Postmodern Jesusism

pm jesusThere seems to be a new religion being invented today, which I think is best called Postmodern Jesusism. It’s not an entirely new thing. It’s really just a new twist on the ancient “Old Testament God = bad / New Testament God = good” Marcionist idea. It goes like this: God didn’t really command all that nasty stuff in the Old Testament. The authors of the O.T., not having a complete revelation of God, just did what they thought God wanted them to, and then recorded it as though God really told them to do it. For example, God didn’t really tell Israel to invade Canaan and destroy the people there (Deuteronomy 7:1-2); the Israelites just thought God told them to do that, because that’s what they wanted to do, and so they did it, and then recorded it as though God told them to do it. In other words, the O.T. is lying about God.

But now we have the complete revelation of God in Jesus, and Jesus is a passivist, therefore the portrayal of God in the O.T. must be false. See?

In an article written by Jonathan Merritt*, it says this…

What has changed [from the O.T. to the N.T.] is not God but the degree to which humanity has attained an understanding of the true nature of God. The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is. Jesus is the only perfect theology. Perfect theology is not a system of theology; perfect theology is a person. Perfect theology is not found in abstract thought; perfect theology is found in the Incarnation. Perfect theology is not a book; perfect theology is the life that Jesus lived. What the Bible does infallibly and inerrantly is point us to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did.

The obvious problem with the argument made above of course is that all we know about the teachings of Jesus is from the Bible, but the Bible is “not the perfect revelation of God.”

Peter Enns, in his book The Bible Tells Me So, defends the same position when he writes:

[T]he ancient Israelites were an ancient tribal people. They saw the world and their God in tribal ways. They told stories of their tribal past, led into battle by a tribal warrior God who valued the same things they did – like killing enemies and taking their land. This is how they connected with God – in their time, in their way. (Kindle location 888)

This new way of reading the Bible is a nice convenient way of making the Bible fit with our current enlightened view of the world. It’s a shame that for the past 2000 years, the Church didn’t notice it. But thankfully, we now have the philosophy of postmodernism and deconstructionism.

Postmodernism pushes the idea that all truth claims are really only power grabs. And deconstructionism teaches that we can’t take anything at face value; we must deconstruct every claim, every written work, and look for the implicit biases of the authors.

Postmodernism is resentment masquerading as superior morality.

What our Postmodern Jesusists don’t seem to get is that the Bible is the story of how God invaded this world, starting with the small seed of Abraham, in order to completely destroy the old fallen world and inaugurate a new and perfect creation. This invasion/transformation doesn’t happen all in one shot; it’s a gradual process that will one day fill the whole world (Daniel 2:35, 44). Before Christ, the bloody birth of Israel was a violent but necessary state which God had to set up in order to introduce His saving plan into this bloody and violent world. And God didn’t want Israel to be a warrior nation. Once they were established after the removal of the Canaanites, God wanted them to be a peaceful nation of priests, standing as mediators between God and the Gentile nations. When Israel was faithful to that role, they were at peace with the nations; when they were unfaithful there was war.

Did things change after Jesus? Of course! But not in the way Merritt suggests. The role of the Church is not to pick up guns, invade nations, and kill unbelievers. And I agree with Merritt when he writes, “…we are forever prohibited from using the Old Testament to justify the use of violence.” But Old Testament Israel, once established, wasn’t justified to use violence either, unless it was to protect the nation from destruction. Israel needed to exist – it was the only road to God in an evil and violent world. That world, the “old world,” was destroyed on the cross, and a new creation has been birthed through the resurrection of Jesus, and it grows through the Church – not through physical warfare (although that sometimes might happen, especially if defensive), but through spiritual warfare. And we mustn’t forget, the physical and spiritual worlds are indeed interconnected.

Today the Church fights the true enemy: the powers, principalities, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). That’s what O.T. Israel was fighting against too, but for them it was hidden behind flesh and blood (and wood and stone) enemies. For us, it is revealed for what it truly is. Because of this, Christians fight on a new plane of existence, one in which the true enemy is brought down.**

Postmodern Jesusists confuse evil with good and good with evil. Because they don’t understand the concepts of holiness and covenant, they accuse God of unjustly destroying innocent people. And seeing their folly, instead of correcting their view of the O.T., they decide it’s best to change the story: “Did God really say…?” Well, only according to those primitive unenlightened Israelites, I guess.

After thought….

What about nations warring against each other in today’s world? Is it okay for Christians to fight for Canada against Christians fighting for Germany in WW2? Well, those are human wars. Those aren’t necessarily wars having to do with the kingdom of heaven invading the earth (although they might be). The world is still in a predominantly fallen state, and wars still happen. Christians, whose first allegiance is to the kingdom of God, have to decide with a clear conscience how much they want to get involved in human wars. Fighting Nazi Germany was a good thing, in my opinion. Perhaps invading Iraq wasn’t. I’m not 100% decided on these issues yet.

*Merritt’s article mentioned above is based on the book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, which I purchased and will read soon. Perhaps I’ll do a review on it. [Update: read my review here] I already see though that those who endorse the book, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Walter Brueggemann, Sarah Bessey, Brian McLaren, and others, are indeed the high priests of Postmodern Jesusism.

**Notice in the O.T., there is rarely any mention of demons, and the leaders of Israel are never engaged in battle against demons — they do stand up against the priests and followers of Gentile false gods. But, when Jesus shows up in the gospels, there are demons everywhere, and the disciples do engage in warfare against the demons. I’ve written more about that in the related reading links below.

Related reading…

In the Fullness of Time

Jesus and Covenantal Righteousness

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The Reformation ~ 500 Years

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In honour of the Reformation’s 500th birthday, here is an excerpt from Clinton C. Gardner’s book Letters to the Third Millennium describing the Reformation’s influence on the western world….

Before the Reformation we had assumed that either the church or state was ultimately responsible, and therefore we need not be excessively concerned with creating the future. Now we sensed that “I am responsible, not only for myself but also for the outcome of history.” We could no longer “let George do it.” Ultimate authority, we perceived, was not in institutions but in individuals. Only we give validity to the organizations or nations which we create and uphold. The revolutionary implications of this perception are still being worked out in the 20th century. Many of us relapse into the pre-Reformation belief in the sanctity of such institutions as churches or nations. Examples are hardly needed.

As conscientious laymen living under the imperative of personal responsibility, we began to speak a language never heard before: the purely lay and secular. Until this moment, throughout history, all government and art — indeed, every human institution — had been inextricably connected with institutional religion. As followers of Luther we began to break the connection. Actually, the Papal Revolution had initiated this separation of religious and secular power but only by setting the religious on top. Now we heirs of the bold monk appropriated “religion” inside each lay person. Quite logically this led to the translation of everything “religious” into lay and secular terms, from government to science, education, and the arts.

Let us start with the last. Giotto had already painted us as real individuals, but he and even the artists of the Italian Renaissance — Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo — still showed us acting out salvation history. Now, some fifty years after Luther’s death, the thoroughly “reformed” Dutch painters suddenly plunked us down in our kitchens and living rooms. From Franz Hals to Rembrandt to Vermeer, we became increasingly visible as just lay people going about our daily work.

About a century after Luther, One of the most marvellous “translations” occurred in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Why is it that we listen to German music with more “reverence” than to any other? Because it transforms the resounding Reformation church hymns — say Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is our God” — into a universal language. In Bach the religious origins are clear, but even as German music became increasingly secular, with Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, it has always remained true to its origins. It strikes the deepest chords. It carries the breath of the spirit through us, quickening our sense of belonging to the human enterprise. An eloquent testimony to the staying power of this new Reformation “speech” comes from a later revolutionary. In a conversation with Gorky, after listening to Beethoven’s Appasionata, Lenin said, “I know nothing the is greater than the Appasionata; I’d like to listen to it everyday. It is marvellous superhuman music.” And it’s not only “Westerners” that are so moved One of the first things that happened in China after “the Gand of Four” had fallen was the playing of Beethoven again in Peking.

Of course there was no point in having “freedom of conscience” if we were illiterate, as over 95% of us were before the Reformation. Fortunately Gutenberg’s newly invented printing presses gave Luther a vital weapon: a Bible for each of us to read and interpret for ourselves. Along with the Bible thousands of books poured into our hands as we all began to read on any subject. Public school systems, education for everybody, and a global campaign for literacy, were born out of the Reformers imperative that each of us work out our own salvation.

With the new theological doors that Luther had opened, universities “became” the church, the secular institution to nourish both our science and our con-science. The first American college, Harvard, was started in 1636 for the education of Protestant ministers. Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth followed in the next century, all founded by devout Protestants, as were most private U.S. colleges.

But we miss the full import of the Reformation’s new language if we concentrate only on Luther. The Czech Jan Has had been a martyr for the “Reformation” faith before it burst out in Germany. And the Reformation’s most creative “scientist” was probably the alchemist and doctor Paracelsus, who opposed the new “bookish” humanism of his century but also opposed Protestant and Papal parties. In many ways he was a loner, but in retrospect he seems to have been, as much as anyone, the founder of “contemporary” science. He was certainly the first biochemist. Rosenstock-Huessy hailed him as the man whose turbulent life and vision embodied the transition from medieval to “modern” times.

Until Paracelsus, not only medicine but all “science” was largely theoretical, based on the “logic” of abstract ideas derived from Greek and Latin sources. Now the eccentric Swiss doctor rejected this scholastic approach. He trusted his own personal observations and experiments, asking us to read the book of nature in much the same way Luther had asked us to read the Bible. Among those who shared Rosenstock-Huessy’s enthusiasm for him is J. Brinowski, who wrote that Paracelsus marked that “instant in the ascent of man when he steps out of the shadowland of secret and anonymous knowledge into a new system of open and personal discovery…..”

Finally, the Reformation created a vital new government institution: an incorruptible civil service. You may laugh but you are wrong. The exceptions prove the rule. Watergate and the Lockheed bribery are as good as examples as any. You can’t launder your money through Mexico and remain in government service. A Japanese premier, or any other, will fall if they betray the public trust. Teddy White called his book on Watergate Breach of Faith. It was a breach of our Reformation faith in the public servant. As Rosenstock-Huessy puts it:

Civil Service as a purely mechanical organization will never work efficiently. To understand the real inner justification for the strict discipline of a civil service, we must turn to the German revolution; for it alone gave the civil servant a religious position in his country. In the German revolution the drab, grey life of the average bureaucrat was suddenly transformed, as if by great volcanic eruption. Graft, bribery, the spoils-system, stain the character of the civil servant in every country which has not been touched by this great revolution. (ERH, Out of Revolution, page 362)

To sum up, the secular city created by the Reformation doesn’t mean a city where people have lost all interest in the purposes once expressed by religion. Just the opposite: it means the effective incorporation of those purposes into changed persons and new institutions capable of maintaining the standards once set by the church.

However, in replacing church by state, Luther went to unfortunate extremes. He positively exalted the power of the princes and the state as he depreciated the role of the visible church. He was anything but a populist. When his revolution’s left wing, the Anabaptists, inspired the Peasant’s Revolt of 1525, he urged the princes to crush it. In Ideology and Utopia Karl Mannheim calls that revolt “the decisive turning point in modern history.” He says it began contemporary “politics” because it was a “more or less conscious participation of all strata of society in the achievement of some mundane purpose, as contrasted with a fatalistic acceptance of events as they are, or of control from ‘above.'”

Reading his Bible, particularly St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther didn’t mind control from above, but he saw it as exercised by many princes rather than a church hierarchy. Thus the Reformation set the mold of German national character, with both its virtues and its most outstanding defect, what Rosenstock-Huessy called its “lust for obedience.”

~taken from Letters to the Third Millennium, by Clinton C. Gardner, pages 35-38

Related reading: German Reforvolution by Peter Leithart

 

There’s No Going Back

Once a person, or a group of persons, enters into a covenant with Jesus, there are only two paths forward: progressing from glory to glory, or progressing to become something worse than what you were before entering the covenant. One path that is not available is to go back to a previous stage of development.

Today in the West, Christian morality has become an autoimmune disease. Whereas is the past, Christian morality was a cure to the disease of sin, now that same morality is being used to justify all kinds of destructive and evil ideologies.

The way forward now is not to try and get back to the days when people respected Christian beliefs, although did not believe themselves. The way forward now is either to become something worse than we were before ever hearing of Christianity, or to move on to a more glorious state. To move on to a more glorious state requires a newer and stronger dedication to Jesus. Will it happen? Is it too late?

Jesus and Covenantal Righteousness

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Do we fully grasp the righteousness of Jesus in the post-Reformation world? Is theology set in stone now? Was it perfected by the Reformers?

The Reformation did a lot of good for Christianity, but one thing it did not do is reconnect the Church with its Hebraic roots in covenant; i.e. the covenant started with Abraham and continuing on to Jesus and beyond. Post-Reformation Christians are more influenced by Plato than they are by Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and even Paul.

Because the modern Church does not have a proper understanding of the covenant which existed between God and Israel, we get a whole lot wrong when trying to understand the life, teachings, and work of Jesus two thousand years ago.

Followers of Plato tend to believe that there is a standard of good and evil, which can exist apart from God, which God Himself submits to, even if He Himself created that standard. Hebrew faith, however, holds that God arbitrarily decides what is good and evil, and without God there would be no such thing as good and evil. If the Hebrews are correct, then how can we ever know if we are in right standing with God? According to the Hebrews, we can know through covenant: a covenant in which the conditions are clearly laid out for each party — God has His obligations and the people have theirs.

The righteousness of Jesus, then, in regards to His life and ministry two thousand years ago, is not so much dependant on Him perfectly submitting to a standard of good and evil as it is dependant on Him perfectly submitting to the conditions of the covenant existing between God and Israel.

So, we could say that the primary mission of Jesus (the man living two thousand years ago) was not to live a perfect life without sin on behalf of all mankind (although He did indeed do that); His primary mission was to fulfill the primary mission of Israel, which was to reconcile mankind with God.

That kind of sounds like saying the same thing twice in just a little different way. But, why couldn’t have God just given the mission of Israel directly to Jesus first? Why fumble around with Israel at all? I write a little about that here: In The Fullness of Time.

In the Fullness of Time

hourglassBut when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
~Galatians 4:4-5 (NKJV)

Why couldn’t have Jesus been born to one of Eve’s virgin daughters?

Why did God “fumble” around with Israel for hundreds of years before finally sending the One person who could save humanity from its fallenness?

One answer that could be correct is that God wanted humanity to mature to a certain point before sending Jesus.

When Jesus did come, there were two important things that had happened by that time: 1) The Roman Empire had advanced to the furthest point humanity could ever hope to advance to without Jesus; 2) Israel had regressed to the lowest state it could ever regress to thus completely disqualifying them of their God given purpose in the world.

Let’s start with Israel. Israel was a kingdom of priests to the nations; to act as mediators between God and the world. Just as original humanity was created to image God to creation in wise stewardship, and image creation to God in thankful worship, so Israel was created to image God to the nations and the nations to God. When they followed that purpose they were at peace with the nations, but when they rebelled against it, they were at war with the nations.

The number one issue which turned the Israelites away from their calling was the worship of the gentile gods. Read through 1 & 2 Kings and see the pattern: Israel worshipped false gods, there was a time of discipline from God, there was repentance, things got better. Finally, God had enough and sent Israel into exile. If they weren’t going to fulfill their calling, they would lose their nation and position as mediators. The exile was temporary and Israel was later allowed to go back to Jerusalem, rebuild the city and the temple.

Notice, when reading the Old Testament, the Israelites didn’t deal with demons at all. Elijah didn’t go around casting out unclean spirits from individuals. The war was with the false gods.* However, when Jesus came onto the scene, there were demons everywhere, and Jesus never had to rebuke the Jews for their worship of Baal. This is illustrated in the parable found in Luke 11:24-26….

“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (NKJV)

The Israelites were purged of their gentile god worship in the exile, and never fell into that again. But, by the time Jesus came, the Jewish people had fallen into something worse: they made their own religion into a false god. No longer were they acting as mediators between God and man, leading gentiles to salvation — now they were actively keeping people out of the kingdom through their false interpretation of their covenant with God (see Matthew 23:15). They couldn’t have made a more heinous mistake, and were worse off then than before the exile.

When reading Daniel 2 & 7 and Revelation 13, it can be seen that the Roman Empire was a conglomeration of the three empires which came before: Babylon, Persia, and Greece. After Babylon fell, Jerusalem and Judah became the spiritual heart (the Holy Land) of those empires. Israel was no longer a sovereign nation, but as far as God’s calling for the Jews was concerned, what came after the exile was more glorious than what was there before (see Jeremiah 31:31-40 and Zechariah 2:1-13).

The Roman Empire was the furthest development of those empires; it was the combined strength and wisdom of the greatest societies that existed before the rule of Jesus. Where was humanity to go from there but downward? It was time for the true King of the world to come and take His place. That is illustrated in Daniel 2 & 7 — the kingdom of God comes and crushes the old empires and consumes the world.

It is somewhat of a mystery** as to why God would want humanity to progress to a certain point before acting. That is true for our own personal lives as well. If God would act sooner, things would get better quicker, right? But, if humanity was created to grow and mature over time, then this action of God makes sense, to a certain degree anyway. Children don’t always understand the actions of their parents, at least not until they’re old enough to do so.

We must trust that in the fullness of time, or when the time is right, God will act, and the best possible outcome will result.

Here is a related message by James B. Jordan in which he discusses the maturation process of humanity…..

 

*I realize that there were demons behind those false gods.

**N.T. Wright in his book The Day the Revolution Began writes this:
“…the ‘continuing exile’ [the exile into Babylon and the continued subjugation under Gentile powers afterward] of Daniel 9 and many other texts, was not just a long, dreary process of waiting. It was the time in which the strange power called ‘Sin,’ the dark force unleashed by human idolatry, was doing its worst precisely in the people of God. God’s people were captive, enslaved, to Babylon and its successors and to the dark powers that stood behind them. What God was doing through the Torah [the law], in Israel, was to gather ‘Sin’ together into one place, so that it could then be condemned.” (Page 286)

***