Showing posts with label Christians and oppression. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christians and oppression. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The First Paul – a review

 


Authors: Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton

Reference

Borg, M.J. & Crossan, J.D. (2009). The first Paul: Reclaiming the radical visionary behind the church’s conservative icon. HarperCollins e-books.

 

Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan introduce us to the apostle Paul by providing historical contexts for his life and teachings. Early on they explain why only a small collection of documents were actually written by the apostle who wrote the first “books” in the New Testament.

Scholars affirm seven letters (aka books) were actually written by Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon.

Scholars believe the pastoral epistles were written later by other authors. These are 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Finally, scholars disagree about the authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians; however, according to Borg and Crossan, most believe these were not written by Paul.

The different teachings in the three groups of letters named above challenge readers because they offer different views on such matters as the equality of women and men as well as slavery.

In their brief biography of Paul, the authors remind us that like Jesus, Paul was a lifelong Jew. And we learn about the Roman Imperial religion that offers an important context for Paul’s writing about Jesus as Lord (instead of Caesar) and the special terms used to refer to Caesar and to Jesus. Terms like God, Son of God, and the one who brings peace to the world are applied to Roman Emperors and to Jesus.

The biography also reveals some differences between the Paul presented by the writer of Acts and by Paul in his own letters. Readers of the New Testament know Paul called himself an apostle. Borg and Crossan explore the meaning of apostle by considering who sent Paul and to whom Paul was sent.

Chapter two is particularly useful as it helps readers learn how to read one of Paul’s letters. The focus is on the short letter of Philemon and the topic is Paul’s view of slavery. After reviewing the text, the authors show how Paul’s view in Philemon differs from the views presented by the letters Paul did not write. Next, the authors provide a similar analysis on the subject of the head of the household and equality for women and men.

In chapter three, the authors look at the contents of Acts and Paul’s letters to discover areas of agreement or disagreement. In chapter four, we see how Paul contrasts Roman and early Christian theology. The focus is especially on Rome’s pursuit of peace through violence and Christ’s approach to peace through the nonviolent pursuit of justice.

Why was Christ crucified? That’s the message of chapter five. The authors see the crucifixion, a Roman method of execution, as part of Paul’s anti-imperial stance. Thus, Paul doesn’t just preach Jesus died but emphasizes Christ crucified. The authors also take on the theology of substitutionary atonement and the understanding of Jesus sacrificial death. They suggest understanding Jesus’ sacrifice as being for the sake of those he loved like a parent who might sacrifice their life so their child might live. In this view, “The death of Jesus as God’s Son is a parable of God’s love for us (p, 54).”

Chapter six deals with justification by grace through faith. The authors emphasize Paul’s focus on transformation in this life rather than a focus on the afterlife. And they do not pit faith against works. Instead, they contrast faith-without-works to works-without-faith. And they clarify that faith refers to commitment rather than an affirmation of belief statements as seems common in some branches of Christianity.

The final chapter is about Life Together “In Christ.” The authors note that the phrase “In Christ” appears more than a hundred times and it usually refers to living in community.

Reflections

I recommend The First Paul to readers interested in a scholarly examination of traditional teachings attributed to the apostle Paul. How Christians interpret Paul’s theology has had a significant impact on the lives of billions.

First, there are practical matters that have made a difference in how the church has historically viewed slavery, women, and people who experience same-sex attraction. Those Christian views largely come from the teachings of Paul or texts attributed to Paul. 

Second, there are theological matters. Many in the church have focused on the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a different way than do these authors who challenge the doctrine of atonement.

Borg and Crossan do not hesitate to consider areas of disagreement in the relevant texts. This lack of hesitation is a contrast to the resistance found in evangelical circles where clergy often take a fundamentalist approach to the texts as if the letters were dictated by God rather than produced by first century Jewish men like Paul.

One matter the authors did not address is that even letters written by Paul may have a personal bias and be subject to the limitations of human memory. Given other works by these authors, I do not think they would overlook these cognitive factors but they did not explicitly identify them when dealing with historical events such as those in Acts.

I think some evangelical women have missed out on a sound biblical argument favoring the equality of women and men when they do not distinguish between the letters written by Paul and those he probably did not write. There's a difference in Paul's affirmation of equality in those were he wrote compared to those that sound more like a taming of Paul to fit the male hierarchy in the culture.

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Friday, July 3, 2020

The Color of Compromise-Racism in Church


The Color of Compromise

The Truth about the
American Church’s
Complicity in Racism


Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton



“On July 4, 2016, as my social media feeds filled with images of American flags and friends’ backyard barbecues celebrating America’s independence, I took to Twitter and posted a picture [sic] seven African Americans picking cotton in a field with the following caption: “My family on July 4th 1776.” (From the forward by Lecrae, p. 9)

Few would disagree that American slavery was immoral. As I examine The Color of Compromise in July 2020, I am keenly aware that my lessons in American history were whitewashed. And worse, I was never exposed to the degree to which the American Christian church failed to address slavery and its legacy of racism.

Tisby tells the story of American anti-black racism in 11 chapters arranged in chronological order. However, The Color of Compromise is not just the story of racism; it is the story of what Christian leaders said and did that supported slavery and the post-slavery stereotypes, prejudices, and acts of discrimination that persist in overt and covert ways to this day. As Tisby says, racism is adaptive.

It is surely axiomatic by now that humans prefer to hang out with people like themselves. As an immigrant family, we interacted with other immigrant families as if we had a common bond. Strangely, I recently realized that a substantial proportion of the people in my book study group were born outside the US. We humans tend to like, help, and prefer those within our groups. But that natural tendency is far different from creating an economic system based on enslaving people with black skins. As Tisby writes in chapter 2, in the early years of colonial America “the colonists had not yet cemented skin color as an essential feature of life in their communities. Race was still being made (p. 26).”

In chapter 3, we are reminded that liberty was white and not black after British North Americans fought against their countrymen for liberty and justice for all. Africans fought on both sides but, as we know, the thirteen United States would not deal with the matter of slavery. By the time of the Civil War, Americans had built structures and economies based on slave labor for over 300 years1. Following the War for Independence, Christian revival meetings led by Methodists and Baptists won converts to these enthusiastic and less formal worship styles. Tisby adds the story of two famous slave-holding clergy to illustrate the support for slavery in the 1700s—George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards.

We learn more about the ugliness of chattel slavery in chapter 4. Thus, American slaves were not just men or women working to gain their freedom like servants could. Tisby quotes African American minister James W. C. Pennington:

“The being of slavery, its soul and its body, lives and moves in the chattel principle, the property principle, the bill of sale principle: the cart whip, starvation, and nakedness are its inevitable consequences.” (p. 60)

The Civil War (chapter 5) not only spilled the nation’s blood, but it split the Methodists and Baptists too. In this context, we learn how the church found a biblical basis to defend slavery.

In chapter 6, Tisby traces the rise of white supremacy and the increasing oppression of black people through intimidation and restrictions on important dimensions of life like voting. As the new century dawned, so did the promise of Pentecostalism (chapter 7). Unfortunately, the Pentecostals became segregated like the rest of society. The two world wars do not get much time in Tisby’s story. I suggest they should as President Truman ended segregation in the military in 1948.

Unfortunately, the church did too little during the 1950s and 60s (chapter 8). This is the era of Emmett Till and Rosa Parks, the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and that North Carolina moderate, Rev. Billy Graham. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a temporary high-water mark.

In chapter 9, Tisby reminds us of the rise of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority. For those who are not old enough, or who forgot, Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion in some cases before the Row v. Wade decision on abortion. Southern Baptist leader, W. A. Criswell’s view was:

“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had life separate from its mother . . . that it became an individual person.” He further explained, “It has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” (p. 181)

However, that view of abortion was about to change. Desegregation moved forward. Segregationist Bob Jones University (BJU) admitted black students, but mixed dating was prohibited. That race-based dating policy led to a loss of tax-exempt status in 1976. The Moral Majority rose to power on a platform of restoring Bible reading and Christian prayer to public schools and the wedge issue of abortion. The movement strengthened as Falwell and his organization blessed Ronald Reagan. Reagan spoke at BJU in 1980 and soon thereafter, their tax-exempt status was restored. The marriage of evangelical Christianity to the Republican party and an antiabortion rallying cry remains strong.

Chapter 10 takes us through the end of the 1900s and into the 2000s. Promise Keepers promotes racial reconciliation and offers some hope. Some Christian churches begin to diversify and in fact want to learn how to improve diversity. But the religious-political rift is exposed as black people are killed (Trayvon Martin, 2012). “Black Lives Matter” becomes a rallying cry only to be slammed by Christians who recoil at organizational links to LGBTQ rights. Tisby explains there’s a difference between an organization and a movement, but I doubt this will undo the emotionally tagged mental connection between Black Lives Matter and traditional enemies of conservative Christian America. The chapter closes with a picture of a divided church and the 2016 presidential election. Tisby reports the statistics-- 84% of Blacks voted for Clinton and especially noteworthy, 94% of black women. In contrast, 81% of white evangelicals voted for the Republican ticket.

In chapter 11, Tisby evaluates American progress. Although the external "whites only" signs are down, Blacks and Whites are segregated in society, politics, and the church. He reminds us of differentials in unemployment and incarceration. On page 195, Tisby responds to questions of “What can I do?” We can increase our awareness through books and videos and connect with Blacks and other minorities. And we can use our other gifts or talents like writing and speaking to address issues of racial and social justice. There’s more here, which makes the chapter a useful guide to readers who have now developed their awareness of racism in US society.

Tisby concludes with a short essay on the importance of being strong and courageous.

**********
I recommend The Color of Compromise to all Americans and those who want to understand racism in America. 

The years of chattel slavery and the subsequent century of oppression are unique among the world’s wealthy modern nations. The legacy of slavery has resulted in decades of white control of the federal and many state governments, wealthy multinational companies, political parties, and large church bodies. Tisby’s book will further enlighten sensitive white Christians and has the potential to energize some to act according to their gifts and resources. I do not think The Color of Compromise will reach those who do not identify with the blatant racism of the past or who are focused on the fetus and concomitant perceptions that they are fighting a spiritual battle against socialists and Marxists intent on destroying Christian America. I hope I am wrong.

The Color of Compromise is a Book and a Video Series



Watch Jemar Tisby's Trailer on YouTube



Note
1. Although Tisby gives the short story of slavery, the first slaves entered Florida in 1539 where they built St Augustine, America’s oldest city.

Worth Quoting from Tisby

“The failure of many Christians in the South and across the nation to decisively oppose the racism in their families, communities, and even in their own churches provided fertile soil for the seeds of hatred to grow. The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.”

“History demonstrates that racism never goes away; it just adapts.”

“Being complicit only requires a muted response in the face of injustice or uncritical support of the status quo.”

“there would be no black church without racism in the white church.”

“Another definition explains racism as prejudice plus power. It is not only personal bigotry toward someone of a different race that constitutes racism; rather, racism includes the imposition of bigoted ideas on groups of people.”

“Through the centuries, black people have become the most religious demographic in the United States. For instance, 83 percent of black people say they “believe in God with absolute certainty” compared to 59 percent of Hispanics and 61 percent of whites. Additionally, 75 percent of blacks say “religion is very important” to them compared to 59 percent of Hispanics and 49 percent of whites.”

“History and Scripture teaches us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.”

About the author
Jemar Tisby is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Color of Compromise, president and co-founder of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, and co-host of the podcast, Pass The Mic. jemartisby.com

About the reviewer
Geoffrey W. Sutton is an author and research psychologist with over 100 publications. His website is www.suttong.com 

Cite this review (APA)

Sutton, G. W. (2020, July 3). The color of compromise: Racism in church. SuttonReviews. https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2020/07/the-color-of-compromise.html


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Monday, July 22, 2019

Reading the Bible Again-Metaphors to Live By - by Marcus Borg



A Review of Marcus Borg’s 


Taking the Bible Seriously but Not literally.

By

Geoffrey W. Sutton


 My earliest memory of a conflict between the Bible and the observable world happened sometime in late childhood when I learned that the moon was not a light as it plainly said in my King James Version of Genesis 1:16. It was downhill from there. Like many of my friends, we learned a near literal interpretation of the Bible from parents with a limited education and churches where teachers shared a blend of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Their application of select biblical laws, commandments, and rules to contemporary life seemed strangely arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive. I should like to think Marcus Borg’s, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, would have saved me considerable puzzlement—and likely some distress. I’ll say more later but first, a summary of Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.

*****
Borg establishes the conflict in the preface. Christians are faced with two very different ways of reading the sacred text, that is, The Holy Bible. Many of us learned the “literal-factual” way. Borg offers us a “historical-metaphorical” way. The two different ways of reading the text divide Christians not just in churches but in the public arena of American politics.

 Borg divides his highly readable volume into three parts. In Part One, he provides a foundation for reading the Bible in this new way. We learn a little history of the Bible, which of course was not read by ordinary folks until people learned to read and the text became widely available. A near literalism combined with church doctrines was taught for centuries with a focus on salvation from sin and living a moral life so, in the end, you had heaven to gain. Now Borg introduces readers to the alternative view that our sacred text reveals a variety of ways people understood God and their relationship to God., Borg closes Part One by explaining what he means by the “historical-metaphorical” way of reading the Bible. Readers need to understand the historical context to appreciate how ancient Hebrews expressed their faith, but we would be left with a rather dead text if we ignored the beauty of the metaphors in play from Genesis to Revelation. In Borg’s words: “Metaphor is linguistic art or verbal art” (Location 569).

 In Part Two we learn how the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament for Christians) comes alive when we don’t have to worry about the days or sequences of creation, which of 613 laws ought to be kept, or how to make sense of the horrible ways ancient people destroyed each other in the name of God. Here, I cannot do justice to Borg’s text in a typical review because he gives numerous examples of how contemporary readers can learn that the problems of yesteryear continue to trouble us today. Then, as now, ordinary people suffered from economic exploitation by taxes and the possession of land, political oppression by kings and emperors, and religious legitimization—a nation’s leaders dictate what God ordains. Along the way, we gain insights into how to read poetry and the wisdom literature such as is found in the proverbs. We also learn how prophets challenged kings. And we glimpse how people celebrated their relationship with God.

 If you are familiar with the Bible, you won’t be surprised to learn that Part Three is about the New Testament. In three chapters, Borg summarizes how the Gospels, letters of Paul, and The Revelation can also be read in their historical context along with an appreciation of the rich metaphors that can transcend 20 centuries. He reminds us that Jesus, his followers, and all, or almost all, the writers were Jewish men thus, we learn of the importance of understanding the problem of first century Jews under the sandal of the Roman Empire and the necessity of appreciating the influence of Jewish traditions on the stories of Jesus and the metaphors of the writers. Borg is not rigid as he interprets the text. I suppose some might believe if they had enough faith, they could walk on water, but the story as metaphor suggests more than one meaning. We might learn that people with spiritual sight learn to calm their inner fears or cope with the struggles of life. I should say, these interpretations are my own thoughts as a psychologist reading Borg’s discussion of God vs. the traditional theme of angry seas, which in the gospel story were calmed by Jesus.

Paul is a problematic author for many a modern Christian—especially American women who don’t find much support in doctrines of submission, silence, and guidance on what to wear (or not wear). As others have said, we can take the edge off Paul a bit if we realize some of the texts limiting women’s roles were likely not written by Paul. And, Paul wrote most of his letters as a reply to specific questions that arose in the various Christian communities he founded or supported during his travels. We gain a bit more insight into Paul’s theology when we unpack his recurring themes of freedom and transformation developed from his Damascus Road experience. The way of becoming a new person, like the way lived out by Jesus, is a path of dying to an old way and rising to embrace a new way. In his day and now, people like Paul may be transformed following an encounter with Jesus.

Fittingly, the Revelation is at the end of the Bible, at the end of Borg’s book, and for many, a mysterious End Times story. Long ago I learned that wall charts describing the end of life as we know it lacked credibility. I suppose those complex flow charts are in someone’s attic gathering dust. But I digress. Borg offers nonscholars a brief history of the difficulty of life under the Roman Empire of the first century—a time when those under Roman domination were to worship Caesar as god. Borg provides an orderly and masterful summary of Revelation along with guidance to help readers appreciate how the vivid images relate to Hebrew history and life under Roman rule. Borg’s interpretation is in sharp contrast to futuristic interpretations that continue to scare some contemporary Christian youth while comforting the elderly with the confidence that they are on the winning side in the massive end-of-world bloody war over evil.

 In the Epilogue, Borg reiterates his point about the Bible containing different voices and encourages us to see the ancient conflicts between kings and prophets—between elite leaders who use their positions to oppress and exploit ordinary people and the voices of those who speak against injustice. He also encourages readers to think of Christianity as being about more than a list of beliefs and practices. Christianity is about relationships—relating to God and others with passion and compassion.

*****
I suppose Reading the Bible Again is for any Christian who finds that the clergy and teachers in their faith tradition seem disconnected from their life experience in the way they preach, teach, or blog about living in our complex world. For different reasons, many of us discovered that near literal interpretations of the Bible don’t make sense. Each generation of Christian youth since the 1960s has different reasons for challenging simplistic applications or applications that seem cruel and contradictory if we are to believe God is a loving and caring being.

 In the 1960s, those raised in American holiness traditions discovered the arbitrariness of rules against dancing, mixed swimming, long hair on men, tattoos, make-up, movies, jewelry, women wearing pants instead of dresses, and many other quotable prohibitions from some part of God’s Word. Not surprisingly, some left Christianity behind. Others moved on to churches that were more concerned with doing good than trying to live according to rules made for ancient Israelite tribes or for the Jews and gentiles in early Christian communities.

I close this review with a reminder to consider the common metaphor when reading the Bible.

 A metaphor is a figure of speech in which the writer uses a word or phrase to state that a primary object of focus (e.g., person, idea, event, or activity) is something different in order to reveal an important characteristic or feature of the primary object.

Biblical examples: Jesus is a lamb, vine, bread. Peter is a rock.


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            Somewhere along the way to the 21st century, educated youth learned to appreciate the scientific explanations for the origin of amazing landscapes and the diversity of life on the planet. We learned so much about birth and death and we benefit from advances in medicine. Slowly, scientists offered more and more explanations relevant to daily life. And many of those scientists happened to be women. Perhaps making matters worse for those insisting on near literal interpretations of the Bible were advances in the behavioural sciences, which upended thinking about mental health, sexuality, and people who experienced hallucinations and delusions. Christians turned away from clergy to find answers to life problems in the offices of physicians, psychologists, and a host of other professionals who offered evidence-based treatments for infertility, contagious diseases, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and more.

            Moreover, in recent decades, a cacophony of evangelical voices seem at odds with one another over biblical perspectives on the role of women in the church and society, birth control, sex education, the nature of marriage, parenting, abortion, same-sex relationships, and the allocation of church and social resources to help the poor of one’s own nation as well as the world. Of recent concern has been the strident rhetoric used by politically active American Christians to condemn those who do not share their political views.

            I think there may be another value of this book to all those who work with Christians who find themselves distressed because of some application of the Bible to their life. They may feel guilty, angry with God, or conflicted over biblical teaching regarding some past or planned act. On the one hand, such people may find helpful guidance from their local clergy. On the other hand, they may consult a mental health professional hoping to find a different opinion. Caution is in order here because a person’s faith can be a significant part of personal identity. However, clinicians of any faith or no faith will likely find Borg’s work instructive for understanding Christians.

            Reading the Bible Again is for all those who wish there was another way to embrace the sacred text of their childhood without compromising the facts about the natural world, their intelligence, and respect for all people regardless of their natal sex. Borg doesn’t have all the answers, but he does offer an alternative way of respecting the Bible again and, more importantly, reconnecting with the God who has inspired people for thousands of years to champion the causes of the downtrodden, sick, poor, and social outcasts.

*****
            Borg stated there are only two ways to read the texts. And I think he’s right. The near literalist view continues to dominate conservative evangelical churches and the postings of their adherents on social media sites. Those educated evangelicals who try to mix some literalism with some metaphors end up with an unsatisfactory concoction, which can only lead to intelligent young people throwing up their metaphorical hands and walking away.

            The time has come to follow Jesus’ lead. Like his rule about the Sabbath Day, old rules were meant for an ancient society, the Sabbath was made for man. If you try to put new wine into old wine skins, they will burst. Being free in Christ means finding out what it means to love God by loving others in one’s sphere of life. Christians live out Paul’s theme of dying to oneself and rising again when engaged in life-enhancing pursuits for the wellbeing of those around us.

            As Borg’s subtitle reads, Christians can “take the Bible seriously but not literally.”
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Book Reference


Reading the Bible Again is available on Google and Amazon

DOWNLOAD A PDF VERSION OF THIS REVIEW: Academia  

Cite this Review (APA style)

Sutton, G. W. (2019). Reading the Bible Again-Metaphors to live by. Sutton Reviews. Retrieved from https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2019/07/metaphors-to-live-by-reading-bible-again.html


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Marcus J Borg Bio

Marcus J. Borg (1942-2015) was an American theologian from Fergus Falls, Minnesota whose research focused on the historical Jesus. He was educated at the University of Oxford, Concordia College, Union Theological Seminary, and Mansfield College. He was associated with the Anglican communion and was a professor at Oregon State University until his retirement in 2007.

Author Bio

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Psychology whose research focused on various topics in the psychology of religion. He earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Missouri. See below to find books and other publications.


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