While I was writing, another comment came in that, in ultimate effect, made my case. John Shuck is a Presbyterian minister in Tennessee who is, even for Presbyterians, extremely liberal. Here’s what he wrote to me:
Dear Rev. Gray,
I am John Shuck. You referred to my blog in this post. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. Yet you say that I demonstrate “beliefs and teachings that are utterly against all the PCUSA says it believes.” No sir, I do not. They may be utterly against what you say the PCUSA says. Your very action to leave the denomination demonstrates that you and the PCUSA are in disagreement. My blog is a part of my teaching ministry to my congregation and to others. Teachers introduce students to a wide variety of ideas. I certainly do not need to defend myself to you. But then again, I would never dream of attacking another minister whom I don’t even know.
It appears that you are diverting attention away from yourself by pointing at me. You made your decisions. Live with them. Don’t bring me into it.
I wasn’t attacking the Rev. Shuck, but using his public statements a evidence of what truly is happening in mainline denominations. He has every right to say what he believes, but he cannot escape scrutiny and comment. The Rev. Shuck has placed his beliefs, sermons, published papers, etc., in the public marketplace through his blog and webpage, even as I have done. In doing so, he’s put his teachings in a place where they will receive comment and criticism, even as mine have. In fact, his statements do demonstrate exactly what I believe is killing the PCUSA.
For the reader, here are some verbatim comments that you can verify from his blog (above) and his website (containing sermons and links to publications), which is linked from there.
- The Mystery was called by different names in different languages in different places—The Great Spirit, Marduk, the Goddess, Brahman, The Holy One of Israel, God, Christ, Allah, The No-Thing, the Ground of Being. But the Mystery is elusive, not allowing a name to tame it, Allowing no human to claim it for a possession.
- I can appreciate the Christian story as I appreciate a medieval work of art. I can revere it as the story of my ancestors. I can even find value in it at moments of loss for a departed loved one. But at best, it is a secondary story. For me, the story is not large enough to help me to come to terms with the challenge that human beings currently face.
- No longer can the Bible alone be our sacred canon. No religion or tradition can claim to have or to be the canon. The universe is our canon of scripture. We are not creatures placed on Planet Earth from the outside and to the outside we shall return. We are of the same cosmic stuff as the stars, the sun, the planets, and the earth, and all species of Earth. All of it is sacred. It and we are all part of that creative mysterious power of the universe. Yet we are ignorant of this powerful story.
- When faith communities begin demythologizing the Bible, some interesting things will happen. The Bible’s authority will shift away from the text and toward the individual interpreter or community of interpreters. No longer will the Bible be considered an authoritative source of truth that contains infallible propositions about God or the human condition. Rather, it will become a resource for wisdom. Since authority is earned by the truth it tells, the Bible will have whatever authority the individual or community gives to it.
- The preacher can no longer assume that just because a text is in the Bible that it is from God or is even valuable.
- Anything a preacher says must stand on its own terms. This ethic will free both the biblical text and the preacher. The text will be freed from the preacher’s misuse of it. The preacher will be freed from the constraints of needing to “preach from the Bible” or to have everything s/he says to be backed by scripture.
I believe that such views, once made public, are worthy of greater scrutiny. Is what he has written Christian? Is it in accordance with what the PCUSA says it believes? Is it wrong to ask these things?
The greatest question, for me today, is why such a different theology is in any way acceptable to the PCUSA. I do not challenge the Rev. Shuck’s right to state and publish his beliefs. I do not challenge his right to be a minister of a congregation (although I think his beliefs are closer to Unitarian/Universalism than Reformed theology). This isn’t about him, but the mainline denominations. Why are they so upset about things like per capita and property when the foundational beliefs they say they uphold are not?
The Rev. Shuck seeks, I think, to have his congregation focus on this world, and not the next. His religion is not rooted in the eternal, but the temporal. This is how he puts it:
The point is not to “believe” that the corpse of Jesus was resuscitated. The point is the power of the Spirit alive in us. The presence of Jesus with them is so powerful that he changed their lives. Without that hope, without that presence, life is hopeless. That is what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 15. He saw Jesus in a vision. He didn’t see a resuscitated corpse. But his life changed.
The Rev. Shuck has, if his writings are representative, left orthodox Christian faith. My argument is that, while he is not a typical Presbyterian pastor, the direction in which he is leading seems to be the direction mainline denominations are taking. He may simply be more honest than others.
Where are the mainline denominations going? They are leading their people away from an orthodox faith in Jesus Incarnate, crucified, and bodily risen. I believe that they are trading the power of the cross and empty tomb for a simple social creed that, while earnest and good, is nowhere near the teachings of the core of the Gospel. Many are trading the inheritance of orthodox Christian faith for the potage of simply “doing good.” This is what I hear in what the Rev. Shuck is teaching:
I have not been one who goes head over heals [sic] for creeds.
Yet this parable has prompted me to declare some truths.
I will close with what I consider to be the message of Jesus.
This message is condensed in five simple statements.
I have decided to call these statements my five fundamentals.
1. Consider your life and your limited number of days.
2. Articulate a purpose for your life.
3. Accept that the rewards for following your purpose will be intrinsic.
4. Live your purpose.
5. Allow others the freedom to do the same.
Such is good advice for a part of life, but not for all of it. C. S. Lewis said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Keep praying--keep the faith,