Shuck and Jive

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hoping to Keep the Doors Open

(Conversations with Bob! This is my response to Bob's goodbye).


I don't want to leave this without some sense of closure. I archived on the right of this blog the 93 posts we have made in our conversation that began in July. 93! Wow! I have learned a great deal from this conversation and I think our readers have as well.

Whether or not we continue, I just want to say it has been good. Thank you. I certainly do not want to end this conversation on a sour note. We are going through a difficult time in our denomination. But then again, has it ever not been difficult?

I understand and appreciate why you wish to end the conversation. I also understand that you would consider continuing the conversation if I made an apology to the Wineskin people regarding my posts.

Part of me wants to do that just so that we can continue our conversation. However, I wouldn't mean it if I did apologize. At least, not now.

I have appreciated very much your polite and respectful tone in our conversations. I thank you for raising me to a higher level of discourse. Recall that you began the conversation in response to my series on the Rapture (which you described as mocking). I think your ethic is to never say a mocking (satirical?) thing to anyone ever. I think that is a great ethic. It is simply not mine, at least not all of the time.

I really don't care if people say nasty things about me. I can take it and dish it both. And I will. I don't think mocking (I like to think of it as satire) is, in and of itself, a totally inappropriate thing. I certainly do not think it is evil. There is even biblical precedent. Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal and Jesus mocked his opponents on more than one occasion.

I know that it cannot be easy for you to have me take some shots at folks who are your friends. However, there is a qualitative difference between you and the wineskin people. While you may have similarities to their theological views, your ethical and moral behavior is light years ahead of theirs.

These guys are out to destroy the PCUSA. They are sacrificing the real community for an ideal one, one that is made up in their heads. The Layman is their cheerleader. This is not about differences of opinion--conservative and liberal or progressive and evangelical. It is about being divisive and schismatic. You are not. They are.

When they decide that they are too holy for the PCUSA and then trash the PCUSA in their attempts to get others to sympathize with them, they need to called on it in no uncertain terms. I am not going to be "polite" to people who actively work to hurt this denomination and its witness. What they are doing is far worse, in my view, than any mocking I might do.

Anyway, I have enjoyed the conversation, my friend. Thank you for initiating it. Let's keep in touch. Perhaps time will give us both a deeper and wiser perspective.



  1. John -

    You ARE keeping the doors open. Pastor Bob just refuses to come out of the rain because you are laughing at it!

  2. The word "mockery" covers a lot more than just ridicule and satire. The powerful and the self-righteous often mock everyone else simply by declaring themselves superior or more knowledgeable (especially about the ways of God). The fact that one of their main offensive tactics is to accuse everybody else of mocking and marginalising them (they are always passive-aggressive) is so contrived and predictable that it is a further mockery. Not all self-righteous people are aware of this consciously but enough are to make sure that liberals, radicals and progressives are always made to feel guilty. However, the only difference between the aggression of liberals and the aggression of conservatives is that liberals use open techniques like satire whilst conservatives are far more "political" and "psychological" in their methods.

  3. Thanks Snad and Madpriest.

    "The powerful and the self-righteous often mock everyone else simply by declaring themselves superior or more knowledgeable (especially about the ways of God)."


  4. Pastor Bob spends a lot of time defining the "essentials" of doctrinal "belief statements" that are used to define "this is Christian and that is not." For him, these "belief statements" (i.e., propositional statements one intellectually affirms or denies) are the "actual content to the Christian faith." He provides the following example of such "belief statements," saying, "Jesus is God. To a Muslim or a Jew this would be heresy. To a Christian, carefully defined, this is an important part of the faith. A negative example might be that Mohammed is not a true prophet." He makes a big deal of claiming that his "belief statements" are based upon Biblical authority. Yet, when he presented his "negative example" of his "essential belief statements" that he claims is part of the "content" of the Christian faith, he provided no Biblical basis for this claim. When asked, he responded:

    "Didn't know you wanted a Scriptural reference! How about Paul in Galatians 1:3-9: 'Grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for our sins .... I am astonished to find you turning so quickly away from him who called you by grace, and following a different gospel. Not that it is in fact another gospel; only there are persons who unsettle you minds by trying to distort the gospel of Christ. But if anyone, if we ourselves or an angel from heaven, should preach a gospel at variance with the gospel we preached to you, he shall be held outcast ["accursed" in Bob's quote].' I don't believe Mohammed wrote that one receives forgiveness because Jesus gave himself for our sins. And, well let me ask you: am I more polite than Paul?"

    Whether Bob is more polite than Paul is beside the point; theological arrogance is just as unChristlike whether or not you put passive-aggressive lipstick on it; a sow is a sow, and no amount of makeup makes a pig into a beauty queen.

    I note this statement is not qualified with the words, “in the Christian tradition” or anything like that. It is a flat out rejection that there is any truth in the words of Muhammad, without so much as considering the historical meaning of the term prophet in the Torah, or the role the prophets played in pleading for justice, mercy, and righteousness. I note that if one should actually read the Qur'an, and find truth therein, than are we not as Mazhar Mallouhi says, seeing "God's fingerprints on Islamic thought, believing, as Justin Martyr said in the second century, that 'all truth is the Lord's.'" (Chandler 2007: 90)

    Nor is such dogmatic judgment based on any content in the Qur’an, or whether or not the teachings in the Qur’an plead for the widow, or seek justice and mercy for those in need. It is a judgment made based solely upon an intellectual assent to a form of biblical dogmatism, which is little more than a form of religious exclusivist dogma that has throughout history been the cause of great persecutions and all manner of violent acts done against Jews and Muslims in the name of “only in Christ.”

    First, it is clear that Pastor Bob is claiming that unless someone believes that Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins (i.e., the "original sin/fall/atonement" doctrine as preached by the early church and Paul) they do not receive God's forgiveness and are therefore apparently outside salvation ("accursed"). It is nothing more than a rhetorical ploy and an unwillingness to face the true consequences of such theological judgments to argue that in the end God saves whom he will and in the end even those who don't accept "Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins" will be saved. This is nothing more than a retreat into theological obscurantism. It is similar to the retreat into obscurantism that Pastor Bob exhibits when faced with the fact of organic evolution and the truth that it contradicts the "original sin/fall/atonement" theology of Paul that he uses to judge the souls and salvation of Muslims above, or whether or not Muhammad responded to the call of God and spoke truth in his teachings. In Pastor Bob's own words:

    “The real problem ... is the opposing narrative of modern science. If the theory of evolution is a correct evaluation of the evidence ... what are we to say about sin and death? Clearly Paul’s statement that sin and death came into the world through one man is contradicted by the evidence pointing towards evolution…. [I]f you take away the doctrine of original sin the whole Biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption fall apart. How can one man/God die for the sins of the world if we cannot say that human sin is collective and not just individual?” (Pastor Bob)

    For the record, when Pastor Bob was faced with the reality of the fact of organic evolution and the honest recognition of the logical conclusions that this fact implied for the entire "original sin/fall/atonement" theology, along with the simple historical fact that there was a plurality of views within the early church on these questions, his only recourse was to retreat into theological obscurantism and the shelter of fallacious biblical authoritarianism based upon one narrow Western orthodox interpretation of scripture at the exclusion of the entire Eastern orthodox tradition; a feat all the more amazing in that it requires one self-impose intellectual blinders that refuse to recognize the historical truth that a plurality of views has and still does exsit within the Christian tradition which includes both Western and Eastern tradition.

    Jesus taught us that God the Father forgives us even before we ask; that we shall be forgiven, as we forgive those who trespass against us. (Mt.6.12) He tells us that the Father in heaven forgives because he loves us, and that we should be like our Father in heaven and forgive one another, and then highlighted this relational nature of forgiveness with the parable of the debtor who was forgiven but refused to do likewise to those who owed him. (Mt.18.23) He taught God is merciful to those who are merciful (Mt.18.35; Lk.6.32-42), and Jesus in the parable of the judgment day when he separates the goat from the sheep makes it perfectly clear that it is those who were merciful and did God's will that shall enter the kingdom. And he also makes it clear than anyone can say, "Lord, Lord," but shall not enter the kingdom of heaven unless the feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and seek justice and mercy for all God's children, regardless of whether they are Jew, Muslim, or Christian. It is clear that forgiveness has nothing to do with what we believe about Jesus (that is Paul's teachings); he says it plainly when he tells us, "For if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, then the wrongs you have done will not be forgiven by your Father." (Mat.6.14; Mk.11.25) Jesus teaches we should forgive our fellows seven times seven; the Qur'an teaches it is Godlike to forgive again and again. The Qur'an is rich with words describing the same attitude towards mercy and forgiveness that Jesus teaches; "Afa" means to forget, to obliterate from one's mind, "Safaha" means to turn away from, to ignore, to treat a matter as if it did not affect one, and "Ghafara" which means to cover up something as Allah does to our sins with His grace, for Allah is the One who forgives again and again.

    I think part of dialogue is to critically evaluate the real human consequences of the theological position Bob takes above. Not long ago, I was in a Presbyterian church where the same “only in Christ” exclusivist theological claims are made, with just as nice a demeanor as Bob, and one gentleman from the congregation came up to me and showed me a beautiful poem written by a Jewish fellow he knew whom he described as a “really nice fellow.”. After sharing the little poem with me, he made a point of adding, “But it is to bad they [the Jews] are not getting into heaven, but are going to hell.” When I asked why he said this, he pointed me to the same kinds of scripture that Bob points to when making his comment about Muhammad, noting that the Jews “don’t believe Jesus in the Messiah.” Let us not fool anyone, no matter how nice Bob is, or nice he says it, there are very real theological judgments in such a statements when taken to their logical conclusion, and it is perfectly appropriate to point these very real consequences out.

  5. Rob
    For the record, when Pastor Bob was faced with the reality of the fact of organic evolution and the honest recognition of the logical conclusions that this fact implied for the entire "original sin/fall/atonement" theology...

    Do you not consider Pastor Bob a brother because of his failure to face the "reality of the fact of organic evolution"? What is that anyway?

    Darwinian macro-evolution is a 19th Century science that collapses in the "face of the reality of the fact" of what we know today about living cells and DNA etc. Pond scum to living cells is fading fast as a credible theory.

    Explain for us if there is an explanation for your scientific obscurantism, por favor.

    Jesus Christ of the Bible is the specific hand of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17). While there is truth in the Qur'an, is it an equally specific offering from God as Jesus Christ?

  6. BTW John,
    I sent the letters of encouragement out to the 39 men [over a month ago] who were humiliated by the Johnson City Press. Is there any news on how they are doing?

  7. I cannot help but wonder while observing Pastor Bob’s ongoing effort to define the “essential belief statements” that are to be the “content of Christian faith” how long it will take him to reverse the trend and reach six hundred and thirteen “essential belief statements”:

    The twofold summary of the Ten Commandments--as the love of God and the love of neighbor--occurred first in the Book of Jubilees (150 B.C.E.). At other times the summary was even more compressed: the law of love for one's neighbor stood on its own as a summary of all the Ten Commandments. How could this be? For a pious Jew, to be engaged in loving the neighbor is simultaneously to be engaged in loving obedience to God. Loving the neighbor is evidence of sincerity in loving God, so love of the neighbor serves as a test of one's love for God. Therefore, both intentions of love could blend, and both commandments could be summarized in terms of love for the neighbor. (Wattles 1996: 47)

    The golden rule functioned as a partial summary of the decalogue in a manuscript found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, "The Two Ways," which contrasted the way of light and life with the way of darkness and death. After quoting the two Great Rules, the text juxtaposes the golden rule with the commandments to love and then uses the latter portion of the Decalogue to explicate the golden rule.

    The way of life is this: First, you shall love the Lord your maker, and secondly, your neighbor as yourself. And whatever you do not want to be done to you, you shall not do to anyone else. And the interpretation of these words is: Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not bear false witness, do not fornicate, do not steal, do not covet what belongs to your neighbor. (Wattles 1996: 47)

    (....) The golden rule thus became part of a venerable tradition of expressing the law in summary form. One account of this tradition was given by Rabbi Simmlai (third century C.E.):

    Six hundred and thirteen precepts were imparted by Moses, three hundred and sixty-five negative ... and two hundred and forty-eight positive.... David came and established them as eleven, as it is written (Ps. xv): Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent, who shall dwell in thy holy mountain? (i) He that walketh uprightly and (ii) worketh righteousness and (iii) speaketh the truth in his heart. (iv) He that backbiteth not with his tongue, (v) nor does evil to his neighbor, (vi) nor taketh up a reproach against another; (vii) in whose eyes a reprobate is despised, (viii) but who honoureth them that fear the Lord. (ix) He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not; (x) he that putteth not out his money to usury, (xi) nor taketh a bribe against the innocent.... Then Isaiah came and established them as six (xxxiii.15): (i) He that walketh in righteousness and (ii) speaketh uprightly; (iii) he that despiseth the gain of deceits, (iv) that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, (v) that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and (vi) shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil. Then came Micah and established them as three (Micah vi.8): What doth the Lord require of thee but (i) to do justice, (ii) to love mercy, and (iii) to walk humbly with thy God? Once more Isaiah established them as two (Is.lvi.1) (i) Keep ye judgment, and (ii) do righteousness. Then came Amos and established the as one (Amos v.4): Thus saith the Lord, Seek ye me and ye shall live, or (as R. Naham b. Isaac preferred): Habakkuk came and made the whole law stand on one fundamental idea (Habakkuk ii.4): The righteous man liveth by his faith.[32]

    Such principles, statements of the law, simplify tradition, giving the mind a more unified, manageable focus. A summary rule is a kelal in Hebrew, a rule or principle.[33] A principle, whose sage brevity does ot the heart of the matter, gives generality, and also emphasizes spiritual teachings over ritual requirements. (Wattles 1996: 47-48)

    [32] Rabbi Simmler, in teh Babylonian Talmud Makkoth 23b-24a (quoted in Abrahams, 1967, 23).
    [33] Matthew's translation into Greek at 22.36--"commandment" (entole)--did not preserve this sense; though Flusser notes that Philo's translation did and that Paul overcame this linguistic difficulty in Rom. 13.9 and Gal. 5.14 (1990, 228n).

  8. Hi Readers,

    I am going to request that we let Pastor Bob be now. Bob didn't have to come over and converse with me. He did so because he wanted to be supportive of me. He is a friend and I respect his decision. He is a good egg.

    Let us do continue to talk about theology and so forth, but without referencing Bob.



  9. John, forgive me, but I did want to say just a quick word of support for your friend Bob.

    I do not necessarily agree with Bob on many things (see our back-n-forth on "essentials" and my arguing from a Historical Presbyterianism perspective), but I think we do agree on many others. Oddly enough, I think that my own pastor (whom I adore) would probably line up theologically slightly more with Bob than John.

    I want to commend Bob for doing his utmost to be gracious throughout the conversations here, and from what I can tell, his motivations for doing so come from the right place. While I may not agree with his decision to stop the conversation, I understand the means by which he arrived at that decision. Satire (which I do think is a better word for John's approach) is a very powerful rhetorical weapon.

    As the late Molly Ivins observed (in the context of political satire, but I think it's useful here):

    "Satire is a weapon, and it can be quite cruel. It has historically been the weapon of powerless people aimed at the powerful. When you use satire against powerless people,... it's not only cruel, it's profoundly vulgar. It is like kicking a cripple." (May 1995)

    I don't see the Wineskins as particularly powerless, and they are in fact quite powerful and threatening to do a very dangerous thing with that power (we all agree on that). While it is true that a pastor must hold a very different (higher?) standard than a political reporter/analyst/commentator, I think that Ivins' test is a helpful one for us all.

    Bob, you're my brother in Christ, and I love you for it. I hope the healing can happen and the conversation continue.