We need a theology of abundance to deal with the outcomes of our technology, the massive fruitfulness that the Creator God baked into us. We need a theology of abundance equal to the grace and generosity found in the blood of Jesus poured out for many. We need a theology of abundance commensurate with the superabundant presence of the Holy Spirit that can flood our senses, short-circuit our rationale. Unfortunately, our economics is built on a model of scarcity, and our theology feels equally impoverished.
The good news of the gospel, as John understands it, is not that you–a wretched, miserable, fallen sinner–have been rescued from your fate and saved from your deserved punishment by the invasive power of a supernatural, heroic God who came to your aid. Nowhere does John give credibility to the dreadful, guilt-producing and guilt-filled mantra that “Jesus died for my sins.” There is rather an incredible new insight into the meaning of life. We are not fallen; we are simply incomplete. We do not need to be rescued, but to experience the power of an all-embracing love. Our call is not to be forgiven or even to be redeemed; it is to step beyond our limits into a new understanding of what it means to be human. It is to move from a status of self-consciousness to a realization that we share in a universal consciousness. John’s rendition of Jesus’ message is that the essence of life is discovered when one is free to give life away, that love is known in the act of loving and that the call of human life is to be all that each of us can be and then to be an agent of empowering other to be all they can be.
John Shelby Sprong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark for twenty-four years. Since then he has taught at Harvard, Drew, The University of the Pacific, and the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union. Selling over a million copies, his books include Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, Eternal Life: A New Vision, and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. He lives with his wife, Christine, in Morris Plains, New Jersey.
In The Case for God, Karen Armstrong explains, if I’m asked if I have “faith in Christ”, the question is whether I agree with the proposition that Jesus of Nazareth was divine, died on a cross, and was raised from the dead, or some form of that story. In both cases, questions of “belief” and questions of “faith” require answers of thought.
Yet, as surprising as it may seem, these understandings are relatively recent. “Faith” has its etymological roots in the Greek pistis, “trust; commitment; loyalty; engagement.” Faith in God, therefore, was a trust in and loyal commitment to God. Belief in Christ was an engaged commitment to the call and ministry of Jesus; it was a commitment to do the gospel, to be a follower of Christ. In neither case were “belief” or “faith” a matter of intellectual assent.
The U.S is home to the most Christians in the world, but the number of Americans who identify as Christian is declining, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
In a NPR interview The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., points out that to counter this decline it is time to talk about God in a grown-up way:
I’ve always felt that it’s important for religious people to have the same kind of philosophical stance they use in their religious life as they do in the rest of their life. And a lot of times I think religion — religions — ask people to sort of turn off the scientific part of their lives and just go and kind of think about God kind of pre-scientifically.I don’t think we can do that. We’ve got to have a faith that is, in some sense, consonant with the way we think about the world scientifically. And again, I think one of the things the Pew study suggests to us is that if the church can get over its anxiety about talking about God in a grown-up way, we would actually reach out to and speak to more people than we do right now.
Talking about God is a grown-up way, starts with stop defending the Bible as a history or science book. As Peter Enns writes in The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It:
What makes the Bible God’s Word isn’t its uncanny historical accuracy, as some insist, but the sacred experiences these stories point to, beyond the words themselves. Watching these ancient pilgrims work through their faith, even wrestling with how they did that, models for us our own journeys of seeking to know God better and commune with Him more deeply….Both sides—the “now we know the Bible is a pack of lies” side and the “Bible has to be historically accurate to be the Word of God” side—are wrong because they start from the same wrongheaded premise: any book worthy of being called “scripture” has to if anything, get history “right.”The passionate defense of the Bible as a “history book” among the more conservative wings of Christianity, despite intentions, isn’t really an act of submission to God; it is making God submit to us.
Dorothy Sayers pointed out, “It is observable that in the passage leading up to the statement … [that man is made in the image of God], he has given no detailed information about God. Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the ‘image’ of God was modelled, we find only the single assertion, ‘God created’. The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.”
From a video essay about creativity we learn:
All of history’s greatest figures achieved success in almost exactly the same way. But rather than celebrating this part of the creative process we ignore it.This missing chapter in the story of success reveals the secret to doing meaningful work. But in the modern world, full of distraction, do we have what it takes to do great things?
And as we learn in a video featuring Will Smith, Anthony Robbins, and Sir Ken Robinson, there is a redemptive quality to making a choice. You are not a victim of your past. A lack of resources is never the defining factor of success or failure. You were born extremely creative, the trick is to remain an extremely creative as you grow up. So do something, make a choice but be prepare to be wrong. As Sir Ken Robinson says “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”