Sunday, 21 June 2015

Hope Project Porkies

Tell that to your Jewish neighbours!
[This is the third in a series on the Hope Project booklet which purports to be a voice of mainline Christianity in New Zealand. Part 1 and Part 2 provide context.]
The Hope Project booklet states:

"In all its variety, it [the Bible] tells the unified story of God's plan..." (p.6)

"The Bible teaches that God supervised the contributors in what they wrote." (p.7)

To point one I can only repeat what I wrote in an earlier post about metanarrative, the idea that there is a big, unifying narrative that runs from Genesis through to Revelation.
Metanarrative: big word but simple concept. The idea is that there is a grand narrative, a saga, a big story that gives sense to the world, "an overarching story that defines your reality and who you are within it." There are, according to the theorists, competing metanarratives, but the one we're talking about is the story about sin, death, saviour and salvation (Eden, Satan, the Fall... all leading to Christ - birth, death, resurrection - and ultimately salvation from the sin that began back in the Garden.) Metanarrative is especially significant as a concept, according to Don Cupitt, in Reformed theology.
John Calvin in particular stuck so close to Augustine and was so Grand-Narrative-minded that preachers in his tradition (variously called Reformed, Calvinist, Presbyterian or puritan) long tended to maintain that the entire story, the Plan of Salvation, was implicit in every verse of Scripture...
And so it's deemed okay, even necessary, to go on a treasure hunt through Genesis, trying to find ways to tie it in to a theology that only emerged long after. The problem is not only that the Old Testament is pillaged for dubious proof texts, but that the standard metanarrative has gaping holes in it anyway. Is it worth rescuing? Death and suffering long predate the rise of human beings on this planet. Nature has always been red in tooth and claw. We didn't do it!

Apart from that obvious objection, there is no undisputed metanarrative in the Bible, only in the minds of certain of its interpreters. The popular version owes as much to Milton's puritan classic Paradise Lost as to the Bible. You have to mutilate the scriptures to make them "fit" into a metanarrative.
If there was some inescapably unified story, then what do you do with Jewish exegesis of scripture? You'd have to conclude, along with persecuting anti-Semitic theologians of time past, that they are just being bull-headed about ignoring the obvious. Surely on this side of the Holocaust we know better than that!

As to the second point, the various writers of the books that ended up in the Bible clearly had no idea that their words would meet this fate. Did Paul have any inkling that his letters would end up bound together with the Hebrew scriptures? The evidence for that just doesn't exist. They didn't see themselves as "contributors" to some larger epic literary project. The Bible is a collection of books each with its own identity. The decision as to what was included in the final cut was not unanimous (which is why Jewish Bibles, Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles have different canons) and the result of very fallible human processes long after most of these documents were composed. I've blogged at some length about this before, so won't repeat it here.

None of which clouds the naivete of Hope For All

Reading Josh McDowell will do that to you.


  1. One strange piece of Christian morality is the "forgive your enemies" thing. The creators of the Jesus narrative must have had writers'-block the day that one was invented/plagiarized? Surely the existing homebrewed native Polynesian religion of 200 years ago couldn't have been any worse than this?

  2. There is much here and I will just respond to only a little part of it. A preferatory remark: I do believe there is an uneasy consensus over the broad themes of the Bible. I am an Arminian but I think I could agree with a Calvinist on the intent of John 3:16. We would differ markedly over the implementation of the concepts it contains. And the Jewish exegesis is a part of the narrative - the NT clearly states that they rejected Christ.

    The extent to which God supervised the creation of the Bible I believe is a matter of debate. I think it is naive to believe that he vetted each word - that the authors were under the spell of some kind of automatic writing. I think that Peter Enns' incarnational model of the Bible makes sense. Even to the point of saying that the Bible came into the world and men rejected it and futzed with it. In the NT there is an explicit statement that God committed the "oracles" to the Jews. This is a specific statement that God willing to delegate the maintenance of his message to a group of fallible men on this planet. And I think delegation is also his principle in regard to the NT scriptures. One of the broad themes of the Bible is that men wanted to "do it ourselves" and God said "sure - see what you can do". So instead of direct communication with God we have a Bible. As I have said before, in my view the Bible is punitive. It is the unfortunate fallback from what was intended. So the ironic outcome is that men have wrought with the Bible and now we complain about its being wrought with.

    The personal effect this has on me is that I am not sure that the canon is anything to place great stock in. I believe, at least one book, the Book of Revelation, may be an outlier. It may have been written by some John other than the Apostle John. But, with greater importance, it does not flow with the rest of the NT and introduces many new ideas. Moreover, I would place on it a preterist interpretation for the most part. What is not highly symbolical and of uncertain interpretation has alreadly taken place in the 70 A.D timeframe. Maybe people back then knew what it meant. And if the Book of Revelation is just someones private mystical experience and shouldn't be in the canon, how does that effect me as a Christian? The effect is negligible.

    -- Neotherm

  3. "the NT clearly states that Jews rejected Christ"
    The Greeks & Romans also rejected this mid-century contradictory cult at the time.
    Christians using anonymous "biographers" describing Jesus' "miracles" didn't help.

  4. The initial reception of Christianity varied in the ancient world. But except for some small numbers, the Jewish community has consistently and over time rejected Christ and his message. How the ancient Greeks and Romans reacted initially is not really germane.

    That Christians "used" anonymous biographers is an unfounded assertion.

    -- Neotherm

  5. The Jews have clearly rejected the Christ cult.
    The Jews & Christians have rejected the Islam cult,
    The Jews, Christians & Muslims have rejected the Mormon cult.
    The Millennials have rejected Jewish, Christian, Islamic & Mormon cults.
    ....because they look it up on Wiki (like Tiki) a Polynesian (Maori) word :-)