Spong and other progressives call for a non-theistic understanding of God. My girlfriend and I have had a bit of a disagreement on this of late, since she relates to God as a parent, a being who regularly communicates with her. I am beginning to move towards a more panentheistic understanding, where God is understood as the creative force and substance in and behind all of life. Yet I am not sure that I can readily agree with Spong right now that relating to God as a parent and a being should be abandoned; considering the authors of the Bible readily attributed human traits to God, I think it is entirely up to the individual to relate to God in their own way. Being created in the image of God means that we are somewhat like God; not obviously in appearance, but more in essence.
The problem I have with relating to God in a patriarchal manner is that such association causes me to imagine an angry parent constantly frustrated with my foolish behaviour. He really doesn’t like most of the world, spares a few and punishes the majority. Within this understanding, it was difficult for me to grasp the love of God, particularly when most of the world was going to hell. It was a massive sigh of relief for me to see hell as mythological and metaphor. After a period of uncertainty, I’m resting in the love of God, not thinking that I’m relating with an actual being, but feeling in tune with the sacred, the divine essence, who still has a mind that seeks my best good. Prayer for me is relating to this mind through a process of self-reflection. I can’t see God as a being who acts in result to my prayers; rather I see prayer as bringing me in tune with God’s will and purpose.
My girlfriend does not want to leave the institutional church. We visited a Uniting church on Sunday, which I found from the website wiki.faithfutures.org. The wiki includes links to progressive christian churches and networks. The church experience was somewhat like what I am accustomed to, and yet at the same time refreshingly better. The typical elements were present – contempory worship, communion, and a sermon. The music was polished, the alternative communion (with each person serving the elements to one another) was a nice touch, and the sermon communicated the depth of a parable in a way I had not previously seen. Progressives are focused more on social values and the implications of living the gospel rather than the technicalities of doctrine, which is what I find most appealing. And I had the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, who have abandoned fundamentalism, literalism, and a punitive patriarchal deity in favour of a more generous and open faith.
Just thought I’d share a few thoughts about Spong in particular and liberal Christianity in general. Spong is just a man with opinions; he has been swayed a certain way based upon learning and experience. To call him evil is to do his work and ministry a severe injustice. He may be wrong on many counts. I read a few criticisms of some of his ideas today, and they were reasonable. Reading radical thoughts, and then criticisms of such thoughts, is a very balanced way of understanding. To simply label Spong or anyone as evil and worthy of avoiding is a fundamentalist stance, for it imposes a limited set of ideologies. In other words, it’s ok to hear or read from a select few theologians, but not ok to hear from others. The most thorough thinkers are those who study not only those within their own ideologies, but also those who are considered heretical or evil, in order to broaden their understanding of the world. A true education is a liberal education, one that takes in the full spectrum of the world at large.
The problem with liberal Christianity is that it tends to be confined to intellectuals or thinkers. Much of the ideas are presented in forums and seminars and lectures. This kind of education that I referred to can only be accessed by a few rather than many. For instance, if the Bible is entirely metaphorical, then just how are we to read and understand it? Do we require the assistance of skilled theologians to manoeuvre through the text? The main argument I can think of is that there is a plain and simple reading of the Bible that we should just accept, so that we can go on with our lives without too much thinking. That’s perfectly reasonable, for if the Bible is the inspired Word of God, why would it then be cryptic? If it reveals the divine will to humanity, then anyone should have the capacity to extract the meaning.
Either the text is rich with meaning, and allows for creative interpretation, or there is a specific meaning. If there is a specific meaning, yet multiple meanings are brought out, how shall we know which one is superior? Can the average simple Christian read the Bible and make sense of it without using devotional resources? If we just have the Bible and nothing else and no further guidance, what will we end up with? Why is there one Holy Spirit and a multitude of interpretations? Considering that the interpretations are often considerably different, I raise doubts as to how much we can invest in the books of the Bible as being the inspired will of God. Why would God make it so incredibly difficult to understand his will? Why would God cause us so much confusion? If the Christian church is an accurate representation of God, then this god suffers from a multiple-personality disorder!
Ah, to rest with a simple but informed faith, that is my goal and aim!
An excerpt from an email I sent to Leif Hansen of Bleeding Purple Podcast (and wonderosity.org)
There is not a more apt description for my experience than Bleeding Purple! I continually straddle this world of conservative and liberal, even though presently my focus is on the liberal side. I find the thoughts of scholars like Borg and Spong to be more appealing than most, even if I haven’t gone as far as drawing their conclusions. I consider NT Wright as brilliant, yet am not sure that I entirely agree with his thoughts on scriptural authority. The idea of taking the Bible seriously, but not literally, makes sense to me right now. It’s easy to relish in the supposed safety of traditional evangelical thought, but is it realistic? The basic assumptions of evangelical tradition continue to baffle me. The other day I was watching the movie Luther, and in one scene Martin says in a sermon that God was thought of as vengeful, but should now be thought of as loving and merciful. Evangelicals hold on to a notion of God as punitive, which is not difficult when the Bible is read in a traditionally literal fashion. It’d be nice to embrace a more realistic and loving picture of God.
I’ve just been thinking about how our group will run, and looking at a couple of things that The Living Room do. They also have their main meeting on Wednesday night, but the meal is vegetarian. That’s not a bad option considering that not all people who join will be red meat eaters. It is certainly the most inclusive meal option.
Also, the major benefit of the small group format is a focus on the spiritual formation of each member, or in other words exploring how faith and life intersect. I think that calling a service that has singing and preaching a ‘worship service’ is very poor, for it doesn’t really equip the members for day-to-day worship, or the moment-by-moment life living to the glory of God.