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From: Clive Norton [mailto:chnorton@bigpond.com]
Sent: Monday, 21 February 2011 12:35 PM
To: Undisclosed recipients
Subject: EXPLORATION "Happening Right Now"

 Dear friends and colleagues,

I have written an article for the Anglican Parish of Epping’s Parish Magazine for Feb-Mar 2011, please read it on

eppinganglicans.org.au < Parish Magazine for Feb-Mar 2011  < pages 10-11.

Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury 1961-1974, arranged with the historian Owen Chadwick to have full access to all his documents and notes so long as no biography was published while he was alive.  

My article begins with one of points unveiled by Owen Chadwick that in retirement Ramsey regretted not responding adequately to the theological revolution of the 1960s as expressed by Bp J A T Robinson’s 1963 book “Honest to God” and by similar scholars of that era, e.g. the Australian biologist and process theologian Charles Birch’s 1965 “Nature and God”.   

The Anglican Communion, other churches and religions have still not faced up to the implications of what came into clearer focus then.

Grace and Peace,  Clive HN

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“JESUS REDISCOVERED?” by Lloyd Geering, St Andrews Trust, 2010             A Review by Eric Stevenson

 The visit to Sydney next year of a grand old pioneer and brilliant scholar of progressive religion has prompted me to study this booklet which he has written as a summary of his three lectures on the above subject.  In fifty pages Professor Lloyd Geering presents a succinct statement of all the wisdom I need to support my decision to relinquish the antiquainted Christology still being promulgated to-day by most institutional churches. It has also provided me with a summary of all the material I need to reconstruct my portrait of a more credible Jesus of Nazareth.   With characteristic forthrightness, Professor Geering has presented a Jesus we have hardly ever known; he has documented the waning of orthodox Christian belief; and in its place he has described the emergence of a Christless Christianity.

  Surprisingly he reveals that this apparently new approach to a Christianity without Christ finds its origins among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, but only in the few decades immediately following his death.  (This was at a time before the church had the chance to make claims about a virgin birth and a physical resurrection, or elevate him to God’s right hand, or bestow upon him divine status, or credit him with miraculous feats in defiance of natural laws, or endow him with salvic powers.)   In doing so Lloyd has used the latest method of searching for the most reliable evidence about the historical figure on whom Christianity was founded.  Approximately two hundred independent world renowned scholars from differing disciplines, including Lloyd himself, came together in continuing convocation to form the Westar Institute which adopted this research methodology. 

 In the Institute’s Jesus Seminar, the scholars found that the truly human Jesus had been hidden under layer after layer of Christian fictions. The trip of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the shepherds in the fields and the three wise men were all stories that were created around the latter half of the first century in order “to satisfy growing theological interests”. Probably only an estimated 19% of sayings attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writers were thought to be authentic. The real Jesus was neither intentionally the founder of an institution nor was he divine. He was a Jewish sage whose one liners and stories about how to live were addressed to his fellow Jews, but which once memorialised, spoke universally to the human condition.

 The church itself largely created the portrait of the divine Christ which became frozen after the first two or three centuries of the Christian era. Nobody has yet found how the church began.  The studies lean towards the idea that it was the work of grieving followers of “the Way” who were endeavouring to find meaning in the tragic death of their charismatic friend by looking for predictions of his sacrificial life in their Jewish bible, the Torah.   Despite the fact that the Gospel record does not provide a substantially reliable account of who Jesus was and what he said and did, it has been possible to use it in conjunction with other ancient documents like the Didache and the Gospel of Thomas to describe what Lloyd calls “the footprints” and “voice prints” of the historical Jesus.  And although this has meant the discrediting of much of traditional Christian doctrine and the “decline of CHRISTianity” (note Lloyd’s capitals) it has provided a new foundation for Christian practice.

 Far from being a relentlessly deconstructionist approach to traditional religion, these studies acknowledge the fact that the passing away institutions of Christianity have shaped a whole civilization, given the world a Divinity which was and still is “an ultimate point of reference in terms of which all else is grasped” and helped people “practise their highest values” as Jesus must have done..   Lying deeply buried in cold orthodoxy however, the real essence of what inspired the first disciples has been sensitively unearthed.  This way of loving and being has been minimised by a misrepresentation of the life of Jesus whose words and actions have been masked by an ecclesiastical system.  This system was in many respects inconsistent with what Jesus said.  But. underneath the mythical framework, the essence has remained.  It is ready to be revived and reclaimed by those who are willing to attempt to do what Jesus taught without relying on divine help from an imaginatively created Christ figure to do it.  In conclusion, Lloyd Geering throws down the gauntlet to modern day followers of the Way whose task is to keep the mission of Jesus alive and to witness to unconditional love in human relationships which is what Jesus called the reign of God.

 .Eric is an Eremos member and Co-ordinator of the Centre for Progressive Religious Thought which is hosting Lloyd Geering as companion speaker with Dr. Greg Jenks at its next Regional Gathering in Sydney on Saturday, March 19. ($60.00 including lunch)  Enquiries  0405758116.                  

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  Looking for more meaningful words when you sing?

George Stuart, author of Singing a New Song lyrics, is offering new lyrics set to traditional church melodies written on the themes and/or texts of the Revised Common Lectionary readings.    These lyrics will be e-mailed each two months for the next year to any worship leader who wishes to ‘sign on’.    There are no obligations at all regarding this offer and there will be no copyright limitations regarding the lyrics for printing and copying or the creation of Power Point Presentations for public worship.  All you have to do is ‘sign on’ to receive further introductory information.  Please contact George on george.stuart@exemail.com.au as soon as you can to receive, during the first week in July, the first set of lyrics for the September and October lectionary readings.

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Doubts and Loves – What is Left of Christianity?

Richard Holloway (Cannongate Books, 2002) 

A review by our Librarian, Sharon Connor. 

This is the first book I have read by Richard Holloway, and his writing engaged my attention early on, so I will be following up some of his other titles now. My attention was caught in the preface, where he spoke of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, when the behaviour of some Anglican bishops, condemning homosexual behaviour, appalled him. He wondered how the religion that grew around the remembrance of Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, should have become the vehicle of such hatred and intolerance. Indeed, he says that ‘… I can now see that something profound happened to me during those hours that has radically altered my attitude to Christianity.’ 

His central theme is that Christianity today requires of us a ‘habit of action’, rather than holding on to a particular set of beliefs. In my progressive journey, I have found that the beliefs I once accepted as necessary are no longer important to the way I live my life, actions speaking louder than words. He discusses the resurrection, and suggests that the resurrection is best used as a sign that human transformation is possible, and I had not previously looked at it in that light. This idea has merit for me.  

I found the book easy to read and experienced many moments when his words resonated with me. Doubts and Loves looks at the essence of Jesus’ teachings and shows why they are so important to contemporary society. I would recommend it to you. 

Karen Armstrong, the author of A History of God, writes: ‘This is a sensitive, brave and inspiring book which responds honestly and with great intelligence to the religious dilemma of our times.’

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Stepping out with the Sacred:    Human Attempts to Engage the Divine

 “Val Webb is one of the most exciting Christian voices in the 21st Century. Brilliantly she penetrates beneath the surface of traditional religious formulations and discovers the power and purpose of words as having the ability to point to a realm of truth that words cannot finally capture.”  Bishop John Shelby Spong 

 Our doctor may be Muslim, our lawyer Jewish, our best friend Buddhist -- a plurality multiplied by global travel and politics.  In her previous book Like Catching Water in a Net, Val Webb discussed how humans have described the Divine. This book describes how humans have engaged the Divine across religions and centuries, through rituals, art, sacred places, language and song.  Webb includes her own experiences, both personal and observed through travel in many countries, drawing also on centuries of theology, literature and travel writing.  She meanders along winding trails, talks over the fence and drinks wine with a stranger, literally and figuratively, conscious that, to engage the Sacred-beyond-description, we need all the stories we can find, even if only to remind us of the distance still to go and the limitless (and sometimes unsuccessful) journey.  As a teacher of world religions and art and an artist herself, Webb creates a woven-together, reader-friendly, vividly-painted, theologically reflective whole – a masterful and engaging account.

 

CPRT(SYDNEY) LIBRARY           

Don't forget about the library books we have available to members  for borrowing. A few recent titles we have purchased are Don Cupitt's 'The Old Creed and the New', and J.S. Spong's 'Sins of Scripture' and 'Jesus for the Non-Religious'.

To contact the librarian, Sharon Conner, email CPRT at :  cprtfreedomtoexplore@yahoo.com.au 

 if you are interested in these or any other titles and your request will be forwarded to Sharon.

Sharon is happy to mail library books or tapes to you on request or can arrange a delivery to

one of our regular fortnightly meetings you may be attending.

Books/tapes can be borrowed for up to 4 weeks and can be renewed.

 

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Report on the COMMON DREAMS 2 CONFERENCE  - Melbourne  15-18th April 2010   by Guy Mallam

The Common Dreams 2 conference had as its theme 'Living the Progressive Dream' and explored how to put into practice many of the ideas expressed in Common Dreams 1 in Sydney three years ago.The conference was well attended and well organised. Strong speakers,exciting ideas, and audience participation were the order of each day.

 Gretta Vosper from Canada challenged us to live out those ideals we considered fundamental rather than pursue sterile dogma, and Fred Plumer from US reported on the strides  progressive religious thought has made in the US.  Fred also demonstrated a new range of books and materials  designed by the US Center for Progressive Religious Thought with progressive interpretations  for  use with children and in schools.

Val Webb, with her usual penetrating clarity, outlined a vision of how progressives  may engage with the divine. Outlines of newly evolving church and church experiences, and the challenges and joys  involved in this process were  were presented by Peter Kennedy from St Mary's in Exile in Brisbane, Francis Macnab from Melbourne and Margaret Mayman from NZ. All had heartwarming accounts of the successes experienced and barriers encountered in their evolutionary challenges to entrenched structures and outmodes ideas, but more particularly, they showed exciting visions for the future.

Greg Jenks from Brisbane drew attention to the exponential growth of Biblical material and commentaries ( mostly conservative) on the internet. Lloyd Geering from NZ spoke of how much of thinking and proclamation about Jesus in todays Churches is still pre- 1835! He and Greg Jenks also explained the Jesus Seminar and Westar Institute. Norman Habel from Adelaide explored if there was a green God amongst the grey texts if the Bible.

Those interested in interfaith relations and gender issues were well catered for. For those interested in the relationship between spirituality and psychology, Francis Macnab's comments and the presentation given by Ian Mavor from Gold Coast on Ken Wilber's Integral Spirituality were a challenge for wider exploration of spirituality.

Common Dreams 2 was an exhilarating and challenging experience and one which I hope many more will experience at the next Common Dreams CD3.

 

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 WHY I CAN NO LONGER SAY “THE NICENE CREED”

 by Noel Preston   (n.preston@griffith.edu.au)

 A personal preface:

 Now in retirement, and particularly preparing liturgy for the Baptism of my grand-children in recent years, I have come to a new crossroads in terms of saying what is authentic and believable. Though this is only a modest step, doubtless taken by many others, I baulked at the inclusion of the Nicene Creed in these baptismal rites and, instead, inserted a creedal statement of the United Church of Canada reproduced as a resource in Uniting in Worship. From time to time, in the Eucharist or on other liturgical occasions, the Creed is presented unquestioningly for me and my fellows to recite – no choice. Well I now stand mute on those occasions.

 Background:

 From the point of view of the prevailing bishops aligned with Rome and Constantinople, the Nicene Creed (originally adopted 325 C.E.., amended 381) was about stamping out heresy and creating an 'orthodoxy' which suited the religion they had constructed. The Nicene Creed was adopted in the face of the Arian controversy. Arius, a Libyan presbyter, had declared that although Jesus Christ was divine, God actually created him, and “there was when he was not”...This made Jesus less than the Father and contradicted the doctrine of the Trinity and so provoked a serious controversy. But Arius' view only reflects the diversity of teaching and belief about Jesus that characterised Christianity in its early centuries, stemming from the first century C.E. when there was division between the Jewish faction which did not attribute divinity to the rabbi from Nazareth and the Pauline faction which developed an elevated notion of the Christ as divine. Modern biblical scholarship has revived knowledge of this debate. Indeed, many scholars maintain the Nicene Creed confirmed the admission of Hellenistic philosophy to Christianity, a process which was necessary to break Christianity's ties with Judaism (as Adolf von Harnack argued).

 By the fourth century the time was ripe for a political settlement with the Roman Empire. The bishops who prevailed at Nicea were happy to be in league with Roman Imperialism, a far cry from the first century church. The 'heresy' they sought to eradicate can therefore be seen in another light – Rome's ecclesiastical and military need to stamp out elements which refused to submit to the Roman line. The Nicene Council, from this viewpoint (and it is generally so regarded by church historians), resulted in the imposition of universal (Catholic) dogma by an imperial ruler and politician rather than by consensus coming from within the body of the Church itself. Its theological legitimacy is questionable from the beginning.

 Furthermore, these early creeds were designed within a cosmological framework which is no longer accepted – the three tiered universe of a pre-evolution creation myth. The language of the creed with its allusions to “the resurrection of the dead” and Christ's “ascension”, “seated at the right hand of God” come from a worldview that predates contemporary science. Moreover, it reflects a theistic view of “God” rejected by many current theologians.

 Because of its longstanding acceptance in Christendom and the fact that it is generally acknowledged by the major Christian denominations, there is presently reluctance by church councils, synods and ecumenical gatherings to question the ancient creedal formulations. Some might even opine “Regardless of its words, the Nicene Creed represents what we Christians have in common”.  Others would be shocked to think that the theological essence of what Nicea was about i.e. Trinitarian Doctrine which contains an elevated view of the Divinity of Jesus the Christ, is being questioned.

 It is not only being questioned, but rejected. Nicea doesn't speak for me just as it doesn't speak for countless, thinking progressive Christians. It dangerously distorts the Jesus of the gospels and sounds like gobble-de-gook in a twenty-first century service of worship.

 An outline of my case: My disenchantment with the Nicene and Apostles' Creed is long-standing and parallels my journey to a non-theistic understanding of Christianity (detailed elsewhere, e.g. Beyond the Boundary, 2006). On this journey I have become increasingly sensitive to the words we use in liturgy, including the words of hymns couched in imagery of a pre-twentieth century worldview. But hymns don't bother me so much. Their music may redeem them and there has been a healthy movement across mainstream churches to more, modern, credible hymns anyway. Creeds are different. They say, presumably, what we actually believe and require a more, uncompromising, literal commitment. Indeed, in my youth, we extended the creedal exercise to catechism questions and answers which unmistakably defined what we believe, and bound co-religionists together. For understandable reasons (not just reasons of relevance) the catechism (and their definitive attempts to describe the indescribable) has disappeared in most denominations. It is time for changing the creeds if we are to have them at all. That said, the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds are but symptoms of many things that have to change if Christianity is to survive.

 Literally understood, the NC enshrines very questionable theology which I hazard to suggest is not really believed by a majority in the pews of my denomination. As instances, I cite the virgin birth, a substitutionary atonement theory, the second coming and even, perhaps, a literal bodily resurrection. Some of my theologically trained friends would counter: “I get by with these expressions by demythologising them without literally believing them”. I find that approach dishonest and an unnecessary stumbling block to a credible, contemporary representation of the gospels, to say nothing of the confusion it may set up for less theologically trained pew sitters.

 Of course, it is also an awareness of the political and social history of the Nicene Creed that discredits these words for many of us. They were given birth in the context of the Constantinian compromise which ushered in the era of Christendom.  Though now arguably redundant, that pact with the Roman Emperor led to a religion sometimes corrupt and an institution which served the objectives of imperialism and often became pre-occupied with its own maintenance rather than its mission, unrecognizable as an instrument of the Jesus story.

Which leads to the question as to whether “creeds” have been primarily instruments of control, inquisition and domination, instruments to sort out the sheep and the goats. Granted, in local church communities this may not seem to be the case in our day. But it still begs the question: what credible purpose do such creeds serve? Whatever the answer, they seem to send a subtle message about “faith”: it is more important what we believe than what we do. That, of course, is an unbiblical position which calls to mind the reported (and paraphrased) admonition of Jesus: “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but do not act on the things I say?”

 In what is often now called, the 'emerging church' the emphasis is on ' how we live rather than what we believe'. Of course we continue to have beliefs, but they may be fewer and emphasised less in a contemporary spirituality. Moreover, it seems that it is a time when we should 'live the questions' rather than always expect answers in church statements.

 A challenge to the Uniting Church in Australia (my denomination):

 I acknowledge that my non-theistic understanding is not necessarily mainstream UCA theology, but that is not a sufficient argument to support the UCA's embrace of the Nicene Creed. At the very least, it is timely for those giving leadership to the UCA's development of liturgy, discipleship and theology to embark on the task of composing a statement of faith that would be more helpful to twenty-first century worshippers. Inasmuch as the Nicene Creed was an attempt to teach an understanding of a Trinitarian God and a Divine/Human Jesus Christ it is time for more honesty about what is teachable these days on these matters. The answers (or further questions) will surely be very different from those decreed at Nicea centuries ago.

 This preliminary draft is offered to aid discussion. Distribute it as it is, if you are inclined. A fuller paper would incorporate more detailed scholarship including the sources listed in “Further Notes” below.

 

 Further Notes:

 1.     For a fuller discussion of the Arian controversy and its significance in evaluating questions of the “divinity of Jesus the Christ” - see John Robinson (1973) The Human Face of God SCM Press (especially p.109ff)

2.     For a lucid account of the context for the Nicene Creed, including a revealing quote from Bishop Eusebius, see Richard Holloway (2001) Doubts and Loves, Canongate, p. 172.

3.     “ On Saying the Christian Creeds with Honesty” is the title of ch.1 of Bishop Spong's Why Christianity Must Change or Die (see especially pps.18-19)

4.     My own rejection of “creedalism” is briefly documented in my chapter of Peter Kennedy: the Man who threatened Rome (pps.166-167)

5.     Similar critiques may be made of the other creeds and statements of faith that come from the era of Christendom. E.g. the origin of the Apostles' Creeds seems obscure. Catholic tradition has at times attributed this statement to the original Twelve. Today scholars are more inclined to the view that this creed emerged centuries later to summarise Catholic doctrine and as a baptismal confession in the churches of Rome.

6.     Gretta Vosper (With or Without God 2008, Harper) has an informative analysis of the role of creeds and a discussion of attempts by the United Church of Canada to update creeds. See pp 91-102.

7.     Rather than insisting on orthodox answers about matters of belief, living the questions would seem to represent a more authentic spirituality for our times. Recall the lines of Ranier Maria Rilke (see P Millar, 2003, Finding Hope Again, Canterbury Press, p.13)