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Part Three: Who Owns God?

Ultimately, I came to learn that there are at lest three quite distinct symbol systems, or paradigms, for Christian theology coming out of the Bible. One is dominated by the idea of God as the judge, and what is going … Read More

By / January 7, 2008

Ultimately, I came to learn that there are at lest three quite distinct symbol systems, or paradigms, for Christian theology coming out of the Bible. One is dominated by the idea of God as the judge, and what is going to happen to us on the day of judgment.

Everything circles around God's judgment, and sin and forgiveness and redemption and the cross-that's Western Christendom in Catholicism and Lutheranism. Then there is God as Lord. And that has to do with God as Lord and we as subject, and the world is full of covenants-that's Calvin and also the Jewish tradition. And the model gave the basic model for the federal structure of the United States; foedus in Latin means convenant. It's the sociopolitical model of God. And then there is the third, the Johannine. It's all about life. Sin is sickness, not primary guilt. It's not about obedience and Lordship. It's life: He came that they should have life, and have it abundantly. In him was life. Out of his innermost parts, streams of living water will flow (John 7). And everything is to be born anew, born out of water and blood (John 3). That's John, and that's Eastern Christendom. There is no crucifix in an Eastern church; there is the icon, where the divine life shines through the human image. These are three different ways of thinking about God. What a richness. And you don't see them until you lay them apart. Of course they flow into one another, in all our traditions. But it is by studying the scriptures to get the integrity of each of these that they come to life. It is a little like the Gospels: if you mix them, you don't get the feel of how many theologies there are in scripture. It's like with homogenized milk: when you homogenize milk, you can't make whipped cream anymore.
And for sermons, that's a deadening thing.

So when the preacher preaches Luke, it should sound like Luke. And even the Lutherans should not mix in a little Paul to make it kosher. So, not so uptight. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Richness. Plurality. Plurals. Yes, meanings is better than meaning. Isn't that, in a way, what the Trinity is about? Isn't that odd, these confused monotheists who speak about the Trinity: We couldn't quite settle for something which was just oneness, we had to have more of a fullness of an interplay, of a giving and receiving. Do you remember how it is with the oneness in John 17, where Jesus prays that they all be one? And you, father, are in me, and I am in you, and they are in us. It's like the biological world: Everything is interdependent. It's a giving and receiving. It's a oneness that is not a glob, but a living interplay. Plural. Which leads me to the fifth point: Not so universal. And here I come full circle. I said in the beginning that I read the Bible as if it was just about me. And now I say, the Bible, my beloved Bible, it is indeed my Bible. There might be other holy scriptures-and that might not be as threatening as some people think. Not to claim universality and uniqueness? I always felt that to speak about the uniqueness of Christianity or the uniqueness of Christ does more for the ego of the believer than it does for God. Has God Only One Blessing? is the wonderful title of a recent book. How can I sing my song to Jesus with abandon, without telling negative stories about others? What one religion says about another religion, what one beloved scripture claims to be over against other scriptures, comes pretty close to a breach against the commandment "Though shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." What we say about the others is usually self-serving. We say, Is it self-serving? Oh no, it is just giving God honor. But think about it. Think about the scriptures themselves. Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before people that they see your good deeds and become Christian." That's not what it says. It says, "Let your light shine for people so that they see your good deeds and praise your father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5). Your father-so that people have a reason to be happy that there are Christians in the world, instead of getting irritated at them, if not worse. Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth." But who wants the world to become a salt mine? We are born as a minority religion, as a religion among religions. And we are heirs to the Jewish perspective on these things: that's what I learned from the scriptures. It says, to Israel, that Israel is meant to be a light to the nations. That's what Jesus speaks about: a light to the nations. The Jews have never thought that God's hottest dream was that everybody become a Jew. They rather thought that they were called upon to be faithful and that God somehow needed that people in the total cosmos. What a humility, but we called it tribalism. From the enlightenment, everything had to be universal. But when Christianity started its universal claim, and got power, it led to the crusades. We couldn't really think that it was not God's hottest dream that everybody be like us. So I say, no, the Bible is my Bible.
This is the breast that I, as a child of God, have been nourished from. And for the little child, when the child is born that's the whole world, the mother's breast. But maturing means to recognize that other kids have sucked other mothers' breasts. That belongs to growing up.

Now this is my Bible. It was given to me as a gift, and it is full of love, for which I am grateful. If I have found a doctrine, that is my doctrine. I don't need to bad-mouth all others. This is theology for the next generations. Paul was on to that. Paul, late in his mission, had to learn to deal with plurality.

PART FOUR: Final Thoughts 

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