Monday, July 29, 2013

Challenge: Describe the Gospel using no Standard Christian Langauge

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This is not an indication that I actually think we should abandon talking about God. Nor does it mean that I'm giving up Chrsitain doctrine of any kind. It might be a useful exercise. I think Dave had a good point that Christian language has become stigmatized. What do you think of when I say "Jesus love you and a plan for your life?" I think of you think "ho hum." Dave put up a  challenge at a chruch he attends sometimes he told me about it. I said Ok I'm going to try it. It's just an experiment. To describe the Gospel with no standard Christian words about God or Jesus or being saved or anything. Here's Dave's thinking:

"Dave" on peaceful turmoil blog

Why Western Christians Need "no God."

What do you think of when someone mentioned the God of the Bible?

A fickle sky deity worshiped by a collection of allied city states from Bronze age Palestine that merged to become the ancient nation of Israel? Perhaps an image of an old white haired sovereign on a celestial throne?

Perhaps you think instead of socially conservative religious leaders and their political allies and the things they say in the name of God. Or various injustices of history committed in the name of God.

If you do think of such things, you are far from alone. But like my unsolicited advice to Western convert Buddhists (1), one can ask what may be obscured by such reactions.

This kind of reaction is something many Christians seem to be at a loss over. Here is one take on that loss.

All human knowledge and experience is mediated through and embedded within symbols and analogies, especially in the shape of metaphors. Knowledge and experience is also mediated by and has embedded within it moral (how things are/how things ought to be) and emotional content. This is all woven together into narratives or stories at the level of individuals, communities, and societies.

We are more likely to trust someone whose narrative has a structure and interpretation lines up with our own in key ways, or with whom we have more intimate social and emotional connections. Its reciprocal. If I trust you, I trust your worldview. If I trust your worldview, I trust you.

Religion offers, among others things, a communal response to the spiritual impulse (seeking connection and purpose through integration into higher orders of structure and meaning) rooted in an existential narrative (a story about why we exist). This narrative takes the forms of myth, a story connecting an ahistorical origin of a people ("Long ago..." "Before the world began...") to a moral vision of the contemporary world -- how the world is, ought to be, and will be.

In many contemporary, industrial, post-Enlightenment societies the symbols and images associated with Christianity, its mythology, and its ritual institutions have become problematic.

For those with little knowledge of the religion itself or of its theology and history, the symbols, images, and references to Biblical and non-Biblical stories of faith hold little meaning except for their association with the most visible aspects of Christianity such as televangelism, homophobic and sexist political tirades, and the sex abuse scandals.

For those with limited but intense exposure, such as people who grew up in a socially conservative and fundamentalist evangelical form of Christianity and abandoned it as ignorant, deceptive, or intolerant, the moral/emotional association with the symbols, images, and stories can be downright toxic.

Then there is the fact that some symbols and images and allusions to Biblical stories are so ubiquitous that the over-exposure dilutes anyone but the loudest/most visible interpretations, feeding into and reinforcing the views already described. Add in that this does not come with the widespread and developed sense of cultural literacy needed to make sense of or engage these ubiquitous elements the social smog surrounding Christianity becomes even thicker.

So is Christianity doomed? What can the Church try that it hasn't pursued already? Jump below the break to find out. (read more of Dave's essay)

 Dave is an anthropologist. That explains it right? Here goes:

The nature of this religion thing is to discover and understand the basic problem or set of problems at the hart of being human. Human life is fraught with a problematic nature but it seems like the general brunt of our problems go back to the basis of being human. We are moral, we have a sort time then we are gone. While we are at it we are prevented form enjoying it not so much because we are too weak to get what we want but becuase we can enjoy what we have since we are wrestles and board and always worried.

 Humans come to different ideas about the nature of the problem: imbalance with nature, sin that separates us form some sort of ultimate power, our relation to the stars or to higher powers, the size of our brains, or whatever. Yet the point is we all come to some idea that that there is a problem in "the human condition." A lot of it is grounded in human nature; greed, seeking power, violent nature, narrow minds. We seek a vantage point which can make sense of it it all and give us a way to overcome the constraints. Many find that sense of vantage point in the ultimate transfomrative experience. Studies show that such experience is effective in eliminating our depression, fear of death, sense of want or sense of meaninglessness.

These sorts of issues are not dwelt upon in our society today as they were several years ago. In the 60s it was considered all important to find a sens of identity, today that sense is ready made in the social class, ownership  of possessions and knowledge of technology. I still think that if we scratch the surface those issue are just beneath.

The sense of transformation is mediated through narrative and ritual. This is where the specifics of the Christian tradition come into it.  But before getting into that (which has to be spoken in standard Chrsitain parlance) we still need to cover certain ground, the nature of the transformation. Transformative effects can be found in many traditions but in the Christian tradition it's very specific. Of cousre transformation is related to what Paul Tillich called "the object of ultimate concern." This is exactly what it sounds like the thing we care about the most. It's not a material possession. We can't say our motorcycle is the object of ultimate concern even if that's where we put our focus. Obviously the ultimate concern is death, or perhaps eternal life. Tillich also links this sense with Being itself. That is to say the aspect of being that is eternal and necessary and that produces or creates all the contingent temporary aspects.

The transformative effect comes from a particular attention to the eternal necessary aspect of being. That particular relationship to the eternal necessary aspect of being is one of a realization of dependence upon that aspect, and a conscoiusness awareness of the sense of love connected to the consciousness of that aspect. This sense of love fosters commitment on our part; commitment to goodness and to values associated with such positive aspects of being.

At this point it's all been pretty veg and general. I think the price we pay for an economy language that shucks off baggage and tired images is that it become general and veg. That's not necessarily a failure of the experiment. It may not be possible to speak without standard phrases and not be veg and general. From this point one must introduce the concept of God and the Bible and Jesus if one's discourse is to verge into specificity.

 How did I do?

27 comments:

Dave said...

Good. You've found the ball field and approached home plate, but you still need to pick up a bat and swing at the pitch when you're ready.

Just saying that there is a ubiquitous human experience of a sense of disconnection, loss, imperfection, or incompleteness to overcome is only the opening.

It isn't a bad opening, but talking about that or about finding a connection to something ineffable and full of wonder that transforms ones sense of self could be pretty much any religion or even a really clever existential philosophy.

So, now that you've got the preamble out of the way, time to get into the heart of the matter. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Metacrock said...

Good to hear from you Dave. I am not sure why what I said isn't a good run to first (if we must keep up this base ball thing).

The obvious next step would be identifying the object of ultimate concern. if we still want to avoid standard religious language we call it transcendental signified.

Dave said...

You haven't touched Christianity yet, which is the challenge. The toughest thing in baseball from an offensive standpoint it to hit the pitch. To hit the pitch you have to swing at the ball. In this context that means getting past spiritual generalities and trying to describe the basics of Christianity without familiar jargon.

Trying to do so is a swing, trying and missing is a strike, and doing so is a hit. Then the question is whether that crack of the bat will be a foul ball (veers out of bounds by trying to slip jargon back in), an out (fails to advance), or a base hit.

Good luck!

Metacrock said...

I thought was it. I mean you are talking about actually re-writing Christianity. My concept is that to describe the spiritual generalities is prior to talking about specifics of the faith itself.

Specifics that are uniquely Chrsitain are going to have to involve using Christian terms.

Metacrock said...

I'll do another one on that topic on Friday.

Dave said...

"Specifics that are uniquely Chrsitain are going to have to involve using Christian terms."

That is the challenge. I said it was hard.

Metacrock said...

sure, that doesn't mean it goes all the way down. There's a point where you have to say something specific.

Dave said...

Generalities and specifics are irrelevant. The challenge is to figure out the core message beyond the trappings of the familiar packaging of established stories and jargon.

I contend Christians have become so wrapped up in circular thinking on their faith tradition that they can only see it in self-referential terms -- that they are not able to relate it to larger life themes or experiences that don't fold back into the same circular references.

The challenge remains what it is -- to try to understand and then express something essential from the Christian message without such references.

Metacrock said...

The fact that I am looking at something red is the reason to think I'm seeing red. That's not circular it's just a fact. Specifics are important. Jesus is he point. Jesus himself the historical guy is the point.

I did relate it to a larger context. There is also a specific nature of the case.

The other thing we can do besides describe without using standard terms is to redefine standard terms.

Dave said...

So to be blunt you are saying you can't do it. Your response is an example of what I was describing to begin with. Fair enough.

Your reply fits the view of something akin to a literalist. Jesus is Jesus is Jesus. Jesus means and represents nothing beyond himself, and therefore there is no purpose or point beyond him or any message contained therein. There is no way therefore to express such a message in other ways.

If that is your position, you effectively are saying you believe my challenge is impossible. Maybe someone else will give it a go someday.

Metacrock said...

That's narrow minded. saying that it's "akin" to a literalist just becuase there is a level at which truth is truth and not metaphor. That's ignoring the fact that I distinguish between face to face truth and truths that are not known and can't be face to face and have tob e taken metaphorically. Not everything does.

If everything has to be metaphorical why doesn't your stuff have to be too?

is 1 plus 1 2 in base 10? Is that a metaphor.

we are violating some law of liberalism if we actually believe in things?

Dave said...

My challenge was clearly worded. If you feel it is impossible or that you are not up to it, that is that.

I used the words "akin to" for a reason. The fact is, you are saying that you believe that Jesus means and represents nothing beyond himself (and the unspoken assumptions about what that is supposed to be, which again becomes circular and self-referential), and therefore there is no purpose or point beyond him or any message contained therein.

This is precisely what I diagnosed with my challenge. So, unless I am wrong that this is what you are saying, then effectively you have given up on the challenge. That's not an accusation or insult, it's a recognition that you are denying that what I've asked for is possible.

If it bothers you that you are being asked to actually think about what Jesus means outside of such self-referential notions of tradition, good. When it eats at you long enough you may decide to try the challenge again. :o)

Metacrock said...

My challenge was clearly worded. If you feel it is impossible or that you are not up to it, that is that.

>>I said there's a level at which...is that the same as saying it's impossible to describer? I don't think so. anyway I haven't said I'm done trying.

btw did you read the main blog piece today?


I used the words "akin to" for a reason. The fact is, you are saying that you believe that Jesus means and represents nothing beyond himself (and the unspoken assumptions about what that is supposed to be, which again becomes circular and self-referential),

what do you mean by beyond himself? That's a pretty odd way to describe the incarnate logos. There's nothing behind God but God. Or if you mean the historical man in just human nature, but is is that really "him?" Not the true him.


and therefore there is no purpose or point beyond him or any message contained therein.

you conflating two different concepts. The idea of explaining the theology of the incarnation is certainly reducing God to just a historical figure. You are both denying the possibility of vivifying theological concepts which happens every generation) and reducing theological explanation to surface questions of historicity.

This is precisely what I diagnosed with my challenge. So, unless I am wrong that this is what you are saying, then effectively you have given up on the challenge. That's not an accusation or insult, it's a recognition that you are denying that what I've asked for is possible.


you are one being literalistic.you also have missed the possibility of re-defining "worn out" terms which would then give them new life.

If it bothers you that you are being asked to actually think about what Jesus means outside of such self-referential notions of tradition, good. When it eats at you long enough you may decide to try the challenge again. :o)


Looks to me like it bothers you to have answers.

Dave said...

Your obfuscating does no good. :o) You can be technical and analytical all day, but you haven't answered the question directly.

Do you think Jesus is Jesus is Jesus? Do you think Jesus means and represents nothing beyond himself, and therefore there is no purpose or point beyond him or any message contained therein.

To be clear, when I say Jesus here I mean the standard description of "Jesus, son of God and Mary, crucified savior the world." When I talk about what this means or represents, I am referring to what these are pointing to and how they relate to the typical human experience.

But everything in Christianity has become self-referential, so that Jesus means nothing except Jesus, which of course points to Jesus, because Jesus. Jesus what I mean? It's quite Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Jesus Jesus, Jesus. Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus.

Jesus becomes just a slogan, and so are the Gospels, for the the sake of their own perpetuation. It's very lazy and formulaic. It's very 1+1=2, and of course 2 is the point, so 1+1 pointing to 2 is the answer to its own question. No explanation needed. Why we should care whether 1+1=2 or about 2 is irrelevant, because 2 is already presumed to be the point and the goal.

This is the trap I am asking people to get outside of. Can't anyone say what Jesus/Christ means, why it matters, without such circular framing? This is still the challenge.



Metacrock said...

Dave I'm just being honest. I'm not obfuscating. things are not as simple as they seem. Theology requires thought and reflection. I'm not done with the exercise but it can't bad to set up perimeters and be sure what it means and what we expect to find.

I have to get to these two comments tomorrow. I don't have time now. I will answer them.

Metacrock said...

Do you think Jesus is Jesus is Jesus? Do you think Jesus means and represents nothing beyond himself, and therefore there is no purpose or point beyond him or any message contained therein.

Jesus is beyond himself. Saying he's the incarnate logos is going beyond himself. There's vast potential for describing there.

To be clear, when I say Jesus here I mean the standard description of "Jesus, son of God and Mary, crucified savior the world." When I talk about what this means or represents, I am referring to what these are pointing to and how they relate to the typical human experience.

I've already demonstrated how one might expand upon God talk without referring to God per se, there is nothing limited or literalistic about those concepts.

But everything in Christianity has become self-referential, so that Jesus means nothing except Jesus, which of course points to Jesus, because Jesus. Jesus what I mean? It's quite Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Jesus Jesus, Jesus. Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus.

Sorry, I think that's silly. It's become limited by the socio-political context to which it's limited. You are not reading Moltmann, you are not breading Balthasar or Pannenberg. There's so much in any of them you could spend your life studying it.

Jesus becomes just a slogan, and so are the Gospels, for the the sake of their own perpetuation. It's very lazy and formulaic. It's very 1+1=2, and of course 2 is the point, so 1+1 pointing to 2 is the answer to its own question. No explanation needed. Why we should care whether 1+1=2 or about 2 is irrelevant, because 2 is already presumed to be the point and the goal.

This is the trap I am asking people to get outside of. Can't anyone say what Jesus/Christ means, why it matters, without such circular framing? This is still the challenge.

that's what the language I used is breaking out of. It's moving into the liberal orbit, which is totally different. If the liberal theological thing is stale it is stale in that it's rooted in the enlightenment and seeks to please the secular crowd. It big shot in the arm in the 60s then again in the 90s with Jean-Luc Marion and Panickor.

Dave said...

"Jesus is beyond himself. Saying he's the incarnate logos is going beyond himself. There's vast potential for describing there."

And yet all of the language typically used is still self-referential. To use a different example, if one wanted to say God is love, then if they wanted to talk about God without using theism they could talk about love. Not "eternal love" or "the universe is love", just love. If Jesus is supposed to represent or point to something, then that same method can be applied.

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

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.

"Sorry, I think that's silly. It's become limited by the socio-political context to which it's limited. You are not reading Moltmann, you are not breading Balthasar or Pannenberg. There's so much in any of them you could spend your life studying it."

No, it's not silly. It's simply blunt as well as accurate. This is how Christians speak and think, they just don't recognize it because they are inside it, like trying to see your own culture that you take for granted.

Your references again suggest you think you can sit comfortably in theological philosophy for the duration of this challenge, but that's still located in another variety of the same old perspective.

If you want to break orbit, go for it, but it means really stretching out and continually asking, "So what's the point? What does this really mean?" And each answer must then be subjected to the same scrutiny, over and over. It's an very difficult exercise, but it keeps one from simply falling back and into established patterns of thought.

My goal here isn't to trip you up, but to make sure you push yourself past your comfort zone. The challenge will require something different, something new, and once anyone is comfortable in taking certain assumptions and methods/means of expression for granted, getting out of them is hard.

Here's something that can help. Take the word Gospel or Jesus and try to list 20-30 words that come to mind when you think of that word. If they are forbidden jargon (like crucifixion), do the same exercise with them, maybe trying to get 10 words from each. So let's say you come up with 20 words for Jesus, and three are jargon, so you break those down into 5 words, 8 words, and 7 words, for a total of 40. One of those 5 is also jargon, but taking out duplicates from the other lists you only get 3 new words from that, for a total of 43. See how that works?

Maybe you will end up with less (20 some) or more (50 some). Look at those words, see what comes to mind when you see them all together.

Metacrock said...

you always make me push myself Dave. We should be on a message board. This is so flowing and you have a lot to say it shouldn't be confined to the slow pace of a blog. I have other things to put up too.

I'm not dune with the topic but it going to have to wave in and out of my perset agenda.

come to the boards!

Dave said...

No rush. It's a really hard challenge, and anyone who gave a quick answer probably hasn't invested much.

As for message boards, I wouldn't have anything to say.

davidk said...

"You haven't touched Christianity yet, which is the challenge. The toughest thing in baseball from an offensive standpoint it to hit the pitch. To hit the pitch you have to swing at the ball. In this context that means getting past spiritual generalities and trying to describe the basics of Christianity without familiar jargon."

Read the Bible, "Dave." That for which you are asking is in there.

You are nothing more than a condescending and patronizing Moby.

"I contend Christians have become so wrapped up in circular thinking on their faith tradition that they can only see it in self-referential terms -- that they are not able to relate it to larger life themes or experiences that don't fold back into the same circular references."

Examples? "Dave" is like the person asking, "Where were you when you jumped off the bridge?"

davidk said...

"Dave" said, "My goal here isn't to trip you up ... ."

Yes it is.

(Sorry if this is a duplicate.)

davidk said...

"I used the words 'akin to' for a reason. The fact is, you are saying that you believe that Jesus means and represents nothing beyond himself (and the unspoken assumptions about what that is supposed to be, which again becomes circular and self-referential), and therefore there is no purpose or point beyond him or any message contained therein."

Jesus is the Apha and Omega; the Beginning and the End. It is your arrogance that cannot accept that.

"This is precisely what I diagnosed with my challenge. So, unless I am wrong that this is what you are saying, then effectively you have given up on the challenge. That's not an accusation or insult, it's a recognition that you are denying that what I've asked for is possible."

You have diagnosed nothing. And, yes, you do mean to be insulting as evidenced by:

"If it bothers you that you are being asked to actually think about what Jesus means outside of such self-referential notions of tradition, good. When it eats at you long enough you may decide to try the challenge again. :o)"

Your "challenge" is nonsensical.

Metacrock said...

You have diagnosed nothing. And, yes, you do mean to be insulting as evidenced by:

"If it bothers you that you are being asked to actually think about what Jesus means outside of such self-referential notions of tradition, good. When it eats at you long enough you may decide to try the challenge again. :o)"

davidk, appreciate your will to defend Jesus, but before you cut off Dave's ear, you should know, he and I have been friends for many years, more than 10. I'm not offended by anything he says. He was an atheist at one time the only one (if I may say so) on CARM who would just stop me in my tracks with a nose tweak.

He's not trying to do that or he would be a lot more cutting than he seems. That's just his way. He's really a very nice guy, a good friend, and very intelligent and sincere. He understands religious commitment, he's not an atheist he has his own brand of faith. he has great sympathy toward Christianity.

davidk said...

You have known Dave for a decade. I have interacted with people like Dave for decades. And sometimes I have been my fiercest antagonist.

It is good, the history you have with Dave; you understand where he is coming from.

The biggest issue, and I may be preaching to the choir, with dealing with the "Daves" of the world is too often the premises brought into the current topic are too far apart to come to a consensus. The debaters need to go back and find common ground.

Example: I proceed with the presupposition that the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God. I base that presupposition on much warrant; whereas, those who deny that the Bible is the Word of God have little warrant at all. Therefore to go beyond that in other issues is too often fruitless.

I hope Dave recognizes that truths and Truth can be known (Another sticking point in today's postmodern West.); is seriously trying to find those truths; and is not the typical skeptic who arrogantly becomes the final arbiter of what is true: "It's not true unless I say it's true."

Metacrock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Metacrock said...

I guess for Monday I'll do one on my view of inspiration in the Bible.

Metacrock said...

davidk:"You have known Dave for a decade. I have interacted with people like Dave for decades. And sometimes I have been my fiercest antagonist.

It is good, the history you have with Dave; you understand where he is coming from.

The biggest issue, and I may be preaching to the choir, with dealing with the "Daves" of the world is too often the premises brought into the current topic are too far apart to come to a consensus. The debaters need to go back and find common ground."

when you talk about "people like Dave" and the "Dave's of the world" you show me that you lack insight. There are not a bunch of people like Dave running around the world. Dave is not like anyone else. He's one of a kind, he's a genius and he's a great thinker. He has a basic love for God that's based upon truth rather than ideology.

"Example: I proceed with the presupposition that the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God. I base that presupposition on much warrant; whereas, those who deny that the Bible is the Word of God have little warrant at all. Therefore to go beyond that in other issues is too often fruitless."


It's obvious you have put no time into study on other views. I am betting you have never read the works of a major theologian whose view differs from yours.

there is no difference in a buhch of atheist who have never read theology talking about how stupid it is when they know nothing bout it and bunch of Evangelicals doing the same thing.


"I hope Dave recognizes that truths and Truth can be known (Another sticking point in today's postmodern West.); is seriously trying to find those truths; and is not the typical skeptic who arrogantly becomes the final arbiter of what is true: "It's not true unless I say it's true."

sorry, I appreciate your love of the Bible. you are right the atheists have dismissed the Bible to the point of making it almost non-existent. ON the other hand it's clear that you have never studied any other view but the evangelical. you have no idea what warrant underpins rejection of inerrency. I will show you on Monday.

It has completely escaped your understanding to see that one can love Jesus and seek God all of one's heart and love the Bible and still have a different view than you do on scripture.

you have been brain washed by the fundies to think there's only one valid model of inspiration for hte Bible and it never occurred to you the bible doesn't use that model. that model didn't exist until the 19th century.

4:30 AM