Friday, September 22, 2006

Orthodoxy and the Mainline Denominations

I was preparing a blog responding to some people who have characterized our disaffiliation as an “attempt to find a perfect denomination.” We all know that such a denomination doesn’t exist. What we were doing is leaving a denomination that we believed had first left us, theologically. What we are looking to join is another denomination that has clear beliefs that are actually followed.

While I was writing, another comment came in that, in ultimate effect, made my case. John Shuck is a Presbyterian minister in Tennessee who is, even for Presbyterians, extremely liberal. Here’s what he wrote to me:

Dear Rev. Gray,
I am John Shuck. You referred to my blog in this post. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. Yet you say that I demonstrate “beliefs and teachings that are utterly against all the PCUSA says it believes.” No sir, I do not. They may be utterly against what you say the PCUSA says. Your very action to leave the denomination demonstrates that you and the PCUSA are in disagreement. My blog is a part of my teaching ministry to my congregation and to others. Teachers introduce students to a wide variety of ideas. I certainly do not need to defend myself to you. But then again, I would never dream of attacking another minister whom I don’t even know.
It appears that you are diverting attention away from yourself by pointing at me. You made your decisions. Live with them. Don’t bring me into it.
John Shuck

I wasn’t attacking the Rev. Shuck, but using his public statements a evidence of what truly is happening in mainline denominations. He has every right to say what he believes, but he cannot escape scrutiny and comment. The Rev. Shuck has placed his beliefs, sermons, published papers, etc., in the public marketplace through his blog and webpage, even as I have done. In doing so, he’s put his teachings in a place where they will receive comment and criticism, even as mine have. In fact, his statements do demonstrate exactly what I believe is killing the PCUSA.

For the reader, here are some verbatim comments that you can verify from his blog (above) and his website (containing sermons and links to publications), which is linked from there.

  • The Mystery was called by different names in different languages in different places—The Great Spirit, Marduk, the Goddess, Brahman, The Holy One of Israel, God, Christ, Allah, The No-Thing, the Ground of Being. But the Mystery is elusive, not allowing a name to tame it, Allowing no human to claim it for a possession.

  • I can appreciate the Christian story as I appreciate a medieval work of art. I can revere it as the story of my ancestors. I can even find value in it at moments of loss for a departed loved one. But at best, it is a secondary story. For me, the story is not large enough to help me to come to terms with the challenge that human beings currently face.

  • No longer can the Bible alone be our sacred canon. No religion or tradition can claim to have or to be the canon. The universe is our canon of scripture. We are not creatures placed on Planet Earth from the outside and to the outside we shall return. We are of the same cosmic stuff as the stars, the sun, the planets, and the earth, and all species of Earth. All of it is sacred. It and we are all part of that creative mysterious power of the universe. Yet we are ignorant of this powerful story.

  • When faith communities begin demythologizing the Bible, some interesting things will happen. The Bible’s authority will shift away from the text and toward the individual interpreter or community of interpreters. No longer will the Bible be considered an authoritative source of truth that contains infallible propositions about God or the human condition. Rather, it will become a resource for wisdom. Since authority is earned by the truth it tells, the Bible will have whatever authority the individual or community gives to it.

  • The preacher can no longer assume that just because a text is in the Bible that it is from God or is even valuable.

  • Anything a preacher says must stand on its own terms. This ethic will free both the biblical text and the preacher. The text will be freed from the preacher’s misuse of it. The preacher will be freed from the constraints of needing to “preach from the Bible” or to have everything s/he says to be backed by scripture.

I believe that such views, once made public, are worthy of greater scrutiny. Is what he has written Christian? Is it in accordance with what the PCUSA says it believes? Is it wrong to ask these things?

The greatest question, for me today, is why such a different theology is in any way acceptable to the PCUSA. I do not challenge the Rev. Shuck’s right to state and publish his beliefs. I do not challenge his right to be a minister of a congregation (although I think his beliefs are closer to Unitarian/Universalism than Reformed theology). This isn’t about him, but the mainline denominations. Why are they so upset about things like per capita and property when the foundational beliefs they say they uphold are not?

The Rev. Shuck seeks, I think, to have his congregation focus on this world, and not the next. His religion is not rooted in the eternal, but the temporal. This is how he puts it:

The point is not to “believe” that the corpse of Jesus was resuscitated. The point is the power of the Spirit alive in us. The presence of Jesus with them is so powerful that he changed their lives. Without that hope, without that presence, life is hopeless. That is what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 15. He saw Jesus in a vision. He didn’t see a resuscitated corpse. But his life changed.

The Rev. Shuck has, if his writings are representative, left orthodox Christian faith. My argument is that, while he is not a typical Presbyterian pastor, the direction in which he is leading seems to be the direction mainline denominations are taking. He may simply be more honest than others.

Where are the mainline denominations going? They are leading their people away from an orthodox faith in Jesus Incarnate, crucified, and bodily risen. I believe that they are trading the power of the cross and empty tomb for a simple social creed that, while earnest and good, is nowhere near the teachings of the core of the Gospel. Many are trading the inheritance of orthodox Christian faith for the potage of simply “doing good.” This is what I hear in what the Rev. Shuck is teaching:

I have not been one who goes head over heals [sic] for creeds.
Yet this parable has prompted me to declare some truths.
I will close with what I consider to be the message of Jesus.
This message is condensed in five simple statements.
I have decided to call these statements my five fundamentals.
1. Consider your life and your limited number of days.
2. Articulate a purpose for your life.
3. Accept that the rewards for following your purpose will be intrinsic.
4. Live your purpose.
5. Allow others the freedom to do the same.

Such is good advice for a part of life, but not for all of it. C. S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Keep praying--keep the faith,


Anonymous said...

I found these quotes on another blog and I feel that they apply to this situation. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation has stated that his mission in life is to: "destroy the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms." He is no friend of Christianity or even theism.
But he has some interesting thoughts about liberal Christians.

I have written elsewhere about the problems I see with religious liberalism and religious moderation. Here, we need only observe that the issue is both simpler and more urgent than the liberals and moderates generally admit. Either the Bible is just an ordinary book, written by mortals, or it isn't. Either Christ was divine, or he was not. If the Bible is an ordinary book, and Christ was an ordinary man, the history of Christian theology is the story of bookish men parsing a collective delusion. If the basic tenets of Christianity are true, then there are some very grim surprises in store for nonbelievers like myself. You understand this. At least half of the American population understands this. So let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose.

Another problem with religious moderation is that it is intellectually bankrupt. It really represents a fundamentally unprincipled use of reason. At least fundamentalists talk about evidence. You ask a fundamentalist, "Why do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the Bible is the perfect Word of God?" and you'll get reasons. They're not good reasons, but you will immediately see that these people are engaged in an evidentiary pursuit. They'll say things like, "The New Testament confirms all of Old Testament prophecy for every prophecy in the Bible has come true." You know, these are specious claims, but contrast that to what moderates say. Moderates don't talk about evidence. Moderates talk about meaning. They talk about the good effects of believing as they do.


Another problem with religious moderation is that it is theologically bankrupt. It is not like if we just read the books more closely we would discover all these reasons to be moderates. I've got news for you, I've read the books: God is not a moderate.

If even the admitted enemy of the Christian faith can see the claims of Jesus and the Bible, then why cannot those who profess to believe (in some capacity.)

Classical Presbyterian said...


Shuck's blatant heresy is 'acceptable' because the PCUSA has abandoned having uniform standards or a will to discipline its ministers.

Shuck is not even a Christian, yet he is allowed to PREACH and TEACH, leading some to destruction.

We will have to answer our Lord one day with why we knew this and did nothing.

We are reaping what we arguably have sown since 1927.

Pea..ce Ya'll said...

Tom stated in his blog regarding ".....Rev. Shuck’s right to state and publish his beliefs. I do not challenge his right to be a minister of a congregation
(although I think his beliefs are closer to Unitarian/Universalism than Reformed theology)".

To my mind and heart, this subtle, non-religion religion, Universalism/Unitarianism, which so appeals to human intellect and hangs on the limits of human understanding, is itself so limited that it denies God's unlimited ability to speak through the human mind to give His Word to the whole of mankind. Thus, it follows with this belief system, that God's biblical promise that He will one day separate the wheat from the chaff, is invalid. And, therefore, Christ's sacrifice is meaningless other than as an inspiring demonstration of human love given by a great teacher.

I Corinthians 2:14 "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

From our experience with a private school "affiliated with" a mainstream denomination, I would say that there is a measure of safety in the ban on teaching religious ideas/"prayer" in public schools. As well as my own experience as a college student and part of the captive audience of a Freshman English teacher's '70's-style negative rantings about Billy Graham and positive rantings about drugs and feminism. I would like to see schools offer comparative world religions classes taught by nonagendized instructors. But I do not want teachers/authority figures given freedom to purport to a captive audience, which includes my children, a false religion to a politically correct god, most especially without my knowledge. Manners, standards of good behavior, consideration for others, yes. False religion in the guise of acceptance of others, no.

Those are my main points.

What follows simply presents details of a couple of these experiences. To add this is probably due to what I call the obsessive/compulsive,
perfectionistic aspect of my personality, but others may know it by the terminology, "long windedness" which encompasses the inability to edit oneself. You may freely disregard adding it to all of the other things you can spend your time doing. But I can't not add it because there may be somebody out there as compulsive about seeking details as I for giving them. I hope I've left adequate space on the website for others to leave their comments.

Until my children attended said school,my direct awareness of U/U beliefs had been as a result of my adult relationships.

While my children were attending this school, administrators and policies changed over the years. I was becoming increasely aware that Eastern religious beliefs were becoming more and more prevalent and influential at the school and in this country. And with it, "diversity" programs which comingled and watered down all religions into one.
Through "holiday" songs and events; through the headmaster's letter; the school's newsletters stating policy regarding the school's commitment to "diversity"; and through the chapel sessions, these beliefs were "mainstreamed". And, as a parent, I was, for the most part, privy to communications peripheral to the classroom and curriculum. In fact, I was actually called to a meeting with the principal to be reprimanded for looking at what books were in the primary school library one day when I was at the school having lunch with my child. That was the first time I had to go to the principal's office.

Eventually, I had serious, more specific questions as to just what my children were being taught about God at this private school affiliated with the Episcopal church. That was before all of the publicity about the "liberal" stance of that denomination.

For a number of years the one big "holiday" event I was aware of at the primary school, that was other than about Christ's birth,was the annual Hannukah party given by mothers of Jewish students. A few years later, in middle school, my son's class presented the annual "holiday" music program which presented the song proclaiming that no matter what our religious beliefs, we're all the same. Somehow, I think it came across more that all religions are worshipping this universal god, rather than that we may have very separate and distinct beliefs about our God, but we need to be respectful of others who don't believe the same.
After that "holiday" program, I got busy the next year, with permission from our preschool teachers, to make a Christmas presentation in my younger child's class. With her permission, I took a movie tape of a more mature presentation of the Christmas story to one of my other son's teachers at the middle school. However, she never showed it to her classes.
When I asked about doing a presentation at the primary school similar to the Hanukkah celebration, I was told that the priest covered the Christian teaching and so it wasn't necessary.

Later came the form letter from the headmaster to all School families strongly setting forth the school's viewpoint about "diversity" and some admonishment about the "not in my backyard" attitude (?). At that point, I called the headmaster's office to say that, while the HM, may not have intended it or be aware of it, he was espousing universalism. And that I simply wanted to know what my son was being taught about religion and in what settings. I told them that my concern or intention was not to change the school, but to address in our home,what my son was being taught at school as it pertained to our personal beliefs about God. Rather than the headmaster returning my call, it was returned by one of the priests. I assured him that I simply wanted to know what was being taught and that it was a private matter for my family to talk about at home, and that was it. From this phone conversation with the priest, I got the impression that he was actually pretty excited to speak with a parent who was this interested in actual Christianity. He invited me to meet with the headmaster and himself. That was the second time I had to go to the principal's office.

It turned out to be a time for the headmaster to tell me what the school's (his) viewpoint was and at the end of this short meeting, he and the priest inquired as to whether I "felt better now".

What a surprise ending that was for me! I thought I was there to accomodate and back up the priest, and apparently they were there to do politics and pat a tuition paying parent on the head.

I decided that if religions could not be presented for what they are, as in a well-taught world religions class, it is to disrespect them all and to either consciously or inadvertantly,teach the philosophy/religion of U/U. I would rather not have prayer in schools if it was not to the God whom I believe to the be The One True God, but a false mix of all gods, i.e. U/U.
I chose to teach my children that while it is politcally popular to think otherwise, there most definitely are very distinct differences between religions and personal beliefs about God/gods. That God tells us plainly in the Bible that He wants an exclusive relationship with us and He's jealous, in the good way, when we give any part of ourselves to any other god. And that to acknowledge this is to give respect to others while firmly believing what the God of The Bible tells us about Himself. That He is the only true God. He's absolutely not the same as Buddha, Allah, et al.

Jodie said...

Tom and Jason,

Maybe I like to travel light, but I have only one article of faith that is irreducible and non negotiable.

1. Jesus lives.

This I believe is the beginning and the end of it.

There is a corollary: His Kingdom Is

It seems like nothing, I know, but the implications are cosmic, and it is more than enough to keep me focused and nimble for the rest of my life. Between you and me, (whisper) I think it beats Calvin.

In Christ I Am,


John Shuck said...

Dear Rev. Gray,

Grace and Peace!

It appears that you have spent a great deal of time and effort researching my blog and our congregation's web page. Yes, it is public. I invite your readers to read it all and to discuss it with me on my blog.

I accept that you did not mean to attack me personally, but were using me as an illustration of what in your words is "killing the PCUSA".

This is where I respectfully disagree. I believe that I am participating in the vitality of the PCUSA.

I would recommend for you and for your readers, Marcus Borg's book, "The Heart of Christianity" in which he discusses these issues.

Obviously, this is not about you or me as individuals. We are participants in something much larger than either of us.

I seek to construct a theology that is suitable for the 21st century, not the 16th, 4th or 1st.

For one instance, our cosmology is far different from our ancestors. That does not mean our ancestors were less intelligent. Far from it. In many respects they were far wiser than we are. But they formulated their wisdom in their time. Our task is to seek to understand how that wisdom translates to our time.

The biblical writers and the writers of the creeds all the way through the Middle Ages conceived of Earth as flat with heaven above and sheol or hades below.

They thought of Earth as created a few thousand years before their time. Now we know that the Universe is between 12 and 20 billion years old. Earth is a spinning globe around a sun that is one of billions in the Milky Way, which in turn is one of billions of galaxies in our universe.

That is but one (a significant one, but one) difference between our time and the time of the writers of scripture.

I, like Calvin and Luther before me, am simply seeking a theology that takes seriously our context.

John Shuck

DrMom said...

Both Jodie and Rev. Shuck have done a brilliant job in demonstrating the underlying issues the Kirk had with the PCUSA denomination.

Jodie presents an article of faith that looks nice on the surface but lacks depth. It leaves the individual to determine "the rest of the story" as they please rather than based on Biblical truths.

Rev. Shuck has made it very clear that the Bible is not his basis of belief at all. He even states that he is constructing a theology.

Biblically-based evangelical Christians do not seek to create our own beliefs--we look to apply the Bible as it is written to our daily lives. We don't look for alternative interpretations that fit what we want to believe, but we struggle with tough passages. The amazing part is that the Bible is applicable to modern life today just as it was in centuries past.

Paul Welch said...

"I seek to construct a theology (that is suitable for the 21st century, not the 16th, 4th or 1st.")

Herein lies a core belief. If you and the Bible disagree, which is correct? Rev. Shuck, you are creating "the gospel of John S." If we say we believe in a God who created all things but is not able to even get the Bible correct, then he's not a very great God after all. If the Bible is just a compilation of stories written by men, then it's just another "self-help" book on the shelf.
If you are right and we just need to create our own theology, then it's a waste of time to call ourselves Christians. If you are wrong and you are leading others away from Christ and his teaching, then...
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies ..." 2 Pet. 2:1.

Presbyterian Gal said...

"I seek to construct a theology"......

L. Ron Hubbard has already done this. As was witnessed by someone I knew long ago, as a bet at a party that he could create a religion that would be followed by many. He has won the bet. Many times over. Anyone following is a pretender. Or another pretender.

Yet neither has anything to do with scripture, from what I can see. I encourage skeptics again and again, a studious look into recent discoveries in physics, cosmology and paleontology that prove the Bible literally true. Read Gerald Schroeder. Then go back to Jesus' teachings. There's nothing there at all that isn't as timely today as it was then. If you have to re-interpret, then, I would say, you just don't get it.

Jodie said...

Dear Dr Mom

Did I hear you right? "Jesus Lives" lacks depth?! Did you stop to hear what you were saying?

"It leaves the individual to determine "the rest of the story" as they please rather than based on Biblical truths"

"As they please"?!

If you really think that, you do not really believe that Jesus lives. You say you put your trust in biblical truths, but I say you are really putting your trust in the men who tell you those truths. If biblically based evangelical Christians put their trust in these men above their trust in Jesus our Lord, well then, maybe we do have different religions after all.

I put my trust in the living Jesus. I >really< do. I may at times disappoint him, but he never disappoints me.



George Ellsworth said...

Mr. Shuck has done an admirable job of assimilating the techniques of the PC(USA)— Publicly assert your full support for the reformed faith standards and the Word of God, while your activities demonstrate just the opposite. The GA stated clerk is a past master of this art form. In his denial of the New Wineskins call for a moratorium on punitive actions, Mr. Kirkpatrick asserts that
“Moderators and stated clerks of governing bodies, including those of the General Assembly, are bound to uphold the Constitution of the Church and do not have the power unilaterally to set aside any portion of the Form of Government.”

At the moment, this obviously applies only to property disputes— since he has for years, resolutely refused to enforce the parts of the constitution he doesn’t like, particularly those regarding ordination standards. This point is now moot, since the GA has taken the rules they could not legally change and ‘interpreted’ them into oblivion— but now he will vigorously (viciously?) enforce the property clause because he likes that one.

While he was speaking peace and reconciliation to angry congregations (“to conciliate, mediate, and adjust differences without strife…”— from his letter rejecting the call for a moratorium), his organization was simultaneously preparing the ‘secret’ documents outlining the Gestapo tactics to be used against those same churches. He decries schism, and yet the plans call for seeking and fomenting schism in a congregation, using a “divide and conquer” approach.
It appears to me that the motivation here is not concern for the flock— it’s greed.

Maybe they really think they can get rich as the proprietors of a bunch of empty buildings.

NetProphet said...

I thought it would be helpful to see the statement of beliefs that Mr. Shuck's church and his organization believes as their foundation for faith. I found it interesting that no mention of scripture from the bible is referenced for their statement of faith for the church or the organization Mr. Shuck belongs to. It is rather a series of statements on behavior. The question that comes to mind is what Jesus asked,

"Who do you say that I am?" Matt.16 verse 15.

As we answer this question for each one of us, does our answer not form the basis of our belief structure and our behavior in life? Jesus was either the Truth or a Lie. Is the bible relevant for all generations or just another history book? You either believe Christ's claims or you don't. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour or not? This is not a question for us to debate or argue about. It is a question each one of us should take seriously and honestly answer for ourselves.
According to Webster the term Christian is a believer and follower of Christ. Not kinda or sort of. In my simple mind it is better to be either hot or cold for Christ, but certainly not lukewarm.

I am not judging Mr. Shuck's belief structure, just asking questions of clarification for enlightenment of core values.

We call ourselves “A Progressive Christian Community.” We are affiliated with “The Center for Progressive Christianity” and affirm “The Eight Points”:

By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who…

1. Have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus;

2. Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us;

3. Understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus's name to be a representation of an ancient vision of God's feast for all peoples;

4. Invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us in order to be acceptable (including but not limited to):

believers and agnostics,
conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
women and men,
those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
those of all races and cultures,
those of all classes and abilities,
those who hope for a better world and those who have lost hope;

5. Know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe;

6. Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes;

7. Form ourselves into communities dedicated to equipping one another for the work we feel called to do: striving for peace and justice among all people, protecting and restoring the integrity of all God's creation, and bringing hope to those Jesus called the least of his sisters and brothers; and

8. Recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly, and entails selfless love, conscientious resistance to evil, and renunciation of privilege.

This can be found in:

Anonymous said...

A denomination in survival mode does not attract a move of God
September 22, 2006

When a denomination's "unity" is dependent on the attempts of the bureaucracy to maintain control and "ownership" of a local church's property, that denomination is not long for this world. Without a common commitment to making disciples of Jesus and to "doing the will of God on earth as it is in heaven," coercion is all that is left. Coercion is born of fear and fear turns into panic. A denomination in survival mode does not attract a move of God. That requires repentant and tender hearts toward the Savior of the world.

Rev. Tom Litteer
First Presbyterian Church
Sparta, N.J.

Ford Brett said...

Rev Shuck posted
"I, like Calvin and Luther before me, am simply seeking a theology that takes seriously our context."

A serious (not rhetorical) qestion for those who know more about history than I - where Calvin and Luther 'seaking a theology that took seriously' their context? OR where they seeking to understand God's word, and then live it out act as a light in corrupted world they faced?

Seems to me that they weren't conforming the Word to the world, but taking the Word as the revealed Truth of the Lord and using it to transform the world. True?

The relevant question for us is do we use our understanding of the world to 'fix what's wrong' with scripture, or do we try to use scripture to help fix with's wrong with the world?

My witness: When ever I've stepped out in faith to apply what the Lord has directed through scripture, I have found Him to be faithful - quite rarely to my expectations - and always working for good. Also, I've found that when ever I've known 'better' and ignored His word things have gone very wrong.

Anonymous said...

There is one thing I must say to you Dr. Shuck: thank you for being polite about this, and not taking the subject on in an "attack" mode. You are one of the first on your "side of the aisle" who hasn't started out that way in here, and I truly appreciate it.

While I must wholeheartedly disagree with you, I just give credit where credit it due. You are honest with yourself and others about what you are doing and why you are doing it, and it seems that you do not cast aspersions on others for doing the same.

(Now I must get out the duct tape, to keep my head from exploding).


DrMom said...


Your interpretation of my post was quite interesting. I never said that "Jesus lives" lacks depth. What I tried to convey (and still stand by) is that if your only "article of faith that is irreducible and non negotiable" is "Jesus lives," then that lacks depth. You have included nothing about salvation or anything else that gives meaning to "Jesus lives," leaving the meaning of that statement to personal interpretation rather than what is clearly stated in the Bible.

I also posted:
"Biblically-based evangelical Christians do not seek to create our own beliefs--we look to apply the Bible as it is written to our daily lives. We don't look for alternative interpretations that fit what we want to believe, but we struggle with tough passages. The amazing part is that the Bible is applicable to modern life today just as it was in centuries past."

Somehow, you interpreted that to mean that we're relying on men above Jesus. That is completely and utterly the opposite of what I posted.

Larry said...

Jodie writes---"Maybe I like to travel light, but I have only one article of faith that is irreducible and non negotiable.
1. Jesus lives."

This is the new mantra of the religious left. They are popularly known as the "Red Letter Christians".

Namely, there are Bibles that put Jesus's words in Red. The neo-christians put sole emphasis upon the red words. Of course, since Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, they find comfort in the the "red letter words."

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive”

James Hutchins said...

Good post. I'd encourage you to check out my blog, I'll be adding a link to yours.

Jodie said...

Dear Dr Mom and Larry,

Hum… I think I see the problem here. Well, half of it at least. I am not really sure what Larry is talking about re the religious left and red letters and homosexuality. It follows the old McCarthywasm formula about those “commie pinko bla bla blas”, but what is it doing in the middle of a conversation about Jesus?

Anyway, Dr Mom, you’ve asked me how I give meaning to “Jesus lives”. I don’t. That is what it means to be “irreducible”. Jesus gives meaning to me. He gives meaning to my life, and to my existence. He gives meaning to meaning itself. The only meaning I get from life I get through him. The only meaning I get from scriptures I get through him. He is the source of all meaning, the beginning and the end. All that there is can be reduced to him, and without him nothing that there is would even be. (humm… seems like I read something like that somewhere).

Anyway, an irreducible statement is one you can use to say other things, but one that cannot be further explained or simplified. It stands alone. It just is. It is like the smallest brick you can find to build a house. A cornerstone. Oddly, it is one that many people overlook. (I think I read that someplace too)

In thinking about it, you have put your finger exactly on the real question of our debate.

“Do the Scriptures give meaning to Jesus, or does Jesus give meaning to the Scriptures?”

The answer to that question tells us who or what we worship as our god.

Not to ignore your comments, let me also ask that if you are not relying on the interpretation of men in reading the scriptures, then on whose interpretation are you relying?

In His grip,


Anonymous said...

I like the term irreducible. A good example of an irreducible system is a human cell. Inside is a working "city" with parts that all have to be present at once for it to work.

(as a side note this is an argument Darwin used himself against his own theory....because he did not know the inner workings of a cell he eluded to the fact that if the cell was irreducible meaning it's parts couldn't be slowly added until you get the finished product, his theory would be wrong....which it is!)

I think the argument is based on what one perceives as picking and choosing what was given to us irreducibly by God...

I would go back to the whole of the Bible that is "How can we be in fellowship with God again".
...and how does anything we're discussing effect this outcome.

Anonymous said...

Nuclear physicists might or might not care to debate with Jodie on the subject of irreducibility, and some philosophers would say that the brick had to begin in the mind of the builder before it could exist in fact.
I have no problem with the idea of "Jesus Lives" if we have an understanding born of faith, scripture and experience as to which Jesus we are discussing. We can talk about Him all day, but we have to have the same basic operational definition if we are to truly communicate. But if I am speaking of whom I know as my Lord and Savior; whom I believe to be the Son of God who was crucified, buried and resurrected, and someone else is thinking of Jesus as some new age "avatar" or as an historical figure who led a rebellion against Rome in the first century and was thus executed, then we have a real problem in communication. So a statement such as "Jesus Lives" is not taken at face value by some, and thus we have debate.

So, all of this discussion is impressive if we are in a class on religion or philosophy. And the same questions have been knocked about for centuries. But what does it do with respect to bringing ministry to those in need? Those of us who chose to leave PCUSA did so because we saw an organization that was becoming so liberal and self-serving that it was leaving the ministry of Jesus Christ behind. Reasonable minds can always disagree, even amicably. But I speak from direct observation (on the ground and in person, not on the blog or in the news) when I say that the Kirk of the Hills under the leadership of Tom Gray and Wayne Hardy are focused on the ministry of Jesus Christ. To the others I would ask a rhetorical question (meaning you don't have to answer): What are your priorities for serving Christ?


P.S. Did they ever decide on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Jodie said...

M. B.,

If you can think of an effective explanation of the Gospel to the Hindus, more power to you. Christians have had a very tough time trying to explain to them the difference between an avatar and Jesus. American Evangelicals have had almost no luck at all.

The key for us I think is the verb tense. We should not speak of a Jesus who >was<, or >lived<, or even necessarily of what he >did<, rather we speak of who he >is< and what he >does<. And we have to know; hands-on know. It is only within that context and through that lens that we care about or can even begin to comprehend or explain what he >did<.

Not everybody agrees with that.

The Evangelicals are under spiritual attack, but it is not from an outside enemy, or one from whom they can free themselves by huddling in ghettos of the like minded. It is their own doctrine that is weakening their faith by basing it on impeachable ground. A faith that is not based on personal knowledge of the living Jesus will not stand the test of time and adversity.

How can you test to see what your faith is based on?

The blog is an excellent place to have this sort of conversation. If the same questions have been knocked around for centuries then it means the questions must be important, their answers are not easy to come by, but the process of searching is worth the effort. (As far as the angels question, the answer was ‘as many as they want’. It was a question about free will.) Wars have been fought over them, and a new one is looming on the horizon. If we do not lift our intellectual and spiritual capacity above that of our predecessors and find the footing of our faith, our grandchildren will be praying with their faces to Mecca.

I am sure that you participate in the more concrete missions of your church as I do with mine. One of the fruits of faith is service. For example, next weekend I will be in Mexico building homes for people who otherwise live in boxes made of discarded garage doors. It’s a small thing on the grand scheme of things, maybe even just symbolic, but as a symbol it says more than playing golf or voting Republican.

Have a blessed Lord’s day,


Anonymous said...


Thank you for expounding. If I read you correctly, would you agree that a personal relationship with Christ is as essential to faith as is an understanding of the Scripture. The point of the "angels on the head of a pin" comment was because that discussion was originally presented to me as a being a distraction from the true purpose of the Gospel: Service to others in the name of Christ. Kind of like "where did Jesus go after he ascended?" And the idea of Jesus being an "avatar" is a popular idea among some New Agers. My point being that we, as Christians, have to have the same understanding of whom Jesus is or we are not really communicating. Yes, many questions endure; but are we not to attempt to answer them through our faith and our scripture?

That said, I wish you well on your trip to Mexico. That is putting faith into action. I once went on a youth mission trip to Mexico City - by bus! I will be forever blessed by that experience.

God Bless,