Saturday, June 10, 2006

Comment and Question on Exodus 3:1-14

Troy has briefly returned from his "blogging break," and showed up here long enough to leave a great comment and ask a pressing question. You should check it out, along with my response. It is the sort of dialogue I was hoping for when I wrote that piece. Alas, I posted it while all the seminary students I know were working on papers!


jazzycat said...

You said:
(The story of Moses' encounter with the burning bush is almost certainly entirely mythical.......

But a good question comes up: if, as most scholars argue, there was no man named Moses, what are we to make of the historicity of this myhtologized history?)

Since Jesus mentions Moses is mentioned 38 times in the four gospels and 20 of those times by Jesus and Jesus mentions the burning bush incident, I would say that Moses was a historical figure. I think being fully God, Jesus had complete and total knowledge of what he asserted. Moses was even at the transfiguration as a historical figure. I am puzzled by your post on this.


Sandalstraps said...


Of course you would. You and I begin with different assumptions about the Bible.

As for the historicity of mythologized history, a couple of points:

1. I already answered that question when Troy asked it. I don't feel like answering it again, so read the answer I gave to Troy.

2. The Bible cannot be used to speak to its own historicity, unless you begin with assumptions about it which are unwarrented, such as that it is entirely without error, etc.

Believe me when I tell you that when scholars argue that there was no such person as Moses, it is not because they are ignorant of what the Bible says about Moses. Rather, it is because they treat the Bible with the same standards with which they treat other ancient works. And, there is simply no reason, absent false assumptions about the nature of the Bible which are based on untenable religious beliefs, to assume that a person named Moses lived and did these things, especially in light of the mythic nature of the text.

You will simply need to bring extra-Biblical arguments to bear, unless you'd like to develop some argument about the Bible itself. In any event, the scholastic community doesn't care what you believe, and doesn't need your approval.

Your claim about Jesus having full knowledge is a faith based claim which also can't be used here without first proving that Jesus was, in fact, fully God and as such embued with all knowledge. And those are, in fact, two separate claims: the first being that Jesus is God (the mystery of the God-man) and the second being that God knows everything (divine omniscience).

Until that very heavy lifting is done, appeals to Jesus' references to Moses don't demonstrate anything except that the Gospel writers wrote that Jesus mentioned Moses.

Sandalstraps said...


If you want to see my approach to Exodus, check out Exodus as a Macro Story. I am sure that you will disagree with that approach, but you'll need to know it to dialogue with me, especially if you keep your perspective on scripture latent. It simply doesn't do any good to quote the Bible to someone when they are talking about how best to interpret the Bible. We start with the same texts, but we bring very different interpretive approaches to those texts. You, however, refuse to come out and say how you are interpreting the texts in question, which means that all I can do is assume that you are using methods similar to the methods used by people who hold similar views to your own.

This is a major obstacle to communication. You can help facilitate communication by reading the many posts here which explain in detail how I approach the Bible. That will help you get to know your "enemy" (I say that not because I think that you think that I am a personal enemy of yours, but rather because our ideologies are opposed and our correspondence is advesarial), which is essential when you are responding to claims made by that "enemy." You can also help facilitate communication by coming out and saying how you approach and interpret Bibilcal texts, and why.

jazzycat said...

Fair enough. But, certainly you realize there are plenty of highly educated and orthodox scholars as well. One that I really like is Dr. R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries. There are many others.

I would suggest that you read and consider some of them instead of only accepting the 'scholarship' that the Jesus Seminar types promote. I know of a couple of these scholar that are quite simply unblievers in the God of the Bible based on what they assert.... Bishop Spong and Marcus Borg are the two that I speak. Spong is very vocal and Borg was written up in the local paper when he was in town to speak.

I sense and read on your site and comments a lot of hostility by you toward my position of orthodox reformed Christianity. I do not fully understand why, as we affirm the social gospel just as much as you. We just simply believe the whole Bible not just ethical principles. I am truly puzzled by the disdain and even hateful rhetoric I have seen from the religious left on some of their websites. I know you are not responsible for other websites.

I will not bother you anymore, but If you could shed any light on why there is such hostile feelings toward conservative Christians, I would appreciate it.

I do hope you find the 'sacred' but as Eph 2:1-5 makes clear that will be entirely up to God.


Sandalstraps said...


I'll get to your excellent question about why the religious left seems to hate the religious right so much, but first I'd like you to consider a few things.

First, as to Borg and Spong:

Spong is not and has never been associated with the Jesus Seminar. He is, as conservatives often like to point out, not a scholar, though his approach to pastoral ministry is informed by scholars and has a very scholarly bent. He and I rarely agree on anything, though I find some of his books, such as Living in Sin?, quite helpful. He knows how to ask the right questions, even if his most recent answers sound like a reincarnated form of deisms being passed off as a "new Christianity."

That said, anyone familiar with Bishop Spong would not question his faith, and the willingness of those on the right to demonize men like him explains some of the bitterness and resentment that so-called "liberals" feel toward those who use your precious orthodoxy as a weapon. For insight into Spong the person, as distinct from Spong the demonized persona, I highly recommend reading his memoir, Here I Stand. Among other things it will disillusion you of the notion that Spong is anti-Biblical. He just brings a different perspective to the Biblical text. And, of course, he denies its inerrancy.

Marcus Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar, and is also a very devout Christian. He does not share many of your beliefs, but his writing is often sympathetic to them, even as he seems them as being counter to the ministry of Jesus. For insight into his approach to the faith you could read one of his newer books, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering the Life of Faith.

While it is easy to see people who disagree with you as "enemies of the faith," a closer look at the lfe, writings, and careers of people like Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong will teach you that their aim is to reform and redeem the church, not to kill it. They are, in their own way, devout men who have dedicated their lives to the service of the God whom they worship. And if there is, in fact, only one God, then their God is also your God, even if you describe that God in different ways.

As for my familiarity with conservative scholars:

I grew up a conservative evangelical with a keen interest in theology. By the time I'd finished high school I had read every book that C.S. Lewis had published in the United States (unless there is one or two that I missed, which is possible given the volume of his writing. Suffice it to say, however, I read plenty of Lewis!). Several faculty members of Asbury Theological Seminary, a conservative evangelical seminary in Wilmore, KY, near my hometown of Lexington, went to church with me and took me under their collective wing.

My ultimate rejection of their views was based neither on a lack of familiarity nor a lack of respect. Rather, it was based on the honest belief that, ultimately, they didn't hold water. They were too dependent on the modern paradigm, a relatively late (and arrogant) model of truth.

My rejection of conservative theology, however, was not a rejection of faith. Rather, it involved a recapturing of an older definition of faith: faith as depending on God rather than beliveing in and clinging to a particular definition of God.

I could say more about that, but then this comment would get too long and read too much like a spiritual autobiography. You don't have to read my life-story here to appreciate that I have one, and that I, in line with the mythos of ancient Israel, view that story in terms of my relationship with God. The same is true of many other liberal Christians, who don't appreciate the assumption that because we disagree with your vision of God we somehow lack faith. Our religion, our experience of God, and our experience of Jesus as the Christ defines our lives. I'm sure that the same is true for you, so I wouldn't dare call your faith or your self-identification into question.

It is quite possible that I harbor hostility towards some conservative Christians. After all, several of them devoted all of their spare time and energy to making my life miserable in an attempt to get to to resign my pastorate. It worked. For that story read There's No Place Like Hell. However, my hostility has little to do with the religious views of conservative Christians (believeing that God is a mystery keeps me from being able to say that I know the mysterious nature of God, or that people who disagree with me must, by virtue of their disagreement with me, be wrong) and more to do with the harm the inflict on others with their moral and spiritual arrogance.

As for your claim that you believe in the whole Bible, and not just the ethical principles, there are a few things I'd love to say about that.

First, statements like that oversimplify a very complex disagreement, and fail to respect the actual positions of your ideological opponents. For instance, while I hold that much of the Bible is mythological rather than historical in nature, that certainly doesn't mean that I reduce the myths to mere moral truisms. In many important respects I believe in those parts of the Bible. They are, after all, the story of my heart, the story of my soul, the story of my life, and the story of my relationship with God. And they are true stories, whether they ever happened or not.

Was the earth literally created in 6 days (with a 7th day of rest) or is that a myth which, among other things, tells us that our lives are not cosmic accidents? When I feel like a random pool of chaos I turn to the creation-myth of ancient Israel, a myth at the heart of my religion, and I see God's metaphoric hand ordering my own chaos. Thus the story is for me a true story, even though it isn't historical. That is, the claims made by the story - that my life is not an accident, that God created all that is, etc. - are experienced as true by me and by all of the people for whom this myth represents in a very important respect the word of God.

Was there ever a man named Adam and a woman named Eve, who were the first two human inhabitants of the earth, living in a plush garden called Eden, from whom we are all descended? The truth of the second creation myth in Genesis also doesn't depend on the answer to this question being "yes." That rich myth communicates far more than I could hope to convey in a comment, which is why I devote such long posts to exploring relatively short stories from the Bible. But, even though I think that Adam and Eve are mythological rather than historical creatures, I can honestly say that I believe the story about them.

The same is true of many of the other stories from the Bible. They speak to me, and about a great deal more than just ethics. They are in a very important respect true stories, even if the events described in them never happened, or didn't happen in the way that they are described as having happened. So it is categorically unfair to say that people who disagree with you about the way in which the Bible is meant to be read somehow don't believe the Bible or the whole Bible.

It is also important to note that you probably don't live up to your own standard for belief in the entire Bible, as I doubt that you believe that every word in the Bible is literally true. If you'd like, we could look at some "problem cases" to see if you can really affirm that the entire Bible is literally true and entirely agrees with your beliefs about God. However, we don't have the space to do that here.

You bring an interpretive method to bear on the Bible, and that interpretive method shapes your reading of it. That interpretive method is itself shaped by your beliefs, which you bring to your reading of the Bible at least as much as you derive them from the Bible. The difference between you and me is I admit that up front.

I say that not to disrespect you, but simply to get that on the table. Conservatives have long denied that people like me believe in the Bible or the God of the Bible, and have also long denied that their beliefs are anything but Biblical. In doing so, they imply (and often even overtly state) that God agrees with them, so anyone who disagrees with them disagrees with God.

You do this covertly on your blog, when you merely mention a particular Bible verse as a form of proof text, without actually examining that text. That method is a way of subtly saying, God agrees with me, so you'd better not disagree with me. But the Bible, if it is to be brought to bear on modern subjects, must first be understood in its historic, cultural, textual, literary and linguistic contexts, and then translaated for a new context, with arguments built for why it should apply in this way rather than that. This is why each new social, historical and cultural context disagrees about what the Bible is saying.

Does the Bible support slavery or set the stage for the freeing of slaves? That depends on who you ask, when you ask them, and which parts of the Bible you mean. Both slaveholders and abolitionists quoted scripture with equal ease, picking and choosing from their favorite passages. And the same is true for almost any issue.

This is not to say that the Bible says nothing, or can be made to say anything. It is instead to say, as I have often said in this dialogue, that we must be up front about the interpretive modes we bring to bear on the Bible. And when you say that you believe the whole Bible while implying that I don't, you don't shed any light on what you mean by that.

What do you believe about the Bible? How to you read the Bible? These are more pressing questions. What is the Bible saying? Does it even make sense to speak of the Bible as a whole when it is a compilation of many books written over a vast expanse of time? These are also important questions to ask. Do you believe the Bible? This is such a vague question that no answer to it could make sense without first addressing may more issues.

So, what bothers me about many of people who believe what you believe has less to do with their beliefs and more to do with they communicate on these issues. The moral and spiritual arrogance with which they reduce my position to some charicature while calling into question the faith which has guided and defined my life is beyond insulting. But I still try to be charitable, understanding that your way of being a Christian is a perfectly valid one, rooted in our shared spiritual history. It has done many great things. But it is not the only way to be a Christian, thank God, because it didn't work for me.

jazzycat said...

I read the post, "There's no place like hell."

Christians have shown no discernment with what has happen theologically in their denominations and/or have shown a passionated loyalty to remain in their local church.

Theological liberalism is far from Wesley. Frankly Methodist that believe like Wesley should not have even been in that church to criticize you.

Best wishes.


Sandalstraps said...


I'm not sure what you mean by

Frankly Methodists that believe like Wesley should not have even been in that church to criticize you.

But I'll accept your best wishes.

Additionally, theological liberalism is dead, and has been dead for quite some time. Liberalism, among other things, is a blind belief in human progress which denies human sinfulness. While I am often idenitified as a liberal, my beliefs have nothing in common with the liberalism of, say Norman Vincent Peale. The closest thing to that we have now is Joel Osteen.

But I am also certainly not conservative, even if, as a Methodist minister, I sought to reintroduce a number of Wesleyan doctrines into the church I served.

Wesley's A Plain Account of Christian Perfection was, along with Tillich's Dynamics of Faith, Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship and Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane, one of the biggest influences on me. The focus of my ministry was the process of sanctification, a very Wesleyan emphasis.

The labels we toss out to describe each other very rarely fit. But I still don't understand the point you were trying to make. Could you spell it out more overtly for me, as evidently my discerning intellect is failing me.

Also, it comes to my attention that you left a comment on my sister-in-law's blog. I haven't read it yet, but I'll be checking it out as soon as I finish typing this. Is that blog the one you were referring to when you asked about the hostility?

jazzycat said...

(Frankly Methodist that believe like Wesley should not have even been in that church to criticize you.) I should have added as well that advocates of the social gospel or thinking like Borg and Spong should likewise not be in my denomination the Presbyterian Church in America. I was also questioning why anyone who believed in Biblical innerancy, etc. would not be discerning enough to realize what is going on in the upper leadership of the UMC. You were ordained and approved by the UMC and if they didn't agree with you, then their problem wasn't you it was their denomination. Because I imagine your thinking is pretty much in line with the higher ups in the UMC.

Seems to me Osteen is more of a feel good health and wealth gospel guy.

If your sister-in-law's blog is Pinky something. I left a comment about the difference between theology and religion and suggested Matthew 7:7 as a guide for her search. No, I didn't not mean her blog was mean at all although she did have a very judgmental post about several churches she had been in. Actually, it has been more the political left blogs than religious left although Soujourners seems to be pretty bitter toward conservatives.

Sanctification is certainly important, but to spell it out as you asked, I would say that to believe in pluralism (as I think you do) is to basically deny the atonement and deity of Jesus Christ and the love and power that is provided for justification. To think that the God of the universe would die like that just to be one of the many ways to eternal life is to defy reason. If you do accept John 14:6 as being true, then I misunderstood something I read on your blog.

I do wish you the best and I believe that congregation blamed you when they should have looked in the mirror.


Sandalstraps said...

I should make it clear that I was never ordained. I served an appointment to pastor a church while studying as a seminary student. While I was involved in professional ministry for about five years, I was never ordained, and I hope that I have not confused anyone about that. This comes up from time to time because people assume that being a professional minister is the same as being an ordained minister, which is by no means an unreasonable assumption. However, in the United Methodist Church there are several steps onthe way to ordination, and you don't need to have gone through all of them to be subject to appointment as a student pastor or a local pastor.

For the record, my level of connection was as a Certified Candidate. If I had stayed in my appointment for another year, and if I had progressed with my seminary studies, then I would have been Commissioned. Then, after having been Commissioned for a certain period of time, and having completed my Masters of Divinity, I would have been ordained - if I were approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry.

I have friends on the Board of Ordained Ministry, and almost certainly would have been approved by them (though not because of my friends - I mention them only to say how it is that I know that the Board would probably have approved me), but I never was ordained. I am no longer seeking ordination, but am still officially a Certified Candidate.

I hope that clears up any confusion, and I apologize if anything that I said implied that I have ever been ordained.


That church was also trying to escape from the United Methodist Church, though United Methodists are in general far more conservative than I am - especially in Kentucky. The church's primary problem was with the United Methodist connection, and I was just caught in the middle of a long war. They had also run off my predecessor in less than a year, making every aspect of his life miserable until he, too, decided to no longer pursue a calling to ministry.

That said, I strongly doubt that you are expert on Wesleyan theology or contemporary Methodist affairs, and I'm not comfortable with your overt judgment of my denomination. Nor do I think that I best represent the theological views of my denomination.

Many of the controversies which you have with me, especially my denial of the Trinity as three co-equal persons in the Godhead (which I see as a denial of monotheism, though I know that many theologians do not) and the divinity of Jesus (which is connected to my denial of the Triune nature of God as being polytheistic) are not a part of the teachings of my church. If I said anything like that to my Board of Ordained Ministry it would almost certainly jeopardize my hopes for ordination. No longer pursuing ordination, however, I am free to speak my conscience.

As for pluralism, John Wesley was also a pluralist of sorts. While he believed that all are saved through Christ, he did not believe or teach that only Christians are saved. Practicioners of all religions are subject to the prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace (the three are always held togethger in Wesleyan theology) of God through Jesus Christ, regardless of their beliefs, because there is a sharp distinction between belief and faith.

The United Methodist Church is pluralistic only in this limited sense. I, however, am a little bit more of a pluralist than that. I believe that Christians can learn a great deal about God from people of other religions, and that they in turn can learn a great deal from us. This comes from my radical monotheism - the belief that if there is only one God, then each of us, when we experience God through our religion, are experiencing the same God, even if we experience that God in different ways and by different descriptions.

As for my sister-in-law, given the judgment that she has recieved in her life at the hands of representatives of the various churches, it is hardly a surprise if she seems to judge them now. By judging her, and by having a religious vision which makes them judges over all people, they have made themselves subject to judgment. You needn't judge her, but you really do need to consider her perspective, especially if you are concerned about evangelism. The judgment that she has received from those who consider themselves to be the one true church of God has poisioned her faith and her spiritual life. She struggles to call herself a Christian, because many of the Christians she has encountered in church have acted so contrary to the example of Christ.

As Gandhi once said,

I admire your Christ, but not your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.

This is a serious problem for a particular version of Christianity which is so obsessed with doctrinal purity that it forgets its pastoral call to share the love, mercy, grace and compassion of Christ with a world which is saved by grace instead of works, and so doesn't need to and will never measure up to the standard that the church tries to impose on it. Or, to bring the conversation back to santification, these churches often forget that sanctification is principally an internal transformative process rather than an external one. That is, while I am going through the process of sanctification the subject of concern is my own spiritual life, my own propensity towards sin, rather than that of someone else.

Anyway, she has been burned by several churches, including the one that employs her husband, my twin brother. Not knowing her situation you certainly cannot stand in a place of judgment over her, nor should you offer her such flippant advice as to check out a single verse from the Matthew out of its context to see if it doesn't magically speak to her in exactly the same way that it speaks to you.

You can't pastor someone until you have a relationship with them. And having a relationship with someone, and especially having a pastoral relationship with someone, means that you listen to them actively and intently, without any form of judgment. Then and only then will you understand them and their needs. Then and only then will you have something to offer them.

It should not be a surprise that my former "Bible believeing" church lacked discernment. Discernment is not the product of a theology or belief system. Conservatives don't have it by virtue of the purity of their doctrine, and liberals don't lack it because they have somehow "corrupted" the one true faith (which has been in a constant state of change since it began). Liberals don't have it because of their emphasis on love and compassion, and conservatives don't lack it because of their focus on purity. It isn't a product of belief, but rather a product of wisdom. And it is not wise to assume the best about the people who agree with you and the worst about the people who disagree with you.

jazzycat said...


The quote by Gandhi shows that he had no clue of what the Christ of the Bible came to earth for. Sure we should follow his example, but the very fact that Christians are sinners is why Christ had to atone for our sins. Not meeting Gandhi's standards is no problem, however, not meeting God's standards is why Christ had to come to planet earth. Christ is covered in my Photo Meditations as is atonement.

This is the core teaching of the Bible unless one discards much of its content as you have done.

I cannot debate you on Biblical theology or teaching when you do not accept the Bible as truth and discard anything that you don't believe as false or a myth. It is pointless.

Best wishes and I do wish that all liberals would just be honest about what they believe. You have apparently decided to do that. That is good.


Sandalstraps said...


Your Photo meditations do not discuss scripture, they merely allude to it. You yank passages out of their context and make them say whatever you want them to say. This mode of scriptural treatment has no place in reasoned discourse, and the arrogance with which you dismiss the positions of people who disagree with you is astounding.

Gandhi, besides being an absolute saint of a person, was tremendously influenced by the writings about Jesus in the Gospels. He even seriously considered becoming a Christian. He eventually chose not to become a Christian because of the rampant racism in every church which he vistied. He chose not to become a Christian because Christians supported the apartheid in South Africa and the oppression and exploitation of his Indian people by the British. One of his closest friends and associates was an Anglican priest, with whom he often discussed the teaching of Jesus.

You cannot reduce the Jesus of the Gospels to merely an atoning sacrifice without also looking at how he lived and what he taught. Actually, you can and you have, loosing Jesus altogether. You also can't say, from a position of ignorance, that Gandhi (just because he disagrees with you about the common morality of Christians) knew nothing about the Jesus of the Bible. When he was alone with a Bible he was ready to convert. When he encountered Christians who reduced him to a second class citizen in his own land, he just couldn't be a part of that.

If you'd like to read about Gandhi's relationship with Jesus and the church, read Chapter 7 of Phillip Yancy's Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. Yancy is the former editor of Christianity Today, and is a relatively conservative evangelical Christian.

Your inability to debate me on theological topics, however, has little to do with what I, believe, and I resent that implication. You cannot debate me on theology because you lack the education and understanding. You cannot debate me in theology because you refuse to consider the possiblity that God doesn't always agree with you. You cannot debate me in theology because you refuse to consider the perspectives of those who have rejected Christianity because of the bahavior of Christians.

If your faith does not inform how you treat others, and if you have no sympathy for those who have been wounded and broken by a failing institution, then you are incapable of reforming a church which is doing more harm than good for the cause of Christ.

Our dialogue is going nowhere, and it is getting there in a hurry.