Monday, March 2

Stuck

It's been a long time since I wrote that article on Christian pacifism. I have been very busy, but half of the reason is I just can't get going on finishing another article. I have a couple half finished, but i'm very unsatisfied with the writing and the way I am communicating the ideas. The future does not bode well for them if history repeats itself; the documents folder in my computer is littered with half-finished blog posts dating as far back as when this blog first started (3-4 years ago).

Do I cast them aside and begin on something entirely new? The problem is I just can't get a few issues out of my head. Indifference towards the third world, American Politics, and non-violent resistance. The recent attack on the Gaza strip really affected me. Obviously it isn't the first conflict in recent years to depress me, but I guess it was the straw that broke the camel's back. Reading a collection of Noam Chomsky's political thought, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, only amplifies the feelings of alienation.

I have not always had a passion for social justice. I remember early 2003, when I was 15 and appropiately naive, I watched the fighting in Iraq and was quite ambivalent and indifferent towards the whole thing. It was only a year later that I was arguing at school with a new student who recently came over from the US south; he loved Bush, guns, the confederate flag, and everything else that teenage boys from those parts of America are supposed to love. Looking back, I was still completely oblivious.

It took a number of years to change my perspective on life to be where I am right now. I would have to say it began with a close friend of mine in high school coming out of the closet, and revealing his homosexuality to the very conservative school and group of churches we both belonged to. The way that he was treated by fellow students, the faculty, the church pastors, and everyone else I knew at the time shocked me. It was really disgusting to me. By that time a number of intellectual disputes I had with the independent Baptist tradition (e.g. infallibility of the Bible, atonement theology, the Pauline priority, ignorance concerning the life of Jesus) were taking shape, and for me it was all over. Many things I had taken for granted all of my life had become meaningless to me, but I still held an ardent desire to know what Jesus really said, and what God really wants out of me.

For awhile it felt like limbo. I knew what I didn't believe in, but not what I did believe in. This continued for quite awhile as I gradually felt for an anchor to ground myself with, and then I started going to university. I came to the philosophy of Christian existentialism on my knees. It asked questions I was very familiar with, such as "What is the meaning of life?", "how do we make sense of the suffering in this world?", "how do we make sense of these feelings of angst, anxiety, and guilt?", "how do we have a proper relationship with God?", but the answers were so refreshing and relieving. At that point I was quite familiar with the basics of traditional philosophy, and the way that existentialism cut through the very presuppositions that founded my traditional philosophy was shocking and exciting. It was the author Soren Kierkegaard that really helped me re-find my Christianity; a Christianity that is true for me, a Christianity I could live or die for. I devoured Fear and Trembling, The Sickness unto death, Philosophical Fragments, and some others. However, it was not until I read through his journals that I came across it.

"Christianity is no doctrine, but an existential communication"

That was the sentence that inspired this blog. After that I read quite a few people who helped me understand Jesus more. Specific mentions deserve to be given to Paul Tillich, John Howard Yoder, Chris Forbes (lecturer in the two early Christianity units I did at university last year), and others. Nothing helped me more, though, than an earnest reading of the Gospels, over and over. I decided to call this blog Existential Christianity to further develop this idea from Kierkegaard's journals. Interestingly, Christian Existentialism has often been taken to be highly individualistic and inward. In fact, John Howard Yoder often criticised Kierkegaard and the Christian Existentialists for being obsessed with defining Christianity as an inward and individualistic phenomenon. I think this site is often the complete opposite. Why I still call it "Existential Christianity" is a topic for another post I guess.

The development of my political beliefs started shortly after Kierkegaard. There has been a very strong direct correlation over the years between my understanding of and love for the teachings of Jesus and radical political/social beliefs. I believe this is quite natural; as it is Jesus who taught that serving the poor was one of the most important thing his followers can do. He taught people to love unconditionally (even your enemies), to resist non-violently, and to forgive radically. My inclinations towards radical political theories increased when I learnt about the very early tenement Churches in Rome, how the early church in general treated each other economically, and also modern political/military history. The number of political authors who influenced me would be too large to list.

I started writing this post with the intention of it being a one paragraph excuse for why I have not completed a new blog post, and it has (hopefully) turned into the very solution for my writers block.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Ry said...

Tim, thanks for your very candid post... I have read your blog on and off for awhile now, and I'm wondering how much and/or what kind of authority Paul's writings have for you?

Kierkegaard has been an important writer for me, as well... I have read some of Tillich, but what do you make of his life?

Should there be any consideration of an author's life in determining the value of his writings? If yes, then how are we to judge? If no, then are we denying Christianity to be an existential communication?

Tillich's life bothers me and I don't know what to do about it.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Hi Ry,

Thanks for the comment. My understanding of Paul has changed alot in the last couple of years. I grew up very much in the "Roman Road" tradition, and it was only late high school that I become to feel alienated from Paul by the way people exploited his language and used him to trump the words of Jesus. When I lost the belief that the Bible was inerrant, I ceased to read or be interested in Paul.

Last year at univeristy I was luckily able to take a couple of electives in early Christianity at the ancient history department, and it really helped me understand the writings of Paul. He does deviate from Jesus in a number of theological and ethical areas at times, but he also shows incredible similarities (i.e. when he lists all of these virtues and says love is more important, if you have faith but not love it is meaningless etc.). His writings are also tremendously useful to understand the early Churches that he was writing to, and the issues they were facing at the time. My opinion toward him has evolved into a very important Christian, but not perfect.

You make a good point about Tilich. To be honest when I first heard about his lifestyle I had already finished my favourite book of his, "A courage to be", and I really did not know what to make of it. I think it's very possible for a man to say something that is true, and yet live in a way that shows how little you care for it's truth. In other words, Tilich diagnosed the problems, presented the solution, and yet ultimately failed to take his own advice in his own life. As so many others have.

You're right that there is a strong tension there. For example, MLK cheated on his wife at one point in his life, but we by no means devalue his writings or contribution to society. In my opinion we should enjoy Tilich's books for what they are, but not ever hold him up as an amazing person or anything like that.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous thom said...

it's interesting to note that your 'awakening' comes after your encounter with a friend that came out. my struggle with christianity was pretty much tied to my sexual identity as well.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Hey Thom,

If you ever start a new blog that isn't anonymous email me the link and ill add it to this blog.

It's interesting you say that. My situation was quite unique in that while I never struggled with sexual identity myself, the experiences of a close friend and their interactions with the network of churches affected me in very personal ways. If you are ever going to write on it i'd love to read about it in more depth.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Micah Hoover said...

Quite a continuum of views coming from one person. On the one hand Paul insists people should individually be concerned about their own salvation, and on the other hand there are political promises of ending poverty if we all band together (something Judas promised).

Inseparable from Kierkeagard is the aspect of having "an absolute relation to the absolute". Kierkegaard wasn't trying to moderate anything or present a solution that works "sometimes". He was presenting something that only works when someone wholly and completely gives everything over -and only they can understand its value.

I have trouble understanding how any homosexual can claim to have radically given their life over to Christ. They usually seem to say, "Well there are some commands in the Bible that oppose homosexuality". How can a person who radically claims to follow the Bible divide it up and only follow some of it? They're obviously a fraud! They should be opposed in the fullest legal measure!

Does the Bible have radical things to say to the rich? About how it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God? Yes! It does! But I don't see Donald Trump claiming to be a radical Christian. A homosexual who claims to be a follower of Christ is just as much of a buffoon or maybe worse since they are conquering their flesh for evil instead of good.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

How is it possible to not divide the Bible up? There are many ethical contradictions, and the way I reconcile it is to ignore the morality of the Old Testament and trust in Jesus when he said "If you know me you would know my Father also" (John 14:7-11). Jesus is silent on the issue of homosexuality, and to propose that "It isnt explicitly stated, but it's obvious he would have condemned it as evil also" sounds just as likely to me as "Jesus either purposefully ignored the issue or condemned those who condemned homosexuals, and it was not written in any of the gospels because the early church did not share his belief".

What we do know about Jesus was his teachings on judgement. I never want to look at a homosexual Christian, and claim he cannot be a follower of Jesus because of his sexuality. Otherwise i'll just be like the person in Matthew 7:3-5 who tried to remove the speck out of his brothers eye when he had a whole plank in his own eye. My only personal experience of homosexuality was through this friend in high school, and when he first came out he honestly believed himself that it was evil and that he needed to get rid of it. For 2 years he followed all of the advice of the pastors, tried praying and struggling every day to get rid of his homosexuality, but it would never happen. Instead, while this was happening everyone was treating him like dirt. Please tell me you think there is something wrong with this picture.

I mean, why is there is so much fuss over homosexuals becoming Christians (which was not explicitly forbidden by Jesus), and yet noone cares about wealthy Christians, heterosexual immoral Christians, hypocritical Christians, unloving and jugemental Christians, and Christians who refuse to love their enemies or forgive unconditionally? All of the latter qualities were explicitly condemned by Jesus.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Micah Hoover said...

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Are you suggesting we should follow Christ's commands but ignore Paul's? Christ didn't speak against homosexuality because the Jews weren't into homosexuality.

Jesus did preach about how if you want to be his follower you have to be willing to give everything over to him, and that you should consider that cost before you became his follower. I have serious doubts that your friend considered this very much or ever has.

It is very hard for a rich person to enter God's kingdom. Homosexuals (who do not repent) will never enter His kingdom. That's what the Bible says.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

If he didn't speak against homosexuality because it wasn't one of the things the Jews were into, why did the Old testament writers speak against homosexuality? It doesn't make sense, unless you're claiming that they once were into it and then by Jesus time weren't into it, but I don't see how their could be any evidence for that.

I also don't see how the inclusion of Paul's verses, which are well known, change anything I said. The writers of the New Testament were men, and the words do not carry divine weight unless they are historical repetitions of what Jesus said.

Also, for conservative Christianity to be even seen as consistent, I want to hear just as many blog posts and sermons wailing against the evil of effeminate males and how their inclusion would corrupt the church.

Lastly, it isn't just hard for a rich man, it's impossible. Saying "it's harder than a camel going through the eye of a needle" is essentially saying it's impossible with some added sarcasm and wit. So I want to hear just as many sermons about the evils of rich christians. Otherwise, they're picking and choosing just like everyone else.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Micah Hoover said...

"The writers of the New Testament were men, and the words do not carry divine weight unless they are historical repetitions of what Jesus said."

Yikes! Peter considered Paul's writings (though hard to understand to be Scripture). Paul said that all Scripture was God-breathed. Saying that only the things spoken by the physical lips of Jesus sort of rules out the possibility of Jesus speaking through the physical lips of others.

And it sounds like picking and choosing instead of something more radical.

"If he didn't speak against homosexuality because it wasn't one of the things the Jews were into, why did the Old testament writers speak against homosexuality?"

God doesn't have to justify himself in this way, but it is easy enough to see how Paul, who was reaching out to the gentiles, would need to state this qualification (and others like it, like how a body that is a temple of the Holy Spirit should not be joined with another body in an act of prostitution). The New Testament folks who ministered to the Jews (like Peter and Jesus) simply didn't have an audience struggling with these particular things. As for the Old Testament, the Jews were conquering the land of many evil and corrupt peoples who practiced beastiality and infanticide (like today in many respects). The Jews' in the days Christ walked the earth weren't taking over pagan lands.

"I want to hear just as many blog posts and sermons wailing against the evil of effeminate males and how their inclusion would corrupt the church."

If this is something you seriously want, I'm not going to stand in your way. In fact, to be honest, it sounds like a good idea. I confess I haven't given it as much thought as it deserves.

"Lastly, it isn't just hard for a rich man, it's impossible."

Well, some would say it is impossible for people to walk on water, heal the sick, et cetera. Jesus says in that very passage that "with God all things are possible". Sadly it is true that many of the rich put their trust in their riches (and I have fallen in this regard myself), but you can't know for sure that someone has sinned just because they are rich. By their fruits you shall know them!

6:15 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Hey Micah,

I don't remember that verse from Peter. You quoted Paul saying that all Scripture is God-breathed, but it's clear he was talking about the Old Testament. None of the early Christian writings took the word scripture until later. It wouldn't make much sense for Paul to talk about how the Gospels, or lots of other New Testament writings, who were written later, are scripture when they don't even exist yet. It was about the Old Testament. Even if it was about the New Testament, if we trusted every early Christian author who claimed to be infallibly correct, the New testament would be significant larger. Don't get me wrong though, I really like the letters of Paul and what he has to say most of the time. I don't believe they are infallible or divine though.

Your solution to the Old Testament mentioning homosexuality but Jesus is not includes speculation. It could be true, sure, but I don't see how it has to be true. Why does the fact that the Old Testament Israelites were conquering people and committing infantcide on their own make them more suspectible to homosexuality?

you said: "If this is something you seriously want, I'm not going to stand in your way. In fact, to be honest, it sounds like a good idea. I confess I haven't given it as much thought as it deserves."

I think I didn't word it very clearly. I meant that in that verse you quoted Paul mentions homosexuality on the same level as effeminate males. I argued to be consistent you have to despise effeminancy as much as homosexuality. Effeminate males aren't something people usually think of as evil and not allowed into the church.

You said: "Well, some would say it is impossible for people to walk on water, heal the sick, et cetera. Jesus says in that very passage that "with God all things are possible". Sadly it is true that many of the rich put their trust in their riches (and I have fallen in this regard myself), but you can't know for sure that someone has sinned just because they are rich. By their fruits you shall know them!"

These fruits, and the sin itself, is for Jesus (I believe) having such an abundance of riches. I know Jesus said that with God all things are possible, but I think he was talking about how God would accept the wealthiest man alive should he disown his wealth and follow Jesus. Take the rich young lawyer as an example (although he couldn't give up his riches in the end).

8:19 AM  
Blogger Michael Thompson said...

Hello! Interesting discussion here!

My question for anyone would be, If the new testament is not infallable but just thoughts of men, how could we know that the gospels accuratly tell of what Jesus said? Jesus didn't write them, men did. How can we know for instance that the gospel writers didn't make up jesus condemnation of the rich because they themselves were poor and had contempt for the rich?

1:21 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Hey Michael,

That's a good question. I think that the oral and literary transmission of the Jesus material was good enough to conclude that most of the Gospels are accurate. If you look at the three different synoptic Gospels, the chronology of Jesus ministry varies wildly, the narrative context also contradicts itself across different Gospels, but the actual words of Jesus are surprisingly consistent. The fact that the words of Jesus vary significantly less than the context or the chronology reveals the care that was placed on these words during the transmission process.

There's also the fact that much of Jesus message isn't repeated in the early Christian writing. The dissimilarity between the goals/agenda of Paul and the other letter writers with the writers of the Gospel, to me, says that the Gospel writers were not merely trying to put the popular and common ideas of the day to the mouth of Jesus to give it added credibility, but actually cared about what task they were doing and were trying to be authentic even if they had trouble with some of the things Jesus said.

Those are just two shallow arguments, there are more things to consider, but that'll do for now.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Michael Thompson said...

That could be the case. Thanks for the quick reply Timothy!

What do you think was more important, what jesus said, or what he did?

MT

1:04 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Hey Michael,

To be honest i've never thought about that. Obviously action is more valuable than rhetoric. Jesus did, however, have a unique way of turning his words into actions. For example, his criticisms of the Pharisees were always done to their face, and a challenge to their authority in public led to a questioning of the legitimacy of the social system which was a good thing. Also, when he said "let those who are without sin cast the first stone", his words saved the girl who was about to be stoned. He was probably executed for both his words and his actions. The High priest hated his reinterpretation of Moses' law and his criticisms of temple authority just as much as his cleansing of the temple or his dining with sinners.

Jesus really is the perfect example of someone who practiced what he preached, and accordingly I find it very difficult to comprehend isolating either his words or his actions and judging which was more important. With people today, especially with politicians, their words and actions are very separate things which are able to be judged in isolation, and often in complete disparity with one another. I just don't think that can be done with Jesus.

Or did you mean something like, "do you think his message or his death/resurrection was more important?"

1:51 PM  
Blogger Michael Thompson said...

Hi Timothy
No I meant what he did before then, but now that you mention it :) That is just as important too!
So really a reliable record of his life, his teachings, and his death and resurrection all are needed for the faith I think.

MT

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