Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dear John

I truly try to maintain a spiritual "live and let live" attitude. That said, Christians have a way of (in the parlance) pissing me off. Let me give you an example:

"To illustrate, at one time in my Christian life I believed that Jesus actually cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem twice, once near the beginning of his ministry as John relates, and once near the end of his life, as we read in the Synoptic Gospels. But an understanding of the Gospels as ancient biographies relieves us of such a supposition, for an ancient biographer can relate incidents in a non-chronological way. Only an UNSYMPATHETIC (AND UNCOMPREHENDING) reader would take John's moving the Temple cleansing to earlier in Jesus' life as an error on John's part." (emphasis mine)

Here is the entire question and answer as given in Reasonable Faith:

Understand, the individual in question is William Lane Craig, who has a Doctorate in Theology. (read all about his slew of degree's/summa cum laude on Wikipedia, if interested) I haven't tried to pick out a "patsy" or a weak link. Having stumbled (quite by accident) upon his defense of the inerrant nature of the Bible based on the illustration of the cleansing of the Temple, however, I take great exception to his claim of "uncomprehending reader." Rather, Dr. Craig is either 1) woefully ignorant or 2) willfully misleading.

The climatic momentum generated towards Jesus' arrest (and crucifixion) in John's Gospel is based on raising Lazarus from the dead. This is what pushes the Jewish authorities "over the edge" and initiates action against Jesus. (see John 11:43-53) In the Synoptic Gospel's though, it is the act of cleansing the Temple which prompts the arrest. (see Matt. 21:12-15; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-47) This isn't an unsympathetic reading or an ancient biographer utilizing a non-chronological timeline. These are two distinctive, CONTRADICTORY explanations for the MOTIVE behind Jesus' arrest. (as might be expected, the raising of Lazarus does not appear in either Matthew, Mark, or Luke) That Dr. Craig goes on to maintain the "central idea" is conveyed (illustrated by slight variations of a repeated Calvinistic joke) is so disingenuous that it makes me cringe. John has the cleansing of the Temple early in his gospel so that he can introduce a highly dubious account of raising Lazarus from the dead towards the end of his gospel. Period. Full stop.

Here is the problem. Early Christian father Origen

wrote a commentary on John's Gospel. In book 10:4 of that commentary he says: "Scripture contains many contradictions, and many statements which are not literally true, but must be read spiritually and mystically."

To wit: "I do not condemn them if they even sometimes dealt freely with things which to the eye of history happened differently, and changed them so as to subserve the mystical aims they had in view...They proposed to speak the truth where it was possible both materially and spiritually, and where this was not possible it was their intention to prefer the spiritual to the material. THE SPIRITUAL WAS OFTEN PRESERVED, AS ONE MIGHT SAY, IN THE MATERIAL FALSEHOOD."

(This kind of logic brings to mind the man caught in the act of adultery by his wife. When she condemns him, he refutes her accusation and proclaims his innocence by asking whether she is going to believe him or her lying eyes.)

Obviously there is no winning with people who claim they are in a position to intuit the spiritual message contained within the gospels. The opposition is simply reduced to "uncomprehending." How unfortunate. And, how spiritually arrogant. I can't help but be reminded of others who were in supposed positions of spiritual authority; "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in." (Matthew 23:13) Trust that God will speak to you in any number of ways, including through the Bible. But don't believe that His truth is limited to one specific book, either. What you need to know, learn, understand, and enjoy surrounds you. Why allow anyone to be the arbiter of your experience?

If we "must" read scripture spiritually and mystically as Origen insists, then what is mysticism? Let us turn to Evelyn Underhill: "In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE, not the neat dialectic of the schools." (Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness)

Another perspective can be seen in the 4th paragraph of the following post. Make of it what you will.

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