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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Affirm and go hottubbing, for yours is the reign of God.

Some things just bring out my inner Savonarola.

Yesterday in our parish bible study, we went over Acts 19, which covers the tumult resulting from the growth of the Church in Ephesus. Ephesus was the home of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis. A remarkable engineering feat, the Temple was even in ancient times a magnet for pilgrims, and as Acts makes clear, the economic life of Ephesus depended upon the temple and the industries connected to it. Starting with idol-making silversmiths.

One of the many interesting scenes in the chapter involves the burning of a pile of valuable magical texts by recently converted Christians as a sign of continuing conversion.

As a sign of my own deepening conversion, I hereby state that I will burn any copies of the Catholic Update which come into my possession. The trigger? This slice of USCCB-certified Grade A headcheese served up by Fr. Ken Overberg, a professor at Xavier University (Cincinnati).

If there was ever an essay which illustrated in such stark terms the problem with the Americanization of the Gospel, this is it. As Niebuhr put it way back in 1937, the cotton candy gospel being offered up by the liberal Protestants of the time boiled down to this:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.

You can find all four in spades in Fr. Overberg's meditation. Except "kingdom" references, of course. And the use of "men."

Adopting the biases of the secular academy, Fr. Overberg is big on "inclusive" language. Thus the replacement of "Kingdom" with "Reign." Furthermore, and despite the daunting witness of revelation, Fr. Overberg has an aversion to refering to God as "Father" or "he" in his own writing (as opposed to quotes). Stale and awkward (note the tortured gymnastics he has to go through to paraphrase John 3:16), but sadly unsurprising. As are the equally stale form-critical judgments offered up with the usual uncritical certitude, but I'll leave aside the Bultmania for now.

To be blunt, the overarching dreadfulness of the essay is mind-blowing. Milk-jug absent from the commentary are such traditional concepts as repentence and preparation for the Advent of the Lord, which, of course, are the focal points of the season for those not allergic to the Church as it existed in 1962. To give you a brief flavor of the problem: there are three dutiful references to "God's Reign" in the essay, but zero to "repentance/repent." As in zilch.

(1) A God without wrath/Kingdom without Judgment.

The distant and neuter God loves you. Period. There's nothing that makes God angry. Jesus came as a symbol of divine love--no atonement there.
What's remarkable about this is that Fr. Overberg has. no. clue. how this obliterates social justice advocacy. If God truly loves unconditionally, then not even screwing the poor and building a nuclear death ray to fry puppies and redwoods from one of the Lagrange Points is going to hack Himherit off. Godself is all about acceptance--and nothin' but.

(2) Men without Sin.

Care to guess the number of references to sin in the essay, personal or otherwise? Actually, there's one--which naturally denigrates the concept of atonement. More about that in section (3). Sin apparently went out with Vatican II, along with Latin, habits, incense, moral seriousness and reading comprehension. There is no call to genuine introspection, no suggestion that there is anything in the conscience which bears examining. Oh, sure, he lobs off the "what then shall we do?" line, but he's already provided the answer two paragraphs earlier, where one can find a call to discipleship which amounts to "share, be nice and no hitting."

God is apparently some kind of neuter Ron Burgundy--R. Burgundy--whose sole remaining task in history is to look upon Himherit's beings and say "You stay classy, Creation."

Add to this the discovery that cost-free, Jacuzzi-jet spirituality is the reason for the season. Bold defiance of those numberless advocates of nuclear war and starving the poor gets you accolades as a 21st Century Bonhoeffer.

(3) Christ Without a Cross.

Fr. Overberg hates atonement. Hates it.

God's not about atonement. Not even in the Gospel of John:

John’s Gospel does not see Jesus’ life and death as atonement or ransom. There is instead emphasis on friendship, intimacy, mutuality, service, faithful love—revealing God’s desire and gift for the full flourishing of humanity, or in other words, salvation.


Here's the part where I am compelled to ask--"Don't you have to be fatuous somewhere else?"

Yeah, sure--if you ignore all of the "lamb of God" references, Jewish sacrificial allusions and every other signal of the atoning mission of Christ which bubbles up from the text. Of course --pay no attention to the creative theologian behind the curtain! Or: "Don't believe your lying eyes--I have tenure!"

And the drama of salvation is reduced to some felt-needs security blanket--being the best you you can possibly be! Just perfect for a comfortable people not interested in taking up a cross and following Christ. It's Joel Osteen in a cassock. Which is just about the last thing the Church in America needs right now.

[Thanks to Rich for the link.]

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