Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Crossan in the middle?
by David Krueger

John Dominic Crossan has a brilliant mind. He is an Irish-American religious scholar best-known for co-founding the controversial ‘Jesus Seminar’. He is professor emeritus of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago and has authored more than 20 books about the historical Jesus. He has become one of the ‘go-to’ scholars for any television production about Jesus or the Bible, and is especially influential in the field of Historical Jesus studies.

Crossan is, shall we say, less than orthodox in his views concerning Jesus. His books maintain that Jesus was nothing more than an itinerant Jewish wise man who did not die as a substitute for sinners or rise from the dead, but instead became a follower of John the Baptist, and preached a social gospel of inclusiveness, tolerance, and liberation through his parables. Ultimately he was crucified by the Romans as a nuisance. There was nothing divine or supernatural about him, whatsoever.

Crossan maintains that the Gospels were never intended to be taken literally by their authors. They are not historically reliable documents that relate the ministry and message of Jesus, but early Christian propaganda written to compete with the rival Mystery Religions of he day. None of the miracles can be taken literally, and most of what the Gospels record Jesus saying really was not said by Jesus at all. He believes that miracles like the virgin birth, and resurrection of Jesus are "insurmountable obstacles" to modern people as they encounter the New Testament.

What I find so interesting about Crossan is that he now considers himself squarely "in the theological middle" regarding his views of Jesus and the Gospels. Crossan recently wrote: " ... we ended the last century with two visions of Jesus. One vision was of the literal Jesus – the figure obtained from a harmony of the four New Testament Gospels. The other vision was the historical Jesus – the figure reconstructed through those and other (non-canonical) gospels, behind those and other gospels, before those and other gospels." Because – according to liberal scholarship – the four Gospels of the New Testament are not to be relied upon as historically accurate accounts of the life of Christ, Crossan believes that the historical Jesus – the real Jesus – must be "reconstructed" using these and other gospels which the church long ago rejected such as The Gospel of Thomas, The Secret Gospel of Mark, The Apocryphon of James, and many others. The result, Crossan believes, is that the "literal Jesus" of the New Testament masquerades as the "historical Jesus" of twentieth-century scholarship.

According to Crossan, there is now a third vision of Jesus beginning to emerge that is to the theological left of his own liberal views. This vision, he writes, is of a "fictional Jesus" – the figure married in a novel (The Da Vinci Code), crucified in a film (Mel Gibsons’ The Passion), and buried in a documentary (The Lost Tomb of Jesus, aired on the Discovery Channel). Crossan writes: "There is even a growing far-left wing proposing that Jesus never existed and that it was all an early Christian conspiratorial fabrication. So now there are three divergent base-versions of Jesus – the literal, the historical and the fictional. Crossan describes himself as "bemused" and "satisfied" that he would now find himself in the middle of theological scholarship concerning the life and nature of Jesus and New Testament studies.

But is Crossan truly in the "middle" of scholastic opinion concerning Jesus? Regardless of his self-proclaimed middle-ground in biblical scholarship, Crossan remains squarely on the far-left theologically. For Crossan to look at those who are patently absurd in there views of Jesus, and then proclaim, "See, I’m not at wack-o as they are," is not a good measure of orthodoxy. Heresy is heresy after all whether one is just academically left or outlandishly wack-o far-left. Crossan does not deny that Jesus actually lived. He does deny everything divine or supernatural associated with our Savior’s life. Crossan’s "historical Jesus" bears little, if any, resemblance to the "literal Jesus" of the Scriptures. Traditional, orthodox faith, however – backed up by solid historical, and textual evidence – reveal that the literal Jesus of the Gospels is, in fact, the actual historical Jesus. There is no difference between the two.

It is because of men like John Domini Crossan that the Apostle Jude wrote: "Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." (Jude 3-4, NIV). Crossan is representative of many legitimate bible scholars who openly deny most of the foundational truths of the Bible and 2000 years of church orthodoxy. They represent men who have crept in unnoticed who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Crossan in the middle? I think not!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Quake at the Lake that didn’t materialize
by David Krueger

On Tuesday evening of this week, a moderate-sized earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay area. It broke windows , flipped over store shelves and rattled residents, but did relatively little damage. In the weeks preceding the annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention, some were predicting a convention-wide, mega-magnitude ecclesiastical quake that threatened to split the convention wide open and send waves of repercussions crashing onto the shores of associations and local churches. Thankfully, that event did not take place. The forecasted, and much feared, Quake at the Lake simply never materialized. Missouri Baptists left Tan-Tar-A much relieved, and more united than many thought we were.

The emphasis on prayer in the weeks before the convention, and during the annual meeting itself, I’m convinced, played a major role in easing the fault-line of tension that has existed in our state convention. Though I was unable to attend any of the scheduled prayer meetings, I did commit myself to prayer, and repeatedly asked the Spirit of the living God to reveal in me any spirit of bitterness or feelings of animosity that I might possibly be harboring toward a fellow Missouri Baptist. It is impossible to hate a brother or sister in Christ when you are praying for them. I arrived at Tan-Tar-A with a cleansed heart, and a fresh desire for unity of spirit.

When it comes to denominational life, I have attempted to live by several principles.

First, I am willing to fellowship with anyone. The tie that binds is dependent upon our relationship with Jesus, who is the Christ. It is our relationship with Him that puts us in relationship and fellowship with each other. The Apostle John wrote: "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:3, ESV). Here is the biblical basis for our fellowship. It’s a fellowship that is not – and should not be – dependent upon a similarity of political agendas within convention life.

As Baptists, we will always have disparate views on something, i.e. speaking in tongues, worship styles, evangelistic methodologies, etc. We should never have disparate views, however, on what binds us together; a mutual love for Jesus, that translates into a mutual love for each other. The Scriptures teach that we are to forgive one another, and encourage one another, and comfort one another, and pray for one another, and to bear one another’s burdens, and to accept one another, and even to submit to one another. To fellowship in love through the spirit in Christ does not mean laying aside our convictions concerning issues that face us as a convention. It does mean that the issues do not preclude a genuine love for and desire to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. I have always believed and consistently preached that men of good conscience can passionately disagree on the issues facing our convention, and still come together at the end of the day in genuine Christian fellowship.

I had the opportunity to share for a few moments with Bruce McCoy during the HLG reception on Tuesday evening. I shared with him something he already knew – that I had been vocally and editorially opposed to Save Our Convention’s agenda. That’s never been any secret. But I also had an opportunity to share with him that I consider him a brother in Christ, whom I am not in any way embarrassed by or fearful of being seen with. I met for the first time at this convention Darren Casper, and Tim Cowen; brothers with whom I have had passionate debates on the MoBaptist List. It’s always a joy to put faces to the names of brothers I regularly converse with and to discover a commonality and comradery that simply cannot be communicated via email. I have also discovered a kindred heart in Micah Fries. We first met in San Antonio this summer during the Southern Baptist Convention. I had an absolutely delightful time with Micah and his wife, Tracy during dinner on Monday evening.

In this eclectic group of Christian brothers I include men like Don Hinkle, Kent Cochren, Kerry Messer, and Rodney Albert. These are men with whom I have a deep theological affinity , and similar views concerning most of the issues facing the Missouri Baptist Convention. But the tie that binds me to Kent Cochren, is exactly the same tie that binds me to Jim Shaver or Micah Fries – the Lord, Jesus, and that is a tie that supercedes anything that takes place in the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

Second, I thoroughly believe in the foundational principle of Baptist polity: One Baptist with one vote, voting their conscience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, with the majority ruling and the minority choosing to cooperate with the will of the majority.

Many years ago while pastoring a church on the West side of Missouri, I learned a valuable lesson from Esther Catron. Esther was an energetic seventy-five-year old who led the children’s department of our Sunday School. She ran her own business, and took care of an invalid husband. She was passionate about discipleship training and was often my ‘go-to’ person when, as a young pastor who had not grown up Baptist, I needed guidance on Baptist practice. One year the church was deciding on whether-or-not to begin a ministry that was going to involve considerable time and money. Esther was ‘agin it. She spoke against it in the Church Council meeting, but was out-voted. She spoke against it, and voted against it at the subsequent business meeting where the church approved proceeding with the event. The next week a sizable check was received from Esther for the ministry that she had so thoroughly opposed. When I mentioned it to her, she responded. "I was against it, and I voted my conscience, but my church voted to do it, so I’m going to support it." Through that action, Esther taught me one of the most important lessons about Baptist life. You vote your conscience at every level of Baptist life, whether it’s the local church, or the local association, or the state convention, or even the national convention, and if you do not prevail in that vote, you choose to cooperate any way.

I have been critical of Save Our Convention’s agenda. As I said earlier, this is no secret. I fully supported the nominations of Mike Green, Jay Scribner, Roger Moran, and Jerry Williams, and voted for each one of them, believing that they were the best choices to guide the Missouri Baptist Convention this coming year. That was my conviction. Not one of them was elected. I still choose to cooperate with the Missouri Baptist Convention and will pray for each of the four men who were elected. We must not act like the kid who owns the bat and ball, and threatens to take them and leave the game if the other kids don’t agree to play by his rules.

We all know the adage that The majority is not always right. But as Baptists, who come together as believers, born of the Spirit, we must believe that God is providentially at work in the life of each messenger, and that He guides them in their decisions. In this manner He moves and works his will in the life of our convention as a whole. It is God who began a good work in each one of us and who will bring his work to completion in us.

I repeatedly told people in the days leading up to the convention that I trust Missouri Baptists. I trust them because I fully believe in the providence of God to accomplish His will in and through us – sometimes in spite of us. As the Spirit of God moved over the face of the deep to bring order out of chaos during the days of creation, so I believe that God’s Spirit still hovers over the chaos of our lives, or our churches, and even our state convention and seeks to bring order out of chaos, thus bringing glory to Himself.

Lastly, we are going to have to agree to disagree at times. When the CBF-supporting moderates were in control of the MBC, this was often onerous to many of us, and yet we did it. We disagreed with what was taking place in our state convention, but we cooperated any way. We supported the Cooperative Program, and we gave to the mission offerings. We came to the convention year-afer-year and voted our conscience and usually got voted down. Rarely, if ever, did the conservative nominee for a convention office win election. Moderates controlled the nominating committee, and allowed only a token number of conservatives onto the various boards and commissions. And still we chose to cooperate.

Now the conservative resurgence in firmly in place, conservatives are in control, and still we have some disagreements. That’s because we’re Baptists and thoroughly committed to being guided by the authority of the Scriptures. The problem, as we all know, is that on some issues we can have honest differences of interpretation. This is one of the burdens that come with fellowship among Baptists. We each have the tendency to believe that our position on a matter is the only proper position to take, and we don’t understand why the other guy can’t see it our way. The question is: "Will we, as theological conservatives, allow these issues to hinder our fellowship and cooperation to the point of disunity and separation, or will we agree to disagree on some issues and cooperate for the sake of Kingdom growth?" Nowhere is this question more obvious than on the issue of abstinence form beverage alcohol.

We heard much this last week on the "alcohol issue." David Tolliver addressed it in his sermon, as did Mike Green and Rodney Albert. During the last business session, messengers declined to support the Resolution Committee’s counsel not to do so, and instead voted to bring to the floor for consideration a resolution on the consumption of beverage alcohol. It was the exact same resolution that was passed at the SBC annual meeting two years ago. It was clear that the majority of the messengers and all the speakers who addressed the issue believe that the Scriptures mandate a position on this issue that not all of us believe that the Scriptures mandate. Some of us believe that to take such a position strikes at the sufficiency of the Scriptures themselves. We have here, a clear difference of interpretation. The question is not, "Should we abstain?" I am of the opinion that we should. It’s the wisest choice. It’s the mature choice. It’s the Christian-brother-honoring choice. It’s even the most God-glorifying choice. But I say again: The question is not "Should we abstain?" The question is, "Is it Scriptural to maintain that the occasional consumption of a low-alcoholic-content drink such as wine or beer or a wine cooler is, always has been and always will be sinful?" There are those brothers among us – such as myself – who believe that it is not always necessarily sinful to do so, even though we would never, ever choose to do so. This is a matter of interpretation that puts me squarely at odds with the resolution that was passed (or at least several statements contained therein), and with some men whom I deeply respect and consider close brothers in Christ.

Bearing with one another is sometimes hard work, but it’s always worth the effort. Example: Over the last year, Kent Cochern has become a dear brother in Christ to me. I enjoy his fellowship and his friendship, and he mine. But Kent thinks I’m wrong about this "drinking stuff." (Although there are many, many aspects about the issue in which we are in total agreement). Kent loves me anyway. I may never convince Kent that my interpretation is the correct stance, but I love him anyway. Our friendship is worth the effort of bearing with one another on this issue.

I end with this thought for our convention: "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV)