I have recently decided that universalist Christianity is the only coherent Christian theological system, as far as I can tell. However, something that bothers me is that Christians, even the most well-meaning ones, have got it wrong once again, just like it has so many times before (e.g. pre-Reformation RCC). It is hard to follow a religion when it seems to be screwing its doctrines up all the time. One would think that if Christian theology is true, then would have a better track record. What are others thoughts on this?
You raise a very good point - but if you look at Israel’s track record in the OT then there is a precedent for the ‘Elect’ or ‘Chosen ones’ taking the sacred duty of being exemplars of God’s character and will for living to the ‘Not chosen ones’ and turning it into a club which can only be joined by following a prescribed set of rules (or doctrinal statements in the case of the latter).
In the case of Christian denominations (Freudian slip or what! - I originally mistyped denominations as demoninations ) although they pay lip service to the fact that they are ‘forgiven not perfect’ it seems to me a lot of them don’t operate as if that statement is true. In the book of Romans Paul spends just about the whole of chapter 4 expounding on the fact that when a person is justified by faith God imputes righteousness to them; they don’t really become righteous at that point therefore the carnal nature will still show through. That’s why through the whole of the bible the majority of the Elect seem to be prone to this self-righteousness and so God has to call out a faithful remnant from these people to truly carry out His purpose. These are the ones who progress beyond justification (passover) and on to sanctification (pentecost) through to glorification (tabernacles).
At the end of the day most people just can’t believe how wastefully and extravegantly the agape love of God operates.
In case you didn’t know I am at best an agnostic at worst an atheist and yet it is this extravegant and unrelenting love on which I am pinning my hopes for the future (certainly not pinning it on my ability to believe).
It’s a pretty widespread and complex set of doctrines. (Also a pretty widespread and complex set of data!) Not surprising that people have trouble sussing it out, and that even among Christians there are disputes as to which ones are correct or to what degree or in what ways.
The Systematic Index of Roman Catholic Dogmatic and Moral Matters runs around 35 pages of 9 point double-columned text; as I happen to have it in arm’s reach at the moment. (Quite firmly against universalism of any kind, too, btw.) This is with the doctrines stated as simply as possible, although there’s also some topical overlap between sections (as might be expected).
I’m actually not following you here. Are you suggesting something like the following:
a) If Christianity were true, then Christians would not make major theological mistakes
b) Christians do make major theological mistakes
c) Therefore, Christianty is false
- is that what you’re suggesting??
I dispute premise a. I don’t see why that should be assumed at all. Similarly, one could say something like:
a) If science were a legitimate method of discovering empirical truths then scientists would not make major mistakes
b) Scientists do make major mistakes (e.g. the “known” age of the earth has changed several times – for the record, I’m an evolutionist who accepts an old earth…)
c) Therefore, science is false.
Of course, a and c are wrong in this set, just as they are in the first set.
I was actually thinking about Ancient Israel when I was thinking about how I would answer my OP. I would have pointed out that Israel had a tendency to fall into sin, get redeemed, fall into sin again, get redeemed, etc. So there is precedent for God’s people screwing up over and over again, if that can be any consolation to modern day believers.
On a related note, I really don’t see this “imputed righteousness” in Christians when compared with non-Christians. It seems to me that people who desire to be righteous are righteous, and those who don’t, aren’t, irrespective of their faith in Jesus. How can we account for this fact biblically when it seems that the Bible seems to teach that righteousness is only truly imparted to those who believe?
It’s something that everyone wants to believe, but many can’t for one reason or another. For most Christians the reason is deeply entrenched traditions.
I used to think that there was overwhelming hard evidence in favor of Christianity, but I am no longer certain this is the case. I am no longer certain that the evidence I have warrants a belief in a deity that is directly involved in his Creation. At the least, the evidence doesn’t seem compelling, and I really wish it were. Issues within theology, like the ones discussed in this thread, only exacerbate the problem, making it harder to believe. But I want to believe, so I do.
It’s more that I am discouraged by it, not that it proves Christianity false. It seems that Christianity theology is no different from other theologies in this regard, just as it seems that the righteousness of Christians seems to be little different from the righteousness of non-Christians. This is very discouraging for someone who desires to believe in Christianity. If there is nothing to set Christianity apart from other religions, then perhaps we should become agnostics like Jeff. I really desire to believe, but there is this seemingly competing desire for intellectual honesty and a desire for things to make sense.
I will say that I am impressed in my personal experience with those who have been ‘born again’. From those who were formerly rich snobs (who became humble servants) to ‘down and outers’ who have come off of drugs/alcoholism/depression/whatever and have been absolutely transformed (and it lasts - I’ve interacted/observed some of these folks for over 30 years). I guess this may also happen in different belief systems (?) but I haven’t been personally exposed to that.
I do get your point though - especially with a lot of leaders being caught doing dirty deeds. I see a high standard of morality in many unbelievers - just not the transformations I’ve seen in the Jesus based testimonies.
As far as “seemingly competing desire for intellectual honesty and a desire for things to make sense” there is absolutely no reason for an understanding of God and intellectual honesty to be mutually exclusive things. I will say that I had to leave mainstream Christianity to remain intellectually honest given all the myth and fable which it adheres to including an incomprehensible trinity doctrine.
I would say the Bible doesn’t teach this. The word that has been translated “imputed” only means “accounted” or “reckoned up”. So, to give one of the chief examples, God didn’t “impute” righteousness to Abraham due to Abraham’s faith. God rightly judged Abraham to be righteous.
Insofar as “righteousness” is “imputed”, in the sense that the defenders of “imputation” tend to mean, even those defenders have to acknowledge that this happens to people who do not in fact believe yet. The Holy Spirit works in all of us toward that goal. (Or the Calvs might say not in all of us toward that goal, but even in the case of the ‘elect’ the people didn’t start off that way.) “Believers” have no intrinsic advantage over “non-believers” in this sense, because we are all non-believers and even outright sinners. But even among those who (as St. Paul says) do not know the Law, the Spirit works within them so that they will be condemned or defended by their conscience according to what they do know internally of the Spirit behind the law. (i.e. they themselves become a law.)
Yet again, while there is some dispute here on the boards about whether the goats are evil Christians in the judgment of the sheep and the goats (I think I’m with the local majority in this case, contextually interpreting them as lazy and/or uncharitable “Christians”), pretty much all of us recognize that the sheep are non-Christians, or anyway they’re surprised to find out that Jesus is the final judge after all. Their responses wouldn’t make sense if the sheep were Christians to begin with! (Or the goats non-Christians, I would say. )
And yet again: the beatitudes promise (much as you yourself pointed out) that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be filled. One who is filled with righteousness will be pure of heart (which ought to be obvious enough, though some people would need a prooftext for that I guess. ) The pure in heart shall be seeing God. Doctrinal belief isn’t a pre-requisite for any of this. (Nor for that promise that all those who sorrow shall be comforted.)
It would be kind of ridiculous anyway for faith (in the sense of correct doctrinal belief) to be only truly given to those who believe! But, as is often the case, the problem isn’t with scriptural testimony so much as with faulty interpretation and teaching. (Scriptural testimony has problems, too, sometimes.)
Fortunately, faulty interpretation and teaching in itself isn’t necessarily a sin. (Despite what some interpreters and teachers insist otherwise. Insert irony here as applicable. ) As might have been expected, though, laziness and uncharity (which are sins) are likely to lead to faulty interpretation and teaching. Are Christians especially immune to laziness and uncharity? Not according to the Bible!–otherwise authors (and Jesus by report) wouldn’t be warning their more-or-less Christian audience about laziness and uncharity. (Often in hellishly zorchy terms, especially from Jesus.)
So the situation is at least a little better than you’d gathered.
First off, Christianity is about (ok ok – my version!) the victory of God through the Christ; and much less about the perfection of it’s adherents. You are however in good company on this site when you say that Christians all too often miss even this huge target and turn Christianity into a club with entrance requirements. So IF one’s eyes are upon Christianity, instead of upon the Christ Himself, there will inevitably be disappointment. Just so we don’t confuse disappointment with God and disappointment with Christians.
Further, I think it’s quite important to recognize that these categories which we feel are so important and relevant, are our own – and likely not God’s at all. Categories like Christian, atheist, religious, and well, just about everything. This strikes home to me very hard this week as I rally around a dear friend in a severe crisis (I mentioned him in the “Prayer” section) with another partner of mine who is an avowed Atheist. A more tender and compassion heart does not exist to my knowledge than that of this man; and I tell him to his face that God lives and moves within him – and he’s neither offended or alarmed; he just goes on treating people as if with the very heart of our Christ. He just shrugs and tells me he’s just doing what is right.
I’ll tell you Muhd; I don’t like to talk like this too much, but I have often entertained the idea that God is, in fact, on a long holiday – and He has left we claimers of His name to fend and figure it all out for ourselves. So He asks you, and me, and the Atheist who seems willing to listen (like the friend I mentioned, and our own Jeff A here, and so many others) to live AS IF there is a God of love and compassion and extravagant salvation (kinda like Jesus) and He’ll come back eventually.
So let me suggest this: theory is NOT where it is at – though heaven knows I do love the theory and discussing it. He seems to want lives – and living – to Him; not so much theory.
I don’t know you at all (yet) Muhd, but here’s a bit (consider this too a self pep-talk for me!) of advice; expect those around you to disappoint – and let it remind you where your eye’s should be. On the Christ. Uniformity of belief and confession is a chimera I think: strive simply for Unity in the Lord who calls us to a practice of love that allows one to see the Christ through us.
I really don’t mind at all that it is Christians (though I wish, as a group, we did better) who discourage you; it’s not about them anyway. And the God we worship has vowed to bring us all home eventually, so that end is where our efforts are to be focussed. I really don’t see at all in scripture a call to doctrinal and theoretical uniformity: I see a call to faithfulness to a person; the very Son of God Himself. The Christ who will effect Universal Restoration.
But the bible doesn’t teach that. It says that there are plenty of righteous people who are not part of the Righteous Peoples Club. In fact, just about the biggest theme of Jesus’ ministry was exposing the unrighteousness of the people within the Righteous Peoples Club and exposing the righteousness (or at the very least the hunger thereof) of those on the outside, the scandalous, the lowlifes, the drug addicts, the prostitutes. Those who don’t even think very much of themselves but just long for love and feel that it’s the most valuable thing there is.
I have a poem I wrote years ago that illustrates this point (still not sure what to call it?):
*4 / 27 / 03
I saw one the other day, trying to keep his feelings at bay, a wall to stop the ocean of tears from flooding in chaotic emotion.
While we hate and hit within our comfort zone, trying to keep, oh, trying to keep ourselves on the throne while trying to praise His sacred Name. It’s not a game, I try to scream, but nothing comes out, like in a dream. All I can do is stare and cry while people die, I don’t know why, I don’t know why it’s all the same, cutting ourselves needlessly with our processed words and commercialized cliches and pixellized images of holy truths, the most harmful mockeries right within His very servants. All the while, calloused hearts grown unused to tenderness,
While their tears beat the door down in utter helplessness, their hearts are wicked, but they’re willing to confess, and give their best
While we cover the scars in Sunday vests, just doing our best, our very best to keep love from bursting at the seams to flow, stream down concrete streets, arrow-straight for their hearts’ strongholds–
All 'cause we’re afraid of losing control.
So who will be judged the more thirsty for righteousness?*
Anyways, Jesus recruited a group of fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes and made his own counter-culture which turned the world of that day upside-down. They had a new righteousness of life and love and pure kindness and gentleness and joy and peace, a righteousness that the Righteous Peoples Club hated and tried to kill completely, but couldn’t.
And then within a few generations this group was trampled by people who came in and tried to make them slaves again to heirarchy and legalism and asceticism. Just as the Jews, whom were unused to this new form of righteousness, lapsed back again into the religions and practices of this world’s system, not used to being free but familiar with being slaves, so the newly converted Greeks and pagans fell back into what they were familiar with, only changed slightly in form - various forms of gnosticism, and hierarchy.
It is up to us to live for, to begin again, to flow in the stream of this revolution, this new freedom. I don’t think it’s so much our task to ask why they allowed themselves to be seduced by this world’s spirit, but to simply break through it now and free ourselves from its strangling hold.
And then, perhaps, we will see why. But the question comes down to this - do we really want it?
I think this is the supreme test of our souls, and it can only be passed by understanding God’s ultimate desire and purpose in regards to all of this.
I think there are a few of us who do this here (would you agree Jason?)
Stellar - good words.
Pretty much, yep.
Good comments from TV and SR both.
Thank you all for your replies, they are very helpful. I think it is interesting how when one’s view is that an individual either goes to eternal life or eternal damnation at death, there is a great desire to determine exactly who is going where, and what the criteria is for determining who goes where. In traditional evangelical circles this criteria is correct doctrinal belief about the central dogmas of the Christian faith.
I have only recently started to realize how damaging this perspective really is.
About those who are pure in heart/thirsty for righteousness being those who attain righteousness, I can’t believe that I didn’t connect the dots on that one. There is also the part where Jesus says those who seek shall find, etc.
It seems that ECT is a primary motivator for much of traditional theology, and the rejection of ECT opens up a number of avenues of thought that were previously closed. Lots of rethinking needs to be done.
Glad we can be of some help to you. The older I get the more I realize the truth of the fact that we are all stumbling around fairly perplexed at the whys and wherefores of this existence (we see through a glass darkly as Paul says). One of the curses of humanity is to have a sense of this thing called ‘the future’ and to know that one day we too WILL die. We can’t imagine not existing (though as I have said previously - before I was born I didn’t exist so what’s the big deal about being dead?). Speculation on this post-mortem state leads us to questions of eternal states and rewards and punishments (much like the Egyptians and the Greeks as it happens).
I see the God question as similar to the question of whether the universe is open or closed - it seems to be near the balance point. God, if He exists, does not impinge very greatly (directly) in many peoples lives at all so they hedge their bets with religions (as someone once said - ‘nothing masks the face of God like religion’). However, The Christian scriptures give some good indications of what the priority is - Reverencing this particular God and service to others (by loving them so much you automatically render them service). Holocausts of bulls, solemn festivals and New Moon feasts He doesn’t want - but to do good and look after the disadvantaged. If you want to gain life you must lose it (die to self). Those endlessly worrying about and trying to guarantee their eternal safety, it seems, are missing the entire point and pushing themselves further and further back down the queue (that’s not to say they won’t get in - just after all those heinious sinners).
Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Every hour spent in philosophical or exegetical debate about whether life and torment are both eternal or whether annihilation is more consistent with the character of God etc… etc… etc…is an hour not spent loving one’s neighbour or making someone elses life better - and an hour that we won’t get back in order to be more loving (look at how much time I’ve wasted on this post ).
This was brought home to me forcibly the other day when an incident that happened to me in my lunch break brought me up short. It brought me face to face with the real me - the me who would have much rathered I hadn’t walked into the incident - which had me wrangling with my own conscience when someone plainly needed assistance and afterwards made me see myself in the robes of the Priest and the Levite who hurried by on the other side. This was what I wanted to do more than anything.
This is one of my typical rambling posts - I start with a vague idea triggered by the other posts in the thread and then wander until i disappear up my own you-know-what.
Nah, that was a fine post Jeff. Thanks!
And thats all that matters. i for one do not beleive that God will hold people beleifs against them.
I just have to say that I’m consistently amazed at your posts like this one. For an agnostic with atheistic leanings, you have a better grasp of and insight on this stuff than a very large number of Christian believers, including pastors/ priests/ vicars. Whether you know it or not and/ or believe it or not, God is speaking through you.
Thank you for your kind words Tim. I really struggle with all this stuff all the time and this place helps me greatly with that.
You’re welcome. And for the record, I struggle with this stuff all the time as well, and I’ve been a believer since I was five. (Not that I haven’t gone through a few paradigm shifts along the way!)