Heresy: My First Time

It happened late one night in the early eighties, five, maybe six, years after I graduated from Simpson. I was sitting in the living room of our first apartment in San Diego.

At that time I still had my small student library of Bibles, Bible commentaries, and Bible helps. I also had a set of Kittel’s. “Kittel’s” is an encyclopedic dictionary of New Testament words, and my in-laws had given me the entire ten-volume set, one-by-one, for birthdays and at Christmas time. The series eventually fell into academic disfavor, but for many years Kittel’s was quite the rage–a personal status symbol to have on your shelf, for me at least.

The Kenosis Theory

Let me briefly explain the problem of the kenosis theory. The word kenosis (κενωσις) literally means “emptied.”  More literal translations like the NASB say that Jesus “emptied himself,” took the form of a servant, and was born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7). Servanthood is the center of this passage. The question of what kenosis means here, what got emptied when Jesus “emptied” himself, is controversial because it suggests that Jesus emptied himself of what are called his “divine attributes” of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, and if you don’t have these “essential” attributes, you’re not God.

The traditional definition of God, according to the Greek philosophers, says that these attributes are essential to deity, and that without them, whatever “being” under discussion is not God.  So, in the minds of some, the kenosis theory jeopardizes the doctrine of the deity of Christ. And in the fundamentalist GARB church of my adolescence, the deity of Christ was a really big deal. Pastor Jimmy preached on the deity of Christ a lot. Jesus’ miracles demonstrated his omnipotence, and were proof of his deity.  Jesus’ miracles = Jesus’ deity.

It Happened One Night

I don’t remember what exactly led to the incident that night, but I was curious about the word “emptied.” What had Christ emptied himself of? One by one I took the books off the shelf. I work into the wee hours of the morning, surrounded by various Bible translations, several commentaries on Philippians, and most of Kittel’s.

The translations and the commentaries preferred virtually any circumlocution to avoid the literal rendering “he emptied himself”:  “But made himself of no reputation,” “made himself nothing,” and “gave up his divine privileges.”  They said he cloaked, hid or temporarily laid aside his divine powers or prerogatives, which he was able to freely pick up and exercise at any time. The scholars were adamant that Jesus was continuously omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent–in order to be God.

I made a list of all the words and phrases that the translations and commentaries offered as the “actual” meaning of the kenosis passage. I sat on the living room floor with my books spread out around me. Relying on the English index, I thumbed through Kittel’s and found perfectly good Greek words, words that Paul himself had used, that he could have used had he intended to mean hidden, cloakedlaid aside, or any of the other meanings insisted upon by the translators and commentators.

As a fundamentalist teenager I had been taught, in no uncertain terms, that we had to take the Bible literally. We weren’t supposed to twist it to say what we wanted it to say, not explain it away because we didn’t like what it actually said.

The scholars were adamant, and I was disgusted.

It’s Scary to be a Heretic

There on the floor, I was following one of the cardinal rules of fundamentalism, “Interpret the Bible literally,” and thereby become a heretic. I’m sure I must have heard about the so-called “Kenosis Theory” (κενωσις) from professor Don Connor in my Christological Epistles class, but I hadn’t retained it. I later discovered that many Christians subscribe to the Kenosis Theory, but at the time it seemed I had discovered something brand new, something they didn’t talk about where I came from.

For the first time I saw how loyalty to theological traditions interfered with intelligent Bible-believers from interpreting the Bible–if I may say–accurately. The consistency of their theological system and the approval of their co-religionists was apparently more important than an honest reading of the Bible. For the first time I realized that I could trust my interpretive and theological judgments no matter what any theologian or translator wrote.

But at the time, I was mainly scared. It’s a scary thing to be a heretic, to feel like a real, bona fide heretic. I had a sense of competence I hadn’t had before, which was exciting, but the result was frightening, a kind of mild panic.  I didn’t stop believing in Christ’s deity, but I now stood outside the belief system of the only Christian community I had ever really known. I’d gone off the reservation.

Once the Dust Settled

As the years went by my understanding of kenosis deepened, of course. I eventually realized that Jesus was still God, because “God is love.” Jesus was the perfect incarnation of God’s love–Love Incarnate. I came to know that Jesus was an actual example for me to follow, not an example who was impossible to really imitate because of his unfair advantage (being God). I realized that his life and ministry were possible, not because of omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence, but because of the presence of love and the Holy Spirit in his life. We have direct access to the same “resources” that Jesus did. When Jesus did something out of the ordinary, he didn’t reach under his cloak and press the secret God button on his utility belt. He lived and ministered with the same resources that are available to you and me, love and the Spirit of God.

I eventually came to understand that Jesus really is my exemplar, my example, that I really can be like Jesus. When I am fully taught, I really will be like my Master. No more, “Of course Jesus was perfect, he was God,” or “Of course Jesus performed miracles, he was God.”  I really can be “Christ-like.” Nothing Jesus did or said is outside the realm of possibility for me, or any of us–not his miracles, not raising the dead, not his prophetic rebukes, not his teaching style.

My spiritual journey began in fundamentalism. If we start on a thousand-mile journey, our journeys will differ depending on where we start.  A thousand-mile journey from San Francisco will differ from one begun in Saint Paul. A spiritual journey begun in fundamentalism will differ from a journey proceding from agnosticism. The nature of the journey depends on where you start.

They say, “You never forget the first time.” I’ll never forget the first time I became a heretic.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

See Also: Something I Learned from My Dad.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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28 Responses to Heresy: My First Time

  1. S. Roebuck says:

    I officially dub you “Spot-on-Ron” 😉


  2. rjwalker918r says:

    Fascinating – any ideas of how this Christian idea correlates to Buddhist doctrines of emptiness, a core concept in Buddhism (as I understand it)?


    • Ron Goetz says:

      No, I’m afraid I’m not that familiar with Buddhism, so I can’t comment much on that, except to say that there is certainly something to look at. I’ll bet googling kenosis, emptiness, and Buddhism would get some hits.


  3. Awesome!

    Speaking of Buddhism, a wonderful couple (somewhat) recently joined us at St. Andrew — a few months ago the wife actually joined St. Andrew, the husband is a Buddhist, and they have a gay son (which is why they were attracted to our Reconciling congregation in the first place)! She’s in the choir with me, and he’s an instrumentalist. Very cool, but I haven’t asked him much about Buddhism — yet?


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Trappist monk Thomas Merton believed that Zen Buddhism was the closest thing to the teachings of Jesus. How acceptable that is depends on whether you put the accent on one of the belief systems of Christendom, or on living and thinking like Jesus. (You may be able to tell which way I lean.)


  4. Thanks, Ron. Your experience parallels mine in many ways. And actually that of most biblical scholars who are seen as suspicious. Taking the text seriously, they discover (like I did) how it “reads” me, (sometimes the riot act!) and points out how much of what I dearly treasure is really set upon some other philosophical foundation than scripture. Then I’m faced with my existential questions…yet again.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Totally. Little by little our partial, flawed understandings are done away with. “When I was a child, I thought and spake and acted like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things.” The ability to tolerate ambiguity, to hold apparently contradictory things in tension, really is important. I don’t know whether it is a personality trait or a learned skill. I do know that I was very black-and-white as a young man, and now that I am old (cough – cough), those certainties are simply inadequate.


  5. John Meunier says:

    Ron, thanks for sharing your story. These road stories of faith are always interesting.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      I think so, too. Hearing a person’s testimony has a way of overcoming barriers, and creating bonds, that’s hard to beat.

      Re: your recent “Ministry Teams” posts (

      Years ago at my father-in-law’s C&MA church in Pacific Beach about ten of us took some real time to share our coming-to-the-Lord stories. Suddenly the people I knew mainly from the backs of their heads became real to me, and I saw the common threads running through our stories. It was one of the best meetings I ever experienced there.

      What would happen if you invited the clergy in your region to share a significant story about how they came to the Lord, or about some element of their call to ministry, or one of their significant “a-long-time-ago” struggles in ministry? My guess is that some of the distrust and suspicion you mentioned might be diminished a bit. Personally, I think it would depend on how much self-disclosure they’re willing to risk.


  6. Aw. Heresy. That word itself has a very interesting history too. And how we’ve defined heresy throughout the ages has changed. People throw it out like people throw “[you’re a] liberal” around to the people of differing opinion. But even then one could argue that heresy is what they meant.
    There is hope after fundamentalism, sadly many don’t see that and just give up on the Church all together. Maybe the rigid interpretation of the Bible to only be taken literal is the heresy since it causes people to schism?


  7. Anthony Bethke says:

    I’ve just read this and have to say I am 100% in agreement so that makes me a heretic as well, so what!? Thanks for the clarity without all the theological jargon.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Yup. At some point we have to say, “So what?” The definition of orthodoxy has been evolving for 2,000 years, and there is still no universally accepted standard of what counts as “sound doctrine.” Life is too short to spend years and years trying to attain some untestable perfect doctrine, too short when the people in our families and our neighborhood have such needs, when the nation is on the verge of a genuinely fascist, totalitarian state.

      Systematic theology is, at best, a hobby. But you know how people are about their hobbies. How did Jesus spend his free time?


  8. pastoremily says:

    I have a good friend who defines heresy as a good idea taken too far. However, I don’t think your approach to scripture falls into this category. Of course, I’m biased as I’m Lutheran and we have never subscribed to the idea of a literal, inerrant Bible, recognizing that scripture is the attempt of very human individuals attempting to talk about God. Luther call the scriptures the “cradle” of God’s Word, meaning that while the Word could be found in scripture, not all scripture is the Word. It’s an excellent paradox that I always keep in mind when reading scripture. You’ve got a great site here with some excellent theological ponderings. Thanks for sharing them!


  9. John Haggerty says:

    I discovered your website only a few moments ago. Bible-Thumping Liberal caught my eye, and immediately made me chuckle. Conservatives have a way of misplacing their sense of humour. The next thing to go is usually compassion. I was appalled to read of your son’s ordeal. In my native Scotland, the land of John Knox and Calvin, people have always reacted against ‘being preached at’.This makes my task all the more difficult. For I am a conservative Evangelical, though someone who has an understanding for and a sympathy with liberals.

    May I suggest beginning with Karl Barth? He stresses the goodwill of God to men. May I also recommend ‘Invitation to Dogmatic Theology: A Canonical Approach’ [2006] by Paul C McGlasson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Sullivan, Indiana, because he too begins with Barth.

    Now I am going to get controversial. I urge you to listen to the late Arthur W Pink’s website particularly IS CHRIST YOUR LORD? and THE WAY OF SALVATION. Pink is hard, even flinty, and can be remote. But his preaching has been called ‘iron rations for the soul’. Also listen to Pink’s THE NATURE OF APOSTASY [1 to 5], WHAT IS MOST NEEDED TODAY, GOD’S SOVEREIGN ELECTION and THE CHRISTIAN ARMOUR. Martyn Lloyd Jones, under whose ministry I was converted, also has a radio website. You can download his sermons. Read his book GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON for his attack on the idea of kenosis. Also his book on the Holy Spirit, JOY UNSPEAKABLE.

    I would heartily recommend the Puritans. Begin with ‘The Mortification of Sin’ by John Owen, which has an introduction by Jim Packer. Look out for two books by Iain Murray, ‘The Puritan Hope’ and ‘The Old Evangelicalism’. Finally ‘The Person OF Christ’ by Professsor Donald MacLeod of the Free Church of Scotland, ‘The Doctrine of Sin’ by Iain D Campbell, Free Church pastor on the Isle of Lewis and one of our newest and most brilliant theologians, ‘The Lamb of God’ by Robert L Reymond and ‘The Future of Justification’ by John Piper. Have you heard Piper on YouTube? He really is a preacher for our times.

    In our day people are asking questions as never before. ‘The narrowness of the Gospels is the narrowness of God,’ said Dr Lloyd Jones. But in the ‘narrow way’ of Jesus Christ crucified is infinite love, understanding and hope.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Thank you for your recommendations, John. I embraced Calvinism briefly in college, but only briefly. I am familiar with almost all the writers you mention, and most of the titles, but there is no chance that I will return to Calvinism. If your doctrines are correct, then there is nothing I can do that will undo the sovereignty of God in my life. I am, nevertheless, working out my salvation with fear and trembling, am being renewed in the image of Christ, am being freed from the dominion of sin, and being perfected in love.

      During the months I spent with the folks on the Sermon Index forums, they warned me repeatedly to repent, rebuked me for my allegedly false teaching, called me a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and in every way they knew how to bring me back from the precipice of the abyss–as they saw it. Most of them eventually agreed, “mark and shun.” With God as my witness, I harbor no ill will against them. They have their reasons for adopting that belief system, reasons I can only guess at. Despite our intellectual disagreements, I consider them my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they do not reciprocate the esteem. I hold no bitterness, although it did take some months to recover from the drubbing I took. Such is life.

      John, thanks for leaving the comment, and thank you for your good wishes. I accept your reading recommendations in the spirit in which they were intended, as an expression of love and concern, and I’m sure some gentle correction. And my wish for you is that God would bless your ministry. Today’s world is indeed a complicated place in which to minister and communicate the truth of God’s love and, yes, of God’s holiness–however you and I may differ in our understanding of those truths.

      In every situation, with every individual, and every baffling puzzle about how to minister to those entrusted to you, I wish you the best: God’s understanding, insight, wisdom, and love. You’re a good man, John. Thanks for the note.


  10. John Haggerty says:

    Again I am horrified that people in the ministry should have called you a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Or thought in terms of ‘mark and shun’. This is the language of bigotry and brutality. Scotland has been cursed by it.

    Sir Walter Scott [reared a Calvinist] said he thought the Church of Scotland was a good bulwark against fanaticism. He was talking against the Covenanters, wise man. I am not a fundamentalist as I think you picked up. My background is liberal humanist. I fully support gay, lesbian and transgendered people.

    I like very much Don Cupitt, author of Taking Leave of God. I get a great deal from reading Richard Holloway, formerly Episcopal bishop of Edinburgh. He spoke of Calvinism as a ‘master narrative’, possibly useful in its time, but a narrative in which well-meaning people can become trapped. Rather good, I thought. I also like CS Lewis. And there’s a liberal but holy Jesuit priest I follow called Gerard Hughes. He wrote an awfully good book, The God of Surprises. Catholic priests can be excellent. I remember a book by a Chicago priest which greatly influenced me, It was called In the Kingdom of the Lonely God.

    If I met John Piper I would probably want to give him a book of Martin Buber’s or Iris Murdoch’s. I have no truck with people who condemn non Christians to hell. There is a black spirit in them. I like your website very much and will be reading it with interest. My prayers for you and your family. Ron.


  11. John Haggerty says:

    Since my last comment on October 26, 2012, I feel I must retract some of my comments, Ron. Karl Barth published a short book called How I Changed My Mind. Someone such as me, with absolutely no formal training in theology, is bound to get in a muddle. At the end of 2012 I read a book titled Nonconformist Theology in the 20th Century by Alan PF Sell, a minister of the United Reform Church, Professor of Acadia University Divinity College, Canada. It made me see how much I needed regrounding in Reformed theology. Who does one turn to? I decided the best man was Donald MacLeod, former principal of the Free Church College, Edinburgh. His most recent book, A Faith to Live By, raised so many faith issues which are ignored by the liberal Christian consensus in the United Kingdom. (I suspect the situation in the USA is complicated by so many social and political issues which date back to the 19th Century.) I say ignored, but I’m not sure that liberals even THINK of these matters. MacLeod made me see how shallow and superficial the Cupitts and Holloways and Spongs really are. As for the liberals in the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, is it possible they have a faith but not a SAVING faith as Arthur W Pink would say? (Listen to Pink’s sermon on Youtube: A Saving Faith.) All around me in Scotland I see the churches making so many concessions to the secular age. They have raised the sacred god of Tolerance to the highest place in the holy of holies. (Not that I am advocating intolerance as a general practice.) Everyone is so desperate not to be thought ‘homophobic’. But no one has ever analysed the roots of the militant gay movement. It is pagan in its thoughts and practices, certainly Hellenic and pre-Hebrew in all its assumptions. Even Tom Wright said the Apostle Paul would probably have seen same sex marriage in pagan societies. Yet he still condemned it in no uncertain terms. So I ask this: Are liberals in some ways only paganised half-Christians? Last year I gave a pagan lady I know a copy of John’s book Don’t Waste Your Life. This woman, who is deeply involved in such things as Saturn Return astrological workshops, told me that Piper had shaken up her world. ‘This is like old, old-time religion,’ she said. ‘I thought people like that had died out. If he is correct, all my New Age ideas are rubbish,’ she added. She is now listening to Martyn Lloyd Jones, Ron Wilkerson and Dave Hunt on YouTube. Are there conversions like that in the liberal churches? Are people discovering the gospel of grace in the politically correct assemblies? I’m asking, not telling.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      John, Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: 31-46 summarize Jesus’ understanding of how God evaluates us. Doctrine varies according culture, the history of the particular church or denomination, as well as intelligence, social class, level of literacy, etc.

      I once studied the schism between the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church. I looked at the historical, linguistic, and cultural differences between the two wings of the church, and saw many of the real roots of theological differences. I learned that it would be impossible for over 1 billion people on five continents with vastly different histories to have identical “correct doctrine.”

      Jesus won’t be administering a theological or biblical examination. He already knows whether our love extended to him as we love those in prison, the poor, etc.

      I can’t answer for so-called “liberal churches.” I do know that many people in such churches are involved in ministries to the homeless, the elderly, etc. You would probably consider my congregation as liberal. We have a ministry to the homeless in our lower-class neighborhood, and earlier this year three of the homeless joined our church. They feel the spirit in our church, they don’t feel judged. We have our problems, but in terms of Matthew 25 I don’t feel I have anything to apologize for.


  12. Craig says:

    Taking a strictly literal approach to Scripture reading is fraught with many problems. Jesus said: “I am the gate for the sheep” [John 10:7, 9]. So apparently Jesus transformed Himself into a flat wooden object with hinges in order to allow woolly bleating sheep to enter. Even more problematic is the Apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” [Gal 4:19, NIV]. So, not only was Paul in labor to birth the Galatians, he had already birthed them previously! Talk about immaculate conception!! Today’s varied and many attempts at conception have nothing on Paul, a man who self-conceived his many offspring – simultaneously!

    Obviously, Jesus as a gate is a metaphor, just as “sheep” represents true followers of Jesus Christ, and Paul was only metaphorically ‘birthing’ the Galatians. The former can be easily gleaned by context, the latter is based on a Jewish idiom in which it’s said that a teacher becomes father to his students; therefore, Paul had previously taught the Galatians and was in the process of teaching them again.

    Therefore, it’s not necessary to take the Philippians passage literally and conclude that Jesus became devoid of His deity or divested Himself of any divine attributes in becoming man. The Council of Chalcedon of 451AD affirmed that Jesus Christ is the unique two-natured God-man – fully God and fully man. This is actually born out in Philippians 2:6-7 (note the two usages of “nature”, from the Greek word morphe, or “form”):

    6 Who, being in very nature God [fully God], did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    7 rather, he made himself nothing (emptied himself) by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness [fully human]. [NIV]

    Jesus didn’t incarnate to use His deity to His advantage; He came to serve us instead. That is, He came to die a sacrificial death on the Cross for our sins [Phil 2:8; 2 Cor 5:18-21]. If we were to take kenosis literally, then we’d have to say that Christ became a total non-entity (“made himself nothing”/”emptied Himself”) by taking the very nature of a servant, which could mean He became completely man (in human likeness), devoid of all deity. While this is certainly possible by the grammatical construction, we have to look at the rest of the Biblical witness to see if this holds true.

    John 1:1-18 contradicts this. The Gospel of John also reports that Jesus changed the water into wine at Cana “to reveal his glory” [John 2:11], which would seem to indicate it was His divine nature performing this miracle. However, more conclusively, Jesus makes the claim that He was providing both eternal life and judgment during His earthly ministry [John 5:21-25]. Clearly, providing eternal life or eternal judgment are divine acts, not human. Biblical evidence of Jesus providing eternal life during His time on earth is the thief on the Cross [Luke 23:42-43]. Of course, Jesus also claimed to be the “I am”, existing before Abraham was born [John 8:58], which inflamed the Jews to attempt to stone Him for blasphemy. In addition, in John 5:18 indicates the Pharisees understood that Jesus was making a claim of deity which induced them to try to kill Him.


  13. John Haggerty says:

    Dear Ron, You write: ‘Jesus won’t be administering a theological or Biblical examination.’ With the greatest of respect to you, I find this glib and shallow. Glib to use the Holy Name in such a casual way (as you do when you say ‘you never forget your first time’). And shallow in your offhand attitude to all those hundreds of thousands of people studying at Bible Colleges. (As you yourself were privileged to do so.) This week I have been watching American evangelists out in the streets of my native city, Glasgow, Scotland. They have to deal with a great many articulate and well-informed hecklers. And it is their knowledge of doctrine and of systematic theology (Thiessen, Berkhof etc.) which enables them to challenge the opposition and preach the Gospel of grace. Pace Frank Schaeffer, we are NOT in a post-evangelical age. We are in the age of apostasy. The new paganism. I see it all around me. Heavens, I was a part of it myself, being converted only at the age of 57. ‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.’ In January, I attended a seminar on sexuality at Hillhead Baptist Church, Glasgow. The meeting did not even open with a prayer. At the end of the day those present prayed only to endorse the pagan views that had been so triumphantly aired. And they prayed to a being they addressed as ‘inclusive god’. I know of no place in the Bible where the Lord is addressed in such a term. Is ‘inclusive’ the new name for Baal? Not once in the course of that day did we hear the Biblical view of sexuality. Not once did anyone use the term ‘sin’. Liberal Christians are first-rate when it comes to empathy and understanding. Unfortunately so are scores of other agencies in the worlds of cults, therapy, counselling and New Age. What distinguished the old evangelicalism as Iain Murray called it was the preaching of Christ crucified. It was doctrine. One of my favourite preachers, Dave Hunt, who died just a month ago, wrote a book called THE SEDUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY. ‘To avoid the seduction that is at the heart of apostasy.’ he said, ‘we must be able to distinguish the voice of Christ through His word from the confusing mixture of truth and error that is spoken in his name.’ My prayers for you and your family, and for the life of your flock. JOHN


    • Ron Goetz says:

      John, thanks for your reply. There is nothing glib or shallow about summarizing Matthew 25: 31-46 in a way that crystallizes the most pertinent lesson for bookish, theology-addicted people like myself. I stand by the statement: “Jesus won’t be administering a theological or Biblical examination.”

      Did you understand what I meant when I discussed journeys, that everyone’s journey begins at a different place? For example, I began my journey as a strict, fundamentalist, first-born “good boy.” This was as carnal as anything else. My friend John Meunier began his journey as a free-thinking skeptic. Even though we are similar in many ways, the intellectual and journey issues we are exploring are quite opposite. Thus, he is learning how to enter tradition, and I am learning how to leave tradition.

      Fortunately, God sees the hearts. We are all in his hands. I’m comfortable with that.


  14. John Haggerty says:

    Dear Ron, I have no idea what you mean by your sentence, ‘This was as carnal as anything else.’ Surely you were at this point saved. You were a new creation in Christ. I am also troubled by the word ‘fundamentalist’. I understand the word was first used by the old evangelicals like Warfield and Hodge; it was their way of drawing a clear line between themselves and the modernists. (If I’m wrong about this, please correct me. I respect the depth of your historic inquiry on church matters.) The late Geoffrey W Grogan, former principal of Glasgow Bible College, published a book before his death, ‘The Faith Once Entrusted to Saints?’ (The question mark is his.) On page 20 he writes: ‘Much of our church life is experienced-based rather than truth-based.’ As you remind me (and I do need reminding) God sees into our hearts. But I am always meeting people who want to push on me the unbiblical Jesus of Deepak Chopra, or the gnostic ideas of Karen Armstrong and Elaine Pagels. (In my youth in the 1970s it was CJ Cadoux, Teilhard De Chardin, Bonhoeffer and Simone Weil, enormous figures for whom I still have much affection.) I am not thinking in terms of passing a theological examination. Indeed I would fail any such test. I am thinking of life on the street. I am thinking more like Buber who said, ‘All real living is meeting people.’ Everyone’s journey begins at a different place. Yes, I can see that this is one of the hard-won truths of our time. We all need to listen more and never to sound censorious. The crass moralising of the so-called religious right is repugnant. I know that if I were living in America I would be supporting Frank Schaeffer in so much of what he says. (I used to wish I could stand beside Grace Paley, a writer I loved, on one of her anti-war demos in New York.) Before signing off, can I recommend a recent book on the late Henri Nouwen? It’s ‘Genius Born of Anguish’ (Paulist Press) by Michael Higgins and Kevin Burns. It traces Father Nouwen’s professional association with Anton Boisen, who was something of a polymath as well as Presbyterian minister. Boisen experienced several crippling breakdowns, and ended his days in the hospital where he had been chaplain emeritus. It made me think about healing. Your own ministry has much to say about all this. Thank you for your patience and attention. JOHN.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      John, you’ve said a lot here. Let me reply to your first comment. I wrote:

      “I began my journey as a strict, fundamentalist, first-born “good boy.” This was as carnal as anything else.”

      You said, “I have no idea what you mean by your sentence, ‘This was as carnal as anything else.'”

      Does my statement remind you of anything you’ve read or heard from Paul’s epistles?


  15. Mike Stidham says:

    Wow. I’ve been hit with that same “if I go for the literal reading, some other Scripture will contradict it” dynamic before myself. As a former SBC, giving up inerrancy is one Rubicon that’s very difficult to cross.
    I’ve been down a lot of the same roads you have. While I still consider myself conservative by the relative standards of the United Methodists, I still appreciate the elbow room I have to question things. I’m not sure that I’ll wind up in the same place as far as my understanding, but there is no doubt that you are a brother in the faith.


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