Shuck and Jive

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Radical Reformation

I have concluded my section on Creation. If you look to the right of my blog you can see that I have added a section entitled, Theology for the 21st Century. Under that is the heading "Preliminaries" then "Our Context" and the first topic, "Creation." "God" is next.

I have more preliminaries to add.

Robert W. Funk, biblical scholar, and founder of the Westar Institute, prepared these twenty-one theses for the reformation of the church. I am curious as to what you think of these?

These 21 theses are found in his 1996 book, Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millenium. They were also printed in The Fourth R in 1998.

  1. The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world. We must reckon with a deep crisis in god talk and replace it with talk about whether the universe has meaning and whether human life has purpose.
  2. The doctrine of special creation of the species died with the advent of Darwinism and the new understanding of the age of the earth and magnitude of the physical universe. Special creation goes together with the notion that the earth and human beings are at the center of the galaxy (the galaxy is anthropocentric). The demise of a geocentric universe took the doctrine of special creation with it.
  3. The deliteralization of the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis brought an end to the dogma of original sin as something inherited from the first human being. Death is not punishment for sin, but is entirely natural. And sin is not transmitted from generation to generation by means of male sperm, as suggested by Augustine.
  4. The notion that God interferes with the order of nature from time to time in order to aid or punish is no longer credible, in spite of the fact that most people still believe it. Miracles are an affront to the justice and integrity of God, however understood. Miracles are conceivable only as the inexplicable; otherwise they contradict the regularity of the order of the physical universe.
  5. Prayer is meaningless when understood as requests addressed to an external God for favor or forgiveness and meaningless if God does not interfere with the laws of nature. Prayer as praise is a remnant of the age of kingship in the ancient Near East and is beneath the dignity of deity. Prayer should be understood principally as meditation—as listening rather than talking—and as attention to the needs of neighbor.


  1. We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus' divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.
  2. The plot early Christians invented for a divine redeemer figure is as archaic as the mythology in which it is framed. A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. We must find a new plot for a more credible Jesus.
  3. The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned. In addition, it is a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.
  4. The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.
  5. The resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus did not rise from the dead, except perhaps in some metaphorical sense. The meaning of the resurrection is that a few of his followers—probably no more than two or three—finally came to understand what he was all about. When the significance of his words and deeds dawned on them, they knew of no other terms in which to express their amazement than to claim that they had seen him alive.
  6. The expectation that Jesus will return and sit in cosmic judgment is part and parcel of the mythological worldview that is now defunct. Furthermore, it undergirds human lust for the punishment of enemies and evildoers and the corresponding hope for rewards for the pious and righteous. All apocalyptic elements should be expunged from the Christian agenda.

God's Domain according to Jesus

  1. Jesus advocates and practices a trust ethic. The kingdom of God, for Jesus, is characterized by trust in the order of creation and the essential goodness of neighbor.
  2. Jesus urges his followers to celebrate life as though they had just discovered a cache of coins in a field or been invited to a state banquet.
  3. For Jesus, God's domain is a realm without social boundaries. In that realm there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, homosexual nor heterosexual, friend nor enemy.
  4. For Jesus, God's domain has no brokers, no mediators between human beings and divinity. The church has insisted on the necessity of mediators in order to protect its brokerage system.
  5. For Jesus, the kingdom does not require cultic rituals to mark the rites of passage from outsider to insider, from sinner to righteous, from child to adult, from client to broker.
  6. In the kingdom, forgiveness is reciprocal: individuals can have it only if they sponsor it.
  7. The kingdom is a journey without end: one arrives only by departing. It is therefore a perpetual odyssey. Exile and exodus are the true conditions of authentic existence.

The canon

  1. The New Testament is a highly uneven and biased record of orthodox attempts to invent Christianity. The canon of scripture adopted by traditional Christianity should be contracted and expanded simultaneously to reflect respect for the old tradition and openness to the new. Only the works of strong poets—those who startle us, amaze us with a glimpse of what lies beyond the rim of present sight—should be considered for inclusion. The canon should be a collection of scriptures without a fixed text and without either inside or outside limits, like the myth of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable or the myth of the American West.
  2. The Bible does not contain fixed, objective standards of behavior that should govern human behavior for all time. This includes the ten commandments as well as the admonitions of Jesus.

The language of faith

  1. In rearticulating the vision of Jesus, we should take care to express ourselves in the same register as he employed in his parables and aphorisms—paradox, hyperbole, exaggeration, and metaphor. Further, our reconstructions of his vision should be provisional, always subject to modification and correction.


  1. Great job on the Creation series of postings. You brought together all the foundations and them summarized them and refered back to them in the final posting.

    I have a couple of reactions to what Funk wrote. For the most part, I think that almost most of what Funk says is correct, but I do disagree with his first point, point 1. While I agree that we should reject what Marcus Borg calls "supernatural theism", I don't think that means throwing out the baby with the bathwater and dispensing with God-talk altogether or with any conception of a God who has personal or transcendent qualities. Funk appears to have taken a position not unlike Spong's, which is to reject any form of theism outright and to consider "God" as another name for the mysteries of the universe and nothing more.

    I certainly agree that the ancient images of God as a patriarchal father image residing above the sky in "heaven" has permeated modern conceptions of theism, and in that sense we should reject it, but there are alternatives to this view (panentheism, for example). Simply rejecting an ancient and untenable conception of God does not mean that we therefore have to reject all conceptions of transcendence. I think in a sense he is shooting down the same straw man that Richard Dawkins appears to in his new book (which I haven't read, but from the reviews I've seen Dawkins appears to mostly aim at a straw man when he rejects belief in God.)

    I also think that in his concept of the Domain (Kingdom) of God, he makes a lot of wonderful points, but he does seem to underestimate the political aspects of Jesus's resistance to the Empire. I think that the contrast between the earthly Kingdom of Caesar, which was oppressive both economically and politically, and the Kingdom of God, which is liberating, was as much a component of Jesus's message as the social and theological components.

    Other than that, though, I think he made a lot of points that make sense.

  2. John,

    First, I'll say upfront that I've not commented much here nor read much of your blog, so don't know what your personal take on the list is.

    My initial, gut reaction is to say that if I subscribed to most of this list, I'm not sure why I'd even bother to be a Minister of the Word and Sacrament.

    Doesn't seem like there'd really be much of a point in it for me anyway. And it would be pretty darn difficult to claim with any integrity affinity to our Presbyterian tradition or to the confessions.

    I see the list as exploiting some rather gross exaggerations, pointing out what can be seen as ridiculous in the extremes of our faith and then coming to the conclusion that it all most go.

    For instance one can affirm the doctrine of original sin (as Niebuhr said, it's the only impirically verifiable docrine we have) without a literal interpretation of Genesis or holding to silliness that sin is passed down through sperm.

    And one can hold a pretty hearty doctrine of atonement in all its fullness and its multiplicity of biblical images without subscribing to a theory of divine satisfaction.

    The faith is a mystery and sadly, this list strips most if not all of the mystery from it.

  3. John,

    What's the point of giving a reaction to this (or any of your other posts)? You said you've "concluded" the Creation section. However, you were meticulous about not answering a single objection that I raised.

    The only time you even responded was to when I revealed the fact that I was a 6 x 24 hour day creationist. And your "response," if it can justly be called that, was to ignore everything in the post (even misunderstanding the book recommendation I made as supporting my view when it actually supports yours - as far as I understand both arguments) and instead slander me as someone who retreats into barbaric oversimplification because the world has gotten too complicated for my tiny brain.

    I can't figure it out: Is it a lack of courage, conviction, commitment, clock, or competence that prevents you from answering? Are you posting only for the lauds of those readers who already agree with you? Or do you just have a morbid craving for controversy?

  4. I suppose Funk's philosophy might be used to reform "a" church, but certainly not "the" church established by Jesus. To say that his theses could "reform" Jesus' church is simply a matter of your choosing the wrong word for your introduction. The correct word would be "transform". Funk's ideas could never reform Jesus' church, they could only transform it into something entirely different - and entirely useless for salvation. There is no danger of that actually happening, of course; we have Jesus' own promise of that. But the risk of misleading the gullible and spiritually immature is great.

    Of course, you probably just borrowed "theses" and "reform" to create a spurious connection with Luther. Spurious because he knew the difference between reformation and transformation and based his 95 theses on adherence to the Bible, not on corrupting it to suit his personal views as Fund did.

  5. Chris,

    I have read all of your comments as well as the comments of others. I do not intend to argue. If you have a point to make, make it. You and all of the others get the last word. In the meantime, I move on with my project.

    In Christ,

  6. I haven't had CPE or anything, but I'm pretty sure that tactic is what is commonly known as stonewalling.

  7. Chris,
    CPE doesn't teach you what shuck&jive does. Its an old, old tradition called blasphemy. You find it on every page at any PC(USA) seminary. In the PC(USA), our seminaries no longer teach reformed theology, our presbyteries no longer bother with orthodoxy, our congregations no longer care for truth. This is the essential metaphor of shuck&jive's existence.
    stephen hukari