It was a busy week over at Homebrewed Christianity as we get ready for the 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation. This is one of 3 blogs I am moving over from there to extend the conversation.
I was reading something that other day that really excited me. It was a comparison of the existential approach of someone like Rudolf Butlmann and the “powerful and illuminating analysis of post-christian existence” with the approach of someone like A.N. Whitehead in his book “Religion in the Making”.
It was particularly this sentence which caught my attention:
Bultmann’s belief that through Jesus’ death and resurrection a change was effected in the human situation at the most fundamental level can be examined as a historic hypothesis without introducing any ad hoc notions of a unique act of God.*
Fairly straight forward stuff, but it piqued my interest enough to go back and make sure that I understood the whole section leading up to it. What is interesting is that just before the above quote is this little nugget:
In such a context (exploring distinctive Western structures) the role of such historical figures such as Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus can been seen a bringing new structures of existence into being.
“Whoa! Hold it right there! I like it when you say wonderful things about how great Jesus is … by why do you have to include those other people?” I can hear my conservative and evangelical friends saying.
This is not the only time I have seen something like this and had the same reaction. (God is not One by Stephen Prothero springs to mind). It can almost be framed in this simply rubric
- God is Great!
- Jesus is super.
- don’t elevate anyone else or Jesus won’t seem unique
I remember giving that original Homebrewed interview with John Cobb (ep. 38) to some friends and how uncomfortable they were (across the board) that Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and Siddhartha Gautama may have been as open to the will of God as Jesus was.
According to Cobb, what makes Jesus unique is not simply that he was so open to the call of God but what God had called him to. In my circles you have to tack Bible verses on to the end of every major point, so I referenced Romans 5 that what God did in Christ satisfied something in God and changed humanity’s relationship to God. Was that enough? That God did something unique in Jesus … or does there also have to be an absence of affirming what may have done in others?
The other night I was talking to a college student from a different continent. She asked me why there was so much confusion in religion and if it “was the work of the evil one?”. I tried to explain how religions grew up in relative isolation during a much simpler time and they were simply not equipped to handle the complex world we now find ourselves in nor are they meant (or even attempting to) answer each other’s questions. They are just not set up for it.
Religions developed in a simpler time and are not set up for a) this level of complexity or b) this much overlap. There is going to continue to be a need for work to be done within each religion and between the religions (or traditions/communities). What will be the Christian contribution?
We all agree that if there is God that God would by necessity be great! Even those who don’t think that the God of Abraham is Allah and Jesus’ Abba will agree with that. Almost everyone agrees that Jesus was extraordinary. Even those who are not so sure about the accuracy of the historical record will acknowledge his impact. But was Jesus unique? Can we affirm something great in other figures without diminishing him?
Unfortunately those who have inherited an unquestioned view developed in Christendom’s monopoly will just quote John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 as if that settles the matter. A pre-existent Christ came down in Jesus and that is all you need to know.
This is why I am so intrigued to have Process theology as conversation partner. I am excited to hear what John Cobb has to say on Thursday morning at the Emergent Theological Conversation when we talk about Pluralism. I have been reading a lot of Cobb and when talks about the way that God was present in Jesus … it makes more sense than anything else I have ever heard on the subject. I would be interest in your thoughts. How does your tradition handle this? What will the future hold in this arena? Is the Christian tradition capable of this give-and-take of the 21st century?
*p. 86 of Cobb’s book