Woven from the frayed threads of traditional Christianity
by Glennis Johnston
A great read by a very capable and experienced practitioner of progressive ministry. It deserves to be included in the pantheon of great progressive texts.
God is experienced within our mortal, messy lives, which is the heart of spiritual living. The new spiritual tapestry that we are weaving affirms this truth, while calling into question the basic doctrines of traditional Christianity….
Christianity is losing credibility because observers notice that it is built on a foundation of guilt and fear, both promoted by religious doctrines. It is time we recognised that these doctrines can be traced all the way back to a misleading interpretation of myths, such as the Garden of Eden. We need to develop a spirituality on a different view of humanity and on gratitude that, within our imperfect lives, the divine impulse is always, faithfully present.
In dismantling many of the myths and shibboleths of church taught traditional doctrine and biblical interpretation, the author manages to demonstrate the inconsistency of the teaching and the way in which ‘God’ is portrayed. Is God wrathful and encouraging violence (apparent in both Testaments) at the same time as offering unconditional love? How does this inconsistent teaching work for contemporary society and a humanity challenged to address violence, racial hatred and inequalities?
Students of the biblical text searching for the real Jesus can be forgiven for any confusion. As Glennis Johnston points out they need to separate out the material that can be attributed to writers who paint a picture of Jesus as the son of a vengeful God and those who portray him as unconditionally loving. It is not possible to accept these two opposing images as co-existing.
So which stream of thought in the New Testament should inform our spirituality? The “one focussed on sacrifice, judgement, religious identity and supportive of organisation and hierarchy; the other committed to non-violence, social justice and supportive of non-hierarchical community”? Both exist in tension in current Christian thought and practice.
The ‘new spiritual tapestry’ that Glennis Johnston seeks to weave is an intelligently crafted non-coercive, morally persuasive ethic that is always looking for opportunities to improve ‘global social justice’. All of this draws together ‘threads of wisdom’ from the best of the Christian tradition and a God of ‘goodness, hope and beauty’.
All the time that the author takes us through a discussion about the inevitability of our need for a new spiritual narrative, she is holding fast to key principles of honesty, equity and mercy. There is no need for any one to miss out with fair distributive justice as a guiding principle. Life values and parameters can still be sourced from a careful reading of Hebrew teaching as well as the teachings of Jesus which, unfortunately, have often become distorted, obsessively negative elements rather than followed with a spirit of a loving and forgiving God.
It is made clear that if the Church is to have a role in the evolving new spiritual paradigm, it will have to heed the groundswell of theologians, biblical scholars, economists, historians, scientists, educators, philosophers and cultural critics who are in consensus that an alternative story about our collective social responsibilities is imperative.
This is a book that has multiple uses. It informs as well as teaches. Groups committed to church reform will find it invaluable for ideas, values and mission focus when shaping a progressive profile. For students of theology and ministry education it provides an essential instrument for helping them to recognise the reality of many of the mistakes that have been made in the past and opens up possibilities for making Jesus relevant and without boundaries or barriers. For those who no longer can tolerate the Church, it offers ways to bridge from the secular to the sacred without artificial barriers that have for so long made this appear impossible.
A strong thread running through the stories that are used to explain the vision of a transforming spirituality is the emphasis on how the new spirituality will be a liberating experience. The sense of entitlement and power of some over others disappears. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus as reported in the gospels our everyday lives in community will come ever closer to the kingdom of God.
The author: Glennis Johnston BSocWk BTh BA(Hons) is an ordained Uniting Church minister with a research degree in New Testament Studies. She has worked in counselling and parish ministry for 22 years as well as voluntary work in Australia, India and Europe for 5 years. Glennis now operates Fernbrook Lodge, a Retreat Centre and B&B in Dorrigo, NSW where she facilitates individual and group retreats.
To order a copy ($30) email to Firelight Publishers