I don’t make a habit of listening to sermons nowadays but this one given by one of the leaders of the Progressive Christian community in January 2015 struck me as being particularly well thought out. What follows are notes I made reflecting my own questions on what was said in the sermon.
Old ways of thinking are changing! The God of the Gaps (an expression I was not familiar with) was an explanation for anything we couldn’t understand. In primitive societies everything was thought of as spiritual. In science and in other things there are still limits to knowledge.
Atheism is sometimes seen as the rejection of the God of the Gaps.
There is still a hunger among those who have given up on traditional religion.
What place traditional church heritage?
Consider the science of atoms and how that is taught in schools with models. Models are not the absolute truth but an introduction to concepts.
All religions try to put into writing something of what others have experienced of God.
With all the animal sacrifice in the Old Testament it would perhaps have made sense that Jesus would be seen as a sacrifice? But as animal sacrifices disappeared . . .
Jesus had a God consciousness? But why did Jesus have to die? The explanations led to problems.
Thoughts were institutionalised. Hell! The need to force yourself to believe or else . . .
The need to be grateful whatever the circumstances?
Maybe God needed a better publicist!
Atonement led to the idea of the trinity?
A later addition – please bear with me at this point. I walked away from Sunday School when I was 13 after rejecting what I had been taught about the trinity. It was 57 years later after reading The Shack for the second time in 2007 that I found myself wondering why it had taken so long for someone to give me a picture of the trinity that at least began to make sense. This is a significant part of my story that is covered in the blog.
God is too big for any creed! No one religion fully describes God. There are so many ISM’s!
How much rote religion?
Karen Armstrong wrote a paper on the resurrection and was congratulated by the Mother Superior and assured that she would do well in the order. “But none of it’s really true is it?”. “Course not! Just don’t tell the others”!
The need to be enthusiastic about our faith (can we really define our faith?) but not our dogma!
Lovers of God and servants of the kingdom – how would you describe the meaning of this ‘Christianese’?
This came from the sermon:
I believe – I belove – I love the tradition expressed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit – of incarnation, atonement and resurrection, sacraments and scripture, because it is through that tradition and heritage that I was first introduced to God – i.e. it’s not literal! (My experience could hardly have been more different but that’s a long story – covered in my blog).
The emerging church needs to move from the concepts of salvation and atonement into an understanding of life and wholeness. It’s time to move away from images of animal sacrifices in which atonement and trinity are set and move into an understanding of how God impels us to radical compassion, to love without limits, to peace, to life, to wholeness. We may be atheists as far as traditional models go but we still have an experience of the ‘other’ – we know there is something we can’t put into words but we have to keep trying. I’m not convinced that this is true.
The universe itself is not God. By faith we reason that God is probably more than the sum of the parts of the universe – panentheism (God is everything in the universe and something more) – and because of that more, we are able to say that there is a spirituality that gives us the ability to discern that peace is better than war; that love is better than hate; that kindness is better than violence; generosity is better than greed. That is the more than of spirituality that draws us into the heart of God, and we know if only because we have experienced it, that it can live in a way that seems to draw us closer into communion with God or we can live in a way that takes us further away. Does this really make sense?
After many centuries and many embarrassing religious wars, inquisitions and excommunications I think we need to stop trying to regulate how anyone expresses who God is or isn’t. We can love the tradition that brought us here, but we can also let go of the claim that we are in possession of the absolute truth. If love is our religion then no one ever has to go to hell – we can just let go of that. No one has to be afraid of God or of demons. No one can tell you what you have to believe.
The formal religious institution in which most of us were reared helped us to structure our thinking; battle our self destructive impulses; helped us to learn how to choose good over bad. Just as you learn in school for years how to stand in line, there comes a time when you need to learn how to get out of line; to let go of the institution; move beyond the models and the drawings and be freed to be a spiritual person.
This raises the significant question of whether ‘changing from within’ is enough. Some of us (who have not been in leadership positions) have moved beyond the institution and have come to see that denominational Christianity can only take us as far as the theology and the traditions of that denomination will allow. How do those in leadership positions deal with this – especially in more Evangelical traditions?
We can change the world if we let ourselves grow in love and kindness and mercy and forgiveness and compassion. So love is my religion and I will continue to try to figure out what that all means. But isn’t love and peace the basis of most of the religions of the world?
It was in about 2004 that I made contact with the Progressive Christian Network in the UK when I already felt that I was part of the Emerging / Emergent / House Church scene. I attended a number of meetings locally but came to the conclusion that they were only interested in changing from within. I sense that very little has changed since then, but I may be wrong.