February 21, 2004
Binary system

My post on the humiliation of Jesus attracted links from two blogs that were new to me, rilina and The Ivy Bush. Thank you!

The latter is yet another blog by a cleric, this time Presbyterian. The other day he posted on a new book by Marcus Borg, the co-author of the book on Jesus that I blogged about last spring and summer. Marvin describes a mixed review of the book:

Brueggemann lauds Borg for offering a vision of Christianity that may win over recovering fundamentalists. At the same time Brueggemann wonders whether Borg's neat division of Christianity into an old paradigm and a new paradigm is accurate or helpful:

In (Borg's) reading, the Bible is either a human document or the divine word. God is either a demanding lawgiver or a generous giver of transformative energy. Jesus must be seen as either a metaphor and sacrament of God or we are stuck with irrelevent formulae cast in inpenetrable rhetoric.

I didn't really encounter that in my Borg reading, I think because of the subject matter (the historical Jesus), but I know what he means. Some time before I started this blog, or had embarked on my current seeking generally, I read Bruce Bawer's Stealing Jesus, which posited a binary church succintly summarized in his article in which he names them the Church of Love and the Church of Law:
Satan. The Church of Law believes Satan is a real creature from whom only true Christians are protected. The Church of Love sees Satan as a metaphor for the potential for evil that exists in each person, Christian or not, which must be recognized and resisted.

The Bible. The Church of Law reads the Bible literally and considers it the ultimate source of all truth. The Church of Love views the Bible as an inspired but human document that must be read with a critical understanding of its historical and cultural contexts.

And so on. I thought when I read the book that it seemed a bit simplistic, and now that I've been through different churches and gotten to know different Christians it seems really simplistic. And, as Breuggemann goes on to point out, it oddly echoes fundamentalists' manichean view of the universe, which can result in some logical pretzels. The unintentionally funny part of Bawer's book was that he accused other Christians of not being real Christians because, among other things, they accuse other Christians of not being real Christians.

This matter has been weighing on my mind because in my Bible study the conversation seems to have a way of turning to criticism of other churches a lot. I remarked on this to my pastor once, and he tried to tone it down, but it really isn't his doing. As I mentioned in my comment at such small hands recently, part of the problem is the presence of an embittered ex-Catholic, who is an interesting guy in a lot of ways but who constantly puts me in a bind. But that's not all of it ... I'm not really sure where it comes from.

The funny thing is, in the more conservative Pentecostal church I used to go to I never heard this. Part of this was no doubt insularity -- they weren't much concerned with ecumenicism either. But it also just seemed to be an attitude that accentuated the positive. Jesus loved them. The church was big and growing. Why worry about what other churches were doing wrong?

I understand, though, that a lot of liberal Christians can find themselves between a rock and a hard place. On some non-Christian blogs I've seen Christians in comment boxes rising to defend their faith against atheists' stereotypes, saying look, we're not all fundies. Which almost always brings somebody to complain, so why don't you nice Christians ever criticize the fundies then? Which is an absurd charge, but shows the kind of pressure that's out there to pick a side in the culture war. Attack the unity of the faith, or be assumed to side with loons -- great choice.

Posted by Camassia at February 21, 2004 11:28 PM | TrackBack

Both Jesus Christ, and St. Paul after him, made it clear that if you set out on the Way, you will bring the world down on your head--you will be attacked from all sides. I just started reading a book of Kierkegaard's--Works of Love. All of Kiergegaard's writings on the subject of religion that I have read seem to boil down to logical demonstrations that most people only pay lip service to Christianity, although they typically can't see that this is the case. Kierkegaard is very persuasive in these demonstrations. My guess is that all conflicts of the kind you describe arise from this fact.

Posted by: Rob on February 22, 2004 07:50 AM

And thank you for linking to my blog! I liked your entry upstream about homosexuality. I think that we're all going to have to muddle through this "issue," and listen very closely to the testimonies of gay and lesbian people in our lives.

Posted by: Marvin Lindsay on February 26, 2004 07:17 AM
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