Author Archives: Paul Inglis

About Paul Inglis

Paul Inglis is a long time member of the Uniting and Anglican Churches in Australia. He recently retired as the Community Minister for Dayboro and Mt Mee Uniting Churches, just north of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He accepted an invitation to become the Queensland's first Uniting Church Community Minister and continued in that role for more than 10 years. Previously he had been a State primary school teacher, school principal for 11 years and then Lecturer in Education at the Queensland University of Technology for 25 years. He has served on UCA Assembly, Synod, Presbytery and Congregational Councils. In retirement he is actively involved in family, church, and community. His commitment to 'progressive' Christianity emerged from contact with the late Professor Rod Jensen who founded the Lay Forum in 2004 and from his experience in ministry with people seeking an authentic faith. Paul's PhD from the University of Queensland is in Adult Learning.

Opinion: A Progressive/Radical Church for Today – Getting Started

by John Gunson (see some bio details at the foot of this article)

[Comments are welcome using the “Reply” option above.]

John is the author of God, ethics and secular society (2014) which will be reviewed on the UCFORUM soon. This piece is a timely challenge to progressive thinkers about the need to demonstrate change beyond just conducting a discourse. We hope Explorer groups and individuals will use this paper in some practical way.

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Progressive Christianity has lost its way. And it seems to have ground to a halt. Why? While it has been a wonderfully enlightening and liberating movement for Christians within the churches, and some who have left, it has failed to recognize its two fundamental blind spots.

Progressive Christianity has focussed on reforming and restating the church’s mythological, supernatural theology, and recovering the original Jesus Way before Jewish, Greek and Roman influences reshaped it into what became formalized and forever fixed at Nicea.

It has done this because it now has to exist in a secular world, especially in Europe, the USA, and above all in Australia.

Its first blind spot is that it doesn’t really understand the secular world’s attitude to the church and to religion itself. The average Australian isn’t simply put off by either the church’s theology or its boring Sunday worship, but by the church itself, and by religion generally (except for recent migrants), regardless of theology.

Reforming theology can be liberating for existing church members, but is irrelevant to secular Australians. They will not be attracted to the existing churches, no matter what we do. To them, the church as institution or God-worship centre in the main street is a discredited and irrelevant anachronism from the past.

The second blind spot is Progressive Christianity’s failure to understand that the existing historic church itself is part of the “Constantinian” theology that must be left behind. Under the Constantinian settlement churches were defined by large buildings (worship-of -God centres), clergy, hierarchy and theology, and as part of the establishment rather than the counter culture. This church has to be left to die, not modernised or reformed.
The future church has to look nothing like the existing church, and because the membership of the existing church is largely over 70 years of age the new and future church must be started from scratch from “young” secular Australians currently not only outside the church, but from among those either hostile or indifferent to it in its present and historic form.

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Something Special: Drama and Poetry from Caloundra Explorers

“Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”

written by John Everall.

Based on the fascinating research by Jesus Seminar Fellow, Professor Arthur Dewey in his book How the Death of Jesus was remembered – Inventing the Passion, we will become part of a Panel of Inquiry as “A Further Inquiry Reviewing ‘The record as to the death of Jesus of Nazareth’ under the title “ Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”. Think Banking Inquiry but with our seven actors testing and reviewing Professor Dewey’s proposition.

In a very ‘different’ Gathering, we will firstly explore some of the wonderful senses and sentiments that the “spoken word” can convey in meditations and poetry from our 21st century culture, and then , through the medium of Drama in a play, compare this with 1st Century Jewish culture.

All Explorer and our Regional Friends are especially invited to this Gathering at 5.30pm -7.30pm

Having our Presiding Officer (Zoe McLachlan) put a Roman Envoy (George Thomas) , a Jewish Scholar (Alan Hindmarsh), a refugee from Jerusalem’s sacking (Glenwyn Carson)and a New Testament Biblical researcher (Rev. Brian Gilbert) into the limelight through questioning by our Counsels Assisting,(John Everall and Margaret Landbeck) this should give our Gathering “Panel” an enjoyable and highly instructional night.

That Panel (played by YOU!) takes part in actually weighing up ‘the evidence’ and forming a ‘consensus’ opinion as to “Does Professor Dewey’s proposition have resonance in the ‘progressive journey’ for many of today’s active Christian explorers?

Having enjoyed challenging thoughts, indulged in both chuckles and straight out laughter, and maybe a little tear with our Jewish refugee, we also add in for you a byo light finger food meal in the context of a 1st Century Didache Syrian community shared meal, and, finally, round off the evening with a return to beautiful 21st Century thoughts through Rev. Bruce Sanguin’s work for “concentrating one’s thoughts”.

Caloundra Explorers Group is never afraid to offer something that is not only ‘inspiring’ but also a bit ‘challenging’ to our journey!

Why not join in this rather special, and different, evening Gathering.

Our actors have been in rehearsal for over four weeks, and they would be delighted if you could accept their personal invitation to ‘come along’ and be part of ‘the action’ on Sunday night, 21st October, in the Caloundra Uniting Church Hall.

Enquiries: Email contact

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Book Review: Two Elephants in the Room by John Bodycomb

Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership, John Bodycomb, 2018, Spectrum Publications Pty Ltd, Richmond, Victoria.

John Bodycomb clearly has a long experience at the workface of the church and its ministry. His sociological, teaching and ministry skills are obvious in this short thesis on the two most significant elements challenging organised religion. He also demonstrates a wonderful sense of humour that ‘thinking’ readers will enjoy. He needs to be heard and responded to.
The two elephants:
• The future of organised religion in western society, and
• The future of professional ministry
are apparent at a time in Australia when the consensus is moving towards ‘no religion’ in their lives. Indifference to organised religion is steadily increasing. At the same time many young people still believe there is more to life than the material and view being ‘spiritual’ with its multiple meanings as a transcendent dimension that takes them to a higher experience of life.

Drawing on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and motivation research, he explains why some people stay with the church and that here is a key element for church leaders to note when looking for answers to how to grow the church. What has intrinsic worth in our lives today is very different from that of previous generations. This includes ‘ethical axioms’ that no longer produce this ‘transcendence’. Nevertheless, Bodycomb is able to identify real benefits to people engaging with organised religion. He offers 12 fascinating ‘benefits’ that effective churches demonstrate, including:
• Developing proficiency in relating socially – getting along with others
• An aid to an effective ‘inner gyroscope’ – enabling one to preserve a placid interior, undisturbed by outside buffeting
• Bringing ‘inklings’ of transcendence through music, philosophy and theology.

But Bodycomb emphasizes that the intangible benefits for ‘living life to the full’, in the sense of Jesus’ teaching, is dependent on the inventiveness of the local church. The church needs to be a thinking institution. He sees the greatest risk to the church is its tendency to discourage thinking. Theology needs to be re-invented, re-defined. ‘God talk’ has been manufactured. Doctrines need to undergo close critical deconstruction and theological colleges need to open up this discourse and encourage it.

Whilst Bodycomb has seen the expiration of the church as we know it, he insists that the great ‘existential’ questions will still exercise minds e.g. Is there anything to describe as ‘transcendence’ beyond what we can physically see? “Is G-O-D a fantasy or …. a reality?” What is G-O-D? Like Spong, Bodycomb sees the imperatives for change – without evolution we will witness extinction of organised religion. Evolution has been going on since the European Renaissance and the Reformation, but change has always been met with counter movements to restore the ‘authority’ of the church. This is no longer working. Consequences of massive socio-cultural changes are no longer able to be stopped. The ‘back to orthodoxy’ movement is alive but now only impacting on a slim minority.

Bodycomb identifies the key adaptive responses as cerebral and visceral with the former being adopted by ‘progressives’ and the latter by those who are still holding onto unquestioning fundamentalism. He has a long history of asking questions about theological education and has challenged the theological colleges with learning lessons from Tillich and others who knew the value of pastoral ministry over having the ‘right’ theology. His ideas about church today should be heard and acted on. What he says makes so much sense and, if acted on, would re-connect the church with the secular world. His 10 disincentives and 10 incentives to consider when going into ministry today are critical lessons to all church teachers and ministry mentors. His model for moving ministry into a sphere of relating to the world and its pressing needs stands as a credible guide that should be informing training programs.

This thesis could have been titled – Asking the Right Questions about the Church and its Leadership. It has convinced me that the church enterprise needs urgently to move from its ‘maintenance’ model to an urgent energetic response to a world that needs help with massive life-threatening problems.

The author: Rev. Dr John Bodycomb is a Melbourne-based minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. He retired in 1996 after forty years as parish minister, Christian educator, University Ecumenical Chaplain and former head of the Uniting Church’s Theological Hall in Melbourne. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his promotion of religious freedom and to fostering ecumenism.

Reviewer: Dr Paul Inglis, 8th October 2018
Retired UCA Community Minister
Retired Academic, QUT Faculty of Education
CEO UC Forum – https://ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au

Where to purchase: Spectrum Publications

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Report: Visit of Glennis Johnston to the Caloundra Explorers.

Glennis Johnston will be remembered by many of those present at the Explorers 8th Annual Seminar for her fascinating insight into Process Theology, plus adding in a bit more with quantum physics, a touch on the concept of time, of course throwing in resourceful meditation, and all themed through an interesting introduction using some church history to put everything into our modern perspective; … how could we not be fully engaged and delighted!! Intriguing discussion as to ‘our dark side’ and much, much , more. Glennis’ new book “ A New Spiritual Tapestry” should give considerable thought to many readers.

And of course, being Caloundra, a fabulous spread for morning tea, and Subway excelled themselves in providing the basis for our lunch ;as always! Great credit to the Caloundra Explorers Team….. why would you buy sausage rolls for morning tea when you have the best ‘home grown sausage roll maker’ in town volunteering as part of the Team!

Our 8th Annual Seminar was a resounding success….. but we are now exhausted!

Of course, all will change by the 21st October when we have our final 2018 Gathering of Explorer and our Regional Friends at 5.30pm on the Sunday night.

We will firstly explore some of the wonderful senses and sentiments that the “spoken word” can convey in meditations and poetry from our 21st century culture, and then , through the medium of Drama in a play written by one of our members, compare this with 1st century Jewish culture. Based on the fascinating research by Jesus Seminar Fellow, Professor Arthur Dewey in his book “ How the Death of Jesus was remembered – Inventing the Passion”, we will become part of a Panel of Inquiry as “A Further Inquiry Reviewing ‘The record as to the death of Jesus of Nazareth’” under the title “ Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”. Think Banking Inquiry but with our seven actors testing and reviewing Professor Dewey’s proposition. Having our Presiding Officer put a Roman Envoy, a Jewish Scholar, a refugee from Jerusalem’s sacking and a New Testament Biblical researcher into the limelight through questioning by our Counsels Assisting, this should give our Gathering “Panel” an enjoyable and highly instructional night as they weigh up ‘the evidence’ and form an opinion as to “Does Professor Dewey’s proposition have resonance in the ‘progressive journey’ for many of today’s active Christian explorers?” We also add in a byo light finger food meal in the context of a 1st century Didache Syrian community shared meal, and round off the evening with a return to beautiful 21st century thoughts through Rev. Bruce Sanguin’s work for “concentrating one’s thoughts”.

Caloundra Explorers Group is never short of something or other ‘inspiring’ to our journey! Why not join in this rather special, and different, evening Gathering.

Contact: John Everall

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God, the Trinity and Panentheism

by George Stuart (see bio details at the end of this article.) 

Note: Following posting of Rodney Eiver’s article Our Father Who Art Up There, George has kindly given us this chapter from a book he is currently drafting. George Stuart has crafted the popular series of songs and music entitled Singing a New Song .

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I am in the process of writing my theological autobiography entitled, ‘Rekindling Christianity by Journeying with Jesus, Starting all over again’. One of the sections has to do with my concept of God, my version of the Trinity. It is rather long but you may be interested.

I begin by saying that my present beliefs are panentheistic. I understand panentheism as the belief that God is ‘in’ everything and everything is ‘in’ God. This sets a completely new path for me, from which to view reality, the cosmos, humanity and the meaning of everything, including Jesus and his cross. This supersedes any anthropomorphic (human like) image of God. It replaces what I understand to be, the misleading idea about the separation of God from humanity – God, a separate entity, being away and distinct. It also precludes any violence in God. God being in control also becomes irrelevant. These are all built on anthropomorphic images and ideas.

This is so, so different to what I have believed previously, however, I still have connections with the Bible, with church teachings and some of what I experience in the current church services I attend.

I replace the anthropomorphic images of God with more complicated, mystical images of spirit and energy. These are somewhat abstract, and thus maybe more difficult to embrace. I am reminded of teaching in a gospel conversation that Jesus has with the woman of Samaria.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24.)
Certainly not the easiest to comprehend. In this quotation, God is not ‘a spirit’, but ‘spirit’. For me, the two are different and the quote points beyond the dominant biblical images of God.

The quote includes, ‘those who worship him…’ (John 4:24.)
This falls back into anthropomorphic talk which, for me, is a pity. God again, becomes a ‘him’
I do not find the word ‘energy’ in my biblical concordance, so I’m not sure that this concept is present in the biblical way of thinking. Energy is not a first century concept but it is central to modern thinking, particularly with the explosion of scientific information and the current way of understanding the cosmos.

I also find it significant that God is referred to as ‘love’, see 1 John 4:16a, and not ‘a loving person’. Again, the two are very different for me. The first is mystically abstract but the second sounds very anthropomorphic.

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Report on today’s PCNQ seminar

It is fast becoming the norm for our gatherings of ‘progressives’ to be strong on fellowship and meaningful discourse. Today was no exception. The discussion about Bessler‘s third and contemporary quest for the human Jesus was preceded with a sharing of individual thoughts on the current state of the church, society, theological studies, leadership in a time of challenge to the very notion of truth seeking, and much more. This highlighted how comfortable we are with shared conversations rather than traditional dogmatics, with learning from each other as well as the literature and enjoying the tension of contested ideas.

Participants were invited to leave notes for the committee to consider future topics for discussion. This invitation is extended to everyone. Just send your thoughts to Desley.

We are currently looking at having either the October or the November gathering on a Sunday afternoon so that people who cannot make it to weekday sessions have this option. Watch for details coming soon.

Paul Inglis 26/09/18

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Reflection – Our Father Who Art “Up there”.

Rodney Eivers
22nd September 2018

“God” had a big press in Australia in mid-September!

This came about from the headline news that Bill Hayden, former Governor-General and a proclaimed atheist, had returned to Roman Catholicism.

It has made many people very angry judging by the comments in the newspaper letter pages and social media. Some people, though, have been heartened that a prominent person would make such a declaration. One curious thread for me from the remarks of the angry people is that Bill Hayden should not have allowed, or promoted, his decision as a front-page item. He should have kept it to himself. Another thread was that he became baptised because he wants to be sure of a place in heaven with his likely death in the next few years.

Now I can’t speak for Bill Hayden as to what his real motives were. If you take him at what he has publicly said, it was because, through the example of human beings known to him. Their care and compassion, was linked to their professed Christianity so it became a club he wanted to join. We do not have any detail of the finer theological rationale for the decision nor of his concept of “God”

This brings me to what prompted this reflection. Some months ago I offered some comment to “Judith” who had responded to a website article on the UC FORUM .She was distressed that after 60 years as a faithful Christian she still had not found the answer to “Who or what is God?”

I threw in some thoughts on how other people had responded to this question. Some would see God as being the still inner voice in our minds when we talk with ourselves when pondering life or needing to make decisions. At the other end of the scale some would see God as the sum total of all the probabilities and chances which came together from the Big Bang. From this followed the formation of the stars and planets, the evolution of life and ultimately to the churning over of ideas and emotions going on in our human brains. Some are satisfied to say God is a symbol for what is. Symbols for Life and love, if you want to pin it down further. Perhaps the Hebrew scriptures were putting it something like that (Exodus 3:14) when Moses had the same problem as Judith.

Going on a bit further, though in my reply to Judith, I put the question, “Was the supernatural a reality for Jesus?” My answer to that rhetorical question was, “Most likely, because everyone of that era, including Greek philosopher, Socrates, accepted the supernatural as a reality.

I commented further that because Jesus is identified with the Lord’s prayer, starting with “Our Father which art in heaven” then we can assume that he had some supernatural place in mind, perhaps up in the sky, where God lives. (Isaiah 40: 22)

Just this week, however, I discovered a new slant on this perception, something I had not been aware of before.

The new information was a comment which I have summarised and extracted as follows:
The New Testament of the Bible was written in the Greek. Jesus is said to have spoken in Aramaic. Greek culture had a strong concept of “heaven” as the home of the gods – something separate and distant from us mere mortals on Earth. In Aramaic however, the equivalent word can mean something quite different. The Aramaic phrase “Our Father who art in heaven” elicits the image of creation, of giving birth to the universe. At another level it presents the image of the divine breath (spirit) flowing out of oneness, creating the whole diversity of forms. The equivalent word for “heaven” conjures the image of light, sound and vibration spreading out and pervading all. In essence then “heaven” is conceived not so much as a place outside this world but as a dimension of reality that is present everywhere. The above translation is in dispute by some professional linguists. They quite rightly argue that as the language of that period is no longer in use one cannot rely on current versions of a language to accurately describe past events. Can one apply the English spoken during the Roman occupation with what is spoken in the British Isles today? Chaucer from a much later period is difficult enough to follow
Nevertheless, the exercise does demonstrate that we are well justified in seeking alternative interpretations of Bible passages. It may be true that, I was on the wrong track in using the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer to certify that Jesus was a supernaturalist. Perhaps he did have a vision of an entity which was not tied to Greek assumptions about heaven as the home of the gods. If so, perhaps we can take some comfort in imagining God not as being away up there, far from us, but as an ever-present component of our humanity and of our daily life here on earth.

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Note: We welcome further reflections on this reflection. Just go to the “Reply” spot at the beginning of this entry and post your thoughts.

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Two great seminars with Glennis Johnston

Glennis Johnston is the author of “Turning Points of the Spirit” and Director of Fernbrook Lodge Retreat Centre, Dorrigo. She is an ordained UC Minister, and international volunteer and experienced counsellor. Creating considerable interest, is that she has also been the Spiritual Director of a multi-faith residential community in Melbourne.

  1. Caloundra Uniting Church – Saturday 29th September
  2. Buderim St Marks Anglican Church – Sunday 30th September

CALOUNDRA PROGRAM 9.30am Opening Session1 “Re-imagining God” ‘A view of God’ – finding a personal and meaningful understanding – exploring a little way into Process Theology
11.30am Session Two thru to 1.00pm “What does Worship mean from this New Perspective?” The difference between attending to God and worshipping
2.00pm Afternoon Session Three – thru to 3.30pm “Creative Transformation and our Beautiful Messy Lives”
—-Valuing imperfection and change within ourselves, and integrating our shadow side
—-What does creative transformation look like in our lives and how do we move towards it?

Where: Caloundra Uniting Church HALL, 56 Queen Street, Caloundra.
When: Saturday 29th September 2018 9.30am to 3.30pm
Cost: Fee $25 per person. (Lunch included) –Please note -Registration required for catering!
We encourage payment, after registering, by Direct Credit -Caloundra Uniting Church BSB 334-040 Account 5538-665-68
REGISTRATION: by 7pm Thursday 27th September. E:jjeverall@bigpond.com or Ph: 5492 4229: CONTACT: John Everall Ph.5492 4229; Margaret Landbeck Ph.5438 2789; Alison Green E:alisonjgreen62@gmail.com

BUDERIM PROGRAM Is there such a thing as ‘Christian values’? If so, where do they come from? Is it possible to reject the core doctrines of traditional Christianity and still be Christian? Is a progressive Christian spirituality different from a humanist spirituality?

More details: https://www.facebook.com/events/426975197797668/?ti=icl

Where: St Marks Anglican Church 7 Main Street, Buderim.

When: Sunday 30th September 3pm to 5pm.

Enquiries: Rev Deborah Bird

Scholarship winning essay – My approach to Progressive Christianity

Prior to the establishment of the Rodney Eivers Annual Bursary this month, the UCFORUM with the help of Rodney offered an initial scholarship to students at Trinity College early in 2018. As part of the UC Forum’s Bursary Application process, interested parties were asked to write an essay exploring issues relating to progressive Christianity and traditional orthodoxy. Successful bursary recipient Deon Naudé writes about his response to Progressive Christianity.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4–6, New Revised Standard Version).

In many ways, I consider myself to be a progressive Christian. There are a multitude of respects in which the various progressive approaches to God, faith, scripture, and the Christ event resonate with my way of thinking. That was not always the case. Five years ago, I would have been aghast at the words of Marcus J. Borg—not to mention John Shelby Spong! The fact that I can read Spong and somewhere in my heart be profoundly uplifted by his words is a significant departure from my previous approach to the faith. And for that change I am glad.

Nonetheless, rather than giving myself up to progressive thought and wholeheartedly embracing it with all that I have (like I used to do with reformed evangelicalism), I find myself occupying a strange, often uncomfortable, liminal space. I see so much beauty and hope in progressive Christianity. And yet there are foundations and footholds within the conservative expressions of the faith off from which I am not prepared to step. In this essay I will explore this tension more fully.

A strength of progressive Christianity is its willingness to ask difficult questions and its openness to explore avenues of thought, even if those avenues lead to uncomfortable insights. In contrast, I often felt shackled by conservative theology. The conservative commitment to “the truth” is a noble and sincere pursuit, genuinely sought by women and men who want nothing more than to honor God.

But often this commitment—as genuine as it was—resembled to me an attempt to cling to the party line, at all cost. Exploration of ideas was, in my experience, never encouraged, except if it was exploration of our ideas and our understanding. And there was often the unspoken threat: deviate from the party line, and you will be labeled an enemy of the gospel, because to deviate from the party line was to deviate from the very truth of God. Yet, as Val Webb points out in In Defense of Doubt: An Invitation to Adventure: “The world of the early church was a scene of great fluidity of ideas. Diverse memories of Jesus vied for attention in the struggle to make sense of his life and death.” She continues: “Many today whitewash the early church, presenting it as a devout bunch of people living, working, and worshiping in blissful, loving harmony. Instead, much of the period was spent in controversy.” So I value progressive Christianity, because it embraces this authentic exploration and wrestling with divine truths.

Of great importance in exploring progressive Christianity, in my thinking, is the question, “If Jesus is savior, from what does he save us?”

The answer with which I grew up was always, “Jesus saves us by experiencing the wrath of God the Father in our place so that we can be forgiven of our sin and enter heaven.” However, I find Marcus J. Borg’s approach a lot more compelling. In his book The Heart of Christianity, he describes salvation as light in our darkness, sight to the blind, enlightenment, liberation for captives, return from exile, the healing of our infirmities, food and drink, resurrection from the land of the dead, being born again, knowing God, becoming “in Christ,” and being made right with God (or “justified”). “In the Bible,” he concludes, “salvation is all of the above.” Referring to Jesus, Borg also stresses, “It’s clear that his message was not really about how to get to heaven. It was about a way of transformation in this world and the Kingdom of God on earth.”

Michael Morwood also stresses the focus on this world in the message of Jesus. In In Memory of Jesus Morwood writes, “He was very clear about it: it is through their care and concern for others that people would come to know deep down their intimate connection with God.”

In The Trouble with God: Building the Republic of Heaven, David Boulton expresses this notion by recasting followers of the way of Christ as “radical religious humanists” whose aim is “to contribute to the making of the ‘republic of heaven.’”

Gretta Vosper puts forth a similar view in With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe, when she defines salvation as “removing the causes of suffering in the world, new life.” I very much value the “this world” and the “this life” focus of this view of salvation, because I think conservative Christianity has unwittingly confined salvation to an abstract idea that has very little to do with our lives in the here and now. It seems difficult for me to see how these conservative understandings of salvation can truly be integrated with Christ’s proclamation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, NRSV).

And yet, my trust remains in the hope of the age to come. I am not willing to jettison the belief, as some progressives do, that the kingdom that Christ heralds in is a purely earthly endeavor limited to the physical realities of the time in which we now live. I am not willing to follow those who, like Don Cupitt, claim, “There is no Beyond. To say that the Kingdom has come, then, is simply to say that we now recognize that everydayness is all there is.” (As expressed in Cupitt’s The Last Philosophy)

That is not enough for me. I do think Christians should pour themselves out in love and service for the people of this world. That is very much a realization of the salvation brought by Christ. But if I did not have hope that at the consummation of all things there would be an eternal reality where we experience the full resurrection, restoration, and reconciliation of creation, I would find it difficult to believe that I am not ultimately working in vain. And I find it difficult to divorce the meaning of salvation from this ultimate eternal reality. So while I greatly appreciate the earthly emphasis of this progressive view of salvation, I nonetheless also cling to a cosmic, eternal hope, as emphasized by the conservative understanding.

Other central questions, when exploring progressive Christianity, are, “Who is God?” and “Who is Jesus?” Spong answers the first question by insisting that traditional theistic views of God have become untenable. Instead, he paraphrases the ideas of Tillich in describing a new understanding of the divine in Why Christianity Must Change or Die, “This God would not be a theistic power, a being among beings, whose existence we could debate. This God would not be the traditional divine worker of miracles and magic, the dispenser of rewards and punishments, blessings and curses. Nor would this God be the capricious heavenly superparent who comforted us, heard our cries, and became the terrestrial Mr. Fix-It for some while allowing others to endure their pain to the bitter end in a radically unfair world.”

It is important to note that in denying a theistic understanding of God, Spong does not deny that God is real. Instead he writes in Why Christianity Must Change or Die: “This God was not a person, but . . . the mystical presence in which all personhood could flourish. This God was not a being but rather the power that called being forth in all creatures. This God was not an external, personal force that could be invoked but rather an internal reality that, when confronted, opened us to the meaning of life itself.”

Karen Armstrong states it perhaps more strongly in A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam when she describes Hegel’s view of God: “Hegel had in effect declared that the divine was a dimension of our humanity.”

These understandings of God, then, lead to profound impacts on one’s understanding of Christ. In addressing the traditional view of the incarnation, Michael Morwood writes in Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium: “This way of thinking is founded on a religious worldview that is no longer relevant as an explanation of God’s relationship with human beings. It is founded on an outdated cosmology which presumes God is up or out there somewhere and sends his Son down to this planet. That cosmology does not take seriously the reality that the whole universe is permeated with the presence of God; it presumes the sacred, the divine is basically elsewhere and visits us, or deigns to break into our exiled world in unusual ways.”

John Robinson, too, sees no way in which the traditional understanding of the incarnation can survive, other than in the form of myth when he writes in Honest to God, “Myth has its perfectly legitimate, and indeed profoundly important, place.” He continues, however, “But we must be able to read the nativity story without assuming that its truth depends on there being a literal interruption of the natural by the supernatural, that Jesus can only be Emmanuel—God with us—if, as it were, he came through from another world … To tie the action of God to such a way of thinking is to … sever it from any real connection with history.”

Despite these shifts in thinking on the incarnation, Spong nonetheless maintains, “I still find the power of the Christ compelling. … Something draws me back to him again and again.” He continues, “Beneath the God claims made for this Jesus was a person who lived a message announcing that there was no status defined by religion, by tribe, by culture, by cult, by ritual, or by illness that could separate any person from the love of God. If love is a part of what God is or who God is, then it can surely be said of this Jesus that he lived the meaning of God. According to the Gospels, he lived it with a consistent intensity. It was as if his source of love lay beyond every human boundary. It was inexhaustible. It was life giving.”

I empathize with the above views of God. Theism struggles to answer basic questions about the nature of God, particularly in relation to the fact that evil and suffering exist in the world. There are conservative Christian preachers who have in so many ways painted a picture of God that makes God look petty and capricious; some ascribe to God the worst of our human foibles but insist on calling them good. I also value Tillich’s understanding of God as the “Ground of Being.” It resonates with the Apostle Paul who claims God is “above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6, NRSV). I think there is much here worthy of pursuit. And yet, alongside these concessions, I continue also to cling to traditional understandings. I readily admit I do not understand the intricacies of prayer. There are many challenging questions I cannot answer. Nonetheless, I am not yet ready to give up on being able to pray to a God who personally hears me, knows me, and cares for me. Spong might call my belief about prayer “naive at best and unbelievable at worst” and he could very well be right—but I am not yet ready to face a cold, silent universe, where God is a “what” rather than a “who”.

These issues are intensified for me when it comes to Christ. It is certainly possible for me to see value and beauty in the beliefs that Jesus was an ordinary human being, who, by whatever means, was able to live out his humanity in the fullest, most loving, divinity-saturated ways.

But I need more than this. I am not willing to give up on the notion that through the Christ event, that which was fully transcendent became immanent in the most humbling and kenotic of ways. I am not willing to give up on the notion that through Christ we see a God who gives up everything in order to be poured out in love for God’s children. I am not willing to give up on a God who embraces death—even death on a cross—to redeem a bitterly lost yet bitterly loved world. Whatever wisdom there may be in non–traditionally incarnational views of Christ, I am not willing to give up on the core understandings of Christ as the fully human and fully divine incarnation of the God who is love. That to me remains a refuge from which I am just not ready to sail.

I value and embrace progressive Christianity. I identify as a progressive. But I still remain at least within throwing distance of my traditional, conservative beliefs. It is, personally speaking, from within this liminal, in-between space that I perceive the Christian faith to have most beauty. I value, however, more than I can express in words, open, challenging, and respectful dialogue between all those who claim adherence to the Christian faith, and beyond. The Christian umbrella is a large umbrella, covering a broad, diverse community. Beyond this, we find ourselves in a colorful, diverse, eclectic world, spiraling outward into a glorious, mysterious, infinite universe. It is my hope that we can continue to explore the mystery of the divine and the material—and all things in between—with grace, humility, and a sense of adventure.

Deon Naudé (published with permission of the author).

Deon is in the final stage of completing a Bachelor of Theology through Trinity College, Brisbane. He is the library technician at Trinity College. This essay was also published in Journey On Line today. For information about the Rodney Eivers Bursary of $13 000 please go to the previous post.

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Exciting New Study Scholarship – The Rodney Eivers Bursary

The UCFORUM is pleased to announce:

The Rodney Eivers Annual Bursary – $13 000

Trinity College, UCA Queensland Synod

Rodney Eivers is the Chairperson of the UCFORUM

This bursary is awarded to new tertiary students of Trinity College Queensland, to assist with their course fees whilst studying for a Bachelor of Ministry degree. The aim of the bursary is to provide financial support to students and to encourage the development of a greater awareness of the breadth and diversity in theology and scriptural scholarship, as it relates to contemporary society.

Applications open – Monday 10 September 2018

Applications close – Wednesday 10 October 2018

The student will be awarded the bursary on or before Thursday 1 November 2018. The presentation of the bursary certificate/award will be on 14 November 2018.

For details and applications go to: The Rodney Eivers Bursary 

The Bursary requirements include the submission of an essay showing an understanding of Progressive Christianity. As this will require reading a selection of texts from a recommended reading list, applicants should not delay making a start on their application. The books are available from Trinity College Library.

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