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Source: (consider it) Thread: Is theological liberalism unwelcome in the "liberal" Church
Anglican_Brat
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One friend of mine has basically left the Anglican Church because he no longer believes in a supernatural deity and is now a follower of Tillich, Spong, Don Cupitt, etc.

Whenever he discusses theology online, he wonders if the church will tolerate or be open to his theology, i.e. no supernatural intervention.

I give him the standard answer by GLL (good little liberal Anglican), that you can certainly interpret the tradition however you want, no one in the church will kick you out if you question the physical Resurrection, but we are not going to change the Tradition for one person's opinions.

This doesn't leave him satisfied, and I'm beginning to think he would be fine if we change the church entirely, and replace "God" in worship with "Ground of being." [Razz]

I believe and I can't find the exact quote, but John Spong once wrote or said that the so-called liberal church isn't liberal in the sense that it never actually changes its theology to reflect Paul Tillich and Don Cupitt or Spong.

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Karl: Liberal Backslider
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I've known places as would be comfortable with non-interventionism (I'm fairly non-interventionist myself) but non-existence is a bit more of a stretch.

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leo
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Misleadingtitle - Sea of Faith types go further than 'liberalism'.

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My reviews at http://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com

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Arethosemyfeet
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I don't really understand why anyone who doesn't believe in God and the divinity of Christ would get upset when a Christian church isn't wholly accepting of their views. Perhaps they might be happier with the Unitarians?
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Martin60
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The Unitarians I know wouldn't be happy with them.

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SvitlanaV2
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But don't the Unitarians and the British Quakers exist to encompass this sort of thinking?

For anyone interested, Rev Gretta Vosper, the Canadian atheist clergywoman whom we discussed on the Ship last year, will be in the UK next month. I see that she'll be preaching or lecturing in Birmingham and Leeds. (Maybe someone would like to attend a service as a mystery worshipper?) At least two British Unitarian churches are happy for her to lead worship. I don't know how representative those churches are of Unitarianism, though.

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RdrEmCofE
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Liberal Christian Theology is essentially about how the teachings of Jesus Christ should determine our behaviour in today's society. It is surely not essentially a means of propagating views, theories and speculations on the non existence of the 'Heavenly Father' whose existence Jesus Christ seemed to take for granted and for whom he spent his life in service and personal sacrifice.

Perhaps 'Theological Liberalism' should be honestly just called 'Skeptical Doubt' and therefore a 'Church' headed up by Richard Dawkins might appeal.

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hatless

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What is a supernatural deity? What is a natural one? Where does intervention come from? Does God exist in the same way Bigfoot exists, or might exist? Why shouldn't we change the "Tradition"? Isn't that what traditions are? The changing life of a community?

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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I wonder about too much thinking and not enough doing.

Spong always struck me as wanting to be his very own little Jesus, having discarded the three legged stool to stand here (or there) on his two legs, and never crucified except in book reviews.

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mousethief

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quote:
Originally posted by Anglican_Brat:
This doesn't leave him satisfied, and I'm beginning to think he would be fine if we change the church entirely, and replace "God" in worship with "Ground of being." [Razz]

I never really understood people who have defined themselves out the door wanting the building to move so that they're still inside. Why not find another building, one that fits one's definitions better? It's as if I were a member of a tulip bulb collector's society, and decided I'd rather collect chrysanthemum bulbs, and insist that the tulip society change itself to be a tulip plus chrysanthemum club, or switch over to chrysanthemums and leave tulips altogether. It's an absurd request.

quote:
Originally posted by hatless:
What is a supernatural deity?

A linguistic redundancy.

quote:
What is a natural one?
An oxymoron.

quote:
Why shouldn't we change the "Tradition"?
Perhaps we should. But that doesn't mean that any one particular change is warranted, let alone required.

quote:
Isn't that what traditions are? The changing life of a community?
That's not part of any definition I've ever heard.

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God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. --Acts 10:28

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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
But don't the Unitarians and the British Quakers exist to encompass this sort of thinking?

For anyone interested, Rev Gretta Vosper, the Canadian atheist clergywoman whom we discussed on the Ship last year, will be in the UK next month. I see that she'll be preaching or lecturing in Birmingham and Leeds. (Maybe someone would like to attend a service as a mystery worshipper?) At least two British Unitarian churches are happy for her to lead worship. I don't know how representative those churches are of Unitarianism, though.

[Disappointed] She's the Energizer Bunny of Heresy and Atheism: she keeps going, and going and going.....

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Leorning Cniht
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
(Maybe someone would like to attend a service as a mystery worshipper?) At least two British Unitarian churches are happy for her to lead worship. I don't know how representative those churches are of Unitarianism, though.

I don't think one can describe anything that Ms. Vosper does as "worship" - she doesn't believe in anything to worship.
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simontoad
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I reckon if I didn't believe in God it would give me a great deal of amusement to find a church willing to modify its beliefs to welcome me.

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The opinions expressed above are transitory emotional responses and do not necessarily reflect the considered views of the author.

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Eutychus
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quote:
Originally posted by RdrEmCofE:
Liberal Christian Theology is essentially about how the teachings of Jesus Christ should determine our behaviour in today's society.

I'm not sure what liberalism means these days.

I used to think it meant "people who don't take what the Bible says seriously" but as time goes by, I've met many "liberals" who actually seem to take the Bible more seriously than many self-proclaimed theological conservatives or evangelicals (not all of them, for sure, but too many to ignore).

I'm with RdrEmCofE (and welcome, by the way!) in that I increasingly think the useful distinction between theological strands is the matter of whether or not contextualising the original text is held to be legitimate.

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mr cheesy
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I'm not sure this is telling us anything remarkable. Ideas, beliefs and religions evolve, but the drivers of the most radical change are at the edges. It's a messy space where those at the edges feel like they are neither in-nor-out.

Occasionally those at the edges are able to force real change in the religion as a whole, but my gut feeling is that that is unusual.

More commonly they're permanently expelled and go away to start a new religion or church or school of philosophy/theology.

In the context of the Christian church, I think all we're seeing here is that unbelief in a deity is almost always a step too far, and that a church which wants to call itself Christian almost always also has to have a backstop which is a belief in the deity.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:
I'm not sure what liberalism means these days.

I used to think it meant "people who don't take what the Bible says seriously" but as time goes by, I've met many "liberals" who actually seem to take the Bible more seriously than many self-proclaimed theological conservatives or evangelicals.

Yes, I discovered that in my time in the URC. But, as so often, there are "liberals", struggling to make some meaningful sense out of an ancient text written in a very different culture to ours and using a wide variety of hermeneutical and philosophical tools to apply it to our contemporary situation; and then there are "liberals", totally obsessed by supposedly modernistic rationality, uncritically placing all of Scripture and faith under its allegedly objective scrutiny and kicking out anything that their limited minds cannot easily comprehend.
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Martin60
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As [there] are conservatives.

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Love wins

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anoesis
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quote:
Originally posted by Anglican_Brat:
One friend of mine has basically left the Anglican Church because he no longer believes in a supernatural deity and is now a follower of Tillich, Spong, Don Cupitt, etc.

I can't claim to be any sort of theologian at all, but I did recently read 'The Courage to Be'. I have to say, it was hands-down the best non-fiction book I've read in very many a year - and I completely managed to miss the bit where Tillich repudiated the existence of a supernatural deity.

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Dafyd
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quote:
Originally posted by Anglican_Brat:
Whenever he discusses theology online, he wonders if the church will tolerate or be open to his theology, i.e. no supernatural intervention.

The question of whether the Church will tolerate his theology seems reasonable. (For what it's worth, my church has Richard Holloway preach every now and again and I'm not sure whether Holloway believes even as much as Spong.)
The question of whether the Church is 'open to his theology' seems to me more loaded. It seems to imply that if the Church doesn't agree with him that's because the Church is failing to be 'open'; the idea being that anyone open-minded would agree with his theology. That sort of implication is one of things that makes followers of Spong et al get up people's noses.

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we remain, thanks to original sin, much in love with talking about, rather than with, one another. Rowan Williams

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Eutychus
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
As [there] are conservatives.

I think that retaining (as opposed to jettisoning) faith involves respecting the integrity of the founding text and respecting the legitimacy of contextualisation. "Godless liberals" fall off that tightrope one way, fundamentalist conservatives the other.

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Baptist Trainfan
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Yes, I'd go with that.
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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Leorning Cniht:
quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
(Maybe someone would like to attend a service as a mystery worshipper?) At least two British Unitarian churches are happy for her to lead worship. I don't know how representative those churches are of Unitarianism, though.

I don't think one can describe anything that Ms. Vosper does as "worship" - she doesn't believe in anything to worship.
Yes, I did wonder about my choice of word there!

quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:
I'm not sure what liberalism means these days.

I used to think it meant "people who don't take what the Bible says seriously" but as time goes by, I've met many "liberals" who actually seem to take the Bible more seriously than many self-proclaimed theological conservatives or evangelicals (not all of them, for sure, but too many to ignore).

Perhaps that's because liberal Christians more often benefit from particular educational tools and intellectual inclinations when they approach the text?

Sometimes I think the difference is psychological and sociological rather than theological. Take different kinds of people and put them in different conditions, and you'll get different readings of the Bible.

But TBH, a 'serious' approach to the Bible, if this means careful reading and study, is less and less likely to be a strong feature of Christian life across the board.

Going back to the OP, I think the CofE is limited, ironically, by wanting to be a broad church. If it were publicly funded like the Scandinavian Lutheran churches it might have developed in an almost exclusively liberal direction, but as it is, it needs to appeal to a range of constituencies.

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:
For anyone interested, Rev Gretta Vosper, the Canadian atheist clergywoman whom we discussed on the Ship last year, will be in the UK next month. I see that she'll be preaching or lecturing in Birmingham and Leeds.

Yes, I knew about this. Interesting though to notice that, while she's lecturing at Carr's Lane URC, she's not leading worship there ...
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SvitlanaV2
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Yes, that is interesting.

Carrs Lane 'promotes' itself as a space for liberal Christianity, but I shouldn't think its worshipping community is quite as liberal as she is....

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Baptist Trainfan
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Having known a former minister of the church, whom I respected although sometimes disagreeing with, I think you're right! I suspect that Vosper, like Spong, seems to have gathered her own band of acolytes for whom she can do no wrong (and, dare I say, may rather enjoy seeing themselves as brave ecclesiastical iconoclasts).
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Martin60
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quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:
quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
As [there] are conservatives.

I think that retaining (as opposed to jettisoning) faith involves respecting the integrity of the founding text and respecting the legitimacy of contextualisation. "Godless liberals" fall off that tightrope one way, fundamentalist conservatives the other.
Isn't it all about where you are on the historical-grammatical/critical 2D or 3D or more spectrum and where that takes you? To atheism, liberal-conservative-fundamentalist Christianity within denomination? The opposite applies of course: One believes in God, based on enculturation and wiring, what method mix appeals? One does not therefore one is unlikely to use historical-grammatical method.

I see nothing wrong with both and much wrong with just either. I see both at work in Steve Chalke's recent championing of scholarship that shows that the New Testament is not universally homophobic. Historical-grammatical method alone very much tends to universal decontextualized literalism, inerrancy and infallibility, the faith once delivered and sophomoric historical-critical method alone paradoxically tends to as well: 'look what these savages believed about God therefore there is none.'.

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Love wins

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hatless

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quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:
quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
As [there] are conservatives.

I think that retaining (as opposed to jettisoning) faith involves respecting the integrity of the founding text and respecting the legitimacy of contextualisation. "Godless liberals" fall off that tightrope one way, fundamentalist conservatives the other.
I would take issue with the idea of a founding text. Christianity didn't start with writings, and it seems important to me to resist any tendency to fix or objectify it's heart.

For the same reason I don't approve of saying we must at least believe that God exists. This also objectifies God; it talks about God rather than to God.

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My crazy theology in novel form

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RdrEmCofE
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Essentially Christianity has no 'Founding Text' as for instance The Mormons, Christian Scientists or Muslims do. The New Testament grew out of the already existent New Testament church. It was only later gathered together, perhaps edited and declared complete in the time of Constantine.

Founding texts are usually considered essential by their authors. Jesus Christ wrote very little, and what he did write is unknown to history so founder, author and finisher of the Christian faith relied entirely upon his followers to produce a working record of the essential tenets of his teaching.

Regards Chris.

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Love covers many sins.God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not holding their sins against them; 2 Cor.5:19; 1 Pet.4:8

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Enoch
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That's the point.

Christianity is not founded in a book, a text. It is founded in a person. The Word did not become paper and dwell among us. The Word became flesh. However authoritative we regard scripture, and as it happens, I have a fairly high view of scripture, it is the books about the Word, not the Word itself.

I've just said something similar on the 'rejecting the OT' thread.

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Martin60
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The thing is, we only know the person through the text.

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Love wins

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ThunderBunk

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quote:
Originally posted by RdrEmCofE:
Essentially Christianity has no 'Founding Text' as for instance The Mormons, Christian Scientists or Muslims do. The New Testament grew out of the already existent New Testament church. It was only later gathered together, perhaps edited and declared complete in the time of Constantine.

Founding texts are usually considered essential by their authors. Jesus Christ wrote very little, and what he did write is unknown to history so founder, author and finisher of the Christian faith relied entirely upon his followers to produce a working record of the essential tenets of his teaching.

Regards Chris.

Alleluia!

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Currently mostly furious, and occasionally foolish. Normal service may resume eventually. Or it may not. And remember children, "feiern ist wichtig".

Foolish, potentially deranged witterings

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by hatless:
I don't approve of saying we must at least believe that God exists. This also objectifies God; it talks about God rather than to God.

But how can you talk to God if you don't believe he exists??

I suppose you can talk to the 'idea' of God. Or to God as a metaphor for something important. But that doesn't seem any less objectifying to me.

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Martin60
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Existence objectifies God.

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Love wins

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Martin60
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
The thing is, we only know the person through the text.

As lilBuddha said elsewhere.

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Love wins

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Eutychus
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Hatless, Martin60, RdrEmCofE et al:

When I wrote my post I actually (and truthfully) had Islam at least partly in mind [Two face]

As regards Christianity, you are right that it didn't start with a text, and indeed I myself am very hot on referring only to Jesus as the Word of God. But I do so because that's how the Scriptures speak of him [Angel]

The written word may not be the foundation of Christianity, and without the Spirit the letter kills, nonetheless the written word is an important part of Christianity and is how we know anything about Jesus at all.

How about "foundational" instead of "founding"?

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One has to take part. Scary as it is. - Martin60
Jerusalem is a city without walls

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
Existence objectifies God.

Does it objectify me, too?

This seems to be a religion for philosophers rather than ordinary people. Fair enough - but it's probably best if the two religions are kept apart. You wouldn't want to mislead folks....

[ 19. September 2017, 20:15: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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Arethosemyfeet
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quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:


The written word may not be the foundation of Christianity, and without the Spirit the letter kills, nonetheless the written word is an important part of Christianity and is how we know anything about Jesus at all.

It may seem pedantic, given how much we rely on the New Testament, but it seems to me that we would still have some knowledge of Jesus passed down through the Church even without it. The Gospel was first shared through word of mouth, after all. Whether it would be the same version of Christianity after 2000 years is a different matter.
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hatless

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Existence is fine for us, but God is not an object in the world, nor is God outside the world (but occasionally intervening). For something to exist means, usually, that there is at least one instance, somewhere, of that something. But that ain't the case with God.

But also, requiring belief in the existence of God as a sort of minimum requirement, turns a person into a bit of a thing, Christian if you do this, not if you don't. What is going on with the liberal unsure of their status at the top of this thread? Is there not some sort of faith being expressed in the troubled dynamic of their uncertain relationship with the Church and its belief?

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Eutychus
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quote:
Originally posted by Arethosemyfeet:
it seems to me that we would still have some knowledge of Jesus passed down through the Church even without it. The Gospel was first shared through word of mouth, after all. Whether it would be the same version of Christianity after 2000 years is a different matter.

You might be right in theory, but we'll never know, will we?

In historical terms, the Christianity we have is mediated through the written word.

I tend to believe that's how God intended things to be, but my opinion doesn't alter the historical fact of the matter.

(In theological terms, I'd say the Christian faith we live is mediated through the Spirit illuminating the written word and empowering us to apply it appropriately in our daily lives).

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Eutychus:
You might be right in theory, but we'll never know, will we?

In historical terms, the Christianity we have is mediated through the written word.

Surely this is an opinion not a fact. One could make an argument of the reverse: that somehow the New Testament is a record of the faith of the church and that what is written down was mediated by the orthodox faith of the church.

quote:
I tend to believe that's how God intended things to be, but my opinion doesn't alter the historical fact of the matter.
No, that's true: although it is a very Evangelical position to emphasise the importance and preeminence of the text over the faith held by the church universal IMO.

quote:
(In theological terms, I'd say the Christian faith we live is mediated through the Spirit illuminating the written word and empowering us to apply it appropriately in our daily lives).
Mmm. That's also quite interesting. I wonder the point at which "the work of the spirit" was seen to be something which was understood on this individual level and which could be transmitted from the book to the individual outwith of the church.

I'd guess that's got to be linked to the emergence of translations in the vernacular (and the increase in the numbers of people who could read it) and the forms of protestant theology which emphasise the faith of the individual rather than the faith of the church.

[ 19. September 2017, 21:19: Message edited by: mr cheesy ]

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Anglican_Brat
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I think there is a difference between a discussion group where people can express and share points of view to corporate worship as a community.

For example on the issue of prayer, where I know people who have a strong supernaturalist view (prayer changes God and can get Him to do stuff) to people who have a skeptical, almost nontheistic view (prayer doesn't change God, but it is an expression of our love, and makes us kind and caring towards other people); a good discussion group between Christians would be fruitful and illuminating.

But I do not believe it is fair to stop praying for people who are sick during worship simply because some people might say "praying for sick people don't heal them, so we should stop."

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Arethosemyfeet
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
Surely this is an opinion not a fact. One could make an argument of the reverse: that somehow the New Testament is a record of the faith of the church and that what is written down was mediated by the orthodox faith of the church.

This is closer to where I am at. The New Testament is a product of the Church, not the other way around.
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Martin60
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The NT is the product of about nine, all but one or two at most Jewish and another one possibly female, authors - about half of whom knew Jesus for a thousand days or so - over a few decades, edited over a century or two from 1970 odd years ago, all living at some point in the Jewish capital of a Roman province in the Hellenized ancient near east.

The original NT alien snowflake nucleated on Jesus of the thereafter avalanching snowball we call the Church.

[ 20. September 2017, 13:31: Message edited by: Martin60 ]

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
The NT is the product of about nine, all but one or two at most Jewish and another one possibly female, authors - about half of whom knew Jesus for a thousand days or so - over a few decades, edited over a century or two from 1970 odd years ago, all living at some point in the Jewish capital of a Roman province in the Hellenized ancient near east.

The 27 books of the NT are the products of about those nine or so authors, etc., etc. The NT itself, as as a collection of writings accepted as sacred Scripture, is the product of the church's decision that these 27 books should be considered canonical, and that the other gospels and writings about Jesus circulating out there should not.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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Martin60
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There is an entirely common sense rationale for the inclusion of the texts we have and exclusion of the rest. Nothing sacred, spooky, magic about it. Nothing MAGISTERIAL.

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Love wins

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
There is an entirely common sense rationale for the inclusion of the texts we have and exclusion of the rest. Nothing sacred, spooky, magic about it. Nothing MAGISTERIAL.

Maybe so. That doesn't change the fact that the NT—not the books that are included in it, but the NT itself—is the product of the church.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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Demas
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Were the writers of the books not part of the Church? Were they not followers of Jesus?

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They did not appear very religious; that is, they were not melancholy; and I therefore suspected they had not much piety - Life of Rev John Murray

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mousethief

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quote:
Originally posted by Arethosemyfeet:
This is closer to where I am at. The New Testament is a product of the Church, not the other way around.

Yes. I would go so far to say that this is a "no duh." The church predates the NT, and the NT's books were written by members of the church, and the canon of the NT was chosen by members of the church. Those are just flat historical facts.

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God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. --Acts 10:28

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mousethief

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
There is an entirely common sense rationale for the inclusion of the texts we have and exclusion of the rest. Nothing sacred, spooky, magic about it. Nothing MAGISTERIAL.

Maybe so. That doesn't change the fact that the NT—not the books that are included in it, but the NT itself—is the product of the church.
What else would "magesterial" look like, other than members of the church getting together and deciding as a body what books to accept and which to reject? Why does that not qualify for "magesterial"?

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God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. --Acts 10:28

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by mousethief:
quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by Martin60:
There is an entirely common sense rationale for the inclusion of the texts we have and exclusion of the rest. Nothing sacred, spooky, magic about it. Nothing MAGISTERIAL.

Maybe so. That doesn't change the fact that the NT—not the books that are included in it, but the NT itself—is the product of the church.
What else would "magesterial" look like, other than members of the church getting together and deciding as a body what books to accept and which to reject? Why does that not qualify for "magesterial"?
It does, it seems to me. I don't think I suggested otherwise. My point was simply that the "rationale for the inclusion of the texts we have and exclusion of the rest" is irrelevant to the question of who made the decisions to include and exclude.

That said, I'll readily admit that's possibility that I'm the one who failed to catch the relevance of Martin's post.

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The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know. — Anne Lamott

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