Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Church History Gets a Little Help

Andy, it’s unfortunate you are not a MINISTRY subscriber. You missed the June 2008, issue. In it you can read an article by John C. Peckham with the title “The Biblical Canon: Do we have the right Bible?” In his article Peckham speaks of “the intrinsic canon.” His presupposition is that “the divine canon” was appointed by God and afterward approved by the church. In essence, his view is that the biblical canon came down from God out of heaven and was joyously affirmed by the church. Of no influence and having no effect, apparently, was the horse-trading that is recorded in council minutes. Forget history; have faith!

From a friend who has been an Adventist pastor for many years.

Ministry, International Journal for Pastors, has been published monthly by the Seventh-day Adventist church since 1928. Its main readership is Seventh-day Adventist pastors and ministers around the globe.

Comic modified from The Unhinged World of Glen Baxter, Collected Works, Volume 2
(click image to enlarge)


  1. Did that article really appear? I cannot believe that such a silly, nonsensical and ignorant assertion could be made about the Biblical canon.

    Does this say something about the level of the Ministry readership, that they should even consider such utter nonsense? Where was the editor - on holiday?

  2. The main problem that plagues Adventism is an uncontrollable urge to explain everything using the Bible. Our dogged search for the most lilliputian implication latent in some obscure passage of the Old Testament has often blinded our view of the full picture: God prefers the weak to the strong, the ignorant to the all-knowing; because He can reveal Himself more fully to those who are not expecting to see Him a certain rigid, boxed-in manner.

    It's also interesting our arrogance about being the only ones who uphold the sola scriptura principle these days, while also accepting some 100.000 pages of extra canonical inspiration. (Nothing against EGWhite, I fully believe her gift, it's the sola scriptura that needs revising...)

    We consider being the "people of the Book" as more important than being like Jesus.

    As someone said elsewhere: God is greater than the Bible and greater than the SDA church.

    Soli Deo Gloria

  3. What "horse-trading recorded in council minutes"? I'm not an expert on the formation of the canon, but from what I recall most of it seems to happen in that big black hole between 70 AD and 150 AD when we know just about nothing about what was going on. There's nothing about the canon at the Council of Jerusalem, and by the time of the Council of Nicaea it's all pretty much formed up.

  4. Bart Ehrman is a great source of this process. There is actually quite a lot of information on how the Bible was put together. Unfortunately most Christians are completely ignorant of these writings.

    Bart Ehrman's book Lost Christianities and his book on books that did not make it into the Bible present some great background on the dialog and conflicts involved in putting the Bible together.

    This included bribes, persecution of those considered heretical, torture, and other "spiritual" means.

    In a nut shell we have a Christianity that is Roman because that is the church that had the most power. The Roman church would buy out slaves contracts if they would become Christians of the orthodox variety. Soon these became the largest churches in the empire and other versions of Christianity were either legislated out with their books being burned or they were killed. And eventually the Jewish branch of the Christian church no longer were even referred to as Christians, but as Jews.

    These two links provide an introduction to Bart Ehrman, his ideas, and his history.

    When you study this in detail you soon become aware that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the books we have about Jesus have a tremendously distorted version of who Jesus was and were largely later Hellenized versions of Jesus.

    It takes a lot of time and courage to study all of this and that is probably why few Christians actually face the evidence we have about how the Bible was put together.

  5. "When you study this in detail you soon become aware that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the books we have about Jesus have a tremendously distorted version of who Jesus was and were largely later Hellenized versions of Jesus." - Richard Harty

    Richard, could you be a little more specific. What kind of Jesus are you suggesting was the original non-hellenised Jesus?

  6. Richard, sounds a little like the baby with the bath water to me...

    As a teacher once said, we need to question about 20% of what we hear, not 100%....

  7. To answer your question in regard to a non-hellenized version of Jesus I would say that the Ebionites were close to what the early Jewish followers of Jesus believed.

    They were Jewish followers of Jesus. They did not believe in the virgin birth, his death being the payment for sins, his physical resurrection, or his divinity. These beliefs have strong Hellenistic influence.

    "The Ebionites believed that all Jews and Gentiles must observe the commandments in the Law of Moses,[24] in order to become righteous and seek communion with God,[53] but these commandments must be understood in the light of Jesus' expounding of the Law,[52] revealed during his sermon on the mount.[13] The Ebionites may have held a form of "inaugurated eschatology" positing that the ministry of Jesus had ushered in the Messianic Age so that the kingdom of God might be understood as present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age." from Wikipedia

    Interestingly they were vegetarian and the last supper used leavened bread and water instead of wine.

    They were direct opponents of Paul. Epiphanius relates that some Ebionites alleged that Paul was a Greek who converted to Judaism in order to marry the daughter of a high priest of Israel but apostasized when she rejected him.

    Like many other sects of Christianity considered to be heritical, they and their writings were wiped out and what we do know of their beliefs comes from their critics.

    I believe that this is much closer to early Christian beliefs than what was later spread by Paul.

  8. The Ebionites view of Jesus is remarkably close to those of the Essenes and other Jewish groups during the intertestamental period. It seems that Mark’s record of Peter’s view of Jesus (expressed in Mark 8) is also in line with Messianic expectations of that time.

    However there does seem to be a remarkable change which takes place with those early disciples after the resurrection – not gentiles but Jews. A fearful group of eleven men as well as other followers of Jesus – women included – suddenly become emboldened to declare Him the divine Son of God. That is also the case with the earliest New Testament writings – not the gospels but the earlier, Pauline epistles.

    How was it possible that thoroughly monotheistic Jewish believers now become worshippers of a divine Jesus? I think it has something to do with the resurrection. When we read accounts in the book of Acts we could just as well be touching the fabric of history – not a Hellenized fabrication.

    Matthew, or whoever wrote that gospel goes to great pains, (using midrashic tools) to tear Old Testament texts quite out of context to prove a point - that Jesus was indeed the long awaited Son of God; and a divine son at that. What else could he do – he was faced with the accounts of a resurrected Messiah – perhaps the writer was a witness of the risen Jesus himself? As Richard Bauckham mentions in his book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, many of those who witnessed and knew Jesus must have read the gospel accounts – it is highly unlikely that there would not have been vigorous opposition to such a view of Jesus as we find in Matthew if there was not some grain of truth in the resurrection accounts.

    I am not denying that there were other views of Jesus about – including Gnostic ones – however I find the gospel accounts as probably the most feasible. It seems too that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is not so much trying to prove a point, as to come to terms within his Jewish context of a risen Jesus – who was He and what did He accomplish. Once again, we may not have to accept everything the writer has to say, but we do sense that he is coming to terms (within the limits of his own Jewish worldview) with a remarkable historical occurrence.

    I do respect your view Richard, however it does not entirely seem to have the ring of truth about it regarding the phenomenal changes which took place in the lives of those early Jewish believers – either with their remarkable new view of Jesus within a monotheistic belief system or their changed lives. And here we are not talking about gentiles – we are considering only Jewish believers.

  9. In regards to the probability of the gospel stories being more true there are some serious problems with their claims.

    The earliest gospel is probably Mark and its early dating is 70 AD and its late dating is 200 AD. Christian books of the period tended to claim famous authorship to get read and to gain authority, but were unlikely to have been written by the disciples. The only books of the Bible that we would guess would be written by the actual claimed author would be some of the letters of Paul.

    This is determined by the events, style of writing, places mentioned, and the contemporary nature of the words used in the earliest versions of the New Testament books. When these are studied it becomes quite evident that Greek views or the "winners" tended to gain domination over Jewish views.

    So the basis of the "remarkable change" tends to be after the fact and quite obviously revisionistic to support a Greek and Roman view of god and god's son.

    We have no actual proof of the events described in the gospels, but rather, we have some very culturally biased writings and doctrines based on neoplatonic philosophy blended with what Greeks probably admired from the Jewish faith.

    When we consider the what is most likely I find it very difficult to believe that the God of the universe would use such an unreliable basis for what is true.

    The more one understands about these writings, their style, grammar, history, variations, the less likely it appears they are actually what Jesus did and taught as a wise Jewish Rabbi, which is most likely what he actually was, without all the Greek styled divine mythology.

  10. I do think it's important to question, and I'm not sure about only 20%. Maybe there's a philosophy behind that I don't understand.

    We should try to understand as many of the facts are available and be open to the idea that we might be wrong about some things. But we've got to have a little faith. It does take faith to believe that there is a God out there who cares about us, he's given us what we need to know (or at least as much as we can handle). I believe he's there and that and he's bigger than the Bible, the church, Ellen White, 6 day creation, or any of those things we cling to so tightly that the elimination of any of them as valid would destory our faith forever.

    Of course it takes faith to believe there is no God as well. But that's another can of worms.

  11. First we need to recognize that there are myriads of biblical scholars. Ehrman has his agenda--he is knowns as a liberal scholar who does not believe the Bible to be inspired. He may even be agnostic. He is going to selectively choose from history what he wants to believe. He is surrounded by those who believe the same as he does and has been subject to this environment for years. So what would you expect? This is not so different from all religious and political beliefs. Take the issue of Sabbath keeping for instance--it couldn't be plainer, but hardly any biblical scholar will see that.
    There are other scholars who would disagree with Ehrman all the way from the middle ground to conservative. It's just who you choose to be persuaded by. They are all brilliant men and a few women.
    For myself the Bible plays itself out in my life and how it changes the lives of others. I experience it. Apparently Ehrman does not experience it in the same way, if at all. No doubt it is just a book of stories to him that doesn't even deserve the legitimacy given to other writings of the time.
    I would look to the test of time--the book has somehow lasted through all the crises and corruption of organized religion down through the ages. There is such a thing as a Holy Spirit that, if it exists, would guard the Word from extinction and know what books should last and what shouldn't. The Roman church adds a number of books that are not included in the Canon. They contain certain magical elements that don't fit with the entire theme of the Bible.
    Having said that, there no doubt are Hellenistic influences (as seen in organized churches of the time) but not to the point that they change the Biblical message of salvation.
    This is my thought-out belief of the subject.

  12. Bart Ehrman is somewhat unique in that he entered serious Biblical studies because he was trying to provide evidence that the Bible was true.

    The result of reading these documents in their original languages resulted in the opposite. He came to find that it is unlikely that the Bible is something that God preserved and that its formation was the product of much more human motivation and method.

    I find that many Christians are threatened by serious study of these facts and often retreat to attacking the person rather than the facts.

    Just because Bart Ehrman is agnostic or has other theologians that disagree has no bearing on the facts of history. And my views are not simply because I have chosen a scholar I believe. I have examined the facts with the same motivation that Bart Ehrman had (to prove the Bible to be true in its claim of divine revelation) and they don't support the claim of divine origin for the Bible. There are simply too many problems and outright contradictions to sustain that claim for me.

    The facts are that the Bible was manipulated into existence by force, torture, bribery, and political bullying. It has been willfully altered to conform to the orthodox view by scribes and translators. This is even openly admitted by the translators of the King James Bible. Any translation that did not conform to orthodox interpretation was translated to support orthodoxy.

    Now the Bible, like many other writings, has people who claim that it has changed their life. I don't think most people would deny that, but it doesn't mean that it is a divine revelation. It does mean the Bible has some wisdom teaching, but like any human creation it does not contain any universal answers.

    For me, agnosticism is a more honest look at the nature of truth than blind belief.

  13. Ehrman is one of the professors with The Teaching Company Great Courses. Did you take any of his courses? I doubt that other courses follow the same road as Ehrman. (I have purchased courses from The Teaching Company.)
    It is not for me to judge Ehrman’s honesty . But in agreeing with him don’t we judge the honesty of numerous other scholars? No scholar, self-taught or university-taught, has it all right. There is in Christendom the liberal and conservative extremes, and they stay in their own circles. (The two extremes have similar mindsets as literalists I think.) Religion is highly subjective. Even history is subjective --both those who wrote it and those who interpret it. We (I) can become persuaded by some great scholar with a PhD. But then I believe God is a God of the ordinary, and the ordinary person who prays for guidance from the Holy Spirit is closer to Truth (large T) that the scholar who searches for truth (small t). We cannot prove the Bible; to try to without that Guidance is fruitless.
    Interestingly I have just returned from a trip to Oxford, England, where with a dozen others I took part in a study group of the life of CS Lewis, a Christian apologist, scholar, and genius. He died in 1963. Yet he is more popular now than during his life time. Lewis was an atheist but became a Christian through study and finally allowing the Spirit to speak to Him. And he lived it with a life of compassion that went beyond learning. He saw the sacred in the ordinary.
    He did not receive a full professorship at Oxford University where he taught more than 20 years--because he became a Christian. Then Cambridge recruited him and made him department head with the full professorship he deserved..
    Right now Christians are being persecuted around the world probably more than anytime during history and they are certainly not popular with the intelligentsia. I think the world feels threatened by them.
    I believe the Bible to be both inspired and human. The words aren’t from God; sinful humans wrote them from their experiences over centuries. Perhaps the stories passed down generations were not absolute transcripts of what happened. Yet they speak Truth. Under the leading of the Spirit our Bible came together. Even some with selfish motives could have been involved (think of Judas). Under God’s protection all things work for good.
    The organized church (both branches) has been unscrupulous, persecuting those who disagree with their interpretations and murdering many who would not convert. It has been that way in all world religions because they are a type of Babylon (it seems to come with human organization) and seek to use the power of governments. At the same time true religion is found in the hearts of individuals, and it is through them that most of the good works for others have been done in the earth. (I have not heard of an atheistic relief agency.)
    I do a lot of reading and praying about what I read, and I understand what you are saying when you find something that seems to make sense. What one chooses has to be weighed in spiritual realms--God is spirit.

  14. Richard, could Mark be dated as late as 200 CE?

    It is far more likely to have occurred before or soon after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem; that view is supported by most scholars today. Generally acknowledged as having been written from Rome to non-Jewish Christians, it is hardly likely to have come from a later period for a number of reasons. One of the arguments is that the writer does not use the later highly developed Christology which is found in the Gospel of John – although Mark does bear witness to Jesus as the son of God both at the beginning and the close of his gospel (Mark 1.1 and 15:39). And now the latest scholarship on the Gospel of John dates that writing to about 100-120 CE – although JAT Robinson would date it as early as 60 or 90 CE . . .

    * * * *
    In passing I must mention that the highly acclaimed professor under whom Ehrman studied while at Princeton (Dr Bruce Metzger) wrote disparagingly about the Hellenistic influence to the extent that Bart Ehrman would have us believe. In his book “The New Testament – its background, growth and content”, Nashville, Abingdon Press, (1983 2nd edition, enlarged) page 245, writes:

    “During the past generation it was fashionable in some circles to argue that Paul’s theology shows evidence of having been influenced by the mystery religions. Particularly it was contended ….. the whole concept of a dying, rising God were obvious borrowings from contemporary pagan cults.
    Today it is generally believed that Paul’s heritage, so far from being basically Hellenistic, was essentially rabbinical, and that his Christian orientation was broadly shared by his predecessors within the primitive Palestinian church”

    * * * * *

    Perhaps we need to examine the very early Christian view of Jesus as a divine being who is worshipped as the son of God. Such an examination will bring into sharp focus the dilemma that the rabbi Paul and the early Jewish followers of Jesus had to contend with: trying to understand what Jesus was all about, and who he was – all these questions needed to be asked within the context of a reported resurrection.

    The Jewish people were deeply and avowedly monotheistic. The intensity of Jewish monotheism, especially after the return from exile in 538 BCE and notably during the Maccabean revolt is clearly and loudly echoed by Jesus in the synoptic gospels. See for instance: “no one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18), and “A teacher of the law was there . . . so he came to Jesus with a question “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied “The most important one is this: ‘Listen Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord’” (Mark 12:29 – both verses are paralleled in Matthew and Luke). Monotheism is of course strongly expressed in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    I find it strange that the synoptics have Jesus speak of one God – where he depicts himself as Messiah (Mark 8) – and not necessarily divine, while Ehrman would have us believe that the gospels and (the earlier) writings of Paul are in fact painting a picture (or fabricating a legend) in which Jesus is described as a legendary God of the mystery religions. If you would have us date Mark (the basis of the other two gospels – especially Matthew) as so late, then even more so should that gospel exhibit signs of a high Christology – and yet it does not at all. In fact I find no signs of a mystery religion legend in any of the synoptics – or John for that matter (that gospel is distinctly Jewish).

    The Jerusalem church debate (Acts 15) relating to non-Jewish customs all have an anchor point in the basic premise that ‘The Way’ is truly founded on the Old Testament scriptures, not on the Hellenistic or Roman mystery religions.

    Paul emphasises the monotheistic foundations of his faith in such verses as Romans 1:4, 1:19 (Jesus’ obedience to God), Philippians 2: 6-11 and Colossians 1: 15-22. His masterly argument found in the first six chapters of Romans is the greatest contribution of all to the debate about what Jesus was all about – and the consequences of the resurrection. Who was he and how did he fit into the Jewish scheme of things? Using midrashic tools he finds Jesus in the Old Testament, much as the synoptics do in their view of a suffering messiah – unheard of in both Old Testament or apocryphal writings. Jesus is never viewed in the same light as the pantheon of the gods of the mystery religions – his life, death and resurrection is always viewed as having firm foundations within the Old Testament.

    Far from being an invented story made up by a Jew-turned-Hellenist, Paul is writing from within the context of Judaism about a truly historical occurrence – the resurrection; and it’s consequences for a Jewish understanding of what it is all about. He had to place Jesus somewhere or other within the context of his Jewish background – not within a panoply of the gods of the mystery religions.

    * * * *

    Ehrman gained his initial biblical training at Moody Bible Institute, where the Bible is taught as a “divine revelation, the original autographs of which were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit”. Such a landscape of belief is highly populated but often ends tragically when it is discovered that the writers of scripture were ordinary human beings like you and I, who were struggling to make sense of the enigmatic Jesus and his resurrection. And come to grips with the astounding possibility of a divine figure who walked, talked, dined and slept amongst them and yet was somehow very different to any other man we find in history – certainly not the stuff of legends.

    Perhaps Darrell Bock has it right when speaking about Bart Ehrman’s view as a Christian scholar:

    I think Bart is writing about his personal journey, about legitimate things that bother him. . . . Even if I don’t have a high-definition photograph of the empty tomb to prove Christ’s resurrection, there’s the reaction to something after Christ died that is very hard to explain away . . . There was no resurrection tradition in Jewish theology. Where did it come from? How did these illiterate, impoverished fishermen create such a powerful religion?”

  15. Gordon asked, "Richard, could Mark be dated as late as 200 CE?"

    Because of the reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE (Mark 13:2), most scholars believe that Mark was written some time during the war between Rome and the Jews (66-74). Because Mark has some Latinisms others have dated it much later because they argue that these Latinisms didn't exist in the language until later.

    In actuality we know Papias spoke about the gospel of Mark and its origin around 130 CE. This is the earliest direct reference to Mark that we know about. So 130 CE is probably the latest we could date Mark. It may be that revisions to the book could have been made up to 200 CE.

    Also, Mark's gospel goes to great lengths to portray Pilate as a weak indecisive ruler rather than the brutal tyrant he actually was. He is also careful to lay the blame on the Jews. This would indicate a Roman audience for the book, rather than an early Jewish one.

    It is evident that Bart Ehrman has been on a personal journey and his book Honest to Jesus freely admits this. His critics could hardly be considered unbiased themselves. While I don't have to agree with every detail that Bart Ehrman presents, he presents enough to show that it is unlikely the events surrounding early Christianity happened the way we have been taught to believe.

    I find the Last Supper to be one the most compelling links to pagan practices. The act of eating a god's flesh and drinking his blood has little connection to the sacrificial system as practiced by the Jews.

    There were early Christians who did not believe that Jesus came in the flesh, but everything happened in the heavenly realm. The cup was considered to be a symbol of the Goddess. This forms a clearly connection to pagan practices and beliefs.

    You can find a more complete discussion here...

    When I look at what is most likely compared to how other religions developed and the historical evidence, I find it far more likely that Christianity is a natural evolution of the time and was created by men.

  16. Thanks for your comments Richard - and to Andy for raising the issue. The gospels are certainly full of all type of agendas which I consider important for us to be able to understand today.

    The publishing world is awash with books on Jesus - and here I am not speaking about the evangelical or fundamentalist world, but the scholarly field. Both your and my differences of opinion could go on forever - the scholarly resources are there to feed the debate.

    And then many scholars today are writing for the popular press - Geza Vermes, Crossan, Marcus Borg, NT Wright, Karen Armstrong and a host of others. A friend of mine has just finished Schweitzer's "Quest for the Historical Jesus" and has passed it on to a friend of his. Schweitzer resurrected! Who would have thought of such a thing - and being read by a very ordinary non-scholarly type - fascinatinng! There seems never to have been such a great interest in Jesus by men and women from all walks of life as there is today. Never before have congregations been so widely informed on the subject of Jesus - we live in exciting times! Everybody seems to want to know what Jesus was really getting at . . .

    And they are not going to their ministers for answers - they are thinking it through for themselves.

    In one of my posts on another forum I spoke of how, when reading the original accounts and comparing the redactive activities and agendas of each writer one gains an impression of those times which seems lacking in our churches today. Certainly I sense that many people who attend church these days are far more informed on Jesus' agenda than the pastor/priest or minister!

    I am currently busy on a project with one of the Bible translations. It is one I have used since 1982 - that's 26 years. I am sure you are aware that there are many parallel synopses of the synoptics available. However the particluar version I am working on does not have such a parallel version available.

    Well, I have literally (almost)torn the three apart digitally, and am placing each account side by side. This is a project which I am deeply interested in as it relates to my interest in the synoptic problem.

    The particular version I am using may not be the most accurate version available as it relates to word-to-word translation, however I am more interested in the main thrust of the story - numerous translators adopt that approach nowadays - for good reason - we need to move beyond the pedantics of what or what not a word means exactly - as if it has any bearing on our spiritual journey. I am using the greek to guide me, however that is not really the point.

    But, once again, what interests me as I proofread and compare each account side by side is how Matthew and Luke have redacted Marks' account for their own purposes in many instances.

    So there we are - one experiences a greater proximity to the time of Jesus as one works at this type of project. I have also come to realise more clearly what JB Phillips means when he says that as a translator he sensed the 'ring of truth' about the Jesus account. One almost feels one is right there at the time the gospels were put together

  17. I think if there is a "ring of truth" around the gospels, its because of the profound wisdom of some of the teachings of Jesus. His work on empathy as the basis of ethics is a bridge between western and eastern thought.

    I don't find a "ring of truth" around the historical account because it appears that there are accommodations for orthodox belief and for several doctrinal problems encountered in the first few centuries of Christianity.

    I would also note that many of us are working under a fair amount of conditioning in regards to Christianity. And that conditioning has a fair amount of fear involved. This "faith based" reasoning has its counter parts in other traditions that we would find unbelievable. One simply has to note the strong hold the Koran has on most Muslims or the Book of Morman has on Mormans.

    We dismiss the mythology of the Koran and the Book of Morman for reasons we are unwilling to apply to the Bible because we have "faith."

    When I look at what is typical of most religious beliefs systems I find the same types of myth building within Christianity and Adventism has its own myth building in the person of Ellen White. These are powerful cultural influences that are linked very deeply to a person's view of the world. They are not easy to change because they have such a strong momentum.

    When I step back from my cultural momentum and view Christian history and belief from a rational perspective, I find the same problems and if I am going to retain an intellectually honest perspective, I need to apply the same types of tests to all belief systems no matter how painful that process may be, because, ultimately, I have found that the truth does set one free.

  18. Freedom to do what? or freedom from what? Please explain.

    I just read an article in the magazine Spirituality & Health (that discusses the best of all world religions). It quoted Bart Erhman as saying he became agnostic because of all the suffering in the world. Maybe he did his study after that.

  19. Ellamae posted

    "Freedom to do what? or freedom from what? Please explain."

    Well it depends on the truth you are talking about. In a general sense, free choice depends on accurate information. If you don't have all the information you still have the freedom to do the choosing, but your choices are limited.

    Informed choice, at least to me, is farther up the scale of freedom. I think one of the primary gifts of truth is being informed.

    On a personal level, freedom from unreasonable responsibility and fear, has given me the freedom to be more honest and authentic with my personal and social relationships.

    Truth has often given me freedom from misapplied shame. There is a power that religions are very good at applying. They are powerful generators of shame and fear. These powers are often used to do "good" things, but at the expense of the individuals manipulated into doing them.

    I have experienced the freedom of loving my fellow human beings because I love them, not because I fear that I'm not good enough or because I need god's approval or so I can make it to heaven.

    In my experience, religion, specifically the Christian religion, has been a distraction from the experience of love. Bart Ehrman's work has provided a detailed theological, political, and historical framework to understand why Christianity has become this type of influence in the world.

    Christianity's reputation in the world today is very poor. I think Jesus fairs pretty well and continues to be a positive image of unconditional love as long as one doesn't read the Bible too carefully. When I observe most Christian communities, the primary thing that gets communicated to me is fear. And its not only fear directed toward me, but internal fear. It ranges from light to overt, but fear runs deeply in the undercurrent of ideas that form the basis of belief within most Christian communities that I have observed. I think this is because even the final solution to the "sin" problem is not love, but violence and destruction.

  20. Richard,
    I appreciate your taking my comment seriously and giving an honest prompt response.
    I think I understand what you are talking about as I read about religions such as Catholicism and what amounts to little more than superstition because that is as far as most go with their spiritual lives. But then I see it in Adventism as well--a superficial kind of theology/faith.
    It's an adherance to certian specifics and ignoring principles. Taking something beautiful and turning it into something to fear or control people with.
    On a personal level I and many others I know have taken their spiritual journey beyond this and have been released from the fears of a child. In fact knowing Christ is freedom to me, so I can't relate to not believing in His salvation--it sometimes seems like I and the secular mind live in different dimensions or dance to different music. I have to believe when I see the "coincidences" in life. Reading the Bible or other's spiritual stories are like "aha" moments--treasures that reflect incredible truths that bring me joy. Even studying physics and its new discoveries gives me this awe. So you see I feel free to learn.
    I feel God is love, He is righteous and He is fair. Much more than Christians have taught of the literalists verbal inspiration persuasion. The Bible is to be taken as a whole picture with themes, stories, and symbols. (It's exciting)
    God is good and love or He does not exist. yet the existence of the good and the beautiful tells me He/she/ or it lives. if He didn't I would be imprisoned by my own nature, chance, and scared out of my wits of the future of this world.
    I'm just sharing, and hope this makes sense. It does for me.

  21. Your comment "Christianity's reputation in the world today is very poor" is deeply flawed. Quite to the contrary, whatever some may think there is a huge number of people out there who simply would not buy that one at all.

    You may be speaking about North America and large parts of Europe, however that is not the whole world. One simply cannot ignore the vast millions of people who attend church regularly. Currently the west may be going through a process of reassessing christianity, nevertheless a large part of the world is not at that perticulary place and probably never will be. Christianity is a growing faith - whatever its problems may be. The interesting point is that so much of the world has passed by rationalism, the enlightenemnt and all manner of other fascinations without falling prey to thinking no further than their own particular mindset.

    Your point that "Jesus fares pretty well" ignores the fact that Jesus is to be found within Christianity as well as outside of the church.

    It might be better to say that a large part of the world is tired of certain American Christian churches - at the moment the UK is being infected with the Benny Hinn/Toronto Blessing/Ted Hagard/ type mentality - and it is certainly discrediting Christianity.

  22. Ellamae posted...

    " In fact knowing Christ is freedom to me, so I can't relate to not believing in His salvation--it sometimes seems like I and the secular mind live in different dimensions or dance to different music. I have to believe when I see the "coincidences" in life. Reading the Bible or other's spiritual stories are like "aha" moments--treasures that reflect incredible truths that bring me joy. Even studying physics and its new discoveries gives me this awe. So you see I feel free to learn."

    I name these experiences differently. What you speak of as the secular mind is what I call the rational mind. What I call the part of our experience you call awe, a "aha" moment or "coincidences" is the creative mind. The Bible, if read with the rational mind, will destroy this experience. The Bible read with the creative mind does produce "aha" moments. Even though I don't believe the Bible to be something brought forth by Divine will, I can still have "aha" moments within the words of Jesus or the mythology of the OT.

    There are many sources of these moments, but they are not an indication that the Bible is rationally true or has its source in the mind of God or that Christianity is the best and only expression of truth.

    There are so many things that the Bible teaches on a literal level that we should ignore and discourage people from practicing because they come from an iron age culture. The Bible does not condemn slavery and its treatment of women is horrendous in todays understandings of equality. Its civil code makes liberal use of the death penalty even for minor infractions and some that we wouldn't even consider to be infractions today such as gathering wood on the Sabbath.

    The Bible needs to be held to the same standards of truth as any other book or idea. It is quite evident that our sense of ethics comes more from empathy and understanding than from reading the Bible. If we only used the Bible we would not have the freedom from slavery in this country or women's rights. In both of these cases the Bible was used quite effectively to discourage and argue against the freeing of the slaves and women's rights in this country.

    And from my own observation, I know that I can experience all that you have described and more without all the doctrinal salvational thinking needed to be a Christian.

    Ellamae posted...
    "God is good and love or He does not exist. yet the existence of the good and the beautiful tells me He/she/ or it lives. if He didn't I would be imprisoned by my own nature, chance, and scared out of my wits of the future of this world.
    I'm just sharing, and hope this makes sense. It does for me."

    I understand what you are saying because I would have said something very similar when I was a believer. Note that the most powerful motivation in this description is a fairly intense fear. "Scared out of my wits" is pretty scared. Your lack of description of goodness and beauty pales to being scared out of one's rational mind. I find this very often. We have detailed and vivid descriptions of fear, but have difficulty describing goodness and beauty.

    I have come to understand that we all deal with the profound mystery of life in many different ways. There are many wonderful ways to see life without having a Biblical form of God. And its a myth that we have to be imprisoned by our own nature. Our nature doesn't have to be a prison when we understand what our nature is saying.

  23. Richard: that "The Bible does not condemn slavery and its treatment of women is horrendous in todays understandings of equality. Its civil code makes liberal use of the death penalty even for minor infractions and some that we wouldn't even consider to be infractions today such as gathering wood on the Sabbath."

    NT Wright ('The Meaning of Jesus' - Borg and Wright) was at one time a college chaplain at Oxford and tells of how he would interview students at the commencement of their degree courses. Those interviewed would often tell him "Oh, I don't believe in God" to which he would enquire - "what kind of God is that?". They would then go on to describe exactly the kind of God which you have described above.

    His reply was always "Well, I don't believe in that type of God either". We can all gain inspiration and direction in life from the Bible without having to swallow it hook, line and sinker. Of course it is full of iron age accretions - including the one about the support of slavery. However never forget it was evangelicals (not that I am one of them, but lets be honest about it anyway) who opposed slavery on the basis of it not being the Christian thing to do.

    There comes a time when we all need to develop in our faith journey; just as Wilberforce and many other evangelicals had to do. It is interesting to notice that the same NT Wright seems to be moving along a bit when it comes to his view of the state of the dead - and then also on the normal evangelical view of Paul's justification by faith theology. So we all need to grow in our understanding of God.

    I would be very reluctant to state that the Bible holds no guidance for me, the Old Testament laws were still very remarkable for their time, anyway . . .

    I do agree with both your and Ellamae's experience of those 'aha' moments - I find them in reading some of the Hindu scriptures - but the finest momets for me are still embedded within the Old and the New Testaments. After all, God's greatest 'aha' moment was when Jesus walked, talked, dined and then finally died in Palestine.

  24. Richard:
    Thank you for responding. We are coming from very different perspectives. I would recommend CS Lewis' Mere Christianity (maybe again) and Rick Warren's book on living with purpose (can't remember the title and never read it for I believe I have a purpose) since many find meaning it in.
    I am sure I am older than you, and you may very well view life differently 10-20 years from now. Mature faith takes, well, maturity. That is what perfection is--maturity, and it evolves and is never sudden. I am not perfect, and every day means struggle in my particular situation. Yet it can be joy with God's presence, leading, and answered prayers. One needs a spiritual life to be balanced, and the rational (what seems right to man) alone doesn't do it for most. I want to dance through life and be grateful to Someone and talk to Someone and trust Someone that everything will work out (and it usually does). I believe my life has purpose. Yet I see myself as a "progressive" Adventist Christian with more to learn and a lot of curiosity. I can relate to different aspects of post-modernism, healthy lifestye, evangelism, science, and even think I can learn something from new-age ideas. I questioned Adventist customs long before it was popular!

    I like this description from a recent Adventist Review column:
    "I have no idea what it was. ...It had five petals, deep purple and scarlet, draped open in an outrageous burst of color. Thin white stems rose out of the center, each one topped with little crowns of some shape or another. I stopped, captivated by the audacity of it all. It was mocking me, too; sticking out five lascivious tongues and saying, Come on, using logic, reason, and science to understand me is like using paint chemistry to analyze a Van Gogh. ... Our beliefs have to make sense. But we mustn't dupe ourselves into thinking that we have it all figured out, or that it all can be figured out. ..." AR, Aug. 18, 2008

    Beauty is more real than facts; stories more true than traditions; life [and God] more complex than human logic.

    When one is young they believe they have the answers, but then as they get older, there are more and more questions and fewer answers. Isn't it arrogant that humans make such dogmatic statements about [God and] the cosmos when they view such a minute part of it? That isn't even logical!

  25. ellamae posted...

    "Our beliefs have to make sense. But we mustn't dupe ourselves into thinking that we have it all figured out, or that it all can be figured out."

    In my experience it is the believer who claims to have figured it out specifically in the way they read the Bible.

    The Agnostic, on the other hand, is quite content to agree that no one really knows, hence the descriptive term within Agnosis or not knowing.

    ellamae posted...

    "When one is young they believe they have the answers, but then as they get older, there are more and more questions and fewer answers. Isn't it arrogant that humans make such dogmatic statements about [God and] the cosmos when they view such a minute part of it? That isn't even logical!"

    I'm not sure where you read that I was making specific claims about God. What I think we can do is discard those things that clearly are not based on good evidence and are very unlikely to be true.

    It is unlikely that the Bible is the word of some specific god. That is a specific claim that has nothing to do with beauty or the subjective nature of human experience, neither of which I deny exists.

    I don't specifically deny that there is a "god" but I don't believe that anyone knows the nature of god and the books that god endorses. I don't believe that it is possible to know. Because many believers don't understand that, I am often labelled an atheist which makes the claim that there is no god. I am an atheist when it comes to the god of the Bible because I am reasonably sure that god does not exist.

    That doesn't mean that I don't believe in some type of spiritual experience and the process of transformation. I experience that every day, but I don't link that to some specific description of god and its wishes.

    I am simply being honest with what I do and don't know. And in my experience, being mistaken has no age limit. Its true that as one ages the complexity of life presents the realization that one is not going to answer all of their questions in their lifetime. I have simply gone several steps past your observation of the complexity of life to the realization that I don't know and neither does anyone else.

  26. An enormous dose of humility regarding what we often argue so confidently about history is available to anyone with the intellectual curiosity to read even the first volume of Anatoly Fomenko's recently published eight volume work, "History: Fiction or Science?" (Delamere Publishing, 2003).

    If you prefer the cozy familiarity of consensual historical chronology, don't read Fomenko.