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Re: Sunday morning mail? Bueno!

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  • 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 1 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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