Pastors and churches use theological terms like grace and sin. These are not words that one typically comes across in regular conversation. The words come dripping with the blood of institutional (Traditional) Christianity and in fact are often connected to literal blood dripping from the cross of a rejected Messiah. Church types bemoan the baggage these words have and know that it is that baggage that weighs these words down and prevents them from getting on board with other words like diversity, evil, acceptance, justice and perspective.
Many churches post their core or essential beliefs on their websites. Fundamentalist churches tend to be well defined and have a list of essential beliefs that include the infallibility of the Bible, the literal virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, the reality of supernatural miracles, and the coming judgment where we will all be divided up into heaven or hell bound groups.
Even if one accepts this list of essential beliefs, and I do not, they are at best the bare bones of traditional theology. They are based on some interpretations of selected scriptures and also rooted in the worldview of the ancient world. However, the flesh and blood that bring these bare bones to life are the things we think about whenever we talk about grace and sin. These concepts involve hopes and fears, convictions and resignations, failures and successes. They underlie, surround and give meaning to the content of what is thought to be the essential beliefs even though those essential beliefs often obscure them. As someone not prone to a bare bones doctrinal approach, I believe the flesh and blood beliefs of Christianity to be as follows:
- The belief that people can change
- The belief that individuals are connected into complex networks that support, sustain and undermine the person’s desire to change.
- A feeling of awe and wonder at the universe
- A desire to identify with others before asking others to identify with you.
- An engagement with the scriptural and theological narratives of the past and present so that the narratives of the future can be more compassionate and just.
If you do these things, you will not ask about what you think is missing in this list. If you think you don’t see spirituality in there anywhere, read again. If you think Jesus or God is missing, read again. I also recognize scripture, tradition, reason and experience in this list as well. Not that I think this just about covers it, but I do think it is enough to get the blood pumping and the muscles working.