Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Big Tent Christianity Synchroblog

Big Tent Christianity Synchroblog

What is Spirituality?

What is Spirituality?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Experiencing God

Encounters with God come in all kinds of experiences. The joy and comfort of assurance that God is always with us; but, also in the experience of Her absence and complete hiddenness. It boggles the mind and confounds our logic, but it should not mean that Christians should lack a discipline of our mind.

To me the layers of meaning of Jesus on the cross are many and complex. Just a hint of this seems evident in Jesus’ experience of forsakenness when, at the same time,  the centurion sees his suffering and death and hears Jesus’ cry, the centurion sees the Son of God. Quite an amazing scene. One that may takes years of contemplation to come close to understanding.

For myself, though, in whatever way we experience God, the power of our experience of God is only evident by the way in which our actions transform the lives of others, and dare I say -- transform our acts into the acts of God. Where would any of us be if Moses had encountered God on the mountain and just stayed up there to glory in his experience? What if Jesus had continued to wander around the countryside amazing the crowds without ever riding into Jerusalem to confront religious and political power?

Jesus called upon God even in his forsakenness, an encounter that continues to transform our lives.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Definition of Religion

Many in American today like to distinguish between "religion" and "spirituality".  Some say that they are no longer religious but they are spiritual.  I have read that Europeans have no third category such as "spirituality".  One is either "religious" or "irreligious".  Hmmmm, I wonder if that is true of Europeans?

I have previously offered a definition of religion on this blog.  I wonder if those who prefer "spirituality" would want to reject religion as I have tried to define it?  In searching for definitions of religion, one will find many very different ones and many different approaches.  What are people rejecting when they say that they are not religious but rather they are spiritual?  While I have some ideas, I am not entirely sure what they mean. 

However for now, maybe as a step toward understanding religion and spirituality, I will repeat below a definition of religion offered by a philospher of religion, Geddes Maggregor.

Religion is chararacterized by

1)  interest in,
2)  concern for,
3)  encounter with,
4)  sense of absence from,
5)  sacrificial ove of,
6)  commitment to, and
7)  joy over,

that which is judged to be more important than anything else in one's experience and which, so conceptualized, is taken to be a symbol of that which lies at the heart of all possible experience.

I think this is a good definition.  I like that it does not have any primary emphasis on "beliefs" and seems to put more emphasis upon personal experience.

Although, what keeps this definition of religion from being totally subjective and private?  Is the spirituality that Americans want to retain more subjective and private than what they consider to be religion?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of KNowing God

Many people in America are moving away from religion but still like to see themselves as spiritual. They are rejecting the judgemental, out-of-touch, authoritarian approach that has predominated much of the Christian church in America. They identify "religion" with much of the parts of church life that they do not like, and they identify "spiritual" with what they want to keep.

This book can help you affirm, expand, and even transform your spiritual life. The author's approach is accepting of many different perpsectives as evidenced by the quotes sprinkled throughout the book from various religious leaders and authors. The best part of the book is the author's personal story that is woven throughout the entire book. His experience makes the book credible. Many religious leaders may also be able to identify with his experiences.

While the book has a Christian perspective, it is not proclaiming the views of any particular Christian denomination . The book also is not exclusively Christian either. The author affirms the insights and values of other religious traditions. While much of the author's perspective can be found in the writings of other Christian mystics, the material here is much more readable for the modern reader. Insights from eastern mysticism are also incorporated into the book.

This is a book that one can  use to expand her mind and expand her spiritual consciousness.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

MY REACTIONS TO "Ecumenism Means You, Too" by Steven R. Harmon

I could call this a "book review", but it is not.  I hated doing book reviews.  This short blog is my personal reaction to the recent book "Ecumenism Means You, Too" by Steven R. Harmon.  It is a short book and easy to read.  For me, some of it was quite inspiring.

I suspect that a person's attitude towards authority and dogma will influence his reaction to this book.  I have read several discussions regarding Christian unity and divisions recently.   Some have contended that there are so many differences between Christians that the designation "Christian" should be abandoned.  Others have argued that their interpretation of Christianity is "right" and therefore all the others are "wrong".  In the face of these discussions, it is hard to imagine an ecumenical perspective on Christianity.  Nevertheless, I do.  And with a blog title "An Ecumenical Christian Perspective", how could I ignore this little gem of a book.

The author does not present a naive view of ecumenism.  He knows the challenges.  However, in spite of that, the book has a positive and inspiring tone.  There are three very good things about this book.

First, it acts as a very good source for information about Christian ecumenism.  This part of the book is good for students and those who want to know more about the topic and want to become involved with ecumenism.

Second,  the chapter on the theology of ecumenism was inspiring and scripturally based.  As the author is from a Baptist tradition, it is not suprising that he would emphasize the scriptural basis of ecumenism.

Third, the author does not stop with theology or scripture.  He offers ten practical things that any Christian can do for the unity of the Church.  One of my favorite suggestions is "....learn all you can about the "Great Tradition" to which all denominational traditions are heirs."  Another of my favorites is ".....join other Christians in serving as advocates for social justice and environmental responsibility."  This gives you a flavor.  I heartly recommend you read the book to get a full meal.

Speaking of a full meal, I have another practical suggestion for maintaining and enhancing the unity of the Christian church.  I learned in seminary that in the early tradition of the church there was the practice of a "love feast".  There may be some Christians that still practice that tradition. I am not sure.  In a very simple way, many Church suppers are just that.  But I have never been a part of a practice that was explicitly called a "love feast". 

I think Christians should start a renewed tradition of a love feast.  My guidance for it would be. 

1.  No priest, bishop, pope, deacon, pastor, minister or any other "official" person within any church may officiate at the love feast.

2.  The full meal will be prepared and served only by lay people.

3.  No one can be excluded ----- not based upon church membership, belief, lack of belief, social status, race, ability to pay, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.  There can be no reason to exclude anyone except those who are violent.  The only basis of inclusion is that a person wants to participate and they are willing to be peaceful.

4.  Everyone who is able will pay toward the meal and toward the meal of those who may not be able to pay.

5.  The only formal part of the meal will be a prayer of gratitude for the meal and for everyone who particpates.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Our Common Faith!

Are you reading aloud the gospels, yet? Are you reading aloud the gospels?

I can hear you. I hear the same words.

Are you reading the gospels?

I am reading the same words.

Are you following Jesus? I am right beside you.

Are you following Jesus? Have you followed Him to the cross yet? See him there!

I am standing right next to you.

The centurion sees the suffering of Jesus, he hears the anguish, and he smells the stench of death.

Are you standing at the foot of the cross? I am standing right next to you. In the suffering of Jesus, in Jesus Himself the centurion saw the Son of God. Do you see Him? I am looking at the same One.

We may have our “big tents” or our “small tents”. While all of our differences are interesting and even necessary, while we understand all the problems with the different ideas, dogmas, world-views, and perspectives, while we may not even like each other at times, I invite you all to my “big tent”. In my big tent, in essence, Christianity is not some eternal idea, or dogma, or world-view. In my big tent, Christianity is a message and way of salvation, the all-determining significance of a historical figure, Jesus the Christ.

Do you not want to join me in my big tent? That is alright. I am still standing. Still seeing. Still hearing. Still smelling. At the foot of the cross.

At the foot of the cross there is no tents, no fences, no circles, no boundaries. I am here…..are you? I am at the foot of the cross? Are you?

I can see you at the foot of the cross and there in the suffering face of Christ, I see God. I look over and there you are and again I see the face of God.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What is a Christian?

A Christian is one who experiences God through Jesus Christ as the ultimate value. Jesus is the one, historical, Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the four gospel accounts. A Christian’s experience of God results in a faith that is characterized by devotion and commitment to, love and fear of, and joy in God. A Christian’s faith is expressed through private and social symbolic rites. A Christian’s faith responds to life and God’s Spirit with intentional acts on behalf of the well being of all.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What Is Religion?

Religion is man's total experience of that which is considered the most important in all of life, is characterized by devotion and commitment to, love and fear of, and joy over this ultimate value, is expressed through private and/or social, symbolic rites, and provides a way of responding to and of understanding the whole of life. - John R King, Jr. January 1978

Friday, March 19, 2010


"Would it really be just a dream at the point of transition from modernity to postmodernity to envisage the overcoming of conflicts between science and religion  ---  which often have ideological coloring  ---  by a new sharing, even though there are so many different perspectives on the evolution of the cosmos and human beings?"  Hans Kung in his introduction to "The Beginning of All Things:  Science and Religion"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Diversity versus Common Ground

Diversity. We are all different, something to be celebrated indeed. However, I doubt that I could use the word “we” in the previous sentence without having something in common with my fellow human beings. Christian diversity. One source of it is in the New Testament itself. Another source is in the very different, specific situations that all persons and communities find themselves and the choices they make. However, we have indeed reached a sad place when any Christian can say that “we do not believe in the same Jesus”. It is because of this sadness that I am interested in what Christians share in common. Not for the purpose of preserving any particular old orthodoxy or for convincing anyone of a new orthodoxy, but for the sake of love and community.

While I do not think that a fundamentalist perspective lacks the ability to communicate the gospel to some people, I find that its lack of openness to the world and its resistance to new understandings causes this perspective to fail many people, including myself. I find myself willing to explore any possibility. I think that puts me firmly on the progressive side. However, I do not view myself as a progressive Christian. I view myself as a Christian. But, my openness causes some to put me on the “outside” of the faith. That is sad. This sadness motivates me to search for some common ground. While I do not come from a Catholic tradition, I think the Hans Kung has some interesting things to say about our common Christian faith. Because of his influence, when I use an adjective to modify my Christianity, I use “ecumenical”.

1 Thessalonians is probably the first surviving text of the Christian faith. Paul starts his letter by describing the church of the Thessalonians as “in God and the Lord Jesus Christ”. I must admit that I have not made much progress, that is satisfying, toward a common ground. However, for me, the very fact of the New Testament writings themselves is one common ground on which we can stand. No matter how much more a Christian may want to say about the New Testament, I would hope that we could all agree that it is the permanent starting point for our common identity. Dare I say more?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Christianity, Technology and Beyond.

I think that most Christians would agree that technology should be used in the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. I am not sure that the Christian communities can yet discern all of the ways that technology could be used, the ways that should be used, or the consequences of using technology.

One advantage of technology is that our message can be communicated faster, less expensively, and to more people where they are at any given time. As a result, more people can participate in the process of thinking about our faith. This freedom to participate could lead to more passion, commitment, and creativity. Additionally, some technologies put the expression of faith into a public space open to direct challenge and debate, possibly strengthening our own perspectives.

However, there could be some disadvantages. As more people can express themselves, the diversity of viewpoints can multiply. Those concerned with issues of orthodoxy versus heresy may find the diversity of interpretations overwhelming. Even today, if one ventures an expression of faith in any online venue, one will find many differences of opinion. Some of them are informed, but many are poorly informed. It is difficult to weigh these many opinions. It could lead to confusion. With the large fissures between Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox, and Protestantism along with the tremendous fractionalization within Protestantism itself, Christianity may already have completed a very tall tower of Babel. Technology may make it worse before it gets better, if it does ever get better. Also, as our message enters further into the public square, Christians may lose the debate. The use of technology may also lead to de-personalization and a further emphasis on the individuality of our faith. While certain technologies may help us overcome these issues, (at the risk of sounding sappy), sometimes there is no substitute for a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand when we fall, or a community of love to accept us as we are.

Beyond these issues of technology, I see three major inter-related challenges. First, Christians need a clear, simple, straightforward, understandable expression of our faith that does not needlessly put us at odds with our worldviews nor make us appear delusional. At the same time, our expression of faith, while informed by our increasing knowledge, cannot abandon core truths of Christianity. I keep listening! Quite a challenge. Second, Christianity needs men and women who have experienced the power of God in Jesus Christ in their lives, experiences that will drive a passion and commitment that overcomes the call of comfort, power, recognition, or wealth. A passion and commitment that opens the hearts and lives of other people. Finally, Christians need to build communities of faith, acceptance, equality, freedom, justice, and love in which the kingdom of God draws near.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Faith, Science, and Transforming Christian Theology - A BRAVE CHURCH INDEED!

In my recent comments about "Transforming Christian Theology" by Philip Clayton, I remarked that it would take a "brave" church to begin conversations about theology as Mr. Clayton suggests.  Well, it turns out that there are such brave churches, at least one.

In a recent article at Associated Baptist Press (http://www.abpnews.com/) entitled "Seminar equips clergy, laypeople to talk about faith, science", a story about First Baptist Church of Austin, Texas describes a seminar regarding the relationship of faith and science.

This kind of development is GREAT!  I have long contended that the Church cannot deny or ignore science, nor can it fail to engage our current scientific worldview.

One quote in the article was "There are a lot of Baptist churches for which the subject would be too controversial."       I think that this is the understatement of the century.  Just look at the comments posted at the ABP website related to this article.  Unfortunately, if one were to judge just from the comments at the ABP website on many topics, ABP's following seems to be made up of people who are AGAINST every opinion that ABP's writers express.

Does the topic of science and religion bother you?  Does it interest you?  Rather than deny or hide, I suggest some reading.  I would suggest the following authors:

Rodney D. Holder
John Polkinghorne
Ernan McMullin
Graeme Finlay
Colin Russell
Alister McGrath
Robert S White
John Bryant
Michael Poole
Sir John Houghton
Denis R. Alexander
Roger Trigg
R. J. Berry
Ernest Lucas
Ian Barbour

There is one specific book that I would especially recommend to the commentator to the ABP article who wrote,  "Rather they (several scientists that the commentator makes reference to in his comments) are saying that these processes are intrinsically random. Such understandings are, in principle, at odds with teleological metaphysical accounts that see everything as intrinsically purposive."

I would suggest to this commentator and to anyone one else interested in "randomness" and "chance" in the natural world and the actions of God to read "God, Chance and Purpose" by David J. Bartholomew.  I must warn you that this book can be quite challenging, especially if you do not have any background in statistics or mathematics.  However, the book is well worth the read if you can take some time to read carefully, thoughtfully, and with an open mind.

I affirm that God created the world, his creation is good, and as one of his creations what we learn about his creation only glorifies him.  God is faithful.  He is not a trickster.  We can have confidence in what our senses tell use about our natural world.  What we learn is always provisional and changing and growing; but, we do not need to be afraid.  Trust in God.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Philip Clayton on his own book: Transforming Christian Theology

Frank Tupper on Transforming Christian Theology


My reactions to this book:

1.  Very positive.  I recommend this book for every Christian seminary student.

2.  While retaining the perspective that faith is fundamentally a trust in God and a committment to a way of life, the author balances this with the view the every Christian also believes either implicitly or explicity certain ideas about his faith.  The author says "Theology is just thinking about your faith".

3.  The author's view  and explanation of the sources of theology is the clearest and most practical that I have heard from any other theologian.  While he indicates that they are not the only sources, he says that the main sources for our knowledge of God is Scripture, tradition, reason and expereience.

4.  He contends that EVERY Christian seminary student should work out his own explicitly stated theology that represents his own personal and honestly held convictions in the areas of God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, humanity, sin, church, and the future or stated in more traditional terms - theology, Christiology, Pneumatology, anthropology, soteriology,ecclesiology, and eschatology.  The author's discussion of liberalism, fundamentalism and postmodernim as the context for every student thinking through his faith and having a personal theology is clear, straightforward and helpful.

5.  The author also argues for individual groups and churches having conversations about theology and reaching explicit conclusions about their beliefs..  I think some groups would be able to do this, but it would take a very brave church to engage in doing theology together with honesty and conviction.  I would guess that some would discover that they believed things quite differently than the "official" teaching of the church to which they belong.

6.  The author has some very practical advice to church organizations.

Whether you are a "professional" theologian or Christian who likes, wants, or needs to think about his faith, I heartily recommend this book.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Future of Faith - Harvey Cox

Cox, Harvey. The Future of Faith. HarperCollins e-books, 2009.

I recently read this book and recommend it to others of the Christian faith. I am not going to review the book; however, I would like to give my reactions to it.

I like many things about this book. I think it has an ecumenical spirit. The author is open and accepting to many different Christian traditions and other world faiths. Except for his general dislike of “fundamentalism” (meant in a very broad sense), he speaks positively about Christianity in its many forms.

The author also makes a very important point about Christianity when he makes a distinction between “faith” and “belief”. At its heart, Christianity is about a “faith in” God, rather than “beliefs about” God. However, I think that the author makes too much of a separation between these two aspects of Christianity and then uses this differentiation to artificially divide the history of Christianity into the “Age of the Spirit”, the “Age of Belief”, and then what he sees as a return to a new “Age of the Spirit”. Certainly it has been a problem for Christianity when there has been an over emphasis on believing certain ideas rather than placing our trust in God as a way of life. However, it is difficult for me to see how we can have faith without some ideas that can be used to communicate our faith. What do you think?

Another good feature of this book is its presentation of the diversity of Christian beliefs, even in the earliest of Christianity. If you have the view that Christianity started with the “one true faith” that was orthodox and any deviation from those origins is heresy, then you are not going to like this book. This book is easy enough to read without academic technicalities so that any Christian can get a more historically accurate view of early Christianity. Keep an open mind.

There is another lesson from history in this book. The influence of the Roman Empire and its politics along with the attendant issues of power, prestige and money upon Christianity is described very well in this book. Read this part of the book carefully. There are good lessons here.

There are two features of this book that I see as weaknesses. The author seems to have a na├»ve view of the surge in Christianity in Asia, Africa, and the Global South. He nearly equates this growth of Christianity with the earliest stages of Christianity and describes it as a return to an “Age of the Spirit”. I do not think that today’s Christianity in these areas of the world is devoid of “beliefs” any more than I think that early Christianity was. Maybe the beliefs are more simply formulated, less systematic, more diverse, and held less contentiously. But, maybe the worldview of the Christian Scriptures are more congruent with the less critical and less scientifically aware views held by many people in these parts of the world. Maybe the faith is too new in these areas to have begun contemplation on the reasons for and explanations of faith. What do you think?

The second weakness revolves around his stark contrasts between faith and beliefs. He clearly criticizes “fundamentalism” is all of its manifestations in all world religions, mainly because of its emphasis upon “correct beliefs”. While it seems Christianity may always have diverse and even contradictory beliefs, I do not think it can do without beliefs. The worldview of the biblical writers is so different from the present age’s scientific worldview that Christianity is in decline in Europe and even America, as the author seems to acknowledge. The book seems to have no word of hope for Western Civilization except for “give up your beliefs” and just “have faith”. For me this is way too simplistic. Christianity will continue to lose credibility in the West as long as it fails to deal theologically with our scientific worldview. Do I propose a new orthodoxy? No! Do I propose a final solution? No. Do I propose one set of answers all need to believe? No! What I propose is that Christianity needs explanations and reasons that are clear, straightforward, and credible to the world view of the West. What do you think?

Monday, January 4, 2010

God, Creation, Science

Nearly all who claim the name "Christian", believes in God, God the Creator of all of reality.  In the last 400 years, science has studied our world, the universe, reality.  The discoveries of science have been very disconcerting to many Christians because the discoveries conflict with the worldview held by the biblical writers.  Can Christians take scriptures seriously without taking scriptures literally?

Yes, Christians can!  Christianity and science need not be in conflict with each other.  However, rejecting confrontation requires that theology reject a fundamentalist premodern origin of the heavens and the earth that ignores or suppresses the results of science or a historical-critical exegisis of the scriptures.  On the other hand, science must reject a rationalistic, modern model that evades fundamental philosophical and theological questions.  Science cannot a priori declare religion as irrelevant.

Instead, christianity and science must embrace a critical and constructive interaction between science and religion.

Just as christianity must deal a with reality that started with a big cosmic explosion 13.7 billion years ago, science must also deal with ultimate questions.  What is the ultimate origin of the universal constants of nature?  Why is there something and not nothing?  This is a primal human question.  Can the scientist within the realm of human expereience answer these questions?

For a christianity which seeks to understand and explain reality, it must face the fact that mankind has discovered that 13.7 billiions years ago our universe began with a giganitc cosmic explosion.  Our planet has existed for 4.5 billion years and complex life for 3.5 billions years.  It was only 1.5 billion years ago that the first early human walked upright and humans such as present day man appeared only 200,000 years ago .

Paraphrased and quotes from Hans Kung.

What do you think?