The Story to End all Stories?

MacZilla3*

When I arrived at the Seminary I was told that among many theologies, unless I adopted a “Postmodern” one I would be viewed by professors and students alike as a “Theological Dinosaur” – a virtual “Bacdonasuarus” I suppose.

I surveyed the playing field at the time and noted several things:

  1. The listed epistemologies were simply the latest in a long line of “lenses” which came and went in popularity over the 40 years I had been studying. The only thing each had going for them was they were “new.” They would be gone, or severely modified in 3-10 years.
  2. The institution I had just joined had 200 students enrolled in it when I first attended in the early 90s and featured world-class scholar Joel Green. Now their building was empty and they had an enrollment under 50. The GTU itself was selling off property. I wondered whose long heavy tail was sinking in La Brea?
  3. I knew enough about Postnodernism to understand that it was largely a reaction that has yet to provide any world-view (or so I thought). I certainly had nothing to fear from any view that debunked Big Grand Ideologies that enslaved millions.  Bring it.

What I did not realize was this was really just a bad attempt by the Seminary to appear “hip” or intellectually viable in the current mileau – which is always a mistake. Being en vogue theologically is like worrying about fashion while working for NASA in deep space.  better to be concerned about rips and tears.

As I have argued elsewhere – trying to be too hip is how you end up – decades later – trying to explain photos of yourself with that really bad hair and moustache you sported in the 70s. The polyester leisure suit? Plead drugs or long stints of drunken-ness. That is your best bet.

So it will be with those so enamored with Postmodernism as anything but the sort of sorbet they serve to cleanse the pallet before you get back to a meal.

Sure – it is helpful. Oh..and it is likely to kill a lot less people than Modernity (that is helpful too).

That (see above) is what Postmodernism proposes to be. As such, it will always fail. At best it can only debunk and then draw no conclusions at all. It can defuse bombs, but not construct any true meaning. To put it another way, when I hear people talk about “deconstructing” I can see the value in it. It is when they immediately go right back to world-building (“we need to then reconstruct…”- anything can follow) that they have lost it.

My primary objection (until I ran across a much better mind in David Bentley Hart) concerning biblical studies was the simple question “Why would you allow what is essentially a literary  theory to be the primary lens for ordering your approach to the biblical texts?”

I mean why not view the texts primarily through Mason jars so long as we are just trying new things? (I’m not very sophisticated).

But leave it to David Bentley Hart to more accurately place his blast points on the problem:

this rigorous soupcon or critical incredulity becomes yet another attempt to extract thought from the quagmires of narrative; it becomes a meta-metanarrative, metanarrative, the story of no more stories, so told as to determine definitively how much may or may not be said intelligibly by others who have stories to tell; it completes not only the critical but the metanarrative projects of modernity (which prove to be indistinguishable). This is where the temper of the postmodern often proves wanting in courage and consistency. The truth of no truths becomes, inevitably, truth: a way of naming being, language, and culture that guards the boundaries of thought against claims it has not validated. (David Bentley Hart. The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Kindle Locations 156-159). Kindle Edition.)

Postmoderns are often just attempting to propose a “the story of no more stories.” As such, it will always fail. At best it can only debunk and then draw no conclusions at all. It can defuse bombs, but not construct any true meaning. To put it another way, when I hear people talk about “deconstructing” I can see the value in it. It is when they immediately go right back to world-building (“we need to then reconstruct…”- anything can follow) that they have lost it.

I think a Postmodern lens can be helpful as one lens among many. In particular it is a good lens by which to perceive the nakedness of “Kingdoms.’ When the metanarratives of men are laid low the God who invades time and space bodily with His own stories – then lives and dies to rescue us- that may be a story one can enter into now – with one’s own personal narrative joining God’s.
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*This is all in fun (the graphic). The “You Wanna Piece of Me?” hails back to an incident where a guy tried to run me over with a ’69 Camaro after a James Bond film – well, maybe not run me over – just scare me by “clipping me” with his car at a good speed. That brought out the phrase in a yell and some chest-thumping – all the while the Wademan laughing hysterically because he knew the actual context and I didn’t. Thanks.

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A Translation to be Excited About

Another meaningless argument in the Church-at-Large the last little bit (when one is avoiding serving the Poor, dealing with oppression, supporting the Powers-that-Be and the Dominant metanarrative of success) Is PREDESTINATION.

DLtsUq7VYAEaQY_Pay it no mind. Really. If asked, the shortcut is “I am predestined to not believe in it.” Which is – at least more true.

But why?

With this new translation by David Bently Hart of the New Testament which gives us as much  a pre-theologized text as possible. One such test case is Romans 8:29-30 where his gives a more accurate rendition, avoided the much (down the English language line) loaded word “predestined,” which, since Augustine had co-opted this Greek word and added an entire agenda to it which is not native to its essential meaning and which was utterly foreign to Paul’s intent.” As Hart says:

The next word is the verb προορίζειν (proörizein), which has traditionally—as a result of the Vulgate Latin translation—been rendered as “to predestine.” This is simply incorrect (though some inferior lexica over the years, taking their lead from traditional theological usage in the West, have incorporated it in their definitions of the verb). The word ὁρίζειν (horizein) (whence our word “horizon”), means “to demarcate,” “delineate,” “to mark out as a boundary,” “to distinguish,” “to sort,” “to define,” “to assign,” “to plan out,” “to make determinate,” or “to appoint”; and pro-horizein is simply to do this in advance. It certainly possesses none of the grim, ghastly magnificence of the late Augustinian concept of “predestination”: an entirely irresistible predetermining causal force, not based on divine foreknowledge but rather logically prior to everything it ordains, by which God infallibly destines only a very few to salvation and thereby infallibly consigns the vast majority of humanity to unending torment. Thus, in two of the six instances of the verb’s use in the New Testament (Romans 8:29–30), Paul—blissfully innocent of later theological developments and anxieties—explicitly treats this divine “pre-demarcation” as consequent upon divine foreknowledge, and does so without any qualification or noticeable pangs of theological conscience.

The New Testament: A Translation (Kindle Locations 12157-12169). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

So, a more literal (less filtered) translation is:

those he knew in advance he then  marked out in advance as being in conformityy to the image of his Son, so that he might be firstborn among many brothers;z 30And those he marked out in advance, these he then called; those he called, these he then proved righteous;aa and those he proved righteous, these he then glorified. 31What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?

The New Testament: A Translation (Kindle Locations 6934-6940). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

It says nothing at all about God’s choosing or not choosing people – only His kind intentions towards those He knows are going to choose Him.

As with much “biblical controversy” it wanes and dissipates when you do actual study.

Which is just one of the many superb reasons why we study.

The point is not Calvinism. It could be any one of 100 “isms” like “Dispensationalism,” or “Arminianism,” or “Monasticism, or “Pietism.” Some “isms” are pretty good – but the more they try to over-arching theological grds for all of biblical Truth they always fail, discolor and distort.

I imagine my younger readers have less “isms” hanging around them. Good. For those older? Divesting yourself of as many of them as possible to get back to the naked text is a good idea – or at the very ;east, keep them on a leash.*

This new translation by Hart is a jewel and at just the right time. We need a translation that ignores all the theologies others are trying to sell or tack-on however subtly. We need the Word as pure and unmixed as possible and to be studying it together in community so we can grow our theology in a healthy way.

There is not need for an over-arching system when one has an over-arching loving God who has provided His word for “Every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,  So that the man of God may be fitted completely, having been fitted out for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16 – The New Testament: A Translation (Kindle Locations 9672-9675).

These are simple practical goals. I have to wonder what would happen if we could just – en mass – achieve this as the Church universal?  What does that say for your theology?

The amazing opportunity open to this generation is that as one which has largely not been brought up under the heavy and unhealthy umbrella of systematic theology of Church Tradition you have the freedom to start with a relatively clear slate. Only the gods of culture are there to distract and while they may offer significant words against the gods of Power which we can align with – they have no real inherent Good News.

j-r-r-tolkien-c-s-lewis-140807What you will find in mining the pages of scripture is a joyful adventure of discovery to could never have imagined existed. Better than Tolkien; better than Lewis – because both men derived their ideas from the Word itself and the fact is this is the myth that is true  the only Myth that is True.

The Religionists and Systematic Theologians would give you a system and tell you to put away your explorer’s gear. But they have always been wrong. Augustine – for all his genius in other areas was wrong in this – and it was costly. That some Protestants have taken up in like mind? Well look at the fruit is all I say.

Lewis and Tolkien knew well that men and women had free will. Their amazing books of fiction are gripping so often because nothing is predestined to happen as while some prophetic elements of a grand nature may come into play in the living story all is far from a foregone conclusion is things are lived out.

So it is on our times. We may rest assured that all things will wrap up in the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb and that Christ is victorious – but many a battle still wages on in the City of Man and we have an active part in all that takes place. We can use our freedom to “love and good deeds” or spend our time selfishly on ourself and our enjoyments. One thing is certain – if you wish to help, you must train; and spend tome with others who are training too,

American Theology: Taking Stock

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The main building of the Pacific School of Religion, established in Berkeley in 1901, it is the oldest Protestant seminary West of the Mississippi which is now seeking to sell its property after years of decline.

Entering my third and final year of seminary education at the Graduate Theological Union it is a fair question to ask about my theology. I mean if I has gone to Berkeley for an M.A, in Anthropology you might well as what sort of Anthropologist I was becoming – and perhaps doubly so if I had been studying anthropology and working “digs” on my own all my life.

On the one hand it is an easy question to answer from a personal standpoint; from a professional one it is not easy at all.

Let me say first (on the latter) that I am relieved of the burden of pastoral ministry. I did not seek a Masters of Divinity leading to a pastoral position quite on purpose. That ship has long since sailed, and I leave it to better men and women than myself to do it.

No, I am a theologian – which means that I study God and God’s actions in the world most acutely – and then I try to make sense of this anthropologically. Unlike many a theologian today, I place my horse (God) firmly in from of the cart (humanity) and not the other way around. If your God is simply a projection of your own plight, wishes or agendas then you  will end up hopelessly lost in those very same horizontal waters. God is really not required at all. And if you know this you can actually test it with many people’s theology by removing God from the equation, and noting that really nothing much changes at all. Gid was just window dressing to spiritualize things.

Such is the state of much of much of American Theology – from the “Sublime to the Ridiculous” as they say. We will start with the Sublime.

DSCF9022The Sublime

It is exciting upon starting seminary to think of the theologians you will tackle, the in-depth exegesis of biblical texts you will do and the major issues you will get to discuss with in a long line of theologians.

None of this will actually happen. If you are clever (after you hit enough walls at fairly high speed) you will find ways to do some of this work via other classes. I found that Art and Literature-related classes gave me daylight to run and do some real work (so long as I also did art and  dealt with the literature at hand). Comparative religious studies also enabled me to read in areas like Christology), But my dreams of doing in-depth work on Paul’s Great Christological Hymn in Colossians chapter 1, had absolutely no takers and my papers doing more Middle Eastern unpackings  of Jesus’ parables were met with terse reviews and reluctantly high grades.

I think the worse thing I can say is that I really haven’t learned a damned thing. No new skills or tools. If anything I have consistently asked questions that have been left unanswered and ignored.

As for the Academy itself? It is largely dying – the result as I see it of over-specialization and accommodation to political winds. It would be as if I was that Anthropologist who, while studying in Graduate School, found his program constantly de-railed by theological concerns taking center-stage over anthropological ones: teachers coming to class to skew all there anthropological concerns according to religious moorings and doctrinal ideas like original sin, predestination or the Second Coming and biblical prophecy. If something like that were to so dominate the field of Anthropology you might think it utter madness; yet when immediate anthropological or geopolitical concerns immediate cul-de-sac the study of  theology no one seems to pay it the slightest mind.

Which is actually fine because the result is a dead lifeless theology of no concern: scholars writing to other scholars in a language which can best be described as “turgid.”

So the great Protestant seminaries of America fade into obscurity having forgotten their true subject, and making the mistake of thinking that endowment money will last forever.

The Ridiculous

Meanwhile one would love to say that in such a vacuum men and women of vision have taken up the mantle of vibrant theology and decided to go grassroots. I mean why not? We live in an affluent society and many a Megachurch alone could support and truly advanced learning/explorative new for of biblical/theological study.

Naw. That would interfere with their commercialization process or Christianity Lite.

Clean out those bookstores of all their theology, biblical studies – everything but Bibles (put them in the back so folk have to walk past all our wares) and pack the store with Osteeen, Hagee, LaHaye, Warren, Chapman, Dobson, Piper etc…

Elsewhere I have likened it to the mass production of Fast Food when what we need is healthy organic food. The veering off into politics and joining of “Good News” of freedom, faith and hope to the “Bad News” of moralising power politics has led to the all too accurate accusation of hypocrisy, lack of love and wholesale greed.

And o truly healthy theology can be taught alongside such nonsense.

People Are Hungry: Theology Survives

In times of famine people get inventive or they look to the past to what has worked. There are signs this may be taking place now. On the “Top Ten Christian bestseller list”we are used to see the ever-present C.S. Lewis book (one of our last great explorative 0s). theologians who, with Thomas Merton, died in 196o.

Of great note are books on Dietrich Bonhoeffer like Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxes. A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God and J.I. packer’s Knowing God.

But all of this underscores the reality that no new real theology is, or has been done in three to four decades.

Personal Theology

I said the current public situation was complicated (and this overview has been a simplistic one – you really don;lt even wanna know how messed up it is in all its intricacies.

But personal theology is not dependent of human institutions or social situations. Every since Athanasius fled tot the desert to seek refuge with St. Antony it became clear that your fidelity to God is never contingent on other people.

I love God, which is the first and most important quality for any real theologian to possess. People are critical of this but they are not really thinking it through. Who is the better veterinarian – the woman who loves animals or the one who dislikes them and thinks of them as just “things?”

All the more so with God Who, as you study Him is also your Creator and Redeemer via grace and love. if you have no awe them you have misunderstood your subject; if you have no love then you have not fully opened yourself in every way of understanding.

And if it is true (and it most assuredly is) that God gives God’s own Spirit to those who believe in Him in order to better understand Him then the more open and heart-felt and devoted your mind and heart is to Him the more illumined the Spirit can emblazon your  mind.

You will have the courage to entertain new notions and explore aspects of God;s nature and love others would shut down for fear’s sake. Far from using scripture to limit God; it would invite new “aha” experiences yet to be had.

I mean the same Spirit who inspired the Word of God inhabits your being. This does not releave you of the burden of training to study or the hard work of it – but it can leave you open to new discoveries.

 

 

 

 

 

Colonial Malware

It’s the last four days of my N.T, Gospels class an we are still hopeless mired in Post-Colonialism – a point which can be made in five minutes; the implications probably exhausted to some pragmatic degree with a 30 minute discussion. 

Yet it goes on…

We could have stopped and started to study the native texts in their indigenous Middle Eastern context – but no. 

mac2016We could have discussed whether Post-Colonialism is even “Post” at all? But no. 

So we are asked (bludgeoned) with the question of how we will find our discussions of Post-Colonialism relevant in the future (can you see me looking at you sideways?)

My response:


When my PC gets malware or a bad virus I am in serious danger of losing not only my work, but often my entire computer if the virus is not eradicated. I suppose I could endless fight each incidence of the virus as it cropped up. but they tend to multiply and soon all of my attention would be on that alone and not my work. Instead, I have the option of going back to a previous system save point that existed prior to the infection and having th system rebuild from there. To be sure, I will lose some additions I may have added, but they too may now be infected. Best to go back to a time prior to the corruption when my machine took a bad turn or pretty much all will be lost.

You can see where this is headed easily enough. We can fight the resulting symptoms of Christendom’s unfortunate marriage to power with Constantine and how that eventually led to it’s championing Colonialism as its divine sanctioner; but this will never get us back to a healthy place. It simply keeps us in the disease. Worse – currently (in my view) it has given us the false sense that we are past it (which we are decidedly not). Colonialism is simply dressed in different clothing and framed in new language. But it is still Western Colonialism with its need to dominate and acquire. Show me the article or evidence that refutes this. Oh I saw Modernity fall with the Berlin Wall (but raise half its philosophic head in Post-Modernism – which was a neat trick – like “subjectivism”) but I have not seen Colonialism fall at all.

So as far as I am concerned much of this talk is premature in way. In the meantime, we can certainly, pragmatically, reset the operating system back to pre-Western times – before the virus of power was introduced. Back to indigenous Middle Eastern soil with its rich olive-skinned people and totally other context – say focusing on the first 300 years – just to be on the safe side for awhile.

ST. PERPETUA AND FELICITY-5X4It wouldn’t hurt us to spend some time studying the Martyrs of North Africa to reintroduce us to serious faith in action, nor to the Desert Fathers for contemplation and the concept of being “holy” or “set apart.” Of course we will seem like juvenile delinquents by comparison. Tough. And the role of women? One of my favorite heroes of faith in all of Christendom is Perpetua who, along with Felecity was martyred for her faith, but not before giving one of the most eloquent renouncements of faith on record. She was so brave.

Given such a clear and clean view, we are the punks, the new kids on their first day at the real school. We don’t know scabula about what is important and we need people to explain the simplest ideas from the Bible because we just do not get it.  But who will do this if all we are doing is addressing every little mutation of the virus and not the health of the original organism?  To linger on Post-Colonialism is to obsess on a pathology, not do fresh work in exploring the texts themselves. It’s to allow the disease to define the dialogue and agenda, and that is a mistake. The point about its danger is made in five minutes, and I for one, am simply tired of hearing about it and want to get to some real work. It’s not a difficult point.

Influenced But not Infected

richard-diebenkorn_interior-with-book

I have loved Matisse forever. I considered naming my daughter Camille, well…you get it. I’m happy with Camille and so is she. But I first saw Matisse’s Jazz (cut-outs which are pretty simple but amazing) at the old SFMOMA with a group of high school students I had brought there for a retreat. We had stayed at the Youth Hostel in the Marin Headlands for like $5 a night – then I took them to the museum. At night we studied the Gospel of Mark in an open exploration, then walked the beaches.

AzMOMAThis picture here is a favorite. I took it (1988) of the entourage upside-down in the little SFMOMA elevator which had Art Deco lighting. It really captured the various personalities of the students on that trip well in an unguarded moment. Shooting upside-down can do that.

My next reintroduction to Matisse was really through my teacher- J. Rod Larson-Swenson. He had adopted so much of Matisse’s coloration and not a few of his subjects (including the fishbowl..,or was that Diebenkorn..see now I do not know!) I am forever indebted to Rod fpr so

Jrod

J. Rod Swenson with black bean dip in my house in Land Park. circa 1992.

many things. I think one of the best things was his utterly unpretentious approach to art and his unselfishness in it. It is why I often give mine away or look for inexpensive ways of doing iot because for people to have and own original art is incarnational!  It is the opposite of consumer art and a protest against bad art and all that commodifies it. It also debunks elitism. If I can do a masterpiece (which may cost me $400) and sell it for under a grnad – that is a success. If I can do a Kanji that is truly beautiful and meaningful – in a frame – and give it to someone who has no art – costing me less than a dollar – I am wealthy.  Rod taught me so much of that – and modeled it for me. 

Matisse Revisited

I came this time not really having any idea who Diebenkorn was or that I already knew his art. I do. It was like when I asked Camille recently (she was over to do art) if she listened to The Talking Heads. She said she didn’t know them until I put them on! Then of course – who doesn’t. Same with Diebenkorn. Inn fact a lot of his paintings I thought were Matisse’s. Now I get why they are bundled. And I have to kinda admit, now? I find Diebenkorn more, well…weighty. 

lakeIt was Diebenkorn whose painting really hit and inspired me in this upcoming collage I am working on for Oak Life Church. It has been forming ion me for over a month – in pieces. Long purple gladiolas with peach backgrounds/.//Kanji words….the BIG RED CHOP in the bottom right…and BLAM – in the middle an aerial somehow is part of Lake Merritt. It’s a collage with various media – and the mode is abstract expressionism – which is NOT my normal deal (but who cares – peh).  Then I saw this!

See now I don;t need anymore – and I don;t need to go and look at every one of his paintings and get over-saturated and waterlogged with Diebenkorn (there is a joke in there but I am passing it by).

People are way too derivative – or they steal outright. I don’t have to. I haven’t even asked anyone about reimbursement or anything. I just feel I am supposed to do this and have it – and a few others – hang in the foyer as people go into service on Sunday. I’m letting things influence me..but the ABSTRACTIONS are between me and God and the expressions come from within. 

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Camille

One of the things I have always admired about my daughter is that she has always known to trust her own instincts. She still does. We enjoy doing art together. Occcasionally we assist one another when asked. I really like her art – always have.  She started at 3 pretty much. I started at 30 (if you do not count photography…eh..so..well…I dunno). 

Dos it help “seeing it” in my mind’s eye? Yeah, sure. And that investment in the membership to SFMOMA was smart. I can go anytime – even if for 15 minutes. 

Last point – (and this kinda  proves it) After I did my research and fled the exhibit – I ent down a floor and saw Joan Mitchell’s work. I could have sat THERE all day long because it is not what I am doing. It was wonderful and lush and – oh I just loved it in its expansive playfulness. Wow. 

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My Speech to the Fishes

cropped-spokefish12I have been working on a sermon on John 21 for a few weeks for both my Preaching class and also my Gospels class. I wanted to just be done with the Gospels’ class but our teacher is determined to find new ways to torture us to the very last.

Meanwhile, to lift my spirits, I started listening to other sermons today on John 21 – to get some “pointers” from the BIG BOYS – and one guy from a big church with a logo like a Super Bowl started in on the “153 fish” saying that it “represented the elect who had been chosen by God.” He forgot to mention that previously those fish were alive and well in the Sea of Tiberias and were now simply dead and tabulated.

I left a note to that effect on his Youtube channel. Just trying to “hep” a brother out.

macNPatThis text (John 21:1-17) is a funny one. My first mentor popularized it. He was a popular national speaker for Campus Crusade for Christ. It is noteworthy that he essentially skipped the harder parts of the text entirely (Peter’s failure) and made it all upbeat. I would break with him early over two incidents. One was his insistence that all of us leaders move with the movers.” While I had never been a popular kid and this was my one shot to be with the “In-Kids” this was not the Jesus who had barged into my existence** in Estes Park, Colorado months earlier or I had read in the Gospels. “Christopher, son of Fred, do you love me more than these?” had not been articulated yet; but it was true. I did. And I loved people more too. I wasn’t leaving anyone behind.

The second incident was when he ordered me to go and get all his love letters back from a local girl he was interested in. I was no moralist (and still am not). It didn’t bother me in the least that she was so much younger. It just wasn’t my deal. “Go get your own letters.”
“I’m ordering you as my disciple to go and get them.”
I nearly laughed my ass off. We we’re done. (Go sell that somewhere else Pal.)
simpson-university-83I learned Greek and had an awesome N.T. Professor: Dr. Leonard Wallmark. I had enrolled in a Fundamentalist Bible College simply because I had no idea Fundamentalism existed. They proved me wrong. I was there to study anyway. I did 40 units in one year, and survived by working out a lot and doing 200 practical jokes in one year. When we had both had enough I left inoculated for life. I had my exegetical heroes (like F.F. Bruce, Donald Guthrie, Gordon Fee and Joel B. Green (who was my Luke/Acts Prof in the 90s). I had an immediate distaste for anyone with an obvious agenda (still do). But they are all pretty conservative guys on the social spectrum and I have been very liberal socially for decades. Someone in the 90s called me the “Hunter Thompson of Christendom,” – I Maughamreadpretty sure it was not a compliment. Liberals hate my bedrock in Christology and Middle Eastern exegesis (which gets utterly away from the myopic issue-driven “eisogesis-of-the-month” club agenda). Conservatives hate my Boots-On activism (I was running a Homeless Tent City under the Nimitz freeway when I started seminary in 2015). In the Bush Jr. years I was on “The List” because I wrote funny editorials. It delayed me at airports – but that’s all. I write in secular publications a lot and use a lot of carnal words like “Beef” and “Chicken.”

As our professor will attest to, I don’t do well with systems, especially ones that change all the time in a long body of text where it’s like finding Waldo and you are not sure he is even missing or shown up. In my defense I read a LOT of Kierkegaard at 19 and 20. No one in power has ever liked me. They suspect I may respectfully speak my mind at any moment. They are all pretty smart.
If there is one trait that makes me odd, it is that I have an absolute fearlessness with the text. I call it (now) “passionate disinterest.” I go where the text goes come what may. Where it goes? I really DO NOT CARE. That is the FUN of it.

gruden systematics

Gruden trapped in systematic laminate.

I find that I am fairly solitary in this. I think “systematic theology” is a silly idea. Is God systemic? I tried ordering one systematic theological help from Amazon, but they sent me a laminated Wayne Grudem. He was not happy. I sent him back. Identifying with any fully worked out “theology” is a mistake. What did people do ten minutes before it was fully worked out? As is, I am free to move across all thinkers and exegetes. I have been reading Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant thinkers all along (and others). This has also given me a sense of the historical. I am not much impressed with current theology. It has some nice correctives. New advances? Peh.

Do I think the Word is revelation “from outside?” Yeah, I’ll own that. If you can buy God becoming flesh how hard is it to believe God’s Word has veracity? What kind? Who really cares? More than our words that is for certain. That should be enough (this reminds me of that textbook-ripping scene from Dead Poet’s Society which I have been tempted to re-enact with sections of Aymer, but it’s tough to tear things out of a Kindle.

If I put the Word up next to the best literature or poetry Eliot, Oliver, Rumi, Merton— it is comparing two things of a kind which are still different. It is why it is offensive when someone mishandles it. I was listening to sermons today on John 21 and one guy got on the “153 fish” saying that it “represented the elect who had been chosen by God.” He forgot to mention that previously those fish were alive and well in the sea and were now dead and tabulated. But I quibble…

Imagine a world without the Calvinist/Arminian argument wasting valuable air to no possible ends. There – I did it. Took four seconds. World peace didn’t happen but a lot more got done and James White had to get a real job. Why was I chosen to come up with the solution? Just predestined to be smarter. That and more poor. It all evens out.
Does John 21 happen to align with my current interests? Yes – for I feel that in a world that is grasping aimlessly for new programs and trying to build new anthropocentric systems (which are always doomed) the simple answer lays waiting as it always has: “Simon son of John do you love me more than these?”)

Initial trajectory is the essential problem.

If you launch your solution from the wrong place at the wrong trajectory…well, it really does not matter how well your rocket functions, does it? I mean, jolly good for you if it doesn’t explode..but you will still end up nowhere. And that is where every major theology that started from an anthropocentric center point has landed the last 40 years of my observing – dead in some field. Forgotten or adrift in some odd orbit somewhere. But worthless.

cropped-spokefish12The current ones (name any) so based? The same destiny.

Put more simply. If the Universe is Christocentric (i.e. made “in, through and for Christ” as Colossians 1:15-23 suggests) and our truest destiny is to be conformed to Christ’s image (which by the way – is beyond gender); then any and all anthropocentric models (theologies with their tiny human gravitational fields) and other destinations start from the wrong place (thus the wrong trajectories) aimed at the wrong target.

What a mess. And the Church is not helping that much arguing about numbering the fish as “elect” or making the passage into a new series called “Firestarters.” (Just club me to death right now like a baby seal*).

* My apologies to baby seals everywhere and those who love baby seals, and to Greenpeace and to the late Jacques Cousteau who filmed baby seals. One of the questions was about what mode of being aren’t you “using in this class,” and that would definitely be humor but unfortunately it has come out in utterly inappropriate baby seal-related ways, although in my own defense it was a metaphor, and I the intended victim).

** I did not “find Jesus.” In fact I had just “made a decision” to definitely pass on Christianity, it’s loser/hypocritical followers and all its accompanying “stuff” when, alone in a room the place was flooded with such a heaviness I thought I might drown without any water present.  Got my attention. Negotiations followed.

Him I love. The religious enterprise? Nope. Christendom? I’m Kierkegaard with a sense of humor. Seminary wasn’t my idea. I laughed at the suggestion – aloud. then said “sure, You’re deal.” No different than doing duty under a freeway (actually that is more straight up.)

Loose at the Chalkboard…uh oh…

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So the same teacher (New Testament Gospels) who is so rigid with everyone on deadlines has gone AWOL. Also, I am starting to do some research via fellow classmates and I am far from alone. No one – so far – is at all happy. Others, including actual English teachers – are being criticized for not being able to “write” and no one is getting any comments on the content of their papers. The general synopsis is beginning to become that this guy is a wingnut.

He didn’t show with this week’s question even. How hard is that – to just ask a question once you have given a reading assignment? He still has not taught us a single thing – not all semester.

I had read the textbook, a collection of scholars that are hit and miss. One writer can be amazing with new insights and much to say; the next dodgy, fearful and so full of prevarication that one wonders if they actually get out of bed in the morning or if they just phone everything in.

There is a level of utter unreality to some biblical scholarship that slips by many under the phrase “most scholars believe…” which is a giant pile of horsepucky – a game of “publish or perish” where this elitist group writes journal articles to each other in a specialized language (which they call “good writing” (it sucks big time) in an ever-tightening devolving and smaller circle (endowment monies are running out) of self-concern . True, some of these scholars actually rise above the bullshit and do great work – SAYING SOMETHING (wow), but most toe a party line and push whatever new Postmodern agenda is en vogue. Forget about exploring biblical texts at all. They are simply to be nullified. Inoculation is the order of the day.

This doesn’t bother me as the problem is self-cleaning. The seminaries these guys teach in? Dying at their own hands. Their issues? So myopic and self-referential they curl in on themselves. There is no life in any of it. “He who saves his life loses it.”

So anyway…I show up and no teacher…there is the virtual chalkboard…hmnnn…

I get up and scrawl:

“Of course we are all suitably appalled by his off-screen antics (life) but his early literary forays into farce were notable. I speak of Woody Allen and as I was reading Michal Beth Dinkler prevaricate at length on how scholars had possibly managed (behind the scenes mind you) to dismantle any sure footing for approaching the “Acts of the Apostles” with anything less than a long tentative stick I thought of his very funny essay called “The Scrolls.”

While not naming Form criticism I think we can infer some connection when he wrote “The writing is a mixture of Sumerian, Aramaic and Babylonian and seems to have been done by either one man over a long period of time, or several men who shared the same suit. The authenticity of the scrolls is currently in great doubt, particularly since the word Oldsmobile appears several times in the text…”

I always try to remind myself that much of what we call “scholarship” nowadays is the direct product of Post-Enlightenment Modernity. Even our current text is swift to try and gloss over the reality that Christianity is not “Western” at all. Oh sure, it gets corrupted and used by empires in the Wast from Constantine on— but it was, and is, decidedly Middle Eastern. Any time a current commentator attempts to place all this mess back to anything prior to say – well to be safe, 250 AD (plenty of martyrdom still going on-a sure sign that that Christian faith was not on good terms with the powerful) it is just nonsense, as is “transporting” our current issues/agendas.

We might as well put Luke’s back against the wall about carbon emissions while we are at it.