Thanks to a reference from SocietyVs, I found an article in Maclean's magazine titled "The Jesus Problem". The article discusses some of the debates that have emerged about the future direction of Christianity in the light of modern scholarship about the historical Jesus.

The article mentions Gretta Vosper, the United Church of Canada pastor who I referred to in my previous posting:

When Gretta Vosper looks at the emerging historical Jesus she sees no rock on which to erect a church. "In trying to capture exactly what he said, we have found, quite by accident, that what he said has little power." But when she weighs up the Jesus legacy in terms of its validity and usefulness for the church today, she considers the entire Gospel tradition — not just the Jesus meek and mild of the scholars and spiritual seekers, but the divine Christ too. It's all part of the Christian heritage in her view. If the liberal church is going to refuse to face the implications of its own beliefs, then what matters is what is in the Bible, what has been proclaimed truth for centuries: "If we say we follow Jesus without clarification, we allow the assumption that we agree with all of his ideas, including the bad ones."
At first glance, this seems to represent the flip side of the "all or nothing" equation that I have objected to for a long time. Vosper's argument here seems little different from what fundamentalists often claim, which is that Christianity is a complete package, that you can't try to forge a theology that is built around the life and teachings of Jesus without also taking the entire orthodox package as is. Her answer, unless I am misunderstanding her (which is possible), is to instead forge a faith that divorces itself entirely from the theological traditions of Christianity while still using the name "Christian" for marketing reasons.

Why does she choose to use the word "Christian" despite having no particular connection to any aspect of the Christian faith traditions?
Because, she replies, her Christianity, like that of the Ebionites, is more a way of acting than a way of belief. "Being a Christian is about taking out of my faith tradition those things that are of value in my effort to live right with myself, with my relationships and with my planet," Vosper says. "And removing those things that are toxic."

Nor is the name essential, at least to Vosper personally, except that maintaining the word Christian is encouraging for other non-theistic churchgoers.
Fair enough. I'm all for removing those things that are toxic from a faith. And I'm not that concerned about her use of the term "Christian". However, I do think that she seems to be arguing for more than just removing the toxicity from faith, since she seems to argue that the entire faith tradition itself is a sort of sick body with inherently toxic elements that cannot be purged without killing the patient. This is what I mean by a rigidly defined, all-or-nothing depiction of a faith tradition. Traditions are more fluid, more dynamic, and more open to evolution than she seems to give them credit for. It is true that liberal Christian churches are often far too coy about biblical and historical scholarship. But I think the solution is to encourage greater honesty about Christian mythology, which has deeper resonance beyond their literal acceptance than Vosper seems to give it credit for.


SocietyVs said...

I tend to agree with you on the traditions thing - they can change and can be helpful. I am also not one for going as far as Gretta does but I am also not a big fan of orthodoxy so I am travelling the same road as Gretta (and I think I would enjoy her services).