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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mainline Decline

”It looks like the two-party system of American Protestantism—mainline versus evangelical—is collapsing,” said Mark Silk, director of the Public Values Program. “A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the US.”

What does that do? Anybody who is liberally minded just assume the religious right defines Christianity and will have nothing to do with it. Christian faith has ceased to be a live option and during the Bush years when Christianity became identified with this, even more so.

It was something I had to cut through a lot doing campus ministry. To plant the idea that there was another way of doing Christian faith. It worked for some students, but overall it’s a hard proposition to break through.Thus the UCC advertising campaign.

I think it ends up being a shame, because it feeds into itself. The more mainline decline, the more rise of the religious right, the less likely folks who are liberally minded would even consider Christian faith.

It shuts off a religious option, reduces the diversity and plausibility of the faith for many, cuts off possible and creative sources of interaction between the church and the wider society that the mainline had engendered for over a century.

It becomes established enough that genuine anger is had when someone challenges it. I remember a piece about a women reform rabbi in Israel and she was verbally attacked by the orthodox and secular Israelis. They found a third way incomprehensible and unsettling.

That worries me. I run into it from the right and left, both upset that I could identify as a progressive and a Christian. Both invested in this polarized religious environment. Some of that is found in the debates with Orthodox and Time for Change.

Folks like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens count on and stoke this religious polarization. Folks like Al Mohler do too. As a liberal Protestant, I’m still interested in breaking out of this unfortunate religious situation.

34 Comments:

At 12:35 PM , Anonymous Gideon Addington said...

I think this is THE big problem when it comes to progressive Christianity. Being in Oklahoma - it was YEARS moving in religious circles, before I even encountered institutionalized progressive faith. Christianity was absolutely not a live option - and I"m a pretty educated guy.

I'm starting a project soon that I hope might be a way of helping with this problem. But there is no telling.

But both Christianity and politics in this country suffer if this continues to be the case.

 
At 1:13 PM , Anonymous Tim said...

I see it every time there's a headline "Christians fight back against Atheist buses" or similar. It reduces the game to a stupid 2-party slanging-match and all refinement goes out the window.

Augustine had it right around AD400.

 
At 6:06 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

I'm continually surprised that liberals are surprised.

Since they essentially do not believe the bible is true, where is the attraction? "Hey, come and join this great religion where we all gather together and admit we don't know what is true". That's not a message that has widespread appeal. It essentially makes little sense either to the people who believe it is true, nor to the people who don't believe it is true. You are in no man's land, and you have to expect to be shelled from both sides.

Of course, the bible says the same thing. " I wish that you were cold or hot." (Rev 3:15). or warning of people "having a form of godliness but denying its power." (2Tim. 3:5)

 
At 6:49 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Orthodox
Since your first premise is not true, the conclusions don't follow

Gideon
I'd be interested in the project you're working on. And great blog you have. I'll be linking it.

Tim
Exactly

 
At 10:04 PM , OpenID timeforthetruth said...

You are wrong. Orthodox is right, though I would say it differently.

Your so-called "christian liberal" perspective is little more than secular humanism mixed with modern pop psychology and a little dash of Eastern mysticism. When people who are a part of this kind of false religiosity realize what the liberal faith is all about, they often come to the conclusion that they can send their money in to whatever non-profit "good causes" they wish and spend their Sundays sleeping in or golfing, unless they need some kind of social community to amke them feel better about themselves.

In my opinion you have very little to offer. Why should they communicate their faith to others, when ultimately all paths lead to the same place (whatever each particular liberal thinks that might be like)?
Why should people attend services regularly, when what they are hearing is not the Word of God preached?
If there is no personal God who wishes to communicate to us truthfully and understandably, then all they are hearing might be good human ideas from time to time?
Christian liberalism makes no compelling case for gathering, worshiping and ministering?

In fact, all statistics I have seen have shown that it is mainline "liberal protestantism" that is dying, and it makes perfect sense that it does so. I am not creating a polarizing atmosphere, but simply recognizing that liberalism is an entirely different worldview from traditional Christianity -- what y'all often refer to as fundamentalism (wrongly so in historical perspective).

 
At 10:42 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Timefortruth

Again. You have these stock characters. I've never read pop psychology nor have I read eastern mysticism (enjoyed a class on Confucianism though I wouldn't take it as mystic). Nor have I ever indicated that all paths are equal. But these serve as easy templates for you, to prevent actually engaging liberals?

Also, as someone whose been involved such churches and did outreach for a progressive campus ministry, I can tell you that we did more in depth exploration of the Christian faith and tradition and built sustained and growing faithful communities than many evangelical churches I had interacted with. Interestingly enough one of the indicators of church growth in a recent UCC survey was whether a church identified as liberal.

But most of the mainline isn't that. Like the more conservative Missouri Synod Lutherans (which are shrinking too), they represent older, historic communities without a means for outreach, without an identity outside of their history and in some cases ethnic background (which in 2009 is not horribly relevant in reaching people), etc.

That's one answer. I've seen mainline churches do it right, others not so much. But those numbers themselves are not as significant as the greater amount of folks that the religious right has scared off of Christianity in the first place. In that, I think that the right's success can be charted by not just the increase of fundamentalism but also the increase of folks who don't identify as Christian. If you get a chance to read atheist sites (especially those that highlight folks leaving Christianity, this point becomes abundantly clear)

 
At 10:51 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

"Since your first premise is not true, the conclusions don't follow"

You already conceded the conclusions: (a) liberal mainline is dying (b) you are shelled from both sides.

 
At 10:59 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I didn't say the conclusions were false. But rather that they didn't follow from the premise. You started with an inaccurate and uncharitable claim (that is not the basis of any Protestant church that I'm aware of).

 
At 11:21 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

"I can tell you that we did more in depth exploration of the Christian faith and tradition and built sustained and growing faithful communities than many evangelical churches I had interacted with."

I know of unbelieving scholars who have done more exploration than all of you, but the question is what you DO with it. To know little, but believe it trumps knowing much and rejecting it.

"interestingly enough one of the indicators of church growth in a recent UCC survey was whether a church identified as liberal."

Because the liberal/conservative divide is polarising. If you're going to be liberal, then you are liberal all the way. But if you're not liberal, then you are abandoning UCC like rats leaving a ship. Thus it is the radically liberal UCC which is meeting with some success, at least for now.

"Missouri Synod Lutherans (which are shrinking too), they represent older, historic communities without a means for outreach"

Lutherans lack a sufficient theologically compelling reason to be Lutheran. Thus children of Lutherans often either join the latest fad church, or else join one of Catholics or Orthodox which has deeper spiritual roots.

Or to put it another way, they join a church which does things traditionally for a reason they can articulate, or they join a church which doesn't do things traditionally, since Lutheranism lacks a theology of doing things traditionally.

Liberalism lacks a strong theology about pretty much everything, and so people exiting there exit to nowhere. The minute anything is not quite to your liking, or the guy next to you looks at you the wrong way, there isn't anything to hold you.

Or to put it another way, if your church can't articulate and defend its foundations, then it has lost the next generation.

"You started with an inaccurate and uncharitable claim"

You mean that liberals don't believe the bible? You've given your statement of faith, and it isn't the one the bible gives. It isn't the one that the Church has always given. Every foundational Christian proposition you had to qualify to the point of becoming meaningless.

 
At 11:43 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Orthodox
You should talk to Timefortruth. He's a poor Presbyterian. Probably doesn't have any roots himself. *coughs*

Suffice it to say, that doesn't describe vibrant religious communities across the spectrum. Dianne Bass does a good job of articulating what growing, faithful (and yes connected to the tradition and engaged with today as well) liberal protestant churches look like.

Though apparently I don't believe in anything, you've spent the last week dissecting my beliefs. And while I don't have foundations, you and Timefortruth have spent some time arguing why my foundations are non Christian. I think at this point you're throwing any insult you again against a whole Christian tradition that has been around for 300 plus years(with roots which go well before hand), based on some stock charactures and hoping that they stick, whether they end up being coherent or not. It's not a good way to learn about other churches, to be sure.

 
At 12:41 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

And where do I read Dianne Bass?

I didn't say you didn't believe anything, I said liberals lack a strong theology about anything.

Here's a typical example:

----
"Who is the only one who is fully God and fully man?"

I can say that Jesus is one in whom something of God's character is made evident to us.
----

A Jehovah's Witness could at least make a firm "No, I don't believe that Jesus is fully God", but you give the total waffle answer. Your answer means "no" to conservatives whilst trying to sound like "yes", as if you are somewhere in the pale of orthodoxy, when you are not.

This is what is literally infuriating to conservatives. I can read the answers to your questions and feel like I still don't have the slightest idea what you believe.

You were asked if you believe in the "literal bodily" resurrection. You respond that you believe in a resurrection. Does that mean it is a non-literal resurrection? What would a non-literal resurrection look like?

"I think at this point you're throwing any insult you again against a whole Christian tradition that has been around for 300 plus years(with roots which go well before hand)"

I don't understand how a tradition can be Christian if it doesn't accept the teachings of Christ in their entirety. I don't call Islam to be Christian, just because that religion says some nice things about Christ.

I'm not sure where you think this tradition existed even 300 years ago, let alone longer.

Nor do I know why I would care anyway. Christ set up his Church nearly 2000 years ago now. If you can't put forward a credible argument about why your tradition should be regarded as stretching back to Christ, then why should it take on his name?

The Church has seen a ton of odd beliefs come and go over 2000 years in various groups. The thing that makes the Church interesting is its survival for 2000 years while other groups come and go. Perspective of history indicates that your group will be gone in a hundred years also.

 
At 8:59 AM , Blogger Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Mainline Christianity suffers in large part, I believe, from a lack of a social support network. Once, when one found fundamentalism untenable, one would head off to the local liberal congregation. You had to be in church somewhere -- right?

That's changed. Now we don't have to go to church. We can be "spiritual but not religious" or simply secularist. The middle way that liberalism provided has less attraction. Now, you get perturbed by conservative evangelicalism or conservative Catholicism -- you simply exit the playing field altogether.

Of course, we mainliners largely forgot to tell our story. We peaked when you could simply set up the tent and wait for the people to come. That no longer works! We have to do a better job telling our story.

 
At 10:35 AM , OpenID timeforthetruth said...

Thank you for that nice Presbyterian shot. It shows great compassion and grace.

I have not created a carricature, I am simply working with your minimalist answers.
My question was: "What do you mean by incarnation?"
Your answer was: "God becoming manifest to us in the world, in particular in the person of Jesus." You claim that the world is a manifestation of God in your answering a question about the incarnation of Jesus. How is this not pan(en)theism. By definition this is so. You deny being a pan(en)theist, but then make statements proving that you are. Either you are very confused about your own beliefs, or you are being deceptive.

My question: "Do you believe in a personal God existing in three persons?"
Your answer: "I believe we can have a personal relationship with God and can experience that in different ways, of which the trinity is a potent description of this." My question was not on having a relationship with God, but rather the nature of God being personal rather than impersonal. You twisted the question so that you can give some pious platitude. Then you write of experiencing God in different ways, which if not pluralist, is clearly inclusivist.

My question: "Do you believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ"
Your answer: "I believe in the resurrection. I suspect it looks more like the theophany Paul describes than the belief that I suspect your committed to."
Once again you deny a central tenet of the Christian faith, but do so in a minimalist way. If you believed int eh literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, the answer would have been an unequivocal yes. But instead you claim a theophany (an OT physical appearance of God to specific people for the purpose of revelation and communication). Therefore I assume you believe that Jesus' physical human body remained in the grave. This is another clear denial of a central tenet of the faith, and one that is essential for salvation.

I stated in regards to the personhood of Jesus: "Who is the only one who is fully God and fully man?"
And you responded: "I can say that Jesus is one in whom something of God's character is made evident to us."
So Jesus is not the only one who is fully God and fully man, which is a repudiaton of the Nicene Crede. Rather for you, from what I can glean, Jesus was a good guy who revealed something about the character of God. How nice. Maybe there were others for you in history that are on the same par or even higher?

I asked: "Do you believe that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ,"
You answered: "I believe salvation is only found in God (Christ as the power of God working for our salvation would make this a tautology, ie there is no salvation apart from God's power of salvation)
What does found only in God mean? Since according to you the world is a manifestation of God, does not this mean that all are saved? Sounds pretty universalist to me. But maybe I'm reading too much into this.
I stated and you quoted: "which is received by grace through faith only in Jesus?"
You answered: "Through God's grace yes. Determined or restricted by acceptance of propositional beliefs. No."
Again this sounds pretty pluralist, inclusivist. Clearly according to you one does not need to know anything about Jesus or accept anything about Jesus to be saved. Therefore there is no need for regeneration, since either God simply chooses some for salvation, or he chooses all? Which is it for you?
I asked: "Do you believe in the infallibility of the scriptures?"
You answered: "No. We may meet the Word in Scripture, but the Word should never be collapsed into scripture."
FOr you either god does not want to communicate truthfully in scriptures, or does not communicate that way at all and the scriptures are simply a hunt in the dark by a whole lot of people. Again this sounds quite pluralist to me.
I asked: "What precisely do you mean by "In the hope that all things will be taken up into God and God's purpose." This sounds very pan(en)theistic to me"
You wrote: "It's an eschatological hope that all things find their place within God's good purposes. But it doesn't mean it will happen, it doesn't mean that it has happened. It certainly doesn't mean that everything is in God (pantheism or panentheism). It means the same as when Paul envisions "God being all in all"

Most of this is existentialist nonsense. If you read between the lines, what you find is a denial of the literal 2nd coming of Christ. And a denial of the eschatological hope of a new heaven and earth.

I do not see how I mis-characterized anything that you have said. If you would like to elaborate on any of these, explaining clearly what you mean and how it fits within orthodoxy I would love to read it.

Thank you.

 
At 10:57 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

I'm in between classes. So I'll develop a longer response later tonight.

But how does one go about denying the "central" claim of Christian faith by appealing to Paul's own language, of his meeting the risen Christ (in the form of light), in Paul's description of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (which clearly indicates not a physical resucitation of a corpse, but something more "spiritual" in content).

Also, ultimately the purpose of Christian faith is to point to God. Every concern I hear is how we can point to Christian faith and it's necessity. I think there is something unique in God's revelation in Jesus as worked out in Christian faith. But there is something which is also common to our humanity as well. So I'm not so much interested in determining what is unique or not and more interested in the question of in what ways we are pointing to the God of life.

I'll respond to more specifics later on. But I appreciate Bob Cornwall's contribution. And I was not making a shot at Presbyterians. I grew up PCUSA. I was suggesting that Orthodox's claims of what counts as tradition is not some narrow sling to be used against liberalism but is a broader indictment against Protestantism. One that I don't believe is true (there are forms of continuity between Protestantism and the tradition before hand. Though tradition is a living thing and is being written and lived out today as well.

 
At 12:50 PM , OpenID timeforthetruth said...

How wonderful.

Now, I assume that you will be giving us the liberal line on how Paul's view was that it was a spiritual resurrection. In fact, this is absolute nonsense.
I will be writing on this in more detail on my blog: http://timeforthetruth.wordpress.com/

But for now I will simply point out William Lane Craig's clear refutation of the liberal nonsense regarding Paul's view of the resurrection of Jesus.

http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/bodily.html

By the way, the 4 gospels clearly and unequivocally understand the resurrection as a physical bodily resurrection. Even liberal scholars, who reject the pysical resurrection recognize that the 4 gospels teach it. J.A.T. Robinson (a leading liberal scholar) “When we turn to the gospels, their evidence on the empty tomb is in substance unanimous. There are, indeed, differences of detail which at times have been given an exaggerated prominence…None of these, however, is the kind of difference that impugns the authenticity of the narative. Indeed they are all precisely what one would look for in genuine accounts of so confused and confusing a scene…but details of description apart, the basic witness is extraordinarily unanimous."

So I guess to say one is biblical and still reject the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus, the only place left to turn is Paul. Unfortunately this is a dead end road as well. Read William Lane Craig, then look for my posting later on.

 
At 4:32 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

"You claim that the world is a manifestation of God in your answering a question. about the incarnation of Jesus. How is this not pan(en)theism. "

It's not that the whole world manifests God. It's that God is manifested in the world. God is also manifested in our relations with one another but it doesn't mean every relation we have is divine.

"My question was not on having a relationship with God, but rather the nature of God being personal rather than impersonal. You twisted the question"

That's partly what it means to be personal. Can you enter into personal relations with such a thing. Does it have a character to it, etc. But I'm not going to say that God is a person like you and I. I don't see how we could make such a category shift.

"Then you write of experiencing God in different ways, which if not pluralist, is clearly inclusivist."

How would you define those two terms? I'd consider myself a pluralist in that I assume God is acting in a saving way in other contexts than our own. But not sure what the difference between that is an an inclusivist position?

As for the resurrection you're right. I would hold to a "standard liberal" reading of it, through Paul. Who doesn't seem to be aware of the stories we have in the Gospels.

Pt 1 I'm off to class again. Will finish with the rest when I get home tonight.

 
At 4:37 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

One quick thing about Jesus. His life and his interactions with others makes him properly Lord and Savior. But no, I'm sure my language would not fit Nicea or Chalcedon. As a non creedalist that doesn't disturb me that much. But I think there's a way to capture what the early church tried to articulate in language fitting for the church today. Of course any study of church theology suggests the ways of what is fitting shifts over time. Again, our lot as finite creatures.

 
At 5:57 PM , OpenID timeforthetruth said...

You wrote, "One quick thing about Jesus. His life and his interactions with others makes him properly Lord and Savior."

What exactly was it about his life and interactions that make him Lord and Savior? Would this also be true of someone like Gandhi, or Mother Theresa?

How is Jesus different in and of himself in his being? Was he simply some extraordinary guru that discovered some sort of higher life or experienced a new level of evolution? Or maybe like in Stargate SG1, he ascended to the level of the ancients (one of the most fun television series in recent years imo)? If it was merely the life he lived, could this be said of any others who have lived?

 
At 6:19 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

It's astonishing to me that someone would quote 1 Cor 15 against a physical resurrection.

1Cor. 15:4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised...

What was buried was raised. The tomb was empty. It's not that the body rotted whilst Jesus reappears with a different body, or without a body. Jesus asked Thomas to feel his wounds to prove it was the same body.

1Cor. 15:12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
1Cor. 15:13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised;
1Cor. 15:14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.

Here is why liberal and conservative Christianity can never co-exist.

"I was suggesting that Orthodox's claims of what counts as tradition is not some narrow sling to be used against liberalism but is a broader indictment against Protestantism."

From my viewpoint, Protestantism has rejected half of the apostolic tradition, but retains the written part, which is at least the most important part, although I would say that rejecting half has led to a poverty stricken ecclesiology of which the end game is the decline of protestant mainline. However the indictment falls incomparibly more heavily on liberalism than conservative protestantism.

"One that I don't believe is true (there are forms of continuity between Protestantism and the tradition before hand."

Sure. Old time Lutheran, Anglican and Presbyerian worship was quite traditional. But they lacked one thing which was a reason to stay that way, and thus they have fallen apart over time.

"Though tradition is a living thing and is being written and lived out today as well."

Tradition is a thing passed on. If you write up something new, that's not tradition.

"As a non creedalist that doesn't disturb me that much."

Creed means "I believe". Are you saying you are someone who doesn't believe anything?

 
At 8:38 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Pt2

Just to clarify: The reason I'm not a pan(en)theist as much to do with theodicy than anything else. I don't want to identify God with the world because there's much in the world that acts as evil or at least is indifferent to the question of the Good.

Salvation certainly requires regeneration. For me that requires Jesus. I don't think that is the same for all. But it certainly requires God's initiative and our response. And I'm not a universalist in that I don't think we all equally respond to God. And we've seen lives spiral in tragic and self destructive ways, almost as if the will to life was turned on itself. But I've seen transformation, regeneration in so many non Christian contexts that I am a pluralist of a sort. God works powerfully in other ways than just what we've experienced and seen in our own communities and traditions.

The scriptures record humans actually interacting with God. But that doesn't remove the human basis of such texts. So it's neither a source of guaranteed supernatural claims nor is it wandering in the darkness. It's wisdom, touched by the divine and yet human.

As for the eschaton, I really don't know how I haven't just articulated the hope for a new heaven and a new earth. Could you explain?

 
At 8:44 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

1 Corinthians 15
Some vital passages left out by Orthodoxy:

37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"[e]; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we[f] bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

 
At 8:48 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Timefortruth
I don't know much about gurus. And that's a very odd use of the word evolution. But I would say that God can become evident to us through other people and yes Ghandi and Mother Theresa are examples of this.

Orthodox
"Here is why liberal and conservative Christianity can never co-exist." And yet they do, many times happily so. I've seen it in the Disciples, in my own school. So maybe God can do more with us and our differences than you have confidence in.

 
At 8:59 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

timefortruth
I realized I might be able to guess about your question. If you think the eschaton happens when Jesus shows up in a white horse, 1/3 of the world is destroyed, and all the plotline of Revelation (or the Left Behind Series) is going to happen in that way. No. I have a hope in a new heaven and a new earth but I think the language of Revelation is of myth, of dreams. Valuable to read but if taken literally can at best be goofy, at worst dangerous.

 
At 12:14 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

"Some vital passages left out by Orthodoxy:"

How does the transformation of our current body into an exalted body in any way refute orthodoxy?

"And yet they do, many times happily so. I've seen it in the Disciples, in my own school."

How does this work? Liberal person gets up and says "X". Conservative gets up and says "if you believe X you will go to hell". Sounds idiotic.

 
At 10:37 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

Orthodoxy
I think it indicates the resurrection as something different than a physical resuscitation of a corpse. It's a whole new phenomena. And so however Paul met the living Jesus it ends up as a spiritual event.And I think the conservatives and liberals I've known together in church believe that God is bigger than there differences.

 
At 11:09 AM , OpenID timeforthetruth said...

I've heard that line dozens of times, and yet it still makes absolutely no sense to me.

Can you tell me what "God is bigger than our differences" means? Does this mean that God accepts pretty much every view of him/her/it and doesn't really care? Does this mean that something like the blind men and the elephant story, that we're all just hunting around for reality and all of us just have a part of it and so let's all just get along? What do you do with the biblical injunction against false gods and idolatry? Why wasn't Yahweh o.k. with people worshipping Baal?

Exactly how does regeneration work without knowledge of Jesus? Can you show me something in scripture that would support your view?

You don't understand the differences between christian inclusivism and pluralism? You might want to look it up in some good systematic theology books, or for a smaller book you might want to look up Ronald Nash's Is Jesus the Only Savior? Very briefly, an inclusivist believes that it is only Jesus who saves, but you do not need any knowledge of Jesus to be saved, only a trust in some vague 'God'--no special revelation required.

Can you show any N.T. evidence for anyone saved apart from an explicit knowledge and trust of the historic Jesus?

As for your position on the resurrection -- you really think that an entire faith/religion arose that eventually took over Rome, that had as it's center the belief that Jesus arose bodily from the dead (if you think the early church fathers believed otherwise, you need to do some serious reading) -- when in fact his bones were rotting in a grave?
You really think that a "spiritual resurrection" caused a small band of followers to completely change the world?
By the way, how exactly is a "spiritual resurrection" any different than what normally went on with good people that died -- in your estimation?

All of these questions I think might be better answered if you give us some clue as to what you believe reality is like? What is God, if not pan(en)theism (like most liberals I have known), or a personal God in three persons? Are you a polytheist, or maybe agnostic about god? What is humanity and how did we get here? Do you believe in Darwinian (undirected) evolution or some form of Tielhard de Chardinian view? Do you believe in a literal Fall and the depravity of humanity? Do you believe in a literal heaven and hell? If not, what is "salvation"? Where do people go when the die if they are saved? If they are not saved? Or is there even life after death? Where is the person of Jesus now? Do you believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ? Since you say that regeneration can occur without objective knowledge of Jesus and his saving work -- what can this look like? Do they just have to be good enough or follow their own religion well enough? Or simply show some kind of remorse for sin and trust that there is forgiveness available somewhere?

If you don't believe in a lteral bodily return of Christ, then what does the eschaton look like to you?

You seem to have a good idea of what Orthodox and I believe about these things in general, but you often deny historic liberal positions (then affirm them in other ways), so it might be helpful for understanding if you would explain some of your views on these things.

 
At 5:54 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

"I think it indicates the resurrection as something different than a physical resuscitation of a corpse. It's a whole new phenomena."

There is no conflict between the physical and the spiritual. That the old physical body becomes something higher and greater does not conflict with this.

You've got to remember that the central fact of the Jesus story is the empty tomb. The empty tomb means nothing outside of a physical resurrection. Paul was well aware of the empty tomb. "He was buried, he was raised" is part of that.

Not to mention the episode in Matt. 27:52 where the people come out of their tombs. Or the ancient liturgy of the chruch: "Christ is risen from the dead, conquering death by death, and to those in the tombs, bestowing life".

 
At 7:44 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

timefortruth

There any number of reasons why people join religious movements, including the early Christian one and that may include a spiritual meeting of Jesus, a belief in a physical resurrection, the ethical and moral teachings, social prestige*, etc. That is, it's as complicated, sometimes high minded, sometimes not on why people join religious movements.

In terms of idolatry I think the concern we have today is not one of pluralism or not, but rather what do we take as absolute over and above God. There are any number of things which may take God's place that deserves some level of self examination in this season of Lent.

I've read systematic theologies before but had not come across this distinction much or not in the authors I tend to read. But from what I can find online, I'd be a pluralist, not an inclusivist.


Most of the questions below require a dissertation but I'll try to give short responses to each of them.

"What is God, if not pan(en)theism"

I believe God is what works in the world to transform us towards the better, to reconciliation, to deeper forms of community, to the true and to the beautiful. In that I go with Plato in identifying God with the good. And that doesn't describe the whole world. But it does describe a reality in the world that we do experience and we can see it's effects, even when so much seems to work against it in the world.

"Do you believe in Darwinian (undirected) evolution or some form of Tielhard de Chardinian view?"

That's a tough one. I'm not sure I'd go with either utterly. I think there are things afoot in evolution that end up being key to what we think of as divine but I wouldn't want to say there's some predetermined outcome where this is going as if it was planned out ahead of time.

"Do you believe in a literal Fall and the depravity of humanity?"

I don't believe there was an Adam or Eve as historical figures. But But I do believe in original sin and total depravity on two counts. One is Calvin's description of ingratitude to that reality to which we are dependent and come from. Secondly that there is no good action we do that isn't marred, or comes with its own sin.

"Do you believe in a literal heaven and hell?"

Some spatial location? No. But I do believe in some form of objective immortality.

If not, what is "salvation"?

Salvation is transformation towards the good, the beautiful, the true, to other regard, to respecting persons, the list goes on and is not meant to be exhaustive.

"Where do people go when the die if they are saved?"

There lives touch so many, expand the moral and other possibilities for God and us to work in, and contribute permanently to the story of God in some measure.

"If they are not saved?"

There lives shrink those possibilities

"Or is there even life after death?"

I don't know how we can talk about personal consciousness after we die. But there is a meaning and significance to our lives in the life of the world and in God that makes it mark (for both good and ill)

"Where is the person of Jesus now?"

Biologically dead. But there's more to the reality of the person of Jesus than biology and that is the meaning, the work of Jesus which lives on in our heart, in the life of the church (when it's at its best), and in the life of God.

"Do you believe in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ?"

No, but it's a doctrine I'm open to, trying to make sense out of

"Since you say that regeneration can occur without objective knowledge of Jesus and his saving work -- what can this look like?"

Whenever people are transformed for the better, are seeking to life a life of piety and gratitude to that which sustains us and creates us, whenever other regard replaces self regard, the list can go on and the sense of the moral writings of the last few millenium probably gives us some clues. Or we could look at Paul's understanding of the fruits of the spirit.

"If you don't believe in a lteral bodily return of Christ, then what does the eschaton look like to you?"

I think the messianic vision, lion and lamb laying down together, people living in peace, studying war no more, everyone has not just the required goods of life but are able to relate and mutually enhance the development of each other's dignity and personality, etc.


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*even when persecuted the early church provides avenues for women and the middle class for service and leadership that did not exist in the aristocracy of Rome

 
At 8:30 PM , OpenID timeforthetruth said...

Thank you Dwight,

I appreciate your honest answers.

I do not find any of your views feasible in the slightest, but I appreciate your views. I would only challenge your claim that you are not pan(en)theistic though.

It seems to me that you are saying everything that is good -- and whose definition of good do you go by -- is a part of god, then what is the other? What is it that lies outside of god and how did it come into being? Where does evil and sin come from? Does it come from ignorance? How does one become more good and who will define that?
If what is not "saved" merely serves to diminish the advance of goodness, then is not the bad absorbed into the all? Are we somehow, by being good (whoever defines it) advancing god?

I would say that your views fit much more solidly in an Eastern mystic perspective? Would you agree with that?

What you have so succinctly presented here is refreshing. It clearly shows the extremely wide divide between liberalism/progressivism and evangelicalism/historic protestantism. I am grateful for your brief summary.

I pray that your education will challenge you and that you will follow the evidence wherever it might lead.

 
At 9:04 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

"It seems to me that you are saying everything that is good -- and whose definition of good do you go by"

That's the rub of it. This is why I'm not going to claim absolute knowledge nor can any human do so. But I don't think we're in the dark either. But I think Christian faith has some pretty good resources in this problem we're presented with. So much so that this is where I plant my flag.

"-- is a part of god, then what is the other?"

Edgar Brightman (MLK's teacher) calls it the given. It's whatever is irrelevant or destructive to the question of the good.

"how did it come into being? Where does evil and sin come from?"

I don't think evil is a thing with an existence, but it does seem that the moment you have something creative, good, something else begins to take away from it in some measure.

"Does it come from ignorance?"

No, I'm a convinced Augustinian.

"If what is not "saved" merely serves to diminish the advance of goodness, then is not the bad absorbed into the all? Are we somehow, by being good (whoever defines it) advancing god?"

I wouldn't use the word all, as in I'm not a pantheist. But I do think it provides the context, for ill or good, the possibilities of God's action in the world. And yes I think it means God can become more manifest(and certainly we know in cases like the holocaust the absence of God, people feel that too)

"I would say that your views fit much more solidly in an Eastern mystic perspective? Would you agree with that?"

No, mainly because I'm not aware of any "eastern religion" which talks in the terms I'm using (salvation based religions tend to be a western phenomena). And I'm not sure such a broad term captures much of these religions.

"It clearly shows the extremely wide divide between liberalism/progressivism and evangelicalism/historic protestantism."

It's one take from a religious naturalist and a liberal reformed protestant. As you indicated earlier it can be quite different in parts from other liberals. And there's traces of Calvin, Augustine, Schleiermacher, Wieman and other such folks. So this becomes a form of Protestantism (where do you think all of us mainliners came from in the first place, spontaneous generation?)

On the other hand, as I've done ministry and worked with evangelicals, I've become more interested in how we might seek to live out the Gospel in actually existing worshiping communities and not be as concerned about the labels we use. And I have more confidence that God can bring together what you and I are not always able to do. (Religion, the Latin means to bind together)

"I pray that your education will challenge you and that you will follow the evidence wherever it might lead."

And likewise. Of course now that you've added all this discussion on my blog, I may have to comment on yours now and again. I'm still scratching my head over your last post. :)

 
At 10:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Timeforthetruth:

Dwight is about the furthest thing there is from Eastern mysticism. (I'm a friend of his and teach Asian religions in college, so I've got a pretty good handle on this).

Me on the other hand...

 
At 12:05 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

I read the answers about what you believe and again... I don't feel enlightened about what you actually believe, because the answers sound like politician speak. They sound like "I don't believe in anything at all, but Im going to wrap my atheism up in pretty motherhood, apple pie, political correctness, and Christian terminology."

God, salvation, resurrection are all malleable to the point they have no meaning at all, emptied of all significance. Underneath the clothes, we have no emperor, but the clothes are as pretty as they ever were.

Maybe I'm just not understanding it all, but it's sure what it looks like.

 
At 5:40 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

I'm reminded that the early Christians were often called atheists by the Romans. And I'm glad there was clarity to be had by one of my interlocutors.

 
At 12:58 AM , Blogger Fred Preuss said...

The liberally minded aren't any less liberal; they just can't see any reason to waste time talking to someone they can't see/hear/feel. It's the "minded" part that's going to be a problem for the mainline. Why waste time on Sundays singing hymns when you can advocate for the same progressive/left/liberal policies in other kinds of meetings?
Why run twice as fast to get to the same place?
Religious services are boring. You have to pay money to be a member of a church. Among the left, especially white people, not being a church member has few if any social drawbacks. The cost/benefits ratio is in nonbelief's favor-and it's not getting any less favorable. Nearly 30% of US teens (15-19)describe themselves as nonreligious or spiritual/nonreligious. Add that to the fact that even if they were devout, they're often (about 30-40% of the time)they only child in their families and you can see why the news for the protestant mainline's future isn't bright.

 

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