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The Jesus Of History & The Christ Of Faith?


Wonnerful
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Picking up from a prior thread, I have been thinking of the Jesus of History versus the Christ of Faith.

 

Like BillM, I too like the Kingdom ideal (that is if there was apocalyptic Jesus who was mistaken about its immanent arrival as a Yahweh Ruled Kingdom) or if the Jesus Seminar is right about the historical Jesus who saw the Kingdom as a here and now social movement lived in the Now. I like to say Kindome as in treating all fellow humans as if they were kin, which is true based on evolution. Then again, one doesn't need the NT to advocate for peace on earth. In the book Darwin's Sacred Cause, the author's argue that Darwin was motivated to end racism with evolution.

 

My own reading leads me to see the Christ of Faith as Paul's invention. I think Mark based his gospel on Pauline teachings. I think Jesus was a Torah true Jew and James (whether or not he was Jesus' literal brother or not) upheld Jesus' teaching after he died, which was a Jewish Messianic Sect run by James the Just. Many scholars have discussed this and I can give references to anyone who is curious.

 

OK, so first we have Paul which is another story as there are two Pauls, the authentic letters of Paul and the pseudo-letters of Paul. But that's for another discussion. I have already voiced my concerns elsewhere that the authentic Paul was wrong about the end of the world (age) and was anti-life, pro-celibacy, and focused on the evacuation plan (get possessed by the Messiah to gain new spirit bodies for the next realm coming soon to an earth near you). That is not very relevant to me in 2015, you can focus on his egalitarian politics as Borg and Crossan do, but they ignore Paul's, in my view, delusional supernaturalism.

 

Back to Jesus. I still hold those warm feelings about the "Family Friendly / Sunday School Jesus" who had brown hair, flowing beard, and was basically a hippie preaching love and peace. That Jesus is my buddy, I would speak to as a kid and teen. In my 20s I found myself projecting my modern 21st century morals onto this Jesus, as he was the mirror image of my own ethics and ideals.

 

But scholars present Jesus differently.

 

Quick Facts (as I see it) About Jesus:

 

Jesus did not look like a white European with blond hair and blue eyes. According to the Discovery Channel that used science to reconstruct a Jew living at the time of Jesus, he looked more like this image by the BBC, See the last slide here: http://news.discovery.com/history/art-history/what-did-jesus-look-like-131216.htm

 

WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?). Well Jesus was a Jew for Judaism. In the book The Jewish Gospels, author Daniel Boyarin, argues convincingly (to me) that Jesus kept Kosher and advocated every jot tittle of the 600+ rules of Torah. So to be a disciple of Jesus means literally not eating bacon and basically living as a Torah true Jew. See: The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do by Edward G. Dobson.

 

Scholarly consensus, as summarized in the book Zealot is that Jesus was an apocalyptist. Even if one rejects the consensus and goes with the Jesus Seminar, the Seminar admits that the Bible itself presents Jesus as an apocalyptist. The Seminar argues that both John the Baptist and Paul were wrong as apocalyptists, but Jesus rejected apocalypticism. In order to do that they designate about 80% (I forget exact percentage) of the NT to be pure fiction and not going back to Jesus.

 

So one can focus on the Christ of Faith and the fruit of the spirit, etc. But as a modern man living in 2015 I have no idea what it means to follow Jesus after studying the historical Jesus. I am not interested in converting to Judaism and obeying all 600+ commandments. I love bacon for example and see no reason to stop eating it. So realistically, why say I am a follower of Jesus? If one points out the Golden Rule and other teachings, that is not persuasive. For Confucius and Buddha taught the Golden Rule before Jesus. And the Jewish Rabbi Hillel taught nearly all the same things as Jesus. So why follow Jesus over Hillel?

 

When I look back on my own life I have been influenced more in various ways, by masculine role models in movies or TV, to Aristotle, Buddha, Tony Robbins, Joyce Gracie of Brazilian Jiujutsu, Albert Ellis (father of REBT that influenced CBT) Einstein, Darwin, Edison, Steve Jobs (his technology), Dale Carnegie, Steven Covey, and John Gottman, etc. Quite frankly, Jesus advice is mostly for Jews living in the first century. He doesn’t teach anything about how to mange money, retirement planning, dating, romantic relationships, health and fitness, etc.

 

What use is it to hold the minority Jesus Seminar view when most Christians sees the literal Bible Jesus as the real Jesus? I mean if I use the Jesus language of the Jesus Seminar I am at odds with most Christians who believe every word and deed of Jesus in the Bible is literally accurate. We end up speaking past each other just like a Mormon and an Evangelical talk past each other. And my atheist friends wonder why bother. Why even speak that language rather than the unifying language of science, which produces as Carl Sagan says "transgeneration metamind" or what E.O. Wilson calls "consilience."

 

In short, progressive Christianity is my last try at being a Christian. I am holding on for sentimental reasons while my intellect wonders why bother?

 

I am open to any thoughts or discussion or debate on this topic?

Edited by Wonnerful
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I feel a person's experience with truth, religion, no religion, Christianity or no Christianity is the standard to go by so we need to challenge where we are as we move from one experience to another. I don't think the faith matters as we are not really going anywhere, just changing our perspective on the present. Science and philosophy are both useful in explaining the same principles and lessons in different ways as we learn that the world awards and gives us exactly what we deserve. Jesus said, “Whatever you sow you shall reap.” Spirituality is the physics we observe, and science explains it by revealing the workings of cause and effect in the same way that our consciousness exerts a pull on the beneficial and unpleasant forces around us. What we experience in our consciousness is reality and it then is projected in the external world, for example, a person saying he/she loves God, but has a severe aversion to loving everyone is a hypocrite. Therefore, we truly know others by their behavior and actions and not so much by their belief because for some it is easier to fight for what they believe in than to live up to it, in contrast, a spiritual experience lives the truth instead of claiming and declaring it. Thomas Merton a Christian Mystic said the same thing in another way, “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, it is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” I feel atheist also have the same experience, but they just dress it in different clothes that is why we can learn from them and their humanity.

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Wow, Wonnerful, you have so much food for thought in your post. I hope it's okay if we (you and I and others) discuss them as they come to mind.

 

I probably have a very heterodox view of what it means to follow Jesus. Please allow me to set the context. As I'm sure you know, "WWJD" is a very popular slogan in common Christianity (I will use the abbreviation CC in our discussions) which implies, at least to me, that we should imitate or mimic Jesus on some level. Now, I don't have a problem with that in theory, but, as you have correctly pointed out, Jesus was a Jew, both faithful to and challenging to his own faith tradition. It goes without saying that he was a product of his religion and time. It also goes without saying that despite CC's claim that "Jesus lives in my heart", Christians don't do the kinds of miraculous things attributed to Jesus in the gospels (even though he said they would do even greater things). So, logically, these miracles are fabrications of the early church OR people are lying about Jesus being in the hearts. My point being, and Gandhi noted this, Christians are not very much like Christ. On this basis alone, Christians are not very good at "following Jesus" or "WWJD"?

 

Should they (or we) be? Does following Jesus faithfully mean converting to first century Judaism? If so, what kind? Pharisaic? Essene? Zealot? Sanhedrin? In the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he says he came ONLY for the Jews. But by the time we get to Matthew 28, he is sending his disciples into the world. Did he intend for the whole world to convert to Judaism with its 10 commandments and other 637 laws? I think not. In fact, I think the closest he comes to this is to reinforce the two Greatest Commandments.

 

So what MIGHT it mean to follow Jesus in our day and time? Again, I don't think it comes down to mimicry or imitation.

 

But you know from your reading that most "historical Jesus scholars" tend to see Jesus as a Jewish mystic. In other words, Jesus experienced God as a reality in his life. As close as we can come from the gospels, he was centered in God and God's kingdom. And he needed no mediator in order to do this. He claimed a Oneness with the Father.

 

So PERHAPS, just perhaps, the way we can BEST follow Jesus in our time is to develop our OWN Oneness with God, to experience our own unity with Reality or with What Is. In this sense, Jesus is not so much a conduit as he is an example. After all, he prayed that his disciples would be one with God just as he is. Again, it comes down to loving God and loving others. How we each do that will be as unique as we each are. It will be tailored to our personality, our culture, our setting, our contacts. In other words, following Jesus is NOT a formula. Rather, as Jesus said, it comes down to following the Spirit (God's empowering Presence with us) and that will be blowing everywhere like the wind.

 

IF all of this is true, then we are truly free to follow the Spirit where it leads. I cannot and should not tell you how to follow Jesus because that is the Spirit's job and work in you! In this sense, following Jesus is not like walking in his footsteps. Rather, it is experiencing our own relationship with God to where we need no mediator. When/if this happens, then, IMO, we begin to have "the mind of Christ" in us.

 

These notions would, no doubt, sound heretical to CC. But Jesus did teach that his followers were to carry on his work and mission.

 

Okay, enough of me running my fingers for now. :) What do you think about this? How would you "follow Jesus" here in the 21st century?

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By way of contrast, Wonnerful, in my youth "following Jesus" meant being a Christian. For me, this meant reading my bible, praying often, going to church whenever the doors were open, tithing, witnessing to others, keeping my sins confessed, voting Republican, being against abortion and homosexuality, and a whole host of other things that CC ranks up there as quite important if we are going to go to heaven when we die.

 

But, thankfully, I no longer feel or think this way. The "way" that I believe Jesus shows us is the way of connectedness to God and to others i.e. love. Jesus said, according to the gospels, that love is how we would know his disciples. It has nothing to do with the Creeds or a church's Statement of Faith. It's more about how we live than the specific beliefs we cling to.

 

In my journey I discovered that "following Jesus" is something quite different from being a CC. This doesn't mean at all that I think Christians are bad people or that they are not sincere. It simply means that Jesus never taught Christianity (as we know it) or told someone to become a Christian. He taught his Way. And what we call "the first Christians" were, at first, called "followers of the Way." So I tend to think that Christianity has lost something integral down through the centuries. That something, as Marcus Borg wrote about, is its heart. And I think progressive Christianity is taking steps to reclaim that while knowing that our minds need to stay in keeping with 21st century knowledge.

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Thanks for your thoughts Soma, a little off topic but I think I get the gist of what you're saying.

 

BillM, the more I think about this “intellectually” the less satisfied I am. If I seek scholarly consensus and definitive conclusions I end up frustrated, atheistic, and reject all religion and spirituality for instead the security of cold hard reliable logic and evidence. But if I take a “pragmatic” perspective and cherry pick from the Bible like everyone else does, and have what Borg calls a metaphorical Lens, then I find a way to be Christian.

 

I can find a place in Christianity if I see the Bible as a library of discordant views, several authors in argument and disagreement with each other as Thom Stark argues (author of The Human Faces of God). Thus I can join the "argument." Crossan points out in How to Read the Bible and Still be Christian that even the Jesus character, throughout the four Gospels combined, often disagrees with himself and contradicts himself. Crossan points out that each Gospel Jesus often disagrees with the other since each Jesus is a creation of the authors Mark, Mathew, Luke and John with their own theological biases and personality.

 

So if I take a hard line scholarly view or just think in terms of is it historical fact or fiction then yea the whole Bible is problematic. But if I see it through the Lens of Mythos as Joseph Campbell put it, and as an ongoing argument in the Bible itself, and treat the Bible as library not a single authored book, then I can see benefit in joining the argument of these biblical authors.

 

I mean Aristotle embraced slavery but that doesn’t mean I can’t value his Golden Mean between extremes as a good ethical principle. Likewise, even if the biblical writers were wrong about some things doesn’t mean I can find the good they did say. I guess I don’t have to just be an anti-Literalist, I can be a pro-Metaphorical-ist like Borg and J. Campbell.

 

Where I still find a place to value the Christian Mythos, is the way the Bible seems to follow a trajectory, from the god of war to a God of Love (as Spong and Borg emphasize), from God rewards piety in Proverbs to God sends the rain on the good and bad, from martyr-centered apocalyptic Gospels to more mystic-centered (the Kingdom is Now) Gospels like John, etc.

 

So with that it doesn’t matter if Jesus was a Jew for Judaism while I am not interested in converting to Judaism in order to do the WWJD (see my first post). Jesus, as a composite character, is composite God-man, each Gospel author’s projection mixed with possible historical oral tradition from the real Jesus, forming an ideal, the nice healer and strong arguer, a mixed personality just as all Gospel authors had different personalities. And so what if Jesus doesn’t cover retirement planning or how to defend yourself in an alley. Neither does the Buddha or Confucius to my knowledge. I can see Jesus for what he was (a 1st century Jew) and not demand he be what the Fundamentalists claim he is with their book titles like Jesus Solves All Your Problems: Money, Relationships, Fitness. I can see Paul as a product of his day and not demand more of him just as I accept the Buddha’s flaws but value his insights (like mindfulness meditation), etc.

 

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I agree BillM that Jesus is focused on behavior, something CC (do you mean Common Christianity?) overlooks. They project Pauline thoughts onto Jesus, then mix in Martin Luther to create a Jesus at odds with the Jewish Jesus for Judaism.

Edited by Wonnerful
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Wonnerful, I have wrestled with many of the same exact issues you mention. Unfortunately, I can't resolve any of them for you. I'm sure you already know this. All I can do is to say, "Yes, I've walked (and continue to walk) this path and here is where it has lead me." I continue to wrestle because somewhere deep inside I still feel there is a baby left when we throw out the bathwater.

 

I was recently listening to a Borg/Craig debate on the topic of the resurrection i.e. did Jesus literally rise from the dead in some form of a physical body. Right at the start of the debate, Marcus Borg emphasized that he approached the gospels very differently from William Lane Craig and does not see the gospels as complete historical truth. To make a long story short, this means that Borg and Craig are going to reach very different conclusions about the subject because Borg is approaching it metaphorically while Craig takes a literal approach.

 

I do agree with Borg that there was a historical Jesus who was most likely a religious and political revolutionary. And I agree with him (and others) that Jesus later became the "Christ of faith" who can be worshipped, but not followed. And I, in a sense, understand your frustration with not being able to get to the bottom of all of this. To this frustration, all I can offer are two responses:

 

1. Progressive Christians typically learn to live with ambiguity in things. CC (yes, common Christianity or common Christians) wants absolutes. CC wants lines drawn, boxes utilized, Creeds upheld, doctrines completely spelled out, little left open to private interpretation. If CCs can't agree with one another about where the lines are drawn, they go start another denomination. But PCs have studied enough to know that there are few lines and boxes. There is this intellectual side that informs us that our faith (if that is the right word) is pretty much wide open. We know of the contradictions and variations. We aren't happy about them, but that is how ALL human experiences work. To be human is to live with much mystery.

 

2. Which brings me to point 2 in that there is also an experiential side for many of us which also informs our faith. Personally, for me, I no longer worship Jesus. I don't see the bible as fallible and inerrant. I don't believe that Yahweh is the Supreme Being. But I have had a couple experiences of what I call the Reality of God that go way past my frustrations at trying to get to the historical Jesus or what parts of the bible are genuine or the vindictive "god" as the bible portrays him. These experiences have convinced me that God is real and that I (and everyone else) is okay with God. This doesn't mean we don't need transformation. We do. Our world does. But it means that I'm not in jeopardy if I can't find the historical Jesus or if I don't believe everything in the bible or if I don't think Yahweh is a very good understanding of God. The God I experience is beyond our human lines and boxes.

 

So all of this leaves me in a place where there is much ambiguity about things, but where I am okay with that because, in Christian language, God is for me. It doesn't depend upon Jesus' blood or upon some kind of confession of faith that earns me salvation. It depends upon the kind of God I believe in and experience (both head and heart).

 

You wrote:
"Where I still find a place to value the Christian Mythos, is the way the Bible seems to follow a trajectory, from the god of war to a God of Love (as Spong and Borg emphasize), from God rewards piety in Proverbs to God sends the rain on the good and bad, from martyr-centered apocalyptic Gospels to more mystic-centered (the Kingdom is Now) Gospels like John, etc."

 

I think this is correct. But I don't think that it is because God has changed. I think it is because our human understandings of God have changed over time.

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Concerning the Jesus of history, I use 2 main criteria for considering him, his mission, and his Christology:

 

1. First, I consider the work that the "historical Jesus" scholars have done over the past 100 years or so. I don't agree with all of their views or conclusions, but I find their work interesting and worth considering in that they try to place Jesus within his own 1st century Jewish/Roman context. In this endeavor, I try to be as objective as possible.

 

2. Second, which I have to admit is very subjective, I bring my own sense of morality and common sense to the biblical accounts of Jesus. CC tells us that we cannot do this, that we have to take what is on the page as historical fact. But I don't find that particular Jesus to be either sensible or, at times, very moral. Though I am far from infallible and inerrant, I think that at my age I have some sense of common sense (how things really work in the real world) and what it means to be a moral person. So I judge the stories about Jesus according to this criteria. Can anyone actually walk on water? Would it be wise to sell everything I have in order to follow Jesus? Is my epilepsy really caused by demons? In this sense, I guess I am somewhat like Thomas Jefferson, cutting and pasting his own "Jefferson Bible" with the miraculous removed. For CCs, they need the miracles in order to believe. For me, these accounts get in my way and make Jesus less real to me.

 

So I take serious what the Jesus scholars have tried to do. But I also judge the scripture accounts according to how I think the world really works and my own moral compass. Some CCs would assure me that I have created Jesus in my own image. Perhaps that is so. But, as you have said, the accounts vary widely. Unless I walk away from Jesus completely (which I don't want to do), I do find that I reconstruct Jesus, his message, and his mission into what makes sense to me and seems to be a person of good moral character.

 

YMMV

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Interesting conversation! Enjoyed reading it.

BillM in one of your posts you mention that you no longer worship Jesus.

Would you define worship for me?

I think I sort of know what you're getting at, trying to get my head around the concept as this was very central to my Christian faith for most of my life and still is on a heart level.

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That's a good question, Deborah. My answer has to be a bit technical so that I'm not misunderstood. To "worship" something is to attribute ultimate worth to it. It is akin to "worth-ship." If we worship someone or something, that person or thing becomes the center of our lives, perhaps the center to which everything points. And for many Christians, this is everything to them.

 

But in my journey, I find Jesus to be like the finger pointing at the moon. The point is not to worship the finger, but to worship what the finger points to -- the moon. Jesus' ministry and message (except for in the gospel of John) was not about himself, but about God and God's kingdom. He preached that God alone should be worshipped (Matt 4:10; Luke 4:8). In my readings of the gospels, I don't see Jesus soliciting worship from people. He faithfully pointed to God.

 

But Christianity eventually elevated Jesus to God status, eventually coming up with the doctrine of the Trinity. With this doctrine, because Jesus is a person of the God-head, Christians feel it appropriate to worship Jesus as God.

 

Having said all of that, I do find Jesus worthy to be admired, emulated, considered to be a revelation of what a person full of God is like. I just don't think he is God. So I don't worship him.

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Interesting :rolleyes:. When you arrived at this conclusion did it have an effect on your experience of God or even of your experience of Jesus?

I have read some material on the way the church came to believe in the trinity and realize that it was a conclusion they came to systematically because of texts like, the Father and I are one.

But then, so are we. Or, If you have seen me you have seen the Father. But then we're all made in His image. What makes him different to the rest of us?

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To me, Jesus is not different in kind. But he is different in degree.

 

Many (most?) Christians see Jesus as different in kind. To them, he is the God-man. Or he is God appearing to be human (Docetism, which was actually a heresy at one point). But Jesus is something which we are not. He appeared to be human, but he was really God on the inside. Therefore, he can be worshipped, but not followed. One does not follow a god, but one does worship a god.

 

To me, Jesus is a God-filled (or Spirit-filled) human. And I think he was more God-filled than probably any other man that I know. So I think he was 100% human, but he had a degree of sensitivity to God that most do not. Some do. Mystics have a sensitivity to the Spirit. But they are still human.

 

This fits with the NT notion of being filled with the Spirit. The NT does not call us to be God-men or God-women. But it does call us to be filled with God, to follow the Spirit, to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. We can do this as humans.

 

This is why, for me, Jesus is an example of a God-filled human life, not a "God in a man suit". But YMMV. :)

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I'm not sure, Deborah. I do know that the first century Jews, unlike the Greeks, were fairly strict monotheists. No faithful Jew would have considered himself to be YHWH. However, they did have a concept for (and an expectation of) a person who was "God's agent" or "God's anointed" (which is what "messiah" or "Christ" means). When Jesus starts his public ministry, he goes to the synagogue and reads from Isaiah's scroll: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to...." This is his Inaugural Speech. He doesn't say, "I am YHWH" or "I am YHWM the Son." He simply says that God's Spirit (Presence) is upon him to enable him to do his ministry.

 

Now, I have no fear that if I worshipped Jesus, God would strike me down. Christians have done so for 2000 years and will, no doubt, continue to worship Jesus as God. All of our concepts of God are, IMO, idols. It is just that the Trinity makes no sense to me and I can't imagine Jesus saying that he was God. As you've mentioned, he did claim unity with God. But he also prayed that we would experience the same unity.

 

I do think that Jesus was divine. But it is the same kind of divine that we all share in as God's children, God's sons and daughters. I believe that I am a son of God. But I am not God nor the totality of God. My wife can verify this. God is More than just me.

 

But when Christians consider Jesus to be God and all of us to be just sinners, it makes following his Way impossible from the start. I believe we can be "fully human" but also Spirit-filled or Spirit-anointed. We can carry on Jesus work in this world.

Edited by BillM
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I can feel my brain creaking :D A lot of it makes sense to me, but everything is so connected...So if you change one thing as central as the deity of Christ, the rest also needs to be examined.

So for instance, would I be assuming correctly that you also dismiss things like the virgin birth and the reassurection?

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Just be glad you don't have to live with my brain, Deborah! :)

 

Yes, it would mean that I interpret those things metaphorically. Another subject.

 

Jesus never mentions being born of a virgin in any of his teachings. Neither does the apostle Paul, the earliest NT writer. All Paul says is that Jesus was "born of a woman." He mentions no virgin birth, no manger, no wise men, no field with shepherds, no star in the sky.

 

The resurrection accounts in the gospels cannot be harmonized, IMO. The earliest gospel, Mark, has no account of a resurrected Jesus. It simply says that the tomb was empty and that the women left afraid. If you check your bible (any major version), you will find a note in the gospel of Mark that says that Jesus' post-resurrection appearances are not found in the earliest manuscripts. These appearances were added later.

 

Please allow me to say I have walked a similar road to your own, though there are, of course, differences. And I felt, for quite a while, that if I couldn't believe ALL of it, then I couldn't believe ANY of it. It did feel, as you say, all connected. In my opinion, this is because Christianity comes to us as a package deal. It doesn't want us cherry-picking what we believe. It takes the "whole enchilada" approach and insists that we eat it all. And if it comes to us in our childhood naiveté, then we often believe simply because we trust those who have given us the package.

 

As we grow and mature, though, we learn to separate the chaff from the wheat. Or, as the apostle Paul says, "Test all things, hold to what is good." As adults, we develop reasoning skills that enable us to determine what is true from what is false. We no longer accept what our parents taught us just because they said so. We only accept what, to us, seems wise and good. And we also do this with knowledge in the "real world". It's my belief that we should also do this with religious thinks. We should bring reason and skepticism to the bible, to notions about God and Jesus. This doesn't mean that reason is the ONLY way to discern spiritual things (for I've had a few mystical experiences that go beyond reason), but it means that we do ask if our religious views are somewhat coherent. If our religion doesn't make some sort of sense, then we are holding to non-sense.

 

Now, the apostle Paul does say that if Jesus wasn't raised from the dead, our faith is in vain. But there are two important things to notice about this. First, Paul says that it is a spiritual body. What does that mean? No one seems to know. Second, Jesus never taught that his resurrection was key to following him. His virgin birth and his resurrection are not part of the Sermon on the Mount or the Two Great Commandments. It seems to me, though I could be wrong, that Christianity's main focus should be on what Jesus taught, and the virgin birth and his resurrection weren't major themes to him -- though they are to Christians.

 

It is not easy to walk this "progressive" path. It's been hard for me in my ways. But it has also made Jesus and God more believable to me. It's a journey of unlearning and learning. But I think it is worth it.

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BillM,

 

Thanks for your thoughts.

 

I agreed with everything you said. Only whereas you seem to have had a real feeling experience of God, I have not. I have no experience whatsoever that confirms for me personally a deity exists. This has led to an observation. In reading Spong and Borg for example, two prominent progressive Christians, they talk of a palpable experience of God, like mystics speak of. You too mention this. These feelings are absent from my experience. I have experienced nothing supernatural or mystical or otherwise, at least nothing I can’t attribute to emotions or neuropsychology. Borg said he has a mystical experience in the woods. Spong feels the presence of the Divine that transcends traditional-theism. I feel nothing.

 

For me God is a mere metaphor for Reality, and whatever originated the Big Bang or the Multiverse. It is an unknown phenomenon that doesn’t have to be a deity. I see all deities as anthropomorphic projections of the human body writ large into the sky. I’m sure of course that your concept of God is more sophisticated than that, than of tradition theism BillM. Point is I tend to think as a philosophical naturalist, but I want to believe there is “more.” This more as Borg puts it, for me may just be my imagination and The God Part of the Brain (an actual book title). But that’s OK, after reading The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking, I think it is OK to allow for some magic and if my species evolved a God part of the brain that it evolved for a reason for practical use, so why not invoke it if nature formed it in me, right.

 

Regarding your comment that “God hasn’t changed,” if there is a God, then I agree. Humans have changed their perception of God as I mention in my posts.

 

Thanks for the links to CC I look forward to reading them thoroughly, I have skimmed them and they remind me of Spong’s book Why Christianity Must Change or Die and his other books. I like that the author says thus far.

 

What I like about Progressive Chrsitniaty (PC), as you put it BillM, is that there is less boxes and more creative exploration. That, I can be on board with. I like Elaine Pagel’s work in this regard, for it helps PC a lot in that her work shows that there is no one creed, one interpretation, one canon, etc. There is also A New New Testament that just came out which challenges creedal dogmatism or CC. So I get it BillM. I support it. My intellect just wonders if it’s worth it sometimes. I am at odds with head and heart I guess. At a cross roads, I have a split decision in my head sometimes. In other words, I find myself on the side of the atheists who reject all forms of religion on one hand and the religious humanist/PC/spiritual but not religious, etc. on the other. Perhaps this tension does not need to be resolved.

Edited by Wonnerful
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Deborah,

 

Keep in mind that BillM and I are the more analytical type of person (or maybe I should just speak for myself but I think BillM would agree). I also was bamboozled by Mormonism so I am skeptical of appeals to emotion and heart, because that is the bread and butter of Mormonism. For me, if there is a God he gave us a brain for a reason. Then again, sometimes all head and no heart is not good either. We have emotions for a reason too.

 

Having said that, here are my intellectual thoughts on what you wrote.

 

The passages of God and I are one by Jesus (you mentioned in one of your first posts in this thread) comes mostly from the Gospel of John. You find less of that in Mark, the first Gospel written, based on history, as BillM pointed out. Jesus did not become what BillM calls "God in a man suit" till much later in history. In other words, I don’t think the first followers of Jesus (as the Messiah) saw him as The Deity, but as BillM puts it, a "Spirit filled" prophet/messiah. Jesus died around 30, then comes Paul who was at odds with the Jewish Leadership under James (see Paul and Jesus by James Tabor for more details). If you look at what historical scholars have gathered, Paul wrote his letters (that are about 1/3 of the NT) in and around the 50s, before the Gospels were formed (Mark is first written around 70). Paul, like John, does somewhat equate Jesus with God, but not exactly the same way. Scholars point out that for Paul (a monotheist) he appears to form a separation between God and Christ while having God the Father work through the Christ Spirit. Paul’s Spiritual Christ sort of acts on behalf of God as the Messiah as Spirit. His Christ is sort of like the Shekinah of God, his Christ is a Spirit Angel (or angelic-like) that can possess you and dwells in your body, this spirit possession forms in you a new spirit body as your outer flesh body decays while living. When you then die Paul argues that your flesh body is sown in the earth like an acorn, and from there the new spirit body is resurrected as you change clothes so to speak, you put off the flesh and put on the heavenly body since flesh and blood can't inherit the Kingdom Paul envisions. And just as God used to dwell in the temple (in the OT the temple is God's body basically), now God dwells in you through Christ in you, in that the Christ-Spirit dwells in you (thus Paul says paraphrasing, be moral cuz don’t ya know you’re the temples of God). In short, you are spiritually adopted into the immortal family of angels and resurrected humans under God (and are grafted into Israel as a Gentile) when you are possessed by Christ. For details see: 1 Corinthians 11:3–16: Spirit Possession and Authority in a Non-Pauline Interpolation by Christopher Mount (I found this article online for free). For Jesus as an angel see: How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman (I read it at the bookstore). For details on the new spirit body see Paul and Jesus by James Tabor.

 

Point of all of that is that the Jesus of History did not say anything about any of that Paul created. The Jesus of history did not ask to be worshiped, he taught worship of the Father only. For Jesus, there was one God, Yahweh; and as BillM points out he may have felt "Spirit filled" but he most probably did not think he was God. Paul and John are mostly responsible for deifying Jesus, and as Bart Ehrman points out there was an evolution in this process.

 

I recommend you read Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by John Spong. It is one of the first books I read and Spong as a Christian showed me early on that that the Bible is different than how I thought.

Edited by Wonnerful
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I really appreciate your input and point-of-view, Wonnerful. I have to admit that the few "experiences" that I have had may be delusions. I can prove them to no one. I have no evidence. They are idiosyncratic to me. They may even be occasions of my own psyche, as you say, writ large into the sky or into my life.

 

In fact, being more rational in nature, I would be very tempted to write these off as delusions except for two things:

 

1. First, there is overwhelming consensus by many people down through history who have had somewhat similar experiences, though the details differ.

 

2. Second, most mystical experiences don't involve what we might call the supernatural or "God breaking the laws of nature." Most are simply experiences of overwhelming awe and wonder. Certainly they can be experiences of the More or of Oneness or Connectedness. But common to almost all of them is a sense of awe and wonder. Can we attribute these characteristics to just our minds alone? Yes. But maybe, just maybe, it truly is something more. I've only had 3 experiences that I would classify as "traditionally mystic". But I have had many, many other experiences that have filled me with awe and wonder. Listening to an orchestral symphony. Seeing a play. Reading a book that touches my soul in the deepest places. Hearing a song which completely changes the way I see things. Being with friends and family who have loved me when I am the most unlovable. Can these experiences not also be experiences of what we call God?

 

Granted, we all like the light and magic shows, myself included. We like the experiences that leave us with no doubt that God has shown up. We want to see his tracks, so-to-speak. But sometimes, maybe most of the time, God shows up in the still, small voice -- the echo of a whisper. These are no less mystical experiences than the light and magic shows.

 

In keeping with what Borg and Spong (and even the bible), perhaps if you have felt love, you have experienced God. I'm not getting all wishy-washy here. I'm just suggesting that perhaps God is indeed bigger than the boxes religions have put around him/her/it. This guy I really admire once said that you could recognize people who seek his Way by their love for others. Is there any greater experience than that?

Edited by BillM
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To be clear, I am not so self-centered to think that my experience is the end all be all. I do not doubt other's experiences. I can only speak for my own experience. I would love to have a supernatural experience that my rational mind could wrestle with, but I don't even have that. I am not interested in taking away anyone 's supernatural beliefs or experience. Having said that, just to share my perspective, I will respond to your numbered arguments below:

 

1. This doesn't convince me personally, for if we do have a God part of the brain and all our human brains are similar then of course all the experience would be similar, just as we all yawn when another yawns etc. Our brains do all kinds of things universally/globally that we know are illusions.

 

2. I completely argree with awe and wonder. When I stare up at the stars and fathom its un-fathomable-ness, I feel awe and wonder. I like what Car Sagan says on awe and wonder and spirituality. See https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/06/12/carl-sagan-on-science-and-spirituality/

 

I guess I resonate more with this form of spirituality than the religious mystics, yet perhaps both are part of the same God part of the brain.

 

Basically, this concept of God you speak of BillM, I have no issue with. What I get annoyed with is when kids die of cancer daily and some church attributes one kid's recovery to the prayers of the congregation, as if the deity needed more praise before he'd act. But I digress, because Spong, Borg, and Crossan are all NON-THEISTS!

 

Maybe a Tillichian ground of Being does exist, and something MORE does exist, I hope so. I just have no experience of it.

 

Could there be more to Reality than physics? Yes. I have just had zero indication of it. All I see is what Spinoza defined, a determined Universe of cause and effect. I can only relate to Einstain's God which is essentially the Cosmos itslef. In a way this God is comforting, the God of math, if I do this enough number of times I will get a result, etc. The Cosmos is mathematically reliable, at least on earth.

 

Of course, in the face of death or in mourning, do I long for immortality, for a heavenly Father, a deity to embrace me and welcome into a mansion in the clouds. You bet I do. I WANT to believe, Lord help my unbelief (as we read in Mark 9:24).

Edited by Wonnerful
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Wonnerful, I wasn’t really putting forth arguments as much as I was asking, “Have you considered….?”

 

>>2. I completely agree with awe and wonder. When I stare up at the stars and fathom its un-fathomable-ness, I feel awe and wonder. I like what Carl Sagan says on awe and wonder and spirituality.

 

Carl is one of my heroes. I got hooked on his POV through Cosmos and reading “The Demon-Haunted World” and “Contact”.

 

>>Basically, this concept of God you speak of BillM, I have no issue with. What I get annoyed with is when kids die of cancer daily and some church attributes one kid's recovery to the prayers of the congregation, as if the deity needed more praise before he'd act. But I digress, because Spong, Borg, and Crossan are all NON-THEISTS!

 

As you know, I don’t buy into the supernatural theistic God either. When my granddaughter died in a car accident last Xmas Eve, that event pretty much washed me clean of any notions that God is a loving parent in the sky who controls events down here on earth. My daughter pleaded the blood of Jesus all the way to the hospital. It did no good. My granddaughter was pronounced dead on the helicopter on the way to the hospital. There were no guardian angels and despite my wife’s family being united in prayer in Jesus’ name, Moriah still died. To me, the supernatural theistic God is very much a creation of our own minds, wanting someone to fix things for us and control things so we don’t get hurt.

 

>>Maybe a Tillichian ground of Being does exist, and something MORE does exist, I hope so. I just have no experience of it.

 

Well, Wonnerful, that is the kicker of the process theology “God”. If I understand it correctly, the fact they we exist is proof that God exists, for our being comes from God’s Being (not “a being”, but existence itself).

 

>>Could there be more to Reality than physics? Yes.

 

I think so also. I can think of realities such as love, joy, compassion, mercy, tenderness, etc., none of which we can “measure” with our 5 senses. Yes, we experience them. But they don’t strictly line up with scientism (all that exists is the material). Scientism folks say these are nothing but chemical reactions. Maybe so. But they sure influence our lives to a large extent.

 

>>Of course, in the face of death or in mourning, do I long for immortality, for a heavenly Father, a deity to embrace me and welcome into a mansion in the clouds. You bet I do. I WANT to believe, Lord help my unbelief (as we read in Mark 9:24).

 

As do I. But, like you, I see no evidence for this except for anecdotal accounts. We experience the angst of being human and mortal. It is a fearful thing. I truly wish there was a More beyond death but, to date, I’ve seen no convincing evidence. I remain open to it, though.

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Sorry for your loss BillM,

 

I too lost a loved one in the past. I was a full card-carrying atheist at the time and was closed minded about the "More" we've been discussing. My supernatural-theist friends wondered if my atheism made my loved one's death harder to handle. The answer is it made the mourning process easier for me personally. I did not wonder why a deity did not intervene or get upset that one didn't. I did not expect divine intervention so I had no such thoughts. I did not worry about whether or not my loved one got into heaven or not. I could just mourn their death naturally.

 

Nowadays, I add onto my non-theism that "More" as a possibility. I WANT to experience my loved ones again after this life and I envision I will as a personal dream. I also hope it is realistically possible, for maybe our consciousness survives the death of the brain in some way and survives into another dimension (perhaps something like the movie Interstellar). I hope. And if death is the end, that is OK too for it will not be sad for me, as there will be no more me, and no them, we will all peacefully sleep into oblivion. In other words, there won't be anyone left to feel sad at the other's passing, for time will greet us all with the kiss of eternal sleep. But I still hope for that "More" and that is my right.

 

It sounds like we both agree on the gist of this topic. It sounds like we are on the same page BillM, it is nice to find an educated soul that shares your desire to believe and yet retain a healthy skepticism.

 

You wrote:

 

"Well, Wonnerful, that is the kicker of the process theology “God”. If I understand it correctly, the fact they we exist is proof that God exists, for our being comes from God’s Being (not “a being”, but existence itself)."

 

I have not studied the Tillich God directly but indirectly from what Spong and Borg say about it, as well as others summarizing Tillich's view. And your quote above resonates with me. I have been telling friends the last year that "I just assent to Reality. Reality brought me into life and Reality will eventually take me out (as it does all living beings). Reality will do with me what it does." If you replace Reality with the term God, then that is my position. If you define God as Reality or Existence, or the ground of Being, then there is certainly a God, or just God/REALITY. Even if we were brains in a vat, like the movie the Matrix, there'd still be a ground of Being. For me that Mystery is God. I think you'd agree

 

Peace

Edited by Wonnerful
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I can see, Wonnerful, how being an atheist could be somewhat beneficial in a time of loss. Though I am more of a panentheist or a non-theist, I don't have to wonder why God let the tragedy happen or what God's reasons for it are or how "all things work together for good for those who love God." And, like you, I don't worry about whether Moriah, being only 5, accepted Jesus as her personal savior of not in order to enter the pearly gates. That is a non-issue for me.

 

Yes, being human there is a part of me that would enjoy seeing her again. As you say, perhaps something survives, we don't yet know. I remain open to it. But, to be quite frank, it makes me sick to my stomach when my well-meaning family says, "God needed another angel in heaven" or "God had his reasons for calling her home" or "We know she is in a better place." These are all statements of faith with no evidence behind them except for folklore, things we tell ourselves in futile efforts to make the loss bearable. As painful as it is (and it is), I would rather stare this straight in the face and say, as you have, "Reality has brought this along. Life happens. Death happens. It is simply how Reality works." This doesn't mean that I deny an afterlife or the possibility of being with Moriah again. It just means that I'm not going to assert what I don't know. I don't mind if others hold to this folklore as long as they don't become too pushy with it. I tend to think that faith is often an excuse that people use to avoid dealing with Reality. I know I did.

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Hello Bill and Wonnerful (I always read that as wonderful :P, which I'm sure you are too ;))

 

My goodness, where to start! First of all, thank you both for sharing your insights and stories.

 

It is true that cherry picking is frowned upon by fundamentalists, but I recognise that we all cherry-pick...from fundamentalist to liberal.

And so I also find myself cherry picking from PC and from your posts.

 

All these new ideas can be a little overwhelming so I find myself picking through the information with my gut feeling, while at the same time letting my mind process and present the information to my 'inner cherry picker' :rolleyes:. So everything you two have written about the divinity of Jesus appeals to my mind and in summary I would agree that the concept of the trinity developed over time. Like the idea developed over time that slavery is contrary to the heart of God ... an idea that is now commonly accepted. Looking at the over-all picture presented in the Bible as I see it currently, I can understand why the church has come to the conclusion that Christ was God incarnate.

But as my dad likes to put it, we are all little incarnations of God. So in that sense I have no problem with Jesus having been one with the Father or him being divine...perhaps we all are on some level? If only because we have the breath of God in our lungs...that already means that our spirit, our breath came from the divine / is divine.

 

So what I'm trying to say is, all the attemps to 'un-deify' Jesus, in my mind, are attempts at understanding our own connection with the Divine. CC somehow portrays Jesus as perfect in comparison to the rest of us being scum and utterly carnal. I have since discarded this comparison and I think intuitively most CC'ers would reject this view as well...instinctively we and they know that human life is utmost precious and anything but scum! So valuable in fact that according to CC God him/her/itself came into our midst to meet us in our pain and show us a better way, namely sacrificial love.

So perhaps there is not such a big difference between Jesus and us. As Bill said in one of his other posts in another thread (which I can accept), perhaps Jesus is not different in kind, just different in degree. A kind of first fruits.

 

Perhaps by elevating humans to the divine I am attempting to let Jesus keep his divinity status ;) ... the reason I do this is because of my inner cherry picker (in other words, very personal!). Unlike you, Wonnerful, I have had 'mystical', emotionally moving (too close to Mormonism?) experiences that I attributed to Christ, perhaps because I have been conditioned to assosiate that 'feeling' with that name. And that is why my mind is also at odds with my heart. My heart tells me that there is something to this Jesus...a feeling I can't shake. My head is tasting different theories concerning the person of Jesus, but its my heart/spirit that make the defining desicions as I go along. So you can blame my heart, and the assosiations with Christ that have been handed down to me, for the fact that I haven't managed to discard the historical Jesus yet.

 

Now of course all those experiences...whether they were 'just' neuropsychological and due to a 'god-gene' or not...they have affected me and influenced me. If I believe in the existance of God, which I do, then why attribute (some of) the experiences to Christ? Why not lump it all together under 'Divine'? Perhaps that is my human need to make the divine relatable?

But then, not every one of my experiences has been specifically defined by the 'feeling of Christ'. Some 'felt like' the Holy Spirit. Some felt like 'the Father' and others still felt transcendent, where I didn't associate them with a name...more along the lines of "I AM that I AM". Where all those experiences 'just in my head' with some biological/evolutionary advantage? Perhaps, but they don't 'feel' like that. It feels like there is more significance to them, would you agree Bill?

 

Why have Bill and I experienced something that we call 'mystical' and Wonnerful has not (according to Wonnerful)? Or do Bill and I name certain experiences as mystical, experiences that Wonnerful also has, but simply labels them natural/biological etc? Wonnerful you mention that you would want it to be true, that you would want there to be more. But your brain and experience tell you there's nothing beyond the natural. Is that where the tension stems from that you mention in your post?

And perhaps you're right, perhaps you don't need to resolve the tension, but in that sense I think I agree with Bill that the very simple, but profound, experiences of love and life are divine, while at the same time working within the natural. Perhaps the natural is divine?

Along the lines of 'everything is spiritual'? We live and move and have our being in the divine? In which case you can stop and marvel and wonder at the smallest most natural things...a butterfly, a couple holding hands, an older brother protecting his younger sister, a dead flower that still manages to catch the eye with a certain kind of beauty...life. As you labelled it Bill: panentheism.

 

I'm sorry Wonnerful if I'm giving you the feeling that I'm trying to resolve the tension for you. In a way your questions are mine too, so in fact I am trying to resolve my own tensions, and may never succeed. Perhaps we both have to resign to that?

Edited by Deborah
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