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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

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Dave's Challenge is a multi-part long-ruining theme on my blog:
 Remember Dave wanted me to describe Chrsitain message without using any conventional language because he consider all the Christian terminology to be worn out, to have become so often used we don't think about it anymore. I thought I did pretty well but Dave didn't think so. I'm working on the premise that granting the problem Dave finds, worn out language, the other approach we can do, besides Dave's approach (which is chucking traditional terms and re-describing) is to re-define the old terms.

I said: "I've already demonstrated how one might expand upon God talk without referring to God per se."

Dave answers:
You've touched on the edges of how one might do so, but still firmly rooted in a heavily theological framework and philosophical perspective. There's still the issue of Christianity.
 No offense to my friend Dave, who is a professional academic and very intelligent but he's not a theologian, it's only because you know the theology  that you think so. Ok obviously it's rooteded in a theological framework, got that right, that doesn't mean it's worn out and imprinted as wrote and imprinted so we don't think about it becuase it's not even known the public. The vast majority of Christians dont' even know what process theology or liberal theology says. The wouldn't know Paul Tillich form a hole in the ground.

In terms of christian specifics I think I've been discussing two issues that seek to redefine the meanings of classical Christian terms. I've been discussing these terms for years it's making less than a surface scratch. There's one of me. If I had a whole army of evangelists doing the same thing we might get somewhere. Ministers come out of seminary eager to talk about what they spent four years learning, then get it taken out of them in the next four years by having to fit their learning around the community and focus upon things like organizing chairs and cleaning toilets. Yes, more than one old friends from theology schools tells me when no one cleans the toilet at a small chruch its' the Pastor's job. Enough chair arranging and toilet cleaning will knock the ground of being right out of you. The two issues I have in mind are my view of the atonement, and the meaning of the supernatural. I have blog pieces and pages on my websites on both issues. Atonement is here. My take on the supernatural is here.

The first issue, Atonement, we can start with the issue of the term itself. We think we know what it means, it means Jesus died on the cross for our sins. This phrase sill illicit thoughts of compassion and empathy for Jesus' pain from believers, it's a symbol of ridicule form atheists who say things like "but he was son of God it wasn't really a sacrifice." The whole concept has become a mark of derision. Also they question "how could it do any good to die for someone else s sins?" Not that these are cogent criticisms by any means, not that we should change the terms at the first sign of ridicule, but the point is well taken that the concepts have become such cliches they have lost their cultural capital. Or maybe not since the 80% still find it meaningful, but for that reaming 20% perhaps they have.

My point is just choosing an new term wont help, because we would still define it in the same way. We could say "Jesus exhibited a client-centered approach death-wise." what does that mean? Means he died for your sins. Back to the standard usage. How do we reflect that in a new way without changing the meaning? I don't propose this just for the sake of the 3% of atheists, in fact atheists are totally un-taken with my approach. My approach is to look more deeply at what God was doing in setting up the atonement. Why did he use it? I use Jurgen Moltmann's term "solidarity" to describe the atonement.[1] That is not a standard description. That same concept is also expressed in Matthew Lamb's book Solidarity with Victims. [2] Jesus death on the cross is God's statement of solidarity to humanity.  It's not a magic incantation of sympathetic magic, it's a logical statement of God's attitude toward us. By becoming human and dying as one of the lowest in society God says "I am willing to identify with you to the point of sharing your fate. I care about you, I'm one of you, mean so much to me I'm willing to be you." When we place ourselves into Christ's death by giving our lives to Christ and reckon ourselves dead to the world but alive to Christ, we accept solidarity with God. The Cross is God's statement of solidarity with us, and our stepping into that death is our statement of solidarity with God. The grounds upon which sin is forgiven is created by that solidarity. Solidarity is just another way of expressing the concept of covenant.

..all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into his death.? We were therefore buried with him in baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.For we know that the old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we will also live with him, for we know that since Christ was raised from the dead he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him; the death he died to sin he died once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God. In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.(Romans 6:1-5) [NIV]


I have never heard anyone in any chruch express it this way. It was expressed this way a lot at Perkins School of Theology (SMU).

As to the second issue, the supernatural, that requires a complex history lesson and a complete exposure of the hijacked meaning which was coopeted and ruined by the enlightenment. The term "supernatural" is certainly over used, chicle, worn out, because its' not even used correctly anymore. In modern times, based upon the enlightenment high jack it came to mean something like a realm of magic, the place where all the wired stuff is kept. Atheists have come to use it to mean "all that pertains to the things we hate and disbelieve." They use "natural" to mean "without God" and supernatural means "with God." They also throw in psychic power, ghosts, magic, Bigfoot and whatever else they can't explain or don't believe in. This is not the historical meaning of term. I urge the reader to read my article linked above (here) because it's a complex topic that requires a lot of understanding.

The term supernature was invented by Pseudo-Dionysius the Arieopagite (around 500AD). The term referred to the power of God to raise humanity to the higher level of understanding and spiritual reality. It referred specifically to that form of experience known as "mystical experience." This is all it refereed to. It was not about miracles or magic and it was not removed form the realm of nature. It happened in the realm of nature. This is a recovery of the original concept that I'm advocating not inventing a new description. Yet it's not worn out of cliched rather the "new" version is the worn out version and the original is fresh.

At this point we have what I call "the Tillich twist." This is a twist on the concept of supernatural that invovles Tillich's understanding. This is controversial, of course the atheist told me I'm totally nuts to think of this, I can't think of a better endorsement. Tillich said his mission to was shut down belief in the supernatural. He hated the supernatural.

And I even speak of "breaking in," which has a supernatural sound but is not supernaturalism. You approach something here that is fundamental to all my thinking — the antisupernaturalistic attitude. If you would like to prepare yourself, I recommend the one section about reason and revelation in the first volume of my Systematic Theology, where I deal extensively with miracle, inspiration, ecstasy, and all these concepts, and try to interpret them in a nonsupernaturalistic — and that would mean also a nonsuperstitious — way.

Student: Well, in catechism in Sunday school, we learned that miracles imply a "suspension of the laws of nature." I suppose that is as good a definition as any.

Now if you define a miracle like this, then I would simply say that this is a demonic distortion of the meaning of miracle in the New Testament. And it is distorted because it means that God has to destroy his creation in order to produce his salvation. And I call this demonic, because God is then split in himself and is unable to express himself through his creative power. In truth, of course, there are many things that are miraculous, literally "things to be astonished about," from mirari in Latin, to be astonished. And if you refrain from defining miracles in this distorted, actually demonic, way, we can begin to talk intelligently about them.
Dr. Tillich: Where did you learn this? It is very interesting. Because this is precisely the idea which I fiercely combat in all my work, whenever I speak of these things. Was that really taught in your catechism, or by the Sunday-school teacher, who could not do better because she had learned it from another Sunday-school teacher who also could not do better?...
Now if you define a miracle like this, then I would simply say that this is a demonic distortion of the meaning of miracle in the New Testament. And it is distorted because it means that God has to destroy his creation in order to produce his salvation. And I call this demonic, because God is then split in himself and is unable to express himself through his creative power. In truth, of course, there are many things that are miraculous, literally "things to be astonished about," from mirari in Latin, to be astonished. And if you refrain from defining miracles in this distorted, actually demonic, way, we can begin to talk intelligently about them.[3]

I contend he was talking about the phony version. He may not have understood that it was phony, so in rejecting it he's also moving back to to the original even he may not know that's what was happening. He did endorse and wrote sympathetically of mysticism and mystics. The concept of supernatural (ala original version) is not "breaking in" to nature but a harmonious two-sided relationship. This concept expressed by Fairweather [4] might be seen to relate to what Tillich is saying.

Now the next point I want to make is that actual miracle stories are always in danger of being brought down to a kind of rationalistic supranaturalism. By this I mean that they are thought of as supranatural in the sense of the breaking in of a causal power from another realm. But miracles operate in terms of ordinary causality. To think of them as involving an objective breaking of the structure of reality, or suspending the laws of nature, is superstition.[5]

The traditional language is important because it points to continuity. Theology is about tradition, but the theology of the last hundred years has been about new perspectives and enfranchisement of those with no voice. In turning back to older perspectives and applying them to modern context we are reinvigorating the language and finding new nuances.



sources


[1] Jurgen Moltman, The Crucified God:The Cross of Christ as The Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Minneapolis, Minnesota :Fortress Press, 1993.
on Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0800628225/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=16274691927&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=13991023451003997032&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_603e6hpw60_b
[2] Matthew Lamb, Solidarity With Victims: Toward a Theology of Social Transformation. New York:Crossroads publication company, 1982.
[3] Donald Mackenzie Brown, Ultiamte Cocnern: Tillich In Dialaogue. New York: Harper & Row,1965  This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=538&C=604
 accessed 8/6/13.
Donald Mackenzie Brown is Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara.
[4] Eugene R. Fairweather, “Christianity and the Supernatural,” in New Theology no.1.  New York: Macmillian, Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman ed. 1964. 235-256.

[5] Tillich, ibid.

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