Your support is helping expand Progressive Christianity. We are one of the largest sources for progressive theological perspectives, as well as our thousands of resources. It is hard to overstate their value – every time you donate it expands our ability to do all those essential offerings even better. DONATE NOW!

The Church and the Nones

Some Thoughts About the Church

I believe the Christian Church is in need of a REFORMATION, and that it will happen only from ‘the bottom up’ and not from the ‘leadership structure of the church.’ My thoughts!

Spiritual experiences can only be expressed in the images and cultural framework in which they are experienced. Jesus lived in a culture and word view that was vastly different from our own, and the role of theology should be to discover the spiritual inspirations which were expressed in the Gospels and then express these truths in terms of our culture and time.

The most significant change is in the world view then and now. In the time Jesus lived and the Gospels were written the cultural world view was that powerful spiritual beings [gods] lived in some mysterious place or in a heaven, and that they had ultimate control over what happened on earth. Humans had to find a way to please the ‘gods’ who could determine one’s destiny on earth and even after death.
This led to a biblical understanding of a universe of a world [created by God] and a heaven or hell destination after one died. How an individual fared eternally depended on ‘pleasing the gods.’

The life an itinerant preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, over a number of decades’ came to be understood as being “God in the flesh, suffering and dying for the sins of humans so that those who believe in him have eternal life after death.” This was a compelling, attractive, comforting theology and the message spread throughout the Roman World. Eventually, Christianity became identified with ruling powers and Christianity was used by the powers that be to control their subjects.

This theology, described in the ‘heaven/hell’ understanding in the world view of the early centuries, has continued into our time. While this theology is still comforting and reassuring for people who became familiar with this understanding in their childhood, this view has become problematic for many people who are familiar with the scientific discoveries which have changed our understanding of the nature of existence. True, there are Christians who insist that the description in the bible is divinely inspired and true as written, and resist any change, but this just doesn’t work anymore for many people in the 21st century.

When the theology of the church is no longer relevant for people, they either struggle to find new ways to understand the spiritual realities of the faith, or they stop participating in the life of a congregation. I strongly believe that if American Christianity resists changing its theology, the American Church will join the fate of European churches and become empty relics of the past.

Where do we go from here? History will ultimately reveal the direction. The most we can do is to seek new ways to express the spiritual truths of Christianity in the world view of our culture and our understanding of the universe.

Let’s begin with the ‘heaven and hell’ framework and a God in heaven who ultimately controls what happens on earth. We must relegate these ideas to the past. Our universe is much larger than that of biblical times, and science has proven that human activity has dramatic effects upon our world that can ‘overpower’ the spiritual forces present in what we call, nature. Our understanding of God also searches for new images and is cloaked in mystery.

Now the question: “If Christianity is not about getting an eternal life in heaven, what is its meaning for our time in history?” Theologians have been reflecting on the life of Jesus of Nazareth and a sort of consensus seems to be developing.

The spiritual emphasis of Jesus, distilled from the cosmology of his time, is God’s love—a God who loves the created world so much that God’s love becomes visible in the remarkable life of a human, Jesus of Nazareth. My current thinking is that Christianity is about how that love of God for his creation–which includes all people and this remarkable earth–transforms our lives and gives us peace with ourselves, with others and the created world. Our transformed lives then become a leaven which transforms society and the world toward justice and peace.

In this view, a congregation would be a community which gathers to experience and grow in God’s transforming love for our lives, and encourages and empowers its members to embody God’s love in ways that will lead to a more peaceful and just society.

Review & Commentary