Friday, October 11, 2013

Desperate times for the enemies of the cross

In the fantasy world of the secular media, orthodox Christianity is in retreat in the West and in danger of being wiped out completely in the East. It is an illusion, of course. The kingdom of God is always advancing against the kingdoms of this world. This is not so obvious at times, however, because the church operates under a power made perfect through weakness. Persecution of Christians in Islamic-dominated countries is real and the silence of the West in the face of it is scandalous. Revisionist interpretations of the faith have gained a foothold in mainline denominations in America and Britain and the leaders of those bodies are propagating a false gospel which undermines the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Underneath the media-created veneer, however, these are desperate times for the enemies of the cross. That is clear when you read two articles which have surfaced today. The first is a rather sensationalistic piece from The Blaze about a "self-professed 'Bible scholar'" preparing to make a preposterous claim about Jesus in an upcoming symposium.

On Oct. 19, self-professed Biblical scholar Joseph Atwill is planning to make public some very flammable allegations. At a day-long symposium called “Covert Messiah” in London, England, he’s set to unveil purported evidence that Roman aristocrats manufactured Jesus Christ – a claim that, if substantiated, would devalue the core of the Christian faith.

The only problem? Most Biblical experts disagree with the scholar’s pronouncements.

A press release announcing the purported new evidence claims that Atwill has discovered “ancient confessions” that purportedly prove that Romans invented Jesus Christ in the first century. He has long argued that the faith system was used as a political tool to control the masses — something he says is still going on today.

“I present my work with some ambivalence, as I do not want to directly cause Christians any harm, but this is important for our culture,” he said of the alleged debunk – one that he believes will eventually be universally accepted.
Yeah, right. We've seen this movie before. This Atwill fellow is just the latest incarnation of the publicity-seeking "biblical expert" of dubious pedigree who hopes to generate a mountain of publicity to hide the molehill of his vacuous claims.

Some twenty-odd years ago, a group of second- and third-tier "biblical scholars" (that is, professors languishing in the religion departments of state universities because they couldn't procure appointments at prestigious religious institutes of higher learning) operating under the collective moniker of the "Jesus Seminar" generated headlines by putting out press releases touting their "findings" about "what Jesus really said" as opposed to the words the early church had inserted in his mouth via those propaganda documents known as the Gospels. Not suprisingly, the "authentic Jesus" turned out to be the stereotypical late twentieth century social liberal whose "actual words" supported the left-of-center political and theological agendas of the "scholars."

The fiasco that was the "Jesus Seminar" demonstrated, not for the first time, that the secular press can easily be taken in by anyone and everyone who claims the title of "biblical scholar." Mr. Atwill, despite his dubious credentials, will doubtless generate a great deal of media attention. His claims, however, are nothing more than the same worn out revisionist bromides repackaged in new wrapping. Move along here. It's the same old song.

Old songs, of course, bring back old memories and, if the second article courtesy of RNS, a hagiographic profile of retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, is any indication, nostalgia is pretty much all the revisionists have to run on. Despite his best efforts to remain relevant, Spong has been out of the pubic eye for over a decade now and his legacy as Bishop of Newark is, as George Conger notes in his critique, one of theological adriftness and declining church membership.

As a bishop, Spong is a failure. As a theologian, he is a dim bulb. As a social prophet, he is a discredited wishful thinker. In other words, John Shelby Spong is the perfect hero for theological and political liberals who, for all their bravado, have nothing left but the memories of a past that was never as glorious as their memories so selectively, and desperately, recall.