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Theological Boundaries


irreverance
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I thought I'd start something to liven things up a little. I expect that most people here are well acquainted with each other enough to feel comfortable expressing their views on controversial matters as concisely and yet as respectfully as possible. This post is meant to be a stretch for all of us.

 

I noticed on another thread that there that there seems to be an underlying tension regarding what is theological "fair game" for Christian identity. Typically, orthodoxy asserts that doctrine is authoritative for the church and personal theology is not. The established boundaries for what is acceptible for "Christian" discussion and faithful growth is decided by the corporate church (aka, tradition). Typically, to step beyond the pale is to enter into heresy. In order to change the boundaries of the discussion, the tradition must first be changed.

 

However, progressive Christianity by its nature seems to want to challenge this very approach to what is a "valid" Christian mode of theological reflection. Such is expected when the movement does not sit in the center of power.

 

A good example is JS Spong. By orthodox standards, he has stepped well out of bounds (the parameters of the discussion have not yet been changed enough by the powers that be to include him in the "faithful" discussion). Yet, in many respects, he typifies the progressive challenge.

 

Now the question: Do you believe there are there boundaries on what can be considered a "progressive Christian identity"? I am asking on two levels.

 

First , what are your personal boundaries (that which draws out of you the phrase "I identify as a Christian").

 

Second , should there be corporate boundaries to give a sense of cohesiveness to the identity itself or can anyone join (for example, could someone who hates the Bible, thinks the gospel stories to teach stupidity, thinks Jesus was a moron, and who works as a freelance assassin with little regret, say with acceptance from the progressive Christian community that accepts only self-identification to be authoritative, "Yeah, I identify as a Christian"?)

 

I expect that there will be many different approaches to this one, so it should be interesting.

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Some off hand thoughts:

 

1. Not all progressive Christians need be Unitarian Universalists.

2. Though there may be many commonalities, there is a difference between a "progressive Christian" and a "progressive Jew, Muslim, Hindu," etc. The term progressive is an adjective qualifier to the primary noun (i.e. group).

3. This said, I'd rather not get into the business of overly defining boundaries - not a very progressive thing to do. But, though a bunch of flowers may be lovely, there are differences between roses and violets, tulips, etc. - and even within roses themselves.

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Throughout my faith journey, I have asked this question of myself several times. In one period of my adult life I lived on the brink of what I define as a Christian faith boundary. I don't have a problem with recognizing boundaries in a religion. A religion is with no boundaries/ground rules is arguably not a religion. When something I believe crosses that boundary or lies outside of it, I recognize it for what it is: a part of my personal, faith journey.

 

In my personal view, I am a Christian if either I look to Jesus Christ as my primary model for living. As long as I do that, I consider myself a Christian. I don't set belief in the authority of the Bible, miracles, virgin birth, or resurrection as boundaries. I went along for years focusing solely on the model of Jesus' love, compassion, grace, wisdom, and righteousness. I never considered myself any less of a Christian than anyone else.

 

The fact that I now accept Jesus as my savior, believe in miracles (the so called supernatural kinds), and believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead does not make me any more of a Christian than I ever was. It just means that I am more traditional in the way I practice it than I was.

 

What primarily makes me a progressive as that I believe that we should practice the faith that is given to us. There are differences, but Truth converges as it ascends.

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I read this thread a couple days ago and thought about it yesterday and EUREKA! Today I had an epiphany of sorts. Of course the question of this thread was not the only stimulus for my thinking.

 

Anyway... and this may take a little while to develop... my feeling is that as soon as we become exclusive in any way we move away from the Spirit of Jesus.

 

I begin with the basic premise that God's love is not exclusive. Following from Process Theology, God is the All-Inclusive Whole. There is absolutely nothing which is excluded from God's sympathetic awareness. Also, I accept the premise that, contrary to the modern worldview, the whole universe - all actuality - is related and interdependent. I won't go into any scientific and/or philosophical arguments to support those premises at this point.

 

So, taking this understanding to the text of Matthew 5:48, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.", and ignoring the sexism for the moment, I paraphrase it as, "Have an all-inclusive love, even to the point of loving your enemies, because God's love is all-inclusive."

 

This presents several problems, however. For one thing, our enemies can hurt us. This fear of our enemies motivates us to defend ourselves but love calls us to become vulnerable. A conundrum indeed.

 

What did Jesus do? Well, Jesus offended the religious folks because he did practice an all-inclusive love. He sat down and ate with everybody - tax collectors, prostitutes, Pharisees - anybody who wanted to eat with Jesus was welcome. And we know that meals for those folks had much more social significance than they do for most of us.

 

After Jesus was crucified, there were those who knew Jesus before he died who began to recognize that Jesus was with them again - but in a new way. He was the Risen Christ. This Christ was understood to have ascended and then descended as the Spirit of Christ which became included in the "being" of those who were waiting for him. In biblical language, they became indwelt with the Spirit of Christ. Their inclusion of Jesus in their lives gave them a new identity. From then on others could share this new identity, this new life, if they were baptized - which meant dying to the old life and putting on the new life of Christ - a new identity. Who was excluded from this new life, this new identity? No one. Neither male, nor female, slave or free, all were included in the Body of Christ.

 

At some point this all-inclusive community became exclusive.

 

Here's what I see that happens to day in a typical conversion experience. An individual at a very early stage begins to develop a "false self" as a defense against others who are seen as separate from him/her and threatening. The more hurts experienced, the more others are excluded from the individual's self-identity and the false self becomes more powerful. The individual experiences alienation, angst, bondage... all that stuff. These painful experiences become so great that the individual looks for help and discovers the Gospel message about the Love of God. He/she "dies" to their old identity and they put on the new. They identify themselves now as "Christian". They experience new power, a new perspective, and new relationships. They taste the all-inclusive love of God. However, it's not long before their all-inclusive love becomes exclusive. Their new social identity excludes those who are not Christian. They lose the exhuberance, the power, and the love that they began with.

 

Briefly then (I'm running out of time), the moral of the story is that we are not to have an exclusive love - no boundaries. However, there will be those who are excluded but... (and here's the important part) they exclude THEMSELVES. As long as they are open to us, we should be open to them. If boundaries are erected, fences built, it must be built by others, not ourselves. Our part is to see through the false self and love what is behind it.

 

OK - this needs to be developed more. It's a rambling form of what I'm thinking but I want to express it before I lose it.

 

Comments?

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PantaRhea,

 

I always a appreciate your thoughtful and exhuberant posts!

 

I would like to make a comment given that the focus of the thread is on theological boundaries (of Christianity I assume). A religion, by nature, has boundaries. Love, by nature, is boundless (as you have beautifully stated). Our hope, as progressive Christians, is that all people who wish it will be unconditionally included in our Christian communities. The question I would like to us to address is (and it's and admittedly loaded question):

 

is every theological position that a self-identified Christian hold a Christian belief?

 

I'll admit that some positions/beliefs that I hold are not Christian beliefs, but I still call myself Christian. My second question is:

 

Is there any single belief that I must hold to call myself a Christian?

 

I'll say that I believe no one here including myself has the right to judge whether or not a self-identified Christian is truly a Christian or not (we'll leave that to the conservatives). But for the sake of discussion....

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Hmm.. Well, as I understand it, the very first Christian "creed" was the expression "Jesus is Lord." This phrase is highly politically-loaded as in its original context, uttering this phrase was a counter-cultural rejection of Caesar's claim of being Lord and of all other worldly powers and principalities as well.

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OK - this needs to be developed more. It's a rambling form of what I'm thinking but I want to express it before I lose it.

Yes, I have many comments. First, I think what you have here is great stuff. Keep working on it. Second, I have much to say about it myself, but don't really have the time to develop it now. (sorry) Maybe another thread ("Divine Love/Religious Identity...working with God in the rubix cubicle...")?

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OK - this needs to be developed more. It's a rambling form of what I'm thinking but I want to express it before I lose it.

Yes, I have many comments. First, I think what you have here is great stuff. Keep working on it. Second, I have much to say about it myself, but don't really have the time to develop it now. (sorry) Maybe another thread ("Divine Love/Religious Identity...working with God in the rubix cubicle...")?

Tease. <_<

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Fatherman,

 

Much better to be a fatherman than a "girlieman", eh? :D

 

I'm not so sure that I agree that religion by its nature must have boundaries. Many agree that the term 'religion' comes from an old term which meant "to bind". I like this idea. Religion is what binds us together or serves as a source of social cohesion. I think of this 'binding', not as a cord to which we are attached and prevents our escape or inhibits our freedom, but as an attractor - something to which we are drawn. Rather than boundaries which separate those who are 'in' from those who are 'out', I think there are relative differences which can perhaps be pictured as distances from a center.

 

I wonder about your motivation for asking the question you wish to have discussed. Why is it relevant or important? If you admit that no one has the right to judge whether someone who self-identifies as a Christian really IS one, then why should there be a concern about whether or not there is some kind of belief which REALLY qualifies one to be a Christian? Do you think that there is some kind of advantage or something to be gained by REALLY being a Christian rather than simply relating to the tradition?

 

In my view, there is no such thing as a "Christian" and therefore one can't become one. To think so, it seems to me, is a form of "essentialism", the philosophical doctrine which mistakenly (imo) holds that abstract terms have some kind of concrete existence.

Edited by PantaRhea
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Granted, progressives ought to avoid essentialism, this said, there are still differences among flowers (roses, violets, daisies, tulips, etc. - and even within roses themselves). Likewise there are comprehendible differences between various human schools of thought/philosophy/religion; e.g. Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans; Christians, Buddhists, Muslims; Evangelical Christians, progressive Christians, and Fundamentalists, etc.

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Is every theological position that a self-identified Christian hold a Christian belief?

 

No, I don't think so. I can identify myself as Christian and also say that I think God is a fuzzy blue gorilla with spots. I wouldn't claim that God's being a fuzzy blue gorilla with spots is a Christian belief.

 

Is there any single belief that I must hold to call myself a Christian?

 

This is where it gets tricky imo.

 

I can say that a "belief" in Christ is a decisive factor, but most orthodox Christians wouldn't agree with that.

 

Also, the term "belief" is pretty broad.

 

I could say that I believe that Jesus was a man who perfectly manifested God's attributes.

 

I could say that I believe Jesus was a divine being, God's son.

 

I could say that I believe that Jesus was God incarnate on earth.

 

All of the above statements have belief in Jesus in common, but all three statements are very different theologically.

 

Some would say that only a very specific belief of Jesus would qualify a person as a Christian. It's in the specifics that we get in "trouble".

 

I'll say that I believe no one here including myself has the right to judge whether or not a self-identified Christian is truly a Christian or not (we'll leave that to the conservatives). But for the sake of discussion...

 

Isn't that the purpose of a discussion board? To throw out questions and have people comment on them? :D

 

Aletheia

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I'm entirely too fond of dictionaries!

 

 

  1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.

  2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.

  2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.

  3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.

  4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

 

I'm not so sure that I agree that religion by its nature must have boundaries.

 

Let's step back for a moment. This is a very politically and emotionally charged issue because we all have a deep desire that everyone be welcome. It's possible that a religion can welcome every person, but it is not feasible for a religion to consist of every belief. It would be truly meaningless. Let's drop the word "boundaries". I'm not talking about walls that keep people out or separated. If someone entirely foreign to Christianity (also illiterate) asked you to introduce the religion to him. What would you say?

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PantaRhea:

 

I begin with the basic premise that God's love is not exclusive. Following from Process Theology, God is the All-Inclusive Whole. There is absolutely nothing which is excluded from God's sympathetic awareness. Also, I accept the premise that, contrary to the modern worldview, the whole universe - all actuality - is related and interdependent.

 

I think this (and what follows it) is an excellent summation of how I feel with regard to "truth matters".

 

I have practiced buddhism for many years, and was passionately atheistic for a time, but I began to identify with the teachings of Christ once I understood them to actually stand defiantly outside of any authority, or the codification of religious or institutional tradition (regardless of what the institutions themselves may claim).

 

To my mind, Christ's message is a relatively simple one: Love others as you would love yourself, let no one be excluded from God's table, abhor oppresion, and care for those who are downtrodden. To walk through the world in this manner, as much as is humanly possible, is what it means to me to be Christian.

 

Most of the traditional "markers" of Christian faith are things that I see in a mainly metaphorical context, and in this light they don't particularly conflict with anything I've come to an awareness of through my buddhist practice. Go figure.

 

For me, the "boundaries" between most religions only exist in the mind, as a matter of interpretation, or perhaps of self-identification/projection. Apparently, it feels like risky business for many of us to just let things be what they are without trying to fold all of our views into some unified, labeled system of thought.

 

Having said that, I will quickly add that not everything labeled "religious" by one group or another need have a basis in truth, and there are certainly things people believe as part of their religion which will more properly fall under the heading of religious delusion.

 

I'd argue that much of the mainstream beliefs in all major religions belong here, actually.

 

Going back to the beginning of this post, though, I guess I would say that I currently believe that the teachings on inclusiveness and loving-kindness are possibly the most important or relevant points that Christ had to make. From there, so much else flows.

 

And yes, I do agree that everything is interdependent. Nothing exists in a vacuum.

 

Thanks for the good discussion :)

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I think that is Progressive Christianity all 3 of these statemtns would be welcomed equally:

 

1. I could say that I believe that Jesus was a man who perfectly manifested God's attributes. =Liberal Christian and/or UU Christian.

 

2. I could say that I believe Jesus was a divine being, God's son. = (Progressive) bibical uniatarians

 

3. I could say that I believe that Jesus was God incarnate on earth. (Progressive) Trintarians.

 

 

 

I believe that only #1 would truley be welcomed in Liberal Christian churches or UU Christian Churches.

 

In Evangelical or fundamental branches of Protestnatism and catholicism...ONLY #3 (non-progressive) would be welcomed as members.

 

And in JW or Church of God of Abraham faith or Christadelphians ONLY#2 (non-progressive)

 

And I feel this is the plus of Progressive Christianity..that these other 3 can not offer.

 

I have firends amoung all three..but unforuantly..many, if not the majority in return can not accept that fact that I DO accept all three withOUT making one or the other change to meet my own interpretattion of what is "orthodox". Actually i really don't believe there really is such thing as "orthodox"..not on this imprefect side of the Kingdom.

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To my mind, Christ's message is a relatively simple one:  Love others as you would love yourself, let no one be excluded from God's table, abhor oppresion, and care for those who are downtrodden.  To walk through the world in this manner, as much as is humanly possible, is what it means to me to be Christian. 

 

I'm not sure I've ever seen it put so simply and succinctly! We need someone to put your words into a song - yes?

 

Apparently, it feels like risky business for many of us to just let things be what they are without trying to fold all of our views into some unified, labeled system of thought.

 

I'm not exactly sure of your meaning here but it is important for me to have a unified (coherent) worldview.

Having said that, I will quickly add that not everything labeled "religious" by one group or another need have a basis in truth, and there are certainly things people believe as part of their religion which will more properly fall under the heading of religious delusion.

I'm glad you added that. I'm not so sure that delusion is the problem so much as the misinterpretation of spiritual experiences. If we could only accept the idea that our interpretations are always limited or incomplete we might be open to more truth. There is a lot in Hinduism and Buddhism, for instance, that is true and valuable.

Going back to the beginning of this post, though, I guess I would say that I currently believe that the teachings on inclusiveness and loving-kindness are possibly the most important or relevant points that Christ had to make.  From there, so much else flows.

We must belong to the same religion! :)

Edited by PantaRhea
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I'm entirely too fond of dictionaries!

 

Let's step back for a moment.  This is a very politically and emotionally charged issue because we all have a deep desire that everyone be welcome.  It's possible that a religion can welcome every person, but it is not feasible for a religion to consist of every belief.  It would be truly meaningless.  Let's drop the word "boundaries".  I'm not talking about walls that keep people out or separated.  If someone entirely foreign to Christianity (also illiterate) asked you to introduce the religion to him.  What would you say?

Well, you know, dictionaries and Bibles are often misused because their limitations are not recognized. Scholars have debated the meaning(s) attached to the term "religion" for centuries and the discussion has yet to come to an end. It's not very likely that a dictionary can settle the issue, is it?

 

I like the challenge you present and I'm anxious to see how others might meet it. I'll probably be thinking about it for the next few days, but here's what pops into my mind at the moment (you forgot to set a parameter as to how long we had to make the introduction):

 

Christianity might be understood as the view of one of the blind attempting to describe the proverbial elephant. And like the blind men in the story, many who call themselves "Christian" are convinced that their's is the only true description.

 

It is important then, to understand that although the description is incomplete, the blind man did have a true experience of the elephant (God). That experience was that in the life and teachings of a man called Jesus, God was revealed. Christians then, are those who have met Jesus and discovered God. Christianity is a broad term for the many organizations, institutions, and systems of belief which have been formed by those who commonly share this same experience.

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PantaRhea:

 

Apparently, it feels like risky business for many of us to just let things be what they are without trying to fold all of our views into some unified, labeled system of thought.

 

 

I'm not exactly sure of your meaning here but it is important for me to have a unified (coherent) worldview.

 

Sorry; this is a clumsy way of trying to say that it seems to me to be human nature to want to roll our personal beliefs into some unified system of thought that we can easily identify as an "ism" or "anity" or by some label which allows others to make ready judgments about what it is we believe, think, do, etc.

 

I suppose from a sociological perspective it feels risky for us to do otherwise because, as humans, we tend to group together, and we form our social groups according to commonalities. In this context, developing a unified, coherent, but atypical world view might be a bit of a social risk.

 

I do agree that a unified and coherent worldview is important... it's important for me too, but what is perhaps equally important to me is remaining open for its growth and change. A stagnant worldview is incomplete; it's always yesterday's news.

 

I'm not so sure that delusion is the problem so much as the misinterpretation of spiritual experiences. If we could only accept the idea that our interpretations are always limited or incomplete we might be open to more truth.

 

Yes. By "delusion" here, I guess I pretty much mean this idea that our interpretations are or can ever be complete or wholly accurate.

 

I tend to tread lightly here, reminding myself that to believe that I understand completely "the way things are" is a bit like saying that I understand the will of God, which seems a bit presumptuous. This is similar to what, in zen, is called maintaining a "don't know" mind.

 

I think the best I can hope for as far as "understanding" goes is to open myself up to God and move as best as I can toward reconciliation through grace and humility-- and I have a lot of work to do before I could honestly call myself humble.

 

We must belong to the same religion! 

 

:lol:

 

I honestly can't say what religion I "belong" to... in the sense I spoke of above, I certainly consider myself a Christian. In a more traditional light, I have been baptized, I am a member of a wonderful, progressive congregation, and I go to services. I have a growing love of Christ and what I believe he stood for. However, my view of spirituality continues to be filtered through so much that isn't traditionally Christian, and it's not possible to "put the genie back in the bottle" and pretend otherwise, nor would I want to, so I continue to do all my zen things as well. It seems to work pretty well for me so far-- as long as I'm not attempting to dialog about it too much with traditionalists on either side.

 

I'm quite grateful, though, that I've finally been able to touch Christianity in a meaningful way (or, more properly put, to allow it to touch me).

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