This summer, I’ve been teaching a series of classes about Progressive Christian thought. One of the courses is called Charting the Twenty-First-Century Reformation. I would like this reformation to start at Irvine United Congregational Church because this Progressive Christian congregation offers what the reformation needs. But the reformation faces a big problem with mainstream Christianity’s antiquated perception of God.
This stumbling block dates to ancient times when folks perceived that God lived in a mansion above the three-tiered flat earth that the sun revolved around. He and his son could flit back and forth between heaven and earth at will. God ran the earth—with an iron fist. About two thousand years ago, he sent His son (also God) down to earth to “save” humanity. That worldview, upon which all Christian dogma and doctrine was built, persisted until the Renaissance, when Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei debunked the three-tiered earth. They pronounced that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth—it’s the other way around. These findings rendered God homeless and destroyed his heavenly mansion. This reality played havoc on the church’s theology, and the church imprisoned Galileo.
The next party pooper was Isaac Newton, whose theories stated that the universe operates in a mathematically precise way and eliminated any doubt that the earth revolved around the sun. Such thinking rendered God unemployed.
The next spoiler was Sigmund Freud, who suggested that God as Big Daddy was passé and that we humans need to grow up and be responsible for ourselves. This thinking was not good for believers who liked to have Daddy run their lives and everything else.
The next theology killer was the Hubble Space Telescope, which launched in 1990 and showed that the universe contains two to four trillion galaxies, each with about a hundred billion stars. Yikes! Where’s God in all this creation?
Hubble’s findings presented another challenge. The church has told us for centuries that Jesus ascended to his mansion and his Father above the three-tiered earth. Little did the church fathers realize that if Jesus had ascended in the first century CE, he would still be in orbit today.
What to do?
This universe is large. Someone once suggested that the size of earth in relation to the universe is similar to one grain of sand on a huge beach, like the one in Waikiki. That’s small!
My class has an idea that could help the reformation along. Perhaps we should give God a better title, such as the Ground of all Being or Higher Power or Creation. It’s a fun idea, but the big problem is that almost every bit of the church’s dogma and doctrine would disappear. That works for me because then Jesus’s primary message, agape (as told in the parable of the prodigal son), would move to first place and become the foundation for us Followers. None of that dogma and doctrine would be relevant.
However, I strongly suspect the institutional church won’t like that. It would mean radical changes! But isn’t that what a reformation is about?
Are you on board with this reformation? Or are you happy with the status quo?