Thursday, July 12, 2007

What is the Quaker version of Truth?

I have been thinking about the comments made by Paul L. concerning Marcus Borg, and especially the tendency for contemporary FGC Friends to be particularly interested in those theological thinkers such as Borg, Spong, and the notorious Jesus Seminar. I have been present at tow of Borg's presentations, and read a number of his books. I think he has some very good things to say, and I also believe that he is not representative of the majority of Jesus Seminar entertainers who are vying for the public's theological dollar.

I have also witnessed John Spong (the bishop!) speak, and was amused by the number of folks willing to compare him to a modern day prophet (please insert ad-hominem attack). It is even more interesting that he wears the traditional clerical garments while delivering more a consumer savvy theology.

I have made the observation that some Friends have grown fond of such theology simply by browsing the available titles in the FGC Bookstore catalog. In seems to me that so many folks are trying to distance themselves from the unfortunate or violent interpretations of the Bible that they are willing to throw away the entire story. Because Jesus didn't really walk on water, because he didn't really stop any speeding bullets, every fantastic event in the Bible must be scorned, and Jesus must be demythologized. We must have a mystic, or a sage, or a shaman, or something more interesting, because this Jewish Messiah business doesn't really hold water. And, if the words attributed to Jesus in the don't qualify him as some sort of 20th-century liberal, then he must not have really said them.

In fact, Jesus may not have said much of anything attributed to him by the biblical authors. What matters more is what the community of folks who remembered this revolutionary peace-maker as the human expression of the one true God. Just because Jesus may not have said "blessed are the Peace-makers" (though I believe he did) or did not really make comments in favor of Torah (though I think he said, and meant, something like it) he was remembered by people faithful to the vision expressed through the life of Jesus as exemplifying just such a statement.

Martin Luther King Jr. made a number of statements about a number of things. Remembering them accurately really does no-one any good if they don't live a life that gives meaning to them. And if you don't think the story of Moses and the Exodus is true, then you have not looked very closely at the life of Dr. King. And if you don't think the story of Jesus as a man of sacrifice and non-violence, then you don't know the story of Keshia Thomas of Ann Arbor, MI. when a racist white man who was marching near the Klan one Saturday morning was attacked by leftist demonstrators (many of them probably called themselves Christians), this African -American woman did not jump in, but threw her body over the white man so that he would not be beaten any worse than he already was. The Jesus of the Bible is not a man of words, but a person of action, and through the lives of the faithful, he is not a sage or a really good guy, but a reflection of his one true God, whose life an ministry welcomes us into the story of a God of rescue and liberation.

It may be true that the resurrection did not happen, but only because the communities of Christ do not live the kind of lives that make it a reality. Truth is identified by the fruits that the story told on behalf of truth produces. Liberal democracy produces a truth of nuclear bombs and economic domination. Communism reflects the truth of its own story. As does Quakerism. The question I pose to FGC Friends is, what story do you want to represent the truth? That of the Biblical Jesus as represented by a community of non-violence, non-coercion, and faith, or that of John Shelby Spong and the Jesus Seminar, who only have room for a truth that has no meaning.


forrest said...

I think the Quaker call for truth demands the full truth: not just the hamburger truth or the dessert truth but the whole meal.

So Spong's truth, limited as it is, has its place. I say "limited" because he seems to have forgotten everything he ever knew about God as powerful, as not only a reality but as ultimate Reality itself. But Spong still serves as a help in uncovering flaws in the orthodox notions of what scripture is and how it's produced.

But your dessert truth, your pretty stories... those won't satisfy. There is a reality that exists regardless of whatever kind of lives we're living. We may, if we become too smug and comfortable, have difficulty seeing it, but that does not make it disappear.

It matters intensely, at least to me, the factuality of what Jesus actually said vs what was put in his mouth. Much that was added later has turned out valuable, but I want to understand the real guy and what he was really about.

Likewise, the fact that "the Exodus" didn't happen undercuts all your rhetoric about it.

And yet, knowing God, I know that he permits a world full of slave ships, while loving the slaves and abhoring slavery. I don't doubt that the founders of the Israelite life escaped from Egyptian slavery (Where & when remains elusive, but the Egyptians got around.) I don't doubt that 'mighty acts of God' were a palpable part of the process, quite possibily bending the physical "laws" some people imagine could be somehow realler than God! Or that God loathes the system of slavery we're now implicated in, and means ultimately to release us from it if it kills us! How we live affects only how it will happens, how much we'll suffer in the process. That's important enough (to us!) but we'd be better off not taking ourselves too seriously...

When will I see you over on friendly skripture study?

If the scriptures are to be any good to us whatsoever, it behooves us to chew on them together (or are you already busy with enough of that, where you are?)

Also, any chance you'd want to join in on A Quaker Watering Hole?

Micah Bales said...

This is a wonderful post, Scot. Thank thee for it.

Micah Bales

quakerboy said...

I realize I am a little late commenting on this post. I've read it and reread it. I've forwarded it to several of my friends.

Scot, this is amazing. You have placed in this post the words I could not find for the reason I am a follower of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ.

I really wish you would expand upon this post and publish it. In the meantime, I will continue to point friends to it so that they can understand where I am coming from as a Quaker Christian.

Love and peace,