This is the conclusion of a series of posts that I have written about truth in Liberalism.

As you recall, this series started with a couple of incidences that triggered my train of thought on how certain Christian sects, specifically the conservative, charismatic, evangelicals, may renounce extreme doctrinal positions and yet cling to the ‘truth’ of these positions. I compared this attitude to the attitude these same people have towards anything that smells ‘Liberal’.

Being branded Liberal is equivalent to being totally wrong and possibly not even a Christian. For instance, there have been a number of blog posts and comment threads on Brian McLaren’s new book: A New Kind of Christianity. There is some civil talk but there is also quite a bit of lines being drawn and one of those lines is that Brian is just re-branding Liberal Christianity. To this claim I say, “This may be true to an extent, however if it is, it is to a ‘new kind of Liberalism’. There is a truth in liberalism that is being re-branded in a post-modern (over used word) manner. This is not bad.”

I believe one of the truths found in Christian Liberalism is Biblical Criticism: “The Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements but instead documents the human authors’ beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within a historic/cultural context by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings.” If the bible is what some say it is, then it should be able to stand under this type of critique. The rest of the posts (here, here and here) where showing where there is real errors and contradictions in the scriptures that I believe the conservative position does not do justice to.

So my question is: Why is Liberalism/ Progressivism considered so poisonous? Why don’t conservatives allow that Liberals have a truth that is worth listening to and moving towards?

I do realize that I am characterizing the conservative view. I do realize/ hope that most conservatives are more moderate, even if the most vocal position that I hear is not so. I consider myself more conservative than liberal and  I am speaking up against this. Or maybe I have become a liberal, but if this is the case, I recognize that there is truth in conservativism. I hope that in reality I am a seeker of TRUTH and will go where ever the TRUTH leads.

2) Jesus’ birth narrative

Matthew’s Account

Jesus is unremarkably born a house in Bethlehem – in a plain reading of Matthew, this seems to be where Joseph and Mary are from. No remarkable journey; no census.

The magi come to pay their respect and in there search for the King of the Jews, they tip off Herod who then seeks to destroy this threat. Joseph and Mary flee Israel into Egypt until they hear of Herod’s death. They then return to Israel. Only then, when they heard that Archelaus was now ruling the Bethlehem region do they decide to flee to Galilee and settle in Nazareth.

Luke’s Account

Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth due to a census that is being taken. There they find no room for them and end up staying in a barn. After 8 days Jesus is circumcised and after they ‘perform everything according to the law’, they return to Galilee. We are told that every year the family traveled to Jerusalem for passover and on his twelfth year he gets left behind. This seems to preclude Matthew’s exodus to Egypt.

Conclusions

Though these two accounts have been [successfully] merged together by conservative theologians. This is done as a need of the doctrine of inerrancy rather then because the two are a natural fit. A plain reading using the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings comes to very different conclusions. It seems that Matthew and Luke come up with two completely different versions of the birth narrative in order to further agendas that show Jesus fulfilling certain prophetic utterances.

These two narratives do not nicely fit together. Matthew’s account implies us that the young family only moves and settles in Galilee after they return from exile. Luke’s account tells us they originate from Galilee and that they return there after the birth and circumcision is completed. Obviously these two stories have been mashed together in a way that suits inerrant/literal believers’ needs, but I argue that by doing so we no longer have the stories that the authors’ intended. We now have a non-biblical(not found in the scriptures), hybrid story created for the sole purpose to make the scriptures inerrant.

There is also the problems with the Massacre of the Innocents and the census. The date of Jesus’ birth according to the account in Matthew would be around 4 BCE – calculated by reign of Herod, Archelaus and Herod Antipas. The birth of Jesus is a decade later around 6 CE  according to Luke’s account – calculated by the census (Quirinius did not even get into office until 4-5 CE). Of course, conservative, inerrant scholars have had to fix this, so they now claim that Quirinius was in office twice and that there were two censuses. Again, this does not come from a plain reading of scripture  or a plain reading of history but is required by the doctrine of inerrancy.

You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and’ whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment.

You have heard that it was said, Do not be a suicide bomber,’ and ‘whoever suicide bombs will be subjected to judgment.’ But I say to you that anyone who is dogmatic is subjected to judgment. Anyone who knows they are right and they do not take the time to sit down with the other to listen, responding in flexible love, these people have committed suicide already.

Anyone have any other modernized ideas to add?

[The Christian approach and attitude toward people of other religions] carries profound political, military, and humanitarian implications, and millions of human lives could be saved or lost depending on our response. Theologians, denominational leaders, pastors and other religious leaders too seldom remember that their work, if taken seriously, literally becomes a matter of life and death.

If we want to get on the right side of the life-and-death divide, we need to start with some somber, serious, old-fashioned repentance, starting with this admission: Christianity has a nauseating, infuriating, depressing record when it comes to encountering people of other religions (and a not much better record when encountering people of other brands of Christianity either).[If you ask Jews about Christianity’s track record with the other, they know. If you ask native peoples, they know. If you ask the descendants of slaves, they know. If you ask Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers, they know. If you ask atheists, they know. If you ask feminists and gay folk, they know too.]
Brain McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, p208 [and foot notes].

[see part one]

  1. God’s redemptive love extends to all. It is His will that all come into a redemptive relationship.
  2. Because of who he is God will accomplish his will. All that He desires to be redeemed will be.
  3. Some will never be redeemed. They will be separated from God, they will perish, or they will suffer conscious eternal torment.

Recall that Ultimate Reconciliation chooses to believe 1 & 2 in our list. And just as Calvinism and Arminianism views weigh the verses that support their position and use those verses to interpret those verses that oppose their view, why couldn’t the univeralist verses be used to interpret the others? And which view would you say has the better image of God? The Calvinist, which states that God chooses some for salvation and some for damnation? The Arminian in which God is either powerless to save all or lets finite/ fallible people make an infinitely important choice of their eternal destination? Or the univeralist, who believes that God desires reconciliation of ALL and will see to it that ALL are reconciled?

As part of this idea of Ultimate Reconciliation, lets look at just how radical the gospel may be. For most of our modern Christianity, we have come to adhere to a theory of justification that is laid out in the so called “Roman Road to Salvation”. In a nutshell, this is summed up in the idea that we all fall short of God’s requirements (both gentile and Jew). We all have sinned and deserve judgment and death. God’s grace provides us a way through faith in Jesus. This faith in Jesus brings us into a state where we are no longer under condemnation. AMEN.

The modern reading of Paul’s letter to the Roman’s has Paul laying out the Gospel in Rom 1-4. Could this be a wrong reading? Could this reading be the result of Luther’s self condemnation? Through Augustine’s idea of original sin? Could it be possible that we are missing something in translation?

There has been much debate in recent times in Pauline scholarship. Out of this controversy comes a book that lays out a possible alternative understanding of the early chapters of Romans: The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.

In this book, Douglas A. Campbell puts forth a theory that the early chapters of Romans should be read in a rhetorical manner. Where we read the outline of the gospel in Romans 1-4, Douglas suggests that Paul is actually arguing against the false gospel that has plagued his ministry. It is the gospel he wrote against in Galatians and that is written about in Acts 15. This false gospel says that though salvation comes through Christ, we still need to obey God’s laws; therefore circumcision is a requirement. So Paul is countering the arguments of a hypothetical teacher of the false gospel in the opening pages of this letter.

Apparently, the original Greek has distinct language changes that reveal when the false teacher is speaking and when Paul is responding. The teacher condemns the gentiles, Paul comes back with “for that with which  you judge another, you condemn yourself.” This rhetorical style goes back and forth to where the false teacher calls upon father Abraham and God’s covenant of circumcision and Paul counters that Abraham was credited with righteousness before circumcision.

For a good review of Douglas’ extensive book, see Richard Beck’s blog: (Notes on The Deliverance of God:Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI, Part XII) Note: part xii provide the alternative rhetorical reading of Romans 1-4 with comments. See my copy without the comments.

So, where we read Romans 1-4 as the presentation of Paul’s gospel, Douglas puts forth that Paul is really arguing against the false gospel. If this is true, then maybe, just maybe, the gospel that we put forth today is a bastardize gospel that has much more in common with the Judaizer gospel Paul fought so hard against. Though this reading does not necessitate a Universalistic understanding, and the Universalistic understanding does not depend on this reading, the two do fit nicely together.

As one who is sympathetic to Christian Universalism, this theory is very intriguing. I look forward to hearing a rebuttal from the NT scholars that reject it.

In my interactions with more fundamentalist friends, I’ve noticed a trend. These friends insist on the existence of absolute truth. They also insist that this absolute truth is knowable and that it’s accessible through the Bible. The more they insist on speaking about absolute truth, the more they seem closed off to what others have to say about what they regard as truth.
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As we go forward in these turbulent times, we need to keep some things in mind. I think ALL sides need to keep open minds. I believe that those of us who are ‘heretics’ are just as likely to close our selves off from others’ input as we claim that our opponents are doing towards us.

Thomas Kuhn (1962) noted that in historical retrospect, science is done paradigmatically. It goes through seasons of ‘revolutionary’ science, punctuated by stable periods of equilibrium or ‘normal’ science.

Hans Küng (1988) asserted how paradigm change in theology (see diagram to right) has produced four constellations of macro-theology within Christianity (Ancient, Medieval, Reformation, Modern) in distinction from its founding Kingdom paradigm in the first-century. Küng argues that a ‘contemporary’ paradigm in Christianity beyond these prevailing thought systems is forming in our time.

… We must lead the church from the future, not just the past.
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More and more I am hearing of the tension between the different paradigms that plague Christendom. No where is this more evedent than within the reviews of Brian McLaren‘s new book A New Kind of Christianity. I hope to be picking up my copy in the next day or two, so look forward to my version of a review. The very fact that this book is raising up such a whirl wind of discussion/ debate [attack?] leaves me to think that this is a much read book for any one who is in a position of influence.

that we haven’t really taken seriously enough what it means to call Jesus the Word of God. We’ve made the revelation of God in Jesus less formative than Deuteronomy 7, a bad reading of Rev 19, etc.
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Is much of evangelicalism guilty of Bibliolatry? I say we tend to interpret Jesus through our image of the scriptures, rather than let our image of God through the revelation Jesus interpret the scriptures.

Many people read the Bible as a series of disconnected quotes and episodes yielding maxims, rules, formulas, anecdotes, propositions, and wise sayings. They have little or no sense of the larger story into which the statements fit and in which their meaning took shape. (19)

From A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (available February 9, 2010)
Brian McLaren

Of course we don’t really believe this – well, except maybe some Calvinists. But what does our theology say? I bring good news to those who tithe? Who are dedicated to prayer? Who bless a certain nation, political party or leader?

So much of our doctrines are exclusionary. God’s blessings is doled out based on laws or principles of God and his salvation is only for those who have correct doctrine. More and more I am seeing that the language used throughout the Christian Scriptures is inclusive:

So then as through ONE transgression there resulted condemnation to ALL men, even so through ONE act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to ALL men.
Romans 5:18

For as in Adam ALL die, so also in Christ ALL will be made alive
1 Corinthians 15:22

The problem is all the inclusive scriptures get interpreted through verses like:

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

What happens if we flip that around? What if we interpret the way, truth and life verse through the inclusive message that I see as predominate?