“Only your interpretation” …has been dismissed (but not mine).

 “…he misrepresents and contemptuously dismisses the thinking of pretty much every Christian I’ve ever known…”  – Ron Julian

The next point which Mr. Julien admits to disagreeing with Mr. McSwain about is referred to by him as  ‘Only your interpretation’  He spends a lot of time in this talking about Mr. McSwain’s third point (Jesus is the only way to heaven) but much of his objection revolves around Mr. McSwain’s second point (We just believe the Bible).  Since Mr Julian has said that he disagrees with Mr. McSwain on three points and treated the inerrancy of the Bible in a separate section, I will presume that these are the other point he refers to.

Since I am also presumably less good at evaluating two arguments spuriously interwoven in a single section, I am going to treat the two points separately and in order.

It’s only your interpretation.

The points made in this post often hinge on the “it’s only your interpretation” argument—that is, “You may think that the Bible teaches X, but I interpret it differently, and I have just as much right to my opinion as you do.”

Here are the words of Mr. McSwain’s second argument.

“2. We just believe the Bible.

That, too, is false. What you really believe is your interpretation of the Bible. And the last I checked, the history of the Christian church is the history of disagreement over ‘interpretation.’ How else do you explain the scores of denominations within Christianity alone? It would be patently more honest of Christians to say, ‘The following represents our understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures, but we are also aware there are many equally sincere Christians who interpret the Scriptures differently from us.'”

This post, if I may begin by backing up a little, was physically painful for me to read.  In the downy bloom of my youth, when I attended Gutenberg, it was this exact line of reasoning that sold me on Gutenberg College in the first place.

Whereas, in other places, I had heard that I had no right to attempt to understand the scripture- to reason out and organize my life according to my own interpretation. Others did- the men- the pastors- leaders- but not necessarily me.

At Gutenberg I heard differently.   I heard that seeking out the truth was not only my responsibility, but a means by which I could express my devotion to God- the One the Good- the Highest.  It was at Gutenberg that I learned to respect the saying,

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

I believed in this, as a method.  I still do.  Scripture has convinced me that it also contradicts itself, and I am forced to say that it no longer has any more authority for me than popes and councils- but it was Scripture and plain reason that convinced me.

I believed the tutors.

I can’t believe I did that.

When I attended Gutenberg, study of the Bible, history and philosophy was EXPLICITLY defended against those who demanded mindless obedience by saying that we must read any book, the Bible included, by means of reason.  It is possible to make a better or worse interpretation, but interpret we must and always do.  In order to sincerely pursue God we must learn the skills necessary to make the best interpretation possible.

Perhaps I am remembering a defense that EXPLICITLY happened- in my own mind, only.

Perhaps it is wrong for me to feel betrayed now, when Mr. Julian treats the statement of this position as the attack of an enemy.

If so, Mr. Julian, please forgive me. I must not have understood you.

“This is seen most clearly in the discussion of point 3…”  Mr. Julian says.  …The author is arguing that Christians should stop saying that Jesus is the only way. Why? Because he has a different interpretation of John 14:6, and it is arrogant for them to think that their interpretation is right. But why isn’t it arrogant for McSwain to think his interpretation is right?”

Well.  Because you are putting words in his mouth. He is saying, not that his interpretation is right, but that the discussion must be treated with respect- and the fact that it is only a discussion must be acknowledged.

Beyond the window dressing of style, in the inward heart of our discussion, there must be an acknowledgement that we are finite.  The Infinite may exist, but who are we to say we have done more than pursue it?

Jesus is the only way to heaven

No longer able to accept the Bible as authoritative, I must clarify by saying that I am no longer certain if the word heaven actually has any content.  I don’t know that Jesus’ claim is necessarily meaningful.  I don’t know if this debate even has a point.

However, be it life of the final age, acceptance by the Father, or floating on clouds with little harps, if heaven is assumed to be a meaningful concept, my guess is that Heaven can be summarized as ‘the final outcome of a right relationship with God.’   Jesus made the claim that He was the Way to the Father.  At least, Paul and the Apostles said he did, authorized by their… late… teacher and empowered by the Holy Spirit, as you may recall from the other post.

Mr. McSwain agrees with this claim.  He has an explanation for what it means.  Mr. Julian agrees with this claim.  He has a different explanation another.  The Gnostics agreed with this claim. They interpreted it in a way that involved levels of reality and the Demiurge.  The Catholics gave their explanation of what it means, as did the Greek and Russian Orthodox, and so did all the many varieties of Protestant.

Now, undoubtedly, Mr. Julian believes that his explanation to what these words mean is the correct one- so do all the others.

However, I have stood before a Greek Orthodox Priest, in the liturgical tradition of liturgical traditions, and been told that, while the Greek Orthodox do believe that their explanations of Jesus and his claims are correct, and that membership in the institution of their church is the way in which a person follows Jesus and thus obtains salvation (the way to heaven)-

Even they do not claim that God could not  save outside the bounds of their organization.

As much as I dislike bringing up CS Lewis, I must do so now.  I have to bring up Emeth. Yes, that’s right.  “The Calormene Who goes to Narnia Heaven”

Emeth was not any variety of Narnia Christian.  In fact, he worshiped Narnia Satan, Tash.  However, as Emeth was being accepted by Narnia Jesus Aslan into Narnia Jesus Heaven, he is told that,

I take to me the services which thou hast done to Tash… if any man swear by him and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

Non-Narnia Lewis once wrote in a letter that

“I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.”

The ultimate challenge to this way of thinking might be the very claim in question- Jesus’ statement that He is the Way and that no one comes to the Father but through him.

However, it is not much of a challenge if there is a difference between intellectual belief in an action and that action as an event.

Is agreeing with a verbal description of an action the same as carrying that action out? No.

So- does Jesus mean that, ‘No one comes to the Father but by agreeing with My statements’? Or does he mean that ‘No one comes to the Father but by My intercession with the Father on their behalf?  Or ‘No one comes to the Father but by means of my substitutionary sacrificial death?’

Or even- ‘No one comes to the Father unless they behave in a spirit similar to mine- loving the fallen more that their own life?’

It’s not clear.  There are some scriptural passages which apply.  Such as Romans 2:13-15

13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

In this passage, it doesn’t sound like the Gentiles in question EVEN HAVE TO KNOW what the verbal statements of the law are- much less agree with them.  To be declared righteous, they have to take action.

There is another passage.  Matthew 7:21-23

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Not only do you not have to even know the verbal statements in question (the magic formula which one chants in order to achieve the desired effect of ‘going to heaven when you die’)  but some who have made all the correct statements AREN’T going to get in.

These passages don’t teach an all inclusive theology.  In fact, they depend on the idea that some WILL be excluded.

What they also make very clear, however, is that we don’t know who will be excluded and who will be included.

Whether or not reality adheres the the exclusive theology that Mr. Julian does, Scripture suggests that it is highly arrogant to believe you know who is going or who is not.

In other words, we aren’t God. We aren’t Jesus.  We don’t see the heart. Even if exclusion is the reality, who are we to make exclusionary statements?

Even against Satanists.

What does Mr McSwain say, in his article?

“What you are really saying is, “The way we interpret John 14:6 is that Jesus was clearly drawing a line in the sand and telling his hearers and the world: ‘If you do not believe in Me, you won’t go to the Father when you die.’…

There are scores of Christians, however, and I am one of them, who do not interpret Jesus’ words in John 14 the same way. Just because I do not makes me no less Christian than you are. So stop drawing lines in the sand, please, between equally sincere followers of Jesus.” 

Who is Mr. McSwain asking that we not exclude? Him. Himself.

Given the incredibly shaky  theological ground that statements of individual damnation or salvation stand on,  I don’t see how you can refuse.

Arrogance and Suspicion

Mr Julian, tellingly,  concludes this segment with what are perhaps his real objections.

“My suspicion is…”

 “Again, McSwain doesn’t say that, but…” 

These statements more or less sum up how Mr. Julian has dealt with the text Mr. McSwain has presented him.

At one point, Mr. McSwain says,

Again, it’s your right to “believe” or, more accurately, interpret Scripture as you wish. You do not, however, have permission to arrogantly assume your way of interpreting the words of Jesus are the only way to understand His words.

People have a right to read and try to understand the scriptures for themselves?  Check. They have the right to draw conclusions – referred to as interpretations- on their own? Check.  Is it silly and arrogant to assume that that one has understood all and may now make The Final Statement on All Things? Check, Check, Check.

What makes this hurt is that I thought Mr. Julian knew all this.  I thought I learned it from him. Am I crazy? I don’t know. But what happens next hurts even worse. Mr. Julian responds thus.

“This charge that Christians are “arrogant” is very common, but I confess it makes no sense to me.”

Well. That’s possibly because Mr. McSwain never claimed that ‘Christians are arrogant’.  He claimed that it is arrogant to claim you Know All and See All, said that Christians sometimes do this and asked them to knock it off.

It makes no sense, because it only happened in your head.

Mr. Julian goes on to speculate about why Mr. McSwain would say this odd thing that Mr. McSwain never actually said.

I’m not sure if I should invest further time in these… ramblings… but they seem to revolve around the fact that Mr. McSwain believes that God loves and will accept everyone.  Mr. Julian believes that God will exclude some people, but, by implication, WILL accept him? Then, with surprisingly little encouragement from Mr. McSwain, he decides that Mr. McSwain believes he is arrogant for believing this.

Wonder why.

He appropriates the accusation of arrogance- claiming Mr. McSwain (despite Mr. McSwain never having said so, and in fact having said something else entirely) believes people adhere to Mr. Julian’s theology because of arrogance.

Then magically, it turns out that Mr. McSwain is accusing not just persons of Mr. Julian’s theology-

but Christians in general

-of arrogance.

I can’t conclude anything, but I feel this terrible suspicion growing.

Perhaps we now know  how Mr. Julian is able to claim that Mr. McSwain

 “…misrepresents and contemptuously dismisses the thinking of pretty much every Christian I’ve ever known…” 

Out of the vast and multitudinous faces of theology, Christianity and monotheism, the most likely candidates for his accusations are you and your close associates.

And he has dismissed every Christian you have ever known.

How fucking arrogant.

 

 

***

Part one here: Dismissed by the Dismissive.

Mr. Julian’s article: http://msc.gutenberg.edu/2013/04/dismissed/

Mr. McSwain’s article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-mcswain/6-things-christians-should-just-stop-saying_b_2767507.html

Luther.  ‘Here I stand’ is more dramatic, but apparently he didn’t say it. http://www.luther.de/en/worms.html

Lewis on Emeth and salvation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emeth

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