|Atheists versus Progressives. Is God a mystery?|
(Mat 1:23 NKJV) "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."
Marilyn Sewel is the retired senior pastor of First Portland Unitarian Church, one of the largest Unitarian churches in the US. In her article "What does God mean?", she readily admits that she has no idea what she is talking about when she refers to the word "God", for she believed that she knew only in part and the yearnings are felt in part also in other cultures and other times and given different names eg some say Allah, some say Gaia. Such universalist views are widely accepted in the states but less popular elsewhere.
The God of the bible should not be a mystery, for the bible is itself a testimony of how God wanted to be made known to mankind. He chose Abraham, and the nation of Israel, because it was the smallest nation, a seed planted to show forth God's grace, mercy and way of redemption. Hence, we likewise experience the ups and downs of Israel working out her salvation, her many detours of worshipping other gods. The journey ended with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ and the rest of the bible dealt with Christians as they await His return and continued on the ministry of Christ to preach the Gospel message.
Marilyn called the experiences with other gods as equally valid and reflective of God as a whole, but God doesn't seem to be too pleased when Israel played the prostitute and sought after blessings from other spiritual deities. The God of Israel is One God, an unequivocal declaration of God's uniqueness amongst many other gods and spiritual powers. The God of Israel is different and unique, and the other demonic and heavely spiritualities a reality.
The answer to "what does God mean?" was answered not in the closet of the Old Testament Holy of Holies which was a restricted place for the High Priest, but in a child born in a manger two thousand years ago. Jesus' amazing and powerful ministry of love, grace and mercy was affirmed as God incarnate through the mighty work of miracles cultimating in the resurrection from death. God was no longer a mystery. Jesus was God with us. It is not that we have no idea of the God that we are talking about, rather it is difficult to accept the God of the bible.
The way to God was finally established and it was not by works so contrary to many of the prevailing faiths then and today, but to simply believe by faith through grace in Jesus the Christ dying for us for our sins. It was no longer a prescriptive dogmatic religion, but a simple no brainer, yet a stumbling stone for the Jews and for the intellectual Greeks, and perhaps all other religious faith.
The progressive faith is a strong religious construction based on Jesus love commandments. It is a faith that reads God's love only in the bible. The challenge to Progressive faith is that it can be easily undermined, contradicted, and seen to be inconsistent. Their universalist position can only be substantiated by a focus on God's love which makes it hard work of thinking how to read the entire bible into this pre-conceived theological dogmatic position. They even metaphorized Satan and Jesus.
Consider, the following classic interview on faith issues between Rev Sewel and the acknowledged atheist Christopher Hitchens that was published by Portland Monthly in which Rev Sewel's universalist views was found to be contradictory:-
Marilyn Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds.I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
Marilyn Sewell: Let me go someplace else .When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might as a matter of fact—as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”
Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. And that’s because You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.
Marilyn Sewell: Well, probably not, because I agree with almost everything that you say. But I still consider myself a Christian and a person of faith.
Hitchens: Do you mind if I ask you a question? Faith in what? Faith in the resurrection?
Marilyn Sewell: The way I believe in the resurrection is I believe that one can go from a death in this life, in the sense of being dead to the world and dead to other people, and can be resurrected to new life. When I preach about Easter and the resurrection, it’s in a metaphorical sense.
Hitchens: I hate to say it—we’ve hardly been introduced—but maybe you are simply living on the inheritance of a monstrous fraud that was preached to millions of people as the literal truth—as you put it, “the ground of being.”
Marilyn Sewell: Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change. I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian. You do: You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually.
Hitchens: Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.
Marilyn Sewell: I take it very seriously. I have my grandmother’s Bible and I still read it , but I don’t take it as literal truth. I take it as metaphorical truth. The stories, the narrative, are what’s important.
Hitchens: But, then, show me what there is, ethically, in any religion that can’t be duplicated by Humanism. In other words, can you name me a single moral action performed or moral statement uttered by a person of faith that couldn’t be just as well pronounced or undertaken by a civilian?
When challenged on the centrality of Jesus Christ, the Rev Sewell quickly reverted "let me go someplace else". Progressive/liberal theology can be frustrating not that it asked difficult questions but it often avoids core and obvious reasoning/biblical interpretations. In order not to see the forest, it asked very re-directing questions on the details. At the end, for many, the Progressive/queer theology and intellect are as Hitchens said can be "statements that have no meaning—at all.”
Similarly, the Catholics/Evangelicals are no different often over emphasising on religous law, sin, tradition, judgement, punishment but avoiding God's love, grace, and mercy. They see the sin in others but not the sin in people of religious faith. For example, they blame homosexuality for same sex acts when these activities were motivated by law based people of faith choosing to be possessed by demonic spirits in their worship of other gods. They do this through anal sex, joining themselves to the unclean spirits making their bodies one flesh with them. Gays get the blame as not to undermine their sense of religious pride and self righteousness. Liberals don't grasp this issue since they don't believe in demons.
Progressive/Queer theology does not stand well alone. It will fall even in an interview between the best of the progressives against a well known atheist. The stats on church growth shows an increasing decline of more liberal churches, now less than 2% in total Christians in the world. Yet, it must remain as a voice of love, humanity, and reflective thinking in a world dominated by Catholism/Orthodoxy/Protestanism.
In summary, the Progressive faith is an important aspect of the Christian Faith which does a great act of balancing the excess of the conservative and Evangelical faiths by reminding us of God's love. It is the Holy Spirit of God in the Charismatic revival which brings all this together to reveal the heart of Jesus and the demonstration of power against the opposing principalities for today.
Ultimately, it is not God who was a mystery, but His Amazing love and grace through His Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour for whom there is non other.