Monday, June 01, 2015

A nonfundamentalist's response to an Unfundamentalist Christian

Below is a response to John Shore's 14 alternatives to evangelical Christianity, which alternatives he claims are "as biblical as any Christianity ever was." We shall see. The fact that he believes them doesn't mean they are biblical. Shore is a pastor in the Progressive Christian Alliance. He is the founder of Unfundamentalist Christians and a co-founder of The NALT Christians Project.

1. Jesus Christ was divine. In the course of his dutiful incarnation on earth he therefore easily (what with being divine and all) performed what to him alone weren't miracles at all. As a means of providing for the irrevocable reconciliation of humankind to God (and so of course for each person to him or herself) he allowed for his bodily execution on the cross; by way of (yet again) proving that he was divine he then rose from the dead; for the benefit of all people he left behind the totality of him/her self in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which is readily and easily available to everyone.
Most of this could describe a biblical, evangelical or fundamentalist belief about Jesus. But what does Shore mean when he says Jesus was "divine"? He avoids saying that Jesus is God, and so that leaves me wondering. Then he ends up with the progressive himself/herself pronouns for God which many of us will not agree (neither biblically nor grammatically).
2. The Bible is not a contract stipulating the rules for being a Christian. It is an ancient, massive, infinitely complex tome comprising songs, visions, histories, dreams, parables, commandments, and more. Christians seeking to follow the Word of God must look to all the words of God, ever seeking within those words the spirit of Jesus Christ. This means never failing to choose love, compassion and charity over adherence to any Biblical "law" that in practice or spirit violates Christ's Great Commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
3. Christianity is supposed to be all about nothing more (and nothing less!) than living a life of love, compassion, fairness, peace, and humility.
These two start out strong, but end up empty. The Bible is complex, and we "must look to all the words of God." Many fundamentalists fall to this error, as well as the liberals. We must interpret the words "in the spirit of Jesus Christ" but we are not at liberty to "cherry-pick" the spirit of Jesus Christ into whatever we want it to be. In practice, Shore's "unfundamental" version dismisses large portions of the words of God to make Christianity "about nothing more (and nothing less!) than living a life of love, compassion, fairness, peace, and humility." It is definitely about that, but not about "nothing more" than that.
4. The Biblical scholarship supporting the idea that Paul never wrote a word condemning natural homosexuality is more credible and persuasive than is the scholarship claiming that he did. Moreover, we remain mystified as to how any follower of Jesus could choose damning an entire population over obeying Jesus' Great Commandment to love God and one's neighbor as oneself.
First, Shore is selective about which Biblical scholarship he references, then is tricky by sneaking in the undefined "natural homosexuality". A lot of scholars understand Paul is talking about homosexual sex acts -- and "natural homosexuality" is an anachronism when slipped back into Paul's context. By "natural homosexuality" Shore means that some people are by nature (born) homosexuals, and so for them homosexual acts are not sinful. People with only heterosexual feelings whom preform homosexual acts are the ones Paul condemns. If you'll buy that, "I'll throw the Golden Gate in free." (Romans 1:26-27 is talking about natural acts -- not natural feelings. E.g. "natural use" KJV; "natural function" NASB; "natural relations" ESV; "natural sexual relations" NIV)
5. God does not want any woman automatically "submitting" to her husband or to anyone else.
Guess God forgot to tell Paul about that. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." Ephesians 5:22. This needs to be understood, but it does not need to be dismissed.
6. Using masculine pronouns to refer to God is strictly a matter of convention, a profoundly unfortunate necessity of the English language, which to date offers no satisfactory alternative. But God is neither male nor female. God is always, at once, both and unimaginably more.
God in a Spirit, and we must worship Him in spirit and in truth. He is neither male nor female as we understand it humanly. But even if you buy into the modern gender unspecific pronoun grammar propaganda, this clearly is not a "profoundly unfortunate necessity of the English language." God is spoken of in masculine pronouns in the Hebrew and Greek as well.
7. The belief that throughout history God chose to introduce himself in different ways into different culture streams is more reasonable, respectful, and compassionate than is the conviction that there is only one correct way to understand and worship God.
Yet, the very one whom Shore makes the authority on the Great Commandment (love God and your neighbor as yourself) ALSO said that He was the only way that we might come to God (e.g. John 14:6). Now who's cherry picking? Focusing his ethic almost solely on one thing that Jesus taught (and the things he can make fit with it) and then disposing of everything else is exactly the kind of thing that Shore accuses the fundamentalists of doing when he says we "must look to all the words of God" -- and then not looking to all the words of God.
8. There is no support in the Bible for the morally repugnant idea that hell is an actual place to which God sentences people to spend eternity in mortal agony.
Yes, many people don't believe in a literal hell (and many people do). To say that there is NO SUPPORT in the Bible for it is simply living in a fairy tale world reading a fairy tale Bible that only says what you want it to say. More cherry picking. Again, it is a matter of understanding the support (or lack thereof) that the Bible gives to an eternal hell, and not just dismissing those passages.
9. God's will and intention is to forgive and teach us, not to judge and punish us.
God's will includes all the above, unless you cut out portions of the Bible (or don't believe the Bible at all).
10. Anyone desiring to mix Church and State has failed to understand the nature and proper role of either.
If we investigated this together we might end up miles apart (for example, how does he define "mixing"). But on a initial reading I can't find anything wrong with what Shore says about church and state. 
11. God can handle converting people. Our job is to love people.
Lacking further context with which I might disagree, I'll have to say AMEN and AMEN to this one!
12. An all-powerful God and the theory of evolution are not incompatible.
Some theory that some people have of their belief of God might not be incompatible with their theory of evolution. But the Biblical record of God's creation from nothing is incompatible with the common scientific evolutionary theories of origins. Both scientists and theologians know that.
13. Getting a divorce is painful, and if at all possible should certainly be avoided. But in and of itself divorce is not immoral.
Again Shore cherry picks the person he has made the authority for his ethic. Jesus taught that divorce puts one in an immoral situation. Even if we apply a few exceptions to this, the teaching of Christ on divorce applies to most of them. Shore intends to say that divorce is never immoral. But it is, according to Jesus.
14. The single most telling indicator of a person's moral character has nothing to do with how they define or worship God, and everything to do with how they treat others.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, by having love one to another.

One thing that strikes me about the "what Jesus said" theory of folks like Shore is illustrated by Matthew 7. They love to point out verses like number 1 and number 12 (which we all should love): "Judge not, that ye be not judged...Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." But verses that follow in 13 through 23, usually not so much:  Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

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