Creed

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 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!

40 Responses to Creed

  1. Pingback: The Evangelical Liberal | The Evangelical Liberal

  2. Terry says:

    This is all very interesting; you’re such a liberal, you are.

    What’s wrong with total depravity as a concept, though?

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    • harveyedser says:

      Thanks Terry. You’re right, I’m an incorrigible liberal.

      It may just be that I haven’t understood total depravity. If it just means that every part of us is flawed to a degree, I’m okay with it. But if it means that everything about us is completely depraved, I don’t buy it.

      Of course, it may be that when we think we seek, desire or choose God, it’s only and entirely by the action of his grace. But then, in another sense, absolutely everything is by the action of his grace so I’m not sure the distinction is useful or even possible. In that case, I’d prefer ‘total grace’ to ‘total depravity’.

      On the whole I’m simply not convinced by Augustinian original sin, nor by the idea that we are complete reptiles. I see humans as flawed and imperfect but still bearing much of God’s image, and still capable of desiring God’s grace.

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  3. Terry says:

    As far as I’m aware, it just means that there is no part of humanity (or creation?) that is not fallen.

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  4. harveyedser says:

    That’s fair enough, I suppose. I’d still want to keep it as a query though. My feeling is that the concept of fallenness (in the sense of corruption) doesn’t apply equally well to all areas. For example, pure maths (and therefore to an extent ‘pure’ music) can be viewed as ‘perfect’ in some senses, and not subject to corruption.

    I think that rather than ‘corruption’ I’d use the word ‘imperfection’, with the sense of incompleteness. I know natural theology is a dangerous game, but evolutionary theory suggests that there was imperfection/incompleteness in creation before humans ever sinned. It seems likely to me that the first spiritual humans already had within their brains and instincts the evolutionary predisposition to ‘sin’ (lust, rage, competitive envy etc). If so, this puts rather a different complexion on the Fall and original sin, and inclines me to a more Irenaean than Augustinian view.

    I also do believe that God allows us to contribute at least one small thing to our redemption – our final choice to accept or refuse his grace; to cooperate with his working in us or to oppose it. I don’t therefore see grace as completely irresistible.

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  5. Rosie Edser says:

    On the total depravity thing, the good old 1662 prayer book used to (and presumably still does) say that “there is no health in us”….. I don’t buy that one!

    my fave bit of your creed : I view truth and reality – and our knowledge of them – as primarily relational,..

    What exactly *is* Irenaeus’ approach to the concept of original sin, anyway?

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    • harveyedser says:

      I should probably have said ‘relational and communal’ (as in the community of faith).

      As far as I know, Iranaeus didn’t have a concept of original sin – that didn’t come in until Augustine the Hippo about 200 years later.

      According to the infallible source of all truth, Wikipedia:

      “Irenaeus believes that humanity was created immature, and God intended his creatures to take a long time to grow into or assume the divine likeness. Thus, Adam and Eve were created as children. Their Fall was thus not a full-blown rebellion but rather a childish spat, a desire to grow up before their time and have everything with immediacy.

      “Everything that has happened since has therefore been planned by God to help humanity overcome this initial mishap and achieve spiritual maturity. The world has been intentionally designed by God as a difficult place, where human beings are forced to make moral decisions, as only in this way can they mature as moral agents. Irenaeus likens death to the big fish that swallowed Jonah: it was only in the depths of the whale’s belly that Jonah could turn to God and act according to the divine will. Similarly, death and suffering appear as evils, but without them we could never come to know God.”

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  6. Just pondering your Creed.

    I affirm the Bible as the “Word of God” not as its intrinsic status but rather a creedal confession within the community of faith. The community of faith experiences the Bible as the “The Word of God” in their faith, practice and worship.

    However, scripture uses this phrase of Jesus.

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    • harveyedser says:

      Wow Simon, I’ve become more liberal than you!! 😉

      I suppose I do really see the Bible as the ‘Word of God’, but mainly in the sense that God chooses to use it and speak through it – rather as he chooses particular individuals for ministry without that implying their inherent superiority over others. For me, the Bible *contains* (some of) the words of God, and potentially *becomes* the Word of God when the Spirit of God speaks afresh through it to individuals and communities. But I’m probably wrong!

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  7. Ben says:

    Wow! Thanks so much for your honesty. I see much of my own thinking reflected in your creed. I like the “recovering evangelical” which very much describes where I’m at after leaving a conservative and somewhat authoritarian church a year ago. It’s like I know something is wrong with evangelical theology, but I can’t bring myself to reject the whole thing.

    I don’t think you’re desperately liberal!!

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    • harveyedser says:

      Thanks Ben – it’s always great to meet people who are on the same journey. I think there’s a lot of like-minded folks out there, knowing they want to hang on to their core faith in Christ, increasingly dissatisfied with evangelical theology but not altogether sure of the alternatives. I’d love to hear more about your own journey and what’s led to your own changes of thinking.

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  8. Pingback: My faith journey | The Evangelical Liberal

  9. Nicolas says:

    I love your “Augustine the Hippo”

    A Freudian Slip or deliberate ???

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    • harveyedser says:

      There are plenty of mistakes in the blog, but this one was deliberate! 🙂

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      • Lyndon James says:

        I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and am thankful for having done so. Just to let you know how interesting to read of someone else who has found the exercise of penning a credal statement of what they can accede to and their current understanding of it useful. Also, just to let you know: I DID laugh out loud upon reading your “Augustine the Hippo” quip.

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  10. dsholland says:

    Thanks for the clarifications of your views. Some of the finer points I particularly liked:

    “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 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 spiritual warfare as something to be undertaken lightly or complacently.”

    “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 seek authenticity and reality in all its raw messiness.”

    The other thing that impressed (and that is the right word) me is the detail, the number of items you could identify as part of your creed. If I had to set out my own similar list I would be hard pressed to provide as rich an itemization. I say impressed because I believe this list corresponds to specific struggles of thought. I have not fought so many battles yet.

    In the spirit of metaphor I will share something a friend of mine said many years ago when, as children of the 60’s, we found we had become conservative Christians. He said, “We didn’t really learn anything going crazy, we learned it coming back.”

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    • harveyedser says:

      Again, thank you David for your very generous comments on my rambling verbosity! I suppose that over the past 17 years I’ve struggled with quite a few points of doctrine, at first in my desire to be as orthodox as possible and then recently in my desire to be more authentic (or possibly self-indulgent!).

      I like your point about “we learned it coming back”, which I do endorse. But sometimes you do need to leave something in order to come back…

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  11. Christine says:

    I just found your blog somehow and several bits I read really resonate with me. I was raised, educated and now work in the evangelical Protestant ministry context, and have been living with a growing discomfort with the theology and culture in recent years. I have begun to explore Eastern Orthodox Christianity and have found it to be like a panacea for nearly all of the unfortunate ills of modern evangelicalism. Although it is not “liberal” in the way that I think you use the term, there is so much freedom and mercy present in the worship, liturgy and teachings, that I feel liberated. Much of your Creed I found to be more in line with the teaching of the Orthodox church than liberal protestantism – mostly because it’s clear you are care about the things that have historically been cared about the most by the historic (Orthodox) church. I wonder if you have ever given any thought to exploring Orthodoxy? You may find it not so different from the place you’ve arrived at on your own. Their view of original sin and penal substitutionary atonement are just two issues where you’d agree. Anyway, thanks for writing what you write.

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    • Thank you very much for your comment, and for sharing your own story. I’ve been interested in aspects of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for some time, but I only know little bits. Are there any books or websites you would recommend for exploring it further?

      I use the term ‘liberal’ partly just to counterbalance the aspects of evangelicalism that I no longer feel at home with. I certainly wouldn’t see myself as a full-blown liberal in terms of (say) denying the divinity of Christ or the reality of the resurrection, or in seeing the Bible as a merely human book (though I don’t quite see it as the Inerrant Word of God either). So I use the term Evangelical Liberal to describe a kind of in-between both-and-neither state.

      I’m certainly very much drawn to contemplative Christianity and aspects of the Desert Fathers. I’m also interested in a way of viewing the world (reality, nature, people) as icon or sacrament through which God’s grace can be mediated.

      Anyway, I’d be very interested to find out more! Thank you again for dropping by and taking the time to write, and I hope you’ll visit again.

      Harvey

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  12. Isa says:

    One thing I love about your writing wether I agree or not: your Boldness & Authenticity. Blessings to you and your family. Isa.

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    • Thanks Isa! I certainly wouldn’t want everyone to agree with me – I’m not even always sure I agree with myself! Sometimes I can only work out what I think by expressing it in writing, and engaging with others who think differently.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. All the best,
      Harvey

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  13. Hazlett says:

    Dear All. Please have a look at http://www.TheReformedFaith.blogspot.com for a radical analysis of things Christian and ecclesiastical. Your comments will be most welcome.

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    • Dear J.E. Hazlett Lynch, I’m publishing your comment simply because one reader was asking about the relationship between Calvinism and the Plantation of Ulster. However, it’s not really best practice to use comments as a way of plugging your own materials – at least not without contributing anything else to the discussion 🙂

      Having had a quick look at your blog, I’m guessing we’re at opposite ends of the Christian theological spectrum – which is fine of course, and I wish you well.

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  14. Good list! I agree with most of it, but I have some differences–as should be expected among those of us who think for themselves. I think we have a lot in common.

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    • I’m not even sure I agree with all my own points – I keep changing my mind. 🙂

      I’d be interested to hear your views on the points where you differ – always good to have some creative diversity and difference! And I welcome fresh insights and alternative ideas.

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  15. I don’t have a written creed as such, but if you are interested in my primary emphases you might take a look at my about page at http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/.

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    • Thanks – I had a read of your ‘About’ page and I very much like what you’re saying! The idea of just Jesus, without any of the ‘Christian’ baggage that’s accumulated around him over the centuries, is very appealing. 🙂

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  16. Randall Wehler says:

    Harvey,

    It was just today that I happened upon your very needed web site — “The Evangelical Liberal.” Thanks for the time devoted several years ago to formulating your creedal stance in a fairly firm, yet subject-to-change way.

    Hopefully, I will be able quite soon to send a two-part verse that depicts my perception of fundamental and more progressive Christian beliefs and behavior. It may be thought-provoking for others.

    Keep up the great work!

    Best regards — Randall Wehler

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    • Dear Randall,
      Many thanks for your very affirming and encouraging comment! (Which reminds me, I probably should review my Creed page and see what I need to amend/update…)

      And I very much look forward to seeing your verse when you’re ready to share it.

      All the very best,
      Harvey

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  17. Geoff Hillier says:

    Hi Harvey, Wow, that creed could very well be my own. I have been heartened and gladdened to find your blog which has a lot of symmetry with my own walk. As a recovering evangelical still involved in mission with MAF, its so good to read your eloquent thoughts on these very difficult subjects. I was also super impressed at how you responded to one rather aggressive individual who wanted to tell you that you were hellbound.(I think it was in the inerrancy thread). You spoke with grace and kindness. That’s something that has always impressed me with Brian McLaren. His ability to show grace in disagreement is rarely matched by his opponents.
    I have been mulling on writing something about this walk for ages as a 50 something missionary, reaching the same conclusions as yourself. I think a heady mixture of cowardice and laziness has prevented me, as there certainly a sense of “coming out”! I am genuinely scared of losing friends through this though I am not going to pretend to please them. Your boldness and clarity is giving me some impetus to keep on writing. Whether I try to Blog or attempt to get published, I’m not really not sure, but any advice you can give would be welcome. One thought, I don’t see a social media presence for your blog and this must surely restrict the readership which I think is a shame as you have so much to say that is good and relevant. I know a lot of facebook chatter is nonsense, but links to the blog would be very useful.

    One last question, where is the church that would have this as their creed? I am desperate to find such a place. What I generally find is a church that holds a strong literalist, evangelical wording but which few in the church really believe. There has to be a way to move this forward.

    Anyway, thank you and bless you for writing. I hope we can angage more on this.

    Geoff

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    • Hi Geoff, it’s great to hear from you and to hear about your similar journey and thought processes. One of the things I love most about blogging is encountering other like-minded people – it can sometimes feel like we’re alone in feeling or thinking this way, but I’ve found that we’re really not.

      I’d be very interested to hear more about your own particular story, and how your involvement with MAF sits with your current re-thinking. I’ve stayed a part of my broadly evangelical church throughout my own process of change, and my close friends there have mostly been supportive, but I know that’s not typical for many. And I know some of my more conservative family members have struggled with what they see as my slide into dangerous liberalism.

      And yes, there is definitely a sense of ‘coming out’ at times. I have to say it’s often much easier (for me) to do that at a distance in a blog than it is face to face!

      I’ve been very struck by Brian McLaren too, particularly hearing him speak at Greenbelt. I love that graciousness and generosity of spirit to others who would disagree and attack. That disarming kindness seems to me the genuine spirit of Christ, and it’s an example I want to follow.

      I’d definitely encourage you to express your thoughts in writing. Whether that ends up as a blog, a book or just a personal diary, the process of thinking and writing is (I think) very helpful – and may well be helpful to others too.

      You’re right, there’s no social media presence for this blog at the moment, and it probably would be a good idea. I suppose I’ve felt a little embarrassed about blatantly promoting it, and also not sure if I’d be able to keep up with social channels as I struggle to find time even just for blogging! I’d be very glad of any thoughts or advice you have.

      I’m sure there must be churches with creeds not too far from yours and mine – perhaps Brian McLaren’s and others in the ’emergent’ conversation. But it’s certainly not all that easy to find them. Perhaps we should start one! 🙂

      Anyway, thank you so much for taking time to write. I look forward to engaging more.

      All the best, and bless you,

      Harvey

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  18. Connie says:

    Hi Harvey,
    I was surprised and happy to find your website. Your creed sounds very much like myself at this point in my Christian walk. I will have to investigate further regarding the spiritual stages. Thanks for the interesting reading!
    Connie

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    • Hi Connie, thanks so much for your very kind and thoughtful comments, and I’m really sorry for not replying sooner.

      I’ve certainly found the idea of spiritual stages helpful though not everyone does! But if you feel you’re moving away from a more rigid, literal or fundamentalist model of faith it can be a helpful framework for understanding that – the idea that rather than losing your faith, your faith is simply changing, developing and maturing.

      I’ll do my best to reply to your other comments as soon as I can! 🙂

      Bless you,
      Harvey

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  19. Connie says:

    And by the way, you may find the book “The Science of God” by Gerald Schroeder interesting if you aren’t familiar. He is a theologian and physicist and makes, what I think is a very compelling argument for the formation of life on earth. And yes I agree the earth is very old and a literal six day creation doesn’t make sense. He combines faith and science beautifully.
    Thanks,
    Connie

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    • Ooh interesting! I’ve not come across Gerald Schroeder or that book so I’ll certainly add that to the list – it sounds really good and I’d be very interested to hear his case for the formation of life on earth.
      Thanks,
      Harvey

      Like

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