Category Archives: Thoughts

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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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God is a Verb – Richard Rohr

A meditation or reflection

Trinity
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Just as some Eastern fathers saw Christ’s human/divine nature as one dynamic unity, they also saw the Trinity as an Infinite Dynamic Flow. The Western Church tended to have a more static view of both Christ and the Trinity—more a mathematical conundrum than an invitation to new consciousness. In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian mystery, the Western Church overemphasized the individual names—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but not so much the quality of the relationships between them, which is where all the power and meaning lies! So, let’s not spend too much time arguing about the gender of the Three. The real and essential point is how the three “persons” relate to one another: infinite outpouring and infinite receiving.
The Mystery of God as Trinity invites us into full participation with God—a flow, a relationship, a waterwheel of always outpouring love. God is a verb much more than a noun. Some Christian mystics taught that all of creation is being taken back into this flow of eternal life, almost as if we are a “Fourth Person” of the Trinity, or as Jesus put it, “so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3).
The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century first developed this theology, though they readily admitted the Trinity is a wonderful mystery that can never fully be understood with the rational mind, but can only be known through love, prayer, and suffering. Contemplation of God as Trinity was made-to-order to undercut the dualistic mind. This view of Trinity invites us to interactively experience God as transpersonal (“Father”), personal (“Christ”), and even impersonal (“Holy Spirit”)—all at once.
The Cappadocian teaching moved to the West but was not broadly communicated. We find an active Trinitarianism in many Catholic mystics (e.g., Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila). Scottish theologian Richard of St. Victor (1110–1173) reflected this early theology. He taught at great length that for God to be truth, God had to be one; for God to be love, God had to be two; and for God to be joy, God had to be three! [1]
True Trinitarian theology offers the soul endless creativity—an open horizon. Trinitarian thinkers do not seem to have much interest in things like hell, punishment, or any notion of earning or losing. They are only overwhelmed by infinite abundance and flow.
Our supposed logic has to break down before we can comprehend the nature of the universe and the bare beginnings of the nature of God. Paraphrasing physicist Niels Bohr, the doctrine of the Trinity is saying that God is not only stranger than we think, but stranger than we can think. Perhaps much of the weakness of many Christian doctrines and dogmas is that we’ve tried to understand them with a logical or rational mind instead of through love, prayer, and participation itself. In the end, only lovers seem to know what is going on inside of God. To all others, God remains an impossible and distant secret, just like the galaxies.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

[1] Richard of St. Victor, Book Three of the Trinity, trans. Grover A. Zinn (Paulist Press: 1979). My summary of his conclusions.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, DVD, MP3 download.
Image Credit: Deesis Mosaic (detail), 13th-century, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.
Fr Richard Rohr – Centre for Action and Contemplation

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Assisted Dying – an important conversation

Last Monday evening the Redcliffe Explorers, capably facilitated by Dr Ian Brown, bravely entered the debate on assisted dying. Part of the inspiration for this session was the loss of one of their members who had left a carefully worded statement. Part of this dictated statement included:
“…By now some of you may have heard that I have made a decision to hasten my own death and end my suffering. Unfortunately, the only way open to me was the way that I had to choose, which other Motor Neurone Disease sufferers before me have also had to choose……I discussed it at some length with the family – my wife and children, and their spouses. They are all sorry to see it come to this but are very supportive. It will help me try to weather the huge challenge of the next few days….”

He made the decision to stop eating and drinking to expedite the slow and painful death he was facing if he let MND take its course.

Support is growing for a Queensland parliamentary enquiry into euthanasia. Queensland could soon hold parliamentary hearings on voluntary euthanasia, as ministers and senior government MPs speak out in support of a grassroots campaign for assisted dying laws.

The chair of the state parliament’s health committee, Aaron Harper, told a forum in Brisbane on Monday that he had sought a meeting with the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, about holding an inquiry. The Guardian Australia newspaper understands the committee has already held private preliminary discussions in anticipation it would be asked to conduct broad-ranging hearings similar to those in Victoria, which would ultimately make recommendations to shape new laws.

Queensland is the only state never to have formally debated the issue. Reforms that passed the Victorian parliament last year have helped to spark a new campaign in the state.
So the Redcliffe Explorers were venturing into something very relevant and current. They looked at three cases – the situation posed by their friend, the story in the film Last Cab to Darwin, and the recent journey of Dr David Goodall to Switzerland at 104 years of age to achieve his goal to terminate his life. Three very different cases addressing the many issues. Accompanying the resources Ian provided for this discussion was the data from an Election Study from ANU based on the attitudes of religiously affiliated people with those who are not. That, in itself was most interesting.

Euthanasia is illegal in all Australian States and Territories and may result in a person being charged with murder, manslaughter or assisting suicide.

Assisted suicide is currently illegal in all Australian States and Territories. However on 29 November 2017 the Victorian Legislative Assembly passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, which will legalise voluntary assisted dying (physician-assisted suicide) in Victoria from 19 June 2019.

Thank you, Ian and your group, for a discussion that brought a great deal of participation and hopefully will be a stimulus to other church and Explorer groups to become part of this important discourse. With the inevitable debate becoming a serious part of the Queensland political scene it is good to know that Explorers are getting informed. It was a privilege to be a part of this discussion.

Paul Inglis 7th August 2018

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Let God be God – Richard Rohr

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (Centre for Action and Contemplation Publishing: 2016), 214-215.

See below for a note on the author.

Let God Be God
Sunday, July 1, 2018

It takes a long time for us to allow God to be who God really is. Our natural egocentricity wants to make God into who we want God to be. The role of prophets and good theology is to keep people free for God and to keep God free for people. While there are some “pure of heart” people (see Matthew 5:8) who come to “see God” naturally and easily, most of us need lots of help.

If God is always Mystery, then God is always in some way the unfamiliar, beyond what we’re used to, beyond our comfort zone, beyond what we can explain or understand. In the fourth century, St. Augustine said, “If you comprehend it, it is not God.” [1] Would you respect a God you could comprehend? And yet, very often we want a God who reflects and even confirms our culture, our biases, our economic, political, and security systems.

The First Commandment (Exodus 20:2-5) says that we’re not supposed to make any graven images of God or worship them. At first glance, we may think this means only handmade likenesses of God. But it mostly refers to rigid images of God that we hold in our heads. God created human beings in God’s own image, and we’ve returned the compliment, so to speak, by creating God in our image. In the end, we produced what was typically a small, clannish God. In America, God looks like Uncle Sam or Santa Claus, an exacting judge, or a win/lose business man—in each case, a white male, even though “God created humankind in God’s own image; male and female God created them” (see Genesis 1:27). Clearly God cannot be exclusively masculine. The Trinitarian God is anything but a ruling monarch or a solitary figurehead. [2]

Normally we find it very difficult to let God be greater than our culture, our immediate needs, and our projections. The human ego wants to keep things firmly in its grasp; so, we’ve created a God who fits into our small systems and our understanding of God. Thus, we’ve produced a God who requires expensive churches and robes, a God who likes to go to war just as much as we do, and a domineering God because we like to dominate. We’ve almost completely forgotten and ignored what Jesus revealed about the nature of the God he knew. If Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (see Colossians 1:15) then God is nothing like we expected. Jesus is in no sense a potentate or a patriarch, but the very opposite, one whom John the Baptist calls “a lamb of a God” (see John 1:29). We seem to prefer a lion.

The author: Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher and a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.

Fr. Richard is the author of numerous books, including Everything Belongs, Adam’s Return, The Naked Now, Breathing Under Water, Falling Upward, Immortal Diamond, and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. His newest book is The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (with Mike Morrell).

Fr. Richard is academic Dean of the Living School for Action and Contemplation. Drawing upon Christianity’s place within the Perennial Tradition, the mission of the Living School is to produce compassionate and powerfully learned individuals who will work for positive change in the world based on awareness of our common union with God and all beings.

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Rethinking Prayer – Len Baglow, APCV

Reproduced, with permission, from A Progressive Christian Voice Australia and Len Baglow.

Goanna Prayer

Recently I had a camping trip to Wombeyan Caves. It was at the campsite that this picture of a goanna was taken. On seeing this photo, one of my friends asked, “Were you using a telephoto lens, or were you very close?” My initial answer was “A bit of both.” In fact, when I lifted my eyes from the viewfinder of the camera I went “Oops, I’m a lot closer than I thought I was.” Initially the goanna had been much further away. I had not moved but had been concentrating on taking photos. Slowly the goanna had been moving toward me and the photos had been getting better and better.

A few days later I was reminded of Abraham Heschel’s comment on prayer that often we are mistaken in thinking that we must search for God, rather it is God who comes to us and it is we who must respond. Often in prayer we are tempted to keep God at a distance. We don’t like the experience of “Oops that was a bit close” because prayer opens us up to the dangerous and to the unexpected, at least as far as our self-centredness and our fantasies of our self-importance are concerned. Prayer may often be reassuring and comforting, but it never loses its underlying “goanna” edge.

Often progressive Christians struggle with the notion of prayer. Many progressives have rejected the idea of an omnipotent powerful God, who micromanages the universe on our behalf if only we have enough faith, are persistent enough or pure enough. However, the question is often left open as to how God responds, or even does God respond, or perhaps can God respond to prayer. These are complex questions which have been asked well before modern times. In a sense these are questions which each person must struggle with and formulate their own answers.

Yet, I think the progressive Christian movement could have given more guidance. Too often the questions on prayer have been quickly dismissed as infantile. Yet they are among the deepest and most meaningful of questions.

With this is mind, I was heartened to hear a fascinating podcast on petitionary prayer in which the author, counsellor and theologian Mark Karris was interviewed by the eccentric broadcaster and theologian Tripp Fuller.

Mark Karris proposes that when we seriously petition God, we should think of it as “conspiring” with God. Conspiring has the sense both of “breathing with” God, but also being subversive to injustice and evil in the world. In this sense, when we petition God, it is not we who are waiting on God to act, but God who is waiting on us. God has already acted and is acting in the world. God’s love is already in the suffering and hurt and pain that our prayer has spoken of. It is we who must enact that love. What are we are going to do? This is why Karris calls petitionary prayer, “beautifully dangerous.”

Karris goes on to criticise the petitionary prayers that we often hear in churches. He claims that they mar the image of God. They do this by putting all the responsibility for changing the world on God. In so doing they distance us from God and let us off the hook. We lose the opportunity to conspire with God, to breath together.

This is a challenge for nearly every church. The prayer of petition should not be the section in which we quietly go to sleep, but the section in which we go “Oops, that was a bit close, how must I respond?”

About APCV:

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia) is a group of Christians who wish to contribute to public debate by promoting a generous and future-focused understanding of the Christian faith.

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia):

  • Understands Christian opinion to be more diverse and broader than that portrayed by the media.
  • Is dedicated to contributing insights from progressive streams of the Christian faith and community.
  • Seeks to minimise the effect that powerful lobby groups have on public discourse.

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia):

  • Is therefore concerned with promoting public awareness of the diversity of Christian opinion.
  • Welcomes fresh and challenging contemporary insights into the interpretation of the Christian scriptures and tradition.
  • Does not speak on behalf of any Christian denomination, congregation, community or organisation.

For more information or to become a subscriber go to: APCV

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The House Church – a quick survey of some literature

House Churches – complementing or replacing Institutional Church?

[Not an academic paper – information extracted from available publications]

Our friends at the Milpara Project have been examining the potential for and growth in House Churches. At a time when many congregations have had to abandon their church buildings because they have become an economic liability, and when there is a global disenchantment with institutions including the Church, there are many motives for small groups finding fellowship and a group of friends to share their faith with.

The first house church is recorded in Acts 1:13, where the disciples of Jesus met together in the “Upper Room” of a house. For the first three centuries of the church, Christians typically met in homes, if only because intermittent persecution (before the Edict of Milan in 313) did not allow the erection of public church buildings. Clement of Alexandria, an early church father, wrote of worshipping in a house. The Dura-Europos church, a private house in Syria, was excavated in the 1930s and was found to be used as a Christian meeting place in AD 232, with one small room serving as a baptistry. At many points in subsequent history, various Christian groups worshipped in homes, often due to persecution by the state church or the civil government.
In the second half of the 20th century after the Maoist revolution, China outlawed organised religion. The Chinese model during the persecution was the longest lasting revival in the history of the church. There were no missionaries, dollars, sacred buildings, pastors, Sunday service, tithing or even Bibles. There was Body Ministry, where the people prayed and ministered to each other, quietly under the radar. No wonder the church grew exponentially from one million to 100 million.

Persecution has not been the only motive for the development of House Churches,
Today, Christians who meet together in homes have often done so because of a desire to return to early Church style meetings as found in the New Testament. The New Testament shows that the Early Christian church exhibited a richness of fellowship and interactive practice that is typically not the case in conventional denominations. They believe that Christians walked closely with each other and shared their lives following Jesus together. The modern house church movement has both captured allegiance and anxiety. Many acclaim it as a rediscovery of New Testament Christianity, while others see in it an escape from the realities of established church life.

Although not in a climate of persecution, India has adopted many of the best practices of the then Chinese model and is experiencing similar growth and multiplication. The Global House Church Summit in India in 2009 was an attempt to create awareness among the participants of the need to revert and replicate the original house church principles as modelled in the New Testament. Victor Choudhrie stated that the objective of the Summit was to put the primitive first century church (as implemented by the first trainees of Jesus Christ) firmly on the map as the model for churches today. He summarised his message as follows: “The house church is not the destination, it is only a convenient vehicle. “Kingdomization” of home, the office, the market place, the boardroom, the parliament and of the nations is the real objective, until all the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.”

Several passages in the Bible specifically mention churches meeting in houses. “The churches of Asia greet you, especially Aquila and Priscilla greet you much in the Lord, along with the church that is in their house.” I Cor 16:19. The church meeting in the house of Priscilla and Aquila is again mentioned in Romans 16:3,5. The church that meets in the house of Nymphas is also cited in the Bible: “Greet the brethren in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in her house.” Col 4:15.

For the first 300 years of Early Christianity, people met in homes until Constantine legalized Christianity, and the assembly moved out of houses into larger buildings creating the current style church seen today. Choudrie describes this change in stronger terms:
Then came the Roman Emperor Constantine (CE 272-337), a sun worshipping hybrid Christian who did a lot of good but also imposed the solar cross instead of the Menorah the lamp, as the sign of the church (Revelation 1:20). He built the first Cathedral, appointed professional clergy, declared Sun-Day as a day of worship, appointed himself the virtual Pope, banned the house churches and herded all believers in the brick and mortar buildings and called it the church and corrupted the Bride for 1700 years. However, the authentic church survived in secret, often illegal house churches.

In North America and the United Kingdom, the recent developments in the house church movement is often seen as a return to a New Testament church restorationist paradigm and a restoration of God’s eternal purpose and the natural expression of Christ on the earth, urging Christians to return from hierarchy and rank to practices described and encouraged in Scripture. According to some proponents, many churchgoers are turning to house churches because many traditional churches fail to meet their relational needs. Continue reading

A Brief Exploration into the Gospel of Luke

Deshna Ubeda was a participant in our Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane in 2016.

A Brief Exploration into the Gospel of Luke

12 April 2018
I would like to take a moment to explore the Gospel of Luke. When I read Biblical passages these days, I am looking for the deeper meaning behind the words. Meaning, I am not just looking for the dates, context, and scribes, though these are important pieces to the puzzle. I am looking for what the crisis might have been that caused the author to write it and how does the scripture speak to that crisis. I am seeking the wisdom that the passages hold for me in the moment as I read them. The wisdom found in sacred texts can shift as the reader shifts…that is one of the reasons why they are still valuable to modern seekers. My journey with the Bible has taken many turns through the course of my life. Growing up in a progressive Christian church, I was initiated into the Bible from a historical, informed, and liberal viewpoint. I never had to unlearn certain mis-translations or rescue the baby from the bath water. And yet, the Bible seemed outdated and irrelevant and I yearned for a break from it during spiritual community time. It felt forced. I stepped away from Christianity when I went to college… and then found myself back in its arms with the work I do today. Through my work with ProgressiveChristianity.org and studies in Interfaith Chaplaincy, I was called to look deeper into these sacred texts… to explore them like a treasure found in a time vault… to seek the magic in the words… to envision the ancient voices orally sharing the tales, the lessons, the songs, and the poetry around a bright fire, with an unblemished star-filled sky above them. Ancient wisdom holds much for us today, when we can see below the temporary concerns being addressed.

According to biblical scholars, the Gospel of Luke was written between 89-93AD, though there are, of course, debates about the exact time. During this time period, the Christian movement was largely concerned with legitimizing itself in the Roman Empire. This gospel also reflects the transition of Christianity out of Judaism toward the Gentile world. Bishop John Shelby Spong argues that the community Luke was writing for “appears to have been made up primarily of dispersed Jews, who no longer followed their traditions in a rigid pattern and, as a consequence, are beginning to attract a rising tide of converts from the Gentile world. These Gentile proselytes, as they came to be called, had little dedication to or interest in the cultic practices of circumcision, kosher dietary rules and unfamiliar liturgical practices such as a 24-hour vigil around Shavuot or Pentecost and the eight-day celebrations of the Harvest Festival known as Sukkoth. They were not intent on discarding or losing the meaning of these holy days, but they clearly were eager to reduce their place of importance and the hold they had once had on their lives.”[1] This is backed by many writings on Luke, including the “Parting of Ways,” by Anne Amos, who suggests that for early Christians, the 1st century was a time period focused on who was a Christian and who was not. This was also a time period when Jewish Rabbis were excommunicating those who used to be Jewish but then identified as Christians. Jewish Christians were heretics in the eyes of the Rabbi’s. Clearly this was a time period of great division as to Christians, Jews became “the others.”

The author of Luke is unknown, like many of the Bible’s authors, but tradition has always identified the book of Luke with the physician who accompanied Paul and is mentioned in both Colossians and II Timothy. Scholars also propose that the same author wrote Acts as Volume II of his gospel and “in all probability he was born a Gentile and had been drawn first into the ethical monotheism that marked Judaism. He appears to have actually converted to Judaism and to have joined the synagogue through which he moved into Christianity. He may well have been a convert of Paul’s, at least he has clearly identified himself with Paul’s point of view and he champions it in both the gospel and the book of Acts.” [2]

Much of Luke (at least half) was quoted from Mark and he makes no claim to have been an eye witness but honestly acknowledges the research he has done. He says in his first chapters that “many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of the things which are surely believed among us, even as they delivered them to us, which from the beginning were eye witnesses and servants of the word (Luke 1:1-5).” However, one thing that is quite obvious is that Luke’s purpose was to interpret Jesus in light of the Hebrew scriptures, not to recreate him as separate from it. As it was written during a time period of great division and accusations on both sides of the Judeo-Christian religious map- this would have been a crucial argument.

As always, these Biblical stories need to be seen as narratives, not historical fact. When viewed through the lens of Jewish mythology and prophecy, one can see how important it was to align Jesus with stories from the Old Testament as well as those from age old oral traditions so that words and deeds were inserted or deleted to fit the agenda of the time period. Luke, along with the other Synoptic Gospel writers, would have needed to somewhat fabricate a narrative about Jesus that could be threaded into the collection of sayings, miracles, and passion narratives that arose out of the Jewish history, theology, and storytelling and it needs to be understood that much of these writings are “the creative invention of the authors and assorted intrusive scribes” [3] This was likely done to not only continue to legitimize Jesus as the son of God and Messiah but also to legitimize Christianity in a time of great internal and external chaos. By all accounts the early years of the Christian movement were rife with conflict and rivalries. [4] As the Gospel accounts were based on data “transmitted…by those who were eyewitnesses,” (Luke 1: 1-3) we are dealing with thirdhand information at best.

In order to situate Jesus and his deeds in alignment with the Old Testament and the Jewish religion, while at the same time set him apart, Luke and other early Christian writers would have been organized to align with the annual Jewish liturgical cycle of the synagogue where Christianity lived in its first generations as a movement within Judaism. Just as the Jewish holidays of that time period were focused on cleansing of sins (Yom Kippur), Jesus is shown to not only not be corrupted by other’s sins and uncleanliness, but he also transforms and purifies the evil. He banishes demons, heals the unclean, and forgives the sins. Set against the Jewish liturgical cycle, Luke’s Jesus fits quite nicely. Luke, along with his fellow Gospel writers, were aiming to align Jesus with ancient prophesy and legitimize his birthright. And at the same time, Luke works toward creating a religion that can spread and exist outside of the ethnic group of the Jews. Brilliant, in my opinion.

These early Christian gospels must be read through the lens of Judaism. “The later Greek thinking period, which shaped the creeds in the 4th century and informs Christian doctrine to this day, has actually distorted the gospel message in a radical way.” [5] However, early on, the Christian community was made up of dispersed Jews living far from home and increasingly interacting with their Gentile neighbors. As Deborah Broome writes in Who’s at the Table? – Inclusiveness in the Gospel of Luke,

Luke was clearly universally-minded. He wrote of a Jesus that welcomed everyone at his table. This Jesus taught that faith was the most important characteristic, not wealth or status. During Jesus’ time, the synagogue rejected this message, but Luke’s Jesus persisted in this teaching, widening the door to allow all flesh, beyond Israel.

The Gospel of Luke is unique in its theology of inclusiveness. Only Luke tells us the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is another indication that the community he lived and existed in had moved beyond the Jewish mythology of a chosen people. Luke emphasizes a universal point of view, likely influenced by Paul, and this theology has a lot to do with why Christianity spread in the exponential way it did. In Luke’s gospel, it is emphasized that Jesus heals, teaches, and even often shares a meal with the sinners, the tax collectors, the unclean, the sick, the marginalized, the excluded, and the women, etc. Luke’s Jesus is a radically inclusive teacher who impresses people with his ability to heal and his lack of social boundaries. Luke emphasizes that the Spirit fell not only on the Jews but on the peoples of the world, who then proclaimed the Gospel in whatever language those hearing spoke. (Acts 2) Clearly Luke was aiming to move Christianity away from the exclusive ethnic Jewish group to a universal faith, which also meant all people were held accountable to their choice to be Christian or not and could be persecuted if considered a non-believer or heretic. For the next thousand or so years, this inclusiveness would shift from a compassionate stance to a justification of immense destruction and violence against non-believers. Whether or not Luke was considering that when he wrote about Jesus will remain unknown.

~ Deshna Ubeda

About the Author
Deshna Ubeda is a Director of ProgressiveChristianity.org, where she has worked since 2006. She is an author, speaker, and seeker. She has presented at conferences in Canada, Australia, Hawaii, Seattle, and Portland. She is currently studying at The Chaplaincy Institute to become an Interfaith Chaplain. She was a lead writer and editor on the children’s curriculum: A Joyful Path, Spiritual Curriculum for ages 6-10.

Deshna grew up in an amazing Progressive Christian church, IUCC, in Irvine California as a PK (pastor’s kid) and so was blessed to be involved in a community that was open, educated, innovative, and inclusive. She was involved in the church at many different levels, as a representative for youth at National UCC Conferences, as a youth group leader, and a camp counselor for many years. She went to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she graduated with honors as a Religious Studies major and a Global Peace and Security minor. This led her to be a part of the Global Reconciliation Service in New York doing some work with the United Nations.

She has worked in Administration for the UC Education Abroad Program, as an Infant Specialist for a non-profit organization, as a Spanish Teacher for elementary children, and as a Yoga Instructor. She is also a certificated post-partum doula and a yoga instructor. Deshna co-wrote a book, Missing Mothers with her mom. During her free time, she continues to write, do yoga, hike, and enjoy her life in Portland with her wonderful community and family.
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[1] Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Origins of the New Testament XXIV – Introducting Luke http://progressingspirit.com/2010/05/27/the-origins-of-the-new-testamentpart-xxiv-introducing-luke/
[2] Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Origins of the New Testament XXIV – Introducting Luke
http://progressingspirit.com/2010/05/27/the-origins-of-the-new-testamentpart-xxiv-introducing-luke/
[3] The Joy of Sects, A Spirited Guide to The World’s Religious Traditions, Peter Occhiogrosso, page 285
[4] The Joy of Sects, A Spirited Guide to The World’s Religious Traditions, Peter Occhiogrosso, page 296
[5] Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Origins of the New Testament XXV – Concluding Luke and the Synoptic Gospels
http://progressingspirit.com/2010/06/03/the-origins-of-the-new-testament-part-xxv-concluding-luke-and-the-synoptic-gospels/

The Common Good and Compassionate Communities

On 23rd March, UCFORUM Subscriber, Everald Compton posted on his blog The Vision and Politics of Nation Building

“Democracy is dead.

Murdered by political, financial and religious ideology inflicted upon us by ‘leaders’ with closed minds who survive by divisively spreading fear and greed.

It is time for a new world order called THE COMMON GOOD to take over.

It will succeed when decent people, with brains, commonsense and courage, step forward and insist on dramatic and decisive changes in the opposite direction to the insanity of Donald Trump and the woeful wilderness of Australian politics….”

To see what he said go to Everald’s blog at The Vision and Politics of Nation Building.

Rev Bryan Gilmore, also a UCFORUM subscriber, responded:

Hello Everald,
This is Bryan Gilmour who with Dennis Robinson and a bunch of enthusiastic laypersons began the first Regional Church in Queensland, where we attached a low fee Christian College, and together with other denominations established an Ecumenical College which also admits children of all faiths. Each of these were driven by a Christian principle, the golden rule, -“Do unto others what you hope others would do to you” – to reach a COMMON GOOD – or as Jesus said, let LOVE be the core virtue that sets the criteria of what we do TOGETHER in determining our values and attitudes towards ALL OTHERS. Yes the CHURCH (all denominations) is grossly at fault in over capitalizing its property with centres in every little community, rather than REGIONAL COMMUNITY CENTRES where they can work with other sectors of the COMMUNITY to build the COMMON GOOD. On the GOLD COAST a small group have established a COMPASSIONATE CITY thrust, where the GOLD COAST CITY COUNCIL have adopted the concept of becoming the first active COMPASSIONATE CITY in AUSTRALIA. This will reach to every sector of the community, where each grouping, – health, education, essential services, business, politics,faith groups, scientific exploration, etc will work together for the COMMON GOOD. I want to strongly endorse your plea for the whole COMMUNITY working together for the COMMON GOOD. On the Gold Coast a group called MAAG (Multifaith Advisory and Action Group) has been established for building better and stronger compassionate relationships between the respective faiths towards the COMMON GOOD. I want to endorse your concept of the COMMON GOOD across the whole society and where the political and economic leaders need to take a lead in identifying this concept to build a better AUSTRALIA and a better WORLD.

With great enthusiasm, Bryan Gilmour Past MODERATOR of the UNITING CHURCH in QUEENSLAND

oOo