Please note: this is from the 2003 8 Points version not our current 2011 version.
We will be updating this study guide soon!
By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.
No “Point” drew more input or fostered more discussion, more debates and on occasion, more emotions, than the revision of this first “Point.” It was clear from our emails and general feedback from church groups that had worked with the original study guide, that many people were uncomfortable with the word “gate” in the first published version. However, trying to find the appropriate replacement proved to be challenging. There were several “suggestions” and many who felt strongly about their particular suggestion. And since this new version has been published we continue to have input from individuals and groups in churches who have wrestled with the challenge of finding the right or “correct” words from their perspective.
Clearly some have argued that the words, “an approach,” do not indicate a strong enough “commitment” or “discipleship” to be a serious faith journey. Others desired more biblical language. They would have preferred language like “found a path” or “found way,” often citing biblical passages to support those preference. One respondent claimed that the word was so “weak” that we must no longer be Christians.
Others have expressed an appreciation for the openness of the word “approach,” pointing out that it makes no judgment on other religious experiences. Some noted that the word “approach” implies a cautious beginning as all spiritual journeys should begin. And one person wrote, “How else could we move toward God but by cautious approach as Moses approached the burning bush?”
- How does language “an approach to God” fit your spiritual needs?
- What language would you have used for you own spiritual journey?
- Do you feel as the life and teachings of Jesus have brought you closer to an experience of God? How so?
Although not everyone may notice at first, one of the most unique things about this first “Point” is not what is in it but what is left out. What is not included in this statement is the doctrinal “savior” language codified in the fourth century creeds. For centuries Christians have been taught that Jesus was a sacrifice of God (the Lamb of God) and through this profound sacrifice and saving act, the world was given the opportunity to be reconciled once again with God. According to St. Paul, we humans find redemption for our “fallen” state only by accepting Jesus as our sacrificial savior.
…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
The absence of salvation language does not preclude one from seeing Jesus Christ as one’s “savior.” For some it may require reinterpreting what one means by “savior”. Certainly there is a good possibility that Jesus’s disciples would have felt that he was a “messiah,” in the Davidic tradition, for he risked his life on behalf of his people. Today, if someone believed that the spirit of Christ, or even Jesus’s way led them out of a troubled life, an addiction, a wilderness of some kind, it certainly is understandable that they may chose to call Jesus, or a Christ Spirit, their “savior.” Many of us have had such an experience with a special teacher, friend, or even a stranger in our times of despair. We may have taken the words of Jesus’ teaching of God’s open forgiveness seriously, at some low point in our lives, and spiritually experienced that forgiveness in a deep, even life changing way. This is quite different, however, from assuming that to be a Christian one must believe that God made an intentional sacrifice of God’s only begotten son as a cosmic saving act for all humanity. And it is different from assuming that it is only through one’s belief in the “truth” of this sacrifice that one can call oneself a Christian.
Rather than assuming that Jesus is a sacrificial savior, or “The Savior,” this first statement suggests that one can be a Christian by considering oneself a follower of Jesus’ teachings and using his life, as we know it, as a model. It can also be implied that for those Christians Jesus and Jesus’ teaching provide a way to experience, relate to or approach that Energy, that Force or that Presence we choose to call God.
It is not the intended function of this Study Guide to make a scholarly or theological argument for a shift away from ancient sacrificial language. There is a plethora of scholarship available today to support this perspective if one is interested. TCPC can provide you with a reading list. However by deleting the traditional sacrificial/savior language, or by reinterpreting it, we open the possibilities for another explanation of Jesus’s life and death. And maybe more importantly, such a shift provides an opportunity for each of us to reinterpret the meaning for our own lives.
In this shift the doctrinal “Jesus the Lord of the world” becomes Jesus the teacher, the master or the rabbi that he was in his time. Rather than treating Jesus as the unreachable perfect God that is so hard to relate to for most people, we can think of Jesus as the enlightened teacher who asks only to be followed. By taking his teachings seriously we are given the opportunity to change and see and hear what we did not see before. This form of Christianity does not assume an ontological “fallen nature” of humanity, as Paul did out of his own life experience. Quite to the contrary it assumes that by taking responsibility for our thoughts, our action and our motives, by learning and changing our actions when they have caused harm to others or to ourselves, we humans can grow, evolve and transform.
- How does the absence of salvation language help or detract from your spiritual path?
- How does the Jesus of history or his teachings affect your understanding of God?
- How might our understanding of who and what we are, as human beings, change if we remove the need for the sacrifice of Jesus as the Pascal Lamb, our redeemer?
- What is the difference between savior, hero, master, teacher, or prophet for you?