What does a progressive Christian believe?

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In his book What a Progressive Christian Believes, Delwin Brown writes about the danger of "absolutizing" belief:

Our concept of God...is always an interpretation, never a straightforward description of what is there for all to see. We certainly believe it to be a plausible interpretation of the world, and in our daily lives, if we are reflective Christians, we test the adequacy of our understanding of God. But it is never provable. For this reason, our view of God, though fundamental, is never, ever a legitimate source of absolute claims or absolute attitudes.

The "absolutizing" of religious belief is a sign of fear, a desperate attempt to hide the fact that our fundamental orientations toward life are always interpretive adventures, always a risk. Critics of religion are fully justified in denouncing its absolutistic expressions. They misunderstand religion, though, when they assume that the absolutistic impulse is essential to it. On the contrary, it is a corruption of religion precisely because religion is a standpoint of faith. All too often, however, Christians, still under the spell of a monarchical deity, illustrate that corruption vividly, and destructively. Christian faith, which ought to banish fear, becomes its mask. (pp. 54-54)
To me, this is a brilliant passage that gets to the heart of what I think a progressive faith should be about. It seems to me that if there is one dividing line between progressive and conservative religion, it is (or ought to be) the question of whether faith is rigidly dogmatic or flexibly adaptive. It seems to me that absolutism goes hand in hand with a certain view of the nature of revelation that is not particularly tenable or historically valid. Whereas more absolutist forms of religion presuppose a naively unidirectional and absolutist conception of revelation that conceives of religious truth as having been disseminated from above and received without error by human beings, progressive religion by contrast understands that theology has always been an ongoing dialogue between members of a community of faith with one another and with God.

I would suggest that the overwhelming evidence from both the Bible and the history of early Christianity shows that diversity and dialogue has always characterized the faith. Instead of understanding this, though, the absolutist form of Christianity makes idols out of dogmas and the humans who formulate them.

Both Delwin Brown and Keith Ward, whose book Re-Thinking Christianity I recently commented on, have done excellent jobs of arguing on behalf of a progressive alternative to an ossified, absolutist Christianity. And yet there is a another aspect to this that concerns me. If it is true that new developments are not wrong simply because they are newer, it is also true that newer developments are not right simply because they are newer. I was thinking about this because both Brown and Ward praise the outcomes of the early ecumenical church councils and implicitly accept them as part of the Christianity that they endorse. I myself am not a fan of where those councils took Christianity. Brown, admittedly, gives rather broad interpretations of what these councils did in terms of theological development; for example, as far as I can tell, he views the incarnation to refer not just to Jesus specifically but to Divine immanence in general. Be that as it may, though, I think this is one area where I differ with a lot of progressive Christianity. Opposing an absolutism directed at a prior theology should not result in a different form of an absolutism directed at later theological developments.

Which is another way of saying that theological developments sometimes, but not always, represent theological progress. Theological development is not a straight line towards ever greater insight; sometimes, it can move backwards. I think that, in principle, progressives understand this.

It seems clear that Christianity underwent a lot of changes after the death of Jesus, changes that in many cases Jesus would not have even recognized as his own faith. He was a devout Jew, and yet eventually he became the basis of an entirely new faith that broke from Judaism. Perhaps the seeds of those later developments were found in his own teachings, and I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with the fact that this evolution took place. But Christianity also developed in ways that may have contradicted his own teachings in serious ways. Jesus the radical inclusivist was killed by an Empire; later Christianity became exclusive and intolerant, and allied itself with an Empire. Do those represent improvements in the faith, or something else entirely? Many progressive Christians would say no.

And yet, what I wonder is why is so much of progressive Christianity, which is willing to be flexible and adaptive in so many other ways, seems unwilling to question the theologies produced by these early ecumenical councils? Why, for example, is the doctrine of the Trinity seen as off limits for discussion?

108 comments:

Andy said...

Great post.

I guess the reason some things are off limits is the fear that if all doctrines are open to question then the faith risks dissolution. However taking the Trinity as an example I remember reading , I think in Karen Armstrong, that in the Eastern church the Trinity was traditionally seen more as a contemplative framework than an ontological one. I think that is the way forwards - to have clear doctrines that are functional rather than dogmatic.

ms. kitty said...

Nice to read something about Del Brown, who was my theology professor at Iliff School of Theology in Denver ten years ago! I'll have to get his book.

Frank said...

Our concept of God...is always an interpretation . . . But it is never provable.

What bugs me is that this isn't new--its just a part of orthodox Christian theology that sometimes (often) gets overshadowed by the absolutists. Our relationship to God is always one of mystery.

How then can a faith tradition come to form dogmas about something which is mystery? I don't know, but to me there is some role for a faith tradition to put together a narrative. If we don't do that, then we are just starting from scratch all the time with nothing to build on. Then Theology just becomes random speculation and it becomes impossible to be progressive because you can't progress when you are always on square 1.

My beef with dogmas is just when they turn into an absolutist interpretation, other than that, I think dogmas are actually unavoidable.

SocietyVs said...

I think your commentary has a lot of good points about being progressive - namely things should be questioned as to their usefulness and whether that idea is taking Christianity a step backwards (and not forwards).

The Trinity doctrine is a fine construct of the church - but it is worth questioning and I think some of these scholars need to peruse the issue a lot closer than they are used to. I have no qualms at looking at that doctrine and seeing the holes in it - they are plentiful.

But I think progressives understand we need to re-examine the beliefs and the beliefs behind the beliefs to get to the truth of what is being said and portrayed in the bible (even historically). I think we acknowledge possible mistakes quicker than someone more conservative - since they have a fine house built on the sand - knock a few pegs out - the whole damn system they invented comes tumbling behind them. The key to good faith is being able to discuss all things and decide upon them. At current, with untouchable doctrines that is not the case.

Mystical Seeker said...

Andy, interesting comment about Eastern Christianity. I agree that doctrines should be functional rather than dogmatic. On the other hand, the debate that caused the rift between Eastern and Western Christianity involved a bit of minutia over a clause in a Trinitarian formula.

Ms. Kitty, I remember you mentioning him before. I definitely recommend the book.

Frank,

to me there is some role for a faith tradition to put together a narrative.

I agree. I am not against narratives, and in fact I think they are a useful part of faith, but I think we just need to be honest about what we are doing when we construct these narratives. I see a narrative is a framework for wrapping our brains around an infinity, not as an absolute truth. And sometimes our narratives become stumbling blocks--in which case they need to be re-examined.

Societyvs,

The key to good faith is being able to discuss all things and decide upon them. At current, with untouchable doctrines that is not the case.

I agree. As Frank pointed out, it is probably not helpful to re-invent the wheel all the time, but there has to be a happy medium--where we don't make everything untouchable, but we don't constantly re-invent our religion all the time either.

Harry said...

"Andy, interesting comment about Eastern Christianity. I agree that doctrines should be functional rather than dogmatic. On the other hand, the debate that caused the rift between Eastern and Western Christianity involved a bit of minutia over a clause in a Trinitarian formula."

Just for the record, the rift was not so much theological as political.

The Pope had and has no authority to unilaterally modify that which has been decided by the whole Church in Ecumenical Council.

The actual split (the mutual anathemas) happened when the Pope tried to fire an Eastern Bishop.

PrickliestPear said...

Seeker,

Interesting. I don't know too many self-described "progressive Christians" who consider the doctrine of the Trinity "off limits for discussion."

Progressive Christians, as we use the term -- and I think we are pretty much on the same page as far as that goes -- are progressive to varying degrees. We might sometimes talk about it as a discrete category, but it's really just one end of a spectrum.

I myself am not a fan of where those councils took Christianity.

Neither am I. Which is probably what separates "radically progressive Christianity" from the more conventional variety: progressives generally agree that the tradition "went wrong" at some point, but there is disagreement over exactly how early this happened.

Personally, I think it started even before Jesus's death -- the apostles clearly misunderstood him during his lifetime, and I don't know if the tradition ever really recovered from that.

Mystical Seeker said...

Prickliest Pear,

You are right, of course, that progressives don't always agree with one another and they do have differing degrees of "progressiveness". You may be right that the Trinity is not off the table for discussion; I do feel like I am somewhere in the wilderness on that subject, since even the most progressive churches that I've attended continue to use Trinitarian formulations in their worship.

I think it started even before Jesus's death -- the apostles clearly misunderstood him during his lifetime, and I don't know if the tradition ever really recovered from that.

That is an interesting comment. I would be curious to find out more about in what ways you think Jesus was misunderstood.

Harry said...

I think it started even before Jesus's death -- the apostles clearly misunderstood him during his lifetime, and I don't know if the tradition ever really recovered from that.

Well that kind of explodes the idea the Jesus was a "Great Teacher". How could He be a great teacher if He couldn't get his point across to His students?

I think we have to consider the possiblity that even Jesus didn't understand His own teachings as PrickliestPear was not yet around to explain them to Him.

(Not that PP would of course, PP won't even tell me what the "authentic teachings are.)

Harry said...

And,

Mystical,

PP's theory that the Apostle's didn't understand Jesus kind of makes your parabolic "deeper meaning" theory problematic.

If Jesus' disciples didn't understand Him, then the myths they produced are actually "deeper misunderstandings."

Matthew said...

Of course the disciples had trouble understand what Jesus was teaching them. This is the age old problem faced by any guru. They were not yet like their teacher.

Here's a common example of Jesus chastising his disciples-

Mk. 4.9 Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.

11 He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12so that," 'they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!'"

13 Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?

It's obvious the teachings (mainly parables) are not understood in normal 'rational' ways. A person without 'ears to hear' can't be transformed by the most powerful teaching.

Most religious teachers DON'T want their teachings saved in writing.

The point of religious teachings is to transform someone the teacher knows, or understands. These transformative teachings are given incrementally. The teacher sees where the student 'is' at that time and gives an appropriate teaching to guide the student's progress from that perspective.

Many teachings seem contradictory, since they may be guiding different people, from different perspectives, or the same person who is now seeing things from a new perspective.

Religious teachings are best when 'consumed alive'. An analogy would be trying to write downs the nutritious value of a loaf of bread and a fish, print the page, disperse it and expect multitudes to be satisfied! Giving them real bread and fish does a much better job.

That isn't to say written teachings don't have power, ANY teaching can have power (appropriate to where the person is), and some powerful teachings have value to many. A particular set of teachings often isn't enough, or given in the right order. This is why the Christian teachings of the NT are often 'stillborn'.

Progressive Christianity has become disillusioned with previously accepted ways of understanding the NT teachings as they were understood by a previous generation , because that way wan't powerful to them. Without a real guru to guide them the teachings will be bantered around, resorted and compiled, printed and dispersed in hopes this new way of understanding them will be more powerful. People tend to be more optimistic than insightful.

Matthew

Harry said...

Matthew:

We can just let the dead bury the dead.

Luke said...

rawk!

Matthew said...

harry said-

>>If Jesus' disciples didn't understand Him, then the myths they produced are actually "deeper misunderstandings."<<

This would be true if the sayings and stories in the NT were completely void of Jesus' message; but this doesn't seem to be the case.

Prog. Christians have seen how previous generations didn't find personal transformation (as is expected from 'receiving' the message), so they continue to look in ways not previously explored, or under-explored.

Isn't this a 'good' thing for them to do? I don't understand why you seem so angry and critical of others who post?! Why not offer gentle guidance and council to one another:

Eph. 4.29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen...

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

I'm grateful to all who post.

Peace,
Matthew

Harry said...

Matthew:

If Progressive Christians have seen previous generations failing to find "personal transformation", then they couldn't have looked very hard. The internet is littered with stories of personal transformation and being "born again".

If they have found Christianity to be insufficiant for them, then let them explore somewhere else. Why should they be allowed to trash Christianity because it doesn't work for them. It's worked for a whole lot of people for a very long time. When Tradition is lost, it is gone forever.

I don't see why I should refrain from criticizing Progressive Christians. They are engaging in a project which deserves a lot of criticism. All this has been tried before and came a cropper. Just look at the UUs

Mystical Seeker said...

I don't see why I should refrain from criticizing Progressive Christians.


I mostly ignore the comments that you write in this blog, because you are clearly not interested in a respectful discussion. Instead, it is obvious that you are only participating here for the purpose of attacking beliefs you don't agree with. Your obnoxious tone has already been pointed out by others, and I find that it is generally not useful to feed trolls. However, in this case, I do think that the nonsense that you are stating here deserves some comment:

If Progressive Christians have seen previous generations failing to find "personal transformation", then they couldn't have looked very hard. The internet is littered with stories of personal transformation and being "born again".

I don't know who you think is asserting that previous generations have not found personal transformation. This is a completely bogus charge. I for one have repeatedly suggested that there are many paths to personal transformation. As a religious pluralist, I recognize that even religions whose theologies I disagree with or which don't speak to my condition still can have transformational power for others.

If they have found Christianity to be insufficient for them, then let them explore somewhere else. Why should they be allowed to trash Christianity because it doesn't work for them. It's worked for a whole lot of people for a very long time. When Tradition is lost, it is gone forever.

That statement is utter nonsense. Excuse me, but no one from the progressive side is telling anyone that they can't practice orthodox Christianity if that's what floats their boat. On the contrary, the only people who are telling others what they can or can't believe is people like you. It is you who is telling others that they are somehow not allowed to pursue Christianity in a way that you don't approve of. The "let them explore somewhere else" is simply religious authoritarianism rearing its ugly little head.

If you can't handle the fact that other people choose to explore the Christian faith in ways that you don't like, that's just too frigging bad. The world is full of people with different beliefs and different religious perspectives. Get over yourself already. The fact that people explore Christianity in ways you don't like can't possibly be a threat to your own religion, unless your religion is so fragile that it will collapse with the mere presence of different versions of the faith than your own.

Maybe you see yourself on some kind of mission from God to preserve this fragile faith of yours from that awful heresies that threaten the very foundation of your religion. If so, trust me, you just aren't that important.

PrickliestPear said...

(This goes against my better judgment, but I can't resist.)

Harry:

If they have found Christianity to be insufficiant for them, then let them explore somewhere else. Why should they be allowed to trash Christianity because it doesn't work for them.(sic)

Interesting choice of words! Are you saying that Progressive Christianity isn't allowed? Who is it that doesn't "allow" this, I wonder? And what do you think they should do about it?

John Shuck said...

"And yet, what I wonder is why is so much of progressive Christianity, which is willing to be flexible and adaptive in so many other ways, seems unwilling to question the theologies produced by these early ecumenical councils? Why, for example, is the doctrine of the Trinity seen as off limits for discussion?"

I have been thinking about this since you commented on one of my recent posts.

Why is the Trinity off-limits? I wonder, in part, if it is for sentimental reasons. Remember the old ad for the The American Trinity? Mama, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet.

What would we be without the Christian Trinity==except, gasp, Jewish or, ick, Muslim? We have to have something that makes us different, unique, and better. Three Gods in One! Hard to beat!

Mystical Seeker said...

You might be right, John. Nostalgia, a need to create a separate identity, all may play a part in it.

(As for three Gods in one--Certs was only two mints in one, so its marketing campaign had nothing on Christianity's.)

I wonder what this fear of keeping Christianity separate from other faiths would really be based on. Christianity had separated itself from Judaism a couple of centuries before the Nicene Creed was formulated, and even quite a few decades before Tertulian. I don't really think that Christianity needs a Trinity in order to have an identity.

But you might be on to something about Judaism and Islam. Especially Islam. There is so much resistance to accepting that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The doctrine of the Trinity is one way of defending that resistance (although for some reason it rarely poses a problem for Christians that Jews also reject the Trinity.)

Harry said...

Mystical:

I think Matthew is asserting that Progressive Christians assert that previous generations didn't find transformation.

Excuse me, but no one from the progressive side is telling anyone that they can't practice orthodox Christianity if that's what floats their boat.

If you study the Episcopalian Church you will find examples of Progressive Bishops refusing to allow would-be priests from attending conservative seminaries, Progressive Bishops firing conservative clergy, and Progressive Bishops seizing the property of conservative parishes.

The "let them explore somewhere else" is simply religious authoritarianism rearing its ugly little head.

I don't think so. I just think it is good advice so we can persue our different religions without conflict.



Prickliest:

(Knew you couldn't resist, welcome back!)

I am saying Progressive Christianity isn't Christianity.

The people who don't allow it are the bishops whose job it is to guard the faith.

The bishops decide the proper remedy. Excommunication is certainly a possibility.


John:

Yes, what would we be without the Trinity? Jewish, Muslim, B'hai perhaps. But not Christian.

That is precisely the point. Without the Trinity we aren't Christian.

Katherine E. said...

Mystical Seeker,

It's been a while since I've visited. Glad I did--interesting discussion.

Love what you quoted from the book. His conclusion that fear is at the root of our absolutizing impulses seems SO on target to me. The need to absolutize is a quest for certainty. In my view certainty is a natural thing to want but as we mature spiritually, our faith (read: not certain but betting our very lives that our trust in God's grace is well founded and will help us live our lives well)--as we mature spiritually, our faith empowers us to let go of our fearful need for certainty. It boils down to paradox (what doesn't, right?). I hold to my beliefs firmly (they contribute greatly to my identity as a Christian), but I also hold them loosely, i.e., I am aware that in my finitude I might not have it all exactly right!

I heard a great example yesterday of his point:

"Christian faith, which ought to banish fear, becomes its mask."

A fundamentalist preacher in a college town north of where I live, with a 4000-member church, preached on why women cannot be ordained, and why wives must submit to their husbands. I listened to the podcast of the entire sermon (well, almost the entire thing). His paradigm left no room whatsoever for any questioning. His attitude was: "I've read my Bible. The Bible says it in black and white. If the Bible says it, then God says it. Marriage is set out as a picture of Christ's relationship (headship) with the church, and that's that!" There was no room for anything like mutuality. And 4000 people sat there and listened. Breaks my heart to think of the damage he is doing. Well, I'm off track here. He is an example, in my view, of the sin of patriarchy blinding him to his fear. Of course I can't be sure exactly what form his fear takes, but I'd bet it has something to do with fear of hierarchy crumbling. Fear of what would feel like chaos to him. Trust is a spirital discipline, and it needs to be trust in God, not in our own "rightness."

Frank said...

I do agree that the desire for absolutes is fear talking.

But I also have to ask the reverse: Are folks who refuse to "go with" anything that isn't proven 100% also restricted by fear?

SocietyVs said...

“I am saying Progressive Christianity isn't Christianity.” (Harry)

Well…I am saying it is. If they can prove they uphold the moral ground Jesus walked and thus ‘follow’ their teacher – then they are by all means welcome in this faith.

Luke 9:50 “But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you."

“Yes, what would we be without the Trinity? Jewish, Muslim, B'hai perhaps. But not Christian.” (Harry)

Without the Trinity we would likely fall back to Monotheistic Judaism – the idea that there really is only One God (no others can share that mantle). Now if that’s an un-Christian stance – then we have some serious problems concerning Christianity – namely the breaking of a law by Jesus himself:

Mark 12:29 “Jesus answered, "The foremost is, ' HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD”

Compared to…

Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!”

Compared to…

Exodus 20:2 “You shall have no other gods before/besides Me” (commandment #1 in the Christian 10 commandments).

Compared to…

No mention of the word Trinity or it’s theology at all in the NT – no Father, Son, and Holy Spirit passage at all. There was one in one of 1 John letters – but it was removed for being an addition.

So how can one not debate the validity of the Trinity – it’s almost mandatory in my opinion. One must consider they could be breaking commandment One with the Trinity idea – the premiere commandment of all of them.

Frank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank said...

I don't think any theology is going to be 100% supported by every passage in the New or Old Testaments. But even though the word "Trinity" is never mentioned, there is a very strong case that there is a trinitarian relationship being described in the Bible.

Take John: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was with God."

Well, how can you be God but also be with God at the same time?

How can God have a son, and what does that mean? How can it be that the "sonship" of Jesus seems to be different in places in the NT than the rest of us who are God's children as well?

As people thought about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and considered the kind of relationship that is being described in the NT, well, "Trinity" is what they came up with. It was a long process, it was not like someone just threw darts and just picked an answer based on where they ended up.

Trinity needs to be examined, of course, like any theology. But to suggest there is no justification for it isn't accurate.

And since the Bible itself is a record of the Church interpretting the experience of Christ, and that experience continued after the Bible as well and continues to this day. The Bible represents an earlier stage in the meditation on the experience of Christ, so it would make sense that the theology isn't explicitly formed at that time.

Matthew said...

I know very little about the doctrinal history of 'the Trinity', but it sounds like mental machinations of the early church.

Three gods in one!? How could Jesus, as a devout Jew, accept this concept?!!

Mt 19.6 Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

Why didn't he just say, "Let me tell you what is good. I know, because I make the rules! No one needs to tell me, but I will tell you."

Matthew

Mystical Seeker said...

Matthew, what is interesting about that passage that you quote is that if you compare it to the same story in Mark (which Matthew used as a source), you can begin to see the stirrings of the evolution of ideas about Jesus.

The original passage in Mark has Jesus definitely differentiating himself from God. He says in Mark 10, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." This passage was perhaps a little embarrassing to the later Gospel writer, because is has Jesus both distinguishing himself from God and suggesting that he might not be as good as God. So the Matthew passage modifies it a bit to remove those uncomfortable implications. It is always interesting to see how, when you compare earlier with later writings, the evolution of these sorts of ideas start to take shape.

In John you start to see Jesus elevated even further up the chain, with that whole Sophia/Logos idea. But actual, full blow Trinitarianism did not develop until well after the gospels were written.

Mystical Seeker said...

Katherine, thanks for stopping by my blog.

I hold to my beliefs firmly (they contribute greatly to my identity as a Christian), but I also hold them loosely, i.e., I am aware that in my finitude I might not have it all exactly right!

I think that is an interesting way of looking at it. The firmness and the looseness need to co-exist, I think. If you give up one, you have no faith; if you give up the other, you become an absolutist.

PrickliestPear said...

Harry:

First you wrote,

"If they [Progressive Christians] have found Christianity to be insufficiant [sic] for them, then let them explore somewhere else."

Later you wrote,

"I am saying Progressive Christianity isn't Christianity."

I'm not sure how to reconcile these two statements. If Progressive Christians aren't actually Christians, then it would seem that we are exploring somewhere else. We are no longer in Christianity, as you understand it, right?

Or do you mean that "real" Christians (as you define them) somehow "own" Jesus? That anyone who doesn't conform to your definition should refrain from even trying to understand him and his significance? That would seem to follow from what you've said. (I know you'll correct me if I'm wrong.)

"The people who don't allow it are the bishops whose job it is to guard the faith.
The bishops decide the proper remedy. Excommunication is certainly a possibility."


So maybe instead of complaining to the very people you're complaining about, you should direct your comments to "the bishops," no? (When you do, please tell them PrickliestPear says hi.)

If you want to deny that I (as a self-described "progressive Christian") am not a real Christian as you define the term, please, feel free.

If you want to assert that I'm a non-Christian according to one ecclesiastical authority or another, go nuts. You're almost certainly right about that.

I should warn you, though: that won't stop me from considering myself a Christian, because frankly, it's just a label that means nothing more and nothing less than whatever a person intends it to mean when they use it. When I use it, I mean something different than what you mean when you use it. (Kind of like how North Americans use the word "chips" to mean what Britons call "crisps," and Britons use "chips" to mean what North Americans call "fries"! Words can mean different things to different people, and we don't have to fight about it! It sounds crazy, but it's true!)

Harry, I am fully aware that I'm not a "Christian" as you define the term. And I want you to know that I am completely at ease with that. Having been raised Catholic, I've gotten used to hearing others (i.e. Protestant Fundamentalists) deny that I can legitimately claim to be a "Christian."

Hasn't stopped me yet, though!

Harry said...

Prickliest:

When I meant somewhere else, I meant not in a Christian Church. Try the UU's. I think you all might like Sufism (at least in the US) very much. Ba'hai ought to be attractive to you all.

You all can very well try to understand Jesus if you want. But the Church has set minimum requirements to be a Christian and you ought to follow those if you want to call yourself one.

Of course, you don't care. But if you use private definitions of words you are misleading people. That is dishonest. It is no defense to say you have a private meaning when trying to communicate yourself to someone else. That is sophistry.

Sorry, that is the way I feel about it.

Frank said...

But the Church has set minimum requirements to be a Christian and you ought to follow those if you want to call yourself one.

To be more accurate, churches have set minimum requirements to belong to their church. Or to put it another another way: To be a Christian in their tradition.

Good luck trying to convince others that your tradition (or your interpretation of that tradition) is the only legitimate heir to the term "Christian."

Harry said...

Frank:

Thanks for the encouragement.

My litle mission parish converts two or three families a year.

Oddly enough, I might have to thank Progressive Christians for tearing apart the mainline churches sending us their refugees.

PrickliestPear said...

Harry:

if you use private definitions of words you are misleading people.

Right. Of course, my definition is not really "private," in that I have made detailed explanations of my understanding of "Christianity" available to just about everyone in the world who has an internet connection.

That is dishonest.

It would be dishonest if I ever pretended to believe other than I do. Do you have any evidence that I've ever done so? And if not, don't you think it's a bit presumptuous to accuse me of dishonesty?

Grace said...

Hi, Mystical. Been awhile since I've visited. How have you been?

I don't see a problem openly discussing why Christians feel that God has revealed Himself as trinity, and all the implications behind it.

There's nothing wrong with questioning, and searching things out. Seekers are always welcome in the church, and who can claim to have all the answers anyway.

But, it does seem strange to me that if folks are totally dead set against the witness of the church about all this in general, then why join the Presbys, Piskies, Lutherans, etc.

I mean the witness of the church is what it is. For me, there would be little point in affirming the Nicene Creed, reciting the liturgy, participating in holy communion, etc. if I thought everything was pretty much nonsense, or I had to do this private interpretation in my mind, everytime I opened my mouth.

You know, I can understand if folks are searching, but unsure, wanting to know more. But, I think that's different than what I've been reading here..

OCICBW. :) Ultimately, only God knows our hearts.

Sincerely,
Grace.

OneSmallStep said...

**Why is the Trinity off-limits? I wonder, in part, if it is for sentimental reasons.**

Could it also be considered off-limits because it's derived so much from inference? Frank makes a mention of John, in that the word is at the beginning, and the word was with God, and the word was God (or the Word was divine. Or "what God was, the Word was." It depends on the translation).

This itself is an incredibly complex statement, because of the question he raises: the Word is both with God, and translated as God. How is God thus defined there? What does the sentence even mean? Did the writer mean "God" as the Hebrew God? Or God in another sense, since people other than the Hebrew God can be refered to as "god."

Whereas the other key aspects, such as Jesus as the Messiah, the resurrection, dying for sins, Jesus as the son of God... many of those can be much more clearly seen, and held to. Paul considers them to be the Gospel -- and he doesn't group Jesus as God as part of the gospel he shared. We also see from Paul's letters that there was confusion over the resurrection. Yet no confusion over Jesus as God? That never had to be cleared up, even though it took a good three/four hundred years to fully make that completely orthodox?

John Shuck said...

I think that the Trinity is a metaphor. As far as Christian groups being defensive that you can't be in our club unless, I don't know, what? Well, churches change.

There are some major disadvantages to this metaphor, Christian exclusivism among them. Jesus loses his humanity. Male language for God is another.

As a metaphor it expressive of the transcendence, the immanence and the particularity of God. I would hate to lose that.

I tend to keep it around, but lightly.

PrickliestPear said...

The distinction between the "Father" and the "Holy Spirit" can mean the distinction between God's transcendence and immanence.

There are biblical parallels between the divine Logos (or "Word") referred to in John's prologue and the Spirit of God in Genesis 1, as both are essentially the instrument of God's creation. "Wisdom" plays the same role in much of the Wisdom literature.

The question, though, is why distinguish between the logos (or Son) and the Spirit? It seems to me the only reason to do so is that Jesus is clearly not the Spirit, and if one wants to affirm that Jesus is the Logos, one has to split what is essentially one into two.

Lose the doctrine of the incarnation, and we're left not with three, but with two: the transcendent and immanent aspects of God.

I've avoided using later Trinitarian terms like "person" and "nature," because these are quite alien to the Biblical text. But they're worth discussing. Part of the confusion stems from the well-known problem of translating the Latin personae as "persons," which, to many people, is synonymous with "people." So they end up thinking of the Trinity as a committee of three people (to borrow an image from Marcus Borg), which is certainly not what was intended with the use of the term personae.

I don't really give it too much thought, to be honest. It seems to me that the doctrine of the Trinity has been misunderstood and has led to a sort of de facto polytheism for a lot of people.

I've never found it to be a particularly helpful doctrine. Probably more trouble than it's worth.

Mystical Seeker said...

It seems to me that the doctrine of the Trinity has been misunderstood and has led to a sort of de facto polytheism for a lot of people.

I've never found it to be a particularly helpful doctrine. Probably more trouble than it's worth.


If people don't really understand the doctrine, and yet they are supposed to pay lip service to it anyway because it is some sort of required doctrine that is necessary to the faith, then it seems to me that you end up with the strange situation that people are required to believe in something that they may not really be believing in--since they don't really understand what it is they supposedly believe in. In fact, since they may not understand it, they may be believing in something different from what it is they are supposedly required to believe in (and what they are paying lip service to).

This raises the question of what the real point is of making an esoteric doctrine such a crucial element of faith. As you say, I think it is more trouble than it is worth.

Matthew said...

>>In fact, since they may not understand it, they may be believing in something different from what it is they are supposedly required to believe in (and what they are paying lip service to).

This raises the question of what the real point is of making an esoteric doctrine such a crucial element of faith.<<

Precisely why theology is such a bizarre area of study. Really, what's the point!?!

Matthew

JP said...

Harry,

Thank you for speaking as a voice of reason. In this beautiful free country we live in, we can surely believe whatever floats our boat. Please though, do not try to carry Jesus and deny what has held the faith together since He walked this earth. Can progressives be Christian? Well sure. Politically speaking, however, denying central tennants of the faith (Trinity, Jesus' fullness as human and God, etc) is denying the faith and denying the right to be called Christian. I would not call myself a Yankees fan while listening, watching and wearing all things Red Sox only. Yes this progressive movement, especially in the Protestant Churches is ripping apart mainline denominations as they seek further and further in despair. It's a shame. Thank God for the UU though! Believe whatever you want to believe and whatever is true for you is right!

John Shuck said...

"Yes this progressive movement, especially in the Protestant Churches is ripping apart mainline denominations as they seek further and further in despair."

I appreciate ya, JP. But, that is a bit of an overstatement, in my opinion.

I don't think it is as simple as being a Yankees or a Red Sox fan. A living tradition will always be in the process of change, assimilation, redefinition, and so forth. We discover new things about the universe in which live. So, obviously, we are always in the process of change.

There are some of us (and I happen to be an ordained mainline clergyperson in good standing) who affirms that what is essential is the search, and this kind of discussion that is happening on this blog, as opposed to affirming doctrines, that for many of us, are not doing their job of helping us find meaning.

Cynthia said...

Good grief, y'all!

Just this, Mystical:

Amen and alleluia to that quote!!! Have been thinking and feeling same for some time.

And thanks for another book to get my hands on. I am half-way through Putting Away Childish Things. Where the heck was I when that came out?!

JP said...

First, sorry for all the typo's, second, I know progressives do not like to answer this question but John, what is a Christian?

Harry said...

JP:

I am not sure if I am exactly the voice of reason.

I am trying to be the voice of those who have found meaning in the ancient teachings of Christianity.

Progressive Christians do not find meaning, for whatever reason, and they blame the doctrines.

At least some of them are bitter about this (many being former fundamentalists), so they seek to tear down the teachings of the Church and substitute some jury-rigged substitute.

The truly appalling thing is the sheer banality of what they come up with. That is probably why they emphasize the searching rather than the finding, because they never find anything worthwhile.

Mystical Seeker said...

In this beautiful free country we live in, we can surely believe whatever floats our boat. Please though, do not try to carry Jesus and deny what has held the faith together since He walked this earth.

You realize, of course, that those two sentences contradict each other. On the one hand, you say that we can believe what we want to believe. In the next breath, you try to set limits on what we are allowed to believe.

That's really what it boils down to, isn't it--certain guardians of faith telling others what they can and can't believe. One is told that one can be a be a UU, a Bahai, a Muslim, a Jew, but one thing one is not allowed to do is have a set of beliefs that incorporate the Christian faith tradition unless one also accepts a certain set of tenets. It's funny how people are so afraid of people who participate in Christian traditions but dare to think differently. As soon as one involves one's self in a faith tradition that in any way shape or form involves Jesus, the New Testament, or Christian traditions, then one is told that has to accept certain set of beliefs. No choice is given in the matter.

This obsessive fascination with what other people believe is rather amazing, really.

This is, in reality, complete nonsense, and people who set themselves up as authorities and who try to tell the rest of us what we can and can't believe actually have no authority whatsoever in such matters.

I think it is obvious just how much fear really does play a role in this. As I pointed out earlier, the real problem is the fear that the orthodox faith will crumble to dust if anyone begins to question it. It makes you really wonder how much credibility orthodoxy has if it has to work so hard to guard itself all the time--or rather, if it requires self-important guardians of the faith who think they are on God-inspired missions to protect it.

Mystical Seeker said...

Cynthia,

I'm glad you liked the quote. I am guessing that you will probably like Delwin Brown's book.

Mystical Seeker said...

A living tradition will always be in the process of change, assimilation, redefinition, and so forth. We discover new things about the universe in which live. So, obviously, we are always in the process of change.

Exactly, John. Christianity did not drop out of the sky; its theology developed from a diverse set of responses and interpretations about Jesus, and this process is really necessary for the continuing development of a healthy faith.

Harry said...

As soon as one involves one's self in a faith tradition that in any way shape or form involves Jesus, the New Testament, or Christian traditions, then one is told that has to accept certain set of beliefs. No choice is given in the matter.

Yes. This is called freedom of association.

Guaranteed by the Constitution.

We can form voluntary associations and choose who can belong to them.

And it doesn't matter at all why we do this. You are not the judge of politically correct free association.

And why do you want to barge into a Church where you are not wanted?

Grow up and stop whining. Start your own religion if you want.

Mystical Seeker said...

And why do you want to barge into a Church where you are not wanted?

Once again, you make a false and unsubstantiated accusation. Why exactly you feel this compelling need to visit another person's blog simply to attack them, and furthermore to base your attacks on misinformation, is beyond me. If you had been paying the slightest bit of attention to my blog, you would know better than to say such a thing. You are a guest in this blog, but apparently things like manners and consideration were not a part of your upbringing.

I will simply note that I have made no secret of my lack of interest in attending congregations that preach conservative or orthodox ideology. (This is one reason why I have not landed in any particular denomination up to this point, and I have documented my frustration about this in great detail in this blog.) So why you would turn around an accuse me of wanting to do just the opposite.

Since you are such a fan of free association, you surely should have no problem with my interest in freely associating with others who share my interest in progressive Christianity. And yet you do anyway--thus belying your supposed belief in free association.

As I have repeatedly stated, what interests me is participating in a congregation of people who are interested in viewing the Christian traditions from a progressive perspective. Apparently you, as a self-appointed guardian of the faith, can't handle the idea of people freely associating with others who also share an interest in this type of association.

Harry said...

If you want me to not post, just say so.

D said...

I really liked Harry until that last post, even though I completely disagree with him on pretty much everything. At the very least, he's entertaining (of course he's not ridiculing me on my blog, I might add. :)

If you're going to be a bull, be a bull and be proud of it. But don't go busting through a china shop and then get all passive aggressive at the end because the shop owner is pissed that you tore up the store.

Consistency, people. Consistency.

Also, I am extremely happy that Harry has provided Progressive Christians with what I will now be calling the "Guide of Acceptable Places for Non-Conservative Christians to Worship Their So-Called God So That They Can Quit Sullying The Good Name of Jesus With All Their Talk of Love, Peace and Social Justice." (TM)

In short hand, for those keeping score at home, that's the GAPNCCWTSCGSTTCQSTGNJWATTLPSJ. I'll be picking that one up at my local Christian book store as soon as it comes out.

Oh, and please include phone numbers with the listings.

Harry said...

You certainly don't have to like me, lots of people don't.

But I wasn't being passive aggressive. This is indeed Mystical's blog and I am his guest as he says.

I enjoy sharp disputation, but sometimes I get carried away. I want to get people a little angry, but I don't want. But I don't want to make them upset.

I think I may have crossed the line, and I am just checking. If I haven't, then I'll continue to entertain in my fashion. If I have, then I'll quietly withdraw.

SocietyVs said...

"You certainly don't have to like me, lots of people don't." (Harry)

I think people here like you - you get the party started if you know what I mean. You're the ying to the yang - as iron sharpens iron and all that.

I would contend that you are not a Christian either though - because you believe in the Trinity - 3 Gods in 1 God. When the scriptures are very clear on the issue - there is only One God.

Now that's progressive of you to think there is more than one God in the One God - but that will not fly young man as a Christian doctrine - it's just breaking the law is all.

Mystical Seeker said...

My goal is not to discourage vigorous discussion. I only wish to keep things at a respectful level if possible.

SocietyVs said...

"My goal is not to discourage vigorous discussion. I only wish to keep things at a respectful level if possible." (Mystical)

I am with you on that point - my comment wasn't hurtful was it?

Mystical Seeker said...

my comment wasn't hurtful was it?

Societyvs, no, not at all.

Harry said...

SocietyV

The Trinity is a venerable doctrine, very Traditional.

You are being misled by those Protestant upstarts who throw out the Christian Tradition and were left with only (part of) the Bible.

The Bible alone is not sufficient for salvation. Even the Bible says so. And it is even worse when each person is allowed to interpret it on his own.

That's how you get the Jim Jones' and David Koretches of this world!

Not to mention Progressive Christians!

Grace said...

Well, Harry,

I certainly have to admire your tenacity. :)

As far as I'm concerned, anyone can explore the faith of the Christian church. We don't conduct orthodox litmus tests at the door. And, I think we should hang in with each other as much as possible, and show the love of Christ.

Yet, realistically, it seems to me that a certain amount of seperation is going to happen naturally overtime. How can folks get together to share in the fellowship, and worship of Jesus Christ without agreeing concerning the reality of the incarnation, for example?

Why would someone care to receive the sacrament of holy communion without really affirming in any sense that Jesus is "the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?"

Without agreement concerning the content of the "good news," how can the church truly carry out his primary mission together?

I think the truth of God expressed as trinity, and especially the unique divinity of Christ are truly church dividing issues.

But, it seems to me this is the case not because people are insecure, fearful, or feeling hateful toward each other. It's just that there is really nothing substantial to hold folks together spiritually. They're not sharing the same faith together.

And, for Christians church is more than a forum for spiritual exploration, and dialogue, or a community for social action.

D said...

"That's how you get the Jim Jones' and David Koretches of this world!
Not to mention Progressive Christians!"

I am so glad Mr. Harry isn't offering polemical arguments here, but sound, well-reasoned points meant to provoke thoughtful dialogue.

It strikes me that Mr. Harry fashions himself in the mode of Jesus driving the merchants out with a whip rather than the Jesus of Maundy Thursday. Of course, we should all be careful which *criminals* we choose to flog as heretics or insurrectionists.

But I'm sure God appreciates the bodyguard. I am also glad, that in God's divine plan, God sent Harry to minister to us in such a wonderful way, you know, like a shepherd who beats the hell out of his sheep because they happen to wander over to a green patch of grass rather than munch on dust, dirt and rock.

Harry said...

I don't think there is much difficulty finding the heretics and insurrectionists when they proudly proclaim themselves as such.

You are the one who proudly states that they are a Judas, after all.

And how can you expect respectful dialogue when just about every post here condemns Christians as fearful and stupid as opposed to Progressive Christians who are brave and insightful and manage to see the "truth behind the truth".

Seems like it might be healthy for you to confront the fact that not everyone is gaga over your magnificence.

SocietyVs said...

"The Trinity is a venerable doctrine, very Traditional" (Harry)

I don't care too much about the validity of tradition (this may be so) - but about truth. All I care about is if it is true or not - not that Christian orthodoxy has upheld it as so - for that is not truth - that is majority decision.

"And it is even worse when each person is allowed to interpret it on his own" (Harry)

Thank God - I was starting to think Luther, Athanasius, Calvin, and a hoarde of others may have been right for a second. But they all added their own interpretations into the mix so I guess I am safe.

"Seems like it might be healthy for you to confront the fact that not everyone is gaga over your magnificence." (Harry)

Don't lump everyone Harry - I never once said I was a progressive in this post - although I think I am. I also do not believe I am of more value than any other Christian - including you Harry.

Brian said...

I've always viewed the "three in one" God head as one God, in the same way that I am a son to my parents, a husband to my wife, a brother to my siblings, and a father to my daughter. Yet I am only one person - with many parts that presents me in different lights in different situations.

Using this analogy, God presents him/herself in different ways through history. Yet God is still the same.

I don't see a conflict with the "there is only one God vs the trinity of three Gods" comments.

D said...

Mr. Harry,
Please allow me to respond one by one to your well-thought-out points:

"I don't think there is much difficulty finding the heretics and insurrectionists when they proudly proclaim themselves as such."

-- Never said anything about finding. Only that we should be careful with who we attempt to bludgeon with the Bible/Tradition. Please place your criticisms in an accurate context for the edification of all. --

You are the one who proudly states that they are a Judas, after all.

-- Yes. I do identify with those who have betrayed Jesus by assuming they were wiser than his message of love. What you do not understand is that I consider my life as a conservative Christian the betrayal, not my one as a progressive, if that's even an accurate term. Also, you assume that I am "proudly" stating rather than stating it with sorrow. Again, you put words in people's mouths based on your own assumptions. This is not sharp disputation, but disingenuous insults. --

And how can you expect respectful dialogue when just about every post here condemns Christians as fearful and stupid as opposed to Progressive Christians who are brave and insightful and manage to see the "truth behind the truth".

-- If you dislike the tenor of this dialogue, you do not have to participate. Why visit a site that insults you? Seems masochistic. Obviously, you aren't changing anyone's minds on here. Also, I have a great many conservative Christian friends with whom I discuss opposing theological points of view, and none of them has felt the need to descend to disingenuous argumentation. --


Seems like it might be healthy for you to confront the fact that not everyone is gaga over your magnificence.

-- Magnificence? In what ways have I presented myself as magnificent and as someone who assumes everyone is gaga over? That's just petty insults without any grounding in reality.--

So, let's try a different tack. Mr. Harry, exactly what are you trying to accomplish here? And why are you so angry? Why is what I think so damaging to you? If truly no one takes my point of view seriously (re: your gaga comment), why bother spending so much of your time trying to refute it? Why not let us shrivel up in obscurity?

Or is this just something you do for kicks and giggles, to feel the rush of anger and oppression by we terrible progressives?

I wish you the best. But most of all, I wish you a little bit of peace instead of this rage you seem to be exhibiting.

Harry said...

D:

I thought you were identifying with Peter Rollins' "The Fidelity of Betrayal" where the author extols the virtue of betraying the Church.

BTW are you also ashamed of being a doubter or a St. John of the Cross?

I am pretty much immune to insults, not completely, but getting there. It is an ancient Christian spiritual exercise to endure insults, not masochism.

"A person who suffers bitterly when slighted or insulted should recognize from this that he still harbours the ancient serpent in his breast. If he quietly endures the insult or responds with great humility, he weakens the serpent and lessens its hold. But if he replies acrimoniously or brazenly, he gives it strength to pour its venom into his heart and to feed mercilessly on his guts. In this way the serpent becomes increasingly powerful; it destroys his soul's strength and his attempts to set himself right, compelling him to live for sin and to be completely dead to righteousness."

St. Symeon the New Theologian


I pointed them out to illustrate the hypocrisy of Progressive Christians.


And I am not even angry, let alone "full of rage". I suspect that is a bit of projection on your part.

Why do you all feel compelled to trash a religion you no longer believe in?

Thanks for your kind wishes. I too wish you peace from whatever it is that gnaws at you when you think about Christianity.

D said...

"Why do you all feel compelled to trash a religion you no longer believe in?"

One man's trash is another's treasure. See, that's the projection on your part. You assume I do not believe, as if belief were a singular point on a continuum, rather than a process, a struggle and a journey, a wrestling with angels and crying out in the dark. When you read us, you read with condemnatory glasses rather than with attempts to understand.

Re: My profile quotes. No, I am not ashamed to be a doubter or ID'd with St. John of the Cross. But juxtaposing the identification of both the good and the bad in me isn't a contradiction but honesty.

Might I suggest, then, if this is a spiritual discipline, that you follow the most important part of it: To respond with humility, rather than with pride.

But what an excellent phrase: What gnaws at us about Christianity. That gnawing is the interplay of faith and doubt, and the working out of salvation.

Harry said...

D:

Among your interests, you mention "subversive faith" and "subversive religion".

Progressive Christianity does seem to have as a major goal the subversion of Christianity.

What isn't that goal worthy of condemnation?

PrickliestPear said...

Brian,

I am a son to my parents, a husband to my wife, a brother to my siblings, and a father to my daughter. Yet I am only one person - with many parts that presents me in different lights in different situations.

Using this analogy, God presents him/herself in different ways through history. Yet God is still the same."


So how can God be both Father and Son to himself?

Grace said...

Hey, Prickliest,

Hope you, and everyone are still around. I'm late comin back to the thread. I've shared this on another blog, too.

Head over to the "Anglican Centrist," and check out the article by Derek Olson (a Phd candidate at Emory.) It's called simply, "An Essential." You'll find the article right under "Tobys Tale."

Anyway Olson talks about what actually happened at the Council of Nicea, and why the orthodox part felt so very strongly to stand against Arius, and affirm the reality of God as trinity.

It was about alot more than political wrangling, although of course Constantine wanted to see a united church, and a united empire, as well.

But, hey, if you're interested, check it out, and share what you think.

I would provide a link here, but am computer illiterate. :(

OneSmallStep said...

**I am a son to my parents, a husband to my wife, a brother to my siblings, and a father to my daughter. Yet I am only one person - with many parts that presents me in different lights in different situations.

Using this analogy, God presents him/herself in different ways through history. Yet God is still the same."**

I would have the same difficulty with this that Prickliest Pear is. In my case, it would work that I am a daughter to my parents, and a sister to my brother, and yet am also only one person and one being. Whereas in the Trinity, God is existing as three persons, and one being. Jesus is not both the Father and the Son, Jesus is simply the Son. But I, as one person and one being, am both the daughter and the sister.

Frank said...

I am a son to my parents, a husband to my wife, a brother to my siblings, and a father to my daughter. Yet I am only one person - with many parts that presents me in different lights in different situations.

Using this analogy, God presents him/herself in different ways through history. Yet God is still the same."



Technically speaking, this is modalism, not trinitariansim in an orthodox sense.

"Modalism" is a form of monotheism--God is one, but has different "modes" such as father, son, spirit. In other words, God appears in those forms, but there is essentially one God.

It does not make sense that Jesus is his own dad. That's the point! As John Shuck pointed out earlier in this thread, the doctrine of Trinity is one of transcendence. It has value by the fact that it doesn't make sense--it transcends. It calls you the believer into a deeper contemplation of the mystery of God. It forces you to stretch yourself. This is the genius of orthodoxy--it is just about the only form of Christianity that actually takes the mystery of God seriously, and that is why it has stood the test of the ages.

The so-called heresies always try to describe God in "human categories" as Marthaler writes. They try to make God more understandable in human terms--it is easier to believe that God is one, or that Jesus was *either* human or divine, but the 3-in-1 God and the fully human AND fully divine nature of Christ is not understandable to the human mind, but it DOES touch a hem on the garment.

People want to put God in a box that they can understand.

This is where progressives become the very thing they don't like--they don't like strict doctrines that try to dictate what God is, but refusing to have faith in anything that you can't understand is another form of the same control, and it reduces God to only what can be described in human language.

Trinity is a model of God. It has its flaws and its limitations. But until another theology takes seriously the mystery and infinite nature of God, you won't see Trinity being replaced.

Frank said...

Here is the direct link to the article that Grace referenced. I think it is excellent:

http://anglicancentrist.blogspot.com/2008/07/325-ad-essential-by-derek-olsen.html

I would humbly suggest that anyone who does not understand why the Trinity is meaningful should take a look at that. Olsen does a fine job of showing the pastoral implications of the Trinity. It is not some hollow formula that makes no sense to the modern person, but rather a living, breathing model of a felt relationship between people and God.

The first half the post is mostly history, but the paragraph beginning with "Trinitarian theology" is a fine starting point if you don't have time to read the whole thing.

Be careful: You may find out that orthodox theology is NOT mutually opposed to progressive theology, so be warned!!

Mystical Seeker said...

they don't like strict doctrines that try to dictate what God is, but refusing to have faith in anything that you can't understand is another form of the same control, and it reduces God to only what can be described in human language.

The problem is that Trinitarians do claim that their doctrine is the Truth and that therefore in some sense they understand God's nature. After all, it has to be the "Truth" if people are expected to pay lip service to it. I agree with you that in principle it should only be a model, but it is never presented as such. Trinitarian theologians in church hierarchies have taken God's ineffable essence and gone ahead and eff-ed it anyway. They have constructed an elaborate, convoluted, and arbitrary doctrine and erected it as an inviolable edifice that cannot be questioned. Three-in-one? Why not five? Why not 738? It seems to me that Trinitarians want to have it both ways if they are going to just claim that it is a model and no more. Any model that we have about God is going to be inadequate and incomplete, so if Trinitarianism is just to be a model, then its proponents have to allow for freedom of exploration of other models as well, and they have to realize how tenuous the whole elaborately constructed edifice really is. Given the ineffability of God's nature, then a convoluted doctrine that is elevated to the status of irrevocable doctrine like that of the Trinity is basically a house of cards. If something is beyond our full comprehension anyway, then constructing a Rube Goldberg theology to try to describe it just becomes an exercise in mental masturbation, as far as I am concerned. The more elaborate and remote from comprehensibility a model like this becomes, the more useless it is as well. And if most people really don't understand it anyway, what's the point, except to use the doctrine as a bludgeon to hit heretics over the head with?

OneSmallStep said...

**People want to put God in a box that they can understand.**

Is there any way to avoid this box, though? As soon as one makes a statement like "God is love," that is serving as a box. It's qualify what God is, and thus what God is not. If God is love, then God is not the opposite of love.

And in many ways, that box is necessary. Otherwise, we lack any means of describing God, other than saying God is a mystery, and mysteries can only take one so far. Those boxes give us a method of deciphering, of determining what is and is not God.

Especially if we start defining faith as a matter of trust, or loyalty, or a way of seeing. All of those require some level of understanding. There is great value to the mystery, because it will help people to not become complacent in their own faith. However, I would say the understanding is also required on some level. Is it possible to have deep faith without some sort of understanding? Otherwise, how does one examine?

PrickliestPear said...

It has value by the fact that it doesn't make sense--it transcends.

There's a difference between "mystery" -- that which actually transcends our understanding -- and mere unintelligibility.

The doctrine of the Trinity is often called a mystery, but the fact that it has been articulated in human language implies that it must be intelligible, or those expressions in human language are literally meaningless.

An expression in language requires understanding on the part of the one who expresses it for the expression to have any meaning, because "meaning" is simply that which the person understands the expression to communicate. An expression will have the same meaning for anyone else who understands it in the same way.

If the theologians who expressed the doctrine didn't understand what they were talking about, then their expressions of that doctrine are simply meaningless.

If it is unintelligible, it is also unbelievable, because we can only affirm that which we have understood. If we haven't understood, then we can either acknowledge that we have not understood, or we can misunderstand (or "understand incorrectly") and then affirm that which we have incorrectly understood. In neither case is the correct thing being believed.

The reason this has been misunderstood in the Christian tradition (until recently, by some people) is that language was thought to have almost magical qualities, as if it "contained" meaning, and an individual could be said to "believe" something simply by having the correct formulation in mind, even if they were incapable of understanding what the formulation was supposed to mean. This is a very naive understanding of the nature and function of language.

Mystical Seeker said...

Is there any way to avoid this box, though?

I don't think there is. It is a natural human desire to try to make sense of what we experience and to use human language to convey it. The problem is that human language is inevitably limited in capturing our experiences of God.

As soon as one makes a statement like "God is love," that is serving as a box.

I think that is a great starting point for describing God. It is simple and to the point.

Frank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frank said...

There's a difference between "mystery" -- that which actually transcends our understanding -- and mere unintelligibility.

Absolutely. And I probably overstated the "senseless" nature of the Trinity--it actually does make quite a bit of sense! It has to--faith needs reason and visa versa.

As Olsen says, Trinity captures the experience of God that people have had--the oneness of God as well as the three-ness of Creator, Incarnation and Grace. It wasn't intellectually thought up but rather came through a long history of people and their experience of God.

It doesn't "make sense" when you try to put it all together and reconcile the fact that people are experiencing a God of one-ness with a God of three-ness, an incarnation into humanity but also an incarnation of divinity. They ended up saying: God is three and also one. Jesus is fully human and divine. They didn't pick one, they just agreed to all of them.

But at least by doing so they are imagining a transcendent God and there's no shortage of mystery in that model. By including all of this, they are affirming all the experiences of people, not excluding some of them. The model by Arius affirms some peoples' expeirence of God but also negates some of other people. The Trinity is a more inclusive theology than people give it credit for.

Mystical--you won't get any argument from me as to the problems of the way the Church has enforced this doctrine.

PrickliestPear said...

Frank,

By including all of this, they are affirming all the experiences of people, not excluding some of them...The Trinity is a more inclusive theology than people give it credit for.


Well, then, why stop at three? Surely God has been experienced in other ways as well. So, far from being all-inclusive, as you say, it's actually quite exclusive.

Frank said...

Well, then, why stop at three? Surely God has been experienced in other ways as well. So, far from being all-inclusive, as you say, it's actually quite exclusive.

Ahhh... hair splitter. But that's fair, I'm typing this fast and should watch my wording. Let me try again:

To be specific, the Trinity is more inclusive than some of the other theologies out there, as I said. My wording "all the experiences" refers to a collective set of trends (which ties into the next point). The major trends are blended together in the Trinity. I did not mean that every single person's experience of God and their means of describing it is included in the Church's model. It does not mean it is "all inclusive". There may also be other trends that were excluded. Its just more inclusive.

But why did the Church agree on the 3-in-1 model? I would imagine that has something to do with the role of tradition--if an idea seems to take hold and has a life of its own, and seems to be something that many people across time find meaning for, which theologians also support as well as the authority structures in the Church, then the Church as a whole would/should recognize that as the prevailing model. The Church can also help shape this development, promote it, insitutionalize it (which can be a good thing) and proclaim it.

OneSmallStep said...

Frank,

**And I probably overstated the "senseless" nature of the Trinity--it actually does make quite a bit of sense! It has to--faith needs reason and visa versa.**

I may have lost your thought here. You said that the Trinity does make sense, but are you validing that sense in the types of experiences people had? Because how I'm reading this is that it does make sense in that it captures the experiences people have had -- the oneness of God with the threeness of Creator, Incarnation and Grace, which was derived from a history with God.

But where it doesn't make sense is when using the words to describe it, in terms of trying to logically convey what it means? That's where the whole reason aspect loses me, because it does "violate" reason. I find it to be a contradiction. Jesus is God and Man, and yet the very definition of one of those words means that the other word is excluded. If one is God, one is not man, and vice versa. Isn't this the only method of reason that we have?

Or maybe there's just a fine line between mystery and contradiction.

PrickliestPear said...

Frank,

To be specific, the Trinity is more inclusive than some of the other theologies out there.

Of course it is. But so what? If "inclusivity" is something to be valued in a concept of the divine, shouldn't theologies that are more inclusive (as found in Hinduism, for example) be even better?

The problem is that inclusivity is not a value in itself. A correct definition of "God" would include everything that is God and would exclude everything that is not. So if in fact Jesus is not divine, then including him in the definition of "God" would be incorrect, even though it's more inclusive. And excluding him would be more accurate, even though it would be less inclusive.

Frank said...

Onesmallstep: You raise good questions and I don't know. I like your last line about the fine line between mystery and contradiction.

One way I look at it is that all models are by definition imperfect. If they were perfect, they would not be a model but rather the real thing. A model is just an abbreviated representation. So Jesus the "good shepherd" is a model, but shepherding can only shed some limited light on Jesus, and if you take that description too far you will easily find a place where "shepherd" is not accurate. Does Jesus sleep with sheeps? Does Jesus smell like a shepherd? This is why scripture uses dozens and dozens of models one right after the other. Jesus is bread... Jesus is light... Jesus is a shepherd... Jesus is the way, truth and life. Each catches a glimpse. Jesus is son, God is father... How far are we supposed to take those models?

Prickliestpear:

But so what? If "inclusivity" is something to be valued in a concept of the divine, shouldn't theologies that are more inclusive (as found in Hinduism, for example) be even better?

You say "of course it is [more inclusive]" but your previous post complained about how "exclusive" the doctrine is. So which is it?

I'm not sure that inclusivity is a major value, either, and its certainly not the only value. I think it only has value when it represents the collective trends of the people of the Church. In this way, the prevailing models of God are not just things intellectuals dream up, but they are some kind of synthesis of the collective experiences of God. That's what all church doctines should be, in my opinion.

Mystical Seeker said...

One of the old complaints that polytheists raised against monotheistic religions was exclusivity. When polytheism encountered a new god, it just added it to the pantheon. Monotheism has just one God, so that isn't an option.

To me, though, the God of monotheism is of a different order of being, and to me panentheism the way you get around the inclusive/exclusive dilemma, since it views God as incorporating everything.

This gets back to my blind man and the elephant analogy. There are many ways of capturing our understanding of God, all of them incomplete and only partially adequate. God's inclusiveness exceeds our ability to characterize his/her nature.

PrickliestPear said...

Frank,

You say "of course it is [more inclusive]" but your previous post complained about how "exclusive" the doctrine is. So which is it?

I said that in response to your assertion that it is more inclusive than "some of the other theologies out there." This doesn't contradict anything I said previously.

My acknowledgement that it is obviously "more inclusive than some of the theologies out there" is a simple statement of fact, so it can't be contrasted with a "complaint" one way or the other.

Even if I did "complain" that it is exclusive, this doesn't change the fact that there are other, even more exclusive theologies "out there."

Incidentally, I never "complained" that it was too exclusive. I simply pointed out that, if "inclusivity" is of value in itself, then the Trinity cannot be judged favourably compared to more inclusive theologies.

If the Trinity is understood as drawing a line between what is and what is not God, then "inclusivity" cannot be considered a value. Such a category should include nothing more and nothing less than that which can be accurately called divine.

If those who deny the divinity of Christ (for example) are correct, then the Trinity is "too inclusive," and therefore should not be given any more "credit" for it's level of inclusivity, as you implied. Giving it "credit" for that would be misplaced, because the doctrine would be fundamentally incorrect.

That was my whole point. In all truthfulness, I think it's a silly thing to even be discussing. None of this has anything to do anything.

Brian said...

This is a fun and thought-provoking thread, but it does seem to be similar to the old question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

How can the human mind analyse God this specifically? Just as one atom cannot know what it (and zillions of other atoms) have come together to form. (I know its a bad analogy, but its the best I could come up with on the fly. :)

Harry said...

Brian:

This is not an analysis or model or speculation.

It is a revelation.

God reveals Himself to a few Godly men, and they tell the rest of us.

Progressive Christians get envious and make a lot of noise.

John Shuck said...

I have been out of touch for over a week and pleased to see this discussion still going. Way back, JP asked:

"I know progressives do not like to answer this question but John, what is a Christian?"

I don't know. I am not particularly worried about it. If someone says s/he is a Christian, that is fine for me.

What (or who) is a Christian to some is not Christian for others.

I am finding the label really problematic, in large part, because of all the gate-keeping. I like to think of myself as a follower of Jesus.

PrickliestPear said...

Harry

God reveals Himself to a few Godly men, and they tell the rest of us.

I'd be interested in hearing your response to following quotation by Thomas Paine, from The Age of Reason:

"It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication — after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him."

Frank said...

Prickliestpear:

That quote raises good issues about the role of religious traditions. When a lot of folks out there talk about their faith, it sounds like they are saying their faith is not in God, but rather in the testimony of others.

I think some kind of balancing act is called for. Having too much of a personal, individual relationship with God without any regard to any wisdom handed from anyone else is a very narrow place to be and it is easy to create distortions that way. But having no personal relationship with God and only getting it all second-hand is just as bad for other reasons.

PrickliestPear said...

Frank,

I don't think there's any question we need others in our journey. It's unavoidable, even if we wanted to avoid it.

The problem of revelation, though, requires greater examination than a lot of people give it. They are sure that by believing this or that set of dogmas they are obeying God. But is it God they're obeying, or men?

Passing off any human doctrine as being divine in origin strikes me as a bit idolatrous. And as the Thomas Paine quotation argues, ultimately all we get from other humans are human doctrines.

Mystical Seeker said...

Passing off any human doctrine as being divine in origin strikes me as a bit idolatrous.

I agree completely. All revelation is filtered through human experience--it could not be otherwise. A lot of revelation then gets further filtered through second-hand hearsay of someone else's interpretation of their religious experience. Add to the the process of human reason, and the dialogue that naturally takes place within a human religious community is really an ongoing give and take several takes removed from whatever someone was revealed in the first place. You can't take the human element out of revelation, and to assign infallibility to it is indeed a form of idolatry.

Frank said...


Passing off any human doctrine as being divine in origin strikes me as a bit idolatrous. And as the Thomas Paine quotation argues, ultimately all we get from other humans are human doctrines.



I agree about doctrines. I don't believe in infallibility.

However, as Mystical pointed out, there is an element of real revelation that goes into these religious beliefs... scripture, doctrines, dogma, pious practices, etc. So saying they are completely the work of humans would be wrong, as well.

This is where we have to evaluate religious traditions against our own inner compass. We hope that "truth" is self evident and if something is good it will resonate within us and we'll be able to recognize it. If enough people get together and agree that there is some truth to be had in a particular idea or belief, then I would tend to be cautious before throwing it into the can.

Harry said...

Passing off any human doctrine as being divine in origin strikes me as a bit idolatrous. And as the Thomas Paine quotation argues, ultimately all we get from other humans are human doctrines.

But these doctrines are based on human experiences. If we reject the reports of human experience, we have nothing.

Passing it through some inner contemplation is useless. Unless we have become holy we will simply believe that which flatters our egos.

This is why Christianity is really not a religion, but a practice. We calm the passions, activate the virtues and then we can see God As He Is.

Those Saints and Holy Men and Women who have finished the path have all reported the God announced in the Dogmas.

Contrary to Paine's skepticism, the Triune God is an objective fact which anyone may verify by looking in the right place in the right way.

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy.

PrickliestPear said...

But these doctrines are based on human experiences. If we reject the reports of human experience, we have nothing.

I never said human experiences should be rejected. Everything we know is rooted in our experience. But there is something wrong with humans describing their own doctrines as being divine in origin. See the difference?

Contrary to Paine's skepticism, the Triune God is an objective fact which anyone may verify by looking in the right place in the right way.

Right. And the "flatness of the Earth" can be verified by looking in the right place (say, the Flat Earth Society's website) in the right way (say, without the interference of critical thought).

Harry said...

Experiences of the Divine are Divine in origin, and the descriptions of those experiences are motivated by the divine. What is wrong with that?

The knowledge roundness of the earth is not a product of "critical thinking", but of observation. It took slightly more sophisticated observations, to be sure.

The Flat Earth Society uses a lot of "critical thinking" to try to explain away the observations that confirm the round earth hypothesis.

Similarly, Progressive Christians use a lot of "critical thinking" to explain away the experiences of generations of Holy Men and Women, and the product of that "critical thinking" is just as bogus.

PrickliestPear said...

Harry (once again, missing the point entirely):

"The knowledge roundness of the earth is not a product of "critical thinking", but of observation.

Oh, help...

Are you saying that Copernicus and Galileo simply "observed" the roundness of the Earth? And precisely how did they get far enough away from the Earth to do that?

Enough of you.

Harry said...

PP:

I will give you the help you asked for.

First, the fact the Earth was spherical was well known in ancient times. Galileo and Copernicus and the Pope and every literate person since before NT times knew the earth was round. Copernicus and Galileo proposed a heliocentric model of the solar system, not the roundness of the earth which was also included in the geocentric model.

As for the observations hat led to the discovery of the spherical shape of the earth, the two most important were the shape of the shadow of the earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse and the observation that southern constellations rose higher in Egypt than in Greece.

Erasthenes, by measuring the length of the shadow cast by the summer solstice sun in Syrene and Alexandria is said to have estimated the earths circumference to within 10% two hundred years before the birth of Christ.

For someone who bases their beliefs on the works of historians, you really ought to know a bit of history.

PrickliestPear said...

(Just for the record, this is the last time I am ever going to respond to Harry. Usually I know better than to argue with trolls, but in moments of weakness, usually when I'm tired, I sometimes act contrary to my better judgment.)

Harry:

Galileo and Copernicus and the Pope and every literate person since before NT times knew the earth was round.

I admit that I was imprecise when I used the term "round" to describe the Earth. I should have said "spheroid," but since I didn't realise that it was essential to the point I was making, I underestimated the need for precision. I apologise for the confusion.

Even though the Earth was widely believed to be a sphere even in antiquity, those who can claim to have "verified" knowledge of this were few in number.

"Verification," you will remember, was the point at issue in our discussion. Most premodern belief in a spheroid earth was not based on scientific grounds, but was often based on grounds that are now known to have been false. In other words, they were correct, but only inadvertently. This does not constitute knowledge (which is always verified), but merely "correct belief."

This is directly germane to the point we were discussing, which is the status of the Trinity as "verifiable." I did not say that belief in the Trinity is incorrect (although I happen to believe that it is incorrect), I simply took issue with your rather preposterous assertion that it can be "verified."

Using the spheroid shape of the Earth as an example was a mistake on my part, because it is impossible to say precisely when this was verified, or by whom.

As for the observations hat led to the discovery of the spherical shape of the earth, the two most important were the shape of the shadow of the earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse and the observation that southern constellations rose higher in Egypt than in Greece.

The shape of the shadow on the moon in a lunar eclipse may well prove that the Earth is a spheroid, for precisely the reasons Aristotle asserted, and anyone who came to the same insight would probably be quite justified in claiming "knowledge" of the Earth's spheroid shape, as it is the simplest explanation for why the curvature of the shadow does not change (as it would if cause by a round disc, for example). Having said that, Aristotle's argument was not well known until the late in the middle ages, and it is clear that a lot of people continued to argue for a spheroid Earth on other (faulty) grounds. Which suggests that they did not have the same insight as Aristotle.

Erasthenes, by measuring the length of the shadow cast by the summer solstice sun in Syrene and Alexandria is said to have estimated the earths circumference to within 10% two hundred years before the birth of Christ.[sic]

By "Erasthenes" I assume you mean Eratosthenes, and by "Syrene" I assume you mean Syene, the city in Egypt in which Eratosthenes is known to have taken his measurements. I'm not aware of any place called "Syrene," although Eratosthenes himself was from Cyrene, which was a Greek colony in what is today known as Libya, but this was obviously not the same place as Syene.

(I certainly don't mean to nitpick, but if that is what your source for this information said, I might recommend finding better sources.)

If I am correct in my assumptions, then what you wrote is basically correct, but not particularly relevant. Eratosthenes could have concluded on scientific grounds that the Earth is not flat, but he could not have proven that it is a spheroid based on his own work (that we know of).

Incidentally, the fact that he was able to judge the circumference of the Earth as accurately as he did is considered a bit of a fluke, given the number of false assumptions he made in arriving at his conclusion. In any case, coming to a correct (or nearly correct) conclusion on faulty grounds cannot be considered objective "verification," so it is not relevant to the discussion.

You are quite correct that geocentricity does not imply a flat earth (as many incorrectly assume). I was assuming that heliocentricity does imply a spheroid earth (hence my invocation of Copernicus and Galileo as people who would have to have had verified knowledge of the spheroid shape of the Earth), but it has since occurred to me that this was a mistaken assumption on my part.

For someone who bases their beliefs on the works of historians, you really ought to know a bit of history.

Wow, good one.

Harry said...

PP:

Why you say it is preposterous that any man or woman can verify the Truth that God is Trinity will have to remain your secret, as you won't respond to me anymore.

Through living a life of asceticism, charity and contemplation it is possible to know God. So claim the Saints and this has been verified by holy men and women these past 20 centuries.

It is easy to merely declare something preposterous is easy. Where does this get us? It is sheer bluster.

Frank said...

The idea that the Trinity is an objective, verifiable fact is a bit of a stretch. If that were so, it would be within the realm of scientific knowledge, not religious faith. I tend to believe that the call to faith in the midst of the unknown is an integral part of a religious journey, but that's just my opinion--if it were fully known, it would not be faith but rather knowledge. To assume something is objectively known is to deprive yourself of the risk of faith.

Harry is right in suggesting that tradition affirms (many) doctrines, such as the Trinity. Its not completely random, in most cases, but the product of a long history. But he is wrong to suggest that this is anywhere near as "clean" of a process as he suggests.

Harry said...

Frank:

I am what can be called a small g gnostic.

God is actually real, other than a psychological feature of our consciousness and can be known in His energies.

This knowledge is not scientific knowledge because it relies on a type of perception or knowing not recognized by the scientific community.

I don't understand what you mean by "the call to faith in the midst of the unknown" or "the risk of faith". So I can't comment. Sounds existentialist to me, and my whole life is predicated on the faith that existentialism (and its mother nihilism) is a lie.

Perhaps it helps if I say that it is my faith that God created us with the intention that we can participate fully in His Truth.

Frank said...

Harry, what I mean is this: By definition, faith is not knowledge. Knowledge is verifiable--whether it be through scientific means or some other ways still unbeknownst to science, it is still knowledge. The very use of the word "faith" presupposes a risk--an embracing or immersion into a mystery that you aren't going to fully know, but you trust. Jesus calls us to faith, hope and trust... not knowledge.

Its not completely blind faith... it is not faith for no reason whatsoever. There is a response in our being to divine revelation, and our hearts burn when we recognize Truth. In that sense, we have "knowledge" that there is something more, in an intuitive sense. There are some breadcrumbs left from previous generations--tradition and its products, such as scripture and church. So it is not completely random, it is not like someone invents the God of the noodly appendages and say to worship him for nor reason whatsoever.

But to take away the mystery and the risk is to take away faith itself. You can't really hope if you already know the end result. You can't really trust if its all said and done and settled. You can't have faith if its already known.

Harry said...

I'll take knowledge over faith then.

You might want to meditate over this passage from Scripture (if such a thing is allowed here):

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

We write this to make our joy complete.


Why should anyone settle for less?

PrickliestPear said...

Frank:

The idea that the Trinity is an objective, verifiable fact is a bit of a stretch.

That's quite an understatement.

To verify something, one must rule out all other explanations for the experience(s) that gave rise to the understanding of the thing in the first place. Otherwise one may only believe, one cannot "know."

The fact that Christians seem to be the only ones who have "Trinitarian" experiences cautions us against taking them at face value. Christians have Christian experiences, Hindus have Hindu experiences. To take the tradition-specific content of a religious experience at face value becomes problematic when you know about the experiences in other traditions. Clearly people's experiences are shaped to varying degrees by their religious background. To deny or ignore this is more than a little naive.

If that were so, it would be within the realm of scientific knowledge, not religious faith.

You seem to be implying that all verifiable knowledge is "scientific knowledge." Am I mistaken?

Harry said...

Frank:

To verify something, one must rule out all other explanations for the experience(s) that gave rise to the understanding of the thing in the first place. Otherwise one may only believe, one cannot "know."

Well, in that case, one can know nothing. PP can never rule out the possibility that he is a "brain in a vat" whose entire experience is being manipulated by a mad scientist somewhere.

To update the image, we may all be part of a computer simulation in a game being played by teenager in a highly advanced civilization.

In fact, some argue that this is almost certainly true:

http://www.simulation-argument.com/

The demonstration that Christianity is true and all other religions either false or incomplete will have to wait for another time.y

Frank said...

The fact that Christians seem to be the only ones who have "Trinitarian" experiences cautions us against taking them at face value.

I'm not entirely sure this is true. There many religions which balance the oneness of a supreme being with a multiplicity of other forces, spirits or gods.

The most important thing about the Trinity is not that it is a description of what God looks like. No one would even know where to begin to draw that picture. Rather, it is a model of how people and God relate, based on the lived experiences of a tradition of people.

PrickliestPear said...

Frank,

I'm not entirely sure this is true. There many religions which balance the oneness of a supreme being with a multiplicity of other forces, spirits or gods.

That is unquestionably true, but Trinity is not simply a vague assertion of multiplicity -- it is, rather, an assertion that the one God exists at exactly three persons, no more and no less, and that one of these persons became human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Those elements are essential to the doctrine.

..it is a model of how people and God relate, based on the lived experiences of a tradition of people.

Also true.

Frank said...

but Trinity is not simply a vague assertion of multiplicity -- it is, rather, an assertion that the one God exists at exactly three persons, no more and no less, and that one of these persons became human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Those elements are essential to the doctrine.


How is that different from what I said?

Let's not forget there's a difference between theologies (plural) of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Trinity. And there is also a difference between that and a fundamentalist interpretation of the Trinity.