Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Time for a Theological Upgrade?

I wrote a post for the Presbyterian Voices for Justice, Fall 2015 Network News.  It is "A Call to the Entire Church." You will find it on pages 4-7.

I respond to the moderator's "call to the church."  I think this would be a great time to explore theology and to make official what many of us do anyway, and that is be open to a wide variety of beliefs, including non-theism.    The Jesus Seminar is talking about this with their new God and the Human Future Seminar.  Coming to Beaverton, November 6-7!

They are asking whether or not "God" has a future.  Many people are asking including many in our pews and many who have left the pews because our dogma is dated.    I think we need to make space to talk about it.   Here is what I wrote...


In a recent issue of the Presbyterian Outlook, Moderator Heath Rada, has issued “A Call to the Church.” 

He is calling for
“A churchwide discussion to assess the will of the PC(USA) that would be led by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. The Office of the General Assembly is expected to make an announcement soon of how that will work.”
Why? He said:
“There is a profound and rapid change in the world around us that has put the Church’s relevance (not just PCUSA but the entire Church) in question in ways we have not seen in our lifetime."
I am full agreement on both points. The world has changed and we need to talk about it. I can’t be sure exactly what “rapid and profound change” Moderator Rada has in mind, but I think it has to do with theology. I think our theology is still in the 17th century while we live in the 21st century. The dogmas of our religious heritage do not meet the challenges of the world presented to us by science and by social science. All of the beliefs we are supposed to affirm such as Creation, Virgin Birth, Resurrection of the body of Jesus, miracles, original sin, atonement, heaven and hell, and a supernatural interventionist god called God are metaphors.  At least that’s what I think. I also think many church members and teaching elders think like I do even as for various reasons they are not able to say it clearly.  (Read More)


A concrete change to make is to change radically the ordination questions.  They turn people off and drive people away.   My session is already sending three resolutions to the presbytery about fossil fuel divestment, recommitting to social justice, and evolution.  Another to remove the first four ordination questions is too much for one day.  But maybe someone else will send such an overture.  

I think it is time.  What do you think?   Or perhaps more to the point, what is the purpose of the ordination questions and what do they mean to you?


  1. Hey John,

    I think the reception the Pope received in the US says the opposite. I think the Protestant Reformation is in crisis, perhaps, Fundamentalism and Biblical illiteracy having taken a heavy toll and forcing some into a blind alley where they feel trapped between the dual natures of Christ, trapped instead of embraced. Ironic since it took science almost 2000 years to discover and affirm that in creation things do indeed have dual natures (wave/particle theory of light, for example) or even more natures. So it is with creation and evolution for example.

    The future of theology lies in the integration and affirmation of the Universe's dual nature, fully natural and fully supernatural. It comes from the mouth of God (now that is a metaphor) and it breathes His Spirit.

    The future of theology lies in the linguistic affirmation of God's message. We choose the language, and He chooses the message. The virgin birth is not a metaphor, birth is. It's a letter in the alphabet of our own choosing. When God incarnated in Christ, he dressed according to local custom, he spoke Aramaic not English, and he was born of a virgin, because that is what a son of God did. And then, what he said and did with that alphabet was outrageous, foolishness to Greeks who praised clear thinking, and a scandal to the Jews who praised lawful ritual.

    (nothing has changed there)

    And He changed the course of human history. One life at a time. Because He filled us with Wonder. The thing that drives every 2 year old child.

    The future of theology will be in the realization that understanding God means to first stand under Him. To understand the stars, one must first stand under them, and simply let them overcome you with the Wonder of it all. You don't embrace them, they embrace you. I mean, have just looked at the images sent back by the Hubble telescope? Did you ever imagine the heavens contained such marvels? If we are start dust, that is the stuff we are made of! Or have you ever just watched what a humming bird can do, with a brain the size of a pea, running on a pico-watt? The flight control dynamics of a simple humming bird defy all semblance of analysis.

    As T S Elliot said, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time"

    The future of theology will be a return to Wonder.

  2. I just recorded an interview with Val Webb from Australia about her latest book, Testing Tradition and Liberating Theology: Finding Your Own Voice. She said that contemporary theology is about capturing the sense of wonder as you said at the last.

  3. Obviously she is brilliant!


    (I just ordered her book from Amazon)

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