Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Two Paradigms

"A Catholic priest once said in a sermon, 'the Bible is true, and some of it happened" Quoted by Marcus Borg in his book entitled The Heart of Christianity (2003).

The idea that N.T. belief involves intellectual assent to a group of propositions is fairly recent in the history of Christianity, coming in with the advent of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment unfortunately divorced modern man from a consciousness of spirit, and condemned us to a purely material viewpoint.

That being true the Bible, the creeds, other Christian artifacts only have reality when perceived concerning material events. Such as:

"If Jonah didn't spend three days in the belly of the big fish, then there's no basis for my faith"; these were the words of a young theologue from Mississippi in the O.T. class at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. A class mate with a different viewpoint replied:

"Whether Jonah spent three days in the fish's belly-- I really don't know. But one thing I do know: I was blind and now I see", referring to his own awakening experience, which he compared to the statement of the blind man healed by Jesus, as recorded in John 9.

One student confessed that his faith depended upon intellectual assent to all the happenings reported in the Bible. The other had had an experience upon which his faith was founded.

Before the Enlightenment belief meant trust, faithfulness, commitment. These are non-material categories. Religionists since that time have tended to major on facts.

Borg referred to that as the Old Paradigm and emphasis on the spiritual meaning of the Bible as the Emerging Paradigm, which roughly describes what have been known as fundamentalists and progressives.

About 1960 I read an essay on American Christianity that predicted that conflict in the church would be much more on that basis than on any denominational differences.

11 comments:

david said...

I recall spending a longish train ride with a young Baptist seminarian. I told her imagine for a moment -- all the names for God mentioned in scripture are not really names at all -- they're job descriptions. Lord of Hosts. Creator. Redeemer. They do not name God so much as tell us what role God plays in our lives. They don't tell us who God is.She nodded. Yes. I can see that.

Even the word God.She didn't like where that took her.

Larry said...

Right! In itself God is nothing but a three letter word. It carries whatever meaning we choose to attach to it.

Borg talked about the students who came to him after class and said, "that's all very well, but I don't really believe in God. Borg said, "tell me about the God you don't believe in."

That rejoinder is very apt to develop some commonality for most of those young athests.

Jon said...
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Jon said...
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Jon said...

Over the last several years, I've come to experience God more and more as non-personal. (I use that word instead of "impersonal" which tends to be off-putting to many.) I now see all names and descriptions of God as metaphors. When I'm around people who unquestioning "believe" God is a distinct personal entity, I have to do some inner translation, especially when it comes to "God's will."

I'm convinced that 99% of the time when someone says, "God's will is . . ." it could be better said as "What I really think is . . . "

I've been hangin' around evangelicals the last few Sundays. Many, many translations.

Larry said...

I know the feeling, Jon. I spent the first half of my life surrounded by them. My life's journey could almost be called an attempt to get away from them. I don't seek their company much at the present time.

Of course there are evangelicals and evangelicals. I'm an evangelical in the real sense of the term. It has been used to designate a certain kind of Christian, better described as fundamentalist, it seems to me.

Al said...

I'm a little confused.
So their was a shift to a more material or literal interpretation of the Bible after the Enlightenment? And prior to that a looser more metaphorical, more experiental view of the Word?
The Emerging Paradigm is more literal and that is associated with Fundamentals and Progressives?
Just trying to be clear....Al

Larry said...

Al, It could easily be misleading, I see. The Enlightenment led to the literal interprations of the "Old Paradigm". The "New Paradigm" might be called Post-Enlightenment in this sense.

This Paragraph: "Borg referred to that [tending to major on facts] as the Old Paradigm and emphasis on the spiritual meaning of the Bible as the Emerging Paradigm, which roughly describes what have been known as fundamentalists [majoring on facts] and progressives [emphasis on the spiritual meaning].

Al, it's the slavery to the factual of our materialist culture that prevents fundamentalists from seeing anything really spiritual (metaphorical, poetic, mythopoeic) in scripture.

Al said...

"Whether Jonah spent three days in the fish's belly-- I really don't know. But one thing I do know: I was blind and now I see"

Sums up the progressive, emerging paradigm, yes?

Larry said...

That would be an imaginative way of encapsulating it, Al. As I understand it, it places experience of God above Church or Bible. As do Quakers.

gratefulbear said...

In the Anglican tradition, we place experience right alongside scripture, reason, and tradition.

I like the example from Jonah because the book of Jonah is particularly meaningful to me. Whether the "belly of the whale" part is actually literally true or not is irrelevant to me. I see a lot of Jonah in myself: the anger, the impatience, the unwillingness to move beyond my own rigid definitions of what God "should" or "should not" do. And I would hope to learn the lessons God tried to teach Jonah, about the universality of God's love and about God's concern for all creation.

Thanks for this post -- I always enjoy reading about Marcus Borg.