I believe that a precise doctrinal creed is very much secondary to a transformed life. In Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25), it wasn’t the ones with the right belief system who were welcomed into eternal reward, but those who stood with the poor and sick and hurting.
However, as a recovering evangelical, theology and doctrine still exercise me and I need to find new ways of understanding and living the old ‘sound’ doctrines which often now leave me cold.
The bottom line for me is that God is love, God is good, and God is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ. All else is secondary. The rest of this credal list is subjective, provisional, flawed, and subject to change.
So the following set of statements is highly personal – in no way is it a definitive or prescriptive creed, and I’m not asking anyone else to sign up to it! It’s essentially a work in lifelong progress, and I fully accept that I may be at least partly wrong about everything, and that those I disagree with may be right – and certainly may be better practitioners of their faith than I am of mine. I’m not setting out to preach or proselytise but to further my own faltering progress as a pilgrim – and if it helps anyone else, so much the better.
Most of the following points will form the basis of fuller blog posts at some point. So in no particularly systematic order…
- I worship the three-personal or triune God of classical Christianity – Father, Son and Spirit. While I believe there are many things we can usefully say of (and to) God, I also view God as fundamentally mysterious, albeit with a mystery that is deeply creative and fruitful to thought and to life. I believe that God is the central reality of all that is, that God is best understood and known in/through divine Love, and that the primary purpose of the universe is to receive, reflect and make incarnate that love.
- I completely affirm the centrality and uniqueness of Christ and of the redemption he offers. However, I am not at all convinced that only professing ‘Christians’, or those who hold certain correct beliefs, will be counted among the redeemed.This is not to say that I am a committed universalist, but rather someone who sees universalism as a possible option hinted at within certain scriptures. It is also not to say that I believe all faiths and belief systems to be equally true and valid, though I think there is great good to be found in most of the major religions.
- I believe in the atonement for sin made by Jesus on the cross. However, I consider penal substitution to be only one partial and imperfect model for how that atonement ‘works’. I also believe God’s salvation to be far broader and deeper than a plan to get (some) individual souls into heaven, or to improve our personal morality.
- I accept the importance of the Bible as the primary written witness to Christ and to the ways of God and his salvation. However, I am not convinced of its inerrancy or infallibility, and I would accord the term ‘The Word of God’ to Jesus alone, not to the Bible. I could only sign up to a very nuanced ‘sola scriptura’ with a number of caveats. I accept the broad historicity of (for example) the gospel accounts, and in no way seek to downplay their supernatural elements; at the same time I cannot deny the real discrepancies between the accounts (e.g. the birth and resurrection narratives). I see the Bible as a dynamic and living document through which the Holy Spirit of God must breathe to bring fresh insight and interpretation to our changing situations.
- I do not consider the Old Testament to be normative or its laws and customs (e.g. tithing) as binding on Christians. I see the Old Testament as the New Testament’s background and the foreshadowing of its realities, as well as the context within much of Jesus’ teaching must be understood.
- I believe in the importance of holiness but see it as far more than specific issues of morality (sexual or otherwise). Rather it is to do with being formed in the likeness of Christ.
- I am agnostic regarding the moral rightness or wrongness of homosexual practice, but tend increasingly to the view that, while not the original ideal, it is acceptable within committed monogamous relationships.
- I am not convinced by Augustine’s concept of original sin, and find Irenaeus’ approach more helpful – see Irenaeus’ theology (Wikipedia). I am also not convinced by the ideas of total depravity, unconditional election and limited atonement in the Calvinists’ TULIP acronym, and am agnostic regarding irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. (I would tentatively suggest alternatives of partial/potential human goodness, total grace and unlimited atonement.)
- In fact, I reject most of Calvinism and neo-Calvinism completely, and I am deeply uncomfortable with fundamentalism and ultra-conservatism in all its forms, Christian or otherwise. At the same time, I recognise fundamentalism as a valid stage of spiritual development that most religious believers need to pass through on the road to spiritual maturity and freedom.
- I am a member of the Anglican communion but do not consider any particular denomination to be better than another. I am attracted by the notion of different streams of faith (charismatic, sacramental, evangelical, contemplative etc), each contributing its part to the greater river. I believe that it’s important to be a member of a community of faith (and of honest doubt), though that doesn’t need to mean a church in the traditional sense.
- I fully affirm God’s sovereignty and glory. However, I do not believe that God’s sovereignty means that he controls or wills all that happens, or that he decides (elects) beforehand who will and will not be saved (predestination). I am also far from convinced that God already knows all the future. And although his sovereignty and glory matter greatly, I believe that in his dealings with us God chooses to emphasise rather his love, mercy, grace and goodness.
- I believe that if God does choose or ‘elect’ certain people, it is not so much to salvation (or to heaven/hell) as it is to bearing his special witness and likeness to the world, acting as his sacraments and ministers. Similarly he chose Israel not to be the only nation that would be saved, but to be the community from whom salvation would come to the whole world.
- I look forward to Christ’s return and reign in a renewed cosmos, but I am agnostic about the precise nature, manner and timing of these events.
- I believe in some kind of judgement but am agnostic regarding the existence or precise nature of hell. I certainly do not accept that it is a place of eternal conscious retributive torment for those who failed to accept Jesus as their saviour in this life.
- I believe in the reality of supernatural and personal evil in the cosmos, but am happy to be largely ignorant of its operations and manifestations in the world. I do not consider spiritual warfare as something to be undertaken lightly or complacently.
- I affirm God as creator and sustainer of all that is. I also broadly accept the scientific consensus regarding biological evolution, and see 6-day creationism as both scientifically and theologically untenable. My position is broadly supernatural theism, in which God is both transcendent over his creation and immanent within it, and in which there need be no division between ‘natural’ events and God’s divine action (miracle).
- I affirm the equal value of men and women. I increasingly tend to the view that no eternal spiritual, moral or natural law prevents women from being able to hold all ecclesiastical positions and carrying out all functions that men have traditionally held.
- While I in no way reject objective or absolute truth, I do not believe that human language and thought can fully comprehend, formulate or encapsulate describe God’s reality. I therefore believe in the fundamental importance of myth, metaphor, symbol and paradox as means of approaching truth. I view truth and reality – and our knowledge of them – as primarily relational, incarnational, sacramental and dynamic, even poetic. Therefore I largely reject systematic theologies and hold my own beliefs with radical uncertainty and provisionality.
- Similarly, I hold primarily to an incarnational model of Christianity, Scripture, ministry, theology, evangelism etc, rather than a primarily doctrinal and preaching-based model. I reject formulas and techniques in prayer, evangelism, worship etc. I seek authenticity and reality in all its raw messiness.
- I view the theory and practice of psychology as a profoundly helpful tool in finding personal freedom and truth and not in any way inherently in conflict with the gospel. I also believe in the importance of imagination and myth, exemplified in tales like C.S. Lewis‘s Narnia chronicles.
- Finally, I believe that the ‘Holy Saturday‘ or ‘dark night of the soul’ experience is a valid and even vital part of the Christian life but has often been neglected and misunderstood.
I could go on, but that’s probably enough to be going on with for now!