An Evening of Beer and Theology — A Lutheran Experience

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 8 October 2009 0 Comments

The pastor and congregation of Holy Cross Church are self-consciously about the task of reinventing worship and recreating what it means to be the church. "Beer and Theology" on Monday nights throughout the program year in a local pub is only one facet of their corporate life. A series of lectures on "Rethinking Christianity" is another part of their offering to the community.

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Carter Sinclair, via the Internet, writes:

We were having a discussion at church last night about theism and worship. How is the Eucharist relevant if theism is taken away, or more appropriately, how can our Episcopal liturgy and worship change to reflect the loss of theism?


Dear Carter,

Liturgy is defined as the work of the people. Liturgy also reflects the attitudes and world views of the people who composed it. Before Copernicus and Galileo almost everyone thought of God as a supernatural being who lived above the sky. When we understood the immensity of the universe, that definition of God became quite inadequate. Yet our liturgy still assumes it — "Our Father who art in heaven," we say. Stories in the Bible, from the Tower of Babel in Genesis to the ascension of Jesus in the book of Acts, still assume this pre-Copernican world view.
Before Isaac Newton, we defined everything we did not understand as a miracle. After Newton, miracles and magic shrank into non-existence. Yet the Christian Eucharist still tells the Jesus story as the theistic God from above the sky, entering human history in the person of Jesus and somehow paying the price of our sins.
What we need to understand is that the theistic definition of God is not God. It is a human definition of God. Human definitions always fade with the expansion of knowledge. Theism has now faded. Yet the Eucharist tries each week to do artificial respiration on the corpse of theism.
I do not think the great mystics of Christian history were theists. They were certainly God-intoxicated but they did not define God in theistic ways. The time has come for us to seek to redefine our God experience in the liturgy in non-theistic symbols.
I do not believe any human being can define God. I do think we can experience God. I experience God as the source of life calling me to live fully, as the presence of love calling me to love wastefully, as the Ground of Being empowering me to be all that I can be. So God is seen for me in lives fully lived, love wastefully given and being used to empower others to be.
That is the God I meet in Jesus and that is what the Eucharist is all about. One would not know that, however, with all of the blood, sacrifice and sin talk with which the Eucharist is now laden.
I see reformation coming and I welcome it. The way for liturgy to change is for the people involved in it to do it. Your question indicates that you are already raising these issues.
Stay with it. Liturgy changes very slowly.

–John Shelby Spong



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