The Repentance of the Rich

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How often have we heard preachers preach about repentance?

It is interesting that in the large volume of repentance preaching that repentance of the rich is hardly, if ever mentioned, except by liberal clergy. This despite repentance of the rich being an important theme in biblical texts. (Louise Schottroff, The Parables of Jesus)

When is the last time you heard a sermon on the repentance of the rich directed to the rich in your congregation?

What actions might occur with the repentance of the rich in your congregation with respect to the individual rich people?  How might your church be transformed as a result of the repentance of the rich in your church and the repentance of the rich in your country?

What would repentance of the rich mean for the well-being of your nation and what impact would it have on its political system?

You Can’t Count On Jesus: Bankrupt Epistemologies

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Liberal Christians like to hang onto Jesus.  Some even call themselves Jesusians.  Jesus is our lifesaver when we swim in problematic Biblical waters.  There may be awful depictions of God in the Bible, the church’s book, but at the end of the day we have Jesus to count on.  If some part of the Bible does not match up to the revelation of Jesus we can chunk that revelation.

Biblical scholars, however, remind us the search for the historical Jesus is not an easy one with a settled answer. We have four canonical gospels that present contrasting views of Jesus.  There are materials within the gospels that appear to be the re-interpretation of the Jesus tradition from a particular community/location/time.   The text is a living text, including the character of Jesus.

Marcella Althaus-Ried rains on our Jesusian parade even more.  She confronts us with our bankrupt epistemologies and challenges us to “construct a Christ who will go beyond the limitations of Jesus’ historical consciousness.” (From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology, p. 92)  An example of Jesus’ limited historical conscious is the mite-giving widow in the temple.  “The problem is that, in fact, Christ did not stop the widow from sacrificing herself. Christ is presented in the narratives as compassionate, but it is not what we could call a revolutionary compassion, transforming women’s oppression by an awareness of the patriarchal epistemology of his time.” (p. 92)

Epistemologies, theologies, faith practices which are constructed based on the Bible or based on Jesus are bankrupt.  They are never enough. The truth of the matter is all sources for our theology and faith practice are problematic. All of them!

The faith to which we are called is a living faith.   It is faith, not certainty.  Not a faith without content, but not a faith with settled answers.  And for those of us who have tried both a settled faith and an unsettled faith, we know an unsettled faith is much harder.

May God give us communities, wisdom, endurance, and courage for such a journey.

My Biggest Problem With The Apostle Paul

Apostle Paul, Rembrandt

Apostle Paul, Rembrandt

Reactions to the Apostle Paul by liberal Christians range from appalling to tolerable to appealing, with the latter being less prevalent.  For a more positive read of Paul see In Search of Paul:  How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom, A New Vision of Paul’s Words and World by John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed.

One problem in evaluating the Apostle is determining what Paul wrote that is in the New Testament.  Scholars generally agree on the authenticity of Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon but debate the rest of books attributed to Paul.

Regardless of what books you conclude were written by Paul, the New Testament is still dominated by Paul’s voice, which leads to my biggest problem with the Apostle Paul.  No single individual, no single voice, should get that much air time. Church, community, by definition, requires the equal hearing of all voices.  No one person is that smart or that inspired.

How egalitarian is your church?  How egalitarian is your church’s worship?

The Bible Starts A Conversation Rather Than Prevents A Conversation

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Christians, who equate God’s Word with every word in the Bible, use the Bible to end conversations rather than as a conversation starter.  Their mantra, their bumper sticker, goes “If God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” The fundamentalist slogan ignores diversity within the Bible and a long history of conversation/debate in both the history of Judaism and Christianity.

The Bible does not “say” anything.  Put a Bible in the middle of a room some time and see how long you have to wait until the Bible says something, which is not the same thing as what you think the Bible is “saying” to you.  The Bible has to be interpreted. And what honest interpreters of both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible admit is that interpretation is no easy matter.

I find Jews to be particularly honest about the role of scripture, reason, and debate in theological method.  Take for example, the Talmud, which contains the foundations of Halakha - the religious laws that inform the daily lives of observant Jews. The Talmud’s existence is evidence that the Hebrew Bible is not sufficient in and of itself. The Hebrew Bible, like the Christian’s Bible, can be both ambiguous, confusing, and have holes in it, matters which are not addressed in the contemporary life of its readers.

William Kremer, of the  BBC World Service, in his article The Talmud: Why has a Jewish law book become so popular? portrays the Talmud as a book which filled in some of the gaps of the Hebrew Bible and preserved arguments about various texts.

Every imaginable topic is covered, from architecture to trapping mice. To a greater extent than the other main Jewish holy book, the Torah, the Talmud is a practical book about how to live. . . .

But the Talmud is perhaps better described as a prompt for discussion and reflection, rather than a big book of Do’s and Don’ts.

‘The Talmud is really about the conversation and the conversation never ends,’ says Rabbi Dov Linzer, of the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah School in New York. It is a distillation not just of oral law, but also the debates and disagreements about those laws – with different rabbinic sources occupying a different space on the Talmudic page. Mixed in with it all are folk stories and jokes.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24367959

Christians have much to learn from their Jewish sisters and brothers, especially when it comes to interpretation of scripture.

May God help Christians to be more honest and humble as we read the Bible [1], the Church’s book.  And may our reading of the Church’s book enable us to be more what God would have us to be, and not less. Too often Christians choose to emphasize parts of the Bible which do not match up to the life and love of Jesus.

[1] There actually is not one Bible.  Christianity has a manuscript tradition, and there are some significant differences between manuscripts.  Fundamentalist chatter about “original manuscripts” is nothing more than an illusion.  Thousands of decisions, many of which are debatable, are made so that a Bible can be produced.