My Take on The Future of Christianity
We sense the rhythms of an emerging global spirituality. But it will take universal cleansing. As much that is deemed religious atrophies, much else fans out into spirituality that depends on individual practice and growing social commitment to a more humane and less violent future. The era of creedal religion is drawing to a close.
The era of responsibility remains ever at hand awaiting our choice. Jesus embodied values, evident from a study of what he said and did. The values of Jesus emerge from the direct narrative power of the gospels.
Jesus’s values reveal the iconoclasm of Abba, the one to whom he prayed and with whom he spoke. Abba is the familiar Aramaic name for father. Abba is an iconoclastic contradiction of a deity that is distant and forbidding.
Jesus embraced democracy in the widest sense. Jesus stood for and demonstrated helpfulness. Jesus exemplified reciprocity and tolerance. Jesus urged acceptance of the diversity of Abba’s creation.
Jesus’ inaugural proclamation was that Abba is at hand. Jesus presented Abba as the energy of the new age. The primitive church quickly made Jesus a messiah.
The early church downplayed Jesus’ message. The early church misunderstood Jesus’ iconoclastic actions. Instead of an exemplar, Jesus was made the iconic center of the church’s devotion.
Creedal messianism describes the consistent attitude over time of the church to Jesus. Jesus’ way of life was made secondary to a theology that ignores Abba. The deity the church embraces is distant and severe.
Jesus meant us to pray to, and embrace, Abba as our friend. The church made Jesus a gateway to “the Christian faith” — to affirmation of a creed. Jesus started as a speaker and doer of the right.
Jesus became a supernatural being who saves those who confess the creed. The New Testament is riddled with creedal statements. Jesus message of love for all has thankfully been preserved.
The conflict between Abba and creedal orthodoxy has created two millennia of religious schizophrenia. Jesus intends the restoration of a fallen world to full harmony with the Holy One. Such a restoration brings peace and justice to our relationships, trust and simplicity to our lives.
There is less and less “Caesar” to render our substance to. Less designation of what we do as forced work. And there is more responsibility, more acknowledgement of each person’s fundamental need for affirming love.
Jesus says in Mark 1 that kingdom or realm of Abba is at hand. He calls this the good news or gospel. Half the New Testament references to the deity are to the kingdom or realm of Abba.
Jesus then says to repent and believe this good news. The good news is Abba’s at-hand-ness, that henceforth Abba is available to us and that we participate with him in ordering a world that is in harmony with Abba. Abba’s love transcends life itself and integrates us into a realm where, as Revelation suggests, death’s power is no more.
Jesus had in mind a world closer to the way he embodied. Our world is one of prisons, economic struggle, envy and consumerism, not to mention illness, accidents and events we call acts of Abba. But the gospel has remained true since Jesus proclaimed and embodied it.
The consequences of ignoring Jesus’ true message increase with time. Without denying evil and the need to be delivered from it, Jesus proposes a way of goodness which is free and efficacious, even when it is risky and subjects us to possible suffering and even death. We are encouraged to exist without reference to the world’s dominant understandings.
For example, Jesus commends a generalized and inclusive love that is far more important to him than love of family, to which he accords a secondary status. Jesus is not as high on friendship as he is on active negotiation with adversaries and love for enemies. When one looks at the sum of Jesus’ teachings and acts, one concludes that Jesus emphatically affirms acts of direct helpfulness, tolerance and sharing and is hypercritical of anything smacking of religious show or hypocrisy.
On issues of property, Jesus does not encourager acquisition or ownership. He warns those who assume they will win ultimate ease by having an abundance of material possessions. Jesus celebrates life as a free manifestation of Abba’s goodness and encourages us to counter the humanly-created evil which sustains the system.
The good news proclaimed and embodied by Jesus is a way of responsible living. It is not something to believe in as much as something to be lived. The realm of heaven sprouts up on the earth wherever love overcomes and freedom is present.
Trust in Abba reduces anxiety, extends sharing and enlarges the presence of peace. Jesus calls us to a life beyond the boundaries created by tradition. Jesus bears values that make for life, happiness and community.
If Jesus had intended to proclaim an otherworldly, perfectionist ethic, destined to be branded unrealistic by the best minds of the church, he would not have advanced the notion of Abba’s will being done on earth in the only prayer he ever taught. Jesus gathered a following of men and women and spent the bulk of his brief, intense ministry providing them with myriad instructions and examples related to how to exist in the world. Abba intends that life here and now be the locus of our learning what we are meant to learn.
Abba intends that we absorb and understand which values and teachings are paramount for the ordering of life on earth. Religion of any sort, as Barth, and Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky well understood, will not accomplish what Jesus set out to do. If the churches willingly fall to the ground, they shall rise again.
Churches need to be resurrected via a deep self-transformation, casting off much of what is now seen as sacred and embracing much that is now taken to be profane. A seismic cultural change, in which the very terms of possibility are re-envisioned, is the starting point of the revolution of silence, the nonviolent possession of the world.
When Jesus said the poor are blessed he was not advocating poverty. He was telling people that their poverty would come to an end. That people who follow the way of Abba, his father, who is within us as a force for overcoming, will thrive.
Jesus introduced a new economic system, which most never noticed or understood. It was the miracle of sharing and the creation of abundance when people’s minds are oriented to Abba’s presence.
Put helping others first. Put doing unto others into your daily agenda.
Point the way to a viable prosperity based on helpfulness. Jesus has an unrivalled place in world history as a manifestation of divine ethical intent for all. Jesus is the progenitor of a dynamic and evolutionary ethic capable of world transformation.
Jesus saw human possibility and that the implications can turn the social order upside down.
Jesus is the teacher-exemplar of a non-judgmental, peace-affirming ethic of universal love and justice. Jesus is the avatar of a seismic movement toward the humanizing of the world on the basis of a re-appropriation of Abba as a presently and universally available energy or force for good. Jesus prefigured in his miracles the progress he affirmed as being within the grasp of faithful persons.
Jesus embodied and commended to others a value system and a way of living as relevant now as then. This way of Jesus cannot be encapsulated in a creed or institution. New wine bursts old wineskins. Pentecostal experience of a barrier-breaking spirit power refuses to be codified.
Jesus’ proclamation unleashes an iconoclastic freedom to live according to the highest prophetic understanding of things and to avail ourselves of trusting relationship to the Holy One at close quarters. Jesus proclaims the presence of affirming power for goodness in the everyday. Christianity set forth a creed, created a priestly order and orienting its institution to the dominant political power structure.
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