A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Friday, August 31, 2007

H. Richard Niebuhr quote

I came across this passage from H. Richard Niebuhr in his book on revelation that seemed pertinent given my previous post on pluralism and evangelism.
A theology of revelation which begins with the historic faith of the Christian community is no less tempted to self justification and so to abandonment of its starting point than any other theology.

It may seek to make a virtue out of its necessity and recommend itself as not only inescapable but as superior in results to all other methods. It may direct attention away from..God..and seek to defend the community, its faith, its theology.

A recent book..states that the "question of revelation is at the root of the claim of the Christian religion to universal empire over the souls of men." Such an apologetic statement contains an evident inherent self-contradiction.

For revelation and "the claim of the Christian religion to universal empire over the souls of men" are incompatibles. The faith of revelation is directed toward a God who reveals himself as the only universal sovereign.

To substitute the sovereignty of the Christian religion for the sovereignty of God..is to fall into a new type of idolatry, to abandon the standpoint..directed toward the God of Jesus Christ and to take the standpoint of faith directed toward religion.

A revelation that can be used to under gird the claim to universal empire over the souls of men must be something else than the revelation of the God of Christ who in faith emptied himself, made himself of no reputation to claim the kingly crown.

Whenever the revelation idea is used to justify the church's claims to superior knowledge or some other excellence, revelation is identified with something with what the church can possess.

Such a revelation must be..under human control of the Christian community-a book, a creed, or a set of doctrines. It cannot be revelation in act where by the church itself is convicted of its poverty, its sin and misery before God.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Unproven Doctrines?

Questioning Christian asks how it is possible to believe in what one author calls "the sovereignty of Jesus, the Doctrine of the Trinity, the Creeds and other historic formulations of the Church" I have to admit, I'm not sure what half those phrases mean.

Many of the forumlations belong to another age in the church, resulting from someone elses battles. They use the language of the time period and often bear little or no relation to the active faith of Christians, conservative, liberal, protestant or catholic today.

But if we are talking about the central doctrines of the Christian tradition that do hold sway, do command some level of alliegance, are meaningful for a broad cross section of the Christian church over time, I think we have some obligation to make sense of them.

Make sense of them in their historic formulation? Sure. But more important make sense of them in how they are understood, lived out today. That's a much wider category and will include all sorts of notions that I'm sure some church council condemned.

It's the way that these ideas get carried into the life of current and past communities, not just church councils, that determine the meaning and value of those ideas. If they have power, it's because those ideas make sense of one's life and experience.

We're not so much dealing with the unprovable as much as what refers back to experience. For instance, ancestor worship can make sense, if we think of our dependence on what our ancestors created for us. Atonement can make sense out of particular kinds of wrongs.

If it's possible to see what these ideas do for communities, what feature of experience they highlight it may be possible to reconstruct the symbol.Such a reconstruction would try to go for the same value that the idea has had, even if it's formulation is updated.

After all, the idea of earth is quite different from the 1500s or the 500s but it's still meaningful to talk about the idea, there is some continuity. And yet a difference. I'd suggest doctrines are much the same. They needn't rest on the unprovable but on experience and reformulated for present needs.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pluralism and Evangelism

I was thinking of the post at Fr.Jake on Christianity and religious pluralism. It seems that he made stronger claims about the universal efficacy of our religion than I could."I know that Christianity is the way to God. I cannot say that about other faith traditions."

I am passionate about my faith and eager to share its resources to a wider audience, for me college students. I love the riches of its rituals and practices and agree that an interfaith dialog that tries to strip those away is robbing the gift that may be given in the interchange.

But I am also impressed with the rich resources and practices of other traditions. Because one understands prayer in one's tradition, it's possible to appreciate some of the meaning it has for other traditions. I say that as a fan of the Reform Jewish prayerbook.

Evangelism has its place. But it should be for those who are interested, for whom Christianity could provide resources to work out questions of life, where they can find a community that enables them to grow. Some are estranged and looking for a way back home.

Others, because of their history for whom Christianity was so harmful that its symbols and practices cannot be redeemed, cannot be in a position to give life. There are others who have grown up in or found meaning in another tradition, for whom Christianity is not a live option.

If they've found a source of life, a place that widens their concern for the other then I assume that God is at work there and that's where they need to be. For those who are still searching, and Christianity is a could makes sense for them, I want to offer that gift.

As important as my faith is to me, it's instrumental. Christianity's end object is God. At its best it can act as an access to God. When it does this, I'm eager to share with all who can find sustenance. For those who have sustenance elsewhere, I can only assume that likewise comes from God.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Homophobia Alive and Well

It's been a wierd few weeks of news for gay and lesbians in society and the church. We've had a deputy mayor in Italy call for ethnic cleansing of gay and lesbians, reminding us of where hate inevitably leads.

We've had gay supportive church services stormed by anti-gay protesters reminding us that the church can be a victim of homophobia. And another church made news by refusing to hold a funeral for a gay man

And while trials are hopefully a thing of the past in the ELCA Lutheran Church, the ban on celibate gay and lesbian clergy continues with the Christian Century concluding that no other mainline churches are looking to follow the UCC's open support of gblt folks.

I don't want to downplay the step the ELCA has made in ending the harassment of clergy. Such a thing has plagued the churches in a way that strikes me as anti-thetical to the Gospel. Street Prophets has a nice piece on the step forward the ELCA made.

Sometimes the news gets overwhelming and seeing evidences of God's graces in the world is not easy. I apologize for my blog absence. I have not figured out how to afford the move to Indy to attend seminary so I've been scrambling to find a job and ways to get there.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards on prayer

Salon has a nice piece on Elizabeth Edwards and her reflections on religious faith, God, and cancer. This will likely spur a post in the future but I figure it's just best to leave the article and words as is.
I have, I think, somewhat of an odd version of God. I do not have an intervening God. I don't think I can pray to him -- or her -- to cure me of cancer.

I appreciate other people's prayers for [a cure for her cancer], but I believe that we are given a set of guidelines, and that we are obligated to live our lives with a view to those guidelines.

And I don't that believe we should live our lives that way for some promise of eternal life, but because that's what's right. We should do those things because that's what's right.