Tuesday, July 31, 2007
This will be my third time to attend the entire conference. Although I'm not a trained musician, I've found the experience of rehearsing and singing in a choir a very rewarding one. Participating in this Conference has given me my first opportunities to sing Evensong in a choir, and to serve as a priest in a closing festive Eucharist worthy of John's descriptions of heavenly worship in the Book of Revelation.
Through the Conference, I've also come to believe that it's important for clergy to have a better understanding of what church musicians do. And there's no better way to gain that understanding than to actually do it. It's unbelievable how much hard work and talent it takes to pull off just one service!
For me, this Conference brings to life the Collect for Church Musicians and Artists in The Book of Common Prayer (p. 819):
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Monday, July 30, 2007
The life of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), whose feast day is today, exemplifies this truth very well.
James Kiefer summarizes the highlights far better than I can:
William Wilberforce was born in 1759 and served in Parliament from 1780 to 1825. A turning point in his religious life was a tour of Europe. In the luggage of a travelling companion he saw a copy of William Law’s book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. He asked his friend, “What is this?” and received the answer, “One of the best books ever written.” The two of them agreed to read it together on the journey, and Wilberforce embarked on a lifelong program of setting aside Sundays and an interval each morning on arising for prayer and religious reading. He considered his options, including the clergy, and was persuaded by Christian friends that his calling was to serve God through politics. He was a major supporter of programs for popular education, overseas missions, parliamentary reform, and religious liberty. He is best known, however, for his untiring commitment to the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. He introduced his first anti-slavery motion in the House of Commons in 1788, in a three-and-a-half hour oration that concluded: “Sir, when we think of eternity and the future consequence of all human conduct, what is there in this life that shall make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice and the law of God!”
The motion was defeated. Wilberforce brought it up again every year for eighteen years, until the slave trade was finally abolished on 25 March 1806. He continued the campaign against slavery itself, and the bill for the abolition of all slavery in British territories passed its crucial vote just four days before his death on 29 July 1833. A year later, on 31 July 1834, 800,000 slaves, chiefly in the British West Indies, were set free.
Wilberforce’s tireless work in Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade is a fine example of how Christian faith and politics can work together for the good of humanity.
Wilberforce was also very concerned about Christian formation (a topic I’ve expressed concerns about before). Here’s a relevant excerpt from his Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians (1797):
It may be proper to point out the very inadequate conception which [the bulk of professed Christians] entertain of the importance of Christianity in general, of its peculiar nature, and superior excellence. If we listen to their conversation, virtue is praised, and vice is censured; piety is perhaps applauded, and profaneness condemned. So far all is well. But let any one, who would not be deceived by these barren generalities, examine a littler more closely, and he will find, that not to Christianity in particular, but at best to religion in general, perhaps to mere morality, their homage is intended to be paid. With Christianity, as distinct from these, they are little acquainted; their views of it have been so cursory and superficial, that far from discerning its peculiar characteristics, they have little more than perceived those exterior circumstances which distinguish it from other forms of religion. There are some few facts, and perhaps some leading doctrines and principles, of which they cannot be wholly ignorant; but of the consequences and relations, and practical uses of these, they have few ideas, or none at all.
Does this language seem too strong? View their plan of life and their ordinary conduct; and let us ask, wherein can we discern the points of discrimination between them and professed unbelievers? In an age wherein it is confessed and lamented that infidelity abounds, do we observe in them any remarkable care to instruct their children in the principles of the faith which they profess, and to furnish them with arguments for the defence of it? They would blush, on their child’s coming out into the world, to think him defective in the branch of that knowledge, or of those accomplishments, which belong to his station in life; and, accordingly, these are cultivated with becoming assiduity. But he is left to collect his religion as he may: the study of Christianity has formed no part of his education; and his attachment to it, where any attachment to it exists at all, is too often, not the preference of sober reason and conviction, but merely the result of early and groundless pre-possession. He was born in a Christian country; of course he is Christian: - his father was a member of the Church of England; so is he. When such is the religion handed down among us by hereditary succession, it cannot surprise us to observe young men of sense and spirit beginning to doubt altogether of the truth of the system in which they have been brought up, and ready to abandon a station which they are unable to defend. Knowing Christianity chiefly in the difficulties which it contains, and in the impossibilities which are falsely imputed to it, they fall, perhaps, into the company of infidels; where they are shaken by frivolous objections and profane cavils, which, had their religious persuasion been grounded in reason and argument, would have passed by them as the idle wind.
Let us beware before it is too late.
[Quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993), pp. 140-142.]
Wilberforce’s critique of Christianity “by hereditary succession” predates Søren Kierkegaard’s blistering Attack Upon “Christendom” (1854-1855) by 57 years. And even after 210 years, his concern about the disparity between a lukewarm commitment to religious formation for our children on the one hand, and our insistence that they work hard and achieve in other areas (school, sports, etc.) on the other, are deeply relevant.
In the face of injustice, William Wilberforce refused to keep his Christian faith a merely private affair. He understood that taking Christianity seriously means taking the risk of going public with it. And so he lived the New Testament injunction to “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (James 1:22). That makes Wilberforce a powerful model for what it means to live our baptismal covenant vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” to “strive for justice and peace among all people,” and to “respect the dignity of every human being” [The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305].
You can learn more about William Wilberforce by reading this article, and you can listen to an audio clip on his life and legacy here.
It's been almost 4 months since I first posted this piece, but tonight I finally watched the movie Amazing Grace. It was a very good and enjoyable film. I don't pretend to be a movie critic, but with the exception of some scenes from the beginning of the film that connect Wilberforce's faith in God to nature, the role that Wilberforce's Christian faith played in his dogged opposition to the slave trade is edited out of the story.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-10); Luke 11:1-13
Many years ago, Marion Hatchett, Professor of Liturgics at the School of Theology in Sewanee, TN, was invited to participate in an ecumenical symposium on prayer and worship. Before one of the meetings, a colleague from a less liturgically-oriented tradition stepped to the mike. Thinking he could pull a fast one on his colleague, he invited Marion to come forward for prayer. “Marion, you’re a good Episcopalian. Would you start us off this morning with one of those prayers out of a book?” So Marion walked up to the mike, said, “Let us pray,” and then began: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name ….”
The point of Marion Hatchett’s little stunt is clear: Even the most avid proponents of so-called “spontaneous” prayer have to acknowledge that the supreme Christian prayer of all time – the norm for what it means to pray as a Christian – is a prayer out of a book. We call it the Lord’s Prayer. And we find it in that book we call the Bible.
If we take the Lord’s Prayer as the norm, it can teach us a great deal about the nature of Christian prayer in general. This morning, I want to touch on just four things it tells us:
1. Christian prayer is primarily corporate;
2. Christian prayer is intimate;
3. Christian prayer is bold; and,
4. Christian prayer is specific.
First, Christian prayer is corporate.
It’s been said that “we are defined by our prayers.” How we pray together shapes group identity and gives each of us a sense of belonging to a community greater than ourselves.
That formation can make an indelible imprint. Indeed, it can be so powerful that even some persons with dementia can still recognize and respond to the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
So using the Lord’s Prayer, we are defined as belonging to Jesus. And that is a corporate identity. Notice that the disciples say to Jesus: “Lord, teach us to pray …” (Luke 11:1). It’s a group activity – a matter of common prayer. We see this also in the specific petitions Jesus gives to his disciples: “Give us each day our daily bread.” “Forgive us our sins.” “Do not bring us to the time of trial.”
As Christians shaped by the Anglican Prayer Book tradition, we follow this norm of corporate prayer in our worship. It’s not just about “me and Jesus.” It’s about “we and Jesus.” That’s why we use set forms for prayer. For by corporately repeating the same prayers week after week, we are shaped in ways that deepen and strengthen the bonds that unite us to God and to each other.
The common prayer of the Church is the womb that gives birth to our personal prayers. And it is the means by which our prayer lives are sustained when we don’t feel like praying, or when we don’t know what to say. What a comfort it is at such times to pray the words of one of those prayers out of a book, like a beloved Psalm, a favorite Collect from the Prayer Book, or the Lord’s Prayer.
Christian prayer is intimate.
While Christian prayer is first and foremost a group activity, it is also a means by which our hearts and souls are laid bare before the loving gaze of God.
We see this truth underscored when Jesus addresses God as “Father.” This language is problematic for many people today. It sounds gender-exclusionary. For some of us, it might conjure up painful memories and feelings about our own fathers.
It’s true that the language of God as “Father” has sometimes been misused. And it’s often been misunderstood. We do well to remember something I once saw written on a coffee mug: “God is not a boy’s name.”
And so I think it’s important to note that, in the way Jesus used it, there’s a deeper intention in this language. The Aramaic word Jesus used for Father – Abba – suggests a kind of intimate relationship with God that might have seemed shocking to his contemporaries. The point is not masculinity, but intimacy.
And so Jesus teaches his followers that the God we pray to is not an impersonal force or a distant, uncaring, or vengeful deity. On the contrary, God is like a loving parent. God is like Jesus taking the little children up in his arms, laying his hands on them, and blessing them (cf. Mark 10:13-16).
Jesus claims to have a unique, personal, and intimate relationship with God. And in the Lord’s Prayer, he teaches his disciples that we, also, have access to that same kind of intimacy with a loving God.
That makes Christian prayer bold.
It’s bold for mere mortals to claim such access to the Maker of heaven and earth. How dare we claim that, in this infinite universe, God cares about each and every one of us; that God looks upon every individual person with tender mercy and affection? But that’s precisely what the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to do.
But it gets bolder. The petitions Jesus teaches us to use as models for how to pray, the verbs are all imperatives. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we’re daring to tell God what to do! We’re telling God: “Keep your name holy.” “Bring your kingdom and set all things right.” “Give us each day all that we need to live and thrive.” “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” “And protect us from all harm.”
There’s no groveling here. There’s no special pleading, or saying, “If you think this is a good idea, Lord,” or, “If you have the time to get around to it,” or, “If I’ve been a really, really good person and you’re pleased with me today.”
No, the Lord’s Prayer presumes to say to God, “This is what needs to happen.” And without so much saying the magic word “please,” we tell God: “Make it so!”
This is not the boldness of impertinence or blasphemy. This is boldness born of radical trust in God as the One who loves us so much that, of course, these are the things God wants to have happen! We are simply daring to petition for what is already in accord with God’s gracious will.
And so Christian prayer is specific.
Someone once told me that they never pray for outcomes, that that’s selfish. Instead, they only pray that God’s will be done.
I can see the point of that if by “specific outcomes” this person means things like praying for a good parking space at Kroger or asking God for a third Hummer.
But the Lord’s Prayer shows us that there are certain specific outcomes that God wills for us, and that it’s okay to claim those outcomes and petition God for them with boldness and persistence.
One of the best definitions of prayer I’ve ever heard is this one: “Prayer is keeping company with God.” Keeping company with God – as in spending time, developing friendship, and cultivating intimacy.
Regardless of where we are in our prayer lives, the Lord’s Prayer gives us a model for how to keep company with God. It reminds us that keeping company with God cannot be separated from keeping company with each other in worship and fellowship. It encourages us to claim our baptismal birthright of intimacy with God. It inspires us to be bold and even audacious in our petitions. And it reveals the specific outcomes that God wills for the well-being and transformation of the world.
So keep on praying that wonderful prayer out of a book we call the Lord’s Prayer. Pray it daily. Savor each word and phrase. Let it shape your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God. And know that it has the power to draw us deeper into relationship with the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, the One who requires more from us than we expect from ourselves, and the One who loves us more than we dare imagine.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Friday, July 27, 2007
In honor of his contributions to the Episcopal Church and the cause of ecumenism, I offer the following reflections on his contribution to that cornerstone of Anglicanism’s Generous Orthodoxy called the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.
While Hungtington was the rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, he published The Church-Idea: An Essay Towards Unity [originally published in 1870; Houghton Mifflin Co., 1928]. In this book, Huntington laid the groundwork for the formulation of the Quadrilateral adopted by the House of Bishops at the General Convention of 1886, and then modified in a further amended form by the Lambeth Conference of 1888 [cf. The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 876-878]. To this day, The Church-Idea remains an outstanding American contribution to Anglican thought on ecclesiology and ecumenism.
Huntington begins The Church-Idea by lamenting the divisions that separate Christians. He writes that “union is God’s work, and separation devil’s work” [p. 2]. As a foundation on which to propose a practical plan for Christian unity, Huntington proposes to explain the meaning of the Church-Idea when he writes that it ...
… is this, that the Son of God came down from heaven to be the Saviour not only of men, but of man; to bring “good tidings of great joy” not only to every separate soul, but also to all souls collectively. He died, not only to save the scattered sheep, but to gather them that they might be scattered sheep no longer.
“The Gospel” ought to be regarded as the entire blessing resulting to the world from birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this aggregate of blessing, the interests both of the one and the many have a place [pp. 3 & 4; Huntington’s emphasis].
According to Huntington, the Gospel is universal and comprehensive in scope, i.e., catholic. The community called together by this Gospel must, therefore, embody the intention of the Gospel to save “all souls collectively.” And this means that the Church on earth must embody visible unity.
In order to realize this catholic intention of the Gospel, Huntington proposes an “Anglican basis for an ecumenical ‘Church of the Reconciliation’ in America” [An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, edited by Don S. Armentrout & Robert Boak Slocum (Church Publishing Inc., 1999), p. 256]. Huntington claims that this proposal provides an answer to the question of “what Anglicanism pure and simple is” [The Church-Idea, p. 124].
According to Huntington, “the absolutely essential features of the Anglican position” on the Church of the Reconciliation include four points:
The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God.
The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith.
The two Sacraments ordained by Christ himself.
The Episcopate as the key-stone of Governmental Unity [pp. 125-126].
Huntington leaves the nature of the Bible’s inspiration open to interpretation, preferring instead to affirm that “Holy Scripture … is the treasure-house of God’s revealed truth” [p. 127].
The primitive creeds, by which Huntington means the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, are necessary for rightly reading and interpreting Holy Scripture. “It is simply a trifling with words to say that the Scriptures are in themselves an all-sufficient creed” because, Huntington argues, the Scriptures are such “a vast field of research” and “as inexhaustible as Nature” [pp. 127 & 128]. And so the primitive creeds serve as the rule of faith for rightly reading the essentials in scripture.
Like predecessors in the Anglican tradition, Huntington regards Baptism and Eucharist as the two necessary sacraments of the Church. In contrast to many other possible contenders for the title of “sacrament,” Baptism and Eucharist have uncontested roots in the apostolic age and in scripture. They conform to the principle of antiquity. Consensus on this matter, Huntington maintains, makes Baptism and Eucharist the sacramental basis for Christian unity. In addition, these sacraments embody the fundamental character of the Christian life. Huntington writes:
The Two Sacraments of Christ’s appointment image forth to the eye his two all-comprehensive sayings, “Come unto Me,” “Abide in Me.” The one is the Sacrament of Approach, the other the Sacrament of Continuance. Baptism answers to the grafting of the branch; Holy Communion to the influx of the nourishing juices that keep the graft alive [pp. 142-143].
Huntington notes that these two sacraments provide an essential and “constant safeguard” against reducing the Christian faith to speculative theologizing. Baptism and Eucharist serve as reminders that Christians live “in the body and on the earth,” and that the Christian faith must take visible, material shape [p. 143].
Huntington argues that the episcopate as the keystone of governmental unity provides “an essential condition of oneness in the Church” [p. 152]. As a warrant for this claim, Huntington appeals to the principle of headship discernible in the orders of creation. From the constitution of families to nation-states to churches, headship provides the organizing principle. “Headship is God’s law,” Huntington argues, for “Double and triple-headed creatures are monsters that exist only in fiction, or, if born, are only born to die” [p. 152]. “From its fountain in the bosom of the Holy Trinity,” the principle of headship “flows downward through all the ranges of created life” [pp. 152-153]. Grounded in the Trinitarian life of God, the principle of headship provides theological justification for hierarchical social organization because this principle is inscribed in the very orders of creation. Based on this reasoning, every social institution requires embodiment in a central figurehead.
In addition to purported laws of nature, Huntington also defends the necessity of the episcopate by appealing to antiquity. Since the apostolic age, the principle of headship has taken form in the episcopate. This gives the episcopate “a strong historical presumption in its favor” [p. 156]. Huntington believes that this presumption is so central that “Anglicanism stands or falls” by it [p. 157]. Huntington hammers this point home in strong language:
Indeed, … if the Episcopate have no more claim on our regard than any other form of ecclesiastical polity, then the sooner Anglicans in America shut their church-doors and burn their prayer-books, the better; for they are only adding, upon insufficient grounds, one more to the sectarian divisions under which the land groans. But if they have in the Episcopate that which links them by an actual historical connection to the Church of the primitive times, then ought they to thank God and take courage, and do all they can by the removal of misapprehension and disabilities and needless partition walls of prejudice, to make their inheritance available for the enrichment of the whole scattered flock of Christ [pp. 157-158].
Huntington’s four-fold explication of the Church-Idea was included in a report of the Commission on Christian Unity and adopted by the House of Bishops at the 35th General Convention meeting in Chicago in 1886. In its formulation of the Chicago Quadrilateral, the House of Bishops altered the language used by Huntington. Instead of “The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God,” the Chicago Quadrilateral reads: “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God” [Armentrout & Slocum, p. 226]. With regard to the creeds, the Chicago Quadrilateral replaces Huntington’s “The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith” with “The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.” The House of Bishops also specifically name Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the two indispensable sacraments. And finally, the House of Bishops replaced Huntington’s description of the episcopate as “the key-stone of Governmental Unity” with the language of the “Historic Episcopate” and the recognition that it must be “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.”
Here's the version approved as Resolution 11 by the Lambeth Conference of 1888:
That, in the opinion of this Conference, the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing made towards Home Reunion:
(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
(b) The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
Interestingly, the formulation of the Quadrilateral by the 1888 Lambeth Conference changes the language of the first two articles while retaining the language of the Chicago formulation in articles 3 and 4. Commenting on this fact, J. Robert Wright notes that Huntington’s contribution to the Chicago and Lambeth formulations of the Quadrilateral was “deepened and developed” such that “whatever he had intended, was superseded by what the bishops voted” [“Heritage and Vision: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88-1986/88, edited by J. Robert Wright (Forward Movement Publications, 1988), p. 14]. It's true that Huntington's contributions were "deepened and developed," but in my reading of The Church-Idea, I don't draw the conclusion that Huntington would have found the 1886 or 1888 formulations of his ideas so far off the mark from his original intentions as to to supercede them.
Holy Scripture, the classical creeds, the dominical sacraments, and the historic episcopate: these are the four cornerstones of the Christian Church. It’s worth emphasizing that Huntington’s proposal for this four-fold basis for Church reunion – a proposal which also, I believe, lays down Huntington’s understanding of the minimal conditions necessary for the fullness of the Church as the Body of Christ – is not something he came up with off the top of his head. On the contrary, the four points of what eventually became the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral lie deep within the Christian tradition. We find these points emphasized (in different ways from Huntington, to be sure, but with significant overlap) by Church Fathers such as Tertullian and Irenaeus, by the 16th Century English Reformers John Jewel and Richard Hooker, and by 19th Century Anglicans such as Frederick Denison Maurice and Thomas H. Vail.
In addition to his work in ecclesiology and ecumenism, Huntington also proposed Prayer Book revision. His leadership was one of the reasons that led to the 1892 Prayer Book.
Huntington wrote the Collect for Monday in Holy Week, which also serves as the Collect for Fridays in the Daily Office of Morning Prayer in the 1979 Prayer Book. The Collect "takes two striking clauses from the exhortation for the sick in the 1662 Prayer Book, and uses them as part of a prayer for grace to follow the Lord in his sufferings" [Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Church Publishing, 2006), p. 322]. It's always been one of my favorite Collects in the 1979 Prayer Book:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy before he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever [The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 99 & 220).
Here are some closing thoughts from William Reed Huntington’s The Church-Idea. Even after 127 years, they still ring true:
If our whole ambition as Anglicans in America be to continue a small, but eminently respectable body of Christians, and to offer a refuge for people of refinement and sensibility, who are shocked by the irreverences they are apt to encounter elsewhere; in a word, if we care to be only a countercheck and not a force in society; then let us say as much in plain terms, and frankly renounce any and all claim to Catholicity. We have only, in such a case, to wrap the robe of our dignity about us, and walk quietly along in a seclusion no one will take much trouble to disturb. Thus may we be a Church in name, and a sect in deed.
But if we aim at something nobler than this, if we would have our Communion become national in very truth, - in other words, if we would bring the Church of Christ into the closest possible sympathy with the throbbing, sorrowing, sinning, repenting, aspiring heart of this great people, - then let us press our reasonable claims to be the reconciler of a divided household, not in a spirit of arrogance (which ill befits those whose best possessions have come to them by inheritance), but with affectionate earnestness and an intelligent zeal [quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993), p. 138].
You can read more about William Reed Huntington here and here.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
His work The Imitation of Christ, which was published around the year 1418, “has been translated into more languages than any other book except the Holy Scriptures” [Lesser Feasts and Fasts 1997 (Church Publishing, 1998), p. 298].
In the Introduction to the Vintage Spiritual Classics Edition of this work, Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J., writes:
The Imitation has been the favorite reading of philosophers and poets, saints and statesmen. St. Thomas More (1478-1535), England’s Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII, listed it as one of the three books that should find their way into everyone’s hands, and St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who read a chapter each day of his life, was in the habit of offering it as a gift to acquaintances. St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), Cardinal of the Roman Church, repeatedly returned to it, and as often as he read it he always found new fruit. The German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) considered The Imitation the most excellent treatise ever written, and John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of Methodism, judged it the best summary of Christian life and translated it for his own followers. Pierre Corneille (1606-1684), France’s greatest dramatist, put its noble thoughts into verse, and Ireland’s patriot Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) used it for daily mediation. Thomas Merton (1915-1968), America’s most popular ascetic writer, acknowledged that it was one of the first rays of light that led to his conversion, and Pope John Paul I (1912-1978) was reading the book when death unexpectedly called him on the night of September 28, 1978, after only thirty-three short days as Roman Pontiff [pp. xxvii-xxviii].
Here are some excerpts from The Imitation of Christ [Revised Edition, translated by Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J. (Vintage, 1998)]:
“Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness,” says the Lord. These are Christ’s own words by which He exhorts us to imitate His life and His ways, if we truly desire to be enlightened and free of all blindness of heart. Let it then be our main concern to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s teaching surpasses that of all the saints, and whoever has His spirit will find in His teaching hidden manna. But it happens that many are little affected, even after frequent hearing of His Gospel. This is because they do not have the spirit of Christ. If you want to understand Christ’s words and relish them fully, you must strive to conform your entire life to His.
What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility and, thus, are displeasing to the Trinity? Esoteric words neither make us holy nor righteous; only a virtuous life makes us beloved of God. I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it.
If you knew the entire Bible inside out and all the maxims of the philosophers, what good would it do you if you were, at the same time, without God’s love and grace? Vanity of vanities! All is vanity, except our loving God and serving only Him. This is the highest wisdom: to despise the world and seek the kingdom of heaven.
In Holy Scripture we seek truth and not eloquence. All Sacred Scripture should be read in the spirit with which it was written.
Whenever you desire anything inordinately, you immediately find that you grow dissatisfied with yourself. Those who are proud and avaricious never arrive at contentment; it is the poor and the humble in spirit who live in great peace.
Keep your eyes on yourself and avoid judging the actions of others. In judging others we accomplish nothing, are often in error, and readily fall into sin; but we always gain by self-examination and self-criticism.
Blessed is he who understands what it is to love Jesus and to despise himself for Jesus’ sake. Jesus wants to be your only love and to be loved above all else; therefore, you must abandon all other beloveds for your one Beloved. The love of a creature is fickle and deceitful, while the love of Jesus is faithful and enduring. He who clings to a creature will fall when that creature fades away, but he who embraces Jesus shall stand firm forever.
When Jesus is present all is well and nothing seems arduous, but when He is absent everything becomes difficult.
It is a great art to know how to live with Jesus, and to know how to keep His friendship demands great wisdom. Be humble and peace-loving and Jesus will be with you. Be devout and calm and Jesus will abide with you.
Love everyone else for the sake of Jesus and love Jesus for His own sake.
Jesus today has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few of them carry His cross. He has many friends who ask for consolation, but few who pray for affliction. He has many companions to share His meals, but few to share his abstinence.
We all want to rejoice with Him, but few of us are willing to suffer anything for His sake. Many follow Jesus up to the breaking of the bread, but few go on to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many admire His miracles, but few follow in the ignominy of His cross.
In the cross we have salvation; in the cross we have life; in the cross we have protection from our enemies.
Everything is founded on the cross and everything depends on our dying on the cross. There is no other way to life and interior peace except the holy way of the cross and our daily dying to self.
You can read The Imitation of Christ on-line here.
Monday, July 23, 2007
This time, Fr. Jones writes about the historic creeds. And that's too good for the "Creedal Christian" to pass up.
Here's a brief teaser:
For at least nineteen centuries, the Church has made certain professions of the faith referred to as ‘creeds.’ The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin credo – which means ‘I believe.’ For Christians, when we say we ‘believe,’ we are not merely saying, “I accept the truthful correctness of such and such.” When we say 'We believe,’ we are furthermore saying, “We are putting our faith, hope and love in the nature of God and our relationship with Him.”
Christian belief is so much more than intellectual assent to certain ideas or ideologies or systems of understanding the world. Christian belief is about giving your life to a relationship with God, and it is about living within the bonds and boundaries of that relationship.
Certainly, there is much, much more to 'being in Christ' than holding these creeds close to the heart -- but there is certainly not less.
Read it all.
Field served as chaplain to both Elizabeth I and James I. He was a participant in the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. He served as Dean of Gloucester (1609). His major work is Of the Church Five Books (1606-1610). "This work was an apology for the Church of England based on a number of marks of historical as well as doctrinal continuity with the Early Church, and may stand alongside Hooker's Lawes as a statement of a more 'Catholic' (although strongly anti-Roman) conception of the Reformed English Church" [Love's Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, & Rowan Williams (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 133].
Written during a time of conflict in Church and society, here's what Field wrote about the membership of "the Church of God":
There are, and have always been, some, who, possessed with a false opinion of absolute sanctity, and spotless righteousness, reject the societies and companies of them in whom any imperfection may be found; which was the furious zeal of the Pelagians in old time, and the Anabaptists in our time. Others there are, which, though they proceed not so far, yet deny those societies of Christians to be the true Churches of God, wherein the severity of discipline is so far neglected, that wicked men are suffered and tolerated without due and condign punishment. These, while they seem to hate the wicked, and fly from their company for fear of contagion, do schismatically rent, and inconsiderately divide themselves from the body of God’s Church, and forsake the fellowship of the good, through immoderate hate of the wicked.
But these do dangerously and damnably err; the first in that they dream of heavenly perfection to be found amongst men on earth, when as contrariwise the prophet Isaiah pronounceth, that ‘ all our righteousness is like the polluted and filthy rags of a menstruous woman.’ And David desireth of Almighty God, that he will ‘not enter into judgment with him, for that in his no flesh shall be justified:’ and Augustine denounceth a woe against our greatest perfections, if God do straitly look upon them.
The latter, though they do not require absolute and spotless perfection in them that are in and of the Church, yet think it not possible that wicked ones should be found in so happy and blessed a society: not remembering that the Church of God is compared to ‘a net, that gathereth into it all sorts of fishes, great and small, good and bad,’ which are not separated one from another, till they be cast out upon the shore; that it is like ‘a field sown with good seed wherein the envious man soweth tares’; like ‘a floor, wherein wheat and chaff are mingled together;’ like the ‘ark of Noah, wherein cursed Cham was as well preserved from drowning as blessed Sem.’
But they will say, there may be hypocrites, who, for that their wickedness is not known, cannot be separated from them, who in sincerity serve and worship God; but if their wickedness break forth, that men may take notice of it, either they are presently reformed, or by the censures of the Church cut off from the rest; which course, if it be not so holden, but that wicked ones without due punishment be suffered in the midst of God’s people, those societies wherein so great negligence is found, cease to be the true Churches of God, and we may, and must, divide ourselves from them. This was the error of the Donatists in former times, and is the error of certain proud and arrogant sectaries in our time. But if the Church of God remained in Corinth, where there were ‘divisions, sects, emulations, contentions, and quarrels;’ ‘and going to law one with another for every trifle, and that under the infidels;’ where that ‘wickedness was tolerated and winked at, which is execrable to the very heathens’; where ‘Paul’s name and credit was despitefully called into question, whome they should have honoured as a father’; where ‘the resurrection of the dead (which is the life of Christianity) was with great scorn denied;’ who dare deny those societies to be the Churches of God, wherein the tenth part of these horrible evils and abuses is not to be found?
We see then the difference between the turbulent disposition of these men, and the mild affection of the Apostles of Christ, who writing to the Corinthians, and well knowing to how many evils and faults they were subject, yet doth not thunder out against them the dreadful sentence of anathema, exclude them from the kingdom of Christ, or make a division and separation from them, but calleth them the Church of Christ and society of saints. What would these men have done, if they had lived amongst the Galatians, who so far adulterated the Gospel of Christ, that the apostle pronounceth, that ‘they were bewitched;’ and if they still persisted in circumcision, and the works of the law with Christ, the ‘were fallen from grace, and Christ could profit them nothing;’ whom yet the apostle acknowledgeth to be the Church of God, writing ‘to the Church which is at Galatia?’
[Quoted in Love's Redeeming Work, pp. 135-136.]
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Here are a few teasers:
I’ve come to think of Anglican Christianity as a form of basic Christianity; a thinking person’s basic Christianity that isn’t hostile to intellectual pursuit (which in the tendency of anti-intellectualism of the U.S. makes us a minority), nor scornful of the average every person’s walk of Sunday-in and Sunday-out, nor hostile to the mystically blessed, nor dismissive of other Christian bodies. At least, this is at our best.
Ours has always been a tradition held in tensions. We’re a tradition that both rejected and maintained authority at the same time, so at heart, there is a real tension that cannot deny we made a break with our Patriarch (as the Orthodox would see it) and at the same time maintained while reforming the episcopate. We have always had reformers, many of whom faced difficulties in their own time and rest on our calendar today: Thomas Cranmer, William Laud, John and Charles Wesley... But our sacramental regularity held within the prayerbook’s theological formation keeps us from going off the rocker as a whole.
At our best, the layman or laywoman is not a lesser Christian in our tradition, but lives out his or her faith within the context of the world and everyday life, and this is seen as necessary and informative of the task of the Church overall, indeed, the Church is incomplete without the lay vocation and the input of the laity.
... we neither dismiss the latest trends in scholarship nor enshrine them. We recognize that all Scripture is beneficial for teaching and at the same time recognize that Scripture is rich and layered in meanings--but always within the centering of Christ, the Word to Whom Writ points and in Whom Writ participates. Our Anglican approach to Scripture is intellectual, meditative, communal. Lectio! And therefore, living.
Rules are not meant to destroy but draw bounds beyond which lead to unhealth or I might say contravene sufficiency. Our flexibility has generally been a strength. I would like to keep it that way. This means that I neither advocate the abandonment of rules altogether, nor a hardnosed enforcement of rules that might kill the spirit and leave no room for the flesh. Sufficiency is the first watchword.
Please do read it all.
This is not a merely academic issue in some parts of the Episcopal Church.
I think one of the warrants for setting up this dichotomy comes from a series of sermons published in a very influential and popular book entitled The Will of God. The author is Leslie D. Weatherhead.
In this book, Weatherhead makes a distinction between three modes of God’s will: God’s intentional will, God’s circumstantial will, and God’s ultimate will.
According to Weatherhead, God’s intentional will was for Jesus to make disciples, to fashion followers, who would help us live into right relationship with God. But when things went awry, God resorted to “Plan B” (God's circumstantial will) which involved Jesus’ betrayal, passion, and death on the cross.
Here's what Weatherhead says:
Was it God's intention from the beginning that Jesus should go to the Cross? I think the answer to that question must be No. I don't think Jesus thought that at the beginning of his ministry. He came with the intention that men should follow him, not kill him. The discipleship of men, not the death of Christ, was the intentional will of God ....
But when circumstances wrought by men's evil set up such a dilemma that Christ was compelled either to die or to run away, then in those circumstances the Cross was the will of God, but only in those circumstances which were themselves the fruit of evil [The Will of God (Abingdon Press, 1972), p. 12; emphasis in text].
According to this version of the gospel, God did not intentionally will for Jesus to suffer and die. That was an unfortunate (and unforeseen?) monkey-wrench thrown into the original plan. So in response to the sinfulness and brutality of human beings, God adjusted and adapted the plan to effect His ultimate will, which was bringing us back into right relationship with Him.
In other words, the cross wasn’t supposed to happen. The passion and death of our Lord was not a part of God's intentional will. And so Jesus did not die for our sins; rather, Jesus died because of our sins.
If I’m reading the argument correctly, the whole idea that God’s intentional will could have been to send the Son to suffer and die on the cross is viewed by Weatherhead as morally offensive. It makes God out to be a sado-masochist. After all, what kind of a father would will for his only son to be brutally tortured and murdered if not a morally vicious one?
It concerns me that this kind of reasoning finds a foothold within the Episcopal Church. I note, for example, that Forward Movement has published a pamphlet that wholeheartedly endorses Weatherhead's argument (I cannot, at the moment, recall the author or title, but I do remember reading it a few years back).
My problem with Weatherhead’s argument - and the reason it concerns me that it is so popular and influential - is that it contradicts the entire tone and tenor of the New Testament and the basic narrative of salvation outlined in the historic creeds. In doing so, it sets up a false opposition between Jesus’ mission of suffering and dying on the one hand, and his mission to make disciples on the other.
When we look at the canonical Gospels, we find messianic mission statements that fly in the face of Weatherhead’s theology. Here's one example:
" … the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28; cf. also Mark 10:45).
"I am the good shepherd … and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14 & 15).
Then there are the passages that form the scriptural basis for the institution narrative in our Eucharistic prayers:
"This is my body given for you. ... This is my blood shed for you."
Moving to the Acts of the Apostles, Peter’s preaching of the early Christian kerygma is insistent:
"God foretold through all the prophets that his Christ would suffer" (Acts 3:18).
Here's what Peter tells his audience:
"This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23).
If Peter and the other New Testament authors are right, then Jesus’ death on the cross was not an accident or an afterthought. It was no “Plan B.” It was a central reason for why he came.
The whole point is to free – not just Jesus – but all of us “from the agony of death” (Acts 2:24). That can’t happen if Jesus doesn’t die. So if Jesus’ suffering and death were accidental to his mission, then it is correct to say not only that the crucifixion was an unforeseen tragedy, but even more, the resurrection was an afterthought. Sort of like God’s way of taking a lemon and making lemonade.
This line of reasoning trivializes Jesus’ passion and death. It guts the Gospels of the telos that drives their depictions of the story of Jesus, for in each of the Gospels, the shadow of the cross is central to the plot.
This reasoning also undermines the uniqueness of Jesus. If Jesus died, not for, but merely because of, human sin, that makes Jesus no different than any innocent person who dies because of human sin. Jesus would then be no different from someone wrongly convicted for murder and executed by lethal injection. Or any number of untold millions of persons who have died tragic and unjust deaths.
Weatherhead's argument also subtly suggests, in a way that strikes me as veering towards the Gnostic, that God could have, and indeed, wanted to, effect His original will without this messy business of suffering and death.
God sending the Son to suffer and die on the cross can only be construed as sado-masochistic if – as Arius taught – the Son is less than the Father. But if, as the Nicene Creed affirms, the Father and Son are one, then Jesus’ willing submission to the cross is not a concession to the Father’s vicious will. Rather, the Divine will is ONE will - a loving, redemptive will for Jesus' death to be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. When we see Jesus' voluntary submission to the cross, we see God's will for the redemption of the world unfolding. We see the reason why Jesus was born.
On the question of why Jesus died, Weatherhead and his present-day followers propagate a false dichotomy. It's not an either/or: either Jesus died for our sins, or Jesus died because of our sins. On the contrary, it's a both/and: Jesus died for our sins, and Jesus' death happened because of human sinfulness in rejecting and murdering the love of God incarnate.
The path of discipleship cannot be separated from the cross of Christ. It is precisely because Jesus died for our sins at the hands of sinners - and then rose victorious from the grave - that we are called to be his disciples and to learn from him what it truly means to love God and our neighbor.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Yes, it represents adolescent angst. And the collision of a culturally established, conservative Southern Baptist ethos with a perhaps too-early-exposure to Kierkegaard and C. S. Lewis. And an intense dislike of televangelists (I'm still not a fan).
Plus, I think it's more ominous (and perhaps even vengeful?) than my theological leanings now embrace (at least on good days).
Let's just say it doesn't fully represent my current faith.
And yet, there's something about this poem that I can't fully escape, even after all of these year.
The Certain Change of Seasons
Oh the sun shifts simmering
rays of sunlight down into the green
grass of springtime
as surely as if winter never always comes.
Counterfeit Christ the conservative screams
a million dreams from the t.v. screen
while unheeded pounds the sound of distant drums
While winter hangs stiff and bleeding
from a hard wood cross,
cries of, "My God, my God,
why don't you forsake us?" are
reeling and spilling
and clanging and jingling
through the cold black holes
of our pockets.
Who Do You Say I Am?
Back in my graduate school days, I used to collect statements about Jesus’ identity from theologians, philosophers, and others that I came across in my studies. It was an interesting way to get a sense of the different – and occasionally off-the-wall – responses to the question Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say I am?”
It sometimes seems as though there are as many ways to answer that question as there are people to answer it.
One thing about all of this is true: intelligent people disagree on how to answer this basic question. That’s an important thing to keep in mind for those of us who embrace what the historic creeds and the Ecumenical Councils say about Jesus.
I haven’t kept up with this project in a while, but I thought it might be fun to share some of it here.
Please feel free to respond with other interesting quotes that you’ve come across.
But be forewarned: this is an exceptionally long posting!
“Every Christian sooner or later has to ask the question, ‘Who was Jesus really?’ And we ask this in our age in a special way because we are very historically oriented. We are modern, or perhaps post-modern, people, but all of us have a sense that we want to know what things were really like. We know that the past is different from the present. We have experienced rapid change, all of us in our generation. And so we want to know what was Jesus really like. And that quest to understand what he was really like has turned out to be very disappointing. So how do we really get at that? We must, first of all, understand that in history facts always lie under interpretations and we never get to the facts. They're only interpretations. There is only an interpreted Jesus; there are many interpreted Jesuses. So where do we begin? We begin not with Jesus; we have no access to him. We begin with the responses to Jesus, by his followers, by outsiders who heard about him .... We begin with those reactions as they're enshrined in the text we have.”
Wayne A. Meeks, from the PBS Frontline webpage for “From Jesus to Christ” (1998)
“Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. … Whatever blurring of his image the welter of portraits of Jesus may create for the eyes of a faith that wants to affirm him as ‘the same yesterday and today and forever,’ that very variety is a treasure trove for the history of culture, because of the way it combines continuity and discontinuity.”
Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1985)
“The real Jesus is not simply a figure of the past but very much and above all a figure of the present.”
Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (1997)
“For Christians, Jesus stands at the center of history as an eternal question mark, challenging all of our suppositions about what it is to be human. Theology cannot erase the question mark. But still the mystery of Jesus can be expressed in reasonably plain language: Jesus is God’s pledge to us that the whole venture of embracing life and becoming human is the way to God. Jesus is what we all have been called to become.”
Tad Guzie, The Book of Sacramental Basics (1981)
“Historically speaking, Christianity never appeared simply as the religion taught by the Master. It has always been an interpretation of the Master and of his religion in the light of some doctrine concerning his mission, and also concerning God, man, and man’s salvation,—a doctrine which, even in its simplest expressions, has always gone beyond what the Master himself is traditionally reported to have taught while he lived.”
Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity (1913)
“The great English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, once commented that ‘mankind can hardly be too often reminded that there was once a man named Socrates.’ That is correct; but it is even more important to remind mankind that a man named Jesus Christ once stood in their midst.”
Adolf van Harnack, What is Christianity? (1900)
“It is the grand distinction of Christianity that all its doctrines and all its forces centre in the Person of its Founder and Teacher. In the case of all the other founders of philosophical sects and religions, the entire interest of their mission centres in the doctrines they teach, the opinions they disseminate. This was obviously true in the case of Zoroaster, Confucius, and Buddha, of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, of Moses and Paul. In the case of each of them the question was not what they were, but what they taught. But in the case of Christianity, the entire system, from foundation to superstructure, rests upon and derives its life from the Person of its Founder. The question of questions is what he was, rather than what he taught.”
A. Abraham Hodge, The Person of Christ (1755-1805)
“What would it feel like not to have heard of Christ? Should we feel left alone in the dark? Do we escape such a feeling simply in the way a child escapes it when he knows there is someone in the room with him?”
Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1931, Culture and Value (1980)
“Had there been a lunatic asylum in the suburbs of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ would infallibly have been shut up in it at the outset of his public career. That interview with Satan on the pinnacle of the Temple would alone have damned him, and everything that happened after could but have confirmed the diagnosis.”
Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)
“There are only two positions one can take. Jesus Christ is either God incarnate, or a created being. If He is God, yet we deny this and believe He is merely a created being, then we have not trusted the Christ of Scripture and are condemned already (Jn. 3.18). But if He is merely a created being and we worship Him as true God, then we have committed idolatry, failed to trust in the Christ of Scripture, and are condemned. How we answer this question, therefore, will forever determine our eternal destiny—either in heaven with God, or in Hell with Satan and his demons.”
Michael Bremmer, "The Deity of Jesus Christ"
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman, or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1943)
“Jesus Christ is the object of faith; one must either believe on Him or be offended.”
Soren Kierkegaard, Training in Christianity (1855)
“We cannot know Jesus without following Jesus. Engagement with Jesus, as the misconceptions of his first disciples show, is necessary to understand Jesus. In a sense, we follow Jesus before we know Jesus.”
Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (1989)
“If Jesus is someone besides God, we cannot and should not pray to Him. Many Christians, many among us, cannot find a way of joining honestly with those who pray to Jesus Christ. Something in us is reluctant, something which is genuine and valid, the fear of becoming idolatrous, the fear of being split in our ultimate loyalty, the fear of looking at two faces instead of at the one divine face. But he who sees Him sees the Father. There are not two faces. In the face of Jesus the Christ, God ‘makes His face to shine upon us.’”
Paul Tillich, The New Being (1955)
“… we are spiritually paralyzed by the fetish of Jesus. Even to atheists he is the supremely good man, the exemplar and moral authority with whom no one may disagree. Whatever our opinions, we must perforce wrangle the words of Jesus to agree with them. Poor Jesus! If he had known how great an authority was to be projected upon him, he would never have said a word.”
Alan Watts, Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship (1964)
“... let me first state my own unshaken belief that compared with all other men he stood, and stands, in [such] a unique relationship with God that he was and is truly human, and in one sense the most knowable and lovable of men, and yet that the world ‘human,’ as we usually use it, is not adequate to carry the heavy cargo of qualities which his words and deeds revealed. We use the world ‘divine’ because the word ‘human’ is not big enough. He is so much more like God than any other. But the word ‘divine’ is really only an expression of Christian agnosticism. I am quite ready to say that I believe in the divinity of Christ, but I do not know what it means, nor can I find anyone who can explain what it means, least of all some of the theologians from Paul onwards. I sincerely believe that he is the Savior of the World, and if I am immediately challenged about what he saves men from, my answer is that he saves men from the utter despair which would fall upon a thoughtful man, who, conscious of high aims and immense possibilities within himself, was condemned to try to achieve them without any aid save his own, and the purely human help of his fellows. Seneca said that what men needed most of all was a hand let down from heaven to lift them up. God, I believe, came to man’s rescue in Christ.”
Leslie D. Weatherhead, The Christian Agnostic (1965)
“[Jesus was] a man, of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, [and an] enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions of divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law.”
Thomas Jefferson, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English (1820)
“[Jesus’] own self-understanding did not include thinking and speaking of himself as the Son of God whose historical intention or purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and his message was not about believing in him. Rather, he was a spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion.”
Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (1994)
“Anyone who gets involved with Jesus gets involved with the kingdom of God. This is an inescapable fact, for Jesus’ own concern was, and is, God’s kingdom. Anyone who looks for God and asks about the kingdom in which ‘righteousness and peace kiss one another’ (Ps. 85.10) should look at Jesus and enter into the things that happened in his presence and that still happen today in his Spirit. That is obviously and palpably true; for who is Jesus? Simply the kingdom of God in person."
Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World (1994)
“When I consider the holy image in the mutilated descriptions of the life of him who is the sublime originator of what has been the most majestic in religion even to now, I do not admire the purity of his ethical teaching, which only expressed what all persons who have become aware of their spiritual nature have in common with him, and which can have a greater value neither because of its utterance nor because of its being first. I do not admire the uniqueness of his character, the intimate marriage of higher power with touching gentleness—every noble, simple heart in a special situation must exhibit a great character in certain respects; these are merely human things. But the truly divine is splendid clarity with which the great idea he had come to exhibit was formed in his soul, the idea that everything finite requires higher mediation in order to be connected with the divine.”
Friedrich Scheleirmacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799)
“The Teacher of the Gospel revealed to his disciples the kingdom of God on earth only in its glorious, soul-elevating moral aspect, namely, in terms of the value of citizenship in a divine state, and to this end he informed them of what they had to do, not only to achieve it themselves but to unite with all others of the same mind and, so far as possible, with the entire human race.”
Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (1791)
“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ's moral character, and that is that He believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment. Christ certainly as depicted in the Gospels did believe in everlasting punishment, and one does find repeatedly a vindictive fury against those people who would not listen to His preaching—an attitude which is not uncommon with preachers, but which does somewhat detract from superlative excellence. You do not, for instance find that attitude in Socrates. You find him quite bland and urbane toward the people who would not listen to him; and it is, to my mind, far more worthy of a sage to take that line than to take the line of indignation. You probably all remember the sort of things that Socrates was saying when he was dying, and the sort of things that he generally did say to people who did not agree with him. … You will find that in the Gospels Christ said, ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell.’ That was said to people who did not like His preaching. It is not really to my mind quite the best tone, and there are a great many of these things about hell. There is, of course, the familiar text about the sin against the Holy Ghost: ‘Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall be forgiven him neither in this World no in the world to come.’ That text has caused an unspeakable amount of misery in the world, for all sorts of people have imagined that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and thought that it would not be forgiven them either in this world or in the world to come. I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world."
Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian (1957)
“Jesus incarnates theocentric piety and fidelity. Through the gospel accounts of his life and ministry we can see and know something of the powers that bear down upon us and sustain us, and of the piety and the manner of life that are appropriate to them.”
James M. Gustafson, Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective, Vol. I: Theology and Ethics (1981)
“Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished by its beauty, he lived in it, and had his being there. Alone in all history he estimated the greatness of man. One man was true to what is in you and me. He saw that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his World. He said, in this jubilee of sublime emotion, ‘I am divine. Through me, God acts; through me, speaks. Would you see God, see me; or see thee, when thou also thinkest as I now think.’ But what a distortion did his doctrine and memory suffer in the same, in the next, and in the following ages!”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Divinity School Address” (1838)
“Clearly Jesus cannot be understood simply as prophet, for that designation, like every other, is inadequate for the historical reality of Jesus. Nonetheless, among his other functions it is clear that Jesus functioned as a prophet. In both his teaching and his very presence Jesus of Nazareth presented the ultimate criticism of the royal consciousness. He has, in fact, dismantled the dominant culture and nullified its claims. The way of his ultimate criticism is his decisive solidarity with marginal people and the accompanying vulnerability required by that solidarity."
Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (1978)
“A mystic is a person who believes that he or she has direct access to God. In this respect, Jesus Christ was a total mystic. But He wanted all of us to understand that we too are mystics. He wanted us to know that if we follow His teachings, we will also work the works of God.”
William L. Fischer, Alternatives (1980)
“ … one belief defines any branch of Christianity: the belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior who gave his life out of love for his fellow creatures. He was the hero of love, a hero without power, who did not use force, who did not want to rule, who did not want to have anything. He was a hero of being, of giving, of sharing.”
Eric Fromm, To Have or To Be? (1976)
“What are the ‘glad tidings’? True life, eternal life is found—it is not promised, it is here, it is within you: as life lived in love, in love without deduction or exclusion, without distance. Everyone is a child of God—Jesus definitely claims nothing for himself alone—as a child of God everyone is equal to everyone else … To make a hero of Jesus!”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (1888)
“To see God is the highest wish, the highest triumph of the heart. Christ is this wish, this triumph, fulfilled. God, as an object of thought only, i.e., God as God, is always a remote being; the relation to him is an abstract one…. So long as we have not met a being face to face, we are always in doubt whether he be really such as we imagine him; actual presence alone gives final confidence, perfect repose. Christ is God known personally; Christ, therefore, is the blessed certainty that God is what the soul desires and needs him to be. … Christ alone is the personal God; he is the real God of Christians, a truth which cannot be too often repeated. In him alone is concentrated the Christian religion, the essence of religion in general. He alone meets the longing for a personal God; he alone is an existence identical with the nature of feeling; on him alone are heaped all the joys of the imagination, and all the sufferings of the heart; in him alone are feeling and imagination exhausted. Christ is the blending in one of feeling and imagination.”
Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (1841)
“Christ, that was nothing but Divinity dwelling in a tabernacle of flesh, and God himself immediately acting a human nature, came into the world to kindle here that divine life amongst men, which is certainly dearer unto God than anything else whatsoever in the world, and to propagate this celestial fire from one heart still unto another until the end of the world."
Ralph Cudworth, “Sermon Preached Before the Honorable House of Commons” (1647)
“The fact that Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God is not difficult for a Buddhist to accept. We can see the nature of nonduality in God the Son and God the Father, because without God the Father within Him, the Son could never be. But in Christianity, Jesus is usually seen as the only Son of God. I think it is important to look deeply into every act and every teaching of Jesus during His lifetime, and to use this as a model for our own practice. Jesus lived exactly as he taught, so studying the life of Jesus is crucial to understanding His teaching. For me, the life of Jesus is His most basic teaching, more important than even faith in the resurrection or faith in eternity.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (1995)
“So, we find Jesus of Nazareth, in the first place, the true son of the Orient, intensely practical. He has no faith in this evanescent world and all its belongings. … He was a soul! Nothing but a soul, just working a body for the good of humanity; and that was all his relation to the body. … He had no other occupation in life; no other thought except that one, that he was a Spirit. He was a disembodied, unfettered, unbound Spirit. And not only so, but he, with his marvellous vision, had found that every man and woman, whether Jew or Gentile, whether rich or poor, whether saint or sinner, was the embodiment of the same undying Spirit as himself. Therefore, the one work his whole life showed was calling upon them to realise their own spiritual nature.”
Vivekananda, “Christ, the Messenger” in Christianity Through Non-Christian Eyes (1990)
“Even Jesus of Nazareth, who imagined that he was the Messiah, but was put to death by the court, Daniel had prophesied, as it is written, ‘And the children of the violent among your people shall lift themselves up to establish the vision; but they shall stumble’ (Dan. 11:14). For has there ever been a greater stumbling than this? All the prophets affirmed that the Messiah would redeem Israel, save them, gather their dispersed, and confirm the commandments. But he caused Israel to be destroyed by the sword, their remnant to be dispersed and humiliated. He was instrumental in changing the Torah and causing the world to err and serve another besides God.”
Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (c. 1178)
“Jesus left behind him a trail of shattered illusions and wrecked expectations. When we say today that Jesus was in some way a key clue to the nature of God, this expectation-destroying quality of his life suggests what such a claim means. The God Jesus discloses will not be the God anyone wants. … Jesus reveals God exactly because he was not what anybody expected or wanted. He refused to be classified, and he constantly forced people to deal directly with him rather than with their ideas about him. In doing so, Jesus exemplified in his life something Buddhist teachers constantly emphasize—that reality is always different from even our best ways of talking and thinking about it.”
Harvey Cox, Many Mansions: A Christian’s Encounter With Other Faiths (1988)
“Jesus was folly to the wise, a scandal to the devout and a disturber of the peace in the eyes of the mighty. That is why he was crucified. If anyone identifies with him, this world is ‘crucified’ to him, as Paul said. He becomes alienated from the wisdom, religion and power politics of his society. The crucified Christ became the brother of the despised, abandoned and oppressed. And this is why brotherhood with the ‘least of his brethren’ is a necessary part of brotherhood with Christ and identification with him.”
Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (1973)
“… there is no trace of success during Jesus’ lifetime; according to the reports that we have, this man died as one who was despised, outlawed and accursed. A solitary end in the utmost pain: avoided by his mother and his family, abandoned by his disciples and followers, evidently forgotten by his God. … It is thus, as the one who suffers in dedication and love, that in Christian understanding this Jesus differs from the Buddha, the benevolent and compassionate one. In this way he also differs unmistakably from all the many gods and deified founders of religions, and also differs from all religious geniuses and gurus, heroes and emperors of world history: as the sufferer, as the one who was executed, as the crucified one."
Hans Kung, Credo: The Apostles’ Creed Explained for Today (1993)
“… Jesus on the Cross is both the symbol and the reality of the immense labour of the centuries which has, little by little, raised up the created spirit and brought it back to the depths of the divine milieu. He represents (and in a true sense, he is) creation, as, upheld by God, it reascends the slopes of being, sometimes clinging to things for support, sometimes tearing itself from them in order to pass beyond them, and always compensating, by physical suffering, for the setbacks caused by its moral downfalls.”
Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (1960)
“This holy anarchist who roused up the lowly, the outcasts and ‘sinners’ … was a political criminal, in so far as political criminals were possible in an absurdly unpolitical society. This is what brought him to the Cross: the proof is the inscription on the Cross. He died for his guilt—all ground is lacking for the assertion, however often it is made, that he died for the guilt of others. … The word ‘Christianity’ is already a misunderstanding—in reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (1888)
“The God-Man on the cross sums up in one image all the cruelty we inflict by being alive, all the ravages of human selfishness and thoughtlessness. This is why Jesus cannot be overlooked or dismissed.”
Alan Watts, Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship (1964)
“Christianity claims that the God who is manifest in Jesus the Christ is the true God, the true subject of an ultimate and unconditional concern. Judged by him, all other gods are less than valid objects of an ultimate concern, and if they are made into one, become idols. Christianity can claim this extraordinary character because of the extraordinary character of the events on which it is based, namely, the creation of a new reality within and under the conditions of man’s predicament. Jesus as the bringer of this new reality is subject to those conditions, to finitude and anxiety, to law and tragedy, to conflicts and death. But he victoriously keeps the unity with God, sacrificing himself as Jesus to himself as the Christ. In doing so he creates the new reality of which the Church is the communal and historical embodiment.”
Paul Tillich, “Aspects of a Religious Analysis of Culture” in Theology of Culture (1959)
“Jesus, like the Suffering Servant and many other biblical characters, is the victim of a mimetic contagion that is similar to these archaic phenomena [in classical myths and ‘primitive’ religions]. The real difference is that myths represent this deed as something just and necessary. Oedipus and other mythic figures are always supposed to have truly committed the crimes of which they are accused. They are guilty. In the Bible and the Gospels the innocence of scapegoats is explicitly acknowledged against the belief of the crowd. … We can recognize that Jesus is God because, thanks to him, the scapegoat cycle of archaic religion loses its credibility and its effectiveness. Jesus’ death and resurrection put an end to the closed communities founded on scapegoating, compelling human beings to get along without arbitrary victims. … When Jesus defines the Eucharist as eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he creates a completely nonviolent sacrament which has nothing to do with actual cannibalism, and yet he boldly alludes to the most primitive ritual practices. He ‘recapitulates’ and transforms from inside the entire religious history of humanity.”
Rene Girard, from an interview in The Christian Century (April 8, 1998)
“If Christians were Christians, there would be no anti-Semitism. Jesus was a Jew. There is nothing that the ordinary Christian so dislikes to remember as this awkward historical fact.”
John Haynes Holmes, The Sensible Man’s View of Religion (1933)
“Jesus was a Jew, yes, but only on his mother’s side.”
"Whether it's the Old Testament or the New, or simply the sayings of Jesus, it's all the same old Jewish swindle. It will not make us free. You cannot make an Aryan of Jesus; that's nonsense."
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
“Jesus was a crackpot.”
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1986)
“Jesus of Nazareth was the most scientific man that ever trod the globe. He plunged beneath the material surface of things and found the spiritual cause.”
Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (1875)
“Jesus represents the power of being that lies beyond the good and evil norms of the human community. His power, both to heal and to destroy, comes from a source that is both pre-and posthuman.”
Robert S. Corrington, Nature’s Self: Our Journey from Origin to Spirit (1996)
“The whole of history is incomprehensible without him."
Ernest Renan, The Life of Jesus (1863)
“Jesus is not to be looked at merely as the last and greatest in the long line of rabbis teaching pious people how to behave; he is to be looked at as a mover of history and as the standard by which Christians must learn how they are to look at the moving of history.”
John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (1972)
“As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not; Incarnate, he could and did.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus (1975)
“For Jesus was God in terms of man, not superman, and as man he had the finite limitations proper to humanity. He experienced fear and sorrow, hunger and thirst and pain; he had to eat and drink; when tired he had to sleep. His human knowledge was not divine omniscience, and thus while its quality was illumined its quantity and extent was limited.”
Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion (1947)
“For the rest, I accept Christ’s passion, death, and burial literally … but His resurrection I understand allegorically. I admit, that it is related by the Evangelists in such detail, that we cannot deny that they themselves believed Christ’s body to have risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, in order to sit at the right hand of God, or that they believed that Christ might have been seen by unbelievers, if they had happened to be at hand, in the places where He appeared to His disciples; but in these matters they might, without injury to Gospel teaching, have been deceived, as was the case with other prophets ….”
Benedict de Spinoza, Letter to Henry Oldenburg (Feb. 7, 1676)
“It would be a serious misunderstanding to regard as ‘mere chance’ the fact that Jesus, the carpenter’s son, proclaimed the gospel and became the savior of the world. He must have been a person of singular gifts to have been able so completely to express and to represent the general, though unconscious, expectations of his age. No one else could have been the bearer of such a message; it was possible only for this particular man Jesus.”
Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961)
“Jesus is not like a meteor that suddenly appears in the heavens and then descends to the earth. He is not separable from the whole, nor can he be understood except as a part of it. This new understanding of history applies to everything else as well. For us, redemption affects not God, but humanity. We believe in a higher inspiration that emanates from a specific center. The God-consciousness of Jesus radiates upon those who stand within his circle. … It is not God, but humanity that is destined for love through Christ.”
Ernst Troeltsch, The Christian Faith (1912-13)
“Divine truth is better understood, as it unfolds itself in the purity of men’s hearts and lives, than in all those subtle niceties into which curious wits may lay it forth. And therefore our Savior, who is the great master of it, would not, while he was here on earth, draw it up into any system or body, nor would his disciples after him. He would not lay it out to us in any canons or articles of belief, not being indeed so careful to stock and enrich the world with opinions and notions, as with true piety and a God-like pattern of purity, as the best way to thrive in all spiritual understanding. His main scope was to promote a holy life as the best and most compendious way to a right belief.”
John Smith, A Discourse Concerning the True Way or Method of Attaining Divine Knowledge (1660)
“Jesus cannot be fully identified with that great religious phenomenon of the Western world known as Christianity. He was much more than the founder of one of the world’s great religions. He stands above Christianity as the judge of all it has done in his name. Nor can historical Christianity claim him as its exclusive possession. Jesus belongs to all men."
Albert Nolan, Jesus Before Christianity (1976)
“Christ, as redemptive person and Word of God, is not to be encapsulated ‘once-for-all’ in the historical Jesus. The Christian community continues Christ’s identity. As vine and branches, Christic personhood continues in our sisters and brothers. In the language of early Christian prophetism, we can encounter Christ in the form of our sister. Christ, the liberated humanity, is not confined to a static perfection of one person two thousand years ago. Rather, redemptive humanity goes ahead of us, calling us to yet incompleted dimensions of human liberation.”
Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (1983)
“The abiding and eternal in Jesus is absolutely independent of historical knowledge and can only be understood in contact with His spirit which is still at work in the world. In proportion as we have the spirit of Jesus we have the true knowledge of Jesus. … He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”
Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906)
“… the Mystery of Christ really means … that when God becomes incarnate in Jesus, he isn’t just doing a job on one person who happened to live in Palestine two thousand years ago. Rather, he’s manifesting in Jesus—making sacramentally present in Jesus—what he’s been doing all along in all persons and, for that matter, in all things. But it’s also more than that. The Incarnation isn’t just God coming into the world of time and place; it’s also God taking all time and places into himself so that they’ll all be present to him in his peacemaking, forgiving, reconciling power. Nobody is left out, you see.”
Robert Farrar Capon, The Mystery of Christ … & why we don’t get it (1993)
“For those who profess and call themselves Christians, the lens through which everything else is interpreted is a person: Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. Just as the lover never plumbs the mystery of the beloved, so we do not exhaust the mystery of Jesus."
Alan Jones, Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality (1985)
“To pronounce the name of Jesus Christ means to acknowledge that we are cared for, that we are not lost. Jesus Christ is man’s salvation in all circumstances and in face of all that darkens his life, including the evil that proceeds from himself. There is nothing which is not already made good in this happening, that God became man for our good. … We do not exist in any kind of gloomy uncertainty; we exist through the God who was gracious to us before we existed at all. It may be true that we exist in contradiction to this God, that we live in remoteness from Him, indeed in hostility to Him. It is still truer that God has prepared reconciliation for us, before we entered the struggle against Him. And true though it may be that in connexion with our alienation from God man can only be regarded as a lost being, it is still much truer that God has so acted for our good, does and will so act, that there exists salvation for every lost condition.”
Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (1959)
“Over a period of centuries, Christian doctrine worked out what it means to say that Jesus is ‘incarnate God.’ Christians say that Jesus is ‘truly God and truly human’—fully and authentically God and fully and authentically a real human being. If this is impossible to imagine, that’s all right. The doctrine was never meant to explain anything; only to point toward a truth that, like all truth about God, remains to some degree permanently beyond the grasp of human language and understanding. The main thing, still, is that original sense people had—the sense of experiencing God in Jesus, of being assured that the good news in Jesus is seriously meant by God for you.”
L. William Countryman, Good News of Jesus: Reintroducing the Gospel (1993)
“This man was not just a great teacher of profound truths about God and the secret of a happy successful life. He was not just a revolutionary political leader with a vision of a more human and just society. He was not just a great moral hero for us to imitate as best we can. He was not just a very godlike personality, the model of a truly spiritual life. Nor was he just the founder of a religious club later called the church, where religious people with a common interest in him come together to admire him and admire themselves for admiring him. To know this man is not just to know a very great, very good, very wise, very spiritual human being. It is to know God.”
Shirley C. Guthrie, Christian Doctrine (1994)
“This Christ is a man who himself lived with tension and contradiction and inner conflict.
He is man surrounded by friends who yet withdraws to be apart in the desert.
He is a son and yet he separates himself from his family and asks ‘who is my mother and who are my brothers?’
He stays alone with himself through long nights of prayer but still journeys on a road that he knows will bring him to suffering and death.
He is the redeemer who on the Cross holds together the vertical, pointing towards God, and the horizontal, arms stretched out to the world.
In Christ all things will be brought together.
In Christ all things will be well.”
Esther de Waal, Living With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality (1989)
“Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the Book of Life in Whom we read God.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (1958)
“Christ in his passion is the greatest teacher of who God is. Sheer humility. Total selflessness. Absolute service. Unconditional love.”
Thomas Keating, Intimacy With God (1994)
“… the fact remains: the movement beyond resignation to reconciliation is the movement inaugurated and maintained in Christians by Jesus Christ. By Jesus Christ men have been and are empowered to become sons of God—not as those who are saved out of a perishing world but as those who know that the world is being saved. … And for all of this we are indebted to Jesus Christ, in our history, and in that depth of the spirit in which we grope with our theologies and theories of symbols. Could it have so happened otherwise; could the same results have been achieved through other means? Are they being produced elsewhere through other means? That seems possible; nevertheless this one is our physician, this one is our reconciler to the Determiner of our Destiny. To whom else shall we go for words of eternal life, to whom else for the franchise in the universal community?”
H. Richard Niebuhr, The Responsible Self (1963)