Open Christianity: Home by Another Road

“Open Christianity” is an invitation to keep the faith but drop the dogma. Many Christian-heritage seekers struggle with conflicted yearning. They value much that the tradition offers. But the church door feels closed unless they accept beliefs at odds with logic and the truth of their hearts. “Open Christianity” maintains that yes, you can leave behind that which has ceased to make sense, and still be very Christian. Burklo’s discussion of complex topics such as “a theology of ‘enough’,” “soulful sexuality” and “the gospel truth” will be controversial–but enlightening. A product of the author’s work as a Stanford chaplain, a Protestant pastor, and an urban/street minister, this book encourages spiritual growth that won’t founder on efforts to believe the unbelievable.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Open Christianity: Home by Another Road

  1. Review

    This book is the story of the spiritual journey of Jim Burklo written from the perspective of his experience as the Minister of College Heights United Church of Christ in San Mateo, California, as Protestant Minister for the United Campus Christian Ministry at Stanford University and as founder and director of the Urban Ministry of Palo Alto serving low-income and homeless people. He discovered in his own experience and in his encounters and relationships with many people that a “traditional,” “dogmatic.” and “orthodox” Christianity, while meaningful to some, is for others, boring, amusing, perplexing, annoying or frightening. For those who have closed the door on this religious orientation, Burklo offers his book as a “meeting place between Christians who are leaving strict orthodoxy behind, and non-Christians who hope to discover Christianity’s rare treasures and enlightening practices.” It is his hope that Christians who are struggling with their inheritance and non-Christians who are seeking can find another road to faith, which may lead them home to “Open Christianity.”

    The author begins with a brief story of his background and spiritual journey, which led to his discovery of “Open Christianity.” He then devotes the first two parts of his book to the task of clearing a road through Christian traditions and scriptures. He begins by contrasting traditional and open Christianity’s understanding of faith, God, Jesus, and the Spirit. In understanding these concepts, traditional Christianity emphasizes belief, but Burklo emphasizes that experience is prior to belief. He writes, “So when I speak of God, I do not ground what I say in a system of beliefs about the details of God’ personality, nor about the precise manner in which God acts as Creator. Instead, I ground it in the verity of my own experience of God and in the divine encounters of other people throughout history.” He then devotes several chapters to contrasting ways of reading the scriptures, between those who take the Bible literally but not seriously and those who take the Bible seriously but not literally.

    He then wrestles with some of the “hard questions” of Christian faith such as “death, resurrection and eternal life,” the creation story and evolution, “good, evil and the will of God,” “original grace: the road beyond sin” and the Cross. His aim in these parts of his book is to seek “enduring as well as new meanings” in the traditional ideas and practices of Christianity and to challenge “those that obscure the heart of the faith.” His explorations are always stimulating and often provocative.

    Burklo devotes the next part of his book to “Open Spiritual Practice.” He explores the church as community, worship as a “communal discipline,” the place of ritual, rites and sacraments, individual prayer, faith and healing, sacred spaces, the “discipline of humility, “ ”soulful sexuality,” and the “practice of beauty.” His reflections are insightful and compelling. The final part of the book is entitled “Open Christianity as Love in Action.” He stresses that while individual acts of compassion and love responding to human need are certainly important, Christian social action is equally important. The cause of social justice, including partisan political activity, working to change the structures of society is a Christian imperative and calling. He has an arresting chapter entitled “A Theology of ‘Enough.”’ BurkIo writes, “Enough is a spiritual state of equanimity and deep satisfaction. It is a way of being that is not driven by a desire for more.” It is the “way of living” that Jesus taught in contrast to the “desire of wealthy and middle-class people for absurd excess,” which is threatening the future of our planet.

    In an Epilogue, BurkIo shares his “Credo for Christians”, which he declares summarizes the message of his book. After offering this Credo, he writes, “Let the church (be) open to all who seek God and follow the way of love, no matter what language they use to describe it. Let it be open to all who seek the kind of relationship with God that Jesus had, no matter how they sort out the myths from the facts of Jesus’ life story. Let all who follow a new and different Christian way find a home in the faith.” There are three helpful Appendices: (1) The Eight Points of Progressive Christianity, (2) References and Recommended Readings, and (3) Discussion Questions for Study Groups. How about study groups of “closed” and “open” Christians discussing the questions? Who knows? Each group might learn from the other!

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