Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Jesus, The Bible, Religion, More

On Jesus, the Bible, and More: Revival Keynote Lecturers Book Excerpts

Here are some of the insights, thoughts, and reflections by our Revival Keynote Lecturers based on some of their published works.

1. Former UUA President John Buehrens, from his latest, "A House For Hope"

"My path is one of liberal interpretation of the biblical tradition...My job today, it seems, is to try to save the Bible from conservatives who claim to be its friends but who interpret it in oppressive ways that violate the Spirit that formed it...Many people yearn for a fresh, transforming encounter with the Bible,I find...When it comes to the Bible, what I most hope is that people will have a fresh I and Thou experience, both with the text and with the Spirit behind it....I do not deny that the biblical heritage has contributed to a sense of America's exceptional place in the world, to a privileged sense of being God's holy, chosen people, and to a self-righteousness that should be subjected to critical scrutiny. But I do say that if we were to ask more often the prophetic questions that pervade the Bible, we might do better at what the Lord most requires of us: namely, doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God....

"Evangelicals know that their mission is chiefly to spread the gospel. Progressive evangelicals, however, along with liberal Christians, add that this is best done not just by talking about Jesus, but also by helping to realize the kingdom, the commonwealth of God that he proclaimed. This means living the religion of Jesus, in his prophetic spirit, by performing the mitzvot of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, proclaiming liberty to the oppressed, and saying that now is the acceptable time for justice, healing, and reconciliation. As Francis of Assisi is said to have put it, "Preach the gospel always; when necessary, use words."

"No wonder so many of the most influential and important theologies that have emerged in recent decades have been theologies grounded in the real-world experiences of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. These theologies of liberation are varied, depending upon the experience of different forms of oppression. But they all seem to have this in common: they have variously tried to express what Cornel West has called "the courage to hope." Some of this hope may be for progress toward human rights, democracy, and a more prosperous future. But the strongest forms of it are what Rebecca Parker has called "responsive hope," grounded in gratitude for the gift of life itself....

"...So let us begin where we all hope to end: in gratitude---with a radically realized eschatology. After all, if Jesus was an eschatological preacher, warning contemporaries about the consequences of self-indulgence, injustice, and oppression, he also preached that the kingdom of God is right here among us wherever and whenever we make it real by loving the very ground of our being with all our heart, mind, and strength and by refusing to give our allegiance to any oppressive power. It is among us when we love our neighbors, even the very least of these, as we should also love ourselves. It is among us when we put our anxieties over what to eat, drink and wear into proper perspective and consider the lillies of the field. For we are in the garden of creation, where surely not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. So may our final words, at the end of lives, be words of thanks. And may we sustain all our efforts and hopes along the way in that same spirit."

"Hope that is based on personal, political, or group pride is often headed for a fall. As Andrew Delbanco writes in The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope, the Puritans were wise in teaching that "pride is the enemy of hope." He says that he relearned that lesson while researching the spirituality behind Alcoholics Anonymous. That organization, too, has a covenant grounded more in shared human experience and hope than in any particular creedal theology. Yet it wisely passes on a form of spiritual wisdom that resembles that of the Puritan divine who said that "a holy despaire in ourselves is the ground of true hope." Too much liberal and modernist religion, I fear, is all too likely not only to forget that ground, but even to think that covenantal relations are simply a matter of our own intentionality, and not a gift--what the Puritans called "a covenant of grace" rather than one of works. In the biblical tradition, after all, the most basic covenants were initiatives not on the part of human beings, but on the part of God, starting with the covenant of being itself, the Creation...Covenant as a concept is not just about commitment to a particular community. Because of its connection to hope, it is also about a community's commitment to a vision without which we all perish.

"Progressive religion in America is needed to remind America of its highest hopes and ideals and of what its heartwood concept of covenant most basically teaches: that authentic hope can never be merely individualistic or self-developed. It has a social and transcendent dimension. But it does need to be renewed and strengthened within human hearts and communities through a form of what has been called "the dialectic of covenant and conversion," first practiced by the earliest churches of America....That is what we do in progressive religion. In the midst of an economic system that increasing treats human beings as expendable "deadwood", we insist on restoring heartwood. We offer a framework of covenantal committment. We live by shared hope. We make a path by walking it--not alone, together. And we pray that along the way, those who walk with us will be converted and will make a deep personal commitment to its radical form of hope---not for themselves alone, but for everyone."

For more excerpts from Buehren's work go to

From Professor of New Testament and Jesus Seminar Fellow Brandon Scott, excerpt from his book :Re-Imagine The World: an introduction to the parables of Jesus.":

"The parables give us access to the way Jesus reimagined the possibility of living, of being in the world. They are not just religious, not just about God, although they are that too. As we investigate the parables as fictions we will begin to see that they are multifaceted re-imaginings of life, of the possib hilities of life. They help us imagine how we might live life in this world....Jesus' parables are a 'glimpsed alternative, a revelation of potential that is denied or constantly threatened by circumstance" or, in my terms, constantly threatened by the default world. It is always temporary, glimpsed. It is a possibility, not a reality....Jesus' language offered to his audience an alternative to the world in which they were trapped--a world burdened by purity laws segregating the unclean from the clean and into further degrees of purity or shame. A world where those on the bottom are imprisoned in unchangeable structures and await a divine solution. A world in which enemies threaten at every point. Jesus in his language offers a counter world, a vision, an openness to experience...Jesus revolts in parable and the parables create a counter-world, a hoped-for world that redresses the world as it is and surely makes sense, regardless of how it turns out, even it if turns out to be his crucifixion.

"Just as Jesus is not the topic of parables, we need a Christianity without Christ. The question we should be asking is not who Christ is, but the nature of the God Jesus hides in his parables. I use "hide" deliberately because God is no more the the explicit topic of the parables than Jesus. The parables thus force another radical question: Why trust this re-imagined world? Why trust Jesus?...Ultimately we have faith not in Jesus, but faith with Jesus. In the re-imagined world of the parables we stand beside Jesus and trust that his world will work, that it can provide the safe space--the empire of God--that resists all other empires. Jesus is our companion on the journey, not our Lord and Master. The parables lead us to the conviction of the reality of this imagined world. Like Jesus, we can be faithful to the vision of the parable.

"Jesus' life bears witness to the re-imagined world of the parables. It estalished for him and those who followed him a new consciousness, a new way of being in the world. Such a consciousness represents for me a new foundation for Christianity. To be more accurate, it represents for me a return to the original basis for the resurrection. Those who had faith in the parable's re-imagined world proclaimed him still alive because of their faithfulness to that re-imagined world.

"The God Jesus hides in the parables identifies with a polluted world, not the world of the temple; Adonai's presence is discovered in absence, not apolcalyptic revenge; and G-d's empire is based not on shame and honor, not on patron and client, not on contest--but on cooperation. The risk in such a counter weighted world is that the power of other empires is mighty indeed. Since the counter-world of the parable is always an imagined world, the real world is always there, always threatening to destroy that world of imagination. But faithfulness demands living out that risk by re-imagining with Jesus the parables once again."

For more on Scott's latest published book, a ground breaking biblical interpretation method, called Sound Mapping The New Testament, go to

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