A Little Farther Down the Path: The Day the Revolution Began

On Wednesday, March 1 (Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent) I published a blog post that outlined the plan for my Lenten discipline this year. That plan called for a series of fourteen blog posts, each one dealing with a separate title from my shelf of new books to be read (or, in a couple of cases, to be finished). If you haven’t read that introductory post, which includes a list of all fourteen titles, you can find it here.

Fourteen books in seven weeks, and I almost made it. I published posts on the first twelve. Regarding the last two, here is the text of my Facebook post for Monday, April 17, the day after Easter Sunday and the end of Lent.

I finished the reading I had committed to completing during Lent, but I still have a blog post to publish on each of the final two titles. My grandson was under the weather a few days last week, and grandpop duties (and privileges) took precedence over blog post writing. I will publish those two posts (and maybe another one to survey, summarize, and wrap up the series of fourteen books), and then I’m going to go dark for a month. I need some time to think about some stuff and maybe make some fairly major decisions. I only wanted those of you who read my blog to know that I will finish the series a few days late. Peace.

Well, it’s more than a few days late, but I have not forgotten my public pledge to write two more posts referencing the final two of those fourteen titles. In fact, I privately determined that I would publish nothing else on my blog until I had made good on my Lenten pledge. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: Convictions

Perhaps nothing illustrates the way my thinking has changed over the past decade better than the evolution in my appreciation for Marcus Borg.

Like many students of conservative, evangelical theology—the tradition in which I grew up—I first learned of Marcus Borg in his role as one of the most prominent figures involved in something called The Jesus Seminar back in the 1980s and ’90s. That endeavor comprised 150 academics and laypersons who met occasionally to debate the authenticity of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The group’s methodology for registering their individual opinions—i.e. depositing colored marbles in a box, each different color representing greater or lesser likelihood of authenticity—provided ample material for jokes and put-downs in the conservative circles where I moved at the time. Continue reading

On The Threshold Of A New Year

Over the past decade, I have made a lot of changes in what I believe about life and faith and how I evaluate truth claims and worldviews. Like so many others in similar situations, I changed my mind about essential matters when I found that, at the most crucial times in my life, my previously-cherished beliefs simply did not work for me; they promised far more than they delivered.

When I looked more deeply, I found that the superstructure of my belief system crumbled because the foundation on which it rested was riddled with cracks. In philosophical terms, my presuppositions were flawed, so the conclusions based on them turned out to be flawed as well. You don’t have to agree with my assessment here; I’m just putting it out there. Continue reading

Beyond Right and Wrong: A Maundy Thursday Appeal

Owing largely to my upbringing in Christian fundamentalism, until just a few years ago, I was completely convinced I had everything figured out when it came to matters of faith and doctrine. Oh, I had made some changes to my thinking in a few areas—as when I embraced the Anabaptist view of biblical nonresistance—but, for the most part, my beliefs and convictions were firmly established on conservative evangelical presuppositions. Continue reading

Here Comes the Sun

Dear Kathryn:

It has been five days since my last letter to you. In that time, you have sent three notes to me, and I wanted to let you know that I received them. Each one posed thoughtful questions with regard to my current views on important issues, and I thank you for sending them.

In response to my two letters in which I tried to answer the question “What exactly is the Gospel?” you asked me to say more about how I understand the term “salvation.” You wondered what I believe was accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross, and you asked what I now believe about hell as a place of conscious torment and punishment for those who die in their unbelief. Those questions were all in the first of your three recent notes. Continue reading

The Role of the Bible in the Church of the Future (On the Road to Easter, #7)

Dear Kathryn:

I know you are eager to explore some of the specific topics and issues where my current thinking shows marked change from the positions I held a few years ago. I am too. Before we go there, however, just a bit more about the change in my attitude toward the Bible.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, is really the church’s book. The church produced it, in the sense that real human beings, presumably active in the life of the early church, wrote the documents that have been compiled into the form we have today. They each wrote at a particular moment in history, and their thinking was shaped by the political, religious, and cultural influences of their day. Continue reading

The Subjective Dimension in Change (On the Road to Easter, #4)

Dear Kathryn:

Before I go further in defining the parameters and describing the particulars of the change in my thinking over the past few years, I want to address one other factor that contributes to the process and experience of change: the subjective dimension. Simply put, we never make a significant change in our beliefs or practices until we feel the need for change. We will never take the risks associated with change until we are convinced, rather more instinctually than intellectually, that change is desirable, possible, and maybe even necessary.

At least that has certainly been true for me. I am today open to the possibility of truth in ideas and concepts that, only a few years ago, I regarded with derision and dismissed with prejudice. My thinking began to change when my circumstances changed, and I was no longer bound emotionally to an earlier pattern of thought and behavior. Continue reading

How Do We Measure the Goodness of God?

Almost every day, one or more of my Facebook friends will post a status update reporting that something good that has happened to them—they got the job, or the test results came back negative, or a family member escaped injury in a serious accident. In most cases, these reports of good fortune include a reference to the goodness of God and an expression of thanks for the blessing of God’s favor.

I have to admit I am troubled by those posts. Oh, I’m happy for their good fortune. God knows there is too much bad news in the world. It’s always heartening to hear of conditions that are improving and circumstances that are not as serious as had been supposed. Good news is always welcome. Continue reading

Some Thoughts About the Bible: Application

I am sixty-five years old. I have to write that every once in a while just to remind myself that it’s true. I was baptized in a muddy river near Charleston, West Virginia, and became a member of Baptist church when I was eight years old. As a senior in high school, I sensed what I have always described as a call from God to devote my life to Christian ministry. I prepared for that role with diplomas from a Bible college, a Christian liberal arts college, and a theological seminary. Along the way, I have served as a pastor, a broadcaster, a writer, and a college instructor.

I grew up in fundamentalism, moved to a more inclusive evangelicalism as a young adult, served more than twenty-five years among Mennonites, and six years ago received the sacrament of confirmation in an Anglican church. In 1970, I was ordained a Baptist minister. In 1982, I was ordained in the Mennonite Church. In 2011, I was ordained an Anglican priest.

I mention all of that only to establish that I know a thing or two about Christian theology. I taught systematic theology for twelve years as a Bible college instructor. Until about seven years ago, I thought I had a handle on a belief system that I could explain in systematic, academic terms, in which I could find the answer to any question I might be asked about faith, religion, or metaphysics in general. I don’t think that anymore. Continue reading

A New Direction in Simple, Practical Faith

Have you ever noticed that, when you first identify with a new group and adopt its beliefs and tenets as your own, the members of that group commend you for your wisdom and discernment? Later, when your experience and careful consideration lead you to change 1your mind about one or more elements of the group’s shared beliefs, you are regarded as having somehow lost your ability to be wise and discerning. Instead, you have apparently succumbed to influences that have led you into error.

Or, as a friend of mine put it, “I was a prophet right up to the moment I became a heretic.” Continue reading