Here are Funk's 21 Theses:
1. The God of the metaphysical age is dead. There is not a personal god out there external to human beings and the material world. We must reckon with a deep crisis in god talk and replace it with talk about whether the universe has meaning and whether human life has purpose.
I'm surprised that Funk would mis-use a world like 'metaphysical'. I think it would make a lot more sense if he fought his modernist tendency to use objective language and say something like "there can be no understanding of God outside of human experience and God's effect on the material world", something like that, because what he's saying here is, to me, not really a big deal. It is really ironic, though, that what Funk is doing here is entirely about metaphysics :)
2. The doctrine of special creation of the species died with the advent of Darwinism and the new understanding of the age of the earth and magnitude of the physical universe. Special creation goes together with the notion that the earth and human beings are at the center of the galaxy (the galaxy is anthropocentric). The demise of a geocentric universe took the doctrine of special creation with it.
This is oversimplification. I suppose the ancient doctrine of special creation went out the window a long time ago, but there's no reason whatsoever that we can't have a better doctrine of special creation. It could look something like the anthropic principle from a theological viewpoint. The anthropic principle isn't superb science or anything, but its a very simple idea that looks a hell of a lot like special creation, and doesn't even have to do with theism at all.
3. The deliteralization of the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis brought an end to the dogma of original sin as something inherited from the first human being. Death is not punishment for sin, but is entirely natural. And sin is not transmitted from generation to generation by means of male sperm, as suggested by Augustine.
Let's assume that this argument follows on itself for now, because I want to keep these pity if possible. I don't think anyone still thinks sin is carried in human sperm - Funk is arguing with people who aren't around anymore by my measure. In the Genesis story, toil, injustice, snake-fighting and death are all the result of sin, by my reading, so there is more here that Funk needs to deal with before this thesis is sufficient.
4. The notion that God interferes with the order of nature from time to time in order to aid or punish is no longer credible, in spite of the fact that most people still believe it. Miracles are an affront to the justice and integrity of God, however understood. Miracles are conceivable only as the inexplicable; otherwise they contradict the regularity of the order of the physical universe.
"Miracles are an affront to the justice and integrity of God, however understood." That just makes no sense to me on its face. "Miracles are conceivable only as the inexplicable", on the other hand, seems astoundingly obvious to me. That's like one half of a tautology. I also don't necessarily buy the need for a dichotomy between "God never intervenes whatsoever in any way" and "God violates nature in order to intervene". This is a sort of blunt-instrument view of God that just isn't very convincing.
5. Prayer is meaningless when understood as requests addressed to an external God for favor or forgiveness and meaningless if God does not interfere with the laws of nature. Prayer as praise is a remnant of the age of kingship in the ancient Near East and is beneath the dignity of deity. Prayer should be understood principally as meditation—as listening rather than talking—and as attention to the needs of neighbor.
Again, this makes no sense. If there's no God 'out there', then who or what are you listening to? Also, meditation can mean a thousand things, only two of which are listening or attention to the needs of a neighbor. This is an amazingly impoverished view of both prayer and meditation that an intro to comparative religions class would cure, I would think. It did for me anyway.
6. We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus' divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.Maybe, if this keeps coming up, I should call it the "baby-and-bathwater fallacy". I can think of a few ways to think of Jesus as divine in ways that would almost be a promotion. So, because we aren't in the Bronze Age anymore, we have to throw out the concept of the divine entirely? Oh no, wait, we can also just rethink it based on our new context like people have done throughout history.
7. The plot early Christians invented for a divine redeemer figure is as archaic as the mythology in which it is framed. A Jesus who drops down out of heaven, performs some magical act that frees human beings from the power of sin, rises from the dead, and returns to heaven is simply no longer credible. The notion that he will return at the end of time and sit in cosmic judgment is equally incredible. We must find a new plot for a more credible Jesus.
I am bored to tears by a fully credible Jesus. I cannot imagine someone so credible moving anyone in any way. I'm yawning before I even hear about this credible person. And yes, I can think of a number of ways, even ancient ones almost as old as the faith itself, of looking at Jesus' act as something other than "magical".
8. The virgin birth of Jesus is an insult to modern intelligence and should be abandoned. In addition, it is a pernicious doctrine that denigrates women.
This is harsh and high-horsey (par for the course here I'm afraid) but I pretty much agree. I've never felt that the virgin birth was 1) necessitated by reading of Scripture or 2) essential in any way to my faith.
9. The doctrine of the atonement—the claim that God killed his own son in order to satisfy his thirst for satisfaction—is subrational and subethical. This monstrous doctrine is the stepchild of a primitive sacrificial system in which the gods had to be appeased by offering them some special gift, such as a child or an animal.
I can't imagine that Funk is unaware that there are many doctrines of atonement since I learned about them in my intro to theology class, so I'm not sure what he means here. He's talking about penal substitutionary atonement, which is just one class of atonement theology among many. And where he says "stepchild" I would say "emphatic judgement and end", and I don't even have to step outside of penal sub atonement to get there.
10. The resurrection of Jesus did not involve the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus did not rise from the dead, except perhaps in some metaphorical sense. The meaning of the resurrection is that a few of his followers—probably no more than two or three—finally came to understand what he was all about. When the significance of his words and deeds dawned on them, they knew of no other terms in which to express their amazement than to claim that they had seen him alive.
The resurrected Jesus teleports around and passes through crowds, appears and disappears. Clearly the resurrected Jesus, even in a very literalistic reading of the Gospels, was not just Jesus' same body walking around with the same properties other bodies have. I also just find this claim: "When the significance of his words and deeds dawned on them, they knew of no other terms in which to express their amazement than to claim that they had seen him alive" to be stupid. I mean, that's just ridiculous. It strikes me as a modernist trying to understand a premodern mindset and failing utterly. But, when you totally throw out everything valueable about myth, this is the kind of thing you're left with.
11. The expectation that Jesus will return and sit in cosmic judgment is part and parcel of the mythological worldview that is now defunct. Furthermore, it undergirds human lust for the punishment of enemies and evildoers and the corresponding hope for rewards for the pious and righteous. All apocalyptic elements should be expunged from the Christian agenda.
Grr. "Mythological". But I've gone there before. Apocalyptic elements have not been part of the main "Christian agenda" for a while now. Well, I guess there's "Jesus is coming, look busy" type evangelism, or fear-of-Hell evangelism, but a lot of even conservative evangelical types look down on this as simply leveraging self-preservation to get people into the pews. I'm fine with tossing that part out. To lose all of the apocalyptic, though, would mean we also have to lose, say, the thoughts and words of Martin Luther King Jr. I am not willing to "expunge" that.
God's Domain according to Jesus
12. Jesus advocates and practices a trust ethic. The kingdom of God, for Jesus, is characterized by trust in the order of creation and the essential goodness of neighbor.Ok, this is staggeringly untrue. The Gospels are chock-full of Jesus suspicion of the essential character of neighbors. It is not about trusting your neighbor, it is about loving your neighbor even when s/he is a certified asshole to you all day long. Even given the guarantee that you will be hurt by others, you are never to hurt in return. That is not a trust ethic, that is a nonviolent ethic. Trust in the order of creation? No, I think that the kingdom of God is probably trust in God. Though its likely that for Funk, God is approximately equal to the order of creation, so maybe close enough?
13. Jesus urges his followers to celebrate life as though they had just discovered a cache of coins in a field or been invited to a state banquet.
Whew, I was afraid I was going to disagree the whole way through. Right on!
14. For Jesus, God's domain is a realm without social boundaries. In that realm there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, homosexual nor heterosexual, friend nor enemy.
Woo! I can sign on to this. Where do I get me some of that no-boundaries community!?
15. For Jesus, God's domain has no brokers, no mediators between human beings and divinity. The church has insisted on the necessity of mediators in order to protect its brokerage system.
Sort of. That's not why I do it, but I can see that Funk is having an argument with the distant past, so this fits.
16. For Jesus, the kingdom does not require cultic rituals to mark the rites of passage from outsider to insider, from sinner to righteous, from child to adult, from client to broker.
Damn, you had me there for a few of them. No, Jesus's idea of the kingdom clearly includes rites of passage, and the early Church clearly practiced rites of passage. The client to broker part I'd say not...this just isn't a very deep or interesting understanding of rites of passage. Again, a failure of the modernist mindset.
17. In the kingdom, forgiveness is reciprocal: individuals can have it only if they sponsor it.
Woo! Back to good stuff! Though, of course, the onus is on the Christian to forgive first and most.
18. The kingdom is a journey without end: one arrives only by departing. It is therefore a perpetual odyssey. Exile and exodus are the true conditions of authentic existence.
This of course ignores the powerful theme of paradox between exodus and home being the same place or condition, but again, Funk clearly does not have any interest in thinking about paradoxes. Which makes me wonder what interests him about the Bible or theology at all...
19. The New Testament is a highly uneven and biased record of orthodox attempts to invent Christianity. The canon of scripture adopted by traditional Christianity should be contracted and expanded simultaneously to reflect respect for the old tradition and openness to the new. Only the works of strong poets—those who startle us, amaze us with a glimpse of what lies beyond the rim of present sight—should be considered for inclusion. The canon should be a collection of scriptures without a fixed text and without either inside or outside limits, like the myth of King Arthur and the knights of the roundtable or the myth of the American West.This is total nonsense. "...a colllection of scriptures without a fixed text and without either inside or outside limits" not only contradicts the previous sentence in this thesis, but doesn't make any sense. What Funk is describing is a random pile of writings without any identity at all. Also, for the love of God, can Funk possibly reference some actual, meaning-generating, world-spanning myths? He finally touches on it, and all he comes up with are King Arthur and the American West? What the hell?
20. The Bible does not contain fixed, objective standards of behavior that should govern human behavior for all time. This includes the ten commandments as well as the admonitions of Jesus.
The Bible is definitely internally contradictory, and we contradict it in many ways just to function in modern society. This is inevitable, since we are not in the Bronze Age. However, I think that there are standards in the Bible which transcend its historical limitations and which I think we should take seriously if the Bible is to be at all important. What those are is of course always a subject for debate, and has been for two thousand years of Christian history.
The language of faith
21. In rearticulating the vision of Jesus, we should take care to express ourselves in the same register as he employed in his parables and aphorisms—paradox, hyperbole, exaggeration, and metaphor. Further, our reconstructions of his vision should be provisional, always subject to modification and correction.
Myth! Myth! Myth! At least he gets parable, hyperbole, exaggeration and metaphor right. But Simile? Allegory? What about the 'register' employed by the Gospel writers? Folktale? Martyr cycle? Poem? Healing story? Liturgical structure? The list goes on and on.
If nothing else, Robert W. Funk needs a thesaurus.