Simple and Intelligible

February 25, 2007

I have just read an academic paper online at the Unitarian Christian Colloqium by Andrew Brown called ‘God, Jesus, Christ & Holy Spirit. In this very first sentence he writes:

One of the best known statements made by our liberal religious movement was that we were seeking to spread Christianity ‘in its most simple and intelligible form.’

By page 6 he states:

Although it is clearly possible to claim that Jesus’ moral teachings have an independent and universal applicability, in our own pluralistic age the idea of there being one true “pure religion” (and that based only upon Jesus’ moral teachings) is wholly unsustainable. We are increasingly aware that that any genuine religious tradition is much more than the holding of a set of (supposedly)universally applicable moral teachings. They are instead patterned integrities which engage the whole person in an historically extended community dwelling on a particular ‘bend in the river’ and which have inherited a complex range of speech-acts (i.e. particular and unique scriptures, prayers and rituals) that help them explore Reality together using a shared language. Christianity, in any of its forms (including its Unitarian form), is much more than just holding to the abstract truth of Jesus’ moral precepts in an attempt to create a so-called “pure” or “universal” religion.

By the last page, he is describing the difference between pantheism, panentheism and panpsychism.

Now, I’m being unfair. I don’t know Andrew Brown from a bar of soap, and criticising him for being academic in an academic article is disingenuous.


Shouldn’t we be talking more about the ideal of simple and intelligible faith? Theology that is neither a mess of baroque complexity nor a flow of nice sounding words covering a refusal to let go of wriggle room – a refusal to commit to a meaning that might judge us.

Shall we allow the fundamentalists to hold a monopoly on simple and intelligible?

To abandon the job of presenting Christianity in its simplest and most intelligible form is to acquiesce to an alternative presentation of Christianity – a presentation which is simple and intelligible, but wrong.


4 Responses to “Simple and Intelligible”

  1. Jason Says:

    Give us a simple and intelligible presentation of the gospel that doesn’t rely on fundamentalist assumptions. I, for one, would be very interested to see what you would write. (-Jason “Professor Kirke”)

  2. demas Says:

    Ooh, a challenge! Um, I’ll think about it and get back to you.

    Btw, the phrase ‘fundamentalist assumptions’ is an interesting one. Is that different to ‘fundamentalist conclusions’?

  3. Eric Stetson Says:


    You asked: “Give us a simple and intelligible presentation of the gospel that doesn’t rely on fundamentalist assumptions. I, for one, would be very interested to see what you would write.”

    Please visit this page, read the 7 short articles, and see what you think:

    Universalist Churches Association – Beliefs:

    Divine blessings,

    Eric Stetson
    Executive Director,
    The Universalist Churches Association

  4. Andrew Brown Says:

    Glad you took the time to read the article from the colloquium – thanks. In a way I think your criticism is right and, in a way, wrong. I think it is right to point out that liberal Christianity should be simple – at least in its everyday practice (whether in prayer or in social action). However, this does not mean we need to be simple minded when we reflect upon our faith. I think it is vital to explore how sound, intellectually and philosophically, liberal Christianity is. Liberal Christians got caught out after the First World War simply because many of them simply hadn’t done enough hard thinking and it left the door open for people like Karl Barth to set the theological agenda for the rest of the century (and beyond). Let’s not get caught out again. I don’t claim for one minute my own theology is good and sound enough to do the job but I am keen to encourage us all to think as deeply as we can. In between times as a regular kind of pastor I try to practice Christianity in its most simple and intelligble terms just by followign the example of Jesus.

    Have a splendid day.

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