“What’s next?” is a theological question I have been asking since 1974 -a personal year of famine in which I finally rejected the hogs and husks of my slacker atheism, in a prodigal land far away from my parent’s slacker Christianity.
I discovered however that The Way to my Father’s house did not lead back to the church home in which I was born. Almost 40 years later, I am both ex-Catholic and ex-Protestant, a Christian theist seeking a path ‘over the top’ of the 500-year theological ditch separating Christians since the Reformation.
My experience convinced me that Christ by his Spirit is still present to save modern souls, but he is no longer constrained by the limits of some of the man-made doctrines and liturgies which have served in the past. If his living Spirit is meant for the whole world, then the world needs a reality check on fallible human systems which gain little advantage for truth by their appeal to uncritical minds and fearful, selfish hearts.
It is my first principle that the dominant Medieval and Reformation theologies in their historical development – and all links between church and state – have done as much harm to Christ’s mission in the modern world as the philosophical errors of skepticism, atheism, and absolute materialism.
It is a great irony that the name of wisdom in this age is bestowed upon the habit of a priori rejection of unseen realities, causing so many of ‘the wise’ to be blind to the reality of the unseen God. But a greater irony is that the name of Truth, whose living power was – at great cost – poured out upon the whole world, continues to be bestowed by Christianity upon the old ways of creed and doctrine and ritual which enshrine limited covenants and vicarious sacrifices, and a rote and symbolic participation.
It is my second principle that ‘modern’ Christianity must acknowledge failure and seek the truth (in Christ) again. I think two titanic secular World Wars did indeed spell the collapse of Western Christian civilization between 1914 and 1939, and the end of a dispensation. Four centuries of Protestant ‘reformation’ were out on the dung-hill with the Pope’s tiara as far as God was concerned. By mid-century the bulk of a much-divided Christian hierarchy had exchanged their truth for a lie, and God had given them up to the folly of rank fundamentalism, or false evangelism, or high church vanities.
If a kind of Apocalypse has already happened, what is needed now is a kind of post-apocalyptic theology-a spiritual archaeology. The next theology is already history – but it is not a very well-known history. God has dropped off the modern radar only because an authentic Christian approach to God was not given enough elevation by either liberal or conservative hierarchies in the old dispensation. There is no need for emergent novelties – only the fruit of a quiet listening and digging in broken places where it is reported that a promising type of Christianity had been seeking truth and life before the roof fell in.
This is not a call for an anachronistic return to the past. I applaud and will defend every inch of the real and much-needed ground our new civilization has won in areas of scientific discovery, civil and equal rights, and toleration of differences. I reject any and all of the means by which religious groups have tried to justify an obstruction of those gains.