Thanks, Presiding Bishop Curry

Column by Brian McLaren on 11 August 2022 0 Comments

In his speech, Bishop Curry twice emphasized the need to find a voice that is non-partisan ("this is not partisan," "not a partisan voice"). We all know why he needed to say this.

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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,

Thank you for your question, which presents a very challenging set of questions. I am not familiar with Episcopalian liturgy, so you’ll have to excuse me for not dealing directly with that. But the issue you raise is common to all Christians and is bracketed by two inter-related questions. First, how are we to conceive of God? This is where the concept of theism enters the picture. And secondly, where might we encounter this God? This is where the topic of worship enters.

I realize that many today believe we have gone or must go beyond theism, and if by that means a God who intervenes all the time curing disease, helping your team win, and fighting alongside our army against the enemy, then we happily say goodby to such a God. But to be replaced with what? The Encyclopedia Britannica defines theism as “the view that all limited or finite things are dependent in some way on one supreme or ultimate reality of which one may also speak in personal terms. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, this ultimate reality is often called God.

The problem with this definition is that it could include a deistic God who once created and then took a vacation, leaving us on our own. If we ask what, specifically, we mean by theism, it seems it should include the concept of a God who is, in some way, actively involved in the world. But then,… rooting for our team?, helping our army?

Personally, I don’t find helpful the words theism, deism, pantheism, and panentheism, and prefer to ask simply: how do we conceive of God? To this question there are two basic answers: we think of God as One who loves  creation, and we think of God as present in all creation. God as Relating Person and God as Reality. There are many attempts to understand and describe how these two attributes of God go together, but none of these attempts are completely satisfactory. And so I conclude that how God is God is a mystery. God loves as a Person would love, and God is the Supportive Ground of all that is. It is a dialectical truth that goes beyond our current understanding.

Now, where does one encounter this God? Traditionally, the church has said that God may be found generally in nature, but also that this God reveals God’s self in special ways and places, such as in Jesus, and by connection, as in the Lord’s Supper. There have been long and bloody wars over the question of how Christ was present in the Supper. The Catholic church asserted that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ, and it is my understanding that the Episcopalian Eucharist may be close to this idea. The Lutherans did not say that the elements were transubstantiated, but rather that Christ was present “in, with, and under” the elements, a doctrine known as consubstantiation. Other Protestant churches thought of the Supper as more of a remembering of Jesus the Christ, and a celebration of all being together.

Just as I do not find useful the words theism, deism, pantheism, and panentheism, so too I find useful neither the concept of a sacrament nor the delimiting and confining of God’s full Presence in any way. We can encounter God anywhere, and that God that we can encounter anywhere and any time is the same God we find in Jesus and also in the community being together while celebrating a symbolic meal.

~ Dr. Carl Krieg




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