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In 1976 as a young bishop ordained to that office less than six months, I made my first trip to Israel. It was part of a three-stop tour designed to gain perspective on the role of religion in that Cold War world. I went first to Geneva, the headquarters of the Protestant World Council of …
30 April 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXV: The Book of Psalms
When I was a child I went with my mother from time to time to Chalmer’s Memorial ARP Church, the church in which she had grown up. Those letters “ARP” identified that church as belonging to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian tradition, an ultra-fundamentalist branch of the most rigid form of Calvinism. What was most unusual …
I lead two study groups that have covered several of your books, and we are currently reading The Sins of Scripture. I would like to know about your new book, Jesus for the Non-Religious. Both groups have expressed an interest in reading this book next, after we finish The Sins of Scripture in April. Both groups, mostly seniors, all life-long Christians and representing three denominations, have found The Sins of the Scripture fascinating, raising many questions and challenges. I think I've read all of your books, and I think this is your best. I have studied and taught theology for more than 40 years, but even I am learning things I did not know. Although I am mostly in complete agreement with your position (some of the group members are not so sure), it has been most exciting for me to see things in scripture I had not seen before. Or perhaps more accurately realized things are not there that I thought were.
Yesterday we were discussing the section on the Bible and Children. I was amazed at how little actual reference there is to hell, sin, guilt and punishment in the New Testament. All I could think of was the library at the college where I taught, which is filled with theological books about sin, salvation and redemption. You are making vast collections in theological libraries literally out of date. But as a process theologian I believe that every word that we utter is in a sense out of date by the time it s uttered as reality has changed in that split second. It was in process theology that I first met the ideas of a non-interventionist God and a Jesus who was human, albeit a very special human being. My faith journey has been a long, rich and very fruitful one, which I have tried to share as a religious educator with anyone who was interested. Thank you for the many years you have been doing the same in a much more public way. I just hope the church is listening, though as you point out from time to time it is a mixed reaction of relieved understanding for moving into the future and a fearful, defensive declaration of past beliefs. Thank you for saying we do not need to create the church of the future, just take steps toward helping that church to be a possibility. My little group yesterday found that very comforting.
23 April 2009: Why I Am Not a Unitarian
Some years ago, while I was delivering a series of Lenten lectures in St. Peter’s Church in Morristown, New Jersey, a lay woman asked me a pointed and provocative question: “How is what you say about Jesus different from what the Unitarians say?” Her question was not leveled as a charge, as it is so …
What is this about Jesus leaving the area entirely and going to India and all over the world (Aquarius Bible)? I keep hearing these stories about Jesus traveling all over the world and then he comes back to his home in Bethlehem or Galilee to do his ministry after his travels. Also, what are these stories about his childhood? Now that I am reading your book, I think the stories are false, and I have heard LOTs of stories. However, I would like to have your comments. The stories are always in the vein of miracles and other supernatural things that they say were attributed to him as a child. I don't think this is factual or history. May I have your comments? What about his being married to Mary Magdalene — the basis of The Da Vinci Code? Any credence in that?
16 April 2009: Life-Changing Moments in Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth, Minnesota, is a small city of less than 100,000 people at the southwestern corner of Lake Superior. It is known as one of the colder parts of America, receiving as it does those massive flows of Arctic air that sweep upon this nation out of Canada. Duluth is inhabited by hardy souls who are …
Do you believe churches would speak with lesser timidity against injustice if they were not beholden to the government for their tax-exempt status? I know some churches have spoken out on certain issues that have provoked an investigation by the IRS, and they fight to maintain their tax-exempt status. You have written about paying taxes and have listed several reasons why you are not offended at having to pay your tax. It seems that church buildings occupy some prime real estate and taxes, especially local taxes, would go to the systems that help the poor and needy, improve health care, education and so on. Isn't it time churches pulled their weight and cut the government apron strings of their tax-exempt status?
9 April 2009: Watching the Demise of a Great Institution
We are watching today the tragedy of the demise of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a sad spectacle, but hopefully not one that cannot be reversed. It is not of recent origin. There was a high-water mark for this church in the middle of the 20th century under the leadership of the great Pope …
I am 87 years old and first discovered your writings within the last ten years. I've read all your recent books — some twice — and find them challenging and inspiring, but I have a question. You frequently exhort your reader to "live life to the fullest," to "love wastefully," and "to be all you can be." There is clearly a distinction in your mind between "living life to the fullest" and "to be all you can be," but it is not obvious to me. In my mind they are pretty much the same. Can you explain how they differ (or direct me to a reference in your books that explains it)?
2 April 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXIV: The Book of Ruth
There are three books in the Hebrew Bible that are designated as “protest literature;” that is, they are all representative of a literary device used by an anonymous author to make a point, human or political, in a particular moment of history. The three books are Jonah, Job and Ruth. None of these books ever …
Thanks for your scholarship, which has opened my eyes to much about Jesus. I've read a number of your books and struggle to find the "hermeneutical key" that tells me how to decide what Jesus really said and did and what was read back into his life from later tradition. Do I turn to the Jesus Seminar people for that (The Five Gospels)? Or can you refer me to one of your books? I remember reading in your work that there's enough original/historical material in the gospels for one to find Jesus, but how do you know what's what?
Three books of the Bible, Jonah, Job and Ruth, are known as “protest literature.” We treated Jonah in the section of this study on the prophets. We turn now to Job and Ruth. To those outside the traditional religious circles, the Book of Job is probably the best known book in the Bible. It raises …
The Church of England apologized to Charles Darwin last fall, nearly 150 years after he published his most famous work, for its initial rejection of his theories. The church conceded that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin's ideas, and it called "anti-evolutionary fervour" an "indictment" of the Church.
The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin's views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching. The apology, which was written by the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, the Church's director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians in their response to Darwin's theory of natural selection repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo's astronomy in the 17th century. The statement read, "Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practice the old virtues of "faith seeking understanding" and hope that makes some amends."
Opposition to evolutionary theories is still "a litmus test of faithfulness" for some Christian movements, the Church admits. It says that such attitudes owe much to a fear of perceived threats to Christianity.
Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament as Christians organize the scriptures and it is the last voice to be heard in the Book of the Twelve as the Jews organize the scriptures. It will also be the last of the prophets to whom I will give major attention in this series. Of …
Thank you for the stimulation of your published works and weekly newsletter. My question concerns the pastoral care of those Christians who do not have the intellectual capacity or strength of character to tolerate the ambiguity of your message. Rightly or wrongly their "simple" faith sustains them and many would be fatally undermined should they be confronted by doubts concerning such issues as the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection. Is it right to leave their views unchallenged, or should gentle sensitivity necessitate a less direct approach? I am aware that I will appear patronizing in posing this question, but from your own pastoral experience how have you dealt with this matter?
It surprises me only that it was not first. New Jersey has a long history of supporting civil rights and equal rights of all its citizens, as well as opposing discrimination in any form. This state has, however, been a little slow in confronting its cultural homophobia. That is now about to end. One of …
I moved from being an atheist to a believer. I would never have been an atheist if I had paid more attention to the church I was raised in, the United Church of Canada. I saw Christianity negatively because of the bad example and message of the conservative churches. To be fair, though, my church should have presented its views better. When I investigated, I found that it was not just secularism applied compassionately, but there were theological roots to Liberal Christian beliefs contrary to what fundamentalists claim. I have since found that there are good and bad wings in the Lutheran, Catholic and Anglican churches. I wonder if it is fair to say that God does not ever intervene. I have heard of some things that defy logical explanation. On a modest point, my Dad almost died in February of 2005. Perhaps it was just the power of positive thinking, but after the United Church Hospital chaplain led a prayer, he improved and three weeks later I brought him home. He has since passed away but he got 17 more months of life. I saw in your records that you wrote an essay, "Why I am not a Unitarian." I tried unsuccessfully to retrieve that essay. Could you repeat it please?
5 March 2009: Titles, Paradigm Shifts and New Consciousness
Paul Tillich referred to it as “The Creativity of the Demonic.” It has long been my experience that conflict does not have to be destructive; it sometimes leads to new insights and even deep friendships. That lesson came back vividly to me recently when I found myself locked in an increasingly acrimonious argument with my …
Geoffrey Robinson, a Roman Catholic Bishop from Sydney, Australia, has published a book titled Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus. He scheduled a book tour of the U.S., and apparently the Vatican pressured bishops in America to threaten him into rescinding his planned trip. He declined to accede to their demand. Any comment? Also I wonder if he has any relationship to your gay bishop, Gene Robinson. My blessings on your superb work.
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