5 Bad Doctrines
"Toujoursdan", an Anglo-Catholic friend of mine at Facebook and Beliefnet.com who also writes the blog Culture Choc, posted a note on Facebook and his blog answering a question someone had asked him, and tagged a number of people for further replies, including me. Here's Dan's original note:
“List 5 doctrines that are taught within the Christian church that you believe to be deeply [un]-Christian.
“1. The substitution of orthodoxy for faith. Faith is trust in God; orthodoxy is an intellectual assent to a series of statements about God. Too often the church teaches that doctrinal orthodoxy equals deep faith. Too often the church has taught that unorthodoxy is a lack of faith. Now I believe that creedal orthodoxy is beneficial in that it may lead to deeper intimacy with God, but it isn't faith and orthodoxy won't save anyone.
“2. Being "born again": Yes, Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again in the Gospel of St. John, but modern evangelicalism often turns Christ's "born again" command into an emotional "warm fuzzy" experience that distorts the conversion experience altogether. Extreme versions of evangelicalism turn "the sinner's prayer" into a magical incantation that prompts God to save a sinner, making God the passive party in our relationship. Conversion and discipleship are rarely instantaneous processes, and God chooses to save whomever God chooses to save. The rarely discussed dark side of "born again" theology are the doubts that occur once the warm fuzzies go away and need to recreate the warm fuzzies in order to remain secure in ones' salvation.
“3. Biblical inerrancy: Specifically, the belief that every book in the Bible, and in many cases, every verse in the Bible carries the same weight and is as infallible as every other book or verse in the Bible. This turns the Bible into a divine encyclopedia where one is supposed to find an answer to every question which often leads to disastrous results. Now of course, EVERY Christian picks and chooses to accept and apply some verses and EVERY Christian chooses to ignore other verses which they go to great pains to rationalize, but the rhetoric that "You can't pick and choose" is thrown around with great regularity. Of course you can pick and choose. It's the criteria and intent of what you pick and choose that makes all the difference.
“4. The Book of Revelation: Oh, how I wish the book has never made it into the canon. Oh, how I wish we'd headed the warnings of the Church Fathers who warned that it this book is likely to be misused. All the time and energy wasted trying to turn a letter of encouragement written in code, into a frightening glimpse into our future. Of course, all this energy is spent interpreting the Book of Revelation is done because we don't trust God and we want to know what will happen in the future in order to exert some kind of control over it, or control over our response to it. This turns faith on its head.
“5. That individual "faith" (see #1) in Christ is the only way to salvation. The flip side of this is that people who don't profess individual belief in Christ are unsaved and are targets for proselytizing or elimination altogether. Not only has this caused Christians to act with great evil toward Jews, Muslims, Africans and other indigenous peoples, but it transformed Christianity from a religion of peace and love to one based on fear: fear of God and fear of hell. When I read passages like the Sermon on the Mount I am led to believe that what Christ said and who Christ was does save people, but I don't accept the flip side of this belief. In the 20th Century mainline Protestants and Catholics looked for various ways to include non-Christians of goodwill into God's kingdom, but evangelicals still reject these efforts.
“Are there any you would add?”
I agree with everything Dan says and thought I'd post my further answers to him here. Here are my added five:
1. On the point of orthodoxy, I would add that it is an obvious human tendency to project our own subjective orientation and perceptions onto the rest of the universe as if they were normative, and to try to invalidate all that does not fit within the paradigm. This, however, is not God’s way. Creation is infinitely diverse, not uniform, and God seems to urge us to seek harmony through diversity, not monotony through unity or dissonance through conflict or exclusion. It was the human urge toward an artificially ordered, grandiose uniformity that God frustrated at Babel, and it was to the thus divinely ordained diversity of understanding that the Holy Spirit spoke at Pentecost in so many different tongues. Doctrinal orthodoxy never redeemed anyone. It is not nearly as important to agree with the orthodox fine points of Christology and the Atonement as it is to appreciate that the supreme power in the universe is Love and its supreme purpose is Reconciliation.
2. Much of contemporary Christianity is unwittingly infected by Gnosticism. The God of the Bible is not only supremely benevolent but also intimately involved in the material universe, including its ongoing creation, evolution, restoration and repair, constantly loving and reconciling and “seeing that it is good”. The ancient Gnostics in contrast upheld a cosmology in which matter and material existence were the corrupt creation of a false, evil creator-deity they called the Demiurge; in which purity, truth, and the true God could be found only in a spiritual, non-material realm; and in which the route to escaping material corruption and regaining spiritual purity required secret knowledge unavailable outside the closed community. Many strains of Christianity embrace a similarly Gnostic “pure spirit = good, carnal and material = evil” cosmology that ignores the significance of the Incarnation, and condition the escape from material corruption upon a form of secret knowledge in the guise of doctrinal correctness or “decision theology”. The predestinarian Calvinist strain of Christianity in particular also envisions God as a monstrous demiurge, able but unwilling to lift most of humanity out of a corrupt carnal condition.
3. Although most religious understanding is ultimately a speculative attempt to express in subjective, figurative terms what cannot be objectively observed and proven, Christianity is infected by an unhealthy tendency toward literalism and absolutism. This comes up both in terms of Biblical exegesis and application, and in terms of doctrinal orthodoxy. Genesis 1 is not a paleozoology or paleogeology textbook. When Jesus says, “this is my body and blood”, he is not speaking any more literally than when the Psalmist says, “the Lord is my rock”. When Jesus is metaphorically compared to the Yom Kippur scapegoat or the Passover lamb, it emphasizes continuity from the parent Jewish tradition in upholding the importance of atonement and deliverance, but it says nothing about the necessity of believing in the Penal Substitutionary Atonement as required by the Calvinist demiurge. Jesus taught in metaphors and parables, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson warned the Harvard Divinity School class of 1838, “the idioms of his language, and the figures of his rhetoric, have usurped the place of his truth; and churches are not built on his principles, but on his tropes.”
4. Related to Dan’s point about inerrancy, a doctrine that appears clearly false to me is the assertion that the Bible is the Word of God. The Bible was written by many different human authors over the course of about 1,200-2,000 years, and underwent many revisions, redactions, expansions and contractions before eventually reaching its final form by human consensus. It has far more useful things to tell us if we receive it as the authentic witness of an evolving faith community over a particular period of time to its genuine understanding and experience of God, than if we suppose it to be God’s own supernatural self-revelation. To treat the Bible as if it contained God’s verbatim utterances is to elevate a human artifact to divine status, or literally to “worship a graven image”; it is idolatry. When the phrase “Word of God” appears in the Bible, it refers to the Logos of John 1:1, not to the canonical anthology of scriptures. Which leads finally to:
5. Christianity in practice largely ignores or misunderstands the significance of the Logos. In the Greek philosophy from which the Gospel of John borrows, the Logos or Word is the rational ordering principle of the universe – not just drawing up the blueprints at the beginning of creation, but continually upholding and sustaining all existence, the “Ground of Being” as Paul Tillich describes it. John portrays Jesus as a personification or incarnation or human image of this Logos, through which all things have their being, but too often Christians turn the idea on its head and insist that the indispensible thing is the particular person of Jesus himself, rather than the universal Logos that John perceived to be present in him. When John says that “the Word was with God and the Word was God”, he draws an identity between seemingly disparate Jewish and Gentile apprehensions of divinity. Jesus the man personified the Logos to Christians, yes, but the eternal Logos survived the death of the human Jesus and, I think, has also been perceived in some fashion in all other cultures in every time. Whenever Christians insist that revelation was sealed with the closing of the canon, or that there is no valid religious apprehension except through Jesus or through Christianity, whenever they sneer condescendingly at “pagan” traditions or withdraw from them in fear, they are in fact alienating themselves from much of the omnipresent Word that according to their own tradition is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things. Instead of becoming effective agents of the Logos in the continuing reconciliation and redemption of the whole world, they are standing in the crowd at Golgotha, jeering at him even while they cast lots to claim his cast-off garments.