Friday, July 15, 2011

Church In Crisis -Note to Edward Fudge, July, 2006

 Crisis In The Church  Edward, Thanks for getting back to me. I’m growing in an opinion that the church is in crisis which has been building for a very long time, say a 100 yrs. It seems to be reaching a critical mass point. It has much to do with what faithful interpretation of scripture involves for our age. One very large group approaches the scriptures literally for the most part, except for occasional very obvious culturally based statements eg wearing head covers and seeing beyond literal statements that women should be very limited in the church. I see this 'Bible as the literal and complete God's Word' assumption as eventually not succeeding for it asks people to take on the world view of another age and neglects the importance of an overall intellectual integrity. It makes things of physical-intellectual knowledge matters of faith which inevitably creates inconsistencies with the actual physical-sensory knowledge available. It mistakes that the place of faith is very much a matter of what is 'revealed by man rather than being received from God' (Matt 16:25-30). It is very stuck in the 'late modern' (pre-1900)age definitions of truth and reality.  But we are all well into a post-modern era.
The other extreme, generally referred to as liberalism, is losing its connection to the masses for neglecting to demonstrate how the scriptures are still relevant if not taken literally; to show when non-literal language and style is the intent of the writer and when  the writer is writing from a world view that is no longer intellectually honest for post-modern people. *Such liberalism  has found no new widely accepted language to express the timeless background of scripture, especially that of the actual experience a few people had with Jesus. Thus it still uses the language of the modern or pre-modern era but encourages people to 'somehow' let it be consistent with scientific information and a 21st century world view as well.  Thus folks in many  'liberal' churches still are 'hearing' the Biblical words as literal and historical even though the pastor may see this as a problem. And  to younger minds, the conflict in viewpoints is commonly too much to contain and the religious language ceases to have any immediate practical meaning or attraction to felt needs and longings.

I believe there is a 3rd path emerging that can be walked that can indeed hold to, even rediscover for our own time, the reality and power of the initial Christ experience; and also call people to accept the other facts of life that have come into being in the scientific age. The use of language and definitions of reality that are typically called post modern are primary tools that can help walk this path to the original Christian experience which I believe is timeless, numinous and life enriching. This involves acknowledging that the tradition of claiming that scriptures are inerrant and designed by God to be consistent with each other is not sustainable intellectually or spiritually and can no longer be forced as a concept of faith. Then the scripture(eg the gospels) can be approached with a genuine respect of their very nature, with an assumption that they were written by sincere people seeking to present in the language and world view of their age that which was beyond total ordinary human explanation. These were extremely creative people writing with intellect and heart to accomplish specific goals in their readers. They were evangelists. Understanding they wrote as mortal humans allows us to much better appreciate their gifts and begin to truly hear them, without expecting them to be speaking of these things the same way we would and can today. And it does not require us to live out of the kind of language and world view that surrounded them. Jim

*Two authors, among others, who have written authentic and sound  material to help people interested in making these kinds of transitions  in thinking regarding the nature of the Bible  are Marcus Borg and Shelby Spong. Both are easily found with google.

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