Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Sure, but what KIND of Christian are you?

I remember a Far Side strip where scientists are looking at a group of people in an enclosure. "Yes, gentlemen, they're fools," one says, "but the question remains what kind of fools are they?" Funny.

John Shuck is a pastor in good standing in the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. He believes that Jesus may have lived, but most of what we know about him (lowercase "h" on purpose) is legend, not reality. That's primarily because Shuck believes that God is merely a symbol, not a reality. He believes that there is no personal, supernatural being. All religion, in his view, is a human construct aimed at finding meaning. He believes there is no life after death. You're born, you live, you die, end of story.

What's interesting, though, is that Pastor Shuck uses the very same language that Christians do. (I know that it upsets some that I suggest without reservation or question that the pastor is not a Christian. He may be a lot of things, but, no matter what you believe, rejecting the basic teachings of Christianity defines you as "not a Christian".) I offer this, then, as evidence of the problem of language. I offer this to demonstrate that words do have meaning and that communication fails when we reject that principle ... as our world is tending to do more and more.

In his Statement of Faith, the one he had to give the congregation he was going to serve in order to be put in place there, Shuck uses all the right words in describing Christ (who, remember, to him is an historical but basically mythical figure who has died and lives no more). He describes Christ as Comforter and "the Risen Christ", Encouragement, "my Forgiveness", Savior, Truth, and Hope (among other descriptives). Now, that's all good, isn't it? Yes, yes it is. But wait ... if Pastor Shuck actually denies that Christ was resurrected (and he does), then what did he mean by "the Risen Christ"? And if he didn't mean what it appears to mean there, is he using these terms different than we are? And, as it turns out, these are valid questions. As it turns out, he is using all the same terminology with none of the same meaning.

The "Risen Christ" concept, to him, is that Mr. Shuck can be a good person like Christ was and can, then, be a form of a "resurrected Jesus". As "Comforter" this idea makes the pastor feel better. As "Encouragement", Jesus's concern for the poor gives the pastor encouragement to press on for social justice. As "my Forgiveness", he can experience forgiveness as he forgives others and he can go on with his life. As "Savior", John is rescued from "all forces that would deny 'my dignity', saved from 'myself', saved from 'distractions and false ideals'." Saved from wrath? No, not at all. As "Truth", "You encourage me to seek and to learn. You spur me never to be satisfied with what I know." That is, Christ is "truth" in a generic principle sense. Look for it. Never think you have it. As "Hope", Jesus invites him to "work for a world in which all are housed, clothed, fed, educated", a world of "non-violence", a world where "humanity has forgotten how to fight".

These terms are radically different than the standard biblical, Christian usage. They ignore a literally "Risen Christ" (which, according to Paul, nullifies Christianity entirely -- 1 Cor 15:14). In fact, Christ did not die for the sins of humanity. They deny the presence of the genuine Comforter (where this capital "C" has meaning). The encouragement to follow Christ isn't there. The forgiveness of sin isn't there. The salvation from God's wrath to God's family isn't there. The hope of eternity in the presence of God isn't there. None of the basic beliefs of Christianity are there, even though the basic terms are used.

To those of you who say, "Yeah, well, I can see that he's not orthodox" or even "I can see that he's wrong", and then go on to say, "but what difference does it make to me? Why should we be concerned about it?", I have something to say. You see, it's much like the question, "So what if they change the definition of marriage? How will that affect your marriage?" It's an important question. Does it matter if radical breaks from the truth go unannounced and unanswered? Or should we just say, "Yeah, there are a lot of people on the Internet that are wrong. I can live with that."?

As it turns out, this pastor is not benign. He believes that it is his duty to draw others away from orthodoxy ... what he calls "superstition". He isn't remaining in the pulpit because he's stubborn. He's remaining there to fight Christianity. And that's not my conclusion; it's his stated belief. He told a commenter on his blog, "I am a PCUSA minister in good standing with my denomination. I feel I represent an important part of the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition. I rip off nothing. I am at home even as I challenge the denomination to reform its theology and commitments." By definition this is one of those "who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15). While he intentionally distances himself from Christian doctrine, he classifies himself as one of those who "went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). The former is listed as a "false prophet" and the latter as an "antichrist".

My point is not John Shuck. The Church is littered with wolves and false prophets. We were actually told that would be the case. Getting up in arms over this guy won't serve a good purpose. Being aware will. Answering the heresies will. We are told to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask about your hope. And when true believers are asked "What do you believe?", you're going to have to give account for the fact that a "minister in good standing" believes everything contrary to your orthodoxy. It matters.

12 comments:

Neil said...

Yet another pastor who lied at his ordination vows. It is so easy to pick on the wolves -- and we should! -- but shame on the Bible-believing shepherds for letting the wolves in.

Dan Trabue said...

Thought you might like this cartoon...

God is lucky to have you...

Craig said...

As I was visiting Shuckytown the other day I was struck by two things.

First, it would seem that an uncritical belief in Darwinian evolution (as Shuck has) is almost totally at odds with his pacifism. Am I nuts?

Second while looking at the upcoming guests on his radio show, it struck me that he probably doesn't have the spine to invite someone one who doesn't agree with the Jesus Seminar's view of Jesus.

Finally, just counting the days until the PCUSA crumbles around Shuck and his ilk. They can have the name and the denominational structure. they've ruined it anyway.

Stan said...

@Dan Trabue:

I have two options here, Dan. Either you're lying ("Thought you might like this cartoon") or you're saying that you're in full support of those who deny the Trinity, the existence of God, the existence of any biblical version of Christ, the validity of Scripture, the Resurrection, the Gospel ... anything that is associated with basic, essential Christianity. Maybe you have a third option for me? Because from all appearances you're in support of Pastor Shuck and his "good standing" while denying anything Christian at all.

Stan said...

@Craig:

Given the "coasting" of major, mainline structures that were once genuinely Christian and are now hollow edifices but still in view (I won't name any; I'm sure you could, too.), I'd guess we won't see the PCUSA crumble for a long time. Of course, they've already become pointless to Christendom. I think almost all the genuine Christians have left. But they will have to answer to a higher judge for causing people to stumble as they do.

Craig said...

Stan,

I can only speak to the situation in the PCUSA. The exodus has started and is gaining momentum. If it were not for the punitively applied trust clause in the Book of Order, all of the Orthodox Christians would be gone by now. I do know of some folks who feel called to stay and continue to be a witness in the PCUSA, but it's past time to be gone.

Personally, I share the opinion that we are in a post denominational period and that denominations as we know them are dying and that the sooner we move on the better.

As I said the Shucks of the world can have the corpse if they want it.

Dan Trabue said...

Stan...

Either you're lying ("Thought you might like this cartoon") or you're saying that you're in full support of those who deny the Trinity, the existence of God, the existence of any biblical version of Christ, the validity of Scripture, the Resurrection, the Gospel ... anything that is associated with basic, essential Christianity. Maybe you have a third option for me?

I'm not sure where you think I'm lying. I thought you would like the cartoon, seriously, even if we disagree on who it is speaking there. Presumably, the cartoon is mocking the "emergent" movement primarily (although I think it mocks us all, to the degree that we presume to speak for God what God hasn't said) and thus, I thought you'd like it.

Beyond that, I'm not in "full support" of those who "deny" the Trinity, God's existence, etc. I enjoyed the cartoon, though, because it points out the problem of those who proclaim to speak for God (those who might say, "God is lucky to have us..." or "I thank you Lord that I'm not like that 'sinner' over there..."). I do question on what basis do you get to decide who is in and who is out?

I don't question the trinity, God's existence, etc. I DO question sometimes those who presume to say, "I have the one true God-approved understanding of all these issues..." because it smacks of an arrogance that I don't find rational or biblical.

Where is the "lie?"

Stan said...

@Dan:

Where's the lie? You thought that I would like a cartoon that you think ridicules me? That's true? (If it's not, that was the "lie" I would have guessed.)

You make it your quest to correct me at every turn and yet, if I point out that someone is in violation of every biblical definition of "Christian", you ridicule me. You see me as arrogant and irrational. YOU are rational and humble by correcting me as often as you can, but I am arrogant. YOU do not question those who disagree with every fundamental tenet of Christianity and I point to basics (you know, like the existence of God) and call it "not Christianity" and you're the rational and humble one and I'm irrational. You suggest that when Scripture repeatedly says that God is one, the only one, the singular True God and I affirm it that I'm presuming to speak for God what God hasn't said. Indeed, if there was anyone upon whom I thought you and I would agree, it would have been a self-professed atheist who calls himself a "Christian". I was wrong.

You wonder on what basis I question someone's Christianity. I question on what basis you argue with anyone. I base my evaluations on Scripture. You are unwilling to evaluate anyone ... except, apparently, those whom you deem "conservative" with whom you disagree. Is there any wonder, truly, why I question your salvation? You warn me off of questioning the Christianity of an atheist. At least you can admit I'd have reason to question your integrity. (And, no, there will be no further comments on this topic from you. I don't find it "friendly" to have someone calling himself a "Christian" who presumes to defend those who speak against what God has said.)

Stan said...

@Craig:

I truly admire those who stay with dead denominations in order to evangelize them. That's a special and difficult calling, preaching to the "inoculated".

Marshall Art said...

Stan,

You must remember that Dan T has a fool-proof tactic of saying that he merely disagrees with your interpretation, and that he is just a seeker who sees Scripture differently and thus, he is not speaking for God or claiming to be 100% correct. This allows for pretty much any position one desires to take, as it can be defended by suggesting sincere study and desire to please God led to that position. It really doesn't matter how convoluted the argument or how you might show just how hole-filled his position is. He sees what he wants to see. He just can't see his own corruption.

Stan said...

Marshall, I understand Dan's "I question your interpretation" approach. This one, however, is so far out there as to be impossible to maintain. Regardless of how you read the Bible, atheism is not a possible conclusion. That's the pastor's position.

Craig said...

Marshall,

At some point it is necessary to conclude that someones beliefs are so far outside of the tent, no matter how big the tent is, that the only conclusion to be drawn is that they are no longer a Christian if one uses any reasonable definition of the word. Shuck is beyond that point. There is no possible way that anyone could possibly consider him a Christian given his stated belief that God does not exist, and that Jesus didn't exist in any meaningful way either.

The fact that he is still a MWS in good standing in the PCUSA is a testament only to how far this once Orthodox denomination has fallen.

I suspect that if Dan actually read a significant amount of Shucks writings, that he might actually agree that Shuck is waaaaaaay off the reservation. I suspect that the fact that they share so many political beliefs might impact Dan's willingness to go there.