Recommended Listening: Walter Brueggemann with Pete Enns

Pete Enns has a marvelous interview with Walter Brueggemann on his Bible for Normal People podcast. So good I knew right away I wanted to share it with you.

It clearly reveals what I have come to love most about Brueggemann: his way of reading the Bible challenges both evangelicals and the mainline churches. Here, in my view, is a transcript of the money passage from the interview:

Enns: Talk to us a little bit about the struggles of the Bible in the trajectory of the mainline church — where it’s been — and I know a lot of your life’s work is in leading it to a certain place.

Brueggemann: Well, I think the mainline churches probably have been excessively captured by historical-critical study, and the effect of historical-critical study is to distance the Bible from us and to eliminate the hard questions that make faith scandalous. So my uphill battle in mainline churches has been to try to show the spectacular ways in which the Bible is contemporary, in which the Bible does not fit any of our reasonable categories, in which the Bible invites us to scandalous kinds of imagination and scandalous kinds of obedience.

I think that the counterpoint in more evangelical churches is that the Bible has been reduced to a package of truths without much dynamism, and that also makes the Bible equally uninteresting.

So I sort of have taken it upon myself to be working on both those fronts, because I get invited to a lot of evangelical settings as I do to a lot of mainline settings, and I think those are the twin temptations — either to reduce the Bible to a rational package or to reduce it to a doctrinal package, and I don’t think either one of them serves the Bible very well.

Enns: Well, do you think — that’s very helpful — do you think, Walter, that historical criticism might be an effective challenge, a positive challenge to evangelicalism in its reduction of the Bible to a doctrinal package?

Brueggemann: I think that’s exactly right. And I think historical criticism emerged two hundred years ago because of the kind of reductionist orthodoxy in Germany. So historical criticism is hugely important. The problem is that mainline churches tended to stop there instead of going on to become post-critical, to say, “Now I understand all these critical maneuvers that you have to make in the Bible — how do I move beyond that to take this as a script for faith?

So it’s a kind of a two-step deal, and I think that mainlines have made the first step but not the second, and my perception is that many more evangelical traditions have not made that first step into critical study.

In my opinion, that analysis is spot on.

In essence, what we are talking about here is the same debate, different arena, as we hear in the creation/evolution conflict. How can Christians read the Bible as God’s Word now that we have come to understand it as a book that developed and was put together in the course of a very human history by a very human community?

From my own experience in the evangelical world, their answer is to do what the creationists do in response to the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence. They ignore it and develop apologetics to defend pre-critical readings and interpretations, refusing to accept legitimate discoveries and reasonable conclusions, and failing to recognize the actual nature of the book that is before them. Worst of all, this is usually done for political reasons — to conserve familiar traditions and control the thinking of those within them.

On the other hand, those on the more progressive end of the spectrum get enamored with the thrill of rational discovery and end up spending all their time focusing on theories of the Bible’s historical background and development, and then ignoring the Bible as a living word that speaks to the church and world today, preferring to baptize their own progressive agenda as God’s will. And they can be just as politically motivated in advancing their causes and defending their ways.

I hope you’ll enjoy listening to someone who has honest and hard things to say to both sides.

• • •

113 thoughts on “Recommended Listening: Walter Brueggemann with Pete Enns

  1. And Romans 1 is a literary genre called a Decline Narrative that’s all but unknown today.

    Main difference is Romans 1 doesn’t end with the usual “For these are the things which the Goyim do”.


  2. Yanking one verse out of its context is hardly a way to make a reasonable point. Again – yet AGAIN – the question of treating all truth as separate, patently obvious propositions with no context necessary.

    “I Know I’m Right —


  3. It ramps everything up to 11 on a scale of 1 to 10.

    Sex makes people stupid, and Homosex makes Christians foaming-at-the-mouth crazy.


  4. But even the mention of HOMOSEXUALITY makes Christians flake out.

    Like that scene from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, “Even the mention of the word is sufficient to induce — PANIC.”


  5. “Nooma series”?

    I can’t help but think of that Romanian pop song that went viral earworm years ago…


  6. To be honest with you Seneca, it seems to me that you have put your philosophy ahead of Scripture. If Scripture truly takes supremacy than it is our duty to approach it on its own terms. Your paradigm fundamentally does not.


  7. seneca,

    Just wondering how many of your friends became gay by worshiping idols? Because according to Romans 1 that is how it happens. And how does that fit into your list of options?

    That is why I like Chaplain Mike’s question: “How can Christians read the Bible as God’s Word now that we have come to understand it as a book that developed and was put together in the course of a very human history by a very human community?”

    I do not expect scientific perfection out of Paul. He was living in a pre-science age. Though some recent (as in last 50 years) theories about what causes homosexuality is probably just as incorrect as Paul’s. We just don’t know at this point, though that understanding may come in the not too distant future. But the fact that you mention Romans 1 26 as a clobber verse shows just how crumbling your edifice is.


  8. FYI C.M. – feel free not to post this

    Bradley Wright, professor of sociology, University of Connecticut

    “On one level, Americans, together with all sinners, are not nearly as generous with their resources as God is with us. The Triune God overflows throughout the created order, and abundance is the name of the game. So, in learning the disciplines of giving, we are not trying to reach a certain specified amount, but are rather trying to learn how to imitate the divine heart. And in this regard, Americans certainly have a long way to go. But there is another way of asking this question, and that is on the horizontal level. How does American generosity stack up against those who are usually the most prone to be critical of Americans? Here the data is more reassuring. Evangelicals are more generous than mainliners, Protestants are more generous than Catholics, Christians are more generous than secularists, and Americans are far more generous than everybody else in the world. But instead of ascending praise according to this, we usually hear ascending carping.


  9. if ‘hell’ were the only consideration, then maybe that’s how we ended up with so many scared, fearful people running around following this religious leader or that religious leader who promises that ‘if you say THIS and if you DO THIS; then you will be SAVED’

    but fear isn’t what it is all about, no

    maybe only in the world of neo-Calvinists who see God as a monster, see themselves as ‘the chosen elect’, and look down on the rest of humanity …. maybe for them ‘fear’ is the all in all

    I’m not buying it.


  10. Hmm, I thought this was one of the better days at the Monastery, relatively speaking, taking into account all the usual context. Was a fair amount of agreement and good will for such an ornery bunch, and I observed encouraging signs of new growth along with the first daffodil I saw yesterday. This canary is singing.


  11. I’m just saying. I serve as a sort of Distant Early Warning System here. I am the canary in this particular coal mine. If I keel over, you all need to run for your lives.


  12. In my daily prayers for 150+ people, including all you of reading this generically and some of you by name, many of those I pray for are what you call “dead” and what I call on the other side. Some of them I have no idea whether they are still on this side or not, and it makes no difference in my mind anyway. I figure people take their unsolved problems and lessons with them when they pass over and still need all the help they can get. I also pray for those on the dark side who might want out given the opportunity, and extend that opportunity from God Most High as offered to all thru the love and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. I know most small “o” orthodox theology says your only chance to be healed is here on earth and beyond it’s too late, one of the reasons I reject orthodox theology. If I’m out to lunch, God can always pull my coat, which He hasn’t done so far about that. I do believe that it is much more difficult to make spiritual progress on the other side and that it is foolish not to get as far along as possible while here on Earth.


  13. Thank you for your reply, Burro. I find the understanding of the postmortem state, and the relationship of the living to the deceased, that you’ve described here charged and overflowing with grace. I suppose that in addition to the living praying for the dead, the deceased saints beholding the beatific vision are also praying, for living and dead alike, and that their prayers would be very powerful, given their proximity to and intimacy with the Lord. This interpenetration of communal repentance and forgiveness, wherein all bear each others burdens in this life and the next, seems like the most coherent and meaningful picture of the Communion of Saints that I’ve ever come across.

    Some of what you say about the diabolical man could be said about me. I shall add my prayers to those already being said for him.

    Thank you, Mule.


  14. CM–You said:”So it’s not always a matter of what Scripture is clear about. It’s almost always about what Scripture appears to be clear about that I think is important.”

    I agree. It can be an endless debate about clarity as we all bring our own biases with us to the scriptures. I will not post anymore on this item.


  15. Do you consider 1st century Palestine, Greek and Roman history, and Jewish tradition part of the context as well? Because they are.

    Context cannot be only defined as “just what is in the text”. That way lies madness.


  16. Can we go so far as to say that Paul did not write “scriptures”? He wrote letters. The Scriptures are the canon combined, but within are many different things including letters, histories, poems, sonnets, songs…etc.


  17. I don’t want this to go on too much longer — this is not the place for an extended debate about one verse.

    May I just note, however, Seneca, that people in mainline traditions say exactly the same kinds of things about the way evangelicals handle the Bible, ignoring or dismissing clear teachings about poverty and justice, and welcoming the stranger.

    So it’s not always a matter of what Scripture is clear about. It’s almost always about what Scripture appears to be clear about that I think is important.


  18. Read the whole chapter for the context. The verse is not an isolated item, the context is all there.


  19. You deserve an answer to this, Robert

    As far as know, privately there is no restriction on who you can pray for. To receive prayers in the Church, in the Liturgy, the departed need to be Orthodox, but this is not strictly enforced.

    As far as the mechanics go, all that is necessary is that you be sorry for their sin, inasmuch as you may have been the cause of it, but even anonymous, generic prayers are of some benefit. Once again, the Orthodox are short on details. Pope St.Gregory the Great was supposed to have been the last to pray for the noble Emperor Trajan, as somehow he received notification that that righteous pagan had been delivered from hell through the prayers of Christians of Rome.

    The fallen angels are off limits, although St Silouan prayed for a devil that buffeted him. Devils have no friction in their life whatsoever, There is something about being an embodied spirit that makes repentance possible.

    The diabolical man is being prayed for. He has a proud and very bitter spirit, having been a person of some importance whom life passed by. He has deeply wronged, and has been deeply wronged by, his family. The heartbreaking thing is to see his nephews and nieces reaching out to him, and he pushing them away.

    Yes, the Orthodox believe that hell [Gehenna] will be sparsely populated, if the Church does her part.


  20. Seneca said:”I have seen all the arguments why Romans 1 doesn’t say what it so clearly says.

    Seneca: Please define for us what you mean by the word “clearly”.


  21. Hell is the only issue? I’d disagree with that completely. If the only reason anyone is a believer is to avoid hell, that, to me, seems exceedingly self-centered.
    I think most Christians (me included) spend way too much time worrying about the afterlife and not nearly enough about what happens here, today, and how we navigate in a world full of imperfect people with messy lives.
    Jesus saves us from a life devoid of the spark of divinity, of being cut off from God, and journeying through life with no connection to perfect love. Salvation is an ongoing process, not a one and done.


  22. Indeed. And I do believe Paul has rolled over in his grave many a time over what has been made of his epistles. “I can’t believe they’re creating THEOLOGIES out of my letters!”

    I’m leading an adult Sunday school class through Galatians right now. During class the first week, I had us read the whole letter in class just to set the stage for the overall context and to remind ourselves, as we begin going section by section, not to take one section (or even verse) out of that overall context. The purpose of the letter isn’t about “sinning” (taking v5:19-21 out of context), but about saying No to people who tell us that it’s “Christ + something else”.

    But people tend to pull out single verses or chunks of Paul’s writings and run with them as if they’re the Good News. No, Christ is the Good News.


  23. How is the criteria for determining who they are distinguished from the criteria for concluding that they don’t exist? Are good Christians invisible? And if so, what about all the other ones? Who or what is responsible for them and their behavior?

    So say the moderns and postmoderns.


  24. Yanking one verse out of its context is hardly a way to make a reasonable point. Again – yet AGAIN – the question of treating all truth as separate, patently obvious propositions with no context necessary. So, in context, just who are the “they” being discussed here? What are the “unnatural relations”? Where are they defined in that verse? How much of what you outlined above is sheer assumption?


  25. How hard are you willing to look? Those aren’t the kind of people who attract attention to themselves…


  26. Seneca, there is no single “mainline” view of this passage or of homosexuality as a subject. But even if there was, I addressed your concern with mainline tendencies by noting that they often ignore scripture and push their own progressive agenda. You have failed to recognize one of the post’s key points — that Brueggemann challenges both evangelical and mainline approaches


  27. “just to see how these staunch Lutheran geezers handle this.”

    Would love to hear how it goes.


  28. Burro,
    So, you can repent for a dead person? Any dead person? I suppose they need to be baptized, and not excommunicated, right? But besides those, are there any other restrictions? How much about the dead person’s life, and sins, do you need to know to effectively repent for sins they committed when they were alive? Can you send out prayers for anonymous dead persons, repenting for them in a kind of generic way? I don’t mean to be irreverent, but I find this fascinating, and I wonder about the details. The possibilities seem endless; I suppose it’s entirely possible in Orthodox religious belief that hell exists, but is empty of human beings? What of the fallen angels? Can living human Orthodox repent for them? Given this, couldn’t even the diabolic people you mentioned above be saved by the repentance of the living?


  29. RobertF –

    The departed are still part of our community. Supposedly [I have been told], we can repent on their behalf.

    The driver cannot change his trajectory, but another vehicle can sideswipe him and change his course.


  30. Goodness. Show me Christians who are consistently better at goodness than their non-Christian neighbors. We expect no less from those who claim they have been redeemed by the good creator of the universe. We don’t want guarantees, but we want strong evidence that what you Christians say is likely to be true, since you are asking so much of us non-Christians, says the modern and postmodern. Your historic performance is not promising in that regard.


  31. Eeyore, Are you saying that human beings can be infinitely stubborn and prideful? Really? If so, I don’t know if you hold to a higher or lower anthropology than me, but I think we are capable of no such thing. We lack power to do that.

    I think that what we lack here is a full understanding of how our choices and habits will pan out in eternity. But there are enough hints and intimations (i.e. “hell”) that there are eternal consequences to our choices, and that some peoples’ bad choices will not be overridden. Make of that what you will.


  32. Well, I might ask, what kind of “tangible results” are you asking for? Wealth? Personality improvement? Popularity? The core texts and tenets of Christianity (Christ and the Gospels) promise no such things. The call is to a life of self-sacrifice and love of others, in emulation of the One who claimed to be God and died for that claim.

    You want an iron-clad contact, or guaranteed results? Christianity is not for you. This is really a C. S. Lewis day, so I’ll leave with another one “I never expected Christianity would make me happy – I knew a good bottle of port could do that.”


  33. Eeyore, Are you saying that human beings can be infinitely stubborn and prideful? Really? If so, I don’t know if you hold to a higher or lower anthropology than me, but I think we are capable of no such thing. We lack power to do that.


  34. how could it be irrevocably shut, except from God’s side?

    I think you seriously underestimate human stubbornness and pride.


  35. Alternatively, if we ditch the concept that we are following a bronze age tribal deity and his tribes’ rules on who is and isn’t allowed in the camp…

    This all becomes so, so silly.


  36. Mule, I am in direct, opposite disagreement with your assessment of ‘Science Mike’s’ interview.
    Although I have to concede that since my experience, as his, is in the Baptist tradition and I am totally ignorant of mainline and orthodox experience. Furthermore, even though I don’t care to get in a open debate regarding bright lights and voices, a casual dismissal of such is totally unwarranted. I don’t have time at the moment for a protracted argument.


  37. I’m going to use Romans 1:26 to illustrated the issue – as I see it.

    Romans 1:26- New International Version (NIV)

    26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

    It is clear to me, as an Evangelical, that God is against women engaging in sex with each other – to put is simply.

    BUT, as I understand it a lot, if not all, of the Mainline denominations, feel free to reject a very simple verse and have indeed decided they will marry two women.

    I have seen all the arguments why Romans 1 doesn’t say what it so clearly says.

    Here’s the options:

    1) Paul was wrong – which then indicates that what he wrote WASN’T Spirit breathed. This error slipped thru.

    2) Paul was wrong, because he was writing for a different era – things have changed. Again we come back to God – when he gave Paul Romans 1, Does it no longer apply in this era? If so, God needs to do a Scripture update – just like Bill Gates does Windows updates.

    3) If God is not behind all of Scripture then it’s a great book; let’s not take it to seriously however. You cannot logically say Roms 1 is wrong but then turn around and say you can take all of New Testament Scripture to the bank; except for Romans 1.

    4) Option 4, it says EXACTLY what creator God intended. Homosexual activity is a sin, not to be engaged in.

    [ Note: logically speaking if a church feels free to add their approval to homosexual marriages, there is no logical reason why active homosexual should not be priests. ]

    [ Note 2: It appears the United Methodists may have drawn a line at affirming homosexual behaviors. ]


  38. The one released today features ‘Science Mike’ McHargue. I would rate it as best of the series so far, though Brueggemann is second in my mind.


  39. “I’m not sure I died for this. Or actually, maybe I did…”

    Just imagining Jesus’ thoughts.


  40. I mean, after all, you’re not just trying to get me to try a new toothpaste. You are asking me to embrace a religious metaphysics and set of beliefs that will require me to change my entire life, mental furniture and behavior together. You need to meet a high standard of proof, the very highest, to expect me to get on the train (the modern and postmodern might say).


  41. Eeyore, No. So long as the door remains open, and no judgement is final, then the self-exiled have not been condemned, and they have no leverage over the saints enjoying bliss. When the door is irrevocably shut, it changes things; and how could it be irrevocably shut, except from God’s side? It’s up to him whether the threshold remains open or not, and no one else; why would he shut the door forever?


  42. Mule, If repentance is not possible after death, then why do Orthodox pray for the dead? I mean, if most people die unprepared for the Beatific Vision (as I think is obvious) because of the lingering affects of sin, and need to be purified on the other side, doesn’t this involve repentance in one form or another? And aren’t prayers for the dead supposed to help in this purification, and so also in repentance? I don’t understand how you can have one without the other.


  43. I simply cannot accept the morality of causing or allowing some conscious entity to be tortured for all eternity just because they didn’t check the right answers on a multiple choice quiz. And I doubly question the morality of being able to enjoy eternal bliss at the same time as an untold number of these conscious entities were being so tortured. And I don’t think I would want to hang around with folks who could enjoy eternal bliss under such conditions.

    Again, going back to C. S. Lewis’ teachings on this matter – if we do NOT allow the saints to enjoy bliss if the (self-)condemned refuse to participate, then we allow the holdouts to hold everyone else’s joy hostage – as Lewis put it, the dog in the manger becomes the tyrant of eternity.


  44. Well I simply note for the record that it’s the same ones threatening us with hell as are assuring us they have a plan to save us from it. Perhaps we should consider that for a while.

    I simply cannot accept the morality of causing or allowing some conscious entity to be tortured for all eternity just because they didn’t check the right answers on a multiple choice quiz. And I doubly question the morality of being able to enjoy eternal bliss at the same time as an untold number of these conscious entities were being so tortured. And I don’t think I would want to hang around with folks who could enjoy eternal bliss under such conditions.


  45. Hell isn’t so much the issue.

    Nah, hell is the only issue. If there is no hell, why even be a Christian.


  46. Yeah, I do, but I think it has to be a result of something besides just being “wrong”, mulish, or hard to convince. A person has to be actively participating in a conscious effort to un-man himself, a sort of a reverse synergy or theosis, a kind of a diablosis, a real communion with evil spirits. If I have met few saints [and I have met maybe four or five] I have met only one person whom I would put into that latter category, and his likeness to me sometimes keeps me up at night.

    He could literally die and go to hell, and never notice the difference.

    One thing the Orthodox Church teaches that kinda scares me is that after death there is no opportunity for repentance. The friction of the material world is removed and like a driver hitting a patch of dark ice, there is nothing to impede the future trajectory. that is why we pray ‘for a Christian ending to our lives, fearless, unashamed, and of a good report before the fearful judgement seat of Christ.’


  47. I have no doubt that some people are just wrong; I may be one of them. The question for me is: What price one will pay for being wrong? Eternal separation from God? Eternal conscious torment in hell? Eternal conscious torment in the presence of God’s love, a love which is pain for those not prepared for it (Isn’t this the Orthodox idea? — I have to say that I don’t see a real difference between that and hell — just a change in the location of hell)? Do you really believe one of these will be the price to pay for being, or doing, wrong?


  48. Its not so much the wretched urgency, its the fact that some people don’t want Christ, and the fullness of Him which Orthodoxy represents. It baffles me.

    I’m not ready to go down the ‘your truth, my truth’ path. That always seemed to me to be more ‘your passions, my passions’. Some people are just wrong.

    Maybe it’s me. I would prefer that to hard relativism.


  49. I understand your point, and it is not lost on me. At the same time, it makes me wonder what bit of correct belief or behavior I might be missing when I come to my terminal point (whether that’s in this life or in another — call it the Day of Judgement). If that’s the way things will be, then wretched urgency seems to be called for, because I stand to lose everything if I don’t possess orthodoxy, whatever it might be.


  50. I think the problem needs to be addressed from the angle C. S. Lewis took – hell is real, but it is the eternal summation of one’s attitudes and actions throughout life. One MUST, eventually, say to God “Thy will be done”, or else be left to stew in their own selfishness and bitterness for eternity – God says to them, “Thy will be done”. If you don’t learn to live beyond yourself now, when will you?


  51. But where’s the proof of your pudding?, (the modern and postmodern might ask). After all, before I accept all the religious metaphysics implicit in your statement (and there is a lot!), I need to see some tangible results among those who already affirm them. Put up or shut up.


  52. I think he has had a pretty wide spectrum of guests; if he can keep up this kind of diversity it will be a win.

    One man’s “veritable rogue’s gallery” is another man’s fairly representational diversity. I mean – a lot of people may enjoy despising Ms. Evans – but she is about as centrist boring as they get; if someone thinks she is way-out-there perhaps it is because of their position on ‘the spectrum’, not hers.

    Rob Bell is cooky; quantum mechanics + theology cooky. He is bound for early AM TV.

    And Brueggemann is the picture of intellectual respectability.

    Rohr is a category of Franciscan that has been around since dirt. What could be more “traditional”?

    So good so far.


  53. Stories. Analogies. Symbols. Relationships. Insofar as anything reflects reality, it is true. But as was pointed out elsewhere here, mathematical/logical abstract certitudes at best only partially model some portions of reality – all reality cannot be reduced to them.


  54. The alternative would be that Orthodoxy is wrong, or worse, useless. That conclusion flies against a number of self-verifying experiences I’ve had, so its easier for me to be uncharitable than to change my mind.

    I listened to Dr. Brueggemann’s lecture all the way through, as well as the ‘Science Mike’ on that followed it. For something that follows so close on a wonderful Pascha service, it is unsettling to listen to Dr. Brueggeman posit that apart from a general redistributionist ethic as the prevailing hermeneutic current with which to navigate the Bible, it’s too uncertain to help very much as a guide of behavior.

    “Science Mike” was even worse. His movement from Baptist fundamentalist to humanistic atheist (as opposed to a sociopathic atheist, I imagine) was arrested by a Philip K. Dick level experience, complete with bright light and all.


  55. Well, hell seems to be pretty constant through much of Christian history and across confessional lines, and the need for salvation of one’s soul from sin; and the idea that the scriptures and/or tradition contain all that’s necessary for saving faith. Now that hell is effectively gone as a subject in much mainline church life, and it’s pretty much assumed that we come into the world with I’m ok/you’re ok, will shared communal experience be enough to hold together Christian communities around the things you mention? The declining number of members of the mainlines (and the American Catholic Church, which shares much of the theological situation of the mainlines, though it might be loathe to admit as much) seems to say, “No”.


  56. The modern and postmodern might ask:

    And I might reply… 😉

    Why do I need to be like Jesus? What does that redeem me from?

    A lot. From enslavement to bitterness, to things, to hatreds old and new, etc. etc.

    Hey, I’m not perfect, but I try to do the right thing, most of the time; it’s not my fault the world is such a mess: that’s the way it was when I was born.

    No you don’t; and yes it is. Nobody, neither you nor me, gets to make those excuses. We’re all embedded in and profiting from the Way of the World.

    Are you really that much better than me, despite your ascetic practices? I mean, in terms of character and the kind of person you are? You seem to put considerable effort into it, and, by your own report, it doesn’t seem to make much difference, right?

    That’s not the point. None of us are “better” than any others – some of us are just a bit further along in trying to disentangle ourselves from the Way of the World. None of us will totally accomplish it while we draw breath, but trying is (pun intended) a hell of a lot better than just settling in.


  57. “…what is it about?”

    What it’s always been about. Community. The celebration of important moments in our lives. The feeling of being in touch with traditions and ideas older and wiser than ourselves. Comfort for the living and hope for the dying.

    What “consensus of historical Christianity”? Is there a single point of doctrine that has not been fought over at one point or another?


  58. It does seem like a cheap write-off to ascribe any lack of faith on the part of a person, along with their tough questions, to a kind of theological affliction of their soul. It sounds very fundamentalist.


  59. Ideally, epistemological modesty should be rooted in a basic attitude of theological/metaphysical trust. As a Christian, my own theological/metaphysical trust is based on eschatological hope in the person of Jesus Christ.


  60. “As Fr. Stephen pointed out in a recent post, unbelief [and its kinder, gentler cousin skepticism], is the result of a psychic wound that goes deeper than is accessible to others.”

    Yeah well it’s little too easy to dismiss people who ask you tough questions and don’t settle for easy answers isn’t it? They must have a “psychic wound”, right? It couldn’t just be that they won’t buy what you’re selling, could it?


  61. For me, the underlying support for such openness to the idea that I don’t have absolute truth in my possession comes from nurturing in myself a fundamental theological perspective: The world/God ain’t out to get me (which can be hard to maintain in the face of what sometimes seem like a lot of counter-evidence — here personal trust in the risen and loving Christ is essential for me), so I can afford to be mistaken about many things, even weighty ones, at any given moment.


  62. I think that there are absolute mathematical and logical truths. But most of our knowledge and experience does not fall within the lucid clarity of math and logic. Almost all human life is lived in the region of provisional truth, as you have described it.

    Can people live that way? With doubt and uncertainty? We all do. Even those who claim to hold absolute religious truths do, though they may be unaware of it. To the degree that it produces epistemological modesty about one’s own beliefs, I think it’s good; to the degree that it produces grasping and fanaticism, not so good. But the insistent claim of certainty that one possesses absolute religious truth can only be displaced by the reasonable, non-religious certitude that one does not.


  63. You’re right, Robert, but I’m not sure being theologically astute in the way I’m talking about involves understanding all the latest critical studies and theology. It involves being able to read the Bible and access the tradition realistically and for the benefit of oneself, one’s community, and one’s world. It means allowing Christian practices to make me a person of faith, hope, and love. One of the main reasons I myself want to talk about these things is because I spent the majority of my adult life parroting biblicist and reductionistic evangelical teaching and theology, and approaching the Bible in a manner that did not actually fit the book before me. But I feel a great freedom and joy in being able to teach, preach, and participate in discussions of faith and substance with others in the mainline churches I’m familiar with.


  64. > indicate that many cannot

    It is worth noting that the clause “within Evangelicalism?” scopes this “many” to a portion of a minority of the population.


  65. Well when you are starting off a podcast, you call your friends…very reliable guests. He’ll expand once he gets established, I imagine. I’ve produced maybe half a dozen different podcasts over the years, hosted a few…it’s a learning curve.


  66. Sure. Probabilities. Contingencies. Scientific philosophers talk about models. This is our view of some aspect of reality based on our current observations and understanding, always subject to revision and update based on an ongoing examination of the evidence. (Of course this approach raises a concomitant obligation to abandon views that are in discord with the evidence.) Science doesn’t prove; it falsifies. So slowly but surely we refine our view of approximate reality which will always by definition be incomplete.

    The real question for me is – can people live that way? With not knowing? With uncertainty? With doubt not as an obstacle on the journey but as part and parcel OF the journey? The debates about authority in Evangelical and Fundamentalist circles indicate that many cannot.


  67. Yesterday I went to Easter service at the sister church in the neighboring village of the Lutheran church I attended for a year and a half before the few remaining attendees ran off the shared pastor and shut down the church and disbanded, rather than downsize their hallowed infrastructure. The new pastor is old time Lutheran administration sent to save the sister from similar fate, and he is doing okay at it. He irks me with a smarmy “speaking to children” tone in his sermon, but it’s probably appropriate to the congregation and he is sincere and well-meaning. This was my first attendance there since the implosion.

    What amazed me was the announcement in the bulletin that next week this traditional Lutheran pastor is going to start an after-service class on Rob Bell’s Nooma series. I was surprised he even knew who Rob Bell is. I’m thinking of hauling myself out of bed for this 10:00 class next Sunday just to see how these staunch Lutheran geezers handle this. I don’t think Rob Bell falls anywhere on Walter’s continuum above.


  68. > many of these lives appear more “secular” than their evangelical counterparts,

    And isn’t the statement that someone appears to be “more secular” loaded up to nearly dripping with cultural what-not. What is a secular thing that Evangelical’s don’t do? Watch TV. Movies? Music? Vote? Organize? Campaign? Go to the park? Participate in being a traffic jam? Surf the interwebz? Meet friends for dinner? Sports?

    Every middle-class Evangelical I have know is thoroughly Secular by any measurement I can think of. Occasionally there is that one specific thing they exclude – quite arbitrarily.

    As a non-evangelical I feel the difference is that I no longer feel any need to apologise for being “secular” or that I love many “secular” things. Honestly, I wish the church was more Secular, not less. Rather than being A Community it was interesting in being In The Community.


  69. >. That’s where I am, and I’ve come to accept it.

    Ditto. Whatever “traditional” Christianity is – and there is a lot of cultural assumptions in that question – it is informative as a reference; but it cannot serve as a benchmark.


  70. Most importantly, I believe that when they encountered him again after his death, he loved them, and that love sustained and changed them. I also have experienced his loving presence with me; he doesn’t seem to do much, he just says, “I’m here; I never go away.”


  71. I don’t know where I am along the skepticism to unbelief scale. I know I find it impossible to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, among other things. Did the dead really rise up from their graves at Jesus’ resurrection? Did the curtain in the Temple really rip from top to bottom? Did Jesus really curse the fig tree, after which it withered? Did the Centurion really say, Truly, this was the son of God? Did the angel really speak to Mary? Don’t know, not sure, can’t believe it. I certainly don’t believe in the reports about the Saints that are of such importance in your own and the Roman Catholic tradition.

    But I do believe that Jesus rose from the grave. And that he made himself known after his resurrection to many who had followed him in his mortal life. And I have experienced him present with me in my own life.

    I’m a hot theological mess. But maybe that’s okay.


  72. …and they’d be within their rights to level those criticisms.

    As Fr. Stephen pointed out in a recent post, unbelief [and its kinder, gentler cousin skepticism], is the result of a psychic wound that goes deeper than is accessible to others.

    Anyway, being like Jesus is its own reward. What it saves me from is being like myself. I may not make much progress before Death pulls her shroud over me and wraps up the game, but I don’t want the goalposts moved to make me feel like I’ve accomplished something I haven’t.


  73. I’m gonna play devil’s advocate for seneca, though I don’t share his views:

    Please define — non-absolute truth.


  74. Okay, we don’t have to make hell the issue.

    The modern and postmodern might ask:

    Why do I need to be like Jesus? What does that redeem me from? Hey, I’m not perfect, but I try to do the right thing, most of the time; it’s not my fault the world is such a mess: that’s the way it was when I was born. Are you really that much better than me, despite your ascetic practices? I mean, in terms of character and the kind of person you are? You seem to put considerable effort into it, and, by your own report, it doesn’t seem to make much difference, right? Next you’ll be telling me to go study the lives of the Saints or something, since they were the real deal; but how do I know that, unless I trust that people as imperfect as you say you are are actually right about the Saints? I’m really don’t trust you that much. You seem sort of confused.

    Thus might the modern and postmodern ask, and doubt.


  75. Oh, I’ve seen a smattering of people in the Adult Forums in all the mainline churches of which I’ve been part, but they were a minority, and they were almost uniformly over the age of fifty or sixty. Can people be brought up to snuff on the latest critical theology in the space of a 50 minute, once a week? I can guarantee that none of the people who attend the Adult Forum at the church where I am now even knows the term post-critical, much less how it relates to historical criticism and contemporary theology.

    As to the reticence to engage in God-talk, and the secular focus of many mainline Christians’ lives: I experienced the same thing in my Roman Catholic extended-family when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, and among all my suburban mainline Protestant friends and their families at the time.


  76. Seneca: You said:”If you wish to know God will, if you wish to grasp Jesus shaped spirituality; read Scripture. It’s all there. It will give you truth but it will also fill your heart and soul.”

    I think you know it is not that simple and IMO you just want to be argumentative.


  77. Hell isn’t so much the issue. Its really more what kind of person are you ending up with? Christianity is about reproducing Jesus’ life in us. Traditionally, the answer to this has been asceticism, and it was presumed to be a life-long struggle. Stopping short of that shortchanges a person. It appears to me at times that the goal of the “post-critical” Christian bodies is to produce kindly progressive folk who are OK with a whole host of modern pathologies that distort and efface the human image. Remember what I said about producing Democrats instead of saints?

    On the other side, ethical businessmen and Republicans don’t cut it either.


  78. Well, there are mainlines and there are mainlines, I guess. I have found that the people in the local ELCA churches read their Bibles and think theologically pretty robustly. The local United Methodist church, pretty much the same. They don’t advertise it as much or proclaim their piety like the evangelicals, but if you want a good theological discussion, you can easily find it.

    I will grant that many of these lives appear more “secular” than their evangelical counterparts, but I wonder how much of that is due to evangelicals pushing the line farther and farther toward enthusiasm.


  79. Also Seneca, I hope you’ve seen that your last sentence gets played out here regularly. I can’t think of a time when anyone at IM has encouraged people not to read scripture or to deny that it feeds heart and soul and mind and strength.


  80. And those newly coming to Christianity, or contemplating whether they should remain in the church or not, have a right to ask post-critical Christians: If Christianity is not about redemption and salvation from hell, what is it about? What exactly does Jesus save me from? The post-critical Christian should keep in mind that those who ask such questions have a right to give less weight to answers to those questions that have been developed in the last few decades, and are not the consensus of historical Christianity.


  81. And accepting the validity of living inside such a heterodox form of Christian faith requires giving up the traditional idea that correctly understood and practiced Christianity is the only way to avoid ending up in hell (everlasting, conscious torment). So long as one accepts that Christianity is about avoiding hell, then having an airtight orthodoxy is absolutely necessary, and heterodoxy cannot be seen as truly Christian but as a threat to eternal felicity. It also requires a thorough reconstruction and reworking of the meaning of redemption. One may fairly ask if those who espouse post-critical and and those who espouse pre-critical Christianity are holding and practicing the same religion; I don’t think it’s unfair when traditional Christians ask this question.


  82. Acceptance of historical criticism makes ending up at traditional Christianity very unlikely; one would have to perform more than a few miracles to make that happen. The post-critical theological reconstructions that result may line up with tradition on a some points, but not enough to make them anything but heterodox to traditionalists like yourself. The most one can realistically ask for is a heterodox form of faith that aligns with tradition in more rather than fewer places; anyone who thinks otherwise seems to me to be fooling themselves. That’s where I am, and I’ve come to accept it.


  83. Both “sides” of Dr Brueggemann’s divide seem pretty confident in the ability of their intellects to parse Scripture. I don’t know if that’s the right place to start.

    Anyway, looks like Dr Enns has put together a veritable rogue’s gallery for his first three podcasts; Rob Bell, RHE, and Richard Rohr. It doesn’t appear from that lineup that traditional Christianity will get much of an audience.


  84. In the mainlines things are quite complicated. I think attempts at post-critical theological reconstruction or salvage have been and are being made by mainline seminaries, denominations and clergy, but neither these nor the historical criticism necessitating them are communicated well to the laity. And these reconstructions are often tentative, changing in tone and content every few years, so that what the laity who are actually engaged and interested see is that the approach and instruction coming from denominational resources and leadership, as well as from their own pastors, is in flux. Just as laity are learning one approach, the denomination starts publishing and disseminating parish education and worship resources emphasizing a slightly or very different approach. When you add to this the parish pastor pushing his/her own sometimes idiosyncratic theological agenda, you end up with laity throwing up their hands and accepting that there doesn’t seem to be any there there.

    Those, like me, who take take theological matters seriously, who want a there to be there, start our own amateur reconstruction projects. These are often shifting structures. Even when one is partly successful in these personal reconstructions, it’s hard to find anything but the most minimal shelter in them, because one is plagued with the fear that it’s all just dubiously sourced patchwork/guesswork. And then there’s the loneliness, which also puts stress on the plausibility of one’s reconstructive efforts, because it’s likely that if you built it pretty much on your own, then you are the only occupant of this particular theological edifice. Where exactly is shared faith located? You may be saying the same words at worship as your fellow pew-dwellers, but do you refer to and mean the same things?

    Most laity are not that theologically engaged. When they conclude that there is no there there, many of these walk away from the institutional church altogether; some others turn to denominations or churches that offer a return to pre-critical pastures of one kind or another (but trying to escape from deep exposure to relativizing knowledge is difficult, and requires its own construction of a theological ghetto of some kind, constructiont that always have porous walls); and a few just stay in the pews, participating in the pageant and rituals that have become habit over a lifetime, but not sharing in any substantially Christian faith orientation: outside of worship, weddings, funerals, and perhaps on their own deathbed, they hardly ever hear the names God and Jesus uttered, except in cussing.


  85. Yes. I love Brueggemann.

    And he had the guts to write a book about Money? I am checking the Library now!

    Want to make pastors squirm…. ask them about money.


  86. +1

    >> It’s all there

    What is “it”? The “absolute truth” meme is nothing but a hand wave.


  87. I don’t think anyone’s talking about “updating” scripture but about reading it for the ancient, complex, messy book that it actually is — that somehow still carries God’s life-giving word.

    Both sides miss that and try to reduce the Bible either into a neat package of timeless “truths” or a historical curiosity with no relevance for today.


  88. And once again we come back to the assumption of “absolute truth” – is it literal, a-contextual, Platonic propositions? How do you *know* that’s what God intended?


  89. “”” “Now I understand all these critical maneuvers that you have to make in the Bible – how do I move beyond that to take this as a script for faith?”””

    A great way to put it. But is this an Intellectual failure, or a failure of desire/courage? This often feels – and it is not isolated to thinking Scripture – like a hedged curiosity; the scholar/priest/pundit/candidate stops asking the questions as they get closer ‘to home’. “Let us return to the fundamental questions!” aka “retreat to the theoretical”.

    Because if you take anything seriously, in thinking about it, it eventually comes down to what you **do** as a result of that line of thought? When people are waiting for those answers, and the scholars just endlessly circle within the safer more removed orbit… eventually we muggles have to stop watching the stars and go back to work. Eventually one questions: why bother looking up?


  90. Actually, it’s about the ultimate author – God. Could he not take a multitude of authors, over thousands of years and give us “spirit breathed” absolute truth or was he hemmed in by his human tools.

    Me? God was not limited by the men He chose to use; He does NOT have to update Scripture.
    He is not Bill Gates, always having to upgrade/change.

    If you wish to know God will, if you wish to grasp Jesus shaped spirituality; read Scripture. It’s all there. It will give you truth but it will also fill your heart and soul.


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