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I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Renewing the Protestant Principle

Theologically, my great-grandfather, Paul Tillich, developed an idea he called the "Protestant Principle." (When I say "great-grandfather," I mean this: my teacher--Patrick Keifert, learned from his teacher Langdon Gilkey who learned from his teacher Paul's just a little theological geneology.)

The idea of the Protestant Principle is that no temporal, historical manifestation of God can claim absoluteness. In the God-Human relationship, God is always able to be more (and is more in this sense) than anything humans can comprise. So something that seems eternal--the Church, for example, is shown to be something that comes and goes depending upon the time and place. Even the Bible, for example, is subject to the Protestant Principle. (This is where fundamentalists would disagree with me, but to my mind they have confused the formal--scripture--with the material, faith.)

So why do I want to renew this Protestant Principle? (And note, I don't care what you call it, but I learned it this way, and I am old...) I think it would help clarify a few issues these days if we took seriously at what we can know and not know about our relationship with God. Here are a couple of examples:

1) Congregations without a lot of people in them does not mean God has abandoned that congregation. There is no direct correlation between what God does and how many people it takes for God to get something done. Just because a congregation has less and less people does not mean it is "dying." It may mean it is re-tooling, or re-locating, or even re-distributing? But the activity of God through humanity (what we call "Congregations") does not depend upon any numerical status. It only took one Hebrew boy to convince his nation that the Philistines were not invincible.

2) Men don't always have to make the decisions. Bill Maher remarked recently that places where only men make decisions (college football programs, the Middle East, and the Roman Catholic Church) seem to have a horrible track record these days. Since he was on "The View" when he said this, no doubt he was over-stating the positive effects women can have in such situations; however, there is no absolute reason why women should not be allowed to make decisions anywhere at anytime about anything, even places like football locker rooms, palaces of the sultanate in Egypt, or the halls of the Vatican.

We must continue to pray that the power of God will cut through all our pretensions, all our shenanigans, all our schemes to control God, our neighbors, and even our own selves. If we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and power; and, as Jesus the Christ adds, likewise our neighbors as ourselves we need to remember the Protestant Principle. We need to remember that God always is more than us. If it weren't true, then why was Jesus the Dead One resurrected? (Unless you know some human that can pull off resurrection?) How do we learn to love what we cannot until we learn that we are loved, "loved beyond our wildest imaginations?" (Eric Elnes)

May your table be full, and your conversations be true.

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