For 45 years I have served the Christian church as a deacon, priest, and bishop. I continue to serve that church today in a wide variety of ways in my official retirement. I believe that God is real and that I live deeply and significantly as one related to that divine reality.
I call Jesus my Lord. I believe that he has mediated God in a powerful and unique way to human history and to me.
I believe that my particular life has been dramatically and decisively impacted not only by the life of this Jesus, but also by his death and indeed by the Easter experience that Christians know as the resurrection.
Part of my life's vocation has been spent seeking a way to articulate this impact and to invite others into what I can only call the "Christ experience." I believe that in this Christ I discover a basis for meaning, for ethics, for prayer, for worship and even for the hope of life beyond the boundaries of my mortality. I want my readers to know who it is who writes these words. I do not want to be guilty of violating any truth-in-packaging act. I define myself first and foremost as a Christian believer.
Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I do not believe in a deity who can help a nation win a war, intervene to cure a loved one's sickness, allow a particular athletic team to defeat its opponent, or affect the weather for anyone's benefit. I do not think it is appropriate for me to pretend that those things are possible when everything I know about the natural order of the world I inhabit proclaims that they are not.
I suppose I could expand this litany of beliefs and nonbeliefs for pages, but these few statements should be sufficient to pose the issues I wish to develop. The primary question I seek to raise is this: Can a person claim with integrity to be a Christian and at the same time dismiss, as I have done, so much of what has traditionally been defined the content of the Christian faith? Would I be wiser and more honest if I were to do what so many others in my generation have done--namely, resign from my membership in this faith-system of my forebears? Should I renounce my own baptism, deny that I am any longer a follower of Jesus, take up citizenship in the secular city, and become a member of the Church Alumni Association?
Am I prohibited from taking the steps necessary to abandon my faith-commitments by a lack of will, by an irrational, emotional attachment that I cannot break, or even by a spiritual dishonesty? Surely such a choice would in many ways have made my life simpler, less complicated. In the eyes of many, both in the Christian church and in the secular society, it would also have represented an act of integrity. It would not, however, have been honest, nor would it have been true to my deepest convictions. My problem has never been my faith. It has always been the literal way that human beings have chosen to articulate that faith.
In the face of religious hostility on one side and incredulous disdain for my unwillingness to reject my faith-traditions on the other, I continue to insist that I am a Christian. I hold steadfastly to the truth of the assertion first made by Paul that "God was in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:19, KJV). I seek the God-experience which I believe lies underneath the biblical and theological explanations that through the ages have attempted to interpret Jesus. I think that it is possible to separate the experience from the explanation and to recognize the increasingly inadequate capacity of ancient words to capture the essence of any experience for all time.
I therefore call the church to a radical shift from the way in which it has traditionally proclaimed its message, the way it has organized itself to broker that reservoir of spiritual power, and the way it has claimed to speak for God in human history.
I am quite certain that the reassessment of Christianity that I seek to develop must be so complete as to cause some people to fear that the God they have traditionally worshipped is, in fact, dying. The reformation needed today must, in my opinion, be so total that it will by comparison make the Reformation of the sixteenth century look like a child's tea party. In retrospect, that Reformation dealt primarily with issues of authority and order.
The new reformation will be profoundly theological, of necessity challenging every aspect of our faith-story. Because I believe that Christianity cannot continue as the irrelevant religious sideshow to which it has been reduced, I seek to engage the best minds of the new millennium in this reformation. I hope that we Christians will not tremble at the audacity of the challenge.