A Possible Gospel And New Testament

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gospel Premise 1: The Spirit Isn't Congealed

Inspired by Definition

The author of the Gospel of John writes at a time when the early Christian church is reaching the end of its first century of existence. In John we see Christian theology solidifying. And he clearly presents us with one idea of divine inspiration.

No longer does the spirit move over the face of the waters (Cf. Gen 1:2). It becomes concretized and personified – ready to become the third Person in a Holy Trinity:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. John 14:16-17

And how do you know who is filled with this true Spirit of genuine inspiration from God? Simple: anyone who espouses the belief that Jesus is Savior is filled with the Spirit; and nobody else:

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” I John 4:2-3 {Note: Scholars believe that I John was written by the author of the Gospel of John.}

Inspired by Edict

What do you think? To me, it was clearly in the early church’s interest to write books stating that, by definition, inspiration consists of adherence to its belief system. Once the church had grown into a more powerful institution, it was equally in its interest to declare these books “scripture” in the sense of constituting the official words of God. And it has manifestly been in the self-interest of the church, and later the churches, to declare the edicts and pronouncements issued by their own hierarchies in their own time to be God's infallibly inspired word and outlook on the issues of the day.

Yet there have been far too many examples of official church positions which the church itself over time wisely came to rectify, to suppose that all its present pronouncements can possibly be inspired. Indeed, those who imagine that the church is already perfect are a stumbling block to the church as it seeks perfection.

Official spiritual inspiration is a contradiction in terms. People with fresh, creative insights in any field are not typically bureaucrats who rise through the ranks to wield organizational power. Nor are staff meetings and committees generally the avenue by which such works arise. In religion and spirituality, those who substantially modify, transform, or initiate religious traditions, are those who experience some version of their own forty days in the desert. Their spiritual experiences, from a founder like Buddha or Mohammed, to an innovator like Martin Luther, are highly original. They go through something first-hand and in their own persons.


Usually we define things in terms of the properties and processes that we can see characterize them; then we stick to that definition. For example, we agree that an apple is a sweet, thin-skinned fruit that grows on trees. Likewise, inspiration is usually known by the qualities that seem to best describe it: it usually occurs to individuals in a spontaneous manner, generally when they are alone, and often following a period of intense struggle with an issue or problem. The outcome of the process is highly original and creative; and, in the case of spiritual inspiration, wise.

Of course it’s possible for a group of people to replace the definition of a concept according to those properties and processes which best describe it, by some other definition that they all like and agree upon. For many Christians, it has therefore been acceptable to understand “the inspired” or Spiritual as that which accords with their beliefs. But Christians need to be aware that this is what they are doing, and that any element of what the rest of the world calls “inspiration” which may be behind – I would say, is behind - their own tradition’s concept of inspiration, is in danger of being disregarded or even lost.

Spiritual authority is living water. Religious authority follows prescribed channels where it stagnates when not refreshed.


At 4:24 PM, Blogger Keshi said...

Dunno Christianity at such a deep level but all I can say is true Spirituality is something that makes you a better person in thought, word and deed...if it doesn't do that, any amount of knowing ur scriptures wouldn't be of any use to anyone. Spirituality is something that should develop u within as a human being and if that's not achieved, it's stagnant waters as u said...

**Spiritual authority is living water.

I like that...good one.


At 5:56 PM, Blogger breakerslion said...

I might have underestimated you.

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I think there's another thing at work... no one wants to feel like they're just a functionary, an adjunct.

Not many people can do their forty days in the desert and drink right from the source. I don't know if very many should even try. But a church has to offer us regular people some measure of assurance that we've got hold of the right thing. I think it's that, more than the wish to consolidate power, that drives the codification of inspiration. It's not forced on people -- we demand it. I want to be reassured that my ten minutes of prayer represents an authentic connection, that my dim perception of God is more than a passing bit of imagination.

This way, I get the inspiration on the cheap. Just follow the directions, and bang! There I am, every bit as inspired as John! No need to purify myself, and transform myself into a perfect vessel. No need to risk getting nailed up.

I think about this a lot in the context of Buddhism in America. We (except maybe Soka Gakkai) don't give anything to people except the contemplative path. And until we do that, we'll be a peripheral faith here.

It's really tricky. Everything you say is true, but I think maybe you're too quick to denigrate the bishops, the people who have spent their lives -- many of them being people who would far rather have spent the time in prayer and contemplation -- in committee meetings and fundraising, trying to figure out how to bring the water to us, to people who aren't going to be doing any spiritual heroics, but still need what blessing we can get.

At 6:45 AM, Blogger Darius said...

KESHI: You strike a universal chord by saying, "Spirituality is something that makes you a better person in thought, word and deed..."

I think just about anyone would agree that this is central to what religion and spirituality does/ought to do.

BREAKERSLION: Thanks for hanging in there. At this point, nobody knows where I'm coming from yet - not the readers' fault, mine. I'm basically trying to muddle my way along to figuring out how to blog ideas that would be presented better in a book.

KEVIN: Thoughtful/insightful comment. I may come back to you here, but am thinking of turning my reply into an addendum to this post...

At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Marissa said...

Change is good. It seems like Christianity in general has stuck with a rather old-fashioned and more literal version of what the bible means than the authors of the bible possibly intended. The Catholic church especially-- apart from the recent bad press, people weren't exactly converting by the thousands (to become Catholic). Look at the new pope, one of the first things he did was denounce gay marriage. It's just plain ignorant. I thought the civil rights movement was over but I guess not! He's taken a very literal meaning from the bible and ignored the larger message of the text, which is "do unto others", everyone is equal, etc. The beliefs in the bible can be simplified and modernized without losing their true intention and meaning. I think religion in general could do with much less structure... Hence my lack of a religion at all at this point. I don't think the structure of religion is necessary to be a good person. If the church became more simplified and streamlined I think more people would be inclined to accept religion. But lately, more and more people I know are agnostic and athiest (myself included). I hope I'm making sense, I'm pretty tired right now. :D

At 6:38 AM, Blogger Darius said...

MARISSA: I basically agree with all your points.

To pick up on one - "the structure of religion isn't necessary to be a good person" - that, as they say, "works for me too." But I wonder if to some extent this one isn't a personal thing.

The experience of going to church (temple, synagogue, mosque) and participating in a community focusing on spiritual matters does seem to be helpful to many people. As things are, however, competing doctrinal understandings of the Truth and rituals that are belief-based make the religious community not one, but highly fragmented; and often mutually competitive/antagonistic.

And come to think of it, that's probably why religious institutions are not so inviting to people like you and me. I mean, we're both social and spiritual persons too, so theoretically there ought to be an institution where we'd feel welcome...

At 6:59 AM, Anonymous Marissa said...

Right on. I found Unitarian-Universalist church to be very accepting of people of all beliefs. Unfortunately, about a year after I became a member of their church, the pastor died and the person who replaced him was as conservative as most Catholic priests. But before that happened, I really enjoyed attending services there. It's nice to have a community of course. It seems like people always seem to mess it up. Religion would be great if it wasn't controlled by people! :D

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Darius said...

MARISSA: I had a very fleeting acquaintance with Unitarianism. Wish we could get someone from that denomination to check in here.

I liked them mainly because they lacked the qualities of intolerance, rigidity, disrespect of other viewpoints... but at the same time, their point of view was so inclusive that I found myself not sure where they really stood on anything!

That could well just speak to my ignorance of Unitarianism...

At 6:02 PM, Blogger breakerslion said...

I have a lot of reading to catch up on, or "upon which to catch up" if you're an even bigger language snob than I am .... Glad to oblige your request.

While you definitely believe some things that I do not, I think you quite possibly might be on a path that will create some good questioning of alleged authority. You might even be on a path that will ultimately end your belief in ghosts, holy or otherwise.

Your approach to scripture fundamentally :) differs from mine in that you appear to accept (assume) that the things written occurred as reported. I look to motive for anything that is written, and don't necessarily accept the stated or generally accepted one.

I will be back.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Darius said...


But I've never believed in ghosts. Only in what looks compelling when I take as honest a look as I can.

My best guess is that people would tend to put different labels on the perspective I'm trying to develop, ranging, oddly enough, from atheist to Christian.

The perspective is definitely critical, but I also find a baby in the bathwater - but probably not what you're thinking.

Appreciate your patience. I'm basically trying to blog stuff that would be presented better in a book manuscript.


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