many theories of the atonement throughout Church history, and the penal substitutionary theory that you both endorse is really a more recent and mostly evangelical Protestant view. The more common theory throughout the history of the Church has been “Christus Victor” which says that the death and resurrection of Jesus defeated the power of evil, sin and death (a view which is closely connected with my own). Other views include the “moral exemplar” theory which has its roots in the medieval theology of Peter Abelard as well Modern liberal theology. (This view is also a part of my own.) Another is the “perfect penitent” theory of C.S. Lewis (among others) which states that Jesus, as the perfect representative of humanity, did for us what we were incapable of doing for ourselves, i.e. perfectly repent.

    At any rate, there are lots of different ways that Christians throughout history have attempted to explain what exactly Christ’s death on the cross accomplished for us, and it’s very possible that several of these theories could all be true at the same time. Just because I’ve rejected one particular theory (penal substitution) doesn’t mean that I’ve rejected the whole of historic Christian teaching on the subject. I’m still very much within the mainstream of orthodox Christian theology on this particular issue.

  • Darryl

    Hey Jazzy! Good to see you here. Funny, isn’t it, how you and Darryl are basically saying the same thing even though you’re a conservative Christian and he’s an atheist. Kind of backs up a point I made a long while ago about the eerie similarities between some atheists and fundamentalist Christians.

    It hasn’t escaped my attention that Mike has avoided answering my questions thus far, but won’t miss an opportunity to take a cheap shot. I see a pattern developing.

    the penal substitutionary theory that you both endorse is really a more recent and mostly evangelical Protestant view.

    That is false. The view I laid out is the Orthodox (think mainstream) view held in both the Eastern/Byzantine tradition and the Western/Roman Catholic tradition from the Church Fathers till the present time. I cannot account for Mike’s understanding of Church history or the history of theology–Mike’s going to believe what he chooses for his own reasons. This is just another example of ‘picking and choosing’ from the Bible.

    It has been my guess that Mike believes because he wants to believe. He seems quite sane and otherwise rational, so I doubt that any particular view of the atonement makes such overwhelming sense to him that he is compelled to believe it. He has already told us why he rejects the Orthodox one:

    My question with that theology (besides the fact that it makes God sound like someone with some serious anger management issues) is why, if God wanted to forgive us, he just couldn’t forgive us. Why is punishment necessary? What good does it do to punish someone else in our place?

    Funny, he doesn’t seem to see the flaw in this whole way of thinking: Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God even need to forgive us? How could we possibly offend such a being? We are merely a transient species on a tiny blue speck in one corner of an unremarkable galaxy. If such a god is so obsessed with us that it would incarnate itself and let us kill it, don’t you think that it would be clearly and unequivocally engaging with all of us right now? There would be no need for the conversations that we are having on this blog–the matter of its existence would be settled.

  • Darryl

    P.S. why does Mike make work-arounds for Christian doctrines that he doesn’t like, but he never considers tossing the whole crazy mess? He doesn’t like Orthodox Christianity, so he changes it to suit his tastes; I know what Orthodox Christianity teaches, and I reject it. He seems to be committed to making it work, no matter what.

  • Mriana

    Sensing some irritable people again tonight. :( Oh, well. Nothing more I can say, if they prefer to upset. It’s not my blood pressure. :lol: Anyway…

    Pastor Mike, I realize you quoted a lot of verses from the Bible, but I was curious, what do you think the author of the Gospel of Thomas meant in verse 3 (esp. the statement concerning the kingdom of heaven)? Note: This of course is a Gnostic Gospel, so if people are wondering where the heck I’m getting the Gospel of Thomas, you won’t find it in the Bible.

    3) Jesus said, “If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”

    It says the remote Parallels to this is Luke 17:21

    I find it interesting the author says it is within us, just as Anthony Freeman in his book “God In Us: A Case For Christian Humanism” discribes God being us, Spong suggesting the same, along with The Sea of Faith. Of course, none of them bases their ideas on these verses, but I do find it interesting that support for the idea exist.

    And your thoughts on this verse from the same gospel:

    113) His disciples said to Him, “When will the Kingdom come?”
    Jesus said, “It will not come by waiting for it. It will
    not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is.’ Rather,
    the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.”

    Again, the remote parallel is Luke 17:20-21

    Now mind you, I think this it and heaven or hell is what we make of the earth itself. We humans have to strive to make this place better or we can end up making it a miserable place. Regardless, earth is what we make it.

    Freeman also states “There is no supernatural world of real being which either parallels or interacts with this world. Religious language does not describe things which actually exist ‘out there’.” “Religious language is a human attempt to make sense of the human predicament.”

    BTW, Anthony Freeman’s book is a good book and I highly recommend the read, if one is interested. Sadly, the Church of England (Anglican) excommunicated him for expressing Religious Humanism and the ideas of the Sea of Faith. :( Thankfully, Spong and others got lucky.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C
    the penal substitutionary theory that you both endorse is really a more recent and mostly evangelical Protestant view.

    That is false. The view I laid out is the Orthodox (think mainstream) view held in both the Eastern/Byzantine tradition and the Western/Roman Catholic tradition from the Church Fathers till the present time. I cannot account for Mike’s understanding of Church history or the history of theology–Mike’s going to believe what he chooses for his own reasons. This is just another example of ‘picking and choosing’ from the Bible.

    From Wikipedia:

    Within Christianity there are numerous technical theories for how such atonement might work, including the ransom theory, the Abelardian theory, and the Anselmian satisfaction theory…

    The almost unanimous, contemporary Protestant view is that of penal substitution. The view is so widely believed that few Protestants are aware of alternative understandings of the atonement. In the rare instances when they encounter other Christians who profess non-substitution views, Protestants usually consider these views heretical.

    Darryl: He doesn’t like Orthodox Christianity, so he changes it to suit his tastes; I know what Orthodox Christianity teaches, and I reject it.

    What Darryl calls “Orthodox Christianity” really refers primarily to modern fundamentalist Christianity. In my personal opinion, fundamentalism is a distortion of historic orthodoxy, but Darryl is entitled to his own opinion on the matter. Fundamentalists and ex-fundamentalists often find it difficult to accept that there are different possible ways of being a Christian besides their own – the former because they might have reconsider their own beliefs, and the latter because they have to reconsider their reasons for rejecting their former beliefs. It’s easier to just label differing beliefs as “heretical” and thereby dismiss them.

    P.S. Why is Darryl talking about me but not to me?

  • Mriana

    It hasn’t escaped my attention that Mike has avoided answering my questions thus far, but won’t miss an opportunity to take a cheap shot. I see a pattern developing.

    Could it be because you and a few others are hecklers in a crowd? I don’t know if you’re (or the others) an atheist giving everyone a bad attitude because you have something against the subject or you’re a Christian who doesn’t appreciate Mike’s views. Either way, the aggressive behaviour makes no sense, because he is not saying you have to believe what he says. No offense, but it also puts a bad light on both cases, and it has nothing to do with criticizing religion, but rather the behaviour itself. How can anyone get a different view of either [Evangelical Fundamentalist] Christianity or atheism with such behaviour?

    I also find it very sad that both sides are giving him hell, but I’ve seen this before and find it nothing new. I don’t alwys agree with him as you can see, but I’m not being mean to him because I don’t agree.

  • Mriana

    P.S. Why is Darryl talking about me but not to me?

    More of the same rudeness?

  • Steven Carr

    MIKE C
    (For instance, the story Steven mentioned about the king killing his enemies is just that, a story, not a literal statement of what Jesus is going to do.)

    CARR
    Amazing!

    Mike teaches that Genesis is not a literal statement, but a story which teaches theological truths.

    When it comes to theology he cannot sell to himself, guess what, he rejects it as just a story, and not a literal statement!

    Mike demands literalism!

    The parable is about Jesus. He is the king who has to go away, ti retyrn in triumph and have his enemies killed in front of him.

    But Mike claims that this is just a story, and so can be ignored.

    Guess what , Mike?

    Atheists ignore Genesis as well.

    We no more think Genesis teaches truth than we really think that there is a Jesus who has the power to have us killed if we don’t accept him as ruler over us.

  • Darryl

    I don’t know that I would make Wikipedia the arbiter on this matter. But, since you’re quoting it, Wikipedia also says: “The Roman Catholic Church does not limit itself to a single theory but several, including primarily the satisfaction theory . . .” Christ’s blood was “satisfaction” for our sins. Sounds like the Judge was in the penalty phase to me. Wikipedia also says, “The [Eastern] Orthodox view is closely related to the Incarnation and is thus closest to the Physical redemption theory.” In Christ’s body we are “redeemed.” Redeemed by what from what? Why can’t God just forgive us? “Why is punishment necessary?”

    What Darryl calls “Orthodox Christianity” really refers primarily to modern fundamentalist Christianity.

    Nope. Only an evangelical would think that. I’m referring to mainstream Western and Eastern Orthodoxy (you know, the folks that invented the term), especially before the Schism (before Evangelicals or Fundamentalists). Their soteriologies have distinct differences, but they are both in accordance with Scripture on the matter of redemption through the blood of Christ.

    Fundamentalists and ex-fundamentalists often find it difficult to accept that there are different possible ways of being a Christian besides their own – the former because they might have reconsider their own beliefs, and the latter because they have to reconsider their reasons for rejecting their former beliefs. It’s easier to just label differing beliefs as “heretical” and thereby dismiss them.

    Oh, please! As a student of religion I “accept” the fact that there are as many ways of being a Christian as there are fertile imaginations. If one chooses to be heterodox, I could care less; but I shouldn’t let one insult my intelligence by telling me I don’t know what that means. I have no need to reconsider my reasons for rejecting my former beliefs because I rejected them once I understood that all of them, and all the other possible ones, were products of the human imagination. I cured myself many years ago of looking for a more authentic or more true religion. Such a thing does not exist.

    P.S. Why is Darryl talking about me but not to me?

    I was taking my cue from you.

  • Darryl

    Mriana,

    I see that you have appointed yourself Sheriff of Manners. I hope you don’t mind if I choose to ignore your advice. You show signs of bias–an intolerable quality in law enforcement.

  • Mriana

    Carr, if you are so anti-religious and feel so insecure about your beliefs, why do you even bother with these threads with Mike? Personally, I’m not offended by what he says. I feel secure enough in my beliefs, that I’m not worried about what he says. It’s his opinion and if I don’t agree I either ask him a question nicely or ask him one that relates to it in some manner or move on until I think of a question.

    I see no reason to get angry and hostile though. Spong, Funk, Freeman, Price, and others are atheist compared to Pastor Mike. Well a couple are professed atheists and the other two are professed non-theists, still he may or may not agree with anything they say. It would be interesting to know what is common ground though.

    I can tell you this much, he does get somethings like the Hebrew word shoel and alike right, as well as a few other things, so he is not completely unlearned in his field as you try make him out to be. I seriously doubt knowing what I’ve learned from the few people I’ve mentioned if they would even agrue those things. The rest is a matter of being a non-theist, atheist, or theist as to what you believe.

    He’s not hurting anyone, so let him have his beliefs. Now if he were to act Farwell, then I could understand your behaviour and agree with you, but he’s not acting like that. He’s not even tried to call a Ji’had like an Islamic sometimes does, so why get so bent out of shape? The only one that seems to have called a Holy War is you, possibly a couple others too, and it makes no sense.

    IMO, the only time to get upset is when someone’s beliefs are being imposed on people. I’ve gotten upset on Hement’s board before because some troll was doing just that. She’s been gone for a while and I was not above saying good riddence. Pastor Mike is not doing that though and to me, at least, you sound like a child posting.

  • Mriana

    Darryl said,

    May 21, 2007 at 1:19 am

    Mriana,

    I see that you have appointed yourself Sheriff of Manners. I hope you don’t mind if I choose to ignore your advice. You show signs of bias–an intolerable quality in law enforcement.

    Behave like insufferable children if you wish. I don’t care. It just puts a bad light on atheism, but I guess that is what you guys want. Which is really sad, IMHO. :( Just don’t complain when and IF Mike ignores you.

  • Miko

    When it comes to theology he cannot sell to himself, guess what, he rejects it as just a story, and not a literal statement!

    Mike demands literalism!

    Er… how is claiming a statement is not literal the same as demanding literalism?

    But Mike claims that this is just a story, and so can be ignored.

    I’m not sure he’s actually claiming this, but what’s wrong with it if he is? Sure, it’s not necessarily justified scripturally, but would you really prefer that Christians not ignore the bad lessons?

  • Steven Carr

    IKE C
    What Darryl calls ‘Orthodox Christianity really refers primarily to modern
    fundamentalist Christianity. In my personal opinion, fundamentalism is a
    distortion of historic orthodoxy, but Darryl is entitled to his own opinion
    on the matter.

    CARR
    The true spirit of dialogue. Darryl produces arguments and reasonung to back up his case, but Mike just ignores all reasoning, declares that they are
    just opinions, refuses to dialogue with them, and carries on believeing and
    preaching falsehoods, even when he has been soundly refuted.

    This is a dialogue of the deaf.

    DARRYL
    It hasn’t escaped my attention that Mike has avoided answering my questions thus far, but won’t miss an opportunity to take a cheap shot. I see a pattern developing.

    CARR
    Not the only one.

    Mike has already stated that he is here just to expound his views.

    LOREN
    And I’m not impressed by Mike C argument of how eeeeeeevil those
    Pharisees were were the Pharisees really as evil as the Gospels portray
    them as being?

    CARR
    Well, there is well document evidence that if people sold property, then
    religious leaders would demand that all of the monet be handed over to them, and people would be struck down dead if they held back any of the proceeds.

    It’s in the Book of Acts, so it must be true ;-)

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Personally, I’m sorry for the animosity, but I’m glad someone is asking Mike the hard questions, since I, too, am curious as to his replies. Atheists have a whole list of stock arguments and if Mike has an answer that we haven’t seen before, then I for one want to know what it is (because if it’s good, then maybe I should be a Christian, or maybe I should reconsider the use of that particular argument; I’ve been forced to do the latter once already).

    At the same time, I’m aware that you’ve basically taken the hot seat, Mike, and we probably ought to try to be as polite as possible while still getting our queries across, rather than slipping into full debate-with-theist mode. Accordingly, allow me to thank you for the patient replies you’ve given.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I don’t believe in that mainly because I don’t believe in the existence of a non-corporeal soul.

    Wow. That’s a pretty amazing statement for a Christian to make. I guess we agree a lot more than I thought we would.

    I am a little unsure why you (and Spong, etc.) don’t just ditch the whole religion, seeing that you pretty much disagree with most of the doctrine that Chrsitianity has taught for the past thousand years or two…. but whatever floats your boat. And it does kind of seem to me that you are using some type of selective literalism to inform your theology. I’d like to hear more about the “scholarship” you mentioned (only in quotes because I don’t know what you’re talking about), that helped you form this view.

    It’s only the extremists and the religious right that I have a beef with (although I agree with Sam Harris, etc., that it is far too common for moderates to give cover to fundamentalists by not allowing religion to be criticized in the public arena). I am totally in support of religious people who have the balls to stand up to the extremist religious folks who are ruining democracy, who are fighting againts equality for all people, and who are intolerant to the point of wanting to force everyone to follow their religious laws and backwards moral code. Basically, I think Jesus would spit in their faces and I’d like to see those who actually follow Christ’s teachings do the same (metaphorically speaking).

    I used to be a born again Christian and sometimes I wish I were still a Christian so I could have a voice that could be heard in that community. As an atheist I am either invisible/inaudible or “the voice of Satan.” So, MikeC, please don’t stop what you are doing.

    P.S. Do you believe God is a non-corporeal being?

  • Mriana

    Miko said,

    May 21, 2007 at 2:20 am

    When it comes to theology he cannot sell to himself, guess what, he rejects it as just a story, and not a literal statement!

    Mike demands literalism!

    Er… how is claiming a statement is not literal the same as demanding literalism?

    That’s what I was going to ask. If he thinks it a story, then he doesn’t take it literally.

    Personally, I’m sorry for the animosity, but I’m glad someone is asking Mike the hard questions, since I, too, am curious as to his replies.

    At the same time, I’m aware that you’ve basically taken the hot seat, Mike, and we probably ought to try to be as polite as possible while still getting our queries across, rather than slipping into full debate-with-theist mode. Accordingly, allow me to thank you for the patient replies you’ve given.

    Somehow I get the feeling I’m not the only one seeing the aggressiveness in posts. If that is the case, thank Lynet. I don’t feel like I’m the only see it now.

    I am a little unsure why you (and Spong, etc.) don’t just ditch the whole religion, seeing that you pretty much disagree with most of the doctrine that Chrsitianity has taught for the past thousand years or two

    That’s pretty much what I did, esp after reading Spong and Freeman. This doesn’t mean I don’t still try to learn though.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Darryl: Wikipedia also says: “The Roman Catholic Church does not limit itself to a single theory but several, including primarily the satisfaction theory . . .” Christ’s blood was “satisfaction” for our sins. Sounds like the Judge was in the penalty phase to me. Wikipedia also says, “The [Eastern] Orthodox view is closely related to the Incarnation and is thus closest to the Physical redemption theory.” In Christ’s body we are “redeemed.” Redeemed by what from what? Why can’t God just forgive us? “Why is punishment necessary?”

    (For lack of a better authority) Wikipedia also says:

    Nearly all of the Church Fathers, including Justin Martyr, Athanasius and Augustine incorporate substitutionary atonement into their understanding of the cross. However, the specific interpretation as to what this suffering for sinners meant differed to some extent. It is widely held that the early Church Fathers, including Athanasius and Augustine, taught that through Christ’s vicarious suffering in humanity’s place, he overcame and liberated humanity from sin, death, and the devil. Thus, while the idea of substitutionary atonement is present in nearly all atonement theories, some argue that the specific idea of satisfaction and penal substitution are later developments in the Latin church and in Calvinism.

    And elsewhere:

    Amongst the Latin Fathers, St. Augustine in particular writes that ‘by His death, the one most true sacrifice offered on our behalf, He purged abolished and extinguished… whatever guilt we had.’ ‘By it’, writes Kelly, ‘God’s wrath was appeased and we were reconciled to him’. Nevertheless this is one of several strands of thought: he expounds the mediating work of Christ, his act of ransoming humankind and also the exemplary aspect of Christ’s work. As with his predecessors, such as Justin Martyr c.100-165 and Gregory of Nazianzus the imagery of sacrifice, ransom, expiation, and reconciliation all appear in his writings. The dominant strain in the writing of the Greek Fathers, such as S. Athanasius, was the so-called ‘physical’ theory that Christ, by becoming man, restored the divine image in us; but blended with this is the conviction that His death was necessary to release us from the curse of sin, and that he offered himself in sacrifice for us’.

    It was not until St. Anselm of Canterbury’s famous work “Cur Deus Homo” (1098 AD) that attention was focused on the theology of redemption with the aim of providing more exact definitions (though there is disagreement as to how influential penal conceptions were in the first five centuries)… Anselmian satisfaction contrasts with penal substitution in that Anselm sees the satisfaction (i.e. restitution) as an alternative to punishment “The honour taken away must be repaid, or punishment must follow” (bk 1 ch 8), whereas penal substitution views the punishment as the means of satisfaction.

    Calvin appropriated these ideas but crucially changed the terminology to that of the criminal law with which he was familiar – he was trained as a lawyer – reinterpreted in the light of Biblical teaching on the law. Man is guilty before God’s judgement and the only appropriate punishment is eternal death. The Son of God has become man and has stood in man’s place to bear the immeasurable weight of wrath; the curse, and the condemnation of a righteous God. He was ‘made a substitute and a surety in the place of transgressors and even submitted as a criminal, to sustain and suffer all the punishment which would have been inflicted on them’.

    (emphasis added)

    In seems that we’re both right to a degree. Subsitutionary atonement (though not specifically “penal substitution”) was a part of early church atonement theology, but not the only part. “Penal substitution” came on the scene with Anselm in the 12th century, and was only fully expressed later by Calvin (which is why this is primarily a Protestant theory. Also, according to this the Athanasian/Eastern Orthodox “Physical” theory that you mentioned apparently is not the same as penal substitution.

    But I should point out of course that my view is a version of substitutionary atonement, just not penal substitution. Jesus was a sacrifice for our sins – but the sacrifice is not one of simply being punished in our stead. Rather the sacrifice is the sacrifice of forgiveness. When we forgive someone we sacrifice the right to get even, and we sacrifice our right to be angry. That is the sacrifice Christ makes on the cross – it is God saying that he is more willing that his own blood should be shed by us, than for him to shed our blood out of vengeance for our rebellion against him. If there is any “punishment” involved, it is we “punishing” God, not God punishing Jesus (of course the doctrine of the Incarnation is crucial to this approach – penal substitution makes too much of a delineation between God and Jesus, as if the Father is angry but the Son is forgiving. My view emphasizes that Jesus is God, and as God he is willingly suffering our injustice against him without retaliation.)

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    Is blogwhoring allowed here? Someone asked me about Occam’s Razor so I wrote up a few ideas on it at my blog.
    from, A Shield Against The Power Rangers Of Occam

    A less than honest use of the form of the razor popular these days is to apply it to a question beyond its ability, the question of the existence of God. “The material world is most simply explained without a God so the idea of a God is false”, or some such construction. This begins by assuming that our knowledge of the physical universe and the methods we know to analyze it are effectively comprehensive, when they certainly aren’t. It also assumes that a God, by definition supernaturally outside of the physical universe, would be susceptible to the known limits of the physical universe and answerable to its laws. They do this even on those occasions when they assign qualities to “God” such as “all powerful” “all knowing”, etc. Just the first of these “all” qualities would include the ability to surpass the known laws of nature.

    Darryl, I’ve found that many of the articles in Wiki around things such as “scientism” and “evolutionary psychology” are clearly written dishonestly by proponents of those cults. You’ve got to be careful with Wiki.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    At the same time, I’m aware that you’ve basically taken the hot seat, Mike, and we probably ought to try to be as polite as possible while still getting our queries across, rather than slipping into full debate-with-theist mode. Accordingly, allow me to thank you for the patient replies you’ve given.

    Thanks Lynet. I guess I should have known that an atheist-vs-theist debate was inevitable, but honestly, that’s not why I agreed to do these Q&A’s. I really have no interest in a full out debate about who’s right on that subject. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for the “hard questions” about my own views, it’s just the hostile tone of “us vs. them” that I want to avoid here. My goal is mutual understanding – not merely to “win” an argument (what fun would that be?)

  • Mriana

    Um… Pastor Mike, with all due respect and I’m sure you know this given you said “for lack of better authority”, Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Darryl on the other hand doesn’t appear to realize this.

    I know a prof in the Religious studies dept on the campus of the State uni I attend who says she will go in there and post the correct info if she sees someone is really off base with the info they posted. So, Wikipedia is a mixture of information. Som right and some wrong, and therefore is not a reliable source of information. I’d take it with a grain of salt.

  • Keith

    Mike C.,

    Thanks for taking the hot seat and answering these questions. I respect you and appreciate the opportunity to observe this discussion.

    My questions are: Are the views you espouse somewhat common among the Emergent church, or is the Emergent church a place with enough of a generous orthodoxy to welcome various views on salvation, heave-hell, hermeneutics, etc.?

    How do you see an increasingly generous orthodoxy impacting Christian-atheist relations? Will such generosity foster increased opportunities for good will? Or will such variety frustrate atheists who will not enjoy trying to intellectually spar with a moving target? What other kinds of impact could this generosity have?

    Thanks for your answers. Keep doing what you’re doing bro.

  • Steven Carr

    MRIANA
    If he thinks it a story, then he doesn’t take it literally.

    MIKE
    For instance, the story Steven mentioned about the king killing his enemies is just that, a story, not a literal statement of what Jesus is going to do.)

    CARR

    SO Mike claims we should reject things if they are not the literal truth, but just a story?

    Here is part of Mike’s cite of Matthew
    Matthew 25:41 ‘Then he will say to those at his left hand ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his agents.’

    Just a story?

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    A less than honest use of the form of the razor popular these days is to apply it to a question beyond its ability, the question of the existence of God. “The material world is most simply explained without a God so the idea of a God is false”, or some such construction. This begins by assuming that our knowledge of the physical universe and the methods we know to analyze it are effectively comprehensive, when they certainly aren’t. It also assumes that a God, by definition supernaturally outside of the physical universe, would be susceptible to the known limits of the physical universe and answerable to its laws. They do this even on those occasions when they assign qualities to “God” such as “all powerful” “all knowing”, etc. Just the first of these “all” qualities would include the ability to surpass the known laws of nature.

    Good points olvlzl. My next official response (which I assume Hemant will post later today) actually relates very closely to your comment here.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Hey Keith,

    My questions are: Are the views you espouse somewhat common among the Emergent church, or is the Emergent church a place with enough of a generous orthodoxy to welcome various views on salvation, heave-hell, hermeneutics, etc.?

    Both/and. Many people in the EC hold similar views to me (especially thanks to the influence of people like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and NT Wright). However, there is no litmus test for orthodoxy w/in the EC, so you will find an openness to a variety of theological opinions on a whole host of topics.

    How do you see an increasingly generous orthodoxy impacting Christian-atheist relations? Will such generosity foster increased opportunities for good will? Or will such variety frustrate atheists who will not enjoy trying to intellectually spar with a moving target? What other kinds of impact could this generosity have?

    Again, both/and. I’ve found that being willing to genuinely dialogue with people of differing views does lead to the discovery of more common ground and opportunities for joint projects. And I’ve also found that some other atheists do tend to pretty frustrated when you don’t live up to their fundamentalist stereotypes.

    Another implication (and this might not seem like such a good thing to some here) is that the emerging church can provide some disillusioned evangelicals & fundamentalists with an alternative to atheism. At one point I myself was nearly on the verge of giving up my faith until I encountered McLaren’s books and realized that it was possible to be a “new kind of Christian” (which, as he points out, is actually a very old kind of Christian). I’ve also had an ex-fundamentalist, almost-atheist friend once tell me that she might not have given up on the church if she had known ones like mine were out there. Anyhow, the EC is helping some realize that the alternative to bad faith could be good faith, not no faith.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    Um… Pastor Mike, with all due respect and I’m sure you know this given you said “for lack of better authority”, Wikipedia is not a reliable source.

    Yeah, I know Mriana, but I don’t have time to go digging through all my theology texts for quotes to prove my point. In this case, based on my own study of historical theology, I think that Wiki is fairly accurate, at least in their broad overview of the history of substitutionary atonement theology. And as the article was fairly well foot-noted, it should be theoretically possible to check the original sources (e.g. Augustine, Athanasius, Anselm, Calvin, etc.) to confirm the claims made, if one had the time and inclination of course. Anyhow, I quoted Wiki merely to point out that at least one other source agrees with me that there has always been a wide variety of atonement theories. Wiki may be wrong too, but if it is, at least I’m not the only one to make the same error. :)

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  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    SO Mike claims we should reject things if they are not the literal truth but just a story?

    When did I say that? A story just communicates a different kind of truth. Why would we need to reject it?

  • Steven Carr

    CARR
    Jesus has a parable about a king returning and what does the king in the parable say? – ‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’

    MIKE

  • Steven Carr

    CARR
    Jesus has a parable about a king returning and what does the king in the parable say? – ‘But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’

    MIKE
    I’ve also found it helpful to recognize what is parable and symbolism, and what is literal. (For instance, the story Steven mentioned about the king killing his enemies is just that, a story, not a literal statement of what Jesus is going to do.)

    MIKE explains further…
    A story just communicates a different kind of truth. Why would we need to reject it?

    CARR
    So Mike accepts that Jesus compared himself to a king that wanted his enemies killed in front of him.

  • http://www.themorphememan.com M_James

    MIKE C.
    For instance, the story Steven mentioned about the king killing his enemies is just that, a story, not a literal statement of what Jesus is going to do.)

    STEVEN “OBVIOUSLY OBFUSCATING” CARR

    SO Mike claims we should reject things if they are not the literal truth, but just a story?

    Here is part of Mike’s cite of Matthew
    Matthew 25:41 ‘Then he will say to those at his left hand ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his agents.’

    Just a story?

    M_JAMES
    Just because a metaphor is used to convey a powerful idea does not mean we should reject the idea. Luckily, Mike C. said no such thing.
    Please stop taking one sentence out of a paragraph and then burdening it down with hare-brained context.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Another implication (and this might not seem like such a good thing to some here) is that the emerging church can provide some disillusioned evangelicals & fundamentalists with an alternative to atheism

    That’s a very odd statement. It’s as if people don’t like the behavior of fundamentalists and therefore they decide not to believe in god? I don’t buy it. As an ex-born-again Christian, I have to say that not liking the behavior of the religious right did have something to do with my leaving the church. But it had nothing whatsoever to do with my ultimate unbelief.

    I don’t buy that belief is voluntary. You don’t decide to believe something or not to believe it. You read what you can on the subject and your brain somehow either believes the evidence or does not. You either think what you’ve read and learned is true or you do not. I’d love to believe that I am going to live forever. But I don’t think that’s true. Should I pretend that I believe? What for?

    The more I learned about the universe after I let myself read other things besides the Bible and Chrsitian books, the less and less I saw a need for a God to explain my own existence or the existence of the universe.

    It would have been completely dishonest for me to have looked for a liberal church and said “I’m going to remain a Christian” after I came to the point that I realized I just didn’t think that God was any more real than Santa.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    That’s a very odd statement. It’s as if people don’t like the behavior of fundamentalists and therefore they decide not to believe in god? I don’t buy it. As an ex-born-again Christian, I have to say that not liking the behavior of the religious right did have something to do with my leaving the church. But it had nothing whatsoever to do with my ultimate unbelief.

    I respect your story writerdd. I’m not saying that the EC would be an appealing alternative to all post-evangelicals. I was just describing my own experience. In my case it did save my faith and give me an alternative to walking away from belief in God altogether. I suspect there might be at least a few other people like myself out there as well, but YMMV.

    Peace

  • Miko

    Another implication (and this might not seem like such a good thing to some here) is that the emerging church can provide some disillusioned evangelicals & fundamentalists with an alternative to atheism.

    For one generation, yes. But what about the children? If you’re telling them that x% of the Bible doesn’t need to be interpreted literally, what makes you think they’ll accept that the remaining (100-x)% should be? I’d say that encouraging people not to take the Bible seriously is about the best win atheists could hope for. (And replace the word “seriously” with something like “literally” if you prefer.)

  • Steven Carr

    M_JAMES
    Just because a metaphor is used to convey a powerful idea does not mean we should reject the idea. Luckily, Mike C. said no such thing.
    Please stop taking one sentence out of a paragraph and then burdening it down with hare-brained context.

    CARR
    I agree.

    Jesus uses a very powerful metaphor to convey the idea that Jesus would compare is himself to a king who asked for his enemies to be brought and killed before him.

    Mike’s response?

    Oh, that is just a story and not a literal statement of what Jesus would do.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I’d say that encouraging people not to take the Bible seriously is about the best win atheists could hope for. (And replace the word “seriously” with something like “literally” if you prefer.)

    Perhaps so Miko, though “seriously” and “literally” are not at all synonymous IMHO. I take all of the Bible very seriously, though not all of it “literally”.

    Personally I’d hope that we’ll be able raise children intelligent enough to deal with a Bible that is complex and nuanced and intricate without losing faith. In fact, my hope is that such a faith would be both stronger and more flexible than the rigid fundamentalism that I was raised with and that has caused so many of my friends to fall away from the faith. If the point of a simplistic literalism is to preserve the faith of our children then I’d have to say it’s not working very well.

  • Stephan

    I’d say that encouraging people not to take the Bible seriously is about the best win atheists could hope for. (And replace the word “seriously” with something like “literally” if you prefer.)

    That’s not what Mike is saying. He is saying you need to read the Bible as it was written. If it was not written as literal history, don’t read it that way. If it was written as a parable, take it as a parable. If it was written as symbolic poetry, read it as symbolic poetry. If, however, it was written literally, read it literally.

    The complication, of course, is figuring out which passages to read which way. Some are obvious. Others are quite difficult. The emphasis is on caring enough to try. Once you throw up your hands and say it’s not worth trying then it really doesn’t matter anymore. My children may not read the Bible the same way I do, but as long as they continue to read it I will be satisfied.

    It could be very easily argued that reading the Bible in its context is taking it much more seriously than if you simply take it all literally.

  • Stephan

    Mike and I cross-posted, with interesting synchronistic results.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    It could be very easily argued that reading the Bible in its context is taking it much more seriously than if you simply take it all literally.

    Thanks Stephan. That is exactly what I would say. Well put.

  • Steven Carr

    STEPHAN
    If it was not written as literal history, don’t read it that way.

    CARR
    Stephan is pushing at an open door.

    ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’.

    That isn’t literally true, is it?

    If the Gospel of Mark is not written with any of the markers ancient historians used to signal that they were writing history, then don’t read it as history.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    I am a little unsure why you (and Spong, etc.) don’t just ditch the whole religion, seeing that you pretty much disagree with most of the doctrine that Chrsitianity has taught for the past thousand years or two…. but whatever floats your boat. And it does kind of seem to me that you are using some type of selective literalism to inform your theology. I’d like to hear more about the “scholarship” you mentioned (only in quotes because I don’t know what you’re talking about), that helped you form this view.

    Actually I don’t disagree with most historic Christian doctrine – just a lot of the interpretive spins put on it by conservative evangelicals in the past century or so. The reality is that there have always been differing opinions on a whole host of issues within Christian theology. One doesn’t have to reject the whole Christian tradition to reject some parts of it.

    And I get that accusation about “selective literalism” and “picking and choosing” all the time. I understand why it might look that way to some, but from my perspective it’s simply a matter of treating the Bible contextually, reading it as the complex and diverse document it is. Trust me, there is a rhyme and reason to it – it’s not just whatever parts I happen to like. For me it’s about actually respecting the Bible more by not trying to squeeze it into an inappropriate literalist hermenuetic that ignores things like genre, symbols, culture, historical context, etc.

    Some of the scholars and authors that have influence me the most when it comes to this “new” (really old but new to me) way of approaching the faith include NT Wright, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, William Webb, Lesslie Newbigin, Brian Walsh, Peter Rollins, and Stanley Grenz among others.

    P.S. Do you believe God is a non-corporeal being?

    Yes… and no. I certainly don’t think God has a body in the same way that we do. But on the other hand, he is not less than corporeal either. To say that God is non-corporeal puts me in mind of ghosts or something, which wouldn’t be the case either. Frankly I don’t think we know what God is. His essential nature is beyond our comprehension. Some postmodern philosophers have even started to talk about “God without being” since even our ontological categories of being and non-being are too limiting for the incomprehensible reality of God. Whenever we try to conclusively say “God is ____” we have already created an idol that must then be deconstructed since God cannot be contained by our language about him.

  • Stephan

    Steven Carr said:

    ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’.

    That isn’t literally true, is it?

    I believe the Genesis account of creation is a story that tells of a greater truth – that God is the creator and sustainer of life. How or when He created is secondary to this truth. I do not take it as a literal scientific account of a creation event.

    …and…

    If the Gospel of Mark is not written with any of the markers ancient historians used to signal that they were writing history, then don’t read it as history.

    Ok, but I’ll read Matthew and Luke as history since they have many of the markers – genealogies, authorship, dates, sources, etc. The book of Acts also has many of these. Mark and John are more anecdotal in nature and more concerned with making a broader theological point than in giving specific facts. As such, I believe the deeper spiritual truth without worrying whether or not all of the facts are exactly accurate.

    Since some of these books have historical markers, are you willing to treat them as history? Or do you have a double standard in this area?

  • Miko

    Mike C:

    Perhaps so Miko, though “seriously” and “literally” are not at all synonymous IMHO. I take all of the Bible very seriously, though not all of it “literally”.

    I’ll agree that they don’t mean the same thing, but most people are going to conflate the concepts nonetheless. For example, Christianity took a huge step forward when Martin Luther translated the Bible into the vernacular, allowing ordinary citizens to form their own opinions of the book rather than accepting the official position of the Catholic church. The result? We live in a society where 2/3rds don’t know who gave the Sermon on the Mount and 1/2 think that Moses was one of Jesus’ deciples. Perhaps there isn’t a causal relation, or perhaps opening the Bible to individual interpretation leads to Biblical ignorance.

    Stephan:

    My children may not read the Bible the same way I do, but as long as they continue to read it I will be satisfied.

    Are you sure of that? After all, I’m an atheist and I’m quite probably in the top 1% in terms of Biblical literacy in the U.S. (although that’s certainly influenced by most other people being so apathetic towards the book). ;-)

    Now, I’ll argue that (parts of) the Bible are worth reading as a guide for morality, if one accepts that it’s imperfect and flawed and as such takes personal responsibility in determining whether any given idea is good or not rather than taking the word of some hypothetical god. But by the same token, parts of the Koran and the Tipitaka are worth reading as well and potentially better in places than the Bible. (Perhaps so for the Rig Veda, etc. as well–I have to admit I haven’t read any “holy books” except for the above listed.)

    Not taking the Bible literally is an excellent first step. The problem I see is stopping there, because some parts of the Bible (and especially of the Old Testament) are downright undefendably bad. You can try to explain them away as a stage in moral development, etc., but I think that you’re only going to succeed in making the Bible appear irrelavent in today’s world. Why not take the Bible off its pedestal and subject it to the same scrutiny you would any other text: instead of explaining away god’s commandment that the tribe of Israel destroy the temples of other religions in Exodus 34:13, why not just point out that it’s bad? After all, a negative example can help foster moral growth as well as a positive one and has the added benefit of encouraging your audience to decide why something is moral instead of just accepting that it is. And when teaching a good idea like “Turn the other cheek,” why not complement it with other presentations of the same idea like the Koran’s “Was not the Earth of Allah spacious enough for you to emigrate therein” or the Yammakavagga’s

    “He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,” in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred is appeased.

    Hate is not overcome by hate; by Love alone is hate appeased. This is an eternal law.

    and discuss how the different traditions approach a similar idea from three different angles.

    Would demystifying the Bible in this way help or hurt Christianity? I couldn’t really say. But I will say that you’d have to do some serious mental gymnastics to assert that an individual’s moral growth would be better served by teaching that the Bible alone is the unfallibe word of god but is unfortunately written in such a way so as to require constant reinterpretation.

  • Steven Carr

    STEPHAN
    Since some of these books have historical markers, are you willing to treat them as history?

    CARR
    The Gospel of Luke was written as history, but it is bad history.

    It has no mention of sources, it is anoymous , and has no discussion of how the author sifted truth from fiction (if he did)

    It’s main source is the Gospel of Mark – just the sort of anonymous work real historians reject out of hand.

    Luke also used the Old Testament as one of his sources of ‘history’.

    As Acts says, Christians ‘searched the scriptures’ for facts about Jesus.

    See http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm for details.

  • Steven Carr

    STEPHAN
    I believe the Genesis account of creation is a story that tells of a greater truth – that God is the creator and sustainer of life. How or when He created is secondary to this truth. I do not take it as a literal scientific account of a creation event.

    CARR
    I don’t take it as factual either when it says there is a ‘god’ who ‘created’.

    It comes in the genre of something somebody made up and wrote down, and should be read in that genre.

    Unless, of course, you have evidence that it wasn’t just made up???

  • Darryl

    Mike,

    We can engage in a quote-fest all day long. For you own edification I would suggest reading Vladimir Lossky on the Eastern Orthodox view of Christ’s saving work. The substitutional and juridical views are not emphasized in the East as much as in the West, nonetheless they are present, and I would argue that the scriptures I cited are incomprehensible without seeing Christ as the Lamb of God and the crucifixion as the final blood sacrifice foreshadowed by the O.T. rituals. It is not the only, but it is the first component of Christ’s salvific work according to the very Hebraic New Testament. The Eastern Fathers almost immediately began to diverge from the Jewish overtones of Christian theology, and the highly developed mystical theology that evolved in the East reflects this. Nonetheless, Eastern Orthodoxy deals rightly with the Scriptures.

    And now for something completely different:

    Darryl, I’ve found that many of the articles in Wiki around things such as “scientism” and “evolutionary psychology” are clearly written dishonestly by proponents of those cults. You’ve got to be careful with Wiki.

    Um… Pastor Mike, with all due respect and I’m sure you know this given you said “for lack of better authority”, Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Darryl on the other hand doesn’t appear to realize this.

    Mriana and olvlzl, no ism, no ist,

    Please pay closer attention to my comments. My response to Mike when he cited Wikipedia was this:

    I don’t know that I would make Wikipedia the arbiter on this matter. But, since you’re quoting it, Wikipedia also says . . .

    I only quoted from this source because I was being cheeky. It is not my first choice for authority either.

    And finally, a word about the tone of our conversations:

    I think a few people have gotten the wrong idea about my comments and questions for Mike C. First of all, I have no axe to grind with anyone including Mike. Mike is a bright fellow; he’s friendly (like Hemant); I assume he’s doing some good in the world—his heart is in the right place; and he enjoys a lively exchange of viewpoints with atheists. To my way of thinking, if Mike is going to engage with us, he ought to be prepared for tough questions and sometimes a little uncomfortable probing. I think that some of the comments on this blog have stepped over the line into the nasty zone (including some of mine—for which I have apologized), but after all, it’s a blog. Blogging in the heat of the moment does have its drawbacks. I realize that some of you are sensitive to this kind of thing, and you think it hurts the atheist cause. You may be correct. Then again, a lively mix of views and styles is probably a good thing, all in all. Please excuse my occasional weakness for a good spar—nobody’s perfect. Consider that by inquiring, probing, and at times arguing, all sides are refining their thoughts and putting to the test ideas that would otherwise go unexamined. One thing seems to be clear, Mike is not afraid of criticism or attacks on his faith; neither is he afraid of his doubts, if he were, he would not be freely putting himself on the chopping block every day.

    The mass has ended; go in peace.

  • Mriana

    To my way of thinking, if Mike is going to engage with us, he ought to be prepared for tough questions and sometimes a little uncomfortable probing.

    Well, the tone of the posts and the quotes etc makes it hard to ask him the tough questions, but believe me, I’ve asked him some pretty tough questions. One I’m still patiently waiting for an answer. :D Either that or his opinion on those I appreciate as theologians was his answer. :lol: I don’t think so though. I think he would have address some of the points if it were.

  • Stephan

    Miko, good points all around. Although I would be sad if my children were atheists, I would rather they be atheists like you (well read and literate) rather than apathetic like so much of our society today.

    Like Mike I agree that there are parts of the OT that make me uncomfortable. I do not understand them all, and while I may try to make excuse for them I don’t honestly believe all of my own excuses. In the end I have to say that I believe in Jesus, and he seemed to be a follower of the OT, although he turned it on its head in a lot of ways. I am comfortable with that, and that is how I will choose to live.

  • http://emergingpensees.blogspot.com/ Mike C

    One I’m still patiently waiting for an answer. :D Either that or his opinion on those I appreciate as theologians was his answer. :lol: I don’t think so though. I think he would have address some of the points if it were.

    Yes, terribly sorry about that Mriana. I got sidetracked once again. I’ll put it at the top of my list. :D

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  • Mriana

    Yes, terribly sorry about that Mriana. I got sidetracked once again. I’ll put it at the top of my list. :)

    Thanks. :D

  • Fundamentalist

    Pastor Mike:
    If I understand you correctly, and please correct me if I don’t. You reject:
    1. The inspiiration and/or infallibility of the Bible.
    2. The absolute authority of the Bible as a rule for faith and practice.
    3. The existance of a literal and eternal Hell as the destiny for those who
    have not by faith recieved Jesus Christ as Savior.
    4. The wages of Sin as being a seperation from God
    5. The redemptive work of Christ at Calvary
    6. Jesus as being the sole way for a person to be reconsiled with God and
    spend eternity with Him.
    7. The majority of other basic tenents of the Christian faith.
    if I am correct then would you still consider yourself a Born Again Believer ?

  • Glenn Davey

    I like George Carlin’s way of appraising people: in any group of people, there are a few winners – mostly losers.

    That goes for Christian, atheist, gay, straight, lefty, conservative, children, adults, pastors, secularists….

    You cannot judge a group by individuals, but by the tenets it promotes. Role models must be chosen carefully.

    Be careful not to generalise about groups, based on the actions or words of individuals within it.


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