Over at JesusCreed, Jonathan Storment has written an intriguing review of Reviving Old Scratch by Richard Beck. This is a book about spiritual warfare—but Storment urges us not to roll our eyes just yet.
I want you to know this isn’t like the other spiritual warfare books out there. It is written specifically for the kinds of Christians who stopped believing in the Devil/Demons a long time ago, by someone who went down that same road.
The best way I could summarize Beck’s work is that he quotes the Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor, lots of Scripture, lots of theologians, and talks often about Scooby Doo.
After providing some necessary philosophical background based on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, Storment sums up Beck’s train of thought with these words:
…Scooby Doo is a perfect example of what it looks like to live in a disenchantedabout every Scooby Doo episode you’ve ever seen. It starts out with an enchanted world. They’re in some haunted mansion, chasing down a ghost or goblin of some kind. All of them are terrified because they are vulnerable to the spiritual forces of the universe and at some point Shaggy runs away screaming and Scooby says “ruhroh.”
But then the turn comes. And the ghost trips over some chair or accidentally overplays its hand, and these detective kids suddenly realize that this isn’t a ghost at all.
Then there is the great unmasking, where they pull back the disguise and sure enough…there are no demons in the world, this is just Old Mr. Dickerson, the greedy banker trying to get rich.
When the downward pressure of skepticism win and the enchanted world is emptied out, all that is left is the flat, horizontal drama of human action and interaction. This is the trajectory of a Scooby-Doo episode, the journey to discover that, in the end, there are no ghosts or gods or devils. In the final analysis, at the end of the thirty-minute adventure, there are only human beings.
Which sounds fine to a lot of progressive Christians. We really want to focus on human beings, we want Christianity to be good for human beings, we love humanity…until we don’t.
And here is Beck’s sweet spot, because I know him well, I really appreciated this section, because I’ve seen him live it out. What happens when progressive, disenchanted Christians try to follow Jesus into the messy places of the world without a robust theology of Spiritual warfare?
The battle becomes precisely against flesh and blood.
Someone sent me a blog post, Why I Left the Revised Common Lectionary Behind, in which Rev. Chris Duckwortht argues against RCL and in favour of a new lectionary, recently constructed, “the Narrative Lectionary, a project out of Luther Seminary that offers a 9-month, single-reading lectionary starting with Genesis and moving through to the Epistles and Revelation.”
The top reason for leaving the RCL is that “the RCL presents Old Testament texts only in relation to the Gospel text”. FALSE. About half the year a community can decide to read through the Firsts Testament semi-continuously, just as the RCL reads through the New Testament. Recently, communities spent seven weeks reading through 2 Samuel. Compare that to the Narrative Lectionary: 2 Samuel appears for only one Sunday. Let’s look at the Narrative Lectionary use of the First Testament: the Pentateuch gets five Sundays – 3 reading from Genesis, one from Exodus, one from Deuteronomy. That’s it! The Garden of Eden second creation story, Isaac’s birth, Jacob wrestling, Moses’ call, and the 10 commandments. That doesn’t even cover the stories you would expect in a cardboard children’s bible!!! In RCL, Genesis alone gets something like 26 readings – 14 weeks in a row in Year A. Followed by 7 weeks of Exodus. Need I go on…
My personal opinion: the RCL is far superior to the NL. To paraphrase American Bandstand, it’s got a good beat and it’s easy to preach from.
Over at Internet Monk, Father Ernesto has written a brief introduction to oikonomia, a prominent feature of pastoral care in the Orthodox tradition. It basically boils down to dealing with people as if the goal were not to “fix” them but to bring them to God:
Americans have a strong built in idea that God is a law and order God. There is only one problem. That is not really what God seems to do in Scripture. He does support principles of justice. The prophets constantly rail against injustice. But, God’s purpose is to bring people into his kingdom. And, if a law appears to interfere with bringing someone into the Kingdom of God, then God has no problem in putting that law aside. Thus, the woman caught in adultery is forgiven outside the law because that unexpected forgiveness is precisely what she needs to hear in order to bring her into the Kingdom of God.
It should be noted, however, that although oikonomia can involve lessening the prescribed penance for sin, it could in some circumstances mean a hard-hearted (or headed) sinner might require a more severe penance in order to bring him to his senses. The bottom line is to deal with each personal individually rather than blindly applying the canons:
God understands people and God understands what will best work to give the best possibility that a person will truly come to him and be saved. In the same way, the bishop and his priests and deacons are called not to simply apply the canon, but to so come to know the person involved that when they apply the canon, they will do so in the way that is most likely to preserve that person’s salvation. Thus someone may be ordained much sooner than expected. A discipline for a sin committed by a church member may either be lightened or strengthened. But, at bottom, whatever action is taken must be based on a knowledge of a person and what will most help their journey to salvation.
So, oikonomia involves fulling admitting that rules and structure can be positive—and that there is such a thing as sin—but being willing to address these matters as if there were something more important than written laws and guidelines. It almost sounds like something Jesus would do, doesn’t it? 🙂
Might some of the confusion over the role of women in 1 Corinthians stem from a failure to identify when Paul is actually quoting someone else’s opinion? My CHR 150 class addressed some of this last week when we discussed Paul’s teachings about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–14. Scot McKnight goes even deeper as he describes some of Lucy Peppiatt’s conclusions in her new book, Women and Worship at Corinth. Interesting!
Peter Enns took part in a panel discussion on the topic of “Reading the Bible in the 21st Century” at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting last week in San Diego. His ten-minute opening remarks are well worth your time. Here is his conclusion:
If I can put this in Christian terms, scripture bears witness to the acts of God and most supremely to the act of God in Christ. But scripture bears witness in culturally and contextually meaningful ways. This is where historical criticism comes into the picture—not as an enemy to be guarded against or plundered, and not as an awkward relative you don’t know what to do with, but as a companion, a means of understanding and embracing the complex actualizing dynamic of the Bible as a whole.
This is what I am aiming for in The Bible Tells Me So, albeit at a popular level, because that is where this discussion needs to be—with those who feel they have to chose between accepting academic insights or maintaining faith. I don’t believe that is a choice that has to be made, and miss out on a lot when we feel we need to.