Final Thoughts on Saving (Liberal) Christianity

I realize that this may be perceived as being a little late to the party, but I’ve still been thinking about Ross Douthat’s recent NYT opinion piece in which he asks Can Liberal Christianity be Saved? I, like others, asked whether it really needs saving and Diana Butler Bass asked the broader question of whether Christianity can be saved, given the decline that liberals and conservatives alike are experiencing. I wanted to revisit Douthat’s original piece, though, and ask whether he has it right.

Douthat offers this piece of advice for liberal Christians:

Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.

So, is Douthat right? Is liberal Christianity going about it all wrong? This is where I think some statistics can be helpful. The Pew Forum’s “Religion Among the Millennials” is quite helpful here.

Mainline churches seem to be consistently more moderate/liberal: for instance, 56% of mainline protestants say that homosexuality should be accepted by society (69% of ages 18-29, 54% of ages 30+) while only 26% of evangelical protestants say the same (39% of ages 18-29, 24% of ages 30+). Even with the mainline churches’ increased acceptance of moderate/liberal social views attendance is declining rather rapidly. In a 2010 Pew survey they found that 58% of evangelical protestants responded that they attend services at least weekly while only 35% of mainline protestants said they did the same.

I think it’s easy for some to respond (as many have) that obviously liberal churches like the Episcopal church and the PCUSA are going against God and that that is why their numbers are declining, while more conservative groups are seeing some growth (Mormons, for instance grew at a rate of 1.4% on 2001 and Seventh-Day Adventist grew at an astounding rate of 2.5%). Bass pushed against this in her HuffingtonPost piece:

Douthat points out that the Episcopal Church has declined 23% in the last decade, identifying the loss as a sign of its theological infidelity. In the last decade, however, as conservative denominations lost members, their leaders have not equated the loss with unfaithfulness. Instead, they refer to declines as demographic “blips,” waning evangelism, or the impact of secular culture. Membership decline has no inherent theological meaning for either liberals or conservatives. Decline only means, as Gallup pointed out in a just-released survey, that Americans have lost confidence in all forms of institutional religion.

Douthat gives her this point in his most recent response, but seems to forget this when he ends by criticizing liberal Christianity in its current form. His criticism is a response to Bass asserting that liberal Christianity has been experiencing a revitalization of late because of its return to such basics as Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. All Douthat can see in liberal Christianity is individualism.

What is troubling about the way he views liberal Christianity is that, on the one hand, it is a generalization that often is not borne out, and, on the other hand, asserting that one’s spiritual journey is ultimately a personal endeavor does not mean that that person cuts herself off from any sort of spiritual community.

Here is Douthat’s conclusion:

As I tried to argue in my own book, this individualism has consequences that liberal Christians as well more traditional believers should find more worrying than cheering: Consequences for local community (because it’s harder to care for your neighbor when you don’t have a congregation around you to provide resources and support), consequences for society as a whole (because the declining institutional churches leaves a void that our insolvent government is unlikely to effectively fill, no matter how many elections the Democratic Party wins), and consequences for private morality (because an individualistic faith is more likely to encourage solipsism and narcissism, in which the voice of the ego is mistaken for the voice of the divine). Like many religious progressives, Bass has great hopes for Christianity after organized religion, Christianity after the institutional church. But I feel like we already know what that Christianity looks like: It’s the self-satisfied, self-regarding, all-too-American faith that Christian Smith and others have encountered when they survey today’s teenagers and young adults, which conceives of God as part divine butler, part cosmic therapist, and which jettisons the more challenging aspects of Christianity that the traditional churches and denominations, for all their many sins and follies, at least tried to hand down to us intact.

I’ve taken so much time before trying to put together a full response to all of this because I didn’t want my response to be knee-jerk. I consider myself a liberal Christian who fully recognizes the difficulty that liberal Christianity has in reaching the broader world, at least when reaching the broader world is defined in a way determined by conservative Christians. I wanted to be able to offer a thoughtful, balanced response to Douthat that didn’t consist of me simply being upset because he had criticized liberal Christians, and by extension had criticized me.

What Douthat’s final response has shown me, though, is that no matter what I will be offended, at least to some degree, by his remarks, but that the offense I feel is not because he’s right about the demise of liberal Christianity. Rather, my offense is twofold: 1) I am offended at how poorly he seems to actually understand liberal Christianity apart from looking at demographic numbers and, 2) I am offended that even after commentators such as Bass have offered their insiders version of what liberal Christianity Douthat still has the audacity to dismiss everything they have said and define liberal Christianity as nothing more than “self-satisfied, self-regarding, all-too-American faith . . which conceives of God as part divine butler, part cosmic therapist, and which jettisons the more challenging aspects of Christianity” that his type of traditional Christians have at least tried to preserve.

My experience is, of course, limited, but having grown up and worked in very conservative churches and having since moved to more liberal churches I have seen tiny liberal churches do more to help others than I ever saw massive conservative mega-churches do with 100x the resources. I’ve seen these liberal churches care more about me as a person than many of the conservative Christians I was supposedly very close with – and they were never solely concerned with whether I had said their prayer to accept Jesus into my heart. However, what I also know is that the various bad experiences do not translate to all conservative Christians. So, the “friends” that I had who asked me how I could call myself a Christian after sharing certain beliefs with them do not represent everyone who is a conservative Christian.

Moreover, I could offer scores of anecdotes about just how “self-satisfied, self-serving, [and] all-too-American” conservative Christianity is, but I realize that that does nothing to help the situation, but instead only works to further drive a wedge between two socially-defined groups.

So, I want to do two things to close. First I would like to take up Douthat’s original challenge to consider what I would defend and offer to the world uncompromisingly.  For starters, I would wholeheartedly defend the practice of encouraging questions and encouraging people to find their own answers. Is this relativistic? Of course, but don’t forget what Paul wrote in Romans 14.5: “Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.” I would uncompromisingly offer to the world a religion that does not condemn those who are not like me and who may not believe exactly as I do; namely, a religion that is not so arrogant as to think I am the sole possessor of Truth and that can at least entertain the possibility that I may well be wrong on anything or everything I believe. I would also offer to the world a religion that maintains intellectual, historical, and scientific integrate when reading its holy scriptures, a religion that studies the social and cultural contexts of the ancient texts we revere and that does not have to engage in revisionist history-making or pseudoscience to try and keep these texts from seeming to have gotten something wrong. I would offer a religion that has a strong enough ethical foundation that it has no hesitation in proclaiming that genocide is evil and wrong, even when an ancient text says its God commanded just that. I would offer a religion that values the whole person for who they are and not with an agenda of “saving” them. Simply put, I would offer a religion that is based on an ethic of love and not on dogma and theological correctness (if there even is such a thing).

Second, I would like to explain to Douthat that a contemplative spirituality, which many liberal Christians find meaningful but many conservatives shy away from, does not make one’s spirituality “self-satisfied” and “self-serving.” Instead, it causes one to do more inner searching. Further, liberal Christianity seems to take huge strides away from individualism when it recognizes that “sin” does not just happen at the individual level, but also happens (and I think more often happens) at larger levels, wherein we offer collective confessions, recognize the systemic sins present in our country’s economic and legal systems that disproportionately harm the poor and minorities, and understand that sharing our resources (which many conservatives have grown fond of calling “socialism”) is presented as a model in Acts 2. I am not saying that there are no “self-satisfied” and “self-serving” liberal Christians, but to label the whole movement is such is wrong and offensive.

Finally, all of this talk has focused on numbers and I think that is the wrong perspective. Do the trends show that all organized religion is declining is this country? Absolutely. But I ask, why does that concern me? Except for the selfish reason that I want my wife to continue to be able to find employment on church staffs, why should I care that church attendance begins to increase again? I understand Douthat’s point about lower numbers meaning a lack of resources to help those in our communities and I think that is a valid one. However, I also think that the more we move away from institutionalized religion the better we will be. It is institutionalized religion that covered up the sexual abuse of children. It is institutionalized religion that tries to force a specific “orthodox” perspective on others. It is institutionalized religion that uses its position of authority to try to influence our elections. It is institutionalized religion that uses its money to discriminate. it is institutionalized religion that disallows dissent. It is institutionalized religion that works to protect the institution at the expense people. I think we’d be just fine with a little less of this type of religion. So, if a more personal and private spirituality comes with a little less theological rigidity, then sign me up.


13 thoughts on “Final Thoughts on Saving (Liberal) Christianity

  1. Thomas, with all due respect, I think you proved Douthat’s point. Your description of Christianity really does sound like it comes from the mind of a liberal, yet we should have the mind of Christ. Not liberal or conservative. But, it is what you didn’t include is what is of the greatest concern. That is Jesus Christ and an uncompromising service and worship of Him. The faith of a Christian is simple. Put your faith in Christ and let Him be the “I AM” in our lives. The other things you mentioned sounds good in theory, but lack any spiritual power, authority, or ability to change lives permanently.

    1. But aren’t “liberal” and “conservative” just relative descriptions we add to people or perspectives as a means of comparison? Jesus was conservative to many and he was liberal to many, so saying that my description of Xty “really does sound like it comes from the mind of a liberal” is without any substance. Moreover, I’ve made it very clear that I am a liberal and I make no apologies for that. Certainly the challenges Jesus issued against the religious authorities of his day should be considered quite “liberal” (helping the poor, including gentiles – though not in every gospel, working on the Sabbath, etc.). At the same time, many of his challenges and teachings should be considered “conservative” (see especially his “you have heard it said, but I say” statements wherein he consistently offers *more stringent* teachings on the issues of divorce, adultery, etc.).

      So, where have I missed “the mind of Christ” that Douthat (or you) have so much more accurately preserved it? To be sure, I have a different vision of what I think Christianity should look like today than does Douthat, but this vision in and of it self – and my pointing out that Douthat still is not willing to let liberal Christians define themselves or offer their views any respect – certainly does not prove Douthat points, which is that liberal Christianity is failing because of its message. That’s an unverified (and unverifiable) claim and he’s presenting a standard to which he does not hold his own clan.

      Finally, his claim that liberal Christianity is a “self-satisfied, self-regarding, all-too-American faith” seems to ignore the collectivist message that many liberals preach (one which was preached often by Jesus and the church in Acts as well, by the way). He seems to want it both ways, which is why I think his critiques fall short.

      Thus, I don’t fully understand your point that I have “proved Douthat’s point.” To be sure, the “other things” I mention which you say sound good in theory yet “lack any spiritual power, authority, or ability to change lives permanently” are precisely what I think should be our responses to being Christian.

      1. If it is without substance, then why label yourself a liberal as you have done consistently? nevertheless, my point is that the Christianity you are offering uncompromisingly is not one of sound doctrine, it is one of conflict. The bible makes it clear that people are sheep without a shepherd. They want and need clear leadership and teaching. Paul repeatedly encourages us to be of one mind and to teach diligently those things handed down. A Christianity without structure “the church” would lead to everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. That is just the truth and exactly what is happening today. You and I both know that only a few study the word on their own or worship God outside of church. It is the church that provides these opportunities. A person left to their own moves away from the first great commandment.

        1. “A Christianity without structure “the church” would lead to everyone doing what is right in their own eyes.” I seem to recall Paul saying that was just what we needed. Romans 14.5 – “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” But I digress.

          As to why I call myself a liberal, that’s a good question. It’s a term that is applied to me quite often in a pejorative sense, so I, like many before me, have taken ownership of the term and work to say “liberal” is not a dirty word. This maneuver can be seen sociologically in groups the world wide.

          What is “sound doctrine” and how does it differ from what I’m presenting? Also, I don’t understand how my view is one of “conflict.”

          Again, I have to point out that liberal Christians consistently offer a rather collectivist view, one that encourages community (though not just through Bible study groups). You (and Douthat) keep saying that liberal Christians are individualistic but have given no proof that this is so.

          1. You are blowing up the minor to apply to the major. It’s not the minor teachings that the liberal church is moving away from or are in dispute of. It is the major. For instance, “Jesus said I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me”. The liberal church will not stand on this teaching. Go back and read what you are presenting. You are presenting a “methods” of bible study class. I have been through them and know what they look like. People need clear instruction, not discussion. That is why Jesus appointed leaders in the church. You are presenting conflict because you are placing the burden of truth on the students or followers. That is why we are teachers because we take on the judgment if we are wrong. In the meantime, we must teach with authority. Sound doctrine are those things that are consistently taught in the Word. The ones that are for some reason in constant dispute among the liberal church. Interestingly enough, they are also ones that allow room for individuals to sin. Hence, individualistic!

            1. But of course, we each decide that which is major and that which is minor. Also, the vast majority of “liberal” Christians that I know absolutely stand on the “way/truth/life” verse.

              I’m not sure what you mean by a “‘methods’ of bible study,” but it does seem evident that we may have different backgrounds. My background is baptist and that has heavily influenced me toward what is often called the “priesthood of all believers,” i.e. that everyone can read and interpret the Bible for themselves, they need not be told from “on high” what to think or believe, and that no one needs a mediator to get to God. I’m sure this has influenced the different directions we take.

              Again, re: “sound doctrine” what have I said that is against anything taught in the Bible?

              “Interestingly enough, they are also ones that allow room for individuals to sin. Hence, individualistic!” – I’m still confused. Individuals “sin” all the time according to most conservatives’ understanding, right? So, then, does that make conservative Christianity individualistic as well? Or are you saying that liberal teachings uniquely allow/cause people to sin? If that is what you are saying, and it sounds like it is, then which liberal teachings specifically? You’re making claims about what liberals do or don’t do and what they do or don’t believe, but so far they have all been unsubstantiated and all seem to merely be caricatures of liberal Christianity.

  2. You keep mentioning the passage in Romans but if we look at the whole of scripture, Paul is very good about making clear those things that are essential and those things that are not. That is one of the knocks on liberal Christianity. Too many things are up in the air for debate. Things that have never traditionally been up for debate. The first is beliefs on the bible. You wrote, “a religion that is not so arrogant as to think I am the sole possessor of Truth and that can at least entertain the possibility that I may well be wrong on anything or everything I believe”. How can you have any foundation of faith if you hold the possibility that everything you believe might potentially be wrong? So do you have faith that is built on a rock or on the sand? That’s a question. Secondly, I believe in a “priesthood of all believers”, but your philosophy, as you have described it anyway, leaves room for anyone to believe anything and that be ok. That goes against NT sound doctrine teaching. Third, you used the example of “I would offer a religion that has a strong enough ethical foundation that it has no hesitation in proclaiming that genocide is evil and wrong, even when an ancient text says its God commanded just that.” I can only assume two things from this. You either don’t believe God gave the order to kill these groups of people or you think your morality is greater than Gods. Both leads a person down a slippery slope. Next, I would hope and pray that every Christian desires to help the poor and needy. But, what you described as an Acts chapter 2 response is not what people see. They see a group of people forcing others to give money to other people. The instances in Acts 2 are people who have made those decision themselves. To answer your question, liberal teaching allow /cause people to sin. Take the situation that the post initially talked about. Homosexuality. Scripture clearly shows that this is a sin and yet liberal Christianity continues to embrace it. Why? For the cause of tolerance? Jesus didn’t condemn the prostitute, but he also told her to go and sin no more. Liberal Christianity has lost their nerve in telling people that some things are just wrong. Telling someone that something is wrong doesn’t mean you can’t love that person and treat them with respect. I’m a father, I do it all the time.

    1. I would, probably unsurprisingly to you, challenge you that there are so many things that “have never traditionally been up for debate.” When we look at the first few centuries of Christianity we see a fascinating amount of heterodoxy. There were numerous groups that all considered themselves Christian (or followers of The Way, followers of Jesus, etc.) that disagreed on a whole host of issues. Within the NT even we have the heated disputes between Paul and the Apostles as can be seen in Galatians and Acts 15. They disagreed on whether and how Gentiles could be apart of the people of God. When we pull back a bit from there we see early Christian groups that thought Jesus to be fully divine, others that thought him to fully human, and others that were in between. We see Christian groups that thought the God of the Hebrew Bible was the God of Jesus and other Christian groups who thought that the creator God was an evil God and was not the same as the God of Jesus. We see within the NT differences of opinions on when Jesus would come back (he hasn’t yet, by the way) and what would happen when he did, as well as differences of opinion on what happens when someone dies. Even as Christianity gets more settled (and comes in to power) in the 4th and 5th centuries we see strong disagreements about how salvation is affected, the relationship between Jesus and God the Father (and sometimes God the Spirit). We see vastly different baptismal and eucharistic exercises from one group to another as well. So my point here is that when you say there are things there “have never traditionally been up for debate,” as a historian of Christianity, I know that to be patently false. There is very little, if anything, that has remained a constant in the religion’s 2,000 year history, so saying that there are things that have been constants and have never been up for debate is engaging in a revisionist history that simply does not take the evidence into account. And, just so we’re clear, I think this exercise can be done even within the confines of what is today considered the Bible and that one need not look to the 2-6th centuries to find variety. Simply put, the idea that there has ever been a single thing that everyone agreed was “Christianity” is a myth.

      Re: having faith. As I understand it, the very premise of “faith” is a lack of certainty. If I was 100% certain about something, I would not need any faith. I maintain an openness that I may be wrong because I have changed my beliefs over the years as I have learned more, lived more, etc. I have what I think are the “right answers,” but I’ve thought that before and (I think) been wrong, so it would seem a bit arrogant at this stage in my life to assume that I have suddenly gotten it all together and figured everything out.

      I do think it is okay for anyone to believe anything. This does not mean that I think whatever anyone believes is right, just that I think it is their right.

      Your first assumption about the genocide example is right. I do not think that God gave the order. I fully believe that they thought it was what God wanted them to do, but that’s not at all how I understand God. The Bible does not present a single unified voice, so we have to decide how we will interpret all of what it says and how we will apply it to our lives. The decision I made while I was in divinity school was that my hermeneutic for interpreting would be that God is a God of love. If God is not that first and foremost, then I do not know God.

      Re: homosexuality. I think you have a good point here, but I do have a response (as you would imagine). If the few sentences in Leviticus are enough to tell us that homosexuality is a sin, then why is all that is said about dietary laws, what can and can’t be done on the sabbath, etc. not enough for us to consider those sins? The response, I think, would be that God declared all things clean. Ok, so then why keep holding onto certain HB laws and not others. Moreover, and probably more importantly, I think the Bible presents a worldview that I do not share. The Bible unabashedly supports slavery, yet I think that is “sin.” The Bible supports polygamy and concubinage, but I don’t. The Bible supports what I consider the mistreatment of women. If I am comfortable saying that I do not agree with the Bible in all of these instances, which I am, then I have to determine how I am picking and choosing. This goes back to my point earlier about a hermeneutic of love. I don’t think that the Bible even comes close to talking about what we consider “homosexuality” today, especially seeing as the term wasn’t even invented until the 19th century. Further, I do not think that people have a choice in their sexuality. Certainly, I did not wake up one day and decide to be attracted to women, it is simply who I am. I believe wholeheartedly that the same is true for gay people. Thus, if this is how a person was born, if they had no choice in the matter, then what ground do I have to stand on to say that they are sinning by simply being who God created them to be? I don’t think any. So, I would disagree that liberal Christianity says, “go and sin,” but rather that we have a different understanding of what constitutes as “sin.”

      I think there has been a trend over the course of Christianity, especially as can be seen from the small Jesus movement to Paul and beyond and that is that the people of God is continually expanded. Certainly many groups try to put boundaries on who can and who can’t be considered a part of the people of God, but I don’t think that is the example we have or the right way to address God and the world, so I tend toward inclusivity as opposed to exclusivity.

      For me it all really comes down to two things. I realized some time ago that I was picking and choosing things that I believed in the Bible. Everyone does it, I’m just trying to be honest about it and to determine the best way to do it. Second, I have to maintain my integrity of belief and that is not possible if I am supposed to believe that a supposedly all-loving God supports genocide, slavery, the mistreatment of women, and arbitrarily likes one group of people over another. That’s not God. That’s simply a projection of humans onto God.

      1. you got me on the technicalities, but in the context of our discussion, I still hold my point is valid. If not, there would be no “traditional / conservative” and “liberal/progressive” discussion. Although I could certainly debate that the liberal movement is progress, but that is another discussion. I certainly recognize that those things you mentioned have taken place, but what I am seeing today in the liberal movement is a different spirit in my opinion. It is a move away from God and a move towards the world. With that said, I do not see conservative Christianity as the perfect institution as well. I see it more to Israel (Liberal Christianity) moving away from God first, while her Southern sister Judah (Conservative) coming afterwards. Regrettably. But we must continue to Hold the Faith.

        Concerning faith, there are things that we can know with 100 % certainty. For example, the Holy Spirit is our pledge and I know without a doubt that the Holy Spirit dwells within me. I have seen the evidence and I am convinced. Knowing that, I also know that Jesus Christ lives and reigns and that my “faith” is not entirely based on faith. Knowing this, I can boldly proclaim the truth that I know. Not from ignorance, but from knowledge.

        Arrogance is a tricky thing. Right when we think we have taken a stand against it or run from it, we find it sitting beside us patting us on the shoulder.

        Does Christ think it is ok for anyone to think anything is ok? The fact that He came down to proclaim the truth totally denies any such claim. He gives them room to repent, but everybody everywhere will one day bow down and proclaim that he is truth. To their reward of eternal life or eternal death.

        Your words about interpreting God is love, therefore disregarding some things that does not line up with your understanding of love is scary to me. I am certainly not as far down the line in terms of academics as you, but I am far enough to know that even in conservative schools that they corrupting the minds of those going into the ministry. One of the greatest ways is that the systematically try and break down the Word and make it no effect. It is apparent in the NT that Jesus had no issue associating the works of Old Testament to individuals such as Moses, Isaiah, etc. If I am not mistaken, Moses is one of those that gave such orders to kill. Yet, we find Him in the NT standing beside Jesus glorified. Why would he glorify a mass murderer. So are we to disregard that part of the NT as well. The truth is that God does not answer to us. We answer to Him. If he says it is just, it is just. We would be arrogant to think we are right and he is wrong.

        I knew you were going to come back with some type of response about Leviticus. You only disappointed me by not specifying “shellfish” in particular. That really is a bogus answer. The second great commandment, the one that liberals hold so dear, is also found in Leviticus. One chapter over. 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord”. Regardless, there are passages in Romans, Corinthians, Timothy, etc. in the NT that condemn it along with other sins. Please don’t say they were talking about “raping homosexuals”. You have read and reread Paul countless times. You honestly don’t think Paul would add homosexuality to the lists? And even if homosexuals were born gay, which I don’t think they are except that like everyone else, they are sinners, they can be born again and become a new creation.

        I have yet to understand the misnomer that Christianity is exclusive. It is the most inclusive government in existence. Anybody can come as they are. But, people must repent. That’s the rub. People want to be the “I AM THAT I AM”. Only God is changeless. Everything else must change.

        Finally, God is a God of love, but He has at times called for the destruction of people groups, slavery, etc. In fact, the ones that He chose above others were destroyed and taken into slavery. I guess it would be great if nothing happens to anyone and all is equal, but that is not earth. That is heaven. Sin dwells on earth and apart from destroying everything or making complete robots, God choose with work within a fallen world. That also includes using fallen people, but those people are still held accountable for their sins. I think the problem is that we refuse to see how evil people truly are and how much they hate God. Then I think we would say, “why did God allow them people to live as long as He did”.

        1. In an effort to keep my response a little shorter, I’ll only respond to some of what you said.

          I stand by my comment that what Paul was talking about and what is meant by “homosexuality” today are not the same thing. Regardless, I am comfortable saying Paul understood it to be a sin and I don’t. Paul understood slavery not to be a sin and I do. It’s not a far leap for me.

          “Does Christ think it is ok for anyone to think anything is ok?” To this I must answer, I don’t know. The accounts of Jesus that we have never answer this question. Further, in my experience it is often when two people are elevating different things that are attributed to Jesus when conflict arises. Many Christians would say Jesus came to abolish the law, to break down the barrier of the law, and to declare all things clean (remember Cornelius in Acts), but in Matthew Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it and his teachings offer stricter interpretations of some aspects of the law. So which is it?

          And, as a point of clarification, I do think your perspective is valid. You and I come to different understandings when we read the Bible, but we’re both doing it earnestly, to the best of our ability, and as honestly as we can. Is one of us right and one of us wrong? Simply because we interpret certain passages differently? That was certainly never the case in Jewish tradition where competing and opposite interpretations stand side by side, leading some to believe that the point was never to be “right,” but to engage in the study, the learning, the arguments, and the debates.

          1. Forgive me if I continue this discussion beyond reasonable expectations. Please let me know if you wish to conclude. I do/have appreciated your feedback.

            If your filter of your worldview does indeed come from “God is Love/ a loving God”, what is your basis of understanding what love is. Since you are honest in that you take and leave things in the bible, does that also include the bibles definitions of love? If your definition of love does not come from scripture, where does it come? If we are to believe Scripture at all, it is clear that the worlds definition of love (and most other things) and God’s definition of love are not the same.

            In your response to Jesus’ teachings, I don’t have much of an issue with Him abolishing
            the law and fulfilling the law at the same time.

            I think your point about Jewish interpretations really speaks back to my concerns in previous arguments. By the time that Jesus came, there was much debate. But what the people heard from Jesus was someone who taught with authority, not like the scribes and pharisees. You, in the process of your studies and learning, have become comfortable with not having all the answers and things being in a state of flux. But, to the “flock”, that leads them into danger/chaos. If they find themselves getting lost, they cannot so easily find their way back. They need clear instruction. It may not lend itself to fulfill all the needs/desires/concerns of every individual sheep, but it keeps the flock intact.

            The one other thought is that I don’t understand why you would not care if the institutional church went away. We had a community singing last night and it was such a sweet Spirit in that place. It only reminded me of the greatest of God and the love and fellowship and joy that can be had when believers get together.

            1. My definition of love comes from a multitude of areas, I think, and I’m probably unable to identify them all. To be sure, I think that we are all influenced in how we understand love by our religion, our parents, our siblings, and by loads of other experiences in our life whether we want to admit it or not. My understanding of love consists of a willingness to sacrifice self for others, unconditional acceptance, etc. I understand your point about my definition of love not completely coming from the Bible, but I have to go back to the genocide example. It seems to me that if I say, on the one hand, that what God commanded in Joshua was good and somehow the loving thing to do simply because God is God so it must be good and loving, but then, on the other hand, decry genocide today such as has been seen in Rwanda and Darfur as horrible beyond comprehension, then I have lost my integrity. If we are going to apply a different standard to God than to humans, as many think we should, then in my estimation that standard should be higher.

              I think that “community” and the “institutional church” are not necessarily the same thing. I care greatly about community, but I don’t think the institutional church is necessary to have community.

              1. I thought about your reply. I realized that you have to set aside an overwhelming amount of Scripture to maintain your idea of a loving God and one that had no preferences for the Jews. The idea of Emmanuel “God with Us” is throughout the entire bible. God is for us and against our enemies. There probably isn’t a book that does not have that at least in view. God carried the Israelites through until the time of Christ. This rejection would also have to include rejecting all of the covenants and the Presence of God in the temple. In addition, Jesus spoke of things like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, He spoke to the Pharisees and indicated that He had personally met Abraham and that Abraham rejoiced to see Him. If we look back in the OT, I believe a case could be made that it was Jesus Himself who met Abraham when He came to to see Sodom and Gomorrah for Himself before he destroyed it. Not to mentioned the destruction that is going to come upon the earth during the end times. Then we have the judgment. Jesus spoke greatly about hell and a person would just simply have to reject the teachings of Jesus to reject the idea of hell. Furthermore, Jesus made it very clear that his first priority was to preach to Israel and then to Gentiles. In addition, salvation in Romans would make no sense if God had not indeed first chosen the Jews and established the law. The law that Moses gave. Even Jesus said salvation is from the Jews.

                Listen, I hope you don’t think I am trying to throw stones at you. I am not. But, as a brother in Christ, I will be honest and say that your theology comes across as non-believing. I’m not trying to be right, but more to the fact that my spirit is disturbed by this. All of the NT writers and even Jesus Himself testify to the accuracy of the OT. The bible gives us our understanding of God. Without it, we don’t know Him. How can we use the words of Scripture to lead us to salvation and the knowledge of Him and then turn around and say that the same Scripture is a lie. Are you sure about it?

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