Musings

Written by:  Robert D Brinsmead

Most of the rival deities to Yahweh were dying and rising gods, even like the old nature or vegetation deities. These dying and rising divinities were often associated with the season such as death in winter and rising again in Spring.  Against all this, the OT emphasises “the living God”, the God who does not die.  In the OT laws, death is the ultimate uncleanness and separation from the living God.  Any contact with death rendered a person unclean, which means something that is alien or foreign to the living God.   Judaism focussed on this life, not the next.

Considering that the earth has been given over to mankind to rule, govern, subdue and overcome – not as a ready-made Promised Land, but one that is a Promised Land only in potential.  How many thousands of years did it take us to find out that the most destructive things in this world are unseen bacteria; pathogens discovered only when mankind exercised his right to find out how his world really works.  If mankind remained dominated by religion, including the Bible, the great leap forward of the Enlightenment and the Age of Science would not have taken place.  When Copernicus had found that the earth goes around the sun, Luther declared that if “that great Copernicus had studied his Bible he would have found that God commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth.”  Ah, good thing Copernicus and those that followed him to question the old authorities, including the religious authorities, did not stay cowed by what they read in the Bible.  In one sense humanity made progress when it got its head out of the Bible.  Suppose Darwin kept consulting the book of Genesis instead of observing the real world and daring to think and reason how it all came about, especially when he sailed to Australia on the Beagle.  It all comes down to what is our ultimate source of authority.  To what extent do good anthropologists, geologists, physicists, astronomers depend on Biblical authority for their findings?

Looking back at theological history, it is clear that the Catholics in the Council of Trent (Counter Reformation) blurred the distinction between what God has done for us (in Christ) and what God does in us (regeneration, sanctification, infused righteousness).  It was a doctrine of justification by faith that could not give one the comfort of standing before God with a good conscience because it was focused on the importance of an “infused” righteousness.  On the other hand, a lot of Protestant history also proved that it sometimes lost sight of the unity of the “for us” and the “in us.”

The ten year apprenticeship I did on this Reformation issue drilled me on the importance of maintaining distinctions and maintaining unity and not allowing one to destroy the other.  I have found that the principle operates well in all areas of theological thought.  It seems to me that so much of the New Age teaching if acted on would destroy the human relationship to the transcendent Other and open the door to some dreadful “in and in and in” navel gazing subjectivism.  I encountered this at Berkeley University Campus during the Jesus Revolution.  I asked a participant to describe for me the whole basis of his experience.  With great enthusiasm he replied, “You go in and in.  And after that you go in and in and in and in.”  It was a religious experience based on the ultimate kind of navel gazing.  I encountered the same thing in the Charismatic Movement.  Then I came home and went out to the great inaugural Hippie kind of Festival in Australia which was held at Nimbin (still the drug town or at least the alternative culture town of Australia.)  Anyhow, at this Festival I talked to a guy who was chanting Hari Krishna stuff.  He told me he had been in the earlier Jesus Movement.  I asked him if that gave him a high experience?  Oh yes, he said, the Jesus Movement gave me a high.  Then I asked him why he got into the Hari Krishna movement and  did it give him a high like the Jesus Movement?  At this point his eyes shone and he said with enthusiasm, “It gives me an even greater high.”

Perhaps I’m too much of a rationalist to become a good mystic.  Like that ruler said to Paul, “Much learning has made you made.”

I would regard the RDB who wrote Sabbatarianism Re-Examined as a Biblicist, because I treated the Bible as the authority on the subject and reasoned the whole case on what the Bible taught.  I didn’t bring in arguments from common sense, from the impracticalities of Sabbatarianism in a modern world, I did not appeal to other sources of authority – and at the time I did not think that the bible was inerrant, and I never believed in verbal inspiration like many Evangelicals.  All through the 1970’s when I championed the Reformational forensic justification by faith I was Biblicist.  If Paul taught it, then that was the truth of the matter.  That settled it for me.

I began to move away from Biblicism when I understood Paul’s argument, especially to the Galatians, on the meaning of “not under the law.” In the first place this meant not being under the guidance, instruction, authority, regulations, or dominion of the law.”   By law I understood that this was talking about first the Torah understood as the Law of Moses, that the Law of Moses was more about Lore than Regulation.   But in the uses of the time of all the NT authors and speakers, including Jesus, Law (nomos) could also mean the Psalms and the Prophets; that is Holy Scripture.  Under the law meant being under the authority and regulations of what could variously and interchangeably be called Nomos (Torah), gramma (the written code) or graphe (the holy scriptures).  In short, it meant the whole package of the Jewish religion.

But then I began to understand that in principle it meant any religion – not just the old written codes of Judaism but any written code, Confession or Faith.  It would include, as I explained to a conservative Presbyterian friend, living under the Westminster Confession.

During the 80’s I understood that “under the law” meant “Biblicism.”  It would mean, in principle, not being “under Paul.”  It meant not being under any religion.  This was for me the dawn of “religionless Christianty” –  it was beyond what even Bonhoeffer advocated.  The other side of not being “under the law” was to be over it, lord of it as the son of man is supposed to be lord of the Sabbath (as Jesus said), to be lord of the created order (Genesis l and Psalm 8).  When humans of the Enlightenment got their head out of the Bible and began to look at the real world, the triumph of rationalism and science over religion and superstition opened up human understanding of a better cosmology, to the world of germs and genes and atoms and evolution.  Enlightened humans did not argue, like men of the Middle Ages, how many teeth a horse had according to Aristotle, but they began to look into the horse’s mouth to count the teeth themselves.  They accepted no authority except the authority of observable and reasonable evidence.  As Huxley said, they did not submit to any authority as such because blind faith was the only unpardonable sin.  In the words of the world’s first Science Body, the Royal Society, they adopted the motto (in Latin) which in translation reads, “Take no man’s word for it.”

So with this new-found freedom and responsibility over the created order, men dared to bring to the Bible the same investigative mind as they brought to science.  Thus about 200 years ago the real science of Biblical criticism in all its forms – historical criticism, textual criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism – was unleashed.  As a very latecomer to the necessity of this kind of scepticism and the shunning blind faith as the one unpardonable sin, I got seriously started in Biblical criticism during the 80’s – all the fruit of my understanding Paul’s freedom from living under the dominion of the law – which included any written expression of faith and religion.  It was because the early Christians did not understand this, that they, having being released from bondage to the old law, soon found themselves in bondage to what was called the new law.  New writings soon did what the old writings did, and so the new religion of Christianity became a greater tyranny that the old Judaism.

So it was that one of my last publications during the 80’s was called Farewell to Religion – and one of the sections in that was called “Freedom from Biblicism.”  Any appeal to texts in the Bible as a basis of authority for what we believe or should believe is Biblicism.  But this freedom gives us the freedom to cite the Bible just as we might cite a saying from Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela or anyone else, not because that source is our authority, but because what is said is so well said and so transparently appealing and reasonable, that what is being said carries its own authority. Thus Paul could even cite the words of the Philistines, “Quit yourselves like men and be strong,” as being true on the very word’s self-evident authority.

Something does not have to come from the Bible to resonate with me. Shakespeare, for instance has some passages which resonate with me.  Luther could say things in a way that could give a man goose bumps. He could say things about Jesus Christ as powerfully as Paul.  I used to repeat some his sayings, and they had great effect.  The right drop of ink can still make a million think . I can no longer give a status or a level of inspiration to the Bible that I can’t give to any other literature.  I am in this sense a refugee from the ghetto of Bibliomania.  I could write reams on the harm that reverence and submission to the Bible has done in the course of human history.  The old book had a lot to do with keeping civilization in the Dark Ages.   A good thing that those who led the world into the age of the Enlightenment, science and to the world of liberal democratic freedoms were not too shackled to the Bible.  A good thing that rationalism and reason triumphed over religious superstitions.

I suggest we are expressing this “nothing” even better than Luther.  I would say to Luther, “Yes Luther, we are saved by grace alone (sola gratia) and I believe all you say about “being accepted in spite of being unacceptable.”  But what we are clarifying is this:  the love of God that keeps no score of wrongs and sees only the best in every person is so overwhelming and scandalously free that it did not have to be won, purchased, earned, or merited by the blood atonement or perfect obedience of a Christ.  As even the prophets of the OT testified, it does not require any sacrifice or offering of any firstborn for the sin of my soul.  They said it clearly that God blots out sins, throws them behind his back, does not bring them to remembrance for any other reason than God is faithful to his “covenant of love.”  That is why the Prophets were against the sacrificial system, and that’s why Jesus was against the sacrificial system.  He did not die to become the real sacrifice for sin, for love requires no sacrifice, atonement, pay-back, but he died protesting against the sacrificial system.  It was the evil priests who introduced the sacrifices, and these had no part in the original Law.   God loves us apart from anything Christ (a mythical construct) did and forgives us for his own sake apart from anything Christ did.  So I would educate Luther not to put such a dark cloud over the grace of God as to make it all conditional on what a mythical Christ did to propitiate an angry God.  Love is gracious and needs no reasons or justifications to forgive.  That was the message of the OT prophets and that was the teaching of Jesus.

So let me summarize my journey that was all about my apprehension of the grace of God:

Stage one:  the 60’s:  The Awakening:  perfection by grace, you don’t have to earn it, it is a gift of the Judgment

Stage two, the 70’s:  Evangelical Adventism:   You don’t have to wait for this gift of grace, it is ours now by faith (righteousness by faith).

Stage three, the 80’s:  Farewell to religion: grace is attached to no religious conditions (the real meaning of “not under the law, but under grace”).

Stage four:  No to all Christology:  embracing an absolutely no conditions grace.

My brother just commented today how unreasonable is the claim of “special revelation” in the Bible – to propose that God only spoke his word once long before the age when most people could even read or write.  Even as late as the time of Jesus, only 3% of the general population were literate.  When the book of Acts refers to preaching the Word or spreading the word, it was, if you look at the context, referring to the orally proclaimed gospel.  There was very little writing about Jesus and Christ until three generations after it all started anyway.  No two people will tell a story exactly alike or use exactly the same words, and even when one person repeats a story, no two stories are exactly the same.  Paul did not say that faith comes by reading, but that it comes by hearing the Word – that is, as it is spread by one living person to another living person – for life begets life and the “spirit of faith” begets the spirit of faith.

Anyway, it does become a stretch to believe that God “spoke” only in an illiterate age, and perhaps even what is more difficult to swallow, in a pre-scientific age when people were much more ignorant, superstitious and credulous of fantastical stories, how could a modern educated man believe in a talking snake, and that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still?  But the one that takes the cake with me is the story of the priests of Egypt versus Aaron and Moses, each side turning their rods into snakes and the superiority of Aaron and Moses manifested in their snakes eating the snakes created out of the rods of the priests.

Why should you believe Jesus who claimed no vision, no authority, no signs.  He does not teach by saying “thus saith the Lord,” “the Bible says” “God told me,” I had a vision, I am the Messiah so listen to me.  Should we believe Muhammed because he said it all came to him by the angel Gabriel?  What weight should we give to “heavenly visions”  except to judge what is said, simply by what is said?  I claim to see further than Paul.  I’ve learned some things from him and stand on his shoulders to see further.  But more importantly, unlike Paul I make no special claims based on visions and revelations.  The authority for what is said is in what is said.

Wat about Paul’s teaching that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church… and saying she should obey and be in subjection to a man just like a believer is subject to Christ.  And what about his instruction to slaves?  Stay slaves!   And what about his reason to show kindness to our enemies?  To heap coals of fire on their head!

“Not under the law” means not being under Paul, not being under the Bible, not being under any religious tradition.  That Paul did not carry out his own teaching about not being “under the law” (whether nomos, gramma or graphe), that the new covenant is not something that can be written out like a letter, what if he failed to carry his own insight through to its proper and logical end?  It just means that we have to stand on his shoulders and see further than he could see.

The question is, was Paul an epileptic or subject to grand mal seizures like Ellen White and Muhammad.  Remember, those who were with Paul did not see or hear a thing.  Ellen White used to come out of some her visionary episodes almost blind from the “light.”  This is common to visionaries in the Eastern religious traditions as well.  Some of these cults actually damage the right temporal lobes of a young child to make him a religious visionary.  But at the end of the day, are we going to base our worldview on visionary claims made centuries ago?  We can’t possibly know the real facts.  We just have to judge a message by the words of the message rather than the authority of the messenger.  But on the other hand, Paul does not say anything to ratify that story in the book of Acts.  It was not his account of what happened.

Evangelical Atheism Today:

Third World countries can progress to be modern and prosperous economies by using their cheaper labour to manufacture things they can sell to rich countries.  Suppose the rich countries did not want these cheap imports, so they put up trade barriers (Protectionism – as Trump in some cases wants to do), then lots of these poor workers making our stuff will have no jobs and go from poverty levels to starvation.  When I was young, Japan used to make cheap junky stuff for richer countries, and “Made in Japan” was a kind of a joke for cheap imitations.  Japan is now a First World country which makes some of the finest quality gear in the World, including of course, motor vehicles.  It could not have gotten there without trade, as one of the leaders of a Third World Country said, “We do not want aid; we want trade.”

At Tropical Fruit World we have three large diesel engine driven generators to run our facilities during blackouts. Their quality is second to none, as good as USA Caterpillar engines.  And guess where they are made?  China.  It now manufactures some of the finest products in the world.  And if you want to buy cheap junk, China will make that for you too.  The Chinese workers are benefiting from being such servants to so much of the world, and its living standards are rising rapidly and there is a rising large middle class.

And why is most of the manufacturing in Australia closing down?  Because the goods we manufacture cannot compete with the international trade.  To start with, our labour costs in Australia are among the highest in the world, and quite a bit higher than in the United States.  But we could still manage to survive making stuff as long as we had the cheapest power in the world due to having so much coal and gas.   Now we have among the highest electricity costs in the world – all caused by our anti-carbon policies.  We actually sell coal to South Korea, and using our coal it produces electricity at a much lower cost they we do (thanks to our climate change policies).  So we stop making cars in Australia and buy them from Korea where power costs are much lower.  But if we try to maintain our industries by Protectionism, our trading partners become poorer, and we become poorer.

Now it is hardly possible to manufacture ice cream in Australia.  The AMU has made wages so high and the politicians have made power so expensive that Streets (currently in a life and death struggle to survive) find that it can import ice cream from abroad 30% cheaper than they can make it right here in Australia where we have mountains of cheap milk and sugar.

The Third World countries have given us cheap clothing and footwear in recent years.  Trade in these more competitively priced products is providing jobs and the start Third World Countries need.  We can’t pull down the shutters and lock out the products they want to sell to us.  By trade, we lower out living costs and at the same time give them a chance to follow the lead of places like Japan and Singapore who by trade have risen to First World status.  It is now projected that by the end of the century most Third World countries will have the same standard of living as we have today.

Most people today find their way to that self-authenticating truth quite apart from the Bible?  So is there a “word of God” besides what in the Bible?