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Friday, June 5, 2015

Transfiguration and Demons

One interesting fact about the Gospels:  When you read them, it's like a slap in the face, a bucket of ice water, a surprise hot pepper in the mouth, and all because of the INSTANT contact with the supernatural.
Matthew 17 is very much like that. First, there's a scene where Peter and James and John go up to a "high mountain apart" with Jesus, and there Jesus appears in His glory, discussing his departure (adding in from Luke) with Elijah and Moses.
Then, once they descend the mountain, there is the incident with the demonized boy, in which Jesus casts a demon out of the boy.
Neither incident fits with our worldview in the West.  We discount it.  This is definitely not new.
Back in the 60's, I read a book for a philosophy class in college called Kerygma and Myth, by Rudolf Bultmann. That book was intended to debunk the Gospel by removing the supernatural from the New Testament. The author would claim, of course, that his book was simply revealing the true gospel by removing the fanciful elements added by the early church--the legends, so to speak.
Of course, if you take a razor blade and remove all the "legends" (supernatural elements) from the four gospels, there really is not much left.  And that was sort of Kerygma and Myth's point.  There really wasn't much in them if all you left yourself with was Jesus' "moral teaching."  Needless to say, this book confused me for a while (I was a new Christian in a very secular environment), because here was a "recognized authority," a "professor of theology," explaining how the New Testament was not only not all true, almost none of it was true, because of the "fanciful world view" adopted by the early disciples, in order to fit their culture (today, we call that "lying," or "bearing false testimony").
I came to my senses when I thought of the fact that my conversion was true, and I was markedly different from the days when I did not believe, and I hadn't changed myself.  The seeds of the changes were internal/external, because I knew I had encountered God, and the changes in me, at least, were supernatural. In other words, I worked outward, from the inner realities of my own experience, to the world in which I lived.
It was years, though, before I could adequately question what Bultmann did in Kerygma and Myth: he simply denied what was written, based on his worldview. He had no other evidence. He just didn't believe the supernatural elements were true. The typical answer for such unbelief is found in Christian apologetics, which busily proves that Christianity must be true (and they give many reasons), but Christian apologetics has one major flaw, which nobody on our side really wants to point out: we were not there, and this is not like a repeatable scientific experiment. Of course, that's a double-edged sword. Neither was Dr. Bultmann.
So the real question revolves around worldview, and which accords with the facts.  The added problem is that many Christians today are quite happy with Transfigurations and demons as long as they are confined to the Bible, but any mention of miracles or supernatural elements in the world today is met with resistance, contempt, and skepticism.  This is at least partly because of the many crazies who latch on to the supernatural elements as a way of self-aggrandizement and who do literally insane things in the name of Christianity.
One thing I believe is that the New Testament is the sanest book on the planet.  It is just...different.  It espouses a world view which is no longer acceptable in our society, unless we want to be numbered with the folk who advertise "anointed handkerchiefs" for a five-dollar donation (or is it twenty now? used to be five), or the people who handle poisonous reptiles to prove they can.
However, the New Testament is definitely not like that.  It's realistic, rooted in reality, and honest. It's just supernatural.
More later.

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