Sometimes I think the differences between Christians are larger and more defining than the differences between Christians and adherents of some other faith traditions.
* Some Christians say the Bible is without error or inconsistency; others believe that it was written by fallible humans but within its contents somehow mysteriously it contains the word of God.
* Some Christians believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old and that Genesis gives a scientifically accurate account of creation; others believe, with most scientists, that Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and that the creation accounts (there are two, not one) in Genesis are meant to teach us not science but something about God.
* Some Christians believe that anyone who doesn't publicly acknowledge Jesus Christ as savior and lord is destined for hell; other Christians aren't even sure hell exists as a physical location and believe the question of who gets to spend eternity with God is up to God, not us or our creeds, though they would still describe themselves as disciples of Jesus.
* Some Christians insist that homosexuality is a sin and that it's a choice people make, one they can undo; others contend that the Bible has almost nothing to say about homosexuality, that its writers had almost no understanding of what we today are beginning to understand about sexual orientation and that the Bible should not be used as a weapon in a political debate the way it was used once to defend slavery. (See my essay on this subject found under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)
And on and on.
It will come as no surprise to my regular readers that I tend to identify in each of those instances with the latter group.
Which is why I'm glad that two pastors, David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, have written a new book explaining the approach Christians in that latter group tend to take on a variety of issues: Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity.
The book is drawn from a popular DVD course of the same name. And both the book and the DVD would make great resources for adult Christian education classes in churches.
The book brings in such well-known theologians and academics as Brian McLaren, Walter Brueggemann, Amy-Jill Levine and others to provide insights into such subjects as the Bible, creation and Jesus. One need not agree with all of them to learn from them or to be challenged by their thinking.
Felton and Procter-Murphy say they have aimed this book at "people of deep spiritual integrity who simply cannot suffer the shallow message of the churches of their birth any longer. These people have an intuitive sense that there is more to Christianity than the rigid rules and theological constructs of the past." It is, they say, for "those who are yearning for something more than the shallow platitudes that too often pass for theology in our churches."
Throughout the book readers will find what may well be fresh insights to them. For instance, early in the book the authors deal with the question of what it means in Christianity to be "born again," saying that "even though a whole religious culture has risen up around the phrase, the concept of being born again is essentially based on a mistranslation." The original Greek term means not born again but "born from above," they say. And that implies not a one-time event but a long spiritual journey.
Similarly, in their treatment of Jesus, they correctly point out that "today, Jesus has been misused so often by so many, it's no surprise that many of the priorities, practices, and teachings of the Jesus represented in the Gospels are ignored or intentionally contradicted by the institutional church. . . .Despite the varying witnesses of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), one characteristic is consistent throughout: Jesus raised a prophetic voice that critiqued, questioned, and confronted the status quo."
Well, anyone wanting a good, solid grounding in a version of the Christian faith that encourages hard questions and is unwilling to settle for old answers that fly in the face of reason, science and experience would do well to begin with this book. Though understand that this is the kind of book that drives fundamentalists nuts.
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THE RELIGIONS OF ROMNEY AND RYAN
Now that the Republicans have their presidential ticket set, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has put together religious biographies of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They're worth a read, though keep in mind that there's no religious test for office under our Constitution.