Archives For Harvey Cox

Conformity….

April 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

I’ve seen the light go out in people’s eyes when they decide it’s safer to embrace a doctrine or a policy that their gut tells them is wrong than it is to challenge those who say it’s right.

I’ve watched open minds close and tender hearts harden.

I’ve seen people pretend to believe things they don’t actually believe and do things they don’t actually want to do, all in the name of conformity to God’s will, all in the name of sacrifice and submission.

Fundamentalism erases people. It erases their joy, their compassion, their instincts, their curiosity, their passion, their selves. And then it celebrates this ghosting, this nulling and numbing, as a glorious “dying to the self,” just like Jesus demanded.

SOURCE: Hearts of Flesh.

These are some powerful words from Rachel Held Evans who is a young and popular Christian author and lecturer. She seldom parses words when it comes to her spirituality.  She also seems to be very aligned with the latest statistics of the Millennial generation when it comes to shedding much of the dogma of the current “church”.

I truly believe that the conformity that many churches demand is a primary factor for why even those raised in it are leaving in droves. They see things that directly contradict what they believe to be simple knowledge. They see their church speaking so viciously about those who are different from them.  What they see is not “conformity to God’s will” but to some minded hardened hearts.  They see a fixated emphasis on below the belt issues when Jesus said almost nothing about that topic.

Young people, or at least many young people, are still in the mode of questioning things. They are still forming their own personal opinions on what will be important in their coming life. They will not allow someone to tell them what is moral when it is obviously not to them.

During my lifetime fundamentalism, even though it started with trying to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world, has for the most part morphed into something completely different. It is now primarily about what you are supposed to hate rather than what Jesus told you to love. It has become the dark side of Christianity in many respects.

2014-03-25_16-33-02It is encouraging to see that the force is no longer with the fundamentalists but instead beginning to meld into what is now called the Great Emergence as described by Harvey Cox in his book entitled The Future Of Faith.  As explained in the book the emergent church is more about moving on to the next stage of Christianity rather than tearing down the current one. It is about shedding all those man-made rules and replacing them with the messages of its founder. If you are becoming discouraged with the direction that many in the church are taking maybe it is time you took up the book and read it with an open mind. It just might just change your idea some of the basic things you are told you must believe in order to see God.

This is one of the most fundemental things I have learned from the now ending five year study…

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Anyone who has read much of this blog knows that I take the creeds of the Christian church to have done more harm than good.  Here are some words about that by Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith:

Creeds were always something theologians invented, often to stake out spheres of authority. The vast body of lay Christians knew little about them and cared less. Their faith was embodied in stories, saints’ days, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. But these everyday people constituted, after all, the vast majority.

The priests and theologians always remained a tiny minority. Consequently the recent emergence of “people’s history” is facilitating the recovery of Christianity’s original faith orientation. As the revival of religion and the change in religiousness spread around the world, it becomes clearer why the extraordinary growth of Christianity beyond the West is helping Christianity regain its initial impetus.

These areas lie far removed from Plato’s orbit. To be a Christian in India or Korea or Africa today does not mean to be a Christian à la grec. It means to be what is sometimes called a “postdogmatic” Christian. The content of the faith of non-Western Christians is much like that of the early church, even though the embodied style of their religion often resembles that of their non-Christian neighbors….

Religious people today are more interested in ethical guidelines and spiritual disciplines than in doctrines. They are also becoming less patriarchal, as women assume leadership positions in religions that have barred them for centuries, sometimes for millennia. Women are publishing commentaries on the Qur’an, leading synagogues, and directing Buddhist retreat centers. There are now women pastors, priests, and bishops in Christian denominations.

As you can see from these words things are changing at the root level in Christian churches. You might say that you have not seen much of a change but if you were a Christian in the southern hemisphere you would not question what is going on.  Western Christians want to point to the fact that the church is growing so therefore this “emergent movement” really doesn’t have much muscle. The trouble with that belief is that like many of the current beliefs/creeds present in the western church are naive at best or wrong at worst.

Much of South America is made up of Roman Catholics but they are not like the ones you come across in your Sunday visits. They are literally giving the pope heartburn with their non-allegience to many of the things the church hold dear. They are not aligning to all the things they are told to believe. Many of them in fact have embraced liberation theology. I know from the 2008 elections that was a dirty name in this country but not so in other parts of the world.

Yes, Christianity might be holding its own  overall but all of the growth is actually occurring  outside Europe and the U.S and it is a very different Christianity than what we know.  As the quote above says it much more closely resembles the early church than the modern church of the western world.  I personally think that is a good thing.  I kind of like the term post-dogmatic Christians. It has a nice ring to it.  I will be covering some of this in future posts because it will be a critical issue in the post-modern/dogmatic church of the twenty-first century by the emergent movement among others.

The primary reason there are 39,000+ Christian denominations is that each are trying to maintain “purity” of beliefs. Here is how that logic usually plays out:

” If we allow differences of opinions among us then we will soon reach a slippery slope where we will slide into heresy. For that reason we must be on the constant watch to exclude anyone among us who asks the ‘wrong’ questions or dares to disagree any of our creeds or beliefs.”

I have personally felt the stink of one of these churches. But what these church authorities espousing this view overlook is that they are looking at Jesus through the lens of many others who came before them. Things like their recent stubborn insistence that every word in the Bible came directly from God is putting themselves into a straight-jacket that is almost impossible to wear, and very uninviting to those outside their clique.

Of course institutional purity is not new to the twenty-first century. It has been going on since the time of Constantine in the fourth century and probably even before that. Here are some words from Harvey Cox in his book The Future of Faith:

 During the ensuing “Constantinian era,” Christianity, at least in its official version, froze into a system of mandatory precepts that were codified into creeds and strictly monitored by a powerful hierarchy and imperial decrees. Heresy became treason, and treason became heresy. The year 385 CE marked a particularly grim turning point. A synod of bishops condemned a man named Priscillian of Avila for heresy, and by order of the emperor Maximus he and six of his followers were beheaded in Treves. Christian fundamentalism had claimed its first victim. Today Priscillian’s alleged theological errors hardly seem to warrant the death penalty. He urged his followers to avoid meat and wine, advocated the careful study of scripture…

There are countless similar stories from the years following. One historian estimates that in the two and a half centuries after Constantine, Christian imperial authorities put twenty-five thousand to death for their lack of creedal correctness.  And of course we all know that in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic. In the twentieth century she became a saint.

Here are some additional words by Philip Gulley in his book The Evolution of Faith about trying to maintain institutional purity:

Some Christians have thus concluded that we are our own worst enemies, that our best option for a viable future lies in our determination to embrace a rigid faith in order to stave off the adulterating influences of other cultures and religions. But I would contend that this has been tried repeatedly throughout our long history and always ends the same suspicion, intolerance, exclusion, division, and, finally, war. No, if the church has a future indeed if our world has a future it will rest in the church’s ability to honor and assimilate the best of each religious tradition,  just as Jesus found virtue in Samaritans, publicans, centurions, and Gentiles. How this good man came to be the focus of a creedalism that ultimately excludes others is a mystery for the ages. The incorporation of other traditions into our own will undoubtedly change us, but for the better, for it will lead us toward one another, which is also and always a movement toward the Divine Presence and the universal grace that Presence represents. 

Inspiring words indeed! We should not be locking and bolting the church door against others beliefs but instead should be embracing them if they celebrate the Divine Presence of Jesus Christ. In other words we should do as he did.  And that is what I hope the coming emergent church will bring about.

I realize that due to trying to keep the last post brief I did not fully explain the three ages (Age of Faith, Age of Belief, Age of the Spirit) very well so I am taking another shot at it here. As a quote to explain it further I am using one from Diane Butler Bass in her book entitled Christianity After Religion. I realize it is kind of strange to use one author quoting another but I  believe this quote is the most descriptive with the fewest words of any I currently have in my database. (I’m and information technology guy so of course I have a database and it is growing daily 😉 )

Harvey Cox proposed that Christianity reflects this broader transformation regarding human knowledge and experience by dividing church history into three ages: the Age of Faith, the Age of Belief, and the Age of the Spirit. During the first period, roughly from the time of Jesus to 400 CE, Christianity was understood as a way of life based upon faith (i.e., trust) in Jesus. Or, as Cox states, To be a Christian meant to live in his Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he had begun.

Between 300 and 400, however, this dynamic sense of living in Jesus was displaced by an increasing emphasis on creeds and beliefs, leading Professor Cox to claim that this tendency increased until nascent beliefs thickened into catechisms, replacing faith in Jesus with tenets about him….

From an energetic movement of faith [Christianity] coagulated into a phalanx of required beliefs. Cox argues that the Age of Belief lasted some fifteen centuries and began to give way around 1900, its demise increasing in speed and urgency through the twentieth century.

We have now entered into a new phase of Christian history, which he calls the Age of the Spirit. If the Age of Faith was a time of faith in Jesus and the Age of Belief a period of belief about Christ, the Age of the Spirit is best understood as a Christianity based in an “experience of Jesus.” 

What I plan on doing, at least initially, is to flesh out this history with facts and examples. Initially we will try to understand the true nature of the early Christians and how they went about living their faith. I can’t wait until then so I am going to tell you that they did a much better job of being followers of Jesus Christ than we have for generations since them! What they did and how they did it was impressive indeed especially given that many of the leaders were fed to the lions because of their faith.

I will also be covering the Age of Beliefs to understand just how all these different beliefs, and in particular creeds came from. I think you will be surprised how much human hands are involved.  I will be covering heretics turned saints and saints turned heretics as well. This period and this topic is a very interesting one for me.

Finally I will take the concept of the Age of the Spirit. Some call it the Great Emergence and some have other names for it but I think they are all trying to reach the same point. A point where we return to true faith and jettison some of our previously held man-made beliefs.

Until next time I wish you peace….

In this post I will try to give you a very high level view of what I believe is the critical history of the church.  Of course, as this study progresses there might be some things I change likely my mind about.  As with most everything else I am open to different views and one of them may change my overall concepts (but I kind of doubt it 😉 )

Before I get into the view I will be using I want to give you some idea of other ways church history has been viewed:

Here is a very colorful view showing church history from an orthodox perspective. They show that the orthodox church is the one that has had little change through the ages whereas the Roman Catholic and all its off-shoots have radically changed through the years.  They take great pride in saying that they don’t change. Since change is something that human nature seems to generally bristle against this view has some appeal.

Another view similar to the first shows basically the same shape but concentrates on more detail accounts of historic events. This is probably the dominant view of many Christian organizations today.

Here is a high level view, similar to what I will be using, that labels each period in church history based on the most significant events. I suspect that this came from a protestant author in that it deems the period after the reformation as the “modern” age. Some have, among other names, separated this age into modern and post-modern.

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Now let’s get on to the view I will be initially focusing on. I will be covering three basic ages of the church. I couldn’t find a fancy graph as above for this view  so I will be covering it with bullet items instead:

  • The Age of Faith — This period began with the ascension of Christ and ended around 358AD.  I have many stories and such to try and understand just what these early Christians thought and believed.
  •  The Age of Beliefs —  This period spanned between 358CE to around 1900CE. This was the period that all of the many man made beliefs about Christ were formulated.
  • Age of the Spirit. — This period started around 1900 and continue through to the unforeseeable future.

As I have mentioned before these three ages were formulated by Harvey Cox in his book The Future Of Faith.

Next time I will be fleshing out these three ages in more detail. If you want to see a more detailed view see the book.

Until then I bid you peace…..

About My Sources…

June 11, 2012 — 2 Comments

This post is about some of my sources of info for the study I am presently undertaking on church history and how we got to where we are today.

I have read scores of books on church history the last few years and continue reading them for this study. I have mentioned already there is one that influenced me greatly and it is one of the reasons I am doing this study. That book by Harvey Cox and is entitled Future of Faith. Here is a small bio of him found from Wikipedia:

Harvey Gallagher Cox, Jr. (born May 19, 1929 in Malvern, Pennsylvania) is one of the preeminent theologians in the United States and served as Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School, until his retirement in October 2009.  …

Cox was ordained as an American Baptist minister in 1957, and started teaching as an assistant professor at the Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts. He then began teaching at the Harvard Divinity School in 1965 and in 1969 became a full professor.

Two books that introduced me to the concept of the “emergent ” church were Christianity after Religion by Diane Butler Bass and The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle. As we will find in this study, especially for the future section, the phrase emergent church has been tagged onto a wide variety of different concepts. The one presented in these two books seem to offer the brightest possibilities. Of course there are dozens of other books that go into the details of church history and where we might be going in the future. Some of those authors include Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Robin Meyers, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Richard Stearns, Leo Tolstoy, and Robert Ingersoll. I thank them all for enlightening me in one area or another. Although I don’t intend to go into the theology details studying other books focused on the early theologians was also good background for this study. Those early writers will likely add a few additional brushstrokes to the portrait presented in this study. Last but absolutely not least in my source is the Book of Acts in my Bible. It continues to be a source of information as well as inspiration.

Other authors have who have influenced my walk with Christ and whom I frequently read are  Greg Boyd, Philip Gulley.  These two guys in particular helped me know that I was not alone in the thoughts I have about modern day Christianity. They will both likely continue to be mentioned frequently here.

I have also been reading quite a bit of cross-denominational things. All of them have influenced me to one degree or another. I discard none of them because of their particular affiliations. I will conclude this post by telling you that Quaker foundational thought, if they even admit to that, is where I am now in my walk with God. And in my humble opinion their non-creedal and non-exclusion stances are probably a critical part of the foundation of the future church.

I do not expect to be capable of completing this task by my own strength so I pray that theHoly Spirit guide me through this study.

Until the next time, I bid you peace….

I want to state up front that I most likely don’t have a complete picture of church history and I’m sure some of my conclusions will go contrary to many of today’s theologians. Especially those with very narrow agendas. I also want to tell you that since there are now 39,000+ different versions of the church of Christ I believe that the church is severely fractured if not broken. But that does not mean that I have given up hope as I definitely see a possibility for great healing.

I come into this study with a strong emphasis on the words of Jesus and on being active in following his examples. I am just not a couch potato Christian.  I believe this is consistent with the early Christians but not so much for the current day church. For me the main crux of this study is to find out when and how the Jesus focus was lost. I am sure there are those who don’t believe that their church denomination ever lost the focus. In some cases that might be true so when it is I apologize in advance for painting with too broad a brush.

Some times, maybe many times, I will drift off subject when I see something in the current media that shows the view of the church from those outside its walls. I think it is vital to see these types of stories if nothing more than to understand why the church has lost so much credibility among the general population of the world.

I am doing this study mainly for my own benefit so that I can understand where the church drifted away from its foundation. I am posting here to keep my thoughts organized and to let others who may have some of the same questions see at least one other layman’s view. Sometimes it seems that we are alone in our feelings about some important  issues. I want to let you know that you are not alone in this area.

I invite your comments on anything I say but I will not get into arguments about a different view. I certainly could be wrong about much of what I write but I hope you realize that you could also be wrong about some of the things you believe. I realize that for those biblical literalists out there that I am going to offend you on a regular basis. I just will not check my intelligence at the door when discussing religious issues.

Finally I want to apologize in advance for having to approve each comment you make before it appears here. This is necessary due to some unfortunate “stalking” problems in the past on this blog.

Until then I wish you peace…..