What If They’re Right? A Progressive Pastor’s Fears Laid Bare

firstpresby

I was not raised in the Church. I came to faith via a long and winding road and a tremendous amount of study. Like most highly educated pastors, I have thought through my theology. Deeply. And I do not separate my faith from any area of my life. It is all-encompassing. Grace is a wonderful thing, as I am broken. Wonderfully made and radically love, yes, but broken nonetheless.

I have made decisions about my understanding of community. I can give biblical justifications for why I support women’s ordination, the full inclusion of GLBT persons into community and religious life, and do not think that Jesus is the only way to God. Some fundamentalists stick around to hear my explanations, some do not. Some are fine with agreeing to disagree, and finding areas in which we have crossover to use that shared belief to propel us into relationship and meaningful collaboration to do God’s work. Some refuse to acknowledge my ordination and believe that I am leading a congregation to hell. In fact, the two denominations with whom I am intimately tied, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are two of the most liberal denominations. Add onto that the fact that the congregation I serve aligns with the More Light Presbyterian movement, and I am about as “Progressive” (meant in the categorical sense) a Christian as you can get.

To me, though, the most important word in that descriptor is Christian. I take the gospel seriously. I emphasize the things I believe Jesus told us humans to emphasize: compassion, justice, mercy, solidarity, and love. I leave to God the task of judgment and the state of a person’s soul. I take the bible seriously, but not necessarily literally. I have deep, abiding respect for the long tradition of our faith, but I think there have been many, many mistakes. I find that too often I have to spend a lot of time explaining those mistakes to people who are not necessarily resistant to the view of God my faith espouses, but who are so damaged, so wary, so weary of the Christianity that judges and casts stones, they are hesitant to even think about trying church.

But here’s the rub. Mainline, liberal congregations across the country are struggling. There are myriad reasons for this and if you want to learn more, just pick up any issue of The Christian Century from the past ten years and you are likely to find at least one article about it. Our detractors say it is because we have polluted the gospel. We have acceded to the culture and abandoned Christ. I have written many times about my view of the gospel and I feel absolutely fine claiming that I follow Jesus. However, non-denominational mega churches, which often have a blood atonement theology, a charismatic preacher at the helm who dispenses advice masked as scripture, and a financial statement that can rival those of entire denominations, are thriving. Growth may be slowing down, but the communities are sticking. People are leaving traditional denominations and are going to these churches. For years, we educated and discerning Christians (to our own minds) joked that offering designer coffee and house bands would not be enough to keep people. We misjudged what it was that sent people to churches such as these. The truth is, non-denominational mega churches might be the future of Protestant Christianity. And while they are not for me, for a wide variety of reasons, I am not interested in badmouthing another part of the Body of Christ. Not for addressing what certain people want and need. I know I couldn’t do it, but I don’t deny that there is serious commitment to Christ that emerges in these communities. I don’t agree with their vision of Christ, oftentimes, but the discipleship is real. That’s important.

So, here’s the deal. All the people who said that they’d come back to church if denominations were open to the GLBT community; people who said they would be part of a thinking church, a church that allows for questions; people who said that they want to be able to be in a space where their experiences and even admiration of other religious traditions would be respected; all of those people who motivated so many of us to push within our denominations, to be vocal and visible in social justice fights, we need you. Now. We need you in order to help congregations that are aging, that are struggling financially because they are trying to upkeep ancient buildings. We need you–even if you don’t come to worship proper–to offer to work with us, to help us staff committees, throw community events, create spiritual spaces that are utilized and respected.

Because we could die. And maybe that needs to happen. Maybe our vision of the Gospel is not correct. I reject that claim with every fiber of my being, but I need people to understand the stakes. I have so many passionate, talented, spirit-filled friends who went to seminary, accrued major debt, and are tasked with leading aging and financially-challenged communities and we’re frightened about what we face. Most of us will never be full-time pastors.  For me, the fear is not monetary; it is the prospect that a community that has been continuous since 1860, that has pushed the boundaries and been vital to village life, might end. On my watch. It would be a loss, not just to the Church but to the community as well. I imagine that many of you reading this who do not live in Yellow Springs probably have a few churches in your area that fit this description.

This will be my last doom and gloom blog. I am focused on solutions. I am focused on community. But I wanted to be clear about what drives and motivates me, and what is at stake. I’m looking to try new things and to gather people together in ways that are authentic and meaningful, but also in line with the gospel that is at the center of my heart, sinner that I am.

36 thoughts on “What If They’re Right? A Progressive Pastor’s Fears Laid Bare

  1. Having children of my own has absolute changed its way I understand the relationship between us and “God the Father”. Children need boundaries and care. How much changes over time. If I just let my children do what they do, they would not survive…bit because they don’t want to, but because they were unaware of the consequences of their actions. And even when given insufficient boundaries, they find themselves in terrifying situations. I feel this is the disconnect between the progressive and the non-denominational mega church. The acknowledgement of the need for Grace implies that there are boundaries we have usurped. The mega-churches, rightly or wrongly, often give very clear boundaries. My experience has been that they make it abundantly clear in all that they do what grace is, why you need it and how to get it. But for those of us who have grown past that point have boundaries, but they are so ingrained in us, we may no longer recognize them. For a new or emerging Christian, Not defining those boundaries seems like setting then up for failure. (We and God know where they are but you have to figure this out on your own. Oh and the stuff in that book may or may not mean what it aays. Good luck.) I appreciate your call to those that left, but those people found somewhere else to be. If they truly lived as a child of God, they found another faith community. If they were looking for a way out, they found it. But here is the wonderful hope. God is bigger than all of us. And there is a ceiling for growth for individuals in the mega churches. So be their next step. If you need to get lost in the labels of the groups you are fighting for, you will exclude those who are afraid (and we are all afraid of something). We are all imperfect children of God whom He has given a seat at the table, Provide those who want to grow more a seat at a greatly enlarged table…just not one with place cards 🙂

    1. Yes, taking account of the wider reality of children and community makes a difference. The gospel is evidently about life together and reconciliation. People seem regularly to ignore this (the church representing and *being* God’s work in the world). On the right and the left it is very often about “rights” and people doing their own thing (ignoring the basic character of the gospel on life and relations – “we will think it out for ourselves and make our own way”). At the same time thoughtful people, considering where they can be and belong, are looking for community that has substance and loyalty enough to sustain direction and life in community, beyond the fads and whims of the moment. There are real weaknesses in the mega-churches (often “one man shows”) depending on current concerns and appeals; but the “revisionist” approach to Christian teaching is no less vulnerable to whimsy and uncertainty. It may be hard to acknowledge, but can it be that some of the evangelical churches and some of the mega churches have more focus on the long faithful Christian tradition and Christian teaching? How otherwise can we persevere or go on?

  2. As a pastor who is serving in a similar situation and share a similar theology, I hear ya, big time. I noticed one thing lacking in your post: evangelism. Many of the mega churches are good at it and many mainline churches are horrible at it. What is the progressive ethic and method of evangelism? How do the lay people in our churches authentically share the gospel message and hit the streets with a concentrated evangelism effort? Until we can answer that, I fear there won’t be much change. I have several co-progressive pastors who have an openly hostile stance toward evangelism. In that scenario, how can we ever expect those pastor’s churches to grow if they don’t even try?

    1. Outstanding question. I agree; I think evangelism is regarded as a four letter word in many progressive circles. For me, evangelism is entering into as many significant relationships with people as possible, and modeling for them the love of Christ. I encourage the congregation to do the same thing. But it isn’t splashy. It is easily-reducible to bullet points and easy answers. And, frankly, it might not be enough to match the allure of the mega churches that surround us.

  3. I am laity in the United Methodist Church. This is a very thoughtful piece and I appreciate it. I am pulled by the schism in the UMC due to differences in how we are to treat LGBT. I have also been a part of a couple of churches where the pastor’s agenda was more important than anything else and was the basis of the church’s conduct (with awful results). I personally believe that God loves all of us, warts and all. However, I believe churches are human-created institutions. We need to be careful about “false prophets.” Mega-churches are not for me, but I will note that often the majority or large followings are wrong, dead wrong in the German rejection of the confessing church if I remember. Also, I don’t think that “great numbers” of church membership is nearly as important as we often think; passion for Christ in His followers is more important. There were only 12 disciples but they spread the message across the world, no?

  4. I’m struck by your apeal to those whove said I’d join a congregation if such and such were the case. The reality is that those people aren’t returning to Christianity of any form. I personally know many of them . In my experience the issues whether of LGBTQ inclussion or social justice etc. weren’t the real issue. . What was at stake was a more fundamental ; faith (lack there of) and encounter with God ( either no experience of God or running from true encounter with God).
    I’m still trying to work this out but the situation you describe here I think is about a more global problem that White Anerican Protestant Christianity has. The “success” of the non-denominational mega church and the struggling mainline congregation, and those who’ve left and said if only church was like this I’d be there all are symptoms of an underlying ailment we continue to be unwilling to examine and treat. I’m still in search of a name . but it does seem linked to me. There’s simething underlying all this we have yet to face squarely and head on.

    1. Interesting. I don’t disagree, but I don’t think you’re full on point. There are people who were waiting for certain things to happen in terms of polity; I’ve seen it. I speak to people like that frequently. So, my experience belies that aspect of your argument. HOWEVER, you are spot on in terms of needing to address the real underlying issues. I don’t know if it is that we’re unwilling to address it. I think we are just at a loss regarding what it is. In that regard, I agree completely. My answer is to enter into as many relationships as possible without an agenda. I don’t wish to proselytize, I just want to help build community. Granted, my context is very unusual. I’m a Progressive Christian in a progressive village. There are lots of options here. Convincing people to try church is a big ask, but one I am committed to pursuing. Thanks for weighing in.

  5. “So, here’s the deal. All the people who said that they’d come back to church if [conditions], we need you. Now.” The thing is, I’m not sure that many people said those things. I think what they said was that they were *leaving* because we couldn’t keep up with where they were socially, politically, religiously, not that they would come back if we changed. In the experience of my peers, they left the church, and left Christianity behind entirely, opting instead for Western Progressive Buddhism, hiking, technology, yoga, or renovating houses.

    I think the reality is quite simply more sobering: progressive people who actually value participation in church communities are probably already here. And we might not have the critical mass.

    (ps, I also was not raised in the church, but in a fiercely anti-religious household. I came into the church through a decade long struggle in my 20’s and am now a priest in The Episcopal Church)

    1. HI, Father Chris. Perhaps. My context is a bit different than most, so I have had dozens of conversations with people who said exactly as I report in my post. But your larger point holds. We may have critical mass now. If that’s the case, there will be some major changes facing congregations like mine. I’m essentially a building superintendent. Sounds harsh, but that’s what gets the attention and money.

      The whole thing makes me question my call; I’m essentially in financial ruin as a result of seminary and the fact the church has me as an “independent contractor.” Maybe this is what is going to happen? We do ministry in different ways. I dunno. I’m pretty despondent about the whole thing today, as I just learned my Tex burden is going to push me toward bankruptcy. Probably not the best mood to being optimistic about the future.

      1. I suspect we’re in pretty similar situations, actually. The buildings are expensive, the staff is expensive, my salary is expensive and so is my student loan debt service. When I posted your article on facebook, I had a few people say, basically, “I love Jesus and read the Bible daily, but I’d never come back to church. Too much drama.” And so there you go. We’ve got to the point where church seems like it’s optional to one’s spiritual life, and so why on earth would any sane person choose it, and especially choose to support it?

        I’m absolutely convinced that the Gospel will flourish and that the Kingdom of Heaven will advance. I’m not convinced that all these mainline Protestant churches will make it. I’m almost certain that I won’t make it to retirement age as a full-time fully employed parish priest. We’ll just have to see.

      2. I’m at 18 hours per week, but work much more than that. They have me as an independent contractor, so my salary is low and I cover all the taxes while getting no benefits. I teach at the university level, and will return to that in the fall. However, my choice to pursue a D.Min rather than a PhD means that tenure-track positions are all but closed to me, despite my having three masters degrees.

        The gospel will survive, and that’s what matters. But the way we “do church” may not. It might be my job to close down a church that has been standing since 1860.

  6. I arrive on this site via a post to the Anglican site Fulcrum. I am new to this site. Using your terms I am what you would call a fundamentalist who believes in blood atonement, believes that the Bible rules out the ordination of women, that homosexuality is a sin like any other sin, that the greatest need of all people is to be delivered from the holy wrath and just condemnation of God, that God and Christ sincerely and genuinely invite all to submit to Christ in repentance, faith, love, obedience and fear, that God and Christ did say, are saying, will say all that the Bible declares, that God and Christ are both terrible and wonderful. Terrible in their holiness, righteousness, justice, wrath and honesty; wonderful in their grace, love, mercy, compassion, pity and kindness. I am committed to trying to face the strongest arguments from all sides and to encouraging others to face the strongest arguments from all sides. I have comments to make on this post but I don’t know whether it is appropriate to do so since I am not sure that anybody is committed to the kind of serious debate I would favour. But I will just say this: when you use the word ‘Jesus’ who are you talking about? Is he the one who said everything that the Bible claims, or did he say only some of it?

    Phil Almond

    1. Hi, Philip.

      I appreciate your comments. I’m a bit torn. I’m usually up for a discussion, but I’m just not in the mood today. I’m about to head off to Baltimore for my doctoral intensive, so my head is in another space.

      I hold three advanced degrees and I’m working on my terminal degree in the work of MLK. I teach Bible at a well-known Jesuit University, and I have thought through my theology very deeply. I don’t necessarily feel the need to defend it or justify it, as I have been doing that for the last ten years. I land where I land; I have no ill will toward those who disagree, but I certainly don’t think anyone could change my mind. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I have Jesus in my heart and all I do is in the name of advancing love.

      I believe that the gospels were written (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John) is a specific order; I ascribe to the 2 and 4 source theories. I believe that Paul knew nothing of the historical Jeus, and that his emphasis on blood atonement theology is not the only or even the correct way to understand the good news.

      At the end of the day, I’m looking to help create a space where people can encounter God in real and dynamic ways. I share my theology with others, always with the caveat that I do no expect them to agree with me. I do hope, though, we can agree on a few things that will allow us to go into the world and serve.

      1. Hi aaronsaari
        Thanks for replying so quickly. I perceive that you don’t want to be challenged. So I will not post again.
        Phil Almond

      2. Philip,

        Not at all. Believe me, I have no problem being challenged. I honestly don’t care if someone else agrees with me or not. I know that I’m a good pastor. I like theological discussions. You’re the one who put caveats on the conversation, and I just wanted to let you know in advance. I’m a bit distracted right now, am about to go on an intensive, and I might not respond quickly. It has nothing to do with not wanting to be challenged. I was just trying to be polite and respectful of what you requested. You’re free to ask me anything and I will answer as quickly and honestly as I can.

      3. Hi, Philip,

        I would really like a conversation, actually. I was in a mood yesterday. I had some bad financial news and was smarting. But you seem like a very intelligent, faithful person and it would be a blessing to exchange ideas. I am always open to new perspectives, and if nothing else I value conversations with people of faith and goodwill. Pleaser excuse my blithe attitude from yesterday. If you are still open to it, I would cherish the conversation you described. Mea culpa On not being more receptive earlier.

  7. The mainline church looks to the evangelical church and resents its growth. The evangelical church looks to the mainline church and resents its lack of backbone. (It’s funny that all of the cries of ‘justice’ on the mainline side sound indistinguishable from the secular left, while all the personal morality on the evangelical side sound indistinguishable from the secular left.) Both are deeply embedded in structures and patterns of thought that are already becoming obsolete. The large mainline church buildings largely empty now, were the ‘mega-churches’ of a prior generation, when late modernity craved a reasonable, academic, ‘cultured’, and socially acceptable faith tradition inside a largely “Judeo-Christian” world. The mega-church down the block is the counter ‘counter culture’ Christianity of the 1970’s, repurposing the artifacts of mass / popular culture to a clearly defined (and personally customized) faith. It is greying too as the boomers tilt toward retirement.

    Meanwhile, the church of the future is likely something completely new. It must include and integrate the children of immigrants (who are most likely Pentecostal if they are Christian). It must combine personal transformation (which means it has to define boundaries clearly) with community (defined by affinity not geography) accountability (people share their weight loss plans and progress with one another through their phones) and transcendence. There is no theological education set up to prepare Christian women and men for this church. It doesn’t exist yet. But it will.

    The leaders of this church won’t be academics with finely tuned theologies. I’m doubtful they will read the Christian Century. They will be liturgists, evangelists, and connectors. They will be planting churches in urban centers. They will have low overhead, high agility, and lots of trial and error.

    You have correctly discerned that your church is dying. It’s sad to read about your debt and your personal discouragement. My encouragement to you would be to connect with communities of Christians whose mission is broader than keeping buildings erect and denominational structures in place. Put your teaching gifts to use in a hodgepodge group of folks from across the theological spectrum who want personal and spiritual transformation for themselves and for the communities they live in. You didn’t go to school for the stable job. You went because you wanted to pursue a calling. Don’t settle for a chaplaincy inside a dying institution. Take some more risk (lose your life?) for the body of Christ.

    1. Beautiful. Thank you.

      I’m certainly open to what God has, and will follow Christ to my last breath. I didn’t go to seminary for the stable job, for sure, but the financial ruin is tough 🙂

      thanks again for your thoughtful, cogent, insightful, and on-point comment.

  8. Hi aaronsaari

    OK. I am willing to exchange views. I suggest we keep the discussion under review because there needs to be enough common ground and enough common knowledge to have a meaningful exchange and a meaningful challenge of each others convictions.

    As I have posted several times on Fulcrum:

    It is necessary to consider three closely related but distinct questions:
    Who are the Christians? What does each Christian believe? What are the truths of Christianity?
    On the assumption (amply supported by the New Testament) that God’s action on a person is necessary to make that person into a Christian, then whether a person is a Christian or not (question 1) is an objective fact, known to God. (How and whether that person can be sure he or she is an ‘objective fact’ Christian is a 4th. distinct question).
    Such a Christian who possesses the necessary and developed faculties will have beliefs and experiences. These, in each individual case, give the answer to question 2.
    The answers to question 3 are the essential objective revealed truths, true for God and true for us, which together make up the truth of Christianity as a whole. It is possible, because we may fall into sin in what we hold to be true or false as well as in moral matters, for an ‘objective fact’ Christian to believe things which are ruled out by the truths of Christianity and/or to reject some or all of the essential truths of Christianity. Conversely it is possible for someone to give merely intellectual assent to all the essential objective revealed truths of Christianity and not be an ‘objective fact’ Christian.

    I suggest we limit our discussion/disagreement to answers to question 3. I realise that you may want to disagree with what I have just said.

    Phil Almond

    1. HI, Philip,

      Agreed, I don’t want to waste your time, or engage in a discussion in which we speak past one another.

      I agree with the convention that God “must” (as much as we mortals can posit an ought to the divine) act upon a person in order for there to be a relationship. I confess that all relationships are initiated by God, but brought into fullness through the deliberate actions, thoughts, and confessions of the human person. In that regard, I think we agree.

      I am reminded of Karl Rahner’s positing of the “anonymous Christian,” who orients the self toward the doing of the gospel without confessing it. I shy from using the term Rahner’s coins, as it seems to be hegemonic and supercessionist, much like Mormons baptizing Jews in absentia, but agree with the basic consideration: a person may do the work of God without acceding to the faith confessions or even taking on the identity of a Christian. In reverse, I think it is possible to claim oneself as a Christian and behave in ways contrary to the gospel. This person is not outside the bounds of grace, at least in my understanding, but will most likely exist in a state of turmoil as a result of his of her actions.

      I apologize, the way the iPad WordPress is set up, I can’t read your post as I respond, so I’m trying to rely on my faulty memory.
      I will also add that my Christian faith very much emphasizes Jesus’ charges to us in this world, and I am not as concerned with the eschatological Christ of Paul. However, I do understand that it is part
      of our faith tradition and therefore must enter in at some point.
      of our

  9. Hi aaronsaari
    Please bear with me if I don’t respond very quickly as I am doing several other important things, as, no doubt, are we all!

    Phil Almond

    1. Understood! I’m taking off for Baltimore tonight and will be out of communication. No worries. We’ll both respond when we are able. Have a blessed day!

  10. Hi Aaronsaari

    Perhaps I can open the discussion with an obvious question:
    Among the most important things in the Bible (the 66 books) is the claim to record some of the past, present and future words and actions of God and Christ. To what extent do you agree that those claims are true: that is, God and Christ did say, are saying, will say those words and did do, are doing, will do those actions?

    Phil Almond

    1. What a great question.

      I hope you’ll indulge me. I have two answers. The first is from my vantage point as a trained biblical scholar. I adhere to the Four Document Theory, and I believe that Tanakh has undergone no fewer than two stages of editing, and then we account for various sources within the Nevi’im. As a scholar, I understand that mytho-poetic language oftentimes is not meant to be understood factually, but that does not mitigate the truth claims. I confess fully a theistic God who is intimately involved in community life. I am definitely influenced by liberal Protestant theology of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially Hauerwas, and I believe that individual personality is part and parcel of understand the imago dei.

      I am not a “red letter” Christian, in that I believe there are things ascribed to Christ that make more sense coming from the first or second generation of followers who were facing dire circumstances at the hand of Rome, and were dealing with internal Jewish battles. I am a resistant reader, as a scholar. And a heretic, perhaps, because I love many of the Nag Hammadi and Qumran texts. Also important to know about me is that my claim to fame is that I’m a Judas scholar. I came to faith after the suicide of my schizophrenic brother. My autobiography absolutely shapes my confession.

      As a believer? I place my hope in Christ and Christ alone; my life’s goal is to die to myself and be fully reborn in Christ. I believe that God’s greatest gift to us (outside of grace) is community. And it is to that that I give my greatest attention. I know that the Kingdom of God can only be used in by God; however, I follow Dr. King and Howard Thurman in a fanatical desire for the Beloved Community.

      I hope this doesn’t sound like hedging. I’m trying to be as honest as I can without slipping into lecture mode 🙂

  11. Hi aaronsaari
    Thanks for your answer. Do you believe that God and Christ said or did any of the things recorded in the Bible? If any – which?
    Phil Almond

    1. Sure. I can’t give an itemized list, that would take too long. I certainly confess the Abrahamic covenant, recognize Moses as God’s first prophet, and regard the ministries of all the Hebrew prophets as central to Christian faith. I confess Jesus as the Anointed of God and can provide a nuanced, but certainly not orthodox interpretation of the Apostle’s, Niceno-Constantinopolitan, and Chalcedonian creeds.

      I don’t agree with the idea that “it is either all true or none of it is true.” Again, I think far too many Christians are woefully lacking in an in-depth, historical education regarding the formation of both testaments. I readily admit that I am on the more liberal side; my first MA was earned under the tutelage of Dr. Art Dewey, a fellow of the Jesus Seminar. I don’t agree with everything that emerges from the JS, but I think the methodology is sound and that we are at least two levels removed from the historical Jesus when we confront the canonical texts. I respect the work of Raymond Brown and N.T. Wright, but I am much more aligned with Crossan, Borg, Pagels, Armstrong, and Brueggemann.

      But I take the gospel seriously and it is the foundation of my life. I am simply not an eschatological confessor. What happens after we die is largely unknown to me; I understand most of the myriad views set forth in scripture, but much of what we think about heaven/hell comes not from the Bible, but rather from Dante and Milton.

  12. Hi aaronsaari

    I note your ‘I certainly confess the Abrahamic covenant’.
    Genesis records the Lord (or his angel) speaking to Abraham in
    Gen 12:1-3; Gen 12:7; Gen 13:14-17; Gen 15; Gen 16: 8-12; Gen 17; Gen 18; Gen 22 ( I may have missed some).
    Did God say all these words, some of them (which?), none of them?

    Phil Almond

    1. You seem very concerned with asking me if God “really said” certain things; not a criticism, just something noteworthy. I’m only going to answer one or two more times before I’ll ask that we move on to something else.

      I return again to my notion that I am not concerned with verifying the literal, factual wording of each thing attributed to God. I don’t know if God said them; I was not there. Abraham did not write the accounts recorded in Genesis. I confess that faith requires us to accede and even affirm details about which we are never fully certain. I believe that Abram had such a powerful experience of God that it altered his existence in a fundamental way.

      Bruce Feiler has a very interesting book on Abraham; he, along with other scholars, argue that Abraham could be a composite of several different figures, or even a mythological figure meant to communicate a truth about God’s relationship with the Hebrew people, but not necessarily a living, breathing human person. There are all manner of stories about Abram recorded in the Talmud, written thousands of years after Abraham’s life, that animate and undergird the spiritual understanding of Jews. I don’t know if any of those texts are “factual,” but I would regard them as powerfully true.

  13. Yes
    As you probably realised, I have had similar debates over many years on the Anglican site Fulcrum (now not in the public domain) and often we get to this question of fact and truth. (I am not only very concerned about what God and Christ said I am very concerned about what they did, and what they will do and will say). I don’t think that we can quickly move away from this issue because it lies at the heart of our disagreement and mutual challenge. In answer to my question of May 6, 2.35 pm you replied ‘Sure. I can’t give an itemized list, that would take too long…..’. OK. But perhaps you can give some examples of what you believe God and Christ said and did (Ok – I should have ‘really said’ and ‘really did’) which are recorded in the Bible.

    Phil Almond

    1. Sure.

      Mark 3:31-35. Almost all of the parables (the exception will be passages in which “Jesus” interprets the parables). The story of the hemorrhaging woman. I believe that God is in the business of building community, and Jesus did so in radical, inclusive, challenging ways. You’ll find that most of my answers come down to the same thing: I follow Christ because I believe in community. I am a student of Howard Thurman, who argued that the gif of grace is community building.

  14. Hi aaronsaari
    Thanks for your reply I have a number of queries on your responses so far, but just on this post:
    Your reference to Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 5:25-34 suggests that here we have common ground. We agree that these things really happened, that they are facts, and that Jesus said the words attributed to him. Is that right? I wonder if we can explore whether this common ground can be extended. I have searched the Authorised Version for all occurrences of ‘parable’ and get the following (rough titles – sorry about that):

    Matthew 13:3-8 Parable of Sower 18-23 (explanation)
    Matthew 13:24-30 Wheat and weeds 36-43 (explanation)
    Matthew 13: 31-32 Mustard seed
    Matthew 13:33 Leaven
    Matthew 13:44 Treasure in Field
    Matthew 13:45 Beautiful pearls
    Matthew 13:47-48 net 49-50 (explanation)
    Matthew 15:10-11tradition of elders 16-20 (explanation)
    Matthew 21:33-44 wicked tenants (incl explanation)
    Matthew 22:1-13 No wedding garment

    Mark 3:23-27 How can Satan cast out Satan
    Mark 13:28-29 (and words before?) parable of fig-tree

    Luke 5:36-39 old new garment old new wine
    Luke 6:39-40 blind lead blind
    Luke 12:16-21 rich man barns
    Luke 12:29-41 wait for their Lord
    Luke 13:6-9 no fruit on the fig-tree
    Luke 14:7-14 take the lowest place, invite the cripples
    Luke 15:3-32 lost sheep, coin, prodigal
    Luke 18:1-8 unjust judge
    Luke 18:9-14 pharisee and publican
    Luke 19:11-27 talents

    John 10:1-6 good shepherd

    I wonder whether you can indicate those that, in your view, Jesus did not speak. I also add
    Luke 16:20-31 Dives and Lazarus (not a parable). I expect you to say that Jesus did not say that but I thought I would just ask

    Many thanks

    Phil Almond

    1. Meh. I haven’t added anything. I am simply following Jesus’ direction to love everybody.

      And people are not abandoning “me.” The church I pastor is doing just fine.

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