Thursday, 22 October 2009

In search of a theologian

In January 2008, something clicked, and the realization dawned on me that I was no longer a theist, and hadn't been for some time.

As a practising Anglican, I was a little shocked by this sudden self-awareness, since it threw into question the point of continuing to belong to a church. I did some soul-searching, wondering whether I was a hypocrite to continue in religion, and initially thought it quite likely I would sever my religious commitments altogether.

After reflection, I realized there were two factors at play, and neither was more real than the other. The first was that I was not a theist, I no longer believed any doctrine literally, and I basically agreed with the arguments for atheism; the second was that the words, symbols, images, stories, rites and rituals of religion still made sense to me on some different level as a way - the way - to think about life, to live life.

I wasn't ready to give up on religion. Nor did I want to throw out the doctrines, as such. I actually wanted to keep the myths as a way of thinking about the world. I wanted to keep reflecting on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, and I wanted to keep up with and continue to be fed by the strange, dramatic rituals centred around them. I didn't want to abandon the myths because I couldn't believe them; I just wanted to reinterpret them.

I'm not naive enough to think I'm the first person to have taken this journey and come to these vague conclusions. I've poked and prodded in a few places - Tillich, Bultmann, Cupitt's Sea of Faith - to try and find a theologian that will help me to appropriate and articulate the kind of faith I think I now have. I'm looking for a theologian or a school of theology not to confirm what I believe, as if I want or need justification for it, but to articulate intellectually where I'm at. But who?

You might be able to help. Do you have suggestions for an author, a theologian, a book or a stream of theological thought? I'm eager to explore, but unsure where to begin.

I'm open to reading ideas that present different conclusions, of course, if you think they address the same questions, but be aware I am a long way past the stage of Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig, and probably can't muster the will to flirt around any more with Alister McGrath and Richard Swinburne. Sorry if that sounds harsh; just giving you some idea where I'm at.

So, thoughts? Fire away!


  1. Sounds like you've ventured into Marcus Borg territory?

  2. Yeah, I'd definitely like to read some more Borg, but I'm not sure where to begin. I'd prefer something oriented more towards an academic audience, and want to avoid anything too polemical (his latest book on Jesus kinda seems that way). Any suggestions?

  3. Btw, is that the right URL? Didn't work for me.

  4. No worries, brownpau, I got it - it's :)

  5. Ack, sorry. Yeah I was typing from memory, should have link-checked to start.

  6. Have you read much of the later Hick - I'm a long way from him theologically (and quite a way from you) - although I do have more than an infrequent existential doubt.

    In any case, I think you may enjoy him.

  7. Thomas J.J. Altizer "The Gospel of Christian Atheism"

  8. Sorry, Richard, I saw your comment weeks ago and forgot to reply. Haven't read any Hick other than the few bits I read in college, but will look him up again.

    Thanks for the Altizer recommendation, Anon.

  9. Here's two:

    Harry Emerson Fosdick, early 20th century liberal pastor.

    Richard Holloway, former bishop, and secular Christian.