Does Progressive Christianity Need Warfare to Thrive?

Richard Beck has concluded his lengthy series in which he responded to my challenge to articulate a progressive vision for theology. In an epilogue, he sums up his argument:

  1. “God is love” is the foundation of progressive Christian theology.
  2. That means that God is weak in the world, acting out of love rather than power.
  3. The weakness of God initiates a warfare relationship between a weak, loving God and those who strive for power in the world.

That last point, I think, is the biggest jump. Beck relies on Greg Boyd’s argument in God at War to show that a weak, loving God is necessarily swept into warfare with other spiritual beings. That’s not an argument that I think Boyd (or Beck) successfully makes. It doesn’t necessarily follow that if God takes a posture of weakness in the world, God is therefore at war. Even in weakness, it seems totally possible that God is the most powerful being in existence and that God’s mere presence vanquishes all comers.

But Beck is right to say remind us that Jesus repeatedly talked about the satan, and that Jesus himself vanquished evil (in the form of demons) on several occasions. To ignore this aspect of Jesus’ ministry is to denude Jesus of one of the most important aspects of his ministry, leading Beck to diagnose the problem with progressive Christianity:

Dislocated from Jesus progressives had no robustly biblical ways to unpack their central confession that “God is love.” Unplugged from Jesus progressives defaulted to liberal humanism. Not a bad move, but the confession “God is love” was thinned and hollowed out to become an insipid vision of liberal tolerance rather than a robust conflict against the forces of dehumanization in the world and in our own hearts.

So then, the question is: With whom is God at war?

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Radical Theology + Liberation Theology = ???

Process theology and radical theology flirted at Subverting the Norm 2 in April. Will they get married? Maybe, but I doubt it. With Bultmanniac, I’m interested in the flirtations of radical and liberation theologies. He suggests that might happen over Christology:

Radical tradition doesn’t “do” anything (to embody Christ, necessarily).  And Liberation theology (and those from the non-white traditions) fail to adequately deal with its metaphysics (see this article from the Other Journal), which in my opinion replicate and perpetuate oppressive powers within their racial and ethnic spaces (i.e. strong patriarchy).

In the future, I’m not sure if there’ll ever be a theological friendship between Liberation and Radical, the way that was found between Process and Radical at Subverting the Norm 2.  Perhaps (intended), there can be one formed over Christology, a direction I believe and hope the Radical tradition is heading.

Read the rest: In Defense of a ‘Radical’ Christology | Rudimentary Bible.

Richard Beck’s Progressive Vision

Richard Beck

Richard Beck is one of my favorite theologians of the moment. Maybe it’s just because I agree with most everything he says.

He teaches at a college that’s affiliated with the Churches of Christ. That’s not a progressive group — most of those churches still don’t use instruments in worship. I’m saying, it’s not easy for a Church of Christ theologian to publicly acknowledge that he’s “progressive.”

Nevertheless, Richard has taken up my longstanding challenge for progressive Christian theologians to say something substantive about God, about Jesus, about theology, and about what we believe.

If you follow Richard, you know that he is the KING od series. So, he’s in the midst of a double-digit series, spelling out his thoughts. He’s made the very unlikely pairing of two books to lead him through this: Greg Boyd’s God at War, and John Caputo’s The Weakness of God (I confess to only having read the latter).

Here are some highlights of Richard’s posts so far. For instance, from the opening post:

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Does God the Father Suffer?

Fred thinks so, and I agree, in spite of the heresy of Patripassianism:

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the Trinity, in one God in three persons. This is a historically Christian way of talking and thinking about God. It’s a helpful and insightful metaphor. And it’s a metaphor that can be supported by several passages in the Bible. But it’s not actually a biblical metaphor. It’s something that Christians have, for many centuries, laid on top of the scriptures, but it was never something we found there in any explicit form.

Set aside all the whole Monster Manual of traditional heresies and heretical -isms, where theology often starts to get into trouble is when we elevate our metaphors about God and begin worshiping and serving those metaphors rather than worshiping and serving God.

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Our Sin May Affect God, but Only on God’s Terms [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

Last week’s question came from Ben — you can submit your questions here – and it deals with three thing:1) the nature of God, 2) the nature of human interaction with God, and 3) the nature of sin:

Does my sin have an effect on God? Specifically, if I do something that doesn’t harm anybody (but maybe myself) does it matter to God? I understand there is general sin (or corporate sin) that is simply the brokenness of our world. I’m talking about specific individual sins.

Ben, the first thing to address is the nature of God. The question is, does anything we do affect God?

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Penal Substitution Dies on the Reservation

I’ve been to Taizé twice, in France. Occasionally, Taizé goes on the road, as it did last weekend, to South Dakota. More specifically, the gathering was on Red Shirt Table, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, just miles from where I lived the summers of 1994, 95, and 96, in Manderson. I would have loved to participate, being that the gathering was a marriage of two of my favorite places in the world. But, alas, Taizé is not for me. It’s specifically for people under 35 — which I’m not — or faith leaders who were leading groups of people under 35 — which I’m also not.

Jason Micheli (subscribe to his blog!), however, is. He led a group of folks from his church in Virginia to SoDak last week, and, at my request, he sent this report:

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The Gospel in Two Broad Strokes: Reconciliation

The context of this post is the following: Last week, Dr. Christena Cleveland wrote a post reflecting on something I’d said at a conference last month. In short, I said that those of us in the room had a “better version of the gospel” than the regnant view in the West. Dr. Cleveland misheard me, thinking I said we have the “best version.” Nevertheless, she was critical of my statement, arguing that to assert that one’s version of the gospel is “better” or “best” necessarily excludes a diversity of voices.

Dr. Cleveland’s post hinted at an accusation of racism, which I vehemently denied, albeit in a manner that was overly defensive. Nevertheless, I continue to disagree with her assertion that preferring one version of the gospel over another — and proudly proclaiming that — is necessarily exclusionary. That’s an argument that is simply impossible to defend, unless one is prepared to embrace the completely syncretized relativism that has overwhelmed much of liberal Protestantism in America. I, for one, am not prepared to do that.

So, I am taking a couple posts to write about the two themes that I think are central to the gospel of Jesus Christ, insofar as I understand it, today, and from where I sit. Whether this version that I espouse is, indeed, “better,” and whether it is “exclusionary,” I will leave it for you to judge. Read the prologue here and the post on liberation here.

Part One: Context

Years ago, when Emergent Village was going strong, evangelicals were starting to have doubts about us, and critics of us were starting to go public, Doug Pagitt and I made a pact: We would meet with anyone, anywhere, no questions asked. If someone wanted to meet with us — to question us, berate us, or attempt to convert us — we would meet with them. Since that time, we’ve had innumerable breakfasts at Original Pancake House, some of them with readers of this blog.

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The Gospel in Two Broad Strokes: Liberation

The context of this post is the following: Last week, Dr. Christena Cleveland wrote a post reflecting on something I’d said at a conference last month. In short, I said that those of us in the room had a “better version of the gospel” than the regnant view in the West. Dr. Cleveland misheard me, thinking I said we have the “best version.” Nevertheless, she was critical of my statement, arguing that to assert that one’s version of the gospel is “better” or “best” necessarily excludes a diversity of voices.

Dr. Cleveland’s post hinted at an accusation of racism, which I vehemently denied, albeit in a manner that was overly defensive. Nevertheless, I continue to disagree with her assertion that preferring one version of the gospel over another — and proudly proclaiming that — is necessarily exclusionary. That’s an argument that is simply impossible to defend, unless one is prepared to embrace the completely syncretized relativism that has overwhelmed much of liberal Protestantism in America. I, for one, am not prepared to do that.

So, I am taking a couple posts to write about the two themes that I think are central to the gospel of Jesus Christ, insofar as I understand it, today, and from where I sit. Whether this version that I espouse is, indeed, “better,” and whether it is “exclusionary,” I will leave it for you to judge. See the prologue to this post here.

Part One: Context

As readers know, my favorite theologian is Jürgen Moltmann. One of the reasons that I so love Moltmann is that he is keenly aware of his social location. Here’s what I mean:

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Is My Version of the Gospel Exclusionary?

I spent a lot of time sitting quietly in the woods this weekend, waiting to shoot a wild turkey who never arrived — he just gobbled at me from behind some trees, mocking my attempt to plate him. So I had a lot of time to think.

Then, I ran my ideas for a blog response to last week’s kerfuffle by Courtney, who had been out of town all weekend, and she gently told me that they were all bad ideas.

As an Enneagram 8, my overriding desire is always always always for justice. Justice for others, justice for me. In years past, I became incredibly morose over the injustices in the Family Court System during my divorce — in fact, in Minnesota it’s called the “Family Justice System,” but my therapist told me to stop calling it that because it’s not really about justice, at least not in the sense that I understand it. (That therapist also refers to me as the “Big Boy Scout” for some of the same reasons.)

What felt unjust to me last week and over the weekend is that I felt unjustly accused, and I felt that I was not heard. David Miller, a frequent critic of mine, wonders the same thing in a less-than-totally-affirming post (that I nevertheless encourage you to read). But Courtney convinced me that spilling more pixels trying to make everyone understand that I really am quite aware of my privilege and my social location won’t help.

So, I am instead going to respond to the heart of Dr. Cleveland’s objection to my talk in Springfield last month: that claiming one version of the gospel is preferable to another version is necessarily exclusionary of diverse voices.

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It’s Probably True, Even If Jesus Didn’t Say It [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

This week, Andrew asked us to consider the claims of divinity that are attributed to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel:

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes many confident self-proclamations (conservative Evangelical’s favorite verses which seemingly demonstrates the exclusivity of Jesus). Now, I’m sure that claiming to be God in 1st century Judiasm is a really big deal; however, how is it that none of these self-proclamations make it into any of the synoptic gospels? Is it possible that Jesus never made these self-proclamations? If not, how does this effect our understanding of Trinitarian theology in the gospel accounts?

There’s been a very robust conversation about this post, and I encourage you to read it. In the 1,000 words I afford myself on these responses, I simply cannot reprise all of those arguments.

First, in case you are new to this kind of question, here’s the background. Most reputable scholars think this about the four Gospels:

  • Mark came first, probably in the late 50s or early 60s.
  • Matthew and Luke were both written in the mid- to late-60s. They both use Mark as a source, a source that scholars refer to as “Q,” and their own source material.
  • John comes much later — probably in the mid-90s — and uses mostly unique material.

Here’s how the four Gospels look in somewhat twisted mind of Paul Soupiset, as I asked him to make a Venn Diagram of the overlaps for the next Animate course:

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