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Re-Imagining Christianity?

contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you (Jude 3)

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them (Romans 16:17).

The Christian feminists are at it again. Perhaps you missed it, but on April 17-19, St. Paul Minnesota hosted the second Re-imagining conference, dubbed "Re-Imagining Revival." Like the first conference, this one brought together hundreds of participants and several speakers to address what ways they could re-imagine Christianity to be more in tune with women's needs and experiences, such as justice, empowerment, and community building, Most attendees came from the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church. The revival was a reunion of many of the speakers and attendees who came out for the first conference, also in St. Paul, five years ago. That conference, heavily covered by the media, resulted in a firestorm of protest from a cross section of Christians.

One of the main speakers, Delores Williams of Union Theological Seminary, summed up the gist of the conference by encouraging listeners to reimagine symbols within the Christian tradition on the basis of their experience of God. Repeating a theme that she had raised five years ago, Williams called for a reinterpretation of the cross, so that it is no longer viewed as atoning or salvific. Instead, she said, it should be seen as a crime, as representative of the violence done to those daring to bring a "beautiful vision" - like that of Jesus - up against the world's oppressive structures. She warned that old language and old images do not cross over new gulfs. Therefore new language and images are needed.

All of this cries out for commentary and rebuttal. First, the reader needs to understand that no matter how radical this may sound to the Christian in the pew, it makes perfect sense to a scholar indoctrinated in the charming ways of postmodernism. Postmodernism sees all history, all literature and language, and all truth, as relative, as products of various individuals biases and cultures. To postmodern scholars nothing that has gone before is absolute. Postmodern Christian scholars view their task not as bringing truth out of Scripture and applying it to our times. For them there is no objective truth in the Scriptures, only the truth we create there. Therefore, "reimagining the tradition" makes perfect sense to them. Second, because the Scriptures are a product of cultural and patriarchal biases, they are no longer a reliable source for Christian teaching. So where do the reimaginers turn for their inspired reimaginings? To their experiences! From the Williams reference above, notice that "a woman's experience of God" has replaced Scripture as the source of the Christian tradition. Christian tradition based upon subjectively perceived experience -- sounds solid to me! Plan on the tradition to change monthly, if not daily. Third, though we would all agree that the truth of Christianity must be contextualized, must be applied to the space and time in which we find ourselves, the reimaginers are going way beyond that. They are not only contextualizing the truth, they are radically changing it to mean something very different. They are striking at the heart of our Christian doctrine. To say that the crucifixion of Jesus is not saving or atoning clearly contradicts Paul's understanding of Christ's crucifixion, the key message of the New Testament (see my article, "Meditations on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ"). Fourth, how transparently self-serving all of this is. Isn't it obvious that what we have here is a group of resentful people, angry about their powerlessness, unable to advance their views with the Scriptural and ancient creeds and paradigms? Their solution is to throw out what opposes them, and start afresh. How conveniently self-serving!

As the two quotations from Jude and Romans above show, when the question is "Is this teaching/practice truly Christian?" Christianity looks to the past -- it is backward looking in orientation. It must always compare every new idea and teaching with the "faith once for all given to the saints," to "that which you learnED." When we compare the reimaginings of the reimaginers with that absolute and finished faith, we find their meanderings sadly lacking.

February 1999

© Dr. Richard P. Bucher