Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jim Palmer: Three Responses

Just when I thought it was time for me to take a break from the whole "discernment blogger" thing, I ran across a post that I couldn't help but grow burdened over. While I'm sure that such writings are plentiful throughout cyberspace, this post in particular really summarized for me what the main issues are that we need to resolve before seeking the truth.

I've gotten glimpses of Jim Palmer's writing before and my opinion of him has remained pretty consistent. He typifies the mindset of the postmodern, post-christian culture we live in. Yet at the same time, like many I've read before, he still seeks to hold on to some remnant of Christ and tries to attribute his thoughts to Christ.

After seeing a friend quote him recently, I thought I would take a look at Palmer's Facebook wall and see if he had any recent blog post worth reading that might clarify how he thought. My search was successful. I quickly found this post.

It is here that Palmer points to three things that religious leaders say in order to control us with fear. I thought I would give my two cents on each of these sayings as well. Since I find Palmer's worldview so backward on these matters, I will respond to the statements he brings up in reverse.

Controlling Statement 3:
“The Bible clearly states that you’re beliefs are wrong, and you are in danger of God’s judgment.”

After expressing his frustration over this kind of talk, Palmer writes:

"Basically this erroneous view goes like this, 'My interpretation of the Bible is the correct one… because I say so… so there!' There’s a saying that goes, 'Just because it’s on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s true.' Well guess what? Just because some religious leader tells you that the Bible means something, doesn’t mean that’s what it means."

Fair enough. I'm more than happy to agree that there are good and bad interpretations of scripture. It's no wonder that so many books have been written to ensure carefulness on these matters. However, I struggle to find just what Palmer's ultimate point is in bringing out the obvious. At least I did before he wrote:

"Just a cursory study of the history of Christianity shows a diversity of views on the most fundamental matters of the Christian faith. The notion that there is one “orthodox” view of Christianity that has persisted through time (and is therefore correct) is simply not true."

Ultimately Palmer seems to want us to follow him to a conclusion that all disagreement in the history of the church proves that conclusive interpretations in matters of the Christian faith are a hopeless pursuit. Of course, he doesn't even bother to bring up some of the disagreements in Church history. He doesn't bother talking about the councils that wrestled over God's triune nature or the deity of Christ. He doesn't talk about the lives that were lost during the Reformation in order to recover glorious truths such as sola scriptura, or justification by faith alone through grace alone through Christ alone to the glory of God alone.

Apparently those who thought that scripture actually had a clear message concerning these matters were simply waisting their breath... and ultimately their lives.

Of course by avoiding the specific issues in church history and creating a false confusion, he is able to insert his own message without the heavy lifting of defending it... and don't be deceived, Palmer has a strong message. More on that later.

How should we feel about these disagreements in church history? Are we really to jump to the conclusion that all theological understandings are equally valid (or invalid) for the sake of peace?

In order to understand where Palmer is going, one has to pay attention to his concluding sentence:

"Stop externalizing authority and repair your relationship with yourself. You already know the truth inside, and you don’t need anyone to tell you."

It is clearly this sentiment that drives Palmer, and it must be kept in mind to make sense of the other two "controlling" statements he brings up.

Controlling Statement 2:
“You are deceived. You are following false ideas that sound hopeful and beautiful but they’re darkness masquerading as light.”

Palmer expands on his objection to this kind of talk by writing:

"You have to get straight in your head and heart that God and fear do not go together… ever. If you hear any religious teaching or idea and induces fear, dismiss it swiftly and entirely. God never stirs feelings of shame or fear to motivate people on the path of truth and freedom."

This of course completely ignores the necessity of healthy fear before a Holy God that is expressed in scripture when it says such things as "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10). Of course there is an unhealthy fear that can come once we have peace with God, at which point scripture certainly dismisses irrational fear of judgment. It expresses this by saying, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). However, to apply this to those who have rejected Christ's saving work is to take John's words wildly out of context.

Of course Palmer could easily respond by saying my interpretation is invalid or that there is a diversity of perspectives on scriptural authority, but again, spouting vague truisms without defending his own perspective gives me no motivation to doubt my interpretation.

What is amazing to me is that after Palmer encourages his readers that they have nothing to fear, in spite of what religious leaders say, he immediately contradicts himself by writing:

"The above condemnation is projection – you are actually exploring and embracing the truth. Meanwhile, the religious views that induce fear and shame are the teachings that are 'darkness masquerading as light.'"

Palmer clearly does believe that it's possible to be deceived by false teachers, just so long as we don't dare think he's one of them. You really do have something to be afraid of, it's those nasty religious control freaks, not our dear friend Jim Palmer.

As I pointed out before, this method of writing cleverly keeps Palmer from defending the strong assertions he makes while making an opposing view's self defense immediately look like religious fear mongering. Yet why should we take Palmer's side? In the words he uses to mock his opponents, "because he says so… so there!"

Controlling Statement 1:
“Self-realization is idolatry; you’re supposed to be worshiping God and not yourself.”

Here lies the ultimate issue. Palmer expands by writing:

"The truth is that self-realization is why you are here, and every step in your personal evolution brings glory to God. The image, likeness, and being of God is the fundamental. underlying, and unchanging nature and essence of who you are."

This is a fascinating interpretation of what it means to be made in the image of God. Does Palmer defend it? No, just as he accuses religious leaders of doing, he dogmatically asserts it.

Rather than dealing with the bleak picture that Paul the Apostle paints of the state of humanity in such places as Romans 1-3, Palmer encourages his readers to dig deeper into their own souls with the promise that they will find the very being of God.

This bears a striking similarity to pantheism. This is the spiritual perspective that ultimately rejects any distinction between creature and creator. God is ultimately understood to be in everything and can be found and worshipped just as easily by looking at a tree or stream as in a Holy book. As we will see, scripture does speak of seeing God's glory in creation. However, I have a hard time avoiding the fact that Palmer goes far beyond this idea. He makes the essence of our being and the essence of God's being one and the same. Does Palmer defend this interpretation of God as he demands his opponents do? No. He continues with dogmatic statement after dogmatic statement as he writes:

"The point of your human existence is to discover this and bring full expression to it through your humanity or human personhood. This is what Jesus did and was, which is why he said, “I am the truth.” Self-actualization is the most spiritual and sacred endeavor of our human experience. The religious notion that your relationship with yourself and self-actualization is somehow a selfish pursuit and diversion from true godliness is a false notion that is not supported by Jesus or founded in the Bible."

For Palmer, Jesus calling himself the truth had nothing to do with Jesus being God. In fact, we can say the same of ourselves and our own hearts. This, no doubt, is the philosophy that was behind Palmer's words, "Stop externalizing authority and repair your relationship with yourself. You already know the truth inside, and you don’t need anyone to tell you"

Sorry, as I've argued in a very recent blog post, I trust an ancient writer like the Apostle Paul, who saw the glory of Christ for himself, far more than I trust a postmodern blogger. Paul had a very different view of these things than Palmer, and I will close with his words concerning how we aught to view both God and ourselves apart from grace. "Interpret" them as you will,

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." (Rom. 1:18-25).

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