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Progressive Christianity

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Since we have this forum, I'll share this as fairly representative of where I come from: http://progressivechristianity.org/the-8-points/

I know that not all will join in this approach. Point 2 says I'm ok with that. I offer it up for your understanding of me and that we might discuss its pros and cons.

Edited by Darrel Manson

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Hmm, very informative. I find more to agree with there than disagree, even while I know that I am in agreement more with the unweighted statements, than with the baggage that accompanies them. There is a sincerity and thoughtfulness that obviously went into the list.

Thanks muchly for this, Darrell! I'll be digging into the various points and more... Although I'm not quite where you are, I'm a lot closer to your position now than I was even a year ago - on point #6 especially.

It's interesting that you'd say you find yourself moving more towards #6; I think I've been seeing the opposite in my life. I find no solace in "questions" about Christianity. I certainly can appreciate that doubt, questioning and struggling are reasonable and necessary elements in a living faith, but they are ultimately means to an end, not the end itself. I have certainly had my fair share of doubt, especially in the past couple years, and gone through a lot of self-examination and questioning, but even while I saw that as a maturing process, I didn't provide me any comfort or sense of contentment. I feel like I'm coming into a time in my life where I'm comfortable and satisfied with my faith, and even excited about God and spirituality, and while I don't claim to know everything, I do claim to have a real sense of assurance of the absolute and unwavering goodness of Jesus, and his presence in my life.

I find the statement, that Christians should "Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes" to be a misnomer on several fronts. First of all, if we are "searching for understanding", then the logical conclusion is that we want to find understanding, not that we want to revel in the "search". If we're not really interested in the ultimate outcome of that "search", then we're not really searching, right?

Also, I agree that "dogmatic" certainty is inappropriate (in most occasions); however, the phrasing almost tends toward a negative perspective of certainty at all. It is a trend in the church that I find troubling, in that we have taken the legitimate and meaningful element of the "journey", the "search", the sense of our ignorance, even while we look to grasp truth, and inflated that to say that truth is ultimately incomprehensible. While statement 6 doesn't explicitly outline this, I think perhaps the implication is that we can't really know, so we should take comfort and joy in our questioning, our incomprehension, as a community.

Incomprehension, in of itself, doesn't lead a group of people anywhere but confusion. If we truly put more "value in questioning than in absolutes", we will end up right where we started, hopeful but ignorant. Our search should always be toward finding answers, coming to a sense of understanding. Questioning must ultimately lead to absolutes, or else it is a meaningless dead end. The desire to understand and come to solid conclusions is a pre-requisite of questioning, and questioning cannot meaningfully exist in a vacuum, except as an exercise in futility. As Chesterton so eloquently put it once, "Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid."

As believers, I think we ought to maintain an honesty about general limitations on understanding life, the universe, and everything; but if we can't even come to some basic theological philosophical conclusions about our faith, then we are, as the Apostle Paul said, "men to be most pitied".

I know this is rambling, but just some thoughts. And I haven't even gotten to Statement #3 yet! :)

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I think one problem with no. 6 is that, in practice at least, it's sometimes in opposition to no. 2. In my pretty extensive experience in progressive churches, if one finds "more grace in the search for understanding than [one does] in dogmatic certainty," one tends to have problems "[r]ecognizing the faithfulness of other people" who believe in dogmatic certainty, e.g. fundamentalists, Pentecostals, some conservative evangelicals, Catholics, and Orthodox. But perhaps that's just what I've run into.

I suppose I agree with nos. 1, 3 (dependent on the meaning of the last prepositional clause), 4 (hinging on the words "participate" and "acceptable"), 7, and 8. I agree with no. 5 if you're willing to let me stick in a "second" and a hyphen before "most," I dislike the second half of no. 2, which is borderline Unitarian, and as Joel says above, no. 6 implies "a negative perspective of certainty at all," which bothers me.

Dale

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I suspect that #2 ("We are Christians who recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.") will be the sticking point for many people. It is for me. I think everyone would be in agreement that Christians have sometimes been intolerant of and disrespectful to those who faithfully follow other religions. That's wrong. But the uniqueness of Jesus is a non-negotiable for me, and I'm not really sure what the label "Christianity" even means without it. I think I'm about 7/8 progressive, which probably makes me evangelical.

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My take on # 6. I realized that it was a lot more fun to try to discover the truth (another word for it is re-inventing the wheel) than to actually put into practice what I know to be true. Now I am more a proponent of what Chesterton calls "the democracy of the dead" another way of saying that in 2000 years we've been able to figure quite a few things and these things we call the Tradition of the Church. I feel confident in the truth of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Now the issue for me is to understand that compendium of knowledge and put it into practice in my life. And there is grace in that journey.

Edited by Jim Janknegt

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I suspect that #2 ("We are Christians who recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.") will be the sticking point for many people. It is for me. I think everyone would be in agreement that Christians have sometimes been intolerant of and disrespectful to those who faithfully follow other religions. That's wrong. But the uniqueness of Jesus is a non-negotiable for me, and I'm not really sure what the label "Christianity" even means without it. I think I'm about 7/8 progressive, which probably makes me evangelical.

What Andy said, pretty much.

I take it as a datum of history that the phenomenon of Christianity, for all its early and ongoing diversity, was from the outset fundamentally predicated on and inseparable from the premise that what Christians have in Jesus is in some crucial way radically unique and new; and that whatever Jews, pagans and others may have in their own religious traditions is in some crucial way fundamentally non-comparable to this.

The historical phenomenon of Christianity is, further, predicated on the premise that this claim of uniqueness is rooted in Jesus' own teaching, in his own claims about himself, his work, his relationship with his Father. N. T. Wright and Pope Benedict, among others, have written helpfully on both of these points.

Whatever else may be said or not said about the phenomenon of Christianity in history, whatever effects it may have had for good and for ill, whatever good or bad ideas may have been associated with it, I take it that there is nothing fundamentally and essentially "Christian" that is extricable from this defining premise of Jesus' uniqueness.

I do realize that the historical premise -- that the historical Jesus is the origin of the early Christian belief regarding the radical uniqueness and newness that Jesus represents -- has long been controverted by many. I think it is crucial to say that if this premise is untrue -- if Jesus is not the origin of early Christian belief on this point -- then Christianity is false.

If the premise is untrue, there is no underlying truth or kernel of a message to be salvaged that can still be called "Christian." Whatever Jesus himself may have taught -- assuming we can even know anything about it -- was not "Christian" in any historically useful sense.

If that is what we believe, we might call ourselves Jesus enthusiasts, or say that we are heirs of a larger Christian cultural heritage -- the way that Philip Pullman has called himself "a Church of England atheist" -- but I don't think we can or should call ourselves "Christians."

As a Christian, I stake everything on the belief that the premise is true, that the historical Jesus is the origin of the early Christian belief, and that the early Christian belief is true.

By this, as a Christian, I live and die.

Edited by SDG

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I'm cool with 1, 3, 5, 7 & 8.

2, 4, & 6, if pursued toward their logical conclusions, begin very soon to contradict the other tenets. I don't reject any of them outright, of course, but can't fully endorse them either. I find #6 very interesting. Certainly questions are valuable, but are they more valuable than certainty? I'm not certain about that. I would question that.

Edited by mrmando

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It's interesting that you'd say you find yourself moving more towards #6; I think I've been seeing the opposite in my life. I find no solace in "questions" about Christianity. I certainly can appreciate that doubt, questioning and struggling are reasonable and necessary elements in a living faith, but they are ultimately means to an end, not the end itself. I have certainly had my fair share of doubt, especially in the past couple years, and gone through a lot of self-examination and questioning, but even while I saw that as a maturing process, I didn't provide me any comfort or sense of contentment. I feel like I'm coming into a time in my life where I'm comfortable and satisfied with my faith, and even excited about God and spirituality, and while I don't claim to know everything, I do claim to have a real sense of assurance of the absolute and unwavering goodness of Jesus, and his presence in my life.

I find the statement, that Christians should "Find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty - more value in questioning than in absolutes" to be a misnomer on several fronts. First of all, if we are "searching for understanding", then the logical conclusion is that we want to find understanding, not that we want to revel in the "search". If we're not really interested in the ultimate outcome of that "search", then we're not really searching, right?

Pity I cut so much for space reasons. So well said.

For me, part of the reason for emphasizing the search over the goal is that I perceive the goal as a moving target. Even if I were ti hit it dead center (a very unlikely supposition) I couldn't lay claim to anything resembling ultimate truth, because it would continue to move and evolve. I understand that such an idea is seen by some as a frightening or upsetting view of God - that God might change - that God is not the immutable anchor to which we can hold. For me it opens up even greater possibilities for how I understand God and how God can be known in the world. So I feel perfectly happy to search on, even without the likelihood (perhaps even without the possibility) of finding the ultimate truth I seek.

Edited by Darrel Manson

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I understand that such an idea is seen by some as a frightening or upsetting view of God - that God might change - that God is not the immutable anchor to which we can hold.

I don't find it frightening -- no more so than the materialist universe, anyway. I can't fret much about it either way; any "fears" I might have about either scenario are either unfounded or meaningless and irrelevant.

With regard to such a God, or god, as I understand you to describe, I find myself in more or less the same camp as Buddha, I guess. He would be worth taking into account. It makes sense (as much as anything) to accord him respect and so forth. All things being equal, I would rather be on good terms with him than not. But I have my own life to live.

Edited by SDG

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Pity I cut so much for space reasons. So well said.

Thank you! (I think you were saying this to me?)

For me, part of the reason for emphasizing the search over the goal is that I perceive the goal as a moving target. Even if I were ti hit it dead center (a very unlikely supposition) I couldn't lay claim to anything resembling ultimate truth, because it would continue to move and evolve. I understand that such an idea is seen by some as a frightening or upsetting view of God - that God might change - that God is not the immutable anchor to which we can hold. For me it opens up even greater possibilities for how I understand God and how God can be known in the world. So I feel perfectly happy to search on, even without the likelihood (perhaps even without the possibility) of finding the ultimate truth I seek.

I think I understand, and agree to a certain extent, though I think I see it through another spectrum. For me, it's not that God is changing, but that insofar as He exists, and is the embodiment of truth, it is ultimately impossible to completely know Him, to come to some sort of peak of knowledge about Him; consequentially, I find myself in a continuous search forward to know more about Him, even while I know I will never comprehend Him in any holistic way. In that sense, I think I am/we are all in a life-long search, insofar as we continue to go, as Lewis put it, "further up and further in" to the knowledge of His personhood and character.

As an addition to that, I find that when I come to an understanding about something of who or what God is, there is always more to enrich that truth, to add to its poignancy and depth. I think that is where I find myself humbled in my knowledge; I can understand a truth about God, but in some inexplicable way, I can't see it's full consequence or gravity. It's kind of a hard concept to explain, but it is, for me at least, central in my own experience with Christianity, and my relationship with Christ.

Even in keeping all this in mind, I still find myself with a set of truths that I can steadfastly know about God. It's like hiking up a mountain, and while I know I'll never reach the peak, I can look down and see the "ledges of truth" which I've already surpassed. They are a reality to me already, an inextricable element of my experience, and I understand and am content with that knowledge, even if I can't comprehend the whole.

I know this is probably just splitting hairs in the end, but somehow it feels consequential for the long run.

Edited by Joel C

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Even in keeping all this in mind, I still find myself with a set of truths that I can steadfastly know about God. It's like hiking up a mountain, and while I know I'll never reach the peak, I can look down and see the "ledges of truth" which I've already surpassed. They are a reality to me already, an inextricable element of my experience, and I understand and am content with that knowledge, even if I can't comprehend the whole.

Nice metaphor. Of course there are other people down below struggling on those ledges of truth you've traveled, but you really can't help them - they have to make their own journey. I would also suggest that some of us take a different path entirely and there are ledges of truth on those paths as well - ledges of truths you or I will never discover.

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With regard to such a God, or god, as I understand you to describe, I find myself in more or less the same camp as Buddha, I guess. He would be worth taking into account. It makes sense (as much as anything) to accord him respect and so forth. All things being equal, I would rather be on good terms with him than not. But I have my own life to live.

Isn't that a bit of what Point 2 is about? Yes I would give respect to the Buddha (even in those forms of Buddhism that treat him as a god.) Certainly I don't consider someone like the current Dalai Lama as someone with no spiritual truth because he doesn't have the same spiritual truth that I have.

Note the ending of Point 2 - as our ways are true for us. We do not say that Christianity is not true - indeed, we affirm the truth. It's just we don't make a claim of exclusive truth. I know that to your ears that rings as "Christianity is false," but I cannot reduce Christianity to any binary truth. It is not a matter of black and white - or even shades of gray. The truth that God makes known to us is the full spectrum - even things we can never see. Who knows what others might see?

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Nice metaphor. Of course there are other people down below struggling on those ledges of truth you've traveled, but you really can't help them - they have to make their own journey.

That is true, though if we can see them down below, we ought to call down to them to encourage them on their way up.

I would also suggest that some of us take a different path entirely and there are ledges of truth on those paths as well - ledges of truths you or I will never discover.

To a certain extent yes, certainly so within Christianity itself. Look at this board for evidence.

However, I think I'd find it problematic to extend the metaphor too far outside of Christianity. I see the path up the mountain less about moving towards salvation and redemption (though the latter is certainly a side-result of the climb, and I believe it is an effect in our lives that is always in-flux), and more about having already found salvation, and the climb upwards as trying to understand more about it, and the person/entity who brought it.

I don't necessarily mean that as a statement in regard to my position on salvation; I think that's a slightly different (though definitely related) topic. More about how I think about truth as a Christian, rather than as a "spiritual" person in general.

Edited by Joel C

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I haven't had time to read the list yet, but re: Darrel and SDG's comments on the changeability of God, I'm not quite sure what I make of that debate.

To be in time is to change, and in one very important sense, God transcends time (and therefore change). On the other hand, God the Son is not merely divine; he is human, too, and so he lives WITHIN time -- even, I suspect, in his resurrected form. (For some reason I regard it as unlikely that we all step outside of time entirely when we are resurrected.) The fact that Jesus lives in time is as much a part of his human nature as the fact that he has a human will, distinct from the divine will; but the fact that he has a divine nature means that there is a part of him that lives outside of time, too.

Since Jesus is the bridge between man and God, and since Jesus models for us how the human will can and should move towards consistency with the divine will, I don't mind thinking of Jesus, at least, as a "moving target" in some sense -- but I'd say he's moving in a fairly consistent direction. It's not like he's erratically hopping all over the place. (Indeed, does not the very notion of "progressive" ANYthing imply movement in a more-or-less linear direction?)

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It occurs to me, from Darrel's last post, that just as the phrase "historical Christianity" has a double sense, briefly explored in this new thread, so Darrel's phrase "progressive Christianity" seems also to have a double sense. It is "progressive" in its epistomology, but also in its content; the object of faith is itself believed to have a "progressive" character.

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Important as it is for Christians to be clear and positive about what they stand for, the time has come for followers of Jesus to embrace pluralism as a necessary condition for a peaceful and just society.

It's a necessity, as modern "Christians," to embrace "pluralism" to promote and successfully live in a peaceful and just society. I just don't understand this declaration.

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You might have to explain a little more. You don't understand what the declaration means, or you don't understand why someone would be convinced by its sentiment, and feel the need to make it?

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You might have to explain a little more. You don't understand what the declaration means, or you don't understand why someone would be convinced by its sentiment, and feel the need to make it?

It seems to suggest several things, for example, what does it mean "the time has come?" So, Christians weren't capable, or it wasn't necessary, until modern times for Christians to accept other paths to God other than Jesus Christ? Also, is it suggesting that Christians who don't accept pluralism aren't promoting a just and peaceful society? I don't mean to take on the offensive, I've heard a lot about the progressive christian movement, but haven't had the chance to really talk to anyone who has embraced it.

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I'm not really the person to speak on its behalf, but my response to the statement you quoted was simply to think 'yes, of course'.

If you take the bit about Christians out, then you have 'pluralism is the condition for a just and peaceful society', which as I read it would be to say that there needs to be a context which can unite human beings that is more generic than religious confession, simply because, like it or not, there are different religions, and different versions of different religions, not to mention different forms of secularity or humanism. There has to be a sense in which beliefs are held to be equal, in the sense of 'equally important to the people who hold them', even if one is totally convinced that some beliefs are or less true, and others more or less not true. I suppose it's the sense that peace is prior to truth, in the same way that 'being a human' is prior to 'being a Christian'.

As for 'the time has come', I guess the point would be since we are more and more aware of cultural and religious difference, and more and more inter-related regardless of these differences, it's about time Christians affirmed this more fully, and allow this reality to affect the way in which beliefs are held, rather than simply live with the benefits of it.

I have no idea if this is what Darrel would say!

Edited by stu

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I'm not really the person to speak on its behalf, but my response to the statement you quoted was simply to think 'yes, of course'.

If you take the bit about Christians out, then you have 'pluralism is the condition for a just and peaceful society', which as I read it would be to say that there needs to be a context which can unite human beings that is more generic than religious confession, simply because, like it or not, there are different religions, and different versions of different religions, not to mention different forms of secularity or humanism. There has to be a sense in which beliefs are held to be equal, in the sense of 'equally important to the people who hold them', even if one is totally convinced that some beliefs are or less true, and others more or less not true. I suppose it's the sense that peace is prior to truth, in the same way that 'being a human' is prior to 'being a Christian'.

As for 'the time has come', I guess the point would be since we are more and more aware of cultural and religious difference, and more and more inter-related regardless of these differences, it's about time Christians affirmed this more fully, and allow this reality to affect the way in which beliefs are held, rather than simply live with the benefits of it.

I have no idea if this is what Darrel would say!

I think it's a pretty good response, stu. I think that it sounds nice and all, but it sounds so idealistic. It sounds so politically correct and polite, as if we shouldn't tell anyone that they're wrong, for fear of offending them. The study guide for #2 doesn't seem to present too much evidence or reason for Christians to accept that there is any other path to our Lord and Savior.

This #2 has stuck with me for a couple of days, and I've thought about it a lot. I understand, that as representatives of God, we shouldn't belittle or criticize other's beliefs or religions -- but to still accept completely different religions as truth, in the name of justice and peace, that is difficult.

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Tim,

Thanks. This is such a big area that I don't really feel up for getting into an involved discussion, so here are just a few thoughts that explain how I see it. (Also, I am in no way allied to the Progressive Christianity people, although the statement you quoted makes sense to me.)

I don't think there is a necessity to believe that other paths do lead to God, nor to believe that other paths do not lead to God. I tend to think that it is simply not my concern at present.

I would also say that to say that 'in him was life, and that life was the light of men' is not the same thing as saying 'the christian religion is the only religion that leads people anywhere'. In fact, I would say that a deep conviction that there is life in Jesus does not really imply anything at all about other paths. That's not the subject in hand. My conviction that there is life through Jesus is not a conviction about the relative value of other belief systems or spiritual journeys, it is a conviction about what has confronted me, challenged me and nourished me, and about where I have to go for life. It's not an intellectual judgement that covers the whole of society, in all its complexity.

I imagine the task of spreading the truth that 'in him was life, and that life was the light of men' to be like saying 'try this, it's good', rather than 'try this, nothing else is good'.

For me, there is something very, very strange about the idea that Christians should be encouraged to have firm beliefs and express strong judgements about other religions, given that most Christians, in my experience, know next to nothing about these religions. Why bother speaking about something you don't know about? It's just stressful.

The reason all this seems important to me, is that I believe that Christianity is a religion of peace, and this must mean that peace is the original reality, not conflict. For God to be God, God does not have to appear against a background of false Gods. God simply is, without competition. And this has to play out in how truth comes into the world. Truth is not true by virtue of 'beating' other potential truths into a status of falsehood. The whole of Christianity has a non-competitive logic. The incarnation can only be grasped through a non-competitive logic: Jesus can be fully human and fully God, his divinity is not in competition with human nature, nor does human nature become any less human by becoming divine. If truth is conceived of as a competition, I think it has become sub-Christian.

I could write loads more about this, and lots of people on this board will have different views which they have also thought lots about, and already posted about in various contexts, so I'll stop there. For what it's worththis essay by James Alison (a Catholic theologian) says some very perceptive things about all this, in relation to the origins of monotheism. It might be hard going, but it's worth it.

(And as for the accusation of idealism, I simply say thanks. I am not as idealistic as I'd like to be. I'd like to be idealistic enough to hunger and thirst for justice.)

Edited by stu

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I'm jumping into the middle of an old discussion, but for what it's worth ...

1) I agree with many points in the original article. I do struggle with the "Progressive" label because it's self-congratulatory. Surely there must be a better label for what is going on here.

2) Point #2, as written, is true enough, but doesn't really address a myriad of issues that are subsumed under it. "We are Christians who recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us." As stated, it simply seems to be a plea for tolerance. Who's going to stand against peace and love, man? But at the heart of the issue is the uniqueness of Jesus, and specifically the meaning of the cross and the resurrection. It seems to me that it's certainly true that we should understand and respect other religions, and should assume that the followers of those religions are faithful and sincere, adhering to truth as they understand it. But the statement ignores the possibility that one can be faithfully and sincerely wrong. And how we define tricky terms like "salvation" is still the gist of this issue.

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But the statement ignores the possibility that one can be faithfully and sincerely wrong.

I think I would have a similar difficulty with this bit: "Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us."

Or with how this statement could be interpreted, at least; the problem for me is the sense that one rules out, in advance, the possibility that any particular perspective is truer than any other, every perspective is identical in form, just different in content.

But I would take that to be strangely akin to fundamentalism, in that fundamentalism is to rule out in advance the possibility of any truth outside a predetermined space, or of coming to know anything other than what you already know.

Fundamentalism decides in advance the content of the truth; cheap relativism decides in advance what it means for something to be true, what kind of thing truth is. Both seem to prohibit any real encounter.

Edited by stu

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But the statement ignores the possibility that one can be faithfully and sincerely wrong.

I think I would have a similar difficulty with this bit: "Recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us."

Or with how this statement could be interpreted, at least; the problem for me is the sense that one rules out, in advance, the possibility that any particular perspective is truer than any other, every perspective is identical in form, just different in content.

But I would take that to be strangely akin to fundamentalism, in that fundamentalism is to rule out in advance the possibility of any truth outside a predetermined space, or of coming to know anything other than what you already know.

Fundamentalism decides in advance the content of the truth; cheap relativism decides in advance what it means for something to be true, what kind of thing truth is. Both seem to prohibit any real encounter.

Why "in advance" and "predetermined"? Ruling something out doesn't necessarily mean that one hasn't spent time thinking about the alternatives to what one sees as true. And making a decision is only problematic when one makes the wrong decision. Re: the "truth" of other religions, I certainly believe that there are elements of truth in other religions, that there are aspects of those religions that I would do well to learn and emulate, and that I should respect those who hold beliefs that are different from mine. But that doesn't mean that I believe that all religions are equally true. They teach different, and sometimes contradictory, lessons about the most importanct issues we all confront. How could they be equally true?

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God simply is, without competition. And this has to play out in how truth comes into the world. Truth is not true by virtue of 'beating' other potential truths into a status of falsehood. The whole of Christianity has a non-competitive logic. The incarnation can only be grasped through a non-competitive logic: Jesus can be fully human and fully God, his divinity is not in competition with human nature, nor does human nature become any less human by becoming divine.

This doesn't seem to grapple honestly with the crucifixion. Without comment on the meaning of the crucifixion as a theological event, the mere presence of it as a key component of the early Christian witness invokes a competitive truth claim vis a vis the Roman emperor cult.

That is to say, nobody gets killed for saying my truth is okay, your truth is okay. They get killed for saying stuff like, the kingdom of god is at hand.

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