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Sunday morning mail? Bueno!

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  • Matthew Knox
    Brian, Now I really am impressed...if you guys can take the time to check your e-mail and respond to me on a Sunday morning, well that really is something.
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 16, 2000
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      Brian,

      Now I really am impressed...if you guys can take the time to check your
      e-mail and respond to me on a Sunday morning, well that really is something.
      Thank you (again) for the quick and insightful response to my letter. I'm
      glad it made sense, it was four in the morning and about 90 degrees in my
      room, not exactly the most conducive conditions for logical thinking.

      I think a little more biography and internal perspective is necessary here.
      Brian, I would absolutely love to discover that damnation and hell are
      exagerated, metaphoric, or altogether fictional. It would change my life and
      lives of many of my secular friends who have never been able to reconcile
      the problem of damnation with the promise of God's love. I also think you
      should know that my polemic involves a fundamentalist perspective, but
      personally, I am pretty far afield. I don't consider myself an evangelical,
      I don't believe in the sola scriptura doctrine, I too have grave doubts as
      to the literal meanings ascribed to scriptural imagery and language (your
      discussion of pronoun gender and God's true nature for instance I am very
      much in agreeance with). Post-modern perspectives developed for me very
      early (probably Junior High) without me ever knowing a name for them or
      their systematicity. I was very early introduced to the subjectivity of
      truth and belief, and it probably did the most to mess me up before I
      learned a constructive framework for these new realizations.

      However, heres what I don't understand. I believe that to a certain extent
      scripture is relative...and absolutely that it is not infalible or without
      its contradictions. This acknowledgement has been very liberating for me,
      but it is a two-edged sword. Where do you then draw the line of subjective
      and objective data in scripture, and who draws it? If Hell can be a
      metaphor, than divinity can be too. Christ didn't have to really BE God as
      man (or rise from the dead), it could simply be a metaphor for the
      indwelling of God's energy within all mankind as a sort of Eastern
      perspective on enlightened non-dual bliss. Once subjectivity becomes the
      rule, interpretive freedom allows the displacement of a lot of things which
      make our faith problematic, but also make the faith...the faith. I don't
      know if its possible to mix a little post-modern relativism into the picture
      without ultimately undercutting all but the subjective opinion on who, what,
      or why God is. Like I said, to me its the A-bomb of rational thinking.

      I honestly would like to hear how you've found reconciliation between some
      sort of interpretive integrity and post-modernism, if it gels thats the best
      news I've heard in years. For me the ethic has been more to nuke rationalism
      into the ground, and then force yourself to be dependent on mystical
      revelation and interaction...the relationship with God. The problem I've
      found with this is that all right to appeal to logic or truth or authority
      from an earthly perspective is then compromised. I have a hard time seeing
      that bear out with the sense of Christ and the apostiles that I get from
      scripture. Really, please explain this more fully to me...I really want to
      accept it as possible.

      One more quick thing...I mentioned in an earlier letter that I have been
      really thinking about Orthodoxy...some close friends have converted and I've
      had a lot of time and opportunity to scrutinize the Orthodox way (not to
      pimp Timothy Ware's title). I've actually found their approach (their blend
      of mysticism and holistic theology)to be the most immediately suggestive of
      a solution...I am not advocating mass conversion to Orthodoxy, or trying to
      cast dispersions on other denominations, I just like their principles and
      love their worship. Obviously though, aligning with a particular church
      needs to come after I can reconcile with God, lest I form yet another
      relationship with the institutions which represent God rather than the
      Author of Life personally. Regardless, I was really thrilled to see Anthony
      Bloom's book mentioned in "Finding Faith". "Beginning to Pray" is one of
      the handful of books I brought with me to Argentina, and I have never found
      its like inspirationaly (purely subjective opinion). Thank you again for
      your letter and I hope you will outline your vision of the faith and
      post-modernity for me soon.

      Thanks,

      Matt










      ______________________________________________________
    • BrianCRCC@aol.com
      Matt -- This will probably be my last chance to respond this week, so here goes! I wish I had more time ... You wrote,
      Message 2 of 2 , Jan 17, 2000
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        Matt -- This will probably be my last chance to respond this week, so here
        goes! I wish I had more time ...

        You wrote,
        << I think a little more biography and internal perspective is necessary
        here.
        Brian, I would absolutely love to discover that damnation and hell are
        exagerated, metaphoric, or altogether fictional. It would change my life and
        lives of many of my secular friends who have never been able to reconcile
        the problem of damnation with the promise of God's love.

        --Matt, here are some random thoughts on this issue. I don't think anyone
        has created a postmodern systematic theology yet, and maybe that is an
        oxymoronic term, but here are some thoughts....
        A. Have you noticed that there is no doctrine of heaven and hell, in any
        well-developed sense, in the Old Testament? It was therefore possible to be
        a person in a profound relationship with God without that theological
        equipment.
        B. The doctrine developed in the intertestamental period, as I understand
        it, from a number of sources, including a) the Greek concept of Hades, b)
        maybe a Zoroastrian concept of heaven and hell, and c) the deep feeling that
        Jewish heroes, like the Maccabees, who died would have to be resurrected by
        God to be rewarded for their courage, martyrdom, etc. In other words, the
        well developed sense of justice that the Jews developed demanded, for them,
        that the books be balanced beyond the grave.
        C. Jesus talks about hell more than anyone in the Bible, but I wonder if
        we're not seeing what he says in its historical context. Everyone talked
        about hell and judgment and apocalypse in those days ... it had to do with a
        dream of seeing the Romans overthrown and given their just desserts. It also
        had to do with the Pharisees and their anger at the sinners around them: "If
        it weren't for these sinners, God would surely deliver Israel." What's so
        interesting is that Jesus enters into all this rhetoric about hell and
        totally turns it inside out and upside down. It's the Pharisees who are
        turning their converts into "twice the sons of hell" they are themselves.
        It's the prostitutes and tax collectors who will enter the kingdom of heaven
        before the scribes and Pharisees, etc.
        D. This taps into our situation in a rather interesting way. In 19th
        century America, and through the religious right, well into 20th century
        America, the posture of fundamentalists to "sinners" was about the same as
        that of the Pharisees in Jesus' day: they are an embarrassment, they
        threaten to bring us all down into judgment, they should know better, etc.
        So, the religious community became angry, resentful, etc. I think if Jesus
        were here today, he would again talk a lot about hell, and again, he would
        surprise us with how he would do so. For example, did you hear about the
        summit conference between Jerry Falwell and Mel White (homosexual Christian
        advocate)? There was another guy there, whose name I've forgotten, who
        always carries a sign that says, "God hates fags." He told the media that
        now Jerry Falwell will burn in hell just like Mel White, etc. etc. I think
        if Jesus were here, he'd talk about how that guy was the one in real danger
        of hell-fire. That would be interesting to hear on the 7 oclock news, eh?
        After all, he is a person in need of mercy (just like Jerry, Mel, and me) --
        and his refusal to grant mercy to others puts him in the category of grave
        spiritual danger, according to many of Jesus' parables (not to mention the
        Lord's prayer ... forgive us as we forgive....).

        Does that make any sense? One other thing: when I see things most clearly,
        I think I see that love and justice and mercy and holiness and compassion and
        righteousness are all facets of the same diamond. To me, the goodness of God
        is this amazing mystery that is so big and beautiful, I simply release myself
        into its grandeur. I feel free to opt out of saying who's out and who's in,
        for example; if Jesus tells me anything, it's that it's not my place to
        judge, that many of the last will be first, that God's judgments are far
        above and beyond man's, that there is a wideness to God's mercy, etc.

        I'm not interested in watering down or removing Jesus' teachings about hell,
        judgment, etc., because I think they're good teachings, and beautiful,
        rightly understood. But I think American fundamentalism has done to them
        just what the Pharisees would do. In other words, if American
        fundamentalism's teaching on hell makes you feel you can't be a Christian,
        I'd just suggest that it means you can't be a Pharisee. Line up with Jesus
        (who doesn't nail things down the way we do ...) and you'll be in good shape,
        I think ... It reminds me of an ancient story about some disciples who went
        to a spiritual leader and said, "Is there a heaven and hell?" He said, "If I
        say yes or no, you will only argue with me, and that will be a waste of time
        for all of us. So, instead of answering your question, I will just say this:
        go, love God, and love your neighbors."

        You said ....
        I also think you
        should know that my polemic involves a fundamentalist perspective, but
        personally, I am pretty far afield. I don't consider myself an evangelical,
        I don't believe in the sola scriptura doctrine, I too have grave doubts as
        to the literal meanings ascribed to scriptural imagery and language (your
        discussion of pronoun gender and God's true nature for instance I am very
        much in agreeance with).

        --Yes, I understand that you are moving away from fundamentalism, but
        probably for all of us, more than we realize, what we think of Christianity
        is our modern, western, American, and often fundamentalist version of
        Christianity.

        You said
        Post-modern perspectives developed for me very
        early (probably Junior High) without me ever knowing a name for them or
        their systematicity. I was very early introduced to the subjectivity of
        truth and belief, and it probably did the most to mess me up before I
        learned a constructive framework for these new realizations.

        However, heres what I don't understand. I believe that to a certain extent
        scripture is relative...and absolutely that it is not infalible or without
        its contradictions. This acknowledgement has been very liberating for me,
        but it is a two-edged sword. Where do you then draw the line of subjective
        and objective data in scripture, and who draws it? If Hell can be a
        metaphor, than divinity can be too. Christ didn't have to really BE God as
        man (or rise from the dead), it could simply be a metaphor for the
        indwelling of God's energy within all mankind as a sort of Eastern
        perspective on enlightened non-dual bliss. Once subjectivity becomes the
        rule, interpretive freedom allows the displacement of a lot of things which
        make our faith problematic, but also make the faith...the faith. I don't
        know if its possible to mix a little post-modern relativism into the picture
        without ultimately undercutting all but the subjective opinion on who, what,
        or why God is. Like I said, to me its the A-bomb of rational thinking.

        I honestly would like to hear how you've found reconciliation between some
        sort of interpretive integrity and post-modernism, if it gels thats the best
        news I've heard in years. For me the ethic has been more to nuke rationalism
        into the ground, and then force yourself to be dependent on mystical
        revelation and interaction...the relationship with God. The problem I've
        found with this is that all right to appeal to logic or truth or authority
        from an earthly perspective is then compromised. I have a hard time seeing
        that bear out with the sense of Christ and the apostiles that I get from
        scripture. Really, please explain this more fully to me...I really want to
        accept it as possible.

        --Actually, this is what my third book attempts to do, which is being
        considered by a publisher now (I hope!). A quick comment now though ... I
        think Hegel was right, historically speaking, when he talked about how
        history seems to progress through thesis/antithesis/synthesis -- although I
        agree with Francis Schaeffer that just because history seems to go that way
        doesn't mean that some things should simply have an antithesis, with no
        synthesis allowed. Anyway -- I think modernity has always swung between two
        poles ... rationalist/objective and romantic/subjective. I think the way
        ahead is not by choosing one or the other, but by creating a new synthesis.
        I have an article coming out in Mars Hill Review in 2000 sometime (I think)
        on this ... the term I like for the new synthesis is "intersubjectivity." It
        means not pretending to an abstracted privileged-position obectivity on the
        one hand, and not surrendering to a rather narcissistic subjectivity on the
        other ... but rather using my rationality to acknowledge that every one of us
        comes from a subjective position of bias, interest, limitation, etc. AND
        intersubjectivity realizes that this subjectivity is not only a disadvantage,
        but also an advantage ... IF we can learn to listen to and acknowledge and
        validate one another's subjectivities. It seems to me that Christians should
        be in a tremendous place to forge this new synthesis ... because we believe
        that the Ultimate Reality is a personal being who is the only being in the
        universe truly suited to be truly objective, but who is never only objective,
        because God is also personal (in the fullest sense of the word). In other
        words, if God has feelings (subjectivity) ... then God's feelings mean that
        there is nothing "purely" (or better put, "merely") objective in the
        universe; it all has a subjective value placed upon it by God. Whoa ... I'm
        probably losing you and everybody else at this point. But let me throw out
        one other idea, brain-dump-style....

        --Conservative evangelicals are so zealous to defend "absolute truth" or
        "propositional truth." I think this betrays to what a great degree they have
        married modernity (after all, the Bible doesn't really even have such
        categories ... so this isn't just a matter of being Biblical). It also
        displays their common sense, because they have a feeling for where total
        subjectivity will lead in the world of morals ... a real swamp and chaos.
        But I wonder ... what if what they really want to call "objective absolute
        truth" would be better described as the subjective feelings of God about
        things, actions, etc? Well, maybe that's too far out in the ozone to make
        any sense, but for what it's worth....

        One more quick thing...I mentioned in an earlier letter that I have been
        really thinking about Orthodoxy...some close friends have converted and I've
        had a lot of time and opportunity to scrutinize the Orthodox way (not to
        pimp Timothy Ware's title). I've actually found their approach (their blend
        of mysticism and holistic theology)to be the most immediately suggestive of
        a solution...I am not advocating mass conversion to Orthodoxy, or trying to
        cast dispersions on other denominations, I just like their principles and
        love their worship. Obviously though, aligning with a particular church
        needs to come after I can reconcile with God, lest I form yet another
        relationship with the institutions which represent God rather than the
        Author of Life personally. Regardless, I was really thrilled to see Anthony
        Bloom's book mentioned in "Finding Faith". "Beginning to Pray" is one of
        the handful of books I brought with me to Argentina, and I have never found
        its like inspirationaly (purely subjective opinion). Thank you again for
        your letter and I hope you will outline your vision of the faith and
        post-modernity for me soon.
        >>
        --I have mixed feelings about the return to Orthodoxy. Part of it makes
        perfect sense to me: the orthodox remain largely premodern ... and so for
        people sick unto death about modernity, they offer a refreshing "non-modern"
        solution. On the other hand, to the degree that they resort to a human
        institution as a source of absolute and bombproof authority, I find the
        solution has "bad faith" elements in it. I certainly think, though, that the
        premodern spirituality of both orthodox and catholic writers will be of huge
        help to us ... because after 500 years of modernity, we protestants don't
        have much of a spirituality that is not shot through with rationalism, modern
        western individualism, etc., etc.

        I hope this is helpful ... it's not very organized, and has been written in
        more of a hurry than it should have been. You active and perceptive mind, I
        think, will be able to fill in a lot of the gaps, at least I hope so! -- Brian
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