Saturday, May 31, 2008

John J. Collins, "Jewish Apocalyptic against Its Hellenistic near Eastern Environment"

Article Bibliographical Information: Collins, J.J. "Jewish Apocalyptic against Its Hellenistic near Eastern Environment" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 220, Memorial Issue: Essays in Honor of George Ernest Wright. (Dec 1975), 27-36.

Collins' article is lucid in his articulation of the phenomena of apocalypticism in the Near East from the Persian period forward. Prior to endeavoring toward a discussion of Jewish apocalyptic per se, Collins reviews some of the developments in previous discussion from Gunkel through Hanson regarding the influence of the ancient Near Eastern environment upon Semitic thought, especially with regard to apocalypticism. He underscored the lack of attention to the post-exilic period in this regard and also drew out the implications of Alexander's conquest(s) for the proliferation of ideas among ancient peoples (26).

Collins identified a strand of shared experience among diverse peoples in the Hellenistic Near East that in some sense relates the apocalyptic ideologies which arose, namely, that most of the ancient peoples (quite independently of one another) shared "the idea of the kingship of the national deity" over against the new socio-political circumstances brought about by the advent of the Greeks and then Romans in the Hellenistic age (26). Essentially, he argues that various trajectories within broadly apocalyptic motifs arise from this conflict among varying peoples (e.g. Persian, Egyptian, Jewish).

He argues "[t]he most obvious result of the conquests of Alexander was the demise of the native monarchies in the various Near Eastern states" (28). This new state of "disorientation" of the deposition of native monarchs gave rise to various explosions or uprisings of native peoples in resistance (the Jews were only one of several peoples who resisted Hellenistic rule). Collins aptly points out that kingly figures were aroused in the future hopes of the colonized (my use of the term not Collins'). Among the Egyptian in the Demotic Chronicle, during the early Ptolemaic period, he quotes: "It is a man from heracleopolis who will rule after the Ionians. "Rejoice, O Prophet of Harsaphis." That means: The prophet of Harsaphis rejoices after the Ionians. For a ruler has arisen in Heracleopolis" (Citing C.C. McCown, "Hebrew and Egyptian Apocalyptic Literature," Harvard Theological Review (1925) 18:357-411]. This and many other examples offered by Collins shapes the contours of a common resistance motif among Near Eastern peoples during the period in which, in their unique and subtly differing ways, they projected a king-deliverer or "savior" of sorts to restore the centrality of the native monarch/peoples.

Collins' also cogently argued that other peoples resisted the rule of the "colonizer" by means of desecrating religious icons (e.g. statues in Hellenized temples) which he points out "were prompted by religio-nationalistic motives rather than desire for booty" (28). Thus, he concludes that before the Maccabean period, "...throughout the Near East from Egypt to Persia, Hellenistic rule was met by national resistance. Messianism, as the desire for the restoration of native monarchy, was by no means a peculiarity of the Jews but was a feature of the entire Near East in the Hellenistic period" (29). He then showed a precedence for a "four-kingdom" motif (similar to that envisioned in Daniel) envisioning (always) the Greeks as the fourth kingdom, which would be replaced either by the Roman Empire (Aemilius Sura), the kingdom of God (Daniel) or a new millennium (Bahman Yasht) [ibid.]. The schema then must have been "consciously borrowed" (29) though it took on various indigenous national features in each independent case.

Next, Daniel is proposed as the "best clue for the social function of this literature" (31). This is the case primarily because the "elite" or wise class intends for the apocalyptic to inform the masses. He states: "In the context of Daniel, it was clearly intended to inspire resistance to the Hellenistic king, a purpose shared by such non-Jewish works as the Demotic Chronicle, Potter's Oracle, aand Bahman Yasht" (31, emphasis added). Moreover, the phenomena itself of Jewish apocalyptic "...grew out of a situation of political alienation brought about by the loss of national independence in the post-exilic period" (31-32). Two points he raise further relate to the pesher mode of interpretation that often have been overlooked: 1) an indirect (or concealed) projection of scriptural interpretation into eschatological terms in order to "reapply the language of the older scripture without giving a direct commentary" (32). Now, in part I have interpreted Collins on this point, but I think it a safe assessment to parallel this to recent postcolonial-critical terms, namely, the rise of an ambivalent discourse against the dominant discourse (of the colonizer) which is couched in religious terms and yet is thoroughly religious and thoroughly political simultaneously. Or a reading of one's native scriptures and interpreting it in such a way to describe present events in eschatological terms. That seems to be Collins' argument. His second point argues "the interpretation of scripture is part of a broader phenomenon of prophecy by interpretation" (32). Hence, revelation is mediated by means of interpretation as opposed to directly. That is, Daniel's prophecy is one mediated through interpretation of revelation via the angelic being (cf. also 1 Enoch).

In passing he makes an interesting comment that already is haunting the crevices of my mind: "[pointing back to the oracles of nechepso and Petosiris (pointing back to the Chaldean astrology)] Especially, in the latter work astral phenomena are repeatedly interpreted with reference to political upheavals" (32, emphasis added).

In conclusion, Collins' sees apocalyptic as a phenomenon in its own right with two dimensions: 1) continuity and direct influence from other Hellenistic Near Eastern motifs and ideas, and [yet] 2) that they are not merely borrowed from other peoples, but have "a point of contact in the native tradition" (34). Further he states of the messianism: "The expectation of an ideal future king in both Egypt and Judah in the Hellenistic age is due, not to influence in either direction, but to the loss of native kingship in both countries" (34). Thus, the rise of the common apocalyptic (messianic) Zeitgeist "was the demise of national monarchies...[which] caused disruption in the traditional order and therefore led to a loss of meaningfulness and to alienation" (34).

Assessment/Reflection: I have sought to capture the essence or highlights of this profound work by weaving salient quotes from the article in order to underscore Collins' argument. For such a brief article, Collins traversed a vast amount of terrain. From a postcolonial standpoint, Collins' is a veritable goldmine. The surplus offers a cogent account in the Near East during the time leading up to that of the NT of the matrix of socio-political and religio-political resistance to oppressors of the indigenous peoples by means of apocalypticism. It is difficult to see how, through say Simon Samuel's motif of ambivalent hybrid discourse, the apocalyptic phenomenon is not by its very nature postcolonial. Moreover, his article raises the questions of messianisms evidently present throughout the Near East, this is a point that further work could really draw out in reconstructing the milieu of the NT documents and bear import in the way their authors construct Jesus apocalyptically.

Decolonizing the Son of Man

In what will follow shortly, I will be reviewing a host of articles and books related to the so-called "Son of Man" debate. I am working through these materials as I process information for my master's thesis related to Daniel, Enoch, and Matthew's "Son of Man" Enthronements. I would appreciate and welcome (even solicit) your thoughts and criticisms as I articulate the works and my thoughts of them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Apocalypticism and Current Existential Events

In recent weeks my personal reading habits as well as my preparation for my master's thesis has left me vexed by the matrix of Jewish apocalypticism, ANE apocalyticism, and its relation to the politics of empire. I'm currently, among other works, working through J. J. Collin's The Apocalyptic Imagination. Though this is far from a new work, rather it is a standard in the field, I am reading it for the first time and have been very impressed with Collin's facility with the materials coupled with the ease with which he communicates the subject matter. I will certainly be commenting more upon this work and the ideas expressed therein (as well as those evoked in my own small mind as I read).

On another note I now turn my attention to the GRE, that looming, villainous latch-key to open or close various doors in my future. On one hand I am deeply concerned that after having expended so much time and effort in order to maintain a very high GPA, worked diligently to find and pursue extra curricular activities that would comport with my desires, aims, as well as personal development, that how I do on this test could be determinative for whether people even consider my background, academic history, and Vitae! It would be a lie not to say that this in itself is a rather frightening thought, although I still have the utmost confidence that I will likely do well on the test. Though I am rather unnerved about the math section.

Now to the existential aspect of my post. In the last several weeks, I have been "blessed" (though I am very leery of using that type of rhetoric) to have such wonderful, fulfilling, and meaning time with my wife, daughter, and son. During the drive to Indiana and Tennessee my seat in the van was right next to my daughter Gennavieve. In the last few months, due to suicide Hebrew, advanced Greek grammar, and several other classes together I was so pressed for time that I didn't get the chance to just stare in my daughter's young eyes, see the vibrancy and love that illuminates those small blue eyes. I think one of the most meaningful parts of the trip was the time I had to simply bond with my daughter, trapped in the car, the opportunity to arose for me to communicate with my infant (who can't talk!) extensively. We made faces at each other the whole time, smiling, and playing. She has added so significantly to the meaning, purpose, and value of my life---for which I am eternally grateful. This family time has been a season of refreshing, grounding, and joy. Indeed, I think my relationship with God has grown closer through my relationship with my family and children, maybe you really will know "them" or even "yourself" through "their" or "your own" fruit!

In retrospect I wonder, what does apocalypticism have to do with life, the struggle, and empire? I think it has far more that we often give credit for. My thoughts of late have been plagued by the perpetual inquiry of in what way the apocalyptic imagination is influence by and a response to the oppression of empire, the inculcation of the colonial ideology upon the colonized, and the resistance discourse of the latter against the former!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Robert M. Price, Deconstructing Jesus

Deconstructing Jesus. By Robert M. Price. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000. 266 pp. $34.00

The provocatively titled Deconstructing Jesus does not fail to disappoint in its erudite facility with the intersection of New Testament studies, literary criticism, historical criticism, and philosophy. Price presents his volume in eight core chapters framed in vitriolic, often humorous, and fundamentally skeptical prose. Price holds “Jesus Christ” to be a socio-religious moniker entailing a host of tertiary theological formulations and presuppositions (e.g. Chalcedonian Christology, nineteenth century views of inspiration and literalism, etc.) all of which necessitate critical reflection and deconstruction (pp. 11-12). Price eschews the very idea of so-called “historical Jesus” projects or “reconstructions” as “practically impossible and ill-advised” (p. 12). Indeed, he argues that because so many Jesus reconstructions are plausible that they therefore “cancel each other out” which gives rise to Price's own “Jesus agnosticism” (pp. 16-17). With the tone set, Price scrupulously proceeds to “deconstruct” the various Christianities within the plethora of ancient sources in order to undermine the modern notion of “Jesus” as a monolithic and even known figure.

In chapter one, Price assails the “myth of the early church” arguing for widely divergent “Christianities” many of which would hardly have been recognizable as “Christian” in a normative sense. Hailing F. C. Baur and Walter Bauer as “[t]wo of the most important investigators of early Christianity” he employs their initial formulations as starting points and seeks to press some of their conclusions (however tentative they might have been) to what Price perceives as their logical ends. With the degree of mention Price makes concerning philosophy throughout the work, it is rather odd that he failed to note even once the influence of Hegelian philosophy with its dialectic-evolutionary presuppositions embedded in the analyses of both Baur and Bauer. This betrays what later appears as Price's own underlying presupposition of a dialectical, history of religions approach to the materials (cf. pp. 29-32, 35-44).

Nevertheless, he proceeds to question the ideological factions perceived in the nascent documents. On the one hand, Price raises excellent questions of whether “orthodoxy” as such were existent at all in the way later historians (e.g. Eusebius) presented the story; however, Price's invective rhetoric persistently chiding any semblance of “Christian orthodoxy” seriously inhibits the effectiveness of much of his argumentation. The balance of chapter one through three yield, following Burton L. Mack's “pre-gospel” classifications the following movements: the Q community, the Pillars (Peter, James, John), the "heirs of Jesus" (the brothers of Jesus and James), the “community of Israel” (those who saw Jesus as the new Moses/Elijah figure), the synagogue reform movement, and the “Christ cults” (which he parsed into several cults). Each of these movements represents a rather diverse and independent cluster of religious followers each movement having its own “take” on Jesus. Price undermines the “big bang” theory, that is, the idea that the resurrection occurred giving rise to various trajectories of interpretation whether orthodox or heterodox. Rather the picture is one of a diversity of meanings of “Jesus” some completely removed from any notion of suffering/death or resurrection, which falls in line with and makes more complex the “Christ-myth” position. This is the case because Price finds Gnostic Redeemer myths already widely in circulation in the religious landscape of the Judean peoples of the time.

In chapter four Price argues extensively that the construct of Jesus in the NT supposedly antagonistic of “Pharisees” and “religious leaders” betrays the anachronisms embedded within the document. Rather, the Messiah of the NT is something of a “midrash” or compilation figure presented through a complex construction of layer atop layer with a bedrock of diverse, contradictory, Cynic sayings of “Jesus” (p. 100). Indeed, the “Son of Man” in the NT is merely a cipher for a hiding sage's agenda allowing “the dubious authority of some early Christian sage to recede behind the Torah-like clout of the Lord Jesus” (p. 103).

In chapter five, Price copiously labors to place the “Sufi” Islamic sayings of Jesus (twelfth century) alongside Q and Gospel of Thomas sayings developing a case that Jesus' death was not part of the original story. Indeed, he concludes “if we plot the trajectories of Christian evolution through the New Testament documents as Mack does, we will come up with multiple Christianities all the way back…” (p. 149). Hence, this constellation of Christ mystery cults and Jesus movements having nothing to do with one another validates both Price's idea that the Jesus could ever be known or indeed whether he, as such, ever existed.

In chapter six, Price courts Rene Girard's theory of the sacred scapegoat, bemoaning Girard's failure to press the theory through the Christ myth (p. 176). Herein Price posits the transposition of names for others all the while implying that Peter might be the Caiphas-figure and the disciples put him to death, or his death could have been faked which would comport with other ancient stories (a la Chapter seven). The book culminates with Price following Earl Doherty in seeing the construction of Jesus as midrashic compilation of OT antecedents which supposes that none of the events of Jesus are historical in any sense.

Ultimately, Price succeeds to offer a chiding work sure to evoke consternation. However, his arguments are convoluted and predicated upon a host of presuppositions that are at best tenuous. For instance, how probable is it that Luke-Acts was written so late that Marcion's version represents the earliest version of Luke [!] (p. 80). Where are opposing views to Price's radical theses? One will search the bibliography in vain finding a list of highly selective and agreeable sources to Price's unambiguous agenda. The work is fraught with a continually arising false dichotomy setting Price and his theories as representative of “critical scholars” over against fideists and Christian apologists. What is more, does Price actually represent “critical scholars” or only those who agree with himself (likely a more limited group). Is everyone who disagrees with Price's constructs ipso facto a fidiest? The irony, however, is that it is difficult to imagine how believers in Jesus, who he derides, exercise more of a fidiestic “leap” in supposing Jesus existed, died, and was believed by his followers to have been raised than Price himself exercises in supposing his “critical eye” discerns the layer upon layer upon layer of texts, communities, and confluence of myths to reach communities behind the communities exposing that “Jesus” is a construct and historically incredible. What of the non-Christian historical attestation to Jesus' existence? Nevertheless, his arguments would have been more compelling if they were better documented and argued in greater detail. The work took on so many radical theories that it did not prove convincing or probable in most of what was offered.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Well, I survived a two week trip with two small children and my in-laws. I accomplished much, spent quality time with family, and now I think I need about two weeks of fasting and silence to clear my mind and find release for my nerves.

I will be promptly postings some reviews of materials I have worked through, notably, my complete review of Benny Liew, along with a Review of Price's Deconstructing Jesus.

Moreover, much is going on with CSTNM they have an expedition going out this week to photograph manuscripts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Freedom, Travel, and the Frontier

I have been reticent to post recently because I have been traveling with family. This trip has served as both an amazing opportunity for me to see several campuses and meet with several faculty members of some really amazing schools that I will be applying to in the fall! So, I get the best of both worlds, traveling and enjoying my beautiful wife, children, and yes, even in-laws all the while getting the chance to meet some incredible scholars and see new campuses!

Thus far, I have been to Notre Dame and it was an absolutely gorgeous campus. The two New Testament scholars I had the chance to meet with were exceptionally warm and kind to me. Overall, Notre Dame has an amazing Ph.D. program and it was exciting to learn more about it.

Secondly, I visited the University of Chicago and met with one of their prominent NT scholars. While I likely will not apply there, more so because of the location of the campus in light of my wife and two small children, it was a tremendous experience. The students I met were brilliant, articulate, and warm. I am very glad I had the chance to finally visit the campus. Believe me, if I were a single man, downtown Chicago and that amazing campus would be on the top of my list.

Next up, tomorrow, I visit Vanderbilt University. I'm thrilled with this prospect as well. While I understand that all the programs I am interested in are the most difficult programs in the country to gain acceptance to, just the experience of visiting the campuses and meeting such notable scholars has been an invaluable life experience, and I have no doubt that my meeting tomorrow will be equally (or possibly more so) exciting.

If you haven't noticed, my sentiments provide enough indisputable evidence that in fact I am a nerd at heart! How I went from the depths of existence, living on the street, whose only dismal future expectation was either prison or death, to competing in academia and loving the life that I have been given (several) second, third, and fourth "chances" to live, I will never know...well, I do know, which is why I'm driven in the field of New Testament studies. I have known several dark nights of the soul, but I have known a whole life in the shadows of society, dejected, and alone, and yet while I often question what Jesus really looked like, taught like, and what his life and death mean, theologically and historically, I have a conviction that God indeed has been in the process, above the process, even yes, through the process, the journey, that I call faith/life. And in all my historico-critical meanderings, doubts, and theses, I know there is something, someone, beyond, through, and in this thing we call life...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Alternative Pronominal Referents to Deity or ‘Why we should call God She

Granted I’m a white American male, I have been pondering for some time now the discussion about calling God (=deity) “she”, now likely “old” by normal standards, but now that I voice my thoughts in the blogosphere I think its time I said something about this issue. As the first statement highlighted, as a male I can neither be a “feminist” theologian nor (in lieu of my ‘Caucasianaity’) a “womanist” theologian (is there such a thing as a ‘former-heroin-addict-theologian’?). However, as a follower of Jesus and a theologian I do have an opinion on the matter. And I think if anyone is honest with themselves and does their historiographical homework, it is difficult to deny that the Ancient Near East devalued, subjected, oppressed, silenced, and ridiculed women. Further, Judaism itself (as far as I have studied) is a deeply patriarchal tradition.

Now, it is true that one could read the Jewish scriptures and note a distinct bestowal of honor upon women in a completely egalitarian light, especially in the creation motif of the Imago Dei. Yet, the beauty of this created order of divinely instilled unity and equality is fundamentally shifted as the story proceeds through the marring of the Imago Dei through the so-called “fall” narrative. I do not buy into the conservative argument for so-called complementarianism (maybe better called “patriarchal capitulationism”). As I read the creation narratives, I think whatever one asserts from the stories, the principle regarding gender relations seem to be that through the “fall” event that the “seeds” of antipathy and active antagonism characterize the reciprocal relationships between the genders. Moreover, I am also compelled by my reading of Galatians 3:28, that indeed, there is no more slave or free, male nor female because of the reconciliation of Christ (There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female–for all of you are one in Christ Jesus [Gal 3:28; NET]). However, I think if there is a conflictual theology in the New Testament or one that is problematic for that matter, it is Paul’s. But the evidence is far from conclusive on the inclusion of the deutero-Pauline corpus (so if you are wanting to wallop someone with the Pastorals, not me!). Indeed, my reading of the gospels and the message of restoration is one of complete restoration, equality included! And please don’t respond to this with some kind of “functional” justification.

Having then established in brief my reading of that conflict, underscoring my own egalitarian reading of Jesus and the New Testament (granted I did little to argue my case, because, well, that is not he primary thrust of my post). Thus, the Kingdom of God, whatever else it may be, is God’s restorative kingdom characterized by peace, reconciliation, and equality. And recognizing that patriarchalism has dominated the Jewish tradition and by and large the Christian tradition from virtually its inception, I think merely as a socio-religious corrective to in some sense push the pendulum back to the egalitarian middle that for several decades or a century we should refer to the trinity (Jesus excluded) as she. I do not believe godself has ontological gender, neither male nor female. And yet for better than two millennia God has been referred to as “he, him, father” etc. I realize there are many times in the biblical narratives in which God is described as “father.” Conversely, there are also passages that imply feminine characteristics to God and regardless, even the male references are just that, references or anthropomorphisms (or possibly we should call the gynepomorphisms!) Since ontology is never on the table, besides offending the King James only folks and the ultraconservatives who subjugate their own women (in theory more than practice [follow some of them home at night and see who really “rules the roost”]), is there really any harm in employing the feminine pronominal when referring to deity? I think not, in fact, I think a healthy corrective to the complicity of Christianity and the empire it has been co-opted by, exploited by, and ultimately subsumed (e.g. “Christendom”) and reproduced would be to call god “she” instead of “he.” This would likely be the most deeply felt at the pew-level, inspiring “shock and awe”, causing alarm, and indeed capturing the attention of humanity within the sphere of Christian influence that a transformation of the destructive and repressionistic modes of praxis are being shed as the people of God are working out practical ways of showing greater fidelity to the true Jesus and the message he heralded.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Politics of Parousia by Tat-Siong Benny Liew

I just finished Tat-Siong Benny Liew's Politics of Parousia: Reading Mark Inter(con)textually (Biblical Interpretation Series 44; Leiden: Brill, 1999). This was a fantastic read that I highly recommend and I will have a published review of this text later next year. However, for current discussion I would like to outline the argument and listen to any thoughts or reflections you might have about it.

From a biblical standpoint, Liew determined that the Markan parousia, stands in a rich tradition of Jewish apocalyptic literature which stands against imperial oppression and subjugation. First, he reasons that the Markan Jesus is painted in stark contrast to the Jewish authorities who are subtly identified with the kingdom of darkness. I found this to be one of the penetrating insights into the Markan narrative offered, that I for one, was previously unaware of or simply missed. At least in so far as he was able to show cogently that several linguistico-rhetorical features of the gospel (e.g. the use of the ἐκβάλλ-verbs, etc.) subtly tie the Jewish elite and "their house" with the dominion of the adversary (evidently this is something Mack and others have already alluded to, which I wasn't aware of). His reading was deeply textual, interacting skillfully with the text and language, more so than I had initially expected (though granted I had little basis for expectation!). Another feature that was rather unforeseen was how richly he treated the narrative from a biblical theology standpoint; this could well be my own (mis)assessment because I have only a marginal perspective of literary criticism as of yet.

The primary thesis he argued for, evidenced in the title of the work, was that the fundamental politic of the Markan parousia as eschatological event was a duplication of the ideology of the colonizer, namely, the Roman's "obey-or-be-destroyed" program! So the totalitarian vision of Jesus' sole judgment of the "righteous and unrighteous" and political reckoning, at bottom, was a repackaged "colonially mimicking" vision of the colonizer's ideology. Therefore, resistance to the colonial regime, being so inculcated by the ideology of empire, takes on the form and vision of empire even in its resistance. Hence, the best way I can describe what I think was his point, is that the vision of Jesus' return (parousia) setting the world to "rights" by the binary standard of "in" vs. "out" chiefly is the projection of the Imperial Caesar's mode of oppression by violence in cosmic religious terms. This is a very provocative thesis in my estimation, not only for what it says, but further what it leaves unsaid. Moreover, as a reader I continually found myself querying as to whether I was reading Albert Schweitzer or Liew. I realize this statement necessitates qualification, but I have yet to put my finger on exactly why, I kept getting that "feel." What does this mean for the parousia, in general? Ah, these are the questions that are forever unanswerable because methodologically we have departed in a sense from history in so far as authorship, date, occasion, etc. are matters out of reach and in a real sense out of bounds in his study. The whole exercise is "constructed" in Mark's narrative-world, which thereby alleviates some of the traditional questions and pitfalls. Maybe that is exactly the genius of the method, namely, dealing with the literature as a "piece of colonial literature arising during a certain historical milieu" and then analyzing the internal construct of the narrative world and actors vis-a-vis the colonial situatedness of the literature. There are still some issues in the method that seem unaddressed and I might well be reading the whole thing incorrectly, but this at present seems like a robust way to deal with the socio-political significance of the narrative in its historical context without the pitfalls of traditional "Introductory" material/debate. Any thoughts?

He goes on to analyze the way mark constructs colonial subjects first with an eye to the way he views "agency" and then to the way he constructs women. Chiefly, he throws several notable scholars' works, who argue strongly for a positive (or semi-positive) presentation of the role of women, to the flames, finding rather a "backseat" and rather negative view of women's role in society. This climaxes in his final chapter which draws together the previous work on Mark and sets it over against the Chinese American colonial experience. From this he harvests the "timeless, universal truth" (not Liew's language!): that the colonized of all times bear the danger of duplicating the ideology of their oppressors and in turn oppressing others (p. 158).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Evangelical Manifesto - Released

Though CNN broke the story several days in advance, the "Evangelical Manifesto" is out! There are two versions, the brief version (5 pages) and the full version (20 pages). Chiefly, the manifesto evidences a group seeking to define itself over against various compulsions from within and without the movement(s). An encouraging aspect is the fact that the document is irenic in general, that is, while calling for a distinctive identity, at least this appeal is for religious diversity in the global world in which we live. Believers of all religious faiths and even atheists are given fair place. Issues of social justice and equality are mentioned. And on the whole, the document is better, note that honest remark, better than I had expected (well I am rather skeptical). That is not to say, I have no reservations about the document at all.

In brief: Theologically, the document articulates a christological confession consistent with Chalcedon. It continues: salvation by grace through faith, exclusively through Jesus' death on the cross "for the penalty of sin." To that end, the manifesto is very conservative theologically, although they were careful to steer clear of "inerrant," likely a rather divisive term even among confessing Evangelicals. Beautifully, the theologically driven section concludes with an honest self-indictment that evangelicals perpetually fail to live up to their standards. Fair enough!

What I found most interesting about the document (larger version) was that the attempt was made, whether successfully or not remains to be seen, to stand against an evacuation of religion from politics and conversely politics from religion. It is to this point that I would like to comment. Under section 3, "We Must Rethink Our Place in Public Life" (pg. 14ff.) this attempt was made. The argument is made that evangelicals must stand against two equal but opposite "errors." The first is "privatized faith" whereas the religious life is neatly tucked away in the "spiritual compartment of life." Conversely, the other "error" they articulate is the politicization of faith, which they acknowledge has been a practice of both the "right and left."

While I do appreciate their sentiments concerning the fact that Christianity has in many senses been hijacked on both sides of the isle as it were, I am still questioning whether "politicizing" faith is something one can not do. Now, if I'm reading the manifesto correctly then the assertion is being made that Christianity is in some sense "other" than partisan. I agree. My concern, however, is that following Jesus is a politic. I think that several key terms and phrases in the document point in this direction (e.g. "independence" and "allegiance higher than a party, ideology, or nationality" [15]). However, that is where it ends. Could this be because this was as far as agreement could be reached among the charter signatories? I will certainly grant them the benefit of the doubt.

At the end of the day, (and it is the end of this last grueling day of finals for me!) I think more needs to be said about what the politic of Jesus is. What does it mean to live in this world as a Christian? In a partisan world? In a world and culture of capitalism, consumerism, militarism, and still bearing the undercurrents of imperialism that, though less visible, is increasingly stronger ideologically within the culture. I applaud the Manifesto and was pleasantly surprised by some of the diversity of signatories, but my concerns remain on several accounts. This will be a topic that comes up again.

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Damn the Pharisees!" Gospel of Thomas 102

Gospel of Thomas

102 Jesus said, "Damn the Pharisees! They are like a dog sleeping in the cattle manger: the dog neither eats nor [lets] the cattle eat."

After a quick read of Thomas, I am more confident than ever that Jesus was a lot more fun than a lot of his followers I know! And I find myself resonating deeply with his sentiments.

Evangelical Manifesto - Watching and Waiting, but not holding my breath!

Well the blogosphere is buzzing after CNN broke the story that many evangelical leaders have converged on Washington D.C. and are drafting "An Evangelical Manifesto." Then Dr. Bock's blog mentioned the event and now bloggers all over are awaiting the release of this document on Wednesday.CNN reports from the AP "Conservative Christian leaders who believe the word 'evangelical' has lost its religious meaning plan to release a starkly self-critical document saying the movement has become too political and has diminished the Gospel through its approach to the culture wars."

I anticipate this venture to be rather interesting, though my expectations are low. The only promising things that have been reported are that various individuals such as Richard Land (Southern Baptist Convention) and James Dobson (Focus on the Family) have not been invited. Contra most, I find this factor to be the best thing this project has going for it. Secondly, the one or two people who we know are involved, Richard Mouw (Pres. of Fuller Seminary) and others show promise because they are likely more representative of moderate evangelical voices as opposed to the business-as-usual conservative (often Republican) agenda.

On Darrell Bock's blog I commented,
Please tell me this manifesto isn't going to pit "evangelical" faith with anti-abortion/homosexual/immigration folks, again, is it? For the record I'm not a democrat (or a republican), but if this manifesto in any way: a) supports the war, b) calls for a support of the president, c) aligns Christians against people of any sort (alternative lifestyle, race, immigration status, etc.), and bears any signs of patriotism, nationalism, or Western-centrism, I think many people, myself included, will seriously consider whether 'evangelical' is an association that is worth having.

I remain hopeful about this statement---hopeful that 'evangelical' might be a term redeemed from the grip of fundamentalist right-wing conservatives, who hijacked it years ago when the "Christian right" (which is mostly wrong) rose to power. I'm holding my breath!"

Another gentlemen, from an apologetics website responded to me saying that:
"If being Evangelical DOESN'T pit me against anyone, then it's not a name worth having (where "pit me against" means I reject what the other stands for, not that I don't long to see the other come to have a right relationship with Christ)."
To which I responded:
Thank you for taking the time to respond. However, I think the whole attitude of being pitted against another Christian, until "they get it right" (= believe like me), undermines the very reality of following Jesus. It is predicated on modernity's quest for absolutism, certainty, and the every illusive term "truth." I am decrying exactly what you are hoping for, another creed to "set the truth (= what I believe)" over against other expressions of Christian theology.

I don't know if you realize it Keith, but the watching world does not, in general, take evangelicalism very seriously because evangelical expression has be hijacked by the so-called "Christian right." It seems the only valuable contributions evangelicalism has expended any effort towards revolve around three crux issues: abortion, homosexuality, and creation/evolution. What about matters that Jesus actually spoke about like war, violence, the poor, the immigrant (maybe especially this latter one). Evangelicalism has become a cipher for Republican policy and that must change. I think either the age of religious toleration and appreciation of different expressions of Christianity will take back the title "evangelical" or else the movement will be eclipsed. Think about it, evangelicals in the media are always portrayed as religious fundamentalists, which is rather unfortunate.

I think this really frames the issue. My vision of Jesus and what it means to follow him is to follow his way of peace, of compassion on the poor, on justice and the weightier matters of the law. What has occurred in the past 20 years is that the Christian agenda has been set by ultraconservative leaders who have morphed the fundamentals of the faith and the essence of following Jesus as being against people. However, in my view, this ideology is more driven by modernity's epistemic concerns and the penetration of Western Imperial ideology into Christian expression.

To this latter concern I would like to highlight several points. Postcolonial theory is concerned with the way in which knowledge and power are construed and wielded in the construction of the "other." Note how he mentions that those who he is against are those who do not rightly relate to Christ. By "right" it is clear he means "believe about Christ what I or my community believe about Christ." For him, 'evangelical' is a meaningful term because it delimits boundaries of "right" vs. "wrong," "in" vs. "out." So Roman Catholics are out. Pentecostals are out. My question is, "who is in?" What are the "tenets of faith" for the evangelical? And which person who calls themselves 'evangelical' gets to choose which other people that call themselves 'evangelicals' are out? It seems as though evangelical has become an organization, a power structure, whose internal coherence runs on the fuel of empire not following Jesus.

My other concern is that this Manifesto might evacuate the reality that following Jesus is a politic! That is, in combating the shift to the so-called Christian Right and "liberal left" (so the AP report through CNN), might the very essence of following Jesus be compromised? We shall see.

Articles/Blogs Referenced:
(CNN article; Bock's Blog;)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Student Academic Conference: "Politics of the Spirit: New Tongues in a Culture of Empire"

I am absolutely thrilled about the upcoming student conference we have put together for this coming fall. The conference itself is the manifestation of a "pipe dream" that several socially minded Pentecostal students and myself conjured up. We have orchestrated the event so that students who come for the "paper symposium" will also have the opportunity, while in town, to attend the annual meeting of Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice. Even more thrilling is the fact that we are able to offer the two best student papers both an $85 award for travel and the opportunity to have their paper published in Pax Pneuma. What more could an aspiring scholar want? If I wasn't involved in chairing the event and putting it together, heck, I would be submitting a proposal. Amazingly, there is finally a conference where undergrad students are encouraged to participate.

I remember as I prepared to apply for master's programs how I wished I could have shown my initiated by having already been active in a scholarly community. Well now, students have that option! I'm more than a little pumped about being involved in putting this together.