Saturday, 17 August 2013

Generous Christianity

Many terms and labels are being tossed around these days to describe those of us who identify ourselves as Christians, but who do not wish to identify with a conservative style of Christian faith.

Traditionally, “liberal” was used to describe Christians with a non-conservative approach to our faith.  This term has been rendered useless for a number of reasons, including:
  • the various contradictory and confusing ways the word “liberal” is used outside the area of theological discussion, particularly in politics,
  • the fact that the term “liberal” in Christian theology is a technical term used to describe a theological movement which flourished within the “Protestant” churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but which has not really existed as a vital contemporary theological movement since the middle of the 20th century, and
  • the fact that some evangelicals use “liberal” as a generalised term of abuse for any Christian who happens to be a “Protestant” but not an evangelical, regardless of the details of their theology.
In many “Protestant” churches, those of us who are non-conservative in our faith are sometimes called “mainstream” or “ecumenical”.  This does not do justice to the fact that many conservative Christians (particularly conservatives found within the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, and Lutheran traditions) are well and truly members of the Christian mainstream and enthusiastic participants in the ecumenical movement.

In recent years, “progressive” has been used to describe Christians with a non-conservative approach to Christianity.  This has become problematic given the way that “progressive” has increasingly been used in some circles by people who identify with the Christian faith, but in a "minimalist" way (non-Incarnational, non-Trinitarian, and even - in some cases - non-theistic).  Many people who once may have described ourselves as "progressive Christians" now find ourselves ceasing to use this description so as to avoid confusion with those who take an overly minimalist approach to their faith.  (I've personally stopped using the P-word a few years ago to describe myself.)

I think the phrase “generous Christianity” would be better language to express the alternative to a conservative approach to the Christian faith.  (And in adopting this usage, I express my appreciation of Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy.)

By “generous Christianity”, I do not wish to imply that Christians with a non-conservative faith stance are, in any way, more personally generous as individuals or communities than Christians of a conservative approach to their faith (or, for that matter, any other individuals or communities).  I merely express the viewpoint that the alternative to a conservative theology is “generous theology”. 

I see a number of dimensions as being aspects of “generous Christianity”, with the following dimensions being crucial:

A.      Generous Christianity includes a critical approach to the study of the scriptures, including the recognition that many of the stories which we read in scripture (i.e., the Creation, the Great Flood, the story of Jonah, the Second Coming, etc.) make far greater sense if we read them metaphorically rather than literally, and if we read them within the historical context in which they were written rather than as infallible oracles for today.

B.      Generous Christianity includes a belief that the Christian faith today would be far better off without:
  • any notion that human beings are born in “total depravity”,
  • any notion of “predestination”,
  • any notion that the crucifixion was a substitutionary blood sacrifice, and
  • any notion that God will reject any person on the grounds of their beliefs (or the lack thereof).

C.      Generous Christianity includes a belief that Christians need to regard people of other living faiths (Jews, Muslims, and many others) not as potential Christians in need of conversion, but as people who are already in a positive relationship with the living God in their present faith communities.

D.      Generous Christianity includes a belief that the Christian Church, in all its ecumenical manifestations, is called by Christ to be a deliberately inclusive community in terms of race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, etc.

E.      Generous Christianity sees itself as being part of the same Christian faith as those with whom we differ on important issues relating to Christian faith, including conservative evangelicals, or other conservatives, or "progressive" minimalists. 

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.