Ninety-Five Theses for the 21st Century
1. Our current versions of Christianity are failing, and must be replaced by new forms and beliefs.
2. The failure of Christianity and the Church can be seen in dwindling attendance, a lack of spirit, and ineffectual actions on behalf of justice.
3. While media coverage presents American Christianity as unitary, evangelical and politically conservative, in fact it is multi-faceted and various – but even with this variety, all segments are in trouble.
4. Evangelical Christianity clings to a nostalgic idea of a Jesus who is to be ultimate individual, internal and conservative, while mainstream Christianity clings to an idea of church based in white America from the 1950s, a vision that is outmoded and no longer works for younger Americans.
5. To revitalize this religion, we must begin to redefine the basic terms of Christianity, including terms that have been with us since the early beginnings of the faith.
6. This redefinition must begin with our conceptions of God, heaven, and hell.
7. Our new religion should also include new and radical notions of death, afterlife and resurrection.
8. For the future, we must rid ourselves of the outdated conceptions of sin, evil and “the good,” redefining these terms closer to their original meanings in Judaism.
9. A Christianity of the 21st Century must be one centered around moral and ethical actions, not the ultimate destination of the soul.
10. Indeed, the very idea of “soul” itself needs reconsideration.
11. We must, in the 21st century, build a new faith around terms like ‘grace’ and ‘inclusion’, ‘community’ and ‘compassion.’
12. We must let go of the need to “be right” or desperate attempts to argue that there is “one way” for faith.
13. By riding ourselves of “one way” thinking, we can rethink what “salvation” might look like.
14. Salvation has been warped into the ultimate aim of the Christian life, when that ultimate aim should be behavior that results in justice and righteousness.
15. Consequently, if there is no “one way” of Christianity, then we can no longer say that there is just one form of being a “Christian”, and we must resist the way in which media presents religion and Christianity as this monolithic, simplistic form.
16. Ultimately, therefore, there are “Christianities,” not just one “Christianity”.
17. This new “plural Christianity” requires us to examine the concept of God as more complex over the course of its faith history than we are currently willing to acknowledge.
18. We need to acknowledge that both Christianity and Judaism have had a long and difficult history defining and adopting a basic monotheism, and see that the conception of one God as a being living “up” in heaven is an outmoded historical construct, arrived at very slowly and with much conflict.
19. We must also rethink any notions of God as an anthropomorphic figure who acts as an idealized “human-like” presence.
20. We must examine and reject the idea of this conception of God as a being that directs human action, and exercises its will on daily life down to the smallest human action.
21. We must, at the same time, move beyond the notion that this God is gendered.
22. In order to embrace a new concept of God, we need to examine new words for talking about God, words that express both mystery and fluidity.
23. Or we must seek to eliminate speaking about “God” at all.
24. With the death of this particular notion of God, so too dies Christianity’s claim to favored religious status.
25. Christianity is neither “better” or “truer” than other religions.
26. Such “better or truer” talk makes it impossible to fully honor and value believers of other faiths.
27. This lack of honor and value can, and has, caused Christians to endorse both violence and exploitation against other religions.
28. This inevitably leads to the devaluing the persons who hold those “outsider” beliefs.
29. This devaluing has had real effects on these adherents, including adding to their suffering, both economic and political.
30. The alleviation of suffering is one of the primary functions of any new Christianity, so any attempt to hold Christianity has as a “higher” or “truer” faith must be rejected.
31. Any faith which devalues adherents of other religions is more interested in power that controls than love that liberates.
32. Power and control are always at work in religion dogma, and must be laid bare for examination.
33. We must also realize that any religiously motivated action, regardless of its intention, can carry both stands of power and love within it.
34. It is up to us to learn to examine, both in ourselves and our world systems, any act of love, in order to understand where power is at work.
35. The arrogance of religious power will only lead to a world of violence, exploitation, danger and conflict.
36. Too often in Christianity, lust has been conceived of only in the sexual realm.
37. Real lust is always the lust for power and control.
38. Controlling that lust for power and control is primary in creating a new Christianity.
39. Christians are called to be people of peace, and must turn away from such impulses.
40. Not only must we not embrace notions of the superiority of Christianity over other faiths, we must begin to draw upon the insights of all the religions of the world to enrich our own faith.
41. There are notions within all faiths that can lead to righteousness and justice, and we must adopt those that create good results, regardless of whether or not they have had a previous presence in Christianity.
42. We must be learners more than instructors.
43. Christianity has, since the Enlightenment, had mostly an adversarial relationship to science.
44. Now, we must not be afraid of science or philosophy, both of which can bring new vitality to Christianity.
45. Science, specifically, can no longer been seen as in opposition to religion.
46. Ways to make science and religion compatible must be sought out and nourished.
47. In addition, the function of “nature” in Christianity needs to be reexamined.
48. We can no longer see our faith as having traditional “dominion” over nature, which has only led to the depleting of our natural resources and disease and death.
49. Since any Christian faith must be, primarily, life-giving, any action which increases death must be disavowed.
50. In addition, we must refuse to romanticize nature as if it were somehow “purer” than human action or human creation.
51. Again, the role of power and control must be examined both as it relates to science and nature.
52. All religions are a combination of historical beliefs, cultural history, and modern conditions.
53. Even Christianity is not immune to these influences, and therefore, there is no “pure Christianity”.
54. Liberated from having to be the “purity and truth,” we can begin to move in provisional freedom and re-find our creativity and imagination, making Christianity finally relevant again in the world.
55. Imagination and creativity means questioning each basic premise that the faith has rested upon for centuries.
56. All “basic truths” or “pillars of the Christian faith” are, in fact, historical constructions, grounded in culture and meaning-making processes.
57. Therefore, none of these pillars are given to us by a God-figure who resides in Heaven.
58. Christianity is the human effort to make sense of our daily lives and problems and concerns.
59. This effort has produced harmful behaviors, but has also produced wisdom, the likes of which can only be produced over centuries by long and careful thinking by gifted men and women.
60. These men and women often worked in what they would have seen as the Christian tradition. However, Christianity does not have a patent on wisdom or insight.
61. Therefore, understanding other faiths is essential in coping with the difficulties and unanswered questions of life that we all grapple with.
62. In light of this, we must begin to re-recognize the debt that Christianity has to Judaism, that we are the child of Judaism and share more with that religion than we imagine.
63. This must not include the highly politicized expression “Judeo-Christian values” which is code for a certain ahistorical values that have virtually nothing to do with a new Christian world, but in fact functions to exploit those who do not share its political viewpoint.
64. We must jettison ideas that estrange us from Judaism, such as “the God of the Old Testament differs in temperament from the God of the New Testament.”
65. We must refuse to discuss the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) as a work of “violence” or “law”, as if these are deficiencies that we, in Christianity, have overcome.
66. We must reclaim the examples of Moses, Abraham, David and others in the Jewish traditions as figures just as important to our faith as Paul or Peter, and perhaps in some cases, Jesus himself.
67. Following this, we must reject any and all attempts to turn Christianity into an anti semitic religion and repudiate those dark times in history when that religion has been vilified by Christians.
68. We must make similar moves in regards to Islam and other religions, and ask for forgiveness from those faiths that previous people have faith have exploited.
69. The centrality of Christianity in the future must be grounded in the historical figure of Jesus and the historical development of the church, seen through the lens of power and control.
70. The basic text Christianity is the full Hebrew Bible combined with the New Testament, but other texts can be equal sources of wisdom and truths.
71. This includes the recognition that Jesus was a Jew of his time, and remained a Jew until this death, so any vision of Jesus that ignores his grounding in Judaism and its writings in incomplete.
72. Jesus was also a product of his historical time and the world of 1st century Judaism. Any attempt to understand him apart from this will fail.
73. Jesus did not consider himself as the “one, true” Savior of the world and Son of God in the first century Judaism.
74. Jesus, instead, viewed himself as a prophet, in line with Jewish notions of the time.
75. As a prophet, he was driven by Jewish notions of prophetic righteousness, justice and mercy.
76. Any discussion a new Christian faith must reexamine these terms - righteousness, justice and mercy - and make them central to the faith.
77. Any full, historically accurate conception of Jesus of Nazareth is impossible to find.
78. That said, we must examine the account of Jesus and the early church in light of developments in anthropology, archeology, sociology, cultural studies, etc.
79. In doing so, there needs to be a recognition the scriptures were written solely by human beings who were driven by a complex series of motives, both enlightened and self-rewarding.
80. Included in this process is the recognition that the early church included troubling attempts by some to consolidate power and control over others.
81. This impulse, which is found is all religions and social movements, has given rise to tragic events (i.e., the Crusades, the Holocaust, etc.).
82. This impulse has also given rise to miraculous movements of justice and peace.
83. Any tendencies to paint all religion, or even the impulse toward religion, as completely harmful to humanity is dangerously naïve.
84. In the same vein, any attempt to paint all religion as completely good and pure is also dangerously naïve.
85. Religion, and the Christian religion in particular, is the human attempt to make our way through live on earth, attempting to find joy, peace, responsibility and an appreciation of mystery.
86. Some methods to navigate these issues might include worship, reading, study, community life, prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
87. Yet our notion of prayer, as an action where humans seek to influence God to intervene in personal lives, must be reexamined.
88. In addition, we must move away from the idea that Jesus is only true as one’s “personal lord and savior” and recognize the importance of the community over the self.
89. Faith in this formulation can no longer be a deliverance from original sin and a “fall” of humanity, but must be seen as the courage to examine, grow and risk our received wisdom and comfort.
90. Our call to engage in this courage rests upon our faith that, if we do these things, there is a new world waiting.
91. This world must not include male domination, racial animus, power and control of one group over another, or any exploitation of the poor and hungry.
92. We must place ourselves in communities to work out how this new world can triumph.
93. In this new world, forgiveness becomes more important than being right, and humility more important than accumulation of capital and goods.
94. This new world is the wish of all great religious leaders, including Jesus of Nazareth; and the only aim of our faith is to build this new world on earth.
95. Our faith is our hope is the possibility of just such a world being created on earth.
Rev. Stephen Hinerman