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About the seventies

Here is Richard Rohr telling about his own life experience and I couldn’t help but draw some parallels with ours. He speaks about the spontaneous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, liberating movements eventually becoming about control, the demise of communal experiments, religious career, hiding beyond God and more.

Why be a Christian Universalist?

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Three Reasons I Am a Christian Universalist

By Chuck Queen

Before I tell you why I am a universalist, I must first clarify the kind of universalist I am. I don’t believe that one who has been a hateful jerk just automatically walks into a kin-dom of love upon death. There is nothing to suggest that simply passing through death would transform a hater into a lover. How would someone with prejudice, greed, a thirst for vengeance, etc. be able to exist in a realm of self-giving love?

So, I believe that everyone will somehow, someway, someday be changed into a compassionate, loving person. I believe that the most evil, murderous tyrant will one day be transformed into a good and caring person.

How does that happen? I don’t pretend to know. How long will it take? Again, I have no idea about that either. I see life as evolutionary, developmental, and progressive. Therefore, I am not dismissive of divine judgment in the life to come, though I see that judgment as corrective, restorative, and redemptive, not punitive and retributive. Whatever divine judgment involves (and once again, I don’t pretend to know), I believe its aim is to bring about repentance and conversion.

I must also concede that while I believe that eventually all persons will repent and be transformed into loving, compassionate, caring persons, there is also the possibility that not every person can be saved/transformed/healed/made whole. It is a cooperative effort. We must participate in our healing and liberation. And as long as we are free to choose, there is always the possibility that a person may never choose the good. I allow for that possibility, but I believe that everyone will eventually see the light. Hence, I am a hopeful universalist, not a dogmatic one.

So, what are the three reasons I am a hopeful universalist?

First, I am a universalist because I need a believable God. I need a larger, bigger God than a God who separates humanity on the basis of beliefs or some other measure of judgment. If God judges people on the basis of this life alone, then God would not be a fair, just, loving, or believable God.

Let’s be honest, some folks are dealt a really bad hand. And so much goes into the making of a soul. If I had been born into poverty, discarded by parents, treated as an outcast by my society, had very different experiences than I have had in my life, I have no doubt I would be a very different person today.

I know some people who are more loving than the God they believe in. Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes,

“Mature religions, and now some scientists, say that we are hardwired for the Big Picture, for transcendence, for ongoing growth, for union with ourselves and everything else. Either God is for everybody and the divine DNA is somehow in all creatures, or this God is not God by any common definition, or even much of a god at all. We are driven, kicking and screaming, toward higher levels of union and ability to include (to forgive others for being ‘other’), it seems to me… But many get stopped and fixated at lower levels where God seems to torture and exclude forever those people who don’t agree with ‘him’ or get ‘his’ name right. How could you possibly feel safe, free, loved, trustful, or invited by such a small God?”

Falling Upward, p. 109

Some people are better than their theology. I need a God who is better–more loving, caring, understanding, just, good, etc.–than I am or than even the best person I know, a God who invites me to be part of a larger, greater story of healing, redemption, and universal reconciliation.

Second, I am a universalist because it compels me to interpret and apply my sacred texts with a bias toward love. I was once a biblical inerrantist and was completely blind to my biases and the biases of the biblical writers. Now I can fully accept the imperfect humanity of the biblical authors and the limitations and biases we the readers bring to these texts. It is liberating to see biblical texts for what they are. Some are highly enlightened, potentially transforming, and expressive of the highest level of consciousness. Other texts are simply punitive, petty, and retributive, reflecting a much lower stage of consciousness. With a bias toward love I can discern the difference and allow the Spirit of love to lead me deeper into a text so I can discern perennial, transcendent truth beneath a text that on the surface may reflect a very dualistic, unenlightened state of development.

For example, the parable Jesus told about the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30) was interpreted by Matthew and his community in very dualistic terms with the wheat and tares representing two different groups of people, the wicked and the just (Matt. 13:36-43). My bias towards love leads me to ignore Matthew’s (or his church’s) interpretation and focus on the parable itself, which I read symbolically and spiritually. I see the wheat and tares as representing the good and evil in each of us, not two categories of people. I read this text inclusively, not exclusively. I read it spiritually, not literally.

And this brings me to the third reason I am a universalist. My universalism compels me to be a better person–a more loving, compassionate, caring, merciful person. I don’t claim to have arrived at any high level of growth. I still struggle in a lot of areas to be a more loving person. But that is my goal. My universalism prompts me to see the potential for transformation in all human beings, and my universalism inspires me to strive to realize my potential as a Christ bearer capable of loving persons unconditionally while never giving up hope that we all can change.

Really, what more can we ask of any belief system? When it comes to imagining God, all our beliefs are like fingers pointing at the moon. God is so much more. The question should not be: Are my beliefs correct? The question should be: Are my beliefs healthy? Do they challenge, inspire, empower, and compel me to be a better person and to work for the good of others?

As a universalist, I cannot write off any person, no matter how unloving or unjust that person may be. I believe he/she can and at some point will change. I must see such persons as children of God who bear the image of God no matter how marred that image may be.

I am a Christian universalist because I am committed to being a disciple of Jesus, and by following the life and teaching of Jesus, I hope to grow in my love for God and in my love of neighbor.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2016/12/three-reasons-christian-universalist/

Yet Even More Links & Resources

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I am dedicating these next links to the social aspects of Christianity, to its commitment to justice and love for humanity. I have already favored some authors and scholars who emphasize this, but the following links are even more specific:

Yet More Links & Resources

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Whatever we do to enter that rotunda and get a whiff of heavenly air (ML 191), to make a vacuum for heavenly nourishment (ML 73), or to simply stop, look and listen (ML 74); whether we use keys, loving Jesus, meditation, contemplation, centering prayer or simple silence, once we disrobe of our false self, we always experience intimacy.

Now, rooted in this awareness and keeping that connection strong, let us embark on some more studying. We know that faith does not rest on scholarly wisdom, but neither does it rest on ignorance and superstition. Too often, however, religion has carries around a baggage of just that. Religious folks usually fear questioning it, because they have been taught to just trust and believe, and that questions and doubts are a sign of weakness. Concluding that religion is a matter of take it or leave it and unable to see any another way, they either accept it as is or leave it altogether. Too often, people are made to feel that the choice is between being a dumb Christian or a smart atheist. There are reason why this is mainly a western, Christian phenomenon, but the good news is that there is another way. The answer to the dichotomy between superstitious belief and a intellectual unbelief, rests in first knowing and experiencing God, while also embracing the academia and its uncomfortable truths, even at the cost of discovering that what we were taught as children wasn’t necessarily so.

In our specific case, we were strong on the experiential side of things but fairly weak in the latter. For example, we memorized the Bible and knew it inside out, but knew next to nothing about it’s origins, authors, history, archeology, redaction, canonical variances, the scholarly instruments for textual analysis and so forth. That’s where the academia can help us separate facts from fiction. The peer review helps us to also recognize the difference between the personal opinions and speculations of scholars and what instead is the consensus on facts, how it was reached and the data behind it. Ultimately, it is from this added information that we can proceed to recognize within ourselves that which we interpreted correctly and that which we merely clang to superstitiously. If our experience of God is true and our connection is strong, then even an uncomfortable truth can liberate us to experience it more fully. As Thomas Aquinas said “all truth is from the Holy Spirit”.

So here I go with links to some scholars who do challenge some of our traditional views, but first a word of advise: if something strikes you as being just a personal opinion, it may be so, but if data is provided, historical, exegetical, about sources, authors, archeology or other, then take it as an invitation to further research. That said, I would seek for more opinions, for the general consensus but avoid public debates, mainly because they thrive on controversy, on polarizing issues into contrasting, dualistic opposites and this tends to miss what we are aiming for.

I’ll start with some You Tube links:

So we need to read the Bible from the vantage point of the new information we have about it. Now that we understand better its matrix, we can approach it afresh and see what more we can learn from it. Perhaps the best place to start is by facing some of the differences existing between the four gospels. We are so used to see them as one that we can’t even begin to understand how they came about, why they were different and how their first audiences understood them. There is a recent book on the gospel of John, that makes light on this issue:

The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic by John Shelby Spong

https://www.amazon.com/Fourth-Gospel-Tales-Jewish-Mystic/dp/0062011308

Then there is one on the gospel of Matthew, even more recent and by the same author.

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy: A Journey into a New Christianity Through the Doorway of Matthew’s Gospel by John Shelby Spong

https://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Literalism-Gentile-Christianity-Matthews/dp/0062362305/ref=pd_bxgy_14_img_2?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0062362305&pd_rd_r=BQKTMC7FCZM71NWXY0EN&pd_rd_w=YHdZs&pd_rd_wg=tZMQC&psc=1&refRID=BQKTMC7FCZM71NWXY0EN

Then a volume on Christian history. It is not easy reading but I have not seen anywhere else so much put on a single volume, meaning the history of Christianity accompanied with the history of its theology, how it developed, changed and impacted Christianity through the various centuries:

Christianity by Hans Kung

https://www.amazon.com/Christianity-Essence-History-Religious-Situation/dp/0826408079/ref=la_B000APY9HA_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479210411&sr=1-3

As audio lecture on the history of theology I would recommend:

http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/history-of-christian-theology.html

Learning to read the gospels with the added knowledge of modern scholarship is a must. Equally important is to read the rest of the New Testament with these added instruments. I already included and excellent book on the authentic Paul in my first list but I’ll repeat it here:

The Authentic Letters of Paul, by Arthur J. Dewey, Roy W. Hoover, Lane McGaughy, Daryl D. Schmidt

https://www.amazon.com/Authentic-Letters-Paul-Arthur-Dewey/dp/1598150197

A must for any student is to also get a good grip on how the Bible was formed. Here is a helpful and fairly complete series of audio lectures:

http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/story-of-the-bible.html

Then a Jewish scholar with an excellent message for Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Also an excellent speaker and worth listening to.

For those interested to know more, I highly recommend her courses on both the Old and the New Testament. I would almost rate them as a must for anyone serious about their Bible.

http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/old-testament.html

http://www.thegreatcourses.com/…/great-figures-of-the-new-t…

I’ll then end it with two more You-tube links. An excellent shortcut to taking lengthy courses on Christian history. In just six hours they cover the whole 2000 years.

More Links & Resources

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Before continuing with things of a more scholastic nature, I would like to interject a few on the experiential nature of faith, the mystical experience of the divine, prayer, contemplation and so forth. The point being that scholarly work is very needed, for a better understanding of theology, history and scriptural exegesis, but has its limits when it comes to constructing real faith. The academia can advance our rational, intellectual understanding and dispel the myths of some popular, yet unfounded or superstitious beliefs; on the other hand, it lacks the instruments to ground us on a true experience of divine, and true faith cannot rest on cerebral notions, but only in the power of God (1 Cor 2:5).

Considering our own experience on the matter, from our early days until recently; considering the multitude of writings, spiritual revelations, encounters, experiences, etc. even if we were to reconsider and discard some, there is no denial that the mystical and its experiential dimension of faith was at the heart of our movement, rather than an intellectual or theological belief system. Building on this I would then recommend studying the works of other mystics in history, who complement our own experience. Some of them we already know, such as Madame Guyon, Joan of Arch, Francis of Assisi, Rasputin, the Apostle Paul, but there are many others, such as Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, etc. Reading their works can be extremely enlightening but I must also warn that they were the product of their time and age, therefore their experience of the divine is often framed in the language and understanding of their time. As such it is not that simple to read and benefit from it, and one may have to wade through lots that is dated, unnecessary or hard to comprehend, before getting to the jewels he’s searching for. For this reason I am recommending some contemporary folks, who may help us make better sense of it.

I will start with some You Tube links, since these are easier to start from than books. In most cases the links lead to a general index of all videos from a specific person, rather than the specific subject at hand. You might need wade through some unrelated material to get to the pertinent one:

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Phileena+Heuertz

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=richard+rohr

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=cynthia+bourgeault

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=thomas+keating+centering+prayer

Then some books:

The Naked Now: Learning To See As the Mystics See – by Richard Rohr

https://www.amazon.com/Naked-Now-Learning-See-Mystics/dp/0824525434

Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening – by Cynthia Bourgeault

https://www.amazon.com/Centering-Prayer-Awakening-Cynthia-Bourgeault/dp/1561012629/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478956883&sr=1-1&keywords=centering+prayer

Then a book that I hesitate mentioning but which is helpful, yet with a word of caution:

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment – by Eckhart Tolle

https://www.amazon.com/Power-Now-Guide-Spiritual-Enlightenment/dp/1577314808/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478957196&sr=1-1&keywords=the+power+of+now

Available for free download at:

http://www.baytallaah.com/bookspdf/51.pdf

The word of caution about this book is that it is usually grouped with other New Age literature, thus causing some concerns. Of course we are no strangers to such characterization, and in this case it is probably due to Eckhart Tolle quoting not only from the Bible but also from eastern traditions. His language, also, is not that usually adopted by Christian clergy. The thing to keep in mind, here, is that the practices he describes, so succinctly and in contemporary language, are the same as were known and practiced by the desert fathers and mothers of early centuries, as well as mystics and contemplatives throughout Christian history. These, have recently been reintroduced, within larger Christianity, through the work of some monastic orders. In our case, we already knew about some of it, but as the monastic orders were also bound by some medieval concepts, we were equally bound by some mistaken assumptions, first and foremost that intimacy with God was conditional, a bit of a works trip, needing this or that key to work, etc. Sure, we had our crystal ball through which we saw our fortunes, while others had theirs. It’s a bit like the prayer of the heart of Eastern Orthodox, the rosary of Catholics or the slain in the Spirit or tongues of Pentecostals, it comes down to whatever works for you within your tradition. Eckhart Tolle, however, seems to speak to the modern man and to cut through unnecessary traditions. What he shares has enabled me to live and experience intimacy with God in a way that is much simpler and not as effected by doctrinal or traditional issues, much less varying emotions and circumstances. Perhaps this is due to our particular experience, which has grounded me on what God tastes, feels and smells like. Perhaps, a person who has not had this same experience could be confused by it, I don’t know, but this is why I first recommended the other two books. Being rooted on Christian tradition and theology, they furnish the necessary discernment on the issue of mystical experiences. In her book about centering prayer, Cynthia Bourgeault, specifically mentions Eckhart Tolle and gives additional Christian framing for it.

In any case, to address the New Age accusations that often comes up when dealing with a particular branch of Christianity, there is excellent advice in ML 73A (He stands in the gap). It was written at a time when we were accused of the same, though the New Age term hadn‘t yet been coined.

Links & Resources

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So here I am, adding a new page to my blog menu and calling it Links & Resources. From now on, anything not authored by me will be listed here. My recommendation of books, videos, audio lectures, blogs, websites and more, will also appear under this tab. I am dedicating this post to building a more comprehensive list of recommendations.

I will begin with a website that a friend recently brought to my attention. It is called:

The Work Of The People

http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/

It is a collection of short videos, from various people of faith and on a variety of themes. Excellent for devotions, study and introduction to various arguments. You may register for free for 30 days and renew it only for a few dollars afterwards.

Some of my favorite videos are those by, Richard Rohr, Greg Boyd, William Paul Young, Jean Vanier, Cynthia Burgeault, Diana Butler Bass, John Michael Talbot, but I am sure there are many more. Some great music as well.

Next I will mention two books and two authors that most of us are familiar with:

The Shack, by Paul Young

https://www.amazon.com/Shack-Wm-Paul-Young/dp/160941411X

Love Wins, by Rob Bell.

https://www.amazon.com/Love-Wins-About-Heaven-Person-ebook/dp/B004IWR3CE

These are fairly easy reading and had a certain impact on us, mainly because they resonated with so much that we were already familiar with. They were recommended from their first publication and circulated widely amongst us. If you’ve missed them I highly suggest reading them. Though they answer some difficult questions, they also give rise to new ones, so they are an excellent start in a new journey of discovery.

The Shack is a novel dealing with some deep theological issues, the question of evil, the nature of God, etc. Putting theology in a story form, teaching it through a narrative that both grips us and instruct us, is a rare gift. Paul Young does this and, in a sense, tells us nothing that we couldn’t have gleaned from our own writings, except that he connects the dots on things that with us had laid scattered and undeveloped.

https://www.amazon.com/Shack-Wm-Paul-Young/dp/1455568295

In Love Wins Rob Bell works through some of the same issues, but develops them differently. It is not a novel but a sermon, one that grips us nonetheless and brings us to see God more coherently than we ever had before.

https://www.amazon.com/Love-Wins-About-Heaven-Person/dp/0062049658/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478189397&sr=1-1&keywords=love+wins

Of interest are also other books and YouTube videos by these same authors. Here are some links, but there is much more:

http://robbell.podbean.com/e/episode-8-the-enduring-relevance-astonishing-power-and-unexpected-brilliance-of-the-bible/

For those wishing for a more “theological” approach to some of the questions raised by the two previous authors, I would then recommend two books:

The Inescapable Love of God, by Thomas Talbott

http://wipfandstock.com/the-inescapable-love-of-god.html

The Evangelical Universalist, by Gregory MacDonald

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Evangelical-Universalist-Gregory-MacDonald/dp/1597523658

The above books argued their point of view from a traditional approach to scripture. Scholarly work, however, has grown past the traditional, when it comes to the Bible, and have uncovered much that wasn’t previously known. Some of this new information may seem to shake the very foundation of Christianity but, actually, it helps it get back to what it was meant to be right from the start. For those possessing the ballast of an of an experiential Christianity, one deeply embedded in KNOWING what one believes in, scholarly work becomes like the work of archeologists, which uncovers the foundations under centuries of rubble, layer upon layer of interpretations, including personal ones. This is a process not entirely new to us either, but before entering the arena of new scholarly breakthrough, I would recommend a good course on early Christian history and its writings. There are many and all are useful but one which I found helpful to connect recent scholarly work with the faith of the fathers is the work of Luke Timothy Johnson:

https://www.goodreads.com/work/editions/5150607-early-christianity-cds-the-experience-of-the-divine-the-great-courses

https://www.amazon.com/Great-Courses-Jesus-Gospels/dp/1565859421

Accepting what has emerged in recent decades, this scholar finds the foundation of Christianity not so much in the historicity of the Biblical accounts, but in the present personal experience of the divine, the same today as it was then.

Having also struggled with parts of the Christian scriptures and particularly with some of Paul’s writings we will find good and helpful material in the following book. It sheds new light on Paul’s epistles, removes later interpolations, pseudepigraphic works and reveals the original guy:

The Authentic Letters of Paul, by Arthur J. Dewey, Roy W. Hoover, Lane McGaughy, Daryl D. Schmidt

https://www.amazon.com/Authentic-Letters-Paul-Arthur-Dewey/dp/1598150197

Almost a natural next step would be:

How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian, by John Dominique Crossan:

https://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Bible-Still-Christian/dp/0062203592

For a more comprehensive work spanning the entire Bible text I would recommend:

Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, by John Shelby Spong

https://www.amazon.com/Re-Claiming-Bible-Non-Religious-World-Shelby/dp/0062011294

Let me add a parenthesis here and that is that no author is free from personal bias and interpretations. Nonetheless it is obvious, from the preponderance of material, the peer review and the consensus developing amongst scholars that the traditional, literalistic and fundamentalist take has become obsolete. Christianity needs as much renewal today as it did at the time of the reformation, which was more advanced then but has now fallen beyond others. Their insistence on the theological shibboleths that defined it and separate it from others, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox etc. has actually become their greatest hindrance from moving forward. It is refreshing to note how Christian scholars, preachers and leaders who are embracing the new, no longer define themselves as exclusive Catholic, Protestant or other. There is a dialogue now cutting through these traditional division and exploring what the Christianity of the future will be like and, oddly enough, it resembles evermore what it was to begin with, not so much in doctrine and tradition, but in posture, practice and experience.

With this I end my first round of suggestions. If you have anything along these lines which you like to recommend you are welcome to contribute.

The Creeds

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The Creeds, in their diversities, have always been a source of debate and inquiry. It isn’t just their differences or the ancient language that causes questions, but it’s their theology, the implied metaphysics and cosmology as well. All of them, from the Old Roman to the Nicaean, Athanasian or Apostolic, were written sometime between the third and fifth century. Whatever the question, it takes the proper tools to make sense of ancient texts, but even if we learned all about the cultures, conditions and languages of that period, it would only be half the work. In any case, I did come across a fairly lucid and concise answer to a fairly basic question, and I’d like to share it with you. As you know, there was an evolution of the various creeds, going through various redaction, additions, corrections and so forth. Even more recently people have asked how the creeds could be further updated, and here is an fitting answer:

Question & Answer

Toby of Burnsville, Minnesota writes:


Question:

What would an expurgated version of the Nicene Creed look like when its archaic imagery has been replaced?

Answer:

Dear Toby,

That is not the way to relate to the creeds. Creeds are historic documents that attempt to place into the words of the time in which they were framed, the faith those people professed.

Creeds are therefore human creations, written by human beings trying to make sense in their day, of their God experience. That is always what a statement of faith is. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are fourth century Christian creations. Inevitably they assume a fourth century worldview. It is not my duty or yours to purge those aspects of fourth century material, which has become unbelievable. It is rather our responsibility to discern the experience they were trying to articulate and to find 21st century words which can convey the same truth for our time that the creeds conveyed in theirs.

If we relate to the creeds as documents divinely inspired, which were meant to control our faith and to keep us “orthodox”, then we have become creedal idolaters! Creeds are not like girdles into which we have to fit our minds.

Let me be specific. The creeds of the church were hammered out in ecclesiastical conventions in a very political way. They represent compromise and political bargaining. They were not dictated by God. They do not thus capture divine truth. One hopes that they point to divine truth. As such we honor them but we do not worship them. So I am neither interested in purging them nor in liberalizing them. I only want to seek to live inside the experience they were designed to communicate.

John Shelby Spong