What I am Not

I started writing about why I wasn’t a creationist, but, the more I thought about this, the more I thought of giving a more encompassing apophatic description of myself.  I could just call myself an Orthodox Christian, but so many times we have pre-conceived notions for what words mean that a simple label isn’t going to tell you anything about who I am. (I’ve run into the same problem with my friends that I met in my political activities.  I’m a registered Democrat, but I’m not at all in favor of defending Roe v. Wade.  At some point, I’ll have to address my political views in an apophatic manner .  But this should give you a good idea.) My faith in a literal six-day creation first began to waver in high school. At the time, some people around me were convinced that you had to believe the Genesis account was literally true.  Otherwise, the thinking went, how could you believe anything in the Bible?  Something didn’t seem right with that.  I can choose to believe whatever I like.  Believing in something doesn’t make it so.  There’s nothing in the text to indicate that Genesis is meant to be a factual, historical account of creation. The only reason I could find that people thought Genesis account was factually accurate was their standards for understanding scriptural truth.  Father Stephen explains this much better than I ever could when he talks about Scripture as an Icon, so for a fuller explanation, read him, but in a world obsessed with facts and figures, Christians immersed in rationalism look to scripture to provide some straight-forward plain talk. When the “plain meaning” of scripture doesn’t coincide with our observations of the world (what we commonly refer to as science), Christians of this sort have a choice: ignore what their senses tell them about the world, or start to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to believe. I have a hard time ignoring my senses.  Complicated attempts to explain away observations are, well, too complicated to be believed (Occam’s Razor). Fundamentalism, conservative evangelicalism, and any other sort of Biblical literalism is out the door. Where could I go?  One place I didn’t feel comfortable with was that strain of Protestantism commonly known as “Liberal Christianity”.  If we consider Protestants as a straight line with biblical literalists on the right and liberal Christians on the left, then, on the far left, there isn’t even any need to believe the Nicene Creed.  These would be  the sort who think the Jefferson Bible isn’t that bad.  It was just another man’s interpretation of the sacred text. Perhaps I’m just too much of a traditionalist, but I couldn’t do that.  My faith includes a belief in the resurrection.  Over time, I’ve come to understand the resurrection not as a “Get Out of Hell Free” card, but as an act of Love by which God empowers us to be fully human.  I can’t ignore my faith.  And I don’t think scripture is just a matter of interpreting text.  Christianity is about relation with God, not figuring out what I think Scripture means. My personal history comes into play here.  I have a lot of trouble with condemning all Catholics — something some fundamentalists seem fine with — so I ended up associating with quite a few in New Orleans (a very Catholic city), dating a couple, and, finally, marrying one. That obviously influenced my path.  I dabbled with Catholicism, but ended up being too Protestant.  And now I’m too Orthodox.  I simply don’t think any one person (even a Bishop, or Pope) can be considered the final word on what God has to say. So I’m not Catholic. Around the time I became Orthodox, the “Emergent Church” began to grow. I’ve said before that I think people interested in the Emergent Church would find a lot of what they’re looking for in the Orthodox Church. Take, for example, this post on War or Jim’s post on Biblical Narrative.  Both could benefit from the traditional Orthodox understanding of the Old Testament that focuses on the types of the Old Testament without attempting to justify the atrocities there. But they’d have to give up something: their individual pursuit of Truth.  I’ve been thinking about this since my friend Jim (who I hope can forgive me for pulling this quote out of context) wrote earlier this week “Maybe I don’t go so far – as Matthew seemed to have no problem with doing – as to use the word fulfillment”.  Orthodoxy, by contrast, is entirely about fulfillment and completely embraces the Gospel.  The resurrection is the beginning and end of everything. I guess, in the end, you could say I am not a biblical interpreter.  I long ago grew tired of debates about the scripture’s meaning and worrying about what I thought about the Bible.  These days, I struggle enough with simply trying to fast, pray, and love my neighbor.  These simple actions, commended to us by Christ Himself, are more than I can manage without worrying about what Just War or Evolution vs Creation.

3 thoughts on “What I am Not”

  1. thoughts

    Mark, thanks for your thoughts. It’s a lot to chew on, and I had a lot of things rumbling in my head when I wrote my original post. I thought if anything I wrote would bring a lightening struck from somewhere it would be that phrase you quoted!

    There is one pastor in the emerging movement who builds his whole ministry of evangelism around the prophecy predictive sayings in the old testament and new testament, as a way of saying “SEE! It’s all true, the bible itself is true, because God said it way back in the Old Testament and Jesus fulfills it in the New Testament.” That’s the type of thing I think I’m trying to move away from. It’s still a modernist apologetic by trying to prove the bible is correct, accurate, in all it says, so that the faith is reasonable and believable.

    And yet, I still often think of the word ‘fulfillment’ as saying ‘better than.’ So when I wrote “I don’t go so far as to use the word fulfillment” I wrote it primarily with that use of the word in mind.

    Do we use that word to mean the Old Testament, the Jewish faith is inferior to the New Testament and the Christian faith? That’s what the word most often implies; the relationship between Judaism and Christianity has been problematic from the get-go and our language doesn’t help. I just think we have both have to think about better ways to tell our stories.

    1. Re: thoughts

      I won’t deny the lack of charity Christians (even the Orthodox) have shown towards Judaism. But there is something unique about Christianity.

      In this, it is telling that the only time during the Liturgical year that the Orthodox have regular readings from the Old Testament is now, during Lent.

      Further, check out what Father Stephen writes about The Fullness of the Faith and then, you might also want to read this interview with Fr. Men by an Evangelical radio broadcaster in Russia. (Fr Men was a Jewish convert to Orthodoxy who remained in Soviet Russia and was martyred almost 20 years ago.)

      I especially want to point out this quote from the interview:

      It seems to me that everything that is valuable in Christianity is valuable only because it is from Christ. What is not from Christ could as well belong to Islam or Buddhism.

      That, I think, is what Christians mean by “Fullness”. Not that anything Christians say is unique, but that Christ and his actions complete the picture.

  2. been there

    Our luggage gets sifted about 25-33 percent of the time that we travel. And yes, they do pack better than I did. I thought I had a heap of presents fitted in pretty good, when the luggage came to me the packages were fitted together much better.

    Sorry about the loss of the electronic stuff. Haven’t lost anything that way … yet.

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