Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Universe and the Bible

The Advent meditation that I wrote for my congregation has raised an eyebrow at Viola Larson's place. Thanks to Witherspoon and to John Wilde for linking to it as well. I am glad it raised an eyebrow. The discussion illustrates the changes that have been underway for some time regarding Christianity. These changes are the result of a modern scientific worldview in conversation with a biblical worldview.

What do we do for instance when we affirm that the Universe is about 14 billion years old, Earth is four billion years old and that
homo sapiens (like all living things) are the result of evolutionary processes?

Some options:

1) Oh those scientists and their itching ears. Scripture warned us about these false teachers and their deceiving ways. The Bible is God's book and the Bible shows us that the world is between 6 and 10 thousand years old. Adam and Eve were real people. Jesus came down from heaven, did his business and flew up again and will return literally on the clouds before you can say Jack Robinson. The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.

2) Modern science does not contradict the Bible, but fits in it. In this view, the Bible still provides the overarching narrative for the universe even as science or a pseudo version of science is somewhat grudgingly affirmed (ie. the 6 days of Genesis 1 could mean 14 billion years). Or God made Earth and the Universe to "look old." The Bible is seen as accurate in regards to how Earth was formed and how humanity arrived on the scene. It is also accurate regarding the future of humanity, Earth, and the universe itself including Jesus returning in some literal and bodily way.

In views 1 and 2, the universe story is bound up within the biblical story.

3) The Bible is a human product. We see the Bible as a human story within the larger picture of the cosmic story. While the various authors of Genesis 1 and 2 might have thought their version of creation was how it played out, we have moved beyond them. Nevertheless we can appreciate poetry, story, and art. It is a story of humanity seeking meaning. Jesus born of a virgin, dying, rising, ascending, returning, might have been understood by these early believers in some literal way. They lived within a worldview in which those narratives could have been plausible. The meaning behind those narratives, the heart of them, was that the values of Jesus (such as compassion) are worth living. As opposed to the dominance of Empire, the compassion and wisdom of Jesus and the prophets is a worthy hope to embrace. In this view the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and all the myths of the ancients are a testament to human creativity. The symbols of faith reveal a truth and open us to a beauty that we wouldn't know without them.

4) The Bible is superstition and we do well do treat it as such. Religion is false and harmful.

In views three and four, the biblical story (like all religious literature) is bound up within the universe story.

As you can tell by my rhetoric, the view with the longest explanation and least amount of snark is my view (#3).

Since I invented the categories and made up the explanations to go with them, the only person I will convince is me.

So how do you see the relation between the universe story and the biblical story?

For extra credit: if you identify as Christian, what does Advent mean to you?


  1. I'd say I'm somewhere around #2, with the caveat that I'd never claim that God did X through scientific process Y. I say that because every scientific theory is tentative, in that we're always looking for new evidence to modify and strengthen our approach.

    So when people say something to the effect of "The truth is that God created humanity, as the Bible says, but did so through evolution, as science says" it always sets my teeth on edge. To assume that a scientific theory is a reality vs. a *description of our understanding of reality* is as big a sin, in my book, as those busybodies, fusspots, tattletales, and scolds who cannot see the difference between God's Word in Scripture and their own feeble, meager, totally depraved human interpretations.

    The universe story is always bound up within our stories (Biblical or otherwise.) The universe doesn't tell a story without our observations, interpretations, and conclusions (whether those stories are scientific, prescientific, artistic, sociological, legal, political, and/or faith-based or all of the above.) (Note, by "our" I'm including any non-terrestrial life forms that may be out there looking up at the stars.)

    As for the bonus question, I'd say that Advent is yet another time to remember the "already and not yet" nature of our faith. That idea might even inspire one to do something nice for someone, say donating to a homeless shelter, which might not be such a bad idea either, even if it apparently doing unto others seems too secular for some Christians (*ahem*). Oh, and the cookies. Advent is definitely about the cookies.

    But if you disagree with me, be assured that I'm unlikely to write a whole blog post about it because I don't actually have to make sure the rest of the world agrees with almighty me in order to somehow prop up my own self-image and self-importance.

    Unless you disagree about the cookies, then I'm contacting your presbytery. ;)

  2. Another great post, as usual, John. I think you've summarized it very well.

  3. By the way, as you might guess, I am in #3. I don't consider myself a Christian perhaps because I find all the Jesus language at churches to be more than I can take sometimes. :) But I do think that viewing the Bible as a human product and a human attempt at understanding God and the universe is the way to go. It allows for a tolerant view of other faiths and it sees religion as a journey rather than as a repository of dogma. It eliminates any problem of contradictions between science and religion, and it prevents the problem of being an apologist for parts of the Bible that simply don't jibe with the modern view of science. All in all, I see #3 as a win-win approach. :)

  4. John you didn't include a category for me! I would say that an appropriate analogy for the Bible is fully divine and fully human. The writers wrote what they intended to write but God speaks nevertheless.

    And I think that the intention of the Bible is to teach us what to believe and how to live.

    Calvin says that in the Bible God lisps to us as a nursemaid lisps to a baby. In other words God doesn't worry about all the stuff we don't need to know for salvation.

    As to Advent, I'm with Alan. Advent is about the already and the not yet. We remember what God has already done in becoming human but we also look forward to Christ's return. And no I'm not going to argue with you about how Jesus will return. I figure that's God's business and not mine.

  5. @Alan thanks! I will definitely not go heretic on the cookie issue.

    I like this:

    The universe story is always bound up within our stories (Biblical or otherwise.)

    @Bob How very dialectic of you! Thanks!

    I'm good for this:

    The writers wrote what they intended to write but God speaks nevertheless.

    @Seeker I'm with you, too!

    But I do think that viewing the Bible as a human product and a human attempt at understanding God and the universe is the way to go. It allows for a tolerant view of other faiths and it sees religion as a journey rather than as a repository of dogma.

    Nice work fellas.

    Too bad y'all are going to hell because you don't know Jesus.

  6. I, apparently, don't know Jack either. I'm not sure how that figures into the destination of my eternal soul

  7. I'll read this post later - have to get to work now (assuming the power has come back on!). But, I must wonder about Viola et al. They bring to mind a person who knows she will get sick if she eats ice cream, but can't help stopping at every Dairy Queen she sees.

  8. I enjoy your postings, and I have to tell you about a new audio version of scripture that I think you may enjoy.
    The goal of THE VOICE is to promote the public reading of Scripture - followed by thoughtful engagement with the Biblical narrative in its richness and fullness and dramatic flow. It is essentially a retelling of the story of God’s love and redemption of creation. Go to to learn more, get a free download of the Gospel of John, and enter in the Hear the Voice Sweepstakes for a chance to win a free copy of the Voice and an IPOD TOUCH! This really brings the Bible to life in a whole new light! ENJOY!

  9. I know Jack. Took classes from him in seminary. Rogers that is. :) Although I think Jack would say that knowing him wouldn't get you into heaven.

  10. Option 3 works for me. I think it is the position Marcus Borg takes. The Bible is metaphor and sacrament. It points to great truths about the nature of reality without being factual either scientifically or historically.

    Advent is the period of waiting and preparing and anticipating before a great event of God occurs which is called by many names. It is a mystery.

    The Witherspoon Society has 2 Advent messages worth reading. In Bruce Gillette's piece, one of my favorite professors, Dan Migliore, takes on Hal Lindsay and all of the latter day Rapturists.

    Pastor Bob rightly points out that Advennt both looks back ("the already" and looks forward ("the not yet".

    Since the Kingdom of God is within us, the Already and the Not Yet are quite apparent to each of us in significant ways. Repent! The Kin(g)dom of God has come near.

    The Presbyterian Welcome blog has some great posts on the question: "When do you know that God's kin(g)dom is near?"

    “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
    Luke 21:31

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

  11. I think that perhaps a big reason why I stay away from churches these days is that I have found few of them are really aimed at the 3's among us. I have found progressive churches where message maybe at best hovers around 2.5 in the message that they convey, but it is almost always closer to 2 than to 3. At least that has been my interpretation of what I have experienced.

  12. Don't tell anyone (and I certainly cannot speak for everyone) but our little coven of heretics has a goodly number of threefers as well as twofers and occasional fourfers who like to hear what threefers have to say. Onesters are welcome but they don't tend to hang around too long. And there is always room for the pastors bob.

  13. I don't have any problem with people who choose the other options as long as they do so with plenty of humility and compassion and open-mindedness and a desire to keep growing and changing.

    I do believe that the game of My Religion is Better Than Your Religion is quite childish at best and very, very dangerous at worst.

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + "Why 99, you know we have to murder and kill and destroy in order to preserve everything that's good in the world." --Maxwell Smart to Agent 99

  14. What a great discussion.

    I of course don't find myself in any of the four categories, but that's me marching to my own drummer (which is what I like about this blog, we can all drum along together).

    In Christian history class at Seminary this week, we had the discussion of secularization (whatever that means) because the end of the class brings us to the end of the modern era. It is apparent to me that the problems of pain and theodicy (largely around the two world wars) are the real issues, with evolution and the Bible serving as distracting side issues.

    Certainly a little bit of scriptural literacy (there was this man named Job who lived in the land of makebelieve ... etc.) would certainly go a long way.

  15. One other thing, I meant to compliment, Alan, his talke is getting pretty close to mine (including the teeth on edge part).

  16. @gordbrown

    Thanks for the good words. Interesting that you see evolution/bible as a distracting side issue. I can see what you mean.

    We are constantly beating back the fundamentalist/creationist flare ups.

    Moving forward, I think our evolutionary/cosmic story is not a side issue. I think it is our via positiva, our praise story, our big picture, our raison d'etre.

    It is far more huge and far more important than any previous creation story (including the Bible's).

    This, to me, is a story we need to tell and get and then see the vast human wisdom tradition within it.

    But that's just me.

  17. I think the question of what constitutes a side issue is an interesting one.

    In some ways I think that everything is a side issue compared to that of social justice. As long as there are people who lack food or shelter, as long as corporations continue to rape the populace and the environment to serve their own profits, and as long as there is war and oppression, then I suppose theological questions might seem a bit esoteric in comparison.

    But I still think that these other questions do matter, and as John points out, the underlying narrative that defines our philosophical outlook does impinge on so much that we think about and do.

  18. "The universe doesn't tell a story without our observations, interpretations, and conclusions"

    My hypothesis is that this is why humans created heaven, hell, afterlife, and all that bit - simply because it is humanly impossible to consider the smallest corner of the universe without subjective interpretation. Whether we try to look at it as if through a telescope, a window, a door, or the other side of the room, it still is being seen through our eyes.

  19. When I was on retreat with the Jesuits in August, I walked their the stations of the Cosmos and had an honest mystical experience as part of that exercise. So I agree completely that the origin of the universe as we understand it is important. And I agree 100% with MS that social justice is the issue. But I also agree that we need to go back to first causes, for one thing it helps to create the arguments we need to convince others to join us on the adventure (carbon reduction is important because we are destroying the creation that God has given us) but also gives us the Spiritual resources we need to keep going when it seems so desperate. Thanks again all.

  20. John,

    I keep forgetting you live in Tennessee. My brother lives in Knoxville. Sometimes he is self conscious about it. California is less hung up on what the Bible says about the Universe.

    I was surprised in college when my biology professor (in Kansas) was cautioning us that what he was about to teach might be at odds with what we were taught in church.

    I was a preacher's kid, well versed in the Bible, and had gone to conservative evangelical churches all my life, but not in the US. I had thought the issue if evolution vs religion had been settled with the Scopes trial.

    I decided Americans are weird.

    As I see it, the Bible is true and Science is true. The theory of Evolution and the Scriptural account of the life of Jesus are both true.

    It's a good test of doctrine. Any doctrine that sets them at odds with each other is clearly false.

    But you have made me re-think some of those issues, and I realized something. Science is about finding the rules of nature. Engineering is about using those rules to create technology. But miracles are against the rules.

    Therefor what the Bible says about God is that God is a rule breaker.

    Jesus is a rule breaker. He breaks the rules of religion and he breaks the rules of science. That is what the Scriptures tell us. And if God made a virgin have a baby, and if Jesus turned water into wine, and if God made Jesus come back to life, then God is a rule breaker.

    Come think of it, that is the essence of Paul's teaching. That is the meaning of the resurrection.

    And I realized that I came to that realization very early in life, and that it has colored my outlook on life ever since. If God is a rule breaker, then I can break rules too. And I have loved rule breakers all my life ever since.

    You know what else? Great scientists and great theologians are also rule breakers too.

    Therefore "sin" is not about breaking rules.

    I have strived to be a rule breaker all my life.

  21. Jodie

    I understand your perspective that God is the rule breaker. I would suggest instead that we humans see regularity in the universe and believe those are the rules. God seems to have a different perspective on what regularity is. I would suggest that God usually works in a what we perceive to be a particular pattern (and I would agree with Alan that scientific theory is a description of our understanding of reality) but that God can choose to work outside of what we see as a pattern.

    I also don't think that science can ever determine what God's pattern is because to do science you have to work within the boundaries of finding events that are repeatable.

    Therefore I think God has a larger pattern and isn't breaking the rules but we can't see the larger pattern.

    If Jesus is both divine and human that would certainly be outside of what we see as the normal course of events or pattern.

  22. Having said all of that I have no problem with the idea that God breaks human ideas of what the rules are. God seems to delight in this. God has children born to old women, the lesser become the greater and in the case of Jesus having an itinerant preacher from a poor family also be the King.

  23. Pastor Bob said: "If Jesus is both divine and human that would certainly be outside of what we see as the normal course of events or pattern."


    I think this gets to the heart of the matter. Those 2 candles we light every Sunday in most Christian churches do indeed represent Jesus as 100 per cent human and 100 per cent divine.

    But then, we are all made in the likeness of God. We are baptized into Christ. The old life has gone. A new life has begun. Human birth. Divine birth.

    I'm sure you see where I'm going with this.

    The Perennial Philosophy makes it clear that we are all one with God and with each other. We are all created 100 per cent human and 100 per cent divine. Christianity offers great truths with its traditional symbols. It all goes awry when we idolize Jesus and deny our own divinity. He said: You are the Light of the World. He said: You will do greater things than I have done. He said: The Kingdom of God is within you.

    Viola Larson has decided that John Shuck and I do not belong to the true communion of Christ. I say that John and I and Marcus Borg and many, many others are seeking and finding the true meaning of our powerful symbols and stories and sacraments.

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

  24. I just found a recent thought by John Shelby Spong (I know -- now I'm really in deep doo doo with people like Viola!) that says what I want to say about the need for us to see our Christian symbols and words and stories as pointers to a greater reality. Spong is responding to an admirer who says Spong is a mystic. Here goes:

    I appreciate your words and even your insight. I don't believe one can volunteer to be a mystic, a prophet, a seer, an intellectual or a genius. Those are qualities attributed to you by others sometime well after your earthly pilgrimage is complete. It is meaningful, however, when another attributes one of those titles to you — so thank you.

    Mysticism is to me primarily coming to terms with the limitations of words. That seems to be harder to do in religious circles than anywhere else. Words are always symbols or pointers. They are not the truth or the essence they seek to describe. They are always human, always time bound and always time warped. When any human experience is reduced to words, it is always distorted by time, place, one's level of knowledge, one's time in history and one's culturally conditioned language Nowhere is that more clear than when we try to frame who or what God is in the vehicle of human words. A horse cannot communicate to another horse what it means to be a human being, for a horse cannot escape its horse nature. A human being can never tell another human being what it means to be God, because human beings can never escape the limits of our human nature. Perhaps that is why all human images of God look very much like a great big human being.

    The deeper I experience the reality and presence of God, the less my words seem like adequate vehicles to express that truth. Then words cease and one enters the experience of wordless wonder. Perhaps that is the realization of the mystic.

    – John Shelby Spong

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

  25. John W.

    Re: the image of God in humans

    Traditional Christianity would say that the divinity and humanity of Jesus is different from the image of God in all humans. Further it would say that the image of God is at the very least marred by sin.

    Genesis 1 uses some very curious language to talk about the image of God. While in several places the author/poet uses the term image of God alone in one place it uses image and likeness. Some scholars (including my Penteteuch professor at Fuller) say that likeness is put in there to put some space between humans being created in the image of God and humans therefore being part of God or divine.

  26. Dear Bob,

    Other wisdom traditions make a distinction between the Ego (disconnected) and the True Self (connected). As Bishop Spong says, the truth is beyond words. It's a mystery. I believe in a connection so deep and mysterious that I am able to claim and participate miraculously in a "love so amazing, so divine (which) demands my my soul my life, my all."

    I do thionk Traditional Christianity basically gets it right by affirming that we are both sinner and saint ... simultaneously. It's not logical. It's theo-logical!

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

  27. Jodie,

    I keep forgetting you live in Tennessee. My brother lives in Knoxville. Sometimes he is self conscious about it. California is less hung up on what the Bible says about the Universe.


    California gave us Reagan as I recall. We may be hillbillies but we did offer the nation Al Gore.

    Although to be totally forthcoming, TN voted for Bush. ~sheepish grin~

    I am sorry to have to be so basic in these posts about the Bible and the Universe, but doh!

    To recap:

    I write an Advent meditation that Viola does not like because I don't include a belief that Jesus is going to return in the clouds in some bodily form.

    I argue that the mythologies of gods descending to hell, ascending to heaven, and returning to earth to set up shop fits nicely in a three-tiered view of the universe that was popular before modern times.

    It seems to me that our goal is to try to figure out what these early thinkers meant when as opposed to Mars, Caesar, Zeus, or any other cast of characters to fit the role of the divine/human savior, they chose Jesus of Nazareth. That is the scandal.

    From the popular Christian viewpoint, they could just as well have Mars return to kick some ass on behalf of their own cult. For American Fundamentalist Christianity, Jesus has become nothing more than a war god.

    We don't live in a universe populated by gods. They are gone. Galileo blew them out of the water. When Earth became one of the heavenly bodies, the whole medieval cosmology collapsed. We are still reeling from that.

    We have a new story of origins. We are learning more about it everyday. I would far rather watch the History Channel's "How the Earth Was Made" than read the Presbyterian Book of Confessions.

    However, we have lost our poets. The church kicked them out as it does with anyone who challenges its power and authority. We have lost those who have the ability to imagine the universe in sacred and holy ways.

    The Bible has incredible Wisdom in it. Most importantly, it tells of ways we could live (the compassion of Jesus).

    In my view we need to find a way to communicate the joy of those who discovered life abundant with the vision of Jesus in our time with our challenges.

    That could be the role of the church. But instead we turn our ancestors' wisdom into silly superstitions and reinforce social prejudices and warmongering.

    As pessimistic as I am about the future of civilization and humanity, I cling to a crazy Advent hope that we might yet wake up.

    End of damn sermon.

  28. Thanks John for your latest comment here which is quite poignant. One of my favorite theologians these days is Diarmuid O'Murchu. He wrote QUANTUM THEOLOGY. His tradition is Irish Catholic and he still clings to that heritage, that story which still gives meaning and joy to his life. But he would hardly be considered anything but heretical by the control freaks who run today's RC church.

    For me, he is as orthodox as you can get because he is willing to allow the mysterious, miraculous and marvellous power of the Holy Spirit to lead him on a great adventure into the unknown and uncharted.

    Orthodoxy means to be united in praise. Viola and you and I and Bob and the rest of us hanging out here in Presby blogosphere sing the same song and, I dare say, we worship the same God and marvel at the same holy experiences which are connecting everything to everything. Our words divide us and so do our temporary political persuasions, but our words mean nothing at all.

    Holy, Holy, Holy
    Lord God Almighty
    Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
    Hosanna in the highest.
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
    Hosanna in the highest.

    Still just words.

    But I know the heavenly choir is singing and dancing and partying right now and we can join them in prayer and meditation right now, right here. And everyone is welcome, even Palestinians!

    See Supporting the Palestians -- 7.

    End of my damn sermon!

    And now I enter the great Silence.

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + “You do not need to do anything; you do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You do not even need to listen; just wait. You do not even need to wait; just become still, quiet and solitary and the world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet." -- Franz Kafka

  29. : )

    Miss you, John. Glad we connected again via the interwebs.

    Orthodoxy means to be united in praise.

    Now even I could be orthodox with that definition!

  30. John,

    I was being sarcastic in a way. Viola lives in California, and the Fundamentalist movement started not far from my home right here in Los Angeles.

    "From the popular Christian viewpoint, they could just as well have Mars return to kick some ass on behalf of their own cult. For American Fundamentalist Christianity, Jesus has become nothing more than a war god."

    I agree. You can tell what god a person worships from their vocabulary. If they use the language of the Prince of Peace, then their allegiance is probably with Jesus Christ. But if they use the vocabulary of Mars, then that is who they probably worship.

    Renascence through 19th Century theology is about defining God's rules in part because that is what science was doing so successfully during that same time period. But the best scientists are the ones willing to break the rules. That is how they test the rules. Real rules can't be broken. They said you couldn't divide the atom, so somebody did. That sort of thing.

    But the method is taught in the OT and taken to extremes by Rabbinical Judaism. It is no wonder that most of the best scientists in the World have been Jewish.

    Science and Fundamentalism have this is common. They seek to know the Rules. But Fundamentalism has embraced its early rules as God given dogma, while science is perfectly happy replacing archaic rules with new state of the art rules.

    It's a never ending process even if at times exhausting.

    I live in the world of science rules, and I use and abuse them all the time. But I can do without the archaic rules of Fundamentalism.

    I find Jesus' rule breaking as refreshing and life giving as fresh spring water in the desert. And I would like to believe that he broke the rules of science as much as he broke the rules of religion. The more rules the Violas of the world throw at Him, the more rules He is going to break. I know I am in the presence of the Holy Spirit when I see the books of rules consumed by tongues of fire.

    "In my view we need to find a way to communicate the joy of those who discovered life abundant with the vision of Jesus in our time with our challenges.

    That could be the role of the church"

    Amen to that, and let the dead bury the dead.

  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. Rachel -

    our question reminds me of a story Maya Angelou told when she was at ETSU a few years ago. She had spoken somewhere, and after the event, a young woman came up to her and introduced herself and said "I am a Christian!" Ms. Angelou's response was "Already? I'm 70 years old and still trying to understand what that means."

    In other words, there's no real hurry. ;-)

  33. Now, I'm wondering why the label is so darn important to me, lol.

    I personally don't like to be told that I am not one. That is because it is a political struggle by those who want to claim it (and the corresponding goods) for themselves. Believe me there are a lot of "goods" associated with Christianity. Try running for political office without being a Christian. It can be done but it isn't easy and it cannot be done everywhere.

  34. I find Jesus' rule breaking as refreshing and life giving as fresh spring water in the desert.

    : )

  35. Jodie

    I suspect you are talking about Pentecostalism. Fundamentalism began in the early 1890's in Western New York.

  36. Fundamentalism began in the early 1890's in Western New York.

    And we have been most blessed ever since. Thanks, New York!

  37. I stand (partially) corrected.

    I was thinking of Biola University that got started at 6th and Hope in LA in 1908.

    From Wikipedia:

    "The University was founded on February 25, 1908 as the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles by Lyman Stewart, co-owner of the Union Oil Company of California (subsequently known as Unocal; the company was purchased by Chevron Corporation and no longer exists), and T.C. Horton, a renowned minister and Christian author.
    Biola's former Los Angeles building: under construction in 1912 , complete in 1916

    In 1909, Lyman Stewart and his brother Milton anonymously funded the publication of a twelve-volume series of articles called The Fundamentals, published between 1910 and 1915 and distributed free of charge to a wide range of Christian teachers and leaders, "Compliments of Two Christian Laymen."

    Sound a little familiar? Oil money funding a Fundamentalist tabloid compliments of "Christian Layman"?

    The relationship between Big Oil and American Christian Fundamentalism goes back to their roots.

  38. The relationship between Big Oil and American Christian Fundamentalism goes back to their roots.

    Wow. Thanks for that.

  39. On the connection between the Layman, Right wing Fundamentalism, and Big Oil:

    I am pretty sure "The Layman" was funded by Big Oil as a result of the Powell Manifesto, commissioned by the Nixon administration, for the express purpose of killing the UPCUSA.

    The Powell Manifesto commissioned big business to fund a counter revolution against the perceived threat "from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians." that were, in the Nixon administration's mind, undermining the core values of America, pushing us towards a totalitarian socialist catastrophe.

    It succeeded beyond all their wildest expectations.

    The Powell Manifesto was published in Aug 1971. Powell eventually became a Chief Justice. America leaned heavy to the right. The Layman used to trace its roots to 1972 until they rewrote their own history in 2007 to take it back to 1967, I imagine to rhyme with "40 years". But in the early 70s its tract started appearing free of charge at the doorstep of every elder in the UPCUSA. And Parker Williamson had a salary higher than any pastor in the denomination to run it.

    "Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!"

  40. "I also don't think that science can ever determine what God's pattern is because to do science you have to work within the boundaries of finding events that are repeatable. "

    I agree completely.

    This is the GIGO problem (an acronym from computer science that means garbage in, garbage out.) In other words, if you ask scientific questions of the Bible, you're going to get garbage answers out, and if you ask faith questions of science you're going to get garbage answers out.

    What I find amusing is when the BFTSs attempt to use scientific understandings to determine the Christian orthodoxy of someone else. If you think the earth is several billion years old, you're not really a Christian. If you think evolution is the best theory we have for the origin of species and their change over time, you're not really a Christian.

    It's bad enough that they use science to measure others' faith. It's worse that they don't even have the good manners to pretend to have even a rudimentary notion of science.

    For example, if someone believes that evolution happens within species, but does not form new species, I have to wonder, which journal articles published in peer-reviewed publications do they use as evidence that there is a biological roadblock to producing a new species? What is the biochemical nature of that roadblock? What is its mechanism of action. Heck, can they even name one prominent biological journal?

    In my experience, sloppy thinkers area always sloppy thinkers. And if they use such sloppy thinking in their "evaluation" of science, why would we believe their claims about orthodoxy?

    "Fundamentalism began in the early 1890's in Western New York."

    But wait! The BFTSs all say theirs is the "traditional" faith! Are you suggesting that it isn't? :) Better not let Carmen "The Millstone" Fowler hear you talking like that! ;)

  41. Thanks Alan,

    I don't mind being wrong or having my inconsistencies pointed out. I could very will be missing the point regarding my thoughts on resurrection and the second coming and what all.

    I think questions of what we know and think we know from whatever sources are out there or within our own heads are thrilling.

    We ought to ask them and challenge ourselves and others. Beyond the questions to discover what it means to be a decent human being would be welcome relief.

    It is this patrolling, controlling, condemning, reporting, tattling, and scolding of anyone who brings up questions that is bizarre.

    Folks have been writing books on theology, philosophy, science etc. for quite some time from a lot of different perspectives.

    If the BFTSs had their way, the libraries would be empty I suppose.

    These folks ought to read Augustine:

    If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]

  42. OK, I know I'm a historical nudge but:

    1. While the basics of Fundamentalist theology were out there before 1892 the fundamentals were not put into a specific and small list until then. And the stuff written on them in the early 1900s were books. Some Presbyterians contributed to them, which shouldn't be a big surprise. Princeton Seminary was the center of Presbyterian fundamentalism back then and of the theory of Biblical inerrancy. The presbyterians had their own list of fundamentals because they were vehemently against premillenialism.

    2. The Presbyterian Lay Committee was founded around 1965 in reaction to the idea of having more than one confession (Westminster) and specifically against the Confession of 1967. Whether the newspaper came out then or not I don't know.

    3. The Layman was NOT funded by big oil back at the beginning. There was a specific giver, an individual and a Presbyterian who's name escapes me at the moment.

    $. FWIW big oil seems to have had its greasy fingers everywhere in the Church. Back in the 1920's when the PCUSA told Harry Emerson Fosdick he couldn't be pastor of a presbyterian church without actually becoming a presbyterian pastor (which the fundamentalists weren't going to let happen), a big oil guy John D. Rockefeller, the guy who started Standard Oil gave the money to build a church for Fosdick, which was and is Riverside Church, NYC.

    Finally: there was a Powell who was chief justice of the US supreme court? Sometime after 1971? When?

  43. "The Layman was NOT funded by big oil back at the beginning. There was a specific giver, an individual and a Presbyterian who's name escapes me at the moment."

    And what did he do for a living?...

    But I ask you this. How much money does it take to fund a free tabloid distributed to all pastors and elders of the UPCUSA/PCUSA? And to fund all the legal fights they throw themselves in? Much more than their own budget (which used to be more than 2 Million a year - to spread gossip, innuendo and dissent) they broker direct donations to legal funds all over the country to help poor defenseless churches big and small fight with their "deep pocket" presbyteries. Where does all that money come from? What is the basis for the Louisiana and Texas economies?

    Pay attention dude. This is real life. It's a nasty bloody game, and it's not about spreading the Gospel.

    Up until 2007, the Layman's own history said they started in 1972. Then one day, suddenly, they changed it to 1967 and started talking about how they came together to fight the Confession of 67. They were looking to increase their legitimacy, I guess.

    Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr. was an Associate (sorry, not chief) Justice of the Supreme Court from January 7, 1972 to June 26, 1987. He was on the board of Phillip Morris before then. His memo is called "Attack on the American Free Enterprise System."

    The original conspiracy theorist. Also the prototype activist judge. Nixon loved him.

  44. Jodie

    I don't know what the Layman says in their history but I wrote a paper back in seminary (1975-9) in which I quoted some of their writings from the 1960's - specifically what they said about the Confession of 1967. (They hated it.) Curiously back then they were arguing that the church shouldn't be involved in politics.

    As for the original donor to the Layman I think he was from Western PA. People do make money doing other things besides buying and selling oil. Consider Bill Gates. A monopolist in my book although I like what he and his wife are doing with their money these days.

    As for paying attention I've been doing that my whole adult life. I've watched the nastiness from all sides flying past. Ain't nobody's hands clean. That includes both mine and yours. I don't ignore things. Ask John S. or John W. I don't think I've ever been accused of not paying attention even at presbytery meetings.

    But I listen. And I try to be kind.

    And please don't call me dude. Where I come from that's a fighting word unless you know me really well. Kind of like gal.

  45. Ooh, do i smell cookies? I've enjoyed reading all your responses, as John tends to gather a very thought-provoking group!

    I fit in at #3 with tidbits of 2 and 4 thrown in. Essentially, i think the Bible is a series of books that were written with what the people of that culture and time thought was how God did things, left incomplete by selection or loss of some, and mistranslated on purpose and/or through inadequate terms. It shifts "flavors" a lot (God the creator, the destroyer, the loving, the vengeful, the forgiving, the selective, the universal...), makes occasional contradictions, and supports a lot of cultural tribal survival techniques. I think a lot of those tribal-survival rules may have been important to those people in their day and traditions, but we have greater global connections, greater populations, and greater understanding than to hold on to them with any just purpose.

    To me, the Bible is somewhere between divine and secular in origin. Its uses can be very good or very harmful, or somewhere both or in between.

    I really like the notion that God and Jesus are rule breakers, and i too have a certain fondness for those who break rules for the greater good.

    As for Advent, i am not entirely sure of its exact meaning. But i believe that Jesus HAS come back and WILL come back, many times over in different forms and amounts through different people in history. Perhaps He really does manifest in each of us somehow, that we each have something positive to contribute to society as such. I don't know if/when the form people assume from the Bible will descend and arise though. I don't believe He was born during the winter, but any time to celebrate His life and His light is fine with me.

    I identify as "almost Christian" because i have some Christian values and beliefs, but in reality i suppose i'm an agnostic. I think that God (if He exists, which i think He does) made all of us different for a reason, and most world religions were created with the understanding each culture has of Him/Them. I don't know all the answers, and i am suspicious of anyone who claims to, especially if they do so while condemning people who don't fit their ideals but aren't hurting anyone.

    As for church, i'm just too lazy to go, and i sing badly. ;-)

  46. This comment has been removed by the author.

  47. Part of the reason I have this blog is for the fjorabs and the Dreamers.

    glad to know there are others out there who think like me.


    There are wonderful thinking people who like to ask and explore questions.

    May their tribe increase.

  48. But I listen. And I try to be kind.

    You do, Bob, and I appreciate that and you.

  49. JS wrote, "These folks ought to read Augustine"

    Heh. Augustine?

    You've forgotten who you're talking about. They won't read Augustine. He's a papist, and practiced the pernicious and damnable heresy of the papist church: the Mass.

    (Remember, these are the sorts of BFTSs who found the Manhattan Declaration disturbing because some Catholics signed it. Seriously.)

  50. Bob,

    Sorry about the "dude" thing. Its the surfer culture of CA bleeding through.

    You are the first person I have heard of to claim having read the Layman prior to 1972. I'd be curious about what you wrote and quoted.

    I have heard about said donor and I thought what I had heard was that it was in fact an oil guy from Texas. I could be wrong.

    Curiously I do believe conservative Christians should stay out of politics. Fundamentalists especially. And the more conservative the government, the smaller it should be. But for liberals and progressives, not be too simplistic, government and politics are about public service and the betterment of the commonwealth. More of that is always better, and staying engaged in politics is essential for the common good.

    So on that one, within their own frame of reference, both conservatives and liberals are right.

    But big business, which has nothing to do with public service or the common good, has co-opted and funded the religious right to get involved in support of right wing politics.

    That, I believe, is very bad.

  51. Jodie

    My paper was about the interaction between theology, ethics and politics. I talked about how Calvinist (that was the subset I was talking about so don't say that others connect the three. I was writing a paper not a book) had throughout history tied theology and ethics with political action.

    I'm not sure if the Layman was published as a newspaper then or if I quoted from other documents from the Lay Committee. I could find the paper but it might take a few weeks. At the time the the Lay Committee argued that the Church should not be involved in politics. That is one strand of Calvinist tradition in the US that goes back centuries.

    And why shouldn't everyone be able to support or oppose particular political positions? That's what Americans do. You and I would probably agree on some issues and not on others. In my experience it ain't as simple as us and them.

    Further, both parties get money from big business. That's how one stays in office. For a long time (and maybe still today) both parties received support from the tobacco industry.

  52. "Further, both parties get money from big business. That's how one stays in office."


    Michael Moore says we have in fact become a Plutocracy and that it is time for the people to take back the government and restore our Democracy.

    I think he might be right.

    Interestingly enough, the Greek word we translate to "church" is the word used for the people's assembly in the Athenian democracy.

    The Church was definitely not meant to be a Plutocracy. Yet it appears to have become one as well. At least the Plutocrats seem to think it has.

  53. PS I AM interested in your paper and its references.

  54. And please remember I wrote the paper in ancient times on a typewriter. It's in a file . . . somewhere.

  55. You were alive when they had typewriters, Bob?

  56. Shaddup youngster. Remember one day you too may have creaky joints and no hair.

  57. OK Bob,

    So on Viola's blog I and others are accused of not being Christian.

    How do we know that? Who or what is a Christian anyway?

    So Bob provides a definition of Christian.

    You give a nice simple definition.

    A Christian is X.

    Good. I go with that. But then, no, there is more to it.

    Suddenly a Christian X plus Y squared.

    Well, maybe OK.

    No that's not enough then.

    A Christian is X plus Y squared plus North Dakota minus The Gay.

    Here is how I am seeing it, Bob.

    Folks over there can't possibly allow a definition of Christian to be large enough to include those who advocate for same gender relationships to be equal to hetero relationships.

    So they go through all kinds of theological gymnastics so they can find some way of excluding those who think gays should get equal rights.

    You can't be Christian and be OK with The Gay.

    That is the bottom line over there.

    Prejudice really warps people.

  58. The world would be a much nicer, kinder, gentler, and better place if we could lose all the labels. Why can't we just be?

  59. What's a typewriter?


    (Actually I am looking at mine right now, wishing I could find cartridge for it, because it still works otherwise.

    Remember how cool IBM selectrics were? You could change the font and everything.)

    I think I reject any definition of Christian and any Christian doctrine that leads to or even allows persecution of the Gay, or any other member of the human race.

    My Grandmother used to believe in the doctrine of manifest destiny. She thought God took the land away from the native Americans - Indians in her day - and gave it to us white folks because of their sin. They were Godless savages and thank God us white folks preached the gospel to them so they could be saved. They lost all their land, and most of them died of disease and bullets, but they were saved, and thus came out ahead in the bargain.

    She was a kind loving woman, with many skills and talents, yet she believed such crap. She started out as a Pilgrim Holiness ordained minister, and eventually became a Southern Presbyterian missionary.

    I think Christianity went awry when it first invented the idea of Orthodoxy and Empire Religion, and only now maybe is it ready to start finding its way back to its roots.

  60. John I suggest you read again. Both Viola and I clearly said that Mark Achtemeier is a brother in Christ. And I would certainly add Alan to that list. Alan and I aren't all that far apart theologically. (Stand by for a howl from Alan)

    I'm not sure how North Dakota fits into the picture.

    Please notice what I added were taking up one's cross and following Jesus along with Nicea and Calcedon.

    But remember I go by what I think the Bible says. God has ultimate say about who gets into the Kingdom and who is left out in the cold weeping and gnashing teeth.

  61. Actually, this is left up to each individual. The Kingdom is here in the NOW. For the most part, I believe that people choose to be "left out in the cold weeping and gnashing teeth," just as much as people choose to be in the Kingdom...@@happiness@@.

  62. Achtemeier!? No way! He has already been fitted with a millstone and plunged to the bottom of the sea with all the other false teachers.

    And what about me, Bob? I don't make it in your book? Nor your colleague and mine, John Wilde?

    It's bunk, Bob.

    I don't care what your views are or Viola's about gays. Doesn't matter. Your still Christian.

    Even though Viola warps even science to further a superstitious interpretation of the Bible, she is still a Christian as far as I'm concerned.

    Y'all ought to be able to disagree on issues without needing to fit people with millstones.

  63. John

    You asked a specific question about people who believe (to put in some qualifiers you didn't mention) that people who have lifelong, loving sexual relationships with people of their own sex are blessed by God in those relationships. I answered it. And in case you haven't noticed I haven't been one who talks about millstones. Quite the contrary.

    As for you John . . . I made some rather explicit statements. Where do you fit within them? "And believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead." I've seen you write a variety of things about this. Your response on Viola's blog suggested that you believe in this. If so what do you mean?

    And the Son is coeternal, of one being with the Father. That the Son, the second person of the trinity became human, incarnate,(this did start out as a blog on Advent 65 comments ago), fully divine and fully human. What do you believe about this?

    And to add a statement that comes more to the fore in the Reformation, is faith in Jesus the one way to salvation?

    You asked so I'm asking too.

  64. 1) Millstones. I would like to know why you have nothing to say about that. A professor at one of our PCUSA seminaries is called a false teacher in the strongest language possible through the use of metaphors that Jesus reserved for those spending eternity in hell. Viola and Debbie are all in favor. That Carmen, isn't she prophetic. So now when you say (and you say Viola says) that Achtemeier is a swell Christian, I find myself a bit puzzled.

    2) All those theological questions you ask are part the language of our tradition in a historical setting. I think it is our task to try and decipher it and seek to discover the wisdom of our ancestors and interpret it for our time. That is what I do. I affirm our tradition. That is what I was doing in my little Advent devotion.

    3) Speaking of my little devotion about Advent I wrote for my congregation and posted on my blog. Witherspoon thought it nice and posted it, too. OK so I'm no Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, or Bob Campbell. Give me a freaking break. I do my best, with integrity--thank you very much--to try to interpret the hope of our tradition in contemporary language in a 21st century setting, that includes a completely different understanding of our universe than was the understanding when the Bible and the majority of our creeds and confessions were created. So it doesn't resonate with you folks. Fine. But to quote Viola:

    "If we listen and agree we shall be deceived, and if we follow we shall fall into hell....the chasm is a spiritual one as wide as eternal death is from everlasting age theology, equates with the same theology that insists on the ordination of unrepentant homosexuals...."

    I mean really, Bob? Are you on that page, too?

    4) John Wilde (who also apparently doesn't make your Christian cut) says I need to be nice to you people. We need to find common ground he tells me. I agree with him. But holy opossums.

    5) I like you, Bob. I find your theological speculation rather tedious and strange, but that's OK. It is important to you and there are a lot of things we agree upon. I find you uphold an aspect of the tradition that is important to uphold. I honestly wouldn't worry that much about the Heidelberg Catechism if it weren't for people like you reminding me to worry about it. I would never dream of saying you weren't in the club because you don't emphasize the things I emphasize.

    6) I think your voice is important. Why isn't my voice that pushes the edge important, too? Forget I said that. I don't need to hear any more quotes from Jude today.

    7) Jeepers. Makes on want to say, "Come, Lord Jesus."

  65. John

    First I suggest you read what I said on my blog about Mark Achtemeier. I haven't said anything about millstones. Just the opposite. I disagree with Mark but I respect him.

    Second why are you so quick to push me into a group? Those weren't quotes from me. You know me better than that.

    Third I refused to answer the question about whether you were a Christian or not. Ultimately it isn't my decision. But in the here and now I have opinions. Basically I tossed out some questions that I consider important or maybe a better word is defining of what makes a Christian. I think they are at the center of the Christian faith.

    I don't expect you to use the same words that I do. Frankly that would be boring. But through my questions I did try to define what beliefs (actions are another question entirely but just as important) I believe are central to Christianity.

    Oh and I have an answer to your question about a three tierd universe and Jesus' ascension. It comes from Robert Heinlein (an agnostic, at the very least). What is 90 degrees from everywhere? That's where I think Jesus went.

  66. Well John,

    Seems Viola has excommunicated me again. I don't know why she thinks I'm so special. You are the heretic she reported, not me. ;-)

    (although she did accuse me of being demon possessed at one time, and anti-Semitic another, to the howling laughter of all my Jewish friends. Maybe she's just frustrated she has nobody to report me to as well)

    Still, I do wonder.


    If we are going to continue our friendly sparing its going to have to be on John's nickel. Viola says that to be a Christian she also can't let me post on her blog.

    Her cult has so many rules!

    I am curious about your thoughts on where we left off. Wouldn't you agree that the starting point and ultimate measure of defining someone to be a Christian is whether or not they are disciples of Jesus? Isn't it really that simple? And isn't that the only really biblical definition?

    If yes, then surely all the other baggage is just optional baggage, no?

    If not, then why not?

  67. All right.

    I find it depressing that the Christian faith is for so many people little more than a test of correct beliefs. I find the inquisitorial aspect of our tradition ugly and harmful. That is what I saw in Viola's post about me. It was part of her little inquisition.

    Hers appears to be a religion of fear. You have to have the right answers about all kinds of things and if you don't it's eternal hell.

    If we listen and agree we shall be deceived, if we follow we shall fall into hell.

    If God were a cosmic professor grading everyone's beliefs, I guess I would be scared too.

    I am not there. I don't think that is what "God" is nor do I think that was the wisdom or faith of Jesus.

    But that stream in our tradition of inquisition has had a long, persistent, bloody history within Christianity. It is that inquisitorial stream that invented hell as eternal punishment for 'wrong' belief and 'wrong' action.

    If I am afraid of anything, it is that this aspect of our tradition is gaining ground yet again.

    The target today is LGBT folks and those who support them.

    Not only are threats of eternal hell hung over the heads of these folks it is also political and social hell in the present by those who think they are doing God's orthodox and holy will.

    On to more interesting topics:

    is "90 degrees from everywhere" poetry or physics?

  68. First I suggest you read what I said on my blog about Mark Achtemeier. I haven't said anything about millstones. Just the opposite. I disagree with Mark but I respect him.

    Thanks, Bob.

  69. On to more interesting topics:

    is "90 degrees from everywhere" poetry or physics?

    Well in Stranger in a Strange Land Heinlein's main character (Michael Smith) makes a box disappear. When asked afterward where the box went he says the box didn't go anywhere the box now is not. At which point another character observes to himself that the box went to 90 degrees from everywhere.

    When I used it I meant no longer in this universe. I think that makes it poetic because I don't know of any way to measure where (or how for that matter) something leaves the universe. Although I think I read something about sub atomic particles . . .

    Of course if you believe that there may be or are multiple universes then maybe we could accept that at some point we might be able to travel from one to another. Then it might be measurable. And in that case I suspect that 90 degrees from everywhere would be the wrong answer.

    Just speculating, of course.

  70. Jodie

    Question: to be Jesus' disciple it would help to know who he is, wouldn't it?

  71. Thanks for the speculation!

    When something becomes no longer credible as literal truth yet we still use the language it becomes either superstition (rather negative) or poetry (rather positive).

    Examples include:

    the existence of Santa Claus,
    the four corners of the earth,
    sunrise, sunset,
    the luminous aether,
    the music of the spheres,
    stairway to heaven, or
    Jacob's ladder,
    ascending to heaven,
    the second coming,

    Jesus ascending to heaven was likely to be understood as literally true. A real possibility that the heavens were up there and from them the gods ruled. As you know heaven and sky was the same word.

    Jesus ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty.

    Well it is no longer credible, so it is either superstition (if we really believe he "ascended" somewhere) or poetry.

    I vote poetry.

    Superstition leads to bad theology as well as just superstition.

    For the ancients to say Jesus ascended to heaven did not mean he disappeared from the universe. That would mean he is absent. For the ancients he rules from his throne that over looks Earth. The great promise is that one day Earth will be like Heaven.

    Earth was the center of the universe. The stars (the heavenly bodies) served Earth.

    "thy will be done, thy kingdom come, on Earth as it is in heaven."

    The only way to try to take the ascension of his body into heaven literally is to zap his physical body into some other universe. Besides being bizarre, it does damage to the meaning of ascension and return.

    The ascension meant that he was present through his spirit.

    If we are going to continue to tell this story or use the poetic language of the creed, we have to try to find out the meaning and the hope of the ancients felt when they put Jesus on the throne of heaven.

    Well we could talk about what it means to have Jesus whose character was quite opposite the character of those in the surrounding cultures who inhabited that throne (ie. the deified Caesar).

    To say Jesus ascended is to say something about who he is in control. "Don't be like the nations, they rule over others."

    Someday, these folks trusted, the values of Jesus will be the values written on our hearts--in all hearts. Compassion, sharing, serving, loving, justice.

    That is Advent hope.

    In a universe that will not end (at least for another 14 billion years perhaps), yet we will end in a few short years, to hope for Jesus "return" which means the fullness of what is in heaven on earth is to live the values of Jesus.

    I would add his values are echoed in the values of other great wisdom teachers.

    I don't want to push the poetry of ascension and return too hard and I certainly am not interested in turning it into what I think is superstition (trying to force a 1st century universe into ours).

    I do like the poetry though.

  72. "Question: to be Jesus' disciple it would help to know who he is, wouldn't it?"

    In a word, no.

    Think it through. If you are not his student, then what does it matter who he is? And if you are, then who he is will make itself clear with time.

    It's like walking into a classroom at the beginning of a semester. What do you need to know about the professor? Just that he (or she) is the teacher, and you are the student.

    The stories of the calling of the disciples are helpful here. What did the disciples know about Jesus when they answered his call?

    Not a whole heck of allot. And what they thought they knew was dead wrong. One of my favorite bible verses is Luke 24:21:

    "but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel"

    "We had hoped"... They had no idea.

  73. John,

    What earthly language can we use to describes the wonders that lie on the other side of the looking glass?

    Only the poets begin to understand.

  74. This comment has been removed by the author.

  75. I just researched Advent on the web. Seems like nothing more then christian orthodox tradition. I like the idea of it in John's terms, any literal sense of the term seems silly to me.

    BTW, Happy Advent Day 3!!

  76. Or, is it Happy Advent Week Three, LOL!!

  77. Yes, Jodie, I salute the poets!

    Hey Dreamer,

    Thanks! : )

    Here are some ideas for reclaiming Advent and Christmas. There are some good things for folks to develop healthy and fun ceremonies, celebrations and activities for families.

  78. John,

    I meant to respond to this:

    "If I am afraid of anything, it is that this aspect of our tradition is gaining ground yet again."

    Or it could be that it is growing increasingly desperate because it is corned and feels its eminent demise.

    Things are coming to a head. Only God knows what he has in store, but God's always got something up that long and flowing sleeve.

  79. Some thoughts on a three tiered universe:

    Genesis doesn't have a three tiered universe. Its model is more of a space opened up in the waters of chaos. That space is where God created the universe. See Gen. 1 and also the flood story as references.

    2. The New Testament uses some images that point to a three tiered universe but some that may go back to Genesis. We see in Revelation heaven above (the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven) and the pits of fire beneath and earth in the middle both as battle ground before Jesus returns and the New Jerusalem after Jesus returns. But every once in a while Jesus uses a different image: the outer darkness. This isn't a down image but more of an away from God image. Maybe it is a back to chaos image.

    By the time of the Roman empire there was in some scholarly circles an idea that the earth was round. 280 BC Aristarchus stated the sun is the center of the solar system. 240 BC Eratosthenes calculated the size of the earth.

    Ptolemy (around 120 AD) disagreed with Aristarchus and his theories were more popular But Ptolemy did believe in an earth as a globe. It's just that the earth was the center and the universe swung around it. Curiously Ptolemy's works never completely disappeared in the West during the middle ages but came back into vogue from Greek through Arabic to Latin (Latin version: 1410)

    Ptolmey's view said that there wasn't so much a three tiered universe but rather an outer and an inner. Applied to the three tiered version in the New Testament Hell would be innermost, earth would be the next circle and the heavens outward.

    If you consider the traveling players of the middle ages hell was below the stage, earth was on the stage and heaven was above. Was this a necessity brought about by the nature of the stage or the core belief?

    In any case the Western Church took on Ptolemy's theory as supporting their theory.

    By the second stage of the Reformation (Calvin's time) Copernicus had published a book (posthumously) that said the sun was the center of the solar system. Calvin is said to have agreed with Copernicus.

    With all the ideas and books flying around at the end of the Renaissance period (thanks to Gutenberg) how can we know who believed what about the nature of the solar system during the late Reformation period when Reformed Creeds were written?

    But then the real question is who applied Copernicus' work to theology? Did that happen during the Reformation or not?

    Just some reflections on John's concern.

  80. "But then the real question is who applied Copernicus' work to theology?"

    Not sure about the answer, but I know that Issac Newton was an astrologist and his motivation in understanding the laws that governed the planets was that if he could better understand the heavens, he could better understand their control over our daily lives.

    You never know where your quest for knowledge will take you. The deep space photos from Hubble are mind blowing. The prophets had no idea when they talked about signs in the heavens. They had no idea.

  81. "Both Viola and I clearly said that Mark Achtemeier is a brother in Christ. And I would certainly add Alan to that list. Alan and I aren't all that far apart theologically. (Stand by for a howl from Alan)"

    No howl, more like a "Meh."

    Why on earth would I possibly care if you think I'm a Christian or not, or if the usual cabal of BFTSs do?

    Fortunately I don't require the Viola Larson seal of approval because I have one from Jesus Christ.

    The sooner she (and anyone else) realizes she's not God's gatekeeper the happier she'll be.

    Though frankly, given your stand with those folks, Bob, it does make me begin to question my own beliefs. Anyone that can happily sign onto a document that was also signed by Carmen "The Millstone" Fowler, or people who want the death penalty for LGBT people in Uganda is not really someone I want to be in fellowship with.

    You want to separate yourself from those folks. Yet you sign on with them at every opportunity. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.