Archive for the ‘John Dominic Crossan’ Tag

The Census, the Plague, and the Altar   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of King David

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART XLIX

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2 Samuel 24:1-25

1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1

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Whenever I am afraid,

I will put my trust in you.

–Psalm 56:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Theology changes.  A careful reading of the Bible reveals theological evolution in the Bible.  This is the reason I cannot be a fundamentalist.  Inconsistencies exist in the texts.  For example, did God or “a satan”(“adversary,” literally) persuade King David to conduct the census for which God punished the kingdom for years?  The answer depends on whether one accepts 2 Samuel 24:1 or 1 Chronicles 21:1.

This discrepancy exists because of theological evolution.  As a serious student of the history of Jewish theology ought to know, Satan as a free agent (rather than as one of God’s employees, as the tester of loyalty to God, as in the Book of Job as in Numbers 22:21-40) is a relatively late development.  The understanding of Satan as a free agent and an opponent of God dates to the postexilic period, when Zoroastrianism was influencing Judaism.  The Persians may have been correct.  That is a separate matter for another post.  In terms of the history of religion, Satan as the chief rebel against God in Judaism and, by extension, in Christianity, is a legacy of Zoroastrian influence, objectively.

The question of God and evil interests me, an intellectually honest monotheist.  Saints, theologians, and philosophers have tackled the thorny problem.  I harbor no delusion that I settle it in this post.  I do, however, refer to C. S. Lewis, who acknowledged that God is in the dock.  Ultimately, I, as a monotheist, cannot honestly blame anyone except God for evil–for permitting it to exist, at least.  The author of 2 Samuel 24 accepted this perspective.  The author of 1 Chronicles 21, writing during the Persian Period, did not.

If, however, one accepts the pre-Persian Period concept of “the Satan” as one of God’s employees–the loyalty tester, as in the Book of Job, God remains responsible for evil, too.  God is still in the dock.  If one accepts “the Satan” as one of God’s employees, then one must accept that “the Satan” cannot function or exist apart from God.  In Genesis, the language in certain passages uses “God” and “angel” interchangeably.  This is not a difficulty if one accepts that angels can exist and function only in the context of God, that, whatever they do or say, they do on divine orders.  Therefore, the words and actions of an angel are those of God, practically.  Therefore, if one accepts the pre-Persian Jewish understanding of “the Satan,” one must accept that “the Satan” acts and speaks only when following divine orders.  God is still in the dock.

Or maybe the ancient Zoroastrians were correct regarding the existence of independent agents of evil.

If I preferred easy answers, I would not wrestle with God.  If I did not prefer wresting with God, this great monotheistic conundrum of the problem of God and evil would perturb me more than it does.  Ultimately, though, I must agree with David and Job.  God is God.  God refuses to fit into our boxes, regardless of how piously we define them.  And we have no feasible alternative to turning to God, do we?  Part of the life of spiritual growth is learning to distinguish between our biases and God’s thoughts.

Nevertheless, may we exercise caution in how we think, speak, and write of God.  May we refrain from portraying God as a celestial gangster.  I hear some people speak of God in terms that should lead one to recoil in terror from God.  An Episcopal priest I know has a wonderful strategy for engaging with people who profess not to believe in God.  He asks them to describe the God in whom they do not believe.  Inevitably, he hears a description of God he rejects.  “I don’t believe in that God either,” the priest replies.

I, as an Episcopalian, seek moderation.  I follow the Anglican Via Media, after all.  I am neither fully Protestant nor fully Roman Catholic.  I am not a Biblical literalist.  I reject, however, the excesses of John Dominic Crossan and that ilk.  My intellect is always in gear; it constitutes one-third of my faith.  Nobody who tells me I should think less often gets far with me theologically.  I accept the primacy of scripture without shutting down my brain’s higher functions and advocating for scriptural inerrancy and infallibility.  A frontal lobotomy and willful ignorance are not prerequisites for salvation.  And I affirm that God is trustworthy while admitting that no human being can fully understand God.  The image one sees when looking into one’s mirror may be the most alluring idol of all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, SPANISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, MYSTIC, AND REFORMER

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Here I Stand   Leave a comment

January 19, 2016

Above:  One of My Crucifixes, Hanging in the Biblical Studies Section of My Library, January 19, 2016

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For with you is the well of life,

and in your light we see light.

–Psalm 36:9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Each of us is, to some extent, a product of his or her upbringing.  I, for example, grew up in a bookish family, a fact for which I give thanks.  One should not be surprised that I have converted my living space into a library or that I prefer to consult books for information when possible.  Such tendencies are natural for me.

I grew up as a fish out of water.  My father was a United Methodist minister in rural southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the Bible Belt.  Yet I have never been an Evangelical Christian nor wanted to become one.  In fact, I came into the world predisposed to become an intellectual, ritualistic Episcopalian, which I have been for more years than I was a Methodist.  Experiences from my youth continue to affect me positively and negatively.  I give thanks for my grounding the scriptures as I bristle at every accusation of committing heresy.  Fortunately, few of those come my way these days, for I have chosen a faith community in which I am unlikely to encounter such allegations.

I have noticed that, after my experimental theological phase in the 1990s and early 2000s, I have settled into a theological position slightly to the right of that yet definitely left of the theological center and in close proximity to that center.  I am, according to the standards of traditionalists of various types, heretical.  At the same time I am, according to postmodernists, conservative.  I remain a product of the Northern Renaissance and the Enlightenment, with the former having a greater influence than the latter.  I am closer theologically to N. T. Wright than to John Dominic Crossan.   I seek to respect the image of God in my fellow human beings, a standard which straddles the left-right divide.  I support marriage equality, shun any phobia aimed at human beings, understand the Biblical mandate for economic justice, and have a cautious attitude toward abortion, which I understand to be a medical necessity in extreme cases, in which it is the least bad decision.  In other circumstances I favor alternatives to abortion.  The most effective and ethical way to make that manifest is not always via legislation.  Furthermore, I see no conflict between sound theology and good science.  In that respect I stand in the best of Roman Catholic tradition.

I stand right of the center liturgically.  I favor, for example, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), the use of modern English in liturgies and Biblical translations, and the singing of verbose, theologically dense hymns.  Praise choruses (“seven-eleven songs,” to use a common term), screens, PowerPoint, guitars, and praise bands disturb me deeply.  Worship is worship, and entertainment is entertainment.  To use language from Marva Dawn, the church should not dumb down to reach out.

There is tradition, and there is tradition.  Some are more important and flexible than others.  The fact that a practice is a tradition or an innovation does not constitute a valid reason to embrace or reject it.  The proper standard is function.  How does a practice work?  Is it the most functional practice for a particular purpose?  Some traditions hold up better over time than others.  And, as one learns by reading the history of liturgy, ancient traditions began as innovations.

Just as tradition is not infallible, neither are scripture and reason.  My careful studies of the Bible have revealed inconsistencies, such as many doublets in the Old Testament and minor details in the four Gospels.  For example, one reads two sets of instructions regarding how many animals to take on Noah’s Ark, two stories of Saul and David falling out with other, two stories of creation, two accounts of the announcement of the birth of Isaac, et cetera.  Consider also the anointing of Jesus in the four Gospels.  Did the woman have a name, and how much do we know about her?  In whose house did this happen?  And which parts of Jesus did she anoint?  The Gospels offer differing answers to those questions.  Nevertheless, the core details of those four accounts are identical.  Biblical inconsistencies do nothing to damage my faith, for I have never expected consistency in every detail of scripture.  I emphasize the forest, not the trees.  As for reason, it is a gift from God can take one far.  One ought to make the most of the best possible uses of it.  Nevertheless, since we mere mortals are fallible, so is our reason.  The balance of scripture, tradition, and reason is a virtue.

The great infallible depository knowledge of God is God, whom we can know partially yet intimately.  Regardless of how well one knows God, there remain limits, for the nature of deity is quite different from human realities.  Most of the nature of deity exceeds the human capacity to comprehend it.

In God alone I place my trust regarding matters of salvation, which I understand to be a process, not an event.  As Martin Luther said well, we who turn to God can trust in the faithfulness of God.  I, as a Christian, affirm that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the historical, incarnated form of the Second Person of the Trinity (whatever that means; I have learned not to try to untangle the knot of the Trinity) constituted a unique event, the breaking of God into human history as one of us.  Our Lord and Savior’s life–complete with the crucifixion and resurrection–was the means of atonement for sins.  Unfortunately, Hell remains a reality, for many people have rejected the offer of redemption and the accompanying responsibilities.

Here I stand.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 19, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SARGENT SHRIVER, U.S. STATESMAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAESARIUS OF ARLES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP, AND SAINT SAINT CAESARIA OF ARLES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF HENRY AUGUSTINE COLLINS, ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RICHARD ROLLE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SPIRITUAL WRITER

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