Andrew: In the Third Case we realise we can say, "Hey, maybe we are wrong about how we understood God. I still feel God. It still makes sense to me that there would be some divine principle in the world.. So maybe I need to understand God in a new way. maybe I need to re-model my experience of God."
It doesn't mean a loss of faith. It will seek to retain the connection with the history of the faith, just as the post exilic Israelites did with their heritage. But it will take account of the new and see God in very new ways as well.
It is risky. There is no path to follow. There will be huge hostility from the threatened sections of the church.
Jan: Don't you think that there are people who are "in between?" They would not hold to 7 day creation like in your Case One, and yet they are not saying they have to leave the church in some kind of exile. You are presenting some very stark choices here. Either you are a raving fundie or you are an atheist or you are in Exile, whatever that is!
Andrew: Yes, that's pretty correct. I've laid out a fairly stark scenario. But I think it is the final outcome. What you call the "people in between" are going to have to come down in one of the three options. They can't stay where they are.
Jan: Well, I'm not sure where they are anyway, but why not stay there?
Andrew: "There" is disappearing. If I can be blunt, there are mostly two kinds of church in this country. There are the traditional mainline churches which have been able to be reasonably open minded about things, and there are the much more reactionary ones.
How long have we struggled, some of us, with a dying church that never wants to change and always seems to have such promise and potential, but it's forever getting sabotaged or "fading away a the finish?" ..... Maybe... just maybe... it's not us.
Jan: As someone who's rather critical of the church, I thought you might join with those who say "church" and "open-minded" are two contradictory terms!
Andrew: Gee, thanks! Seriously, those who want to paint the whole church as close minded are just demonstrating their own bigotry. The churches have been made up from society. Indeed some of us would want to say we have been too much like society! So the closed minds of the church often reflect the closed minds of society. To be honest, we need to remember that as well as the homophobes and racists in the church there has been the Dorothy McCrae-McMahons and Bernie Clarkes and so on. The church has often been at the social forefront.
Anyway... part of the exile Spong puts us on notice about is showing up in the fact that the church structures are dying. Non-hardline churches are getting 'thinner on the ground.' They are too expensive to run. The money these days is in a black and white theological attitude. Show me a thriving church economically and I've got a very good chance of showing you a church with a conservative theology that is heading towards Case One.
To put it another way, the middle ground, the ground "in between" to pinch your term, is disappearing. And that's because there is no fourth case. The three cases I outlined are the only ones. The non-fundamentalist, but.... I'm not sure how to put it... sensibly informed but relatively traditional theological position is being shown to be inadequate. This is what David was trying to say to us in "Where Now?." Even an educated theology that sees the stupidity of trying to prove a literal Noah's ark, still often rests on the same unsustainable foundations that the fundamentalist is trying to build an Ark on. There is no future in that.
Jan: So what would you say to the people who are "in between."
Andrew: I was "in between" for a long time. I was able to get out of my fundamentalist understandings and that was a great freedom! But I so often felt uncomfortable with where I was. I seemed to spend so much time propping up stuff that was un-necessary and didn't really have much to do with where I was at in life.
Jan: You mean in your job as a parish minister.
Andrew: Yes. I thought the pointless kind of stuff was what you did as "part of the turf" while you helped people find a new way in life. Like you go to a nursing home and sing the old hymns because that's what they know and love, even though some of those hymns have theology that make you want to puke! Finally I began to see that the people who I was maintaining the old stuff for were not changing, and the people I related to and who were seeking a new way forward were either leaving the church or getting booted out.
I'd say to someone who is feeling "in between",
"Which way are you going to walk? Are you going to play it safe with sound doctrine and stick to what the bible says, and be an evangelical instead of a faithless liberal? If that kind of language sounds good, then go to Case One where you'll feel at home for a while. But notice the freedom that you can lose in those kind of churches.
If you want to be honest about your faith, and seek out the longings and glimpses of God in your heart, I think the only way forward is Exile. The day of the moderate church with a minister is over... it's too costly. And the day of moderate theology is over unless you help build a new moderate theology. The theology we've lived with no longer works for the world unless you become intolerant and deny the world."
Jan: That's pretty hard stuff!
Andrew: Well it's a hard time. Seriously, and I'm trying to say this gently, how long have we struggled, some of us, with a dying church that never wants to change and always seems to have such promise and potential, but it's forever getting sabotaged or "fading away a the finish?" You know we blame ourselves for that, and our lack of faith and for not working hard enough, and not enough commitment.... I've ended up bedridden numbers of times from overwork as a minister. Maybe... just maybe... it's not us. Maybe we're flogging a dead horse. Not that God is dead, but that we are looking where God was yesterday. Maybe we just need to step right out of the present model, go into a voluntary exile, and try and see and imagine God with new eyes.
That's what I'd wish for people in between, because it's the recognition I can do that, and that God is still there, that has saved my faith.
Jan: But then you face the hard questions about how to live in Exile.
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