Thursday, October 20, 2011

I trust that Jesus Knew what he was talking about


Weekend Fisher responds to yesterday's post by saying:

Weekend Fisher said... You know, if someone asks us, "How can we know the reality of salvation?", somewhere along the way we have to get to "I trust that Jesus knew what he was talking about". Otherwise it's all a question of whose sci-fi/fantasy religion fic is better than the next guy's. The winner and a dollar will get you a coke.
The difference in my approach and her's is that she's talking about to get saved and I was talking about how do we know that getting saved is a real thing for us to do in the first place? I have no problem with what she says as far as that goes, how do you actually get saved? I agree with it and I think he has a good point.On her blog she responds to my request that she flesh it out:

Back on your blog -- about how you said you thought it should be obvious. I just think the people reading you might not think it's obvious. Just consider how often you can beat a point to death and they still won't get it. You can spell things out with plain words and an outline and you'll still get a large percent saying, "Huh?" If that's how much they understand the stuff you spell out day after day, post after post, what are the odds they'll get a point that you don't mention? Y'know.

Reading between the lines of that guy's question, I almost wondered if he was asking (translate mode): "Ok, you believe in God, but 'salvation' -- what about Jesus?" Which comes back to: What about hope? What about the reality of God in this world?"
Nothing I say beyond this point should be construed as a commentary on Fisher's theology. I'm not talking about her understanding now. I'm talking about Christian ideas in general.

In talking about salvation in the abstract we are talking about metaphors for things beyond our understanding. In discussing salvation for people who have no chance of ever hearing about Jesus we are talking about what God does to reach those people. I don't agree that he just sends them to hell with a "O that's too bad." I don't buy evangelical answers that "God is such a Holy God that he can't stand sin, even form people are who are seeking truth and don't really do anything wrong, but if they are not i the proper club they are not saved." I don't think Paul taught that either. There are two passages where Paul makes it clear (to me anyway) that this is not the case. I have a page where I discuss this at length. Here's an excerpt from that page:

Other Religions

Paul said "To those who through persistance seek glory, honor and immortality he will give eternal life.But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the good and follow evil there will be wrath and anger...first for the Jew and then for the gentile; but glory honor and peace for everyone who does good. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will perish apart form the law and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

Indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirement of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences bearing witness and their hearts now accusing, now even defending them..." (Romans 2:7-15). New American Standard and other translations say "their hearts accusing, now excusing them..." Most Christians are afraid of this conclusion and they down play this verse. Often Evangelicals will come back and say "he makes it clear in the next passage that no one can really follow the law on their hearts." Well, if they can't, than they can't. But if they can, and do, than God will excuse them. God knows the heart, we do not. The verse clearly opens the door to the possibility of salvation (although by Jesus) thorugh a de facto arrangement in which one is seeking the good without knowing the object one is seeking (Jesus). In other words, it is possible that people in other cultures who follow the moral law written on the heart know Jesus de facto even if they don't know him overtly. Paul backs up this conclusion in Acts 17:22 Paul goes to Athens as is asked by the Athenian philosophers to explain his ideas to them.

These were pagan followers of another religion. Paul stood up and said to them, "Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious for as I walked around and observed your objects of worship I even found an alter with this inscription 'TO AN UNKOWN GOD' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."He basically says that they are worshiping God, they just don't know who he is. That's why he says "I will make it known to you." He doesn't say "you have the wrong idea completely." Most Evangelicals dismiss this as a neat rhetorical trick. But if we assume that Paul would not lie or distort his beliefs for the sake of cheap tricks, we must consider that he did not say "you are all a bunch of pagans and you are going to hell!" He essentially told them, "God is working in your culture, you do know God, but you don't know who God is. You seek him, without knowing the one you seek. He goes on,(v27)"God did this [created humanity and scattered them into different cultures] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him though he is not far form each one of us." This implies that God not only wants to work in other cultures, but that it is actually his paln to do things in this way. Perhaps through a diversity of insights we might come to know God better. Perhaps it means that through spreading the Gospel people would come to contemplate better the meaning of God's love.

In any case, it does mean that God is working in other cultures, and that God is in the hearts of all people drawing them to himself. Of their worship of idols, Paul said "in past times God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (v30). Now what can this mean? God never overlooks idolatry or paganism, in the OT he's always commanding the Israelite to wipe them out and expressly forbidding idolatry. It means that on an individual basis when God judges the hearts of people, he looks at their desire to seek him, to seek the good. That their status as individuals in a pagan culture does not negate the good they have done, and their ignorance of idolotry does not discount their desire to seek the good or the truth. IT means that they are following Jesus if they live in the moral life, even though they follow him as something unknown to them. IT also means that all of us should come into the truth, we should seek to know God fully, and when we do that we find that it is Jesus all along.

3) Justice of Punishment.

Jesus himself never speaks directly of hell, but always in parables. The other statements of Hell are mainly in euphemistic passages or in apocalyptic passages such as the book of Revelation. But I suggest that for some crimes hell is deserved. The slaughter of innocent people, the disruption of thousands of lives, the Hitlers of the world, and those who rationalize the deeds through "following orders" deserve to suffer the consequences of their actions. Evil has consequences, and those who commit evil should suffer the consequences, and they will.I have no direct knowledge of what hell is. It is based upon the Greek mythological concept of Tartarus which got into Hebrew thinking through Hellenization. There is no "hell" in the Tennach or the Pentateuch ("OT"). In the Hebrew scriptures there is only mention of Sheol, or the "the grave" to which everyone goes. But in the books of Revelation it does speak of those who work inequity being "outside the Kingdom of God." I don't' believe that hell is literal fire and brimstone, I do believe it is some state of anxiety or separation from God.

C. Knowing God.

Heb. 8:10-12 "...I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man say to his neighbor 'know the Lord' for they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." This passage promises a "personal relationship with God."The word for "to Know" is the Greek Term Ginosko, which means personal experiential knowledge. To give one's life to Jesus means to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus said (John) "My sheep know my voice..." Personal relationship means that it is more than a set of rules, more than an ideology or a belief system, but a matter of the heart, the emotions, religious affections. IT may not be through dramatic miraculous effects (although I do believe that that is open to all Christians) but it is deeper than mere rule keeping, and does make for a satisfaction nothing else can match.God acts upon the heart. Salvation is a matter of "knowing God" not of mere intellectual assent. What does it mean to know God? It means that being a Christian is a matter of experiencing God's love in the heart and of loving God and others. It is also a matter of being "led" by God through impressions upon the heart, and not merely a set of rules or a list of beliefs that one must check off. IT is the development of "religious affections."The excitement of knowing God is unequaled by anything else in this life.

That was written many years ago. I know believe it's annihilation. Cease to exist and go proof.

There is a part of Weekend Fisher's statement with which I do not agree:

Otherwise it's all a question of whose sci-fi/fantasy religion fic is better than the next guy's.
I don't agree with it because that implies that there has to be a "one right religion." I don't believe that Christianity is "the right religion." "Christianity " is a man made institution based upon the based upon the spiritual concept of Church. The chruch is the "crowd" of God. The Greek term (Ekleasia, Eckloucia) meant like the crowd at the supermarket, or maybe more focused but something like "Jesus' possy." The guys he hangs out with. It's the collection of people who know God. "Christianity" is an entity not mentioned in Scripture. That pertains to all sorts of man made institutions.

It's one thing to point out the metaphorical nature of words and the transcendent nature of divine reality. Religious traditions are accumulations of cultural constructs we use to filter our perceptions of the divine becuase those perceptions are beyond our understanding. It's the cultural aspects that make religions different. The one true reality of God ("the divine") stands behind them all. Yet Jesus is not a metaphor.He was a concrete man in history. Christians are those who accept that this particular man was the embodiment of the second person of the Godhead. It's what we think about this one particular guy that makes us a Christian or breaks our pretense of Christianity. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. God can be working in other cultures, and people who never heard of Jesus can be following Jesus and not know it's him becuase they follow the moral law on the heart, they follow the good. There may be a since in which that works both ways, so the symbol they are using is (Buddha, the Tao) can thought of as "the real thing" in the sense that it's their understanding of the real thing ("the divine") that is leading them toward God's truth.

There is a point where we must disagree. That point doesn't have to mean eternal damnation fo those who don't understand it like we do. There is a point where membership in the club has to be brought into focus and we say "this is what we think it is, if you disagree we still like you but you are not in our club." Then in heaven we all go through our separate doors and come out i one giant court yard together and go "O hey it's you, you are guy's are here too, great!" We don't have to say "our deal is best so we get to kick ass."

That doesn't mean that I pray to Vishnu or that I would bow down to a wooden idol. To me that would be a sell out becuase I believe the best case senerio is that those might be metaphors that filter experience beyond understanding; they are not my metaphors. To exclude my own metaphor just to make a point would not be true my own idea of things. One time a friend of mine and I went to a Hare Krishna restaurant. They had really good chick pea dishes. This guy was not a Chrisian, he was a drop out for Moody Bible college. He wanted to test my liberality so he said "this food has been sacrificed to idols, do you know that? are you going to eat it?" I said "is that your understanding of the point Paul was making in 1 cor? Is that what they taught about Grace at Moody, just them vs. us?" I'll have to go over that again before I try to expound upon it, it did shut the guy up, after we had a little discussion about the passage.

So my verdict is, Yes if anyone is saved it is Jesus that saves them. Jesus and only Jesus. They may not know it's Jesus, they may have a different metaphor for it, but they are still seeking the good, seeking the moral law on the heart, which is the good. Rather than make Jesus a stumbling block Paul tired to show Jesus as the open door. Jesus called himself (rather his death, his sacrifice) a stumbling block for the pharisees his implication was that they allowed it to be stumbling block but not working out the truth of the matter. We can make membership in our club and excuse to condemn people or we can their desire for the truth a vehicle trough which they might actually come to know as Jesus and as savior. It's a lot easier to be saved by Grace than to qualify for the Romans 2:6-14 clause. Cut to the chase and do it outright, but that doesn't' give us the right to condmen all the other traditions because they are not us.


Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Meta

Wow, I've commented here any number of times, but this is the first time you've taken a full post to reply. I'm honored.

It's interesting, when I bring up Jesus, that you spend the majority of your post trying to correct the errors of some of the fundamentalist camps. The fundamentalists don't own Jesus, & I hate for them to own the conversation when they're not even around. But it's so easy to get wrapped up in opposition mode, busy refuting this & that, maybe something a fundamentalist said.

If you could start with a blank canvas and not feel the burden of addressing someone else's bad theology, I'm curious what you'd say about Jesus. You always have an interesting take on things. I'm assuming you'd tell someone that Jesus is worth knowing, more than worth knowing the hypothetical blocks of wood that made an appearance as idols in your post.

So like I was saying: If you could start with a blank canvas and not feel the burden of addressing someone else's bad theology, I'm curious what you'd say about Jesus, and how you would explain what you gain by knowing him.

If you'd like, I'd be glad to put in my two cents' worth, but I would rather give you a completely blank canvas. You do some of your best work then.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Metacrock said...

Wow, I've commented here any number of times, but this is the first time you've taken a full post to reply. I'm honored.

to quote Curly Howard, Ceoitenly! that's certainly in a high pitched squeaky voice. (Curly Howard, three stooges buzz cut guy).

You make an interesting point but you know open hears so little form the liberal camp. In the media it's all fundies and televangelists.

as you know I spend 90% of my time fighting atheists. so my view is colored by opposition to them. All they know is fundies. They have no idea what liberalism is. That's why so much of my time is about correction of bad theology.

"If you could start with a blank canvas and not feel the burden of addressing someone else's bad theology, I'm curious what you'd say about Jesus."

The problem is that's a different question from "what doctrines do you believe in terms of reaching salvation?" To describe proper Christian belief is a different matter from "what you would say about Jesus" which could be anything form personal emotions about the character to Jesus to experiences about the presence of Jesus to commentary on Jesus teachings.

I could write a book about Jesus and it would be multi volume and I wouldn't exhaust my thinking on Jesus.

Perhaps for you theology and personal feeling are the same thing. I can see that but I distinguish because I went to seminary.

"I'm assuming you'd tell someone that Jesus is worth knowing,"

Duh. There would be no point in doing any of this if that where not the case.

I have been shaped by the need to respond to atheists and they are so squeamish about subjectivity that over the years I've come to avoid discussion of emotional aspects of faith. Those emotions are there for me.

Metacrock said...

I have stated screwing up words in strange ways now. this didn't used to happen. where it says

"open hears so little form the liberal camp"

It means "one hears so little..."
one, not "open" but one.

why it did that? I don't know.