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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Republicans Can’t Be Christians — Sorry!

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 1, 2016

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-like-jesus-disciples_us_583e48d7e4b04fcaa4d5bd72?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-like-jesus-disciples_us_583e48d7e4b04fcaa4d5bd72?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

 

Oh, holy shit! If this doesn’t discredit ALL CHRISTIANS in everyone’s eyes, than what will? Trump a disciple of Jesus? Trump EVERY disciple of Jesus rolled into one? Are the Christians going totally insane now? At this point, with 81% of all white evangelicals having voted for Trump, it’s obvious to me that today’s Christians have sold out, have sold their souls to the Republican Party and to Fox News, do not care about Jesus or his teachings, especially about “love,” “the poor” and caring for them, loving your neighbor as yourself, treating everyone — including immigrants!!! — as equals (Remember the story of the Good Samaritan they always teach in church? Do the Christians ever learn anything from that, considering the Samaritan was from a group of unacceptable immigrant types Trump and his Christian/Republican friends would have thrown out of the country by now, showing their great Christian love and compassion?), about healing the sick — for free, dammit! — and healing the sick occurs a lot in the New Testament, but apparently Christians/Republicans must skip over those parts of the Bible … if they ever actually read their Bibles. What about believers of other religions? The Old Testament God would have had his Israelites go kill all of them. He was permanently pissed off, in a bad mood, and ready to kill everyone who was on his shit list. That’s why so many fundies like OT God. But see, I don’t believe in OT God. Not anymore. I was brought up to believe in him. I was brought up to “love” (hate) and fear (yep!) him. That’s how the “Church” controls you, controls the Christians in its clutches. But I threw that out the window decades ago. There’s no room in my life for brain washing, mind numbing, soul destroying bullshit like that. I feel that God, if there is a god — and I often wonder — created all people and if he does love people, he loves them all equally, no matter what their color, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else like that is. And I really think Jesus would support that. He said the most important commandment was to love your brother like yourself. He didn’t say white brother. He didn’t say straight brother. He didn’t say that person must definitely be a male. Yet, our wonderful Republican Christians pretty much hate all other religions, and if you go by Trump and his followers, and 81% of white Christians do, then they all hate Muslims especially, even though there are two billion of them in the world today. Hating two billion of God’s children is sure to make God proud of you, his personal representative on earth, showing the rest of us just how great it is to be a Christian and what a loving, tolerant religion it is. Not. Christians, I’m not convinced God would approve of you actively hating two billion of his children and acting to work against them in one way or another, at a minimum, to keep any of them from entering our country, a nation of immigrants, a nation where each and every one of our families have come from other countries through immigration, something we’re now trying to deny people of a different religion, and most of them a different ethnicity, just because they’re not white Christians and therefore not acceptable. I’m becoming more and more convinced that it is literally impossible to be a current Republican, especially a Trump Republican, and a true Christian at the same time. No true follower of Jesus and his teachings would ever endorse what Trump and the current Republican party stand for. They simply clash too much. Today’s Republicans stand for hatred, not love, helping the rich and hurting the poor, screwing the sick, starting or sustaining violence and wars, something Jesus symbolically taught Peter he wouldn’t have supported on the night of his arrest, Republican oppression of women, while it’s clear in the New Testament that some of the most important disciples to help Paul were women and the first people to be given knowledge and proof of a risen Jesus were women, Republican hatred, repression of and oppression of virtually all minorities, especially black people, while New Testament Christians had members of all races, including Jews, obviously, other Middle Easterners, Africans, Romans, Greeks and other Europeans, even Asians and apparently far Eastern people. Jesus welcomed people from all demographics. God made everyone, let’s not forget that. It seems that most of today’s Christians/Republicans have, unless he did it to create slaves for them? Cause I honestly don’t know what their thinking is regarding God’s motivation for creating minorities since they obviously hate, resent, repress, oppress, and abuse them so brutally and have for centuries. How do today’s Christians justify this? Cause I just read an article yesterday that basically said that it was white, rural, Christian, mostly poor voters who just put Trump in office, as well as many of these other Republican freaks who want to destroy the country and the world, and that pretty much every single one of them are white Christian racists, whether overt or not, as well as anti-education (did God tell us he wanted us to be stupid?), anti-“liberal,” (cause obviously *I’m* the bad guy here, right? Cause I’m an educated liberal “elite.” Shit. Pretty much every Republican political leader has an impressive college education. Trump has an Ivy League education!). But I’m getting off topic. Today’s Republicans can’t be Christians because they all want revenge and vengeance for everything. Long jail terms! Stiffer prison sentences! Three strikes! Death penalty! Hell yeah! Oh, what did the Bible say? Vengeance is mine says the Lord? Judge not lest ye be judged? I often wonder if today’s Christians have ever read the Bible. My bet is, maybe a few Psalms, some books of the Old Testament, cause God is pretty pissed there and a pissed God is pretty rad. Maybe a couple of key New Testament verses. Not much else. Of course they’ve all had Sodom and Gomorrah drilled into their heads all their lives, so they hate gays more than anything on earth, homosexuality, the controversial and debatable alleged sin in Sodom thought of as the abominable sin. But do they ever stop to think about how many times Jesus mentioned homosexuality in his teachings? Zero. Never. Paul did. A couple of times.Paul was somewhat sex obsessed. Paul had issues, IMO. Jesus never brought it up. Also, how many times did Jesus condemn abortion, the other major Christian topic of hatred? Zero. None. Never mentioned it. It is mentioned in the Bible, I believe, although I’m willing to be wrong on that, but the Jews had/have an interesting take on things like that and things like the question of when does life begin. Republican Christians have been fighting for decades to get the courts to make it the law of the land that life begins at conception. But that’s not what Jews God’s chosen people, believe. And remember, they base ALL of their religious/moral/ethical beliefs on what is written in the Torah/Old Testament, etc. Jews believe life does not begin until a baby is actually born, has come out of its mother’s body and has taken its first breath on its own. With that first breath on its own, life has then begun for that baby. And not a moment before. Think about that. Jesus wasn’t a Christian. They didn’t exist at the time, obviously, and he didn’t come to earth to start a new religion anyway. Paul founded the Christian religion, based in large part on the teachings of Jesus. But Jesus had nothing to do with it himself. He was a practicing Jew. He worshiped in the synagogue on Shabbat. Thus, he would have shared this belief. For Jesus, life would have begun at birth, not conception. Therefore, abortion is acceptable to Jews. It always has been. I’m no religious historian, but I’m under the impression that this stance dates back centuries, possibly and probably pre-dating Jesus. If so, he would have known of this Jewish stance on abortion and since he never once mentioned it or certainly spoke out on it, it’s safe to assume he agreed with it and endorsed it. My point is that at a minimum, topics like helping the poor (the most frequent topic Jesus ever spoke about), taking care of the sick and the helpless, healing others, PAYING TAXES!, praying, faith, giving one’s wealth, riches, and possessions away to follow God, having the right priorities, forgiveness, peace, doing away with religious hypocrites (like current Republican Christians), and compassion were all infinitely more important to him and his teachings and followers than trendy conservative Christian hot topics like homosexuality and abortion, as well as many other current Christian topics that I don’t think represent Jesus or his teachings.

An aside. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear some quote or two coming from that absolute insane “Christian” leader, Pat Robertson. I think if there was ever a famous public figure claiming to represent God in current times who consistently just gets it WRONG every single damn time, it’s him. For decades, he has advocated conspiracy theories of all types, no matter how crazy. He has called for our country to assassinate another countries’ leaders. (Seriously??? WWJD? Does he really think Jesus would approve of that? If so, why? Where in the Bible did he get that idea?)  He has called for violence against abortion doctors, for overt sustained discrimination against gays, crying out for Christian backlash to the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing gay marriage. He constantly makes pronouncements like God is going to destroy America because we allow homosexuals to marry or God’s going to allow one country or another to attack or invade America as a way of punishing us for our love of gays or every time there’s a natural disaster, such as Katrina, Robertson’s on TV announcing it’s God’s judgement on America for one sin or another and oh yeah, this is great, every time there’s a mass shooting, he’s right there on TV doing God’s will, blaming it on America’s failing morals, how we don’t pray in schools anymore – – I can see Republican God getting so pissed off at no prayer in schools that he sends gunmen to schools across America for mass shootings to pay back the damn liberals running this country, even though it’s a Republican Congress, a conservative Supreme Court, a mostly Republican country in terms of Red states and governors, etc. Yeah, it’s the damn liberals in charge. You know, the same ones who can never pass common sense gun laws that might stop these sorts of things and save dozens of lives because powerful groups like the Christian Republican NRA and its politicians all over the country constantly block any law of any sort from ever passing that would ever help save lives and stop mass shootings. Cause Republican Christians know that Jesus would undoubtedly carry an AR15 with him if he were around today. One of his dozens of guns he would own. The fact that he was unarmed while alive and told his followers to put their weapons away when he was threatened apparently is meaningless to these people. Jesus was not a passivist. He would kick ass and take names!  — Anyway, Robertson. An example to America, at least the rest of us, of what today’s Republican Christians are and have become over the years — crazy, violent, hateful, intolerant, bigoted, spiteful, vindictive, mean spirited, and someone who shows no desire to follow Jesus’s teachings to care for the poor, to feed them, to heal them, to care for them, cause Obamacare is obviously of the devil himself since a black Democratic president came up with it, even though it was originally inspired by rich, white, religious Republican governor with great success. That doesn’t matter, because the president who made it a national program and law is a Democrat and, even worse, black. Therefore, it’s evil and must be repealed. Even though it pretty much does what Jesus called for us to do. That’s secondary. There are more important things at stake here. To Robertson and his ilk.

Anyway, Jesus did mention feeding and caring for the poor dozens and dozens of times though. And he did mention how hard it would be for rich people to get into heaven. Like practically impossible. Which makes me feel pretty good about Trump’s ultimate destination. And Robertson. And all other well off Christian Republicans. Cause although they’re convinced they know where they’re going when they die, I’ve got a pretty good idea they’ll end up surprised. Cause I don’t view them as Christians. And I don’t think God does either. In the end, it will be Jesus who will say, “Get away from me. I don’t know you.” New Testament, by the way. In case you’re a Christian. I assume you haven’t read that part of the Bible, since it’s not about getting rich or hating people or attacking our enemies or hurting as many people as we can. Yay Christians! Yay Republicans! Enjoy each other’s company. In hell.

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A Review of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 18, 2015

Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary FaithMeeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith by Marcus J. Borg
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

For a long time now, I’ve heard that Marcus Borg is THE intellectual theologian of liberal Christians and as a result, I’ve been wanting to read some of his work. See, I was born into a strict evangelical, near fundie, home and grew up indoctrinated in evangelical tenants, taught to fear and hate “liberal” Christians, who weren’t actual Christians at all and who were going to hell. By the time I reached college, I was so disgusted with my religion, I left the church – went as far away as I could – and stayed away for two decades. Sometime in my mid to late 30s, for some unknown reason, I felt drawn back to God and the church and explored my old church and others like it because I knew no better. And I was overwhelmed by the judgmentalness, intolerance, dogma, right wing politics, hatred of the poor, and obsession with wealth. Literally, in my old church, the richest man in town went to “our church,” the mayor went to “our church,” a state senator went to “our church,” the governor was an elder at “our church,” a congressman went to “our church,” 5,000 people went to “our church” which had a huge campus you needed a map for and a budget in the tens of millions. It was truly disgusting. I’ve read what Jesus taught and did while he lived and these people certainly didn’t reflect that, in my opinion. So, it took a long time, I guess because I’m stupid, but I finally figured out I’m not an evangelical in my 40s and went looking for a new church. And found a home in a mainline church. Which seems to teach what Jesus taught, unlike the evangelicals and fundies. Now, in all honesty, even though I know Jesus wouldn’t approve, evangelicals repulse and disgust me and I can’t stand them and can’t stand to be around their arrogant, I’m-better-than-you, I’m-the-only-person-saved, yuppie asses. If there is a hell, I personally think most of them will wind up there. But then I sound too much like them, so maybe I better retract that statement.

Anyway, Borg. I got this book and started reading eagerly. And to my astonishment, I was beyond disappointed. I was appalled. Borg is literally bone headed stupid. He’s a dumbass of the first degree. He’s not a “real” Christian, in my opinion, probably doesn’t even know what one is, and this book is a sham. Even though I view myself as a fairly liberal Christian, I’m afraid I’m going to probably come across sounding like my old evangelical self in this review. And that disturbs me.

First of all, Borg grew up Lutheran. And didn’t really know too much about Christianity, even by his own admission. He began having doubts at a young age, like many people. However, unlike many people who wonder why God allows horrors to happen to “innocent” people, he wondered how God could be everywhere when he was clearly up in Heaven. Which strikes me as odd. Just odd.

He went to college, I believe at a Lutheran school. And experienced enough doubts to become a closet agnostic. And then a closet atheist. And so, logically (sarcasm intended), he went to seminary. Where he had four life changing experiences that changed his mind forever and brought him back to Christianity. As he wrote this, I eagerly waited to read about them. Imagine my shock and disappointment when he NEVER even wrote what they were, not one of them. What the hell? What is that about? Bizarre!

So Borg went on to become a religious studies professor at Oregon State University where he did “research” on historic Christianity and Jesus and came up with some “startling” conclusions. Bear in mind, it took him some 40 years or so to realize this and he’s announcing this publicly in this book – he’s come to the realization that Christianity is not about works or deeds or following commandments or belief or sacraments. Instead it’s simply about having a personal relationship with God! With God! Unreal!!! Can you believe that? I knew that at age four. Ask ANY evangelical child of five years or so and they’ll be able to tell you that. And yet Borg had to study and research and dedicate years to come up with this mind blowing conclusion that he is illuminating the world with, one which most of the world already knows. His stupidity is unsurpassed.

This book then goes on to talk about Jesus. Sort of. It talks about “pre-Easter” and “post-Easter” Jesus. See, pre-Easter Jesus is historical. Post-Easter Jesus probably didn’t exist and is metaphorical. Not possible. Jesus was a “spirit person.” A holy man, but you can’t say that, because holy means spiritual and that’s not cool and of course it’s not PC to say “man,” so spirit person it is. And here’s another startling revelation Borg comes to. Jesus was compassionate! Wow! Borg, you sure are brilliant. However, that’s not all. Oh no. See, Borg talks about wisdom, how important it is in the Bible, how it was present at the beginning of creation, how it connotes with Jesus himself. He then goes on to say that the Greek word for wisdom is the feminine noun, “Sophia.” So he does this neat little trick of quoting several Bible verses, substituting “Sophia” for “wisdom” wherever he finds it, thus making it feminine, yet proving nothing. Except in his own mind. See, he equates wisdom with God. And since wisdom is equated with God and since wisdom is female, therefore God is a woman. Yep. And Jesus was therefore not the Son of God the Father, but the Mother. Not that Jesus was the Son of anyone, nor was he God, nor was he part of the Trinity, cause all of that’s bullshit for Borg. Not possible. Pure metaphor, if not outright lie. I honestly don’t have a problem with a genderless god. In fact, that’s how I view God. But probably due to my ingrained evangelical upbringing, I have a major problem with God as woman. Unless I’m mistaken, God is a patriarchal god throughout the Bible, worshiped as such by his people, a patriarchal people, and worshiped as a male god by Christians throughout the centuries. Now I admit, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, but I’m unwilling to simply throw that out and change God to a woman just to be PC. I have a woman pastor at my church, so I obviously don’t have a problem with female religious leadership, but in my opinion, both the Old and New Testaments clearly define the female role in society and it’s certainly not to be a matriarchal culture, like it or not, fair or not. Sorry, but true.

Even though I was near the end of the book, after this chapter and after the preceding showcases of utter ignorance and stupidity, I decided not to finish the last few pages of the book. And I’m deleting all of the other Borg books I have on my Amazon wish list. To me, he’s a pathetic fraud and no intellectual. To me, he wouldn’t know Christianity if it bit him on the butt. I’ll be content to read liberal Christian authors like Rob Bell and Brian McClaren. While reading reviews of this highly rated book, I came across a highly placed one star review that sums up a lot of what I think about this book and I’m going to quote it in its entirety, giving credit to the author, but doing so without his permission. I hope he won’t mind.

Oct 04, 2012 Webster Bull rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: faith
Two Episcopalians whom I respect told me I should read this book. Both said that it frames Jesus in a way that makes sense to them. It does not make sense to me.

The non-sense begins with the whole notion of needing to frame Jesus to make him palatable for our liberal, postmodern, science-driven culture. Which is what Lutheran theologian Marcus Borg does in this popular book whose cover claims “Over 250,000 Sold!”

Borg says that we need to look at our images of Jesus, and if we don’t like them, come up with our own. Better yet, adopt Borg’s images, for which he provides up-to-the-minute scholarly reasons. He is the Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion at Oregon State University.

Borg doesn’t buy the image of Jesus as divine savior. So out it goes. He doesn’t particularly like the image of Jesus as a teacher either, because it leads, he claims, to a moralistic image of the Christian life.

Instead, he asks us to “image” Jesus as a spirit person. (Why does “image” have to be a verb? For that matter, who made “narratival” an adjective?)

What, you ask, is a “spirit person”? It is Borg’s gender-inclusive term for what used to be known, in the dark ages, as a holy man. Spirit, of course, is that shapeless something so many of us take for granted, the noun form of the comfy, empty, all-embracing adjective “spiritual.” Heaven forbid that anyone should be “religious”! But at least we’ve learned something earthshaking: Jesus was a holy man! Except that we shouldn’t refer to him as a man.

Next, Borg asks us to “image” Jesus as compassionate. What a breakthrough idea! This leads to a discussion of the Jewish “purity system” and how Jesus broke down this system, which of course suggests that we, in our compassion, should break down any and all cultural norms.

Yet the idea of “compassion” overturning cultural norms involves Borg in a circular logic he doesn’t admit. If you overturn the old norms for new ones, shouldn’t the new ones become new targets of our “compassion”? But he is so determined to make Jesus politically correct that logic goes out the window.

Here’s another revolutionary image of Jesus we are asked to embrace: He was a sage! He was a “teacher of wisdom”! This leads to a long disquisition on the Greek word for wisdom, Sophia, and the fact that it is a feminine noun. Soon enough we are asked to envision God as feminine and “womb-like.” Borg retranslates passages from the Book of Wisdom, substituting Sophia. The amusing results speak for themselves:

“Sophia cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance tot he city gates she speaks . . . ” And so on. Pretty soon, we are asked to consider Jesus Christ’s feminine qualities:

“In what sense is Christ the wisdom of (and from) God? In particular, are we to understand ‘wisdom of God’ in these verses [from St. Paul] as resonating with the nuances of divine Sophia? It is possible, and if so, it means that Paul spoke of Jesus as the Sophia of and from God.”

Later: “For Paul, Jesus is the embodiment of Sophia.” So the Lord is actually a woman in a man’s body? Isn’t that what’s meant by transgendered? Wow, I never thought of Jesus that way!

Borg ends this flight of theological fancy by analyzing the three “Macro-Stories of Scripture.” (For Borg, everything is narratival!) Two macro-stories are acceptable to him: the Exodus narrative and the story of exile and return surrounding the Babylonian captivity. The third is not so acceptable, however: the “priestly story,” the whole idea that “the priest is the one who makes us right with God by offering sacrifice on our behalf.” To take this story seriously means taking sin seriously, and guilt, and forgiveness. Let Borg speak for himself:

“This story is very hard to believe. The notion that God’s only son came to this planet to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and that God could not forgive us without that having happened, and that we are saved by believing this story, is simply incredible. Taken metaphorically, this story can be very powerful. But taken literally, it is a profound obstacle to accepting the Christian message. To many people, it simply makes no sense, and I think we need to be straightforward about that.”

The author throws out so much of the baby Jesus with the bathwater that there’s very little left of Him. Arguing against the “purity system,” Borg ends with a Jesus who has been air-brushed clean of any possibly offensive qualities, like his manhood, for example. Though Borg says he is searching for the historical Jesus, he ends with nothing but images, thinking apparently that only a politically correct, sanitized, insubstantial Jesus can bring skeptics back to church.

Which of course is why the mainline Protestant denominations are shrinking every week. There’s no there there, and nothing left of Jesus, man or God.



Needless to say, this book is most certainly NOT recommended under any circumstance. Unless you’re a transgender, feminist liberal Christian, at which point you’ll probably like it….

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A Review of Misquoting Jesus

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 1, 2015

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and WhyMisquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Misquoting Jesus through carefully and thoughtfully and concluded it was an excellent book written by an author who clearly knows of which he speaks. Before I started reading it, I had read a number of reviews online, some supportive, some negative. The negative ones seemed to say that, yes, well, everyone knows there have been changes in the Bible over the years. Big deal. They’re minor and they don’t change the overall theme of the Bible. Well, after reading this book, I beg to differ. Like the author, I grew up believing the Bible was the inherent word of God – God’s chosen words as inspired to be written by several select human authors. You had to believe everything. Of course, as I grew older, I began to have doubts. For instance, take all of Leviticus. No one stones their children for being disobedient, people eat shrimp and bacon, men cut their hair and beards, etc. But if you followed the Bible like you were supposed to, you couldn’t do those things, right? So that prepared me for the cherry picking that Christians do with the Bible left and right to suit whatever agenda they have. So textual changes can make a big deal, yes, especially when non-changes like those in Leviticus make a big or non-big deal, depending on how you view things.

Before, I go any further, let me state that I view myself as a Christian. A liberal one, not a fundie or even an evangelical, which is what I grew up as, but still, a Bible reading and respecting Christian. Doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate though.

Early in this book, just to show people what sort of things they’ll be exposed to, Ehrman shows us some discrepancies. He calls them mistakes. These include when Mark says Jesus was killed the day after the Passover meal, yet John says he died the day before it. And Luke indicating that Mary and Joseph had come to Nazareth a month after going to Bethlehem, while Matthew says they went to Egypt. And in Galations, when Paul says he did not go to Jerusalem after his conversion, while the book of Acts says that’s the first thing he did upon leaving Damascus. And on and on.

So what happened to the Bible? Who changed it and why? Well, the author would have us believe that scribes, both professional and nonprofessional, made numerous changes, both unintentional and intentional over the course of centuries and that as these manuscripts were handed down as gospel, the changes were handed down, so that there was no longer any possible way to know what it was the authors of the Bible and specifically the New Testament wrote. He goes into elaborate detail on the details of scribes having to copy letter by letter books (letters) of the New Testament, as well as other documents, and showed that many of these scribes were barely literate themselves, if at all. One example of unintentional changes were that Greek at the time was written without spaces between words, so that a particular phrase that was meant to have meant one thing, could have actually meant something else when copied or transcribed or translated later on. Intentional changes were made by people who, perhaps, wanted to include an agenda against women in the church when none, perhaps, may have existed in the original texts.

The book that the King James Bible was founded on was the Johannine Comma by Erasmus. The author takes great pains to show its flaws. Meanwhile, there were those who were intent upon translating the Greek New Testament and providing scholarship for it. One such person, John Mill of Queens College, Oxford, spent 30 years back in the seventeenth century compiling a list of “variations,” or discrepancies (or mistakes) in the various manuscripts he had available to him, dating back to the oldest texts available. He found over 30,000 discrepancies! That’s right – 30,000. The author then goes on to say that currently, we possess over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, 57 times as many as Mill, and that there are now known to be between 200,000 and 400,000 discrepancies in the New Testament, or more words than exist in it. It’s stunning. If that doesn’t show that the Bible is NOT the inherent word of God, I don’t know what will. And if you follow that logic, then if it’s not, then how can you believe any of it, or know what to believe or not believe?

I had meant to write a much more detailed review, but feel that I’d never finish with it. Hopefully I’ve made my point. The author certainly made his with me. Needless to say, he no longer thinks the Bible is the inherent word of God, and I’m not sure I do either, or that I have for some time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain words of God – just that it was written by people and they can make mistakes over the course of centuries. I’d strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject.

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A Review of Paul: The Mind of the Apostle

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 19, 2014

Paul: The Mind of the ApostlePaul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I FINALLY finished this book! It took me forever because it’s fairly dry and the content doesn’t interest me as much as that in some other books. Still, this was a fairly interesting book to read. The author is apparently an agnostic or atheist and ensures one understands he believed Jesus was a Jew with no intention of starting a religion, and undoubtedly not the son of God or God himself. If you’re a Christian and you can get past that, you’re good to go. This book presents Paul as THE founder of Christianity and THE individual responsible for asserting Jesus was the Messiah, gone to glory in the clouds, and returning again some day — soon. The author asserts Paul thought Jesus was returning in a matter of months or years, thus the urgency in some of his letters.

When I read nonfiction books, I don’t underline passages — I turn over page corners so I can go back and catch important portions of the text. Normally I will have turned over 10-20 pages in a typical nonfiction book. In this book, I must have turned over 50 pages or more. I often quote from these passages, but I obviously can’t do that here — I don’t have the time or inclination.

Wilson asserts that Paul was a traveling tent maker and that’s how he supported himself, along with donations. He also calls into question whether Paul was a one time Pharisee or not. He alludes to Paul’s potential homosexuality, in his nonstop efforts to force sexual morality on people and in his almost loving letters to Timothy and other men who were his followers. Yes, sacrilege, I know. Still, interesting stuff. Wilson writes,

“Old-fashioned liberal Protestants detected in the Gospels the seeds of modern feminism — Talitha cumi, Damsel arise, became the motto of Victorian Christian feminists. The Jesus of the Gospels outraged Jewish opinion by speaking to the woman at the well of Samaria, and by offering forgiveness to the prostitute who, though she had sinned much, had also loved much. Impossible, says such wisdom, to imagine the misogynist puritanical Paul extending such forgiveness, nor being so much at ease with the opposite sex.”

We also get in-depth details on Paul’s travels here and their context, which I found really helpful. You also get a history lesson on Rome, at the time, and the state of the Jews. Wilson additionally delves into other religions and gleefully admits to Paul having stolen some traditions from paganism for Christianity.

Wilson is pretty hard on Luke and his book of Acts. He asserts much of it is contradictory to Paul’s own writings and probably made up. And his arguments, which I can’t paraphrase here, are good. (I didn’t know Luke was a Gentile.) Wilson also deals with Paul’s intent focus on evangelizing and converting Gentiles, something he argues Peter and James were opposed to. Of Luke, the author writes,

“By the time Luke writes up the story, perhaps twenty years or more later, it must be obvious that the Lord has not come and that all Paul’s immediate prophesies and predictions about the nature of the world and God’s purpose for it, have been not just slightly off beam, not open to interpretation, but plumb wrong. Christianity — not a word which Paul ever used — will have to sort out the contradictions of all that. It it Luke’s dull task to smooth over the cracks and hide the glaring discrepancies in his story, and to persuade ‘dear Theophilus’, some Roman magistrate or bigwig, that the Christians are safe, good citizens. As Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem shows, he was none of these things.”

Wilson deals with Paul’s end, which we don’t know, and for that he takes umbrage. He asserts that Paul could have been acquitted by Nero or some other Roman official, he could have been made a martyr, as many people believe, or — this is Wilson’s own belief — he could have been let go and traveled to Spain, starting churches, but dying in oblivion.

I’m going to end my review with Wilson’s final (and long) paragraph in the book, because I think it’s a good synthesis of what he is trying to accomplish in writing this book.

“It could be seen, then, that the essence of the Gospels, the thing which makes them so distinctive, and such powerful spiritual texts, namely the notion of a spiritual savior, at odds with his own kind and his own people, but whose death on the cross was a sacrifice for sin, is a wholly Pauline creation. The strange contrarieties which make the Jesus of the Gospels such a memorable figure — named his insistence on peace and kindness in all his more notably plausible of ‘authentic’ sayings, and his virulent abuse of Pharisees, his Mother, and the temple authorities on the other — could point less to a split personality in the actual historical Jesus, and more to the distinctive nature of Paul’s spiritual preoccupations a generation later. Even in this respect, therefore, Paul seems a more dominant figure in the New Testament tradition than Jesus himself. The Jesus of the Gospels, if not the creation of Paul, is in some sense the result of Paul. We can therefore say that if Paul had not existed it is very unlikely that we should have had any of the Gospels in their present form. The very word ‘gospel’, like the phrase ‘the New Testament’ itself, are ones which we first read in Paul’s writings. And though, as this book has shown, there were many individuals involved in the evolution of Christianity, the aspects which distinguish it from Judaism, and indeed make it incompatible with Judaism, are Paul’s unique contribution. It is for this reason that we can say that Paul, and not Jesus — was — if any one was — the ‘Founder of Christianity’.”

Interesting, thought provoking book. Recommended.

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A Review of Jesus Was a Liberal

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 21, 2013

Jesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for AllJesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All by Scotty McLennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is interesting. Scotty McLennan doesn’t actually argue very vehemently that the historical Jesus was truly a liberal, but that a liberal political and spiritual ideology can be compatible with Christianity. So, that being said, the title’s a bit misleading. McLennan makes a great case for liberal Christianity in this book, but I think he kind of fails to convince me that Jesus himself was liberal. At least, he doesn’t spend much time on that argument, instead choosing to press the case for liberal Christianity. Once you can get past that, and I found it a bit disappointing, it’s a rather good book and a stimulating read.

First of all, I come from a strong evangelical background that I’ve recently rejected, having found happiness in a mainline church where I live. It comes closest to preaching what I’ve come to believe, and I’m very anti-evangelical, truth be told. I think evangelicals are largely judgmental, intolerant, mean spirited, Republican, haters who are doing a world of evil in this country. I know that might surprise some people, but that’s honestly how I feel after being indoctrinated for the past 45 years. I’m repelled by evangelicalism.

So McLennan immediately identifies the principles of liberal Christianity to start the book. These include

“The Bible is meant to be read largely metaphorically and allegorically, rather than literally. Science and religion are compatible; we are committed to the use of logic, reason, and the scientific method. Doubt is the handmaiden of faith. Love is the primary Christian value, and it is directly related to the promotion of liberty and justice in society at large. All people are inherently equal and worthy of dignity and respect. Free religious expression should be governmentally protected, but no particular tradition should be established as the state religion. There are many roads to the top of the spiritual mountain, and Christianity is only one of them. Interfaith understanding and tolerance are critical. We see Jesus primarily as a spiritual and ethical teacher and less as being identical with God. Living a fulfilled and ethical life here and now is more important than speculating on what happens to us after we die. Nonviolence is strongly preferred in relationships between human beings, groups, and nations. Women and men must play an equal role in religious leadership. And in terms of current American hot-button issues, we tend to be pro-choice on abortion and in favor of marriages for same-sex couples.”

Wow! That’s a lot to swallow at once. And I don’t necessarily agree with all of these principles. For instance, the statement, “There are many roads to the top of the spiritual mountain, and Christianity is only one of them,” goes against my ingrained teaching, although I like it in theory. So too the part about Jesus being an ethical teacher and not identical with God. In my tradition growing up, Jesus was part of the triune God, one and the same. It’s hard for me to shake that. This said, these principles are largely what I’ve come to believe over the past several years and I’m elated to see them in print and elated to know I’m not the only one who sees things this way.

McLennan dives right into the concept of Jesus as God on page nine.

“Although Jesus during his lifetime on earth would never have recognized certain titles later applied to him – ‘coequal with God,’ ‘of one substance with God,’ ‘ the second person of the Trinity’ – the early church began developing these ideas about him soon after death. There’s no doubt that his followers after his death moved from considering him a spirit person or mystic to increasingly speaking of him as having qualities of God and then as being divine himself…. Yet, personally, I don’t believe that Jesus was or is identical with God, nor do I think that’s what he believed either, based on the biblical evidence.”

He certainly puts it out there. Since I was taught from day one that Jesus is God, it’s hard for me to accept this from a minister and dean of religious life at Stanford University, but there you have it. Accept it or reject it, it’s out in the open.

He moves on to abortion.

“’There has always been strong support for the view that [human] life does not begin until live birth. This was the belief of the Stoics, It appears to be the predominant … attitude of the Jewish faith. It may be taken to represent … a large segment of the Protestant community.’… I’m personally part of that large Protestant community that believes that human life and personhood begin at birth [and not conception]…. I’m also personally compelled by the notion that it’s the breath of life that makes us full human beings.”

I know for a fact this is what Jews believe, as I was married to one for a number of years. I was taught early on that life begins at birth, so therefore abortion is allowed by the religious community. That may seem shocking to most evangelicals, but there are scriptural references Jews use to support this (which I don’t have at hand at the moment). My primary complaint about this section is McLennan doesn’t really tie this topic into Jesus’s personal beliefs on the subject, or his proposed beliefs. And isn’t that what this book is supposed to be about?

McLennan moves on to another hot-button issue – women’s roles in the church. Most evangelicals are opposed to having women in leadership positions within the church. This was my own experience growing up. McLennan believes differently:

“A careful reading of Paul’s letters makes it clear that women were among the most eminent leaders in the early Christian church. They were missionaries, teachers, worship leaders, preachers, and prophets.”

McLennan notes Paul as citing Prisca or Priscilla as co-worker, Apphia as sister, Phoebe as deacon, and Junia as apostle. Further, in Romans, Paul commends Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis for having “worked hard” in the Lord. I was never taught this growing up. I wonder why. Why is the Bible such a patriarchal document and why are women feared by Christian men so very much? These comments from Paul seem to recommend women for church leadership positions. McLennan does address Paul’s famous admonition of women in Corinthians about women being silent in church and ties it into first century social propriety. It makes sense.

The author then goes on to address whether the Bible in the “inspired” word of God, something I was brought up to believe without giving it much thought at all. It was an accepted “truth.” McLennan cites NT Wright as writing that some people (evangelicals) assuming the Bible was inspired as “an act of pure ‘supernatural’ intervention, bypassing the minds of the [biblical] writers altogether. This would suggest that God either dictated the Bible word by word or was ‘zapping’ the writers with some kind of long-range linguistic thunderbolt.” He then discusses literal versus metaphorical readings of the Bible and makes a case for metaphorical, citing Wright’s not thinking the resurrection is “the Bible is speaking of a resuscitated corpse.” He shows cases of instances in the Bible that can’t be taken literally (Egypt is a broken reed of a staff, etc.) and ends the section by writing that “To speak of the ‘authority of the Bible’ is to refer to ‘the authority of a love story in which we are invited to take part’.”

Several pages later, he furthers his argument by stating the the Bible is a human product – “not ‘God’s revealed truth’ but a response of these two ancient communities [Israel and early Christians] to God that describes what they think is required of them ethically by God, how God has entered and influenced their lives, what kinds of prayers, praises, and practices are the most appropriate way to honor and worship God, and their hopes and dreams as a people of God.”

At this stage of the book, I’m intrigued by his arguments and persuaded by some of them, but am left wondering where Jesus enters into all of this. He’s not even trying to prove Jesus was a liberal, merely that Christianity can be. Oh well.

Later in the book, McLennan takes on people who accept what they’re taught in the church by blind faith. He quotes Daniel Dennett as being

“deeply bothered … by people who unapologetically take things on blind faith, without subjecting them to logical, scientific, and historical confirmation. He observes that ‘blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging ration inquiry,’ thereby rendering the ideal of truth-seeking and truth-telling its victim.”

Moreover, “Religion is the most prolific source of the ‘moral certainties’ and ‘absolutes’ that zealots depend on. Throughout the world, ‘people are dying and killing’ in the name of blind faith and unapologetic irrationality.”

On the issue of separation of church and state, McLennan finally gets around to Jesus: “Jesus in effect says ‘yes’ – separate church and state.” He uses the passage on rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. He then goes into describing life in the former Iron Curtain as an example of no separation of church and state, with the communists having an official religion that was heavily guarded in what it could teach.

Many liberal Christians have problems with the concept of the Trinity – three gods in one. McLennan begins the section by asking, “What’s the meaning of the Trinity?” He goes on to provide analogies of how it can be viewed realistically. One such is

“to think of the transcendent God of the universe (out there as the creator of all we knew in nature), the God who walks by our side in human form – both rejoicing and suffering along with us (having known suffering in the extreme of crucifixion) – and the God who is deep within our own souls but also working as the force that ties us together in community with each other. This is one God, but one who can feel quite different in an operational sense….”

Those of you who are familiar with tradition Protestant Christianity – fundamentalism, evangelicalism – know of the topic of being “born again.” One can’t escape it in our Christian culture. Indeed, our presidential candidates must profess to being “born again” if they’re going to get Red State votes. It’s so prevalent, that conservative Christians feel that those who have not been born again aren’t Christians and are destined for Hell. Yet many liberal Christians don’t believe in this concept. McLennan writes that “baptism is not fully effected until one believes, until one actually lays hold by faith of what God has mercifully granted us through the gift of his son, Jesus Christ,” as being the primary belief system for conservatives, and yet it’s been my experience in a mainline church community that the holy sacrament of baptism is the sign one is “saved,” and that one needn’t go, and doesn’t go, through a “being saved” one time experience in order to go to Heaven. Indeed, McLennan writes that one must be “born of water and Spirit.” Further,

“In the gospel of John, John uses another image for being born again: ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Jesus’s offer of a new birth here is connected with wind. It doesn’t sound like something one can grab hold of by conscious intent. The proper attitude would seem to be more like gratitude for an undeserved gift, and a radical openness to the variety of ways it chooses to envelop and massage us.”

Later,

“So there’s being ‘born again’ in this Cheever story, with all the elements of deep, inward, radical change – baptismal water, wind blowing – worked by the Spirit in the inner recesses of the human personality – and of undeserved gifts of life and love, if only we can appreciate them. There’s no self-generated moral reformation. There’s no conscious repenting of one’s sin and turning to Christ. Just sudden regeneration, out of the blue, utterly transformative. It’s in that sense I hope for all of us the experience of being born again.”
McLennan acknowledges that “Easter is the great holiday of Christianity” due to the Resurrection. Then he goes on to ask, “But was the resurrection a flesh-and-blood photographable event? Most liberal Christians like me can’t possibly subscribe to this literalist claim. As I … read the gospel accounts, this was not a matter of a dead person coming back to his prior life of walking around, eating, drinking, and sleeping like the rest of us. Instead, what’s meant by resurrection is that Jesus was transformed into an entirely different level of being, beyond the usual categories of life and death…. [Witnesses seeing him] These are all visions or epiphanies or revelations of Jesus, not meetings with a resuscitated corpse.”

Wow. Heresy and treason to the people and traditions with which I was brought up. Still, it makes one wonder, does it not?

As you come to the close of the book, he addresses political liberalism and writes, “Liberals, often in the face of fierce conservative opposition, have been the ones to guarantee equal rights, and they have made laws that help keep our food and automobiles safe and college education affordable…. Liberal Christianity can point to the Old Testament prophets and to Jesus as the original political liberals.” Yet, somehow, I think, McLennan fails to make the case of Jesus as a liberal in this book. It’s rather ironic. He could have done so much more with this topic, written such a better book, although it’s good in its present form. He ends the book by writing, “Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus was a liberal.” I only wish McLennan had shown that Jesus was a liberal. Otherwise, a decent book….
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A Review of Speaking My Mind

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 15, 2013

Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to FaceSpeaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face by Tony Campolo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was pretty disappointed with this book and that’s a pity. I’ve seen Campolo’s name bandied about in liberal Christian books and by liberal Christian authors for some time now, but this is his first book I’ve read. I felt really lucky when I stumbled across it in a used bookstore this week. And the table of contents seemed very promising: “Do Evangelicals Have an Image Problem? Is Evangelicalism Sexist? Are Evangelicals Handling the Gay Issue All Wrong?” and so on. Very promising. So I bought the book and sat down to read. And was thoroughly disappointed. I don’t know who labeled Tony Campolo a liberal Christian, but he’s most definitely a conservative evangelical who happens to be somewhat liberal politically and socially. But he’s a conservative Christian. And since that’s what I’ve just escaped after being trapped as a lifelong dissatisfied evangelical for the past 45 years, that’s the last thing I wanted to read.

For instance, in tackling the gay issue, Campolo acknowledges that Christians need to reach out to gays in the church and the community — provided they live completely celibate lives!!! He’s not sure if gays are born that way or become that way (they’re born that way, dingbat!), but we need to love them — provided they don’t act out on their preferences and keep their behavior pure. WTF? That’s not realistic! He even notes that “although Jesus was silent about homosexuality, He did specifically condemn the remarriage of divorced people unless adultery was the cause of the divorce.” He starts out by appearing to be open, by talking about the “dilemma,” and then holds up his shining example of a man who died apparently a homosexual virgin, because he thought it was such an abominable sin, so he never gave in. Huh. Homosexuality is mentioned less than 10 times in the Bible, yet being kind to the poor is mentioned hundreds of times and adultery is mentioned numerous times again. So again I say to you, WTF?

Tony starts out with sexism and never really clearly answers that little question, conveniently enough. He admits that there’s a yin yang type of thing going on with the sexes and that’s about it. Nice. He can write a few decent things at times though. In his later chapter on whether there’s a second chance for people who die without Christ, he discusses universalist theology briefly. He ends that section by writing

“One universalist theologian carried me through his progression of thought with the following argument: ‘If there is a God, then there is a God, whether people believe it or not. If God is their Creator, that also is true, whether they believe it or not. If the Bible is an infallible message from God, that fact, too, is not dependent on their believing it. So, if Jesus died for their sins and is their Savior, isn’t that fact also true, whether they believe it or not?'”

An interesting thought. Campolo does an interesting job on the science chapter, with some good ideas about God/Jesus being in the HERE at all times. He made it seem real. He also introduced me to a new concept that Seventh-Day Adventists, apparently, believe — “soul sleep.” When we die, we lie in the ground until the Second Coming, basically asleep until God raises everyone from the dead at the same time. I’ve never quite gotten a handle on what happens to a person’s soul upon death in the Christian tradition. This was an interesting explanation.

Campolo delves into my old Calvinist roots in his discussion on predestination, a topic I truly hate. Here he gets a little iffy though. On page 121, he writes

“I do not understand how reasonable people can believe that God is in total control of everything right now when there is so much evil and injustice in the world. I grant that this may be a failure on my part, but if I believed that God controlled everything that goes on in the universe these days, I would not know how to explain why innocent children in Africa get AIDS, or why godly people die of cancer, or why there was ever an Auschwitz or a Hiroshima….”

His answer leaves one wondering, though:

“To those who ask, ‘How could a loving God allow horrendous diseases to afflict good people, permit insane wars to kill the innocent, and let a man like Hitler create such widespread suffering?’ I answer, “God is doing the best He can….'”

Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got, you “liberal” Christian??? What a wussy way out of things.

Campolo also contradicts himself in this book. He goes on in the chapter about the poor about how Jesus spoke about the poor and how important it is to help them. Then he has a section called, “The Disastrous Welfare System,” where he sounds like a bitter right wing Republican in writing that the system “generated cheating and deceptions so that eventually hundreds of thousands of people were on the welfare rolls, collecting unjustified handouts, even though they were quite capable of getting jobs and properly supporting themselves and their families.” Excuse me? Did I just hear that out of a so-called “liberal” Christian??? The welfare system has been abused by some, yes, but it’s the only safety net millions of people have, and don’t you think, while we’re talking about it, that lots of “good” things like sub-prime mortgages and hedge funds have been abused too??? Hypocrite!

While I’m at it, even though this book was published in 2004, it seems woefully dated. For example, in talking about whether America is in moral decline, he writes “all kinds of wonderful things are happening in our world, in spite of all that is evil and demonic. Across America, churches are being born and reaching out to huge numbers of previously unchurched people. A revitalized commitment to the poor and the oppressed is emerging among American Christians.” Really? Tell that to the Republican Party, aka, the Religious Right, aka the Christians, all doing their best to eliminate every possible safety net poor people in this country have, all the while working to make their rich masters richer. What did Jesus say about the rich entering Heaven like a camel through the eye of a needle? Seems most Republicans/Christians haven’t read their Bibles lately. Hypocrites! Also, stats show that church membership is declining, most especially within the 18 – 29 year old set. Evangelicals are turning people off to God, Tony. Time to face up.

Campolo does show he’s not 100% conservative in his discussion on dispensationalism. He states his opposition of it and nearly goes so far as to label it a danger to this country and the world. That’s bold. He does a good job with this section. Oddly, however, he says that the charismatic movement is the greatest opposition to dispensationalism and is Christianity’s best chance in the twenty first century. Huh? Speaking in tongues? Really? He ends his book by writing, “As progressive evangelicalism increasingly emerges out of fundamentalism over the next fifty years, the rest of the world will encounter Christians who are more than ready to struggle with the tough issues that await us, and to do so with open minds and open hearts.” Really Tony? Telling your gay friends to be celibate if they want to go to Heaven? That kind of open heart? Sorry, I’m not buying it. He tries to come across as open minded, but when the chips are down, it seems to me that Campolo goes crawling down the nearest conservative evangelical fox hole and hides out — and it sickens me.

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A Review of Reading the Bible Again for the First Time

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 30, 2012

Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not LiterallyReading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally by Marcus J. Borg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book really engaging, but I can now see why so many fundamentalists/evangelicals view Marcus Borg as little more than a heretic. He argues that you shouldn’t read the Bible literally, but through a historical-metaphorical lens. And he makes some great arguments, but he also makes some potentially faulty assumptions and, further, throws a number of things in the Bible right out the door without considering them seriously simply because they don’t seem realistic. He writes that you should see the Bible as a “human product” and writes that it is

“a human response to God. Rather than seeing God as scripture’s ultimate author, I see the Bible as the response of these two ancient communities [Jews and Christians] to their experience of God. As such, it contains their stories of God, their perceptions of God’s character and will, their prayers to and praise of God, their perceptions of the human condition and the paths of deliverance, their religious and ethical practices, and their understanding of what faithfulness to God involves. As the product of these two communities, the Bible thus tells us about how they saw things, not about how God sees things.”

Well. As you can see, that might be controversial for some people. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this argument, of course. It’s not new. But I’ve never actually read a book on it, and one so well written. Borg makes some compelling arguments. This Biblical view would be hard for virtually any fundamentalist/evangelical to hold. I grew up in such a background and I was taught that the Bible was the inherent word of God, that is was ALL completely true and literal, etc. — or else. (Of course, no one’s ever been able to satisfyingly explain to me then why certain sins and laws are so important — like opposition to homosexuality — and why some Old Testament laws were trashed, like the ones regarding shellfish, different cloth materials, etc., et al.)

As previously mentioned, here’s where Borg really starts getting into trouble in the evangelical world:

“…Jesus really did perform paranormal healings and … they cannot simply be explained in psychosomatic terms. I am even willing to consider that spectacular phenomena such as levitation perhaps happen. But do virgin births, multiplying loaves and fish, and changing water into wine ever happen anywhere? If I became persuaded that they do, then I would entertain the possibility that the stories about Jesus reporting such events also contain history remembered. But what I cannot do as a historian is to say that Jesus could do such things even though nobody else has ever been able to. Thus I regard these as purely metaphorical narratives.”

Trouble. If you don’t buy into Jesus doing miracles (and why some, but not others Mr. Borg?), then would his argument was that he was the son of God be reliable or compelling? And if he was truly the son of God, why couldn’t he perform these miracles, even if no one else has ever been able to? No one else has ever been the son of God. Still, it’s food for thought, right?

Borg continues to trash Biblical miracles:

“To use the story of the crossing of the sea as an example: something happened at the sea. But it was not the sea dividing into parallel walls of water with a canyon of dry land in between. To imagine that God acted to bring about that in the past violates the principle of ‘divine consistency.’ Divine consistency affirms that God acts now in the same way that God acted in the past. Some might — some do — argue with this claim. But the notion that God acted in fundamentally different ways in the past compared to how God acts now presents insurmountable difficulties. Why would God change how God acts? What possible reason can be imagined? If God intervened in such dramatic ways then, why not now?”

Borg’s answer is, once again, historical-metaphor. These were stories constructed by ancient people who handed them down via oral tradition. They weren’t written down until some time later, in some cases, quite some time later. They’re not meant to be read literally. My old roots make it difficult for me to accept this, but it makes sense to me. I was (foolishly) shocked to read that Moses didn’t write the first five books, but his story and the events as told in the first five books were written possibly centuries after his death! If that’s true, who knows what reality was like?

Like Brian McClaren and other leaders of the emergent church movement, Borg argues that “social justice” is really important to Biblical authors, particularly the Old Testament prophets. He uses Amos extensively to illustrate this. He also uses various proverbs to discuss wealth and poverty, also like the emerging church leaders. There’s a lot I could say about this, but it’s taking me far too long to write this review, so I’ll probably be cutting it short soon….

The book has an interesting chapter on Job, and it argues the book makes one ask “why be religious? Why take God seriously?” and more. It’s a pretty good discussion.

Borg continues to hit the historical-metaphorical idea again and again:

“Like the historical narratives of the Bible generally, the gospels are the product of a developing tradition, containing earlier and later layers of material and combining history remembered and history metaphorized. They preserve the Jesus movement’s memory of Jesus and use the language of metaphor and metaphorical narrative to speak about what Jesus had become in their experience, thought, and devotion in the decades after his death.

As developing traditions combining historical memory and metaphorical narrative, they can be read in two different ways. On the one hand, as virtually our only source of information about the historical Jesus, they can be read for the sake of reconstructing a sketch of what Jesus of Nazareth was like as a figure of history. On the other hand, they can be read as late-first century documents that tell us about Christian perceptions and convictions about Jesus some forty to seventy years after his death.”

Borgs writes a lot more about this, but I want to touch on his treatment of Paul and the idea of being saved by grace, not works.

“First, justification by grace in opposition to justification by works of the law is not about the inadequacy of the Jewish law or Judaism…. The failure to recognize this has erroneously led Christians to think of Judaism as a religion of law, works, and judgment and Christianity as a religion of grace, faith, and love…. Second, justification by grace is not about forgiveness; it is not simply an affirmation that God will forgive those who repent…. This, justification by grace is not about who goes to heaven, or how. The notion that it is flows out of conventional Christianity’s preoccupation with the afterlife through the centuries, as if that were most central to the message of Jesus and Paul and the New Testament…. Fourth, Paul’s understanding of justification is not about the replacement of one requirement with another. This frequently happens in Christianity when ‘faith’ replaces ‘good works’ as what God requires of us. The system of requirements remains; only the content has changed…. So what, then, is justification by grace about? Very simply, it is about the basis of our relationship to God in the present….”

Whew! That’s a lot to swallow in a couple of pages. There’s a lot there and I encourage interested people to read it and think about it. The final chapter is on the book of Revelation and it’s pretty interesting. Not too surprisingly, Borg argues that it’s not about some future apocalypse, but simply a letter intended for specific early church members about the Roman empire in which they lived. I’ve heard this argument before, but Borg lays it out nicely here.

Some people will be horrified at the contents of this book. Some people will be offended. Hopefully some will find it as engaging as I have though. It’s thought provoking and I think that’s what Borg is after. I’m no longer an evangelical, so I’m open to much of what the book discusses. That said, I think Borg’s picking and choosing what’s to be read literally and what’s to be read metaphorically places him (and us?) in a God-like role, and hence, is the book’s greatest weakness. A recommended book nonetheless.

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A Review of Everything Must Change

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 16, 2012

Everything Must ChangeEverything Must Change by Brian D. McLaren

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I tend to like Brian McLaren books and this one had potential. Unfortunately, I think it ultimately falls short of its goal, which is to educate us to an alternative way of acting with and within the world, in a God-centered fashion according to the principles of Jesus — his radical teachings being given as framework from which to start from.

McLaren does an interesting comparison between the conventional church and the emerging church early on. In asking why Jesus was important, he writes of the conventional view:

“Jesus came to solve the problem of ‘original sin,’ meaning that he helps qualified individuals not to be sent to hell for their sin or imperfection. In a sense, Jesus saves these people from God, or more specifically, from the righteous wrath of God, which sinful human beings deserve because they have not perfectly fulfilled God’s just expectations, expressed in God’s moral laws.”

He contrasts this with the emerging view:

“Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated.” This liberation from the fear of death is “a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love.”

Again, a conventional view contrast:

“The conventional view is very familiar to many of us; it is frequently defined as ‘orthodoxy’ and any departure from it as ‘heresy.’ … the purpose of Jesus was to provide a way for at least a few individuals to escape the eternal conscious torment of everlasting damnation.”

Wow. I’ve read McLaren before, so I know his views on the subject, but his view of the emerging church still resonates with me: “God’s concern is more holistic or integral, seeing individual and society, soul and body, life and afterlife, humanity and the rest of creation as being inseparably related…. God cares about ALL [my emphasis] people.”

McLaren writes that we in the world are trapped in a “suicide machine” devised by and of nearly everything in the world, even seeming polar opposites, such as liberals/conservatives, Democrats/Republicans, etc. He gives an interesting example of how one can compare and contrast the right’s obsession with abortion to the left’s obsession with global warming, in terms of how such things are sought, presented, dealt with, etc. That was an interesting component of the book.

Where the book fails me, though, is in its solutions to the problems outlined. McLaren asks us to believe 1) we live in a societal system or machine; 2) the system goes suicidal when driven by a destructive framing; 3) Jesus saw these dynamics at work in his day and proposed in word and deed a new alternative; and 4) Jesus’ creative and transforming framing story invited people to change the world by disbelieving old framing stories and believing a new one.

OK. I get the part about destructive framings. We’re all duped, manipulated, serving the wrong overseers, etc. I get it. What I don’t get are McLaren’s solutions. He doesn’t seem to offer any, at least anything tangible. He writes of a vague personal action, followed by a vague community action, followed by a vague public action, followed by a vague global action. Apparently, if we all act in a manner Jesus taught us to act, big things will change in a big way. Forgive my cynicism, but that sort of hippie idealism isn’t “new” or emerging — it’s unrealistic and unlikely. The world just isn’t going to change simply because some people start donating more of their time and money to worthy causes. Yin and yang. For every good, there is evil. I don’t see a way out. Of course, as an emerging Christian author, McLaren argues for heaven on earth, here and now, as opposed to some obscure future afterlife. That always sounds good to me, but how it’s actually accomplished is always a little vague for me at the same time. If we’re to experience heaven now, here on earth, what happens to our souls — assuming they exist — when we die? I’ve never had that adequately explained to me by an emerging Christian author, even Rob Bell.

So, pretty decent book, but mid-level material. Not overly thought provoking. Not a huge call to action, in my mind. Good read, stuff to contemplate, maybe some material that’s quite valid, but overall, perhaps a futile effort, and that’s sad.

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A Review of The Myth of a Christian Nation

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 23, 2012

The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the ChurchThe Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church by Gregory A. Boyd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Myth of a Christian Nation is a pretty good book that makes some excellent points while at the same time hitting the reader over the head with some strong repetitions and yet not going as far as it could in some of its criticisms of the religious right. Indeed, Boyd attempts to take both left and right to task, although to my satisfaction, he does focus primarily on evangelicals — just not enough to satisfy me completely.

Boyd contends that Jesus taught a “power under” form of service to humanity rather than a “power over” gospel of the sword. Yet, he contends, the Church has historically rooted itself in a “power over” ideology as seen in centuries of witch hunts, crusades, and other atrocities committed in the name of God.

His primary assertion that America is not — and never has been — a Christian nation is one of his weakest assertions in the book to me. He spends a tiny amount of time on describing our founding fathers as being little more than deists and then he wanders off to Americans practicing genocide against millions of Native Americans and slavery against millions of African Americans as proof that we’ve never been a true Christian nation, the assumption being that true Christians would never do such things. While that may be true, I frankly needed more than just this to convince me of what I already know and believe to be true. I wanted more on the founders and their specific beliefs and their efforts to ensure no state religion would ever exist. I was disappointed Boyd didn’t take advantage of his opportunity here. Boyd contrasts America’s “power over” history with Jesus’ “power under” alternative —

“This is what we are called to be: a community characterized by radical, revolutionary, Calvary-quality love; a community that manifests the love of the triune God; a community that strives for justice not by conquering but by being willing to suffer; a community that God uses to transform the world by providing it with an alternative to its own self-centered, violent way of existing.”

Later in the book Boyd contrasts Jesus’ style with the judgmental attitudes found in so many contemporary evangelicals.

“First, as people called to mimic Jesus in every area of our lives, we should find it significant that Jesus never assumed the position of moral guardian over any individual, let alone over the culture at large. In his ministry, he never once inquired into a person’s moral status…. Why didn’t the sinless Jesus point out, condemn, and try to control people’s morality? … His purpose, apparently, was not to guard, promote, or fix public morality.”

You get the picture.

Boyd also challenges the evangelical obsession with gays and gay marriage.

“Do evangelicals fear gay marriage in particular because the Bible is much more clear about the wrongfulness of gay marriage than it is about the wrongfulness of divorce and remarriage? No, for the Bible actually says a good deal more against divorce and remarriage than it does about monogamous gay relationships…. We evangelicals may be divorced and remarried several times; we may be as greedy and as unconcerned about the poor and as gluttonous as others in our culture; we may be as prone to gossip and slander and as blindly prejudiced as others in our culture; we may be more self-righteous and as rude as others in our culture — we may even lack love more than others in our culture. These sins are among the most frequently mentioned sins in the Bible. But at least we’re not gay!”

Excellent point, in my opinion.

Boyd talks a lot about love and the importance of people, especially Christians, to love as Jesus taught us to love. He spends a whole lot of time on this. And this is actually the one area where I veered away from the book, toward the end. He’s a pacifist. In the strictest sense. His final chapter has to do with violence, and it’s a Q & A chapter with questions dealing with self defense, wars, the military, etc. Basically, he’s all about non-violence to the point that people should not defend themselves if found in a situation where people invade their homes and assault them. He concludes it is better to die loving than act in one’s self defense. Call me an insensitive asshole, but I think that’s batshit crazy! I can assure you that if I’m victimized by a home invasion, I will do anything possible to save myself and my loved ones from harm. He also says Christians should never engage in wars or, probably, even serve in the military. It goes against God’s love. He goes so far as to assert that America should NOT have gotten involved in World War Two, thus saving the world’s Jews, even though that could have resulted in the extermination of the Jews. He feels that another option might have presented itself to save the Jews without our having had to resort to violence. I think that’s insane. Likewise the Civil War. He thinks it’s insane that 600,000 Americans died over slavery. I do too, but if that war hadn’t been fought, millions of American blacks would likely still be enslaved today and the country and the world would be different places. Again, he argues another option could have presented itself and that we shouldn’t have had to resort to war. I’m no war hawk. I don’t like war. But I do believe it’s necessary at times, and at times it’s nuts, like Vietnam or Iraq. I believe World War Two was an evil necessity. I guess that makes me a non-Christian or Jesus hater in Boyd’s opinion. It struck me that the author is as intolerant of those supporting such war efforts as the evangelical people he accuses of being intolerant of others in society today. This section ended the book and it ended it a bit sourly for me, after having largely enjoyed what was written throughout the majority of the book. I guess I think that Boyd is SUCH an idealist, that virtually no one who has ever called themselves a Christian would qualify as such under his stringent guidelines. That’s a bit disappointing.

This really is a pretty good book, but it was hard for me to overlook the nonstop repetitions throughout the book, which made it pretty redundant at times, and I was disappointed that he took it pretty easy on current evangelicals. I thought he could have really called them out. The sub-title, after all, is called “How the quest for political power is destroying the church.” Ahem. That means YOU, oh right wing evangelicals! Good book, worth the read, but with qualifiers. A four out of five stars.

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A Review of Crazy Love

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 5, 2012

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless GodCrazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Didn’t enjoy. Didn’t view it as very realistic. Francis Chan has written a book that claims one must be totally, obsessively “in love” with Jesus Christ or all bets are off. On page 68, he asks “Would you describe yourself as totally in love with Jesus?” Later in the book, he describes a woman he clearly holds up as a model of this. On page 100, he writes

“Have you ever met someone who was utterly and desperately in love with Jesus? I have. My wife’s grandma Clara.

I spoke recently at Grandma Clara’s funeral, and I could honestly tell the mourners gathered that I had never known anyone more excited to see Jesus. Every morning Clara would kneel by her bed and spend precious hours with her Savior and Lover; later in the day, just the sight of that corner of her bed would bring joy-filled tears and a deep anticipation of the next morning spent kneeling in His presence.”

Seriously? Really? I guess I’m not utterly “in love” with Jesus then, nor do I really want to be. I don’t want to weep at the sight of my bed, knowing I’ll be spending hours praying there sometime soon. I’m sorry, but I don’t get giddy over Jesus. I can’t view him as my “Lover.” I guess I’m one of the “lukewarm” people Chan rips in this book. Sorry Francis, maybe in your eyes, I’ll burn in hell, but I simply can’t find myself “in love” with a higher being I’ve never seen or met in person or had an interactive verbal exchange with, etc., et al. I consider myself a Christian. Struggling, yes. Difficulties, yes. But “saved” nonetheless. More importantly, I’ll bet not even 1% of 1% of Christians out there meet Chan’s definition of being “in love” with Jesus. It’s a silly notion. I pray, frequently. I feel like God hears me and sometimes it seems like he might be listening and interacting, but not audibly. Like I believe in air which I can’t see, I believe in a god who I can’t see, but I’m not freakin’ “in love” with him. I believe I love God. I try to. Sometimes it’s honestly hard, particularly when you see hypocritical, self righteous Christians living lives that Jesus would recoil against. I despise most self-professed Christians and feel that if Jesus were to come back today, he would view the majority of those who believe in him as being little different from those of his day, what with the dogma, the judgmental attitudes, the intolerance, etc. I guess when it comes down to it, I’d rather have an intellectual relationship with God and try to exercise faith in my belief, rather than engage in having schoolboy crushes on a supreme deity. I think you have to get high to do that. What kind of stuff is Chan smoking anyway? A loser book by a holier than thou asshole. I’m sorry I opened it.

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