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Neon Genesis
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Do you think it's possible to be both a Christian and an atheist at the same time? Like there are some sects of Buddhism where you don't have to believe in God to be a Buddhist and there are many members of the Unitarian Universalist church who are atheists. So do you think it's possible to be a Christian if you follow the teachings of Jesus and believe religion can be a force for good even if you don't believe in God or the supernatural?

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neon,

 

As steve has indicated, it seems a matter of definition, and not just the definition of Christianity, but of Atheism also. There is Atheism in the technical sense of Atheism, the "A" as in amoral, "not admitting of moral distinctions or judgements", rather then immoral, another thing entirely. And there is Atheism in its popular sense, of having a distinct anti-religious bias, of "when you are dead you are dead", of a denial of what could be called the spiritual dimension of life.

 

Personally, I have long lived with the injuction of the buddha to resist metaphysical speculation and seek to concentrate more on the arising of suffering/anguish/dukkha in the present moment.

 

This seems to get back to what has been discussed on the "Experiencing God" thread, where Soma quoted Mark Twain......

 

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so

 

.....and Joseph's subsequent brief explantion........

 

The Twain quote in my view in no way says that knowing truth is dangerous as you might suppose. It says that what is dangerous is thinking you know something is true for sure that really isn't true

 

So my perspective is that Atheism in its popular sense is indeed incompatible with seeking to know reality as it is, of being open to reality as it is..........in as much as it seeks rather to dictate to reality what it is whan we have no real way of saying "it is so" for certain.

 

So we can be what we want, and call it what we want. Did deeper and we hit the definitions of "faith", of "belief"...academic ones, and those we actually live by - dictated to us by others or experienced by ourselves.

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Do you think it's possible to be both a Christian and an atheist at the same time? Like there are some sects of Buddhism where you don't have to believe in God to be a Buddhist and there are many members of the Unitarian Universalist church who are atheists. So do you think it's possible to be a Christian if you follow the teachings of Jesus and believe religion can be a force for good even if you don't believe in God or the supernatural?

 

As Steve suggests, it is a matter of definition. Wouldn't this be essentially the same as secular humanism?

 

 

George

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neon,

 

As steve has indicated, it seems a matter of definition, and not just the definition of Christianity, but of Atheism also. There is Atheism in the technical sense of Atheism, the "A" as in amoral, "not admitting of moral distinctions or judgements", rather then immoral, another thing entirely. And there is Atheism in its popular sense, of having a distinct anti-religious bias, of "when you are dead you are dead", of a denial of what could be called the spiritual dimension of life.

 

 

There are, as you say, atheists (an absence of belief in God) and then there are those who I think of as 'anti-theists' such as Dawkins and Harris. They do not only disbelieve, but object to those who do. I find them as objectionable as the most strident Fundamentalists.

 

Several years ago, someone loaned me Harris' book "The End of Faith." I found it polemic, disrespectful, shallow and uninformed. In fact, I put it down before finishing as I found nothing worthwhile and a waste of time.

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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Michael Down (of Evolutionary Christian) has stated that he believes the "new atheists" are God's prophets in our time. What he means by this is that the new atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris) are attacking the fundamentalists' concepts of God that probably many progressives have also let go of. To mainstream and conservative Christianity, Spong is not a Christian because Spongs ideas about God are not very theistic.

 

IMO (and that's all it is, just an opinion), one would, at the very least, have to hold to Jesus' two commands of loving God and loving others in order to be called a Christian. Most atheists don't hold to any God-concept, so that sorta leaves out Jesus' first command; but they still follow Jesus' second command.

 

As been said, it comes down to definitions - very slippery things. :)

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Michael Down (of Evolutionary Christian) has stated that he believes the "new atheists" are God's prophets in our time. What he means by this is that the new atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris) are attacking the fundamentalists' concepts of God that probably many progressives have also let go of. To mainstream and conservative Christianity

 

I don't think the attack of the "Three Atheists" is limited to fundamentalism. From what I can tell, it is against religion of any size or flavor. Their point of view is that religious people are either dangerous or enablers of those who are.

 

George

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I don't think the attack of the "Three Atheists" is limited to fundamentalism. From what I can tell, it is against religion of any size or flavor. Their point of view is that religious people are either dangerous or enablers of those who are.

 

Granted. In fact, they attack liberals, progressives, and moderates because, according to their accusations, we shelter the conservatives, we try to get along, we sanction the conservative forms of Christianity by not calling it out on certain things. Perhaps some of this criticism is due. We often do try to play nice.

 

At the same time, without getting into definitions of "religion," radical atheism can exhibit the same traits that fundamentalist religion does - an "us against them" mentality, looking down on others who don't agree, making inappropriate truth claims, using sweeping generalizations, and insisting that everyone should believe exactly as they do (despite using God as their authority base). Radical atheism, like some fundamentalism, can fall into the trap of thinking that it has arrived, that it is the pinnacle and despenser of truth. In that, I think it errs.

 

Still, I think these atheists should be listened to. Even if we don't agree with them, we can learn to take their criticism as a tool for self-correction in our own faith.

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. . . . radical atheism can exhibit the same traits that fundamentalist religion does - an "us against them" mentality, looking down on others who don't agree, making inappropriate truth claims, using sweeping generalizations, and insisting that everyone should believe exactly as they do (despite using God as their authority base). Radical atheism, like some fundamentalism, can fall into the trap of thinking that it has arrived, that it is the pinnacle and despenser of truth. In that, I think it errs.

 

 

Points well made. I agree completely.

 

George

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I've recently started reading the book, The Gospel of Christian Atheism, by Thomas J.J. Altizer. Thomas J.J. Altizer was one of the prominent influential theologians in the "death of God" theology movement that was popular back in the 70s. His book, The Gospel of Christian Atheism, was the inspiration behind the famous Times magazine covered that asked "Is God Dead?" I don't always understand Altizer because his theology is very complex and confusing but at the same time, there's something brilliant and fascinating about it. If I'm understanding Altizer correctly and I'm probably getting some things wrong, Altizer argues that it's impossible for Christians to return to the original "pure" form of the early church and that not only is it impossible, but it is also mistaken. Altizer says that one of the mistakes of Paul and the early church is while they progressed beyond the old law, they still clung to the old religion and didn't try to escape from the transcendence of God. He criticizes even liberal theologians like Paul Tillich for not being radical enough in their view of God. In Altizer's view, the true grace of God cannot be felt until Christians accept that God took on the form of Jesus and died on the cross of Jesus and that this was an irreversible event and God remains dead. Under Altizer's theology, it is the death of God which frees humans from the demands of a god of law and judgment which are annulled by the grace of God who died on Calvary. I like this one quote from The Gospel of Christian Atheism

When faith understands itself as existing in opposition to the state of sin, it must give itself both to a negation of law and guilt and to a continual process of abolishing the consciousness of sin: "Come, O thou Lamb of God, and take away the remembrance of Sin" (Jerusalem 50:24). Seen in this perspective, guilt is the product of self-alienation: and not simply an alienation from an individual and private selfhood, but rather a cosmic state of alienation from a universal energy and life.
What are your thoughts on Altizer's concept of Christian atheism? Edited by Neon Genesis
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There are, as you say, atheists (an absence of belief in God) and then there are those who I think of as 'anti-theists' such as Dawkins and Harris. They do not only disbelieve, but object to those who do. I find them as objectionable as the most strident Fundamentalists.

George I agree with your quote

 

Granted. In fact, they attack liberals, progressives, and moderates because, according to their accusations, we shelter the conservatives, we try to get along, we sanction the conservative forms of Christianity by not calling it out on certain things. Perhaps some of this criticism is due. We often do try to play nice.

Sbnr1 I agree with this also

 

Thank you for expressing my thoughts in a clear and concise manner.

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IMO (and that's all it is, just an opinion), one would, at the very least, have to hold to Jesus' two commands of loving God and loving others in order to be called a Christian. Most atheists don't hold to any God-concept, so that sorta leaves out Jesus' first command; but they still follow Jesus' second command.

 

As been said, it comes down to definitions - very slippery things. :)

But then some might say that loving others is loving God. Jesus himself says in the gospels that when you give to the poor, you're serving him, and when you don't give to the poor or feed the hungry, then you're not following Jesus. Some people attribute their acts of goodness to Yahweh and other people do in the name of Allah and some people don't give a name to it at all but anyone who gives to the poor, feeds the hungry and corrects injustice in the world is serving Jesus to me regardless of faith. Edited by Neon Genesis
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But then some might say that loving others is loving God. Jesus himself says in the gospels that when you give to the poor, you're serving him, and when you don't give to the poor or feed the hungry, then you're not following Jesus. Some people attribute their acts of goodness to Yahweh and other people do in the name of Allah and some people don't give a name to it at all but anyone who gives to the poor, feeds the hungry and corrects injustice in the world is serving Jesus to me regardless of faith.

 

That's been my experience also, Neon. That's why I said definitions are slippery things. ;) Nevertheless, it seems that, at least in Jesus' Jewish mind, his commands concerning love came to two "entities," not just one. At the same time, other biblical writers tell us that we don't truly love God if we don't love one another. My personal opinion is that there are people and groups of people who are "following Jesus" who have never even heard his name, for, as you say, they are living as he did. But Christianity is an evolving religion and, as far as I can tell, there has never been an agreed-upon-by-all definition of what a Christian is.

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But then some might say that loving others is loving God. Jesus himself says in the gospels that when you give to the poor, you're serving him, and when you don't give to the poor or feed the hungry, then you're not following Jesus. Some people attribute their acts of goodness to Yahweh and other people do in the name of Allah and some people don't give a name to it at all but anyone who gives to the poor, feeds the hungry and corrects injustice in the world is serving Jesus to me regardless of faith.

 

Neon,

 

With you I would say that love of others IS love of God, that this is in fact one way of seeing/living the heart of the Incarnation (the prelude to St John's Gospel goes to this heart, that the Incarnation cannot simply be reduced to the 30 years or so of the "earthly" life of Jesus)

 

I wasn't really sure just what Thomas Altizer meant by guilt leading to alienation from a private selfhood. Perhaps I would need to know exactly what he means by such a term, i.e "private selfhood". (To a certain extent I understand the thinking, self-aware subject taken and assumed as the primary reality to be alienation. I assume that Altizer uses his term differently?)

 

That apart, I can sympatise with his view of seeing the cross as ultimately being Grace, replacing a "being" "up there" who is deemed to look down in judgement, a judgement that will in fact remain for those who do not accept the offer being made! I can see how speaking of the "death of God" can mean that such judgement - and the threat of it - is now gone for good.

 

As far as those in the past, St Paul or whoever, I do feel there is scope within the Biblical word to move from what is termed an "I-Thou" relationship to one where it can be said, "Not I, but Christ lives in me." Christianity has many mansions, and its mystical tradition - particularly the apophatic - is rich with what I would see as a true Incarnational theology. We are all unique individuals, we all have our own experience which we must remain true towards, while always seeking to deepen it.

 

Anyway, this all - for me - has much to do with an essay I am currently reading and reflecting upon, concerning Pure Land/Christian dialogue. It relates of the thought of Nishitani Keiji, who speaks of seeking a level where humans are purely human, where the human being becomes a totally 'unveiled body' barefoot and barehanded, without a thread either on the head or on the back, and is able, at the same time, to open and unveil also his/her innermost heart for everybody to see. What is required is that we resolutely and radically divest ourselves of all the fixed forms and categories that shut up all our thoughts, feelings and acts of will within an established and immutable-looking framework.

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But Christianity is an evolving religion and, as far as I can tell, there has never been an agreed-upon-by-all definition of what a Christian is.

 

I think this is right. However, there must be some basic, minimal feature(s) that distinguish Christian from non-Christian that we intuitively understand. Otherwise the word has no meaning and we would describe everyone who lives according to Jesus' teachings as Christians. This could include devout Muslims, Jews or confirmed atheists.

 

I would suggest that what distinguishes (defines) a Christian is a view that Jesus was unique, with characteristics unlike any other human. And, this distinctive feature involves a divine nature.

 

It may also entail accepting the Bible as authoritative and 'inspired' in a way different from any other text such as the Qur'an, the Constitution, Mere Christianity, the Letter from Birminham Jail, the Gettysburg Address, etc.

 

George

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A few more thoughts on the slipperiness of definitions:

 

As human beings who enjoy our labels, we are, of course, free to call ourselves anything we like. The downside of this is to be able to define or explain our chosen label when asked to do so in, hopefully, as brief and sensible terms as we can. In a somewhat ludicrous analogy, one could choose to call one’s self a square circle. But then one would need to be able to explain to others what a square circle is.

 

In reference to the OP, it is easier to define what an atheist is rather than what a Christian is. After all, where do we look to in order to get an agreed-upon definition of the label Christian? The Bible? The church? Church councils? Jerry Falwell? Jack Spong? Jesus? Who is to say, especially in progressive circles, what defines a Christian? My feeling is that, most of the time, that determination and that definition is left up to the person involved.

 

My point, as regards the OP, is that based upon my studies of the historical Jesus, I suspect that he was a theist. Of course, neither the Bible nor Jesus himself ever makes this assertion. But Jews are typical theistic in their outlook of God. If this is true, then how much of Jesus’ viewpoints would we need to adopt in order to be called Christians? Could a person be a theist like Jesus and an atheist at the same time? Or, as Neon and others have suggested, would one only need to be a loving person, something many, if not most, atheists surely are?

 

In my own journey, I lean more towards deism than I do theism. And, believe it or not, there is such a thing as Christian deism. But I don’t think Jesus was a deist. So while I would agree with Jesus in loving God and loving others, I don’t think I hold to Jesus’ theistic beliefs. I have a “Christian label” with Velcro on it that I can wear if that particular dress code is required. But I usually don’t wear it because the label, with its long and varied history, implies too many false assumptions about me.

 

So while I agree with Neon that what we do and how we live is the most important thing, and I’d agree that people can wear any label they so choose, I think if one wears a label, they should be able to explain it briefly and sensibly. After all, isn’t that what labels are designed to do, to briefly describe what is inside?

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To George:

 

>>I would suggest that what distinguishes (defines) a Christian is a view that Jesus was unique, with characteristics unlike any other human. And, this distinctive feature involves a divine nature.

 

This, George, is what I meant about the slipperiness of definitions. From an ontological point-of-view, we are all unique, though connected by our shared humanness, environment, and even consciousness. But when many traditional Christians speak of the uniqueness of Jesus, it is not based in his humanity. It is based in his divinity or dual nature as both God and man, something that, according to traditional Christians, the rest of us don’t have. Therefore, Jesus is really no longer human. He is super-human. He had something that we don’t, an edge up on us. (Robert Capon has some wonderful insights on this.) Of course, many Christians believe this view and find it helpful for their own spiritual lives. There is no doubt that this view of Jesus has lead people to transformed, compassionate lives. It is a Christian belief. Christians do and have believed this. But not all Christians. Many Christians think that dual nature Christology is not something that Jesus taught or that the earliest disciples believed, but a doctrine that the later church came up with in order to sanction the worship of Christ as God and to unify the church. If so, then we have migrated in our definition of Christian from what Jesus believed about himself to what the church later came to believe about him. And then we shift in our definition of Christian from what Jesus believed (his religion so-to-speak) to what we believe about him. It’s an interesting dilemma and probably one which will not soon go away.

 

>>It may also entail accepting the Bible as authoritative and 'inspired' in a way different from any other text such as the Qur'an, the Constitution, Mere Christianity, the Letter from Birminham Jail, the Gettysburg Address, etc.

 

That’s also true, George. Many Christians are “Bible-believers.” But, then again, we have moved further away from what Jesus taught (for he said nothing about the Bible, it didn’t yet exist) into church doctrine. In fact, the gospels have Jesus say that it is the Spirit, not a book, who will lead people into all truth. There is no doubt that the Spirit uses this book to do so, but I’m not convinced that Jesus held to sola scriptura. :D

 

So it makes it difficult, IMO, to define who or what a Christian is. Jesus himself wasn’t a Christian and never used the word. :) The label “Christian” has become, again IMO, “church shorthand” for one who holds to the doctrines/creeds of the church, many of which I don’t hold to. I respect the label for its history and sacredness, but I try not to get too involved in judging whether or not people are or are not Christians. As has been said, what really matters is love, compassion.

 

sbnr

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I think we live in an era when the definition of "Divine" is not agree upon and that makes a definition of Christianity less precise

 

I think there are many Christians who are not interested in Jesus' divine nature or don't that believe that he was born with a divine nature.

 

I am not sure that the difference between the Qur'an, The Book of Mormom, and the Bible is not to be found in inspiration. The difference is that one person wrote the first two and the works of an odd group of authors were gathered together for the Bible. Followers of all three groups have been persecuted and all three groups have shared power wuth governments. I think what makes any of these books special is that we keep reading them.

 

For me, a "basic" definition of Christianity would not include the word "divine." I think, maybe, Christians would be those who have thought about, and responded in a self claimed special way, to Jesus and the Bible.

 

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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Oh my, several good points. I would like to address a couple.

 

"As human beings who enjoy our labels, we are, of course, free to call ourselves anything we like."

 

Well, we have the right. But, if we wish to communicate with others efficiently, we must have common, generally understood definitions. To define every word would entail an endless, recursive task. So, I would say that when we use a word in an unconventional way, it is incumbent on the speaker or writer to explain how their definition differs from the conventional understanding

 

Of course language is designed for ambiguity which sometimes is inadvertent and sometimes deliberate.

 

". . . based upon my studies of the historical Jesus, I suspect that he was a theist."

 

Yes, I think that is very clear if examined on an objective basis. I think we all have a tendency to read our own theology back into the historical person.

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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I think we live in an era when the definition of "Divine" is not agree upon and that makes a definition of Christianity less precise

 

 

I was using the word divine in the ordinary, dictionary meaning:

 

"1a: of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god <divine love> b : being a deity <the divine Savior> c : directed to a deity <divine worship>" (Merriam-Webster Unabridged).

 

Even the metaphors -- like a divine pie -- suggest that something is so good, that it transcends the ability of ordinary human skill.

 

George

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That's been my experience also, Neon. That's why I said definitions are slippery things. ;) Nevertheless, it seems that, at least in Jesus' Jewish mind, his commands concerning love came to two "entities," not just one. At the same time, other biblical writers tell us that we don't truly love God if we don't love one another. My personal opinion is that there are people and groups of people who are "following Jesus" who have never even heard his name, for, as you say, they are living as he did. But Christianity is an evolving religion and, as far as I can tell, there has never been an agreed-upon-by-all definition of what a Christian is.

One thing we can't forget is that Jesus was a product of his time. Jesus lived in a time and culture where there were no atheists back then and everyone believed in some sort of god so it was natural for Jesus to say that loving God was a requirement for following him because there was no other option back then in ancient times when we didn't know as much about the universe as we do today. But now today atheism is a much bigger movement than in the past and atheists are more numerous now so who knows what Jesus would have thought about them? We do know that the gospels record Jesus as telling his apostles that whoever is not against him is with him, not the other way around, contrary to popular belief.

 

I think this is right. However, there must be some basic, minimal feature(s) that distinguish Christian from non-Christian that we intuitively understand. Otherwise the word has no meaning and we would describe everyone who lives according to Jesus' teachings as Christians. This could include devout Muslims, Jews or confirmed atheists.
Wasn't it Gandhi who said
I am a Muslim and a Hindu and a Christian and a Jew and so are all of you.
?
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Wasn't it Gandhi who said ? I am a Muslim and a Hindu and a Christian and a Jew and so are all of you.

 

 

Do you think he meant it literally or figuratively?

 

Nicholas Kristof recently title an Op-ed in the NYTimes, "We are all Egyptians." I don't think he meant we were born in Egypt, have an Egyptian passport or even speak Arabic.

 

George

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I've recently started reading the book, The Gospel of Christian Atheism, by Thomas J.J. Altizer. Thomas J.J. Altizer was one of the prominent influential theologians in the "death of God" theology movement that was popular back in the 70s. His book, The Gospel of Christian Atheism, was the inspiration behind the famous Times magazine covered that asked "Is God Dead?" I don't always understand Altizer because his theology is very complex and confusing but at the same time, there's something brilliant and fascinating about it. If I'm understanding Altizer correctly and I'm probably getting some things wrong, Altizer argues that it's impossible for Christians to return to the original "pure" form of the early church and that not only is it impossible, but it is also mistaken. Altizer says that one of the mistakes of Paul and the early church is while they progressed beyond the old law, they still clung to the old religion and didn't try to escape from the transcendence of God. He criticizes even liberal theologians like Paul Tillich for not being radical enough in their view of God. In Altizer's view, the true grace of God cannot be felt until Christians accept that God took on the form of Jesus and died on the cross of Jesus and that this was an irreversible event and God remains dead. Under Altizer's theology, it is the death of God which frees humans from the demands of a god of law and judgment which are annulled by the grace of God who died on Calvary. I like this one quote from The Gospel of Christian Atheism What are your thoughts on Altizer's concept of Christian atheism?

 

I've not read Altizer but from your precis it seems to me that he's making a lot of assumptions. If the death of Jesus was actually the death of God this seems to presume that there was a God! This gets too convoluted for me. I wonder if Non-theist, might be a better expression than Atheist. I feel I'm a non-theist because I don't hold a particular concept of a God. However I do think of the source of my own intelligence and compassion etc as permeating the cosmos and understand it to be what I call 'Enabling Love'.

 

As for Paul of Tarsus and Paul Tillich being mistaken, I'd prefer to consider their ideas in the light of evolution, which is a principle out of which all things arise, including thought. Paul's ideas evolved as far as they could at the time and some were wonderful. Other evolutionary break throughs in Christian thinking came in their own good time - some minor some, such as the reformation, major. It seems a gross assumption that particular people should have known better. Paul himself recognised that "Now we know in part . . ." (1 Corinthians 13). We know things he couldn't possibly know. Why blame him for what we now call mistakes? I do agree heartily that we can't possibly return to the original 'pure' state of the church - and I speak as an erstwhile member of the Plymouth Brethren!

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As for Paul of Tarsus and Paul Tillich being mistaken, I'd prefer to consider their ideas in the light of evolution, which is a principle out of which all things arise, including thought. Paul's ideas evolved as far as they could at the time and some were wonderful. Other evolutionary break throughs in Christian thinking came in their own good time - some minor some, such as the reformation, major. It seems a gross assumption that particular people should have known better. Paul himself recognised that "Now we know in part . . ." (1 Corinthians 13). We know things he couldn't possibly know. Why blame him for what we now call mistakes? I do agree heartily that we can't possibly return to the original 'pure' state of the church - and I speak as an erstwhile member of the Plymouth Brethren!

 

Good and wise input, Brian. I, too, believe that Jesus, Paul, the disciples, and the early church were all products of their times and religion, as are we. I try (but often fail) to discern, both in faith and in practice, what is worth bringing forward as “timeless truth” and what should be left behind as outdated ideologies and worldviews. There is some of Jesus’ (and much of Paul’s) theology that just doesn’t work for me, that doesn’t reflect how I understand and experience God, myself, and the world around me. Yet there is still much there that does enrich my walk, especially if I don’t take it too literally.

 

This is, as you have suggested, part of honoring the past while not being enslaved to it. In my own journey, I grew weary of the sort of Christianity that always looked to the past for truth and felt that its best days were behind it. To me, progressive Christianity is not about recapturing the glory days of the past, but about being called into building glory days for today and the future.

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