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March 12, 2013


Jesus Seminar’s John Dominic Crossan Hosted by Virginia Bishop Shannon Johnston for Clergy Dialogue

Jeff Walton of the Institute on Religion and Democracy had the joy of spending some time last weekend with Episcopalians who had gathered at the Church of the Holy Cross in Dunn Loring to hear from a well-known apostle of orthodox Christianity. He fills us in at Juicy Ecumenism:

Just in time for Easter, Virginia Episcopalians hosted a Jesus Seminar radical who denies that Jesus was uniquely divine or physically rose from the dead.

Instead, the historic person of Jesus was a non-violent revolutionary who was distinct only for the time and place in which he lived, according to an author and former Roman Catholic priest who recently lectured, preached, and led a dialog with clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia hosted by Bishop Shannon Johnston.

That would be the same Shannon Johnston about whom an FAQ regarding the settlement between Truro Anglican Church (whose pastor, Rev. Tory Baucom, has recently been in conversations with +Johnston about joint missional endeavors, among other things) said this:

Q. Why does Tory refer to Bp Shannon Johnston in the joint press release as a brother in Christ if he engages in false teaching?

A. Bp Johnston confesses faith in the risen Christ, as outlined in the Nicene Creed:
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;...

This is orthodox Christian teaching on Jesus. This is a reliable criterion concerning whether or not someone is a Christian (Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9).

This does not mean that his life or teaching is always consistent with the professed faith. At times, this can be said of all of us. But inconsistent belief is better than consistent unbelief. Of course, consistent belief is what we should all aspire and strive for.

The term “brother in Christ” normally describes persons who look to Christ alone for salvation.

I don’t know whether +Johnston is a Christian or not, but I find it difficult to believe that someone who could recite the Nicene Creed without his fingers crossed behind his back would be inviting an apostate like John Dominic Crossan to a “dialogue” with his clergy (especially when many of his clergy, including apparently the pastor of the Church of the Holy Cross, are so taken by his teaching that they want to expose their congregations to it). Oh, and it was promoted on the diocese web site, too.

Crossan’s unorthodox views on the Resurrection are already well-established in his writings and the Jesus Seminar, a once prominent body of liberal scholars who used to gain headlines by disputing the Gospels’ historicity.  But the hosting, promotion and what amounted to an effective endorsement of his teachings – with a glowing introduction by Holy Cross Rector Wes Smedley – reveal an Episcopal diocese that drifting ever further from orthodoxy. Crossan’s appearance was promoted by the Episcopal Diocese and other Episcopal congregations in Northern Virginia, including the “renewing” congregations of The Falls Church (Episcopal) and Epiphany Episcopal Church.

“The most important thing for me is to ask the right questions,” Crossan shared in a sanctuary filled at near-capacity. Centering his Sunday evening talk on differences in iconography between Eastern and Western portrayals of the Resurrection, Crossan displayed Western church images of an individually Resurrected of Christ alongside an entire crowd being liberated from Hades in the East.

When a theologian has to resort to comparative iconography to make his points, you know he’s got nothing. Icons are not Scripture, and offer a fairly wide scope for differing perspectives on a given biblical theme or event.

The differences, Crossan asserted, raised “huge” doctrinal problems about baptism and “the East, I think, has a better sense that doctrine doesn’t capture God – the best we can do is get glimpses, and sometimes wrong glimpses.”

Huh? That’s the kind of leap that someone with an axe to grind can make. Maybe you had to be there.

Arguing that the first century idea of Resurrection was significantly different than now, Crossan charged that scripture up to the book of Daniel took for granted that there was no afterlife.

Let’s grant that the Old Testament doesn’t mention the afterlife in any way, shape or form (I think that’s ridiculous, but let’s give it to him). The fact that it wasn’t mentioned does not mean that the One who is the Source of Scripture “took it for granted that there” is no afterlife. He just didn’t see fit to reveal that in the OT. That, among other things, is what the resurrection of Christ was for.  big surprise

Crossan stated that he would not attempt to dissuade a person from belief in the afterlife. But “if you’ve spent your whole life with Christ, why should it [afterlife] matter?” The retired professor from Chicago’s DePaul University recounted a conversation in which Sojourners President Jim Wallis defended the physical resurrection of Christ by explaining “no one dies for a metaphor,” and Crossan retorted “that’s the only thing they die for.”

For once I find myself agreeing with Jim Wallis. Those who give their lives do so for 1) people they love; 2) a country that they love; 3) a God they love. I’m sure there are those who will die for the sake of an abstraction, or even for a literary device, but most of us are far more willing to make sacrifices for something or someone concrete. Of course, if you think that God is just a metaphor, then I suppose that’s all you’ve got. I can also understand why you’d be uninterested in life after death–who wants to spend eternity adoring a metaphor?

The past Jesus Seminar president also repudiated the Kingdom of God as an eternal rule at a moment of time, instead proposing that it was a “process” and dismissing writings credited to the Apostle Paul about the idea of Christ coming soon, appraising that the writer “isn’t Paul.”

“Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was already here, insofar as you enter into it,” Crossan said. “Jesus probably didn’t self-proclaim that he was the messiah.”

No, I’m sure He didn’t. After all, brilliant scholars such as Crossan have determined, 2000 years after the events, what really happened. What do we need with accounts from people who lived in the same country at the same time?

Asked what difference there was between Jesus and Ghandi, Crossan was succinct.

“The difference is two things: time and place,” Crossan answered. “There are windows of opportunity within which certain things can happen. Jesus could have done everything that happened to Jesus – including resurrection taken as literally as you want – and this could have all died out in the villages of Galilee in the 66-74 war.”

Adding that “Rose Parks didn’t do anything other civil rights figures couldn’t have done,” the DePaul University Religious Studies professor recalled Jesus similarly, as part of a river pushing against a logjam, with it breaking through due to several variables at the time of Jesus’ ministry.

“But the river didn’t arrive at that moment,” Crossan asserted. “What happened was a breakthrough, and the breakthrough has a lot to do with time and place. Jesus is not really dropped down from heaven and happens to land in Galilee when he could have landed in Galway [Ireland] and been much different.”

Crossan announced that Jesus’ ministry 30 years prior would have lasted “10 minutes” under Herod the Great, and “five minutes” at the time of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

“Don’t think that just because it happened that it had to happen,” Crossan advised.

Translation: what Jesus did was historically contingent. God essentially had nothing to do with it–it certainly wasn’t according to any plan that He might have devised from all eternity, regardless of what the “unknown” and thus dismissible clown who wrote Ephesians 1 thought. Anyone could have done what Jesus did given the right circumstances, but even Jesus couldn’t have done what He did if he’d been born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So, let’s sum up, shall we? We have a “biblical scholar” who claims to be a Christian, and who at the same time dismisses every significant teaching of Scripture and every significant belief of historic Christianity. He represents a strain of religion that is best embodied in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, where skepticism of any form of Christian faith or belief is the norm, and even speaking of “God” (except as metaphor, of course) is discouraged. This is the “biblical scholar” whose anti-Christian blather was presented to Virginia Episcopalians as a viable approach to the Faith, and whose “dialogue” with the clergy of the diocese was hosted by the allegedly “orthodox” Bishop of Virginia.

The only word that comes readily to mind is “shameful.” Feel free to supply your own in the comments.


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22 comments

Let’s see the Truro vestry ‘splain their way out of this one.  So is it correct now to call Shannon an orthodox, heresy promoting (or at least heresy tolerating - wait, maybe it’s just radical hospitality and inclusion), brother in Christ grin ?  The term double-minded presents itself as applying to the situation we have here with the Truro vestry and Tory.  In any case, I’m having a bout of extreme cognitive dissonance here and it can’t be solved by living into the tension of this stuff.

[1] Posted by Daniel on 3-12-2013 at 05:49 PM · [top]

So so not a surprise.

Creedally Orthodox, Brother in Christ Bishop Shannon Johnston hosts John Dominic Crossan . . .

Wait, let me just say those last three words again . . .

John Dominic Crossan

Johnston hosts *him* for a clergy dialogue.

But you know . . . Johnston is totally 100% Creedally Orthodox.  He’s never met any part of the creed that he didn’t really really like the sound of.

And . . . by all means let’s affirm Johnston publicly as a “brother in Christ” and also open “up relationships and ministry opportunities to him in the CofE.”

Because our differences are not “Christological.”

[2] Posted by Sarah on 3-12-2013 at 06:08 PM · [top]

You know, maybe it is time to turn this one sided relationship into a more even handed one.  Don’t you think it’s time that Shannon Johnston asked his good friend Tory to arrange for, say, +Michael Nazir Ali and Matt Kennedy+ to speak to clergy in Virginia?

[3] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-12-2013 at 06:51 PM · [top]

There is a good interview of +Shannon Johnston by Greg Griffith from 2007 on Youtube.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVl4RyCpiNs
The revealing part to me was that all conflict was the result of bad process. This was in response to differences of theology and even the WAY to approach the churches position on abortion. I got the impression that truth was less important than gaining consensus and how good process can make that happen.

[4] Posted by Fr. Dale on 3-12-2013 at 07:07 PM · [top]

The is so symptomatic of the utterly duplicitous TEo.  They say “Of course I believe in the Creed.  We’re entirely orthodox” but then they “reimagine” or reinterpret the clauses into non-existence.

Never believe what they say.  Believe what they do.

[5] Posted by Bill2 on 3-12-2013 at 07:57 PM · [top]

There is probably a psychological profile to be drawn up about “theologians” like Crossan and his sycophants.  I just can’t work up more interest in the subject than writing a blog comment.

Ok, in as much seriousness add I can muster for the   Jesus Seminar, I will admit that Crossan represents a 70s sort of Catholicism that NEEDS to be new, edgy, and original. This is the fellow who explains the empty tomb by wild dogs dragging the body away.

Myself, I find the bodily resurrection easier to believe than that the witnesses to the Risen Lord (500 and more of them) were willing to die for a myth. That’s just silly.

[6] Posted by Words Matter on 3-12-2013 at 10:06 PM · [top]

It appears that many TEC churches used Marcus Borg’s book “Embracing an Adult Faith” for a Lenten study, which not only has the same foundational heretical ideas as Crossan, but also subtle says, “if you believe in silly things like a miracle birth or the resurrection, you have a childish faith in things like the tooth fairy and need to grow up.” (Borg credits Crossan as one of his mentors and KJS credits Borg with opening her mind to seeing Christianity in a new light.)

Revisionist bishops are pushing these materials on parishes that are filled with biblically illiterate adults and parish priests are doing what they are told.  And everyone then shows up Sunday to recite the Creed (at least for now. We all know it will soon be removed or revised.)

A god who cannot do anything outside of a closed system of natural law (no miracles, no life-giving power) is NOT the God of the Bible, nor would he/she/it be much of a “god” at all. Oh wait…. that’s the point, right? Humans and “gods” become synonymous.

[7] Posted by cityonahill on 3-13-2013 at 07:12 AM · [top]

I have puzzled over intelligent people claiming to be creedally orthodox, yet endorsing worldviews that are contradictory and mutually exclusive to the creeds.  It has an Alice in Wonderland feel about it.  I think they are sincere in believing they are creedally orthodox, but don’t recognize the illusions that Satan has constructed in the battlefield of their minds.  I suspect many of these illusions (strongholds) were constructed in seminary.

[8] Posted by Jill Woodliff on 3-13-2013 at 08:30 AM · [top]

cityonahill #7,

In our diocese, it is not the bishop who pushes the Borg/Crossan/others teachings, rather it is sometimes the laity itself. In our parish, the adult Sunday forum (they can’t call themselves a Sunday school anymore) comes up with these gems which the rector either passively accepts or turns a blind eye. I suspect if the typical revisionist bishop ever read a letter from a concerned congregant about such goings on, he likewise would let it slide. This process does make the bishop and rector guilty of pushing the material in a passive sort of way.

The flaming revisionist preacher or bishop of course will not just allow these teachings but will pepper their own sermons and letters with quotes from these writers, often citing them as theologians and authorities.

[9] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 3-13-2013 at 08:34 AM · [top]

#9 One way of evaluating the orthodoxy of a congregation is what they call the adult education program. Any reference to a school or discipleship means there is something to be taught. A Forum is where any views are acceptable and may be expressed since there is no truth to be taught. The opposition to orthodoxy in DSC calls itself a forum.

[10] Posted by Pb on 3-13-2013 at 08:57 AM · [top]

I think that “creedally orthodox” in the context of Johnston means what VG Robinson said about the creeds.  I remember where he related the story of going to a faculty member while in seminary and expressing his discomfort in reciting the creeds when he didn’t necessarily believe all of them literally.  The faculty member told him not to worry, that many, if not most, of the faculty and clergy also did not literally believe the creeds.  He told VGR to go ahead and recite the creeds with crossed fingers - wink, wink; nod, nod.

If he were still alive, maybe Welby could hire Rodney King to be his reconciliation consigliere.  Rodney boiled it down to the bare essentials with his “can we all just get along?”  They could even call it “Kingly Reconciliation.”  That certainly sounds cool, with just the right amount of liberal cachet, like “indaba”.

[11] Posted by Daniel on 3-13-2013 at 09:14 AM · [top]

It is a disservice to the body of Christ to present members of the Jesus Seminar as experts or theologians. They are otherwise so recognized. Johnson’s book on the Real Jesus makes this clear. He put them in a chapter called Amateur Night. Giving them equal time makes the statement that they have something significant to say. At best it polarizes the congregation.

[12] Posted by Pb on 3-13-2013 at 09:17 AM · [top]

#9 Pb,

You are correct, beware of the “Forum.” In addition, I found it helpful to check the “Faith Formation” records of the previous parishes of priest applicants during the search process.

Not that anyone cared when I brought to the attention of our search committee that their preferred candidate taught from Borg during Lent. I was made to look like the bad person for bringing it up.

I bet the same thing goes on in the Bishop search game in TEc.

It should be the job of someone like Rev. Tory Baucom to call out Bishop Shannon Johnston and not leave it to the likes of IRD, SF, and we lowly pewsitters. But thanks to IRD and SF for bringing it up.

Guess who will be called a bad person for doing so?

[13] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 3-13-2013 at 09:26 AM · [top]

#7 you wrote:

KJS credits Borg with opening her mind to seeing Christianity in a new light.)

Probably the same way a severe head injury can “open the mind” :(

[14] Posted by Milton on 3-13-2013 at 12:23 PM · [top]

#13: “Guess who will be called a bad person for doing so?” Already happened, in more than one place.

#14: “Probably the same way a severe head injury can “‘open the mind’” I’ve heard that LSD can have the same effect.  wink

[15] Posted by David Fischler on 3-13-2013 at 12:50 PM · [top]

A .45 ball to the temple has the same effect.

[16] Posted by Fr. Chip, SF on 3-13-2013 at 02:41 PM · [top]

A diocese and bishop trying to represent themselves as “orthodox” in faith shouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot like this.

[17] Posted by Katherine on 3-13-2013 at 03:42 PM · [top]

I am pretty sure Johnston is only represented as orthodox when Tory Baucum is representing him.  At other times, he is a “moderate Episcopalian” (which in modern parlance means pro gay marriage, but occasionally allows clergy to use Rite II without major edits.  As a bishop of The….... (as I pointed out elsewhere, it stopped being a church a while back, and with the recent conciliation agreement, ceased being Episcopal), the creed can mean whatever he wants it to mean, so the actual words hold no real import for him.

[18] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-13-2013 at 05:33 PM · [top]

“Creedally orthodox” is the most generous definition of orthodoxy.  It means one accepts the core of the Christian faith as true - or at least it used to.  In the earlier days of modernist theology, liberals would openly deny key doctrines outlined in the Creeds.  However, even since the neo-orthodox began to flourish, and especially in the last four decades, the strategy of those who deny the faith but wish to claim the name of “Christian” has been to so re-define the creedal terms so as to embody the same lack of faith as the early liberals, but not so blatantly.

I have met some people so steeped in the redefined meanings of the Creeds’ terms as to completely unaware that any other way of looking at them was possible.  When, on the rare occasion I have been able to show them that their understanding was not that of the councils that produced the Creeds, they clung to their revised meanings and denied the real meaning.

Language, to many of these people, is mere symbol manipulation and has little to do with reality, which they think cannot truly be known.

At any rate, if there any doubt about Johnston, this invitation of a false teacher should clear it up for any but the most obtuse or most compromised person.  I suspect that Mr Baucum falls into one of these two categories (perhaps both…).

[19] Posted by AnglicanXn on 3-14-2013 at 08:50 AM · [top]

I have noticed that the historic creeds are said to be a part of our liturgical heritage and something that we all say. Belief has nothing to do with our use of the creeds.

[20] Posted by Pb on 3-14-2013 at 09:15 AM · [top]

Then I joined PECUSA in 1978 the Rector explained to me that we used the “We believe” form of the Nicene Creed rather than the “I believe” form of the Apostles Creed because while “the church” believes the creed collectively the individual members don’t necessarily believe all of it.

[21] Posted by Doug A on 3-14-2013 at 10:16 AM · [top]

Doug A #21 that’s classic.  So, what of the “baptismal covenant” in which one makes an “I believe” affirmation via the Apostles’ Creed? 

But nobody ever lists coherence as a desired clergy quality, at least in the old line denominations.

[22] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 3-14-2013 at 10:22 AM · [top]

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