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Response To The Jesus Seminar Spring Meeting 2008


David
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I enjoyed two days at the Jesus Seminar hearing Borg, Armstrong and Spong along with other interesting people. TCPC was there and was the only “special interest” group allowed access to attendees. I guess the Southern Baptists were “excluded”.

 

Borg’s topic was “The Study of Jesus and Christian Adult Theological Re-Education”. He called upon existing congregations to educate about the nature of the Bible by educating about the nature of the gospels, to deconstruct the conventional image of Jesus, to make people aware that there are many ways of seeing Jesus, and to educate about both the personal and political nature of the Christian life. Borg has consistently emphasized “knowing from the heart” while at the same time emphasizing that one can not give one’s heart to what one can not understand. I have always appreciated Borg for not “giving up” on the cross language and noting that to “daily” take up the cross is what the gospel is about, not a “one time event” concept of the cross.

 

I was again disappointed with Borg however since he continues to focus on “existing congregations”. I am more concerned about the “unchurched” who may find much benefit in Borg’s “re-education” but who will probably not come back after being disappointed in the typical congregation’s worship service. The “unchurched” are the ones that need to hear Borg’s message and I don’t think they will if they come and have to navigate the Nicene Creed before they get the opportunity to attend one of those “re-education” classes.

 

Karen Armstrong gave a mediocre lecture which to me basically boiled down to all religions lift up some version of the Golden Rule. That kind of reductionism does not serve any religion well. I thought that she ignored many important differences in the religions in her attempt to “unify” them. She did much better I thought with her participation in the question/answer session. I wrote down: Any discussion of God must 1. involve paradox and 2. lead to silence. Theology is spoken in the language of poetry. She gave us some insight in her theological journey through “theology in the negative” or “what God is not” which led her to her transcendent understandings that are beyond the ability of words to describe.

 

Spong was spectacular as far as I am concerned. He first lifted up the importance of Bob Funk and the Jesus Seminar and how the work of the Seminar made his job much easier. He gave an excellent outline of the oral period between 30 CE and 70-100 CE when we first have some writings after the oral period. He noted that this was at least two generations. Generally he lifted up the importance of the Jewish synagogue culture in the creation of the Bible. I hope that we can find his arguments elsewhere because I would not be able to do them justice here.

 

A couple of things were important to me. One is that he said he would never want to be “in unity” with homophobia. That spoke to me and the current attempts by the liberal “inclusivists” wanting to be “in communion” with those that exclude. He said that if being a Christian meant rejecting all of the gay priests in his diocese then he did not want to be a Christian.

 

Spong then surprised me. I had been disappointed in him in the past with not going far enough with what I thought are essential changes needed in “how we do church”. Not this time. He suggested that because the Bible has been so wrapped up in liturgy we needed to take the Bible out of the worship service and have people relate to the Bible in the classroom. For an Episcopalian whose tradition includes bringing the Bible into worship held high above the congregation and having liturgy surround the Bible the idea of taking the Bible out of worship is courageous and for me an exciting concept.

 

The Jesus Seminar continues to be a source for Progressive Christianity. There seems to be some major problems within the Seminar between those that can still talk in terms of God and those such as Thomas Sheehan who find no value in God talk. Post modernism has infected academia and since the Seminar is a reflection of academia it is not surprising to find problems with reconstruction after deconstruction has done its work. I would appreciate the comments of anyone familiar with the Seminar as to your opinion of the future of the Seminar without Bob Funk.

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I enjoyed two days at the Jesus Seminar hearing Borg, Armstrong and Spong along with other interesting people.

 

Wow, that's awesome! I'm jealous :lol:

 

I have always appreciated Borg for not “giving up” on the cross language and noting that to “daily” take up the cross is what the gospel is about, not a “one time event” concept of the cross.

 

I was again disappointed with Borg however since he continues to focus on “existing congregations”. I am more concerned about the “unchurched” who may find much benefit in Borg’s “re-education” but who will probably not come back after being disappointed in the typical congregation’s worship service. The “unchurched” are the ones that need to hear Borg’s message and I don’t think they will if they come and have to navigate the Nicene Creed before they get the opportunity to attend one of those “re-education” classes.

 

I like this analysis of Borg. I too am glad that he has kept the cross language, but I am always disappointed when reading his books when I come across the part where he says we should keep the creeds. It feels like he doesn't go quite far enough. I think the creeds are what cause problems for a lot of people today - especially the "unchurched" - and I'm not sure they're really relevant anymore.

 

She did much better I thought with her participation in the question/answer session. I wrote down: Any discussion of God must 1. involve paradox and 2. lead to silence. Theology is spoken in the language of poetry. She gave us some insight in her theological journey through “theology in the negative” or “what God is not” which led her to her transcendent understandings that are beyond the ability of words to describe.

 

Sounds interesting! I like the idea of discussions of God involving paradox and leading to silence. Both have been true in my experience!

 

Spong then surprised me. I had been disappointed in him in the past with not going far enough with what I thought are essential changes needed in “how we do church”. Not this time. He suggested that because the Bible has been so wrapped up in liturgy we needed to take the Bible out of the worship service and have people relate to the Bible in the classroom. For an Episcopalian whose tradition includes bringing the Bible into worship held high above the congregation and having liturgy surround the Bible the idea of taking the Bible out of worship is courageous and for me an exciting concept.

 

Do you think the Bible really needs to be removed entirely from worship? What about a balance - some Bible in worship, and some in the classroom? I'm just not sure what good religious education about the Bible will do if people can't then relate to it in worship?

 

The Jesus Seminar continues to be a source for Progressive Christianity. There seems to be some major problems within the Seminar between those that can still talk in terms of God and those such as Thomas Sheehan who find no value in God talk. Post modernism has infected academia and since the Seminar is a reflection of academia it is not surprising to find problems with reconstruction after deconstruction has done its work.

 

There are some post modernists who are beginning to speak of God again! I hope they grow in size, but I'm afraid the opposite might happen...it's the general trend of our society, especially our academia, right now...I certainly hope that the Seminar maintains a sizable amount of people who can still speak in terms of God, though.

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I enjoyed two days at the Jesus Seminar hearing Borg, Armstrong and Spong along with other interesting people.

 

I'm also jealous! But thank you for your report!

 

 

A couple of things were important to me. One is that he said he would never want to be “in unity” with homophobia. That spoke to me and the current attempts by the liberal “inclusivists” wanting to be “in communion” with those that exclude. He said that if being a Christian meant rejecting all of the gay priests in his diocese then he did not want to be a Christian.
I agree 100%

 

Spong then surprised me. I had been disappointed in him in the past with not going far enough with what I thought are essential changes needed in “how we do church”. Not this time. He suggested that because the Bible has been so wrapped up in liturgy we needed to take the Bible out of the worship service and have people relate to the Bible in the classroom. For an Episcopalian whose tradition includes bringing the Bible into worship held high above the congregation and having liturgy surround the Bible the idea of taking the Bible out of worship is courageous and for me an exciting concept.

 

I agree. I teach adult Sunday School at my church and see the value of removing the bible from "worship" and putting it into the classroom.

 

In Judaism study *is* worship -- biblical study or other studies (science, math, psychology, music, art, etc.) A concept that I consider exciting.

 

Thank you so much for sharing this with us! I knew there was a reason I loved Spong!

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David - Thank you for your assessment. I'm dissappointed that there is only one 'special interest' group - I thought there would be dozens in US.

 

I agree that the Bible should be removed from the service. However, no one, including Spong, has suggested what it might be replaced with. Perhaps this is a step too far at present. I mean, do we need a 'service' and then what would we do with all those empty churches?

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David, thanks very much for filling us in. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I got to the part about Bishop Spong's saying we need to take the Bible out of the worship service and put it in the classroom. Alleluia. The Bible will always be a part of the Christian faith, but it's just one book. We can't expect to find within so few pages everything that will nurture and sustain us in all situations. The universe is a lot bigger than that (as Wayseer has already been pointing out). We need to expand the resources we draw on in our church services. I think it's okay with God if we open up our hearts to the wisdom found in song, poetry, dance, art, and (in my humble opinion) inspirational stories about courage and healing and discovery. We can learn so much from each other's stories. I'd love to see more real-life questions in our church services -- these are the questions people need the most help with, so we might get more people coming to a Progressive church, not fewer, if we help them better understand their most troubling questions.

 

If we are honest about the complexities of the Bible, and say we trust God enough to allow the Bible to be only one resource among many, perhaps we will earn the trust of those who would like to be part of a faith community, but who can't overlook the seeming obliviousness of most Christians to the mixed blessings of the Bible.

 

Jen

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I agree that the Bible should be removed from the service. However, no one, including Spong, has suggested what it might be replaced with. Perhaps this is a step too far at present. I mean, do we need a 'service' and then what would we do with all those empty churches?

 

 

I think Spong's point is that it can't be in the liturgy until it is understood. I don't know if he said what to replace it with but I would replace the whole worship service with the classroom at this point!

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The comments from all of you give me hope for the future of the Church. I know that many have given up hope for the Church. For me it just seems natural that a “New Vision” for the Church will follow the “New Vision” of Jesus. We need to “deconstruct” the way we do Church in the same way that we needed to “deconstruct” the common view of Jesus. Part of the “reconstruction” has to do with idol worship. One of the idols is the Bible. Another idol is the Eucharist. Just as we did not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” with seeing how Jesus can again become the focus for our religious journey we do not need to “give up” on the Bible or the Eucharist. We can find ways to do Church in a progressive way. I like “the wisdom found in song, poetry, dance, art, and (in my humble opinion) inspirational stories about courage and healing and discovery” that Jen has lifted up. We can do this within the framework of Christian history.

 

I think that the reason that this is such a challenge is only partly theological and sociological in nature. Maybe the primary force against change is economic in nature. I have two ministers among my three siblings. I have two more among my close cousins. I rose and clapped for them when Spong talked about the “embattled clergy”. They depend upon a dysfunctional Church to put bread on their table. They do that with much courage and hope for the future. They daily take up their cross and do much good while we wait upon the Church to change. I admire them largely because I could not do what they do.

 

We need to find teachers and leaders for a “New Vision” for the Church. Spong says he will be writing one more book on his thoughts about death and that will be his last book. He has always expressed his deep love for the Church even though he sees much from the point of view of an “exile”. He looked a bit tired to me. He has been a prophet for our time.

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One thing that needs to change if the church is to change is tent-maker leaders. I know one medium size church which had 6 pastors. They all had 2nd jobs so their income was not tied solely to their work in the church. They also had shared responsibilities. This way no one personality dominated the church. It also prevents ministers/clergy from becoming socially and psychologically isolated as they are not put on pedestals and kept at arms length. Clergy as we have them today are put in very unhealthy situations.

 

I do my part in this at my church by volunteering as a Sunday School Teacher for adults, doing adult forums, reading for the liturgy and even doing Children's Sermons! I have a MA in New Testament Theology which makes me qualified to speak with some voice of authority -- I actually have a more appropriate education than many ministers as MDiv's are primarily trained to administrate. I was quite surprised when I looked at the curriculum!

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