Stepping Stones

It was in 2012 when I was 76 that I sensed I had a Christian faith that I could hold on to ‘loosely’. I could never have imagined then what would happen over the next 7 years.

Most of my understanding has been obtained in the ‘University of Life’ away from what I think of as the ‘funnel’ of formal education and ‘religious’ teaching.
I am very familiar with the work of the Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson. I love this RSA animation of one of his talks.

I have been able to share something of the journeys of over 2,000 people including several leaders and former leaders, over a period of about 15 years.
At times it has been obvious how much harder it is for those with formal theological training to unlearn much of what they had been taught, especially when they didn’t have others with whom they could share their questions.

  • My parents left school at 13 and 14 and never owned a Bible. They wanted me to be better educated than they were.
    They sent me to a Baptist Sunday School when I was 9. It was just before I was 14 that I rejected what I had been taught about the trinity and that’s when I walked away. With hindsight this has had a major influence on my thinking ever since. Despite that rejection I subsequently became a Christian when I was 22. It was 6 years later that I became the treasurer of an Anglican church in the UK for 8 years in the 1960’s. I gradually became disillusioned by what I saw as a lack of ‘radical’ Christianity together with an inability to get answers to my questions about the trinity and walked away in the early 1970’s, without ever doubting the existence of God or the presence of God’s Spirit with us, but my understanding of what that means has changed dramatically over the years.
  • Several years later I became a member of a Sabbath-keeping Christian Church that kept the biblical Holy Days; rejected the traditional teaching of both hell and the trinity; and considered Christmas and Easter to be Pagan Festivals. It was nearly 20 years later in 1995 that the leadership of that Church announced that much of their theology was misguided. That’s a very long story. It resulted in a ‘major church split’ and on a personal level that announcement ‘destroyed’ our own family of 14 related by marriage. I had been expected to accept the Statement of Beliefs of the National Association of Evangelicals in America and the Evangelical Alliance in the UK. This was totally unacceptable and I was ‘forced’ to reconsider just about everything I had ever been taught for the second time.
    With hindsight this was the beginning of what I have since described as being “An Outside Observer of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist church scene especially in America for over 20 years”.
  • I was very involved with the Emerging, Emergent and House Church scenes especially between about 2003 and 2006 primarily in America. We were aware that tens of thousands of people were walking away from churches that they may have been attending for many years. We sometimes referred to ourselves as the Out of Church Christians.
  • Since then I have been influenced by many teachers including Wayne Jacobsen (The God Journey), Paul Young (The Shack), Richard Holloway (the former leader of the Episcopal Church in Scotland), N T Wright (Anglican Bishop and prolific writer), Bob GreavesDiana Butler Bass (an Episcopalian and an American church historian), Barbara Brown Taylor (an Episcopal priest), Bart EhrmanRob Bell and Richard Rohr.
  • Richard Holloway had earlier had a big impact on my thinking – see “Broken Myths”.
  • With hindsight I can see that I have learned so much about why Christians believe(d) what they believe(d), often as a result of divisive, denominational theology, and also something of why they even fight among themselves about their ‘beliefs’ and what they see as the place of Jesus.
  • It was early in 2012 that I became aware of the writings of Diana Butler Bass and her then latest book Christianity after Religion. I wrote some extensive notes on an earlier blog that can be seen here. After what for me had been an intense period of study, I sensed that I had a faith that I thought I could hold on to ‘loosely’.
    I really did think that I had gone about as far as I could go – that I had a story to tell – that I could share with others who were on a similar journey.
    I had a picture of the journey of life as a series of stepping stones.
    I had by this time shared something of the stories of at least 2,000 people who were moving away from traditional Christian teachings.
  • Towards the end of 2012 I watched a lengthy BBC TV series entitled “A History of the World” by Andrew Marr, that highlighted for me the reality that the universe has existed for some 13.8 billion years but that civilisation as we know it is no more than about 12,500 years old. This just raised several more of those awkward questions to which there are no easy answers – such as, “What is religion – is it man’s attempt to explain the inexplicable?”. It occurred to me that so much human history has been influenced in such a short time by the many world religions. Some might find my notes enlightening – see sidebar.
  • It was in 2013 that I joined the local branch of U3A (University of the Third Age) and in that first year attended classes for Philosophy, Psychology and Counselling. In subsequent years I have also attended Mindfulness; History of Christianity; History of Religion; Buddhism and Islam – just 2-3 hours a week – almost all of which was new to me. The number of questions just grew!
    With hindsight I can see that this highlighted some of what I see as the futility of so much of what goes on in academia and the whole system of education – as described by Ken Robinson.
  • It was in 2014 that I was introduced to the thoughts of Barbara Brown Taylor about Lunar Spirituality and her metaphor of Learning to Walk in the Dark. As a former Anglican I could really relate to so much of what she was saying.
  • In “Another Watershed – April 2016” I have described the impact of a lengthy podcast with Rob Bell and Richard Rohr. Even as I listened to this for the first time I just knew that this was another personal watershed – another real turning point!
  • It was in 2015 that Diana Butler Bass‘s new book “Grounded” was published, but I didn’t see anything of this until 2016. In “Where is God?” I have summarised three separate interviews that Diana gave around that time.
  • It was in July 2016 that I read an article by a pastor I have known well for some 35 years. He wrote:
    True science, real mind-blowing science, comes from the endless birthing of new understanding by those who’ve caught on that life is full of surprises, and the surprises never stop coming to those who seek with an open mind. If only religion caught on to that in its search for God too, where instead of nailing God in a box and telling people that’s all there is to know about him, it would let God reveal himself in his way, with new and endless surprises. (my highlighting).
    He went on to say that science is now pushing boundaries into areas where no one has trodden before. Old concepts suddenly become antiquated and quaint, as new interpretations of the universe blow the old views to pieces.
  • Compare that with what John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal Bishop had written in December 2015:
    The explosion of knowledge over the last five hundred years in the West has rendered most of the biblical and creedal presuppositions to be unbelievable. They rise out of a world that no longer exists. Yet churches continue to operate as if eternal truth can be placed into these earthen vessels, proclaiming that in both the Bible and the creeds ultimate truth has been captured forever. The result is that Christianity seems less and less believable to more and more people. Can we separate the Christ experience from the dying explanations of the past? If we cannot then surely Christianity will continue its relentless journey into a declining irrelevance.
    This is an extract from “Charting a New Reformation: The Twelve Theses” – some very provocative and thoughtful material.
  • It was also in July 2016 that Paul Young, the author of ‘The Shack’ posted an article by Richard Rohr on his blog entitled, “Transformation is More Than a Change of Mind”. In the podcast with Rob Bell (see “Another Watershed – April 2016”) Richard had suggested that Christianity hasn’t made a very good job of exposing the ego. In this article there is an emphasis on the process of letting go. He writes:
    The Achilles heel of organised religion might be that we tend to tell people what to see instead of teaching them how to see, and the thing we often miss is that transformation is not merely a change of morals, group affiliation, or belief system – but a change at the very heart of the way you receive, hear, and pass on each moment.
    Do you use the moment to strengthen your own ego position or do you use the moment to enter into a much broader seeing and connecting? Two very different ways of seeing!
    Is there a connection here with the thoughts of Ken Robinson?
    This was also the point where I originally put together my thoughts about “Ego and Human Nature”.
  • It was in April 2017 that I saw what for me became a significant article in the March Newsletter of the Progressive Christian Network in the UK entitled, “Where is Progressive Christianity Heading?” by Andy Vivian where he paints a picture of four separate but overlapping strands or paradigms of Progressive Christianity:
    • Evolutionary Spirituality
    • Emerging Church
    • Radical Theology
    • Atheistic Christianity

    He suggests that all four paradigms emphasise the role of religion in supporting humans to live generous and compassionate lives, and that all four place such a life above a particular set of religious beliefs about God.
    I have spent a significant amount of time with people who come from each of these strands, including a couple of Bible College students who subsequently became atheists.
    Radical Theology is said to be the one that stands out as the most open approach, while the other three all have an element of egotism about having found the True Path.

    Perhaps 2018 should be described as a season of frustration that resulted in an entirely new foundation for my blog!
    2019 has been a year of consolidation. It’s now time to step back and simply share some of my heretical thoughts.