Posts Tagged 'Rita Brock'

God is Good – How We Get There

Just over a year ago, I raised the question – Walter Brueggemann‘s question, actually – “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” It was a provocative question he raised in Atlanta during one of the original Emergent Village theological conversations. The esteemed Old Testament scholar was raising questions about our neat & tidy ways of trying to sweep God’s messy history under the rug; his concern was that many who profess the loudest to be “Bible-believers” are least familiar with its contents. He was not calling the faithful to abandon the witness of Scripture, contra an Ehrman or Spong; rather, he was suggesting we embrace Holy Writ with all its pain. (And if you read the text, there is pain.)

This original post stirred a lot of thoughtful commentary, as well as some rabid denunciation among some Christian fiction writers (of all folks) – earning me my own TAG at Rebecca Miller’s blog, where as far as I know they’re still praying for my wayward soul. 🙂

Today a thoughtful blog reader named Mark chimed in with a question of his own:

Hey everybody, I know I’m reading this a year after the fact so maybe nobody will see this. But if so, I’ve just got a question or two.

I listened to the Brueggemann talks a couple of years ago. He’s one of my favorite authors/speakers. However, the more I’ve thought about his ‘God as a recovering practitioner of violence’, the more I’ve been disturbed (I guess that was his purpose, so that’s fine). I’m o.k. with being disturbed.

The main thing I’m wanting to ask everybody who was posting here toward the end is do you pray? If so, what do you say to a God who may be capricious, violent, arbitrary, etc.? What do you say, good and bad?

The other comment I have is that I just finished reading N.T. Wright’s NTPG, JVG, and RSG books. Actually, as he says, ‘as a matter of history’ it does seem to be highly likely that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead. For me, this means atheism is not a viable option. How does everyone feel about this? Have you read these books?

Also, I ask many of these tough questions that you are asking very regularly but also wonder what moral high ground I can stand on to put God on trial. Is this reasonable?

Thanks for the discussion!

Mark’s is an excellent question that really brings things home: How, and to whom, do we pray (if we pray)? I think that all of us, regardless of what we’ve argued about in the original post, want to say we’re praying to an unambiguously good God. Even Walter B. would probably affirm this. Now, I think that questioning God’s goodness is one of the deepest struggles of faith for many of us, especially in contemporary times – I mean, theodicy is a b!tc#, right?

What many of us simply cannot go back to is what I call the Juggling Trapeze Artist version of God; this is where we juggle all of these conflicting biblical and experiential portraits of God, swinging from one pendulum to the other, desperately trying to make them form one coherent portrait. No – if we’re to be people of the book, we need more honesty and integrity than this – rightly dividing the word of truth, or what have you.

In my experience, most people who have a mature, stable, first-hand relationship with God know instinctively that God is good. This often comes in spite of, not because of, the theology they’re taught in church, on television, or the radio. But if we’ve settled God’s goodness in our hearts, it seems to me that there are several options out there to settle this in our heads:

1.) What Brueggemann and others (notably Jack Miles) seem to be advocating for, at least here: An evolutionary understanding of God. God develops, God grows, God changes. This idea is at the heart of the debate between Greco-Roman Theism and Open (or Process) theology – too much to hash through here. Suffice it to say for these considerations, just because God may have ordered genocide at one point in time (as the text says he did) and prohibits even ethnic judgement at a future time (as Jesus seems to in the later text), one can say that God grows without implying that earlier stages of development were sinful – for God or humanity. To put it another way: Sin, like Covenant, is not a static absolute, but rather a moving target based on increasing spheres of empathy and maturity.

2.) Another angle to come at this would be to posit a changeless God who nonetheless accommodated himself to immature-but-developing cultural mores. This is difficult to apply in actual practice – when in the text God insists that people wipe out women and children, or (perhaps more disturbing) to save virgins for mating…really? But one can do some comparative analysis with nearby cultures and conclude that God is gradually pushing his chosen people out of the nest of violent ethnocentrism by fully entering into & communicating from that world. Hence John Calvin wrote that ‘crude’ images of God are “often ascribed to him in Scripture, are easily refuted. For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height.”

3.) A variation on this theme would be to apply the apostle Paul’s “we see in part, we prophesy in part” to the writings of Scripture itself. When looking for traces of God’s presence and speaking in our lives, “we see through a glass darkly” – a glass colored by our history, culture, and indeed prejudices. So the children of Israel and various biblical redactors ‘heard’ God say some atrocious things that God could not have said if we is the Father of Jesus Christ who loves indiscrimately and forgives enemies. One can in this way read Scripture as a conversation – yea, an argument – with itself over which interpretation of God will prevail: a vision of God-as-power that serves the interests of the already-powerful, or God-as-Love who empties himself and serves the lowly? (Brian McLaren develops this Scripture-as-conversation perspective in his A New Kind of Christianity. This view is appealing in that it posits an all-good, changeless God and let’s God off the hook for any of the unsavory stuff we see in the Old Testament – and presumably, the New as well. But then, critics will assert, Where does this stop? Do we simply edit out everything that makes us uncomfortable? Does this make us better than 21st century Marcionites? But proponents of this perspective would be quick to suggest a New Covenant hermenutic, starting with Jesus’ own “Moses said to you _____, but I say to you…”

So there we have it. Either 1.) God changes for God’s sake, 2.) God changes for humanity’s sake, or 3.) God is changeless but humanity is increasingly adept at apprehending a fuller revelation of God’s character. To me any of these visions can be held with integrity, and would result in a good God worthy of trust and worship.

What strikes me, further, is that all of these are valid options, and that all of these are problematic. I think as the Church we ought not micro-manage people’s opinions about these different ways of processing the goodness and character of God; rather, we should be places that can hold all of these images of God in abeyance, as we worship and pray together.

Recommended Reading (covering the gamut of these perspectives):

Anything by Rene Girard

A Sociable God: Toward a New Understanding of ReligionKen Wilber

A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the FaithBrian McLaren

Christ: A Crisis in the Life of GodJack Miles

Discovering the God ImaginationJonathan Brink

From Eternity to HereFrank Viola

God Christ Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology – Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (minibook here)

Saving Paradise: How Christians Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire – Rita Brock & Rebecca Parker

The Bible as Improv: Seeing and Living the Script in New WaysRon Martoia

The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in CrisisJeremy Rifkin

The Hidden Face of GodRichard Elliot Friedman

The Human Faces of God – Thom Stark (see also his booksiteReligion at the Margins)

The Misunderstood God: The Lies Religion Tells About GodDarin Hufford

This is My Beloved Son – Hear Him! and Is There a Covenant of Grace? – articles by Jon Zens

Panentheism – Perichoresis – Christology: Participatory Divinity

perichoresisAs usual, my blog readers are brilliant. My last ‘spirituality’ post, on Panentheism, Interspirituality, and Jesus invited a ton of insightful comments – and, as is about to be made abundantly clear, a new post. So here it is, response-style:

Nathaniel, you’re calling me a Calvinist! I don’t know whether to feel honored or slapped in the face. 🙂 Taking it from your vantage point, I’ll consider it an honor. I get what you’re saying about the ‘slipperiness’ of the term ‘panentheist;’ though I didn’t qualify it with hypens, I think the strong subtext of my post was that I’m not for a squishy, one-size-fits-all pluralism. Specifically, I said “I believe that the Divine which permeates all reality is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.” With that said, true disclaimer: in the intervening years since writing the piece, I am more inclined to nod in Dena‘s direction, that when Einstein or Hawking are sensing the permeating divine, they’re sensing and touching something real – more Way Three than Way Two (in my previous post).

Bert, I hear you! Theodicy (‘the problem of evil’) is with us almost no matter what we believe, and panentheism does not come out unscathed – indeed, it’s even more vulnerable, I think, because (unlike Deism or a highly ‘Sovereign’ removed God concept), panentheism seems to implicate God rather intimately in life’s hurts as well as joys. It’s one thing to say God is in the sunset, dancing in the rays of light; its quite another to say that God is holding the molecules together in the rapist’s knife blade. I want to avoid what I see as the weakest link of Hindu & Buddhist cosmology, that is, “Evil is just illusory,” but I am open to CS Lewis’s idea (developed in The Great Divorce) that evil is perspectival; that all truly will be made well once we have a new way of seeing. The jury’s out for me in how evil fits into panentheism – and yet, I can’t get away from the ‘All in all’ language in Scripture. I think that process theology will have a lot to teach us on this in the coming years.

Hi Bram – I know I probably focused on immanence here, but a robust, biblically-informed panentheism certainly includes God’s transcendence. God is ‘the Beyond in our midst,’ a Mystery even in self-disclosure. Jesus of Nazareth obscures as much as he reveals, I think.

Dena, I love your thoughts here. I think you hit on something key when you said “Christ is the focus for me … and *yet*, I notice that the goal of Christ is to bring us to the Father — to show us the Father.” This is freakily foreshadowing my interaction with Sweet & Viola’s ‘A Jesus Manifesto.’ I think I’d stop short, though, at saying “Ultimately, it’s all about the Father.” I think I’d say “Ultimately, it’s all about perichoresis, a five-dollar word for the relationship within the Godhead, expanding to embrace humanity & the cosmos. That is to say, when Jesus speaks, he’s always speaking of the Father. But when the Father speaks, he’s always speaking of the Son. And the Father sends the Spirit to reveal the Son, so that we might connect to the Father; the Spirit is our Comforter and our True Self, inviting us into the divine fellowship. At least, that’s my read. And it needn’t be so technical – to me, it’s all about the Triune relatedness of God as depicted in The Shack.

Ross, absolutely! Starting in the 1960s, when the West began discovering Eastern cultures & meditation practices – that’s when Christians (and possibly Jews too, though I can’t be certain) began rediscovering their own contemplative traditions – don’t let anybody call ’em ‘New Age,’ either; they’ve been around in one form or another for at least 1700 years – and arguably, embedded in the culture of those engaged in penning Holy Writ itself. I think that one of the greatest losses of our time is that of ‘contemplative mind,’ the ability to both focus and enjoy the spaciousness of God’s unfolding present moment.

David, are you saying that Jesus’ divinity is too much or too little involved in the panentheism discussion? I think that Jesus’ divinity is one of those pesky spiritual themes that panentheism handles exceptionally well, better than contemporary so-called orthodoxy or anemic liberalism.

Lemme explain. Contemporary self-confessed (Western, propositional, truncated, radio) orthodoxy sees God – and by extension God’s self-disclosure in Jesus – as someone (?) to be admired, and trusted in for God’s benefits, sure – but pretty much kept at a remote pedestal. Jesus is the ‘only’ Son of God, who did certain things on our behalf (namely, changing the Father’s mind about us, supposedly) and we worship him in response. This produces a lot of gratitude but very little life-change in my experience. And eventually, the gratitude (read: ‘worship’) turns to boredom.

‘Progressives,’ on the other hand, in attempting to correct the problems with the above view, fall into the opposite ditch – they pit ‘the Jesus of history’ against ‘the Christ of faith,’ place the Synoptics against John’s Gospel, and emphasize (their interpretation of) ‘The son of man’ against ‘The Son of God’ and certainly against ‘God in the flesh.’ Now don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for most of the scholarship that’s come out of historical Jesus studies – in particular, related to the socio-political culture of Jesus’ day (both Roman and Jewish), which sheds amazing light on both Jesus’ message and the unique set of circumstances that led to his death. I love me some ‘The Human Being by Walter Wink (for instance). But at the end of the day, a confused, solely-human Jesus who’s vaguely ‘connected’ to ‘Spirit’ only to die ignominiously and benefit from a dubious ‘spiritual’ resurrection isn’t too exciting to me. While it might be easier to follow such a Jesus, one isn’t quite sure why or where to follow him!

A third way, it seems, has been with us from the beginning. If Rita Brock and Rebbecca Parker are to be believed (and I think their work speaks for itself), the earliest Christians had “a high Christology and a high anthropology,” summed up in Athanasius’ maxim “God became man so that man might become God.” (He meant you too, ladies) Panentheism says that Jesus is the ‘uniquely’ begotten son of God, not the ‘only,’ echoing Scripture’s affirmation that Jesus is the firstborn among many ‘sons’ of God.  Jesus is glorious, divine, and there are certain unique and unrepeatable things Jesus does on our behalf, but overall, the earliest Christian spiritual thrust was one of participatory divinity. We, too, are to realize full divinity amidst (and because of) our full humanity – just like Jesus.

This might sound like ‘New Age’ quackery to the modern ear – but in ancient Christian faith, this was known as theosis or divinization – participation in God via the activity of God in perichoresis – that is, the intent of the Father, the work of the Son, and empowerment of the Spirit. Through theosis, we are partakers of the divine nature – we become incorporated into the very life of ever-flowing Godhead, a dance that goes on from eternity to eternity. If the terminology makes you uncomfortable, think what we might mean by ‘discipleship’ or ‘sanctification’ – only giving much more glory to God and to a full-awakened humanity. If this all sounds rather airy-fairy pie-in-the-sky to you, consider that, historically speaking, the vast majority of temporal transformation happens when people are inspired by, and anchored in, a sense of the transcendant. The recovery of a this-worldy, suffering-servant son of man who nonviolently confronts the Powers is a desperately needed image and motivator – this is the gift of liberation theology. But a revelation of the Son of God, vindicated by the Father in peaceful, powerful resurrection, and inviting us on the same path of death and resurrection, this is the gift of the Eastern church and the mystics. Perhaps the call we’ve so often framed as ‘discipleship’ or ‘sanctification’ can be helpfully re-adjusted as a lifeLet us embrace both of these gifts fully – they are our inheritence.

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Recommended Atonement Reads

https://i1.wp.com/www.bradjersak.com/images/stricken-cover-new-5-web.jpgMy reflections on the meaning of Jesus’ atonement are far from finished. I think such multifaceted and rich dimensions of the life of faith rarely are. This year, as I’m able, I’m going to be reading through the following volumes in my library, books that have been recommended to me as valuable resources on reconciling messages of Jesus with messages about Jesus. Most of these I’ve read at least partially before, but I’m gonna buckle down! Here they are:

Stricken By God? An incredible anthology edited by Brad Jersak, featuring Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, NT Wright, and a ton of others, it has been a most enjoyable read this past year.

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Joel Green & Mark Baker

Consuming Passion: Why the Killing of Jesus Really Matters An anthology – Hard to find in the U.S.

The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver

A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight

Saving Paradise by Rita Brock

This Book Will Change Your World by Kevin Beck

I’ve had this one recommended to me, but haven’t recieved one yet – Saved from Sacrifice by S. Mark Heim

In addition to books, here are a few free online resources I’m working through:

The Day God Turned His Cheek by Graham Old

The Cross: Cure Not Punishment by Wayne Jacobsen (audio)

Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor by Derek Flood

Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence by Walter Wink

Rethinking the Death of Jesus: Cross Purposes by David Heim

Clarion Journal of Spirituality & Justice articles on atonement

The Anthropology of René Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement

…so what resources would you recommend?

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