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Seven Points to Unite Christians and Other Spiritual People

November 28, 2008

copyright © 2008 by Howard Pepper 

 

The following are concepts that can be agreed upon by Christians of all but the literalist or dogmatic type and, if taken seriously, will help unite Christians with many spiritually-oriented people not comfortable in the Christian fold. 

 

1. Biblical literalism is a stage of spiritual development that can be transcended with no spiritual or moral loss.

 

2. Visualized-result prayer, done with feeling and intention, is equally effective regardless of the worldview or theology of the pray-er. 

 

3. All major religions, including Christianity, have developed in similar ways, borrowing from each other; and they constantly change.

 

4. The growth rate of early Christianity has been equaled numerous times; no mass conversions are needed to account for it, or effects that could only come from miracles or other divine intervention. 

 

5. The same motivations toward expansion and the same theology could have developed in early Christianity whether or not Jesus actually rose bodily from the dead.

 

6. Receiving the benefits of any atoning or transfoming work that may have been accomplished by the life or death of Christ does not require acceptance of any particular beliefs, including: 1) disputed claims such as his bodily resurrection; 2) abstract theology such as the virgin birth or deity of Christ; 3) future expectations such as a rapture or second coming, Armageddon, or a millennium.

 

7. The image of Jesus each of us holds is not so much a reflection of the Jesus presented in the Gospels as it is a reflection of our idea, culturally and personally, of a perfect human and activist, leading toward the ideal for ourselves and humanity.  This idealized Jesus looks different in different branches or denominations of Christianity.  However, the process works roughly equally in all.  It even works similarly among many non-Christians such as the “spiritual but not religious.”

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. marie permalink
    December 16, 2008 4:19 pm

    I found your blog through Rachel Held Evans’ blog a few weeks ago but checked it again after reading your post today. I wanted to see if you would clarify a couple of things for me. Are you saying in point 6 that we don’t have to believe in the deity of Christ or in His resurrection to receive atonement from God? If so…how does that work? Just to be upfront…I am an evangelical but I am interested in understanding the differing viewpoints and how people have come to those decisions. I find it interesting that we can all read the Bible and claim faith in Christ and have such different ideas of what we are reading or what our faith looks like. Thanks for any responses.

    • naturalspirituality permalink
      December 16, 2008 11:22 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Marie. A thorough answer to your question would be lengthy and complex. The short answer is, “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.” However, notice I’m not saying I think it’s clear that God set up or used Christ’s death as an atoning act for humanity’s sin. I think it’s possible, and know that parts of the NT claim that. But creating a consistent point of theology (part of a “systematic theology”) in terms of it is far from agreed upon by theologians and biblical scholars. There is what I feel is substantial evidence that the Gospel writers wrote up Jesus’ story with extensive non-historical details precisely to fit with an emerging theology of an expected Messiah. They made Jesus fit diverse Hebrew prophecies, some of which involved atonement or redemption. In a “twofer,” this could also be made to fit the sacrificial system and seem to complete it. I may reply further via personal email, so we can go into more depth on the subject.

      A quick further point is that the Bible itself is far from clear as to just what must be believed for “salvation” or receiving of the supposed work of atonement. The simplest and most reasonable, defendable way of understanding the reason for this is to view the different Gospels, writings of Paul, and rest of the NT as coming out of somewhat differing, though overlapping theologies, as they were being developed “on the go” during the first 60 to 100 years of Christian history.

  2. July 16, 2009 4:41 am

    Thanks, Howard, for this enlightening post. i don’t see Maries comment though.

    Also, is it true you are from a conservative background, theologically speaking, and you have progressed in how and what you believe?

    Warmest Regards,
    Adele

    P.S. i look forward to exploring your blog! i always enjoy your comments and insights at Rachel’s blog!

    • naturalspirituality permalink
      July 17, 2009 2:16 am

      Thank YOU, Adele,

      Thanks for the note about Marie… I’m still learning what seems a fairly complex (tho much appreciated!) site, not having attended it for a long time, admittedly. I do have her post in the part only I see, so maybe can get it put up here.

      Yes, I have a long, very conservative background, and studied heavily in school and out. In a nutshell… “Bible teaching” church from birth, on to Biola Univ. (comparable to Wheaton), solidly Evangelical, but not fully Fundamentalist, like my childhood church. Then to sister school, Talbot Sem. for an M.Div. and on to work for Walter Martin at Christian Research Inst. in Anaheim, doing anti-cult, Bible questions (he was “The Bible Answerman” on radio, etc.), and general apologetics. Then a Masters in Mar. and Fam. Csg. again at Biola. Went to Eugene, OR, and practiced that until almost 1989, also teaching some “Christian worldview/psychology” stuff, and general Christian ed in a study center and church.

      Finally, I got a whole different perspective by doing 4 yrs. part- time (completed coursework) in a PhD program in Theology, Psych, and Edu. at Claremont School of Theology (of Process Theology fame). I still considered myself Evangelical at the end of that, 1994. My major transition, which had been long setting up, came in 1995, when I began exploring data OUTSIDE the Bible itself, and theology…. Took the sciences and parapsychology (or “paranormal”–a misnomer) more seriously, as well as historical views of the development of Christianity, etc. But I soon realized that the combo of psych and theology (or spirituality) was indeed my strongest passion, so have been working on that peripherally, trying to get to doing it full time, for a living as long as I need to make one (not able to retire tho now pressing 60).

      For several years, I guess my strongest specialized focus in terms of theology/religion has been Christian origins and the formation of the New Testament. I do think I’ve become a decent lay expert in that (my PhD work was so diverse and in other areas that it didn’t give me any claim to expertise there; I don’t know much Hebrew and way too little Greek, and no cognate languages a true expert has to know).

      I guess my articles here give some sense of my beliefs, but they are STILL in flux, as to a good understanding of Jesus and what he really intended to teach/what is his vs. others’ that comes thru in the NT and early other “Gospels” or writings (noncanonical). But I am definitely spiritual and see God in a panENtheistic kind of way (like Process Thought). And I think Jesus had a lot of valuable things to say, much of which did come through despite editings and some distortions. But not a whole lot was truly unique, as the common Christian mantra goes, just “against the grain” and in a unique packaging for a very troubled, transitional time.

  3. July 16, 2009 5:08 am

    A provocative list Howard, good food for thought – thank you!

    I think the one point I take issue with most is your introductory statement: “The following are concepts that can be agreed upon by Christians of all but the most literalist or dogmatic type and, if taken seriously, will help unite Christians with many spiritually-oriented people not comfortable in the Christian fold.”

    I agree that opening our hands to broader understandings and interpretations of Jesus could allow folks burned or jaded by organized/corporate religion to approach the conversation and even the “body” of Christianity. But in my experience, in many – MANY – conservative, evangelical, pentecostal, non-denominational and fundamentalist churches, these are not concepts that would be agreed upon. And while I wish the larger body of Christians in America were more progressive, the Evangelical church does have numeric superiority over everyone else (except, perhaps, Roman Catholics? who have exclusionary ideological issues of their own…). I think the majority of Mainline Protestants could affirm much on this list, but to say “all but the most literalist or dogmatic” seems to suggest a very small number. The number is far from small, and it’s the only one that seems to be GROWING in the US. Thoughts?

  4. July 17, 2009 9:24 am

    As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Peter Walker has re-posted some of your thoughts on his blog and linked to this post. I left a comment on Peter’s blog but I don’t want to appear as though I’m dodging personal engagement with your thoughts. I was just drawn into the conversation by Peter’s reaction.

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