I am bringing some of my facebook notes over to this blog, because some of you (for reasons I don’t understand, being the social networking addict that I am) are not on facebook. Here’s one I wrote on April 22nd
It is with a heavy heart that I left a talk tonight by John D Caputo, a philosopher/author/professor who is behind many of the deconstructionist ideas of the Emergent church movement. I was struck after reading his book “What Would Jesus Deconstruct” and subsequently hearing him lecture about the book that his “gospel” of social change and Jesus-as-misunderstood/misrepresented-apocalyptic-prophet-but-not-God-incarnate theology are completely devoid of hope.
If my only hope in reading the New Testament is to have to wade through and pick out the parts of it that seem true to me and then apply them to my life, I would contend that I am without hope.
Caputo’s anthropology is the problem. He sees humans as basically good, and Jesus as no better than any of the rest of us, save for living an exemplary life that we too could and should aspire towards. This utopian anthropology has a tough time dealing with the evening news and the murder, rape, fraud, etc that goes on all around us. I think Jeremiah was right to call the human heart “desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9)
If we are to rely on the historical-critical scholars (Crossan, Ehrman, Borg, etc) to point us to what Jesus actually said and did, we are left with basically nothing upon which to build our theology. Worse still, we are left with our own feelings to guide us. I don’t know about the rest of you, but my feelings change by the minute. I don’t even know right now how I will feel toward my wife tomorrow morning. My feelings are affected by so many undeterminable external forces. I could drink 12 beers, eat 10 chalupas from Taco Bell, get indigestion, wake up and decide that since I feel so bloated and hung-over and Jacqueline is not helping me with the problem that I need to leave her for someone else that will make me feel better. The point is, if feelings are my moral compass, my theology is different on sunny days versus rainy days.
When you start to pick and choose what Jesus said and did based on how those sayings and deeds strike you at a certain time, you end up losing any semblance of an objective standard to guide your hermeneutics. In short, in ruling out even part of the Bible’s testimony about Jesus, you lose JESUS. Take the virgin birth, for example. (Mark Driscoll is responsible for this insight) The Emergent church folks are asking whether or not the doctrine of the virgin birth is essential to Christianity (Rob Bell in his book “Velvet Elvis” asks this question). Well, here are the options: either Mary was a virgin or a lying whore. And if she is a lying whore, then why should we believe anything she says about the virgin birth, the deity of Christ (she was with the early church worshipping Christ) or anything else? And why would we follow Jesus, the bastard son of a lying whore? See, it matters. Furthermore, James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers, wrote books in the New Testament. Why should we trust the other sons of a lying whore to accurately tell the story? The point: if we lose the doctrine of the virgin birth, we lose credibility for the rest of the story, and ultimately we lose JESUS.
I want to pause and point out that I totally agree with many of the diagnoses Caputo makes in his book. I think that the hypocrisy of the religious right in this country and around the world is despicable. To stand up for the anti-abortion cause and then to knowingly turn a blind eye to the woes of poverty, AIDS in Africa (the two of which combine to kill more people than abortion), and the environment is satanic. And Jesus would (and does… I believe that the Bible really teaches a RESURRECTED, active, alive Jesus) deconstruct that hypocrisy.
I find it funny (and sad) that I am sure Caputo would accept the words of Plato or Aristotle or Homer to have been preserved accurately in the modern translations, yet we only have a handful of manuscripts that date hundreds (like 700’s) of years after the original. We have THOUSANDS of manuscripts of the New Testament that date to within a hundred years of the original (in some cases less than 50 years, depending on which scholar you believe), and ALL of them agree on major doctrines, things like Jesus’ virgin birth, his death/burial/resurrection, etc. And Caputo (among others in the historical-critical camp) can’t trust that they accurately portray Christ? I think Jesus would (and does) deconstruct that hypocrisy as well. It is academic arrogance at it’s ‘finest.’
I feel that Caputo has responded to the hypocrisy of the religious right with a different, but equally sinful, hypocrisy. And in the process of dispelling the misconceptions about Jesus that the right holds dear, he has thrown the baby out with the bath water. Jesus (as revealed in the Old and New Testaments) is the answer to both types of hypocrisy. In John 17 Jesus prays “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (17:15-17) He prays that we would not be taken out of the world (like the religious right wants… to get away from poor people and AIDS victims) but that we would be sanctified in the truth of His word (which flies in the face of a claim that His word is not the truth, as the Emergent folks would have us believe).
It is my prayer that we will not continue to fall into either one of those camps… the religious right or the irreligious, syncretistic left. By the grace of God.