The Heart of God Rather Than The “Heart of Christianity”

On this blog, I’ve always tried to be completely honest about matters of faith and non-faith, my sometimes agnosticism, and other personal matters. I’ve wanted to show that despite how some Christians act in public and despite how some who have no faith act, there can still exist a middle ground in which these matters are by no means settled. I am uncertain most of the time about the state of my heart when it comes to matters of faith. There has never been a time, since my conversion in 1983, when I did not think about God, Jesus, or the church or when I didn’t think about matters of philosophy and how we all fit into the various views out there. That’s just me and the way I’m wired. You see, I see nothing wrong in asking the hard questions, in learning the hard answers, or dispensing with the nonsensical.

I’ve often thought I need a therapist to help me sort out all the conflicts I deal with on a daily basis, but who has the money or the time? Blogging seems cheaper, if not completely free of the wisdom of inflicting my weirdness on the public at large. Blogging is also missing sometimes that healthy give-and-take between people and also that naked honesty wherein only truth-telling can thrive. So yeah, there are those shortcomings. But, there are always weirder people than me out there in blog-land, so I don’t fret most of the time. Who was is that said “Don’t go looking for a spiritual director, one will find you when the time is right.” Well, the time is now, whoever’s out there willing to take me on! You can show yourself cause I really, really could use one. In the meantime, I just keep on inflicting it upon you whether you like it or not. I want you all to know that there are people who have faith out there, just maybe not in the things you may have faith in. There are those out there (me included) who believe that Jesus is the Eternal Christ and who came to spread the Love (kingdom) of God to the ends of the earth and that, mostly, men have severely botched the job. They’ve set up rules and conditions to keep people away from God’s love. I call them “the gatekeepers.”

So, in this mood today, I ran across something at explorefaith.org that got me thinking about how simple Jesus’ message really is. Someone wrote to the website and asked, “What is the heart of Christianity?” Dr. Marcus Borg and the Rev. Anne Robertson responded (the words in bold are their emphases):

For me, the heart of Christianity—Christian fundamentals for our time—would be, first, the reality of God. Without a robust affirmation of the reality of God, Christianity makes little important sense.

Secondly, the centrality of the Bible. To be Christian is to be in a continuing, ongoing conversation with our sacred scriptures.

Thirdly is the utter centrality of Jesus. Christians are people who find the decisive revelation of God in Jesus, in a person. That means when Jesus and the Bible [contradict] each other, Jesus trumps the Bible.

The fourth fundamental is that a relationship with God is known in Jesus. Christianity is not primarily about believing; a relationship involves a much deeper part of ourselves than simply the content of our minds.

The fifth fundamental is a concern for the transformation of ourselves and of society. I’m convinced that the Bible from beginning to end is both personal and political, concerned with both spiritual matters and social matters, and the life of Christian faithfulness involves both of those. —Dr. Marcus Borg

To me, the absolute center of Christianity is embodied love. In my reading of the Bible and in my experience, that’s it…hook, line, and sinker. In Genesis it is God’s love embodied in Creation, with every part dependent on every other part for perfect function. When human beings couldn’t seem to keep their part of the harmony going, God embodied love more specifically in human form, in the person of Jesus. Jesus thus becomes both the embodiment and the revelation of God’s love.

Christians consider themselves to be the Body of Christ…those who try to continue to embody God’s love in and for the world. If it is not done in love, it is a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. It matters even more than faith, Paul says. When Jesus is asked in Luke 10 what must be done to inherit eternal life, the answer is to love. Love is at the center of Creation, because God is love. Embodied love is at the heart of Christianity because that’s who Jesus is. —The Rev. Anne Robertson

I would agree with both of their statements except for one thing. In Borg’s statement I would put Jesus second and emphasize the point: “…when Jesus and the Bible [contradict] each other, Jesus trumps the Bible.”

Of course, many will wonder how we can know that what Jesus said are really his words and not the newly forming church hierarchy’s own words inserted into early documents. Well, we can’t know that for sure, but what we can know is that Jesus’ overall life and mission are visible for all to see in the words that are there. He brought a message of inclusion for all those that humans deem undesirable. The New Testament is full of examples where he welcomes those caught in sin or those ostracized from communities. And I believe it translates over to today. Those we wish to exclude, he includes. Those we hate, he loves. There are no conditions. I would add to the above statements that the heart of Christianity SHOULD be: Love God (however that’s defined) with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength AND Love your neighbor (whoever that is) as you would love yourself. (Mark 12:28-31– Mark is the earliest and most reliable gospel tract).

Sadly, I don’t see too much of that love going on right now. I see more religion and rule-keeping more than love. If this makes me a deconvert from religion, then count me in. I am forgoing what passes for religion for true spirituality. Some people can’t seem to see the difference, but there is a huge difference. God does not reside inside church buildings. It is we who bring God to church and it is we who can take God back out of it again. God (however that is defined) dwells in the heart. Forgive me if I’ve not shown much of my heart lately. I’ll try to do better and thanks for being willing to be inflicted with my meanderings.

Blessings!

Advertisement

Humility, Silence, and the Lack of Desire to Blog

I’ve been spending my time reading Journaling Faith and being truly repentant on a lot of matters. Convicted? You betcha! I’ve also frequented Emerging Grace and the Emerging Women blogs, as well as Internet Monk and other wise men such as Dallas Willard. I sense a moving of the Spirit here. What else can I possibly say? I’ve fallen, in my own estimation, so far from grace it’s not funny. My imagination? Maybe, but I don’t think so. God’s dealing heavily with me right now. Because of this, and because I’ve gone to church now a couple of times, with good results, I’ve stepped back a little from my blog. I’ve also returned to work part-time. Too much to keep up with right now. I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m taking another sabbatical. Whenever I actually STATE this, I end up writing anyway, but frankly, I haven’t missed it lately. I’ll see you when I Emerge myself!

The Gospel Coalition

Update: Interesting take on the formation of the Gospel Coalition by an Emerging Woman blogger. I don’t even confess to know what the emerging church is doing differently than any other churches down through the centuries except maybe to re-market the gospel (kind of like rebinding the bible in various formats to appeal to younger generations). But the blogger above is not necessarily pleased.

original post:

Finally! If you’re going to make a statement about your religion and if you’re going to make it broad, yet simple to understand, AND if you are going to give God pre-eminence rather than the bible (which always comes first in other churches’ creeds) then this is the Confession for you! I’m serious. It’s about time Protestant creeds took the bible out of the first place spot (see here and here) and put God back where He belongs–at the top. Because I mean really, if you’re going to have faith in a Savior, at least put Him above the Scriptures! This may seem picky, but it’s always bothered me that putting the bible first in a creed just smacks of bibliolatry.

However, I do take issue with this statement, “We confess that both our finitude and our sinfulness preclude the possibility of knowing God’s truth exhaustively, but we affirm that, enlightened by the Spirit of God, we can know God’s revealed truth truly.” And who decides that the interpretation of God’s words in the bible are known “truly?” I don’t believe that we can ever know this and even if we could, many, many faithful Christians differ on the interpretation of this truth, but overall, it’s a pretty good statement of beliefs.

Of course the confession leaves out any mention of men and women working together in ministry in any egalitarian fashion, “neither male nor female, etc,” but hey, these men didn’t ask us and DON’T EVEN get me started about women in the church!

No, I’m not being facetious!

Jesus Ate With Judas

An Episcopal blogger gets it right by giving evangelicals a “dressing down” for their spiritual arrogance. In part she says,

I would challenge the conservative/evangelical faction to start accepting their own place and stop trying to evangelize by pointing fingers. Talk about what YOU believe, not what’s wrong with what WE believe. Stop trying to make yourselves sound superior by putting us down for seeing the value of ALL God’s children that our baptismal covenant describes, not just the ones that are heterosexuals or allow priests who don’t happen to have a certain level of male hormones and equipment. We really are complimentary parts of a whole, you know. Our dedication to the social gospel meshes nicely with your emphasis on conversion of the soul. Our emphasized parts of the Bible are different from yours but between us we cover pretty much the whole thing. We could use maybe a little of your zeal for evangelism but I think you could use our acceptance of reason and experience and intelligence as well as scripture. Your desire for a hierarchical and covenanted church based on your beliefs and interpretations contrasts with our focus more on the priesthood of all believers and democratic polity. The two parts of the whole, Yours and Mine, together make a strong statement, stronger than either of us can make alone.

I wish evangelicals/conservatives could see that there is room at the table for all of us. I could throw in the idea that Jesus didn’t refuse to celebrate the Last Supper with Judas who would betray him so why must conservatives/evangelicals refuse to share an altar rail with people whom they see as impure, imperfect and sinful. We’re all sinners, every last one of us whether Christian or not. Maybe if we talked more about the good news and less about what the other side does wrong, we both might be stronger.

And we wouldn’t have to be like Southern Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Calvinists or anybody else. We could just be us — two parts of a whole, working together to bring about the kingdom of God both now and hereafter sharing a Book of Common Prayer as well as a Holy Bible. Now that might be the best kind of evangelism of all. There is room for those of us who like quiet contemplation as well as those who like feel-it-in-the-gut, dance-it-in-the-aisle praise bands. There is room for the social activist and the evangelical preacher.

If there was room for Judas, then who are we (or you) to say “There is no room for you unless…”

Amen to this as well. Boy, bloggers are beginning to see the big picture about the spiritual pride of evangelicals and I hope evangelicals take it to heart. NO ONE wants to hear how super spiritual you are and how sinful the rest of us are! I hope the backlash continues because only then will the Church become the inclusive community it was intended to be.

Forget Christianity as We Know It

Welcome a new Christianity without rules, without bargains with God, without fear. I am astounded and still trying to assimilate the Internet Monk’s vision. I found it yesterday while surfing the web and reading my favorite blogs. Some will say it’s Christianity without teeth. I say it’s PURE GRACE. Here’s an excerpt:

The New Testament uses three commands to describe what seems to be “our side” of the transaction: repent, believe, and confess. The many variations and synonyms don’t need to be listed. Even if we include the diversity of Christian beliefs about the necessity of baptism, the majority of Christians would agree that repentance, faith and some form of confession are repeatedly urged and illustrated by the New Testament writers.

Most evangelical Christians would agree that these are “our part” in a transaction with God called “being saved.” We repent from sin, we believe in Jesus and the Gospel message, then we demonstrate the reality of that faith through some form of confession. That confession is usually understood by evangelicals to be a public invitation or altar call, baptism and/or the public confession that precedes church membership. In response, God gives us salvation by removing our sin and crediting us with the righteousness of Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the blessings of salvation become ours. Our entire existence is then infused with the “new creation” that is “in Christ.”

But is this the best way to think of the Christian message? I have serious questions about whether transactionalism confuses the language of scripture with the realities of God, and in the process, leads to a religion of “doing business” with a God who is manipulated. Is transactionalism the source of the trivialization of God and the elevation of man that plagues evangelicalism? I believe so.

Like Spencer, I have found this to be the most liberating admission I’ve read in a long time. I see it galvanizing Christianity as we know it. In the rest of the article he outlines his entire vision and yes, I was enrapt reading it, even during my favorite TV show: Ghost Hunters.

The email conversation I’ve been having with a former pastor emphasizes the need for a new vision. He said that he could never condone the “new community” I’ve found with other Christians on the Internet, in house churches, etc. because the church was in the business (my word) of dispensing graces, the gospel, and ministering to individuals. This can only be done, he says, in a local church. I countered that grace is not confined to this or that place. Grace is the free flow of Godde’s love regardless of location. The church is not a Pez dispenser. I suddenly realized, after his unequivocal assertion, that people have such a hard time allowing other people the freedom to find their own way. They want to herd us into groups like sheep so they can tell who’s “outside” the fold and garner control over those inside it. Once they know who’s “outside” they feel safe and can begin to point fingers. They can exclude by fear and claim exclusive authority to teach, to preach, and then deny sacraments. They can protect their own interests and shut the door to fresh thinking.

Spencer’s vision is far more radical than even this pastor or any old-school Christians can imagine. I’m still trying to digest it. His vision of the old views of atonement theory hit home for me, since the “dying as payment” idea never seemed quite merciful or right for a God of MERCY and LOVE. Spencer writes,

Debates about “transactionalism” have often been debates about the atonement. The Bible places the death of Jesus as the apex of a scriptural thread of sacrificial theology. Sacrifice is plainly transactional. No one can deny that, and I wouldn’t try. But is the death of Jesus a transaction, or is it a sacrament that allows us to think about the unthinkable and unknowable in a way that can be understood humanly and temporally?

Classical theologians argued about who received the “payoff” from Christ’s death on our behalf. Satan? The Father? When did the payment go into effect? Was the transaction between members of the Godhead, or does human faith and/or obedience effect the transaction? Did the atonement’s benefits extend to those who lived before it happened? Transactional questions are endless, leaving some persons weary and wondering, “Is this what the death of Jesus is all about? How many sins can be forgiven by how much blood? The calculation of worth?”

Such debates assume a temporal and transactional understanding of the atonement. They are built on the idea that, at some point in time, our reconciliation in Christ did not exist, but was in the future. Some Christians writers in the early history of the church, giving up the temporal aspect of the atonement, wondered if the “transactional” language of sacrifice was obscuring eternal truths about God. Was the death of Jesus a temporal sacrifice, and therefore a transaction, or was it something else? If God were dealing with another race in another galaxy, would the death of Jesus be the same, for the same reasons? Or could it be different because, in actuality, that death is a sacrament, and not a transaction at all.

The beautiful possibilities this evokes is endless. Some will wonder why then Jesus had to be so special at all and not some other dying and rising God. I think that for Christians who absolutely believe in the efficaciousness of Jesus over all others will have no problem with Spencer’s view after reading it, unless they are completely wedded to the transactional idea of salvation. Those who claim that Jesus does not matter in the history of the world will still remain unconvinced. I am the first to admit that there is no evidence to convince either way except that which those of faith have: personal experience.

And that’s precisely what all this is: a matter of faith. For someone like me who is just waiting for that excellent vision to tip me over the edge toward faith (and that’s a very precarious place to be), this has come closest to pushing me over. I’ll admit it. I need to believe. My intellect can only take me so far.

Top Five Things That Might Get Me Back In Church

1. Provide a Good Mix of Spirit Filled Male and Female Leadership

Most cultures have been patriarchal, and the world’s religions have for the most part sanctified patriarchy, legitimating it in their teaching and practice. I illustrate with Christianity, the religion I know best.

In most Christian cultures:

*Women have been taught to be subordinate to their husbands.
*They have been blamed for the presence of sin in the world.
*As late as the 19th century, they could not inherit or own property, and could not initiate divorce.
*Until very recently, they could not be ordained as clergy.
*They were sometimes persecuted with the blessing of the church. Though estimates of the number of women executed as “witches” vary widely, clearly it happened a lot.

The exceptions: In the formative periods of some of the world’s religions, especially those that began with a founding figure, the status of women was more egalitarian. I have been told that the status of women in very early Buddhist communities was higher than in later Buddhist cultures. So also, some Muslim scholars affirm that Prophet Muhammad assigned to women a more egalitarian role than what developed later in many traditional Muslim cultures.

Such seems to be the case in early Christianity as well, for Jesus and Paul. Though there was a reaction to this in some documents of the New Testament itself, early Christianity for the first few centuries offered a status and opportunity to women quite different from surrounding cultures.

Why did this change? In a sentence: because of the “drag” of culture, of civilization. As these new religious movements grew and involved more and more of the population, traditional cultural conventions crept back into the religions.

Recent developments are to be commended, even as we need to recognize that they were long overdue. It was only about forty years ago that many mainline Christian denominations began to ordain women. But we now have a woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The full and equal status of women is not only one of the fruits of modernity, but consistent with the originative impulse of Christianity.

2. Quit Playing the Blame Game When it Comes to Sin and Preach More About the “Remedy” for Sin

Adam, not being satisfied with running an entire planet populated with millions of varieies of other creatures, a planet which God created just for him to run as he saw fit, went whining to God about being lonely and overworked. As a gesture of good-will and in an attempt to placate Adam, God set about creating another companion especially suited for Adam, a creature who would help Adam get through life while She was busy tending to her creations on other planets, just as God herself was Adam’s constant helpmate. After somehow managing to populate an entire planet without creating a being who satisfied Adam and wanting very much to finally make a creature who met with Adam’s approval, God decided to fashion only this creature, who was sure to be Her supreme creation, in the finest of locations, Paradise. Believing that perhaps Adam would be more content with this creation if he could claim part of the credit for the final product and wanting Adam to vicariously experience the birth-giving process, God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam. Knowing that the quality of the finished product is strongly correlated with the quality of the raw materials, instead of using common clay, dirt, and dung as she had when she created Adam, God selected the finest material available, Adam’s sanctified rib, to use as the raw material from which she fashioned her newest creation. Pleased with her new creation, she permitted Adam (which is Hebrew for earth- or dirt- man) to name this marvelous new creation Life (which in Hebrew is Eve). Knowing that Adam would always need the help and guidance of her newest creation, God commanded Adam to leave his father and mother and to cleave unto his wife, indicating that a matriarchal society is Her conception of the ideal society. God married the earth-man and Life and they became flesh of one flesh, HER. (Silly men, some men actually think that God commanded Adam to leave his family and cleave unto his wife and her family and then they became flesh of one flesh, him. Aren’t they silly little gooses?) Thereafter God saw that her work was truly good, that she was truly finished with creation, and she rested from her labors.

…………………………………….

Romans 5: 15b, 18 For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many!

5:18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression,  so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people.

3. Give to the Poor, Not to the Church

Never, all in Scripture, is a tithe used to pay building and maintenance expenses for a meeting-house or clergy. The tithe is food, and it’s used to feed people—period. Freewill offerings (and/or perhaps a modern-day equivalent to Nehemiah’s “temple tax”) are the only Biblically-approved source of income from which such things as Equipment Upgrades, Insurance, Janitorial Services, Payroll Expenses, Repairs and Maintenance, Utilities, Mortgages, etc. are to be paid.

In contrast to the Old Covenant system, Paul set aside any pastoral “right” to live off the ministry and instead worked additional jobs to provide for his own expenses. He reasoned that he stood to gain no heavenly reward from “simply” preaching the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:15) and must go out of his way to make it a completely free gift if he were to receive anything from the Father because of his work. However, if Paul were simply a “New Covenant priest” he would have been leading the churches into sin by causing them to break God’s Law which required a community to feed its Levites (again, Deut. 18:1-8). Thus, we can infer that Paul did not believe these laws were binding for ministers of the Gospel.

4. Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive, Through Kindness and Forgiveness

Loving Our Neighbor Includes:

Affirmation 5: Engaging people authentically, as Jesus did, treating all as creations made in God’s very image, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, nationality, or economic class;

Genesis 1:27; Psalm 8:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7

As Christians, we welcome those of every race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical and mental ability, nationality, and economic class into the full life of our community.

We affirm that the Path of Jesus is found where Christ’s followers uplift and celebrate the worth and integrity of all people as created in God’s very image and likeness. We further affirm that Christ’s Path includes treating people authentically rather than as mere categories or classes, challenging and inspiring all people to live according to their high identity.

We confess that we have stepped away from this Path whenever we have failed to recognize the essential goodness of God’s Creation by treating some classes of human beings as more godly than others. We have moved further from Christ’s Path when we have treated people superficially, as objects to be used rather than human beings with depth and distinction.

5. Give up the Deification of the Bible and the “Inerrancy Doctrine” That is Used More As a Weapon Rather Than For Healing

Inerrancy is a contempt that breeds hate. Inerrantists take it as divinely certain that other people’s religious views are inferior to their own. One reaps what one sows, so when inerrantists show their contempt, contempt for their own religious views is returned. History is bloodied by the consequences. Jews, Muslems, heathens, and other Christians have been subjugated, tortured, and slaughtered in the name of the “true” god. Jacob Bronowski (1973, 374), speaking of Auschwitz, wrote,

Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by dogma. It was done by arrogance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

The contempt also shows up as intolerance — against women’s roles, in attitudes about sex, and through a variety of other different views. Even those who do not commit atrocities, when they display such intolerance, are guilty of fomenting the atmosphere that makes the atrocities possible.

Some tell me that there are churches out there that practice the principles I outline above and more! I’ve never seen them where I live. Maybe they exist in large urban areas, I don’t know. But I live in an ultra-conservative, Midwestern rural town that would run such a church out of town if it ever formed. If one ever does show up somewhere nearby, I think I’d have to visit it just to see if it’s truly possible.