DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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FOURTH SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT

Specialising in Outcasts 

1 Thessalonians 2.11   You know that we treated each one of you just as a father treats his own children.

Jesus attracted enmity by relating freely to those who one way or another lay outside the bounds of good society in his day. In turn, outcasts were attracted by his radical openness to them. 

Since then Christians have been, and still are, preoccupied with drawing boundaries around God's kingdom and improving the efficiency of heaven's passport control.

I experience discomfort - sometimes intense - with official Christian exclusiveness. In that discomfort, I find it helpful to recognise two quite distinct proclamations in the gospels. 

The first, and the more prominent, proclaims the difference between the sheep and the goats, between those who believe and those who don't, between those who stay awake and those who fall asleep, between those who have oil for their lamps and those who run out, between the saved and the damned.

The second proclamation asserts God's love for all. It was this crucial truth that Jesus lived out by eating with outcasts, by welcoming moral lepers, by refusing to exclude others on religious grounds, by counseling love even of our enemies.

Christendom has a horror of this accepting openness. I'm not alone in recognising that that there are in consequence probably more people in exile from the Church today than ever before. In the words of an Anglican bishop, traditional Christianity is dying because "... for countless numbers who live in the Christian world, it [has] ceased long ago to be compelling" [1].

An important aspect of the tradition which has driven countless exiles out of the City of God into the wilderness is, in my opinion, the Church's insistence that adult men and women today be treated "just as a father treats his own children." In Paul's time his approach to authority was normal and natural. It no longer is.

More than 200 years ago, Immanuel Kant recognised humankind's growing unease with a parental God when he pointed out that a move away from "self-incurred tutelage" was in process. "Tutelage," he wrote, "is the inability to use one's understanding without the guidance of another person." He urged that you and I dare to know for ourselves, to have the courage to use our own understanding.

Unfortunately, some who are exiled from the Christian fellowship remain uneasy. Like me, they wonder if they're guilty of self-willed pride in their intense discomfort with being treated "just as a father treats his own children."

However, far from being weirdoes who need only repent their prideful rebellion, I believe that exiles are those who are in tune with the way God works, who recognise that maturity requires autonomy. In turn, autonomy requires the courage to succeed and fail, to rise and fall, to go out and return, to live and to die - without parental supervision.

So there is no need to take blame for being an exile. Exiles are just as much in God's care as anyone else, whatever the in-crowd may say.

Why should that truth be trusted? 

Because we exiles follow after a pioneer exile, a reject who died a criminal's death on the rubbish heap outside Jerusalem, the official City of God.
_______________________________________
[1] J S Spong, Why Christianity Must Change Or Die, 1999

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