Face Forward

21 04 2008

This is part of a synchroblog on http://www.emergingafrica.info/

I’m afraid that I threw this together rather hastily. It’s really just a few thoughts.

I think what we have to watch out for here is going backwards. The animist reindeer hunter on the Kamchatka Peninsula who thanks the reindeer for sacrificing his life so that the tribe can eat is on his way somewhere truthful. His myth is still serving him bits of truth.
But, if four generations from now, my decedents were thanking the roast chicken at Woolies for giving up it’s life so that they could have Sunday lunch that would be heresy.
Simply because my family would have gone backwards and would be on a backwards trend.

In the emergent heresies debate I don’t think there needs to be competition between myth and doctrine in our thinking. But that depends on what we mean by both ‘myth’ and ‘doctrine’. But I believe that there is doctrine that is myth.
There are 2 keys to this debate:
1. Doctrine is not Theology. Theology is what man thinks about God. Doctrine is what God reveals about Himself.
2. Some Myth is fact and all myth contains threads of absolute truth.

Paul’s advice to Timothy can be very helpful here. “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
I don’t think Paul is speaking here about Timothy’s theology or dogma, but he is speaking about something vitally important. We cannot simply take the stance that doctrine is whatever you happen to discover.

1 Timothy 4:7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.

2 Timothy 4:1-5In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

I think that Paul is encouraging Timothy to train himself, and others, not to abuse mythology. Mythology has a purpose, it is there to dream us towards the truth which, when we get their, will turn out to be much more of the same kind of thing, but we will be fully awake. The temptation of a myth is to mistake it for The Truth and stay sleeping. Myth functions as a road, not as a settler’s post. Many cultures have set up posts on the road and the temptation is to settle with them where the myth actually calls one to travel further.
In the first Timothy passage Paul’s encouragement to Timothy is to go forward personally, not to dead backwards down the road. The emphasis is not that godliness is un-mythical, but that godliness is further down the mythical road. It is truth where ‘old wives tales’ are merely pointing to the truth.
In the second Timothy case his charge to Paul is pastoral. And is is very similar to the charge in 1 Timothy.

One cannot have a heresy without a doctrine. But one can have doctrine without heresy.




20 responses

21 04 2008
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21 04 2008
Gavin Marshall

“The temptation of a myth is to mistake it for The Truth”
I agree with this in the same way that Joseph Campbell speaks of myths being clues. But what do you mean here by Truth – and if you can explainit, how do you know that it’s now a myth?

21 04 2008
Gavin Marshall

(not a myth)

21 04 2008
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21 04 2008
Nic Paton

If by “Face Forward” you are implying that we subscribe to our western myth of progress, I’d question that.

In my exploration of the relationship between the old and the new wine and wineskins(http://soundandsilence.wordpress.com/2007/08/23/newoldwineskins/) I was surprized to discover that based on a curve ball in the Gospel of Thomas it became far less clear that Jesus was all about New Wine.

I realised that one of the prophetic postures needed in the face of this eras obsession with the novel (ie new), unending (economic) growth and the promise of a rosy technical future, was that of restating the past, that is Facing Back.

From this thought I started to appreciate (in principle at least) much of what we would now consider Primal. When revisiting the scriptures from the Primal POV I became very aware of its prophetic potency.

I’m in no way opposed to Pauls exhortations to Timothy. It’s all about discipline and wholesome thinking. And it’s for that reason that I remain concerned about the effects of modernity on our thinking.

Backwards in Christ,

22 04 2008

Hi Gavin

Interesting question, if I’m understanding you. I read your question 2 ways and will attempt to answer both:
1. I don’t think that a myth is a mystery. It is, amongst other things, an attempt at an explanation. Usually an inadequate attempt. But it is an attempt at an explanation of a mystery. Probably the two biggest mysteries that a myth tempts to explain are Love and Reason. Evolution is a pitiful attempt to explain those two, it does not even explain natural phenomena, the very thing it tries to do. I don’t think evolution even qualifies up to mythology.
2. What I mean by ‘truth’ is not the same thing as what science means by ‘fact’. Pilate received a Greek education (as did most of us) and when he was confronted with the truth he asked “What is truth?” because his base was scepticism. He was really asking “Is that a fact?” and then answering, “no”.
The Truth is a person, and thus qualifies as a myth. In the same way that Superman is a myth. He is a person with extraordinary power and an extraordinarily well developed character. It is Superman’s ethic which is the most supernatural quality he possesses, not his superhuman strength. It’s the same with Jesus, except in Him the Superman myth is true.
I hope that clears up what I mean.
Thanks for the comment and for reading my post!

22 04 2008

Hey Nick

I think that western progress is a subscription to Biblical Progress. Progress and innovation are Biblical concepts. But it is a canceled subscription, the western mind is preferring the evolutionary concept of ‘development’. In the same way and for the same reasons that the concept of the ‘creation’ was abandoned by the western mind for the concept of ‘nature’.

I would not be putting any credence in the Gospel of Thomas, especially one which is contradicted so plainly in the authentic gospels. Thomas’ gospel was a fake, written many decades (maybe even hundreds of years) after it was claimed to have been written. Any document like that, though interesting to read, does not deserve our serious attention. But I say that not having read your post, which I will do.

Yes I agree that this generation is ‘wicked and depraved’ in our lust after the new (hence our fixation on development instead of progress). And that facing back is a healthy thing to do. But to traveling back and mostly facing forward (maybe my post could have been better named). The trouble with the past is usually our own failures, we let them define our future (it’s one of the great themes in the Lord of the Rings Aragorn is haunted by the failure of his blood line) When God met Abraham in Genesis 18 He decided to seek Abraham’s counsel, backwards vision asks “what on earth for.” God answers “for surely he will become and great an powerful nation,”
We have big windscreens in our cars, but small rear-view mirrors. The mirror is important but we will crash if we look only into it.

I think we pretty much share the same view here.
I feel a little guilty, we are busy with full day and evening conference this week (Eaton and Kendell) so I have not been able to read all the other posts. But I should get some time at lunch today.
Thanks Nick!

22 04 2008
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22 04 2008

Great post, thanks Aratus! I particularly enjoyed this : “Many cultures have set up posts on the road and the temptation is to settle with them where the myth actually calls one to travel further.”

I think this is true of even our culture, or even our church culture. If I read the Bible correctly, it starts off with a garden and ends with a city. It appears that God’s intention was always for there to be a city. The idea of “Kingdom” is also an idea of progress : God is renewing creation. This is a healing process that goes forward. I won’t be surprised if, even in the new heaven’s and new earth, there will be a progress of sorts. One that is done within rest (as, even now, we rest in God yet work for progress.)

I understand Nic’s dislike for the idea of progress simply because of the attachment of progress to the idea of evolutionary thought (as you said) rather than the Biblical thought of renewal and increased discovery. The word ‘progress’ sounds too close to industrialization, although I like the way you’ve separated ‘progress’ from ‘development.’ True progress can often seem backwards when in fact it’s going forwards.

22 04 2008

This would explain why it is that man made cities are so disappointing. They are, all of them, premature.

23 04 2008
Nic Paton

“Progress and innovation are Biblical concepts.”
Innovation (renewal) I agree completely. But I think “transformation” is more the biblical concept, not “progress”. Words, words, words…

You have raised an interesting point Stray: Are we headed forwards to the City or back to the garden? Many people believe in the garden, and I must say I do too.

Immediate objections to this might be the “City of worship” in revelations – but I find it all a bit claustrophobic – eternity in a big twinkly box – and am sure I don’t really understand it. When I breathe the forest air or gaze at the night sky, I feel I am close to the presense of G-d – why would we all have to “come indoors” when this planet (the Old version too) is so lovely?

And then there is Augustine, and what he meant by “City of God” – I have not read that yet, but will one day.

23 04 2008

I would highly recommend a read of City of God. It is a big work. I found one translation by Gerald Walsh with a brilliant introduction by Etienne Gilson and it’s not so huge (he leaves out what he considers to be superlative).

The Key, Nick, I think it to accept that God will make His home with us (Rev 21:3)… not the other way round. That is what makes it home.
One might ask what is it that attracts people to cities? Well largely it is two things 1. work, and 2. other people.
What attracts people to The City… well it is God Himself. We are not going to live in heaven, whatever that it. We are going to live in a new city home, whatever that is.
But that does not mean that we are to be there always, again whatever that means.

We have to be careful not to literalise bible pictures. I don’t think we will even have time in God’s City, let alone space.

Apart from that what matters our opinion on this?
This I think is probably the kernel of the heresy debate. Eternity will be what it is despite you aversion for twikny boxes. You might not like it but your and my thoughts on this make not even the slightest difference.
The key is to ask what is the same? I think there is a lot that is true, no matter what we think about it.

Apart from litterism we must be careful not to exult our thought higher than they can actually reach.

25 04 2008
Gavin Marshall

Perhaps the focus on the ‘city of God’ highlights how man-made this religion is 😉

25 04 2008
Gavin Marshall

.. or perhaps ‘anthropocentric’ is a better word to use.. sounds more theological

25 04 2008

Hey Gavin, not sure what you mean?
I think you are either having a dig or making a joke. I really don’t mind either but I just don’t understand what you mean.

26 04 2008
Gavin Marshall

Niether a dig or a joke – merely a reflection. Although I do admit to having invoked the Trickster – especially in the light of the topic of heresy 😉

Perhaps this will make what I was trying to say a bit clearler:

It’s interesting to me how much of the focus of christianity is about building – building churches, building a city, or living in this city built by the ‘Great Builder’. Places where we’re safe from the wildness of the earth and the non-human. I think it’s a pity that’s what is missed is the message of the underlying myth of our state of seperation from the Garden.
Thomas Berry is right in saying that a new story is needed. The problem is a new story is usually dismissed as ….. heresy.

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