Wednesday, February 27, 2008

book review, part 2--the secret message of jesus--the reimagined/deconstructed sermon on the mount

I've sometimes thought that if I were to a psychologist or phyciatrist or counselor or some other kind of wise guy, I would find it an interesting study in human thought to have my patients re-write the stories and words of Jesus as they would imagine he said them or did them.

For example, here's McLaren's retelling of part of the sermon on the mount, from p. 15 of the book.

Do you want to know who will be blessed? Not the powerful ones with lots of maney and weapons. No, the poor will be blessed. Not the ones who can shout the loudest and get their way. No, the meek will be blessed. Not the ones who kill their enemies. No, the ones who are persecuted for doing what's right. Not those who play it safe, but those who stand up for the sake of justice. Not the clever and the sly, but the pure of heart. Not those who make war. No, those who make peace.

There is so much here to have so much fun with...

For example, Jesus' words were "blessed are the poor in spirit". Can we really equate 'poor in spirit' with 'poor in material things'? If McLaren really believed that the poor are the ones who are blessed, why does he say he wants to help them? Really, if poverty is such a blessed state, why would he want to help people out of it? In fact, instead of helping the poor out of their poverty, wouldn't he much rather want to help those not in that state of blessedness into it? Granted, his economic policy could be said to be "anti-rich", if not socialistic, and as I read in a "Runaways" comic a bit ago, "Capitalism may be the unequal distribution of wealth, but Communism is the equal distribution of poverty".

And I find it odd that one who seems to be against those who shout loud and try to make things go their own ways is now into political activism--Deep Shift and Sojournors and all that. I can't help but find that ironic.

To go out of order a bit, where in the list of the beatitudes do we see anything about "those who stand up for the sake of justice"? Maybe it's something being read in by the author? Find round hole (or hammer one in if you have to), and put in square peg (perhaps with the previously mentioned hammer).

And, of course, one can't be 'clever and sly' and not be pure in heart? Not that McLaren is above being (or attempting to be) clever and sly, heck his whole book is about Jesus being so clever and sly that people calling themselves Christians have missed His "secret message", until of course McLaren and friends found it again after 2000 some odd years.

McLaren deals elsewhere with the supposed (read: read in) pacifism of the New Testament, in a chapter called "The Peaceable Kingdom" which is late in the book. It's always amazing what people can read into the NT about pacifism when--

1. There is no reputiation in the NT of any of the wars and fighting which fills the Old Testament
2. There are three NT encounters between believers or Christ Himself and military personnel, and in none of them are military people condemned and told to leave their jobs and protest the man and become flower children.
3. In fact, as even McLaren himself points out in the peaceable kingdom chapter, John the Baptist doesn't tell the soldiers to leave their jobs, and as he doesn't point out, Jesus strongly praises the faith of the centurion who came to Jesus to heal his servant, and it was another centurion named Cornelius who was the one to whom Peter was sent to open up the Gospel to the Gentiles.
4. We have accounts of Jesus making a whip and taking it to money-changers in the Temple, and telling his disciples to get swords. One would assume that Jesus made use of that whip, perhaps on persons though we are not told that way or this, and we may assume that Jesus meant for his disciples to use their swords should the time come.

So, yes, from such scant or even nonexistent material we get the teaching that Christians have no place in the military (btw McLaren (dare I say reluctantly) admits the believers have a place in the military).

I think I'll end with a couple of quotes from Chesterton in 'Orthodoxy', in the chapter "The Paradoxes of Christianity", from a couple of different places in that chapter.

It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Leon did. The Quakers (we were told) were the only characteristic Christians; and yet the massacres of Cromwell and Alva were characteristic Christian crimes. What could it all mean? What was this Christianity which always forbade war and always produced wars? What could be the nature of the thing which one could abuse first because it would not fight, and second because it was always fighting? In what world of riddles was born this monstrous murder and this monstrous meekness? The shape of Christianity grew a queerer shape every instant.


So it is also, of course, with the contradictory charges of the anti-Christians about submission and slaughter. It IS true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it IS true that those who fought were like thunderbolts
and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be SOME good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be SOME good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. The Tolstoyans, having all the scruples of monks, simply became monks. The Quakers became a club instead of becoming a sect. Monks said all that Tolstoy says; they poured out lucid lamentations about the cruelty of battles and the vanity of revenge. But the Tolstoyans are not quite right enough to run the whole world; and in the ages of faith they were not allowed to run it. The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid. And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is--Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? THAT is the problem the Church attempted; THAT is the miracle she achieved.

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