THE CONTOURS OF RAPPROCHEMENT

GOING FORWARD – THE REVISIONING

For renewal to happen, Christian thinking and practice needs to be revisioned through the lens of evidential reasoning and aligned with the best of human knowledge.

By evidential reasoning I mean a manner of thinking and analyzing that asks for evidence and rational justification for theological claims, akin to the reasoning that underlies scientific method, without lapsing into scientism. It owes much to soft methodological naturalism. It understands that many religious claims can’t be literally examined by the hard sciences, but it still scrutinizes those claims using today’s standards of reason and inquiry to help us get to their core meanings.

Such an evidential method will also help us reclaim the sophistication to know when the ancient authors were speaking in mythopoetic, symbolic, and figurative terms. For example, the authors of the two Genesis creation accounts were not trying to do science (which didn’t exist then) and they were most certainly not asserting an actual six day creation process. To criticize these authors and their accounts as unscientific or naive is to be missing the point of the narratives and a category error.

Christianity was birthed in the ancient, classical world. It developed for much of its history in the pre-scientific period. Earlier Christians stated their truths and told their history differently than we do today. Our religious ancestors made their core claims operating within a worldview different than today’s.

Therefore part of the task of evidential theology is to rigorously and carefully ask what our spiritual ancestors were trying to tell us, how they understood the meaning of the claims they made, and then translate those truths in the contemporary intellectual context. This is not a watering down or denigration of the Christian tradition, despite what some critics claim. It is a reapplication of the insights, wisdom, and truths our spiritual ancestors grasped in the reality of today’s world.

The task is therefore dialogic. What were earlier Christians trying to tell us about the world, human nature and wholeness, morality, and the meaning of human life, and how can we understand the core meanings of such from today’s perspectives and knowledge? However, the dialog doesn’t stop there, rather those updated perspectives and insights of meaning are then (carefully, humbly, and respectfully) offered for dialog with the secular culture and today’s realities.

Such a method of religious reasoning may yield a Christian spirituality that is acceptable to the contemporary, educated, postmodern, postsecular, post-Christian mindset, and one that might appeal to those Christians wanting to move beyond unjustifiable theologies, stale expressions and limiting institutional boundaries.

Obviously, I’m not the first to propose such an approach. We all swim through ongoing conversations and writings which provide intellectual context and shape our thinking. The ideas presented here have been gleaned from many authors and sources. This broad project has been engaged in various ways by thinkers such as John Shelby Spong, John Dominic Crossan, Karen Armstrong, Rodney Stark, Paul Tillich, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Rudolf Bultmann, Charles Taylor, Don Cupitt, Lloyd Geering, Arthur Broadhurst, Gordon Kaufman, John Caputo, Daniel Maguire, Stephen J. Patterson, N.T. Wright, and Marcus Borg, to mention but a few.

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