Culture, Not Books

It is cultural consensus–not books–that defines the thrust and focus of religions.

It is not the bible that defines the thrust and focus of Christianity, not the Qur’an that defines the thrust and focus of Islam, and not even the Torah that defines the thrust of Judaism, even when the proponents of these religions claim that they are.

If the vast majority of Muslims are not Jihadists and don’t follow the Qur’an to the letter, then Islam is not the Qur’an.

If the vast majority of Jews are not Zionists, then Judaism is not the Torah.

American Christianity–especially evangelical Christianity–is the prime example of this. The bible has throughout history been used to great effect to defend slavery and racism, to condemn miscegenation and women’s suffrage, not because the bible’s focus is on defending slavery and racism or condemning miscegenation and women’s suffrage, but because the consensus of Christian subculture at those times was one of white supremacy and patriarchy. The words in the Bible once used to condemn or defend these things are still there, unchanged, but the cultural consensus has evolved to embrace different views.

The bible is currently being used to defend war, hatred against Muslims, and discrimination against gays, not because the bible’s focus is on any of those things, but because the consensus of Christian subculture loves war, hates Muslims, and likes to discriminate against gays.

Jesus spoke volumes about welcoming the immigrant and the refugee, showing love to prisoners, widows, and orphans, even to the point of saying that those who do not do these things would be cursed into the everlasting fire (see Matthew 25:34-46).

In 2016, an estimated 80% of Christian evangelicals rejected these commands by voting for Donald Trump. If the bible were the focus and thrust of evangelical Christianity, pastors would be warning their parishioners of the coming eternal punishment for those who follow the path that Trump recommends. It’s written quite plainly, yet blithely ignored.

Jesus himself never made direct mention of homosexuality. Not once. He referred to the institution of marriage when asked for his opinions on divorce, and his answer somewhat implied that marriage was to be between a man and a woman.

I can grant that perhaps a person who wants to make the bible the entire focus of their religion must condemn homosexuality, but they also cannot ignore its message about social justice, even if (heaven forbid) it makes them appear somehow “liberal”.

Yes, I’ve said it. Being a Christian in the biblical sense and being a Trump supporter are 100% mutually exclusive. You cannot be both. According to the bible–to Jesus himself–people who carry out the Trump agenda are going to hell.

But, again, the bible in evangelical circles is not the fount of evangelical doctrine, nor is it in effect viewed as infallible, nor are all of its commands given equal weight. Instead, it is used opportunistically, as a tool to bolster and enforce the current cultural consensus of evangelicals. The parts that don’t fit with this agenda are downplayed, or contrived and convoluted justifications are made up on the spot in order to change their meaning to fit.

Just because you have ten-dollar words and a theology degree from Bob Jones University doesn’t mean you can change the very plain and simple meaning of plain and simple words to suit your agenda. This is not sola scriptura (scripture alone). This is solam haeresim (heresy alone).

Potters and Clay

If I am a potter who fashions a chamber pot, the question is not whether the pot has the right to question my designs, but whether I have the right to judge that pot for its foul aroma.

Conviction, or, What is Christian?

Christian (noun): A believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.

Our movement rejects Romanized Christianity. We largely don’t even consider the Christianity of Constantine to be Christianity at all.

Brian Zahnd and others of us who believe that Christ’s ministry intended to bring about a kingdom of peace–not just in the next life, but this life as well–have said this repeatedly. Supporting war in the way this nation does–especially the way neoconservatives have–is utterly incompatible with the message and vision of Jesus Christ. It makes sense. We know it to be true. Case closed.

But our language lacks conviction. It’s not good enough to say that using Romans 13 to support war is bad hermeneutics. It’s not good enough to call warmongering among “Christians” misguided, or to expect them to just magically learn the truth by watching us be soft and squishy. When Reformed theologians go on the attack against movements like ours, they don’t talk about bad hermeneutics, they talk about apostasy, heresy, and severe eschatological ramifications. They have strong conviction, and they aren’t afraid to get really angry. Jesus wasn’t afraid to get really angry either, when he saw hypocrisy at its worst.

Violence, vengeance, and war are unacceptable in Christ’s kingdom.

Anger in the right moment, however, is completely necessary. It is also incumbent upon us to actively reject and correct blatantly incorrect theology when we find it, and denounce its false prophets vociferously. If they continue to promote a false, counterfeit Christianity, we must reject and expel them. Jesus never glossed over the falsehoods and gross errors of the Pharisees. He was angry. And the people we are trying to bring to His side actually believe that:

  • War is good, and even sanctioned by Paul and on behalf of Jesus
  • That Paul’s words carry the same authority as Jesus (and most are violently opposed to revisiting their interpretations of Paul)
  • That human beings actually have (through extreme hermeneutical contortions) the intellectual and moral authority to elevate Paul (and other New Testament authors) to the same level as Jesus
  • That it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore the Sermon on the Mount as long as we maintain a sufficient degree of loathing towards abortion, liberalism, and sexual immorality
  • That the civil government is to be obeyed, even when it advocates actions that are diametrically opposed to the letter and spirit of everything Jesus taught
  • That punishment of sin comes first, and is more important than rehabilitation of the sinner, and bringing the sinner into a place of understanding and truth
  • That one’s particular understanding of the esoteric mechanics of salvation are of prime importance, even though Jesus did not expound upon them to any degree of detail
  • That one political party is the custodian of Christian values

These people may wear the “Christian” label, but if they so wholeheartedly follow Constantinian Christianity, which we have declared to be patently false, then they are not, in fact, Christians in any sense.

And they view us as weak, naive, and ignorant. I believe this is why Christian pacifist movements rarely grow beyond small, insular groups. We confuse our desire for peace and non-violence (which is fully in line with the teachings of Jesus) with an imagined mandate to avoid all confrontation, to avoid making any judgments, and to never get angry or make anyone feel rejected. This is a problem. The core of our movement is actually making a very strong judgment and indictment against thousands of years of egregious error and heresy. The essential fact is that we are right and they are wrong. This doesn’t in any way mean that those who are on the wrong side of these issues are lesser people in any sense, and to feel superior for holding this truth would be very much against Jesus.

But they must be awakened, and in order to do that, we cannot be in any way soft, and we must not shy away from proclaiming very loudly that the mainstream of Christianity is, in fact, indulging a great many centuries-old heresies. If we care for our brothers and sisters who are still in the dark, we need to remember that the endgame for ignoring the Sermon on the Mount is “depart from me, I never knew you.”

We must call it like it is: a long series of evil falsehoods perpetrated by evil, power-hungry men against people who for centuries were ill-prepared to defend against it. Now, all excuses are gone: the truth is out there, it is real, and it is our job to proclaim it even more loudly and persistently than the other side is proclaiming its falsehoods. In every venue where the lies are proclaimed, we must be there denouncing them and proclaiming the truth.

The words of Jesus–including the sermon on the mount–are radically more important than any other words in the New Testament. They are the autonomous standard against which every other New Testament passage must be judged.

Ultimately, those words are the measure against which our actions will be weighed. Do we want to be the people who made the Pharisees feel safe and comfortable, or do we want to cast the money-changers from the temple and be the same kind of threat that led directly to the martyrdom of Jesus?

The choice is clear.

The Problem With Exegesis

Exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning of scripture, and allowing the text itself to determine its interpretation, in contrast to eisegesis, which is the process of projecting one’s own interpretation and meanings onto the text. In this way, exegesis implies an objective approach, while eisegesis is inherently subjective. One who engages in exegesis is known as an exegete.

Biblicists give primacy to scripture as the inerrant and only authoritative source for God’s special revelation. While most biblicists have found clever ways to avoid admitting it, this approach absolutely requires the reader to grant the same inerrancy to the canon of scripture, which was laid down beginning in the post-apostolic, ante-Nicene period following Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

This is where the biblicists’ claim to be engaging in true exegesis begins to unravel. For, if the exegete approaches scripture with the presupposition that the canon is correct, he is beginning to project his own interpretation and meaning–or at least the interpretations of those who laid down the canon–onto the text. In the Calvinist tradition (I use the term Calvinist in the very narrowest sense here, as the term Reformed subsumes the opinions of not only John Calvin, but also Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, and in today’s reformed churches, represents theological and especially Christological views of Puritan theologians such as John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, who are often in conflict with Calvinism proper), this is magnified tenfold, as the Calvinist will invariably hold to a view of theology proper–specifically in the nature of divine justice–where sovereignty necessitates determinism, resulting in a nihilist and heavily monergist soteriology. The Calvinist exegete not only will not, but cannot achieve a prima facie interpretation of any passage of scripture that would point to synergism, even if God whispered it directly in his ear. He would instead work diligently to amass complex and confusing (but often logically self-consistent) proofs as to why such a prima facie interpretation is, at best, naive,  likely invalid, and at worst, heretical.

The result of such a view is interpretative pluralism, wherein every self-proclaimed exegete is actually engaging in eisegesis, replete with egregious presupposition and pompous front-loading of scripture with his own contrived theology.

There is, therefore, no such thing as exegesis. At least not in human terms. We cannot lodge ourselves beneath any system of belief in order to prove it, because we are a part of that system, and only that system’s creator (in our case, God) can do so. Perhaps, then, this is where faith enters the picture, along with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we have the humility to admit that our every reading of every text is eisegetical rather than exegetical, and trust to the Holy Spirit to give us discernment through the observable revelations of God’s creation, we can end the disunity and interpretative pluralism that has beset the church since its earliest days.

No Earthly Intercessor

[Republished from “Humanity Through Freedom”]

Brian Zahnd hints at brilliance with his bold statement: “I see the truth out of the corner of my eye: every empire of man is built upon a lie.” If we consider but briefly the ramifications of this powerful statement, we must at some moment acknowledge  as well the proliferation of ecclesiastical imperialism: though the protestant reformation overthrew in some circles the concept of priestly intercession to God on behalf of the sinner, and opened the bible to the native tongues of the laity, it left fully intact the ecclesiastical authority to define the doctrinal boundaries of this only superficially reformed Constantinian Christianity.  Whether this heretical apostasy and usurpation of God’s authority manifests through elders, deacons, pastors, or Sunday school teachers, these usurpatious bodies politic are still vested with the metaphorical swords of rebuke and excommunication from the kingdom of God. This modern Sanhedrin is a client state unto itself, carrying out its exclusive political agenda on behalf of its statist and secular political allies.

The core concept of the protestant reformation was a bold claim that only Christ has the authority to intercede on our behalf, and that God grants no man the redemptive authority to hear confessions and suggest penance. This only solved about a third of the problem: remaining is first for the church–meaning the entire, fully inclusive body of believers–to embrace that the only way to God is through the unconditionally peaceable kingdom of Christ,  and second, to cede fully and unconditionally to the indwelling Spirit of Christ the strictly individual authority to imbue the believer with a fully divine, personal, fluid, and untainted vision of truth.

As long as truth and divinity is mediated by human authority figures or clergy of any kind, truth and divinity will remain whores of the sinful human agenda, the ecclesiastical empire. Divine truth remains pure only when it remains a direct and unmediated connection between Christ and the believer. Then, and only then, will Christ’s kingdom on earth be made manifest.

To quote Zahnd again, every empire of man is built upon a lie.

The Spirit of Christ is the absolute and only thing the believer needs in order to see the truth and live in its beauty.

Glory be.

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