A Free Bible?

June 24, 2009

Scott Wells from boyinthebands.com and I have been having a discussion about Freedom and the Bible.  As Scott puts it:

A few months ago, “Demas” from “Live from Thessalonica”
blog and I began a correspondence on freedom
and the Bible. Not “Bible” in an an abstract or theologized
sense, but as a text which is printed, spoken, translated
and edited. Nor “freedom” from a theologized sense,
but directly related to the use of the text and how the text
may be shared or restricted, and what that says about
Christian community.

A few months ago, “Demas” from “Live from Thessalonica” blog and I began a correspondence on freedom and the Bible. Not “Bible” in an an abstract or theologized sense, but as a text which is printed, spoken, translated and edited. Nor “freedom” from a theologized sense, but directly related to the use of the text and how the text may be shared or restricted, and what that says about Christian community.

The Bible may be a shared resource of our religion, but (with the partial exception of the World English Bible) the available translations are either written in a language the age of which puts a barrier between a modern reader and the text, or are copyrighted and subject to the control and power of the copyright owner.

The first part is written up in the latest edition of The Liberal Christian – available now!  Check it out.


Spong on Hell

May 31, 2009

I have always found Spong worth listening to, even as I doubt whether his attempt to provide a grounded liberal Christianity works for me.  Anyway, here is a short opinion of his on Hell:

God does not exist
        like a rock exists
        but God is my sure foundation.

God does not exist
        like a tree exists
        but God is life.

God does not exist
        like I exist
        but God was a man.

God does not exist
        like the number three exists
        but God is one.

God does not exist
        like love exists
        but God is love.

God is.

Simple and Intelligible Redux

September 24, 2007

A while ago, I (mis)used an academic paper online at the Unitarian Christian Colloqium by Andrew Brown from the beautiful Cambridge Unitarian called ‘God, Jesus, Christ & Holy Spirit’ as a starting point for some comments of mine on the need for a simple and intelligible presentation of liberal faith. Andrew was nice enough to leave an excellent comment, which is worth highlighting:

[…] 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 following the example of Jesus.

The older types of liberal protestantism, such as the Universalists’, with their belief in the perfectability of human society (one 1935 creed endorsing “the power of men of good will and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and progressively establish the kingdom of God”) were plainly inadequate in the face of the first half of the 20C – failing Rabbi Greenberg’s post-Shoah test that we should make no theological statement that could not be made in the presence of burning children.

We certainly should not forget that lesson.

So hard thinking is certainly needed. And clear words, too.

Christianity is about…

September 18, 2007

I was wondering the other day, what is this Christianity thing about? So I sat down to make some notes and came up with five key concepts which seem important to me. Because I like to show off, I arranged them into a cross:

Jesus Love God

Christianity is about… Jesus – an itinerant rabbi living in a small backwater of the Roman Empire, Jesus was the only founder of a major religion to be executed young, alone and powerless. He taught a new view of morality based on the ideal of love, and after his death his disciples became convinced that his story had not finished and that his life showed us the nature of God – that God is like Jesus.

Christianity is about… Failure – failure at all levels. If we should love one another as ourselves, it is obvious we don’t – personal failure. As communities we wage war, tolerate slavery and starvation. But Christianity is also about the failure of Jesus, crucified. And by proclaiming a God of love, Christianity raises the question of the failure of God by putting the problem of evil at its starkest – if God loves us, why do we suffer still?

Christianity is about… God – God the creator, maker and sustainer of the ongoing universe, working through it; but also God the lover, not merely transcendent but approachable – she who lives in love lives in God, and God in her.

Christianity is about… Love – charity, agape, love; the basis of true morality. Love is about relationships and the value we put on others; we are called to enter into relationships with each other, not to obey rules.

Christianity is about… Victory – through love, there is the present reality and hope for God’s victory. Called by many names: salvation, the kingdom, the Spirit of God, the new convenant, the resurrection, life in abundance; it is a vision and coming reality of the healing of relationships and the breaking in of love into our hearts and lives. The work of God; this victory is seen in Jesus, seen in our own lives, still coming. It provides the hope of a victory over death itself but is here, and now.

This isn’t everything – it’s probably wrong, too.

What do you think Christianity is about?

What is it not about? Things I think it isn’t about: the Bible, miracles, hell, commandments, sacrifice, atonement, purity.

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.