Wednesday, February 01, 2012

from “Think Different” – “Accept Uncertainty”

by John Shelby Spong

I recently read Walter Isaacson’s provocative and fascinating biography of Steve Jobs, the founder of the Apple Corporation. He was innovative, iconoclastic, weird and a genius. He built his company not only into a successful giant, but made it the highest valued company in the entire world. One of Steve Job’s secrets was that he was never willing to live inside the boundaries of the given. He adopted as the motto of his company the words, “Think Different.” Later he added the slogan “Accept Uncertainty.” The more I thought about Steve Jobs’ slogans, the more I yearned to make them the mottos of the Christian Church. That idea fed my theological fantasies and caused me to wonder what the Christian Church would look like if its members and leaders had the courage “to think different” and to “accept uncertainty.”

The timeliness of this idea also intrigued me. If there ever was a moment in which Christianity needed to step outside the traditional theological formulas and speak in bold new accents, it is today. Such exciting possibilities are, however, overwhelmingly resisted in religious circles where security, peace and the absence of either conflict or change are all regarded as virtues. I want to speculate about what Christianity might actually evolve into if Christians had the courage to do things like Steve Jobs did, that is, not to let what is be the limits of what can be.

What would be different, for example, if we were able to free the Christ experience from the first century interpretation of that experience as we now have it in the New Testament? Why do we continue to pretend that a first century interpretation is somehow going to embody truth for all ages? What would Christianity look like if we were willing to separate the Christ experience from the fourth century’s interpretation of that experience as presently found in the creeds?

How can either the scriptures or the creeds be studied in any meaningful way if the assumption is that they are, in their present forms, identified with unchanging reality? That dated attitude precludes the possibility of any different thinking from that of the first century in regard to the scriptures or the fourth century in regard to the creeds. The world’s knowledge has, however, increased exponentially from that which marked the minds of people in New Testament times or those at the time the creeds were formed.

No one today, for example, believes that demon possession is the cause of either mental illness or epilepsy, that Jesus could literally ascend into the sky of a three-tiered universe in which the planet earth was the center or that everything not understood in life had to be explained by an appeal to a supernatural miracle. Modern Christian scholars no longer even debate the traditional claims made through a literal reciting of the creeds that the virgin birth is about biology or that the resurrection is about the physical resuscitation of a deceased body back into the life of this world. If the only choices we have in dealing with either scripture or creed is to believe these words literally or not at all, then the future is bleak indeed.

We can either become “true believing fundamentalists” (and they come in both Protestant and Catholic varieties), or we can give up Christianity altogether as an ancient, but now irrelevant superstition and take our places as citizens of “the secular city.” If we choose the former then we will watch Protestants protect themselves from change by claiming an inerrant Bible and Roman Catholics protect themselves from change by claiming an infallible Pope.

Increasingly modern men and women can no longer live their lives within the boundaries set by the church. Popular Christianity is today represented in the media in devastatingly negative terms. We are the ones who are trying to protect our children from learning about evolution in public schools; we are the opponents of the feminist movement, battling to keep women outside equal rights to in all areas of their lives, including control over their reproductive abilities, and we are the ill-informed bearers of religious homophobia who continue to hold to prejudiced definitions that have long ago been dismissed in medical and scientific circles. This characterization of Christianity is a major, but undeniable embarrassment to which few people will be drawn. “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” provides us with a new alternative.

1 comment:

  1. What this writer is saying isn't Christianity. It is a social system--though with good motives--that lacks the Good News of what God does for us. His kind of belief can exist without God, at least for awhile.
    It interprets sacred history in the limited vision of contemporary knowledge. The first-century church recorded what they experienced and saw and believed. They didn't try to explain how it was done.
    The writer's plea to "think different" really isn't different. It's the current cry of the masses who don't want to live God's moral values; it's the lifestyle seen on every TV sitcom and reported by every Hollywood celebrity.
    To "accept uncertainty" has some truth, as we don't have all the answers even as Christians. As for theology being a formula, that depends on how it is presented. I see the church's problem as not knowing how and having the courage to present the biblical story in terms that moderns can understand and relate to. We don't drown the dog while bathing him, so we need the cross to have a Savior.

    Of course, since Adventists don't take the Bible literally in every instance, the writer may be writing to another audience--a fundamentalist and more creedal one. However, he does seem to mock such things as Christ's ascension (how would the ancients have understood a space ship instead of a cloud??) and so dismisses the experiences of the first-century writers without which we would have no witnesses.
    In our arrogance we think we know everything but are only atoms in an immense cosmos.