Sunday, July 1, 2012

Customized Christianity: Burklo's Bible

While browsing another blog, I came across an article by Jim Burklo entitled "How To Live As a Christian Without Having to Believe the Unbelievable." Within, Rev. Burklo--the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California, an ordained United Church of Christ pastor, and the author of books on progressive Christianity--lays out his vision of a Christianity which allows the adherent to pick and choose buffet style which beliefs to accept provided a set of core ethical values is maintained.

There is a great deal of commendable observation in Burklo's article, provided of course it is read in isolation of his broader argument. In particular, his assertion that the Bible is not self-aware is a sermon that I never tire of preaching. His recognition that the full scope of Christianity with its manifold traditions, doctrines, and mythology is a hard pill to swallow for many modern seekers is perhaps the defining problem for Western evangelism in today's world. The reminder that Christianity is neither an ancient legal code nor a modern political ideology is among the most necessary messages for American Christians.

Nevertheless and unsurprisingly, I find most of Burklo's points as well as his overarching message to be severely flawed, both by his own internal logic and by legitimate external standards. I am certainly not one to suggest that the Bible should be confused with a history book or, worse still, a science book. Just the opposite. Moreover, I have never been one to use the forms of creeds as tests of fellowship. Barton Stone would turn over in his grave. I admit a great deal of latitude in recognizing and drawing conclusions from the human components of Scripture, at least by majority Christianity standards. With all that said, however, I have the following objections to Burklo's vision of Christianity.
  1. Burklo mistakenly implies an oppositional relationship between believing creeds, doctrines, and "fantastic stories" on the one hand and living like Christ on the other.
  2. Burklo fails to make any meaningful distinction between essential and non-essential data in Scripture when suggesting what might be disregarded as non-factual.
  3. Equating the "divine spark" in Christ with the divine spark in all is idolatrous, anachronistic, unbiblical, and reenforces the need for the Christological dogma found in the creeds.
  4. The desire to focus only one what Jesus said and not what he did is self-defeating.
  5. Burklo confuses ethics with religion, and thereby fails to grasp the comprehensiveness of Jesus' mission.

I will treat each of these more fully over the next few days, hopefully with uncharacteristic brevity, with the intent of moving toward a Christianity that can be forward thinking without divorcing itself from its past and, equally importantly, away from a Christianity which is comfortable with sentiments such as, "If [doctrines] don’t make sense to you, don’t worry about them."

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