Doubt, but don't doubt too much

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During Gene Robinson's interview with Terry Gross yesterday, he said the following about the debate within the Anglican Communion over his status as an openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church:

In the end, I don't want anyone to leave, and I don't believe we need to break communion over this. You know, we're not arguing about the divinity of Christ, we're not arguing about the Trinity, or the resurrection--those essential things that draw us together. We are arguing about something that is inessential, and that is the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church.
While I appreciate the point he is making, it also confirms my general disappointment with a lot of what constitutes "progressive" or "liberal" Christian thinking. By insisting that the Trinity or the Divinity of Christ are "essential things" in Christianity in general or the Anglican Communion specifically, he highlighted an irreconcilable gulf that remains between myself and mainline Christianity.

I hear a lot about this phenomenon called "progressive Christianity", but where is it? I see lots of web sites and blogs and churches proclaiming their progressive credentials. Churches sponsor talks by progressive Christian theologians like Marcus Borg. They sponsor book discussions about Borg's writings. They sponsor seminars like "Living the Questions". But ultimately, I'm not sure what it all means.

For the second Sunday of Easter this year (March 30), the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary was the story of "doubting Thomas" from the Gospel of John. It is interesting to read and hear online sermons from liberal pastors when they discuss this passage. Typically, liberal pastors like to proclaim their openness to doubt as a legitimate feeling. They contrast themselves with hard line fundamentalism, which has no use for doubt and which relies so heavily on certainty. Doubt, we are told, is perfectly natural and reasonable, especially when one is faced with extraordinary claims. The thing is, though, that there is always "but" at the end of this--you can doubt, but in the end as a Christian you naturally must come down on the side of accepting that Jesus was literally resuscitated from the dead. Thomas doubted, after all, but ultimately he put his hands through those crucifixion scars and he believed.

The skeptical Christian, we are told, doubts but still sides with orthodoxy. It's okay to doubt, but don't doubt too much. Ultimately, you have to accept that Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. You have to accept that Thomas put his hands in Jesus's hands and side. You have to accept what later church councils said about Jesus's supposed divinity and place within the Godhead. Those are, we are told, "essential things."

44 comments:

Matthew said...

Seeker,

>> "The skeptical Christian, we are told, doubts but still sides with orthodoxy. It's okay to doubt, but don't doubt too much....You have to accept what later church councils said about Jesus's supposed divinity and place within the Godhead. Those are, we are told, "essential things." <<

Anyone who favors certain views (beliefs) over other ones is orthodox. No matter the duration of that tradition, anyone who excludes ways of believing, or of seeing the world, holds to an orthodoxy. This is the orthodox 'human' position, the position that Jesus challenged. It's a position of JUDGING. A way of picking and choosing how Reality should be viewed or approached.

The 'other way' (here's that narrow way again) is to not judge...to not decide what is 'correct', but to trust in Reality and follow. You don't have to work out theories to gain control over anything, just BE and participate with what IS.

Jesus called people to accept what seemed 'unacceptable', because God accepts those things!! He wasn't telling people to believe anything particular, but to trust in God and follow his lead.

Matthew

Connor said...

"The 'other way' (here's that narrow way again) is to not judge...to not decide what is 'correct', but to trust in Reality and follow. You don't have to work out theories to gain control over anything, just BE and participate with what IS."

Does this make sense to anybody?

Chris said...

The Trinity (of all things!) is essential, but how we are to love our neighbors is no big deal?!?

Sigh... not that I'm surprised. Just disappointed. As usual.

Gary said...

Seems to me to be the same-old political game of selectively choosing your battles. Robinson seeks only one reformation - that of the attitude towards gays and lesbians - while maintaining the pillars of the dominant hierarchy. And you're right, the same thing can be said for the many supposed progressive ministers, who feel the need to maintain the status quo even while the ground under them gradually crumbles. Given the average age population of the mainline churches, I wonder what will become of them.

Grace said...

Mystical,

It means they are spiritually confused, and have become inconsistent and illogical in their thinking.

I know exactly what you are talking about, and can actually emphathize. Some of these folks who feel that the nature of God as trinity, and the incarnation are essential to Christian faith would brizzle at any criticism of Marcus Borg. And, yet Borg is about as orthodox, as I"m unitarian.

Makes no sense, for sure.

One thing, Mystical, that I can say about you is that, by God, you are consistent in your reasoning. There is no confusion in my mind about where you're coming from at all.

I definitely can't say this about many others sharing on these progressive blogs for sure.

Frank said...

The problem right now is that there isn't much of an alternative to orthodoxy. You can pronounce that you don't believe in something like the resurrection, but what do you put in its place? The new narratives (or new versions of the old) have not been formed, yet. It is hard to go to church and rally around what we don't believe.

And if you do have another explanation, it would be the whims and thoughts of an individual, which would not make sense to gather as a faith community and organize around. I'm not against a plurality of voices in a faith tradition, but there has to be some kind of axis point.

Theologians are a closed circle. Theologians can gather around to hear the latest paper of fellow theologians, but the average church goer would not find much to rally around or build a tradition on from the ever-changing ramblings of theologians. And theologicns absolutely need the groundedness of these "real folk" to contribute to theology to keep their thoughts from getting top heavy. The day when progressive theology can capture the hearts of people the way orthodox has is the day when it has a fighting chance.

Faith traditions have a very unique way of evolving that often eschews inidividual opinion, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. You can't just to off by yourself somewhere and think up a new church for yourself and hope to measure up to a longstanding faith tradition.

I am sympathetic to progressive theology, and there isn't a day that goes by where I don't change my opinion at least 10 times on everything in the Nicene Creed and every other tenet of Christian faith. But theological beliefs are crashing around us faster than another narrative can be woven out of the old that is satisfying. And frankly, the more I learn about traditional orthodoxy, the more I am impressed by the sheer depth of it, so I am hesitant to start chucking anything off the wagon before I know what it is I'm chucking. I would like to see progressive theology evolve out of traditional orthodoxy in a natural, faith-filled movement. Only then will it stick. And besides, the more I learn about orthodoxy the more I am convinced it contains everything any progressive would ever want, but it just needs to be re-interpretted in a modern voice so people can access it better.

Jaume said...

I, for one, agree with what bishop Gene Robinson is saying here. Robinson is not talking about his mystical search for truth and meaning. He is talking about what "draws us together" as Christian. He is thus giving the answer to the central question of Christianity. As I argued elsewhere, the central issue for Christianity (although perhaps not for a few individual Christians) is not "how should I behave" or "why should we be accepting". The central question is "Who is Jesus". Therefore he argues about the Trinity and the resurrection, because it IS essential: Christianity exists to give a response to the question "about" Jesus. If you do not really care who Jesus was, then you may be a secular person, or a Jewish person, or a Muslim... Unitarianism remains Christian while it still struggles to say something, to have a core conviction, about Jesus' nature, not about his words or deeds.

Mystical Seeker said...

I would like to see progressive theology evolve out of traditional orthodoxy in a natural, faith-filled movement. Only then will it stick.

Frank, I wonder what it will take to get progressive theology to evolve into its own movement. I agree that it's not there yet.

Sometimes new religious movements have to split away from the old ones to become viable. Considering examples from another religion, there is Mahayana Buddhism that split from from Theravada, or Pure Land Buddhism from Mahayana, and so forth. These new forms of Buddhism recognize their kinship with the other forms, but they also recognize what is unique about them as well.

If you do not really care who Jesus was, then you may be a secular person, or a Jewish person, or a Muslim...

Jaume, isn't it possible to be a Buddhist without really caring who the Buddha was? I think it is possible to look to Jesus's life and message as the basis of one's religion.

Unitarianism remains Christian while it still struggles to say something, to have a core conviction, about Jesus' nature, not about his words or deeds

But what it says about Jesus's nature is unremarkable. Unitarianism says that Jesus's nature is not much different from anybody else's--he is full human, period. That, to me, is a non-statement about Jesus's nature. It is no different from what you'd say about anyone else. My mother, my neighbor down the street, and the people who collect my garbarge are also not God. Saying that someone is not God is not really saying anything. The people whose views on Jesus's nature matter for purposes of discussion are the ones who assign to Jesus a qualitatively different character than the rest of the human race.

And even if one accepts that Christianity requires making some sort of statement about Jesus's nature, there is no reason why one has to accept Gene Robinson's definition as the one we have to accept for that purpose. Saying that we must make a statement about Jesus's nature doesn't mean we have to be Trinitarians.

Mystical Seeker said...

Matthew and Connor,

What both of you said gets back to the idea of faith as being faithfulness to God, rather than being the parroting of a set of creedal statements about what you must affirm.

The Trinity (of all things!) is essential, but how we are to love our neighbors is no big deal?!?

Chris,

Yes, didn't Jesus reduce it all down to loving God and loving your neighbor? How did these other doctrinal things become so essential?

Robinson seeks only one reformation - that of the attitude towards gays and lesbians - while maintaining the pillars of the dominant hierarchy.

Gary, yes, that just about sums it up, as far as I can tell.

OneSmallStep said...

Mystical,

** Saying that someone is not God is not really saying anything. The people whose views on Jesus's nature matter for purposes of discussion are the ones who assign to Jesus a qualitatively different character than the rest of the human race.**

Even saying that Jesus isn't God isn't the same as dismissing Jesus. There can still be a huge impact. It's one thing for someone to say that if Jesus isn't God, Christianity loses all meaning for them. It's another thing for a person to say that if Jesus isn't God, Christianity loses all meaning for everyone.

Doug Burkhart said...

Mystical,

Well, I am an agnostic above all else. Having said that, let me add that I am a hopeful one. Holding an opinion for the reason that it is a tradition, rather than because it is logical and reasonable is against everything I am. An orthodox mind is a closed mind.

JP said...

"An orthodox mind is a closed mind."

It's that black and white, eh?

One who holds to orthodox christian teachings, one who believes in what the faith has always taught has a closed mind?

What is said of one who takes the faith like a grocery store? Picking and choosing what pleases the individual.

What Robinson said is true. There are core essentials concerning the practice of Christianity, denying the essentials is denying the faith.

Mystical Seeker said...

An orthodox mind is a closed mind.

I tend to agree with you, Doug. Orthodoxy is "right thinking", it is an attempt at controlling and limiting what is legitimate and illegitimate, it is a an exercise in power. These supposed "essentials" of faith that Robinson defined are only "essential" because the institutions of organized religious orthodoxy said they are. So then people who don't think like that are marginalized and excluded.

It also leads to an "either-or" kind of thinking, since it insists that you either take this package presented to you as a whole, or else you are not a Christian. This is a very rigid way of thinking. And what it leads to is that as soon as anyone doubts any part of this package of "essentials", they think that they have to reject the faith as a whole.

JP said...

"Orthodoxy is "right thinking", it is an attempt at controlling and limiting what is legitimate and illegitimate, it is a an exercise in power"

Come on, isn't orthodoxy simply what christianity has always taught concerning matters of the faith? With orthodox christian teaching, you have folks, like Borg and Spong re-defining Christianity to the point that its no longer recognizable and no long christian. Orthodoxy is important otherwise "truth" in the matters of faith/doctrine are up to each individual. A "whatever floats your boat" mentality.

Without the traditional teachings that have always sprung from the christian tradition how would you define a christian? Where is the line in the sand drawn?

JP said...

should say without orthodox teaching

Connor said...

"These supposed "essentials" of faith that Robinson defined are only "essential" because the institutions of organized religious orthodoxy said they are."

I know we have had this discussion before but at some point I think some kind of view as to what constitutes being a Christian needs to be put forth otherwise it is a fairly meaningless label and may already have become so in our society.

If you ask someone what constitutes being a Christian and they dare to venture forth an idea, then they have defined some sort of orthodoxy .

You express frustration with how the progressive label is often used (and rightfully so in my opinion) but this is itself a form of orthodoxy.

JP said...

I agree with you connor, hence, my question on what exactly is a christian? Has it been boiled down to, "Christian: One who thinks Jesus (whether a historic person or myth) is a pretty neat guy".

Mystical Seeker said...

Come on, isn't orthodoxy simply what christianity has always taught concerning matters of the faith?

No. First of all, if you look at the early history of Christianity in its first three centuries, it encompassed a diverse body of beliefs. Ultimately, one theology came to triumph, established a set of creeds to codify this triumphant set of beliefs, and used force and suppression to prevent other beliefs from being expressed. Picking one stream of thought out of many and calling it "orthodox" then became a way of legitimizing the victors and stripping the vanquished of credibility. It was an exercise in power. This exercise in power continued on from that time period. When Michael Servetus proposed a unitarian theology, he was burned at the stake by Calvin. Orthodoxy is just a means by which one particular theology triumphs over others.

Without the traditional teachings that have always sprung from the christian tradition how would you define a christian? Where is the line in the sand drawn?

Why do we need lines in the sand? The whole idea that you have to define such lines seems to come from an idea that one religion is "right" and others are "wrong", so you have to make sure that you establish boundaries between true religion and false one. But this is the wrong approach to take. Is Pure Land Buddhism not legitimate Buddhism because it believes that meditation or other acts of piety are not a path to salvation? Despite its fundamental difference with other Buddhists on this point, you can draw a straight line from other forms of Buddhism to that one. The point is that the boundaries between faiths are a lot fuzzier than the proponents of orthodoxy would like to believe, and trying to provide a precise definition of who is and isn't a Christian is a meaningless and fruitless endeavor.

You express frustration with how the progressive label is often used (and rightfully so in my opinion) but this is itself a form of orthodoxy.

The difference is that I have never claimed that progressive theology should assume for itself the sole role of defining what is and isn't Christian. I recognize diversity in Christian thinking. The same can not be said for the proponents of orthodoxy.

Connor said...

"Why do we need lines in the sand? The whole idea that you have to define such lines seems to come from an idea that one religion is "right" and others are "wrong""

It can be about right and wrong but it can also be about being able to have a conversation. Also, right and wrong can be important especially if the faith is making claims about morality.

- Can we not reject extremist Islam?

- When I say that I think creationists are wrong about evolution I actually mean they are wrong and not that our views are different but both just a valid.

A fundamentalist and a progressive may differ on what constitutes a Christian and we may rightfully say that neither has the right to impose the correct view. Still, for the sake of human communication , lines are drawn.

We are at some kind of intellectual impasse. I think we may be both missing what the other is saying.

Grace said...

But, Mystical, you are seeing this from a certain relativistic bias. Others feel that Christian orthodoxy simply reflects the apostolic witness, and the church ultimately came to reject these other views because they were seen to be false, and inconsistent with this witness.

What you see as an arbitary exercise of power, others interpret as God's spirit ultimately leading the church to truth.

I don't feel that anyone has a mind that is totally open to everything. We all reflect a bias, a way of framing reality. Be honest, Mystical, how truly openminded are you to Christian orthodoxy, the historic witness of the church as ultimate truth?

Can you see what I'm saying, Myst?

Gary said...

Mystical,

Orthodoxy is just a means by which one particular theology triumphs over others.

That whole response was beautifully said, I fully resonate with your thinking.

Grace, if you are seeing through the perspective that the process of canonizing and orthodoxy was God-inspired, you seem to be taking a much more interpretive approach than to consider the historical and political motives. From our view of history, it is completely reasonable to perceive triumphalism at work in the formation of church doctrine.

At this stage of history, orthodoxy seems to do more to divide rather than unite people of faith. Prior to the formation of Christianity as an official religion, it was known as a 'way'. The same can be said of Buddhism. I am much more comfortable as a follower of 'The Way' than as an adherent to a set of formulations.

OneSmallStep said...

** Also, right and wrong can be important especially if the faith is making claims about morality.**

But it seems that the methods of lines used in Orthorox Christianity really have nothing to do with morality. The two commandments that Jesus summed up where to love God with all one's heart, and to love one's neighbor. That's not in the creeds. Nor is the Golden Rule.

Creeds tell me what someone might believe. That tells me nothing about the behavior. If John Calvin's creeds had focused on the two great commandments, rather than the creeds, how likely is it he would've burned a "heretic?"

If we say that religions determine right and wrong based on creeds ... aren't we then redefining morality? The orthodox creeds don't make one moral. A determination that all people deserve to be treated well because they are made in the image of God does make one moral.

What I'm seeing in Mystical's approach is focusing more on a critique of experiences. If you have doubts about certain othrodox creeds, and eventually conclude that those creeds are wrong, *but* still encounter the God you see in the Bible, you will be told by orthodoxians that your experience is wrong -- an entire judgement call placed on your experiences, by people who have not had those experiences. It's almost like being told that rather than someone will come meet you, you have to get to a certain point before the other side even bothers to show up.

Connor said...

onesmallstep,

I wasn't really referring to any specific Christian orthodoxy just pushing back against the idea that one can speak of Christianity without somehow drawing lines around what it is and therefore just maybe excluding somebody.

"you will be told by orthodoxians that your experience is wrong -- an entire judgement call placed on your experiences"

So what. Get over it. By not believing the creeds one is in fact telling the creed believer that they are wrong. Is any thing credited to "my experience of God" up for judgment?

Mystical Seeker said...

Grace,

Others feel that Christian orthodoxy simply reflects the apostolic witness, and the church ultimately came to reject these other views because they were seen to be false, and inconsistent with this witness.

Many of the theological accretions that made their way into the Nicene Creed came long after the apostles. The so-called "apostolic witness" is whatever the winning side decided. Besides that, however, the fact is that the church "came to reject" certain views after a period of political intrigue, violence, and intervention by the Roman Emperor. And what about those Christian bishops of the late fourth century who didn't agree with the Anathasius gang? Were they not also part of the church? Or does the "church" only include those who happen to be on the winning side of a theological conflict?

The winners get to write history, don't they?

Gary,

At this stage of history, orthodoxy seems to do more to divide rather than unite people of faith.

I agree. Orthodoxy is by its nature exclusionary in nature. An inclusive theology admits that Christianity is a diverse source of many kinds of theological affirmations, and shifts its focus away from the notion that one must conform to a fixed set of affirmations in order to be counted as "in" by the gatekeepers.

If you have doubts about certain othrodox creeds, and eventually conclude that those creeds are wrong, *but* still encounter the God you see in the Bible, you will be told by orthodoxians that your experience is wrong -- an entire judgement call placed on your experiences, by people who have not had those experiences.

OSS.
I like that word "orthodoxians". :) You make a good point. Creeds are not about the religious experience, they are simply a human (and therefore flawed and incomplete) way of characterizing religious experiences. Many people share in a faithfulness that is derived from the Christian traditions, as recorded in the Bible. No one has the right to decide that others have the incorrect faith simply because their characterization of that experience is different. This is gatekeeping at its worst, a case of the exercise of power.

I think your point about the loving God and loving others is especially pertinent. If Jesus said that these two things were the essence of the faith, then in my view he said something quite remarkable, and I would love to see that trump all the rest of the crap that gets piled on top of Christian theology about the Trinity, the resurrection, and the rest.

Connor said...

Maybe I have been looking at this too much as a semantic issue, but I do think the semantic issue is important to some extent.

If two people's idea of what constitutes a Christian differ then one excluding the other is not as big an issue. The excluded person is not being excluded from what their view of the faith is. Only when both view what constitutes a Christian as the same and then one excludes the other should one cry foul.

Grace said...

But, Mystical and Gary, can all points of view be regarded as equally true and valid. The Ebionites, and later gnostics were saying something very different than the church fathers who claim to represent the apostolic witness.

The affirmation of the Nicene Creed is an attempt to be faithful to this witness centuries later.

If I as an orthodox Christian accept the reality of the incarnation, and also that God's creation is good, then how am I able to affirm other viewpoints as being equally true that reject, and even scorn this?

Where is the line between being exclusive, and simply thinking and responding in a reasonable, and coherent way, caring about truth, and speaking that in love?

Mystical Seeker said...

The Ebionites, and later gnostics were saying something very different than the church fathers who claim to represent the apostolic witness.

The affirmation of the Nicene Creed is an attempt to be faithful to this witness centuries later.


It was certainly a self-serving claim to assert that, among the many theologies that emerged and evolved over the three centuries after Christ, theirs and theirs alone was the heir to the so-called "apostolic witness", and that all the accretions that they put onto Christianity in the previous three centuries were true to the original faith while other theologies were not. Nicene Christianity no more dropped out of the sky in 30 AD than its opposing theologies did. All of the diverse Christian theologies that sprung forth claimed to go back to the original faithfulness of Jesus. But the fact is that religions are always characterized by diversity and evolution.

There was diversity in Christianity from the beginning. Lots of different theologies sprung forth and evolved after Jesus died. One of those branches of Christian theology eventually came to associate itself with the very Empire that killed Jesus and then was able to suppress the other theologies and then claimed that it, and it alone, was the sole representative of this so-called "apostolic witness". It was a lie, but a useful lie, used by orthodoxy to claim power for itself and to give itself the right to suppress other forms of the faith. The victorious religion of the fourth century AD was itself a product of debate and evolution in Christian thinking, but it could pretend that it and only it got to claim the mantle of "apostolic witness". The term "apostolic witness" is thus a convenient term that helps to bolster this lie.

Its final victory was a political one as much as a theological one, that took place over decades during the fourth century AD. After much wrangling, intrigue, violence, and Imperial Roman intervention, they came up with a product that it saw as the pinnacle of three centuries of theological evolution and debate. Christians up to that point had not yet settled whether Jesus was divine. Bishops and popes had different opinions about this. And then, all of sudden, once a decision was made, it was pretended that this arrived at conclusion was true to a so-called "apostolic witness" going back three centuries earlier. This is rewriting history in a way that would have made Stalin proud.

The whole idea that only one emerging theology among the many that evolved and developed after the death of Jesus represented the "apostolic witness" is a way of denying the reality of that diversity. When you said that "the church" came to reject certain views, the fact is that it was a bitterly divisive church that finally settled the question by the victory of some bishops over other. So it really wasn't "the church" that decided this, but a part of the church that was able to vanquish another one. Yet those bishops who opposed Anathasius were also part of the same church. So it is simply not true that "the church" settled this question, so much as that one part of the church decided it for the rest of them. But the losers in those disputes were also part of the church as well.

As I said before, the victors get to write history. It is one of the perks that comes with winning.

Mystical Seeker said...

And, by the way, one of those theological accretions that I refer to is the doctrine of the Trinity, which Christianity could not settle upon once and for all until three centuries after Jesus died. Lots of Christians, including bishops in the church, did not subscribe to this doctrine up to that point. And yet, according to Gene Robinson and lots of other modern-day Christians, this is an essential tent of the faith. This is what is so bizarre--an essential tenet of the faith was not even defined as such until three centuries after Jesus died. So large numbers of people in the Christian church from the time of the faith's founding until three centuries later did not even subscribe to what we are now told is an "essential" part of the faith! This illustrates just how problematic, to the point of absurdity, this matter of establishing a doctrine like that of the Trinity as "essential" really is.

When the winners evolve their theologies, they are just following the Holy Spirit. When the losers do this, they are violating the "apostolic witness". How convenient.

Connor said...

"When the winners evolve their theologies, they are just following the Holy Spirit. When the losers do this, they are violating the "apostolic witness"."

I think you may not be giving Grace's view a fair shake. You have put forth a fine case to be suspect of the orthodox conclusions. That is fair and has its place. But why say that someone that holds to the orthodox conclusions or "essentials" should accept obviously conflicting views as valid and equal. Don't join the NRA and show up to meetings and complain that all the people are for gun rights.

Grace said...

Mystical,

In the end, there were only two bishops who stood against the determination of Nicea. The Nicene Creed was almost universally accepted as faithful to the apostolic witness by the church.

Oh, Mystical, I'm not the one to convince you, am I?

God bless!

Gary said...

the very Empire that killed Jesus and then was able to suppress the other theologies and then claimed that it, and it alone, was the sole representative of this so-called "apostolic witness".

That's probably the most crucial point, and it begs the question, how do you view this process as God-inspired, particularly given that the church had taken the very form that Jesus opposed only a short time earlier? The agreement amongst the priesthood seems more indicative of power-pressure than spiritual consensus.

Mystical Seeker said...

In the end, there were only two bishops who stood against the determination of Nicea. The Nicene Creed was almost universally accepted as faithful to the apostolic witness by the church.

Grace, you are using a coerced unanimity to prove that the entire church was behind the Nicene creed? That's like saying that a lot of Stalin's victims were guilty as charged because they signed confessions of guilt. A coerced agreement is not exactly the same thing as concensus.

Pro-Arian bishops were excommunicated, exiled or threatened with death if they did not support the Nicene Creed. Some bishops did oppose this effort--Bishop Demophilus was told to either accept the Nicene creed or be exiled, he refused to sign it, and guess what--he was exiled. But at one point, being a pro-Arian bishop got you the death penalty. Under those conditions, a pro-Nicene "unanimity" was rather easy to create, wasn't it?

Mystical Seeker said...

how do you view this process as God-inspired, particularly given that the church had taken the very form that Jesus opposed only a short time earlier?

I think that this process was not particularly God-inspired. I think that underneath all of that, all of the institutional power-grabs, there were good people of faith who lived Christ-like lives. But the institutional perversion of faith is another thing altogether.

It's a sad story. As in the book "Animal Farm", those who revolt against an established authority ultimately become the new authority themselves.

Frank said...

The fine line to walk is the question of when and how to tap into this thing called a "faith tradition." Anyone can break off and start their own church and gather disciples, but if every theologian out there did that it would be a sorry state of affairs. Still, it would be good if the larger church were more accomodating to new ideas, especially when they have some popular and scholarly appeal.

Another problem is when people just assume that the apostolic witness is the end-all, be-all of Christian theology. Theology evolves over time, and to think that we must be stuck trying to reconstruct what it was like around AD 33 is a misunderstanding of the role of church and scholarship. The fact that the notion of Trinity came later does not automatically disqualify it as a valid concept. But Christianity is a religion with strong ties to particular historical circumstances as well, so there is a both/and situation when it comes to considering the past but not being tied to it.

OneSmallStep said...

Connor,

**So what. Get over it. By not believing the creeds one is in fact telling the creed believer that they are wrong. Is any thing credited to "my experience of God" up for judgment?**

The "so what" comes from the conflicting messages. On the one hand, there are people who claim to love humanity very much, and want to help them through salvation. These very people on the other hand then feel they are in a valid position to critique an entire life history based on whether or not one conforms to a creed. I find the two contradictory -- if you truly love someone, shouldn't you actually listen to what those experiences are?

In terms of not believing in the creeds -- there's a difference in I finding those wrong, compared to the evolution/creationism debate. The latter is much more factual-oriented. A concept of God is not factually oriented the way math is. In fact, it's often left up to the discretion of the believer. We simply "know" what the truth is, but we can't prove that the way we can in a science.

The other complication is that all major religions give fundamental attitudes that are to convey a relationship with God: in Christianity, it's the fruit of the Spirit -- and that fruit is not just limited to Christianity. We see it in all religions, and even in atheists.

I know how I encounter God. But I can't prove it, and I can't use those same experiences to decipher how Grace encounters God. If I tell Grace that she hasn't fully encountered God because it's not how I encounter God, what basis do I have for that? An elevation of my own experience, transposed over her life? Isn't that a little arrogant of me?

And yes, experiences are up for judgement, in the other way we really have: by actions. I think we would all say that the 9/11 terrorists were not working on behalf of God, because of the destruction it caused.

Grace,

**But, Mystical and Gary, can all points of view be regarded as equally true and valid.**

All of them? No. But more than one? Why not? For instance, take the Trinity: we are told that 1+1 = 2, except in the case of the Trinity. There, the "truth" of mathematical law, the truth of one constitues the very definition of "one" is violated, by our understanding. Yet it's still held to be true. Or even the concept of Jesus as God and man -- that is saying that Jesus is both finite and infinte, mortal and immortal. In any other circumstance, we'd reject that as a contradiction. Yet it's held to be a truth.

Why can't the same work for other viewpoints? Why can't different viewpoints also be true, we simply have a limited viewpoint right now?

**there were only two bishops who stood against the determination of Nicea. The Nicene Creed was almost universally accepted as faithful to the apostolic witness by the church.**

My impression is that the Council was convened because there was so much dissent over what constituted correct orthodoxy. And that the Creed itself wasn't set in stone even after it was proclaimed. The website below gives more details, although I do believe it's non-Trinitarian website.

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/5257/afternicaea.htm

Or even looking at the other councils convened over this. Though, granted, the source is Wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Sirmium

JP said...

Mystical,

The question that still exists is "What or who exactly is a Christian"?

The faith has survived through apostolic witness and Tradition.

OneSmallStep,

You said "Why can't different viewpoints also be true, we simply have a limited viewpoint right now?"

Post-Enlightenment tells us there is no absolute truth, what is right for you may not be right for me but both equally true. It makes little sense, in this day in age we are sensitive to offend our brother/sister but you can not have 2 equal contradicting truths. In asking the question whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. If I say yes and you say no, no, they are not both valid and true.

If we deny the essentials of the faith, the faith once delivered to the saints, why call oneself Christian? It's foreign. There has always been and there will always be folks who deny Truth

Mystical Seeker said...

If we deny the essentials of the faith, the faith once delivered to the saints, why call oneself Christian? It's foreign. There has always been and there will always be folks who deny Truth

JP, since your previous comment there was much discussion concerning the history and origin and development of these so-called "essentials" were the product of a winnowing down of the diversity of faith into a single branch by the winning side in a series of bitter theological disputes. "The saints" to whom this faith was allegedly "delivered" were, of course, retroactively defined to be the ones on the winning side of the various theological disputes.

Religious traditions are almost inevitably broader than the proponents of orthodoxy claim.

Trying to come up with an exact and clear delineation of who is and isn't a Christian is, I think, a largely fruitless exercise. Rather than concerning ourselves with who is inside and who is outside some self-defined club of of theological Truth, maybe it is time to recognize that a faith tradition is really an evolving, amorphous collection of interrelated theologies and experiences that riff off one another and which derive from a historical source but which is never static. Faiths do not drop out of the sky in fixed form, they are not "delivered to the saints", they are not controlled and defined by the winners in theological disputes.

JP said...

I respect your stance mystical though I strongly disagree with you. Concerning the definition of a Christian, how would you define it if one were to ask you? If someone asked you why you were a christian, how would you respond?

Mystical Seeker said...

JP, I don't describe myself as Christian, but as one who is interested in Christianity. I don't begrudge others who choose to use the word to describe themselves, however.

JP said...

Fair enough.

How do you, then, define, christianity as a whole?

Mystical Seeker said...

JP, I am not sure that a comprehensive, completely, and accurate definition is possible. I think of Christianity as being a set of traditions that are derived from the life and teachings of a man named Jesus. Beyond that, getting into specifics becomes fuzzier and fuzzier.

OneSmallStep said...

JP,

**In asking the question whether or not Jesus was raised from the dead. If I say yes and you say no, no, they are not both valid and true.**

But as I pointed out, Christianity also says that Jesus is God and not God -- aka, God and man. Both fininte and infinite. Those are also, under any other circumstance, something that cannot both be valid and true. Yet this is accepted as a truth in Christianity, and described as a mystery, because we have finite understanding. If that can be contradictory and true, why not other contradictory aspects of two faiths?

**If we deny the essentials of the faith, the faith once delivered to the saints, why call oneself Christian? It's foreign.**

But essentials according to whom? One might say the apostles. Another might say the church. Another might say the Bible itself. I find the essentials of the faith to be love the God of Jesus with all one's heart, and to love one's neighbor as oneself.

I define the word "Christian" as follower of Christ.

**There has always been and there will always be folks who deny Truth**

Actually, that would lead to an interesting side topic: can one fully know the truth and still be rational? We would consider those who deny 2+2=4 to be illogical, or something is wrong with them. Can you rationally reject the truth and sitll be "sane?"

Mystical Seeker said...

I find the essentials of the faith to be love the God of Jesus with all one's heart, and to love one's neighbor as oneself.

You're in good company, since that is what the Bible reports that Jesus himself said the essentials of faith were.

Steve Conger said...

As someone who tries to be "progressive" I have to admit that I struggle with all the baggage of 48 years of living within the bounds of the church. Change is hard, especially for those of us on the inside who are trying to share God in a new way. Words to express what we feel often shift to the tried and true, even when we know that they are not the best.