Tag Archives: Christian tradition

Christian Universalism: Hegemony Divinized

A Possible Interpretation

Hegemony: “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group”

Joel continues his proud posts on universalism and how God is love and if God love everyone (blah blah blah) God will save everyone (yada yada).  For the record, I do not consider universalism to be a heresy; just a misreading of Christian tradition, Scripture, and a habitual tendency to separate God’s love from God’s justice.  But as a theologian who is dedicated to justice, I do not see a reason why universalism is protected from a just critique.  So, here is my theory:

In universalism, God super-imposes HIS (yes, his, because universalism as a see it favors the very phallocentric, Enlightenment perspective of a universal destiny) love on all of humanity, even those who continue to reject God, or a higher power/the big  Transcendent in general.  Never one have I heard universalists talk about justice since it is sort of a shibboleth when it comes to discussing the end times for them. To believe that everyone, in the end, will wind up in the same place really means this: they will all have to, by necessity, either make the same religious choices as I argued in my Fanon and universalism piece or that it is by God’s predetermination from the beginning that everyone is “saved and sanctified.” Universalism is predestination with a smile on its face.

It is my belief that Christianity is at its best when it works as both a counter-hegemonic force as well as a community that seeks to transcend the counter-hegemonic/hegemonic divide.  For more on my views, see here.

P.S.: I understand that there are some Christians on the biblioblogosphere who see hegemony as a good thing, and that’s okay, too. Just know, God still loves you.

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Message for iNeed service 2/28/2010: In the end, Love.

Scripture: John 3:14 (my translation) and 1st Corinthians 15:54-57 (The Voice)

  • When I first got here, teaching Sunday school, explaining the story of Paul and Silas, telling them this happened a long time ago.  Lower elementary kids, asked me, are Paul and Silas dead? It came naturally for me to say that the Bible was written a long time ago, but the kids didn’t know. And then I was asked: What happens when you die? I had to explain to them, not some formula I learned at seminary, but about how God loves us, sent Jesus, and rose him from the dead.
  • if you were asked the average person walking in the street what they think the final judgment will look like, a probable answer would be that when we die, our souls separate from our bodies as we are transported to another world called heaven with some bearded giant guy sitting on his throne all alone, waiting for you and I, with a huge television screen replaying all of our good and evil deeds in front of strangers, our friends and family.
  • Today. Love. Resurrection in the Gospel of John and 1st Corinthians.
  • I have heard, because of the popularity of John 3:16 as well as the appearance of two of the verbs for love in Greek (both agapw and filw respectively) at least thirty-nine times in the fourth Gospel, that John should be called, “the apostle of love.”  And if you ever been to a wedding, you probably more than likely, just like in the movie Wedding Crashers, can expect to hear 1st Corinthians 13. Paul’s love letter to the church in Corinth.
  • Judgment is a power shared by the Father and the Son.   John 5:22 says, “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.”  The ability to pronounce judgment on humanity is a gift from God the Father to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man.
  • Jesus is the Son of Man, and in the Jewish tradition, like in the book of Daniel 7, the Son of Man is a person who lived in heaven, and at the end of the world, he was to come to the earth to judge people at the final resurrection. The Son of Man appears a lot in the Gospel of John.
  • I have translated: “And just as Moses raised up the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary for the Son of Man to be raised up.”   Traditionally this is interpreted as a foreshadowing of Jesus’s death on the cross, and I agree with that view, but I also believe that just as Moses lifted the serpent up, so did the Father and the Holy Spirit raise Jesus from the dead.
  • we cannot separate the Crucifixion and Resurrection events as part of God’s revelation, God’s love for us.
  • At the end of the world, John insists that the Son of Man will call out to the graves and all of the dead bodies will rise at the sound of his voice (John 5:28).
  • The apostle Paul also talks about the Resurrection. Two chapters after he explains what love is, Paul starts to discuss how God loved Jesus, the Son of God, that he raised him from the dead (1st Corinthians 15: 3-5)  According to the scripture. The First/Old testament if you will, just as there are hints about Jesus’s death, there are also hints of Jesus’s (and our) bodily resurrection.  Take the instance of Jonah; Jonah was in the belly of a whale for 3 days. Know what that means: When an animal is trying to ingest something, there are acids that are released to dissolve whatever was consumed.  According to some scholars, jonah was good as dead, until God freed him from the giant fish.
  • We also have Ezekiel 37, and some say that the story of Issaac may be a resurrection story.
  • Without the resurrection, continues the apostle Paul in verses 16-19, our faith is not worth more than yesterday’s trash.
  • Some Christians today try to say that the God of the New Testament is nicer than the one of the “Old” testament.  That they are not the same.  This is just no true.  In fact, in the Christian tradition, that is a heresy. As I have shown, there is no separating God’s love from God’s judgment.  The resurrection is both a sign of God’s love and judgment.
  • My favorite verses: 1st Corinthians 15:54-57
  • This is such a beautiful passage, but you see the thing is, Paul is quoting the First Testament.  The Prophet Hosea 13:14.  There is only one God, of the Jews and the Christians; the God of the Resurrection.
  • Jesus is not some “ice dancer in an all-white jumpsuit, and doing an interpretive dance of my life.” Or “a mischievous badger” “or “a ninja fighting off evil samurai” or “someone with angel wings, singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd.”   He is the Risen Lord.
  • In the early 19th century, there were a lot of things being said about the historical Jesus. Particularly in Germany, before World War II.  A lot of folks say that the Nazi Germany was godless and I agree, but you see, they did have uniforms with badges that said, “God with us.”  Karl Barth, however, disagreed with these folks years before they came into power.  He said, in his “Letter to the Romans”: ‘The Gospel of the Resurrection is the action, the supreme miracle, by which God, the unknown God dwelling in light unapproachable, the Holy One, Creator, Redeemer makes himself known (Acts 17:23)  No divinity remaining on this side the line of the resurrection; no divinity which dwells in temples made by human hands or which is served by the hands of man; no divinity which needs anything, any human propaganda (Acts 17:24-25),–can be God.  God is the unknown God, and precisely because He is unknown, He bestows life and breath and all things” (35-36).
  • Outside of the Resurrection, there is no God.  There is no life.  God’s Yes to Life is Our No to Sin.
  • A lot of good people claim to believe in God.  In 1831, there were some good people who believed in God, working for Congress, but they forced some 15,000 Native Americans to move from Tennessee to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  Did these good congressmen believe in the God of Resurrection? Thank God for the few good Christian missionaries who showed these First Nations peoples the love of God.
  • Is the God in the Pledge of Allegiance the God of the Resurrection?  Is the God in “In God We trust” the God of the Resurrection?  When we say “God bless America,” are we talking about the God of the Resurrection? Someday, I hope so.
  • But, as our praise band sang this morning:  There is none like our God.  There is none like our God.
  • The God of the Resurrection.

Apostolicity in the Medieval Church, part 2: Thomas Aquinas

The Theologians

The Waldensians were not the only people calling on the One Holy Apostolic Church to change both its life and doctrine; several individuals challenged the teachings of the church. John Wycliffe believed that the sole legitimate ruler of the world was God and that God’s reign came in the form of servitude; therefore any institution or person who gained authority in any other manner was illegitimate.[11] This fourteenth century scholar argued for the limitations of lordship before the English royal courts and like the Poor of Lyons before him called for the translation of the Bible into the vernacular language of normal citizens.  His advocacy led to the earliest English translations of the Christian canon.  Wycliffe’s followers rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, clerical celibacy, and the holding of secular offices by clerics.[12] Another 14th century theologian, Marguerite Porete, rejected the church’s authority completely.  In The Mirror of Simple Souls, she questioned the authority of the church by mocking the character Reason (the church) in her theological narratives.[13] By giving Love (the Trinity) the sole power to give salvation, Porete rendered the church’s role in God’s plan of redemption obsolete.  Lastly, the Bohemian theologian John Huss came into conflict with the papacy after he declared that any pope who disobeyed scripture was not worthy of submission.[14] Huss preached in favor the doctrines of Wycliffe and against the sale of indulgences particularly the kind that the pope sold during the Crusades.[15] Huss and Porete were burned at the stake for their heresies while Wycliffe’s teachings were condemned as his ashes were tossed into the river Swift.

The church did accept systematic theologians that were primarily from monasteries.  Whereas John Huss and John Wycliffe were embedded in the academy, the doctrines of those who lived the religious life such as, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, and Peter of Abelard were accepted albeit hesitantly by the church.  Prior to being appointed by King William II to become the bishop of Canterbury, Anselm lived the monastic life at Bec in Normandy.  Anselm dealt with such issues as the existence of God and the Incarnation.  God, for Anselm, was “that-than-which-no-greater-can-be-thought,” or the greatest being which can be conceived.[16] The importance of Anselm’s claim is that the Christian faith can be intellectually argued from reason.  Anselm also made claims from reason to explain the Incarnation and the satisfactory atonement.  Peter of Abelard was originally accused of being a heretic for arguing from reason the existence of God and the rationality of the Christian faith.  His most controversial work, Yes and No, exposed the contradictions of many philosophers and theologians who were traditionally accepted as authoritative in the church.[17] Abelard’s proto-scholasticism was the first call for the reconciliation these conflicting viewpoints; Peter of Abelard failed, however, to create a solution that would create such an agreement.

One theologian who was able to systematically unite differing philosophies and theologies was Thomas Aquinas.  Thomas Aquinas first encountered Aristotelian philosophy as a Dominican monk.  As mendicant orders, the Dominican and Franciscan schools served as alternative theological education centers for students.  R. N. Swanson observes, “It is striking how many major preachers and thinkers of the period were actually members of the mendicant orders—from Thomas Aquinas (Dominican) and William of Ockham (Franciscan) to Luther (Augustinian) himself.  Because such people were trained in both theology and preaching, they were ideally equipped to spread new theological ideas, among clerics as well as laity.”[18] Thomism starts with the premise that there are some truths that are obtainable by reason and other truths which cannot be grasped.[19] God is a revealed truth since no one can be redeemed without affirming God’s existence.  Thomas also argued contra Anselm and Plato that knowledge can be found first in our sense perceptions and not an abstract realm of ideas.  Aquinas’ Christianized Aristotelian theology posed as a threat the traditional Christian neo-Platonist ideals; the problem lied in the fact that Aquinas was borrowing from a different philosophy other than the traditional Platonism of Augustine and Anselm of Canterbury.  Thus, the church was reluctant to embrace Aquinas’ teaching and canonize him fifty years after he had passed away.[20]


In the final analysis, the church served as the apostle to the world; any religious order or individual who refused to submit to the apostolic tradition as defined by the church authorities were reprimanded by either the bishops or the church councils.  The Protestant Reformation should be viewed as a struggle between ecclesial authorities and the laity concerning which group could mark the bounds of apostolicity.  Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, and Marguerite Porete defined the church as the elect of God and threatened the redemptive function of the church in the Christian life.  Their rejection of the institution and the community remind me of similar rhetoric today from postmodern “emerging” churches.  Perhaps we should learn from Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi to try to reform the church from within first and then only reject the institution as the very last measure.

Works Cited

HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989.

“Apostles.” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01626c.htm

Audisio, Gabriel. The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival c.1170-c.1570. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1999

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. New York: HarperSan Franscisco, 1984.

Lesnick, Daniel R.. Preaching in Medieval Florence: The Social World of Franciscan and Domincan Spriituality. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1989

Oden, Amy. In Her Own Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought. Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1994.

Swanson, R.N. Religion and Devotion in Europe.c. 1215-1515. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

[11] Justo L. Gonzalez. The Story of Christianity Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperSan Franscisco, 1984), 346-347.

[12] Ibid, 348.

[13] Amy Oden. In Her Own Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought. (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1994), 159.

[14] Justo L. Gonzalez. The Story of Christianity Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperSan Franscisco, 1984), 349.

[15] Ibid, 350.

[16] Justo L. Gonzalez. The Story of Christianity Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperSan Franscisco, 1984), 313.

[17] Ibid, 314.

[18]R. N. Swanson. Religion and Devotion in Europe.c. 1215-1515. (Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1997),58.

[19] Justo L. Gonzalez. The Story of Christianity Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperSan Franscisco, 1984), 318.

[20] R. N. Swanson. Religion and Devotion in Europe.c. 1215-1515. (Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p 147.