22 July 2013

The Words of Jesus Cannot Be Manipulated

For some trend watchers, this observation has already been recognized but I’m not sure how many Christians are aware of the argument or see this coming.

For many years, there has been an argument common in theologically liberal circles…that Paul came along and corrupted the original message of Jesus.

These people like the teachings of Christ, or rather we should say ‘some’ of his teachings and yet they reject the teaching of the later epistles and the rest of the apostles commissioned by Jesus who (more or less) gave us the New Testament.

This movement, sometimes called Jesus-ism is gaining a new lease on life with the current debate over homosexuality in our culture. Many have heard the argument that Jesus never condemned homosexuality and indeed if you comb through the Gospels you will not find Jesus making a reference to it. Some then suggest that his message of love would sanction same-sex relationships.

Then they go further and I am now hearing in some mainline ‘churches’ the suggestion that Jesus and John were engaged in a homosexual relationship. This too is nothing new. Even James I of England (the one who commissioned the translation which would become the King James Bible) who was at the very least bi-sexual made the argument in order to defend his perversions.

The argument is partly based on a misunderstanding of the passage in John 13 wherein the disciple (John) is leaning on Jesus’ bosom. As Americans we have a hard time understanding foot washing, or why people in other cultures kiss when greeting or why in many cultures it’s perfectly acceptable for two men or women to walk down the street arm in arm. We interpret physicality with sexuality. We can probably thank the Puritan legacy for this. In many other cultures it is simply not so and in fact can be quite a hurdle for many Americans to get over when visiting or living abroad. I remember chuckling watching American men quite eager to kiss Italian women on the cheek but then turn green when it was time to kiss male friends.

I’m more ‘Japanese’ inclined myself. I like bowing and don’t even like to shake hands…but I’m hardly going to mandate it and I’m certainly going to be careful not to read my own ideas and notions into the text.

The argument that Jesus was a homosexual has always been around, but I’m starting to hear it enter mainstream circles and now with a growing number of openly and self-identified homosexuals who also claim to be Christian, it’s going to gain steam. In the past it was considered a real fringe position. That’s what’s changing. I think in short order it will become the culturally orthodox position vis-à-vis Jesus. At last the milquetoast ‘Jesus’ so often depicted in so-called ‘sacred’ art will be realized.

Before long, Jesus will be championed as a gay messiah, and I’m sure there will be a Hollywood movie to go along with it.

And the Dominionist Church will make a fool of itself in protests and political tactics to counter it.

We have to humble, but we cannot back down on this.

Jesus clearly sanctioned and ratified the Old Testament. They cannot escape that. And, in addition he clearly declared that He alone is the Way of salvation (John 14) and in the same passage promised the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles in terms of teaching and remembering.

They say they love Jesus’ teachings, but Jesus talked more about hell than he did about heaven and he clearly declared over and over again in the Gospels that He was God in the flesh.

If His words have been perverted by the creators of a perverse ‘christianity’ or if the Apostles lied etc… then Jesus failed. I don’t know about you but at that point I would have no interest in following such a Jesus.

Theological Liberalism (not the same as the political variety) has sought for over two hundred years to deconstruct the Bible. Believing it to be a merely human document they have sought to scientifically dissect it and in the end they’re not left with much. Rather than display the simple integrity to declare they no longer believe, and shut down their churches and universities, they have perpetuated their secular humanist religion while maintaining Christian symbols and verbiage.

Sadly in many conservative Churches adherence to conservative theology is equated with conservative politics, i.e. the maintenance, preservation and restoration of Christendom. In the United States this is all read through a Capitalist and Nationalist lens.

Christendom itself a perversion of Scripture also has many difficulties with the teaching of Christ. The Kingdom ethic given to us by Jesus was largely decimated by the legacy and parallel ethical structure given to us by Christendom. Christendom the application and fruit of Dominionism taught the Church to lay up treasures on Earth, to build an empire and call it the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s little more than a baptized Babel.

Consequently and oddly there are many in Bible believing Churches that are actually somewhat hostile to a literal reading and application of Christ’s words. If you try and suggest the Sermon on the Mount is to be lived and applied… they’ll get angry with you and call you a fool.

Isn’t it odd?

And yet we now have these unbelievers masquerading as Christians who can read the Gospels and history and can see it too! They can see the hypocrisy in Church history. They can see the Church embraced power and enforced orthodoxy by the sword. They can see that American Evangelicalism has no gospel other than political power.

They can see that most conservative Bible-believing Church’s have no interest in the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.

And so in many ways they view themselves like Reformers… recapturing the true Christianity.

Both sides are wrong. The one side has no gospel whatsoever, it’s nothing more than baptized humanism…the other side buries the Biblical Gospel (which they claim to love and follow) under a host of doctrines and baptized evils.

In the end I’d rather be with the latter than the former, but that isn’t saying much. It’s enough to make you want to go and crawl into a corner and hide under a blanket.

But we can’t do that. We have to recognize that we’re not fighting a one or even two front war. It’s multifaceted and very complex…and yet somehow simple.

Humanly speaking we will not only lose, we will be trounced.

And yet that’s a comfort. For as we are slaughtered, we are more than conquerors. We have already been told that we will suffer persecution if we would follow Christ. It’s no child’s play to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.

The answer is not to turn to political machinations, to try and use the force of law through the judiciary or to turn to threats. The answer is to bear witness and demonstrate our love of Christ and our love of the brethren, for by it the world will know we are the children of Christ.

We have to stand for the truth and we must reject gospels of world-accommodation whether it be a gospel that celebrates sexual lust, or one that celebrates a lust for pride and power.

There’s a storm coming and we will see many faithful brethren fall (through accommodation and capitulation) and others will draw the sword and seek a path of blood… remember all power is violence in the end.

Both compromises are forms of apostasy.

But don’t be surprised to meet hostility when you sit in a Bible believing Church and suggest we should take the words of Jesus seriously.

And you will meet the same hostility when out in the world and you quote Paul the apostle commissioned by Jesus to bring the words of life to the lost world.

The gospel is an offense. Anyone who tries to make it otherwise is preaching a false gospel and that includes those who believe the gospel is a path to power. We can all see through the tacky prosperity types, but the Rushdoony’s, Olasky’s and Al Mohler’s are in the end, no different. The message is the same, they’re just a bit more sophisticated, less individualistic, and have thought about the issues in deeper and broader terms.

May we glorify our Risen King as we await His return.


Cal said...

The Homosexual question is difficult, but I think another equally pressing problem is that the conservative culture has gone to the other stream. That is, they have baptized heterosexuality. That might sound strange, but Jesus is not a friend of heterosexuals either. Jesus takes sexuality and, finally, puts it into its original purpose for a renewed humanity. Its for one man and one woman in a bound unity. So that means no more polygamy, it means no easy-divorce, it means no prostitution/concubinage. And to the consternation of the crowd, who surely took those words more seriously than our so-called-pious listeners of today, he told them, "let them who can receive this, receive it".

On flip side there is grace for working through each person and each situation. The truth is the truth, that doesn't change. But not everyone can work things out with the snap of the fingers. The pro-gay movement amongst Christianity is a pendulum swing to the cruelty exhibited before.

I'm of the opinion that a homosexual attraction is partially biological, but nature is not a justification for the way the world should be. So its just desserts that the natural theology arguments of conservatives are blowing up in their face when faced by opponents. I think this is where what James said about teachers comes into play. Common people bamboozled out of the clear meaning of Jesus' commands are led by teachers twisting what was said.

Yes, Paul was primarily targeting the man-boy relationships in the ancient world and the dichotomy of homo and hetero sexual did not exist. But that doesn't change that Jesus' argument was about marital unity out of the different sexes. Good exegesis but bad conclusions? The answers are driving the search.

So there are some people who want to obedient and have been taught poorly. At least the Jesus-ism movement is a good building block. I don't think Paul taught much more than what one can see in Jesus' teaching on himself, his mission (including atonement) and his kingdom. A serious, perhaps plodding, but loving conversation will drive them to seeing what Paul and the rest were saying. They're all on the same side. But if they flip the "Gospels are historically unreliable" then, bon voyage, we have no common place to talk. If you've excised Christ from history into some vague principle or cosmic consciousness/souce, then, as you say, you're dealing with an empty veneer. I've got no time for whacked out German metaphysics.

Ultimately, the great evil of Dominionism, including the cultural kind, is that culture ends up trying to eat Jesus. You end up with baptized tribalism. A guy named Clarence Jordan "translated" the New Testament into the South, it's a good read. An example is that crucifixion is translated into lynching, and while obviously not a parallel, it carries the meaning better. He makes a point, looking at today's crosses, covered in gold and majesty, it doesn't look like too bad or shameful of a death.

Liberal or Conservative, its a cultural faith. They are each a step away from being the Inquisitor of Dostoevksy's Brothers Karamazov. I guess I part from you: I don't care if they teach the atonement but can't live that out. If their mouths teach that Christ took on humanity's death penalty, but their hands shed blood, their feet swift for injustice and cruelty and back-biting abounds. No thanks, might as well tell me the resurrection was a metaphor. Equally bad.

On a lighter note, I laughed when you mentioned your "Japanese" disposition. I have a friend just like that, he prefers to bow, and I would tease him over it from time to time. I like embraces, not quite on board with the kissing yet. Your comment on physicality being linked to sexuality being a Puritan legacy, is definitely something to ponder.

Ciao amico,

Protoprotestant said...

I apologize for taking so long to respond. I’ve not really been online for the past couple of weeks.
Difficult in what way? Difficult to respond in a Christian manner? I hope that’s what you mean, although I am unsure with regard to your statement regarding heterosexuality. While heteros are also lost to be sure without Christ, someone who is hetero is shall we say sitting a bit more in line with God’s order when they come to Christ. For example, if I’m lost and married, when I convert I don’t have to divorce my wife. The same cannot be said for a homosexual. Conversion implies fundamental changes and renewal, but as far as sexuality and the gender aspect of relationships the homosexual has a much longer road to travel.
This is not to ignore the difficulties and struggles a heterosexual will also have to endure. But here’s the thing, as a married heterosexual I’m provided with a physical outlet (so to speak)… a homosexual does not have that ability until they have completely renounced and purged this aspect of their identity.
While I appreciate your distinctions between homosexuality in our culture and some of the nuance in the ancient world I don’t think we have to spend a great deal of time worrying about issues like pederasty v. homosexuality. Romans 1 clears that right up. There is no ambiguity or equivocation there.
And certainly even in Roman culture, in many cases had outright homosexuality. What you didn’t have was this bizarre ‘replication’ of heterosexuality that we’re seeing today. Thirty years ago homosexuals didn’t want to ‘get married’ and have kids. Now I’m hearing homosexuals say things like, ‘I just want to get married and start a family.’
What?!?!? This is not reality. You cannot ‘start’ a family. Even nature tells them that. Technology and legalities may change the equation but they don’t change Romans 1.
Certainly there are people more inclined to be that way, just as some are more inclined to abusing alcohol, gambling or engaging in violence. It’s not an excuse. They need to repent.
Undoubtedly some heterosexuals are going to struggle more with opposite sex lust than others. They need to repent to. But again, a creation ordinance provides a way to deal (at least in part) with that.
No time for whacked out German metaphysics??? But Cal, you’re the one who keeps throwing Barth at me. With Barth we have little more than a baptized Kant and a complete recasting of Christianity resulting in an inability to really speak of an inspired canon of Scripture or the Coming Judgment it teaches.
I must say I’m a little baffled by your comment. I’m hoping I just misunderstood you.

Cal said...

Yes, I meant responding in the right manner. The heterosexual comment was supposed to sound scandalous. If we're reading Jesus rightly we ought to be tugged to the same conclusion the crowd said, "Who could be married at that rate?!"

I probably failed to make myself as clear I should've, sounding a little bit combative. But to make a comment like the "outlet" one, and I know it was just a turn of phrase, but really? My point was against this sort of thinking.

I agree with everything you said, from Romans 1 to the divorce issue, but that wasn't my point. A married couple, that comes to Jesus, ought to be told their marriage is redefined in that light. That it is reflective of the love of Christ. Paul's point in Corinthians, about burning and marriage, is an argument for marriage to guys who refused their familial arrangements because they thought marriage was unholy. In the West, we don't think that way. It's not to say, go find a way to deal with it contra. self-discipline.

And to make it clear: natural dispositions are not validations. Again, an argument that homosexual marriages are not valid comes from Scripture, and it shouldn't be out of a biology textbook.

I hope you see what I'm trying to say. Generally speaking, it's not a disagreement, but a reframeing. In our culture we're inundated with hyper-sex/hyper-marriage outlooks, I'm trying to broaden the picture a little. Paul would have none of us married, and I think he meant it. That ought to be a serious pause for thought. I took up my soapbox on your comment board I guess :).

As for the German Metaphysics comment: firstly, I don't think you've understood Barth rightly at all. Secondly, I'm not a Barthian, but have found some of his insights fascinating. My comment had more to do with Bultmann, who guts the NT as myth so its supposed main point is that we can get to an existential Christ-principle. That's not Barth.

Cal said...

A clarification on my response to the 'German metaphysics':

I re-read my initial comment and realized my use of the 2nd person may have been confusing, since I fluctuated between you-Proto, you-general, and you-liberal theologians.

I like Barth because he took an axe to the root of Schleiermacher in German theology, the real Kantian in this. The objective revelation of Jesus Christ, in history, in the life of man, was what shattered every mold. Christ was the very face of God, and he really pushed this to every dimension. This I find most agreeable.

I also appreciate Barth because he attacked Natural Theology as a genuine means for ascertaining knowledge of God. He took the "noetic effects" of the Fall seriously. Perhaps too far, but its a good corrective none the less.

Revelation, most totally in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, is the only way to see God. He alone is the mediator, whether in the OT as the pre-incarnate Messenger(Angel) of the Lord, the Word of God who spoke to the Prophets. Even beyond as the Voice of the Lord who walked in the Garden with Adam.

Finally, I appreciate him for making theology as not something for an academy or school, but only useful for the preaching of the Gospel. That's the only point of doing theology, so says he.

I admit I've brought Barth up in a lot of our little online back-and-forths but only because he's applicable (or so I think). I hope this explains myself a little more.

Protoprotestant said...

Compared to the Liberal Theology of his day, Barth did seem a breath of fresh air.

Unlike the Liberals he actually was a Supernaturalist. He actually believed God has spoken. That was a far cry from where most of the Liberals were at who had come to view Christianity as simply Western Philosophy and ethics and no more valid than any other religious tradition.

But with Barth the Bible still isn't the Word of God. God doesn't communicate that way. You have to come to God through a crisis-experience which may be affected by the Bible or maybe not.

Compared to the Liberals he seemed like a return to Supernaturalism and thus a positive and yet... in the end he's still carrying with him about 90% of the Liberal assumption regarding the Bible and History. He simply found a way to divorce Redemptive History from Actual history.

While Barth is almost impossible to read you do see this in the writings of people like Ellul. I eagerly read his "Anarchy and Christianity" about a year go. Sadly it was very clear, almost immediately that while Ellul was really serious about living according to Christ-like ethics...he really didn't believe in the Bible at all. By the end of the book I was groaning and very disappointed. He got a few things right but was mostly wrong and the saddest part was he made it very clear he didn't have the first clue as to what the Gospel was, what a Christian is, etc....

Barth's spectre was hovering over every page.

I wasn't reading it to learn about Barth. I was reading it because authors like Chelcicky are often thrown in the Christian Anarchist tradition. While the label might be in some ways appropriate, the type of Anarchy, political anarchy that Ellul was advocating is not compatible with a Scriptural posture.

Barth's views are always worth examining but in the case of the homosexual issue can be troublesome because he can divorce Redemption from historical existence.

Cal said...

I'd love to sit down over a coffee or drink and have this conversation face to face with the text(s) at hand! But alas, a comment box is all that we have.


For Barth, the Bible was not the word of God, but contained it on every page. This may sound odd, but his point wasn't existential crisis, but the sovereignty of God. If I may interpret, the Scripture is like the Supper. It is not grace itself, it is the means of grace. Does that deny its validity? No, because God had promised and he is faithful. But our faith is not in the means itself but in the One it brings us to. When we read the Scripture, we're being spoken to by the Holy Spirit.

While it requires thinking over what "inspiration" means, and I'm not sure about the implications entirely, it makes serious the action of preaching. It's not window dressing, but a Means. How will they hear without a preacher, Paul asked.

I've never actually seen or understood where Barth divorces salvation-history from real history, though there are people on both sides who defend or prop up that accusation. I don't know enough to say either way, though he did say that if one were to walk into the tomb on the 3rd day, it would be empty. Yet on the otherhand, he almost seemed to imply an eternality to the world, not willing to speak of an actual, historical, beginning (Genesis)or a cataclysmic eschaton.

Barth is the 20th century equivalent to Aquinas. A new systematizer and scholastic, but one operating under a different mold than the Aristotelianism of Thomas. This is what puts some bad taste in my mouth regarding him anyway, but like Thomas, it doesn't make him always wrong or worth gleaning things off of.

Transitioning into Ellul, this was his point. I've read a decent portion of his works, including his biographic interview that was published near the end of his life. He never allows himself to be labeled a Barthian, but learned from him.

I'm not sure how you interpreted what Ellul was saying, but I gained the opposite impression. I thought he well understood the Adam/Christ and this-world/world-to-come that is part and parcel of the Gospel.

On the anarchy part, maybe I don't understand Chelcicky at all, but I didn't see them so widely apart. While Ellul allowed a freedom to participate in politics, as long as it was in sight that one is not building the kingdom of God or helping it come about, he didn't put any stock in it. His anarchy was in not allowing the State to absolutize itself in the mind of any believer, but believed it would always attempt such measures.

Honestly, I'm a bit astounded you came away with the conclusions you did. I don't agree with his universalism, but I don't think this colors his thinking on a lot of things too much.

I've mined gems from Barth, as I pointed out above, and have found Ellul deeply helpful. That might say more about me than anything, but so it is. If I were going to read Ellul, I'd look at his "Politics of God and Politics of Man" or "Subversion of Christianity".


Cal said...

One other Barth-related thought:

Have you ever read Tom Torrance or any of his works on 'Scottish Theology'? He studied under Barth, but worked through some things differently. He traces different developments in Calvinism by how the Scottish reformers differed, quite sharply, with the English Westminster authorities, especially when it came to starting points in theology.

It might be a nice connection between Barth and John Cameron/Saumer and differences in the Reformed.

Just a thought


Cal said...

One last comment:

I've been thinking about my own explanation of Barth and scripture, and I found it inadequate. Here's a paper that helped me understand, thought I'd just link it: