Shuck and Jive

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Reinterpretation, Ideology, and Theology

Welcome to Conversations with Bob! Here is Bob's latest!


Nice Post. We have dealt with world and national problems the Presbyterian way. You know the Presbyterian way to solve social problems don’t you? We write a report about it!

Seriously, we clearly agree on ecology, global warming, the sinful use of resources while ignoring the needs of the poor and teen pregnancy. We also agree on our reaction to politicians saying what great Christians they are. I do want policies that agree with Biblical ideals but think such policies can come from a principled non-Christian. Wasn’t it Luther who said that he would rather have a just Turk as a ruler rather than an unjust Christian?

If I understand what you say about theology, ideology and reinterpretation I think we disagree. I’m all for changing theology so that it matches the Bible. If Calvin got something wrong I am willing to say so. And yes, I do look at the whole Bible through the lens, (thank you for the word flycandler), of Jesus. Thank means that I have to say that holy way is not a proper understanding of the purpose of YHWH.

I do agree that the idea that the nation’s rulers set the religion for the state is a non-Biblical concept. Yes, that means I don’t want to try to form a Christian America. Nether do I believe in ultimate destiny, the white man’s burden or America as a model for the world. I think we have seen what happens when we try to create democracy by violence in Iraq.

Can you give me some examples of ideology hiding as theology? I can see it in the desire of Israel to have a king so as to be like other nations. And just how do you make distinctions between theology and ideology? Maybe you could define the terms.

Here’s the thing. I’m not a progressive but I am a traditional Evangelical theologian. I don’t trust governments because those in power, no matter what their religion or ethics, are still sinners. On top of that the ones who claim their Christianity governs their policies scare me. They are too self assured and they can’t seem to make a distinction between their political ideologies and what they think Jesus would do. Let’s see . . . Jesus wants us to bomb the hell out of innocent civilians. Not the Jesus that I know!

I really need you to define what you mean by reinterpretation. If it means deciding what parts of the Bible fit with your ideology, we have a problem. If it means seeing the trajectory of progressive revelation in the Bible and deciding what God intends in the long run, we may disagree about God’s intentions but I think we all make such decisions.

So can you define your terms? How do you distinguish between theology and ideology in the Bible? And what exactly do you mean by reinterpretation?

Maybe we can return to my example of substitutionary atonement. Is this ideology or acceptable theology and if so or if not, what is the difference?

Oh, a comment on Crossan. I like his use of the sociological studies of Mediterranean villagers to examine the gospels. Personally I think Ken Bailey does a better job because he studied villages in rural Lebanon rather than in Italy. And frankly I think Crossan, like many in the various attempts to find the historical Jesus found more of himself than Jesus. I think that is the greatest danger we all face when we come to study of Jesus. We humans have this need for a Jesus like us. I believe Jesus is fully human and fully divine while I believe this has critical theological significance, (and is also Biblical); I also think it is a necessary check on interpreting Jesus. Jesus can’t be like me. Besides, I’m not a 1st Century Jew. I’m not. I’m a 21st Century Christian who lives in America. I have to deal with problems Jesus never mentioned directly. Jesus dealt with wealth but didn’t deal with specific problems like the sins multinational corporations.

Grace and Peace



  1. **Yes, that means I don’t want to try to form a Christian America.**
    Ditto. I recently read Gregory Boyd's latest book on the "Myth of a Christian Nation" and in response to those who say we have to return American to a Christian Nation, he asked at what point where we ever one: during slavery? When women were second-class citizens? When there were no child labor laws?

    **I don’t trust governments because those in power, no matter what their religion or ethics, are still sinners.**
    It's funny, because I do and I don't. I think the Founding Fathers were brilliant in establishing the checks and balances in our system of government, so that each branch would be kept in line by the others. I trust it when it's working properly, because then no one becomes superior.

  2. heather, thank you for your response. The legend in the Presbyterian Church is that the Founding Fathers, James Madison in particular, borrowed the idea of checks and balances from the Presbyterians. We've had them over the years because we don't trust anyone with too much power. (that little problem of total depravity you know.) Madison is supposed to have learned them from John Witherspoon, president of Princeton University and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

    Whether the legend is true, who knows?

  3. Pastor Bob,

    I think it's really neat that you take the time to thank everyone for their response -- most of us, myself included, tend to go in with all guns blazing, and you take the time to step back and see the person behind the comments.

    **We've had them over the years because we don't trust anyone with too much power. (that little problem of total depravity you know.) **

    I tend to look at politicians and wonder -- because I usually think that if I were in that position, I wouldn't do all the stupid stuff they would. If someone put me in charge of a country, I think I'd do an okay job. I'd probably also want to kill a lot of people. ;) But I'm always thinking, "If I had that much power, I wouldn't do that. I'd put the people first."

    And yet would I want someone else to have that much power? There'd be some I'd trust with it, yes. But for the majority, no. I'd want to make sure any power they would be a limited power, and able to be restricted if necessary.

    And even though I feel I'd put the people first -- there are lots of rulers/leaders who have said that, and then lied. Maybe they meant it and were corrupted, maybe they were lying from the start.

    It might also have to do with the conflicting ideas of what is right: President Bush does a lot of things that I don't consider right, and so I wouldn't want him to have too much power. But there are others who I'd be fine with having that much power, because we agree on what's "right." And people can do a lot of damaging in thinking they are doing the right thing.

    I guess it's like trusting that people are decent as a whole, and yet making sure to lock your door everytime you leave the house.

  4. heather

    And I appreciate that you take the time to think and comment!

    One of my great concerns about today's politicians is that you REALLY have to be motivated and good at raising money to get to congress or the white house. I wonder if people don't start out with good ideals, whether I happen to agree with their ideals or not, but then discover that things aren't as simple as they thought things would be.

    When you first get to Washington you discover as a fresh senator or member of congress that you don't have very much power at all. Then you discover that you have to spend a lot of your time raising money so you can run again. And no matter what any of them say I think the money comes with strings attached. Thus the Republicans are owned, in part, by the pharmaceutical companies and the Democrats by the trial lawyers.

    Then there is the intelligence vs. nice person factor. Is having a really intelligent person as president a good thing? Herbert Hoover may have been the most intelligent president ever. Jimmy Carter was certainly the most intelligent president in the last 30 years. His problem was he tried to do it all and didn't delegate enough. George Bush probably would not have won in 2000, (assuming he actually did win), if he hadn't been a good old boy.

    Of course these are not good examples. I long for the days when people ran for office out of public duty. The problem with those days is that most of those people were also from the cultural elite, like Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Lincoln was the odd man out. BTW Lincoln couldn't get elected today. I understand he had a squeaky voice.

    So I am very glad for the separation of powers because it means that everyone has someone watching over his/her shoulder. Which I think was the problem between 2001 and 2006. No one really kept an eye on Bush, particularly after 9/11. And so here we are.

  5. John Witherspoon was the only member of the clergy to sign the Declaration of Independence (the government says so, therefore it must be true-wink).

    I can never find a reliable quote from a Founder or Framer on the legend that they borrowed the nation's form of government from our church. Whenever I hear that, I feel like I have to run out and apologize to America. Yessir, the Presbyterians' great contribution to the infant nation: Task Force Reports!

    Seriously, the intent in both forums (American government and Presbyterian churches) is that change comes about after much deliberation. For a fascinating look at how the framers' vision for how legislating would work has been turned on its head, see Al Gore's new book The Assault on Reason. Por ejemplo: the House, with 2-year terms, was meant to be the more responsive and have higher turnover than the Senate, with its 6-year terms. Therefore, Senators would not feel as much electoral pressure (indeed, nearly none until the 17th Amendment was ratified). Ergo, the Senate gets the weighty "advice and consent" and ability to try officers indicted ("impeached") by the House. As state legislatures have the power to draw House districts (and have in the last century gotten very good at tracking citizens' voting habits), House seats have become "safe" in recent years, the Senate has become the place where huge electoral battles come up (last year's upset defeats of Rick "Man-on-dog" Santorum, George "Macaca" Allen, Mike DeWine, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Talent, and Conrad Burns are case in point).

    Here in Georgia, Jimmy Carter is still beloved (as is FDR). The general consensus is that he was the right man at the wrong time. Had it not been for the Iranian revolution (which was the result of Truman and Eisenhower policy), it is very likely he would have won reelection in 1980 and his program to get us off Arab oil by 2000 could have really gained traction.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, I'm a fan of Thom Hartmann and his radio show. I'm young enough that the central message chimes with me. It's a government of the people, and if enough people get involved, the politicians will fall into line. Blogs, Youtube, and individual campaign contributions through websites may well mark a fundamental shift in American politics, just as TV and radio did in times past.

    Another great book (yes, I make book recommendations at the drop of the proverbial hat) is Doris Kearns Goodwin's A Team of Rivals, in which she recounts the events from Lincoln's 1860 campaign through his assassination. Yes, he won because the Democratic vote split between Douglas in the north, Bell in the border states, and Breckinridge in the south. Lincoln was a surprise win in the Republican nomination (this was back in the day of the smoky convention hall nomination process). Lincoln put his electoral rivals in powerful positions in his cabinet (Seward as Sec. of State, Salmon Chase as Sec. of Treasury, Edward Bates as Attorney General, Democrat Edwin Stanton as Sec. of War, etc.). How times have changed!