Thursday, August 14, 2008

Narrative Gospel Conclusion and Reference List (Narrative Gospel Part 8)

It is my contention that the Gospel narrative is transcendent and therefore relevant to all cultures. This does not mean that our methodologies for communicating it do not need to change. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be true. If the Gospel is a message for those who do not yet believe, then their perception of the message we are trying to communicate becomes critically important. If we are attempting to actually communicate the story of the Gospel to a culture that is constantly changing, we must understand the world of our intended hearers so that what they hear us saying is what we mean to be saying. They still have a choice in the matter, but wouldn’t it be a shame if the message they reject isn’t the one we meant to communicate. The story of the Gospel existed and was communicated before the advent of modernity and it will continue to be powerful and relevant long after modernity and what we now call “postmodernity” are distant memories; until “the Story we find ourselves in” reaches its resolution. We must not insist that someone must convert to a modern epistemology in order to be converted by the Gospel. We must not use a narrative of invitation to motivate by exclusion. We must inhabit and embody the story we profess to believe. We must not only believe and speak the Gospel, but our very lives must be “good news” to the world around us. We must allow those who don’t yet believe to join with us; to walk with us; to learn to believe by belonging. In a culture that is deeply suspicious of coercive meta-narratives and power games, we must profess, inhabit, embody, and invite them into a “true” narrative that refuses to be “meta.”

1. Brueggemann, Walter. Theology Of The Old Testament.
2. Gibbs, Eddie. ChurchNext.
3. Grenz, Stanley J. A Primer on Postmodernism. Wm. B. EerdmansPublishing, 1996.
4. ---. Theology for the Community of God.
5. Honderich, Ted. The Oxford Guide to Philosophy, 2005.
6. Kierkegaard, Soren, D F Swenson, and W. Lowrie. Concluding Unscientific PostScript.
7. Lyotard, Jean Fran├žois, and Frederic Jameson. The postmodern condition: a report on knowledge. U of Minnesota Press, 1984.
8. McKnight, Scot. Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us. SPCK Publishing, 2007.
9. McLaren, Brian D. A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant. Zondervan, 2006.
10. ---. More Ready Than You Realize.
11. Middleton, J. Richard, and Brian J. Walsh. Truth is Stranger Than it Used to be: Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age. InterVarsity Press, 1995.
12. Newbigin, Lesslie. Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.
13. Smith, James K. A. Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. Baker Academic, 2006.
14. Sweet, Leonard I., Brian D. McLaren, and Jerry Haselmayer. A Is for Abductive: The Language of the Emerging Church. Zondervan, 2003.
15. Wright, N. T. The New Testament and the People of God. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1992.
16. Wright, N. T., and Wright. The Millennium Myth: Hope for a Postmodern World. Westminster John KnoxPress, 1999.


Mike L. said...


Thanks again for this series and the discussion. It has been a great way to open up our dialog and friendship.

I’m curious about how you use “believer”, “non-believer” and “those who don’t yet believe” in the last couple of posts. Should I assume that your view of the Gospel is based on the goal of moving people from non-believer to believer status? What do you believe when you say you believe in God?

I appreciate your rejection of the more traditional take on belief as an entry point to community, but I wonder if you still consider belief as the goal. When I use “belief” I’m referring to a claim of intellectual certainty in something that otherwise has no conclusive evidence (I don’t use belief as a synonym for faith).

You began this series with a Gospel that sounded like a call for a transformation by this motivational story. At that point, I suspected your goal might be the actual transformation. You ended with a couple of things that left me wondering if your gospel was, like most Evangelicals, a call to accept this particular myth as fact (albeit a less coercive and more inclusive approach than fundamentalists). Was it your intention to change the tactics (attitude and methods), yet still adhere to the traditional message of Evangelical Christianity?


Adam said...

I do not define "belief" as "a claim of intellectual certainty in something that otherwise has no conclusive evidence." For me, "belief" is not "mental assent". Rather, "belief" implies a "hopeful confidence" that necessarily impacts one's life, behavior, priorities, actions, etc. (transformation). People will give mental assent (for a variety of reasons) to ideas and concepts that have no impact on them at all. However, at the end of the day I don't think this can be classified as "belief".


Mike L. said...


I'm glad you said that! This would be a really helpful point of difference to flesh out. It sounds like you use "belief" the way I would use the word "faith". Do you see those words as the same thing? If not, how do you see the difference.

I've found it really helpful to make a point of distinction between belief and faith even though most people mash them together. I suspect you actually separate the two concepts in some way, but you may not use (or have) terminology that makes the distinction clear.

This is one of the reasons that the NT can feel conflicting about what it means to be a Christian and I think this point of terminology is at the root of the faith vs. works argument that is so common and has splintered several denominations. If we could redefine our modern terms a bit (deconstruct the language), I think that this one problem fades away (and of course gives rise to others).

When you personally say "I believe in Jesus". Do you mean that you think he existed and did or said some list particular things. Or do you mean that you've chosen to follow something that is somehow associated with him or his name? I would classify the former as belief and the latter as faith. Belief is what you currently think or conclude about the available data (historical evidence, texts, personal experience, etc) and faith is what you do in response to your conclusion. I'm sure most Christians have both to some degree but use both words "faith" and "belief" in ways that cloud the conversation.

I recognize that most people don't really try to deconstruct those terms, but this has been the most helpful thing I've done in my deconstruction process. My own Christian journey has come alive once I realized I could have deep faith (hope, allegiance, actions) without the need for any level of belief (conclusions about the data). I'd like to hear the terminology you wrap around that same concept to see if we really differ in thought or merely in language.


Adam said...

I don't think I would say that "belief" and "faith" are synonymous, but they are deeply resonant terms from my perspective. For me, "belief" aligns more closely with "confidence" than conclusions or data. That is not to say that it ignores's just that talking about "belief" in terms of "data" seems like trying to make math out of a biography to me.

Also, you said "When you personally say "I believe in Jesus". Do you mean that you think he existed and did or said some list particular things. Or do you mean that you've chosen to follow something that is somehow associated with him or his name?" I would answer "yes."(though the word "list" bothers me a little.)

The faith/works thing is an interesting point. In terms of the text itself, I read the famous statement in James on the subject (and arguably the whole book) as James' attempt to deconstruct the whole question. I think James is basically saying that asking "'Which saves you: faith or works?'is kind of like asking 'Which keeps you alive: breathing in air or breathing out carbon dioxide?'"

Mike L. said...


bear with me on this one...

you said...

"For me, "belief" aligns more closely with "confidence" than conclusions or data."

I need you to unpack that a bit more. I think maybe the words "data" and "conclusions" threw you off (or scared you). By data, I'm talking about everything at our disposal that allows us to interpret a text, make a decision, or even just ponder an issue. Some data is dry, some is experiential and emotional. I'm not making a distinction here. Data includes our feelings, our experiences, our traditions, our sacred texts, our community's perspectives, a still small voice, etc. It's our epistemological base. It means everything that would help us have any confidence or reach a conclusion.

By conclusions, I just talking about our current opinion on an issue. I might be communicating more finality than I intend to convey. I've talked to you enough to know you do have certain conclusions about theological issues. Drawing a conclusion doesn't make a person arrogant or closed minded.

I feel like you're squirming a bit here because you think maybe acknowledging that there is an intellectual component to this might dry it out and void it of any other emotional component. Instead, I think that by recognizing the intellectual part exists, it allows us to discuss it (and deconstruct it) without degrading the "living" aspect of our faith. That is what has helped me the most in this journey. I recognize that I'm deconstructing the language around what I think and claim to know, but that doesn't diminish the life I live in Christ. As long as belief and faith stay mingled in one term, it becomes threatening to deconstruct faith. I think this is why fundamentalists are so threatened by deconstruction. Since they see belief as one with faith, any attempt to question the detailed theological beliefs would have to threaten their entire faith. I'm looking to free living faith from our conclusions, reasoning, logic, and opinions that are bound to change with each generation (i.e. our beliefs).

Does any of that make sense?

Adam said...

LOL...Sorry, I didn't mean to squirm. I typed that out right before I left the office and probably didn't take the time I needed to with it.

I get what you are saying. We do have some differences in our terminology. In my experience, coming to a "conclusion" implies finality unless it is somehow qualified, i.e. "tentatively", etc.

Additionally, the term "data" (again, in my experience) tends to be a culturally conditioned term that carries certain connotations, and frames the discussion in ways that are very awkward, given the narrative nature of a good bit of my Theology. Rob Bell puts it this way:
"I heard somebody recently refer to the Bible as 'data'. That person was in an intense discussion on what the Bible teaches on a certain issue and he disagreed with someone else so he said, 'I don't see the data for your position.'
The Bible is not pieces of information about God and Jesus and whatever else we take and apply to situations as we would a cookbook or an instruction manual...We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God. Doubting the one true God. Wrestling with, arguing with, getting angry with, reconciling with, loving, worshiping, thanking, following the one who gives us everything.
We cannot tame it.
We cannot tone it down."
-from Velvet Elvis

Sorry for the lengthy quote, but I thought it expressed what I wanted to say pretty well.

The other thing is that I'm not seeking to free faith from the things you mentioned (generally). However, I am pursuing a faith that is characterized by a humble confidence. In many ways, I see this as resonant with what you are pursuing, but there are differences. Still, my assumption is that as we walk and talk together we can each learn and be challenged by the perspective of the other. I hope you are enjoying the walk as much as I am.

Mike L. said...


What causes your aversion to the word "data"? Why is that a dirty word?

"We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God."

I agree, but that IS data. The Bible is information (data)to be included (heavily) in our analysis. The "nature" of the data is also part of our data. That's actually called metadata (data about the data). Exegesis is the process of understanding the metadata (sources, surroundings, culture, prejudices, and nuance of that data).

I love Bell's quote here, but it is not relevant to our question. His quote (if I hear it right) is a warning against the all too common proof texting technique and also a warning that the bible's text comes filled the the prejudice (passionate uncensored experiences and opinions)of the authors. As you would imagine, I completely agree with Bell on those issues. I love Bell's respect and inclusion of the wealth of 19th and 20th century biblical analysis.

So in the theme of Augustine, as beautifully summarized by Jack Caputo, how do you answer the question...

What do I love when I love my God?

To keep it in context of this issue it might be better to ask...

What do you believe when you believe in Jesus?

or in your terminology...

What are you confident in when you are confident in Jesus?


Adam said...

I don't mean to imply that "data" is a dirty word, and I probably lobbed us off on a hair splitting tangent. I understand that on the one hand, you and I attribute different meanings and connotations to the word and so we should be able to discuss the concepts while understanding the other's use of the term. On the other hand, I would again suggest that the word locates the text in a certain context, and that context is too limited in scope. I understand that the Bell quote I used earlier does not directly engage your use of the term, but rather something on the more fundamentalist end of the spectrum. However, the point stands on the other side of the looking glass as well (I am not implying that you are some kind of bizzaro-fundamentalist). Anyway, sorry for the tangent.

As for "What do I love when I love my God?" and "What do I believe in when I say I believe in Jesus?"...there really isn't a succinct answer to that for me. I submit this entire blog as a starting point ;). In all seriousness though, my answer there is always "in process" to a certain degree. If it helps, I subscribe more to a "web of belief" epistemology than a foundational one.
P.S. Do you have a succinct answer to the question? What do you believe in when you say you believe in Jesus?"

Mike L. said...


Thanks again for the clarification. It has helped.

Yes, I have an answer to "What do I believe when I say I believe in Jesus?"

First, I don't have a problem with stating my current conclusion/opinion and I don't feel threatened that making a conclusion now will box me in for the rest of my life. The word conclusion doesn't conjure up finality in my mind. My answer has many layers, but that doesn't stop me from having a highest level that I can state. I'm not afraid to add nuance as needed or adjust as I gain more data. The fact that I have deeper levels (a web of beliefs) is given. Everyone has that.

ok, here it is...

When I say I believe in Jesus, I mean that I accept the goals, mission, attitude (spirit), and hopes of Jesus as my own. I view his mission as mainly about justice, his attitude (spirit) as mainly about compassion, and his hopes as mainly about reconciliation of outcast people with their community.

Some nuance...

I have a great degree of humility about the level of history we could assign to these stories. They too closely resemble the common style of mythical narrative to try and claim any degree of certainty (belief) about their historicity. I acknowledge that when I say "Jesus", I'm talking mostly about a character in a story (actually 4 different characters in 4 very different narratives). Regardless of the historicity of the character, you and I know him almost exclusively through the stories/legends about him. My belief is not in any way a certainty of the historicity of any of the stories, but a deep appreciation of the stories and a devotion to their main character's goals, attitude (spirit), and hope.

Here is why I think this distinction matters...

I have hope that the divisive conflict that exists between religions in the world (and within our religion) can be healed by a deconstruction of our language. I think a healthy postmodern pluralistic conversation can happen if we are willing to rethink how we use our words. I suspect that a greater degree of honesty and humility about our epistemological claims to knowledge and a more realistic critical approach to our various sacred texts, religious traditions, and superstitions are good places to start the conversation. As long as religious people stake their faith in the historicity of their own sacred stories and attempt to belittle and devalue every other story, then we will have much to fight about. As long as the debate is centered on the modern fixation about which story is "true" or which version of interpretation is "true", then there can never be a conversation. A postmodern approach to narratives recognizes the value of a story is beyond its historical or scientific facts (or lack of facts).

Adam said...

Ok. First, the good news: If someone had talked me into trying to articulate your perspective I think I would have written something very much like what you just wrote. Some of my terminology may have differed, but I think after quibbling on definitions (as you and I tend to do) you would say "yeah, that's what I'm saying."

Now to clarification (there is no "bad news"): I don't have any problems articulating my current beliefs (which you would term "conclusions"), and also don't feel that to do so would box me in. Also, in re-reading our previous comments, I feel I should point out that I don't feel that faith and intellect are in any way mutually exclusive, and do not mean to imply any kind of anti-intellectual bias (the phrase "intellectual component" bothers me a little, but let's not go off on another tangent because I'm probably splitting hairs there). Additionally, I'd like to clarify that "fear"(as we conceive of and define it) doesn't really play a role in the development of my faith and beliefs. (There is a Biblical concept of "the fear of the Lord", but frankly I think this alludes to something far different that what is normally assumed). Disagreements that I have with certain positions, "conclusions" or ideas are not rendered "off limits" by fear. For me, however, just because a concept enters the realm of possibility as a legitimate possibility does not necessarily mean that it is viable, probable, inevitable, or true. Are there factors that affect my judgment on these matters? Of course there are...just like every other human being. We all have our interpretive lenses.

Mike L. said...


That is good news!

I probably should retract my use of the word fear and replace it with apprehension. I didn't mean to imply you were afraid, but I do sense some apprehension.

Now, I'm getting off my soapbox and I'll stop parsing terminology so I can get the same level of understanding of your views (hang on!).

Just a reminder that you said:

"I don't have any problems articulating my current beliefs (which you would term "conclusions"), and also don't feel that to do so would box me in."

You've talked a great deal in these posts about the story (or narrative). I get the impression that you'd say the gospel is this one story of God working with Israel (and now the world through Israel). I'd be more likely to say that the gospel is the truths about life that this story (and other stories) point toward. Do you think that is an accurate statement our different views?

You said early on in the dialog...

"I find mining the narrative for proposition or 'timeless truths' to be hopelessly reductionistic and an unwanted synchretism of theology and modernity."

Can you unpack that? Are you suggesting an approach to scripture that retells the story but never unpacks it and looks for meaning beneath the metaphors?

Adam said...

Again, sorry for the length of time it has taken me to respond. It's been sort of crazy.

I'd still quibble with you on the term "apprehensive", arguing that disagreement does not necessarily equal apprehension. There are certain ways I have of approaching the subject that you are unwilling to engage in. I don't believe this is due to apprehension on your part, but rather is simple disagreement.

Your assessment of my belief isn't bad, but let me modify (and qualify) it some:

[T]he Gospel is this story of God interacting with, working with, condescending to, and partnering with the people of God (in the form of Israel, but then expanded to encompass all who accept the invitation). This God is characterized by and calls us to self-sacrificial love for the sake of the other (people, creation, etc), and His engagement with us calls us to partner with Him in his dream of returning the world to Shalom/the harmony that has been lost from the chaos we create on our own. (I never said that brevity or "being concise" was my strong-suit).

In relation to your other questions:
You asked "Are you suggesting an approach to scripture that retells the story but never unpacks it and looks for meaning beneath the metaphors?"
Not at all. I confidently believe that Scripture operates at multiple levels and has multiple layers of meaning. What I am suggesting is that we can never forget that it is first and foremost a story/narrative (which I hold to be true). If we lose sight of that (as many have) we do violence to Scripture and tend to use it for our own ends creating a God and a Jesus that looks very much like idealized versions of "us". As many have pointed out, if God made us "in His image", we have more than returned the favor. The story of Scripture resists this impulse. Many theologians on all sides of the spectrum treat Scripture as this horribly inefficient jigsaw puzzle that they must take out of the box and reassemble to get the right picture. They presume that they can reassemble it properly and get a clear picture of the mind of God, or God's Law, or a blueprint for the church, etc. etc. etc. The problem is, as Albert Schweitzer pointed out in his critique of the quest for the Historical Jesus, we tend to look into the well and see our own reflection. All of us have the amazing ability to systematize Scripture into a form that makes us comfortable given the right presuppositions. I tell the church all of the time that if they find that their God never challenges them or makes them uncomfortable...if their God seems to always agree with them and disagree with their enemies/perceived opponents...then I'm pretty sure their god isn't God, but may rather be exactly the "opiate of the masses" that Marx and Freud accuse us of worshipping. The God of this Story resists our quest to domesticate Him. (I guess that's why we keep writing things like "systematic theologies").

I realize that a good bit of this doesn't fit or make sense from your perspective, but I hope it helps in clarifying mine.

Mike L. said...


It makes sense from my perspective, but it feels like your flying at 30,000 feet and "apprehensive" about landing.

You said:

"What I am suggesting is that we can never forget that it is first and foremost a story/narrative"

I have to quibble with you about this (to borrow your new favorite term). Instead, I see the gospel first and foremost as a type of logos (knowledge, meaning, an idea or ideals). It became a story as it was made flesh through Jesus (as a person and as a character in the stories). This logos has been around before 2000 years ago (much longer than the story or the historical Jesus!). John's gnostic flavored gospel agrees with this notion of gospel as knowledge (logos).

you said:

"As many have pointed out, if God made us in His image, we have more than returned the favor. The story of Scripture resists this impulse."

I'm glad you brought that up. I do agree that people make God in their own image, but I think you may be ignoring that scripture itself already does this. The stories have already been built on ancient notions of a God that acts like a human. The old testament writers made God into something like an earthly king and assumed God would desire the things most kings desire - to be worshiped, accept sacrifices, be lifted up on a throne, and control and dominate his subjects. The New testament shatters that image and gives us another metaphor. Through Jesus we see a God that is a humble servant and prefers to die for us rather than rule us. God is shown as the act of loving rather than a "being" that can be loved. Loving Jesus means loving that which Jesus loved. God is something that must be incarnated through human life and actions (made flesh) not some kind of external superhuman that manipulates our action from beyond. I can't buy the traditional image of God. It sounds too much like Zeus.

you said:

"The problem is, as Albert Schweitzer pointed out in his critique of the quest for the Historical Jesus, we tend to look into the well and see our own reflection."

I would completely agree. Earlier in my life I tried to create a Jesus that looked like me. I made Jesus into a white, middle-class, non-political, pro-religion, Christian, republican. When I stumbled across the historical Jesus studies a few years ago it really challenged me. The result is that I now see a different Jesus. I think this is the Jesus intended by his creators (authors). Therefore, I have completely redefined new goals for myself. I'm a much different person. So if the Jesus I describe looks more like me now, it is not because I made Jesus look like me, but because I'm working (though often failing) to look more like the Jesus I now see in scripture. I'm sure you would probably say the same type of thing.

I guess I'd like you to unpack your image of God. How would you know your own image of God is not something you (or your faith ancestors) made to suit your/their needs? Are you suggesting you are immune to the desire to make God in your own image?


Adam said...

I want to be careful here, and I'm a bit conflicted about how to do this since we know each other personally...I'm sure we'll talk about it in that context as well.

Not to beat a dead horse here, but your use of "land" and "apprehensive" in your analogy makes it sound like for me to "land" would be to finally agree with your "obviously correct" position. I don't think that you intend to give this impression (do you?), but that's how it can come across.

Secondly, you assert that the Gospel of John has a "gnostic flavor, in a way that implies that it is an obvious an unarguable fact. This is hardly true outside of the "Jesus Seminar"and some corners of classic liberal theology (though much less in post-liberal theology). There are authors that espouse this as definitively true, but their case is far from as conclusive as they make it out to be. It is actually quite speculative. I can make as conclusive a case that the new batman movie was an apologetic for the policies of the Bush administration (seriously, I can...but I also don't believe it).

Further, the Logos-as-gnosis is not as clear cut as you make it sound. You can decide to place your faith in that system and then read scripture through that lens, but this is a speculative (subjective) leap of faith as much as the one that I claim for myself. Do you classify anyone who doesn't buy this gnostic interpretation of scripture as a fundamentalist? (it has always confused me when you classify Wright as a fundamentalist and associate him with John Hagee). You seem to place ideas, concepts and approaches into very broad categories and then place those categories in opposition to each other. The realities are much more nuanced and complicated. I am not unfamiliar with the concepts and research that you are alluding to. I am unconvinced by it. It is also not the case that I have never questioned or wrestled with my faith down to the very existence of God. I have and I have done so honestly.

I hope this is coming across right. I am not trying to end the dialogue, and I'm not trying to say that your position/perspectives are somehow ridiculous and/or off limits. I am just trying to point out a barrier to meaningful dialogue.

To answer your last question, I am far from immune from creating God in my own image. This is precisely why we need Scripture and community.


Mike L. said...


No hard feelings on my part. Don't feel like you need to be careful. I probably learn and grow more by criticism and articulation of differences. I don't think there is any kind of disagreement we could have about theology/philosophy that would hinder our friendship. I have very close friends with much stronger differences than you and I. In fact, you are closer to my views than any one of my other friends! I don't take any of this personally.

By "landing", I was not asking you to land where I land. I just wonder where you'd land if you came down out of the story. My suspicion all along has been that we might land closer than you think.

Are you one those crazy postmodern emergent types that tries to sidestep every question? (sic) ;)

I think many of the common Christian divisions happen because people are talking past each other at different altitudes or layers of the story. So if it feels like I'm pulling you or pushing you, it is not to pull you toward my own conclusion, but an attempt to converse on the same level. I hope that makes sense.

I think you may hear some kind of finality that isn't there. Suggesting John is "flavored" by gnosticism is not making anything clear cut. "Flavoring" implies great subtly and nuance as the ideas of different early christian sects are sprinkled into the collective mix of the texts.

Do you hear every view and opinion as final? Could that be why you are apprehensive about making any personal conclusions of your own? Are you apprehensive that it might be mistaken as final by someone else?

On the flip-side, it would be silly to tag a qualifier (this is my current opinion and I'm not trying to claim certainty for all time) at the end of EVERY single sentence we type. It should be assumed. It's always there. I assume that in your views and I'd hope you give me the same credit.

"Do you classify anyone who doesn't buy this gnostic interpretation of scripture as a fundamentalist"

No, but I had thought that even fundamentalists recognized this gnostic mystical flavoring in John's gospel. I'm just pointing to the similarities in tone, mysticism, ideology, and fascination with a secret "knowing" or belief in something as a key to the mystical kingdom (john 3:16 is just one example). Maybe we can dive into this in another conversation offline.

I generally use the term fundamentalist to include a view of reality that comes out of 2 main points of thinking.

1) a literalistic view of scripture. There is obviously a range of literalism. Haggee and Wright are not the same, but are within that same large tent.

2) a rejection of the current understanding of the universe and an adherence to an older superstition/supernatural based interpretation of natural phenomenon. Again, this has harder forms (like Ken Ham and the creation museum folks) and softer forms (like Tom Wright).

"You seem to place ideas, concepts and approaches into very broad categories and then place those categories in opposition to each other. The realities are much more nuanced and complicated."

That is something for me to take to heart! I'm very aware of the complexities and didn't mean to oversimplify. I'm sure it's a result of my attempt at being concise and a pitfall of this form of communication. It is also a result of the terminology that needs a great deal of deconstruction and disentanglement.

"I can make as conclusive a case that the new batman movie was an apologetic for the policies of the Bush administration (seriously, I can...but I also don't believe it)."

I haven't seen the movie, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was. Actually, it would surprise me if the movie wasn't a critique of some political or social issue. Most movies are sociopolitical critique. I'm not sure why you wouldn't believe it. I suspect that every one of the books in the bible are similar artistic critiques of society and politics.

Did you ever see the documentary "purple state of mind"?


Adam said...

I appreciate your response and understanding. I guess we can chalk it up to the pitfalls of text-as-dialogue. I asked a friend of mine to look at my last response (before you responded), to see if I was being a tool. ;) He said that he thought we would have a lot less misunderstanding on some of these things if we were discussing them face to face. I think he's probably right.

I'll note a couple of things you mentioned and briefly respond with my perspective.

In my research, studies, etc. the Gospel of John is not universally recognized as having a gnostic flavor. It is fairly universally recognized as being more mystical in nature. It also carries with it the theme of the "messianic secret". Neither of these factors either individually or in concert equal gnosticism. Gnosticism is mystical but Mysticism is not necessarily Gnostic. Gnosticism does involve major themes regarding "secret knowledge", but anything involving a secret (even with a hint of mysticism) is not automatically Gnostic. Hope that makes sense.

In relation to the Batman/Bush thing...I don't believe that the writers of the movie intentionally embedded that theme. The story can be subverted to or co-opted to support various themes. I think we would both argue that this has been done with the Biblical text in many ways at many times. I think we would disagree on some (but not all) of how it has been co-opted and subverted.

Mike L. said...


You weren't being a tool by what you said. (maybe by doing your best to avoid giving your opinion!)

By not stating many conclusions, is it your intention to suggest that you are Agnostic on issues or are you being very careful to avoid an appearance of arrogance?

Here is my current thinking (my humble opinion, more recent conclusion, nothing I can't change,open to new data) on the gnostic roots of Christianity...

I spent a good bit of time this past year studying gnosticism. I found that the common definitions I once held seemed off-base and uninformed of the most recent scholarship. Previously I had seen gnosticism as a later developing alternative to "orthodox" Christianity. More recent scholarship has unearthed a much clearer picture of the early Christian landscape that included gnostic flavoring. There doesn't appear to be a single Christian faith that splintered into heretic faiths, but instead a fragmented group of sects that consolidated into orthodoxy. There was not one gnostic faith but a leaking in of Greek influences to all the different varieties of Christianity. John had followers as did Thomas and all the other Christian figures. Each was competing. A closer look at John's gospel reveals a rebuttal of the Thomas followers (one clear sign is the addition of the doubting Thomas story). Both have gnostic elements. The John group also tried to discredit peter (the denial story and the alternate ending to the race toward the tomb). The John authors were making a case for the apostle they followed. Several of the various gospels show strong signs of that type of competition and slandering of the competitors.

I think most of us missed this by the way we were taught to see a separate gnostic group of gospels and a orthodox group of gospels. Instead, they seems to be several different sects with different ideas. Our designations of orthodox and gnostic are post-cannon designations fueled by institutional heretic hunting. It seems hard to miss this if you line up John and the synoptics. Knowledge of Jesus' "secret identity" is clearly added to John. The notion of a human that could be divine is clear in John and was a clear gnostic concept not at all found in Jewish tradition. The idea of imparting some kind of power or spirit to his followers has been more clearly developed in John and became an important theme in the more mythical elements of Acts. The theme of light is another bit of evidence. All of these are signs that Greek mysticism and gnosticism have influenced what we now call the orthodox Christian views. Those views draw much more from the later John traditions than from the early Jewish flavored portraits of Jesus in the synoptics. The shift from Daniel's son of man terminology toward a divine incarnation seems to be a gnostic flavor drawing heavily on Greek mysticism that is filled with stories of gods bearing sons through human women. That is a theme that was added to the Jesus story as early as Matthew's text.

Elaine Pagels has written several books that helped with this. Also, Joseph Campbell's analysis of Greek mysticism and Frank Viola / George Barna's description of the many Pagan influences in Christian rituals, church practices, and symbolism have been illuminating.

I agree that the story can be (and often is) co-opted and subverted. However, I wonder if you are open to considering how the texts themselves were already co-opted by particular agendas and influences? That may be the root of our different perspectives. What do you think? (of course, I'm not sure I've heard or grasped your perspective yet)


Adam said...

Hey Mike,
I'm going to be kind of out of pocket this week and won't be able to respond as I'd like to until after that. The short response is this:
What you articulate is a very popular view among a certain set of scholars. It does not represent the bulk of contemporary scholarship (though many of those authors would argue that it does). It is correct to say that gnosticism didn't just develop later and splinter off. There is evidence of many of the N.T. authors (and I would argue even John in his Gospel here) who are fighting against at least a form of proto-Gnosticism. Gnosticism will be a huge point of disagreement between the two of us, as you see much of it as generally good and in line with the original intent (I think), and I see it as a corrupting influence that co-opts the text (and that I would argue is making huge inroads even into fundamentalism and evangelicism). There is a difference in our approach to the text, but it's not exactly what you think it is. Time won't permit me to go into it now, so it will have to wait. (how's that for a tease?)

Mike L. said...

We can catch up when you get more time. No hurry. It sounds like you have some interesting ideas on the subject.

I hope you didn't hear me suggesting I agree with gnosticism. I don't. It is plagued by horrible superstitions. I don't see any particular ancient world view (or modern view) as any "better" than the other. We listen to all of them, but surrender to none of them. I wouldn't expect God to be contained within any lens, but is seen through each lens.

have a great week!