How to Abandon Historic Christianity in Ten Easy Lessons
- Tuesday, December 16, 2003
G. K. Chesterton once described the Victorian loss of faith as "a great silent collapse, an enormous unspoken disappointment." In our own times, the collapse is often anything but silent or unspoken. Indeed, one of the most noteworthy developments of our age is the rise of the theologian or church leader who, once orthodox, now declares before the world that he has outgrown biblical Christianity.
One of the latest entries in the race to abandon the faith is John Killinger's Ten Things I Learned Wrong From a Conservative Church. In this book, Killinger sets out to prove once and for all that he has outgrown the conservative Christian faith of his childhood and moved on to an enlightened postmodern form of religion.
Killinger is no stranger to those who observe liberal Christianity. As a young theologian, Killinger traced theological themes in modern literature. He held teaching positions at various colleges and universities, most notably a position in homiletics at Vanderbilt. Later, Killinger served as senior minister at the First Presbyterian Church of Lynchburg, Virginia and the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, California. In Ten Things I Learned Wrong From a Conservative Church, Killinger caps his literary career with a testimony of how he moved from orthodox Christian conviction to something very different and very unorthodox.
Needless to say, Killinger's approach is not subtle. The title of his book declares controversy and this author is looking for a scandal. Of course, those who would scandalize the church find themselves facing a new challenge in this generation. So many heretics have paved the way, it is now difficult to come up with anything genuinely new in terms of denial. But give Killinger credit--he is trying to catch up.
Basic to Killinger's theological transition is his rejection of the Bible as the literal, inerrant Word of God. Having been taught as a young Southern Baptist that the Bible is, word for word, the very Word of God, Killinger moved on to see the Bible as a mere record of theological reflections, limited and corrupted as they are, of ancient people. Those who believe that the Bible is actually God's Word are, by implication, just simplistic fools yet unenlightened by modern scholarship.
He is untroubled by questions related to biblical translation and accuracy because, "I believed then, and still do, that God rises above the Bible so majestically and transcendently that whatever happens to the Bible in its various translations and paraphrases is not likely to have much affect on him." What does that mean? Killinger evidently believes that the actual words of Scripture are relatively unimportant. God "rises above the Bible" whatever the translation.
In 1970, Killinger had written For God's Sake, Be Human, arguing that Christians should outgrow their juvenile ideas of biblical authority. As Killinger now reflects, "I argued that the Bible should not be discarded in our time as an arcane book about a Middle Eastern divinity, but should be seen as a dynamic record of countless people over a span of thousands of years trying to break through the veil of mystery and comprehend enough of the being of God to reorient their lives and reposition their culture. The Bible's authority, I suggested, rests in the very ingenuity and irresistibility of the experiences it describes, not in its having God as its author." So, inerrancy and infallibility are to be replaced with ingenuity and irresistibility. Evangelicals must resist the ingenuity of that proposal.
Killinger lampoons conservative Christians, labeling those committed to biblical authority as fundamentalists. His heroes are on the theological left--like retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong, to whom he acknowledges "a strong kinship." Spong, we might note, has abandoned virtually every Christian doctrine, suggests that the Apostle Paul was a repressed homosexual, and now calls upon the church to abandon monotheism.
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