Full disclosure: I remain inherently insecure; on my struggle to in absorb a personal faith. True – hope abides, peacefully.
Faith suggest a coalescing around life’s nagging realities; it brings subtle formation of values resulting from grueling spiritual slogging – finally stepping boldly over one’s weaving entanglements about life’s bruising struggles.
Dr. Robert L. Dibble, a St. Stephens Church friend, counselor, reminded us that faith is like a primary muscle requiring serious exercise – or inevitability oozing into entropy and degeneration.
Christianity, Christianity, where for art thou Christianity? The inquiry persists: Christianity, what are you becoming…what is your emerging direction? With many centuries of denominational migrations from early Catholicism – Monasticism – Reformation – newer Mormonism – to contemporary Pentecostalism, what is the bracing goal?
When Jesus – he never heard the term, “Christianity” – arrived on the scene, he said he was the “way, the truth and the light.” Constructive history reminds he was beleaguered by a world which puts its faith in two of life’s pursuits: self satisfaction (hedonism or irreligion) – or – self righteousness (legalism or religion). Then Jesus came delivering a long view – a third view: the Gospel way….salvation from self-inclination, to a softening of one’s hard heart. Debate on these denominational disparities, impinging with uncertainty, became rooted.
Self-satisfaction promotes getting all you can – a blank canvass allowing you to paint what pictures you desire. The self – righteousness angle enjoyed a different twist: obey commands, preserve rituals, and pull us up spiritually by our bootstraps. Towing the lines – even becoming a Horatio Alger story on spiritual steroids.
The late Phyllis Tickle, editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly, weighed in ten years ago with her intriguing analysis: The Great Emergence. Her phrase, rummage sale of ideas, became a fresh historical Christian theme: About every 500 years, Christianity would hold its semi-millennial rummage sale – shedding to a fresh skin of renewed ideas: * Backtracking from the now, the Great Reformation occurred about 500 years age-1517 to be clear. * * 500 hundred years earlier, the Great Schism (when the Eastern and Western churches split over icons and statues) remained separated.
* 500 years before the Schism, Gregory the Great blessed and encouraged the Monastic order Gregory’s influence would preserve the Christian faith through the Dark Ages. * Of course 500 years before that, we’re back in the first century….the time of the apostles, where the natal break from Judaism concluded.
Tickle, lecturing in Richmond six years ago, issued a clarion call to acknowledge the inevitability of change, and participate responsibly in the transformation. Cultural revelations dominated: Darwin’s Origin of Species; Faraday’s field theory, which became foundational for the technology we all take for granted today; theories of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, and Joseph Campbell, challenge directly – and now?
John Shelby “Jack” Spong, liberal Christian theologian, retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church (1979-2000), promotes separation from theism and traditional Christian doctrine. Visiting Richmond, he’s recently acknowledged his project: Charting the New Reformation. Totally enthralled by James Russell Lowell’s quote: “Time makes ancient good uncouth,” the bishop addresses his new Twelve Theses – alarming in some quarters.
Consequential distinction is made between… an experience – and – the way the experience is explained. Take the experience of epilepsy: it is a phenomenon that affects a small minority of people, but common enough to be universally recognized. A 1st century epileptic seizure is identical with one that occurs in the 21st century.
Spong, a lightening rod in the eyes of many, shares: The way epilepsy was explained in the 1st century, however, differs so widely from the way it is explained in the 21st century that one would hardly recognize that they were describing the same thing. It is hard to relate “demon possession” to the “electrical chemistry of a brain cell.” Again, the distinction between actual experience, even eternal – and the explanation of that experience, time-bound and time-warped – brings challenges within the Christian faith.
Furthermore, Spong derides Atonement Theology, which he believes is damaging: “in its most bizarre substitutionary form.” Believing it presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is a victim and turns human beings into little more that guilt-ridden creatures, the phrase “Jesus died for my sins” is not just dangerous, it is absurd, Spong declares.
Spong’s concern is that the ‘dying explanations of the past” will bring Christian faith into a declining irrelevance, rendering faith and values more difficult to build.
This is how current faith is going to be challenged in the future: about Virgin Birth – Miracles – the Passion of Jesus – Resurrection – Ascension – surely will be under heavy reassessment.
Are we up to this….wish I could be questionless – even sanguine.