Attacks on God from Within

Yesterday I mentioned subtle attacks on God (and just a reminder, by “attack” I am referring to that which contradicts or distorts the truth about God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible). From what I see, the subtle version is most prevalent from within the body of professing Christians.

Sadly, it would seem that some identifying with the emerging church, are falling into this category. I almost don’t know where to begin.

Self-described wannabe mystic and prophet Mike Morrell wrote an article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” last November that illustrates the attack from the inside.

Note: this article is a result of reviewing some sessions from the 2004 Emerging Theological Conversation. The presenting scholar was Walter Brueggemann, and Brian McLaren, Tim Keel, Troy Bronsink were among those hosting dialogues. In other words, these ideas are not exclusive to Mr. Morrell.

While Mr. Brueggemann first advanced the idea that God is getting over his addiction to violence, Mr. Morrell uses Geoff Holsclaw’s summary to explain the position:

“By this he [Brueggemann] means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.”

In today’s society, of course, “violence” has come to mean any use of force. Consequently, God’s judgment—whether on nations or on His Son as He bore the sins of the world—is viewed as violence.

This position negates God’s role as judge, denies the goodness and immutability of His nature, and ignores His plan for the world.

In essence, while claiming to search for the mystery of spirituality (departing from certitude, dying to “answers/desires/scripts”), this position misses the transcendence of God.

On one hand, this view of God reduces him to human proportions, at least emotionally. He grows up, matures, battles to “recover” from how he’s treated man because, apparently, he knows better now. In addition, because we are in a personal relationship with him, that means he must learn from me just as I learn from him.

On the other hand, this view of God strips him of his personhood. Here’s the argument:

But when we’re faced with the disturbing truths that Brueggemann elucidates – God’s irascibility for instance – what do we do?

There are two ways to do handle this. One is the way of definitive, forceful – almost violent – denial that there is (or has ever been) anything troubling in God’s character or actions. It’s the route of trusting God via suppression.

But there is another route – more painful, more adult, more complex – but I think it can still end in deeply-rooted, childlike trust. It’s a path that I’ve learned from many guides over the years … And this is the path: As Grubb proposes a radically panentheistic reading of Holy Writ, there is only One Person in the Universe. (Y’know, like “I Am the Lord your God, there is no Other?”) Creation unfolds inside of God. And within this unfolding, it moves from gross [overt] to subtle to causal. (emphasis mine)

Notice, there is no argument against taking God at His word, just an accusation that to do so requires denial and suppression.

But here’s the conclusion:

I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God within God.

The panentheism believes nature is God within God or that God is beyond God.

As Jay Michaelson explained it, God is the ocean and all else is the water.

Remember, Mr. Morrell is speaking as someone within the emerging church. He considers himself a Christian—one who looks at Scripture through the eye of a panentheist.

I call this an attack on God.

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Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 7:00 am  Comments (301)  
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301 Comments

  1. I call this pure poppycock from someone who longs to elevate the human mind and condition.

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  2. Perhaps the use of the literary devices of inflammatory irony can get lost?

    Why do you think authors chocked into the category of “Emergent” use titles like “A New Kind of Christian” or “Sex God” or “Jesus Drives Me Crazy” or “Truth is Stranger Than It Used To Be.”

    Lets focus on “Sex God.”

    Do you think that Rob Bell wrote it to express a perspective of God totally given-over to rampant orgies like the pagan gods of old?

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  3. Oh, the titles are meant to garner attention, that is for certain. Yet once one gets past the rhetoric and such — declining, as is fair, not to judge a book by its cover or title — the actual contents are not Biblical, and thus not truly loving to the awesome, transcendent, loving-and-holy God.

    “Emergent” activists’ facade of “humility” is too often (I do not say always) a cover for arrogantly revising the Biblical God and truly humble faith in Christ. It may appeal to Christians, or “former Christians,” who have only ever experienced legalism, un-Biblical strictness or hatred in their church backgrounds. But the solution to anti-Biblical beliefs anti-Christlike behavior is not “a different kind of” anti-Biblical belief or anti-Biblical Christian behavior in the opposite direction.

    Rebecca, thanks for an excellent post. It is so encouraging to know of a fellow attempting-author who wants to glorify God in new and creative fiction, yet not abandon the “old” truths — not because they are old, but because they are true!

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  4. Why have God at all?

    What’s the point of God, if God is something to be created and improved by enlightened human beings?

    I’m reminded of the seduction of the witch in “The Silver Chair”, by C.S. Lewis. She makes everything, including Aslan, out to be an artifice of human invention. It takes the doubting Thomas, Puddleglum, to break the spell, and re-introduce everybody to Aslan.

    Postmodernism seeks to invalidate even doubt. Doubt is an expression of belief in a circuitous way, but belief is inferior to enlightenment, which, itself, is inferior to community. The postmodern person is highly tuned to the acceptance of all people, exactly as they are. Those parts, which cannot be considered sinful, since sin is irrelevant, express the whole of perfection together as a learning God, who has made a contract impossible to escape. The human race makes sure that God doesn’t try to escape or reneg on the contract, thereby ensuring that the status quo of enlightened postmodern existence defines what God can or cannot do.

    Within that context, any judgment God may attempt is an act of violence against the inescapable contract.

    Just like with Puddleglum in “The Silver Chair”, the postmodernist needs to be introduced, or re-introduced, to God.

    It’s personal.

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  5. Hi Rebecca! Thanks for caring enough about my blog post to write an entire post of your own in response. And thanks, commenters, for expressing your hearts and keeping me honest.

    I’ll be brief, but I just wanted to say that a couple of things. First of all, I quote a wide variety of folks in my blog post, but the synthesis (particularly between looking at the development of our idea of God and panentheism) is mine alone. Please don’t punish Mssrs Bronsink, McLaren, Brueggemann, et al, with my musing-out-loud conglomeration of them. It’d be unfair to their respective theologies, which are both different from each other, different from mine, and probably more orthodox than my evocative post suggests.

    Secondly, this post really was me thinking-out-loud. In my heart of hearts, I know that I know the One I’m addressing when I address God; when I try to think thoughts about God, though, or put God into words – that’s when you get the kind of midrash that the above post is. Please don’t take it as definitive dogma, for myself or any fellow emerge-ers.

    Finally, addressing the meat of your critique: I think, Rebecca, that you and I probably hold pretty different concepts of ‘God’ in our hearts. But! I don’t think the differences are as wide as you might think on first glance. I affirm the God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ; I affirm that God is Three-in-One; I affirm Holy Scripture, Old & New Testaments, as God-breathed and useful for teaching. Where we differ, I’d imagine, is in something my Facebook friend Erica notes: “There is God and then there are beliefs about God, and changing the latter, in good faith, is far from an attack on the former.” Or as the 14th century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart prayed: “God, rid me of ‘God’.” Our concepts and images of God always need to bow to the Lordship of Christ afresh.

    What this means practically for me is that to hold any image of God too dogmatically is conceptual idolatry. Further, I see Scripture’s inspiration precisely in its diversity of witnesses about God. The way my friend Brian McLaren puts it in his upcoming book, A New Kind of Christianity is that Scripture is a library of diverse voices testifying to life with God; it is not a Constitution, a dense legal code. It just isn’t – it’s a sacred narrative that’s in conversation with itself. Different writers from different time periods testify to different visions of God – and in this conversation, I think God Godself shows up.

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  6. (In the voice of Mr. Spock) “Fascinating.”

    Yet “Zoecarnate,” I must wonder: where in this concept of “different writers from different time periods testify to different visions of God,” is the truth of the Spirit’s inspiration? God Himself gave unity to these truths of one God our of diverse writing styles, time periods and more.

    Also, the written canon is closed. Christians have held this for centuries. To consider our own conceptions of God, as if we’re still trying to figure Him out with new revelation, is risky business. C.S. Lewis would call it “chronological snobbery.”

    Making all of the Christian experience about Correcting Bad Ideas of the Past is a wrong basis. Overcorrection happens.

    A far better approach is seeking Biblical balance, and the God Who has so directly and graciously revealed Himself in a word that anyone can understand — not just old mystics or new church leaders or supposedly modern and enlightened religious writers.

    Old-style legalism and mistrust of fixed truth kills faith dead.

    New-style legalism and mistrust of fixed truth kills faith just as dead, yet ever so much more kindly and subtly.

    Let us delight in God, the eternal unchanging Father and Spirit, yet also in Jesus, just as much a part of the Fantastically Paradoxically Trine God, a Man forever, Who as the Word Made Flesh worked in human flesh to bring about redemption by suffering God’s just wrath in place of His people.

    And let us delight in obey His Spirit, Who inspired God’s Word, accessible to all regardless of nation, race or previous creed. Yes, it is sometimes confusing but not impossible to understand; it needs no message updating; it unchanging. It is the very *physical* revelation of Almighty God about His plan of redeeming His people for a redeemed New Heavens and New Earth.

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  7. Say, that sounded a lot like a sermon. Apparently I felt like waxing more eloquent there than usual!

    Anyway, those are my goals, and not because I made them up or venerate some quasi-Biblical tradition — this is the Biblical encouragement for every believer who hopes to balance delighting in the Lord, His truth and His love. And I hope those priorities are shared by everyone here. 😀

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  8. Quick commentary, Dr. Ransom…

    First, I too find Mr. Morrell’s commentaries challenging, though as a student of comparative religions I also find them quite exciting, especially when his comments on Christianity and pantheism line up with current discussion over, for example, the pantheism in movies such as “Avatar” and the obvious appeal that this has to everyone from New Atheist to “closet Christians.”

    Second, I don’t think that in any point during his response that he suggested that he was either creating a new theology or a work of canonical stature… actually, he said just the opposite. He was musing, and I accept honest opening of the heart to the public as perfectly valid, especially when accompanied by the disclaimer that this is simple “thinking out loud” about God and his relationship with the human condition.

    As I see it, there is no conflict between the concept of spiritual inspiration and the concept of individual understandings of that inspiration. The decision to close the canon is one thing, the decision to quit thinking is quite another (or to confine thinking to a certain approved subset of types or levels of thinking)

    If God wanted us to be little children, maybe he didn’t mean blind trust (which no child I know of has for long, at least after the first time it bites them in the hindquarters.) Perhaps he meant for us to have continually questing minds, always ask “why,” and never, ever, hold a grudge longer than we can accurately remember why we are holding it…

    Cheers!

    JS

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  9. My point is:

    The correctable God appears to be inferior to the corrector-human. So nice that there are some of those enlightened humans who can prevent us from being misguided by God.

    Why pretend to even be interested in God, when the active ingredient appears to be the protagonist, the human with a better perspective than God?

    Perhaps we should muse on the Psalmists, who severally invite us to rejoice in the LORD. (Pardon the not-revisionist-enough God reference that points us to the nasty, unreformed God.)

    Bringing this discussion back to the Avatar phenomenon: I am not bothered by Mr. Cameron’s voyage into a different reality. Madeline l’Engle and C.S. Lewis both have experimented with different worlds and their different religious and deity bases. I daresay they would be unfairly criticized if they chose to write their works today.

    I find Avatar naively utopian, but that is to be expected of today’s creative community. This movie is fantasy. Nothing wrong with that.

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  10. On Avatar, I was simply using this to reference the ways in which Pantheism is so attractive to “modern” society, not approving of it. Avatar was an OK movie with most excellent special effects, though the questions raised in the fields of Religious Studies are more intense and controversial than those raised in the Religious Community, if you see my distinction.

    On the rest, I think you misunderstood my premise. I am not setting man above God. However, to deny that our current views of God were shaped by human interpretation would be hopelessly naive. (This is true even if you accept the canon or a particular version of it as the sole, complete, and infallible word of God, since our beliefs are not shaped by the canon, but by our perceptions of it) To deny one the right to question these interpretations would be foolish at best, and downright simplistic at worst.

    In speaking of the Psalmists, remember that they themselves often questioned God and his role in their lives, with their most triumphal statements coming from this questioning process and the realization/revelation of the nature of God and what he meant to them.

    As to the question of “reforming God” itself, this has been debated far longer than we like to think… at the very least since people became aware of Abraham’s debate with God over Sodom and Gomorrah and Moses’ refusal to allow God to destroy the Children of Israel without destroying him first. Certainly, God as Christians perceive Him has changed the ways he has dealt with mankind, and the question of how much the change in mankind himself has fueled this change in behavior is a valid one.

    If we accept that the relationship between God and man is a marriage of sorts (as scripture proclaims it to be) then we must accept that it is a two way relationship. Show me a marriage where the changes in one spouse do not influence changes in the other and I will show you a marriage with absolutely no communication or contact, in other words, no marriage at all…

    JS

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  11. Interesting discussion here. I’ll throw a little fuel onto the fire, how’s that?

    First, JS, I dealt with Avatar in this series of posts so I won’t rehash those views. You might want to glance at “Avatar and Christianity” and “The Na’vi, the Borg, and the Church” in particular.

    You said

    to deny that our current views of God were shaped by human interpretation would be hopelessly naive.

    Well, I guess you’ll have to rack me with the naive.

    As I see it, your statement would be true apart from the power of God. Because I believe Christians have the Spirit of God living in us and the promise in Scripture that He will lead us into all truth, I therefore conclude we are capable, throughout generations, to grasp the realities God intended when He breathed His words through the human authors onto the scrolls they penned.

    It is the Spirit that can override my experience and culture and intellectual limitations and personality and DNA to bring me to the same truth Paul believed and Wycliffe believed and Livingstone believed and Ten Boom believed. My “situatedness” doesn’t alter reality, and God can open the eyes of my heart to see that reality.

    Anything less, JS, puts man in the position of deciding what’s true, and this, I think, is why Cameron says people who hold this view should just dispense with God altogether. It would be a more honest position. Why pretend that there is a God who rules if, actually, I only think He rules because I’m presupposed to believe so?

    Becky

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  12. zoecarnate, thanks for clarifying that the beliefs you stated in the conclusion of your post are yours alone and not those of the other gentlemen connected with the 2004 Emerging Theological Conversation.

    Also I understand the “thinking aloud” concept. I often understand my own thoughts much better when I put then down and take a look at them from the outside.

    Here’s the thing, though. I have as my intention consistency with Scripture. Consequently, when I write something or think something that is inconsistent with the plain reading of the Word, I see myself as the problem. I don’t understand something right or I don’t know the Bible well enough. In other words, I don’t look at the things that appear to be inconsistencies as God changing or reneging or maturing.

    In fact, I’ve come to believe that the inconsistencies are often a result of God’s transcendence and He wants us to understand He is both of two apparent opposites. He is three in one, for instance, something you affirmed. That is clearly something Other. So why can’t God who is not Man contain other such “impossibilities”?

    You said that in relationships, both must learn and grow, which is true for Mankind. But is it true for a transcendent, perfect Creator God? Why would we think so? Unless we think He is actually not perfect … or transcendent. He’s just like us.

    As to “holding an image of God too dogmatically is conceptual idolatry” that’s like saying, I shouldn’t be so dogmatic as to say the sun is hot. Some things are true and it’s not wrong to name them. When it comes to God, we are safe to repeat the things He said about Himself.

    He said He is love, for instance. When I see something or read in Scripture something that seems to contradict this, I don’t need to explain it away or conclude that God wasn’t always love, but he’s matured to that place. No, I need to agree with God that He is love even when I don’t get how a certain action squares with that truth.

    I think you called this “suppression.” I find it odd that I who don’t believe God is a mystery but is transcendent, am content to accept a mystery, whereas an emerging Christian finds it necessary to explain away the hard parts in whatever way seems to work.

    As to what your FB friend Erica said (“There is God and then there are beliefs about God, and changing the latter, in good faith, is far from an attack on the former.”) this would be true if God did not Himself tell us what to believe. I suggest He has.

    When Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples after His resurrection, He explained from the law and the prophets about Himself. Why would Jesus go to Scripture? Because that’s where God had revealed the truth about the Messiah.

    Jesus explained Himself, and men like Peter and John and James, after they were filled with the Holy Spirit, went out and preached what they then knew.

    On top of this, Jesus said He reveals the Father. So knowing Jesus, reading Scripture, having the Holy Spirit give a pretty unshakable means for unchangeable belief.

    Becky

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  13. Do not make the mistake of confusing pantheism with panentheism. The “EN” makes all the difference. Honestly, what do you think holds all things together … and is even in all things? In Him we live and move and have our being. Even science is finding evidence for this.

    Cool, no?

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  14. There’s a difference too, between believing in God, and knowing God. One is a concept, the other is an experience. It’s a beautiful thing when we come to trust more in the God we experience first-hand, than in the god that others tell us about, vicariously.

    May we all know Him, as He is.

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  15. JS, You said “If we accept that the relationship between God and man is a marriage of sorts…” and then you continue with your logic based on what appears to be a carbon copy of a marriage.

    First, I don’t accept your narrow exposition, so the logic fails.

    Second, you are assuming that a relationship between God and man means God has to be as imperfect as man. I reject that also.

    The incarnation is the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. It shouldn’t work, yet it does.

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  16. The approach used by Mr Morrell and others to speak about God is highly figurative. To read their discourse literally is to misread them. The Bible itself speaks of God metaphorically, which should make us question the truthfulness of any literal approach. Postmoderns make a very good case that all language is metaphorical. If we cannot talk about God in metaphors, we will not be able to talk about him at all. And the metaphors are highly useful, as your wonderful ocean metaphor demonstrates. But the figurative language favored by the emergent church takes it a step or two further, often embracing an ironic regard to past expressions of self-assumed absolute truth. All expressions about God are filtered through our limited understanding, whether as readers or as writers. Mr Morrell and others begin with this belief when they write. They are not revising God, but rather our understanding about God.

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  17. First, to only speak of God figuratively is never to have met God. There was previous mention of midrash. In my opinion, in order to rise to the standard of midrash, the discussion has to be multi-valent, or varied in approach and perspective. One of the attributes of multi-valence is that the successful adherent would be nearly impossible to pin down. Metaphor crosses paths with dogma, conservative with liberal, male with female, sin with sinlessness, and so on. And the midrash tradition doesn’t just observe the variety; it engages all angles.

    The problem with postmodern discourse is it has its own monolithic dogma. Metaphor is used as an excuse for an essential paradigm shift that turns the tables on God. And it is interesting to note that the postmodern perspective doesn’t take any responsibility for that shift. In other words, “sock it to God”, but don’t bother listening to God’s part of the dialogue, unless it supports the postmodern perspective.

    I realize I left out an important criticism of JS’s statement of the metaphor of marriage. That is this: The stated perspective is backwards, and somewhat creatively anachronistic. The marriage prototype comes from God, not from 21st-century political correctness. The whole notion of marriage as an expression of equal partnership is never expressed in the Bible. Important partnership, yes. But why? It bears further scrutiny. If we take the John Gray perspective (“Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”) we can explore the fundamental absurdity of a marriage. It can be argued that same absurdity is the focus of the biblical metaphor of marriage.

    cosmobencomo suggests postmoderns make the case for all language being petaphorical. To state that is to sell short the entire human race. Certainly we can articulate non-metaphorical communication very clearly. Yes, metaphors are useful, but when they are used to exclude differing perspectives, they are no longer effective metaphors. Getting back to midrash, those same metaphors would be quite effectively used to explore oppositional viewpoints.

    Part of the problem is this: Philosophy is not an endgame. Philosophy doesn’t solve anything; it just explores. When Christianity is reduced to philosophy, we solve nothing. Postmodernism wallows in philosophy, because it doesn’t have enough dimension to go anywhere else.

    Back to Puddleglum. Puddleglum rescues the group, who are being seduced by the witch, by simply stating the existence of Aslan. After that moment, no matter how many times the witch tries to reduce the sun to a lamp, a lion to a cat, etc., the group regains their strength and resists the temptations of the metaphoric reductionism of the witch.

    Fortunately for all of us, even if 100% of us are deluded or misguided, God is still the Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round. No matter how hard we try, we cannot cancel God.

    I’ll close with Puddleglum’s words:

    “One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

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  18. Wow! what a lot of interesting discussion! OK, confession time… I am actually Apostolic Pentecostal, so this makes me firmly in the “Bible Thumping, almost Fundamentalist” camp… However, since I am a student of comparative religion with an emphasis currently on NRM’s such as pentecostalism, I am also neither close-minded nor condemning of others’ viewpoints on Biblical (or religious in general) issues…

    Since the God-man relationship as a marriage appears to have rubbed some the wrong way, remember that it was God (assuming that we use the current protestant canon as an infallible starting point) that both created the metaphor and established the rules… I believe Cameron will find him?self familiar with this: Eph 5:22-33 “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

    Christ, by extension of his own metaphor, must love and cherish his bride as he loves and cherishes himself… However, I would make the further transition that this metaphor was used for a reason… therefore, the following would apply as well: 1Co 7:3-4&32-33 “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife… But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. This isn’t modern or post-modern thought about marriage. New Testament scripture teaches us that a man devotes himself to his wife to the point that he has not power of his own body and cares that he “may please his wife.” Paul didn’t extend this metaphor to the relationship between God and the Church without reason. I reiterate here that there are evident passages in scripture where God had his will and intent changed by the desire of humans who he loved. Therefore, I think it is a quite valid statement to say that God might find himself bending his being to please his bride.

    Now, before we go further, please allow me to say that I am not making a case that this is true, just that it is not an unreasonable argument to make! (Also making the point that I wasn’t using a touchy-feely new age definition of marriage =:-)

    Second point – I didn’t confuse pantheism with panentheism… Villines wrote an excellent article pointing to the pantheism in Avatar in Religion Dispatches called “Conservative Christians v. avatar – and Douthat makes a good case for its universal appeal to an American audience in his NYTimes article on “Heaven and Nature” – he quotes the Pew Forum’s report on “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths” – consequently, I don’t really have any beef over Avatar, I just used it as an example in my first post and it seems to have been picked up as a theme somehow (I would include links but don’t seem to be able to…)

    Third: in defense of my statement on human interpretation… I think that if one were to sit down with “Wycliffe…Livingstone …and Ten Boom” you would find that their understanding of God varied quite a lot in the details. To state that our humanity does not shape our image of the God we serve begs one of two premises… either the only perception of God that is “true” and “right” is the one you hold, or this is not so, in which case your perception must be wrong or you must explain why so many great “men of God” have issued contradictory statements on the nature of God while reading the same scriptures!

    In the end, while I do not always agree with Michael’s ideas, we definitely hold this in common… I do believe that holding dogmatically to a human interpretation of who God is most definitely is a form of idolatry (one of my heroes, Christian poet and singer Michael Card once said “We’ve made Him in our image, so our faith’s idolatry…”) If we believe that the Spirit speaks to us, we must accept the fact that it can also change our perceptions. In fact, if you show me a Christian that has lived as such for a number of years without either seeing a new facet of God or without having his understanding of God challenged and changed, I will show you a spiritually dead Christian!

    Kudo’s to all for a great discussion!

    JS

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  19. 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

    Until that point, I would make the case that we can only see God “through a glass” or our own human perceptions…

    1 John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

    John makes the case that we do not now know him “as he is,” and thus we cannot even know what we ourselves will become…

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  20. In speaking of God figuratively, are we ignoring Biblical figurative speech?

    I mean, I’d hate to have to quit believing that the Lord is my Rock, my Strong Tower, my Strength, my Joy, and my Shield!

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  21. Sorry, Dena… I think I was mistaken in thinking that you were correcting me on the pantheism post… =:-)

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  22. wish I could delete comments… I see the pantheism/panentheism issue now… what I get for reading too fast… Avatar promotes pantheism… Michael’s quote is on panentheism… my bad! definite distinction… one is compatible with Christianity, one is not, at least in my view…

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  23. God is different than we imagine, but not different than He has revealed Himself.

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  24. […] great post over at my friend Becky’s Worldview of Christian Fiction blog.  If you have time to read the comments, they are all interesting. If you don’t have time to […]

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  25. Wow! The comments are getting away from me. I love the discussion, though, so let me try to touch on some high points. Thankfully Cameron has already said much of what I believe, so I’ll try not to repeat his thoughts. (And Cameron, I love your use of The Silver Chair—does this fantasy writer’s heart good to see a story used to point to truth!)

    Dena, both you and JS have mentioned panentheism as if that is compatible with Christianity (as opposed to pantheism). Perhaps you haven’t studied this false, idolatrous belief much. Let me quote from Jay Michaelson, he of the ocean/water analogy and author of God Is Everything (who goes to some length to explain that Ross Douthat is wrong to refer to the pantheism of Avatar, that instead the belief espoused in the movie is panentheism):

    Douthat is wrong that nonduality erases God. In fact, “God” becomes seen as one of many ways of understanding Being. Sometimes God is Christ on the cross, sometimes the Womb of the Earth. Sometimes God is Justice, other times Mercy. This is how sophisticated religionists have understood theology for at least a thousand years: “God” is a series of insufficient explanations of the Absolutely Unknowable, a collection of projections and dreams and who-knows-what-else which, neo-atheists notwithstanding, speak to the core of who we are as human beings.

    To me, this is more comforting than old school theology, not less. It allows for multiple paths to the holy, radical ecumenicism and pluralism, and a bit less constriction around our favorite theological myths. God as Friend, Father, “motion and spirit that impels all things” – all of these become dances, tools of the inner life which are available when needed, and enriched, not lessened, by being increased in number.

    Michaelson goes on in his article to say that panentheism is not new: “It’s in the Zohar, the Upanishads, the writings of John of the Cross, Rumi, the Tao te Ching, the Heart Sutra, and many other texts.” Just not in the Bible.

    The most troubling thing about panentheism, however, is that it negates the need for the Incarnation. Why would Jesus need to come to earth in the form of Man if Mankind is already connected to God and is god? We could know him without the personal sacrifice. So what’s the point of His death and resurrection?

    Becky

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  26. I’m so incredibly sorry that I’m lacking time right now to more fully engage in this amazing conversation (though I shall do my best)…! I’m a mama of 8 kids (all at home), whom I’m educating … got 2 birthdays in the next two days, another one next week (yeah, all these birthdays go back nine months to my irresistable husband’s birthday…!), and I’m an artist who is under several looming show/jury deadlines … egads! Oh, and I’m preparing for a talk about questioning the traditional views of Jesus/Christ.

    Just to respond, in brief … my own journey has come out of Christianity (husband is Jewish, was seminary-ized, ordained, served for over a decade in an evangelical/liturgical/charismatic church). I know tradition (many aspects of the many forms of tradition) well.

    My own journey has been one of me crying out to God, “Start me over – show me what’s of man and what’s of You!” I had no clue how He would unfold this journey … but I’ve discovered that the “dreaded slippery slope” leads right into the loving arms of Papa.

    I can’t speak for anyone else … I can’t determine how another’s path “should” go … but I do see that He leads us on the paths (yes, plural) of righteousness. I only know tht when I ponder why another goes/sees/believes as they do, He says to me, “What’s that to you? You follow Me.”

    He has led me right out of religion. I followed Christ out of Christianity. I’ve come to see that Christianity is a manmade system … not the intention of Jesus at all. It’s my history, it’s my past … but it no longer fits me, and I had to shed it, in order to follow where He was leading me. I fought and resisted, until I realized I was resisting Him.

    Becky – I, too, have asked those very questions, about the purpose of Jesus … about how Jesus and the Christ are the same, and yet distinct. It’s a search/study I’m currently smack-dab in the middle of … it feels like “the Biggie.” It feels dangerously subversive, and even a bit betraying … yes, betraying of all I’ve thought I knew. However, I trust Him to lead … whether this is something I’m going through, or to, doesn’t seem to be my business right now. I do believe, or at least am strongly suspecting, that we’ve made a cult of His personality … rather than hearing/seeing what He was teaching/demonstrating. He came to show us the Father … and yet we’ve almost exclusively focused on Jesus… He’s a sign TO the father … and yet we stand staring at the sign.

    The truth will withstand any amount of scrutiny … and whatever is not true, should fall away … no matter how painful, no matter the price to pay. And yeah, it’s costly to question. I’ve lost a lot … but what I’ve gained is priceless.

    ASK Him: what is the point of Your death and resurrection?. Expect Him to answer … but don’t expect the answer to be according to the traditions of man. Expect the unexpected … He continues to overturn status quo.

    Each must walk in the Light they’ve been given … trusting as we go.

    Shalom, Dena

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  27. Jspiers — no problem…! 🙂

    Bob – I agree! I just strongly suspect/believe that God is far more than ANYthing we could imagine … and that even what He has revealed to us is a fraction of His Allness.

    It’s merciful that HE meets us where we are, and leads us into the “much more” that the Spirit has to show us … otherwise, our circuitry would be uberly-BLOWN…!

    We’re all on a journey … none of us has grasped Him enough to define … it’s absurd for us to bicker while en route to all truth…!

    Our marching orders are clear: love one another. It’s a radical message that we’ve yet to apply.

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  28. JS, I just lost a long response to your comments. Let me see if I can give you a shorter version.

    The problem with the marriage analogy was in the presupposition—God and man are equal—which leads to the conclusion, God “bends” the unbendable (His nature) to make the marriage work.

    It would be like saying a dog and his human owner are partners. Therefore the human must grow a tail since we know that tail wagging is critical to canine communication.

    As to seeing through a glass darkly, this is the position of Scripture. However, we must not miss the fact that there is Truth behind the glass. And we all look through the same dark glass. I’m not looking through a window with rose colored glass and you through one of amber. The darkness is our sin and mortality and mutability. One day those elements will be removed and I’ll see what’s always been there—God as He was, and is, and will be.

    In the meantime, I know Him because He has revealed Himself—no other reason and no other way. Those differences you mentioned? Yes, they are there between believers. However, I’ve had the privilege of worshipping with Christians in Tanzania, Kenya, Guatemala, and Japan, so I know that more binds us than divides us.

    There are even Christians here in the US who have taken a radically different journey than I have, yet God found us both and brought us to the same faith. Where we differ, we understand that one or both of us isn’t understanding perfectly (that dark glass thing), but amazingly, these are not the essentials of the faith.

    Look at those who have commented in agreement with this post. I’ve never met most of them, yet we have the same understanding of the place of Scripture and of God’s immutable nature. This is not because of us or because of some trick of language or culture or thought. This is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit who is in us and who unites us (though not in some mythical ocean way that swallows up our individuality).

    Finally, I think Bob’s point is worth repeating: “God is different than we imagine, but not different than He has revealed Himself.

    Becky

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  29. Thanks, Becky, for the clarification… I am not an expert on panentheism, to be frank. I would not take the concept as far as some do, myself, but I am fully comfortable with the idea of God in and through all things. Science seems to be more and more onboard with the idea that at the heart of matter is simply energy and wave-forms. I believe that God is that energy. When he spoke the universe into existence, I believe that he created it out of his very being. This no more negates the idea of the necessity of incarnation than does the suggestion that beings live all around us negates the necessity of a house! I doesn’t matter where God is located or where His spirit resides, if we have no way of communicating with the divine. The incarnations are necessary (plural because God has revealed himself in the past in the form of theophanies and reveals himself in us today through his Spirit)

    Consequently, the discussion on the original article by Michael is somewhere around 98-100 comments long, and well worth the reading (they range from “Repent, heathen!” to “I would be and atheist if I could” and everywhere in between. For the most part, they are friendly and the themes of the article are developed much more thoroughly in the form of talking out some of the ideas inherent in the blog.

    JS

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  30. I like, and agree with, your thoughts, JS. I’m also delighting in how the inner-hunches and discoveries of science are quite aligned … I do love synchronicity…!

    Ok, off to celebrate the 12th anniversary of my 5th child…!

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  31. I wrote the post before Becky’s response to my longer post. I wish I could have seen the long version of her response!

    I would not directly contradict any of the points you made in this post, though my understanding of some of the issues entailed might be different than yours… I’ll try to explain, briefly!

    First, the marriage argument was not so much to say that Michael’s statements were totally accurate, as it was explaining that there is a logic to the argument that can be born out in scripture – despite the gut reaction of most of Orthodox Christianity. And I still stick to my statement that, if we believe that Paul’s writings in this context are infallible, we have to believe that God chose to make the relationship with us one of marriage. I am sorry that some don’t like it, but the theme of “brideship” is far to strong in scripture for it to be otherwise. So, unless you are equating the bride in a relationship to a dog with a wagging tail, your analogy doesn’t hold up! =:-) To suggest that God chose a marriage relationship to relate to us, but did it by taking a definition of “marriage” that almost no couple since Adam and Eve would recognize i.e. one in which one partner is like a silly little dog and the other is immovable and cares for the other despite the desires of the other) is a little silly it seems to me…

    I agree fully that there are massive commonalities in Christianity, but that hasn’t stopped us from killing each other or exercising power over one another given the chance or “reason” to do so. My point is that, despite our commonalities, we still feel strongly enough about our differences to create a whole slew of trouble for the “other.” I affirm strongly that God has revealed himself to us through his Word, his Spirit, and his Body (Christ). I strongly deny that any two people on this planet will fully agree on the meaning, image, or vocalization of that revelation. To say that our revelation of God has not been shaped by interpretation shows an amazing naivety, when any study of linguistics, survey of historical theology, or discussion with our neighbors proves this wrong! Every one claims that they have “the truth,” even if their truth is simply that no one has “the truth!”

    What does this mean to me? I don’t know. I know that God has made amazing changes in my life, led me down some enchanting (and sometimes scary) paths, and provided for me in ways in which I can never explain. In return, I give Him myself. Not always fully, and never perfectly, but always joyfully. Life with him is an adventure, and the communication we enjoy is wonderfully strange and occurs in ways and at points that I wish I could define, but sadly cannot. However, I am convinced (by scripture and by experience) that he does listen, he does act on my concerns, and he does indeed love me.

    I can live with that.

    JS

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  32. Thanks, and congratulations, Dena!

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  33. Gosh! some of my statements to Becky came off as a little condescending! Sorry, Becky, I was impassioned, not deliberately smart-aleck!

    JS

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  34. I really AM getting off this computer, LOL!

    (just wanted to say: you have a good and shiny heart, JS!)

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  35. JS, regarding your comment #29 (haven’t read the “condescending one yet 😉 ), I wish I could put this more kindly, but I don’t know how. Your statement I am fully comfortable with the idea of God in and through all things. Science seems to be more and more onboard with the idea that at the heart of matter is simply energy and wave-forms. I believe that God is that energy. When he spoke the universe into existence, I believe that he created it out of his very being demonstrates the hubris of the emergent church.

    You and Dena and others of like belief choose to believe what you believe about God, not from what He has said about Himself but from your own imaginings based on science or ancient religious philosophy.

    If God was energy and not a person, why did Jesus pray when teaching His disciples about prayer, “Our Father”? Presumably, if Jesus wanted us to understand God as energy, He could have reworded His prayer to teach that fundamental truth. Instead, He personalized God, again and again.

    And about the “incarnations,” I’ll have to disagree with you on that one, too. The Holy Spirit does not qualify as “God in flesh.” If you want to say that Jesus appeared to Jacob and wrestled with him or that He walked through the fire with Daniel’s friends, I agree that He came before coming. 😉

    Scripture isn’t clear on this point, so I wouldn’t make a hard and fast statement, except to say, when you pluralize incarnation, I get the impression that there was more than one god taking on human form. If that’s what you mean, then I’d have to disagree there too.

    I appreciate you and others engaging in conversation over here, JS. I read the comments to the original post and honestly didn’t know where to start. That’s why I though I needed to do a post here.

    Becky

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  36. Dena, seems I was writing (and re-writing) to JS when you posted. You’ve said some interesting things in comment #26. I know you’re off taking care of your little ones now, but I hope you’ll make it back some time soon.

    First, my question about Jesus coming and dying was meant to be rhetorical. I was trying to make the point that He wouldn’t have needed to come and die if there was already an interconnectedness, Man with God. That He did come in the flesh shows that there is no such thing. He needed to come to show us the Father—His stated purpose. He could only do so by making the sacrifice that provides access to Him.

    What I find interesting is your idea that many Christians focus on Christ to the exclusion of God. It’s an interesting point. Until fairly recently, I’d say I focused too much on God and not enough on Christ. But I see your point. As I said in essence in the last paragraph, Jesus came to make relationship with God possible. That He IS God, of course, makes this discussion a bit of a head-scratcher.

    As to your questions about Jesus and Christ, we only have to go as far as the book of Matthew to get Jesus’s own testimony about Himself. Shortly after Peter made his clear statement in answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”), Jesus said that Peter hadn’t come up with his declaration on the authority of some human but that God had revealed it to him. Later, Jesus instructed His disciples to “tell no one that He was the Christ.”

    Then there’s this from John:

    Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;

    but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

    The best way to answer questions about Jesus as Messiah, as I see it, is to read the records of His life.

    Becky

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  37. “Science seems to be more and more onboard with the idea that at the heart of matter is simply energy and wave-forms. I believe that God is that energy. When he spoke the universe into existence, I believe that he created it out of his very being.”

    Before I became a Christian I contemplated other religions, Buddhism being one of them. At first glance, Buddhism seemed very appealing…God in everything…gives one a sort of warm and cozy feeling. Nevertheless, I sensed an emptiness at the heart of Buddhism, I just couldn’t put my finger on why.

    In college I read a book (I wish I could remember the author and the title, but it’s been awhile) written by a gentleman who embraced Buddhism and also dabbled in mind altering drugs. Via the mind altering drugs, he had mystical experiences where he realized God was energy, that he was part of that energy…he was ONE with GOD! His trips started becoming more and more dangerous however. In one, he believes he encountered Jesus, who told him to stop taking the drugs because they were killing him.

    Because of this encounter he had an important and life changing realization. God is NOT the energy that sustains life. The energy exists because God CREATED it. It is part of His creation, necessary to sustain his creation, but it is NOT God.

    When I read this I realized, ‘a ha, that’s my issue with Buddhism’. Buddhists (this applies to pantheists too) are worshiping God’s creation, not God Himself. Their arrows are pointed in the wrong direction. They’re missing the mark.

    God is not His creation. He is separate from His creation. Yes we can appreciate His creation and see reflections of God in it, but worshiping His creation is a form of idolatry. Out of love for us, God tells us idolatry will eventually lead to soul death… It’s not a path He wants us to take.

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  38. JS, I didn’t find your comment condescending at all, but thank you for being sensitive to the issue.

    Regarding the marriage part of your comment: In the longer version of the comment I lost, I discussed the Biblical analogy of marriage and God’s relationship with His church. As the verses you quoted (long ago) indicate, the connection was to illustrate how a husband is to sacrifice for his wife. Doesn’t Christ’s Incarnation and subsequent death serve as God “bending” in order to communicate with us? Why then do we think He needs to do additional bending?

    And why is all the bending on His part and none of it on ours? Maybe we’re the ones who need to bend to His will since He’s already bent to become like us. Now the analogy works, I think.

    Sorry you didn’t like my dog/owner analogy. That’s the problem with those—too easily dismissed because they always break down at some point. Whoever disagrees just has to emphasize that point instead of seeing the commonalities. I actually think it works quite well. But here’s the thing: God didn’t stop at “growing a tail.” He “became a dog” that He might communicate with us to the fullest.

    It’s done, but like the Pharisees, it seems the emerging church continues to ask for a sign. “God needs to bend and learn from us because that’s what a good marriage looks like.”

    Last point (I think). You said:

    I strongly deny that any two people on this planet will fully agree on the meaning, image, or vocalization of that revelation.

    If I gave you the impression that I think we “fully agree,” I apologize. I thought I clarified that by saying something like “agree on the essentials,” but I don’t have time to go back and check.

    Suffice it to say, I think we all have sin that clouds our sight. Consequently, I pray with Paul that God will open the eyes of our hearts. Apart from His intervention, I’m as prone to follow false teaching as the next person.

    As I see it, how we view Scripture has everything to do with whether or not we believe God is Sovereign and omnipotent. Did He miraculously speak through ordinary men to give us His truth, but forgot to do anything about making sure we would understand it when we read it?

    We either believe He chose to reveal Himself in the pages of the Bible, or we don’t. To go half way and say He wrote the Bible but left the understanding up to us is as good as saying we’re god. After all, we would have the final say. We’d be the ultimate authority.

    Instead, if we find, amid all the variance in beliefs, common unshakeable tenets that Christians believe throughout generations, from culture to culture, doesn’t that speak to the miracle of God opening the eyes of our heart that we might see Jesus?

    I think it does.

    Becky

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  39. I am definitely DO NOT believe in multiple gods manifesting, at least in a God (capital G) sense… I don’t know if you know much about Apostolic Pentecostalism, but we are often accused of just the opposite, the belief in too few incarnations! (Despite our rejection of the designation, we are known as “Jesus Only” due to our insistence in Baptism in the name of Jesus (as the apostles did) and our denial of a co-eternal triune Godhead (we believe that God manifests himself in different ways at different times… at the end of time, there will be no more need for a separate Holy Spirit as a manifestation, and the lamb will assume the throne and hold the “fullness of the God head bodily”) – Note: As a student of religion, I am fully aware of pretty much every argument that can be made against this position from both an orthodox and a post-modernist perspective! I will NOT debate these ideas here and hijack the thread! I am pointing this out so that Becky can see that I am not advocating pluralism, but rather simply insisting that humanity interprets the God of scripture differently. Disagreeing with me on doctrinal positions simply proves my point =:-)

    I am perfectly comfortable with a anthropomorphized God (I assume that this is what you mean by “God is a person,” and I have pretty much been arguing from this position in my defense of my positions on relationship.) however, the idea of God pervading “all in all” is not new… in fact, it appears to date back to the very first Christian Mystics. For those that haven’t recognized the fact yet, Pentecostalism is without a doubt the dominant form of Christian Mysticism today. This means that I have heard the concept of God being “everywhere present and nowhere absent” conceptualized as God pervading the whole of his creation and as having created the universe out of his being from the pulpits of men that most Christians would find much too “strict” for their taste… I am not here making an argument that you accept this premise, simply pointing out my background and the fact that these are NOT by any stretch of the imagination new concepts or post-modern concepts. The fact that some of these ideas have been hijacked by post-modern emergent Christians is inevitable, as is the fact that they will grab ideas from other more orthodox systems of thought…

    There is of course scriptural basis for these ideas… no idea survives for almost 2000 years in any religion without support from the text! For example: (and from the KJV)

    Eph 4:4-6 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

    Act 17:24-28 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

    Rom 8:38-39 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Joh 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

    Jer 23:23-24 Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.

    Col 1:16-19 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

    And of course…

    Psa 139:6-14 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

    All this being said…

    I think there is perhaps a fundamental misunderstanding here about two things:

    The first is that I am an emergent Christian… I am not, though I believe many of the issues they raise are simply attempts to wrestle with issues that Christian philosophers have wrestled with for centuries (as well as Muslim and Jewish scholars) and deserve a fair and honest hearing and discussion.

    The second is a confusion between “biblical” and non-biblical panentheism. One is in effect (as I understand it) an attempt to justify any belief system in a sort of extreme ecumenicism that aims to unite all world belief systems. The other has a time honored tradition among Christian mystics for 2000 years, and at times has been the route by which modern Christian Orthodoxy as we know it today has been preserved. The sense of closeness with God that is given in the above scriptures is unimaginable!

    In a Christian context, presupposing that God is in all of creation is not to suggest that the whole world recognizes it or is in dialogue with God… nor am I making such a suggestion!

    JS

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  40. We were overposting each other again, I think!

    a few points, quickly:

    – I did not say that the energy was God, but rather that God was that energy. The difference is in the linguistic order. I do not believe that all things are God, but rather that the whole of creation is eternally sustained by God. Each breath is dependent upon him, and through his will each atom holds together and stays in its orbit.

    – “Sorry you didn’t like my dog/owner analogy.”: No problem, and of course you are right, analogies always break down. I think that we are actually at an agreement point here, in that my point was simply that God does indeed deal with us in a relational manner… the extent of the relation isn’t so much the issue as the fact that the relationship is there, which is the point I was trying to make!

    – and finally, I am once again affirming that I do indeed believe that God reveals himself in his word. As you pointed out, the Spirit inside us allows us to understand this to some extent despite our inability to see God fully. However, I still also maintain that human interpretation is inevitable, and leads to the impact that humanity and its politics, policies, and polemics have played in our understanding of who God is. I do not suggest that this is the most accurate or positive way of knowing God, must that it is the way that many follow. Personally, I am all for taking the scripture at its word, but unfortunately dogma and theology will always try to tell us which ways of understanding God’s word are correct and authoritative!

    JS

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  41. I mean… “just that this is the way that many follow”

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  42. by the way… I know that there are many variations of Buddhism, but to say that Buddhists worship the creation is a bit of a mis-diagnosis of Buddhism as a whole. The emptiness inherent in Buddhism is deliberate. Gautama Buddha taught that there was no God… at its roots, it was a philosophy and way of life, and in same ways a rejection of the validity of worship of any sort. However, to say that Buddhism is no longer a religion would be completely fallacious… and I don’t know which branch you followed or dabbled in. However, I do know that Theravada Buddhism is practiced by Hindus and others as a life philosophy and Zen Buddhism is practiced in some form by many Christians, as a method of contemplation and understanding… I find some of the original tenets extremely valid and useful, but they are tenets that are found in most major world religions, including Christianity. (For example, the themes of balance, acceptance, and rejection of materialism are present in many religions…)

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  43. I have to say that one of my biggest heroes in the Bible is Thomas. Here is why: Thomas expresses the agnosticism or skepticism that we all have until we actually meet God. We get our burning bush, our Road to Damascus, etc. When that happens, our “unbelief” is rewarded with a very concrete, spectacular encounter with the Most High.

    Thomas is often referred to as “doubting Thomas”. I have always disagreed with that. I call him “believing Thomas”. He is not dogmatic in unbelief; he is just honest, speaking for us all, that he doesn’t have enough information to believe. When he touches Jesus, he gives the highest acclamation to Jesus. Only Thomas and demons are recorded to have exalted Jesus so highly. Thomas recognizes God, not some sort of nebulous God-in-Christ, and worships Him.

    Somehow, “emerging church” or “postmodernism” proponents try to suggest they are not dogmatic. Look again. They are as dogmatic as fundamentalist conservatives. Postmodern dogma is a bit more seductive, because it resonates with the pluralistic challenges of our age. However, it really doesn’t have anything to do with God.

    I agree with the suggestion that there is a tendency to refer to a conceptualized Christ rather than Jesus. Isn’t Christ the Anointed One? How can you anoint a concept or a collective energy source? Jesus is the Christ.

    I posted privately to Becky, and I’ll post here now. Here is what frustrates me about post-modernism:

    “Postmodernism really wears me out. It’s like guys talking among themselves about the perfect girlfriend, while their real perfect girlfriend is already in the room. They theorise, theorise, theorise, theorise, and miss what is already there, right in front of them.

    Even when they talk to her, they cannot see her, because the theory of her is more important than she herself.

    Are people so far from God they actually believe they believe in God, but have never met God, even though God is right beside them? ”

    If anybody wants to hear my burning bush experience, please feel free to look me up on facebook and “befriend” me. (Cameron Engel). Perhaps when I can share that with you, you will understand how I cannot accept the limitations of the postmodern, “emerging church” perspectives. And, yes, those perspectives are limited. They don’t encourage or enable anybody to meet God.

    Good points a lot of the time, but also the tools to scrath itchy ears.

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  44. I find the concept of Thomas as a hero intriguing… I would have to add that he is a very human hero, rather that spiritual hero… Jesus himself makes that clear… question: when did Demons proclaim Jesus to be “my Lord and my God” as Thomas did?

    As for post-modern and emergent dogmatism, I agree, but would add the caveat that one cannot have a belief system without some sort of dogmatism… even if that belief system states that you cannot truly believe in anything… =:-)

    JS

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  45. Oh, I see what you mean… In the Gospels only Thomas and Demons addressed Jesus as God… Of course, the epistles later made the same connection, and Paul addressed him that way when he said, “who are you, Lord?”

    JS

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  46. To JS: Why make human and spiritual heroes mutually exclusive? It seems to me that Thomas is both. Perhaps you can explain what you said.

    I actually disagree with you on dogmatism. If our approach, similar to that of Thomas, is that we have a better percentage chance of being wrong, or confused, or incomplete, than right, where is the dogma? I believe that receptiveness to the Holy Spirit is at its best when we are jolted AWAY from our dogma.

    Now, the emerging church espouses a certain amount of passive-aggressive dogma, but dogma nonetheless. It interests me that postmodernists or “emergers” always extol the virtues of dialogue, and claim that dialogue is intrinsic to the emerging church. The problem is, what dialogue? Dialogue comes out of commonality. Without commonality you have, at best, multiple monologues. Consider this discussion: Person A starts a discussion about the creation. He insists that the world was created in 6 24-hour days. Person B smirks inwardly, but the thoughts that are voiced are: “I don’t feel strongly about that.” Is that a dialogue? Absolutely not. Person B has completely derailed the position of Person A, although it is an act of passive-aggressiveness. No commonality is established, and there is no opportunity to discover the perspective of either person. That is the “dialogue” between a post-moderner and a non-post-moderner.

    Here is an alternative: (Please do not take offense if you are a Jehovah’s Witness) I had a conversation once with two Jehovah’s witnesses who happened on my doorstep one summer afternoon. The topic of the day was Ultimate Truth. Armed with proof texts, they began the discussion, and continued. Somewhere early on it became evident that solid exegesis was not essential to the conversation, and we parried and thrust, albeit not deeply. It got to the point where they quoted, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make ye free” (John 8:32)They focused on the KNOWLEDGE of truth.

    I pointed out, somewhat playfully, that Jesus asserted being “the way, the truth and the life”, so, if we just inserted that identity, we could conclude, “Ye shall know Jesus, and Jesus shall make ye free.” The divinity of Jesus is problematic for Jehovah’s Witnesses, as I’m sure you know, so they smiled wryly, and said, “Well, we can’t BOTH be right; one of us has to be right, and one of us has to be wrong.”

    I responded, “We could both be wrong.”

    After a prayer together, they left in stunned silence, having been unprepared to be included by somebody they were trying to convert. I blessed them on their way.

    Now, here’s the rub. We are professional excluders, we humans. We know best how to exclude each other. No matter how hard we try, we end up excluding. Whether aggressively, as the conservative fundamentalists do, or passive-aggressively, as the postmodernists do, we exclude. It all has to come back to God, who saves us in spite of everything we do to run away from salvation. Until we meet God, we don’t realise how much it is that God saves us.

    No argument, however perfect, can separate us from the love of God.

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  47. Profound post, Cameron…! Yes, I’ve been astonished at how I can create yet-another “us vs. them” in my mind …! Even knowing better! eGADS!

    The ego/carnal-nature slumbers not nor sleeps … and YET, as you say, God saves us (even from our adversarial-egos), in spite of all we do to run away … for no matter where we go, even if we should go to the “abode of the dead” — He is there.

    Praise God for All of Who God is…!

    (& I would love to hear your burning-bush story, Cameron)

    Shalom, Dena

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  48. […] Attacks on God from Within Filed under: Emerging Church, God, Postmodernism — by Rebecca LuElla Miller @ 7:00 am Tags: emerging church, God, Mike Morrell, panentheism […]

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  49. briefly, John 20:29 – Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (I’m no scholar of Greek, but the “blessed” used here seems to mean “supremely blest; by extension fortunate, well off: – blessed, happy” – From Strong’s – this is apparently in contrast to the state of Thomas.)

    Jesus offered a rebuke, no matter how gentle, to Thomas for his refusal to believe the messengers sent to him to give the message of Christ’s resurrection. So, the two are not exclusive, and perhaps “spiritual” was not the right choice of words, but I would submit that, based on the text, Thomas was a long way from being held up on a pedestal by the glorified Christ. That is the only point I was making. From a human perspective, however, Thomas is an excellent object lesson, at the least, in the same manner that the repentant Peter was…

    I would not argue with you on Dogma, though I think that we are making essentially the same point… I don’t believe that everyone should be comfortable in their dogma, but to remove ourselves from any hint of dogma is to put ourselves in such an untenable position that few aspire to it and even fewer achieve it. I would agree that it is a worthy goal, however.

    In closing, probably for the last time =:-) I will gladly affirm that it is entirely possible that I may be wrong about anything written above, and reserve fully unto myself the right to change my mind about it in the future!

    JS

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  50. JS, I’ve never been Buddhist myself, am certainly no expert…but the way the gentlemen explained it in his book, nirvana/enlightenment is an alignment of the self with this energy or life force. Some Buddhists may call the energy God, some not. But, to me, a life dedicated to achieving ‘nirvana’ is a life dedicated to worshiping/seeking after God’s creation and not God himself…whether Buddhists realize that’s what they’re doing or not.

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  51. Coming in late to this conversation, but it seems to me most of this discussion revolves around one thing, that being our concept of God. This discussion could go on into infinity, because we all have our own concept of God, and are ready to vigorously defend it. But our concept of God doesn’t affect the truth. Our personal like or dislike of His characteristics have no bearing on who He actually is. Truth does not change depending on if it resonates with us or if we approve of it. I understand how common evangelical christianity doesn’t “feel right” with Emergents, but instead of digging deeper into the Word to see why, and thereby come to understand what Scripture truly teaches(including the parts about wrath), they have redefined the words used in Scripture, and made a God that is more acceptable to them. But this religious activity in no way changes the truth. The God of the OT is the God of the NT, and He is love, but He also has wrath. The truth is in the Word.

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  52. Hello again, Jessica… That is what I meant by not knowing which particular branch you had looked into. I just wanted to clarify that all branches don’t necessarily take the same approach. From what we know of what Gautama Buddha said, Nirvana was freedom from the cycle of rebirths… an escape from reincarnation and the pain of grasping the things of this life. However, as it is with many philosophers/spiritual leaders, what he said was soon added too, redacted, and morphed until we have the plethora of versions we have today, which run the range from non-theistic philosophies to Pure Land Buddhism – a “faith” sort of Buddhism concentrated on Amitābha Buddha, in which chanting the name of Amitābha Buddha brings rebirth in the Pure Land to the mystical and magical practices of the Mikkyo tradition. In other words, some worship what Christians would consider “idols” (though they would maintain, as in saint veneration, that the object of worship is not the idol), some worship forces of nature and the “creation rather than the creator” as it were, and some worship no deity as Buddhists, but instead try to follow a philosophy of balance, while often practicing other religions that have their own forms of worship or ritual.

    I don’t know that I actually cleared up anything… its hard to cram several semesters of education on Buddhism and other Eastern religions into a few bites of information! =:-)

    JS

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  53. Wow – what a convo! I’ll have more to say tomorrow (got a draft in progress, but haven’t had time to finish it – in the meantime, I leave you with the following from The Online Discernmentalist Mafia

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  54. Invigorating discussion, to which I will add a few words. While such study of God’s Word and such exchange of ideas and concepts resonates soundly in both my mind and my soul, I have cause to remember that Truth (the Truth of which we speak) is eternal, is absolute, and is unchanging. No matter my final conclusion–or more likely my semi-final conclusion–(for I join JS in reserving the right to change my mind)the Truth IS, and has remained constant and with no variables. Precious, stabilizing thought.

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  55. JS, it sounds like you are expecting Jesus to commend people for perfection. Jesus never put anybody on a pedestal. He merely mentioned, statively, that those who believed without seing were blessed.

    This is how I would characterise the room with the disciples.

    Jesus: “Good job, Thomas. Too bad there are …ahem… some OTHER people in the room that already (wink, wink) believe withOUT touching me…”

    If anybody was being rebuked, it was the other disciples for “punking” Thomas. We all know how that works. We don’t want to reveal our weaknesses, so we hang other people out to dry for us. It makes us feel big. The others already knoes it was Jesus, yet didn’t let Thomas in on the secret.

    It’s highly unlikely Jesus behaved like a Byzantine mosaic in this story. Most of his adventures seem to involve a good element of tongue-in-cheek, not unlike the traditions of the aforementioned midrash.

    At any rate, by contextual implication, Jesus commends Thomas for his belief. There is no direct commendation for anyone else in the room. Remember, a week earlier, they needed Jesus to show his wounds to them before they believed. However, they were too afraid to articulate their unbelief. Thomas broke the ice for everybody else!

    I just don’t see the rebuke. When Jesus rebukes, it is normally obvious, ie “Get behind me, Satan!”

    The problem with Strong’s is it provides no context. You have to read the story in its context to understand the meanings therein. Imagine reading the Amplified version(s) of the Bible and having to read a narrative! It gets silly awfully quickly.

    No, I hold Thomas up as a human hero and a spiritual hero. As I said, Believing Thomas.

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  56. Shirley, may I humbly point out the risks of your assertions? (Namely, those regarding absolute, unchanging, eternal Truth)

    A number of years ago, I was a student at Oberlin College in Ohio. I was on the Steering Committee of the Oberlin Christian Fellowship. We decided, in our naivete, that the climate was ripe for a debate. We hosted a debate between Dr. James W. Sire, PhD,who fancies himself a “Christian Philosopher” and a philosophy professor.

    The debate never really happened (packed house) because Dr. Sire built his entire thesis on absolute truth. The philosophy professor rejected that notion, demanding proof before he would build any discussion. They filled out the rest of the (very long) hour and a half or so with mutual platitudes.

    Not everyone accepts that notion, just as not everyone accepts the documents of faith.

    In order that we actually have dialogue among Christians, from Jerusalem to Judea, to the uttermost parts of the earth, we need to be prepared to address commonality. As I have said, that commonality is absent from both extremes of “Christianity”, and is mostly absent from everything in between.

    As somewhat of a neo-platonist, I embrace absolute Truth, the music of the spheres, doctrine of the affections, etc. etc. However, I spend too little time learning from those who do not.

    We would all do well to listen.

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  57. I know this will sound insulting, and I really do not mean it to be, but we often must verbalize the uncomfortable. Wasn’t it the first mistake of mankind to listen to someone saying things such as “Did God really say?” and promoting concepts such as “The truth is not what God said…”? Isn’t this argument of no absolute truth and the promotion of doubt in God’s Word, quite literally, the oldest argument in the book? My comment applies not only to the preceding post (again, sorry, not trying to be offensive) but also the whole basis of Emergent thought.

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  58. I am not insulted. Nor am I Emergent, or Post-Modern.

    Perhaps you missed my point.

    In the interest of actual dialogue with Emergent Churchers, we can’t assume automatic acceptance of even the most basic tenets, such as Absolute Truth. It can be demonstrated to be circular logic to defend absolute truth by biblical apologetics, when the authority of the Bible is not accepted.

    I, for one, believe in Absolute Truth.

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  59. Hi all,
    I’m never sure how much time to devote to these kinds of discussions, because participants often end up spending lots of energy talking past each other – then everybody’s exhausted, and nobody’s happy at the end. With this said, I like you all (‘you all’ being the ones I’m assuming are regular comment-ers on this blog, as opposed to the plethora of folks I brought over here from Facebook) – you’re kinder and more civil (not to mention smarter) than the heresy-hunting websites that normally caricature me and my friends. With that said, my purpose in diving into this conversation again won’t be to try and ‘convert’ any of you to thinking about a growing, changing God or to having a panentheist perspective of God as All-in-all; I know that change doesn’t occur this quickly or because of a blog debate! I have plenty of empathy for where you’re coming from; I was raised in a rather conservative evangelical (some would say fundamentalist) home, running the whole gamut from Baptist to Assemblies of God to PCA Presbyterian, with some Bill Gothard homeschooled-ness thrown in for fun! Had the me of 20 years ago met the me of today, no doubt the little guy would be horrified and would likely denounce me as an apostate hairy tick. So again – nothing but empathy. No, my goal is much more modest (though some would say, still foolhardy): to convince you that our perspectives (‘our’ being those of emerging, missional, postmodern, integral, or relational Christianity, or religionless Christianity, or whatever-label-labelers-will-come-up-with-next) is *a* faithful Christian perspective, even if it’s not your own. That is, I’d like to demonstrate that my wild & crazy ideas are within the pale of biblical and/or traditional orthodoxy, even if they happen to be minority views at certain eras of church history (including our own). Because we (that same ‘we’ laundry-listed above) aren’t going anywhere; we’re growing in numbers daily, due to the Holy Spirit and the Internet I’d guess, and we might as well start learning to peacefully coexist. We’re in your churches, your seminaries, your bars and coffeeshops, your publishing houses – we’re not the fringe anymore; we’re actually the leadership. I’m not saying we’re *the* future, but we are *a* future. I’d laugh diabolically and say “We are legion, for we are many,” but you probably wouldn’t think that’s very funny. 🙂
    So: To the meat of it then. To my mind, we’re discussing debating three distinct things, though they’ve been conflated, no doubt largely due to my original blog post in question. But let’s tease them out, distinctly: First, we’re discussing postmodernity. And I don’t really wanna. But I will – briefly. Secondly, we’re discussing whether or not God can or does grow, or change, or open Godself up to human input. Finally, we’re discussing whether its a biblical or Christian option to see God manifest in all things. Fair enough?
    On our present postmodern condition: Cameron (you’re a great sparring partner by the way) says “The problem with postmodern discourse is it has its own monolithic dogma. Metaphor is used as an excuse for an essential paradigm shift that turns the tables on God. And it is interesting to note that the postmodern perspective doesn’t take any responsibility for that shift. In other words, “sock it to God”, but don’t bother listening to God’s part of the dialogue, unless it supports the postmodern perspective.” If that’s what I’ve done then I of all people (to paraphrase Paul) am most to be pitied. But! I think that on the whole, I do seek to foster dialogue that is “multi-valent, or varied in approach and perspective…nearly impossible to pin down. Metaphor cross[ing] paths with dogma, conservative with liberal, male with female, sin with sinlessness…engag[ing] all angles.” To me, the way you’re describing postmodernity and its modes of expression is how I’d describe high late modernity, in its ‘liberal’ mode of expression. And I’m no high late liberal modernist. (Case in point: I’m not into John Shelby Spong; I think he’s more of a shock-jock than a thoughtful commentator; I don’t get what the appeal is to the Gnostic gospels; they weren’t banned because of a conspiracy to suppressed human liberation, they paled to obscurity because they were narcissistic and world-denying! But I digress…) God certainly has a place at the table, and I trust can speak for Godself; if my blog post under discussion seems somehow ‘liberal’ and ‘one-sided’ to you, please read more of my blog entries to engage a bit more of the variety I think I bring to the table. I regularly raise the hackles of my progressive and conservative friends, so I pray I’m doing something right. : ) Of course, it’s entirely debatable who’s being modernist and postmodernist here. After all, I’m the one giving bullet-pointed replies, and you’re the one telling stories!
    Secondly: Is God growing, changing, or open to human input? I know that our notions of orthodoxy as inherited by Augustine, Calvin, etc., tend to elevate the changeless as tantamount to what it means to be divinity. I think, though, that such a view does violence to certain Scripture wrenched from their contexts, and enshrines a Greek/neoplatonic/static ideal over a more Hebraic/biblical/dynamic God, the God who seems to be progressively revealed in Holy Writ, culminating in Jesus. To see how thorough this cosmology-shift has taken place, think about how foreign this Scripture sounds to our confessional ears:
    “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered…” Hebrews 5:7-8.
    So wait: Jesus learned something? Meaning, there was something he didn’t know/apprehend at one point, and then he did? In time? And Jesus is God? (I fully accept the Incarnation, by the way) Okay, so what might this say about the God revealed in Jesus? Well, apparently this God wasn’t above being argued with, and is said to experience feelings of regret, and even to change his mind. (I’m too lazy to look up all the references at the moment, but I trust your biblical literacy to know the stories I’m alluding to – God arguing with Abraham, and Moses, over issues of justice and God’s perceived reputation; God musing about the Flood). And someone deemed a ‘man after God’s own heart,’ David, questioned God’s goodness and judgments countless times in the Psalms – the official hymnal of the ancient Jewish people. Of course God is to be loved, revered, obeyed, and submitted to; but it’s very interesting that Israel (a word that means “Wrestles with God,” a la Jacob) is not only tolerated but appreciated by God, as least as much as Islam (I am speaking here of “submission”) is. How tragic that modernist Christianity only upholds one side of this these days – the islam/submission at the expense of the israel/wrestling. I’d like to think that both God and humanity get a lot out of these divine wrestling matches.

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  60. Finally – the panentheism matter: Is God All and in all? Is this biblical, is this Christian, and how does this relate to the uniqueness of the Incarnation? Becky, thank you for the Michaelson quote. I’ll be honest with you – I don’t have a problem with much of what he said. And yet, I’d want to to say that my Christocentric panentheist perspective is so much more than what he’s said. If I could guess, I’d say that his statement that panentheism is “in the Zohar, the Upanishads, the writings of John of the Cross, Rumi, the Tao te Ching, the Heart Sutra, and many other texts” is particularly bothersome to you, as evidenced by your follow-up statement “Just not in the Bible.” In a moment I’ll share why I think it is in the Bible, implicitly and explicitly, from beginning ’til end. But let’s just say for a moment it isn’t – certainly the term panentheism isn’t in the Bible – confronted with such a phrase, Moses and Paul would probably say pan-what?

    But let me ask you this: Are you a monotheist? That is, do you believe in only one God? Probably so, eh? Me too. Well, as you doubtless know, the term ‘monotheist’ can be found nowhere in our sacred Scripture; it is a term invented by religious philosophers ages ago to approximate biblical insight “I am the Lord your God, there is no other.” It wasn’t always a given either; our best textual evidence shows that the earliest Semitic tribes (who later became Israel) were polytheist; they believed in a pantheon of gods, but simply that YHWH was the greatest. That is, in fact, what the term “Lord of lords” means. God is the best God. But this belief evolved until the other gods, once alive and well, were deemed to be ‘dumb and mute,’ idols. But at the end of the day, monotheism is a designation shared by many faiths. To modify the Michaelson quote that you found disquieting, I could say “Monotheism is not new. It’s in the Hebrew and Christian bibles, the Book of Mormon, and the Qu’ran; belief in monotheism can be found in Jehovah’s Witnesses and the philosophical writings of Martin Buber.” (I could also say similar things about ‘prayer,’ ‘worship,’ ‘healing,’ etc…though this is slightly different, because these are simpler terms, found in our bible…)

    I say all this to say – let’s not throw out ‘panentheism’ right off the bat just because it can be found in a variety of faith traditions, and the term is not found in Scripture. Let’s instead look at the idea behind it, and whether it seems foreign or at home in the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.” I can’t go into much detail on panentheism, as I’ve already written two fantastic blog posts outlining its breadth and scope (grin).

    In Christ were created all things in heaven and on earth everything visible and everything invisible…. Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity.
    —Col. 1-15-17

    …the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him.
    —2 Chr. 2:6 KJV
    Where could I go to escape your spirit?
    Where could I flee from your presence?
    If I climb the heavens, you are there,
    there too, if I lie in hell.
    If I flew to the point of sunrise, or westward across the sea
    your hand would still be guiding me, your right hand holding me.
    —Ps. 139.7-10

    We could say much more and still fall short; to put it concisely, “He is all.”
    —Sir. 43.27

    Do I not fill heaven and earth? It is Yahweh who speaks. —Jer. 23.24

    Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him. All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower. —Jn. 1.2-5

    In him we live, and move, and have our being…. “We are his offspring.” —Acts 17.28 NIV

    For from him, and through him and to him are all things. —Rm. 8.36 NIV

    There is one God who is father of all, over all, through all and within all. —Eph. 4.6

    God is love, and anyone who lives in love, lives in God, and God in him. —1 Jn. 4.16

    Probably most of what I’d describe as panentheism you’re more familiar with as ‘omnipresence’ – God is everywhere. But to me (and my reading of the many passages above), God is even closer than with everything and present to everything (important and comforting as this is), God is within everything, and everything is within God. This doesn’t mean that there’s a 1:1 ratio between the cosmos and God; I fully affirm God’s transcendence, that God is so much more than the sum of the parts of the Universe. But to say that God is less than the Universe, or separate than the Universe, strikes me as sub-biblical and rather depressing. If you have a minute and you want to read another Christian perspective on panentheism, I highly recommend my friend Jon Zuck’s piece Biblical Panentheism: God In All Things. If you have a little longer, you should check out Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers. You’d probably really like it, as the author is an evangelical scholar who, ultimately, doesn’t subscribe to panentheism – and he gives his reasons at the very end of the book. But it is, nonetheless, a sympathetic history of the unfolding of the panentheist idea throughout history, both within Christianity and without.

    You raise a good question, though, about the purpose of the Incarnation if God is indeed all and in all. And of course, such conversation inevitably leads to speculation of things to wonderful to intelligibly speak about. But one can wonder whether the Incarnation – the life, teachings, actions, signs and wonders, death, resurrection, ascension, and indwelling of Jesus the Christ – were to change something in the ‘metaphysical superstructure’ of the kosmos, or if they were intended to reveal what’s always been here all along. My guess (an audacious guess yes, a preposterous guess – as is all theology) is that God wanted a human-scaled experience of humanity, of life on earth, to come alongside that of the macro-intimate being-ness of presence to and indwelling each and every moment. Hence, the incarnation: The gain a fuller appreciation of the human experience – “suffering in all things as us,” as well as experiencing the joys – and to reveal how very, very much our Abba loves us.

    That’s all I’ve got at the moment. Again – I don’t write this to change your mind about postmodernity, God’s changeability, or God’s panentheistic presence in all things. But I hope you can see how sincere and faithful Christians can embrace – with varying degrees of qualification, of course – all three, and how people who do and people who don’t might be able to worship together in unity, a la Jesus’ great mystical and panentheistic prayer in John 17 (sorry – couldn’t resist):

    “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”

    Because, like us our loathe us, the emergent church conversation is not trying to ‘Reform’ the church and subdivide into yet more denominations. We want to worship and share and do life among you – among sisters and brothers in Christ with whom we might differ. Because the Mystery, and the Revelation, is too much for any of us alone to steward. We need you.

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  61. Brilliant Mike … just brilliant.

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  62. Meant to add ~

    You wrote:

    “But one can wonder whether the Incarnation – the life, teachings, actions, signs and wonders, death, resurrection, ascension, and indwelling of Jesus the Christ – were to change something in the ‘metaphysical superstructure’ of the kosmos, or if they were intended to reveal what’s always been here all along.”

    Bingo. That’s been the ‘biggie’ for me … coming to see that Jesus didn’t so much come to accomplish anything, as He came to reveal what had always been. He met us where we were (as He meets us where we are) … not to endorse where we were/are, but to engage our minds/imaginations, into seeing *beyond* where we get entrenched/stuck.

    He still has MUCH more to show us… may we allow our “bearability” to be increased..!

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  63. Yowsers!

    Lord have mercy. I believe an earthquake is coming our way soon. 🙂

    It’s really not funny, bu what can you can do? If you don’t laugh you cry,

    Dena, you especially make me so sad. You with your sweet children.

    you say:
    >>>>>
    I just strongly suspect/believe that God is far more than ANYthing we could imagine … and that even what He has revealed to us is a fraction of His Allness.
    <<<<<>>>>>
    We’re all on a journey … none of us has grasped Him enough to define … it’s absurd for us to bicker while en route to all truth…!

    <<<<<<<<

    We have, none of us, grasped all of God, but we need to define and hold to that which we HAVE grasped. God does not change like shifting shadows, God is the I AM, outside of time, never learning new things or changing or growing or being perfected. (Zoe is confused about what it means that Christ was perfected through suffering. This is what comes of giving up the "whole cousel of God") God is not me and I am not God. God does not learn from me–who can give counsel to God? The question God asks is a rhetorical one. Man was not there when he created the leviathan and laid the foundations of the earth and man cannot instruct or rebuke God.

    So go on your journey to search out more of God. But you will not find him outside of Christianity. He resides in his body, in the temple being built by God himself out of lving stones. Search for him in the scriptures and in the Church that is the pillar and ground of the truth and that holds scripture to be infalible and that holds to the faith once for all delivered to the apostles, not in the writings of the emergent church, which throws out scripture willy-nilly as their hearts desire.

    The problem with long discussions like this is that our eyes glaze over and we begin to skim.

    If anyone reading this has skipped or skimmed comments, allow me to suggest you go right now and read comment number 12.

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  64. Thanks for pointing us back to Becky’s comment, Sally. I meant to reply to something in that – a point of agreement actually. Much of my original impetus for writing the blog post originally under discussion (the ‘Is God a Recovering Practitioner of Violence?’ post) was because of several years of heart-stirrings following a lifetime of reading Scripture. Namely, the question that continually came up in prayer, in reflection, and in life, is “Am I somehow ‘nicer’ than God? Can the God revealed in Jesus be trusted – or must He be placed in competition with divergent visions of God in the Old Testament?” Please understand, I’m no Marcionite – I affirm the OT as canonical and revelatory. Yet an honest reading of the New Testament cannot avoid that Jesus at times revises or updates or debates older concepts of God. “Moses said to you…but I say unto you” is Jesus’ constant refrain in the Gospels. Jesus is a faithful Jew, but part of being a faithful Jew is wrestling with the Law and customs of his day. Later the writer of Hebrews, and Paul would talk about the former things giving way to a New Covenant, about seeing in part but beginning to see in fullness. As John Calvin (not someone I quote very often!) put it “in the Old Testament, God spoke with a lisp” – but grace and truth are revealed in Jesus Christ. So whether you believe that the saints of the Old Covenant occasionally ‘mis-heard’ God when this ‘god’ ordered the massacre of entire people groups, or whether you believe that God condescended Godself to meet them in the messy condition of their times and cultures, or that God ‘grew,’ I’d like to hope we can affirm that Jesus’ ethic of loving enemies, returning kindness for malice and forgiving wrong-doers is a a marked contrast with a tribal deity who urges conquest and avenging enemies. Because Jesus’ teaching is not given to human beings unilaterally; over and over again, he stresses that we are to behave in this way because it mirrors the character of his Father.

    So: I believe in absolute truth – I believe that Truth is a Person, Whom we’re always moving closer to relationally and apprehending more and more of. (I think Dena would agree) But truth as ‘proposition’ is always partial, always incomplete, always up for revision. And I question punitive images of God precisely because of my commit to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, in apostolic and biblical deposit, who is still accessible and knowable through the ages, prodigally and everywhere.

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  65. And Sally, if an earthquake is coming our way, and in some way is an ‘act of God,’ I’d think it’s because of the reasons that the Hebrew prophets say that God will judge the nations: For neglecting the orphan, the widow, and matters of equitability and justice and love – not because of arcane theological debates like the one we’re involved with now. 🙂

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  66. “Bingo. That’s been the ‘biggie’ for me … coming to see that Jesus didn’t so much come to accomplish anything, as He came to reveal what had always been. He met us where we were (as He meets us where we are) … not to endorse where we were/are, but to engage our minds/imaginations, into seeing *beyond* where we get entrenched/stuck.”

    Oh see! I hadn’t seen this one when I wrote my post above.

    Dena, you break my heart when you say such things about the Jesus I love. Jesus died to pay for my sin–I cannot bear to hear his agony so diminished.

    What has always been, since Adam’s sin is that we were God’s enemies going to hell. What Jesus accomplished on the cross was the purchase of adopted children for his father. He obeyed the Father. He was obedient unto death. That’s a huge accomplishment. And then, by his obedience, he took his Father’s enemies–broken, ugly, sinful enemies–and changed them into beautiful worshippers, beloved children. He gave them life. They were dead in their sins and trespasses and he gave them life.

    You diminish this wonderful work when you say he didn’t come to accomplish anything, so much as he came to meet us and engage our minds and imaginations.

    Why do you think you are learning more about God now that you’ve shaken off the church? Which Jesus have you found on your journey? Not the one in the Bible.

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  67. Sally –

    Thanks for your concerns … I understand, but do not share them.

    I welcome a continuation of the “earthquake” I’ve been experiencing for the past nearly-six years.

    “We turn to God when our foundations are shaking, only to discover that it is God who is shaking them.”

    May everything I believe be shaken … may only what is of God remain.

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  68. Mike (whose name is not “Zoe”, LOL! Though it’s apt!) said:

    “So: I believe in absolute truth – I believe that Truth is a Person, Whom we’re always moving closer to relationally and apprehending more and more of. (I think Dena would agree) But truth as ‘proposition’ is always partial, always incomplete, always up for revision. And I question punitive images of God precisely because of my commit to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, in apostolic and biblical deposit, who is still accessible and knowable through the ages, prodigally and everywhere.”

    Yup! 🙂

    Dena agrees!

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  69. Sally — your comments (#66) are *precisely* the very arguments I made against people like me, just a few years ago..!

    I can hear my own voice still saying them — and, thanks to the Internet, you could find me saying precisely what you said, in various forums over the past ten years.

    I “get” that.

    But — I no longer believe that God had to kill God in order to appease God.

    A study of the various theories (theories!) of atonement, throughout Christian history, might be helpful. If not eye-opening.

    But, quite honestly, as Mike so articulately points out, hearts/minds are transformed through clever arguments/debates on websites … in fact, they aren’t affected by “proof” at all. God must be experienced first-hand, not merely known-about vicariously. Knowing God comes through first-hand experience with Him, and the revelations that He brings to each one, via His Spirit within, as He reveals the “much more” that Jesus referenced.

    I couldn’t “bear it” for a very long time … it just takes what it takes for each of us to come to see God as He is, rather than how we’ve been taught.

    He has time … and mercy triumphs over judgment.

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  70. Ack – Sally, you’re drawing me into a debate where no one will be happy, just like I warned myself would happen. 🙂

    I completely understand where you’re coming from with ‘your Jesus’ – the one whose gospel is based on sin-absolution and afterlife-readyness. It is a gospel I believed for many years. But then, reading Scripture more closely messed with me, a lot. If Jesus’ death is what changed the fabric of the universe (or God the Father’s disposition toward us), for instance, then why does that most famous passage, John 3:16, say that God loved the world and sent his Son – before a penal substitutionary death on a cross on our behalf? If God was too ‘holy’ to love us or look on sin before his Son was executed by Rome, then why does “God so love” in John 3:16?

    Here’s another one that messed with me: Jesus preached “the Gospel” throughout the gospels – before he dies and is resurrected. What is this gospel? There’s nary a word about the necessity of his dying to somehow appease the wrath of his Father. No, the gospel of Jesus is that the Kingdom of God is near, at-hand! Graspable! Touchable! If we begin to learn to live in love, and relate to Jesus’ Abba and each other in ways that are in keeping with this growing Kingdom.

    Please know that I’m not saying that there isn’t a gospel about Jesus that developed during the early apostolic era; Paul, Peter, John and others began to reflect on the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and to Jesus’ original proclamation of the arriving kingdom added their insight as to what it means for Jesus to die and be resurrected on our behalf. I do not reject this, nor do I try to pit the good news of Jesus against the good news about Jesus. I only cite the pre-death presence of ‘good news’ to also highlight that Christians of goodwill have had many different interpretations of Jesus’ atonement throughout the scope of Church history. You might not be aware of this…I know I wasn’t, for many years. I’ve written a few blog posts that highlight these divergent understandings, and how they might help faithful friends of God and followers of Jesus in the 21st century – they can all be read here. I recommend doing so in reverse-order, starting with original one in 2007.

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  71. zoe,you misunderstand Jesus.

    (He’s a man, btw, and you can call God, himself. Jesus called him Father, so I think it’s cool to give him the male pronoun.)

    I suggest you think about the way he will judge the nations. Jesus will judge between the sheep and the goats. And he will tell many, “Away from me, ye workers of iniquity. I never knew you.” And many will be cast out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Jesus died to deliver sinners from this horrible fate, but make no mistake, he loves his Father and is in perfect accord with him. He is not at odds with the judge in the OT.

    If Jesus disagreed so much with the angry, violent, ugly ogre God of the OT (as some people seem to want to depict him–though he’s actually beautiful and perfect and holy and righteous in all his ways) why didn’t he tell us about this? Jesus came not to throw out the law but to fulfill it. Jesus loved the Father and went to his death in obedience to the Father. It was not for us, though we were a side benefit and a delight to him, that he ultimately suffered. The real joy that was set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, was that he was going to hear from his father, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

    Jesus loved his Father and you cannot, no matter how hard you hammer, drive a wedge between the Son of perfect obedience and reverance and the Father of prefect holiness and justice.

    And, yes, one day an earthquake will come and men will call out to the rocks begging them fall on them and kill them. Those who have eternal life–the ones that know God and Jesus Christ whom he sent–will lift up their heads to their coming king. But the others will cry out, begging for death.

    Sin is a life and death matter. It cost Jesus, the precious, beloved Son, his life. We dare not make light of our rebellion

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  72. I will try to make 4 very brief points so as not to pontificate:

    1) I think Dena has perfectly summed up the Emergent message when she states she was, “coming to see that Jesus didn’t so much come to accomplish anything…” It is so incredibly tragic that people so willing to open a Bible have re-defined the words inside so that they cannot see the truth in front of their faces.

    2) Apologies, Cameron, I did indeed miss your point on #56 (eye glazing is indeed an internet driving hazard). You are quite correct in stating that you cannot assume to have a common starting point (absolute truth) when conversing with another party. I believe it is for this very reasom that it has been my unfortunate experience when conversing with the emergent crowd that no matter how I try to convey the fact that they are heading for a cliff, they begin to question, “Well what is a cliff? and let’s see what “heading” really means..” They would argue water might not be wet and then congratulate themselves on having the intellectual prowess to question what the masses so blindly believe. Truly their wisdom is foolishness.

    3) I see so much pride in the Emergent crowd. I have heard them often state with that they will never grasp truth, but will always be learning it, never realizing the irony that their position was outlined in 2 Timothy 3 when Paul warned of those, “learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
    4) Indeed they are everywhere. Pray that your loved ones are not drawn in to the intellectual pride and destiny of destruction that is to be found in this group of generally really nice people. It is so sad, and yet they look on any who try to help them as being afraid of emergence, or closed minded, or caught up in tradition, never even pausing to consider that maybe they really are in danger.

    It is such an incredible tragedy, words fail me.

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  73. But — I no longer believe that God had to kill God in order to appease God.

    A study of the various theories (theories!) of atonement, throughout Christian history, might be helpful. If not eye-opening.

    But, quite honestly, as Mike so articulately points out, hearts/minds are transformed through clever arguments/debates on websites … in fact, they aren’t affected by “proof” at all. God must be experienced first-hand, not merely known-about vicariously. Knowing God comes through first-hand experience with Him, and the revelations that He brings to each one, via His Spirit within, as He reveals the “much more” that Jesus referenced.

    Mmm hmm. Well you are right. We are not really led away by persuasive speech. There are deceiving spirits that lead us away. They look like angels of light. They lie about God and about our sin and say, “you shall not surely die.”

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  74. Ack – Sally, you’re drawing me into a debate where no one will be happy, just like I warned myself would happen

    Well, I will be happy. I’m always happy. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice. 🙂

    Seriously, there is nothing more worth our time, as you have stated, than to wrestle with God. At the end of the day you may not believe the Bible, but you will not go away injured for having thought about it, Zoe. (Yes, I know his name is Mike, Dena, but to me, he will always be zoe. I know it’s a girl’s name, but before that it meant life and I like to hope that one day Mike will have life. Call me sentimental.)

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  75. Sally, your desire to harmonize every depiction of God in the OT with the teachings and example of Jesus is commendable in principle – but in practice, please tell me: What is “beautiful and perfect and holy and righteous” in this incident from Numbers 31?

    Numbers 31
    Vengeance on the Midianites
    1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
    3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them. 4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel”….
    7 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man…9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho. [a]
    13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.
    15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
    Dividing the Spoils
    25 The LORD said to Moses, 26 “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. 27 Divide the spoils between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community. 28 From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the LORD one out of every five hundred, whether persons, cattle, donkeys, sheep or goats. 29 Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part. 30 From the Israelites’ half, select one out of every fifty, whether persons, cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.” 31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.
    32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys 35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.
    36 The half share of those who fought in the battle was:
    337,500 sheep, 37 of which the tribute for the LORD was 675;
    38 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the LORD was 72;
    39 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the LORD was 61;
    40 16,000 people, of which the tribute for the LORD was 32.
    41 Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part, as the LORD commanded Moses.
    42 The half belonging to the Israelites, which Moses set apart from that of the fighting men- 43 the community’s half—was 337,500 sheep, 44 36,000 cattle, 45 30,500 donkeys 46 and 16,000 people. 47 From the Israelites’ half, Moses selected one out of every fifty persons and animals, as the LORD commanded him, and gave them to the Levites, who were responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.

    I have stopped trying to rationalize such passages of Scripture – it makes God way too schizophrenic. If any world leader were to command the things that ‘god’ commands here, and any general were to carry them out as Moses apparently does here, they’d be condemned today as the worst kinds of war criminals. I’m sure you wouldn’t be happy if a radical Muslim cleric declared that ‘Allah’ demanded such things in accordance with his perfect and holy statutes in the Qu’ran. Yet we tolerate these things as a matter of our own faith, and this poisons the well of peacemaking that Jesus so urgently calls us to.

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  76. Oh my, Sally – are we really playing the ‘you’re going to hell’ card? 🙂 Yawn. I could try to take great pains to stress that I believe that sin is real, and damaging, and that it calls for God-initiated, grace-driven, divine initiatives to dissipate and replace with abundant life. But not today.

    In your parlance, I am a blood-bought, born-again, tongues-talkin’ Bible-belt Christian. This is my heritage, and I do not repudiate any of it. If I transcend, I also include. I am grateful for a simple, child-like faith in God that sustains me via loving family and friends, a global church community, the unexpected places of the ‘highways and biways’ of the world, and the “still, small voice” that speaks within during times of prayer and bible study.

    Grace and peace to you, dear sister in Christ.

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  77. zoe, you do you really want answers to the questions in comment #70? Or is your mind made up? are you really on a journey seeking the truth or are you of the mindset that there are no answers to be had so if anyone offers any she is obviously in error and way behind you on the path to enlightenment?

    Are you really seeking God or are you seeking a way to get out from under having to repent of your sin?

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  78. Sally, let me save you the time and say “probably not.” While I’m always up for a good conversation on truth and spirituality (and I do, indeed, believe in finding and not only seeking), my guess is that I’ve already considered many of the answers that you’d have to share and have found them wanting. (Or I actually embrace them, and you assume far too much about what ‘truths’ I’ve ‘jettisoned.’ I know you can’t tell from this conversation, but I’m actually a fairly traditional, orthodox Christian! It’s just that I’ve learned far more about the wideness of God’s mercy as expressed by orthodox Christians through the ages, from folks like Athanasius to Gregory of Nyssa and beyond…Really, I’m far more boring in my beliefs and temperament than you might otherwise believe.)

    I don’t mean to presume too much about your own background, but my guess is that folks like Dena and myself have been where you are now, but you haven’t been where we are. This can make communication problematic! (And please know, I’m not suggesting that you need to be where we’re at, as though we’ve somehow ‘arrived.’ That would be condescending – I think that we’re all at different stages and on different pages for a reason. As I’ve said repeatedly on this thread, I’m not trying to convince you in one blog post to embrace everything that I’ve processed from my days doing Kay Arthur bible studies 20 years ago to today. 🙂

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  79. I have stopped trying to rationalize such passages of Scripture – it makes God way too schizophrenic
    Why rationalize? Why not just accept that God, who made us out of clay, has the right to dispose of us as he sees fit?

    Why not accept that God, who is holy, has the right to judge unholy, rebellious men?

    I am not your sister, Zoe. Don’t think that I am. God loves you and he has commanded me to love you. And so I spend time trying to reason with you. But I am no more your sister than I a sister to the Muslim or the Hindu. You and I do not worship the same God.

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  80. You and I do not worship the same God.

    On that we can agree, Sally. Your god terrifies me, quite frankly, if you think that your god would dispose of precious beings made in his image like so many sex slaves and human charnal – are you even alive? Can the impact of those words in Numbers even strike you? How is it possible for you to say with a straight face that God can turn entire people groups of women into sex slaves because they’re “unholy and rebellious” when you believe – as I do – that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”? Have you never questioned the contradiction inherent here? Have you ever honestly wrestled with such questions, and ‘demanded’ answers of God, no matter how puny such demands might seem in the light of God’s vastness?

    If not, then I question whether you’ve had much experience of the cruciform God, the God who would rather turn the other cheek and be executed by government and religious collusion than return violence with violence. A God who abandons the 99 to find the one lost sheep…who runs out to embrace the prodigal…that you can confess that this God is the same god who puts women into lifelong sex-slavery boggles my mind, and (if I’m painfully candid) makes me question your deliverance from the principalities and powers of the fallen world-system, which trades in death, exploitation, and sex slavery so freely.

    May God – the real God revealed in the face of Jesus – have mercy on us all.

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  81. Zoe,

    I am quite sure you have never been where I am now or where I’ve been in the past.

    And you are right, I have never been where you are. But my father was where you are for twenty years and my sister is where you are now.

    So I am probably as familiar with your place as you are with mine.

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  82. I wondered how long it would take for the conversation to dissolve into the childishness of “you’re demonic! You’re out, and I’m in, so nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah.” (“childish” meaning, it’s what my children revert to when they don’t get their way)

    Right on time, actually.

    It wouldn’t take long for a non-involved reader to see who is demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit, and who is demonstrating the conventional wisdom (i.e., exclusivity) of the religious leaders whom Jesus denounced.

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  83. You see sex slaves I see women on their way to hell being adopted into God’s chosen people.

    Would you have preferred that he would have killed those women along with the men and children?

    Yes, life in this world is ugly and cruel.

    Why does your loving Jesus allow little girls to be raped and murdered? Paul Young’s attempt at an answer doesn’t cut it. No matter how you look at it, either God is wrathful or he’s weak (saying he is maturing, learning, growing is the same as saying he’s weak). I believe he’s wrathful, not weak. And I believe that he’s justifiably wrathful.

    Sin is what brought the curse from God. Sin is what brings judgement. We cannot blame God for the rape and murder we see before or after the first advent.

    But God is so loving that he breaks into time now and judges the oppressors sometimes, in order to save the oppressed. And one day he will do away with the oppressors altogether.

    I don’t have the answers to the sin and pain in this world and I don’t need the answers.

    Maybe he takes all the murdered children to heaven, as Young suggests. I don’t know and I don’t worry myself about such lofty things. I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child on his mother’s lap.

    I trust that God is holy just because he says that he is holy and just. I trust that he is wise and he knows better than I how to run the world. I trust that he will bring an end to this sinful, sick world one day and that a new heavens and a new earth will come down. I trust that he loves the world and is doing what’s best for the world.

    How can you think that you, a sinful man, should sit in judgment upon God and find fault with him?

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  84. Christianity is an exclusive religion Dena. You want to shame us into being universalists but you cannot. God is not a universalist. Some people will go to hell. It would be unkind for me to pretend that’s OK for you to reject Christ’s sacrifice and all is still well with your soul.

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  85. Sally – your comment (# 81) reflects more of the second-hand information, than the first-hand experience, of which Mike is speaking.

    He has *been* where you are now — you have only *observed* where you think he is now. He has experienced both — you have experienced only half.

    There’s a world of difference.

    Most of Christianity reflects a second-hand observation of others’ experiences of the Living God … He invites us into a first-hand experience for ourselves. Jesus never speaks of the so-called “Christian life” … but He invites us all to experience the Abundant Life (the former makes a poor substitute for the latter).

    It’s uncomfortable, if not often downright frightening, to transition from knowing about God, to knowing God.

    Maybe we’re all just in various stages of that necessary-transition from knowing *about* God, to knowing/experiencing God..?

    Moving from that which we can define/prove … to that which is beyond words…?

    IF so, I recognize it, because I to am IN it.

    Uncomfy and WONDERFUL!!!

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  86. May your own daughter(s) never experience the ‘god’ that you have imagined, Sally.

    I unapologetically reject the god created by the vain imaginings of man.

    He forgives us for besmirching His nature and character, and for causing so many on earth to reject Him, due to how His “followers” have projected Him. And yet, I grieve over the consequences of us having created “god” in our own image…!

    May He reveal Himself to each of us as He did to Saul of Tarsus … may we know Him as Jesus did … may compassion trump the purity code.

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  87. And if I have sounded like I’m saying, “I’m in and you’re out nahnahnahnah,” please forgive me. I have not been clear. It was never my intent to make fun of you as you trip gaily off to hell. I am sorry that you are headed that way. I said that in my first post to you and I meant it.

    But your saying that God did not kill God to appease God is not something that Christians can tolerate. This is not about intolerance of minor disagreements. You have, by your own admission left Christianity. At least you are honest about that. (and I’m agreeing with you. You HAVE left Christianity.) Others still want to be called Christians even as they scorn Jesus’ work on the cross.

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  88. let’s get some terminology out there. in the aramaic, sin isn’t epidemic. so out goes the theology of original sin. the word is singular. it means “not to reach a destination”, it is metaphorical for potential. divine potential. jesus in many places states, “the kingdom of god is near”, in the aramaic, near means inside/within. or a post-modernized rendering would be, ‘you can live this way of life right now, because it is embedded within you’. you have what it takes. and when jesus says the words ‘follow me’, it means you have what it takes to be just like me. the story of adam and eve isn’t about how screwed up mankind, it is just another metaphoric oral story of creation amongst the pantheon of stories that are in the history of humanity. to assert that christianity is exclusive is to say jesus was a dualist, which contradicts the very intrinsic fibers of the eastern way of thinking (where jesus lived;culture). they were nondualists. there weren’t fences or doctrines or dogmas, unless they came from those who were trying to make a religion and make it exclusive. jesus, many times, essentially redraws the boundaries to include outsiders, the unaccepted. i wonder sally, if the reason why you are comfortable with an exclusive religion is because it gives you a sense of control or a way to identify people as you might have been wrongly identified before you encountered jesus?

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  89. He has *been* where you are now — you have only *observed* where you think he is now. He has experienced both — you have experienced only half.

    And may I suggest that you have only observed where I am. May I suggest that you have not outgrown my place, rather you have never arrived?

    Will I be accused of saying “nahnahnahnah” if I say that I am not behind you on the path as you suppose, but rather I am ahead of you?

    We both think we know God. I have the Bible to show me God. You have your experiences.

    I will stick with the Bible, thank you. I have seen from my own sinful, horrific past that my heart is no good guide and that I am easily led astray by demons and imagination.

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  90. I’m going to apologize to Becky now and to any wading through this, I did not mean to monopolize the conversation. I’ll step aside and let others have their say now.

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  91. If “having life” means being able to assent to the kind of theology being tossed around in the comments (or in the main post), death is looking pretty good. I know, I know, I’ll change my tune in the hereafter but it will be too late, right? Whatever.

    Sally, I say this sincerely: I’m glad your theology offers you some kind of comfort, solace, and/or happiness. Rejoice in the Lord always and all that. I’m pretty sure it would make me miserable; it makes my stomach turn just reading it.

    If the God of the OT is “beautiful and perfect and holy and righteous in all his ways” — down to every last genocidal, racist, barbaric, brutal jot and tittle — then I’m glad he doesn’t exist, and if he does, anyone with a shred of justice and decency should oppose him, regardless of the consequences.

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  92. One more answer since I didn’t see this question directed at me:

    i wonder sally, if the reason why you are comfortable with an exclusive religion is because it gives you a sense of control or a way to identify people as you might have been wrongly identified before you encountered Jesus?

    I think I’m comfortable with it because I trust that God knows best. The Holy Spirit, who some of you accuse of leading you away from the Bible, is the one who has given me faith to believe the Bible.

    I am offended when people say Jesus didn’t die or that he didn’t die as a propitiation for sin. That offends me because what he did for me is so precious and I hate to see men lying about that. But I don’t think I need to control their speech. You could come on my blog and lie all day about Jesus and I wouldn’t delete your messages. I am not controlling. But I do think I need to speak the truth to counteract the lies when I see them. I think God requires us to fight for the faith that was once for all given to the apostles and to reach out and to try to grab people out of the flames.

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  93. As I read the Bible, I see that it is full of accounts of people having *experiences* with God. First-hand experiences.

    Am I to believe that we’re now relegated to a “better” religion of merely reading about the experiences of others, as if God has stopped interacting with His Beloved…?

    Peter’s experience *with* God, on the roof, shows me that God intends for experiences with Him to trump both tradition and accepted scripture.

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  94. a jewish rabbi once said this: if you get 4 rabbis in the room talking about torah, you will end up with 5 opinions….why? because they didn’t think the torah (pentateuch) was set in stone. they thought it was all negotiable, and this is from the mouth of the ancestors of those who wrote scripture as we know it. some of the underlying language you use sally seems to say that you were there when jesus said what he said or you were there every step of the way when scripture was canonized and put together. Karen Armstrong talks about this very thing, how when the ancient jews got together, they were reluctant to ‘canonize’ anything because they were afraid people would do what a lot do now. make the experiences of the jews the authoritative plumbline on all things god. the authors of scripture were using the OT as the reference for the NT, this isn’t uncommon knowledge, they were utilizing the storyline to share what and who they thought jesus was. to condone the traditional view of atonement, would condone and support an insecure god who feel like he has to commit homocide to heal his relationship with creation.

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  95. Following a prompting to share what I wrote yesterday … receive or discount — entirely your choice:

    “Be Holy as I am Holy.”

    Thus sayeth the Lord … and thus was the focus of the old covenant perspective. It was the “imatio deis” — the way to imitate God. Be holy, in order to be like God.

    May I say, this was a tough act to follow …!

    Enter Jesus …

    Reading the story of Jesus, especially if one is able to put aside the traditional lens, the two key components of Jesus’ message was Spirit and compassion. These are His focal points. He lived in the Spirit, by the Spirit, through the Spirit … He was a most Spirit-connected man (and it is this, I believe, that He was demonstrating, when He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life …” No one comes to (experiences) the Father but through the Spirit … within).

    But I’d like to focus on compassion … because I think it’s all too easy to bypass just how radical a concept compassion was, in the Jewish realm of the first century.

    What do I mean by compassion? It means “with passion.” To feel with another. Feeling what another person feels in a visceral manner … way deeper than a head-level – to a “gut level”. In fact, the Aramaic and Hebrew words for compassion are associated with “womb.” A deep-seated physical place that symbolizes the source of life. For men, who are obviously lacking in a literal womb, the term “loins” or “bowels” is often used … though scripture does refer to men, even God Himself, having a womb. It’s not just something we feel — but something that compels us to take action in how we live our lives, in relation to others. So, compassion is both a deep feeling, and a way of being that’s rooted in a passionate-connection to others.

    Compassion is, I believe, an expression of love. In that sense, compassion is the central quality of God. God’s love for us is described as compassion … and our love for one another is rooted in compassion. Compassion sums up the two great commandments, of loving God with all we’ve got, and loving others (all others) as ourselves.

    And so, Jesus, who came to show us the Father, says to us, “Be compassionate as God is compassionate. Almost as if to overshadow, even to replace, the former concept of “being holy as God is holy.”

    Now, this is far more than mere semantics … them thar were fightin’ words to the Jewish-leadership elite! For the Jewish leaders, and their followers, purity was political.

    The predominant image of God was of His holiness — and holiness was thought to mean “be separate from all that is unclean.” And there was a LOT considered to be unclean..! If you were so unfortunate to be born in a lower status (the hierarchy went: priest/Levites, Israelites, converts, bastards, those with defective gonads, women, Gentiles), you were impure (to varying degrees). Further, your behavior or profession, or even your physical condition, affected your purity … the worst of which were the “outcasts” like shepherds, tax collectors, sinners, untouchables (included lepers), eunuchs, maimed, crippled, “unwhole” people, and menstruating women. Further, if you were poor, you were largely suspect — as it was believed that riches were a blessing from God … so you must’ve sinned in order to be poor, right? (sarcasm alert: SO glad we’ve evolved from that one!)

    I mean, compassion didn’t even enter the picture. People were blamed and shamed for their (unavoidable) impurity.

    No wonder that they chaffed at Jesus, as He entered the scene, declaring that they were to be “compassionate as God is compassionate” … which both echoed the “be holy as God is holy” standard, and yet transcended it, transformed it, and brought them up short in how far they were from living it. Jesus was overturning their entire way of life! He was boldly declaring that compassion, and not holiness, was the dominant quality of God…! Jesus was saying that true purity is a matter of the heart, not a matter of observing external boundaries.

    Yikes!

    Let’s look at how He messed with their status quo:

    – He hung out with sinners, untouchables, lepers, tax-gatherers, poor folks, marginalized folks, and (gasp! and they did gasp!) women..! HE even let a despicable and filthy/unclean menstruating woman touch Him…! Egads and Gadzooks!

    – He ate with them … to first century Jews, this was a radically inclusive act — it implied utter acceptance of the human beings one chose to eat with. In doing this, Jesus’ message was loud and clear (& oh-so-offensive to them!): He was demonstrating His intention for an all-inclusive community on earth.

    – He intentionally encountered “unclean” humans and locations — as if to say “there is no more standard of purity to observe.” He healed the outcasts, touching dreaded lepers, encountering those with “unclean spirits,” even entering a forbidden graveyard (Gentile at that), in the midst of pigs (unclean animals)…! WHAT a message! This wasn’t a message about “how to do deliverance”, but of the nothingness of the purity code! He was not afraid of cooties…

    – Despite being surrounded by a highly patriarchal and misogynistic society, Jesus rejected the false notion that women were “nobodies.” Jesus denounced social mores and interacted with women, even non-Jewish women, even in public. He called Mary a disciple, and encouraged her “forbidden” learning. He commended the faith (and wit!) of a Gentile woman. Women followed Him (& were the most loyal followers during His crucifixion). And a woman was chosen to be the first to “tell the good news” after His resurrection. His message was clear: this was to be a movement of equals.

    – Just in case they were missing the point, Jesus directly informed the Jewish leader-elites that they were like “unmarked graves” — by doing so, He was declaring them to be a source of true impurity (hidden impurity disguised with a squeaky-clean veneer, i.e., hypocrisy). His message was that purity is a matter of the inside, not the outside.

    Jesus shattered the boundaries of His day … and a heart-understanding of His teachings, coupled with an experiential awareness of the power of love, can shatter the boundaries of our day.

    Does it strike you how the current Christian focus of sin, morality, performance, behavior and holiness, is more in keeping with the Jewish purity code, than with the radical teaching of Jesus?

    We can all witness how purity divides and excludes, whereas compassion unites and includes. The message of Jesus, both then and now, is that the politics of purity has been replaced by the paradigm of compassion.

    The elite of Jesus’ day interpreted scripture through the lens of purity. Jesus interpreted scripture through the lens of compassion. These lenses were at odds.

    The same perspective/lens divide happens among those who follow (or claim to follow) Jesus today. Some focus on holiness/purity as the “Christian life”, with firm lines drawn between righteous and sinners (those “in” and those “out”). The sad and tragic irony is that those folks, most of whom are sincerely seeking to be faithful to scripture, end up highlighting the very parts of scripture that Jesus challenged and opposed! If we want to be faithful to the interpretation of scripture that Jesus taught, then we need to see scripture through the lens of compassion … which is the Abundant Life.

    Jesus shows us the Father. The Father IS Compassion. May we all experience, and thus *know* this…!

    And thus, may we treat all others (& ourselves) with compassion.

    Shalom, Dena

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  96. I remind myself of this passage when I find myself overthinking things (particularly ‘always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth’):

    “having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.”

    “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16 (NIV)

    I sense a lot of overthinking going on here. It’s…interesting…?

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  97. Dena, I have to challenge this and offer a word of caution:

    “No one comes to (experiences) the Father but through the Spirit … within”

    In this life we may have times of feeling lost, distant, wondering where are you God? Why can’t I feel your presence? But He is God, and He is there…whether we are “experiencing” Him or not.

    Problem with trusting experiences/feelings is satan can give us those warm fuzzies too, coming to us as an angel of light…and we are deceived…

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  98. I’ve read through almost all of these comments. And this is the type of thing many of us have seen before. You start with a comment and hope it will clarify, explain, or otherwise lead to a healthy dialogue. But when the “you’re going to hell” card starts to be played, it becomes rather sad. Mike & Dena, I thank you for your sharing your energy, time, insight, and and understandings. I can’t help but notice some strains of what really amounts to hate in both Sally’s personal statements as well as her theology.

    This is something I struggle with. I never know when to reply to a comment or when to just let it go and to save the energy in my fingers for something more productive (by “‘something’ more productive” I really mean “‘anything’ more productive” once one of the parties starts playing the “you’re going to hell” card or the other equally loved “I’ll pray for your misguided soul” card).

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  99. Hi Jessica,

    when Israel was in Exile they borrowed a few things from the Zoroastrian religion which aren’t present in the tenets of orthodox judaism, one of them is the belief in satan as a person. which hardly shows up in the OT, and once as a servant of god. and in the NT is used as rhetoric for the reality that we all can be the opposer or adversary to one another on our journeys toward discovering our divine potential and bringing heaven to earth. ask a rabbi about this one to confirm. also, if you have a psychologist hanging around, ask them if we experience life objectively or subjectively? they will say, subjectively, through our experiences. it is interesting to me that jesus didn’t choose 1 person to follow him, but 12, apparently he wasn’t afraid of 12 different views on who he was…he let them all have their views…this idea of deception is code for orthodox thinking…which tends to say we must see the world a certain way, and any other ways are incorrect, which supports a diametrical dualistic worldview that too easily simplifies experiences into the category of good or bad rather than seeking the higher reality within the nondualistic worldview of love, ultimately it doesn’t matter what worldview (within the christian religious discussion) that you adhere to as long as you promote love as the higher reality in all you say and do.

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  100. OK, settle down, kids.

    I’m seeing a lot of “I used to think” and “now I” and “your Jesus” and a lot of other posturing comments. Folks, those are soapbox comments that are spectacularly good examples of NOT dialogue.

    One of my favourite concepts is articulated in Ursula LeGuin’s Earthea series. The protagonist wizard, Sparrowhawk, or Ged, has fantasies, as a kid, of what he will be able to do once he trains as a wizard. What he discovers as he grows up is that, although his powers grow exponentially, he discovers there is a narrower scope of what he must do.

    Somehow, the “dialogue” from the emerging church turns that concept backwards, at least as far as a growing concept of God is concerned. Apparently, it is a matter of forward growth and evolution, that, eventually, the correctly enlightened people will break free of the fetters of the church, religion, the Bible, and even God. Now we have sound-byte logic, that uses proof-texts (Colossians 1:15-17, 2 Chronlicles 2:6, Psalm 139:7-10, Sirach 43:27, Jeremiah 23:24, John 1:2-5, Acts 17:28, Romans 8:36, Ephesians 4:6, 1 John 4:16, and others) to attempt to validate the dogma of panentheism. Not only is this bad exegesis (Take any one of these in its context), but it also re-invents and re-uses the zeal of restrictively conservative fundamentalists.

    How do you explain that this is the identical modus operandi to the “women should sit down in church, cover their heads and shut up” approach to exegesis? Same approach, different proof texts.

    Nearly every post from the “emergers” in this discussion all but completely invalidates any “former perspective” comments. The trend appears to be that the enlightened ones are growing out of that antiquated thought, at the expense of dialogue. Oh, we foolish people that still hold onto Holy Tradition, as well as Holy Writ, Holy Scripture, and other antiquated things! We get patted on the head and assured that we may grow out of that one day.

    The people of Israel, even the most holy people, fled to the worship of the golden calf. They must have had some pretty persuasivve arguments for doing so. But it was God, through the prophet, who brought his people back.

    We would do well to listen to Paul, when he stresses that we are all different parts of the body. That means we are not all prophets. Prophets invariably bring God’s people BACK to God.

    My mother has a favourite saying:

    “Just because you win an argument doesn’t mean you’re right.”

    There is a whole lot of sound and fury going on trying to win arguments. zoe, in particular, you seem to be announcing that victory on a regular basis, pointing to your own high quality of published material, and quoting yourself more than you quote others at times. Considering the quality of some of your arguments, I would think you would acknowledge a little more from those who obviously disagree with you.

    It should please you that the Dalai Lama encourages that approach, namely, to learn actively from your opponent.

    At the risk of making some first-person comments myself, I would like to say that I am not concerned ultimately about delusion and false prophecy, because the author of the universe, whom I have met, is not swayed by any detractor.

    I am a computer technician. One of the greatest advances in my own personal growth is the ability to listen to false dogma from computer neophytes without correcting them. They often make impossible claims as to what the source of their problems is. Inwardly I smile, and calmly correct their mistakes and problems, without having to point out the error of their ways. (I’m by no means perfect; I have a long way to go yet.) I suspect God spends a lot of time smiling at our juvenile arguments, justifications and explanations, knowing that it is not necessary to step in.

    I am created in God’s image, not the other way around.

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