Escape from Heresy (III)

fish-jumping-from-boulOn that fateful day, 27 October 1553, on the plain of Champel at the gate of Geneva, whilst the flames were engulfing Michael Servetus, he used his last breath to cry out in a loud voice, “O Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have pity on me!” The words were ignored by the bystanders, and Servetus died soon afterwards.

Commenting on the affair, in his Calvin: A Biography, Bernard Cottret wryly remarks: “He passed away after committing a terrible error of syntax; he cried out, ‘Oh Jesus, son of eternal God, have pity on me!’ in place of the proper, ‘Oh Jesus, eternal son of God.’” Cottret concludes: “His punishment was due to the misplacing of a single adjective. Heresy is never anything but a question of grammar.”

Servetus did not agree with John Calvin’s doctrine of the Trinity, and so rejected the notion of Christ’s eternal sonship. The solution to his heresy was a simple alteration of words, a “confession” that would set the matter straight. And so William Farel, like a good grammar teacher, tried to persuade Servetus in his final hours to fix his sentence construction and earn his freedom. But of course Servetus didn’t.

The Chronicles of Geneva

The obsession with a correct articulation of words and sentences as a sure antidote to heresy governed the religious thinking of 16thcentury Geneva. The Registers of the Consistory of the city confirm as much. The single theme that recurs throughout these records, in some or other form, has to do with the citizens’ ability to recite the “Pater” and the “confession” faultlessly. And yes, these people were summoned to appear in front of the consistory if there were any doubts about their religious commitments.

Here are some typical extracts, dating from the years 1542 and 1543. In each case, John Calvin was present:

Jacques Emyn: Summoned to render an account of his faith. He responded that he had made little progress and said the Pater, “Our Father, etc,” and a few words of the creed. The Consistory advise, having given him proper admonitions…

Charriere: She said her Pater fairly well, the creed very little. Remanded to Thursday.

The sheath-maker’s wife: …in the French language she could not say her creed; in Latin in a general way.

Clauda, daughter of Tyvent Joctz: …said the prayer poorly, and does not know the confession. She was admonished…

 And so it goes on, page after page, month after month, year after year. The only other spiritual activity that enjoyed the same scrutiny was the attendance of Monsieur Calvin’s sermons. The question, “Are you born again?” does not appear in the records.

The error behind the contemporary definition of heresy hinges on the very misunderstanding that governed the thoughts of the religious elite in Calvin’s Geneva, namely that it is possible to capture and preserve the essence of the sacred in a formulation that consists of mere human words and nothing more.

It should be noted that this understanding obscures the true nature of evil by subtly suggesting that one can banish it through the powers of a credal construct. Words arranged in the correct order becomes a type of magic charm that can dispel the darkness of the human heart. If only I can extract the good confession from the heretic, I will have destroyed the heresy. If not, I will have to destroy the heretic. (If not by fire, then by rumour).

The Real Problem

Where on earth did this idea come from?

We could approach the question like good historians, citing a pendulum-like overreaction on the Reformers’ part to the mysticism of the late Middle Ages.

Or we could point to the fact that the Reformation coincided with the dawn of the Renaissance – that golden era of enlightenment rationality, the scientific method and the birth of the industrial process and left-brained utilitarianism.

Or we could remind ourselves that the power of words experienced a revival during Luther’s time due to Gutenberg’s invention that immortalised the speech-bubble by turning it into print, hence the centuries-old association between the Protestant message and the gospel tract. And so on.

We can do so, but we will be scratching the surface.

The idolisation of words as containers of spirituality stretches much further back than the time of the Reformation. It even precedes the word-obsessed religious subculture of first-century Palestine – one that prompted Jesus to rebuff prayers that relied on a vain repetition of words to increase their efficacy, and rebuke those who confessed him with their lips whilst their hearts were far from him.

In fact, it predates the Isaiah passage that Jesus quoted from, “…this people draw near with their words” and “their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13, NASB), and it does so by millennia.

The Sacralisation of Language

Study the history of religion and you will soon run into the fascinating phenomenon of sacred language.

Like the architectural design of religious edifices symbolising the coveted penetration of the heavens, or the idea that some select locations on the globe are more suitable than others for doing so (this mountain, Jerusalem, Lourdes, Mecca, the “church” around the corner…), or the notion that spirituality is an impossibility without the mediation of a guru or holy man or priesthood of sorts, or the conviction that God is in the habit of assigning strange titles and dress codes to individuals who have learnt about him in settings inaccessible to the general public; the belief persists that there is an indissoluble bond between God’s revelation of himself and the words by which that revelation were conveyed.

The idea might not have been a bad one, were it not for the fact that it suffers from the same malady as our conceptions of what makes a heretic: Everyone seems to have their own version of what God has revealed to us.

And so there are tens of thousands of well-meaning folks, especially in the southern states of the USA, who remain convinced that God’s chosen language of communication is the type of English that King James and his cohorts spoke at the turn of the sixteenth century.

Travel north to Pennsylvania and you will run into Amish believers who are convinced that God would have them read the Bible in Luther’s Gothic Script High German, even though many of them struggle to understand the antiquated language.

Visit a couple of traditional Catholic churches on the way and you will meet people who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the Second Vatican Council’s reforms in the sixties, that allowed the use of vernacular languages in the Mass in the place of Latin.

There are many other examples.

The phenomenon is not restricted to Christendom. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is a revelation specifically in Arabic and should only be recited in Quranic Arabic. Translations into other languages are mere “interpretations.” Shinto practitioners chant in a form of Japanese that was spoken in the ninth to twelfth century. Hindus worship in Sanskrit, a language considered “dead” by many. Buddhists memorise their texts in Classical Tibetan. And so on.

The pattern repeats itself throughout religious history and can be traced back to the dawn of civilisation as we know it. Sumerian, one of the oldest languages known to humanity (spoken in ancient Mesopotamia of the Bible), was replaced by Akkadian in the second millennium BC, but lived on as a sacred and ceremonial language until the first century.

You cannot really go much further back than that, can you?

You can, in fact: To a time before language existed as we know it today; to a time when the notion of “knowledge” was understood and intended to be conveyed in a manner that transcended the limitations of mere spoken syllables and written symbols.

More about that in the posts to come.

Escape from Heresy (II)

fish-jumping-from-boulSo what on earth is a heretic?

According to conventional ecclesiastical wisdom and most dictionaries, it is “a doctrine or opinion at variance with the accepted or orthodox doctrine.”

If you have read the previous post, you will see that there is a problem here. Accepted or orthodox according to who? Keep this in mind and it quickly becomes clear that the textbook definition of heresy is little more than code for “a doctrine or opinion at variance with my doctrine.”

Two Approaches to Heresy

This little insight is not a new discovery. Sebastian Castellio, the man famous for daring to accuse John Calvin of having “hands dripping with the blood of Servetus” after Servetus’ public execution in Geneva in October 1553 for heresy (Servetus rejected infant baptism, predestination and the doctrine of the Trinity) put it as follows:

“After a careful investigation into the meaning of the term heretic, I can discover no more than this, that we regard those as heretics with whom we disagree. This is evident from the fact that today there is scarcely one of our innumerable sects which does not look upon the rest, as heretics, so that if you are orthodox in one city or region, you are held for a heretic in the next.”

Castellio wrote this in 1554, in a pamphlet entitled Concerning Heretics: Whether they are to be persecuted and how they are to be treated, one month after Calvin published his now infamous Defense of Orthodox Faith against the Prodigious Errors of the Spaniard Michael Servetus. Calvin wrote the latter in response to the outcry against him and the Geneva City Council for the murder of Servetus. In it he made the following statements:

“Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church. It is not in vain that he banishes all those human affections which soften our hearts; that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers, relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that he almost deprives men of their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal. Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of his honour, unless the piety that is due to him be preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories? Many people have accused me of such ferocious cruelty that I would like to kill again the man I have destroyed. Not only am I indifferent to their comments, but I rejoice in the fact that they spit in my face.”

It is not difficult to see how these words inspired Castellio to write Concerning Heretics. Calvin was not impressed that he dared to do so and called Castellio “a monster full of poison and madness.”

Castellio responded yet again, and this time he confronted his readers with the logical conclusion of Calvin’s propositions:

“He makes himself (by what right I do not know) the judge and sovereign arbiter. He claims that he has on his side the sure evidence of the Word of God. Then why does he write so many books to prove what is evident? In view of all this uncertainty we must define the heretic simply as one with whom we disagree. And if then we are going to kill heretics, the logical outcome will be a war of extermination, for each is sure of himself. Calvin would have to invade France and other nations, wipe out cities, put all the men to the sword, sparing neither sex nor age, not even the babes and beasts. All who bear the Christian name would be burned except the Calvinists. There would be left on earth only Calvinists, Turks, and Jews, whom he accepts.”

Castellio’s point is relevant, even though the threat of being exterminated for heresy is not quite as real as it was in his day. We may not burn our theological foes at the stake, but we have a myriad of other uncharitable ways to deal with them, all fueled by our sincere convictions that we are the custodians of God’s truth and those who disagree with us are the heretics.

Is there any yardstick or benchmark by which to judge this?

So Who Came First?

I mentioned that the first Pentecostals I came across were quite happy to refer to themselves as the oldest denomination on earth. Didn’t it all start on the Day of Pentecost? Weren’t the first Christians Holy Ghost baptised tongue talkers? Of course they were. So we are orthodox and everyone else is… well, a heretic. Case closed.

However, not everyone agrees. According to a gentleman from the Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of North America, who carries the honourable title of “Reverend Father,” Pentecostalism “is a modern American Christian movement that emerged out of the Holiness Movement at the turn of the 20th Century along with other heretical movements during that period of time in American history.”

Note: The Reverend Father does not see Pentecostalism as orthodox but as “modern” and thus heretical. He then highlights one of their aberrations: Pentecostal Church services are “very informal, avoiding the Divine Liturgy of the original churches.”

Ok, so here is an element of orthodoxy that distinguishes the “original churches” from the modern, heretical ones: The Divine Liturgy. (Note the capitalisation).

So, which element best captures the ethos of the non-heretical original churches? The charismatic gifts or the Divine Liturgy?

Here is an answer from a “Reformed” believer who proposes a third way: “Calvinism is so-called because John Calvin was the foremost man in history who articulated it in a way that many have not forgotten. He is not the only one who did so. There are many others, and the Apostle Paul was the first.”

That’s quite a statement. In tracing their beliefs back to their origins these guys zoom right past the “original churches” to Paul himself, the first Calvinist.

Shouldn’t one then call it Paulism?

Amazingly, the author anticipates the question and provides the answer in his next sentence: “Why then do we call it Calvinism and not Paulinism or just plain Christianity? The answer is that EVERYONE thinks their interpretation of Christianity is the correct one. The only way we can differentiate our interpretation from other interpretations is to give it a unique label. The fact that it is called, “Calvinism” does not make it extra-biblical, this is simply a designation that separates it from all other interpretations of the Scriptures, all other “isms.” The point of this all is that Calvinism is simply Biblical Christianity.” (Emphasis in original)

Hmm. That’s quite something – giving your version of Christianity a “unique label” that ends with an “ism”, with the express purpose of distinguishing it from all the other “isms,” and also from the designation “plain Christianity” which doesn’t quite convey the allegiance to the theology of John Calvin that Paul adhered to.

Think about that: This gentleman thinks that CALVINism is a better label than CHRISTianity.

Interestingly, while I was writing the above I found myself wondering what a Catholic would have to say about all of these people claiming the original churches and even the apostle Paul for themselves and their movements.

I kid you not: Whilst doing so an email containing a Quora notification flew into my Inbox. I opened it and read the following question:

“What was Christianity like before Catholicism?”

I then read the answer:

“Non-existent! Catholicism is the ONLY Christianity established by CHRIST HIMSELF, and the only Christianity which has been there for two thousand years.” (Emphasis in original)

No, it’s not a parody. The author identifies as a “Catholic who teaches Catechism, RCIA, and Prayer classes.” (I looked for mind-reading abilities, but there was none.)

I must hand it to these guys. They trace their origins further back than the earliest Christians and even the apostle Paul. Jesus himself founded them. Jesus was a Catholic!

At this point, I was tempted to wonder why Paul the Calvinist never addressed Jesus’ Catholicism. Imagine, we could have had the Reformation recorded in the book of Acts!

I will spare you the nuttiness that runs throughout the rest of church history. Trust me when I say that the sad pattern above has replicated itself with each ecclesiastical schism and split over the past two thousand years.

I think we are on safe ground to dismiss the definition of heresy at the beginning of this post. Which leaves us with a question: If heresy is not “a doctrine or opinion at variance with the accepted or orthodox doctrine,” then what is it?

More about this in the next post.

Escape from Heresy (I)

fish-jumping-from-boulI had barely turned ten when I heard that there was such a thing as a heretic. In my neck of the woods, the biggest heretic was a wederdoper (re-baptizer). A group of them was a sekte, and they were to be avoided like the Bubonic plague.

There were also other sects: Pentecostals, JWs, SDAs, Mormons, and so on. They were all equally dangerous, and equally lost. That was the consensus at the time, as we all understood it, and it lasted well into my high school years.

Until one morning, during a compulsory Sunday School class before the church service, when our dominee revealed a somewhat more open-minded approach. He took a piece of chalk and drew two large circles on the blackboard. Like the Audi rings, they overlapped, but barely. He pointed to the left circle.

“That’s us.”

He pointed to the other circle.

“That’s them – the Pentecostals.”

His finger slid to the minute overlap, which bore a remarkable resemblance to the eye of a needle.

“It is possible that there are true believers amongst them, and they will be found here.”

Not long after that, my older brother, who had recently become a “born-again” Christian, forced me (literally) to accompany him to a Pentecostal church service. I was surprised to discover that these folks were nothing like the treacherous apostates I had been warned against. The singing was great and the love was tangible. I ended up staying.

One of the first things I learned was that the real heretics were the gereformeerde people. They baptized infants and did not believe in the gifts of the Spirit. The Bible differed with them on both accounts, and that settled the matter. “We are the oldest denomination on earth,” the Pentecostals said. “We trace our roots back to the church of Acts.”

It was a relief to learn that I had not become a heretic, but that I had in fact escaped from them. The downside was that it seemed that my entire Reformed family had suddenly lost their salvation, and were in desperate need of redemption.

The passion that I found amongst the Pentecostals led me all the way to seminary. I wanted to be the best pastor ever, and gave it my everything. But in my final year something happened that would alter the course of my spiritual pilgrimage yet again: I stumbled upon John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos, and devoured it.

I was a heretic, after all. A vile and horrid one. MacArthur’s book made sense, and clarified a number of things that I had become uncomfortable with in our denomination. Chief amongst them was the outbreak of the so-called Toronto Blessing – the laughing revival that had been exported to the USA by South Africa’s Rodney Howard Brown, and that had returned to our shores thirty times stronger. Phenomena like this were all just over-the-top fanaticism, MacArthur taught me. Like the Pentecostal lady who taught her dog to bark in tongues.

MacArthur represented a new hybrid of Christian. He was the best of both my former worlds: Someone who understood repentance and baptism, but was wary of fanaticism – a type of Reformed Evangelical. I began reading everything by him that I could lay my hands on, and even distributed a copy of Charismatic Chaos amongst my Pentecostal congregants. (By now I was an ordained minister.)

The Senior Pastor was not amused, to say the least.

Needless to say, the cognitive dissonance soon became unbearable. After a number of ministerial years in my Pentecostal denomination, I resigned and became a Baptist. That was the closest thing to a MacArthur denomination that one could find here in South Africa.

However, I soon learned that not all Baptists could be trusted. Some of them were not like MacArthur at all, I was told. They were Arminians. Arminians were people who misunderstood grace. And yes, you guessed it. Arminians were heretics.

Sigh…

The good news was that there existed an antidote to Arminianism: Calvinism. That was MacArthur’s secret, and it left me with no choice. I quickly gravitated towards the non-Arminian Calvinistic fraternity within my new denomination, only to discover that they had the habit of fraternalising with non-Arminian Calvinists from other denominations, many of whom were passionately committed to the doctrine of infant baptism.

My passion for purity had made me delirious, it seemed. Like a lost soul in the desert, my ecclesiastical wanderings had taken me full circle to where I had begun. I was now attending conferences with paedobaptists (the fancy name for people who baptize babies) who believed that Pentecostals were heretics. It all seemed too familiar.

At one of these conferences I managed to corner Joel Beeke, one of the most respected Reformed theologians in the world, a renowned expositor of John Calvin’s writings, and an all-round nice, godly guy. I told him about the church of my youth, and he used the term “hyper-covenantalism” to explain how my old dominee’s theology differed from his.

I liked Beeke, so I decided that I was also going to become a non-hypercovenantalist. But before I had time to consider whether this label would suffice to put a distance between me and the heretical religion of my youth, a friend stuck a book in my hand. “It’s a gift,” he said.

The book was Dave Hunt’s What Love Is This? I started reading, and it did not take long to get the message: Calvinists were heretics. All of them, regardless of their levels of covenantalism.

The cognitive dissonance was back, with a vengeance.

I soon realized that the only way to rid myself of it was to write the inevitable Dear John letter to Calvin, although my ultimate decision to do so involved significantly more than what I had learned from Hunt’s book.

Let me pause for a moment and explain this. It is a maxim amongst Calvinists that non-Calvinists are non-Calvinists because they do not understand Calvinism, and that Dave Hunt, especially, does not understand it. This is quite befuddling, as Hunt spent more time studying it than just about anyone on the planet. But that’s besides the point. You never critique Calvinism based on a mere reading of Hunt. NEVER. Unless you enjoy evoking the Calvinistic stare that comes with recognizing a theological fruitcake (a mixture of horror and pity).

The reason, I suspect, has to do with the fact that Hunt’s book speaks more to the heart than the head. That makes it beautiful, and more than convincing for any sensitive soul, but it also also makes it inadmissible as evidence in the courts of Calvinism. Calvinism, as you may have heard, is severely left-brained. Humanitarian considerations are not at the top of their list, which is why early Calvinists had no problem to drown, torture or fry people who disagreed with their theology. As a result, I had to think hard and deep before making my exit. (I spoke about it here.)

Back to the story…

So who was Dave Hunt? My bridges were now burning ferociously behind me, and I was eager to find a resting place for a rapidly wearying soul. At this point my effort to escape from heresy had been going on for well over two decades.

Hunt was difficult to pin down, which made him interesting. He could probably be best described as an ex-Charismatic (although not Cessationist) with Brethren tendencies (he grew up in a Plymouth Brethren family.)

Now here was an interesting group of people: The Brethren. I liked their severe dislike of denominationalism, but disagreed with their end times theories. These they got from one of their founding members, John Nelson Darby, the man known as the father of Dispensationalism and Futurism. Another Brethren writer, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, popularized Darby’s eschatology with his reference Bible that remains a sensation to this day, especially amongst Independent Fundamentalist Baptists.

Did I mention that I once explored the IFB in my desperation to settle down in a church family? This was during my early Baptist days, before I tried to be a Calvinist. One night a good brother from the United States looked me straight in the eyes and said in a no-nonsense voice: “The litmus test of Christian orthodoxy is your Bible translation!” He was, of course, referring to the KJV 1611 Authorized Version. I was using another translation. I was a heretic. That settled it.

And so, during my flirtations with the IFB, Darby’s eschatology was everywhere. They regarded the doctrine of the “rapture” (in the sense of it being a distinct and separate event from the second coming of Christ) as almost on the same par as the KJV issue. But I remained unconvinced, especially after reading Hendriksen’s More Than Conquerers, Greer’s The Momentous Event, Robertson’s The Israel of God (all of them Calvinists, for some or other painful reason), and so on.

Now rapture views were popping up once again – this time round in Brethren literature. Did this make them heretics? I decided that it did not. It was an honest mistake, and could be forgiven. (My wife also believes in the rapture, which contributed to my decision. Who wants to be married to a heretic?)

However, even though the Brethren started off well and their eschatology was forgivable, they ended up stepping into the very trap that they were speaking out against. They became progressively exclusive and elitist, and eventually split into two factions – the “Exclusive” and the “Open” Brethren – each firmly convinced that the other had succumbed to the spirit of…heresy.

Double sigh…

My ecclesiastical wanderings sort of fizzled out at this point, and were replaced with an exploration of everything non- (or post-) institutional, house-churchy, organic, relational, simple, and so on. Throughout, I remained passionately committed to the belief that somewhere, some day, I would stumble upon that non-heretical group of Christians who had been eluding me since infancy.

Sadly, I discovered that the non-institutional church world was oftentimes just a microcosm of the one I had fled from, with its own gurus, schisms, weird beliefs, rituals, claims of exclusivity, and so on. In fact, I learned that for every denominational atrocity under the sun there existed a myriad of spawns who perpetuated the atrocity somewhere in a house under the guise of being a purer or restored version of whatever it was that birthed the original movement in the first place.

And, of course, they all fled the mother ship with one express purpose: To get away from… the heretics.

At this point I ran out of sighs.

Yet I was not ready to give up. I could not shake the feeling that there was something disturbingly familiar about the observation that the passion to escape from heresy seems to lead to the inevitable dissemination of heresy. We were all too much like the delirious man who got quarantined for Jungle Fever – along with his fellow travellers who all picked up the deadly disease – and then decided to get away from them as he no longer wanted to associate with a bunch of people who were clearly not well. His escape provided him with the illusion of freedom and normality that he so earnestly craved, but his only real accomplishment was to spread the dreaded disease wherever he went.

I thought deeply about this, and then I remembered something that I haven’t told you, and found my answer:

Each group that I had ever explored in my yearning to escape from heresy was spectacularly shattered into its own bits and pieces.

When I encountered the Pentecostals In the 80’s, they were split into the middle-of-the-road Charismatics like the Hatfield Baptist Church of the Ed Roebert era, the Brook House guys next door (that story would fill a book), the Word Faith Churches like Rhema, the SA Vernuwingsbeweging with their churches, the Tent Revival Meeting styled classical Pentecostals like Nicky van der Westhuizen (no relation), and official denominations like the PPC (Pentecostal Protestants), AFM (Apostolic Faith Mission), FCC (Full Gospel Church), AoG (Assemblies of God) and the Spade Reën churches.

I visited all of them. Sometimes I joined them. I attended their conferences, read their literature and listened to their tapes. I studied them. I experienced them to the full. I made friends in them. I got to know a number of their leaders.

And, of course, I always managed to find out why each of these streams was regarded as heretical by someone, somewhere.

When I joined the Calvinists, I witnessed the same phenomenon. And I witnessed it amongst the Fundamentalists. And the Baptists. And…and…and…

And then I thought of an old joke…

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

…and an old cartoon…

Saji

… and I finally got it.

I am a slow learner. It took me over three decades to smell the rat. Clearly what I was looking for did not exist. The moment I realized this, I realized that there was something dreadfully wrong with the way in which I had been defining the word heretic.

More about that in the next post.

(PS: I made a promise to write a third post in the series The Church of No Anticipation during 2018. I have not forgotten, but I am still thinking through that one.)

 

Wat moet ons met Jurie van den Heever doen? (3)

Jurie van den Heever Wat moet ons met ons kerk doen copy
My weergawe van Jurie se voorblad simboliseer die woorde van Rom.1:22-25: “Terwyl hulle voorgee dat hulle wys is, het hulle dwaas geword…
hulle wat die waarheid van God verruil het vir die leuen en die skepping vereer en gedien het bo die Skepper wat geprys moet word tot in ewigheid.”

(Apologies to English readers. This is the third reflection on an Afrikaans book that is causing some disturbance in the Christian community over here in South Africa.)

“Maar ons spreek die wysheid van God, wat bestaan in verborgenheid wat bedek was en wat God van ewigheid af voorbeskik het tot ons heerlikheid, wat niemand van die heersers van hierdie wêreld geken het nie — want as hulle dit geken het, sou hulle die Here van die heerlikheid nie gekruisig het nie.” 

Paulus aan die Korinthiërs

Ons het reeds die punt gemaak dat die tipe Christenskap waarteen Jurie in opstand kom ons meer vertel van Jurie en sy sienings as van die Bybelse idee van geloof: Christene is mense wat kinders bang maak met die hel. Christene aanbid ‘n God wat ‘n moordenaar en boelie is. Christene gebruik die hiernamaals as ‘n magspel om lede te werf. Wetenskaplike bevindings help ons om beter en veilige lewens te lei omdat ons nou weet dat epidemies, aardbewings en vuurspuwende berge nie meer aan ‘n opportunistiese en wraaksugtige opperwese toegeskryf word nie. En so aan.

Die implikasie is vanselfsprekend: Geloof in Christus is lekker vir ouens wat so bietjie agter-die-klip is.

Die idee dat God ‘n inhiberende beheervraat is, en dat hy bedreig voel deur ons vryheid, is nie nuut nie. Volgens die Genesis verhaal is dit hierdie gedagte wat die mens laat wegdraai het van God, en wat die ideaal van onafhanklikheid en selfverwesenliking in hom/haar geplant het.

Ongeloof word dus moontlik gemaak sodra God onder verdenking is. En dit doen ons sommer maklik deur die “kerk” se wandade uit te wys, en dan te maak asof God die argitek van die kerkorde en haar tradisionele absurditeite is.

Boem! Die koeël is deur die kerk, en sommer deur God en Jesus ook.

Die Bottom Line…

Die enkele gedagte wat in Jurie se boek uitstaan as ‘n wanvoorstelling van die verskil tussen geloof en ongeloof, is die idee dat ons “ons fiktiewe posisie as kroon van die skepping” moet verruil vir die “voorreg om ‘n integrale deel van die Kosmos te wees.” So kan die self getransendeer word en is die uitsig “nie meer vanuit ‘n posisie van mag en eiebelang nie.”

Steven Pinker word aangehaal in die verband: “… occupying another’s vantage point and imagining his or her own emotions as if they were one’s own.”

Dit bring my by die vraag wat ek laas op hierdie blog gevra het: Versluier Jurie met opset wat in die Bybel staan, of is hy onbewus daarvan?

Die voorstel dat selfloosheid en die kweek van ‘n empatiese bewussyn bevorder kan word deur geloof in God en Christus af te sweer, spreek van majestueuse teologiese onkunde en/of verwarrring.

Die rede is voor die handliggend: Elke woord wat ooit uit die mond van God gegaan het, en wat gespreek is deur engele en profete en op talle ander maniere, en uiteindelik gekulmineer het in die lewe en lering van Jesus Christus, het ten doel gehad om die inherente narsisme van die mensdom te stuit.

Die sogenaamde Augustiniaanse idee van die “erfsonde,” wat soveel ontsteltenis veroorsaak in Jurie en Sakkie en Piet en Hansie se kringe, en wat afgemaak word as ‘n vyfde-eeuse konstruksie, moet geïnterpreteer word teen hierdie agtergrond.

Die Bybelse storie is van begin tot einde konsekwent en eenvoudig: Êrens in die geskiedenis van die mensdom het daar ‘n gebeure plaasgevind wat ons bewussyn geswaai het na die self en die belange van die self. Dit het gelei tot die fenomeen van “begeerte,” naamlik die drang en sug na dinge, mense en insidente wat die pelgrimstog na selfaktualisering en selfverwesenliking kan moontlik maak.

Die donker kant van hierdie avontuur is natuurlik ‘n onafwendbare afgestomptheid en gevoelsarmoede teenoor diegene wat nie waarde kan toevoeg tot die “ek” ideaal nie.

Terwyl ons lekker kan vuisslaan oor die historisiteit van die tuinverhaal, is die boodskap daarvan duidelik en ondebatteerbaar: Om betower te word deur die projeksie van ‘n toekomstige self wat groter en wonderliker is as die self van die hede, is om weg te kyk van die God wat “is” en nie “word” nie, en om vervreemd te word van ‘n vorm van levensonderhoud en groei wat uit hom uit spruit en alle hunkering na ander vorme van “word” oorbodig maak.

Kom ons kyk vir ‘n oomblik verby die vreemdheid daarvan dat die eerste motiveringspreker in die mensegeskiedenis ‘n slang was, en ons let op die boodskap agter die storie: Die essensie van menslike motivering, soos ons dit ken en verstaan, kan teruggetrek word na ‘n duister en bose mag wie se eksplisiete doel die verheffing van die self en die vernietiging van die liefde is.

Die sogenaamde “erfsonde” is dus niks anders as ‘n universele geneigdheid om die belange van die self bo die belange van ander te stel nie.

Ek is jammer, Jurie, maar ek dink dit is ‘n geniale beskrywing van die probleem van die wêreld waarin ons leef. Jy en Sakkie is welkom om julleself uit te sluit, maar ek is met hierdie vervloekte ding gebore, en dit het die rigting van my hele lewe bepaal.

Die woord wat die Bybel gebruik vir hierdie universele toestand van die mens is “ongeregtigheid.” En hier moet ons onmiddellik afstand doen van Calvinistiese konstruksies en ander denominasionele konnotasies wat ons aan die woord mag heg (die Engelse “righteousness” wat in Afrikaanse Bybels “vryspraak” geword het, eerder as die Hebreeuse tsedek en Griekse dikaiosune wat “justice” beteken).

Ongeregtigheid in die Bybel is dus niks anders as die onvermoë om reg te laat geskied aan ander nie, m.a.w. die onvermoë om ander te ag met dieselfde intense belang wat ons vir onsself koester en preserveer.

‘n Wraaksugtige Opperwese?

Die refrein van God se “wraaksug,” wat Jurie se boek kenmerk en hom so lekker vir Dawkins en sy tirade teenoor God laat aanhaal, is ‘n mistasting. Dit is duidelik dat Jurie nie God se aard en karakter verstaan nie.

Let daarop dat God se belang in die moord van Abel voortspruit uit die “bloed van Abel” wat uitroep uit die grond. Kain se sogenaamde “skuld” voor God onstaan as gevolg van dit wat hy aan sy broer gedoen het, nie omdat hy een of ander arbitrêre drif of drang of wet in God teëgestaan het nie.

Die rede hoekom God vir Kain aanspreeklik hou is nie wraaksug nie, maar liefde. As God bloot vir Kain sou “oorsien,” sou hy saam met Kain skuldig geword het aan ongeregtigheid. Abel word die “slagoffer” van Kain se ongeregtigheid, en God tree in as Abel se verdediger en dring aan op ‘n regstelling om die ewewig van geregtigheid te herstel.

Kain het ‘n lewe geneem, en nou skuld hy ‘n lewe.

Dis soos die boelie se pa wat hom voor stok kry omdat hy sy jonger boetie afgeknou het: “Jy het Junior seergemaak. Ek is lief vir Junior, daarom hou ek jou aanspreeklik. Jou skuld bly staan totdat jy regmaak met Junior. En jou regmaak beter op dieselfde vlak wees as jou oortreding.”

Hoe op dees aarde verander dit God in die boelie?

Die offersisteem van die Ou Testament is niks anders as ‘n verlengstuk van hierdie liefde van God nie, dus ‘n voorsiening vir die Kains van die wêreld om “reg te maak,” en vir die Abels om kompensasie te ontvang.

Die punt is dat God ook lief is vir die boelie, en dat Junior boonop self skuldig is aan sy eie tipe boeliery. God se liefde en geregtigheid vereis nie net ‘n betaling nie, maar help ons ook om die betaling te maak. Hy vereis die lam, maar dan voorsien hy dit.

Dit is genade, en dit is nie goedkoop nie. Daarom word restitusie dwarsdeur die Bybel voorgeskryf as deel van die regmaak of versoeningsproses, en altyd in ooreenstemming met die oortreding.

Die vader se liefde het ‘n finale doel: Hy wil hê die boelie en sy jonger broer moet versoen, en mekaar liefhê soos hy hulle liefhet. Dit is die “Konkryk van God en sy geregtigheid,” ‘n term wat grootliks ‘n niksseggende kerklike cliché geword het.

Beroof God se Wet ons van ons Vryheid?

God se “Wet” staan in diens van hierdie relasionele geregtigheid – ‘n stel reëls wat ons verbied om ons naaste te benadeel, met eksplisiete voorskrifte vir boetedoening indien ons dit wel doen.

‘n Oog-vir-‘n-oog maak nie die hele wêreld blind nie, soos Ghandi beweer het nie, maar gebied relasionele geregtigheid deur die oortreders daarvan aan die ontvangkant van hulle eie ongeregtighede te plaas. So word die ewewig van Deuteronomium en Levitikus se “skale van geregtigheid,” wat wêreldwyd op hofsale verskyn, herstel.

As ons nie hierdie onderbou het in ons benadering tot die Nuwe Testament nie, word Jesus se konstante verwysings na geregtigheid niksseggende mistiese praatjies. Dan word hy Jurie se “nobody” en “gewone mens” – met ‘n irrelevante boodskap.

As ons dit egter het, dan merk ons op dat Jesus die hele wet en profete opsom in die woorde “doen aan ander soos jy wil hê hulle aan jou moet doen,” en “jy moet jou naaste liefhê soos jouself.” Hier is die geregtigheidsformule – die onmoontlike opdrag om dieselfde bewussyn te koester teenoor andere as wat ons vir onsself het.

So vertel Jesus storie op storie om aan ons te verduidelik dat geen vorm van fanatiese wetsonderhouding die ongeregtigheid van die menslike hart kan demp nie. Die probleem is nie die Wet nie, maar dit wat binne ons aangaan. Daarom het hy nie gekom om die Wet te ontbind nie, maar te vervul.

Hy verduidelik dit deur te praat van ‘n praktiese geregtigheid wat groter is as die wettiese geregtigheid van die Fariseers en Skrifgeleerdes – ‘n geregtigheid wat die tirrannie van begeerte en die drang na selfgelding neutraliseer, en ons in staat sal stel om ons vyande lief te hê en dienaars van andere te wees.

Paulus het presies dieselfde storie: Jesus het gekom het om die skuld van ons ongeregtighede te betaal, maar ook om ons te verlos van die oorsaak daarvan. Dit het hy gedoen deur ‘n daadwerklike hartsverandering binne in ons te bewerk – ‘n bonatuurlike wedergeboorte deur die Gees van God – wat ons in staat stel om te deel in God se natuur van liefde en geregtigheid.

Die vereiste? Ons moet bereid wees om ons selfvertroue te vervang met ‘n vertroue op God. So sal die regverdige deur die geloof lewe. So sal ons ons narsistiese lewens verloor en die lewe van God vind wat ons in staat stel om selfloos en empaties te lewe.

Ons hoef dan nie meer offers te bring nie, maar ons word die offer – soos wat Jesus gedoen het. Dit beteken ons is bereid om ons lewens af te lê vir ander en hulle hoër te ag as onsself. Dit is geregtigheid. Dit is die Koninkryk van God.

Die “Vervulling van die Wet”

Hierdie fenominale kapasiteit vir liefde vervul die intensie van die Wet. In Paulus se woorde: Die liefde doen die naaste geen kwaad nie; daarom is die liefde die vervulling van die Wet.

Diegene wat deur die “Gees gelei” word is nie onder die Wet nie, want hulle doen alles en meer wat deur die Wet vereis word. Die verskil is dat hulle dit spontaan en onbewus doen. Hulle is die kinders van God, en deel in hulle Vader se natuur.

Die gedagte dat hierdie boodskap ‘n persoon in ‘n “posisie van mag en eiebelang” plaas wat lekker opgelos kan word deur jouself te sien as ‘n integrale deel van ‘n godlose Kosmos is absurd. Die Kosmos het nog nooit enigiemand tot verantwoording geroep vir dade van onreg teenoor minder bevoorregtes nie. Die Kosmos het nooit haar lewe vir ons gegee om ons te verlos van ons narsistiese selfobsessies nie, en om die ellelange lys van aanklagte wat teenoor ons staan vir ons relasionele wandade uit te wis nie.

Ten Slotte… 

Meer as enigiets anders is dit die valse voorstel van hierdie sentrale boodskap van die Bybel wat Jurie se boek ongeloofwaardig maak. God word uitgewys as die probleem, eerder as ons. As ons maar net ontslae kan raak van God, dan sal alles uitwerk.

Volgens die evangelies is dit hierdie tipe argumentering wat gelei het tot Jesus se kruisiging. Die skuldiges het hulle skuld projekteer op die onskuldige, en hulleself verontskuldig.

Let daarop dat Jurie Bybelwetenskaplike op Bybelwetenskaplike aanhaal om sy konklusies te staaf. Hierdie ouens weet meer as ons almal, sê Jurie. Hulle het agter die gordyn ingeloer, en ons moet na hulle luister.

Dit fassineer my dat nie een van hierdie intellektuele reuse die eenvoudige liefdes- en geregtigheidsboodskap van die Bybel snap soos dit in ‘n paar paragrawe hierbo uiteengesit is nie.

En dit laat my wonder of ‘n persoon fenominale geleerdheid nodig het om blind te raak vir iets wat so opsigtelik is…

Wat moet ons met Jurie van den Heever doen? (2)

Jurie van den Heever Wat moet ons met ons kerk doen
My weergawe van Jurie se voorblad simboliseer die woorde van Rom.1:22-25: “Terwyl hulle voorgee dat hulle wys is, het hulle dwaas geword…
hulle wat die waarheid van God verruil het vir die leuen en die skepping vereer en gedien het bo die Skepper wat geprys moet word tot in ewigheid.”

(Apologies to English readers. I am still reflecting on an Afrikaans book that is causing some disturbance in the Christian community over here. The author, a well known South African palaeontologist, suggests that churchgoers should drop the idea of an almighty, omniscient and all knowing God, who has a son named Jesus, for a “natural spirituality” or “ecomorality.”)

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” G.K. Chesterton

In sy boek Wat Moet Ons Met Ons Kerk doen, stel Jurie van den Heever God en Christenskap op so ‘n wyse voor dat geen regdenkende mens iets daarmee te doen sal wil hê nie. So berei hy sy lesers voor vir sy eie groot antwoord: ‘n “Natuurspiritualiteit” of “ekomoralitiet” wat losweg geskoei is op die volgende beginsels:

  • Daar hoef geen God erken of aanbid te word nie. (Inderdaad, want daar is “bewese navorsing” wat die idee van ‘n Almagtige, Alwetende en Alsiende God weerlê!)
  • Gebed as ‘n “gesprek met ‘n opperwese” is nie ‘n opsie nie, want dit bestaan nie. Dit is bloot ‘n vorm van selfterapie.
  • Daar bestaan nie iets soos ‘n menslike “siel” of “gees” nie. Die mens is ‘n somtotaal van biologiese funksies.
  • Daar is geen sprake van lewe na die dood nie. Die hiernamaals is ‘n mite en fopspeen. Enige godsdiens wat die idee van ‘n nadoodse voortbestaan steun is besig met ‘n “magspel om steun te werf.” (!)
  • Daar is geen eindoordeel of finale geregtigheid nie.
  • Jesus was ‘n “nobody amongst nobodies” – ‘n “verstote Jood” wat misluk het in sy poging om Israel godsdienstig te vernuwe. Van sy uitsprake en voorspellings het nie “steek gehou nie.” Die rede hoekom hy aan God as sy vader gedink het is omdat hy in werklikheid ‘n vaderlose uitgeworpene was. Natuurlik het hy nooit opgestaan uit die dood nie, nie opgevaar na die hemel nie en is daar geen sprake daarvan dat hy ooit sal terugkeer aarde toe nie.
  • Die God van wie ons lees in die Ou Testament is iesegrimmig, inmengerig en manipulerend. Die ateïs Richard Dawkins is korrek as hy van hom praat as ‘n “unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
  • Daar is goeie nuus! Die biologie bied ‘n gesonde en spiritueel bevredigende alternatief vir ‘n “fundamentalistiese godsbegrip.” (Anders as die Bybelse God is die aarde heilig en onderhou lewe!)
  • Die slotsom is eenvoudig: Enige formulering oor die betekenis van ons aardse bestaan kan nie sonder ‘n “wetenskaplike onderbou en veral die insette van die ewolusionere Biologie geskied nie.” Die biologie bied ‘n uitsig op die kosmos wat veel meer sê as wat enige tradisionele vorm van geloof kan hoop om te doen. Dit spreek tot ‘n spirituele dimensie.

Ek wonder oor die venyn in Jurie se boek.

Ek wonder oor die ekstreme verwerping van klassieke spiritualiteit in alle vorme, en hoekom iemand ‘n behoefte sou hê om dit te herdefinieer en te reduseer tot ‘n blote verwondering oor/bewondering van die materiële. (Is die Mona Lisa meer bewonderingswaardig vir mense wat sukkel om Leonardo binne-in die skildery te vind, en daarom aflei dat sy haarself op een of ander wyse geskep het? Verwar ons nie dalk raaiselagtigheid met verwondering nie?)

Ek wonder hoekom Jurie bereid is om sy akademiese integriteit te kompromiteer deur absurde stellings te maak, soos dat daar “bewese navorsing” bestaan wat die dogma van ‘n “Almagtige, Alwetende en Alsiende God” weerlê, asook die bestaan van “‘n siel” en “die wederkoms.” Hoe op aarde bewys ‘n mens dit? Ons weet mos die afwesigheid van ‘n bewys is nie ‘n bewys van afwesigheid nie.

Ek wonder oor Jurie se blatante oneerlikheid, as hy die eksplisiete stelling maak dat enige godsdiens wat die idee van ‘n nadoodse voortbestaan steun besig is met ‘n “magspel om steun te werf.” Dit is nie waar nie. Met die stelling beskuldig hy elke groep opregte gelowiges deur die eeue, wat glo of geglo het in een of ander vorm van ‘n spirituele bestaan buite die grense van hul huidige aardse liggaam en vlees, van duister motiewe. Die sin is so ‘n growwe veralgemening dat geen eerstejaar op universiteit oorgesien sal word vir dit nie.

Ek wonder oor Jurie se voorstel dat daar belangrike aanpassing in die “kerk” nodig is. As ons alles moet glo in sy boek, dan bestaan daar nie iets soos ‘n kerk nie en is daar ook geen gronde vir ‘n kerk nie. Dan is sy voorstel net so sinvol soos om Sinterklaas se huis te probeer herbou of die plaaslike tandemuisklub te probeer hervorm.

En ek wonder natuurlik oor die slotsom van die boek – dat mense soos Jurie eintlik die rol van die geestelike leier en profeet in die samelewing moet oorneem. As Jurie beweer dat die biologie tot ‘n spirituele dimensie spreek en ‘n uitsig op die kosmos bied wat veel meer sê as wat enige tradisionele vorm van geloof kan hoop om te doen, dan beweer hy maar eintlik dat ouens soos hy veel meer sê as diegene wie op ‘n tradisionele wyse oor geloof dink, besin en praat, en dit sluit Jesus en Paulus in. (Onthou, die enigste wyse hoe die biologie en paleontologie met die leek kan “praat” is deur die bemiddeling van diegene wie dit bestudeer en ken.)

Maar te midde van al my verwondering oor Jurie, wonder ek die heel meeste of hy onkundig is rondom dit wat werklik in die Bybel staan, en of hy dit met opset versluier.

Meer hieroor volgende keer…

Why I will be Praying with Angus on Saturday

images-23I have never been to one of Angus Buchan’s meetings.

This is not because I have anything against Angus, or his meetings, but because I stopped attending huge Christian gatherings many years ago.

There are a number of reasons for this, and I am not even sure I understand all of them. When I stepped out of denominational Christianity, I stepped into a world where crowds did not matter, where personal relationships took precedence over group dynamics, where celebrity preaching and performance worship were exchanged for nights with friends and their Bibles around kitchen tables.

So I don’t have a problem with huge Christian gatherings. I just happened to embark on a route where I stopped running into them.

I do have a problem with something else, though: Bandwagons.

As a young Christian, someone told me that as light attracts insects, revival fires tend to attract strange people with strange agendas and even stranger teachings. Anyone familiar with the history of spiritual awakenings will know what I am talking about.

Whether we like it or not, Angus Buchan’s ministry has become a type of brand here in South Africa (brandwagon?). As it is with great brands, a lot of people are attracted to it for the sake of the spectacle. You can make money out of a brand. You can promote your cause because of a brand. You can spread your teachings under the name of a brand.

Some of us believe that this is the greatest danger facing Angus’ ministry: People who would like to use his wagon for their band. And so we resolved at our fellowship to start praying for Angus instead of just praying with him.

For those with misgivings about Angus: Remember that there is no problem with someone functioning as a type of “spiritual uncle” for South Africa, as long as such a person does not see himself as a mediatory figure between God and the rest of us, or make any absurd assumptions about his authority. This is why a lot of us appreciate the fact that Angus does not have some or other ridiculous title tied to his name, that he does not wear a religious costume and that we cannot pin him to a denomination.[1] Also, it is as clear as daylight that he has been instrumental in turning many South Africans to God.

These are great credentials, and they dare not be ignored by those of us who have turned our backs on institutionalised Christianity.

But I will be lying if I say that some of us are not concerned. There’s been a lot of Dominion talk amongst some of Angus’ supporters – the type of triumphalist theology that is especially popular amongst certain segments of the Religious Right in the USA, and that sometimes gives one the impression that God is more interested in penetrating the governments of this world than establishing his own Kingdom as an alternative to them.

There are also emails flying around promoting questionable spiritual warfare tactics, and strategies to bind and loose, and recipes for breaking curses, and so on – and some of them seem to be riding on the back of Saturday’s gathering.

And then there are those who are crusading for something called a New Apostolic Reformation, and who connect their particular vision (which happens to be highly controversial) to Angus’ gatherings.

The point is that quite a few of us have lost the taste for all of this. We have been there , we have done it, we have a cupboard full of T-shirts. And so we gravitated towards a different understanding of Christianity – one that doesn’t see strongholds as places and entities outside of us to be overthrown, but as our own miserable opinions that differ from God’s wisdom and will – opinions that take our thoughts captive and leave us entitled, greedy, narcissistic and unjust, and that call for a heart circumcision followed by a progressive renewal of our minds.

At least this is how we interpret Paul’s teaching on strongholds.[2]

Of course you may differ, and indeed it is your right. I just don’t think Angus’ wagon is the place to do it. Neither do I think it is the place for promoting any of the stuff mentioned above.

You see, none of my misgivings has anything to do with Angus’ call to come and pray for our country and for one another. And so I have no objections about Saturday. On the contrary, I think it is a wonderful and noble thing for the body of Christ to show their solidarity and unite in fervent prayer. (I would have thought the same if Joe Soap organised it.)

I also think that the snooty liberal professors at some of South Africa’s famous theological faculties, who speak condescendingly about Angus and his gatherings, accomplish nothing except to provide further proof that they are in fact heretics. How can anyone with a heart for God criticize an earnest appeal to believers to unite in prayer?

This is why someone like me, who have drifted away from the big stadiums and big names, and who have no inclination of returning there or endorsing anyone’s agenda, felt a stirring within when I began to think about this particular gathering.

And this is why I decided that I will be there. We are followers of Christ. Let us pray together! What could be more wonderful than that?

But let us cut the background noise. Let us leave our pet doctrines and agendas at home. Let us commit ourselves to what this is, and not try and turn it into something else. South Africa has enough hijackers as it is.

[1] I am not trying to be nasty. Jesus spoke against ecclesiastical titles and tailoring one’s clothes for the sake of making a spiritual impression. And Paul condemned factions in the church. See Matthew 23:5-12 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 2:1-5.

[2] See 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 11:3

Death and The Prosperity Gospel

burning_money_symbol_picture_2_165377In the mid-nineties I enjoyed a rare privilege. With the help of an Afrikaans journalist I had traced the whereabouts of a man who was, at the time, the most notorious Christian in all of Southern Africa. I showed up on his Capetonian doorstep one sunny afternoon, and he kindly invited me in. What followed was one of the most memorable conversations of my life.

My fascination with him had begun many years before, whilst attending a week-long seminar where he spoke about the cross of Christ. He was by far the best Bible teacher I had ever heard, and remains so to this day.

In fact, his clarification of sin and salvation changed the course of my life.

But for a number of reasons his ministry nosedived soon after I met him, leading to an extremely public media crucifixion by the ecclesiastical establishment in South Africa. The whole affair ruined his reputation to such an extent that the remnant of his teaching ministry went underground, mostly in the form of cassette tapes. There it remains to this day.

Naturally, I was befuddled. How could a message of this profundity, this calibre, simply be wiped off a Christian landscape riddled with so many radically inferior versions of the same truths?

I was determined to find out, and hoped that my visit would reveal an answer.

It did. From the very lips of the man himself. Oh, we spoke for hours, and enough was discussed to fill a book, but a single statement stood out – one that has never left the back of my mind.

Over the two decades since then, it has both haunted and helped me countless of times.

It was simply this, and even now I can recall the moment when he uttered the words:

“I hate religion too much.”

I got it. And in that moment I knew that I was attracted to his teaching for more reasons than its sheer brilliance. I had the same problem, and it threatened to damage my work for the Lord in the very same way. I hated religion (perhaps I should say “religiosity,” to distinguish it from the true religion spoken of by James) too much. And I especially hated certain types of religiosity more than others.

Those words saved my life, for without them I would have fulfilled what I thought was God’s calling on my life: To become a crusader for the truth.

It sounds noble, doesn’t it? But we were never called to lay our lives down for the truth. We were called to lay them down for Christ, and the difference is monumental.

Note that I am speaking for myself here, and not for my friend who taught me this lesson. His hatred of religiosity came with its own hazards, and I respect him too much to speculate about them. But in my case it manifested as a dangerous substitute for God’s actual calling on my life: To forget about myself and my own offenses, and to proclaim his immeasurable greatness and the incomparable delights of losing and finding our lives in him and him alone.

So why am I going on about all of this?

Simply because I read a New York Times article this morning that stirred up all of those old emotions. And, like an old recovering addict, I had to subdue them by applying my golden line in a calculated, cognitive, emotionless manner, coupled with the closing of my eyes and a very deep breath:

“You hate the prosperity gospel too much.” 

If only you knew what it takes from me not to expound on this statement, not to explain why I hate it so much, not to at least leave you with some shred of information that may inspire you to also… you know?

The intoxicating potion is beckoning, as always, but I will refrain, albeit it with shaking hands. The glow of exposing the hucksters, of naming names, of storming into the fight… Alas, it is no longer for me. To quote Nietzsche (of all people), I fought the dragon, and in the process I became the dragon.

But I am quite happy to provide the link to the article (bet you are relieved!), for I think it is magnificently written. Also, the author has clearly, and graciously, been spared the dark offense that turned me into a poor apologist for this particular cause.

And so I heartily recommend Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me by Kate Bowler.