POPULAR RELIGION AND THE EMERGING CHURCH
J. Bruce Evans
TABLE OF CONTENTS
II. WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
III. DO BELIEFS MATTER?
IV. WHAT ABOUT BEHAVIOR
V. THE BIBLE
VI. WHO WAS JESUS?
VII. PERSONAGES: God, Christ, Satan, Angels, Demons, Holy Spirit, Soul
VIII. PROCESSES: Damnation & Salvation
IX. EVENTS: Sin, Death, Confession, Repentance, Parousia, Judgment, Resurrection
X. PLACES & TIMES: Hell, Heaven
"The times they are a-changin'," Bob Dylan noted. And so is the church. As Pope Paul said at the opening session of the recent synod of Roman Catholic bishops, this is "the moment of a thousand questions." In an earlier interview at his summer palace he had noted: "Everything is in upheaval. Everything is in a phase of mutation." The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Dr. Michael Ramsey, says his main impressions of the 1960s and early 1970s concern "a crisis of faith" and "a renewal of religion."
Harvey Cox notes in a recent book, "'A specter is haunting Europe,' Karl Marx once wrote. The specter he had in mind was Communism. Today another specter haunts us. It is the grin on the skeletal face of a god we have inherited, worshiped, misused and finally killed. But while the leering specter still besets us, a new eon is tearing its way from the womb of history. Should radical theologians be morticians or midwives? We have nothing to lose."
But we need no theological giants to remind us. Any observant person can note the profound changes underway in organized religion today. The present issue is to discern their nature. Pope Paul aptly raised the question: "Here is the church, after 20 centuries, uninterrupted and alive, anxious only to move toward new paths--to go to all peoples, to every single human being--but how, but when?"
What follows is an attempt to chart the specific courses of the current tides in organized religion--in particular, to paint a theological picture of the church which I observe to be emerging from this period of change. As a vehicle for communicating these observations I utilize two mythical figures: the Emerging Church and Popular Religion.
The Emerging Church is a name for the Christian church which I believe is coming to be. It is the future stance of organized religion now emerging from traditional Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. Though not yet formed in any single location, it is a composite picture of many diverse elements now scattered throughout traditional religion.
It is emerging both within and without the organized church, one part here, another there--in the left wings of liberalism and the strongholds of conservatism, in First Baptist Churches and Roman Catholic monasteries, in Jesus-freak communes and psychotherapy groups, in heretical fellowships and staid, old-line organizations, in the beliefs of devoted churchmen and declared agnostics, ministers and psychiatrists, priests and patrolmen.
Although based on presently existing elements, the Emerging Church is as yet a hope, a dream, a prediction. But it is not a pipe dream. The evidence for its reality mounts daily. Already neophyte versions, combining many of its elements, are appearing across the land.
Though new in respect to Popular Religion, the Emerging Church is certainly not new in history. It represents, I believe, the perspective and hope of the primary New Testament characters and writers, notably, Paul, John, and Jesus. In the 2,000 intervening years many segments of the Emerging Church have appeared within the confines of traditional religion, as well as in the practices of countless individuals. Today, almost every institutionalized church, and probably every religiously oriented person, manifests some elements of the Emerging Religion.
My intention is to pull together these diverse beliefs and practices into one unit. Almost every churchman will recognize some of his own perspective represented here. Each church will see portions of its own reflection. Probably no individual will recognize himself completely. In the final analysis the picture is my prediction of the church of the future.
In order to clarify the image of the Emerging Church I utilize the other fictional unit, Popular Religion. This name stands for a composite picture of the scattered beliefs and practices which dominate the religious scene in America today. Popular Religion is the religion of John Doe, the mythical "average American." It is practiced in the familiar church on the corner of Main Street, Anytown, U.S.A. Popular Religion is people's religion, the practice of a typical parishioner, if not of his priest or minister. It is community belief, rather than seminary thought. Though not necessarily taught, it is
the religion which is most often "caught." If its teachings are not what the minister means to say, they are, I think, what the average layman understands him to say.
Of course the composite picture, like the "average person," will seldom, if ever, exist in pure form. Most churches include certain elements of Emerging Religion, and even the most traditional of churchmen often hold some of the Emerging beliefs. However, just as John Doe, even if he does not exist, allows us to generalize about Americans, Popular Religion permits comparison with the Emerging Church.
Although the picture I present is more typical of those with Protestant heritage, it belongs, with slight variations to many Roman Catholics and, excluding the part about Jesus, to certain Jews too. It also represents, I think, the prevailing understanding among secular Americans of what churchmen believe. Often, when the deeper beliefs of declared atheists emerge, Popular Religion is not far from their theological perspectives either.
Although Popular religionists are likely to argue the point, I believe that the Emerging Church is a return to the deepest Christian traditions, which have become distorted in the course of history. While Popular Religion holds the bible to be without error and justifies its positions with carefully selected proof-texts, I think that Emerging Religion is more faithful to the overall weight of biblical evidence. It seems much closer to the New Testament ideal, proclaimed by Jesus, amplified by John, and developed by Paul. Though the dream has seldom been realized in individuals, and probably never existed in pure form as an organization, I believe it represents the fulfillment of Christian hope of all ages.
In either case, these two imaginary organizations may be used to sharpen our perspective about what is happening in organized church today.
In the following pages I present a picture of what I believe to be the Emerging Church. An overview of the major distinctions between it and Popular Religion is followed by an expanded explanation of specific differences between the two. In most sections attention is also given to the biblical basis of Emerging beliefs. (Unless otherwise noted, translations will be from the Authorized King James Version.)
Because I am more familiar with Protestantism, I use its basic language and focus on its specific peculiarities, such as emphasis on biblical foundations and the person of Jesus. Although I generally confine my observations to this context, I believe they also apply to the wider spectrum of Popular Religion as practiced by many Roman Catholics. I hope that some, better acquainted with other major religions will be provoked to similar analysis from those perspectives.
I have chosen to write in a rather unqualified style, as though I absolutely know for sure that this is how it is. Of course this is not true. I am projecting the limited observations of one quite finite individual into a composite picture. I may be completely wrong. Each affirmation should technically be preceded by the phrase, "In my opinion...," or, "As I have observed..." However, such a procedure becomes highly redundant and utilizes expensive printing space. Consequently, I shall trust each reader to mentally insert my declarations of finitude.
My approach is to focus on each of the major doctrinal issues, briefly describing the Popular position and then amplifying the Emerging stance. There are, of course, many variations on the themes, both within Popular and Emerging Religion. Because my purpose is primarily to delineate, I present only what I believe to be the most central position in each camp. Any reader will no doubt be aware of countless other positions varying from the one described. For instance, there is a wide spectrum of Emerging beliefs about Jesus. I describe only one of them in order to amplify the primary distinction--namely, his total humanity, vs. the Popular god-human perspective. In certain areas, such as the understanding of sin, where the interpretation is so greatly different, extended attention is given to the Emerging theology.
Colloquialisms are freely utilized, since they often reflect Popular beliefs better than formal language. Because such phrases can never be specifically defined, there is the risk of misunderstanding. What one person means, for example, by "being turned on" may differ from what another means. Even so, I have chosen to take this chance, with the hope of improved communication.
An interwoven set of beliefs and practices intended to lead man to a better life in another world; characterized by objectivity, suppression, and magic; ultimately focused on death and afterlife.
The quest for fullness of life in this present world; characterized by subjectivity, freedom, and reality; ultimately concerned with quality of living in the here and now.
The first major distinction in these two approaches to religion is the locus of operation. Popular Religion is "otherworldly"; Emerging Religion is "this worldly." Popular Religion is primarily focused on another place "out there," "up there," or, "beyond the sunset." This earthly journey is viewed as a brief preparation for an everlasting afterlife in the other world--either heaven "above" or hell "down below." A song clearly voices the theme: "This world is not my home; I'm just a-passin' through. My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue."
Since one obviously cannot get to another world while still in this one, the Popular Church anticipates heaven after physical death. Present life has meaning only in relation to the next world. One is to "live right" down here, so as to assure his future position in heaven rather than hell. The Popular religionist expects, at least hopes, to meet his loved ones "in the home over there," beyond the grave. The ultimate focus is there and later, rather than here and now.
These emphases are reversed in the Emerging Church. Though it shares with Popular Religion the quest for heaven, it anticipates the kingdom of God on this side of the grave. Its concern is the planet Earth. The Emerging Church seeks fullness of life, existence with God in the here and now, instead of in the "sweet bye and bye."
The possibility of an afterlife is viewed as an interesting speculation, but not a matter of primary concern. Whereas Popular Religion stands of falls on the reality of afterlife, Emerging Religion sees it as a potential bonus, but certainly not a necessity. The more prevalent Emerging view is, "This is it," or, as a current TV commercial states, "You only go around once in life..."
With its otherworldly focus, Popular Religion is objectively oriented to the present world--that is, mainly concerned with external things. The religious beings (personages), places, and events are understood as "its," things "out there." Each is presumed to exist independently of mankind or any person. God is regarded as an objective Supreme Being, controlling the events of history, apart from man.
Christ is his tangible son. Satan, demons, and angels are thought of as beings with independent existence. The Holy Ghost is a type of religious spook. Soul is an "it" which inhabits the body, entering at birth and leaving at death--possibly capable of temporary exits between these terminal junctions. Heaven and hell are conceived as geographical locations where souls, and perhaps reconstituted bodies, go to be with God or Satan after physical death.
In this perspective, sin and salvation are also understood objectively. Sin is feeling, thinking, saying, or doing "bad things." Emotions, desires, thoughts, and words, although intangible, are objectively categorized as good or bad. Certain feelings, such as anger or hatred are labeled as sinful. Sexual desires, for instance for a neighbor's spouse or a person of one's own sex, are considered evil. Ideas deviating from the church's accepted doctrines are ruled unacceptable and hence sinful. Thoughts about certain subjects such as murder, suicide, and adultery are considered inherently evil.
Objective deeds are regarded as even greater sins. Lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, and killing are common examples. Missed opportunities to do "good deeds" are also considered sinful. Not helping someone in need, witnessing to the faith, attending church services, or praying often fall into this category.
Although the specific acts of sin vary from group to group, their essential objective nature remains the same. Some judge gambling and drinking alcoholic beverages to be sins. Others consider wearing make-up or attending movies sinful. Still others restrict their list to the biblical commandments. The common thread is the notion that sin is something one does or does not do (feel, think, or say). The deeds may be tangible or intangible, yet they are objective.
Salvation, as popularly conceived, is also objective. The formula varies from denomination to denomination, but always there is an objective recipe, something one does in order to be saved. Common directions include ceasing to sin--that is, stopping bad deeds, cleaning up one's vocabulary, eliminating evil feelings, desires, and thoughts. Additionally, one is to begin doing good deeds such as helping others and going to church services. He is to feel only positive emotions, have good desires and right motives. Also he must think the approved ideas--that is, believe the church's doctrines.
Others place great emphasis on emotional and mental acts, variously called "giving your heart to Jesus," "accepting Christ," or, "believing in Jesus." Even though these acts are inward rather than external, still there is an objective quality in them. Each is "something one does." The formulae differ, but there remains the common theme of objectivity.
Traditional religious events--the Second Coming of Christ, Judgment, and Resurrection--are Popularly conceived as objective, historical happenings. In recent years attention to these cosmic events, including the end of the world, has slipped in main-line churches. Still, when considered at all, they tend to be understood objectively, as happenings for which man is not responsible and which could be recorded by a camera and/or an historian. Even religious times have an objective quality. "Eternal life," the primary religious concern, is conceived chronologically--that is, as tangible existence infinitely extended beyond all calendars. "Eternal" is understood as a quantity of time rather than a quality of existence.
Emerging Religion, conversely, is characterized by subjective rather than objective experience. All religious names--for personages, places, times, and events--are related to various qualities of subjective human experience rather than to external "its" existing independently "out there." God is understood subjectively, as the Supreme in Being, instead of as a Supreme Being objectively set outside or over against reality. Christ, Satan, angels, demons, and the Holy Spirit are understood subjectively, as representing potential elements in human experience. Soul is understood as a quality of living, rather than as an objective entity belonging to each person. Heaven and hell are states of being, not geographical locations.
All religious experiences--sin and salvation, the Second Coming of Christ, Judgment, and Resurrection--are conceived in the Emerging Church as subjective experiences rather than objective activities or cosmic happenings. Sin is understood as a spiritual event involving the negation of humanity and the assumption of godhood, a subjective experience incapable of isolation in any objective act, deed, word, thought, feeling, or desire.
No part of the reality of man, external or internal, is considered inherently evil. Salvation is perceived as the personal process of coming to exist in Christ, to know God in the here and now. Christ's Second Coming, Final Judgment, and Resurrection are expected as subjective events, possible in the lifetime of every individual instead of as historical happenings at the end of time.
The "other world" in Emerging Religion is not a separate geographical location above or below the earth, but rather another world of potential human experience beyond one's present condition. It seeks knowing God now, the ultimate in "this worldliness," rather than an escape into the sky. Emerging Religion is about "getting with it," not getting out of it; about heaven on earth, not "pie in the sky." Eternal life is understood as an ultimate quality of living, not as an objective quantity of chronological existence. The kingdom of God is sought within the experience of each individual, instead of somewhere beyond death.
The religious theme in the Emerging Church is, "Prepare to live," rather than "Prepare to die." Its concern is that man loses degrees of contact with reality. He gets out of touch with the omnipresent God who is revealed in all creation. He literally loses spiritual life, and then merely exists, physically alive, but spiritually dead. At life's banquet table, he goes hungry; at life's concert, he is deaf. With ears to hear, he hears not; with eyes to see, he sees not; with life to live, he lives not.
Whereas the Popular Church sees man as alive and preparing for death, the Emerging Church views him as already dead, spiritually, and in need of current resurrection. Its message is, "Prepare to live. A better way is open to you. There is more to life than this. Meet God, now."
A third distinction between Popular Religion and the Emerging Church lies in their opposing stances on personal freedom. The Popular Church is primarily repressive, whereas Emerging Religion is expressive. One is concerned with "holding down," the other with "letting go." Popular Religion is essentially negative, weighted with "thou shalt nots." Emerging Religion is positive.
With the highest possible happiness as a common goal, each approaches achieving that goal in a distinctive way. Popular Religion restricts; it carefully curtails the stimuli to which its participants are subjected. The Emerging Church, conversely, selectively applies new stimuli; it encourages the development of faith by inviting participants to exercise greater degrees of freedom.
The essential human situation--which confronts both Popular and Emerging Religion--is the threat of freedom, the fear of pleasure, the challenge of actually being fully alive. In spite of man's desire for heaven, he is woefully unprepared for the experience. The excitement of freedom or, in religious terms, the wondrous joy of being in the presence of God, is an overwhelming threat to the average human with limited experience in happiness.
Despite conscious rejection of the idea of spiritual death, most have far more experience with unhappiness than with joy, with being partly dead in spirit than with being fully alive. The wish for bliss is not founded on a wealth of personal experience. We are far more familiar with bondage than with freedom. Thus, great faith is required for moving into the new dimensions of heaven. Expanding degrees of pleasure and joy challenge the limits of our tolerance. Can we stand the excitement of being fully alive? Is the potential joy of God's presence too overwhelming? Will we be able to exist in the multiplicity of stimuli without dying in the event? Because no one knows the answer ahead of time, faith is crucial.
Popular Religion and the Emerging Church take different approaches to this common human situation. The Popular stance deals with man's limited tolerance for ecstasy by careful restriction in the immediate situation, coupled with vast promises for later bliss. Present freedom is strongly curtailed, while ultimate future freedom is offered. Within the confines of stringent present limitations, carefully monitored by the church, other practitioners, and an all-seeing, ever-present, cosmic God, people are able to enjoy themselves in restricted, tolerable doses. Knowing that the limits are rigidly set, the lines firmly drawn, members can risk small degrees of present joy, without the threat of ultimate ecstasy in the here and now.
Acceptance of the obvious bondage of Popular Religion is made easier by the fantasy of a blissful afterlife. Man can rationalize his immediate religious prison with the belief that this is simply the price he must pay for perpetual freedom later. Heaven is the proverbial carrot dangled before the plodding, harnessed goat whose immediate oppression is obscured by the promise of reaching the delicious morsel through diligence in his bondage.
Combining the two elements--present restrictions and promised freedom, Popular Religion achieves a workable balance whereby individuals can approach, experience, and slightly exceed their known tolerance for pleasure, without the faith required for fully meeting God in the here and now. It fulfills, at least in the mind's eye, the wish to "have your cake and eat it too."
Emerging Religion is different. Instead of promising bliss while denying freedom, it guides persons in the process of becoming free. Presuming that individuals will be able to pace themselves--that is, maintain adequate personal restrictions, utilizing their own resources and other social institutions (law, school, home)--the Emerging Church devotes its energies to providing opportunity for growth in freedom. It arranges circumstances for developing the necessary faith to encounter God in the here and now. No blissful afterlife is offered as a tempting escape from the challenging work of learning to tolerate and responsibly handle freedom in this life.
Instead, emphasis is placed on working toward immediate salvation. Worship services are focused on current experience rather than on participation in a ritual. The ever-changing format invites a continually new encounter with God. Educational activities are designed to free the mind and train persons to think openly, instead of merely teaching the church's accepted doctrines. Individual counseling and growth groups provide regular occasions for personal development. Guidance programs on such subjects as becoming emotional, accepting sexuality, learning to listen, and how to worship, further encourage individual growth in many relevant areas of human capacity.
In the Popular Church suppressions are operative in all areas of human experience--deeds, words, thoughts, emotions, desires. As a suppressive agent, Popular Religion proves to be useful in the organization and maintenance of societies. It rules out dangerous human activities, curtails disruptive forms of expression, and assists persons in managing their lives in socially acceptable ways. The burden of freedom is removed from individuals and shouldered by the church. Persons are relieved of the faith-demanding responsibility of activating various human capacities in the context of society.
Popular Religion identifies the dangerous human capacities--primarily, sexual desire, aggression, and power-- prejudges them, and assists in their constant suppression.
This suppression is achieved through the beliefs, teachings, immediate punishments, and threats of everlasting damnation for violation of the rules. Potentially disruptive human actions are initially classified as inherently "wrong" or evil.
For instance, disobeying parents, lying, stealing, and adultery are prejudged as innately evil activities. These beliefs are then taught to children and continually reinforced through preaching and punishment for violation of the code. Initially the punishment is often physical. Later, more subtle forms or personal rejection and isolation reinforce the basic teachings. One's standing in the group is threatened by any activities contrary to the established rules.
Internal violations, such as unacceptable desires or emotions, or private rule-breaking, all of which may be unknown to others, are suppressed by the idea that God is always watching. Children are taught that even when parents and priests do not know what they do, God sees secret activities and knows every thought and desire. Thus they are never freed from the continual eye of rejecting authorities.
The ultimate force lies in the threat of unending punishment in the fires of hell for variations from the code. If parents don't get you now, Satan will get you later. The powers to enforce breaches in suppression are thus unlimited. Punishment is available as required, from physical pain to emotional isolation, from temporal rejection by peers to eternal condemnation by God. Unlimited repressive power is an earmark of Popular Religion. Self-denial is often the highest virtue.
One result of suppression is projection. Once a human capacity is repressed from awareness, it tends to reappear in projected form "out there." For instance, when fear is repressed, it tends to emerge in the form of scary ghosts. The power of internal fear is displaced onto the imagined external creatures. Repressed sexual desires often emerge in the projected forms of sexually tempting persons "out there." Then, it is not I who feel sexy, but they who "turn me on."
This familiar psychic procedure is evident throughout Popular Religion. The anthropomorphic god is often revealed in analysis as the repressed and projected self-image of the god-like infant in an adult body. When the childish fantasies of omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality are suppressed, they often emerge in some projected form. The popular cosmic god is the best example.
In spite of the belief that "man is created in God's image," careful observation often reveals the reverse--that is, a god created in the repressed image of man. This projection is evident in the imagined physical form--the shape of a human, the racial characteristics (whites imagine a white god, blacks conceive him darkened), and also the personal attributes. Repressed hostility may be reflected in a vindictive god: "God will make you pay for this," says one who obviously wants to punish. Denied tenderness, or the desire for love, can emerge in a kindly god who "takes one to his bosom." Suppressed or imagined personal powers are commonly projected on a cosmic magician.
Just as positive repressions are projected on an imaginary god, so negative human elements are assigned to a devil. Repressed desires, condemned as evil, emerge as tempting demons. "The devil made me do it," says Flip Wilson and countless others (less facetiously) in Popular Religion. It was not that I myself wanted to hurt you, but this devil "drove me to do it." "I don't know what got into me," says one with an unnamed demon.
A specific example will illustrate. A young woman with a history of failures had just been fired from her last job. Confessing that she was also failing in her marriage, she began crying and cursing God. In desperation she revealed this image. "I see God as a great smart-ass, sitting up on a big feather bed in the sky. He sets up tiny ladders down here, which we have to struggle up. Just as we get to the top, he flips the bottom of the ladder with his finger, making us fall on our faces. Then he goes, 'Goodie, goodie,' and sets up another ladder which we must start climbing all over again."
Consciously she viewed herself as an innocent victim of circumstances and God as the cruel manager of her bad fate. Further counseling revealed her projection. She came to see that her own unconscious destructive wishes were being turned on herself. Her imagined god was but the projection of a previously unacceptable part of herself.
The content of the projection varies from person to person, but depth counseling repeatedly reveals god and devil images as the reflection of imaginary or unaccepted aspects of the individual.
The Emerging Church is characterized by expression rather than suppression--that is, by "letting out" rather than "holding in." The emotional dangers of continual self-denial are recognized, and emphasis is placed on becoming one's fullest self. The repression of humanity is no longer regarded as a virtue. The goal is responsible activation of every human capability. Members are encouraged to reverse the process of suppression, to open themselves inwardly, to experience desires, feel all emotions, think their own thoughts, express themselves, and "do their own thing." The doctrine of freedom in Christ is activated in the Emerging Church. The easy course of virtue through self-negation is replaced by the faith-demanding process of self-actualization. Not-being is supplanted by being. "Become your truest self," is the message.
As suppression diminishes, the necessity for projection also fades. In the Emerging Church, anthropomorphic gods are dethroned and removed from the sky. Projected omnipotence is dissolved in the light of reality. Externalized fantasies of omniscience are replaced by accepted human limitations. Dreams of immortality are merged with the facts of physical death. External devils are internalized once more, as persons being saved grapple with their own demonic capacities. Projected fears, temptations, and hostilities are accepted inwardly. Projected possibilities of bliss beyond the sunset are openly accepted in the here and now. The kingdom of God within becomes a lively option in the Emerging Church.
Magic vs. reality is a fourth major distinction between Popular and Emerging Religion. The first is essentially magical in its orientation; the second is focused on reality. Popular Religion often belittles, ignores, or despises the real world, while the Emerging Church accepts it, placing no hope in magical possibilities.
Supernatural beings--an All Powerful Father and his magically endowed Son--and miraculous events in which the laws of nature are suspended are primary elements in Popular Religion. Indeed, belief in them is essential to its operation. The basic appeal is a fantasy of an unreal world of personal irresponsibility in which everything is done for one. The ultimate goal of heaven is commonly understood in just this way. Apart from reality, the dream is a magical relief from the distasteful facts of life "down here"--work, pain, sorrow, and death. Instead, everything needed or desired will be given without responsibility on man's part. Effectively, he will return to an adult version of his first womb world.
in the meantime, the belief in a supernatural god is reflected in the expectation of miraculous favors when he is pleased with man. Although one is expected to do what he can, the magical god is available when man reaches his limits. First, this god is believed to "save man," with a minimum of effort on man's part. Some hold that "God does it all for us," through his Superson, Jesus. All we have to do is "believe in him." Others add that we must also "try to live right." Even so, the basic work is done for us. The heavenly Father gives us a home in heaven in the same way earthly parents provide a home down here.
Additional favors expected in Popular Religion include magically answered personal prayers, miraculous cures from disease, divine intervention in weather management, and national favoritism. In some unreal way, at least as far as the natural universe is concerned, God, or Jesus, is expected to "always be with one," as a constant, religious companion to "help me make it through the night" of life's hard times. Popular churchmen need not bother with the nitty-gritty business of finding happiness. God, theoretically, will "give it to them." They need not pay a secular psychiatrist to assist in working through problems. The religious Father, or his earthly Son, presumably will "take care of everything" for free, if we only "have faith in him."
The modern Billy Graham type of salvation is a typical example of the thinly veiled belief in religious magic. By the simple act of "giving your heart to Jesus," one is presumed to secure eternal bliss, plus daily companionship and support until the postmortem heaven becomes operative.
Emerging Religion, in sharp contrast, seeks no escape from the present world of reality, either now or later. It expects no current suspension of the laws of nature, no divine favoritism; and it does not propound the idea of a magical, unseen companion along life's way.
Instead of replacing the natural world, or suspending its operational rules, Emerging Religion seeks a closer harmony with nature. Its goal is the ultimate in naturalism, not an escape from it. Above all else, it seeks to be realistic in light of the best evidence at hand. Accepting the prevalent belief in religious magic as a predictable extension of childish fantasy, it nevertheless moves toward an expanding cooperation with the facts of life on this earth.
The resolution of estrangement is sought through reestablished communion rather than perpetual separation from this earth on which we now reside. "Miracles" are understood as natural possibilities on the growing edge of man's current understanding, instead of as supernatural suspensions of nature's laws. Entrance to the kingdom
of God is sought via diligent endeavor, not divine bestowal. In the Emerging Church, members work out their salvation, utilizing psychiatry and every other available resource.
Jesus becomes a classic example of the required diligence, rather than a magician's son who "did it all for us." The magical idea that an activity of Jesus will suffice for any other man, or that sincerely believing in him is the only requirement for salvation, has no place in the realistic world of the Emerging Church.
Other primary distinctions to be amplified in later sections include:
Popular Church Emerging Church
1. Denominational Club of Saints 1. Ecumenical Communion of sinners
2. Based on Beliefs 2. Based on Experience
3. Focused on Behavior 3. Focused on Becoming
(Ultimately Legalistic) (Ultimately Pragmatic)
4. Bible as "Final Word" 4. Bible as "Expression" of Word
5. Defined God 5. Mysterious God
6. Jesus: Superson 6. Jesus: Human Example
7. Divided Man (Soul &, Body) 7. United Man
8. Salvation: Ticket to Afterlife 8. Salvation: Experience of knowing God
9. Heaven: Place in Sky 9. Heaven: Event on Earth
II. WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
A social organization comprised largely of self-righteous individuals with a veneer of humility. The church exists to support and reinforce the system of beliefs and behavior structuring the emotional security of its members and to extend itself in the world; it is characterized by walls, rigidity, judgment, duty, and hypocrisy.
A fellowship of sinners in the process of being saved. The church is loosely organized to facilitate the changing pattern of activities designed to guide members in working out their own salvation and to share with others outside the local communion; it is characterized by openness, flexibility, acceptance, freedom, and honesty.
To understand the Popular Church a careful distinction must be drawn between what it is in theory and what it is in reality, between its imagined self and its actual self. Theoretically, the Popular Church is the body of Christ in the present time, a committed band of Christlike persons active in loving others and bringing in God's kingdom. Even though its verbal expressions and the opinions of its members often support this theory, there is frequently a wide gulf between what it preaches and what it practices. If an objective, scientific study could be made of the Popular Church in modern society, I believe it would support the following observations.
First, it is characterized by walls--political and social walls, racial barriers, religious exclusiveness, sexual walls, and even subtle fences against sinners. Though stone monastery walls are now rare, the monastic motif remains. The Popular Church largely maintains monastic isolation from world affairs. "Religion and politics don't mix." Social issues, such as equal rights, adequate housing, and public education, have never had a significant place in the Popular Church.
Historically, its racial walls are readily observable. In the recent desegregation process the church was often the last community door to remain closed to those of other races. Even after integration in schools, lunch counters, hotels, and businesses, the Popular Church remained the great bastion of segregation. Numerous Emerging ministers were forced from their pulpits for giving leadership in the civil rights movement. Now, after official church desegregation is widespread, the more subtle yet effective walls of personal prejudice still keep the Popular Church largely divided by race.
Denominational walls are openly characteristic of Popular Religion. While theoretically "trying to get to the same place" and certainly sharing many common goals, churches continue to practice denominational exclusiveness. Each believes its own brand to be "right." Even if outwardly tolerant of other denominations, a practical isolation is maintained by one from another. Between major religions the walls are impenetrable.
Between denominations the walls are more pervious, yet still largely impossible to transcend. Catholics and Protestants remain oceans apart. Baptist and Methodist churches may occupy opposite sides of the street, yet find the spiritual road uncrossable. Ecumenical movements tend to falter and fail at the grass-roots level, if not between hierarchies. Cooperation on external projects is usually the extent of lowered walls. No Protestant is acceptable in a Catholic church, except as a guest. Even a Methodist is unacceptable as a member of most Baptist churches, unless he is re-baptized. Underneath cloaks of cooperation, amicable conversations, and friendly competition, most Popular Churches remain estranged from their religious "brothers."
Few, if any, organizations are more sexist than the Popular Church in modern society. Male chauvinism prevails. Walls between sexes interlace the entire fabric of its structures. The espoused theology of "neither male nor female" is systematically lost in continual emphasis on the sexual distinction. The popular male god ("Our Father") is but a prototype of the overt masculine dominance in church hierarchy. As in the home, females are assigned the "menial work," but seldom are they placed in the more responsible positions.
Nor are the sexual walls only maintained by the men. Recognizing, perhaps unconsciously, the advantages of being the "power behind the throne," females in the Popular Church are notably silent about women's rights. The NOW organization has no foothold in Popular Religion. In fact, some of the strongest opposition to the equal rights amendment has come from active churchwomen.
Beyond monastic walls, racial and sexual barriers, and denominational divisions, the highest walls in the Popular Church separate it from the sinners it theoretically loves. No barrier is greater than that between a thorough-going sinner, an out-and-out lost person, and the Popular religious community. The "whosoever will may come" message is accompanied by the silent refrain, "if you speedily become like us." Just as whites are commonly unaware of racial prejudice, churchmen tend to ignore their saintly prejudice against obvious sinners. Even so, lost ones sense the wall which shuts them out of the church. For the openly lost sinner, the bar stool offers more community than the church pew.
In contrast, the Emerging Church is characterized by openness--and absence of walls. The traditional isolationism from the world is dissolved in involvement. The political arena is a relevant dimension of life in Emerging Religion. Social responsibility is accepted in all areas of current concern. No issue confronting the average person on the streets is off-limits. The Emerging Church is to be found in the foreground of all efforts to protect life on the planet and establish conditions conducive to human liberation.
Racial exclusiveness is abandoned. Acquired prejudices are ferreted into the open and no longer used to separate persons. Even reverse prejudice, the compulsive drive toward inclusiveness, is abandoned. When discrimination is feasible, its basis is far more comprehensive than mere racial distinctions.
Religious separatism and denominational divisions are laid aside in the Emerging Church. Companionship and cooperation in the common quest replace these walls. Differences are embraced rather than dissolved or hidden, as in Popular ecumenical efforts. Whereas Roman Catholicism has become "just another church," universal only in its theories, the Emerging Church is truly catholic. Literally "universal" in stance, it is open to persons of all religious persuasions, as well as non-religious individuals who share a concern for fullness of life. For instance, Catholics, Baptists, and Jews, as well as atheists and agnostics, gather in fellowship, communion, study, service, and worship, pursuing private concerns in a corporate body.
The current mode of local churches as denominational representatives, directed more or less by the hierarchy, is replaced by truly independent, ecumenical, local congregations. Each branch of the Emerging Church is self-determining, as is every member of each branch. Autonomous local groups pursue the kingdom of God by the best lights given to those involved.
Affiliation with larger religious bodies, such as existing denominations, is for purposes of cooperation in areas of mutual concern, sharing resources, and personal fellowship. Such affiliations, the number determined by mutual interests and resources, carefully maintain the integrity of both parties. For instance, if an Emerging Church affiliates with the American Baptist Churches of the U.S.A. (a denomination), it reserves all rights and responsibilities for self-determination, while cooperating in the areas of mutual concern. Remaining unbound from the larger body, it likewise holds no power over that body. The union is like an ideal marriage in which two persons with common concerns join in a pact of cooperation, with each remaining a separate, responsible individual.
Sexual walls, common in Popular Religion, are also removed. Privileges and responsibilities are shared without discrimination on the basis of sex. All positions of leadership are open to the most capable individual, male or female. Ordination of women to all church positions is accepted and practiced. On the personal level, sexual differences, like racial distinctions, are accepted without magnification or de-emphasis. The constant goal is the more profound experience of relating as persons, rather than simply as men and women. Without ignoring physiological differences, the Emerging Church seeks deeper spiritual communion, beyond sexual encounter.
Whereas the Popular Church remains sexist through largely ignoring the subject, the Emerging Church openly faces the tradition of male superiority. In discussion and practice, overt masculine domination is systematically confronted and replaced with equal standing among the sexes. Biblical texts traditionally used to support female subservience are reinterpreted in the light of current understanding. By directly confronting the issue, making appropriate adjustments in teaching and practice, the Emerging Church is able to move beyond the sexual barriers in Popular Religion. Openly accepting the positive values in sexual distinctions, the Emerging Church proceeds to explore levels of communion possible beyond these differences.
Fences against sinners are also lowered. The "whosoever will" invitation is extended literally. As a communion of sinners in the process of salvation, its doors are open to others, whatever their place along the path to God. Not only are the poor and disfranchised welcomed, but also the lawbreakers, of both civil and religious codes. The Emerging Church includes the divorced, as well as the married, single, or widowed; criminals, as well as law-abiding citizens; homosexuals as well as heterosexuals; neurotics and psychotics; conservatives and liberals; seekers, plus those who think they have the answer; alcoholics and tee-totalers; the depressed and the elated; the down and out, as well as the up and out. The bond in the Emerging Church is the common quest, rather than personal similarities. All levels of sinners are welcomed.
Walls, long erected, tend to become set, like concrete. This has happened in Popular Religion. The barriers, perhaps established for practical purposes originally, have become solidified, rigid. Rigidity is a second major characteristic of the Popular Church. Changing times find it relatively locked in the pomp and circumstance of yesteryear. Appearances of change are more likely to be old walls repainted, traditions redressed in modern garb. When the frills are worn away, ancient forms show through again.
Rigidity is evident in every dimension, except for outside garb. Doctrines, procedures, organizations, practices, forms, and programs are all highly resistant to the erosion of time as well as to the recommendations of evaluation committees. Once a procedure is set in Popular Religion, it tends to outlive the generation which birthed it, often becoming a perpetual albatross around the neck of succeeding churchmen.
Examples abound: format of rituals, content of beliefs, arrangement of furniture, type of architecture, rhythm of music, position of collars, tone of preaching, time of services, length of prayers, cut of clothes, acceptable behavior, type of education, and an endless succession of others. Many young Emerging clerics and concerned laymen lie battered and bruised along the rocky path of attempted change in the Popular Church. No organization, institution, or business has so successfully avoided or delayed change in the past twenty centuries as has the organized church. Characteristically, it is a social museum filled with relics and mementoes from the past, Old habits adorn its activities, like old names on its stained-glass windows. Memorial rites are practiced from memorial pews. Sacred artifacts, both tangible and intangible, abound. Sacred objects, ideas, places, days, and times are continually revered. Certainly evolutions have taken place, but they have occurred so gradually as to be relatively unnoticed by any particular generation.
Conversely, the Emerging Church is noted for its flexibility. Continual evolution is woven into the fabric of its structure. Regular change is written into its constitution. Traditions are carefully examined in the light of each new day. Useful ones are retained, and outmoded ones are regularly discarded. "Nothing is nailed down that won't come loose." Organizations are established to serve immediate needs. They constantly evolve as needs change. Most committees are ad hoc. Thought and behavior patterns emerge, serve their time, and fade away.
No sacred thing is allowed to take precedence over human spirit. In the Emerging Church the "Sabbath is made for man," and not vice versa. All structures exist for the utility of the members, never the members for the forms. Any procedure that outlives its practical value is dropped.
Whereas the appeal of the Popular Church, both expressed and unconscious, is often based on its unchanging or rigid nature, Emerging Religion offers no such sense of tangible security. It is literally a pilgrim people, following as spirit leads.
Establishment within rigid walls tends to lead to self-righteousness and, hence, to judgment. This has happened in the Popular Church. Cracks in its veneer of humility reveal the godly righteousness that is reflected in a judgmental attitude toward those beyond its fold. Popular churchmen are commonly convinced that theirs is "the true church," that they have "the right answers," and their way "is best." Even when not living up to their ideals, they deeply feel that they know what is right.
From such entrenched self-righteousness, judgment freely flows. Everyone outside its doors is a potential convert. Those in other religions are "lost"; natives in other lands are "heathen." Even members of other denominations are often considered "prospects." All those who do not share accepted beliefs are "wrongs'; though granted the virtue of "being sincere," still they are "misguided."
In the dimension of behavior, judgment becomes even more pronounced. The Popular Church knows "the right way to live." Its codes of acceptable practices, of what is right and wrong to do, say, think, and feel, are well established. Even though the content varies from church to church, the presence of a standard is inevitable.
Variations from the accepted pattern immediately bring churchly judgment. First it falls on those outside the church, who do not "live right." The rejective nature of the Popular Church is commonly felt by lost persons who desperately need what it says it has to offer. Acceptability, they knew, is predicated on "shaping up" first. Sinners are welcome, but only if they are converted (measure up to the standards).
Even within the Popular Church, judgment abounds among its members. Rejection for code violations is often more immediate and harsh for practitioners than for the non-churched. Variations from standard beliefs lead to suspended acceptability. Misbehavior (acting contrary to established practices) among those in leadership almost certainly brings both hierarchal and local rejection. Even when cloaked in the appearance of concern ("We're praying for you"), the judgment and emotional rejection are easily apparent to the offending party. Under the banner of fellowship, probably no organization in current society is less accepting of differences among its members than is the Popular Church.
Its preaching is often but the expression of the church's judgments upon those who transgress its rules and fail to live up to its standards. Historically, preaching on the wrath and judgment of God has been far more popular than messages on God's love. Even when God's love is preached, the prevailing image is one of a judge. "Be careful, God is always watching."
The Emerging Church, conversely, is noted for its accepting nature. The popular structures of judgment are absent in its attitudes. Its unity is found in a common goal, rather than a rigid path. Its solidarity is based on tolerance, not similarity. Members gather in mutual acceptance, not because they are all alike. Difference is welcomed as a stimulus for further growth. Recognizing its own humanity and, hence, fallibility, it confines itself to diligence in pursuing its chosen goals, avoiding judgment on the pursuits of others. Members are invited and accepted "just as they are," without promise of change. No preconceived standards require measuring up for entrance. Judgment in the Popular Church becomes tolerance in Emerging Religion.
Duty is a fourth characteristic of Popular Religion. Judgment naturally leads to obligation. If one is rejected for not measuring up, then he must strive to "do what he should." Preaching of grace is overshadowed by the practice of legalism. Words and doctrines of freedom never quite supplant the deeper belief in salvation by works.
The assumption of a knowledge of "what is right" (to feel, think, say, and do) leads to a continual emphasis on "should" and "ought." If a certain practice is "known to be right," then, of course, one "should" do it. If a belief is "the truth," one "ought" to agree. If a path is accepted as "the right way,' one has a duty to follow it.
Since the Popular Church assumes such knowledge, its teaching and preaching reflect a continual sense of duty. One inevitable result of missed obligations is a false sense of guilt. Because the standards of duty are so high, "falling short" is extremely common. As a result, Popular Religion is also characterized by a high incidence of guilt. Churchmen continually wrestle with a sense of guilt about "being caught" or "not being all they should be."
Extending the doctrine of salvation by grace into daily practice, the Emerging Church is a center of freedom. No cloud of duty hangs heavy over its gatherings. The spirit of freedom abounds. In a society characterized by laws--civil, religious, and cultural--it stands as one context of freedom. No sacred commandments dictate how its members should feel or what they ought to do. No sacred doctrines overshadow their freedom to think. No "right way" denies the freedom and responsibility for choosing a life stance appropriate to one's own existence.
Its teaching is characterized by an emphasis on guided experience rather than embraced obligations. Its preaching is a stimulus to free thought, not a handing down of "right answers." Disagreement is welcomed. Doubt is encouraged.
Exploration is in order. Mistakes are acceptable. The godlike priest in the Popular Church is replaced by the coach-counselor type minister in the Emerging Church. Instead of functioning as a group-superego, continually evoking guilt for shortcomings, he becomes an accepting guide, pointing a way, yet staunchly maintaining a context of freedom.
A final difference between the Popular and the Emerging Church can be measured with a scale of hypocrisy--honesty. The ancient observation of the "hypocrites in the church" remains accurate. Judgment and duty constantly invite hypocrisy, that is, pretending to be what one is not. Once the "right way" is known and following it is demanded, the temptation to act arises immediately. Pretended agreement is easier than the mental suppression required to accept unreasonable doctrines. The appearance of love is easier than loving. Acting non-sexual is simpler than ruling out unacceptable sexual desires. Aping required behavior is less dangerous than risking rejection by being honest. Saying what is expected avoids the threat inherent in telling the truth.
The summary result is commonly called "being two-faced," appearing to be one person in the religious environment while actually being another elsewhere. The smiling churchman who is holy terror at the office, the tithing businessman who evades income taxes, the kindly Sunday school teacher who screams at her own children, the dutiful deacon who has an affair with his secretary, the minister who does not pay his debts--all are classic examples of the hypocrisy common in Popular Church. The Sunday facade conceals the Saturday night reality. Though the mask may be worn so effectively as to deceive the general public, those close at hand are often well aware of the gulf between "what he is" and "what he pretends to be."
Because this internal dichotomy is exceedingly problematic, Popular Religion reacts by focusing primary attention on external situations. Self-avoidance, under the name of "self-denial," is a virtue. Massive attention is given to "helping others," while helping oneself is grossly ignored. Inward attention, derogatorily called "naval gazing," is shunned. The more one does for others, the higher his praise factor in the church.
"Burning up for Jesus" is an ultimate goal. The further from home the help is given, the better it is. Foreign missions are more popular than home missions. The most glamorous helpers are those who go the farthest away.
Religious hypocrisy is seldom intentional, that is, consciously chosen. The average practitioner does not mean to be dishonest. The churchly self is developed as a compromise between religious expectations and personal reality. It is a desperate effort to measure up religiously, while maintaining some degree of private integrity. Still the result is dishonesty. The Popular Church scores high in hypocrisy.
In the Emerging Church, masks are being removed. The attitude of acceptance and air of freedom encourage honesty. The invitation is, "Come as you are." The message is, "Be yourself." Programs and activities discourage hypocrisy. Attention is given to self-facing. The biblical directive to "confess your faults one to another" is taken literally. Self-denial is understood as denying the false, hypocritical self one has become, rather than negating one's true self. Members gather to be honest with each other. In a society where politeness, "being nice," and continual phoniness has become the accepted pattern, the Emerging Church is an island for de-masking.
Someone has described 11:00 A.M. on Sunday morning as "the phoniest time of the week." This situation is reversed in the Emerging Church. Instead of gathering to pretend with each other, its members meet to reverse the trend of social and personal dishonesty. They assemble to take a closer look at their inward selves and to risk greater degrees of honesty with others.
Emerging churchmen move outward in the world as inner divisions are healed. Helping others is never an escape from facing themselves. Their love for others is an overflow, not a substitute, or compensation, for self-hate. For them, world responsibility is but an extension of personal responsibility.
In summary, the Popular Church is an institution, the Emerging Church, a fellowship. Three major social structures dominate our culture--home, school, and church. The organized Popular Church has taken its place in this triad of stabilizing institutions. Like school, it has become "something you go to." Children see it primarily as a place. The typical definition a child might give is: "Church is a place you go to learn about God." Adults view it as an organization. They "belong" to the church in the same way they "belong" to the garden (or bridge) club--that is, they are members of the organization called church. If they are faithful, they attend regularly and support its activities.
In the final analysis, Popular Church is an "it," something "out there" that one goes to. Contrarily, the Emerging Church is a communion of persons. They do not "go to church"; they are the church. The organization is simply a structure to serve the fellowship, not vice versa.
In Popular Church the people support and serve the institution. The reverse is true in the Emerging Church.
III. DO BELIEFS MATTER?
Beliefs are the basic foundation of the Popular Church. Rules, rituals, practices, and programs are built on this primary cornerstone. Though particular beliefs vary from group to group, a centrality of doctrines is common to all. Membership requires acceptance of the approved dogma. Doubt brings disapproval; disbelief brings rejection. Doctrines are sacred in Popular Religion. Though seldom taught openly, the common conclusion is that salvation comes from "having the right beliefs" and "trying to live up to them."
The centrality of beliefs is replaced by an emphasis on experience. Ideas are considered important, since they are often the basis for action; but they are not viewed as inherently sacred. Doubt, the questioning of all beliefs, is encouraged in the pursuit of personal validation. A climate of intellectual freedom is maintained, so that members can openly, carefully, and continually examine all beliefs in the light of experience. Honest thinking is elevated over blind devotion to any idea. Salvation is sought through experiencing God, rather than through accepting the "right" beliefs.
Before amplifying these distinctions, let us clarify the meaning of belief. A belief is the conviction of the truth of something which cannot be proved; it might even be defined as a "strongly held" opinion, an idea deeply adhered to. A belief is something one "really thinks" about life, about "how things are." Examples of religious beliefs include: "There is a God"; "There is a heaven"; "There will be a resurrection into an afterlife"; "The Pope is infallible"; ""Transubstantiation does occur"; "God will take care of his own"; "God answers prayer"; "Jesus paid it all"; "Judgment day is coming." Secular beliefs include: "You can't fight city hall"; "You can't trust a man"; "Women are weak"; "I am a bad (or good, ugly, smart, dumb) person"; "The world is flat"; "The moon is made of green cheese."
Beliefs, both religious and secular, may be conscious or unconscious. One may be fully aware of his beliefs, or they may be buried in the deeper recesses of his mind. Regardless of whether one knows what he believes, his convictions may be very strong. Sometimes conscious beliefs are contrary to buried beliefs. For example, one may disbelieve in the devil, and yet be deeply convinced that evil forces are driving him to act. Or, a conscious atheist may still feel that "God is watching."
Beliefs are seldom held in mental isolation. They tend to be "acted out" in life. We usually "live by" our beliefs. Those who believe in prayer are likely to pray. Those convinced that the Pope is infallible are likely to follow his edicts. Those believing that one can't trust men seldom do. People who believe they are dumb act accordingly. In cases of conflict between conscious and unconscious beliefs, we tend to live by our deeper convictions. Though one says he believes in going to church, his attendance will probably be irregular if he unconsciously doubts the value of going to church.
To summarize: "Beliefs" are mental convictions, ideas accepted as truth; they generally form the basis for outward actions. They may be acquired from others or personally created. In either case, beliefs are objective entities, capable of being written, spoken, or taught; they are not necessarily rooted in experience.
In Popular Religion, beliefs are critically important. Denominations are founded on the basis of beliefs. The length and content of the list vary from group to group, but its presence is inevitable. Like the human skeleton, it lies behind what is seen, giving structure to all out-ward activities.
In the course of time, the list in each group tends to become sacred. Accepted doctrines become holy. People assemble around the primary beliefs. Ideas become more important than the persons holding them. Affirmation of sacred doctrines takes precedence over the honesty of believers. Doubt is intolerable; disagreement is heresy. In a conflict between a holy belief and a human being, the idea comes first. Personal rejection over ideological disagreement is common. Modification of beliefs in the light of human experience is exceedingly rare.
Theoretical doctrines of love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, and acceptance all become insignificant in cases involving the sacred beliefs of any given group. Even deviant behavior is more tolerable than ideological disagreement. In spite of its affirmation of the virtue of honesty, pretended agreement is more acceptable than honest doubt in Popular Religion. A staunch adherence to the sacred doctrines regarding love brings more esteem than a loving life.
The familiar result of this elevation of ideas and devotion to them is the Popular conception of salvation as "having the right beliefs." Though the definition of right varies, belief in the saving power of beliefs is widespread. Some expect to be saved by believing in Jesus, others by believing in God, and still others by their belief in the church. The secondary requirement of "trying to live up to one's beliefs" is often added; but it is seldom considered as essential as "truly believing" in the sacred ideas.
Emerging Religion elevates spiritual experience above mental devotion. "What one knows"--that is, what one has learned through personal experience--takes precedence over "what one believes." All ideas (doctrines) are de-throned to the fallible position of potentially useful guides in the process of human experience. They are considered extremely important, because they become the basis for vital decisions, but never are they seen as inherently sacred.
In the Emerging Church, people come before ideas; people are more important than beliefs. Honesty in thought--that is, the accurate statement of one's actual experience--is elevated above allegiance to established ideas. Honest atheism becomes more appropriate than pretended theism.
Contrary to the cornerstone of beliefs in Popular Religion, the Emerging Church has no permanently established doctrines. Focusing on experience, its beliefs are constantly being reevaluated and are always in a state of flux. At any given time a particular member may have "his beliefs"; a local church will have a prevailing theological stance. Yet, these beliefs are only an expression of the current level of experience of the individual or group. Doctrines are but statements summarizing personal knowledge, not infallible dogma transcending human experience. Each belief is a lightly held summary of someone's learning in the "school of hard knocks."
Though clearly voiced and immediately affirmed, a particular belief is always subject to revision in the light of expanding experience. In effect, a belief in the Emerging Church is a statement of "what I have learned up to this time." It is used as an aid in decision-making and to anticipate the future, but always there is an air of tentativeness. It guides one toward the future, without pretending to determine it. It states: "This is how I have found it to be," but not, "This is how it inevitably is." Allowance is continually made for limited experience, error, and changing circumstances.
The beliefs of one or many are offered as guides for the experience of others, yet always in a spirit of suggestion rather than dictation. One never tells another what he "should believe," because there are no sacred beliefs in the Emerging Church. He may relate what he currently believes as a guide in an area of another's inexperience, or for feedback in comparing notes on mutual learning--but never as "the final word" on how any segment of reality universally is. His beliefs are a reflection of his personal experience in encountering reality, rather than godlike statements of how reality truly is.
In every local Emerging Church many and varied theological positions are evident and acceptable. Consequently, beliefs are not used as a basis for accepting or rejecting members. Nor is status achieved through devotion to the current theological stance. One may join because he shares the beliefs of the minister or the prevailing views of the larger group, but common agreement is not required. Doubting current beliefs is encouraged as a vehicle for refining experience.
The minister expresses his beliefs in order to promote clarification of parishioner understanding, rather than to demand allegiance to sacred dogma. The tone of his messages is: "Think about what I am saying. Compare notes with your experience. Look carefully at inherited beliefs. Follow my suggestions if you choose, but never take my word unquestioningly."
Honest disagreements are accepted and welcomed. Shared differences of opinions are viewed as a healthy climate for validating and expanding experience. Heresy is impossible, since there is no universal dogma. Honest deviation from prevailing beliefs is more welcome than is insincere or inauthentic affirmation.
The popular connection between beliefs and salvation does not exist in Emerging Religion. Beliefs are recognized as important and useful, but not as "saving." Beliefs are made for man, and not man for beliefs. Compulsive, dogmatic devotion to any idea is seen as a shield against the threat of intellectual openness, rather than as an earmark of righteousness. The goal is standing faithfully in the presence of the unknown, without final knowledge. The assumed omniscience of truly knowing "how it is" is viewed as the ultimate sin, rather than the highest virtue.
The challenge of Emerging Religion is to live victoriously in this mysterious world, to embrace finitude, to tolerate "not knowing for sure." Instead of "having the answers," its sights are set on standing openly with the questions. The Popular effort to define God, to pin Him down in the mind"s eye, is replaced by the faith-demanding quest of daily communion with God as the ultimate mystery.
IV. WHAT ABOUT BEHAVIOR?
Behavior is an essential element, second only to beliefs in its significance. In everyday life, "good" behavior becomes even more important than "right" beliefs. The practice of Popular Religion boils down to obeying the laws, rules, and dictates of the sacred beliefs. "Living right," commonly understood as "doing what you should and not doing what you shouldn't," receives the lion's share of attention. Deeds, words, thoughts, emotions, and desires are classified as "good" or "bad." Life's quest is to do, say, think, feel, and want the "good" things, while carefully excluding the "bad" ones. Although the doctrine is seldom taught overtly, the common conclusion is that salvation will result from "living a good, clean life," especially in combination with "believing right."
The focus is shifted from "right" behavior--that is, law-directed activity-- to fulfilling behavior, which is spirit-directed. Legalism is reduced from the status of a semi-sacred dictator to the fallible position of a pragmatic guide. All rules become "rules of thumb," general guidelines for average situations, but not the unerring avenue to righteousness. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit--theoretically espoused, but practically lost in Popular Religion--is a significant factor in the Emerging Church, replacing the law as the final guide in behavior.
Freedom, relatively non-existent in the Popular Church, is an ear-mark of the Emerging one. The common identification between "living right" and "being right," that is, between legalism and righteousness, is broken. Practicality becomes the final judge of every deed, word, thought, emotion, and desire. The old question, "Is it right?" is replaced by, "Is it feasible?" The understanding of sin as merely an objective act of breaking a rule is shifted to the deeper spiritual dimension of separation from God.
The New Testament speaks often of the place of good behavior and spirit-direction in relation to salvation. Paul noted "that no man is justified by the law in God's sight" (Galatians 3:11). Without the qualification of good behavior, he said: "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14).
The call to freedom beyond the works of law is equally clear. "Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty" (Galatians 4:13).The place of the law as only a guide is stated thusly: "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster"(3:24-25).
That Paul perceived himself in this new sphere of freedom is evident in his statement: "All things are lawful for me" (I Corinthians 10:23). He added that not everything is expedient," as is obvious, but this follows his declaration of freedom to be himself. Previously he had stated, I am "free from all men" (9:19).
It is perhaps impossible to overestimate the actual significance of directed behavior in Popular Religion. Probably no other factor consumes as much of the Popular Church's time and energy; or is more far-reaching in the lives of its members. As a shaper of society through the organization of human behavior, its influence has been truly profound. Leaving few stones unturned, it has given legal dictation to almost every aspect of personal existence.
Whereas civil law and social etiquette have largely been limited to overt public behavior, religious rules have been given for all phases of internal existence, as well as those segments of social life not covered by secular laws. Not only deeds and activities, but also words, thoughts, feelings, and desires have been carefully delineated and legislated. "This word is good; that one is bad." "This feeling is right; that one is wrong." "This desire is virtuous; that one is evil." Even approved deeds left undone have been legislated as sinful ("sins of omission").
The summation of Popular Religion in the life of the average practitioner is a huge bundle of shoulds and oughts, shalts, and shalt nots. Spiritual energy is devoted to the task of "living up to" the legislated righteousness demanded by the church. Though it speaks of "freedom in Christ," one finds instead carefully constructed pockets of liberation within the larger confines of the legalistic prison.
The spiritual liberties forfeited in one's dedication to the dictatorial institution are replaced with immediate security from the potentially threatening challenges of personal choice and responsibility for activating the full scope of human capacities. The Popular Church decides for one. It tells him what to do, think, say, and feel. It legitimizes, indeed makes virtuous, the suppression of the most essentially human capacities--aggression,
power, sexuality, creativity. Answers are given, shielding one from life's mysteries. Sanction is placed on false godhood and inhumanity. The faith-demanding process of following the Holy Spirit is replaced by the arid, less-demanding life of obeying the laws.
The Popular Church has thus been an invaluable instrument in shaping and maintaining societies. Socially acceptable behavior has always been elevated over personally liberating activities. Being a "good citizen" takes precedence over being a full person.
Despite the positive values for individuals and society, the Popular Church's legalistic stance regrettably shields both persons and communities from the essential challenges of developing a responsibly autonomous existence. The light of the law obscures the path of the spirit. Measuring up to the obvious demands replaces the more challenging quest of hearing and heeding the call of spirit.
The ultimate error is, in the opinion of the Emerging Church, the substitution of "being right" for being true," as the Christian goal. "Behaving" becomes more important than "becoming." Being legal obscures being human. Even though the Popular Church preaches a gospel of grace, the overriding message is salvation by works. The average layman hopes to be saved because he is trying to live a good life, to keep the laws of the church as best he can. The "preached" grace is woefully absent in the "practice" of church life. In the end, Popular Religion expects the "good guys" to win.
This fundamental emphasis on legalism with its inevitably implied doctrine of salvation by works, is dropped in Emerging Religion. Though still maintaining the practical values of directions for living, the place of the law is reduced to that of a feasible guide. Instead, the spirit-led life is projected as the goal. The ideal state of existence is viewed as one in which every decision--which socks to wear, how much sugar to put in the coffee, what to feel, think, and say, as well as far-ranging decisions, such as vocational and marital choices--is directed by the Holy Spirit, instead of by the letter of the law or dead habits.
While offering suggestions for how to live, the Emerging Church carefully maintains circumstances of freedom in which its members are encouraged to try their spiritual wings. On the premise that spirit-direction is best learned in an open context, the church strives to remove the walls which prevent the winds of spirit from blowing freely. Recognizing the potential threat of and necessary faith required for hearing the voice of spirit, guidelines are given for what to do while learning and how to handle oneself when faith falters. Always, however, these pragmatic rules are viewed as temporary expedients, crutches for times of growth, rather than virtue-producing directives. They are to be leaned on in times of weakness, but not worshipped as sacred.
In Popular Religion, for instance, Sunday is a sacred day which man should honor in a prescribed way (going to church, praying, etc.). He achieves right standing with the church by carefully keeping its rules about what to do on Sunday. In Emerging Religion, guidelines for what to do may also be given to those inexperienced in perceiving the spirit. The goal, however, is not to "keep the Sabbath holy," but to use the Sabbath in encountering the holy. Rules are used to assist one in learning to be led by the spirit on that day, since, as Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
Sin, to be discussed more fully later, is shifted from the outer plane of "doing something wrong" (doing a bad deed, having an evil feeling, or neglecting good deeds) to the spiritual dimension. There are no inherently evil deeds, thoughts, words, feelings, or desires in Emerging Religion. Each may be impractical in particular circumstances, but the nature of evil is understood on a far deeper level of experience.
Any connection between "good behavior" and salvation is viewed as coincidental in the Emerging Church. The gospel, the good news of God's forgiveness and man's acceptability, is understood as the path to heaven. Although its members may do deeds considered "good" by others, these are never assumed to incur God's favor. The doctrine of salvation by any type of "good living" has no place in Emerging Religion.
V. THE BIBLE
The Bible is considered the only sacred book, the unerring, infallible, literal word of God; it is to be accepted "by faith," without question or doubt. Commonly it is used as a source of guidance and comfort, plus being a proof-text for traditional beliefs and an instrument for effecting judgment and discipline on others.
The Bible is regarded as a valuable historical document charting the development of the Christian religion and expressing the spiritual insights of its founders. Containing errors, contradictions, and primitive views of reality, along with some of the deepest available revelations of truth, the Bible is subject to constant abuse; yet it is still a potentially effective vehicle for God's word in today's world. It is used as a text-book on Christian history, a mirror for reflecting and examining current images of God's word, and a springboard for exploring further dimensions of truth.
In Popular Religion the final word of God has already been given. That ultimate word is the Bible. Truth and the Bible are synonymous. To have the Holy Bible is to have the truth. Revelation is presumed to have ended with the writing of the last book. The result of this identification of God's word with the written words of the book is a static concept of truth. The word of God is objectified--that is, perceived as an "it" (the Bible)-- and is effectively dead in the present time.
No new or contradictory revelation is possible. All current ideas, beliefs, or practices are weighed against the Bible. Only those which agree with it are acceptable. Furthermore, the Bible is perceived as the exclusive agent of God's revelation. No other book can contain final truth. No other writer, besides the biblical authors, can be equally inspired. No other segment of reality, such as, a phenomenon of nature, can reveal a further word of God. No human experience can be valid unless it agrees with the Bible. No scientific conclusion is correct if it contradicts the Bible. No social institution is right unless biblically confirmed. In other words, the Bible is "the final word" in Popular Religion.
The idea of possessing the final word has been functional in the social success of the Popular Church. The Bible has effectively served as a unifying center for the various segments of Popular Religion, a religious flag around which all can rally. Diverse groups, with no other similarity, can at least agree on the Bible as the only sacred book. Irreconcilable differences can be overlooked, allowing a united front at this point. "At least we all believe in the Bible."
Belief in the sacred book has also been invaluable in stabilizing various societies outside the church. The practice of swearing on the Bible as a support for legal structures is but one example of the sacred book's secular influence. Innumerable civil laws are but extensions of basic biblical commandments and practices. More support for civil laws has probably come from the Popular Church than from judicial structures. The threat of divine punishment is no doubt a greater deterrent to crime than the threat of civil punishment, for those in Popular Religion.
On the personal level, the sacred book has served as a temporary source of security and comfort. The idea of "having the answers" to life's riddles helps many through stormy times. Necessity for faith in the presence of the unknown is greatly reduced by belief in possessed truth. Standing at the end of man's knowledge, as in the face of death, is made easier by comforting "answers" readily available in the Bible. This "balm of Gilead" salves innumerable spiritual wounds.
As a proof-text for personal beliefs, the book has served well, both as a defensive device and a weapon. Armed with "the sword of the Lord," believers ward off repeated attacks from the "evil forces of this world." Secular powers have proven inadequate against "God's word" in countless battles between churchmen and civil authorities. Even on the home front the Bible has been an effective instrument for guidance and discipline. Armed with a commandment for children to honor their fathers and mothers, harried parents over the ages have threatened wayward youth with divine retribution for disobedience. The threat of Santa Claus' absence, backed by God's ever watchful eye, has been sufficient pressure for many dutiful chores.
The utility of the Bible as an instrument for discipline within the Popular Church is immeasurable. Biblically backed threats of what God will do to wayward parishioners have historically structured and strengthened the church's authority, as well as filled its coffers and packed its pews. The influence of the sacred book in unifying the Christian church, stabilizing society, providing personal security, serving as sword for both defense and offense, can hardly be exaggerated.
Unfortunately, many destructive consequences have followed in the wake of the Holy Bible. The immediate security of "having the answers" has been used as an escape from facing ultimate questions. "Having the truth" has substituted for "becoming truthful." The sword of defense has become a weapon of offense, used in perpetrating inhuman cruelty both within and without the church. In spite of numerous positive values, the progress of mankind has been seriously hindered by man's unrighteous uses of the Bible. Notable examples of its destructive function include the continued suppression of science and art, the loss of reason in religion, promotion of self-righteousness, initiation of dangerous practices, and above all, the suppression of individual freedom.
Whenever the Bible has been taken literally, scientific investigation of the physical universe has been hindered. Religious scientists of every age have, like Galileo, been threatened with excommunication for discovering facts that contradict a literal reading of the Bible. Science and Popular Religion have continually been at odds with each other. The biblically based idea of instantaneous earthly creation still hinders scientific study of the evolutionary processes. For centuries the three-story concept of the universe, with the earth as center, curtailed the study of astronomy. Free artistic expression has always suffered under the heavy hand of biblical censorship.
Because literal biblicism requires belief in miracles and countless other contradictory and unreasonable ideas, mental suppression has been inevitable for Popular churchmen. Logic and religious dedication have proven to be impossible bed-fellows in the Bible-centered church. Reasonable examination of biblical ideas in the light of scientific discovery and human experience has never been acceptable in Popular Religion. Although seldom overtly preached, the common inclusion of mental doubt in the list of sins is almost universal. Since reasonable thought requires an active interplay between doubt and affirmation, reason has seldom fared well in the Popular church.
Given the choice of negating reason or being accepted, churchmen have continually chosen the latter. One unfortunate spin-off has been equating faith and irrationality. Believing the unbelievable has become synonymous with living by faith. The so-called "leap of faith" might more accurately be named the "death of mind," insofar as Popular Religion is concerned.
The destructive personal effects of mental suppression are reflected in the resulting loss of capacity for continual self-examination in the Popular Church itself. Refusing to be reasonable, to objectively examine its feedback, Popular Religion suffers from a massive inability to learn from its own experience. Whereas other institutions can evaluate themselves, profit from mistakes, and continuously evolve into more productive forms, the Popular Church, with its loss of reason, has been notably slow to change. Its "unchanging truth," projected into the sacred Bible, denies it the necessary insight for creative growth. Even when threats to its existence force adaptation, the time-lag between event and modification is often measured in decades or centuries. The loss of intelligent membership because of internal rigidity and rejection of doubt is immeasurable.
Another seemingly inevitable result of "having the truth" is self-righteousness. Whenever a person or institution concludes possession of the "final word," false godhood is seldom far behind. Self-righteousness in Popular Religion has led to such un-Christian activities as holy wars ("God is on our side"); colonialism (plunder, theft, and murder) in the name of God; biblically justified practices, such as, refusing blood transfusions, handling poisonous snakes, and drinking poison. Even suicides and murder have been rationalized as effecting a speedier trip to heaven, based on the biblical idea of an afterlife with God.
Yet with these terrible abuses emerging from idolization of a sacred book, the greater evils have, in the opinion of the Emerging Church, come in the realm of individual suppression. Repeatedly, the Bible has been used as a weapon against personal freedom. Its utility as a disciplinary vehicle, a religious razor strap, has exceeded its function as a liberator of persons. Though preaching a doctrine of grace and talking of "freedom in Christ," the Popular Church's message has more commonly been received as a repressive force rather than a freeing power. No level of human capacity has escaped the suppressive dictates of Popular Religion. Ideas, words, emotions, desires have been soundly condemned and systematically repressed by a biblically-based religion.
Asceticism has historically been considered a virtue. Self-denial, understood as the negation of all personal desires, has been presented as the only path to God. Sexual repression, not only of overt activity, but also of thoughts and feelings, has become almost synonymous with "being religious." Chastity is a virtue. "Doing it" is "bad," except in the most circumscribed conditions and positions. The prevailing conclusion, based on a statement of Jesus, is that "its just as bad to think about it as it is to do it." The summary result has been a long-standing identification, in Popular Religion, between pleasure and sin. Sexual repression, biblically justified, has cast doubt on all fun. Anything pleasurable becomes suspect ("This is so much fun it must be sinful").
Because of the common religious repression of such emotions as anger, hostility, and self-assertion, emotional disturbances among highly religious persons have been all too common. Of course, repressive curtailment of overt activities is the stock and trade of Popular Religion. Noted for "what it is against," the biblically-based church is one of the most highly legalistic institutions in existence.
To identify these human abuses with biblically oriented religion is not to blame the Bible itself. Not the scriptures, but man's idolization of them, is at fault in these historical evils.
In Emerging Religion a significant distinction is made between the word of God and words in a book. Whereas book words are mere symbols, rigid and dead, the word of God is understood as alive and vital. Words are viewed as guides toward and expressions of truth, but not as truth itself. The living truth, always active, may be revealed through words, but is never contained in them.What I "mean to say" is alive in my mind. I attempt to express my meaning in these words, yet I may or may not succeed. Each reader, having my words, will, hopefully, grasp my meaning, but not necessarily so. My words potentially reveal, yet are not synonymous with, the meaning in my mind.
In like manner, God's word--the meaning of life and truth--is expressed in the words of the Bible, yet is not synonymous with the symbols in the book. Having the words, one may or may not grasp the truth which is potentially revealed through them. In either case, a significant difference is noted in the Emerging Church, between words and truth, between the static Bible and the living word of God.
Whereas words, as objective entities ("its"), may be grasped as things--truth, the living word, may only be known experientially. Using two common metaphors, words in a book may be "known in the head" (grasped in the mind), but God's word, the vital truth, is "known in the heart." Meaning may be expressed with words, yet remains inherent in experience only. No words can ever possess the truth they are intended to convey.
With this understanding, the Emerging Church takes a distinctively different approach toward the Bible. Instead of viewing it as a sacred book, the literal truth itself, the Bible is seen as an avenue to truth, an expression of the word of God, yet not God's word, per se. To have the Bible is to have a path to truth, but not necessarily the truth itself.
Grasping the words of the book is not synonymous with knowing the word of God. The living word of God is understood to be revealed in all creation--in every cloud, sunset, birdsong, leaf, and human face (doctrinally expressed as "the omnipresence of God"). Yet because of the nature of man's understanding, he perceives truth more easily through certain forms, notably words. Because of his experience, he tends to "hear" (perceive meaning) through verbal expressions better than facial expressions. When "a certain look" is translated into words, he is more apt to grasp its meaning, at least consciously. The meaning is not inherent in the look or the word, but one is easier to understand.
Whereas God's word is revealed in the entire face of the universe, that meaning is also expressed in the words of the Bible. Attuned to words, we may "hear" truth more readily through the book than through the sunset.Yet this is not necessarily so. Some have become word-hardened, calloused to language, manipulators of words, and thus deafened to truth through words. For such persons, nature can speak God more clearly than the Bible. Expressions of the earth may be easier to grasp than expressions of the book.
The point here is that in the Emerging Church the word of God is vitally alive, revealed but not contained in the Bible. The book is used as an avenue to truth, a path to the living word, but is not worshipped as the word itself.
Accordingly, the major role of the Bible is changed. The Emerging Church is left without the temporal security of "having the answers," that is, the comfort of possessing God's final word. Nor can it use the Bible as a sword to defend itself against all critics or to attack those who disagree. It owns no sacred book to hold over the heads of wayward members of potential converts.
On the other hand, it is also freed from the dangers inherent in owning the truth. The conflict between science and religion vanishes. No longer must the church attack or be threatened by scientific exploration. Since "truth is truth" no matter who makes the discovery, peace can be declared, secular study can be encouraged, and scientific insights appropriated in spiritual advances also. In like manner, creative artistic expression can be encouraged rather than suppressed. Artists in search of truth are viewed as allies rather than adversaries, by the Emerging Church.
Openness to living truth however it may be revealed, allows the Emerging Church to abandon the age-old practiceof mental suppression within its own ranks. Since the words of the book are not viewed as inherently sacred, doubt is removed from the list of sins. Members are encouraged to think, to continually examine every doctrine, to use all mental capacities in the ongoing quest for truth. Doubt is encouraged as an essential element in mental comprehension. No longer must churchmen close their minds in order to be loyal to the church. As a result, the understanding of faith is deepened from the mind to the heart. The necessary "leap of faith" becomes a true experience of courage, instead of the simple mental act of believing the irrational.
Without possession of God's word, the Emerging Church is less subject to the temptation of self-righteousness. Holy wars lose their justification. Colonialism and human suppression, based on race, color, or creed, can no longer be rationalized as "God's will." Even spiritual crusades, based on the presumption that "we're right" and "everyone else is wrong (or lost)," become unjustifiable. As a result, competition and conflict between religions and denominations is replaced by cooperation and sharing.
Realizing that it does not possess the final word, the Emerging Church is open to listen and learn from other groups. No longer must beliefs divide. Ecumenicity (religious unity) finally becomes a true possibility on the spiritual level, rather than being limited to polite tolerance and cooperation on social projects. Centuries of religious in-fighting are ended. Being "all in this together," all who share the spiritual concerns become religious brothers in the common quest. Since "we're all trying to get to the same place" and all recognize that no one "knows it all," the Emerging Church becomes truly ecumenical.
On the individual level, relinquishing "the final word" eliminates the religious basis for human suppression.The Bible is no longer available as the ultimate truth to attack or suppress. Without the "divine law," churchmen are unjustified in denying human freedom. Realizing that they do not possess "the right way," the opportunity to explore new ways becomes possible. The familiar practice of biblically-based judgment and condemnation of those who vary from the established code is ended. No longer can Bible verses be quoted as a form of religious "put-down." As a result, Emerging Churches become centers of freedom rather than bastions of legal exactitude.
The doctrine of grace (unmerited acceptance) is translated into life. Laws become guidelines instead of measures of righteousness. Repression ceases to be a virtue--on the level of desire, emotion, thought, or action. Self-negation is recognized as a sign of false godhood instead of as the only path to God.
More significantly, the loss of the Bible as the literal word of God opens the door to its usefulness in discovering the word of God. Paradoxically, in making the Bible a sacred book, the Popular Church has lost it as a useful guide. Holy relics can be worshipped or used as objects, but not openly encountered. Eliminating doubt excludes the possibility of personal honesty. Efforts to promote its study always fail in the final analysis, because the essential basis for true study has already been eliminated. As a result, Popular Religion is saddled with an adorable relic, but has effectively lost that object's most positive value.
Emerging Religion is freed to re-discover the Bible. Seeking to understand the distinction between dead words and the living word of God, the Emerging Church approaches the Bible openly, listening through its words rather than to them. It seeks to hear God speak a living word through the book words. Instead of reading to "get an answer," which usually means projecting an unconscious conclusion onto the words of the book ("seeing what you want to see"), Emerging churchmen seek to encounter the Bible honestly, in the hope of hearing God as they read.
They bring mind, heart, and experience to a potential spiritual event which may occur in response to the words. Unlike biblical worshippers in Popular Religion, they come with their full minds, listening critically through all they read, bringing the wealth and the limitations of prior experience. The goal is honest encounter, not gullible acceptance, eliminating all previous learning.
Understanding the scope of language to include both the literal and figurative uses of words, the devices of metaphor, allegory, cryptic meanings, secondary elaboration, as well as irony and humor, the Emerging church never limits the Bible to literal facts only. Whereas it has been fashionable in Popular Religion to "take it all literally," the Emerging Church allows biblical language the same freedom as all other human speech. No verse is immediately assumed to be either literal or figurative. In each instance the reader responds openly, bringing his own experience to bear on the potential meanings of the passage. "What might this mean?" he asks. "What does it lead me to think?" "How does it compare with my previous learning?" "What might God be saying to me through these words?"
Nor is the possibility of later revelation excluded in the Emerging Church. God's word is not presumed to have stopped in the first century A.D. Changing circumstances may allow expanding views of truth. What was appropriate at one time may no longer be relevant. For instance, excluding the use of pork may have been valid for the children of Israel, but may be unnecessary today. Slavery and polygamy, though fitted to Solomon's circumstances, are not necessarily reasonable now. Paul's subjection of women, perhaps appropriate in 60 A.D. may be outmoded in the twentieth century.
No biblical directive is uncritically accepted as God's final word for now. Each passage is carefully examined in the light of today's world. The reader seeks a current revelation through the medium of historical experience. He hopes to receive the word of God for this time through words of another time. Because the Bible is a compilation of man's spiritual experience through many centuries, he naturally explores it eagerly. Yet he also listens through other writings, as well as other forms of reality. Always he is alert to the word of truth, wherever it may come from.
VI. WHO WAS JESUS?
Jesus was a magic man possessing supernatural powers, born as the only literal son of God. He is the savior of mankind and the single way to God.
Jesus was a thoroughly human person who faced and overcame the common temptations, thereby becoming Christ, a son of God; he offers a supreme example for all to follow.
The Popular Church views Jesus as a religious Clark Kent. Though dressed as a mild-mannered teacher, underneath he was a superman who could, if he chose, leap overtall buildings, suspend the laws of nature with a wave of his hand, and magically raise the dead. Being supernaturally endowed, he could have done anything he wanted to. Yet he appeared in the body of a man.
Furthermore, these magical powers were his at birth. He was, so goes the belief, divinely conceived. That is, an earthly woman was impregnated by the Father in heaven, and Jesus was thus born as the only literal son of God in the history of mankind. He inherited Christhood--that is, he was innately the only Christ.
Through his perfect life and death on the cross, he atoned for the sins of all mankind, appeasing the wrath of the Sky Father and thereby paying the debt of us all. This cosmic, historical transaction made him the savior of man for all ages. No man is believed to have access to God except through Jesus. He "paid it all" for every person and thereby became the "superstar" of all men, one to be adored, believed, and imitated.
The significance of Jesus in the Popular Church is difficult to overemphasize. Theologically, much of Popular Religion stands or falls on this magical super-savior. If it could be proven that he were a myth, most of Popular Religion, certainly the Protestant versions, would lose its foundation.
Three predictable results commonly ensue from this view of Jesus. First, a belief in religious magic almost inevitably follows. If Jesus were magically endowed, then supernatural powers must certainly exist. If the laws of nature could be suspended or transcended at one time, it must still be possible. Hence, Popular Religion is characterized by pockets of magical belief. Prayer, for example, is understood to make supernatural powers accessible to natural man. Adding "In Jesus' name" is presumed to enhance the magical possibilities of a prayer.
On an even more personal level, belief in individual salvation by magic follows in the wake of a supernaturally conceived Jesus. Assuming that "Jesus paid it all," Popular Religion propounds the idea of perpetual bliss for everyman because of what Jesus did. All one has to do to acquire a place in heaven is "accept Jesus in his heart" and, some add, try to "live like Jesus wants him to." As the super-natural savior, Jesus dispenses salvation by magic--that is, with a minimal effort on man's part. He "overcame the world" for us, requiring only that we "accept him" in order to share eternal rewards with him. Our own struggle to overcome the common temptations is thereby made unnecessary. We can magically ride into heaven on Jesus' coattail.
A third tragic result of the popular conception of a Superson of God is the practical loss of Jesus' relevancy to modern life. Ironically, the elevation and adoration of Jesus removes him from the common plane of all humans, thereby cheating us of a needed example in the salvation process. Even though the Popular Church has described him as both divine and human, no person can reasonably be expected to follow in the footsteps of a virgin-born, supernaturally endowed human figure.
We may admire a religious Clark Kent, and even worship him, but knowing what would happen if we jumped from a high building makes following him inherently impractical. Called on to imitate a divine-human, without the benefits of his virgin birth and an omnipotent Father, modern man finds himself in an impossible dilemma. Fallible humans trying to copy perfection are inevitably captured in a quagmire of guilt. This unreasonable guilt is the most prevailing characteristic of the Popular churchman. And, worshipping Jesus, man loses his most accessible example of the way out of human bondage and into sonship with God.
Emerging Religion takes a radically different approach to Jesus. First, it views him as intensely human--that is, like all men insofar as nature is concerned. He is not understood to have innately possessed any supernatural powers. He was, as the writer of Hebrews says, in all points tempted like as we area (4:15). Presumably he felt the same emotions, experienced the common human desires, and faced the temptations confronting us all. His humanity was real, not a mild-mannered cloak for a secret superman.
As a thoroughly human being, he is not believed to have inherited any special degree of divinity beyond that given to an average person. His sonship with God is understood to have resulted from his successful experience in confronting our common temptations and overcoming them. His uniqueness lies not in innate godhood, but in acquired sonship. He was one who could honestly say, "I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Through overcoming the world--that is, resisting the human temptations to false godhood, he became a son of God.
Sonship is understood as a figure of speech rather than a literal fact. In Emerging Religion, God is not viewed as a literal Father in the Sky. Thus neither Jesus nor any other human could be a literal son. The figure of speech, which might just as well have been, "daughter of God," is understood in the same way as the secular expression, "son of a bitch," meaning "of the nature of." This earthy description means more than having four legs and a long tail, or having a literal dog for a mother. Similarly, "son of God" is taken to mean "of the same nature as God." Son (or daughter) implies "born of God" rather than actually being God him (or her) self.
As one who became a son of God, Jesus becomes a supreme example for all to follow. He points out our common temptations in their most gigantic proportions. Through him we can see the challenges and escapes which face us all. Reading of his continual struggle and final success, we can take hope that our own pilgrimages are not in vain. Since he overcame, it follows that we can also. As he said, "Because I live ye shall live also" (John 14:19).
What are the results of viewing Jesus as a thoroughly human person who overcame temptation and became a son of God, rather than as a supernatural savior? First, the promotion of magic in religion is not furthered. If Jesus was a human being who faced life with the same resources as all of us, then the magical wishes so often projected on religion have less basis. More significantly, the prevailing magical desire to "have it all done for us," that is, to get to heaven without the necessity for struggle and faith, is not furthered. When Jesus is humanized, the temptation to escape personal responsibility by imagining that the magic son can do it for us is certainly lessened.
Finally, the Emerging view allows us to reclaim Jesus as a relevant figure in our own lives. Whereas the traditional perspective prices him out of reality, this understanding brings him back into the real world. It also allows us to understand his attempts to discourage idolization in his own time. When a man called him "good," apparently attempting to elevate him, Jesus replied, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good" (Matthew 19:16-17). Obviously aware that he was not working magically, he often reminded those he had apparently healed, "Your own faith has made you whole." He even told his disciples, "Greater works than these shall ye do" (John 14:12).
This, of course, would be impossible if only He had supernatural powers. On another occasion he warned straight forth: "In vain do they worship me" (Matthew 15:10). This warning is relevant in the Popular Church today, where Jesus-worship is rampant. Though overtly denied, the idolization of Jesus is obvious in Popular Religion.
In what specific ways does a human Jesus become relevant to us today? Eliminating the idea of a cosmic transaction in which he "paid it all" by appeasing a vengeful Father, how can he be useful to us two thousand years later?
First, his own struggles point out the most common arenas of human temptation, namely, false godhood through dependency, fame, magic, or sacrifice. In each area he wrestled mightily. Furthermore, he faced these familiar challenges in their most monstrous proportions. In each instance, the temptation was encountered in its highest and purest form. For example, whereas most of us face the temptation to dependency only on the level of family, spouse, and friends, he was tempted to depend on God himself ("Cast thyself down and let the angels bear thee up").
While we are tempted to lesser degrees of godhood through approval of family, friends, and community, he faced the challenge of worldly fame ("the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them," by falling down and worshipping Satan--Matthew 4:8-9).
we face the paltry levels of sin, we have an example of one who stood before them in their
most massive forms--and yet overcame. "Tempted like as we are," the
writer of Hebrews notes, he was "yet without sin." In other words, "It can be done." Lacking current models, we can at least look back to one who "made it" through the deepest "sloughs of despond," the darkest nights of the soul, the highest challenges of the world. We find one who could say, because he knew firsthand, that "in the world you have tribulation and trials and distress, and frustration," and yet add, "but be of good cheer--take courage, be confident, certain and undaunted--for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 Amplified.
The implication is: ""Yes, it is a tough world, but if I could do it, you can too."
His repeated calls to those in his own day: "Follow me" ("And he saith unto them, follow me" Matthew 4:19; "And he said to another, follow me" Luke 10:59; "If any man would serve me, let him follow me" John 12:26); these calls take an entirely new meaning. Rather than, "Copy me," or, "Try to imitate me," the call now becomes literal, namely, "You too are to face and struggle with temptation in all its forms. Follow me in the path of overcoming the world. Follow me in becoming a son of God."
His prayer, "That they all may be one: as thou, Father, are in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21), makes new sense. Like Jesus, we all have the option of becoming children of God. We too can be led by His Spirit, and, as Paul noted, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:14). Our supreme example points us clearly toward the path to God.
The Emerging Church understands Jesus in this way.
GOD, CHRIST, SATAN, ANGELS, DEMONS, HOLY SPIRIT, SOUL
Religious personages are separable entities, existing apart from mankind or any particular person. Each is presumed to have independent existence in an intangible world, yet each is able to substantially infiltrate and affect the physical order, like a ghost in a haunted house.
Religious personages are personifications of various qualities of human experience--figures of speech representing different aspects of man's potential encounters with reality.
Popular Religion, with its objective orientation, naturally understands spiritual personages objectively. The seven primary religious figures are perceived as actual beings, intangible in nature, yet present in the physical universe as separable realities. The powers, characteristics, and functions of each differ, but all exist as independent beings, apart from mankind or the physical world. They are like ghosts--invisible and not subject to the laws of nature, yet very real and capable of profound, even ultimate, influence on tangible reality.
Emerging Religion does not believe that ghosts or any other supernatural beings populate the universe in which we live. The names of religious personages apply to various types of human experience rather than to objective entities existing apart from humanity. These names are used to express and communicate about profoundly significant spiritual possibilities, albeit with a language that is geared for objects and people in time and space.
Each represents a particular aspect of potential human experience, a subjective event rather than an objective reality. Because our language and social training are focused on the external world, we must speak of internal experience in the available thought forms, if we are to speak at all. Accordingly, subjective events are objectively named in order to facilitate understanding and communication. In each instance some potential element of human experience is personified, named as though it were an "it" or person, for purposes of thought and speech.
Secular examples of the same grammatical procedure include Santa Claus, Cupid, Mother Nature, the tooth fairy, and the Easter Bunny. In each instance, form is given to formless human experiences, in order to enable people to think and communicate about them. Technically, each religious name is a no-name--that is, a verbal representation for a non-entity, a name for the unnameable, allowing mental access to the event.
For instance, the spirit of giving is difficult both to tolerate and explain. Both problems are temporarily solved by the figure of Santa Claus. Parents are thereby granted an easy reprieve from the immediate responsibility of being gift-givers. Children have a graphic explanation for the spirit of giving, fitted to their concrete understanding of reality. A language requiring objects (persons) is utilized in the expression of a significant subjective event. ("Who brought the gifts?" "Santa Claus.")
In like manner, complex spiritual possibilities are personified in Emerging Religion. The unseen is named as though it were visible; the unheard is named as though audible. Subjective events are given objective titles. That we may contemplate and communicate about the deepest elements of the "in here," each is named as though "out there."
God is the Supreme Being, an all-powerful entity existing over and beyond the created order, and yet present in the world which He created and still governs. He is a Super Father with unlimited ability to manage the universe and all that is within, but one who has, nevertheless, turned much of its daily operation over toman. Though invisible, He still sees all we do, and is available to help in emergencies.
God is a name for the ultimate in reality, the essence of all that is real, the heart of existence; He is the supreme in being, or the quintessence of all that truly is. Emerging Religion carefully distinguishes the ultimate in reality from a particular Ultimate Reality, or the supreme in being from a Supreme Being. For the Emerging Church, God is, but there is no such thing as a God.
In Popular Religion, God is an "it," a particular being. He is understood as the grandest of all "its," the most supreme of all beings, and yet something which
can properly be referred to with the articles "a" and "the" ("There is a God," or "the Supreme Being").
Though He cannot be seen or touched, the Popular Church believes that He nevertheless exists independent of all creation, indeed that He was the Creator of the universe. Not only did He make the world, but He is also present within it. He is both transcendent (apart from) and immanent (within).
The Popular idea is that this most powerful of all beings now rules over the world He has made. Though He temporarily allows man limited management, He can always step in for emergencies and completely dominate should He choose. Presumably He has a master plan for the universe and is somehow guiding it toward a pre-chosen historical destiny. The Popular belief is that He will bring the world to an end at a future time, gathering His selected ones to live forever with Him and relegating others to perpetual punishment in a geographical hell. Though man may not understand life, God has a purpose for everything, including each person. Man's goal is believed to be finding God's particular reason for his own existence and fulfilling that pre-determined destiny. If he succeeds, heaven, God's home, will be his final reward.
In the mean-time, this all-powerful being is available to help, support, and comfort the chosen ones along their ways. Through prayer they may enlist His assistance with particular endeavors, so long as these are a part of His plan. Through ritualized worship they may even be allowed in His presence in some limited, mystical way.
The Emerging Church understands God in an entirely different way. The objective perception--that is, God as a grand "it"--is viewed as idolatry. All forming of God, as either a tangible or intangible being, is believed to fall short of His ultimacy. As the supreme in all being, He can never be limited to simply one Supreme Being. As the ultimate in all reality, He cannot be reduced to any particular reality, even the most powerful one of all. Consequently, Emerging Religion does not see God as a separable maker of the universe, an objective controller of world history or human destiny, either in general or for specific persons. He is not a manager of the weather or any other as yet unconquerable elements of nature.
He is no Sky Father watching over His favorite children, no religious Santa Claus rewarding good people, no benevolent world-overseer residing in a geographical heaven, no omnipotent puppeteer pulling the strings on earthly activities, such as human birth and death, sickness, and health. Nor is He a Super-power subject to influence through prayer, good behavior, right beliefs, or "giving your heart to Jesus." All such objective images of God are seen as idolatry by Emerging Religion.
Instead of a being that exists over against reality, God is understood as the essence of all being. Wherever anything (persons, places, or things) that can be named exists, God is revealed therein. He is the ultimate in all that is real. Technically, "God" is a name for the un-nameable. Because our language structure requires nouns in order to make complete sentences, and because it is sometimes feasible to speak about the ultimate, we must therefore make a noun to represent the essence of that which all other nouns apply to.
Although this is a linquistic contradiction, in the Emerging Church God is a "no-name." Whereas other names (nouns) represent some segment of reality, something properly designated as "it" (or "he" or "she"), God does not name an "it." God is a no-name or non-name. For purposes of communication, a noun is created for that which cannot actually be named, since it does not exist as a distinguishable "it."
Nor does the phrase, "essence of reality," imply that reality can be graded from the least real to the most real, with God representing the highest part. To refer to God as the "heart of reality" does not mean that He is some inner part, as opposed to or separate from outer parts. Nor does the phrase, "supreme in being" imply that being can be graded from shallow to supreme, with God only representing the heights or depths of being.
Rather than implying distinctions or grades of reality itself, the terms ultimate and supreme, summarized in the single word God, point to the fact that man experiences reality in degrees. There are grades or degrees of human encounter. Man can be partially "in contact," deeply "in tune," or essentially "out of it all." He can exist in complete communion or in total disharmony with any segment of reality, or with the whole of reality.
These potential degrees of human experience give rise to the no-name, "God," as well as the names for other religious personages. "God" stands for the ultimate in human encounter with reality. Whereas the ultimate is present in each particular part ("God is omnipresent"), both external and internal, man may or may not experience the ultimate. Deeply in touch with life, he will supremely encounter being in each of its manifestations. But out of harmony, he misses the ultimate. He sees without seeing, hears without hearing, and knows without knowing.
"God," for the Emerging Church, is a symbol, a verbal form, a personification for a certain quality of human experience, namely, the ultimate encounter with reality. When man is being supremely, the event is given a name. The supreme in being is God.
For instance, consider meeting a rose. The potential degrees of human experience vary from missing it entirely, not even seeing the flower, to seeing its color, shape, and forms, smelling its aroma, and having one's mind awakened in response. Furthermore, the event may be enlarged emotionally by coming alive "with heart." Finally, in the fullest possible human response, one may abandon the artificial mental barriers of good and bad, I and it, and come to be in personal harmony with the rose in profound spiritual union.
Thus the qualities of possible experience can be graded from "not seeing" to "seeing only" to "knowing completely," with many degrees between the extremes. In order to speak of this wondrous event of ultimate communion, language requires the use of a noun. When one "really sees" a rose, what does he see? When one "truly knows" the flower, what does he know? Certainly more than "just a rose." A name is needed to distinguish the visible flower from the "ultimate" in the rose. This name is God. God is the supreme being in the being of the rose and in the essence of everything else that is.
This does not mean that He is a particular entity hidden beneath the petals, but rather that He is only revealed when man engages in the ultimate communion that is possible between man and every aspect of creation.
This understanding of God is to be distinguished from the four popular conceptions, namely, theism, deism, pantheism, and atheism. Theists believe there is a God who created and oversees the universe; diests concur withthe idea of His existence, but hold that after creation He relinquished direction, leaving man to run things on his own; pantheists dismiss the idea of an objective God, believing Him to exist only in the forces and processes of nature; atheists, of course, disbelieve in the existenceof God, either transcendent, immanent, or both.
Each of these variations on the same theme, three for and one against, presume God as an identifiable entity. They differ on the location and function of this "it," but each position is defined by an assumed relationship to the entity called God.
The stance of the Emerging Church cannot be identified with either of these traditional positions. The atheist's belief comes closest, in its rejection of either a transcendent or immanent God, but it differs in its failure to affirm or identify the potential experience of God.
Although the term God is used in Emerging Religionas a noun, for purposes of communication, it belongs literally in the grammatical category of a verb. "God" is a name (or a "no-name") used to represent an activity (experience, event). The occurrence is man's encounter with ultimate reality, that is, his fullest response to that which is given. This meeting is objectified verbally, with the "object" being named God. When man is fully present, to the limits of his capacity, he experiences God. Literally, he experiences--period.
But to comply with acceptable grammar, an object of the verb is created by theology to complete the sentence. He experiences what? The answer is God.
Once the event is named, description becomes the issue. What can be said concerning man's encounter with ultimate reality? How can God be described or defined? By definition, the task is literally impossible. Since all categories, classifications, and subdivisions define segments of reality, they cannot finally be applied to the essence of reality. Words may define parts but not the whole. God, literally, is undefinable. That is, what God is, cannot finally be captured in any set of categories. The essence is more than any of its manifestations.
This is, however, a language problem rather than a problem with reality. Certainly our language can be usefully applied to the ultimate as well as to any particular aspect of reality. We can speak of God in many potentially useful ways, yet without finally boxing Him in a separate category. By definition, the ultimate cannot be categorized, since all categories fall short of the ultimate.
For example, within the category of numbers, "infinity" represents the ultimate in numbering. As such it may be described with words, yet never pinned down to a specific numerical category. Infinity is not an "it," a massive number separable from all other numbers. If infinity were reduced to a single, definable, enormous number, it would cease to be infinite. Each finite number manifests infinity, but none can contain it. God is to reality as infinity is to numbers.
God is manifest in every finite bit of reality, yet never contained in any thing. God is not an "it," subject to any single mental classification. If God could be reduced to a finite category, even the most enormous and powerful mental box, He would, by definition, cease to be God.
However, to realize that God cannot be defined need not lead to the absence of contemplation or to silence. Understanding that God is not finally subject to any single mental box, the Emerging Church proceeds to use language in many potentially helpful ways. Various grammatical devices are employed in thinking and communicating about the ultimate in reality. We have just used one such device--capitalizing. By placing the name in uppercase letters, we imply its capital importance.
Personification, or representing an abstraction in human form ("Hunger sat coldly on the road") is widely used in Emerging Religion. Because personal attributes are immediately familiar, the attributes of ultimacy are naturally compared to those of a human. Whereas Popular Religion believes in a literal "personal God," the Emerging Church understands personification as a strictly grammatical procedure.
Proceeding to personify the ultimate, it immediately faces the issue of gender. The first subdivision of persons is into masculine, feminine, or neuter gender. Which category is applicable? Is God to be understood as male, female, or nutered? Depending on the implications of the terms, each can be useful in a particular context. God's strength can best be conveyed in masculine terms. Tenderness may be shown more effectively with feminine words. God's existence beyond mere sexual distinctions is more accurately conveyed by neuter gender. Each can and has been used at various times.
Historically, the projected gender of God in Popular Religion has been generally determined by the sexual dominance in society at the time. In the distant past, feminine gender seems to have predominated. God was conceived then as Mother. During most of recorded history, characterized by male dominance, the masculine gender has been applied in Popular Religion. God has been viewed as He, or Father.
Besides personification, Emerging Religion proceeds to describe God in various other ways. In each instance the descriptive procedure is applied to this ultimate subject, taking liberties with the limitations of language. That is, the device of description is used to speak of that which cannot literally be described. By definition, description is giving a picture or telling the attributes of some thing. Since God is not an "it," He cannot technically be described as a thing (person). Literally, God is indescribable--not because accurate statements cannot be made about Him, but because He does not fit into the category of things which is the domain of description.
When description is used in speaking of God in the Emerging Church, an acceptable grammatical procedure is applied in an uncommon way. Limited by language, an available device is used by pushing it to its utmost. This is commonly done by using adjectives extended to their limit. Words that describe "how much" or "how long" are pushed to their extremes and applied to the ultimate. This use of language must be understood if one is to avoid falling into the Popular trap of objectifying God.
Realizing that it is using a device commonly applied to "its" for a subject which is not an "it," the Emerging Church proceeds to describe God. Beginning with the dimension of time, it asks, "How long has God existed?" "How long will He exist?" Time adjectives, pushed to their limit, are applied. God has existed since time "immemorial." He is "timeless." He will live "forever." Whereas mortals are limited in time, God is "immortal." Death does not effect His existence. As the Bible states, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day"(II Peter 3:8). That is, God cannot literally be timed. He is beyond our chronological measuring devices.
Common chronological adjectives are pushed to their logical limits and applied to God. The meaning is: Within the dimension of time, we can only say accurately that God is forever. He is not simply a thousand years old, or a million or a billion. He is "always." This does not mean that the largest possible number of years would accurately limit His tenure, but rather that no measurable time can define His existence. God cannot literally be timed; but if we attempt to describe Him chronologically, we must apply the ultimate time adjectives. From the perspective of time, the ultimate reality can only be described with the ultimate time categories.
The Emerging Church believes that error occurs when one interprets this to mean that God is a "thing (or 'person')" that lasts through all time. To say that He is "timeless" means something more than "infinitely extended in time, " or, "existing objectively outside the sphere of time." It rather means that in terms of time, all we can do is describe with our greatest time-related words.
And so with other familiar measuring devices. We are accustomed to describing by location as well as chronology. Where is God to be located? Again, spatial categories must be pushed to their utmost limits. Of all the possible "wheres," which one contains God? The answer can only be "every where." The ultimate in reality can only be described spatially as existing in all places. "God is omnipresent," that is, present in all places. Wherever there is a place, God is there. No place is devoid of His presence.
Whereas this is an accurate statement from the spatial perspective, it is to be understood within the limits of language rather than as a literal description of the whereabouts of a great ghost. To say "God is under the bed and in the sky" means, according to the Emerging Church, more than giving the specific locations of an objective entity.
Power is another familiar category for describing things. "How strong is He?" "What can He do?" Again, the category must be pushed to its ultimate in order to be accurate in describing God. God is not simply "strong" or "powerful," or even "very strong." He is "all-powerful," or "omnipotent." The adjectives for power have to be extended infinitely in describing the infinite God.
However, Emerging Religion believes that misunderstanding has entered when such statements are taken in their common sense meanings. God is more than an "it" which is stronger than all other "its." He is not simply the most powerful of all beings. Even as an omnipotent being He would still be definable. Such concepts fall far short of the nature of God as understood in Emerging Religion.
Other adjectives such as creative and loving can be usefully applied in understanding the nature of God. Again, each must be pushed to its logical limit. God is not simply "somewhat creative" or "sometimes loving." He is "all-creative" and "all-loving." The categories must be extended as far as possible if they are to accurately describe God. The danger once more is that such descriptions be taken in the popular sense--namely, that God is a definable "being" who created everything and loves everybody.
As vast as these descriptions appear, they fall short of the glory of God.
Although an uncommon use of language, each of these descriptive statements might better be understood, as the Emerging Church uses them, if seen as predicate nominatives rather than as adjectives. (A predicate nominative is a noun which follows a verb and is identified with the subject, such as, "It is I" or "Bush is President").
For instance, one can literally say "God is omnipotence." He is not simply "an omnipotent being," but is literally omnipotence. God is ultimate power. In like manner, "God is omnipresence" (as opposed to an "omnipresent being"). Wherever there is presence, God is. He is far more than a being who happens to exist in every place. As the Emerging Church understands Him, He is literally all presence.
So it is with the adjective, "loving." Changed to a noun (love), we can literally say with John, "God is love" (I John 4:5). The statement, with "love" understood as a predicate nominative, is reversible. "God is love," or, "Love is God." Not that "love" tells all about God, anymore than "president" tells the whole story of Bush, but love literally is a manifestation of God.
If "creating" is changed to a noun, the Emerging Church can say, "God is Creator," or "Creator is God." More clearly, "creating," understood as a gerund (a verbal form used as a noun) rather than as a participle, expresses this understanding. "God is Creating," or, "Creating is God." That is, whenever creating occurs, God is active. He is, literally, all-creating. The limitation of "creating," as a participle implying an act done by a being, is avoided in these literal statements. God is not simply "one" who creates. He is actually all-creating, no matter who is doing it, as He is understood in the Emerging Church.
Numerous metaphors (implied comparisons) provide another effective way of speaking about God. Common biblical metaphors include father, shephard, light, and bread. Mother, counselor, guide, friend, and many others may be usefully added to the list. In each instance some characteristic in a familiar role or person is implied. For example, with the metaphor, "God is our Father," the Emerging Church implies that certain characteristics of a biological father can be used to describe God. Like our ideal physical fathers, God is strong, caring, protective, concerned, and the initiator of our spiritual lives.
The critical issue in the use of metaphors is that they always be understood as comparisons rather than literal statements, as Popularly conceived. Whereas there are valid implied comparisons between an earthly father and "our heavenly father," a misconception is formed, believes the Emerging Church, when one thinks of God as a cosmic father figure in the sky or outside the universe. God is much more than a Grand Daddy.
An additional problem arises from such a metaphor taken literally when one has had bad experiences with his or her own father. One young woman, whose father had abandoned the family when she was a child, felt a continued resentment against God until she realized her deep identification of the "heavenly father" with her own earthly father.
Once the metaphorical device is understood, almost any comparison may prove useful for communicating about a particular aspect of God. For instance, we may say, "God is Light," implying that ultimate reality is an illuminator of many hidden things. We may also say, "God is Dark," implying the continual element of hidden mystery in His presence. "God is a heavenly mother" can suggest the infinite tenderness of supreme being.
Because the English language utilizes articles (a, an, and the) specifying the application of nouns, we can also apply them to God if we realize we are speaking metaphorically. To speak of "a God," "the Father," or "the Supreme Being" is an acceptable use of language, for the Emerging Church, in reference to the figures of speech. However, a danger arises in understanding if the articles are taken literally, as in the Popular Church.
Whereas all other nouns may be properly specified thus ("a river" or "the person"), names for God cannot. Technically, each is a no-name, as previously discussed. To speak literally, the Emerging Church eliminates articles in reference to God. "God is," is a literal statement, but in Emerging Religion one cannot say literally, "There is a God." The article, "a," specifies God as a "one," or an objective entity, and thereby misses the concept.
To so limit the ultimacy of God is to misunderstand His reality, as conceived in the Emerging Church. What God is cannot be properly specified in any final way. As vast as the designation, "the Supreme Being," may appear, it still falls short of His supremacy, as conceived in Emerging Religion. The use of articles in speaking of God in the Emerging Church is always a concession to the structure of our language.
To limit speech about God to literal facts, the Emerging Church can only say, "God is." To say more is to use figures of speech. Moses seems to have reached this awareness when he received the classic revelation recordedin Exodus 3:41. Moses wanted to name God--that is, to pin Him down in some definition so that he could tell others who God is. However, he received all that can literally be said. God's name is "I Am Who I Am. Tell them I Am has sent me to you." Although the name, "I Am," conveys no literal information, it says all that can factually be said, God is. Beyond this, and figures of speech, all else is idolatry, as God is understood in the Emerging Church.
Christ is Jesus, the only son of God; Christ is but another name for Jesus. "Jesus Christ" is used as though Christ were simply Jesus' last name. For all practical purposes the two names are synonymous.
Christ is the second most significant spiritual personage. He is a personification of particular aspects of the engulfing experience of knowing God, namely, truth, love, life, and "the way." As such, Christ is revealed in Jesus, but is not limited to him. The goal is for every person to be in Christ.
In Popular Religion all that was said of Jesus in the previous chapter applies to the name, Christ. This second figure in the Trinity is understood as simply the man, Jesus. He is viewed as the one and only concrete manifestation of God. For the Popular Church, Christ is synonymous with and limited to Jesus.
In Emerging Religion, Christ becomes a universal symbol, personified in Jesus, but in no sense limited to him. "Christ" is the most immediate representation of what we all may become, namely, sons of God. Using the previously discussed procedure of representing potential elements in human experience in the form of a person (personification), certain qualities of existence are summarized in the Christ image.
The culminating event of communion with God is broken down into various components. The nature of the ultimate in reality is such that it can never be viewed directly ("No man hath seen God at any time" John 1:18). However, certain ways of perceiving God can be formalized and named. The unseen God can be perceived, for example, in truth. In man's experience of truthfulness, God is revealed. Love also manifests God's presence. Life reveals Him. When man truthfully encounters life as it is, he meets God. God is known in the way things are.
And yet terms like truth, love, life, and the way are vague and impersonal. For ease in communication and understanding, certain of these experiences commonly involved in the encounter with ultimate reality are personified in the Christ image.
As the traditional spirit of America, including patriotism, freedom, and respect for individual rights, is summarized in the name, the American Way, so the spirit of God, including love, truth, and life, is summarized in the name Christ. However, "the American Way" is a vague term, difficult to grasp. In time it has been personified in the imaginary figure of Uncle Sam. He stands for "the American Way." In like manner "Christ" is also a difficult term to grasp. It has been personified in the real person, Jesus of Nazareth, who was able to say, "I am the way, truth, and life" (John 14:6). As John wrote, Jesus declared or revealed God (John 1:18). He manifested truth in his life. He revealed the way. He was loving, that is, he personified love in his relationships. Activating these forms of godliness, he became Christ, God incarnate, "the word made flesh" (John 1:14). Jesus was what Christ is.
In a parallel use of language one might speak of John the Clown. Suppose John Smith learns to act like a buffoon and gets a job as a circus clown. As he becomes identified with clowning, he may become known as John the Clown. In time his name may be shortened to John Clown. If he is very good, the functional form of clowning will be personified in John. One could call him John Clown, but technically he would be John, the Clown.
So with Jesus, the Christ. In personifying truth, love, and the way, he became the Christ. As our imaginary John revealed what clowning is, so the real Jesus revealed what Christ is. Christ came once in Jesus of Nazareth. Christianity, for the Emerging Church, is about his coming again--his second comings--in Johns and Jesuses of other ages.
Whereas Jesus revealed these qualities of life summarized in the term, Christ, he neither created nor exclusively retained them. Just as the American Way existed before it was personified in Uncle Sam, so truth, love, and life preceded Jesus. Hopefully the American Way will continue, should Uncle Sam suffer a social death. Certainly the Christian way has continued after the death of Jesus. The point is, while Jesus was a graphic manifestation of Christ, with profound historical consequences, Christ experiences are not exclusive to the Nazarene.
As Jesus said hopefully to his followers, "Greater works than these shall ye do." Regrettably they failed to live up to his expectations, as have we in succeeding generations. Even so, the Christ qualities are still present in scattered places, as they have presumably always been. Truth is still revealed to those with the eyes to see; love continues to be manifested in diverse places. The way remains open to those with the faith to follow. We lack the tangible personification of a present-day Jesus, yet Christ still exists, or so believes the Emerging Church.
Satan is an evil being presiding over hell in the depths of the earth, venturing forth tempting individuals to do bad things, luring them away from God. Though the name is still retained, belief in Satan seems to be declining in the Popular Church. The term is primarily used in a joking way ("The Devil made me do it").
Satan is a significant figure personifying the forces of evil, a dramatic representation of the actual destructive power loosed in the vacuum of God's absence.
The Popular belief is self-explanatory. Understandably, its popularity is rapidly declining as geological, psychological, and medical advances are made. The ridiculous red figure is no longer needed to explain man's temptation to be destructive. Geological discoveries eliminated his abode; mental illness has replaced demonology as an explanation for man's disturbed states. Gradually Satan's function has been reduced to a humorous excuse for minor antisocial behavior.
Emerging Religion is much more serious about the prevalent phenomenon represented by Satan. The power of evil is recognized as an exceedingly dangerous fact in life. For thought and communication purposes, these forces are represented in the image of the Devil.
As God is the ultimate in reality, Satan is the ultimate in non-reality. Satan, or the Devil, as understood in Emerging Religion, is a name for the awesome human experience of existing in the vacuum of God's absence. When man separates himself from reality, he encounters the negative forces of withdrawal.
Students of general science sometimes explore the saying, "Nature abhors a vacuum," by removing the air from a metal container. They discover that the sides of the container cave in. Similarly, when man removes himself from God, he experiences the "pressure" of his separation. From his perspective it may seem that "the world is caving in on him." Out of harmony with reality, he feels depressing powers.
In Emerging Religion these negative forces are personified in the figure of Satan. This common human experience is given form, for purposes of thought and speech. As good is personified in God, so evil is given form in the Devil. Whenever man turns from God, he inevitably encounters Satan. The traditional image of the red man with a pitch fork and forked tail is used, like Uncle Sam, to represent a particular quality of life, namely, spiritual death. This figure allows us to think and speak of the destructive possibilities in human experience.
Using metaphors, we may describe the Devil as the evil one, the tempter, or the spirit of wickedness. With the traditional associations between darkness and evil, he may be pictured as roaming in the night. The Bible describes him in metaphorical language as "a roaring lion, walking about seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). The essential representation is the tremendous destructive power of evil that is unleashed when man separates himself from God. Satan, for the Emerging Church, is a theological name for this demonic force.
ANGELS AND DEMONS
Angels and demons are lesser beings that represent and do the work of God and Satan on this earth. Formerly perceived as literal entities, regularly present in the universe, they are largely dismissed in Popular thought.
Angels and demons are theological names for man's encounters with lesser degrees of God's presence or absence; angels are personifications of the experiences of being more in tune with God; demons personify limited encounters with Satan.
As understood in Emerging Religion, man experiences God, the essence of reality, and Satan, the essence of non-reality, by degrees. Seldom is one totally in contact with reality, or completely out of tune. Usually he is somewhere in between--partially whole, yet somewhat fragmented. At any given juncture in life he may be focused
on his degree of unity, or on the extent of his disharmony. He may describe his current condition as "feeling fairly well," or being "somewhat depressed."
In Emerging Religion these varying degrees of encounter with God or Satan are personified and named. Lesser degrees of God's presence are called angels. Dispersions of Satanic power are named demons. To say, "An angel visited me," is to speak of an encounter with some degree of God's presence which is less than His fullself. To be "possessed by a demon" is to be partially under the control of the negative force existing in God's absence.
Both the positive experiences (angels) and negative events (demons) are perceived as though they "come to" or "work on" man. A degree of God's presence, an angel, may be described non-religiously as: "All of a sudden this good feeling came over me." Of a demonic event, one may feel the destructive power and say, "I felt compelled to do what I did not want to."
In keeping with the objective way in which man commonly perceives these various qualities of experience, as he moves in and out of contact with reality, Emerging Religion names them as though they were independent entities. Such naming is pragmatic for speaking of experience as it occurs.
The Holy Spirit is a type of religious ghost believed to be one of the three forms of God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost); He is presumed to have descended at various times in history onto certain individuals or groups of people, bringing special messages from God or affecting certain human activities.
The Holy Spirit is a personification of the Spirit of Wholeness, the experience of meeting God, as viewed objectively. When man encounters the ultimate in reality, it seems that "something comes to him." This "something" which "moves one" in the truthful encounter is named the Holy Spirit.
In Popular Religion the doctrine of the Holy Ghost has fallen into general disrepute except in fringe groups, such as, the "holy rollers" (ultra-conservatives) and various charismatic movements. Main-line churches still give mental acceptance to the idea, but find little place for the phenomenon. This prevailing absence of the Holy Spirit is generally credited to "God's not sending it" as He formerly did. Probably the uncontrollable nature of Spirit is threatening to the order of Popular Religion, resulting in its careful exclusion.
Conversely, the Holy Spirit is a lively entry on the stage of religious personages for the Emerging Church.The phenomenon of God's visitations is actively sought, and therefore named. When the spirit of wholeness "descends on one" as he encounters ultimate reality, the event is personified as the Holy Spirit. Although one had been spiritually disjointed, or torn within, in this experience he realizes an awesome, even holy, degree of unity.
Using personification, the Emerging Church speaks of this sense of wholeness as the Holy Spirit. To maintain logic, the Holy Ghost, as a third person in the Trinity, is needed. Since God, as the ultimate in reality, cannot be directly perceived, another figure is necessary to speak of the fact that man does encounter God.
The Christ image, as a second person in the Trinity, is adequate for some forms of encounter (truth, love, etc.). Still, a third figure is needed to accurately represent the fact that man does perceive God as "coming to him." If "something comes" or "directs" in such an encounter, a name is needed. This "something," which is not a literal thing, is named Holy Spirit.
The risks of its sounding like a disembodied spook are deemed worthy of taking by the Emerging Church, in face of the greater danger of unawareness of the possibility of knowing the spirit of wholeness in daily living.
Soul is regarded as an immortal entity residing in every human being--given to man at birth, existing in his body during his lifetime, and leaving at death. The soul, much like a ghost in a haunted house, is believed to be perpetual. The issue in salvation is not acquiring soul, since everyone is presumed to have one, but rather "where will the soul spend eternity"--in heaven or in hell?
Soul is a theological name for a certain quality of living, an acquired state of existence, resulting from encounter with God, rather than an inherent possession. "With soul" is understood as a way one may potentially come to be, but not as something he literally "has."
The Popular understanding of soul is an adaptation from Greek philosophy rather than Hebrew religion. In Greek perspective, body and soul were understood as separable units, one tangible and the other intangible. The body was viewed as mortal or subject to death, while the soul was considered immortal or unending in time. Every man was thought to possess an immortal soul which would continue to survive physical death as a separate entity.
This "ghost in a machine" concept was contrary to Old Testament understanding of man, but had gained foothold in religious thought by New Testament times. Since then it has become thoroughly ingrained in Popular Religion.
The Emerging Church's understanding of soul is more akin to earlier Hebrew thought. For it, "soul" represents the experience of knowing God, from the human perspective. When a man exists in harmony with the ultimate in reality, the Emerging Church believes, he then "has soul." To be "spirited" or "with spirit" (used synonymously with "soul") is to be in communion with God. As the "Holy Spirit" names this encounter from the perspective of God, the "human spirit," or soul, gives title to this major spiritual experience from the viewpoint of man. Obviously a significant change occurs in this primary subjective happening. Something is added. One is more than he was before. When the event ends, something is gone. One seems to lose something.
Emerging theology gives a name to this potential human experience. What comes to man when he meets God is "soul." What does he lose afterward? "Soul." Out of contact with God, one "loses spirit." He becomes "dispirited." A colloquial synonym for soul is "heart." When one becomes spirited he may be described as "having heart." The dispirited person, out of touch with God, may be described as "having lost heart."
The biblical description is this: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became living soul" (Genesis 2:7). Everyday man, formed of the elements of the earth, becomes "living soul" when God breathes the "breath of life" into him. Without this essential communion with God, he remains merely a high-grade animal, formed like all creatures from the earthly elements. Only when he is indwelt by God does he become "living soul."
"Being with spirit" is carefully distinguished in Emerging Religion, from "having a soul," "Soul" is understood as a grammatical form (a religious no-name). The article, a, implying a literal entity, is misleading. "Soul," like all other religious personages, names a possible human experience, rather than an intangible, ghost-like entity residing in the body. Technically, one may exist "with soul," but Emerging Religion does not understand man as inherently possessing a soul, which might presumably enter his body at birth and leave at death, with temporary excursions between times.
Because of the nature of encountering the Holy Spirit, one may accurately describe such events in terms of "coming" and "going." From man's perspective it does seem that spirit comes and goes. Now you have it, now you don't. "Spirit fled me," one who has experienced the loss of soul may says.
Although this is good description of the event, the Emerging Church believes misunderstanding has entered when one takes the words literally. A spatial search for a lost soul would be as futile as looking for Santa Claus at the North Pole or God in the sky. "Soul" is very real in the domain of human experience, but non-existent in the universe apart from man.
To summarize: Every person is presumed to exist with the possibility of "having soul," yet the realization of this option is not inevitable. To be born of a woman and live as a two-legged creature does not necessarily mean that one will become living soul. Its possibility is given to all to be men--that is, members of the human species--but one must become spirited through encounter with God. The first is innate in the organism; the second is a matter of faith and choice.
Of the two distinguishing words, quality and quantity, the first is more descriptive of soul. Soul is more like a quality of living than a quantity one possesses. Colloquial expressions may more clearly reveal this distinction. When it is said of a certain person, "He is really living," or, "She's got soul," or, "He certainly is spirited," the reference may be to this quality of living which Emerging theology names "soul."
The same embraced capacity may be referred to in the expression, "He's a real man," as distinguished from merely a member of the human race. Instead of "just a female," one might say of a spirited woman, "She's a real woman." This quality of life, which is more than a mere sexual distinction, might better be expressed as, "He is a real person," or, more colloquially, "She is something else;" This "something else," for the Emerging Church, is soul.
DAMNATION AND SALVATION
Damnation and salvation are two opposite conditions of man, who is either rejected or accepted by an external, cosmic God; these conditions are primarily related to one's destiny in another world to be entered after physical death. Damnation is the result of original sin (of Adam and Eve), personal sin, or both. Salvation is a transaction which guarantees one a place in heaven in the afterlife.
The context of both damnation and salvation is the physical world. Damnation is the process of losing communion with God (ultimate reality). In colloquial terms it is "getting out of touch with life as it is." Salvation is the opposite process, of reestablishing an intimate relationship with God--that is, getting in harmony with the ultimate in reality.
In Popular Religion these two primary spiritual conditions are more like positions than processes. If one is damned, as a result of original sin or his own, he is in a holding pattern, awaiting his tortuous future in hell, beyond the grave. If he is saved, he is like-wise awaiting a promised postmortem bliss.
Emerging Religion shares the view of damnation as a present state, but it also understands the resulting spiritual death as being in the present tense. Salvation is understood as the process of returning to Eden on earth, or re-achieving the state of harmony and communion with God that is apparently the condition of each newly born infant. This return to innocence, "becoming as a little child," in Jesus' language, is an arduous process requiring great faith and much work. And, as the Apostle Paul noted, it is one that is often accompanied by "fear and trembling."
Popular Religion, with its otherworldly orientation, views salvation more as a ticket to a place. Instead of a laborious process, it is a magical event, a cosmic transaction, in which one's future destiny is determined. Theories of how one acquires the ticket vary from group to group; some say by obedience to the church; others, by "believing in Jesus"; and still others, by "living a good life." Yet they all hold the common underlying belief in salvation as a promise to be finally fulfilled in an afterlife.
In the Emerging Church, salvation is the process of achieving right standing with God in the here and now. Through sin, man is cast out of Eden, separated from ultimate reality. In salvation he returns. He reestablishes communion with God. Common names for salvation include "the good life, "happiness," and "peace of mind." Through being "saved," man "finds happiness and peace of mind."
The living soul--the spirited person--who died as a result of sin, is reborn in the process of salvation. The dead man is resurrected from his walking death. He is born again as a human being. Spirit returns to body. Senses are activated, emotions rejuvenated, minds freed, and man becomes a responding creation. His frozen heart is quickened and warmed. He "becomes living soul." Mortal man "puts on immortality."
As a spirited human, he returns to Eden, the garden of pleasures, heaven on earth, and lives the "good life." No longer out of tune or at odds with reality, he walks and talks (lives) with God in each eternal now. He comes again to be a son of God, a completed bit of the finite reflecting the infinite, a fulfilled part of reality mirroring the ultimate in reality. This is salvation, as understood in the Emerging Church: the process of lost man's finding himself and returning to the forgotten glory of sonship in the kingdom of God, in the here and now.
The critical question is: How does salvation occur? How does a lost person get saved? How can a spiritually dead one be resurrected? Emerging theology answers the question in three ways. Most simply, man is saved by reestablishing communion with the ultimate in reality.
His salvation comes through meeting God. But how can this be? How can a spiritually dead, existentially estranged, man be reconciled with God? How can a separated, finite being find communion with supreme being?
In slightly more complex terms, Emerging theology answers: When a Philippian jailor asked, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:30-31). For two thousand years the church has been repeating his answer. To be saved, one must "believe on Christ." "Christ is the way." "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him..." (John 3:16). "Man's way back to God is through Christ." Only through "believing in Christ" can man be reconciled with God.
But then, the clarifying question comes: What does it mean to "believe in Christ?" Is it as easy as agreeing that Jesus was God's son? Is it enough to try to "live right" by following his teachings? What is involved in this simple-sounding formula of "believing on Christ?"
A review of the biblical word for believe reveals an essential difference from the popular understanding of belief. Today, believe implies "mental acceptance" or "intellectual agreement." To believe in something means to "think it's true." On this understanding, many in the Popular Church assume that one only needs to agree with Jesus, or mentally accept him as God's son, in order to be saved.
A study of the word translated as believe, pisteuo in the New Testament, indicates, however, a much deeper personal event. The sense of the word, the noun form of which is pistis, translated faith, means "to be committed to," or, "to find one's existence in." Thinking (agreeing with) may be an element in this experience, but it is only a minor part. The spiritual event of believing involves the totality of the individual, not merely his conscious intellect. Jesus confirmed this all-consuming requirement by using the analogy of his body. "Verily, verily (of a deep truth), I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life" (John 6:53-54).
As the Emerging Church interprets the analogy, one must partake of what Jesus was, that is, take Christ into himself so that the two become as one. A lost person must literally come to be in Christ. He must have a transformed center of existence, finding his new being in the "Son of man." Thinking favorably about Jesus is not enough. Even trying to follow his teachings or imitate his life is insufficient. One who would be saved must actually find his being in Christ.
Yet again the question: What does it mean to "be in Christ?" If "believing" is more than agreeing and imitating, how can it be understood in modern thought? To "be in Christ"--or using the gorey metaphor, "eating the body and drinking the blood of the Son of man"--implies, for the Emerging Church, that one must come to be in what Jesus was.
Certainly it means more than his mere physical body, or even a body magically transubstantiated into communion elements (as in Catholic doctrine). To "be in Christ" means, in modern colloquialism, to "be into" what Jesus "was into." And what is this? Jesus said, "I am the way, truth and life." To "be into" him is therefore to "be into" the way, into truth, and into life.
Christ is a summary word representing all that Jesus was as a person. If one "believes in Christ," he literally finds his existence in "the way things actually are." He lives "in the truth." It is not enough to simply "tell the truth." One must advance to "being truthful" in all his living, so that, "what you see is what you get."
One "in Christ" is also "in life." Rather than wandering like a zombie (spiritually dead) on the fringes of life, one "in Him" is actually living the fullest life. "Christ" also stands for love. A person in Christ is therefore "in love," that is, he is loving in all his relationships.
To summarize: believing in Christ means finding one's being in that which Christ is--namely, in the way, truth, life, and love. Or in non-religious language, "being Christian" means being truthfully in the way, living fully, and loving completely. The Emerging Church believes that reaching such a goal may begin with mental acceptance of Jesus; but it is not climaxed until one actually finds life in Christ.
But how does one meet God in Christ? How can a person become truthful and loving in the way of life as it is? Emerging theology spells out the answer to this question in great detail. Man comes to "know God" or "believe in Christ" through the confession of his sinfulness, followed by his own repentance.
These two activities of man lead to the Parousia, Judgment, and Resurrection. One who successfully moves through them is then ushered into the kingdom of God, heaven on earth. The "working out of one's own salvation" (Philippians 2:12) includes confession and repentance on the part of the individual. Once a person begins to engage in these activities he can anticipate certain spiritual events. These happenings become the basis for the return to Eden, for communion with God, and for experiencing "the good life."
The Emerging perspective of damnation and salvation may be summarized as follows: The two major processes in the spiritual pilgrimage are losing the good life and finding it again. The first is "what goes wrong" with man; the second is "how we get right again." In losing spiritual life, we get bored, unhappy, disturbed or "lost." Life loses its meaning. Things cease to matter.
In the reverse process, we find meaning in life. We "find ourselves," gain happiness and peace, and achieve harmony with the world in which we live. Within each phase of the pilgrimage, certain discernible spiritual happenings can be pinpointed. Subjective events occur with predictable results. The Emerging Church believes that man engages in specific spiritual acts that lead to the loss of happiness, and, potentially, in others that result in finding his way. The principle events in the process of damnation are called sin and death. Salvation includes happenings named, in religious language, confession, repentance, Parousia, Judgment, and Resurrection. The two phases can be charted as follows:
(Losing Spiritual Life) (Regaining Spiritual Life)
Events in each process can be subdivided into: 1) Man's Action, 2) Spiritual Events, and 3) the Result:
Man's Action Spiritual Events Result
A. Sin Death Hell
B. Confession & Parousia, Judgment & Heaven
In the process of losing spiritual life, man sins. When he does, he dies as a spiritued being. As a result, he exists in hell. The return to spiritual life is marked by his confession and repentance. These spiritual acts lead to Parousia, Judgment, and Resurrection. The result is experiencing heaven or entering the kingdom of God.
SIN, DEATH, CONFESSION, REPENTANCE, PAROUSIA, JUDGMENT, RESURRECTION
These are objective, physical occurrences; the first four are personal in nature, the last three are worldwide, historical happenings for everyone at the same time in the future.
These are subjective events involving the spirit of man. All are personal in nature; the first three are spiritual acts in which man takes the initiative, the last four are inevitable spiritual results. Each of the events is possible for every person in this present world.
In the Popular Church all religious events are understood as objective happenings in the physical world. Some are things one does; others are things expected to happen to man. The personal events--sin, death, confession, and repentance--are tangible occurrences, primarily physical in nature. The other events--Parousia (Second Coming of Christ), Judgment, and Resurrection-- are understood as worldwide or cosmic happenings to be anticipated at some future point in history. Some predict that the Second Coming is near at hand.
The Emerging Church sees all religious events as subjective or inward occurrences that take place in the physical world, yet are essentially spiritual in nature. Each is understood to be a private or individual event that may occur while one is with other people, but which, in the final analysis, is entirely personal. Three of the common religious events--sin, confession, and repentance--are spiritual steps man takes completely of his own volition. Apparently, every person engages in the first act (sin). Far fewer seem to confess or repent.
The other religious events--death, Parousia, Judgment, and Resurrection--also understood as personal and subjective, follow the happenings in which man takes the initiative. Spiritual death, for example, results from one's choice to sin. Confession and repentance always lead to Parousia and Judgment.
As subjective experiences, spiritual events, as understood in the Emerging Church, may or may not be revealed in observable ways. Normally there are physical manifestations or expressions of spiritual occurrences, but this is not necessarily so. Spiritual events occur in the physical world; but since they have to do with man's relationship with reality, rather than with realityitself, they are not always visible. Often they occur without show or sound.
For example, one can sin without doing any visible deed. The Resurrection may occur without external show. One may enter heaven without fanfare. As Jesus said, "The kingdom of God does not come with signs to be observed or with visible display" (Luke 17:20 Amp.).
That they may be invisible does not mean that spiritual happenings are only imaginary. They are real events occurring in the tangible world; yet by the nature of the spiritual dimension, they do not necessarily show. Just as one can feel excited or have a stomach ache without revealing the fact, so he can sin without making a show of it. Spiritual events, as seen in Emerging Religion, may even occur without conscious awareness. The person involved may or may not be mentally alert to the event at the time.
For instance, one can be spiritually dead without knowing so in awareness. Existence in hell can be obscured by mental blocks or drugs, such as, alcohol and tranquilizers.
Although neither external changes nor conscious attention inevitably accompany spiritual events, inner bodily changes normally do. These principally involve the autonomic nervous system, with the muscles, tissues, and organs it affects. For example, in the Parousia the pupils of the eyes are likely to be dilated. In the Resurrection the peripheral blood vessels may be expanded. These inner conditions are commonly perceived as excitement or "feeling good."
When one sins, internal tension can result in headaches, backaches, nervousness, or high blood pressure.
Each occurrence is understood by the Emerging Church to be personal, rather than cosmic or universal in nature.The events occur for individuals only, not for everyone at the same time. Two persons may be together and only one will experience a particular spiritual event. With reference to the Parousia, Jesus said, two may "be in the field; the one taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (Matthew 24:40-41).
When two people are together, only one may sin. In a whole crowd, only one may be experiencing the Resurrection. In an entire city, only one may be entering the kingdom of God at any given time. Even if two or more persons are experiencing the same occurrence at the same time, the event is personal for each. They may or may not choose to share what is happening for them.
Furthermore, different spiritual events may be occurring at the same time. While one is sinning, another may be involved in the Resurrection. A husband may be going to hell while his wife is entering heaven.
The Emerging Church believes that spiritual events can happen at any time. Each is an everpresent possibility for every person. Just as a man can sin whenever he chooses, so he can confess whenever he will. Repentance is always possible. Whenever one sins, confesses, or repents, the respective spiritual events inevitably follow.
Sin always leads to death. As the Bible says in reference to sin, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). The declaration is not that the man who sins will "die some day," but rather, at the time of his sin. Confession and repentance always lead to Parousia and Judgment.
Spiritual experiences also occur by degrees. There are many levels between heaven and hell. One may exist at countless points between ultimate bliss and total depravity. He may be partially in contact with reality, or completely in tune with the ultimate in reality. He may be slightly out of touch with God, or totally separated from Him. Man sins, suffers, and dies by degrees. The hell one experiences is directly proportional to his sin. As Jesus taught in one of his parables, to each sinner, God "will appoint him his portion." The one who is very guilty "shall be beaten with many stripes," whereas the less guilty "shall be beaten with few stripes" (Luke 12:46-48).
So with the salvation events, according to Emerging Religion. Just as one is separated from God by degrees, so he may return by degrees. In a complete change, or total repentance, one turns 180 degrees. Or he may only turn 10 degrees. A slight change brings only a partial Parousia. Just as a small degree of sin leads to a small degree of death, so a limited confession leads to a limited Judgment.
Heaven is entered in proportion to man's return to communion with God. To be fully within the kingdom, one must make a total confession, repent completely (180 degrees), and be judged 100 percent acceptable. From being wholly hateful one may turn to become slightly loving, or be resurrected as a truly loving person.
Apparently the possible extent or range of spiritual experiences varies from person to person. Some seem capable of greater love and deeper anxiety. Unfortunately this must remain a speculation, since we as yet have no objective way of measuring or comparing subjective experiences.
Sin is doing something wrong, or not doing what you should do; "wrong" activities include doing bad deeds, saying bad words, or having bad thoughts, feelings, or desires (called sins of commission). Neglected good activities (also including feelings as well as overt deeds) are called sins of omission. Some extend sin to include the motives behind the deeds.
Sin is the spiritual act of assuming goodhood--that is, presuming to be omniscient, omnipotent, and/or immortal; it is usually reflected in deeds, thoughts, feelings, and desires, but is never inherently identified with either.
In Popular Religion sin is identified with what a person does or does not do, rather than what he is. It falls in the realm of "doing," rather than "being." Sin is understood as an activity, either done or neglected. Sinful deeds are divided into outward and inward activities.Outward sins include doing evil things or saying bad words. Inward sins include thinking evil thoughts or having bad feelings or desires.
The specific identification of evil activities, both external and internal, varies from group to group, but generally includes the ten commandments (thou shalt not kill, steal, lie, commit adultery, etc.) plus many additions (thou shalt not smoke, drink, gamble, dance, masturbate, play ball on Sunday, wear make-up, pet ("make out"), get a divorce, and endlessly on). Bad thoughts may include fantasies of murder, suicide, rape, or other bad deeds, plus doubting accepted doctrines. Anger and hate are commonly classified as bad feelings. Evil desires center on sexual urges, or wishes for what someone else has, called "coveting."
Sins of omission popularly include failure to obey parents, help people in need, attend church services, read the Bible, pray, witness to others concerning one's beliefs, or tithe one's income to the church. Failing to feel sympathetic or loving, or not wanting to help others, is often considered sinful. Generally, any wishes or desires considered to be "selfish" are classified as sinful.
Although most definitions are limited to "doing what you're not supposed to" and "not doing what you ought to,"some go a step further to include motives in the realm of sin. It is not enough to do good deeds; you must also do them for the right reasons. Even good activities become evil when one does them with bad motivation. Bad reasons are commonly defined as "selfish purposes." For example, to help someone (a good deed) in order to secure their approval (a selfish reason) is also a sin. Deeds must be done for purely altruistic purposes, in order to avoid sin.
The critical element in the popular understanding of sin is its objective nature. Even the inward sins, such as bad feelings, have the quality of being separable from the essential person. They are all something one "does" or "has," rather than something he "is" or "becomes." The inclusion of motives in the definition moves closer to the person himself, yet it still falls short. Since one "has" his reasons, they too are "possessions," rather thanan element of his essential self.
The traditional conceptions of sin are distinctly pragmatic. They are highly effective in organizing, stabilizing, and maintaining a family, community, or society. Religious laws support, strengthen, and augment civil codes. Potentially disruptive social behavior, such as theft and dishonesty, are thus curtailed by both the church and the courts. Making an act a sin as well as a crime tends to lower its incidence.
Furthermore, religious rules can be far more extensive than civil codes, since they may be applied to the realm of thoughts and feelings also. By condemning the idea as well as the act ("It's just as bad to think about it as it is to do it"), an additional safeguard is added. Disruptive crimes can be nipped in the bud by squelching them at the level of thought and desire. If one is not allowed to think of bad deeds, presumably he will be less likely to do them.
Church laws may also be applied in areas difficult to legislate in society. For instance, in the family setting, disobedient children are obviously disruptive, yet their behavior is beyond the realm of courts. By making the act a sin with eternal, if not legal, consequences, temporal family harmony may certainly be enhanced. In addition, making a virtue of such useful services as helping others further strengthens any group.
Defining sin in neat categories of deeds, words, thoughts, feelings, and desires can also be personally pragmatic. Making decisions in the face of relatively unlimited choice requires extensive thought. Acting without prior assurance of the validity of consequences demands personal faith. Both of these necessities are reduced by the simple matter of defining right and wrong objectively. Thereafter one need simply do what he is told by the religious rules. Little thought is required, and the prior knowledge that "this is the right thing to do" eliminates the faith essential for facing the unknown.
Or if, for any reason, one wishes to rebel, that path is neatly defined also. Furthermore, objective sin provides a clear basis for judging others. The good and bad guys are easy to distinguish in Popular Religion.
And finally, this definition of sin implies a simplified path to heaven. In spite of academic doctrines of grace and faith, the Popular Church layman logically deducts that he can achieve right standing with God through the easier course of legalism. If God is displeased by objective acts of sin, logically He will be pleased if one does not do the evil deeds. Presumably salvation will ensue from "being good," avoiding sinful activities.
Confession is reduced to recounting bad deeds; repentance becomes "shaping up." Such a path to bliss is obviously less demanding than one requiring deep personal revelation and actual change. Behaving is certainly easier than becoming, and "dressing up" does not require the faith inherent in "giving up."
In spite of its values to society and individuals, the popular concept of sin is in serious trouble today. Difficulty arises from many quarters. First, the light of reason raises serious doubts about many inclusions on the various lists of sins. The Popular Church has failed to keep pace in updating its entries. Questionable examples include divorce; eating pork (or meat on Friday); birth control; abortion; indiscriminate helping of others; various sexual activities, such as masturbation or intercourse between consenting adults; and pornography.
The advent of public concern with such issues as segregation, women's liberation, ecology, political reform, and personal rights has revealed the unreasonableness of certain inclusions on, as well as exclusions from, the Popular lists. For instance, Popular Church sanction of slavery, oppression of women, segregation, and corrupt political machinery has cast reasonable doubt on its ability to adequately define sin.
Extreme inclusions on various sin lists (wearing make-up, attending movies, playing card games) likewise challenge human reason. Recently a barber's son in Memphis boarded a church bus on promise of free hot dogs. While attending services he was told that long hair is sinful and would cause him to be cast into hell. He then submitted to a free haircut by an unskilled woman. A lawsuit is pending, but such incidents naturally raise reasonable question about the Popular Church's definitions of sin.
Insights of psychology and psychiatry have further eroded public confidence in the popular concept that identifies sin with selfishness and consequently makes a virtue of mental suppression. The dangers of these ideas have been repeatedly demonstrated. The notion that being selfish is sinful has led to religiously sanctioned abuses of the body as well as gross inattention to personal problems. With the conclusion, "It's just as bad to think about itas to do it," the suppression of emotions and thoughts has unwittingly been encouraged as a virtue. In spite of the immediate values of mental repression, psychology has amply shown its long-range harmful effects on mental health.
These and other difficulties with the popular understanding of sin have resulted in massive public rejection of even the word itself. Outside a small circle of religious professionals, few laymen talk of sin except in a joking way. An eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, has written a book with the title, What Ever Became of Sin?
And yet the more serious problem lies in the personal results of living by the popular concept. In spite of its implied promise of virtue by abstinance, the more familiar results are self-righteousness and guilt. Those who succeed in avoiding the objective sins almost inevitably fall victim to personal pride, while those who succumb bear the burdens of guilt. The squirrel-cage existence--oscillating between striving to avoid sin, falling victim, feeling guilty, seeking relief by trying harder, and becoming more and more "up tight" in the continuous process--is all too common in the Popular Church. The obvious fact is that the implied salvation by "shaping up" is simply not true, at least in this present world.
The Emerging Church believes that objectively conceived sin does not reach to the heart of man. Dealing only with symptoms, or surface issues, as useful as this may temporarily be, is inadequate in coping with our true problem. Our sinfulness is rooted not simply in what we have or have not done, but in what we have become. Emerging Religion understands sin in a distinctively different fashion. Its locus is placed in the realm of "being" rather than "doing." Sin is viewed as a spiritual act, instead of a physical deed, a subjective experience, not an objective event.
No physical act, external or internal, no deed, desire, emotion, or thought can identify this emerging understanding of "what's wrong with man." Physical expressions may reflect or reveal the spiritual act, yet none can contain it. Sin can occur without either of the objective events. Contrarily, one might engage in any physical activity--do any deed, have any thought, feeling, or desire--without committing the spiritual act of sin.
Breaking through the popular division between what man "does and has" and what he "is," Emerging Religion identifies sin in the latter category. This profoundly significant phenomenon is related to what man has "become," rather than simply what he has "done."
In the Genesis allegory, before sinning, man exists openly in God's presence. He walks and talks with God in the garden of Eden. Then the serpent comes, offering the traditional apple of temptation. Man takes it and is afterward cast out of the garden, and out of God's presence.
The Cherubims, "with a flaming sword which turned every way," are placed at the gate "to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). The critical question, in regard to sin, is: What is the apple? What is the common temptation to which we succumb and which results in our separation from God's presence?
Popular Religion says the temptation was disobedience.Man was kicked out of Eden, it concludes, because he ate the forbidden fruit, disobeying the law of God. On this basis it logically advances the previously described theory of sin as disobedience to a greatly expanded list of "God's laws," now covering every aspect of human capacity. Man sins, so goes the belief, by breaking the laws of God, by doing things (externally and internally) he should not do and failing to do the things he ought to.
Emerging Religion goes a step further in interpreting the allegory. Recognizing the fact of man's disobedience, it proceeds to analyze the nature of the experience. Yes, man takes the forbidden fruit, but what is the significance of the apple? The meaning, it concludes, is given in the text itself. The serpent explains, "and ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5).
The forbidden fruit stands for godhood. Man's ageless temptation is to abandon humanity in favor of "being as a god." His sin is not simply that he disobeyed a divine directive, but rather that he assumed divinity. In the allegory, Adam and Eve did fail to heed a warning against the predictable result of omniscience (eating the fruit
of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). Yet their sin lay not in what they did (eating the apple), but in what they became, represented in the story by taking the forbidden fruit. The Emerging Church believes that Popular Religion has made a critical error in stopping its interpretation at the level of disobedience only.
But how can the spiritual act of assuming godhood be understood? Does man actually come to think of himself as a god? As with all spiritual moves, this primary experience of sin occurs in the deepest heart of man. It is an event invloving one's essential identity. Man abandons his true humanity in favor of a false, godly role. He gives up being "who he is" and becomes, for all practical purposes, "what he is not" (God). The critical issue is, as stated in Genesis, "being as god."
Of course he does not become God, only as god. The assumed godhood is actually false, but effectively true. Though not literally a god, the sinner becomes as one--that is, he lives as though he were, in fact, godly rather than human. Just as a person might put on a clown's costume, abandon his job, and begin to live as though he were actually a clown, so man dons a god suit, gives up his humanity, and functions in the world as if the charade were true.
The point is the change, not one's conscious thoughts about what he is. Because of the size of his brain, man has the capacity to deceive himself and function unconsciously. Though living as a clown, for example, he may think of himself as a king or slave. His conscious thoughts may, or may not, accurately reflect the facts. In like manner one may assume godhood and yet think of himself in an entirely different way. In either case, at issue in the spiritual act of sin is man's presumption of godhood, his coming to function as though he were, regardless of what he thinks.
Apparently, few sinners see themselves as gods. Consciously they may think of themselves as humbly human. Close observation, however, is apt to reveal the great gap between one's self-image and the manner in which he actually exists. Sin, according to the Emerging Church, is about the latter, not the former. Sin's source lies neither in mere acts of disobedience nor in man's opinion of himself, but in what he has become.
How is false godhood evidenced? In what specific ways does it become apparent? As previously noted, spiritual acts such as sin, being matters of spirit, are not necessarily evident externally. One might assume the stance of a god and carefully conceal the reality from others, even from himself. No specific deed, thought, feeling, or desire can inevitably be identified with sin. Any one of these may express or reveal the fact, but none can prove it.
Even so, there are predictable signs of assumed godhood. They are evidenced negatively in one's denial of human components and positively in the presumption of godly attributes. Man is finite. God is infinite. Finitude means with limitations. Humans have partial knowledge, limited power, and temporal existence. Man does not know everything; he cannot do everything; and he is mortal. God is unlimited; He is omniscient, omnipotent, and immortal. Man evidences his sin when he obscures his finitude and pretends to be infinite, that is, when he acts omniscient ("like he knows everything"), omnipotent ("can do whatever he pleases"), or immortal ("will live forever").
We shall consider each of these major elements in the human condition separately; to be human is to live with partial understanding. We can neither know everything, nor can we know everything about anything. All human knowledge is fragmentary. In the midst of a changing universe, where reality is constantly in flux, we are born with amazing, yet limited, minds. We can reach forth, mentally grasping at the world around us, making some sense of our own experiences. With a restricted range of senses, we can collect certain data, sift it through the brain cells, and draw tentative conclusions. We can make finite predictions, educated guesses, deciding on the basis of limited data, of how we have found things to be--either personally, or through the experience of others. Such is the human condition.
In our finitude we are limited to "how we have found things to be"--and here is the critical distinction. Rather than telling us "how things are," human knowledge, being partial, is always tentative. Using our present information, we make expedient choices, realizing that not all the facts are in. Tomorrow's new world, with the additional information it brings, may render today's decisions obsolete. All current understanding is subject, like army directives, to be superceded. In the next instant things may change.
New evidence may be presented. Better ways may be discovered. Finite man commits himself to his best current decision, while remaining continually open to new directions. Dedicated to what he now knows, he remains ready to change his entire course.
Such a life of limited knowledge in the face of the vast unknown requires much faith. If we could know what is ultimately right, instead of simply what we have found expedient; if we could know what is truly wrong, rather than being limited to what was impractical before this moment; if we could permanently conclude what is good and what is evil, instead of merely what we have found to be feasible and unfeasible--how easy life would be. How difficult it is to live in a continually changing world, having to decide based on limited information, never knowing anything for sure. There must be an easier way!
And there is. At this point the serpent makes his appearance in each person's life. His garb may change, but his ageless appeal to opt out of the basic human situation remains the same. If man were a god with ultimate knowledge, he could avoid the risks and faith required in human living.
This, according to Emerging Religion, is the apple which Satan offers every person: the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When you eat it, says he, "Your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing both good and evil" (Genesis 3:5 Amp.).
Sin, as understood in the Emerging Church, is the spiritual act of eating this fruit, of assuming ultimate, rather than limited knowledge, of pretending to know "how things are," rather than merely "how we have found them to be." When we take this stance of the gods, believing or acting as though we truly know right from wrong, we are guilty of sin.
Once man sins, he moves from the human realm of discerning or discriminating, to the godly position of judging. No longer is he limited to tentative conclusions. Now he "knows" (he assumes), how things finally are. His pragmatism becomes ultimate truth. Beyond the merely practical or feasible, he now knows what is good and right. From the level plane of humanity, he has moved to the exalted realm of godhood. Now he can look down on the world and judge what is ultimately good or bad. Freely he can praise or condemn. As a god, he knows for sure.
For instance, as a human he could respond to a sight, sound, smell, or taste, saying, "I like it," or, "I don't like it." His discernments were personal and tentative. As a god, he can proceed to judge, presuming his responses to be universal and permanent. "I like it" becomes "It is good." "I dislike it" becomes "It is bad." Unpleasant smell is transformed to a "bad odor." A pleasing combination of sounds becomes "good music."
Previously pragmatic acts become "the right things to do." Those which seem threatening, or which once proved impractical, become "wrong." The human position of constant discernment is abandoned in favor of the godly role of certain knowledge.
Once in this omniscient position, man may freely disperse his judgments on the world and all that is in it. He can neatly categorize all reality, both external and internal, as good or evil. All objects and insects, plants and people, deeds and words, ideas and feelings can be judged as good or bad. An unliked person becomes a "bad man." An offensive word is "a bad word." Helpful deeds become "good deeds." Disruptive acts are "bad." Accepted ideas are "right." Disagreeable ones are "'wrong." Tolerable emotions are "good"; disturbing feelings are "bad." Before sinning, one might say on a rainy day, "I feel dreary." After assuming omniscience, he can judge the day itself. "This is a bad day." As his godliness increases, he may even presume to judge the universe itself. "This is an evil world."
Although the judgments are commonly reflected in speech, the critical issue is not the words, but the position one has assumed in order to make the ultimate pronouncements. Terms of judgment are often expanded to include: pretty/ugly, smart/dumb, clean/dirty, as well as good/bad. Sometimes judgments are verbal. More often they are made inwardly, without expression. In either case, sin, the Emerging Church believes, is the spiritual act of placing oneself in the position of a judge. Expression is incidental to the act.
After certain activities prove feasible for an individual or group over an extended period of time, they tend to be formalized as rules or laws. Pre-sin, such codes are simply guidelines or rules of thumb, useful in directing personal life or a society, but not inherently sacred. Post-sin, obeying a law becomes a virtuous act. For instance, in a society based on the principle of private property, stealing is notably unfeasible. Laws forbidding theft are reasonably enacted. "Thou shalt not steal." In time, however, we tend to forget the temporal feasibility of such rules. After one sins, he may presume to know for sure that theft is innately evil. "Stealing is wrong." Thereafter he may judge himself to be "good" because he does not steal, and condemn thieves as "evil."
In societies based on monogamous marriage, or which regard wives as the property of husbands, adultery becomes impractical. Reasonably, laws are enacted to safeguard the system. After sin, such behavior is presumed to be evil within itself; adulterers are "bad"; sexual fidelity becomes a virtue, Simply by avoiding adultery one is judged to be a faithful and good spouse.
Although societies limit laws to overt activities, Popular Religion extends rules to cover ideas, desires, and feelings. As practical expedients under certain circumstances, such rules are often feasible. Curtailing sexual desires and angry feelings, for instance, may be quite practical on given occasions. After sinning, however, man often judges the evil to lie in the emotions or desires themselves. It becomes a sin to tell a lie, or to feel sexually attracted toward a married neighbor, or to become angry at one's spouse.
Conversely, a sinner may judge himself to be virtuous because he suppresses his sexuality and hostility. After sinning, a "godlike" person may even presume to pass sentence on himself. He may conclude, "I am bad" (or "good"). Commonly, omniscient sinners condemn their bodies, or various parts of them, and thereafter feel guilty if "caught" naked.
Although often reflected in the various judgments, either verbal or silent, made on reality and human behavior, the critical issue in the spiritual act of sin is not the words, but the position one assumes in order to make the ultimate pronouncements. The sin is, of course, not merely grammatical. Even the words good and evil can be used as synonyms for practical and impractical. Or, feasible and unfeasible can express an omniscient judgment.
In either case, the sin lies in the assumption of the knowledge of how things ultimately are, rather than in the words used to express or conceal one's godly position. Nor does omniscience, as a reflection of sin, imply that a person assumes all knowledge about everything. Sin is revealed in any degree of ultimate knowledge about any aspect of reality. Furthermore, consciousness of omniscience in also incidental to the fact. Sin exists in the spiritual act itself, not in one's awareness of it.
Finite humans also have limited power. What we can do is always bound by the larger realm of what we cannot do. With vivid imaginations, we can fantasy possibilities beyond our actual grasp, think of unfeasible or impossible activities, and dream of utopias. Continually we may strive to extend the boundaries of our limited powers, seeking to develop or enhance our capabilities. Always, however, we remain finite humans, responsible as stewards with limited power, rather than as omnipotent gods with ultimate power. We may hold things in trust, or exist in trusting relationships with others, yet without becoming lord over either things or people.
But stewardship with limited power requires faith. In order to function responsibly we must be fully present in each situation with our limited capacities activated. We must be trusting and trustworthy. At this point the serpent enters with his perennial promise: "Become a god; assume omnipotence, and you can avoid the risks of faith and humanity." In sin we succumb to this spiritual act of assuming the omnipotence of godhood.
In some dimension of life we claim the inherent right and ability to do whatever we please. We flee the human position of responsible stewardship, of sowing and reaping, for the godly role of dictatorial omnipotence without merit or consequence. We become "Little Hitlers" in some sphere of life. Commonly assumed dictatorial powers include the right to own, rule, manipulate, use, destroy, and even to be supported--physically or emotionally. "Something for nothing" may become the life-stance of the omnipotent sinner.
The right to own may include things, animals, or people. The sinner can say: "This is my land," "This is my house," "This is my dog," "This is my spouse," "These are my children," or "This is my body." The possessive pronoun becomes more than a grammatical device for indicating a relationship of stewardship and trust based on merit and responsibility. It states an assumed, inherent, literal fact. The sinner lives as though these were truly his own, regardless of circumstances or consequences.
Presuming possession, he naturally concludes that he has the right to rule, manipulate, use, or destroy what he has. As an owner, he can do whatever he pleases, answering to no one. His lands, things, and animals are not trusts for which he is responsible before God; they are objects at his disposal. He uses them as he will, manipulating or destroying at his whim. Ecology, for example, is not his concern. He can abuse his lands if he chooses. If he wishes to destroy the face of the earth, ignoring those to come after him, that is his assumed prerogative.
If his kingdom includes people, the sinner likewise presumes the right to rule, manipulate, and use them as he pleases. Like Hitler, the omnipotent sinner regards the people of the world as "his," to do with as he will. Omnisciently, he may presume to know what is "right" or "best" for them. Having eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he may freely dictate their lives, directing their activities, as well as their appearance, words, thoughts, and emotions.
He may act as though he knows how they "should" dress, what they "ought" to do, and even how they "should" feel. For example, believing that his children are truly his own, an omnipotent parent may attempt to make them over in his own image. Owning his wife, he is free to manage her life to suit his whim.
Perceiving people as objects, a sinner can manipulate them for his own purposes. Like a king, he uses his subjects to his own advantage. For instance, the godly husband may use his wife as a sex object or personal servant. The omnipotent wife may use her spouse to support and admire her. A parent who has eaten the forbidden fruit may use children to give honor and service. Children are not seen as small people with their own lives to live, but as subjects who owe respect to the king or queen (parent). Periodic news accounts of child abuse testify to the assumed omnipotence of parents.
Outside the home, a sinner may feel free to manipulateand use "his" friends, business associates, employees, acquaintances, and even strangers as objects to satisfy personal desires. Expressions of omnipotence include overt physical transactions, such as, free labor, inadequate wages, and cavalier treatment of public workers (clerks, station attendants, politicians, ministers, etc.), as well as the more subtle emotional manipulations through psychological devices and games.
Although godhood with people is seldom extended, as in the case of Hitler, to include the right to take physical life (murder), it does commonly include the right to spiritual murder--that is, to attack and destroy the spirit of another person. These murders are often commited under the guise of "just kidding" or "constructive criticism." Whether accomplished through direct attack, verbal "put down," or even heavy compliments, the right to hurt, injure, or destroy the spirit of another person can evidence godhood, as surely as can physical murder.
A sinner may also assume an omnipotent stance in regard to his own life--physical or spiritual. Instead of recognizing life as a gift to be responsibly managed, he may take his body for granted, freely abusing or destroying it. Omnipotently assuming the right to be "number one," to "come out on top," he may thrust himself into innumerable competitive endeavors that ignore actual physical limitations. The use and abuse of various bodily capacities, such as sexual orgasm, commonly involve vain efforts to "prove one's masculinity," that is, assumed godhood.
Finally, suicide may be the ultimate expression of personal omnipotence insofar as the body is concerned. One who assumes the right to take his own life in order to "show them," "teach them a lesson," or "make them sorry," reveals a massive sense of godhood over physical life.
The assumed right to both physical and emotional support is a particularly common expression of omnipotence. Sinners often feel that they deserve financial support from parents, family, government, or society in general. They may act as though "the world owes me a living." In early life, children legitimately lean on parents for financial needs. Then, no sin in involved. However, continued leaning, beyond the time when they are able to support themselves, can reflect the sin of omnipotence. Grown children who act as though they deserve continued parental support reveal their assumed "right." So with those who expect, or take for granted, finances from a spouse or government.
More subtly, the expectation of emotional support--through attention, compliments, praise, ego-boosting, or love--can reveal the omnipotence of one who has assumed godhood. God inherently deserves worship, adoration, and love. Beyond the early parent-child relationship, humans do not. To continue after early childhood as though one has the right to be loved or adored by others, or even one other, is to reveal personal omnipotence.
For example, a husband who feels that his wife owes him her love (interest, attention, and praise) reveals his godhood as surely as one who feels that he inherently deserves her sexual favors. In like manner, a wife who concludes that she owns "her" husband, and has the right to his adoration, without personal merit, reveals omnipotence similar to one who thinks she is "due" his fidelity.
Efforts to impress others, to "make them like me," conducted for non-professional reasons (performers and politicians legitimately require public approval), can reveal personal godhood. One who assumes the right to manipulate the attention and emotions of another--that is, to require favor not based on fact--must have previously placed himself in a position of omnipotence.
The familiar expression, "You let me down," can reflect the position of omnipotence. Before one can be "let down," he must have been using the other to "hold himself up." To assume such a right to physical or emotional support is to assume personal godhood.
Perhaps the most flagrant evidence of omnipotence is the assumed right to be loved "for what I am." Such a "godly" sinner clearly reflects his assumption of inherent worth. For example, a "godly" wife may expect her husband to love her "for herself alone," rather than for what she contributes to the relationship. She may withdraw from sexual response because "he only loves me for my body." An irresponsible husband, feeling the right to be loved "for who he is," may refuse to adequately support his family because "they only love me for my money."
Note again that the activities of leading, directing, and controlling are possible evidences of sin, rather thanthe sin itself. Each of these functions may be legitimate endeavors in appropriate circumstances--for instance, for parents, politicians, and policemen. Sin is the spiritual act of assuming some degree of personal omnipotence, beyond actual powers.
Commonly it is revealed in these activities, but it is never inherent in the physical deed itself. The assumed right to the extra power is the best evidence. Even the wish to be loved "for what I am" does not necessarily reveal sin. Only when the wish is translated into an assumed or expected right is godhood manifested.
Because various roles in society, most notably political and professional positions, do inherently imply more than actual personal power, those who have already assumed degrees of omnipotence are naturally attracted to these roles. The positions allow the activation of the fantasy in real life. Using the extra power inherent in the position, the sinner may easily continue his illusion with some basis in reality.
For instance, an omnipotent policeman, given the additional powers of his position, can easily act in a godly fashion with a certain realistic basis. Mayors, governors, presidents, and dictators of course face the same option in increased measure. Probably the professional ministry offers the most tempting possibilities for the activation of personal godhood. Since the preacher or priest represents and speaks for God in society, he is easily identified with the actual omnipotence of God. With some reasonable basis, he may place himself above every earthly power, including all political figures and civil laws. Since churchmen often consider their minister as "God's man," he may easily project his personal fantasy into the role and function as though he were God himself.
A short step from such blatant omnipotence is the more subtle form of "having a god." Instead of appearing openly as a god, as a minister might, a churchman may conceal his own assumed omnipotence by projecting it on a god which he "has." Although such a layman may pretend to be humble and powerless, his hidden omnipotence is revealed in his identification with "his" deity. Though he says, "I am weak," he believes he has immediate access to his all-powerful god.
The extent of his omnipotence may be reflected in the degree of his ability to influence or control the anthropomorphic god he has imagined--the more godly the sinner, the greater his assumed ability to call down the "powers of heaven" for his own benefit. The most common keys to projected cosmic powers are prayer, religious rituals, and "good" behavior. The sinner attempts to manipulate his god to his own advantage through various combinations of these ritualized activities.
The subtlety of godhood projected on a cosmic image lies in the fact that the projector (sinner) holds the final power. The image is, literally, his god. Though the sinner may claim the reverse--that "he belongs to god"--in the final analysis his god belongs to him. He utilizes the powers of his god while pretending to be used by his image. Since he has installed his god, or accepted the installation of others, he can dethrone him whenever he chooses. Declarations of atheism are often but the renunciation of anthropomorphic gods who have not lived up to the scope of the sinner's projected omnipotence.
Non-religious examples of the same procedure include acts of human idolatry in which a person, such as a parent, sweetheart, spouse, movie. star, is installed as an earthly god (or goddess). The idolized individual is assumed to possess the projected omnipotence of the sinner. He or she is "looked up to" (worshipped), given inhuman powers to influence, help, "turn on" the sinner, and is often viewed in the godlike position of one "who can do no wrong."
For example, a wife may install her husband as her earthly god, assigning him the power to rescue her from a miserable childhood, to protect, love and "make her happy." Once he has been idolized, she may support, serve, and worship him as his apparent slave. Any evidence contrary to her assumptions will likely be carefully ignored. Behind the charade, however, the fact of her projection and ownership remains. He is her husband. He belong to her and is only able to do what she allows. As long as he plays the game, she may remain a faithful servant, slaving for "the man she loves (owns)."
Sometimes, however, the true nature of the projection is revealed if the husband acts in a way which threatens the ownership arrangement, such as, giving attention to another woman. "Hell hath no fury like a woman (sinner) scorned." The submissive servant may remove her cloak, suddenly becoming a vengeful tyrant, when her kingdom is threatened. Whereas she was willing to treat her husband as a god, so long as he performed as expected, she may immediately withdraw her projected powers if he does not play the game. Her declaration of secular atheism can reveal the personal omnipotence projected in the charade.
Whether an individual perceives himself as all-powerful, or projects his powers on an imagined cosmic figure or another human being, his sin is the assumption of omnipotence. The dictatorship or idolatry merely reveal the sin. As with omniscience, the critical issue in sin is the spiritual act, rather than one's attention to the fact. Godhood is a way of living, not simply a way of thinking. personal awareness is incidental to the existential fact.
A third distinctive earmark of human beings, as understood in the Emerging Church, is mortality. We not only have limited knowledge and power, but also limited tenure. Our days are numbered. As the Bible says, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten." Even "if by reason of strength they be fourscore years," still "we spend our years as a tale that is told" and are "soon cut off" (Psalms 90:9-10). Men "dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust. They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish forever. Doth not their excellency which is in them go away? They die" (Job 4:19-21). "The womb shall forget him; the worm shall feed sweetly on him, he shall be no more remembered" (Job 24:20). Or as Genesis plainly words the fact: "From dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (3:19).
In secular language, to be human is to exist in the process of death and extinction. We are literally "born to die." Individual identity is a relatively brief phenomenon between the cradle and the grave. Here for a short time, we soon cease to exist. Even our common "threescore and ten" is a gift not to be presumed upon. Constantly we face the possibility of sudden death. No man exists more than a few seconds away from potential catastrophe, a few moments apart from oxygen, a few days separated from water, or a few weeks away from food. As a mystic noted, death is always present at our left hand (Don Juan). At best, human life is a temporal gift. As mortals, we are by definition constantly subject to death.
To live, reflecting "the divine splendor" (Romans 3:23 N.E.), in the face of such an awesome inevitability, is a great leap of faith. Only a courageous human can live victoriously, facing and accepting the fact of death. To us all, the serpent comes with the wished-for fantasy. "Ye shall not surely die" (Genesis 3:4). If we are but willing to assume godhood, we are tempted to believe we can also possess immortality. In the spiritual act of sin, we may take on ourselves this third attribute of divinity--perpetual existence. Escaping the human situation, we may conclude that we will live forever.
The problem is, how can one maintain such a massive fantasy in the presence of facts at hand. Despite all of society's efforts to avoid or to cover the truth, people keep dying every day. As though strangers were not enough, parents, relatives, and friends die also.
The death angel often visits close to home.
Man has devised clever ways of rationally maintaining the illusion of immortality in the face of all available evidence. The Greek idea of dualism is perhaps the most widely accepted way of merging fact and fancy in a semi-reasonable manner. According to this mental scheme, body and soul are two separate entities. Man is viewed as a "ghost in a machine." While "body" is physical and obviously dies, "soul" is considered to be the part that is spiritual and therefore immortal. According to this theory, the soul is invisible; thus it can presumably leave the body unseen. Man is able, therefore, to rectify his assumed immortality with the obvious fact of physical death.
Some in the Popular Church, unwilling to face even the loss of body, have further imagined a later reunion in a geographical site "beyond the sunset." Somehow the physical body is to be magically reclaimed from the grave and reunited with the soul in heaven. Others, considering this a bit farfetched, have settled for the resurrection of a "spiritual body" (still undefined) only.
Various Popular Religions have come up with numerous variations on the theme. Reincarnation is one such notion which bypasses the rational problem of reclaiming the physical body from the worms and earth by imagining that the soul simply enters some other form, such as that of an animal, in its next life. Successive reincarnations allow one to keep improving himself until he finally reaches a state of perfection or union with god. Theories of "how" and "when" vary from group to group, and even person to person, but all share the basic dualistic conception of man as a divisible entity, one or both parts of which is inherently immortal.
Even with partially reasonable theories, which cannot be scientifically disproved, the challenges of facing the physical facts threaten the godhood of many. Societies cooperate with Popular Religions in their calculated effort to avoid the inevitable grim reaper. When persons die, the body is immediately covered, curtailing extended observation of the fact. As soon as possible, it is carted away to the funeral home where every cosmetic effort is made to continue its life-like appearance. A casket is quickly selected, usually with the appearance of a comfortable bed. Funerals are conducted with quick dispatch, often with the casket closed. Final words normally include references to "seeing the loved one again," "going to a better world." The event is softened with such phrases as "passing on," "departing this life," "leaving us behind." The "beloved one" is seldom described as "dead."
At the cemetery the earth is carefully covered with fake grass and flowers, concealing the bare hole in the ground. The family is often whisked away before the casket is lowered or any dirt replaced. The general aura of the burial procedure is unreality. One may easily feel after such a traditional event that "it didn't really happen." The summary effect is an aid to one who wishes to avoid the awesome reality of dying.
During life itself, sinners assuming immortality may shield their illusion by cloaking all the signs of aging that logically point to death. Compulsive efforts to "keep looking young" may help one conceal the inevitable. Attending funerals can be carefully avoided, as can any open discussion of the subject of death.
Mental suppression is another common evidence of assumed immortality. Sinners often avoid any thoughts about dying. Death is "something that happens to other people." Imagining perpetual existence, they logically "have all the time in the world." Physical life is taken for granted. Sinners may honestly say, "See you later," when parting from a friend, because they ignore the ever-present possibility of death. Should the subject arise, they usually speak in such terms as "If I should die," rather than "when I die." Death-related matters such as wills, funeral arrangements, and cemetery plots are avoided. Perhaps the magical wish is, "If you don't think about it, it will go away."
The suppression of conscious thoughts about death often leads to an unconscious obsession with the subject, which is another possible evidence of sin. The fear of dying, which may actually be displaced anxiety about facing mortality, is a common phobia. The subtle attraction to the suppressed subject may be revealed in dreams, in listening to news recitals of the latest death list from around the world, in reading obituary columns, in curiosityconcerning accidents, or in unconscious suicidal moves. Persons who rule death from their awareness often live dangerously, as though courting the denied reality.
They may be unconsciously drawn to that which they have suppressed. While trying not to think of death, they may become death-oriented in life.
Although some conclude that dreams of immortality arise to shield anxiety about dying, the situation may, in fact, be reversed. Anxiety about death, which appears to be a relatively simple event, may arise to conceal the assumption of immortality, which is a sign of man's sin, as it is understood in Emerging Religion.
In assuming godhood--omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality--we abandon humanity. One cannot be god and man at the same time. If we become godly, we must give up being human. Stated negatively then, sin, for the Emerging Church, is the spiritual act of negating humanity. In the act of sin, we destroy ourselves as humans. We cease being ourselves, what we are, in favor of becoming (playing) god, which we are not.
Abandoning humanity involves negating the human capacities. These capacities include sensing, feeling, thinking, and being sexual. Squelching these basic human components also eliminates the possibility of being responsive and loving. In terms of sexuality, this means negating one's masculinity or femininity--"not being a man"or "not being a woman."
In terms of personhood, it means "not being a person," refusing to be the unique individual one is created capable of being, denying the activation of personal talents. Colloquially, it means "not being somebody," refusing to "be oneself." To sin is to be insincere, fake, or phony. Using the expression literally, to "be dishonest"--that is, to be untruthful, or exist in a way which is not honestly oneself--is sinful. Being untruthful is to be distinguished from telling a lie. The first is an existential condition, the second, a verbal act which may or may not reveal sin.
Broken down into specifics, negating humanity includes refusing to see, hear, or smell--that is, refusing to activate the sensing capacities. One who blinds himself to the beauties of the world, dulls his ears to the orchestration of nature, or misses the aroma of flowers is dehumanizing himself. Insensitivity reflects sin, according to Emerging Religion.
To refuse to feel, to be unemotional, is to negate a second human possibility. Hardheartedness is a sign of sin. Though society often considers "being cool" a virtue, the repression of emotions is a form of self-negation. Likewise with non-thinking. The refusal to remember, reason, imagine, or dream reflects the spiritual act of sin.
Prejudice--that is, reacting with a prior judgment rather than thinking in the immediate situation--is a common example. Repression--blocking out the past, or refusing to recall--is another, as is, "being unreasonable," not "using one's head," or denying the capacity for rational thought. Denying the options of fantasy, of responding imaginatively, is a type of mind negation. Refusing to free associate, or roam freely between the basic forms of thought, is another type of mental suicide.
Negating sensations, emotions, and thinking leads naturally to the denial of sexuality. Repressing this deeply human capacity can be a sign of sin. To eliminate one's ability to desire, "feel sexy," or be "turned on" is to partially dehumanize oneself. Often following closely on the heels of desexualization, the refusal to be a man or a woman, comes the denial of responsiveness. To be human is to be able to respond personally to perceived reality, that is, to uniquely encounter each immediate revelation of life. Denying this possibility reveals sin. Conditioned response is a common substitute, since conditioned response is a negation of the human ability to be present in the moment.
Not to be present, or to be absent minded, unaware, inattentive to the world in which we live, is a crime against humanity. To be "present in body but absent in spirit" is a revelation of sin. "Going through the motions" without actually being present as a responsive human being is a negation of an exciting human capacity. Such spiritual denial eliminates the possibility of being loving. One who refuses to be present as a responsive--sensitive, emotional, thoughtful, and sexual--person is naturally unloving. Negating this, the highest human capacity, is the ultimate act of sin, as it is understood in the Emerging Church.
Finally, self-negation leads to non-being.
Spiritual death is ignored in Popular Religion. The word is used synonymously with physical demise, the end of bodily life, the event followed by the grave.
Spiritual death is a subjective event in which one dies as a spirited person; it occurs whenever one sins. Though physical life continues, soul dies. After spiritual death, one is without spirit.
The Bible speaks clearly about the death which sin brings. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "Sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).
In warning against sin, as symbolized in eating the forbidden fruit, the Genesis message is, "For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). Since Adam and Eve were later evicted from the garden and continued to live and raise a family, the death referred to was obviously not physical. This understanding prevails in the New Testament where Paul writes to the Ephesians who had been "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). He includes himself among those who "were dead in sins" (Ephesians 2:5). He also addressed the Colossians as "you, being dead in your sins" (Colossians2:13).
John wrote to the living people of Sardis: "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Revelation 3:1). Jesus apparently referred to spiritually dead people when potential disciples made the excuse of waiting until their parents died before following him. He said, "Let the dead bury their dead" (Luke 10:60).
Emerging theology follows this biblical concept, viewing spiritual death as an event taking place during physical life. Sin inevitably results in spiritual death. Taking on ourselves the forms of godhood, we die as spirited human beings. We cannot be our truest selves while acting godly. We pay for omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality with our own souls. Symbolically, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of delights. No longer could they walk and talk (commune) with God in this place of pleasure. Physically, life continued; yet spiritually, they died. Sin kills spirit.
Men believe the serpent's message, that "our eyes will be opened," that our position will be enhanced by omniscience. We think to better ourselves by taking this forbidden fruit. He tempts us with the idea that God is wrong. "Ye shall not surely die." Regrettably, we discover that Satan fools us. God was right after all. We do die. Cast out of Eden, separated from God, we may continue with the affairs of life--getting an education, working, rearing a family--but spiritually we are dead. We no longer have soul. Life is a drudgery, a bore, a "wearisome journey." There is no pleasure out of Eden. We stumble blindly through our days, without hope, without love, enduring a meaningless existence. Spirit is dead.
Emerging theology takes the familiar language for physical death and uses it for this spiritual event that occurs during physical life. The creative man, a high-grade animal, exists with the possibility of being physically alive, yet spiritually dead. Sin destroys spiritual life, just as death ends physical life.
Sin, in Emerging theology, is an act that separates a man from God. Since God is the source of spiritual life, the separation takes man away from his roots. The distance kills, spiritually, just as uprooting a plant ends its life. Using the Genesis analogy, man becomes spirited when "breathed into" by God. Just as bodily breath requires oxygen, so spiritual breathing requires the "breath of" (communion with) God. As separation from oxygen kills physically, separation from God kills spiritually.
Unlike bodily death, spiritual death is a matter of degrees. As one withdraws from humanity, assuming godhood, spiritual death follows in direct proportion. Partial withdrawal brings partial death; full separation results in the complete demise of spirit.
For example, one who negates only a portion of his human capacities, such as his emotions, experiences a partial death of spirit. Symbolically, he still resides close to Eden, perhaps reentering at times when he dares to reembrace his ability to feel. If, however, he becomes completely godly, squelching all human capacities, he dies fully as a person with soul. No spirit remains.
Unlike physical death, spiritual death is not always apparent. As the person continues to move through life, he may "put up such a front" that his deeper lack of soul is not evident to others. He may, in fact, become so insincere as to even fool himself.
Spiritually dead people often seem unaware of their true condition. How then can spiritual death be recognized? How is it to be observed in others, or detected within oneself? Because both sin and death are spiritual, rather than physical events, there are no inevitable expressions. No deed, feeling, or idea can be inherently identified with soul death. There are, however, certain common evidences or expressions that, according to Emerging Religion, may reveal spiritual death. Among these are: 1) Certain feelings, 2) Moods, 3) Character traits, 4) Personality patterns, 5) Encounter games, and 6) Mental illness.
1) Certain Feelings
Three feelings--shame, pride, and fear--are commonly associated with the assumption of godhood. Each is an evidence of spiritual death. Sinners may feel ashamed, proud, or afraid. Often they oscillate between the three, sometimes feeling guilty, then afraid, and at other times proud. Though commonly referred to as "feelings," the designation is a misnomer. Actually, each is an existential condition rather than a simple emotion. After sin, one truly exists in these states of non-being. For instance, he does not simply "feel" proud. He is proud.
The point is not to quibble over words, but to distinguish between legitimate human emotions and the existential conditions following sin. Though the same word, feeling, is often used for each, the experiential difference is critical. Perhaps the phrase, sense of, should be used for the results of spiritual death. The sinner is likely to have a "sense of shame," or, a "sense of pride," rather than an emotion. Though he says "I feel afraid," he speaks of a sense of anxiety rather than the sometimes appropriate human emotion of fear.
The difference can be further amplified by the fact that these three conditions may exist without personal awareness. One can be proud, as a result of sin, without feeling anything--that is, he may be unconsciously proud. Though the condition may be abundantly evident to an observant outsider, the sinner may be totally unaware of
the fact. True emotions, on the other hand, are experienced with awareness.
With this distinction established, each can be examined in detail.
A sense of shame is perhaps the most common sign of spiritual death. Before Adam and Eve sinned, "they were both naked and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). After sinning, they "sewed fig leaves together" and "hid themselves." When man attempts to assume godhood, his humanity remains a constant threat to the position he pretends to hold. How can he be god with the signs of his humanity so evident? Rising to the position of god, he may judge himself to be "bad." Understandably, he wishes to "hide himself." The symbolic fig leaf stands as a historical reminder of sinful man's continual efforts to hide his nakedness before God.
The meaning of the symbol, as understood by the Emerging Church, is that man becomes ashamed of himself. His true guilt, for the sin of self-negation and god-assumption, is projected in a false way onto his body and human capacities. His legitimate guilt is cloaked in a false sense of physical shame. Note that Adam did not refer to his sin of eating the fruit, but to the obvious fact of his nakedness ("We were ashamed because we were naked"), which had not changed.
This false shame of self is perceived and observed in numerous ways. Commonly it is focused on the body. After sin, clothes are worn, not for practical purposes only, but like Adam's fig leaves, to cover one's nakedness. Being viewed naked may cause great embarrassment. Often one is even ashamed to look at himself, because of a sense of guilt about his body.
General bodily guilt may be focused on particular parts perceived more personally. Sexual apparatus often falls in this category. Although there is no available evidence, it is commonly assumed that Adam and Eve applied the fig leaves to their sexual parts. The old advice, "Don't get caught with your pants down," testifies to this widespread projection. The word "caught" implies the guilt related to the body.
Other parts, which vary slightly from the average in size, become recipients of much false guilt. For instance, if one judges his nose to be "too long" or his thumb "too short," he may become ashamed of them, attempting to hide them from view. Natural skin discolorations become the focal point of great embarrassment. Make-up is often used, like Adam's leaves, to conceal oneself.
Hair may be combed to distort its natural look. Variations in shape are often the repository for false shame. Supportive undergarments and plastic surgery may be but desperate efforts to conceal the evidences of one's humanity.
Natural body odors carry large portions of projected guilt. One may become ashamed of how he smells, particularly his breath and most intimate odors. Mammoth American industries, such as the manufacture of deodorants, mouth washes, tooth pastes, and perfumes, traffic in and profit from this evidence of man's shame.
The false guilt following spiritual death may also be extended to the human capacities to feel and think. After sin, man often becomes ashamed of his emotions, attempting to hide his natural feelings, just as he does his natural parts. Should he be "caught" shedding tears, for instance, he may become greatly embarrassed. He may feel guilty about his personal thoughts--his "own ideas,"opinions, beliefs, dreams, or fantasies--and carefully try to keep others from knowing them.
Sexually related thoughts or desires, commonly considered more intimate, naturally carry a large burden of of the sinner's projected guilt. Since feeling sexy would obviously reveal humanity (commonly, god is considered non-sexual), every effort is often made to conceal any evidence of sexuality. To be "caught" being sexual would be the most embarrassing situation imaginable to some sinners. Even when sex is legally and religiously sanctioned in marriage, the sinful person often continues to be ashamed of his sexuality.
The most basic of human functions, common to us all--namely, the processes of elimination--carries an unusually heavy degree of shame. "Going to the bathroom" is so carefully concealed by many sinners that only their most intimate acquaintances would know they ever urinated or defecated. They would be immensely ashamed to be "caught" in the process. Perhaps the universality of this common human necessity accounts for its great shamefulness.
Special talents and unique abilities--anything that causes one to stand out from others, are apt to become a projected point of embarrassment. Because the sinner deeply wants to hide, to remain unseen, he must conceal any evidence of individuality. If a sinner slips and unwittingly reveals his humanity, as in a spontaneous statement, laugh, or burp, he may blush with shame.
Whoever is ashamed of himself or any aspect of his humanity, either his uniqueness or his commonness, whoever has anything to hide for other than pragmatic reasons, evidences his own spiritual death, according to Emerging Religion.
Contrarily, as a god, one may make the opposite judgment, namely that he is "good." With his assumed omniscience, the sinner may pass a favorable rather than unfavorable sentence on himself. Like Little Jack Horner, he may "put in his thumb, pull out a plum, and say, 'what a good boy am I.'" As the common response to self-made negative judgment is shame, the usual reaction to a "good" judgment is pride.
Having fallen for the serpent's idea that "Ye shall be as gods," the sinner may inflate his own ego, presuming his diet to have worked, and conclude that he truly is someone special. From the level plane of all humanity he arises, in his mind's eye, to be better than other people. Because he is above others, he can "look down his nose," freely judging their appearance, actions, or personhood, and feeling proud in his assumed godly role. Thinking he truly knows "how things are" (that is, is omniscient), he can be understandably egotistical in his judgments.
Such pride, or self-righteousness, is another common evidence of spiritual death. It may be reflected in many ways. Obvious examples are the condemnatory activities of such self-appointed judges. Their exaggerated self-importance easily shows through their criticism and condemnations. Freely given unrequested advice may reveal the righteousness of proud sinners. To presume to know what another person "should" do (say, feel, or think) requires an obvious measure of omniscience. A peacock appearance and strutting carriage often reveal pride without words. Those who consider certain behavior to be "beneath them" ("Oh, I could never do a thing like that") reveal their pride.
Presumptive behavior, such as assuming rights over others--entering a room first, taking the upper place at the table, getting ahead in a line--each may evidence one's assumption that he is better than others and "deserves to be first." Bragging and calling attention to oneself can reveal pride. Colloquial expressions, such as, "He's stuck on himself," "She thinks she's somebody," "He's a show off," "Mr. Big," are sometimes applied to persons who are apparently proud of themselves.
Often pride is cloaked in the robes of humility, appearing as its opposite. Very humble, self-demeaning persons are often exceedingly proud of their humility. The self-righteousness of churchmen who think of themselves as "lowly creatures" or "sinners" is often quite evident. Those who say they "love everybody" and could "never hurt anyone" humbly act like God. Sometimes one will even confess to being "humbly proud."
Personal pride is often projected onto one's possessions (property, spouse, or children), or accomplishments. Then he is "proud of his children," or proud of what he has been able to do (his "good" deeds). Though more socially acceptable, projected pride is still an evidence of sin.
This false pride resulting from sin is to be distinguished from the pleasant feeling which comes from being oneself and activating any of his capacities. The first grows from a judgment reflecting the sinner's omniscience. Like Little Jack Horner, he has assumed the right to pronounce himself "good." The second is a legitimate emotional response to involvement. When Jack, as a human being, successfully thumbs a plum from a Christmas pie, he naturally "feels good."
Regrettably the same name, pride, is commonly used for both events. The experiences, however, are essentially different. When one is being himself, "doing his own thing," he rightly feels good. The sinner, on the other hand, concludes that he is good. A human is humble, even when feeling good; a sinner is proud; even when feeling bad. Pride, whether personally perceived, projected on one's extensions, or repressed into unconsciousness, is an evidence of sin.
Fear is a third familiar evidence of spiritual death. When God called, Adam responded, "I was afraid and I hid myself" (Genesis 3:10). A sinner, having escaped his humanity, often has a pervasive sense of fear. He literally is afraid. With existential accuracy he may report, "I am afraid." Whereas humans may "feel fear" (an emotion), sinners exist in the condition of being afraid.
This terrifying sense of inner uncertainty is most often projected onto some external source. In an effort to manage the awesome internal condition following his sin, one may utilize the psychological device of shifting the burden outside himself. Instead of struggling with being afraid, he projects his fear onto some externally selected "cause," such as, snakes, water, high places, or the dark.
Actually, he represses his awareness of being afraid into his unconscious mind, separating his identified self from the terrible fact of his fear, which is thereafter perceived only externally. He depends on his selected object, "It," to make him afraid. If his selected "cause" is snakes, then they scare him. Apparently, after his suppression, "He" is no longer existentially afraid. Snakes "make him" afraid. They "cause" his fear. Once the psychic projection has been made, he has the illusion of being unafraid until confronted with the repository of his fear.
Depending on the extent of his fear, additional "causes"may be added to the list of "things that scare me." These often include other objects, animals, people, or situations. Those of races other than one's own are commonly selected. White sinners may be afraid of blacks, or vice versa. Men may fear women, and women, men. Situations--such as being attacked, laughted at, rejected, put on the spot, robbed, or raped--become common repositories for projected fears. The unknown ("What's going to happen?") is another. Even an everyday event such as "meeting people" can be used in one's escape from awareness of sin. Like Adam, we later sinners may want to run and hide when we hear our names called. A ringing doorbell can evoke the ancient response: "I was afraid and I hid myself."
In the absence of acceptable external causes, fear may also be projected inwardly on one's own thoughts, feelings, or desires. For example, murderous thoughts, angry feelings, or sexual desires are commonly used in this familiar escape from being afraid. The "bad thoughts" then "cause" the fear.
After projecting his fear, either outwardly or inwardly, the sinner thinks, "I myself am not afraid, but the dark (etc.) makes me so." Though he says, "I am afraid of the dark," the existential message of the first three words is lost to his awareness as he focuses on the prepositional phrase concluding his declaration.
This "sense of fear" is to be distinguished from an emotional response to actual danger. Though both are called "fear," the difference is critical. When the healthy human is confronted with real threat, such as a wild animal, certain physiological changes occur as his body prepares for action. This "fear" is essentially different from the pervasive "sense of fear" that results from spiritual death. Healthy fear is characterized by specific bodily changes in the presence of true danger. It is specific, reasonable, and it diminishes immediately when the threat is removed. The "sense of fear" following sin is much more diffused into daily living. Physical changes are usually less dramatic and often do not occur.
A human may feel fear in confronting a poisonous rattlesnake. A sinner is "afraid of snakes" in general. A human might feel fear when facing an attacker. A sinner is afraid of "being attacked" in general. A specific chance may evoke the emotion of fear in a human. A sinner is often "afraid of taking a chance" in general. In a vague way, a sinner may be "afraid of tomorrow," or, "afraid of the unknown." Healthy humans sometimes feel afraid. Spiritually dead persons are afraid. They may or may not feel (be aware of) the fact. Yet even when the fear is projected beyond themselves, escaping their awareness, sinners commonly pass the days and nights of life deeply afraid.
Certain moods, or pervading states of existence, both cloak and reveal the spiritual death following sin. Common among these are unhappiness, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Also called "feelings," these moods go by such colloquial names as "blue," "down," "heartbroken," "distressed," "bothered," "upset," or simply, "in one of my moods."
Though they are called "feelings," these conditions are more inclusive than simple emotions. Actually, true emotions are often non-existent when one is in such a mood. For instance, although one says "I feel depressed," more correctly he might say, "I am depressed." The mood of depression (the term is used here in its common, rather than psychiatric sense) is best characterized by a lack of feeling. "Depressed," or pressed-in, describes a state of non-being.
And so with each of these moods reflecting degrees of spiritual death. Though varying in their manner of perception, each is a condition of non-being, a description of what one is not, at the time. Correctly, one may say "I am unhappy," that is, "I am not happy." This condition is more than a simple feeling. It is a state of being, measured in terms of what one is not. Technically, it is a state of non-being. Although various names are used to describe the moods, the distinctions seem to be a matter of degrees, rather than qualitative differences.
Often they are used interchangeably. Instead of "I am unhappy," one may say, "I am depressed," or "I feel blue today." Each person may have his own descriptive terms depending on the depth of the mood. Though the names change, these common "bad" moods may be a reflection of the spiritual death following sin. When one says, "I am depressed," he might also say "I am dead in spirit (to some degree)."
Of course, not all moods reflect sin. Some are the result of chemical imbalance or bodily changes. Even so, these states of non-being resulting from prior human choice, commonly called moods, reveal the spiritual death of one out of Eden.
For example, consider the mood of loneliness. A sinner may often "feel lonely." How can this mood be associated with sin? First, recall the natural human state. Man is, in fact, a separate being. After birth, he is truly a-lone-one. Each person who embraces the human condition does stand separate and apart from all other humans. This natural apartness is the basis for all true meeting. Only those who exist independently can meet in intimacy. Such meetings of separate ones require, however, much faith.
At this juncture, the serpent offers his timeless appeal. If one were a god, that is omnipotent, he would not have to encounter others in faith. As a god he could have a person or persons who were "his own." As his possessions, they would be obligated to come to him.
Many such omnipotent sinners have skillfully acquired people throughout their lives, always "having" a mother, friend, sweetheart, or spouse to conceal their actual apart-ness. Carefully they have avoided the necessity of faith in meeting by always owning someone. Should such a sinner suddenly "lose" his person, or find himself apart from the other, he is likely to "get in a lonely mood." Threatened by his own unembraced apart-ness, he suddenly "feels lonely." The mood then reflects his spiritual death. Had he not sinned, his a-lone-ness would bear no threat. Separated from loved ones, he would be a-lone-one, but not a lonely one.
Without sin, one may perceive separation, wishing it were not so. Such awareness-of-apartness, even with regret, is to be distinguished from the moods of unhappiness and loneliness. Even though common language fails to make the distinctions, they do exist. Perceptions are human; moods most often reflect spiritual death.
3) CHARACTER TRAITS
In our natural state, pre-sin, we are flexible, unpredictable, and spontaneous, responding to the ever-changing panorama of reality in constantly changing ways. Each situation, being new and different, calls for a new response. One time we give; the next, we take. In one situation we are warm and friendly; in another, cold and angry. Alert to the ever-new world in which we live, we continually create appropriate responses.
With sin, however, we lose spontaneity. Spiritual death destroys humanity. With it goes the ability to awaken In a new world each day, to perceive the newness in each present situation. In the absence of creativity, we substitute habit. Response is replaced by reaction. Flexibility turns to rigidity. Repeated performance in the same manner leads to the development of character traits or personality attributes. One may become stingy, shy, generous, friendly, stubborn, bold, suspicious, compulsive, apologetic, or boastful.
Instead of responding appropriately in the immediate situation, he develops the habit of reacting in the same way. Whereas reality calls for generosity on some occasions and withholding on others, the sinner, being dead in spirit, develops rigid forms of reaction. He may be generous as a habit, or stingy, but he is inflexibly one or the other.
For example, suppose a child responds to his new brother by handing him a toy. His generous gift is a spontaneous act at the time. On other occasions he may respond differently, choosing to withhold his toys. If his parents praise his generous acts and punish him for withholding, they tempt him to also become a judge. If he falls for the temptation, he may thereafter deny his feelings of jealousy and resentment in favor of repeated acts of sharing. In time, this reaction, which is substituted for honest responding in each immediate situation, may become habitual. He may systematically deny his right to withhold and thereby establish the character trait of generosity. He comes to be a generous person. "Bill is generous. He always shares." Though the trait be praised by his parents, it reveals a degree of spiritual death of the child. No longer does he respond as an everchanging human. Now he is rigidly generous, reacting rather than responding. He has become a generous child.
If he had consistently reacted in the opposite way, refusing to give in to his brother's or parents' wishes, he might have become a stingy child who never shared with others. The character trait of stinginess would become his habitual reaction, denying him the human option of sharing when it is appropriate. He would literally become a stingy child. The trait of stinginess would then reveal his spiritual death.
So with all other character traits which develop from the systematic denial of human capacities. When freely chosen responses become set ways of reacting, they reveal the death that follows sin. Ceasing to be mere descriptions of how one appears at the time, they name what he has actually become. Bill does not simply respond generously when it is appropriate; he is generous (Sue is stubborn; Fred is shy; Mary is friendly).
Of course many personality traits are approved and rewarded in society, just as others are condemned. Generous people tend to be liked, while withholders are less popular. A compulsive church tither may be continuously praised, while his free-loading counterpart is described as "bad." Nevertheless, if his giving is a character trait, rather than a freely chosen act in each instance, it reveals his sin, not his virtue, according to Emerging Religion.
4) Personality Patterns
When character traits are woven together they become personality patterns. Various attributes tend to become interlocked into constellations. Whereas traits are usually limited to particular types of circumstances, patterns tend to override one's entire manner of living. They are evidenced in all types of situations.
For example, the traits of shyness, dependency, self-deprecation, and being apologetic may be combined with other rigid attributes and hardened into a pattern of submission. The individual becomes a submissive person in all life relationships. Or the traits of boldness, independence, self-elevation, and being critical can be hardened into a pattern of dominance. The person is a dominant individual wherever he goes.
These established patterns of behavior reveal spiritual death, just as do the individual traits they encompass. The person is no longer spiritually alive, able to respond freely to life situations. His pattern is like a casket, containing his dead spirit. His predictability may be useful to himself and others, yet it reveals his sin.
Although persons who are spiritually alive may have characteristic ways of responding, these are distinguished from personality patterns by the fact of their being freely chosen. The apparent consistency results from similar choices, repeatedly made, not from an unconscious reaction system. The truly human person has no set personality pattern. The many personality constellations may generally be grouped around two extremes; dominance or superiority, and submission or inferiority. In the dominant or superior pattern, one reacts to reality by rising above, in his mind's eye, and looking down on things. In the submissive pattern, one places himself below reality and reacts by giving in to it. The person who acquires the superior pattern tends to react in the role of a parent, whereas the submissive person reacts like a child.
Other typical characteristics or traits comprising each pattern are:
Giving out Taking in
Helping Being helped
Giving answers Asking questions
Typical speech habits accompany each pattern. Submissive speech is similar to baby-talk--that is, shaped around the childish activities of getting help or permission, making cute statements to please the hearer, apologizing, explaining, and defending. High-pitched tones, slurred words ("gonna," "will ya"), colloquialisms, and poor grammar are typical of baby-talk.
Illustrative statements include:
"May I . . . go out and play?"
"Can I . . . have a cookie?"
"Why can't I . . . go barefooted?"
"Please let me . . . have the car."
"Am I . . . Okay?"
"Where are . . . my socks?"
"I meant to . . . tell you."
"I'm sorry . . . I was late."
"I hope you're not . . . mad at me."
Body English common to the submissive pattern includes squirming, giggling, flirting, acting cute, pouting, teasing, and hand raising (for permission).
The speech of the dominant person is similar to parental talk, including pronouncements, advice, "wise" observations, judgments, and existential statements
("You are..." "It is..."). Favorite words are should and ought. Typical comments are:
"You should . . . brush your teeth (go to church, etc.)."
"You ought to . . . be more careful."
"Why don't you . . . wash your face?"
"Why are you . . . late?"
"You look . . . terrible (nice, etc.)."
"You are . . . good (bad, etc.)."
"It is . . . going to rain (be a bad year, etc.)."
"The young people are . . . going to the dogs."
Body English includes finger-pointing, furrowed brows, beady eyes, frowns, scowls, foot or finger tapping, hands on hips, wringing hands, folded arms, and patting others.
Although presented here in clear-cut form, most patterns include a combination of these and other traits. Persons may also alternate between two fairly distinct patterns, depending on circumstances. For example, a man may be dominant in his office and submissive with his wife. A woman may be submissive at home and dominant at her office or bridge club. In general, however, personality patterns tend to be consistent in most circumstances.
The common roles in society--father, mother, husband,wife, friend, helper--can also be formalized into personality patterns. These stances, which are practical in relating to or achieving certain goals with other people, can become so deeply ingrained that they cease to be chosen by the user. For example, the mother role is practical in rearing children. One may, however, function as a mother so habitually that mothering becomes a personality pattern rather than a useful role that may be changed at any time. Such a mother ceases to be a person who chooses to use the mother role with her children. She literally becomes a mother (takes mothering as a pattern). She then mothers her husband, plants, pets, and friends.
The helping role, commonly assumed by teachers, doctors, lawyers, and ministers, can likewise be hardened into a personality pattern. Instead of a person who uses the helping role, one may come to function as though he actually is the role he has assumed. He becomes trapped in his role. Such a doctor, for instance, remains a doctor, even when he leaves his office. He functions in the same role at home or on the tennis court. The same is true for any other role. When one of these practical stances becomes habitualized internally, it is a sign of spiritual death, just as is any other personality pattern.
5) Encounter Games
Traits and patterns tend to become activated in human relationships through various encounter "games." These formalized procedures are called games not because they are fun, but because the "plays" or moves are predictable according to rules. They are automatic ways of reacting, evolving from the various personality patterns, utilized in structuring meetings with others.
Encounter games, like the traits and patterns from which they emerge, can reveal the spiritual death of the players. Being dead as spirited persons, sinners may cloak their spiritual absence in ritualized procedures. They give the appearance of being present, though they are not truly there at all.
Perhaps the most common game is the two-move ritual of: "How are you?" -- "Fine, thank you." This programed form of encounter allows the participants to act as though they are meeting, without the risks of an honest, open encounter. The question is not intended literally--as a request for information on the existential state of the other. Nor is the answer assumed to be factual. The short game is a charade, possibly concealing the spiritual death of the players.
Although most encounter games are far more elaborate, they all have certain factors in common. The script for each can be written ahead of time (one can pre-plan to say "How are you?"). The games are always impersonal, that is, essentially unrelated to the individual being met.(The "How are you" can apply to anyone). Thirdly, games are dishonest. They express an untruth, since the asker has no genuine interest in a personal answer.
As with all other forms of expression, the sin and the deed are not synonymous. The game may reveal the sin, yet it does not contain it. One who has not sinned may choose to play any encounter game, for practical reasons, in an honest way. The games only reveal the spiritual death of a sinner when they are compulsively played in a dishonest manner.
Perhaps the distinction can be clarified with the technical definitions of "game" and "play." A spirited human may literally "play" any encounter "game" when it is appropriate. The sinner, however, is deadly serious. With him it is not a "game." The ritualized procedure is not freely chosen. He necessarily engages in the formal exchange as a cloak for his actual spiritual absence. Encounter games reveal sin whenever they are not "played for fun" or practical reasons.
Other encounter rituals that commonly cloak spiritual death are listed below, according to the personality patterns from which they tend to emerge. The primary activities of each game are also listed.
1. "One-up" (Murder) 1. "One-Down" (Suicide)
Working to come out on top Working to come out on bottom
Winning, outdoing, besting engineering losing, being done in;
"Don'.t you dare" "Sock it to me (Getting put down)
(Putting others down)
"How great I am." "Oh, what a worm I am."
2. "Poor Little You" 2. "Poor Little Me"
"Let me help you." "Won't you help me."
Boosting the ego; making Getting support, compliments,
other person feel good advice
Stroking Being stroked
Serving others Getting served
3. "How Good I Am" 3. "How Bad I Am"
Establishing superiority Establishing inferiority
Bragging--"I'm great." Apologizing--"I'm sorry."
"Oh, what a good boy am I." "See how bad I've been."
"I forgive you." (God) "I confess." (Sinner)
a. "How Smart I Am" a. "How Dumb I Am"
I have the answer. I have a question.
"I know." "I'm intelligent" "I don't know." "I'm dumb."
Concealing ignorance Revealing stupidity
b. "How Pretty I Am" b. "How Ugly I Am"
c. "How Big I Am" c. "How Small I Am"
"Mine's longer than yours." "Mine's too short."
4. Rebellion 4. Hold Out
"Betcha can't stop me." "Betcha can't make me."
Defiance, stepping on lines Holding out, pulling back
5. Hide and Seek 5. Hide and Seek
"Bet I can find you." "Betcha can't find me."
Asking questions Evasive answers
"What do you want to do?" "Whatever you want to."
Analyzing the other person Dropping false clues
Running after, pursuing Hiding, demurring
6. Seduction 6. Seduction
"Bet I can make you like me." "Betcha can't."
Showing off Pretending to ignore
Looking at other person Looking away
Reaching toward Pulling away
(Often looks like a sex game, but only uses sex as playing pieces in the game)
Eric Berne (Games People Play) and others have named and carefully analyzed the various plays and moves in some of the more elaborate encounter games that sinful man has devised. Whenever such ritualized forms of relating are not freely chosen for practical, spontaneous purposes, they reveal the spiritual death of the players.
6) Mental Illness
Feelings, moods, traits, patterns, and games are sometimes interwoven into the fabric of emotional disturbances or mental illness, ranging from mild neurosis and character disorders to extreme psychosis. These structures of sickness are the clearest evidence of spiritual death. Each such destructive constellation reflects the havoc resulting from sin.
Signs of mild neurosis are nervousness, worrying, vague fears, moodiness, general discontent, and free-floating anxiety. Stronger neurotic symptoms include compulsions (such as orderliness, cleanliness, or being on time); mild depressions; feelings of panic or doom; chronic fatigue; sexual frigidity; heart palpitation, and various aches and pains without physical cause; phobic-type fears such as claustrophobia or fear of heights; and "nervous breakdown."
Evidences of psychoses include illusions (distortions of sensory perception); hallucinations (false sensory perceptions); delusions (such as false ideas of persecution or grandeur); emotional disturbances (such as depression, inappropriate affect, manic reactions, and depersonalization); speech and behavior disturbances; and disorientation, or separation from reality.
The fields of psychology, mental health, and psychiatry have emerged in time to define and treat these results of sin. Professionals have studied, analyzed, named, and classified the almost infinite number of assorted collections of disturbances. General classifications include schizophrenia, paranoia, manic-depressive states, and catatonia.
Certainly not all disorders classified as mental illness are the result of sin. Many are caused by heredity, brain damage, the intrusion of foreign bodies (drugs, germs, viruses, or electrodes), and physical aging. However, all those disturbances emerging from the vast arena of human choice are evidences of the spiritual death that predictably follows sin.
Whatever the signs, and they are manifold, the inevitable result of sin is, according to Emerging Religion, immediate spiritual death and loss of access to the tree of life. In the allegory, Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden.
"So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." Genesis 3:24
One real day
it was too much for him
and he copped out
He took the long step from
it's pleasant to
The sexy woman
the sneaky snake
got the blame
but no matter
Sin was born
and he died.
Good-bye, Eden; Hello, Hell
Confession is admitting the sins one has committed-- the bad things one has done, said, felt, thought, or desired. Such admissions have commonly been made to a religious leader (priest or minister), before the congregation to which one belongs, to the offended party, or in private prayer to God.
Confession is the spiritual act of facing, accepting, and standing responsibly in the presence of the ultimate in reality, as one currently is.
The essential differences in the two understandings of confession are based on the underlying conceptions of the nature of sin. Popular confession is primarily a physical act, telling what one has done. In the Emerging Church it is essentially spiritual in nature. These differences are amplified in the following beliefs of the Emerging Church.
Man's initial move in the salvation process is confessing his sinfulness. He can go no further until he takes this primary step. But how is this word understood in Emerging Religion? First, in theological language, confession is revealing one's sinfulness to God. In the Eden allegory, after sinning, Adam and Eve don fig leaves and hide from God. Confession is the reversal of this process of concealment. Man admits what he has done, removes his fig leaves, comes out of hiding, and reveals his sin to God.
Three elements in the previous definition bear further clarification: 1) What is a spiritual activity? 2) What is confession itself? and 3) What is to be confessed?
First, what is the nature of this activity? What is meant by "spiritual act"? As previously amplified, a spiritual act is a personal move involving the spirit of the individual. It is an internal activity of the unique core of one's remaining integrity. In colloquial terms, it is a "move of the heart," an activity "with one's heart in it." Such a spiritual act may or may not involve other people, or even be observable by another.
As an inner move of spirit, it is carefully distinguished in the Emerging Church from any overt activity, such as "telling someone," or, "doing something." Whereas these physical acts are sometimes present, each of them can be ritually performed without spirit. In either case, confession is a spiritual event between man and God. If other persons or activities are present, they are incidental to the primary event of spirit.
Secondly, how can this spiritual act be distinguished from others? What is the meaning of "confessing" itself? When one is engaging in the spiritual act of confession, what is he doing? According to Emerging Religion, he is revealing himself honestly and openly to God. In the metaphorical language of fig leaves, he is unclothing himself spiritually, getting naked before God. As a finite part of reality, he is revealing himself to the ultimate in reality. "This is who I am," he says. "This is what I have done and, as a result, have become."
In common language, he is "facing up" to himself, admitting honestly who he is behind the fig leaves--masks and facades--that he presents to others. He is saying, in effect, "I have covered up, pretended, been false, phony, insincere. I have deceived others, and even myself, but now I stop the charade. I am coming off the stage, removing my make-up, and admitting who, if anyone, I truly am. This is me, God."
Confession is normally an extended process, rather than a one-time event. Because of the nature of the mind, with both conscious and unconscious components, one can hardly reveal all that he has become in one sitting. As sinners, divided within ourselves, we have pushed major portions of who we are into the darker recesses of the subconscious and unconscious mind. We exist with some awareness of ourselves--with other elements laid aside, yet subject to recall, and with vast segments of our being completely repressed beyond the boundaries of immediate memory.
In a complete confession, which is the requirement of salvation, we must reveal all of who we are--both the selves we are aware of, as well as those we have blocked from our conscious minds. Because such a process normally takes a large amount of time, confession tends to be a spiritual activity spanning an extended chronological period. Theoretically, it could be instantaneous, if one were completely in tune with all that he is. In practice, however, confession always seems to take a long time.
Broken down into phases, the process of confession includes three elements: facing oneself, accepting the facts, and standing responsibly with what is revealed. One first searches for the truth, looking objectively at his own life; then he honestly admits what he sees. Finally he accepts full responsibility.
1. "This is what I see." 2. "I hate to admit it, but this is what I am." 3. "I am fully accountable for what I have become."
In practice, a particular act of confession may include the three elements in such rapid succession that they seem indistinguishable. More often they occur haltingly, one at the time. Even when they seem to be concurrent, the phases are likely to be recognizable in retrospect.
Step one, facing oneself, is essentially objective in nature. One examines himself, looking carefully at his own life, past and present. As though he were an observer only, he scrutinizes what he has done and become. The searchlight of honesty is applied to the details of his living.
Objective self-examination is followed by the more difficult second step--accepting the facts. Observing remains fruitless until it leads to personal acceptance. If step one is "seeing the song," step two is "facing the music." One first observes the symptoms, then admits the illness.
For example, a particular confession might involve facing the fact that "I drink too much," in step one. Then, in step two, one admits, "I am an alcoholic." Phase three, usually the most difficult, involves accepting full responsibility for both one and two. Projected blame is abandoned. The serpent ceases to be the evil one. No longer is man an innocent bystander, the victim of circumstances. He is guilty.
It is not "mother's fault," "because daddy was...," or the inevitable result of a "bad home life." The devil did not "make me do it." The confessing alcoholic stops blaming his parents, friends, or society.
The third major question in understanding confession in the Emerging Church is: confessing what? What is the subject? What is the "sinfulness" to be revealed? Sin, as previously considered, is essentially the spiritual act of escaping humanity and assuming godhood. It is the process of abandoning various human capacities in favor of the godly attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality. In confession, one faces, admits, and accepts responsibility for each particular element in his own escape and assumption.
Because these spiritual acts are commonly expressed in physical ways (omnipotence, for instance, may be revealed in conning others), they are most often approached through the forms of their expression. That is, by facing what one has done, he comes to grips with what he has become. The content of most confessions will therefore be the words, deeds, ideas, feelings, and desires of the confessor. These expressions become the avenue for the revelation of the spiritual acts giving rise to them.
For instance, in facing acts of criticism, condemnation, and judgment, one is led to face the underlying sin of omniscience. Confessing hostile deeds can reveal the sin of omnipotence ("I have rights over him").
The initial issue is the revelation of being, not simply telling what one has done. Deeds are significant only as they reveal who one is. One is getting naked before God, not simply reporting on bad apples eaten. To make this distinction, the Emerging Church uses the expression, "confession of sinfulness," instead of "confessing sins." The sinner is revealing his condition, not listing symptoms. Emerging Religion believes that the popular idea of sinful deeds (inherently evil activities) leads to a grossly inadequate conception of confession. Based on the popular notion, confession is reduced to the simplistic procedure of giving information to God (as though He were ignorant until man chooses to report). One dutifully tells of "bad" deeds, thoughts, or feelings, as though he were an innocent bystander caught up in evil activities. Presumably some virtue (forgiveness) is to follow a listing of shortcomings.
Although events, external and internal, are the content of confession as understood in the Emerging Church, the final revelation is always the sinfulness of the confessor--his inhumanity and godhood. He is facing, admitting, and accepting responsibility for what he has become, not simply what he has done. In the last analysis, he is revealing himself as a false god, with presumed degrees of omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality. As a non-human, he therefore confesses his spiritual death. He comes to God, naked and dead.
Repentance is stopping "bad" deeds, thoughts, and feelings; joining the church and beginning to do what is "right."
Repentance is a spiritual change in which one abandons assumed godhood--omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality--plus all the trappings of spiritual death.
Repentance, as understood in the Emerging Church, is man's second step in the salvation process. First, one must confess--face himself, admit what he has become. Then he must change his way of living. Repentance means change. After revealing himself before God, one being saved must redirect the course of his life. The process cannot be completed until admission is followed by a complete reorientation.
In Biblical imagery this change is pictured as rebirth. The sinner is portrayed as having become a false self--that is, having assumed an inauthentic existence. He has fled what he is to become what he is not. In confession, he faces his phoniness, revealing his false godhood. In repentance, he "denies himself" (Matthew 16:24) or more graphically, he "dies to himself." Godly forms of existence are completely abandoned in this change. The mystery of salvation, for the Emerging Church, is that through dying to one's old self, one is reborn as a spirited person. Indeed, the death (change) is essential. The isolation of false godhood remains until one literally dies to inauthenticity. As Jesus illustrated: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone" (John 12:24 Amp.).
Repentance may also be described less dramatically as turning away from sin. One stops his sinful escapes and returns to God. He abandons all forms of living death, in favor of fullness of life. He returns to Eden.
The common course of sin, as previously described, includes the assumption of godhood, with the resulting forms of spiritual death. One's repentance depends on on the particular course of his own sin. Elements of the overall change usually include the following:
1. Turning from omniscience to limited knowledge.
God has ultimate knowledge. He knows how things are--what is good and evil, as well as what will finally happen. Man, however, is limited in his knowledge. He can only know how he has found things to be, not how they ultimately are. He can know what is practical and impractical, based on past human experience, but not what is ultimately right and wrong. Based on his gathered data from the past, he can make predictions about the future. Yet they remain educated guesses. He never knows for sure what will happen.
The faith required for living creatively in the midst of uncertainty is evaded through sin. By eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, man abandons his true condition in favor of a false godhood. In repentance, he dies to his omniscient self. He turns from his assumption of ultimate knowledge, embracing limited understanding.
Specifically, this involves stopping all judgments of how things are, in favor of the more limited human position of observing how he has found them to be. "Things" include the world and all its functioning. Before repentance, one can say, "This is how it is" ("This is right; that is wrong." "This is good; that is bad"). As a godly judge he can freely pass sentence on any thing or person.
Examples of such omniscient judgments include: "The world is a bad place." "She is a good person.""I am right."
After repentance, one can only say, "This is how I have observed things to be." ("This seems to be more practical; that has been unfeasible before." "This has worked best for me; that has led to difficulties"). As a limited human, he can give temporary opinions, but not final conclusions. He can make finite discernments, but not godly judgments. Repenting sinners abandon all ultimate answers. They may summarize their experience, but they may not state "the truth." Though staunchly defending what they have discovered, they never "know for sure."
In regard to deeds, the repenting sinner turns from any assumed knowledge of what is ultimately right or wrong to do. He no longer pretends to know a good deed from an evil one. His presumed ability to judge acts is abandoned. For example, before repentance he might have "known for sure" that "lying is evil." Afterwards, he may observe the dangers of lying and stress the general feasibility of "telling the truth," yet he will always stop short of condemning the act as inherently wrong.
So with words and ideas. Whereas a sinner can judge, "That is a bad word," a repenting person can only note, "I find it offensive,"or, "Many people are upset by that word." A sinner can conclude, "That is a good idea (a true doctrine, a correct belief, or a right principle)." If he repents he will be limited to: "I agree with that idea" ("It makes sense to me," "I have found it reasonable," or, "So far it has proven valid in my experience.").
Limitations in judging deeds, words, and ideas (also, feelings and desires) naturally extend to the individuals doing, saying, or holding them. Thus a repentant sinner can never judge a person on the basis of what he sees or hears. For instance, he cannot conclude that a liar is bad, or that one who helps others is good. Nor can he judge that someone who agrees with him "is right." The same limitation applies to himself.
Whereas sinners can freely judge their own appearance, activities, words, beliefs, and desires, as well as themselves, to be good or bad, right or wrong--this prerogative is abandoned when they repent. After repentance one may say, "I feel pleased with what I have done," but he may not conclude, "Therefore I am good." He may wish he had not said a particular word, but he will not judge himself to be bad for having said it.
Omniscient judgments are commonly expressed in the language of being--"is," am," and "are," (or, "is not"). Beyond right and wrong, they may take the form of any other qualifying words such as: pretty/ugly, smart/dumb, sane/crazy. Not realizing that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," a sinner may conclude that a certain person truly is pretty (handsome). Because he does not understand the behavior of another, he may judge him to "be crazy." After repentance, such a person will be limited to his own experiential observations. Without judging appearances, he may say, "I find you attractive" (a limited human response). Or, he may note his own failure to understand the actions of another, without pronouncing a judgment on his sanity.
The distinctions being drawn here are between spiritual positions, not grammatical wordings. The change required in repentance is a move from the godly position of being able to make ultimate pronouncements, to the human position of realizing their impossibility. Figuratively speaking, one descends from the lordly throne where judgments are possible, to the common plane of humanity. He abandons godhood and joins the human race. Coming down "from his high horse," where he was able to "look down" on others (or up from his pit where he praised them), he stands on the level ground of all humans, observing and responding, but not judging.
Technically, words may reflect judgment, but they do not contain it. One can use the language of judging ("right and wrong," "is" and "are") without being judgmental; or he may be judgmental and never speak the words. For instance, "She is pretty" can be a simple reflection of personal opinion. "You are wrong" may only be a way of saying, "I disagree." In either case, repentance refers to a change in spiritual positions, rather than a simple correction of language usage. One could change his language, eliminating all judgmental statements, without ever repenting; or he could repent and continue to use the same words.
With omniscience, man also claims knowledge of the future--what will happen, how things will turn out, the conclusion of matters, even the end of the world and what will occur after death. In repentance this godly information is repudiated. Man turns away from pretending to know what will occur next. He embraces the uncertainty inherent in being human. Instead of acting as though he knows what tomorrow will bring, he moves into the exciting realm of an ever-changing, constantly evolving, finally unpredictable world, where only calculated predictions are possible.
An example of omniscient knowledge to be relinquished in repentance is: assurance of the end results of certain behavior or life styles. Abandoning the certainty of knowing right and wrong ways to live, one likewise gives up his assumed knowledge of what will happen following particular courses of action. A repentant one could not conclude: "That will get you in trouble," "Young people are going to the dogs," "God will not love you if you do thus and so," "Communism will destroy the world," "Only monogamy and fidelity can lead to happiness," "The world will be destroyed by fire, "Jesus will return someday," "After death we live forever in heaven or hell," or "We will be with our loved ones in the sweet bye and bye."
Although he may make educated guesses, give his own ideas and opinions, or imagine about the future, he will be continually alert to the human limitations of all predictions beyond the present moment.
A person repenting turns away from the godly position of holding certain knowledge of any future event. He joyfully enters the human world of continual surprise, always standing in awe with his own uncertainty before God.
Whereas an omniscient one may have rigid, unchanging beliefs, in repentance he changes each to a tentative idea. Relinquishing the illusion of knowing "how it is," he accepts the reality of "how he has found it to be," even in the realm of religion. Sacred doctrines--dogma, creeds, and beliefs--are dethroned. Realizing the godliness of presuming his own religion to be "the right one," the repenting sinner removes his religious armor, donning instead a cloak of lightly-held beliefs, each one subject to revision in the light of new revelations.
No longer does he use religious ideas to manipulate others, under the rationalization of "converting them to the true religion." Nor does he use beliefs to insulate himself from the fires of new truth. Each of his doctrines becomes a summary of human experience, his own and others', representing the best revelation until the current moment. As such it may be used to guide the course of his living, or of those under his charge, yet always with an air of tentativeness befitting a limited human.
Though beliefs are formulated into rules and laws for the practical guidance of individuals and groups, all such structures will be recognized as "rules of thumb," rather than as bases for righteousness. A repenting sinner will realize the practical necessity for rules in private life as well as in society. Always, however, his rules will be a servant, never a master. He will not hope to become righteous because he keeps laws. Nor will he use the legalism of others to discern their goodness. Breaking the law, in turn, will not be a basis for condemning himself or others as "bad."
For example, before repentance one may judge on the basis of legalism. Those who keep the rules (religious, civil, or social) may be praised as "good," while law breakers are condemned as "bad" ("Boys who tell lies are bad"; "Good girls don't do it before marriage.") After repenting, however, one no longer uses rules in this fashion. A boy who lies may have chosen an unfeasible course, but he is not therefore "bad." A girl who has premarital sexual relations may be unreasonable, but she is not necessarily unrighteous. Nor, in turn, are those who tell the truth "good" or abstaining females necessarily virtuous.
For an omniscient sinner, ignorance looms as an ultimate threat to false godhood. He may go to any lengths, even lying, to avoid admitting, "I don't know." After repentance, ignorance loses its sting. One can then say confidently, "I don't know," realizing that humanity is affirmed, even in honest ignorance.
The knowing which follows repentance is experiential rather than intellectual ("gut level" rather than "brain level"). One then says, "I know. . ." as a summary of what he has endured, not as an idea he has acquired. Experiential knowledge may be discussed, yet it requires no defense. Debate or reasons may defeat intellectual answers, but they cannot destroy experiential knowledge. "Beliefs" as mental certainties have been exchanged for believing, that is, for living by faith in the midst of uncertainties. The repenting sinner resigns from the role of "true believer," as he becomes a truly believing human being.
2. From Omnipotence to Finitude
God is all-powerful. His strength is unlimited. He can do whatever he wills. All creation is his, to utilize as he pleases. Man, however, is finite. His power is limited. He can will (or want) far more than he can do (or have). In the created order, he is a steward, a tenant farmer, tending and overseeing, never actually owning.
When he sins, man reverses the roles. He assumes degrees of omnipotence, imagining strength beyond his limits, unrealistic power, and the right to own. In repentance, he turns from all attributes of omnipotence, joyfully embracing the limits and responsibilities of finitude.
The fact of physical limitations is accepted. From the belief that he "can do whatever he wants to, if he tries hard enough," he turns to accept the restricted range of human capacities. Instead of acting as though he "can stand anything," he embraces limited endurance in all areas. Rather than treating his body as a possession to be used, abused, or ignored, he accepts responsibility for physical well-being--eating, exercising, and resting appropriately.
In like manner, he turns away from the illusion of owning lands, objects, animals, and people, accepting instead his position as a temporary steward in this garden of Eden. The assumption of inherent rights to rule, abuse, or destroy is abandoned in favor of responsible dominion over whatever is committed into his keeping. Even though civil laws grant him rights of ownership, property is treated as a sacred trust that he responsibly tends rather than selfishly abuses.
From knowing and using other people as though they are objects or servants in his kingdom, he turns to responsible encounter only. Assumed rights over others are abandoned. Even if society has placed him in positions for exercising authority, the robes are worn lightly. As a parent, employer, teacher, civil official, professional, or military leader, he treats his charges with the respect due fellow humans, never as slaves under his control. Dictatorial rights to manage the lives and destinies of associates are relinquished. He ceases being one who tries to tell others what to do, think, or feel.
Recognizing his own finitude, he carefully limits any advice or direction to professional relationships in which guidance is the mutually agreed upon subject. For instance, he does not presume to know what his children should do with their lives, what his spouse's political views should be, or what religious beliefs his friends should hold. He no longer presumes to know how anyone should feel, ought to dress, etc. He may give suggestions, but he never assumes the right to direct another life.
Nor does he assume ownership rights over friends, relatives, and strangers. In personal relationships he encounters openly, yet without presuming to "have" them. Although an omnipotent sinner may literally have a friend, spouse, or child, in repentance he gives up such possessions. Each person is viewed as someone to meet or be with, rather than one to be owned and used.
For instance, he stops using his spouse as a servant or sex object, claiming that she is his. The expression, "my wife," becomes only an indication of legal relationship, not a statement of fact.
The more subtle forms of emotional use, such as dependency and ego support, are also abandoned. The repentant one stops expecting his family or friends to provide honor, admiration, or approval. Children are no longer required to pretend a respect or appreciation they do not feel. A wife is not expected to be a mother, boosting the sagging ego of a childlike husband. Friends are not required to support with their approval. He who, as a sinner, sought to get love becomes one engaged in being loving.
In giving up omnipotence, the repenting person also turns from ownership to stewardship of his own life. He stops playing god with his existence. Instead of trying to squeeze himself into some preconceived mold of what he "should be," he turns to the discovery and activation of what he actually is. Energies previously given to acting and pretending are now devoted to being and becoming. As he has ceased to be a Hitler of the external world, so he stops dictating himself--his feelings, desires, and thoughts. As a gardener tends the garden placed in his care, so the repenting one tends the aptitudes, talents, and abilities given to him. His business becomes becoming his truest self, developing the garden of his life.
If his sin included the idolatry of having a god, subject to his use, control, or influence, the repenting one gives up this ultimate form of omnipotence. All idols, whether material, human, or cosmic, are abandoned as he accepts finitude in the presence of the infinite. Tangible idols are broken; idolized persons are lowered to humanity; sky gods are removed from their thrones. Recognizing that one who "has a god" is, in a subtle way, even more powerful than the god he owns, the repentant sinner turns from religious idolatry also. With all his gods left behind, he begins to worship the omnipresent, infinite God only.
3. From Immortality to Humanity
God is immortal--not human--and therefore not limited by the attributes of humanity. Man, conversely, is mortal and thus constantly subject to all human elements--being sensitive, emotional, rational, sexual, and always subject to death. Sinful man seeks to escape mortality in favor of the godly position of immortality. He desensitizes himself, curtails feelings and thoughts, represses sexuality, and pretends he is not going to die. He denies humanity in favor of assumed godhood.
In repentance, the course is reversed. Man turns from the illusion of immortality and joins the human race. Sensitivity, squelched in the attempt to appear to be what he is not, is reactivated. Man opens his senses to the world around him, looking at whatever is visible, hearing the natural music of life, perceiving all aromas.
When appropriate, he tastes and touches. From unawareness, he turns toward continual sensitivity, to in-tune-ness with the physical world through all his senses. Pretended separation from the tangible world is dissolved. The "dirty dirt" is accepted as the very dust from which he too has come. Kinship with all that is natural is again claimed. Mother Nature becomes a friend. Instead of playing godly by being above the mundane sights, sounds, and smells of daily life, the repenting person makes peace with his ever-changing physical surroundings. The illusion that "this world is not my home" is abandoned as he turns to meet the omnipresent God in every present moment. Desensitized man becomes sensual.
Feelings frozen in spiritual death are allowed to thaw. A repenting person stops playing it cool and becomes emotionally involved in life. The godlike position of being above human emotions is relinquished. Hardheartedness melts into tenderness. The frozen zombie learns to laugh and cry, to feel sad and lonely, to get angry and be afraid, to feel hostility and intimacy. In each life situation he responds emotionally with the natural feelings that arise within his breast. He becomes a man of heart. The illusion that "big boys don't cry" is dissolved. The notion of being above anger or any other human feeling is given up. The risks of sympathy and understanding are faced. He learns to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." No longer is he "too big to be afraid." As a deeply emotional human, he reclaims his capacity to fear God, to stand in awe in the presence of the ultimate in reality.
The sleeping mind is awakened as man repents. Habitual refusal to respond mentally is stopped. Man becomes a thinking creature in each instant. The stimuli of life are allowed to evoke their natural responses--memories, understanding, fantasies, and dreams. Stock answers, ideas, beliefs, and philosophies, accepted uncritically from others, are laid aside in favor of personal thinking. Prejudice, the refusal to think, is abandoned. Resurrection of prior thoughts, as an escape from current thinking, is stopped.
The habit of suppression is broken. Prison doors are opened to all banished thoughts. The closet of memories is unlocked. That which has been relegated to the unconscious in the past is invited back as a welcome guest in the household of today. The repenting man becomes reasonable, adding up information in the light of his own experience. Like the child in the fable of the naked emperor, he looks openly at things as he sees them. Irrational conclusions are continually brought to light and weighed on the scales of reason. Nonsense is exchanged for the reasonable. Beliefs of the fathers are examined in relation to new knowledge.
Abiding truths are kept; dated ideas are laid aside. The repenting sinner becomes a reasonable man.
Yet he does not become reasonable to the exclusion of the human capacity to dream. Current understanding is never hemmed in by the absence of fantasy. Dreams are loosed from the dark realms of sleep and welcomed into the light of day. Fantasies are no longer squelched. Fancy is unchained and allowed to roam freely among the pillars of fact. How it might be is never denied access to the realm of how it now is. Imagination runs wild, in the city of reason.
When man repents, he turns from repressing any element of mental capacity. Opening his full mind, he continually thinks his own thoughts. From mental rigidity, he turns to become a free thinker. Denying sexuality is also abandoned in repentance. To become human is to become a sexual being. The godly attempt to repress this human capacity is stopped when one returns to himself. Frigidity is exchanged for warmth and passion.
As man returns from godhood to humanity, he ceases the negation of any human capacity. Though he functions responsibly in current society, nothing humanly possible is "beneath him." He strives to activate every element of human potential, to become a thoroughly sensitive, emotional, rational, and sexual human being.
To embrace mortality is also to accept the fact of death. Humans are born, live out their days, and die. From dust we are come, and to dust we return. Only God is forever. As a false god, a sinner may presume personal immortality, concluding that he too will always exist. The obvious fact of death may be denied by the idea of an immortal soul surviving the grave. With or without such rationalizations, sinners commonly live as though they have forever.
With repentance, one turns away from such assumptions. Becoming mortal, he accepts death as an integral part of the life process, as essential as birth. He begins to live as though he is going to die. Realizing the fleeting nature of the gift of life, and the ever-present possibility of the death angel's visit, the repenting person never presumes on the future. The blessing of breath is never taken for granted. Each moment is filled to the brim because he knows there is never "plenty of time."
He thinks in terms of "when I die," rather than "If I should die." Partings are taken seriously, because he knows "We may never meet again." He does not say, "See you later," without adding a silent "God willing."
In accepting mortality, with its limitations of knowledge, power, and tenure, man gains his first glimpse of spiritual immortality.
4. From Shame, Fear, and Pride, to Innocence, Excitement, and Humility.
From that triad of life-destroyers--feelings of shame, fear, and pride, the repenting sinner turns to their natural counterparts. Shame is exchanged for innocence; fear becomes excitement; and pride is replaced by humility.
In sin, his false godhood was predictably reflected in feelings of guilt. As an omniscient one he had judged himself--his body, thoughts, feelings, desires, as well as deeds, past and present. Having eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he had presumed to know what was good and bad in each dimension. Experiencing many of the so-called "bad" thoughts and emotions, as well as doing some of the "bad" deeds, he naturally felt a pervading sense of guilt.
With repentance the omniscient judgments are stopped. No longer does one assume the right to pass sentence on any aspect of himself. With the judgment goes the shame. The repenting one turns instead to a state of personal innocence. He has no further reason to condemn himself for any human capacity. This state of shamelessness following repentance is very much like the innocence of childhood, before sin, with one major exception. Children are shameless without understanding. Their innocence is naive. They are babes in the woods of life. Repentant sinners are also shameless, yet with deep understanding. Their innocence is sophisticated. Knowing the risks and dangers of the previously condemned human possibilities, still they dare to accept themselves. Experiential knowledge has been added to innocence.
In his continual escape from God, the sinner is often afraid. Feelings of fear may haunt his days and nights. Condemned aspects of himself keep rising to the surface. Denied feelings emerge. "Bad" thoughts come. "Evil" desires lurk into awareness. Repressed memories creep forth in dreams. And always there is the danger of "being caught," found out for what he truly is. His reputation or public image is continually at stake. Furthermore, his assumed immortality is constantly threatened. On every hand, there is evidence of dying and death. Mortality itself is an abiding source of fear. The loss of ego status in society, plus the ever-present death angel, may make fear a regular enemy in the sinner's life.
With repentance, this is changed. Abandoned omniscience and immortality remove the sources of fear. Accepting the previously condemned elements in himself, the repenting sinner need fear them no longer. The "bad" thoughts, "evil" desires, and banished memories can come and go without fear. Now engaged in becoming himself, rather than presenting an image, he has no reason to fear losing his reputation or "being caught" as he is. Once man embraces mortality, death loses its threat. As Paul noted, "The sting of death is sin." Without sin, man can face the regular possibility of dying. Personal immortality is no longer challenged by this ultimate enemy.
Fear is replaced by its counterpart, excitement. No longer required to stop short at the threat of death, man can proceed to the risks of fun. In the unknown dimensions of new moments, he can experience the excitement inherent in facing the challenges of continual uncertainty. From a life of fear, the repentant sinner turns to a life of excitement.
Pride is the third common feeling associated with sin. When an omniscient sinner does the things he has judged to be good, he naturally feels proud of himself. His "good" feelings, thoughts, and deeds result in this self-righteous condition. Since each evidences the omniscience he has presumed to possess, he swells with pride when he has or does them. Unfortunately, as the Bible notes, such pride "goeth before destruction."
The destruction of false pride is curtailed by repentance. The loss of omniscience eliminates the basis for self-righteousness. Relinquishing his presumed knowledge of what is good, the repenting person has no reason to feel proud. He enjoys the experiences of self-fulfillment, without the killing effects of pride. Instead, his life is marked by humility. Recognizing that all is a gift, that he brings nothing into the world, he can only be deeply appreciative of what is received. Life and breath, plus the daily excitement of encounter and response, are continual sources of humility.
5. From Moods to Buoyancy.
For the sinner, evolving combinations of shame, fear, and pride, give rise to the destructive moods of anxiety, boredom, hostility, and depression. The periodic clouds of uncertainty often hang heavy overhead, shutting him off from happiness.
The changes of repentance eliminate the basis for shame, fear, and pride, thereby removing the material for various moods. Freed from moodiness, the repenting person is open to spiritual buoyancy. His flexibility allows spirit to rise and fall easily, without threat of being up or fear of being down. Knowing he can tolerate the excitement of spiritual highs and endure the rhythmical declines that follow, he moves lightly through the ebb and flow of life.
6. From Traits and Patterns to Spiritual Freedom.
The sinner becomes ensnared in personality traits and patterns. The interplay of his feelings and moods hardens into internal structures which, in turn, deny him freedom to respond creatively in life. Trapped in his traits, he reacts instead of responding. His actions are programmed and predictable. He does what he has learned to do, repeating old patterns, instead of meeting new situations in creative ways.
For instance, a sinner with the compulsive traits of being on time and doing what is expected always reacts to the church bell and offering plate in a predetermined way. Not free to respond to the immediate situation, he must be on time and he has to contribute. His presence is necessary; his gifts are obligations. He is not free to come or to give.
One with the trait of friendliness has to be nice. He is not free to respond otherwise, even when appropriate. A shy person is not free to be bold when the occasion demands. One with the trait of being tough is not free to be tender. A sentimental sinner is not free to be aloof. With a pattern of racial prejudice, for example, one can only react in predetermined ways.
Dominant persons are compelled to react in aggressive and overbearing ways. Submissive sinners compulsively give in to others. When social roles have been solidified into personality patterns, they too deny freedom. A female trapped in a mother pattern is not free to be a wife with her husband. An ensnared teacher loses her freedom to learn. A doctor or minister, caught in his role, cannot be an effective husband or father.
With repentance, one turns from the bondage of traits, patterns, and roles--embracing the human capacity for creativity and freedom. Compulsion is exchanged for flexibility. Reaction gives way to response. Established traits become flexible attributes. Rigid patterns become temporary stances. Social roles become loosely worn vestments, easily discarded when appropriate.
Shy persons embrace their freedom to be bold. Tough individuals accept the right to be tender. Friendly people learn to be aloof. Clock-watchers learn to be late without personal threat. Racially prejudiced sinners discover persons of other races. Submissives become aggressive, while dominants learn to be passive.
Rigid roles are discarded. Mothers remove their aprons when children are in bed. Fathers become husbands with their wives. Teachers learn to learn, while repenting doctors leave their white jackets at the office.
Freed through repentance, one is able to choose the most appropriate action in each situation. He can creatively evaluate information at hand, weigh former experiences, and select new courses when feasible. Even when he responds to similar situations in the same way, his repeated similarities are new choices rather than old habits. Always he is free to choose otherwise when the situation demands.
Each moment is lived in the heady winds of freedom. With traits and patterns left behind, the repenting sinner continually explores the exciting realm of the eternal now.
7. From Habitual Games to Honest Encounter.
Habitual encounter games are stopped when one repents. No longer does he hold others at arm's length through compulsively playing the diverse rituals of meeting. Instead, he turns to encounter people honestly. From ritualistic reaction by automatic engagement in previously learned procedures, he begins to meet others as he is. Dropping the cloaks of gamesmanship, he embarks on the exciting venture of open response.
Instead of manipulating the moment with clever questions, devices, and demonstrations of playing skills, he begins to give gifts of his true thoughts and feelings. For instance, rather than ritualistically asking, "How are you?" when he is not truly interested in knowing, he gives some honest expression of himself. He stops saying, "Fine, thank you," when, in fact, he is not. Habitual questions designed to manipulate the moment are left unasked. Oneupsmanship and Poor Little Me are locked in the game closet. Hide-and-seek maneuvers and Seduction games are put aside. All habitual meeting procedures are laid to rest.
In the absence of games, the repenting one responds personally to the other. Senses are activated. Instead of ignoring, looking through or beyond, he sees the individual--what he is wearing, the color of his eyes, facial expressions, as well as bodily shape and stance. Sounds--words, tones, sighs, and other noises--are heard. Aromas are received. He touches when appropriate, shaking hands, touching arms, hugging, or kissing.
While sensing the person, he responds emotionally to stimuli received. Giving up the false security of emotional detachment, he allows whatever natural feelings arise within. Perhaps he will feel attracted, repulsed, jealous, or afraid. Without censorship, he will be aware of his emotional responses, whatever they are. In like manner he will open his mind, responding mentally to the individual. Any thought will be entertained. Perhaps the sight of the person will remind him of someone else, provoke a curiosity, or evoke a fantasy. Having turned from prejudice, he will refuse to merely react with an old idea.
Instead, all current thoughts prompted by the individual will be permitted. From this wealth of sensations, feelings, and thoughts, he will choose an expression appropriate, yet honest, for the circumstances. Since response can never be predetermined or memorized ahead of time, every meeting will be an exciting, creative encounter. After initial contact, the same expanding response will be continued. Carefully, the repenting person will avoid slipping into old, familiar games as the meeting proceeds. Whatever he says or does with another person will be an honest expression of himself at the time, never a device lifted from an old bag of tricks.
This does not mean that games are excluded from human relationships, only that they are not employed dishonestly. On a given occasion, persons may openly choose to play an encounter game for the fun of it. Each one plays, knowing it is a game. The structures and rules are utilized to enhance the meeting, rather than prevent it. The distinction lies in the mutual choice to play. Such games are the medium for encounter, not an insulation against meeting.
The critical change in repentance is the move from necessary rituals to freely chosen, honest encounters in which a person freely meets a person.
8. From Mental Illness to Emotional Health.
Finally, repentance involves a change from neurotic and psychotic forms of behavior resulting from the assumption of false godhood. Emotional disturbances evolving from the sinner's escape from humanity are abandoned in his return. Instead of hiding within the diverse forms of mental illness, the repenting sinner lays them aside, openly facing the challenges of becoming himself. No matter how comfortable or protected he has come to feel within the confines of his sickness, or how threatening it may seem to give it up, he leaves these ways of spiritual death.
He stops excusing himself for his "problems" by blaming parents and the past. The fault for his sin is no longer placed on the serpent, Adam and Eve, or God (for giving him an "evil nature"). He accepts the fact that he, and he alone, has chosen to sin and is thereby responsible for the resulting spiritual death called neurosis or psychosis.
Responsibly he begins the move toward emotional health. One by one, neurotic symptoms are faced, examined, worked through, and abandoned. Distorted self-images are reviewed in the light of reality and gradually corrected. Repressions from the past are admitted and accepted in the present. The rocky path toward mental health is traveled by faith. Every demon is challenged, wrestled with, and overcome. No disturbance is left unfaced in this necessary move into emotional maturity.
He whose name was Legion becomes One in Christ.
(Second Coming of Christ)
A comic event to occur at some future time when Jesus will return bodily to the earth.
A spiritual occurrence in which Christ, as the way, truth, and life, comes to one in the here and now.
Jesus said, after describing the uncertainty and trauma preceding this event, "Verily I say, this generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34). On another occasion he spoke of the Second Coming and then concluded: "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:28). Paul also said, "The lord is at hand," with reference to the Parousia event (Philippians 4:5). John delivered his vision of Christ's return in these words, "Behold I come quickly. . ." He then signed his vision with this conclusion to the Bible: "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:12, 20).
Popular Religion has accepted that Paul and the disciples expected an imminent return of Jesus. However, understanding the event as a cosmic occurrence, the Popular Church has concluded that they were in error. Emerging theology takes Jesus' prediction literally, presuming that some of his hearers actually did experience Christ's Second Coming before their own physical deaths. It assumes that both Paul's hope and John's vision were likely fulfilled in their own life times.
Repentance is difficult. Once a person becomes established in his false godhood, assuming degrees of omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality, change does not come easily. Personality traits and patterns become ingrained. Skills in playing encounter games are perfected. Even neurosis and psychosis allow a sense of false security. Though these forms of spiritual death are not fulfilling, one often becomes comfortable within them.
Leaving the familiar in favor of the unknown is seldom easy. "Better to keep the ills you have than fly to those you know not of," goes an old adage. Yet this is precisely what occurs when man repents. He abandons the known in the face of the uncertain. He gives up what is familiar to risk what he has not seen.
Setting sail on new oceans of human possibility, one commonly encounters rough seas. Difficult spiritual times may be expected in the early days of conversion. Leaving the old moorings, without new bearings, the spiritual pilgrim is apt to experience "dark nights of the soul," times of uncertainty and fear. Jesus described this pre-Parousia period as a time "of great tribulation" (Matthew 24:21), "when the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed his light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken" (24:29).
This metaphorical language aptly words the personal trauma which many experience as they leave the old world of false godhood. In spite of its evils, still it was familiar. Now it seems to come crashing down, or to vanish in the darkness. "Where is the comfort, once known?" Depending on the extent of one's spiritual death, the initial phases of conversion vary from mildly upsetting to extremely traumatic. The greater one's godhood, the darker the nights of spiritual change.
In the despair of crashing worlds, as Jesus said, the powers of heaven are shaken. "What's the point in going on?" one may wonder. "Why not return to the old ways?" "Why not commit suicide?" One may cry out, as did David, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?" (Psalms 22:1).
Like Job, he may voice despair: "Let the day perish wherein I was born. . . . Why was I not still-born? My sighing comes before my food, and my groanings are poured out like water. I was not or am not at ease, nor had I or have I rest, nor was I or am I quiet, yet trouble came and still comes upon me. I am weary of my life and loathe it: I will give free expression to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul" (Job 3:3, 11, 24, 26; 10:1 Amp.). Those around one suffering through such a time of change may be inclined, as was Job's wife, to advise, "Curse God, and die" (2:9).
Yet godhood and the gods must be abandoned in repentance. The succeeding times of spiritual uncertainty may be expected by one who enters the process of conversion. But from the gloom comes the light. The trauma of repentance leads to the glory of Parousia. "The son of man will appear . . . in brilliancy and splendor" (Matthew 24:30). Dark nights of the soul are followed by the dawning of the light, the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ. Man's change from escaping reality, toward facing the truth, is rewarded by encounter with Christ. The light which he had hoped for, appears in this spiritual event.
Parousia is a Greek word meaning coming or presence. In this spiritual occurrence Christ comes to the repenting man. The man who is changing, experiences the presence of Christ, the way, truth, and life. He encounters that which he has turned toward. The truth appears to him. The way is revealed. He begins to understand what life is about. As the sun dawns on the tangible world, so the son of God, Christ, dawns on the private world of the repenting person. The Parousia is called Second Coming because Christ has come before. He came to the people of Palestine in the person of Jesus; he comes again to those who repent.
Parousia, as understood in Emerging Religion, is experiential insight, a moment of truth. In this spiritual occurrence, man "sees the light." Finally he begins to "get the picture." His understanding deepens from mere intellectualism to an existential encounter with the facts of life. The truth dawns on him. Whereas he had previously heard about truth, now he meets it. Before, he had thought about life; in this event he runs headlong into it. The larger world of reality breaks forth before him. Objectivity is merged with subjective events.
Although the truth is yet to be appropriated into his life, he becomes aware of it. He has not become a truthful person, yet he knows the truth. Though he has yet to walk in the way, he now sees it. Yet to be resurrected, he knows that fullness of life is possible. His dark nights of the soul are illuminated with what is to come. The path lies opened before him.
Intellectualism about Jesus becomes encounter with Christ. What he had read about, he now discovers for himself. The Bible comes alive. Christ has come to him. He meets the son of God. He has not yet come to be in Christ, but Christ's presence is real. Others may debate God's existence, the relativity of truth, or if there actually is a way to spiritual life, but for one who has experienced the Parousia these are no longer subject to intellectual question. He may not be able to impart his knowledge to others, yet he knows from his own experience. God does exist! Truth is real! There is a way!
With Job he can say, "Before I had heard of God; now I see Him."
The Parousia is a spiritual occurrence involving the whole person, not merely the physical body. God is heard with the ears of the heart. Christ is seen with the eyes of the spirit. The presence of Christ is to be distinguished from imaginary physical events, such as visual or auditory hallucinations. Lost persons sometimes hear voices or see things which are not really there. Often these hallucinations take religious forms. One may imagine he hears God speak or that he sees Jesus appear. These signs of mental illness, which occur in fantasy only, are not to be confused with true experiences of spiritual awakening.
Nor is theological language necessary for speaking of this spiritual event. One can experience the Second Coming of Christ without having knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth. Even without having heard the word, Christ, one may know his presence. The Parousia event transcends history and language. The Emerging Church believes that the Second Coming has always been possible for every person of every ago and language. Wherever there has been man in the presence of reality, there has been the possibility of Parousia. Even the conscious rejection of the concepts of Christ, Parousia, Second Coming--that is, mental disbelief in the ideas--need not stand in the way of the experience itself. One can be an intellectual atheist (disagree with the idea of the existence of God) and still experience the Second Coming. One can declare that he does not believe in Jesus and yet know Christ's presence.
Like all spiritual experiences, the Parousia is personal. It does not occur for everyone at the same time, nor will everyone realize this coming of God's presence. Jesus told one group, "There be some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the son of man coming" (Matthew 16:28). Obviously, some were also there who would die without seeing him come again. He testified further to the personal nature of the Parousia when he said, "Then shall two be in the field, the one shall be taken and the other left" (Matthew 24:40-41). One can experience Parousia, be caught up into Christ's presence, while those with him are not. When two are in the same place, he may come to one and not the other. In a crowd of people only one may be aware of his presence.
When will Parousia occur? How can one know when this dawning of truth will come? The answer is, one cannot. Man is responsible for repenting, but he must await the coming of Christ. Jesus said, "Watch therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Matthew 24:42). "Therefore, be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the son of man cometh" (vs. 44). One may anticipate insight, the coming of light, yet he cannot command its appearance. The business of the repenting sinner is to be actively engaged in the required changes. In the midst of his repentance he may expect the Second Coming of Christ.
Parousia events of spiritual insight may occur at any time and during any type of activity. The light may dawn, as Jesus said, while one is "in the field" or in the city. Christ may appear during waking hours or in the context of a dream.
One person described a Parousia event in these words:
"One night I had just finished teaching the drama class at the church. The teenagers had left and I was alone for a few minutes. It was raining and I felt sentimental. I drove down Government Street and was struck with the beauty of two lamps at the entrance into a side street. I slowed, stopped, and parked in the parking lot of a florist shop across the street from the smooth milk-glass globes on top of the posts. With the rain falling slowly, and time taking it easy, Oh, God, I felt so beautiful: I said aloud, 'God, I want to paint that. I want to paint the light.' I had never painted light before. I had just bought some new paints for the first time in five years and it was after that night that I seriously started looking for something to paint. I discovered a picture of the sun through the trees in a book. I painted it. It was at that time that I felt that God was invading my world and I felt rebellious. I struck out with thoughts like: 'I'm supposed to have free will and you are supposed to come only if I choose for you to.'After the pointing, I saw a new light. I could see that the invasion was a quiet one like the sun that is there. And I could see that the invasion was one of beauty.
"The painting is very meaningful to me. I am happy beyond words. I rejoice. I am delighted that I was able to see, and that the invasion that I rebelled against is not really an invasion at all, no more than the sun's rising is an invasion in the quiet forest. Oh, God, to me that painting is the most beautiful painting in the world."
Perhaps the 23rd Psalm is David's response to the Parousia. Following his dark nights of the soul (Psalm 22:1; "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"), he writes of the Lord's coming to him: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. .."
Current responses to the Parousia have been: "Aha! Now I see!" "I finally get the picture." "I have been blind to the truth, but now I understand." "The light has finally dawned on me." "I never knew there could be a way, but now I know there is." "For the first time I have truly seen beauty." "I am loved. I simply can't believe it." "I realize that to sense is to affirm me: With each sensory experience it means I AM:" "I'm going to wake up all the way pretty soon and all heaven will break loose then!"
A cosmic event to occur at the end of time, during which the good and bad deeds of every person will be judged.
A spiritual event occurring whenever one confesses himself before God and the light of truth dawns on him.
The immediacy of the judgment following Parousia is expressed in these verses: "The Son of man shall come. . and then he shall reward every man according to his works"(Matthew 16:27). "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearance" (II Timothy 4:1)."The coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Behold, the judge standeth before the door" (James 5:8-9).
Jesus comforted his disciples at the last supper with the message that "the evil of this world is judged," (present tense) (John 16:11). Not that evil will be judged at. some later time, but rather that the judgment is already given. On another occasion he stated plainly, "Now is the judgment" (John 12:31). Whereas Popular Religion projects the event to some later historical era, the Emerging Church holds that the judgment is given and that every man can now enter into it.
Parousia, according to Emerging Religion, leads to judgment. When one faces the light in Christ's Second Comings, he is also judged by that light. To encounter the truth is to be weighed in its balances. Insight necessitates acceptance or rejection of that which is discovered. The revelations during confession lead inevitably to the ultimate question: Am I acceptable? Is it okay to be myself? Before the exposure and confrontation of honest confession, this awesome question can be obscured, denied, and avoided. Parousia makes this impossible. Now man must stand in judgment.
In assuming godhood we escape the natural human condition, pretending an unreal degree of knowledge, power, and tenure. Symbolic fig leaves conceal abandoned humanity. With confession and repentance, these are removed. Naked once more, we risk standing honestly in God's presence. The terrible question can but arise. Will he allow us without pretensions? Will he accept us as we are? Is it tolerable to be human? Can one be himself in God's presence?
The term final judgment is often used to distinguish this spiritual event from the countless lessor judgments of other humans, including oneself. The final judgment is before God, not man. The question is one's acceptability before the ultimate in reality, not merely before other persons. Final judgment goes beyond measuring up with parents, neighbors, spouse, children, or even oneself. The critical issue is acceptability with God, rather than approval of people. At issue is one's right to be here, as he honestly is, with or without the approval of others. Is he, as a song says, "a child of the universe?" Does he, "like the stars and trees, have a right to be here?" (DESIDERADA). Is he continually admissible with the omnipresent God? Can he be truthful anywhere, all the time? Is hiding unnecessary? These are the questions thrust upon one in the final judgment.
All guilt, real and imagined, is brought to the foreground of awareness. In the light of Parousia, actual guilt for escaping humanity and assuming godhood is openly faced. Imaginary or false guilt, resulting from violation of human rules, is freely encountered. All basis for continued concealment is realistically examined in the light of truth.
What is to be judged in this event of the spirit? What is the subject and content of final judgment? Every aspect of the individual must stand in judgment before the event is completed--all deeds, words, thoughts, and desires, past and present. "On the day of judgment men will have to give account for every idle word they speak," said Jesus (Matthew 12:36). Paul added, even our "hidden thoughts" (Romans 2:16). The preacher had long before proclaimed that "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Jesus said, "There is nothing hid which shall not be manifested" (Mark 4:22).
Man's total being, as revealed in all expressions, is the subject in the final judgment. The distinction between "being" and "expressions" is critical in understanding the event. Although "being" is activated and revealed in words, deeds, and other expressions, the two are not synonymous. Words and deeds may be acts or performances.
In either case, judgment is on the basis of "being" rather than "doing." The issue goes beyond mere good or bad deeds, right or wrong words, virtuous or evil thoughts. At stake is the doer, speaker, and thinker, not simply his acts, words, and ideas. The judgment is not on the basis of the perfection of the performer on life's stage, but on the person who has performed.
In contrast, worldly judgment is most often on the basis of performance only. Critics are concerned with acting, not with the actor himself. People judge according to what a person says and does. Since they have no way of knowing who one truly is, they go by what they hear and see.
However, "The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh of the heart" (I Samuel 16:7).
In final judgment, we are called to accountability for who we are. In biblical imagery "heart" stands for the essence of man, as distinguished from his acts alone. Before one stands acceptably with God, his "heart" must be judged--that is, his essential being. Entrance into the kingdom of God depends on acceptability as a person, rather than effective managing of words, deeds, and other expressions of personhood. The question is not simply: Do good things said and done outweigh bad things? but rather: Is one okay as a person before God, with or without what he has done?
Yet apart from acting, expressions (words, deeds, feelings, thoughts) are often the honest activation of the person. Though we sometimes perform, on other occasions our expressions truly reveal who we are. What about these honest revelations? Are we to be judged favorably for good deeds which we truly wanted to do and harshly for evil activities frankly done? Is judgment based on motivation, if not on deeds alone? Do we gain final acceptance for "good" motives, and rejection if our purposes were "evil?"
The concept of motives approaches the nature of judgment more closely than do words and deeds, yet still it falls short in the final analysis. Motives are deeper, or nearer to the heart, than are activities in the world. Still, they do not reach the person. One "has" motives and is therefore more than these "possessions." Whereas "good" motives are a more valid indication of the person than are "good" deeds, they too can become a part of the act. One may strive to "improve his motives" or "do things only for the 'right' reasons." Judgment is concerned with the one who so strives, rather than with the success or failure of his efforts.
What is the basis for an acceptable judgment of one's personhood? If not for good deeds or good motives, then what? How can this spiritual event be understood in comparison to human judgments?
The paradox of divine forgiveness becomes relevant at this point. Although man has sinned, setting himself up as a god, and thereby come under the sphere of judgment, the strange truth is that God has already forgiven. The biblical message is that forgiveness is extended. "And the Lord said, I have pardoned" (Numbers 14:20). "Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin" (Psalm 85:2). "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). "For God has already accepted your works" (Ecclesiastes 9:7Amp.). "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (II Corinthians 5:19).
Although man stands guilty of personal sin, condemned by his own flight from reality, the gospel, the good news, is that pardon is already extended. The sinner is like a rebellious son, wandering guiltily in distant lands, while the father has already forgiven his rebellion. He remains condemned, not by the judgment of the father, but by his own continual flight. Though acceptable at home, he has not returned to accept being accepted. The judgment under which he continually stands is the result of his escape, rather than the condemnation of the father.
Biblical leaders called for his return: Isaiah pleaded, "let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (55:7). Jeremiah voiced God's message: "And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me" (33:8). In the New Testament, John delivered the same assurance, "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
In summary, the human condition is individual estrangement resulting from personal sin. The sinner is like a prisoner who remains in jail, even though his sentence has already been commuted. Freed by divine forgiveness, he resides under condemnation because he has not accepted being acceptable as he is.
In the final judgment he faces this option. The finite one stands before the infinite. With only the Christ who has come to be in him, he faces God. No man is at his side. No parents, spouse, or friends can speak for him. Indeed, he cannot even speak for himself.. He has no defense, no justification, no credits in his favor. His being is being judged.
This milestone event in the salvation process may be compared to a courtroom trial. The defendant, man, faces God, the ultimate judge. The destiny of man hangs in the balance. Will he be allowed to enter eternal life or will he be condemned forever. There is, however, one notable exception in the comparison. In a courtroom decision, the verdict is rendered on the basis of what the defendant has done. In the spiritual experience of the final judgment, the decision is rendered on the basis of what the defendant essentially is. In today's court-room what the defendant is is relatively incidental. He is judged on the basis of what he has done.
In the spiritual dimension the pardon is already extended. Every person is already forgiven for his crime of fleeing humanity and becoming a false god. The verdict of the judgment is not on the basis of guilt or innocence. All are guilty. The outcome depends on whether or not the guilty defendant chooses to accept or reject the offered pardon.
Whereas the judge makes the decision in today's court, God's decision is already made in the final judgment. The outcome is up to man. Will he embrace the forgiveness that is extended? Will he accept the acceptance that is offered? Or will he reject it? The trial, or judgment proceedings, is the defendant's struggle to make an honest confession, to change his ways, to tolerate the risks of total rejection, and to accept being accepted. If he accepts his undeserved forgiveness, he is freed for the kingdom of God. If he rejects his pardon, he consigns himself to hell. Just as his spiritual death in the beginning resulted from his own decision, so his eternal life hinges on this final choice.
In spite of the gospel, the good news that forgiveness is extended, that it is OK to be who one is, each individual must personally take the risk of finding out. The mental information does not remove the threat. Although one has read the Bible or been told that God forgives, the judgment cannot be finally rendered until he actually steps fully into the light of reality. Thinking one is forgiven is not enough. He must discover that it is true. He may have heard beforehand that he will be accepted, but this neither removes the risk nor takes the place of the actual experience. In the final judgment man finds out if this good news is true.
By removing all fig leaves and taking the crucial chance of being himself in the real world--not simply in private or with one person, but "before God and everybody"--that is, by bringing every sensation, feeling, thought, desire, word, and deed, past and present--before the judgment bar of God, by standing utterly and completely naked and revealed before the ultimate in reality, man finds out if he is forgiven.
Through confession and repentance he risks removing his fig leaves. As he opens himself to truth, Christ comes to him in Parousia events. However, the light of reality also brings him to judgment. Standing naked before God, he risks being forgiven and accepted, or being ultimately condemned. The final judgment is a time when future destiny is weighed in the balance. Heaven or hell is the outcome.
Initial response to the forgiveness that is extended in the judgment is often a continuation of self-rejection. Seeing oneself revealed may bring even stronger self-condemnation. Accepting the responsibility for all that one has said or done, and yet finding oneself acceptable, is likely to bring a deep sense of unworthiness. The experience of Isaiah is a good example. He wrote: "I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up (Parousia). Then said I, woe is me: For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips . . . for mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts" (6:1,5).
Moses, Job, and David had similar initial responses. After "the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush (Parousia) Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. . . . And Moses said unto God, Who am I?" He then voiced his response to the judgment with these words, "But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice. . .0 my Lord, I am not eloquent . . . but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue" (Exodus 3:2, 6, 11; 4:10).
Job said: "But now mine eyes seeth thee (Parousia). Wherefore I abhor myself, behold I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth" (Job 42: 5; 40:4,5). David wrote: "So foolish was I, and ignorant; I was as a beast before thee" (Psalms 73:22).
However, the initial response of self-condemnation is changed into self-acceptance as the individual dares to stand in the light. Isaiah's judgment is symbolically portrayed as having his unclean lips touched and purified with a hot coal. Afterwards he apparently accepted being accepted and responded to God's call. "Then said I, Here am I (or, Behold me). . . (6:8).
Moses' later acceptance of forgiveness is evidenced in the remainder of his life. Thereafter, he dared to represent God before the Pharaoh, then to lead his people. After Job's initial abhorrence of himself, he came to an acceptable relationship with God: "Then answered the Lord unto Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me" (40:6-7). David's acceptance of himself is beautifully voiced in the 23rd Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (23:1).
A common pattern of responses in the time of judgment is: 1) Pain in facing oneself and accepting responsibility, 2) Perceiving acceptance, 3) Feeling unworthy in the face of forgiveness, 4) Accepting acceptance, and 5) Blessed relief and release.
Resurrection is a future worldwide occurrence in which everyone who has died will be raised from the physical grave and either go to heaven or hell. Some believe in two resurrections--one in which the soul is resurrected immediately following death, and a second cosmic event later, when bodies will come from the grave to be reunited with souls. In both beliefs the events are physical and historical.
Resurrection is an individual happening in which a spiritually dead person is raised to walk in newness of life; it occurs privately, and usually by degrees, whenever one dares face the light (Parousia) and risks standing favorably in the final judgment (accepts being acceptable).
The fact of Resurrection is attested throughout the Bible. David expressed his conviction in Psalms 16:9-10: "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou will not leave my soul in hell." Isaiah wrote, "He will swallow up death in victory" (25:8); "Thy dead men shall live" (26:14). Ezekiel declared, "O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. . . . Behold I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live" (37:4-5). Hosiah gave God's message: "I will redeem them from death" (13:14). Jesus said, "The Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them. . . the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God" (John 5:21,25). Paul wrote: "In Christ shall all be made alive . . . the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (I Corinthians15:12,26).
Biblical attestation is evident. The relevant question is: When? Is the reference to a present spiritual event or a post-mortem physical happening? Taken in context, the Old Testament writers imply a present conviction. David's gladness of heart seems related to an impending release from hell.
Jesus' teachings about Resurrection certainly have a ring of immediacy. "Verily, verily, I way unto you, the hour is coming, and now is (italics mine), when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25). Popular theology, even in Jesus' day, had projected the resurrection possibility to the end of time.
When Martha confronted Jesus with the empty comfort of hoping for "resurrection at the last day," he declared, "I am the resurrection" (John 11:25). He described a believer as one who "is passed (present tense) from death unto life" (5:24). He said he came that we "might have life (present tense), and . . . have it more abundantly" (10:10).
On one occasion he was confronted by a group of Sadducees who did not believe in a future Resurrection. Presuming that he did, they asked a tricky question that would challenge the reasonableness of the idea. Suppose, they said, a man died, leaving his wife, who then remarried; the second husband died, leading to a third marriage--and so on through seven husbands, after which the wife died also. Then the question: In the Resurrection, which husband would get the wife?
Jesus responded by saying they did not understand the scriptures or the nature of Resurrection. However, referring to such a possible cosmic event, he replied, quoting the Old Testament, God is "the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (succeeding generations)." Then he added, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Matthew records: "And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine"(22:33). In Popular Religion, they still are.
Paul also testified to the present nature of Resurrection. To the Ephesians he wrote, "When we were dead . . He made us alive. He raised us up together with Him"(2:5-6). For the Corinthians he described the resurrected man: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17). He reminded the Romans of the hope that they could "walk in newness of life" (6:4), and that God could "quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit" (8:11). He said to the church in Ephesus: "For we are God's handiwork, recreated in Christ Jesus . . . living the good life which he prearranged and made ready for us to live" (2:10 Amp.). To the Colossians he wrote, "You were also raised with him to a new life . . .and you who were dead . . . brought to life together with Christ" (2:12-13 Amp.).
Obviously these affirmations referred to an event which had already occurred. Resurrection was apparently perceived as an immediate possibility for everyone.
That Paul was referring to an event during human life is indicated in these statements: "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:53). He did not hope for escape from the mortal body, such as a ghost might do in leaving the body at physical death, but "that mortality might be swallowed up in life" (II Corinthians 5:4), "that the life might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (4:11). His desire was that "the inward man" might be "renewed day by day" (4:16), "not that we want to put off the body, but rather that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life after the resurrection" (5:4 Amp.).
John said, "We know that we have passed from death unto life" (I John 3:14). This terse statement represents the hope of Emerging Theology, that present day man may also be resurrected into fullness of life, while he yet breathes. But how can this be understood?
As preposterous as it may sound to the logical mind, Resurrection of souls is relatively easy to grasp. But what about a current Resurrection? How can a person who is already alive be brought to life?
In Emerging Theology, the familiar term for physical existence, life, is adapted and used for this new form of spiritual existence. Following its metaphorical use of "death" to describe the state of a sinner, "life" is applied to the new condition resulting from repentance. Whereas a sinner is spiritually "dead," the repentant one is brought to "life." The spiritless person is raised into "newness of life." He is resurrected as a spirited one. This dynamic quality of existence may be described as being "really alive." One who was still breathing, but not "really living," is transformed into a new state of aliveness.
The birth analogy is also used to describe this radical transformation. Just as one is born into physical life from the darkness of his mother's womb, so he may be "reborn" into spiritual life from the darkness of his own death. As the legendary Phoenix bird rises from his own ashes, so the resurrected man rises from his former body of death.
In sin, we are all like Lazarus, trapped in our tombs, bound in grave clothes, separated from the living world around us. In the Parousia, Christ comes to us as dead men. As Jesus stood before the tomb of Lazarus, so Christ confronts the tomb of every man, crying with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth" (John 11:33). In the Resurrection, man comes forth. The life that was recognized in the Second Coming is appropriated in the Resurrection. Man who saw the life comes alive. He who glimpsed the light comes to be in the light. One who recognized "the way" comes to walk in it. He who perceived "the truth" becomes truthful. Having seen love, now he becomes loving.
He is united, at-one-with, Christ who appeared to him (Parousia). He is resurrected "in Christ," even as Christ becomes incarnate in him. Christ lives again in the spirit of the resurrected person. The two become synonymous in each particular instant. One is no longer "just a man," an isolated animal in a segmented world. He is a man in Christ.
Wording this unique re-creation is a difficult matter. Paul often wrestled with it in his New Testament letters. Perhaps his clearest expression of the union of resurrected man with Christ is Galations 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."
Colloquial expressions following degrees of spiritual Resurrection may be easier to understand. One may describe the event by saying, "I feel alive now." "I had been dead inside, but I'm coming to life." "I'm beginning to feel again." "I was a walking dead man, but now I'm alive."
In counseling experiences the following expressions have been recorded from persons being resurrected into new life:
"It's great to be somebody, finally."
"I am amazing: I am staying with me more and more, and empathizing instead of taking on. I am having a good time."
"I am finding that driving a car can be very exciting--being aware of other drivers, shrubbery, weather, buildings, people."
"I am becoming more at one with myself and what I see."
"I am more alert now. I am more alive. I am more in the present than the past or future."
"I feel more expanded. I feel that there is more of me now. It is as if a slide in a projector has changed and I now recognize a part of me which I always ignored in the past."
"I am finding excitement in my awareness of people whom I have seen many times, but paid little attention to."
"I am more and more aware of my 'oneness.' Recently I came to understand the difference between 'knowing' and'knowing about.' "
"I am seeing: I like this being able to be myself.I am pleasured and am progressing."
"Ha, Ha, I did it! I went to a dance last Saturday night, walked in all by myself, held my head up high, and even though the band was lousy, I had a great time and danced almost every dance."
"I realize that I have been moving so hastily and have been so determined to 'get something done' or 'get somewhere' that I have been missing a great deal. Just now I picked up a sling shot and felt the wood, leather, string, and rubber in that simple object--and the memories: In the past I would have picked it up and pitched it aside, feeling and remembering nothing. The 'little things' are becoming big things."
"All of a sudden I want to do things again."
"Before, nothing seemed to matter, but now I care what happens."
"I feel like a new person."
Through the reactivation of human capacities in the process of repentance, dead spirit is brought to life. Deadened sensations are activated to the sensual wonders of the world. The resurrected person sees, hears, smells, touches, and tastes that which was unknown to him in the time of his death. Emotions dead and buried are freed from their graves. Feelings arise within him. The cold, calloused shell of a person is reborn as a man of heart. He experiences joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, anger and contentment. he begins to move through the encounters of life as an emotional person.
His mind is resurrected from its grave. Buried thoughts are freed from the prison of the unconscious. Dead memories are raised into the sunlight of awareness. Repressions are granted full pardon. The resurrected mind begins to fantasy, imagine, and dream. Man starts to think his own thoughts, rather than merely accepting the ideas ofothers. He begins to use his head. He ceases to be irrational and becomes a reasonable person, a thinking man who is intellectually honest in the world.
As a resurrected person he experiences the rebirth of desire and passion. He becomes sexual and responsive. He begins to care. Things start to matter to him. He experiences love--for things, animals, people, himself--indeed for life itself. He falls in love with life. Wonder is reborn within him. Hope takes root. Excitement comes. Enthusiasm is reborn. He starts to join the human race and become a brother of mankind. He stands in awe in the universe.
As discussed elsewhere, all spiritual events occur by degrees. Man is resurrected into this new state of existence in proportion to the degree of his repentance and successful stand in the judgment. As Paul noted, mortal man "puts on immortality." The "inward man" is "renewed day by day."
Resurrected in Christ, he becomes a spirited person in the here and now.
X. PLACES AND TIMES:
These are actual geographical locations somewhere apart from the surface of the planet Earth, existing for an infinite chronological period of time.
These are conditions of human existence, named and described in the language of space and time; they are anywhere lost or saved persons happen to be, and they last as long as people remain in these extreme conditions.
In line with its otherworldly orientation, Popular Religion naturally understands hell and heaven as sites in the other world. Each is a place. Hell is where Satan resides; heaven is God's home. Following the cosmic, historical Resurrection at some future chronological time, each person (soul, body, or both) will presumably go to one place or the other, depending on the outcome of the final judgment.
Emerging Religion anticipates no other geographical sites apart from this world. Both hell and heaven are presumed possible on the earth. No three-story universe is required to make sense of the kingdom of God, the present world, and hell.
Both of these names become feasible as a result of the nature of our language, rather than because of their independent spacial existence. Since we think and speak in terms of space, we naturally approach spiritual experiences in the same context. "Where is the good life to be found?" is a reasonable question for spatially oriented man.
Emerging Theology answers the question with an acceptable noun. The subjective experiences of knowing God or existing under the domination of Satan are translated into geographical terms. Emerging Religion does not understand either heaven or hell to be literal locations.
The second natural question arising from a time-oriented language is: "How long will they last?" Popular Religion, being both spacially and temporally based, answers with its ultimate chronological terms. They will last "forever," that is, during a period of clock-time extended infinitely. Heaven and hell are to be perpetual, throughout all future time.
Emerging Religion, also speaking through time-oriented language, responds to the natural question of "How long?" Its answer, however, is never to be understood as a reference to clock-time. Like its spacial answers, its time designations are metaphorical--that is, figurative rather than literal.
Regrettably, the English language lacks distinguishing words for these differing concepts. We must use the same word, time, for both clock measurement and fulfilled experience. For instance, we say, "The time is 1:00" and "back in my time." The first "time" relates to chronology, the second to a quality of experience stated in the time perspective. In "Wow: Did we have a time!" we speak of the significance of an event, not its length. It may have been one minute or seven days.
A man speaking of a woman he had met the previous evening said, "I've always known her." Technically, his words imply perpetual acquaintance, yet he had never seen her before that night. Was he lying? What did he mean? He was attempting to convey the quality of his experiencewith time-based words. The depth of the encounter was such that time had to be pushed to its limit to properly describe the event. By the clock it was just an evening. By the spirit it was always.
Just as "time flies" when one is spirited, so it "stands still" when one is without spirit. "The night was endless," said a spiritless one in describing his torment. "It's been a thousand years since we broke up," said an eighteen year-old, using the concept of time to describe the agony of her experience.
Ordinary events become timeless when one is spirited. They may be referred to as timeless events. Other happenings are simply events in time. The timeless events, when one is with spirit, stand out as high-water marks in the course of existence. Events in time, when one is spiritless, pass through one's experience like food throughthe body, without memory. Who remembers brushing his teeth on January 10? Or going to bed on October 18? Very likely you did both, but they were mere events in time, not timeless events.
I kissed my mother as I left for school in the fifth grade (probably). I kissed my sweetheart on the way home (most certainly): I have forgotten the first because it was merely an event in time. I shall never forget the second. It was a timeless event. These timeless events become the starting and ending pointsfor relating the other events in time. "Before we were married." "After Daddy died." "Before our first date." "After Susan was born." "Before we broke up." "After the stock market crash."
The point is, mere events in time become timeless in spiritual life. "I remember it as though it were yesterday." It may only have been a glance in a crowd or a single touch, no big happening insofar as the history of the world is concerned. Yet, in the life of the spirit, it may be a timeless event.
Although the single English word, time, refers to both clock-time and timeless events, Greek, the language of the New Testament, is more explicit. It has the word chronos, for clock-time (the English word chronology comes from chronos), but other words, aion and kairos, to speak of indefinite or fulfilled time.
"After a long time" (Matthew 25:19), refers to experience and uses the word kairos. In describing the quality of spiritual life, Jesus does not use the chronological words, but rather aionios, which refers to experience in time rather than length of time. The phrase, aionios life, appears sixty seven times in the New Testament. It is commonly translated, eternal life (forty-two times in the King James Translation) and everlasting life (twenty-five times).
Popular Religion, interpreting both "eternal" and "everlasting" in a strictly chronological sense--that is, as "living forever" or "perpetual existence"--misses the essentially timeless nature of spiritual life that is implied in the Greek word aionios.
Aionios is forever (eternal or everlasting), not in the chronological sense, or chronos would be used, but in the same sense that lovers can truthfully say, "We have loved each other forever." Chronologically, it may have been only "two months, three days, and five hours," but in the spiritual sense it is timeless or forever.
To use time-related words with any degree of clarity in the spiritual dimension, they must be pushed to their limits. The outer limit of time is all time, forever and ever. Time, pushed to its limit (forever), may be applied to spiritual life. In order to describe spiritual life from the perspective of time, the greatest time word must be used. This is "forever." Thus one may say, "God (or heaven) is forever." That which is ultimately timeless is described with the best time word available.
This fact is further clarified through an understanding of the New Testament words for life. In English the same word, life, is used for both physical and spiritual life. "He is alive" may simply mean he is still breathing, or "He is really alive" can refer to spirited existence.
The Greeks had two words for these meanings. Psuche referred to physical life, while zoe referred to the quality of living. To have psuche meant to have breathing existence. To have zoe meant to be possessed of vitality. Since the same word, life, is used in English for both meanings, the distinguishing words, physical and spiritual, must be added; Psuche is physical life. Zoe is spiritual life.
In the New Testament the eternal life which is found in the process of salvation is zoe, not psuche. When Jesus spoke of having everlasting life in John 3:16, the phrase is "aionios zoe." When he said, the righteous would go "into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46), the phrase is "zoe aionios." When he said "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things he possesseth," the word is zoe. When Paul wrote of walking "in newness of life," he used the word zoe. When John wrote of Christians as having passed from death unto life" (I John 3:14), he also used this word.
In referring to bodily life, Jesus is recorded asusing the other word, psuche ."I lay down my life for my sheep" is a reference to psuche (John 10:15). When he said, "Do not be anxious about your life" (Matthew 6:25), he again referred to physical existence (psuche).
Thus the New Testament reference is clearly to eternal life as aionios zoe --spiritual existence or timeless vitality, not to perpetual breathing, or the phrase would use the words chronos and psuche.
The English words for time and space are used in reference to a spiritual experience in the song title, "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." Literally the words imply, "When the atmosphere is unclouded, you can peer into visible time." However, this does not make sense, because chronological time is not visible. Although the title is nonsensical in the objective world, it beautifully describes an intense spiritual event. "When the spirit is unclouded, one can see endlessly with his spiritual eyes."
Paul speaks clearly of this same fact in saying, "The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (aionios)"(II Corinthians4:18). The apparent meaning is: "All visible things in the objective world may be timed, but the spiritual 'things' (experience) are timeless (not subject to being clocked)."
Peter said, "A day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as a day" (II Peter 3:8). The Emerging Church understands chronological time as inapplicable in the dimension of the spirit, except in the figurative sense.
Hell is Satan's abode, beneath the earth; it is a fiery furnace of perpetual burning, the destiny of persons who are not "saved" on earth.
Hell is the human experience of existing apart from the presence of God; named as a figurative place to allow description in a spatially based language, it is literally any place a lost person happens to be.
Spiritual death is hell. Emerging Theology names this internal condition with the language of space. Since all events in time must also be somewhere, Emerging Religion gives this title to the "where" of spiritual death. Where does a sinner go? He goes to hell. Whenever one is spiritually dead, he exists in hell.
The New Testament words for hell (Hades and Gehenna) refer to "the unseen world" and "a place of burning." Both metaphors are appropriate. No one can see the inner torment endured by those without spirit. It is, indeed, comparable to the pain of burning. Spiritually dead persons often experience deep personal agony.
Like other theological language, the term, hell, is understood figuratively by the Emerging Church. The use of spatial language for spiritual experience is simply an attempt to translate personal events into a language based on time and space. Similar uses of language include the expressions "going to dreamland" (no physical trip involved) and being "over the hill" (which hill?).
Popular Religion has settled for literal explanations of hell and therefore fallen into the difficult necessity of placing it somewhere--most commonly "under the earth" or "below." Geological explorations and space travel have added to the irrational nature of such logical attempts to locate the place. More tragically, the literal interpretations have made hell logical only beyond physical death. Since one cannot be in two places at once, if he is on the earth now, he obviously cannot go to hell until after he dies. This displacement of hell to post-death has left the living with a limited religious vocabulary for expressing the torment they often endure on this side of the grave. Fortunately, colloquial speech has properly retained the term for current use. Such expressions as "I've been in hell," "It's been a hell of a day," and "I've been in hell without you" each give testimony to the daily hell that sinners endure.
Efforts to pinpoint hell geographically are, of course, ludicrous. They compare to locating dreamland, the land of Nod, or Santa Claus's North Pole abode. Hell is any place a sinner happens to be, just as dreamland is wherever a dreamer is. To be spiritually dead is, for the Emerging Church, to be in hell.
Although hell cannot be adequately described in geographical terms, the nature of the experience is more susceptible to other types of language. The metaphors related to fire and burning are often accurate. The Bible refers to hell as an "unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12). Sometimes those without spirit feel as though they are on fire, with a kind of burning that cannot be quenched. Try as they will, nothing puts our the burning "deep inside."
The Bible also describes hell as "outer darkness" (Matthew 3:12). Spiritless persons cannot "see the light." They abide in the gloom of despair, unable to see the sun. Darkness crowds in, even at noonday. No guiding beacon lights their way. "The bottomless pit," another biblical metaphor (Revelation 9:1), aptly describes the endless depths perceived by those in hell. "I go down, down, down," said one such person. "It seems I keep falling and never hit bottom."
"They have no rest day or night," wrote John (Revelation 14:11). When spirit has fled, no amount of sleep, even when it will come, can bring the rest needed by the soul. "I am continually tired," said one in hell. "I dope myself with pills, but still I cannot rest." John also described this awesome state as being "tormented day and night" (20:10). The untold agony of sinners does not cease with the going of the sun. Often the terror of lonely nights exceeds the crowded loneliness of busy days.
"Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" is Paul's description (II Thessalonians 1:9). In keeping with the Genesis metaphor, he recognizes the sinner as being cast out of Eden, unable to walk and talk with God. Sinners lose contact with ultimate reality. Out of harmony with the source of life, they experience being "cut off," separated from the "meaning of things." Existence becomes meaningless. They live without hope. "What's the use in going on?," spiritless ones sometimes cry out. Suicide becomes a logical answer to the pointlessness of life. One such person described this awesome state with the disarmingly simple statement, "Nothing matters, absolutely nothing." In hell one is separated from God.
Spiritual death and the pangs of hell have been voiced in these ways in the Bible:
"The sorrows of death compassed me. . . . The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death pre-vented me." Psalms 18:4-5
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me and art so far from saving me, from heeding my groans? Oh my God, I cry in the day time but thou dost not answer, in the night I cry but get no respite. . . . I am a worm, not a man, abused by all men, scorned by the people. . . . My strength drains away like water . . . my heart has turned to wax and melts within me. . . . I am laid low in the dust of death." Psalms 22:1-2,6,14,15 N.E.
In modern times, spiritual death and hell, as understood in Emerging Religion, have been expressed thusly:
"I am out of my mind, crazy and sick."
"Oh, God, it's just too much."
"I wish that I could just kill myself, but so what."
"WHY CAN'T I DO WHAT I WANT TO DO AND NOT WHAT EVERYONE EXPECTS ME TO DO???!!!
"I don't want to live. I am thinking about killing myself. Tonight."
"I'm just walking around dead."
"Turned off again and I don't know what to do. I'm not even afraid. I'm a nothing again."
"I feel very desparate. I am the most miserable person who ever walked on the face of the earth, and I wish I didn't."
"At this point a gun and a bullet would help."
"What's the use?"
"I don't feel anything cause I am so turned off and don't dare let myself feel what I want to feel. He is not going to hurt me again cause I'm not gonna let him."
"I died that day, just as surely as I'm sitting here, and I bet if I could talk with a dead and buried person, the feeling I had was indeed that of death."
"I 'self-destruct myself regularly."
"OH, LORD, I'M IN HELL! WHY CAN'T YOU HEAR ME?
I'M SCREAMING, LORD, SCREAMING!
I WISH YOU'D EXPLAIN TO ME
WHY I'M IN HELL TODAY
AND WHY I HAVE BEEN FOR TWO BLACK WEEKS!
JUST TELL ME!
LET ME KNOW YOU'RE THERE:
WHAT HAVE I DONE?
OKAY, I READ JOB TODAY.
IT'S THE ONLY PART OF THE BIBLE I CAN STOMACH NOW.
HE DIDN'T KNOW WHY.
OKAY, YOU WERE TESTING HIM.
YOU CAN'T TEST ME!
THERE'S NOTHING TO TEST!
JOB WAS PERFECT, WASN'T HE?
WELL, I'M ROTTEN!
I ALWAYS HAVE BEEN ROTTEN AND YOU KNOW THAT!
WHY, LORD, WHY?
YOU DIDN'T ANSWER SO I WENT TO PSALMS.
THOSE POLLYANNA PSALMS WERE LIGHT YEARS AWAY.
BUT I WAS SURPRISED TO FIND THAT DAVID
HAD DAYS IN HELL LIKE THIS, TOO.
OKAY, I CAN SEE WHY YOU TESTED HIM.
HE WAS A MAN AFTER YOUR OWN HEART;
YOU CAN'T LOVE ME LIKE THAT!
I'M NOT WORTH IT AND YOU KNOW I'M NOT!
I'VE FAILED YOU, FAILED YOU, FAILED YOU, FAILED YOU!
WHY BOTHER TO TEST ME?
OH, GOD, THERE'S NO POINT TO IT!
JESUS, LORD, CHRIST, GOD, DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER
WHEN WILL YOU ANSWER ME?
WON'T YOU PLEASE ANSWER ME?
I'M PROSTRATE, I'M CRYING, I'M BEGGING.
I KNOW I CAN'T MAKE IT WITHOUT YOU.
I'VE ALWAYS KNOWN THAT.
DID I EVER SAY I COULD?
PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!
IF YOU LOVE ME EVEN A LITTLE
WON'T YOU PLEASE LET ME DIE
AND BE WITH YOU
I CAN'T STAND IT IN HELL ANOTHER MINUTE:
OH, GOD, GOD, GOD, GOD...
The Student; December, 1970
Heaven is where saved persons go after physical death; it is a literal place of perpetual bliss, without tears, pain, or sorrow, and variously located "up there," "in the sky," or "beyond the sunset." Some believe that only intangible souls will be there; others believe that souls go first, later to be joined by physical bodies; still others think we will have a "new spiritual body." All believe in perpetual existence of individual identity in heaven.
Heaven is a state of existence possible for every person in the here and now; it is a new manner of living continually in God's presence, experienced as joy, understanding, and peace of mind; it is described spatially (as a place) in the metaphorical sense only. Heaven is understood to be anywhere a saved person happens to be. In the kingdom of God, individual identity is merged in communion with the omnipresent God, so that one ceases to exist as a separated ego or personality. In heaven we are at one with God.
"Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:14-15). "The kingdom of God is come upon you" (Luke 11:20). When the Pharisees pressed for an answer to the question of "when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said "... behold the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).
John quoted many of Jesus' statements concerning present existence in the kingdom of God. Probably the most famous is, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have (italics mine) everlasting life" (John 3:16). Note that the declaration is present tense, to have eternal life, not merely a promise of life at some future time. "He that believeth on the son hath (present tense) eternal life" (3:36).
The declaration is even more strongly made in John 5:24: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." Note that all the verbs are present tense--"...hath...and shall not...but is..." In other words, man can be in Christ, possessing eternal life, resurrected into the kingdom of God. Jesus said he came that we "might have life, and . . have it more abundantly" (10:10). These declarations are repeated in 6:35, 7:47, 7:54, 8:51, and 11:26.
The Emerging Church confirms this message of Jesus--namely, that this is the time for heaven. As Paul voiced it, quoting from the Old Testament, "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2; See also Isaiah 49:8, 60:1, 61:1-4; Ezekiel 34:24-28; and Luke 4:14-21).
In an objectively conceived spiritual dimension, Popular Religion naturally understands heaven in the same way. Jesus' statement, "I go to prepare a place for you," is taken literally. Heaven is a place to go, an ideal location, a religious Camelot, a utopia where a literal God resides. In this city paved with streets of gold, man is to experience none of the "bad" things he found in earthly life--pain, unhappiness, or death. Commonly it is assumed that he will "not have to work." In this place of perpetual leisure he will play the harp and sing praises to God forever and ever.
Since no such location has been found on earth, the three-story universe, with heaven "up there," has been alogical necessity in Popular Religion. Furthermore, the obvious lack of blissful existence in this life has required belief in an afterlife in order to make sense of heaven. This, in turn, along with the fact of bodily dissolution in the grave, has led to the concept of a separable soul. Since physical decay was evident, a departing soul was necessary to maintain the logic of getting to a third-story heaven.
To make at least partial peace with the obvious biblical references to the kingdom now, popular theology has taught that we get accepted in the kingdom "down here," but must await death for final entrance in full. In other words, salvation is getting a ticket to an afterlife of bliss. What we do on this earth is primarily to assure our place in heaven "up there" later, in "the sweet bye and bye." Life "down here" is to be "endured," or at least used as a stepping stone to heaven. Eternal life is understood chronologically, that is, as perpetual existence of the individual.
Emerging Religion takes a radically different view of heaven. First, the geographical context is understood as this world. Heaven on earth, rather than "pie in the sky," is the goal of Emerging Religion. No three-story universe is required to make room for the kingdom of God. Since our language is based on the concepts of time and space, heaven is naturally referred to in spatial terms. However, these are understood metaphorically rather than literally. That is, "getting to heaven" is a figure of speech in the same category as "falling in love." No physical trip, up or down, is implied in either statement. The location of heaven is understood to be wherever on this earth a person is in communion with God.
Secondly, the chronological time for heaven is understood to be now. As Paul said, "Behold now is the accepted time." In contrast to the popular projection of heaven to some later historical era, Emerging Religion takes Jesus literally when he said the kingdom is "at hand" and "within you." In other words, heaven is possible both in the here and also the now. No afterlife is required in order to be logical about the kingdom of God. In each man's given chronological era he may enter into heaven.
Whereas Popular Religion views God's kingdom primarily in terms of space and time--that is, as a place one goes to live forever--the Emerging Church understands heaven in the dimension of human experience. The kingdom of God refers to a certain quality of existence in the here and now, rather than a quantity of tenure somewhere else and later. Although the King James version of the Bible translates Greek phrase aionios zoe as everlasting life, in the popular conception, the words are more accurately related to manner of living than to length of existence.
The Emerging Church, in contrast to Popular Religion, sees the idea of perpetual individual identity as a sign of false godhood, rather than the nature of eternal life. Instead, the goal is merging personal identity with ultimate reality, the loss of individual ego-hood as one achieves communion with God. Heaven is a manner of existence in which separate status is fulfilled in unity with God. As Jesus prayed, the goal is becoming "at one with," that is, giving up isolation in favor of participation (John 17).
The immortality that is an attribute of eternal life is a gift rather than an inherent possession. As the apostle Paul expressed, the idea is to "be clothed upon with immortality," to have "the corruptible swallowed up in incorruption." In other words, we participate in the immortal as we allow mortality to be swallowed up in the universal. By abandoning the godly idea of possessed immortality (perpetual individual existence), man opens the door to being "clothed upon" by immortal God. In communion or harmony with ultimate reality, man is granted the gift of participating in immortality.
Like "falling in love," "going to heaven" refers to a certain spiritual experience instead of to an objective journey. Eternal life is, as Jesus said, the experience of knowing God ("And this is eternal life, that they might know thee" John 17:3), rather than chronological perpetuity. The culminating result of resurrection is entering the presence of God, that is, existing in communion with the ultimate in reality. Jesus described it as being "at one with God." He prayed "that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21).
Emerging Religion believes this union with the omnipresent God is possible in the here and now, that man can "go to heaven," or enter the kingdom of God on this earth, during this lifetime.
The possibility of an afterlife is not a logical necessity in Emerging Religion. Like other physical events, it more properly falls in the category of a scientific study than a religious requirement. In either case, heaven is not dependent on an afterlife.
What is the nature of eternal life seen as a manner of existence (experience) rather than as personal immortality? How is communion with God perceived by man? The final answer awaits, of course, the fuller experience of man. However, many signs are now evident.
The Emerging Church notes the following characteristics of the heavenly man. First, he is beyond judgment. Through standing acceptably in the final judgment, he is freed from all condemnation. "There is therefore now no condemnation--no adjudging guilty or wrong--for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1 Amp.).
The heavenly man is freed both from being judged and from judging. He no longer stands under the cloak of personal judgment; nor does he find it necessary to project his judgments on the world around him. He has risked exposure before God (confession) and been found acceptable. Full forgiveness for all sin, both real and imagined, has been embraced. He has accepted being accepted.
Total acceptability eliminates the basis for guilt and shame. Forgiveness removes the source of true guilt for the sin of assuming godhood; accepting acceptability eliminates the false guilt that previously emerged from being human. Thus the heavenly man has no secrets to keep. His actual sin is forgiven; his imagined sin is dismissed. Like Adam in the allegory, he can be naked and "not embarrassed or ashamed" (Genesis 2:25 Amp.). The clothes he wears serve only practical functions. No more must he say to God or any man, "I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself" (3:10). He does not "get caught with his pants down," even if discovered nude, because he is no longer ashamed of his physical body.
Nor is he ashamed of any human capacity--any emotion, thought, wish, or desire. Nothing human is "beneath him." Feelings flow freely without repression or judgment. Neither tears, laughter, nor anger evoke embarrassment or guilt. Fantasies and desires rise and fall without condemnation. Beyond guilt, he no longer has guilty feelings. The heavenly man is not ashamed of himself in any dimension.
His past is an open book. For practical reasons he may not choose to publish every chapter, but all guilt has been removed through forgiveness. Should any lost page suddenly be revealed in public, he would feel no embarrassment or shame. Likewise with his current thoughts on any subject. Pragmatically, he may remain silent on a given occasion, yet not for reasons of embarrassment. He is not ashamed of any opinion, or of natural ignorance. Asking questions never embarrasses the heavenly man, since he has accepted the fact of limited human understanding.
Repentance from omniscience, the assumed knowledge of good and evil, also relieves him from the burden of being a judge. Aware that he has no ultimate knowledge of right and wrong, good and bad, he no longer has a basis for judging himself, other people, or the world in which he lives. Being accepted, he now accepts. Removed from personal condemnation, he no longer condemns.
Both positive and negative judgment are left behind. He neither elevates nor debases. Pride, the corollary of guilt, being based on a favorable personal judgment ("what a good boy am I"), is therefore dissolved. The heavenly man, abandoning self-praise, as well as self-condemnation, has no reason to be proud or ashamed of him-self. In turn he is freed from the necessity of projecting judgments, positive or negative. People need no longer be classified as right or wrong, good or bad, pretty or ugly, smart of dumb, sane or crazy. Nor does he judge the world ("This is an evil world"), the weather ("This is a bad day"), the laws of nature, or any natural phenomenon as good or evil.
Beyond the judgment of God or himself, the heavenly man is also beyond the judgment of other people. He neither seeks their praise nor flees their criticism. Because he has stood acceptably before the ultimate in reality, his personhood is neither enhanced nor diminished by the elevation or condemnation of his fellow men who are but finite parts of reality. He has been justified (made "just as if I had never sinned") before God, and thus freed from judgment of men.
He may compete for practical reasons, such as earning his bread, but never for personal reasons. Accepted with God, he no longer requires the approval of people to support his existence. He has no need to impress others, to measure up in the eyes of his fellow men. Temporal crowns, be they trophies, prizes, money, or praise, are of no consequence to him.
"What other people think" is no dictation in his living. Beyond judgment, the heavenly man no longer "has to prove himself." Both losing and winning come with equal ease, since his personhood is not at stake in any venture.
Consequently, he is also beyond the law--social, civil, and religious, insofar as virtue is concerned. Though under the law, in practice, and therefore subject to it, he is freed from all moral judgment by the law itself. That is, he neither seeks righteousness through living up to laws, nor feels personally condemned when he breaks laws. All legalism--in society, state, and church--is recognized as a pragmatic guideline for human behavior, rather than as an ultimate judge of good and evil. Consequently, he does not "feel good" (self-righteousness) because he obeys a law, or "feel guilty" (become "bad") if he breaks one. Such decisions to abide or disobey, including accepting legal consequences, are made for pragmatic reasons only.
Like Paul, he knows "all things are lawful," that is, every activity is permissible, "but not all things are expedient" (I Corinthians 6:12). In heaven, one can do anything, without the threat of moral judgment; but, of course, not everything is practical.
In heaven, man is also beyond the sting of death. Repentance from the assumption of inherent immortality relieves man from the fear of dying. As Paul wrote, "the sting of death is sin" (II Corinthians 15:56). It was because of man's sin, particularly, his presumption of perpetual existence, that death became an enemy to begin with.
In eating the forbidden fruit, man fancies he will become a god, living forever. Though he may rationalize away all other evidence of finitude, he cannot obliterate the fact of death. The "grim reaper" perpetually stands as the ultimate threat to false godhood. Pain, hunger, and the elements of nature may be endured, but bodily death becomes the undeniable enemy. Even the promise of an afterlife beyond the grave remains unconfirmed. The final, unconquerable foe indeed maintains a tragic sting for the unrepentant sinner. Of course he fears death. It challenges his sin.
Judgment and Resurrection remove this threat. When, in repentance, man embraces finitude, he accepts the rise and fall of physical life. Both birth and death become but natural events in the course of human existence. Consequently, death is de-fused. The stinger is removed. Dying ceases to be the ultimate enemy. It simply becomes death, a natural part of life. "From dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return."
Physical man is born; he grows up; he grows old; he dies. "The Lord giveth; the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." That is the way things are. In heaven, man does not fear dying; he is absorbed in living.
Beyond judgment, with its inevitable consequences of guilt and pride, beyond the law, with its moral implications of good and evil, and beyond the fear of physical death, the heavenly man is freed to know and be at one with God in the here and now. The earth becomes a garden of Eden (delights) where he walks and talks with God--that is, exists in communion with the ultimate in reality.
This unity and union with the omnipresent God is experienced through man's harmony with himself, with the world in which he lives, and with the people he encounters. Before the final judgment, the sinner is divided within, fragmented, pulled in many directions at once. Guilt causes him to reject portions of himself. Pride results in constant striving to appear to be what he is not. Fear of death curtails his encounter with life. He is disjointed in spirit, at war with himself, not free to embrace every capacity and become who he is.
In heaven all this is changed. Forgiveness in the judgment has eliminated the fear of becoming himself. Now man can continually engage in the expanding experience of activating every element of his humanity. He can embrace the common capacities and develop his unique gifts. Recognizing that the omnipresent God is manifest in every aspect of creation, including himself, the heavenly man meets God first of all in the daily experience of being who he is. As a child of God, he praises the infinite father by being the finite son. God continues his re-creation of the world through each one of his children. As the heavenly man participates in this eternal unfolding through himself, he experiences the creator, "whom to know is life eternal."
Relieved from the necessity of judging that world, the heavenly man is freed to encounter, indeed, to become at one with, the wondrous garden of Eden in which he lives. The world is no longer divided into a patchwork quilt of white and black squares, the sacred and the secular, the good and the bad, the on scene and the obscene. Nothing is dirty, perverted, or obscene in heaven. The resurrected man understands the Genesis declaration: "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (1:31).
On this basically good earth, the heavenly man is a friend of nature. He understands and cooperates with all her laws, including those that govern him. He too is a part of the created order, neither above nor beneath "the dust from whence he came." In heaven the dirt is no longer "dirty." Cleanliness is no closer to God than is dirtiness.
Every aspect of creation is recognized as one of the faces of God. Man continually sees the creator in his daily creations--the morning dew, grass, the rising sun, every flower, leaf and plant. He hears God in every bird song, rustling leaf, and night wind. He smells him in countless natural perfumes. Like Adam, he walks with God in the cool of the evening.
At one with himself, man is freed in heaven to re-assume his essential unity with the universe. Having abandoned the false godhood of sin, he no longer perceives himself as an isolated entity, an alien in a threatening land. No longer is he "just a stranger here." In harmony with the created order, this world has come to be his home.
With the removal of the divisions between the sacred and the secular, all ground becomes holy. Every bush is a burning bush for the heavenly Moses. He constantly stands in awe, as though he should remove his shoes, because the universe has become a holy place for him. All streets are gold; all music is sacred. The omnipresent God is continually revealed and known through the creations, creatures, and events of the universe.
In like manner, all mankind is recognized as an essential expression of God, even those members presently out of harmony with him. At one with himself and nature, the heavenly man is also freed to be at one with his fellow man. He has joined the human race and meets God through all men as his brothers. Walls, once erected to divide him from others, are taken down. Racial walls, national and regional walls, community and family walls, political and ideological walls, sexual and religious walls--all are destroyed in heaven.
There are no blacks and whites, Americans and Russians, Yankees and Rebels, Californians and New Yorkers, Smiths and Joneses, Democrats and Republicans, Catholics and Baptists, men and women in heaven. All are at one with God through one another. All are not the same, but differences cease to divide. Differences are accepted and appreciated as essential parts of the whole, rather than being used as a basis for judgment and division.
For instance, masculinity and femininity exist in heaven, but only as parts of the whole. Sex is utilized in reproduction, enjoyed as an experience, but not made the basis for discrimination and division. As Jesus said, in heaven they "neither marry, nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20:35). The spiritual unity and harmony of resurrected persons transcends all differences--anatomical and ideological as well as legal arrangements such as marriage.
In heaven, man is freed to the here and now. Before the judgment, he strives to reach goals, to get to a better position in life. He seeks a better world. He strives to "make it." He lives for tomorrow, looking for a brighter future. "After graduation," "After we strike it rich," "After the children are grown," "When we have a new house," "After I retire," "When we get our mansion in the sky." Always the good life is projected to another place, another time.
In heaven this projection ends. Man has arrived. This is it. He is not going anywhere. He is where he was going. This world becomes his home. The kingdom of God is the eternal now. He is freed to exist in each present moment. Confession has freed man from the tyranny of the past. The final judgment has removed the threat of the future. He strides openly into the eternal present. No longer must he try to escape to yesterday or long for tomorrow. Now is enough. The anticipated future has arrived in the present moment. The kingdom of God has come.
This spiritual experience of knowing God may also be described with secular terms such as joy, understanding, and peace of mind. Knowing God, one is joyful. He has reached an understanding with life, and thus he experiences mental peace. The word happy may also be used if understood in its deepest sense.
Secular descriptions are, however, subject to misunderstanding because of the variety of meanings given these common words. For instance, the "happiness" of knowing God is much more than merely "feeling good." Understanding, when used to describe the state of one in heaven, means more than "having the answers." It implies "standing-under" the realities of life with a prevailing sense of hope.
Rather than simply a confident feeling because one "has things figured out," heavenly understanding is more akin to standing victoriously with mystery. Spiritual understanding implies the faith to embrace uncertainty, not the omniscience of eliminating the unknown.
In like manner, the joy of heaven is a profound state in which all earthly dichotomies are accepted. An abiding sense of fulfilled peace allows the resurrected man to transcend the common dualities of pleasure-pain, love-hate, good-bad, and right-wrong. In this joyful condition, one encounters either arm of an earthly duality with a continuing peace of mind. In communion with ultimate reality, the source of all human dichotomies, each opposite becomes but another hand of God.
The heavenly man knows the worth of himself, the natural world, other people, indeed of the universe. Knowing the worth of all creation, he worships the creator. His every breath expresses praise, glory, and honor for the ultimate in reality. Continually he worships God.
While respecting each aspect of reality, he reserves his worship for the ultimate in reality. No single manifestation of God--no object, animal, or person, including himself--is idolized before God. In heaven there are no sacred cows. All life is honored, but no form of life is revered in itself. The heavenly man worships at no throne save God's.
Perhaps the clearest description of the heavenly man is summarized in the single word, love. In heaven, man is loving. He loves God, as revealed in himself, in the world around him, and in other people. He cares. Things matter to him, all things. He cares for himself. He cares about nature--the plants, birds, animals, insects, and fish. As John Donne phrased it, "Any man's death diminishes" him because he is "involved in mankind." He never has to "send to know for whom the bell tolls." Always it tolls for him," because he loves people.
"We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love," wrote John the apostle (I John 3:14).
Thus it is with the heavenly man. In loving the creator, through all creation, he finds hope, joy, understanding, and peace. He has returned to God. He knows him, loves him, and lives fully in his presence. This is heaven, the new Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, as sought in the Emerging Church.
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