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29 October 2009: The Origins of the New Testament, Part IV: The Oral Period
Where did the story of Jesus reside in that dark tunnel of time where no records exist? That tunnel began with the crucifixion in 30 CE and lasted until Paul wrote his first epistle to the Thessalonians in about 51 CE. From those silent years we have nothing that has survived in writing. From the …
Mary Heins of Indianapolis, Indiana, writes:
As I read your description of the conference held in Porthmadog ("Wales: Where Visions of a Christian Future Are Being Born," June 25, 2009), I wondered if any mention was made of prayer. Do post-Christians, agnostics or even atheists pray? Is there acknowledgement of a higher being, perhaps a creator, a mind or consciousness? Prayer seems like such an important part of your life as well as many traditional Christians. The God I pray to these days is Spirit, the Spirit within which we live, move and have our being. This Spirit permeates all created life; it births life but also allows death, which is the passageway to the pure Spirit. Spirit is not all powerful, but is rather a guide, a way leading us. Spirit does not control natural forces of wind and water, etc., but I do not know Spirit's relationship to these elements. Clearly, this "image" is of my own conjuring, drawing from various sources, but for the purpose of directing, focusing and attaching my spiritual longings to "Another." What or who is the object of my prayer, if any, for such as those you describe in the Wales conference?
22 October 2009: Honesty and Dishonesty in the Health Care Debate
The debate on reforming health care in the United States seems to be winding toward a final decision. This debate has revealed new depths of irrationality, dishonesty and anger in political discourse. I recognize that the reform of our health care system is threatening to many, but there is no rational person who believes it …
MiddleAgedMama, via the Internet, writes:
I was raised as a Roman Catholic, but I left the church long ago and have never found another that suited me. My partner remains a Catholic, and when we adopted our children I agreed to raise them in that religion. Now the older child is six years old and is signed up for religious instruction in preparation for her First Communion, and I find myself wondering how to respond to the learning and questions she will undoubtedly bring home from her classes. When they teach her about the literal virgin birth of Christ, or the resurrection, or prayer, or God, or just about anything I remember from my own instruction, what do I say (if anything)? I don't want to undermine her instructors, but I also want to plant the seeds of the concept that faith cannot be opposed to knowledge. She recently asked who "the first person" was, and I could not honestly answer "Adam," as her teacher would no doubt say. What do you say to your own grandchildren about religion?
15 October 2009: A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!
Visitors: Read in full here I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. …
John Compere from Baird, Texas, writes:
My wife and I recently retired and relocated from metropolitan to rural Texas. As independent thinking, mainstream Protestants, we have encountered a "theology" in some of the small fundamentalist churches with which we are not familiar. Jesus is believed to be God and is worshipped as God (i.e. not the son of God, or a person with the presence of God.) The Bible reference usually provided is "I and the Father are one" John 10:30. However, it is our understanding that the Greek "one" is neuter, meaning one in essence or nature, not one person or being. We would appreciate your comment on the origin of this "theology" and its scriptural basis, if any.
8 October 2009: An Evening of Beer and Theology — A Lutheran Experience
With this description, the Rev. Dawn Hutchings, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in New Market, Ontario, invited members of her congregation and any interested people in the community at large to join her at this congregation’s regular Monday night feature. This activity would not take place in the church, however, but in the second-floor …
Carter Sinclair, via the Internet, writes:
We were having a discussion at church last night about theism and worship. How is the Eucharist relevant if theism is taken away, or more appropriately, how can our Episcopal liturgy and worship change to reflect the loss of theism?
1 October 2009: The Origins of the New Testament, Part III: Placing the New Testament Onto the Grid of History
The books of the New Testament did not drop from heaven, fully written, in the King James Version! Yes, that is a caricature, but it still has a tenacious hold on the minds of many Christians. This conviction guarantees that current, competent biblical scholarship will always be a source of much controversy in traditional religious …
Robert Fujimura of Omaha, Nebraska, writes:
A book I read on acupuncture claimed Taoism has five gods, which were translated into English as five spirits. I was surprised and asked some Chinese and Japanese people about this and found out that in their worldview gods are spirits. I am interested in making Christianity into a national religion by having only the New Testament in the Bible with the Old Testament being relegated to being an appendix. The emphasis should be on the love and grace of Jesus. What do you think?
24 September 2009: The Origins of the New Testament, Part II: Dating the Jesus of History
In order to understand the New Testament with any real integrity, it must be placed into its historic setting. The events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth did not happen in a vacuum, nor are these events history as history is now defined. Not only was Jesus born in, shaped by and interpreted through …
Bruce Wilson from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, writes:
I am deeply troubled. I cannot picture God, a supreme Santa Claus, who lives above the sky. I cannot see this as a male entity, as a judge, as a creator of all the universe. This image of a jealous, angry and vengeful entity is repugnant to me. This leaves me with no one to pray to, no one to give me spiritual comfort, no one to love me unconditionally (except my dog). Why do you keep referring to a God when, over the many years that I have read your books and weekly bulletins, you have said the very things about this entity that I quote above?
17 September 2009: The Origins of the New Testament, Part I: Introduction
I launch today a series of columns that will appear regularly over the next twelve to eighteen months. As I always do in this column, this series will augment the essays that are time sensitive and that seek to illumine contemporary issues through my theological lens. Last week’s column on the health care debate is …
Deb McCollister from Nebraska writes:
Militant fundamentalism in any family of faith seems to threaten our world. Readers of your newsletter are aware of Christian scholars who examine long-held assumptions. Can you tell us about penetrating scholarship in other faith walks, study that examines history while seeking meaning and deeper truths?
10 September 2009: Seeking to Understand the Rhetoric of the Health Reform Debate
I went to my local post office in New Jersey last week only to be confronted by a group of demonstrators who had set up a table filled with pamphlets and information about the communist plot to take over health care in America. Several slogans were quite visible on their posters. One said “Stop Socialist …
3 September 2009: The Study of Life, Part 6: Rethinking Basic Christian Concepts in the Light of Charles Darwin
As I retraced Charles Darwin’s steps through the Galapagos Islands, I contemplated anew his impact on traditional Christian thinking. I had been working intensively on Darwin for about three years in preparation for my book on eternal life. Darwin, more than anyone else, had shaken the foundations of belief in eternal life by defining human …
Karen Hutton from Pleasantville, California, writes:
Is there any purpose in staying a member of a traditional Christian Church if you no longer believe the things the church regards as its core beliefs? Why have you stayed with your church, given your criticisms of many of the basic aspects of Christianity?
27 August 2009: The Study of Life, Part 5: Galapagos II — My Search for the Meaning of Life as I Walked in Darwin’s Footsteps
In the preparation required to write my new book on eternal life, I soon discovered that this subject raised all of the contemporary theological issues that threaten to destroy Christianity as we have known it. It was clear that I would have to turn the traditional religious approach around. I had to read the modern …
Hans Jørgen Danielsen from Norway writes:
With great enthusiasm I've just finished your book Jesus for the Non-Religious. Among your other writings, your continuous search and consistent campaign in this book for a new reformation within the Christian Church is truly among the deepest and most honest I have come across!
You touch a string deep within me. For years I have questioned the path Christianity has taken — a path that leads nowhere. While "everybody" sees it, they keep these things to themselves, not daring to speak up. The clergy look elsewhere — towards scripture and the "immortal" dogmas. They flee a situation because they don't want to get involved in it. Instead their stubborn attitude just reinforces a situation that gives no answers to the ever-increasing gap between knowledge and religious dogmas.
We see signs of Christian fundamentalism in certain circles in the United States, where a movement presented by Philip Johnson has launched the "wedge of truth" strategy, a wedge that is supposed to be forced through all new discoveries in evolution or in astronomy. This wedge is supposed to break up our acceptance to new findings by pointing to the ever-important Bible. This is no less than religious despotism! By cutting out humanity's quest for knowledge, we cut out what it means to be human beings. Evolution will never end. Humankind will develop further into something we don't see today. And we shall all disappear someday — either self-conflicted or through earthly conditions being too harsh on us.
Christian dogmas have historically limited the human quest. No better can we witness this by studying the enlightenment that followed the middle ages. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo — they all went forward against the oppression from the Church, facing grave consequences. For Kepler this meant he had to abandon his astronomical studies, having been ordered to return to the university in T
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