If you’ve read my profile, you may have noticed I’m currently enrolled in graduate studies in the field of theology. This means I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years learning the language of theological study. I want to say right here at the beginning of this blog that I’ve met a lot of wonderful people in my graduate program, and I’ve learned a lot of things that would have been hard for me to learn on my own. I’m very grateful to the people who have helped me in my studies.
I’m not a spring chicken, however, and I suppose it ‘s fair to say that my personal index of suspicion is fairly high with regard to theological claims. This is (I hope) a polite way of saying I’ve observed some fairly major flaws in the church doctrines I’ve been studying. Those who know me from grad school will know that I’m not particularly shy about speaking up when I see inconsistencies and lapses in logic. (I recall one interesting class when I was the lone voice of dissent against Augustine’s doctrine of original sin.) However, there seems to be a general, unspoken agreement, even at the university level in 2010, that theology students should not rock the doctrinal boat. I don’t know about you, but I honestly don’t know how the liberal Protestant church in Canada can survive if we’re afraid to look unflinchingly at the history of our very complicated theology.
So, like Luther posting his “95 Theses,” I’m going to gradually post some observations about the differences between what Jesus seems to have said, and what the church said he said. (I think there’s a big difference between the two.)
To reassure you that I’m not just making things up to suit my own hermeneutical perspective, I’ll try as much as possible to show references for my position. But you should probably know from the outset that, like all writers on the subject of theology, I have a strong personal position that influences my interpretation of developments in church doctrine. You might be able to guess what my position is if I tell you that my least favourite theologians are the apostle Paul, the early church theologian Tertullian, the highly influential Augustine of Hippo, and the early 12th century writer Anselm of Canterbury. I’m not too crazy about John Wesley, either.
(I’ve read some primary material from all these famous male theologians, which is how I know for sure I don’t like their teachings.)
Anyway, the first complaint I have is about redemption — as in, what the heck happened to Jesus’ message about redemption?
Redemption, as anyone will know who has experienced this life-altering transformative shift, is not the same as salvation or atonement. I’m so darned tired of hearing about salvation, and its bizarre cousin prolepsis, and I am so eager to hear a United Church of Canada minister tackle redemption head-on. This would require a bold statement to the effect that redemption is an experience of ongoing, present-day relationship with God. But redemption is doctrinally awkward because it clashes with the teachings of Paul, Augustine, and other orthodox Christian teachers on the matter of salvation.
What is redemption for me? It is the unstoppable tsunami of gratitude that overtakes your life when you finally, finally, finally let go of your pigheaded refusal to accept God’s love and forgiveness, and you’re finally able to trust yourself as a humble and worthy child of God, a child who is made in God’s image. That’s when the hard spiritual work begins.
I say this, of course, from painful personal experience. In my younger days, I was nothing if not pigheaded.
Another weird thing about redemption is that it seems to need the “yeast” of relationship with other people. Being with other people, sharing experiences with each other, growing deep roots of empathy — all these seem essential to the experience of redemption. It seems pretty much impossible for people to do it on their own without humble mentorship and guidance. (The founders of the Twelve-Step Program understood this clearly.)
What does redemption mean for you? Have you had a transformative spiritual experience that has forever altered your relationship with God in a positive way? Would you be willing to share this with a few friends you trust?
At the moment, mainstream Protestant Christians are not very comfortable with such sharing, but it’s very hard for anyone, even Christians who are “saved in Christ,” to stumble down the path of redemption without a helping hand from their fellow human beings.
I vote to restore redemption as a major spiritual pursuit for today’s Protestant Christians. If the United Church doesn’t want it, the Concinnates will take it! (I’ll have more on this in a future post.)