Simple and Intelligible

February 25, 2007

I have just read an academic paper online at the Unitarian Christian Colloqium by Andrew Brown called ‘God, Jesus, Christ & Holy Spirit. In this very first sentence he writes:

One of the best known statements made by our liberal religious movement was that we were seeking to spread Christianity ‘in its most simple and intelligible form.’

By page 6 he states:

Although it is clearly possible to claim that Jesus’ moral teachings have an independent and universal applicability, in our own pluralistic age the idea of there being one true “pure religion” (and that based only upon Jesus’ moral teachings) is wholly unsustainable. We are increasingly aware that that any genuine religious tradition is much more than the holding of a set of (supposedly)universally applicable moral teachings. They are instead patterned integrities which engage the whole person in an historically extended community dwelling on a particular ‘bend in the river’ and which have inherited a complex range of speech-acts (i.e. particular and unique scriptures, prayers and rituals) that help them explore Reality together using a shared language. Christianity, in any of its forms (including its Unitarian form), is much more than just holding to the abstract truth of Jesus’ moral precepts in an attempt to create a so-called “pure” or “universal” religion.

By the last page, he is describing the difference between pantheism, panentheism and panpsychism.

Now, I’m being unfair. I don’t know Andrew Brown from a bar of soap, and criticising him for being academic in an academic article is disingenuous.

But.

Shouldn’t we be talking more about the ideal of simple and intelligible faith? Theology that is neither a mess of baroque complexity nor a flow of nice sounding words covering a refusal to let go of wriggle room – a refusal to commit to a meaning that might judge us.

Shall we allow the fundamentalists to hold a monopoly on simple and intelligible?

To abandon the job of presenting Christianity in its simplest and most intelligible form is to acquiesce to an alternative presentation of Christianity – a presentation which is simple and intelligible, but wrong.

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Anti-Beatitudes

February 18, 2007

Blessed are the strong in spirit,
for they will make heaven on earth.
Blessed are those who are brash,
for fortune favors the brave.
Blessed are those who celebrate,
for all the world is their oyster.
Blessed are those who dispense justice,
for their strength will fill the world.
Blessed are the pitiless,
for only they can give mercy.
Blessed are the composite,
for they can draw strength from all.
Blessed are the warriors,
for they will be called the fathers of man.
Blessed are those who are tolerant of all,
for they will make heaven on earth.

(Hat tip to Cyrai and Matthew)

Je suis Calvin?

February 11, 2007

Just did the Which Theologian are you? quiz, which reckons I’m Jean Calvin.

(Yes, I’m a bit late coming to the quiz. I can only plead a lack of hipness)

Since Calvin would undoubtedly have been happy to see me suffer a nasty death if I happened to drop by his church one Sunday, I’m a little doubtful. (Of course, the other Reformation figures weren’t any better)

I’m interested in why, though. Possibly its because liberal christianity as a culture comes through the Reformed family (UU from the Puritans, Liberals from the Presbyterians and Calvinistic Baptists and Congregationalists etc).

More likely it’s because I am inclined not to place a lot of emphasis on Free Will (TM), both on observational lines (swig half a bottle of Laphroaig and then tell me clearly and distinctly that you have the free choice to slur your words or not. Then apologise for blaspheming against the world’s best whisky) and on theological lines (it comes with the Universalist territory).

(Did a search: Peacebang is Paul Tillich, Boy in the Bands is also Calvin)

My result:

You scored as John Calvin. Much of what is now called Calvinism had more to do with his followers than Calvin himself, and so you may or may not be committed to TULIP, though God’s sovereignty is all important.

John Calvin

87%

Paul Tillich

73%

Jürgen Moltmann

60%

Karl Barth

53%

Martin Luther

47%

Augustine

47%

Charles Finney

40%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

40%

Anselm

33%

Jonathan Edwards

20%

Who was Demas?

February 4, 2007

I was asked elsewhere why I go under the nom de plume of “Demas” – and I’ve noticed a number of people getting here by searching for the Biblical “Demas”.

So what’s the deal?

Demas is mentioned only in passing in three small passages – Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24 where Paul mentions him as a fellow worker, and 2 Timothy 4:10, where Paul, alone in his prison cell, writes:

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.

Demas is someone I emphathise with for a number of reasons (some a bit too personal for the Internet).

In a world of harsh implacable sermons and self-righteous preachers, Demas, who suffered imprisonment with Paul for his faith and whose life was surely as full of loves and failures as the rest of us, exists soley as an Awful Warning To Others.

BibleGateway’s topical index has him under “COVETOUSNESS » INSTANCES OF” and “BACKSLIDERS » INSTANCES OF”.

Demas is that one thing that modern life cannot abide – has committed the unforgivable sin – he is a failure.  And we see in him our own failures.

I did a search and grabbed some random Internet quotes – vox populi ex machina.

“The church is full of people just like Demas — we need fewer.”

“Apparently, Demas’ faith seemed real enough to mislead even the apostle Paul”

“Then, the third time Paul mentioned Demas was his remorseful announcement to Timothy that Demas had decided to defect, taking sides with the enemy.  There is no neutral ground in the battle of righteousness versus evil. Either you’re for righteousness or you’re the enemy of righteousness. If you’re an enemy of righteousness, it simply means you’ve joined forces with the devil. ”

“Is it possible that Demas went to Thessalonica for other reasons than this awful place below the city? Maybe, but the fact that this underground system of brothels was mainly what that city was known for is a good reason it must figure prominently in our conclusions. We can say that it was a strong possibility this is what appealed to Demas.”

“Throughout Scripture we find examples of those who profess Christ, but later turn out not to be saved. One example is Demas. “

Who the hell am I, safe and secure in my Western first world bubble, to judge like this? 

I don’t know why Demas was not able to stay the distance and left Paul in his prison. 

Maybe fear of death, maybe disagreement with the path of matyrdom Paul was choosing, maybe for other, personal, reasons.  We don’t know but we read our own fears and our own judgmentalism into it.   

And people assume that because they believe that Paul was Inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus right about everything he did that it should have been equally clear to everyone around him at the time.

(Aside:  like everything else in Biblical analysis there are undercurrents.  Demas did not love the ‘world’, but ‘the current age’ – aeon/age – αιωνα – the same word translated elsewhere as ‘eternity’ as in ‘eternal destruction’ or ‘age’ as in ‘the age to come’.  The phrase need not necessarily connote a simple material=bad spiritual=good conclusion and could possibly be tied up with the early Church’s emerging eschatology. Thessalonica had differences of opinion with Paul on eschatology as Paul’s two letters to them show – are those differences related to why Demas went from Paul to Thessalonica?  I don’t know. 

Also the final and oft quoted phrase is from a late epistle which most scholars wouldn’t include in the list of epistles we think were written by Paul himself, so the references to Demas may be references to a real person – or may contain a symbolic message that readers at the time would have understood).

(Second aside:  Calling myself Demas as opposed to MightyChristfilledWarriorForChristJustLikePaulWas throws my enemies into confusion and alarums, which is fun).