According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Should Church Creeds and Confessions Change with Advances in Human Knowledge?

…while the reality of God and God’s acts for human salvation in Christ remain constant, human apprehension of their truth and significance changes and develops. Our access to the truths is through historically, culturally and socially conditioned interpretations.

Credal statements do not escape this and are therefore not immutable. That we live in different, and equally limited and partial, historical, cultural and social conditions entails…that, even when we repeat the same words as the writers of Scripture or the formulators of the creeds, their meaning for us is not guaranteed to be the same as it was for them.

The consequence is not that all doctrinal truth becomes relative but that the Church in succeeding generations, through it theologians and teachers, through its worship and practice, is inevitably involved in the hard work of interpretation of the truths that shape its life. It should not be surprising that advances in knowledge throw up problems that require rethinking the tradition. After all, one of the tasks of theologians is to explore and restate central doctrines in the light of developments in human knowledge.

The doctrine of creation is now rethought in the light of what is taken to be the case in respect to cosmology or evolution or genetics but nevertheless it is still a doctrine of creation when it affirms that the universe and its life as we know them depend for their existence on a divine Creator.

At Relevancy22 we have explored the question of "stasis and knowledge" frequently and often. By this is meant the idea of whether the church must remain in a state of doctrinal equilibrium - or spiritual imbalance - as caused by the equal and opposing forces we see occurring today demanding perceptive scientific, and philosophic, advancement to that of the church's lagging creeds of Christian dogma and understanding.

Relevancy22 was birthed on the heels of this reflection a short three years ago causing this author to necessarily reflect upon the present state of theology when confronted by the separate contemporary activities we do now see and hear propounded all around us.... From observed short-sighted statements to publically outlandish remarks made in print and media while all the while attempting to bring some idea of biblical centering to the many faith topics at hand.

To accomplish this task at once required identifying the theological barriers we have built around our Christian psyche (or is it psychosis?) that would disallow any kind of movement or questioning of a past orthodox system that had become outdated and outmoded. Having no previous examples or leadership in this area I began to undertake this task alone with the strength and passion laid upon my heart by the Holy Spirit. It became a body of work that slowly evolved requiring a newer epistemology that challenged past beliefs and religious training. But one that would utilize the best of the postmodern, post-evangelic church movement with all the resultant discoveries flowing forthwith in the burgeoning swells of delight and enlightenment.

Basically it required moving the goal posts if not the entire lines on the playing field in order to ask better questions while discovering more relevant data sets of  doctrinal reflection. My old set of "biblical" rules and logic could no longer keep pace with the many newer reflections and interpretations challenging the fundamental areas of systematic and biblical theology as I was observing it. All had to change. And change it did with a drive I had little expected.

The first order of business was to burn all spurious beliefs down to the ground and begin to rebuild again. This was my period of deconstruction and re-learning. It was a period in which I never had despair even though I did have a great heaviness of heart that Christian theology must be upgraded if it were to even pretend to meet the needs of our postmodern societies and faith. It was as if the Lord drove me to re-capture the very ideas He would have for His church if it should listen with a new heart, new mind, and new spirit. That the past church doctrines built upon Greek classicism and secular modernism could no longer effectively reach beyond today's newer thoughts and ideas about the Lord's Spirit and grace, work and rule. It required new words. New ideas. A new language. And most importantly, a new mindset seeking better questions - and not for solutions alone. A more liberal attitude that was less restrictive and restricting.

My task became one of not defending God but of discovering our Redeemer-Creator past the words of His people. Past the deeds of His serving church. And past the attitudes of fear and apologetics meted out by public pulpit and Christian rhetoric. At once these platitudes must be deconstructed, and when done, necessitated a holy fire of Spirit-reconstruction based upon the new theologies I next began to uncover beyond my older bible education, ingrained background, and formalized church training. It was as if my black-and-white glasses were replaced with a new kind of spectral vision lenses letting in all the colours of the rainbow and beyond. Colours that admitted the ultraviolet and infrared spectral frequencies of sight and sound. I felt overwhelmed and became burdened to share my journey on a day-by-day basis lest loss and become stillborn by working through my own questions and observations  by the medium of digital argument and dissertation.

To do this, I knew I must reflect on all the doctrines of the church including its "many spirits of beliefs and darkened knowledge" if ever I was to break past its withholding traditions and intolerant religious ideologies that went under the several disguises of a Christian faith. That I must resurrect its classic orthodoxies onto a more contemporary plane of grace-filled orthodoxies that were more flexible and self-reflective. More humble and less judgmental (unless it were to a judgment upon the church itself). That I must write of a new orthodoxy that was every bit as classic as its past 2000 years but one that moved those doctrines and dogmas forward into - and beyond - today's postmodern era of thought and inquiry.

That might reset the Reformational-Evangelical barriers of the church to be more centered around a post-Reformational, post-Evangelical Jesus, and not around its own enculturated doctrinal preferences, syllogisms, and traditions. One that might act with more introspection than I was presently observing. That learned to behave itself around scientific discovery rather than beat against it. To see our Creator-God on a larger plane of knowledge than the one we had fitted for Him to remain stoutly framed within. To question our need for those beliefs rather than to allow the Christian faith to become obscured or irrelevant should we entertain broader religious overtones to our Christian faith.

And to this end I strove to re-envision how church doctrine might become less evangelical and more post-evangelical. Less static and irrelevant, and more integrated with the larger discoveries of science and philosophic thought. A church whose orthodoxies were updated to the trends of human renewal. Whose dogmas and folklores could be delineated for what they were... dogmas and folklores. But the dilemma was how to do this without losing the centering foundations of the Bible and of the Christ within its holy pages.

Anyone can go about writing their own Bible. But the trick is to not do this when renewing its faithful pages. If not, we have only created a new gnosticism. Or a new set of cultic doctrines that have broken from its proper continuity to past church history and theology however imperfect and imperfectly conceived. But if done well, then we'll see a more enhanced view of an orthodoxy that is enriched, postmodern, and relevant, to societal needs and perceptions. Names like NT Wright, Peter Enns, Scott McKnight, Roger Olson, or John Caputo (all whom we follow here) have shown a willingness to update church doctrine while discussing along the way their reasons for doing so. Even as I and other fellow bloggers would do apart from the plausible restrictive confines of school or college, church synod or fellowship.

Hence, this newer vision of God and His Word comes at the expense of re-adjusting our minds and hearts to better bear the Spirit's message of new wine. But if we remain within the older cocoons of our old doctrinal wineskins and traditional outlooks than like the worn-out skins of our past we may expect all to break and spill upon the ground. It can be a nasty business causing personal loss of faith and even great disillusionment. However, in constructing a newer wineskin of epistemology and belief structure the new wine of the Gospel of our Lord should serve well all who would pour its gospel message of good news out onto the contemporary forums and public thoroughfares. One that can meet the needs  of the lost while binding up the wounds of the broken.

And so, it is the task of the theologian to lead church pastors and congregants towards this newer wineskin. How to properly let go of the old to rightly receive the vision of the new without loss of faith or pretention to "biblically unsupportive doctrines." It is by asking better questions that are less demanding of answers and specific-outcome solutions. By receiving a gospel more open-ended than its more recent forebearers squawking heresy and judgment. It is realizing that God is far larger than we had first imagined or been taught. And that His Word is fundamentally relevant for today despite the fact that it would seem irrelevant by our current attitudes towards its biblical structures and narratives as we now presently preach it through outdated apologetics of fear and uncertainty.

As with every new era, we must be patient in discussion by allowing all things to work out. As example - and in response to Andrew T. Lincoln's idea of the Virgin Birth of Christ quoted aboveI do continue to understand this event as miraculous and do not wish to explain it away as an un-miraculous event. Even so have I written of it once or twice on this blog against other ideas dismissing its validity from the pens of more eminent theologians and scientists. Today's quote above would be from yet another pen seeking its dismissal (or "newer" understanding). Though I favor his remarks on the church necessarily updating it creedal confessions - even as we have been working through here - I find his Webb-like "cultural interpretation" of Jesus' birth  unuseful as a proper anthropologic hermeneutic. Hence the tightrope we walk when updating church orthodoxy. It must be done. But it must be done properly.

However, I will be patient in the discussion and more discriminating about its spirit of conjecture without closing off its debates. For myself, it does indeed butt up against the other biblical doctrines of miracle, prophesy, and the nature of the incarnation of Christ. But these types of discussions do not dissuade me though they do tell me why it is all the more important to reset our conventional thinking within a larger epistemological framework of inquiry and investigation.

Hopefully this is being done well here at Relevancy22 while at the same time providing the balanced ingredients of Christian hope and devotion from other pens and tongues than mine own. As such, I have created this blogsite as a reference site that both teaches and inspires and not simply as my own personal blog. As a place one may go to ask meaningful questions and perhaps find helpful direction. That might point us towards newer theologies and contemporary thinking we once never thought to ask, study, or contemplate.

But it may also require the painful passage of disorientation. Of de-centering one's "biblical" beliefs with the harsher realities I had experienced before the Lord as He spiritedly began the renewing task of re-constructing the new wines of His Gospel about my spinning mind, heart, and spirit. The Christian faith is not an easy thing to comprehend. Even less when constructed about religious pride and misleading teachings. It can be as full of darkness and death as it can be of life and light. I pray that with me, your journey becomes one of proper sorrow and of a greater joy at its renewal and resurrection. Even so, may the God of grace bring His great love and peace to you this and every Lord's day.

R.E. Slater
March 26, 2014

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In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism

by Sarah Bessey
March 29, 2014

I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.

Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.

But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.

I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.

In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.

My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.

Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.

I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.

Your pet evangelical gate-keeper isn’t the sole arbitrator of the Christian faith: there is more complexity and beauty and diversity of voices and experiences within followers of the Way than you know. Remember, your view of Christians, your personal experience with Christians is rather small sample size: there are a lot more of us out here than you might think. A lot of us on the other side of that faith shift, eschewing labels and fear-tactics, boundary markers and tribalist thinking.

There are a lot of us out here who aren’t evangelical theologically or politically. There are those of us who are evangelical perhaps in our theology still (I think I am but who can keep track these days of the master list we’re supposed to be checking?) while separating from evangelicalism culturally or politically.

I’m someone who believes that we are in the midst of major shift within the Church – what Phyllis Tickle calls a “rummage sale” – similar to the Great Schism, and the Reformation. The Church is sorting and casting off, renewing and re-establishing in the postmodern age and this is a good thing. The old will remain – it always does – but something new is being born, too. If it is being born in the Church, it is first being born in the hearts and minds and lives of us, the Body.

Maybe evangelicalism as we understand it doesn’t need our defense anymore: maybe we can open our fist, lay down our weapons for the movement or the ideology or the powerful, and simply walk away.

It was helpful when it was helpful. Now, perhaps, it is not. Evangelicalism doesn’t get our loyalty: that fidelity is for our Jesus.

Sometimes we have to cut away the old for the new to grow. We are a resurrection people, darling. God can take our death and ugliness and bitterness, our hurt and our wounds, and make something beautiful and redemptive. For you. In you. With you.

Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the release.

Care for the new life being born in you with tenderness. It will be tempting to take all the baggage with you – to bring the habits or language or rules with you. That’s okay. You might need to be angry for a while. That’s okay. You might need to stop reading your approved-translation-of-the-Bible and only find Scripture in The Message. That’s okay. You might need to stop praying the way you were taught and learn to pray as you work, as you make love, as you walk at night. That’s okay.

I’m not afraid for you: you are held.  You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.

Nothing has been lost that will not be restored. Be patient and kind with yourself. New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.

Don’t worry about the “should-do” stuff anymore. It might help to cocoon away for a while, far from the performances or the structures or even the habits or thinkers that bring you pain. The Holy Spirit isn’t restricted to only meeting with you in a one-hour-quiet-time or an official 501-3(c) tax approved church building.

Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people.  God is much bigger, wilder, generous, more wonderful than you imagined.

The funny thing for me is that on the other side of the wilderness, I found myself reclaiming it all – my tradition, the habits, the language. Your path may lead you elsewhere, but I’m back where I began with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind, a new life, and a wry smile.

Now, instead of being an evangelical or whatever label you preferred, perhaps you can simply be a disciple, a pilgrim, out on The Way, following in the footsteps of the man from Nazareth.

You aren’t condemned to wander forever. Remember now: after the wilderness comes deliverance.

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