A Disappointed Review of the DVD Series “Saving Jesus Redux”

I have written hundreds of reviews, and most of them have been positive. I am quite hard on academic authors, but still work hard to accentuate the positive. When I was a music reviewer, there were a few albums I left behind because I had the luxury of picking my favourite CDs to review. With books, it is more difficult. There was only one book I refused to review after taking the time to read it, Ryan Dobson’s 2003 Be Intolerant: Because Some Things Are Just Stupid.  Some things that Dobson pointed out really were stupid, but the book overall had the potential for such great harm, I could not recommend it. I haven’t read the 2007 rewrite, but I appreciate Dobson’s recent anti-bullying campaign.

So it pains me to write this review of “Saving Jesus Redux,” a 12-part DVD curriculum. This was not a good experience.

Marcus Borg

I was very excited to receive this resource, which has some leading figures of biblical studies and contemporary Christian conversations, including Walter Brueggemann, Marcus Borg, Hans Küng, Amy Jill-Levine, John Dominic Crossan, and Brian McLaren. These 12 video lessons of 30-35 minutes each are meant to be a small group Bible study or Sunday School resource. Its goal overall is to critique popular and religious images of Jesus that have emerged historically or in the contemporary American culture wars.

I really do appreciate some of the key messages, like a post-colonial faith perspective that is politically and socially subversive, inclusive, anti-imperial, compassionate, loving, and imaginative. The videos are a combination of living room interviews and clips from lectures and sermons. I especially like the sermons, as conservative Christians will be tempted to miss the passion in some of these more progressive voices. And although the academic voice is heavily male, there is an attempt of balance with a number of women’s voices in the interviews and with a diversity of narrators. The neighbourly re-orientation of Jesus is an essential pastoral task.

There were some new voices in this series that I quite liked. Robin Meyers is a minister, professor, and commentator that Americans may know, and was a generous and inviting character. Diana Butler Bass and Winnie Varghese were winsome interviewees bringing in ta pastoral perspective. Interviews with Helen Prejean, the mind behind Dead Man Walking and an anti-capital punishment advocate, were delightful. And, man, James Forbes can preach.

Some of the moments with the big names I mentioned above showed them at their best. But just some of the moments. Overall, the tone of polemic—the battle against conservative, traditional, historical, and literal readings—painted this entire series in colours of war. In a curriculum trying to draw out the fine shading of living a Jesus life, what comes out are the stark contrasts of black and white and red.

I have, of course, quibbles with individual parts. I will only touch on a couple of moments.

John Shelby Spong

I think the producers are deceptive in not saying how much out of step of historical Christianity the non-historical resurrection message is in the video, “Practicing Resurrection.” I don’t know if that deception is self-deception or just the limits of the project. One thing that makes me suspect the former is the inclusion of John Shelby Spong’s assertion that the idea of the bodily resurrection occurs nowhere in the earlier documents of the New Testament—that it occurs nowhere in Paul. Besides the fact that Paul was a Pharisee, a community that believed in bodily resurrection, I don’t think Spong accounts for 1 Cor 15, where Paul speaks clearly of bodily resurrection leading to 15:17, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain.” I think it is okay to say that Paul is wrong, or that we are reading Paul wrong. This series skirts the issue altogether and claims that it is presenting the real story by cutting out the bits that don’t fit with their views.

While Bible readers will be frustrated by this deceptive presentation, we must remember the difficulty of this brand of progressive theology. For conservative Bible readers, the formula is simple: the story of Israel is one of God working in history, so they take a passage as largely historical unless the context or genre suggest otherwise. For the minds behind “Saving Jesus Redux,” there is a more complex mix of reading the Bible as metaphor and history. It is a difficult idea to present with the confines of a short series. But I think that is a real problem. I have read these authors, and I know their “hermeneutic”—their approach to reading the Bible. And I was still left puzzled by what comes across as a tic-tac-toe approach to Scriptures, a build-your-own-Barbie random selection of ideas. Why this moment is historical and this moment is metaphorical is never made clear. In this way, the series really fails to present liberal or progressive Christian thinking well.

Overall, Prof. Bernard Brandon Scott was the weakest commentator, arguing that the term of “Lord” for Jesus is post-70 CE, during what he calls the apocalyptic period of the early church. This, of course, ignores all that Paul said before his death in the mid-60s CE. When talking about “Lord,” the interviewees seem ignorant of the Jewish context of early Christianity—the very thing that begins the series. The Jewish context of Paul’s work is missed almost entirely. Finally, some ideas that are speculative are presented as normal. An example is Matthew Fox’s interesting idea that Jesus was excluded from the synagogue in his youth because of his illegitimacy. An intriguing idea, but the consequence in the video goes much further than the evidence Fox presents (which is none).

All of this amounts to what I call “Bathwater Christianity.” The theology of “Saving Jesus” is one that commits to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Jesus is Lord of life but we must leave behind all images of ruler. The commentators say that Jesus is many things; why can he not be both? The narrator says that being a Christian is not about belief, but about being a certain way in the world. How can real faith not be both? How do we live in the world as a follower of Jesus unless we know who we are, what the world is, and who Jesus is? A moment of critical thought will show us that thinking and living are intricately linked. Why must we choose between metaphor and history in reading the Bible? Why can not a healing of Jesus be both the mending of flesh and the enlightening of spirit? The assertion of “Practicing Resurrection” is brilliant, but why must real resurrection living be premised on a metaphorical reading of Jesus after the cross? In all of these ways, “Saving Jesus” presents an anemic faith, one that is founded on beautiful ideas or the fads of contemporary ethics and aesthetics, while eschewing Israel’s message that God enters into history. I don’t think they mean to be anti-Jewish; they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Amy Jill-Levine

True, true: the bathwater is dirty enough. But a real highlight for me was Amy Jill-Levine’s personal story of growing up Jewish—as a “Christ-killer”—within a generous Christian community. It is a passion of mine that Bible readers hear her message in the session, “Who Killed Jesus?” She takes a very strong argument and puts it in simple, personal terms. Marcus Borg, too, was able to speak outside of the polemical colours of the video, especially in the fireside chat segments. There are some twisted ideas about Jesus and faith at play in the world today. I want Christians to speak up on these ideas—even if we may disagree on some points.

My real concern with “Saving Jesus Redux,” though, is the impenetrable tone of arrogance. The series begins with this phrase, “I don’t mean to shock you, but Jesus was Jewish.” It is dripping with sarcasm, and that tone taken up by the narrators runs throughout. “Practicing Resurrection” begins by saying, “the only way one can maintain an unquestioning literal interpretation of the events surrounding that first Easter is by steadfastly avoiding reading the Bible.” A great irony given that it moves next to former Bishop Spong, a non-literal reader who does this very thing. The seething condemnation of one of the narrators in response to one American Christian’s ignorant racism is then used as a reason to condemn all literal readings of the Bible. It is a good poker trick.

And that is the big tension in this series. The producers are trying to give the audience permission to be more inclusive. This is what I want too. I want people to learn what it means to be a neighbour.

But the producers of “Jesus Saved” encourage inclusivism through mockery and condemnation. They are only interested in including people who agree with them. The hypocrisy is potent. People who believe in the Nicene Creed are mocked for worrying about the finer points of theology after the series has spent several hours talking about the finer points of theology. Conservative Christians are critiqued for being divisive in their image of Jesus. True enough. But never once do the commentators or narrators admit that they are creating a new stream of Christianity, a new image of Jesus, a new way of being in the world. They are, of course, being divisive.

I am not American, so I know that I don’t feel the heat of the culture war as much as those who live life in the United States. So I think a lot of the blood in this film comes out of that war context. These are important ideas that we need to work through. And I have sympathies with some of the messages in “Saving Jesus.” But I think that this video loses the war by fighting as their “enemies” do. Their message of compassion, inclusion, critical thinking, and spiritual authenticity is destroyed by the tools they use to communicate it. And by the fact that they have targeted enemies in this way.

There are minor production concerns. The series is repetitive, and the videos could be about half the length with the same content. As I have said, the commentators are not even in quality, so some of the brilliant moments are dulled. The writing that provides the commentary is meant to be punchy, sharp, and bright, but comes across as a blunt instrument. The production is a bit old fashioned, but we must remember how expensive video production is, and their laudable attempt to include 15 or 20 of Euro-America’s leading voices.

But this last moment is worth note. “Our country” in this video is the United States. There are 26 commentators listed on the webpage; one-third of them are women. John Dominic Crossan is Irish, but moved to the U.S. as a young man. There is a New Zealand scholar and a couple of British accents, as well as a brief clip from German Hans Küng. But where does the ideology of this film series fit in global Christianity? There are no African, Asian, or Latin American voices. This could be because of the focus, and that this series should really be titled, “Saving Jesus from American Conservatives.” Perhaps Jesus needs to be saved from American Conservatives. But the truth is that these scholars and pastors and commentators are so radically out of step with global Christianity. Their belief would be unrecognizable some of the other most Christian countries in the world, like Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, or China. The world has changed, and this video re-presentation of 19th century Eurocentric liberal Christianity is out of step with that change. It is not progressive, but retrogressive

Now, the perspective of “Saving Jesus Redux” could be the right perspective. I don’t mean this lightly. As engaged believers, we must constantly be in a project of self-critique and exploration of faith. If we have personal, cultural, or historical blinders that bend the way we read Scripture and the Christian message—as past Christians had concerning slavery or the status of women as human beings—we need correction. But this series fails most in giving us the chance to engage in real self-critique. The series is filled with loosely connected sound bytes based around a hidden ideology. Some of the sound bytes are brilliant, truly. And I agree with many of the messages. But instead of an intelligent, well-presented option of seeing Christianity as hopeful and inclusive, we are given a Bathwater Christianity that is exclusive, Eurocentric, and out of touch. It has all the credibility of a History channel documentary. I cannot see how anyone watching this video would want to embrace their philosophy of life fully unless they are already against all the things these commentators are against.

So, my disappointment is palpable. Instead of watching this video, I would encourage people to actually read Marcus Borg, Brian MacLaren, Walter Brueggemann, Amy-Jill Levine, Dom Crossan, and Helen Prejean. Their individual works, whether you agree with them or not, are far better than this collective whole.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this DVD free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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35 Responses to A Disappointed Review of the DVD Series “Saving Jesus Redux”

  1. mrwootton says:

    Thanks. A thorough & appropriately concerned review, in all directions.



  2. Thank you, Brenton. I appreciate the honesty and integrity in your review and the fact that you differentiate for the rest of us between what you found good and helpful and what you found tripe (not your word). You avoided committing their fault of throwing the baby out with the bath.


  3. Actually your review is not disappointing at all, just disappointed.


  4. This is an excellent review. One question.

    You ask rhetorically: “Why can not a healing of Jesus be both the mending of flesh and the enlightening of spirit? The assertion of “Practicing Resurrection” is brilliant, but why must real resurrection living be premised on a metaphorical reading of Jesus after the cross?”

    Aren’t so many progressive uses of Jesus ultimately merely political (liberation theology, social justice, etc.)? And merely political uses of the ethical Jesus of Nazareth have to discredit the supernatural Christ, God in history, or run the risk of attaching the hearer more closely to a Jealous God than to the Noble Cause. Rousseau understood this.


    • My instinct is to agree, but I cannot be this general. British and American evangelicalism is at different points socially progressive (not so much right now), yet they still connect historically. Rousseau (and Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche to an extent) did know about the emptying that takes place. But I don’t think anything political need be “merely” political, just as something historical need be “merely” historical. In the same way that the inspiration of the resurrection need not negate the physicality of the resurrection–to me that is like saying the feelings of love need no expression in the lives of lovers–so too a social justice-focussed ministry need not be only or merely about social justice (i.e., social causes wrapped in choir robes).
      Honestly, some of the most integrated people I know derive their love for the least of these from the God who became the very least–“even death on a cross” (Phil 2). They find resurrection hope for all creation in the bursting forth of the tombstone. They see the word “salvation” as more than a soul-saving exercise, but not less than one. They see God working in all humanity and have truth to share in that moment. It is true, much of what we see is what they do. But belief is part of an integrated worldview.
      Does this make sense? In this sense I am a progressive Christian, though I think this is part of my project of retrogression, of going back to the heart of God’s work with humanity in Jesus of Nazareth.


  5. mkenny114 says:

    Good (and charitable) review. However, I am not surprised that you encountered a ‘tic-tac-toe approach to Scriptures, a build-your-own-Barbie random selection of ideas’ and that the question of ‘why this moment is historical and this moment is metaphorical’ is never made clear.

    Being familiar with the works of Borg, Crossan and Kung, and having been exposed to some of the mad ravings of John Shelby Spong, I am (sadly) used to seeing this!


    • Hans Kung is refreshing to read, but I never could read him. Crossan’s good academic work is quite good, but I find the Jesus seminar approach so flawed. They are surprised that when they only put Indian curry ingredients into the pot, they get something out of the oven that looks like Indian curry. It should be no surprise. And Marcus Borg can be encouraging to read, and is the most cautious. I simply disagree with him.
      Spong is not mad. That’s the problem. On the one hand, he is willing to deal with the difficult texts. But his dealing is so jaded and bigoted that it is hard for me to see any good. I’m sure there is good. I just haven’t read enough of his work to find the good. They do feel like ravings to me (a better reader will know they are not). But they are not mad ravings, unfortunately.


      • mkenny114 says:

        ‘Spong is not mad. That’s the problem.’ Yes, well said – that is the problem. It is such a shame that someone in his position feels he can play so fast and loose with traditional understandings of Christian theology. As a bishop he is (or was – I am not sure if he is still in office) meant to be a sign of unity, whereas all he seems to do is mislead.

        Incidentally, for a more sober liberal voice that engages with Spong’s views, I would recommend the following piece by Rowan Williams, which addresses Spong’s ’12 Theses’:



        • Thanks for the tip. A whole world of Anglican-ness always knocks at my door!
          I think it is good and healthy to keep questioning. As an academic, a professor (a doctor of the church, eventually), I can do this thing. I can say things out loud so the community (global, intergenerational, cross-culture, inter-gendered, across the ages) can work the ideas. But as a non-Anglican, I am not bound in the same way that Anglicans are. I am part of a community that is (ideally) ever-reforming, always going back and coming forward with a better (hopefully) understanding of God’s heart–of biblical Christianity.
          But, I am also a pastor. John Spong is a pastor. Our projects are not speculative; our questions are not theoretical. We ask them in the context of community and pastoral needs.
          That’s my concern with Spong’s project.


          • mkenny114 says:

            Just as a heads up re Anglicanism, from someone with a decent amount of experience of it – they are not really bound in many ways at all. In theory they are committed to the triumvarate of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, where each one informs the other in a mutually enriching way that helps people to stay committed to traditional understandings whilst ‘updating’ and keeping things in accord with the modern world.

            In reality though, the ‘reason’ element takes over, and the other two elements are subsumed to the passing whims of each generation – the ‘spirit of the age’ if you will – so that the attempt to be relevant drives changes in doctrine that earlier generations of Anglicans would find unrecognisable. This is compounded by the fact that doctrinal (not just disciplinary) changes are effected by majority vote in General Synods, so it is particularly easy for special interest groups to get the changes they want.

            Anglicanism remains attractive to some people because it has retained the external accoutrements of tradition (it has particularly beautiful liturgy and music for example), but allows for an enormous amount of ‘wiggle room’ on doctrine and morals. In essence there is little more binding Anglicans than there is in any other Protestant denomination (no offence meant here wrt Protestantism – its just a matter of fact that private judgement is one of its central principles).


            • I’ve been thinking about this since you posted last night. There is no draw for me in liturgy and music. I go to an Anglican service once in a while but I am not struck by the experience.
              The draw, for me, is the great tradition–not in the sense of knowledge or experience, but the community. I’ve been watching your project. You note how the Christian theological and saintly tradition is rich for today, and find points of connection and critique between us and them (with an eye to literature). That’s part of what I mean.
              But I also appreciate that within the Anglican tradition we do have the chance to explore ideas. I’m not threatened by that exploration–given the caveat above.
              I wonder if different people and streams within Anglicanism focus on tradition, reason, or Scripture (to the exclusion of the others).


          • mkenny114 says:

            Yes, I do see some people being drawn to Anglicanism because of the traditional aspect, as opposed to the music or liturgy (though for most people I’ve encountered personally, it is the aesthetic that is the biggest draw), though I am not quite sure what you mean by the community aspect of Anglican tradition (as opposed to knowledge and experience) – could you elaborate slightly?

            Those that I’ve met that are attracted to the traditions of Anglicanism seem to me (and this is just in my experience obviously) to want something with historical roots, something that has footholds in the greater riches of Christianity – whether that be theological, literary, experiential, or other – but with the ‘wiggle room’ I mentioned earlier. A fair few Catholics have become Anglicans because it offered them a similar experience in terms of having a tradition-rooted way of worshipping and marking the Christian year, etc, but without having to commit to any defined moral or theological positions.

            Also, yes there are definitely many streams (very many!) within Anglicanism – I remember something Flannery O’Connor said, along the lines of ‘if you scratch an Episcopalian, you’re likely to find anything under there’ – but the main streams do tend to follow one of those three principles (Scripture=Evangelical branch; Tradition=High Church/Anglo-Catholic branch; Reason=Liberal/Latitudinarian branch), although nowadays, the High Church stream tends to be almost wholly liberal as well! I think this is a legacy of the Oxford Movement, insofar as you find ‘high’ practices much more common in Anglican churches than you would have done at any time before then; and also the gradual secularisation that has seeped in, so that the ‘Reason’ principle is deeply associated with the zeitgeist. Essentially though, Anglicanism has never had an authoritative buffer against this sort of thing – the only reason it is more apparent nowadays is because Western society itself is so secular. Before, Anglican churches couldn’t absorb secular thinking into their ‘Reason’ precisely because it wasn’t there to be absorbed.


            • Need the “reason” stream lead to zeitgeist worship? After all, isn’t Reason much more deeply rooted?


              • mkenny114 says:

                In theory it needn’t do so no, but what I mean is that that is what has happened in practice – certainly in the UK and US parts of the Anglican Communion anyway (where secularism is that much more powerful a force in society).

                My point is that it is precisely when these churches could not rely on existing in an overwhelmingly Christian society anymore, that their lack of means to authoritatively decide what is and isn’t correlative with Christian faith and morals were exposed. They just went with the flow, because the ‘Reason’ stream was not as rooted in Scripture and Tradition as they had believed.

                So when you ask ‘isn’t Reason much more deeply rooted?’, I would have to ask – rooted in what?


              • Well, that`s the question. I am not Anglican, so I think it is rooted in a circular relationship with revelation: It is reason that draws us to God, and revelation that lets us know that such a quest is worthwhile. How does one break into the circle? That is the question.
                I think Reason is above and beyond the zeitgeist. It is global, intergenerational, and not the province of one group. To follow Spongism–the idea that the laws of nature are never bent in miracles and thus we must reinterpret Christian belief–is ethnocentric, rejecting all human experience in all other times. So I reject its conclusion while welcoming the question. Does that make any sense?


              • mkenny114 says:

                Yes, I certainly agree that reason is above and beyond the zeitgeist. Again though, my point is not that use of one’s reason leads inevitably to capitulating to the spirit of the age, merely that this is what has happened in Anglicanism. Furthermore, my contention is that it is because within Anglicanism there exists no means to authoritatively state (or even discern) when reason has gone too far in one direction, that is why it is in the state it is in.

                Reason in and of itself I think presupposes faith, that is faith in a coherent and ordered universe capable of rational investigation, and our rational faculties being in harmony with a real, objective truth (c.f.: C. S. Lewis in Miracles). Thus wrt Spong, I would suggest his outlook is actually irrational insofar as he has allowed his reason to become wedded to a worldview that actually undermines Reason itself – i.e.; Naturalism.

                As for whether there is a way of breaking the circle of reason and revelation, I would suggest that yes we use of our reason to search for truth, but when we find a source that we can be convinced is the ground of all truth (e.g.; Jesus Christ), we must then ask what we can know about that source, and how. In this particular case, Jesus founded a Church, and so one must ask whether it is reasonable or not that He would found a Church which cannot guarantee a preservation of that truth – instead, to place one’s trust in that Body is to ground oneself in a stable source of truth that provides known guides to its contours and limits, whilst still allowing the proper activity of reason. John Henry Newman’s Grammar of Assent is very good on this, and much clearer than me!


              • I cannot defend this intellectually. But for me the circle is broken in Eucharist, broken body, spilt blood, tang on the tongue, the press of flesh in a contemporary sanctuary, the echo of the story peaking forward to consummation, the preservation of tension with the hopeful resolution of that tension. I am young in this kind of thinking, though, so this may be totally incoherent. I don’t think that Spong is the only Naturalist; I think our generation are naturalists with a thin veneer of hope and joy; we are the walking dead, pneumatic zombies.
                Have you read Anscombe’s response to Lewis’ Miracles anti-naturalist argument?


          • mkenny114 says:

            That’s interesting. If you don’t mind me asking, what denomination do you belong to? The reason I ask is that you seem to have quite a realist view of the Eucharist.

            As for whether what you have described, in a certain sense I would agree – the Eucharist, as the Body of Christ, is what forms and constitutes the Church. It is also what symbolises it, in terms of its unity, and the divine charity that flows out from its heart. I do think that it can be defended intellectually, but that would depend on what you mean – whether it is defending the Eucharist itself, or the Eucharist being a means of ‘breaking the circle’ of reason and revelation. For me, the Eucharist and the Church are one, so it would correlate with what I wrote in my previous reply – i.e.; finding a source of truth that one can abide in and be formed by. I’m not sure the Eucharist as ‘circle-breaker’ could be defended from a purely experiential angle though.

            As for naturalism, I certainly agree here too. We are all born naturalists. Lewis says something at the end of Miracles to this effect, as he realises that all that he is written still may be met by the deeply ingrained attitude that miracles ‘just don’t happen’. Naturalism is ‘in our bones’ he says; and I’d be inclined to agree. In the modern faith vs reason debate, those of us who see naturalism as an incoherent worldview are faced not so much with powerful arguments in its favour, as an attitude that is riven into the minds and souls of modern people.

            Also, re Anscombe, as it happens I was just reading a transcript of her reply to Lewis’ argument in the first edition of Miracles! However, I have only ever read the edition that Lewis altered after her criticisms were made. To be honest though, I think Lewis’ basic point still stands regardless. I see the need for clarification of terms re causality, but the basic difficulty that naturalists have in being able to trust their own reason on their own view of the universe is a valid one. Have you read Victor Repper’s C. S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea? He discusses this in great detail, and it is very convincing, as well as being very readable.


            • I’m from the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, the church of Christ/Christian church. In America, you may not always meet it in its most theological form. On the ground it runs from isolationist fundamentalism through evangelicalism to protestant liberalism.
              In our movement, we say the sacraments are symbols, but possibly more than symbols, so that they are in some way actually sacramental. On the street in comes out in language like, “you must be baptized” or “you should celebrate communion weekly.” But the idea behind it is that symbols are never “just” symbols. It isn’t a denomination but a movement of several million believers connected through networks of thousands of independent fellowships, so the theological conversation is like a crime scene blood splatter investigation.
              Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, the Church. I can’t go so far to say they are “one,” but I can see the connection.
              I’m on the same page with you on Lewis and naturalism. I can’t see the flaw, which might be a limitation in my own view of things. But it is an argument I use still.


          • mkenny114 says:

            Thanks for the info – I’d never heard of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement before! Had a quick read up on it just now, and it sounds interesting.

            Re Lewis and his argument against naturalism, yes I use it a lot too. I think it is probably one of the most convincing arguments for Theism (insofar as it roots things most people take for granted in an objective, transcendent source) and against atheism (as it cuts off the branch upon which they are sitting when they denouncing Christianity!) I quite like Dostoevsky’s saying too, which runs along similar lines – ‘Without God, anything is permissible’ – always a good one to start a heated debate with atheist friends and relatives!

            As for the relationship between Church and Eucharist, I would recommend reading some of the early Church Fathers – particularly Saint Augustine, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Gregory of Nyssa. Henry Bettenson produced a couple of very good compilations, which are very available and affordable – The Early Christian Fathers and The Later Christian Fathers. Each takes selected passages from each ‘Father’ according to topic (e.g.; Sacraments, Atonement, Church, Discipline, etc). Highly recommend them – both as an introduction and as reference books.


            • I am slowly filling in the empty spaces of my reading in history. I’ll get there, but it might be some years yet. My first graduate degree was in Early Christianity, dropping off quickly after Marcion’s generation. I feel the gap.
              I feel it in literature too. I just picked up the Riverside Chaucer yesterday–it’s a bit overwhelming!
              With the “naturalism is self-refuting” argument it moves to this suggestion: revelation is required to confirm reason. We end up then in Euthyphro: which revelation, which god, etc?


          • mkenny114 says:

            If your degree in early Christianity dropped off swiftly after Marcion’s generation, then I must emphasise my recommendation of Bettenson’s books on the Fathers even more 🙂 That is a shame, as it seems the course missed out quite a lot, and understanding the history of doctrinal development etc is an enormous key to understanding what the Church is and isn’t.

            As for whether, given the failure of naturalism to account for reality, that we need revelation to confirm reason, I would agree in a certain sense. Basically, I would say that in recognising the poverty of a naturalistic explanation, we affirm the validity, reality and objectivity of Reason itself – we know that we can know certain things, via logic, induction from experience, etc; also we can apprehend moral truths. So you could say that reason finds its confirmation in general revelation (c.f.; Romans 1). As to where we go from here, it is simply (although not quite so simple in practice!) a matter of following one’s reason by investigating the historical and philosophical evidence in favour of the various particular revelations claimed by different religions. So, at this point, reason and revelation are interacting in a kind of dialectic. However, contra naturalism we have already decided that humankind can, via reason, know Truth. So, this search can (and should, minus ulterior motives, etc) lead to finding the one revelation which corresponds with our reason the best – the key will eventually fit the lock, so to speak. So, in that sense, reason and revelation need one another, and confirm one another.

            As for your reference to Euthypro, this is rather embarrassing, as I read that particular Dialogue only a couple of months ago, but cannot recall with any accuracy what Euthypro’s argument was. If my memory serves me right, I thought he was concerned with how we are to please the gods, and thus what true piety is (with the conclusion that true piety is what pleases all the gods), rather than which gods are worth worshipping/pledging allegiance to?


            • My original goal wasn’t to understand what Christianity is and was, but to discover what it was in the 1st century and see how to shape today that way. I have since discovered that: 1) history knowledge doesn’t work that way, in objective, dispassionate chunks; and 2) I was missing resources in my project by skipping the 1900 years between. It is the move from textual historian to theologian that requires broadening my conversational community.
              I would agree that we can know “Truth<" but it is through search, and as through a one looks at a child's foot beneath the shoreline. I am not convinced we can see perfect, undistorted Truth in our human condition with human limitations.
              Sorry on Euthyphro, just the basic idea that Socrates asks is, "well, which god should we listen to?" Which revelation do we follow is the question that follows once we have recognized the limitations of naturalism.


          • mkenny114 says:

            Ah I see – yes, I certainly agree that one cannot simply lift the first century of Christianity out of its context and transpose it onto modern times. The Church is more like an organism than an institution, and grows over time, deepening and developing its knowledge of the mysteries which constitute the deposit of faith, whilst still preserving their essence. Christianity is inevitably bound up with history, and as you say, one knows history in a continuum, not in sections separated out from one another.

            As for Truth, I don’t believe we can see it wholly and perfectly in our human condition either, but we can have assurance that we can know enough of it to be sure of what it is and Who it is we are dealing with, etc. Pardon me for the shameless plug, but I actually wrote a post about this very topic recently:


            Also, have you heard of the story about Saint Augustine and the boy on the beach trying to pour water from a seashell wrt the Holy Trinity? That says something about the immensity of the mysteries we are dealing with! And yet we can still know something definite about them…

            Re Euthypro, no need to apologise! I see what you meant by the reference now, and any confusion was wholly on my part, due to lack of memory!


            • I will take a look at that post. I am a sucker for GManleyHopkins.
              I am in some senses quite early in my theological journey. I am a convert as a late teen/young adult. I have had a number of conversions since then, each one an awakening to God’s imagination (which is bigger than I previously thought). So though I have been at this nearly 20 years, each year I fell I am gulping up more of the euangelion (the great story). Though I am a PhD candidate in theology, I still feel like an amateur.
              It can be overwhelming, like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant.


          • mkenny114 says:

            yes, I am a convert as well, and have not been in the game anywhere near as long as you have, but I have the same experience too – of regularly being reminded of the ‘depth and riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God’.

            Incidentally, this is why I mentioned the story about Saint Augustine and the boy with the seashell on the beach. If you’ve not heard it before, there is a good summary here:


            Good luck with the rest of your PhD 🙂


  6. L. Palmer says:

    I live in the US, and I’m trying to figure out what you mean by “culture war” – I’m guessing you’re talking about Liberal vs. Conservative. If I am right, here’s how I see it: We have really loud people on either side who are currently in the public limelight. There has been a growing movement of people pulling away from either side and finding a pleasant middle ground. I also live in California, where there are about 2 liberals to every 1 conservative, and most of the liberals are fairly tolerant of conservative views – if the conservatives are tolerant of liberal views.

    There are good people leaning to either side, but there are also many irate people on the far edges – they just seem to be louder on the more conservative side. That appears to be the group who put together this video series.


    • “Culture war” is an old word, from the 1990s, and yes it is right-left, conservative-liberal, etc. I hope what you say is correct, but there is more talk of a 2nd culture war in the air, a run up to 2016. In my 2008 and 2010 travels in the U.S., it was a ripe conversation. 2012 was divisive, but this year wasn’t as invested (just in my travels).
      We’ll see. Dozens of couples were married on the Grammys (including same-sex couples) at the same time that states are hunkering down in conservative ways. I suspect that life on the faultlines between these warring factions can be rough.
      This group is one of the warring faction. I think you are right.


  7. Great review! What a shame though–it seems the videos had a lot of potential and they blew it by stating their opinions through a veil of war instead of love. I know this is putting it simply, but the way I see it is that the whole reason Jesus ‘needs saving’ is because so many don’t believe that his love is as great as it is. His love is the most crucial element in Christianity. Seems like these videos missed the point entirely.


    • I agree on the missed point and the missed opportunity.
      And I agree with them that the love of God is so huge and all-encompassing that there are lines we must draw sometimes. We must say no to rape and abuse and systematic oppression. And we say no in a hard way.
      But anti-fundamentalist prejudices in liberal Christianity really does damage. I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s “Penguins and Golden Calves.” She calls conservatives “fundalits” and is dismissive. Very disappointing as she then preaches about inclusion.


      • Oh dear I do love Madeleine L’engle especially after reading Walking On Water…but hey she was human like the rest of us and would have made a mistake or two along the way. Prejudices can be damaging but isn’t great that we can have books where we can choose what we glean and what we dismiss? Harder with videos unfortunately I think. Incidentally, I’m reading Unspoken Sermons (George MacDonald) and I will probably find something I don’t entirely agree with there…but so far not yet! 🙂


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