For four or five centuries the intellectual tide in support of the supernatural has been receding. It is sadly surprising, then, to hear of Christians being reluctant to divulge a lack of belief in anything supernatural. Is it possible to be a follower of Jesus Christ without acknowledgement of a supernatural realm?
An answer would depend on both Biblical interpretation and the intellectual relationships between systematic theology, philosophy and empirical knowledge gained via experience and research. Knowledge is never static nor is biblical interpretation.
The evolving nature of understanding has given rise to many versions of what it may mean to be a follower of Jesus. By virtue of their existence Church denominations give witness to this, as do categories ranging from so-called Bible based Christian to Christian Atheist.
The test of faith becomes acute when one reaches a point of acceptance, or not, about the endless nature of unconditional intellectual enquiry. For many this has become a question of integrity. Why should some questions remain contained by a confession of faith?
The point is not as simple as saying show me evidence and I will believe. Rather the point of faith co-existing with unconditional enquiry is to live with deepest respect for the human condition.
In Christian terms, such respect holds incarnation as a continuing reality of being wholly present within this life and, subsequently, letting go of any fear of judgement beyond this life. Heaven becomes understood as a state of being and the Way of Jesus becomes the means of entering such a state.
Christian spirituality and theology has long sought to align the religious poetic imagination with explicit intellectual expression. Explaining the imaginative and intuitive has found rich resource with supernatural imagery. Ironic in the use of anthropomorphic language, supernatural imagery has served to transcend present circumstances by being the means to hold an endless source of ideals, aspirations and hope. However, how well is such language continuing to convey significant meaning?
Can one hold a Christian Faith without a supernatural belief? To say 'no' confronts a prominent dimension of Christian orthodoxy. To say 'yes' engages growing numbers asking unconditional questions about Biblical interpretation in the light of current scientific, historical and philosophical research.
There is much writing and gathering about such thinking. A range of contemporary examples include, Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age, Lloyd Geering's writings of Christianity without God, Don Cupitt, The Jesus Seminar, Bishop John Spong are among them. [i]
This can be an uncomfortable topic. However, it is one that has been in an evolving public debate for at least the last five centuries. Room abounds to engage such writers in open debate.
Alternatively, one may ignore the discussion, seek to discredit or use the weight of authoritative office to quieten or even intimidate. Whatever any response may be this discussion is not going away. In the face of discovery in many fields of enquiry, increasing access to education and the advent of social media, the likelihood is it will become more pronounced.
Recourse to the supernatural carries the answers to things that may or cannot be explained. For example: How did life begin? A straight forward answer has long been 'God made heaven and Earth'.
Alternatively, the same answer may also be understood as one born of the poetic imagination, seeking to convey the miraculous gift of life. And it is from seeking to understand this gift that much of the unconditional enquiry now challenging the validity of belief in a supernatural realm arises.
Poetry, music, for example, bring the imaginative mind and rational observer into a concerted expression that, at once, may be a transcendent presence and bearer of light to the practical depths of compassion, hope, love, fear and understanding.
The intellectual craft of Biblical text is filled with expressions of the poetic mind. The same can be said of worship and liturgy. Is it possible to imagine the living of Christian Faith, where there is no exclusivity about supernaturalism but rather a fearless inclusivity of any who would seek Jesus' Way to life in all its fullness?
[i] See for example:
Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007
Lloyd Geering, Christianity without God, Bridget Williams Books, 2003
19 February 2014