Reimagining Christianity, by Alan Jones

The Emerging Church movement is varied and fluid.  There are those who hold to orthodoxy and those who don't.  So, we need to read the material from Emerging Church pastors and learn what they teach.  One such person is Alan Jones, the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California, who wrote the book Reimagining Christianity.1 This book is nothing more than a heresy-fest authored by someone who has little, if any, understanding of biblical truth.  I found in its pages scores of unbiblical, anti-Christian, and plain-ole stupid comments.  In fact, the book is so bad that I would doubt the salvation of anyone who would knowingly approve of it.  Seriously, it is that bad!  So, who does approve of it?  So far, Brian McLaren does:

"'It used to be that Christian institutions and systems of dogma sustained the spiritual life of Christians. Increasingly, spirituality itself is what sustains everything else. Alan Jones is a pioneer in reimagining a Christian faith that emerges from authentic spirituality. His work stimulates and encourages me deeply.' –– Brian D. McLaren, pastor (crcc.org) and author of A New Kind of Christian"2

Reimagining Christianity by Alan Jones is a seriously bad book.  You'll see why when you read the quotes that I have extracted from it and listed below, quotes that deny the virgin birth, affirm evolution, cast doubt on the very words of Christ and the Bible itself, that say Christianity is sadomasochistic, that deny the penal substitution of Christ, and declare Christianity only one of many valid religions.

The quotes are in outline form by topic.  I've highlighted some of the "better" quotes in brown, though I'm tempted to highlight them all.  Get ready for some crud.

  1. Bible
    1. "The point of reading the Bible is for mystical transformation, not for defending a particular position or to punish those we regard as deviant" (p. 114).
    2. "I find that treating the Bible literally kills its ability to probe me with disturbing questions.  Literalism kills argument, and what's great about the Bible is that it invites dispute in conversation" (p. 202).
    3. "The Bible is great because it is in constant argument with itself" (p. 203).
    4. "In the middle ages, the mystics saw the necessity of reading from three books: the Bible, the Book of Nature, and the Book of Experience.  One wasn't enough.  The Bible, cut off from the other two books, becomes a self-authenticating collection of magic spells and incantations that are true because they're true" (p. 203).
    5. "Are the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament really his?  My approach has always been skeptical with regard to the text and open with regard to that tradition" (p. 209).
  2. Buddhism
    1. "I've learned a lot from friends who once abandoned Christianity but came back to it by way of Buddhism.  I have much sympathy with those who turn to that tradition for a breath of sanity" (p. 11).
    2. "The United States is a Muslim country.  The United States is a Buddhist country.  I discovered that the nice woman next to me on a plane recently is a witch who values the spirits in trees, rivers, and mountains.  She struck me as strong and gentle and full of love.  I thought, 'How great to be a member of such an interesting and caring family'" (p. 22).
    3. "John Shepherd, the dean of St. George's Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia, invited the abbot of the Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery to preach at the service, which was a Eucharist -- the central Christian sacrament.  The abbot accepted in full knowledge of this.  Aboriginal dancers led the procession into the cathedral and later led the offertory procession to the altar.  During communion, representatives of the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Baha'i faiths read passages from their sacred writings, and after communion an aboriginal leader offered a dream-time reflection.  Was this Christian?  The answer, as far as I'm concerned, is 'Of course'" (p. 88).
    4. "Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield tells us that people who are aware at the time of their death tend to ask very simple questions: 'Did I love well?' 'Did I live fully?' 'Did I learn to let go?' These are the questions of ultimate allegiance--the questions kept alive by the religious imagination (p. 231).
  3. Certainty
    1. "What does reimagining religion involve? -- exchanging the dogmatic stance of certainty for the way the imagination, which is not frightened by the thought that God is greater than religion" (p. 12).
  4. Christianity
    1. "Each of the monotheistic religions has its own peculiar neurosis: Judaism is obsessive/compulsive; Christianity is sadomasochistic; Islam suffers from megalomania" (p. 20).
    2. "And concerning Christianity, I am not interested in its survival, and it's adapting to the so-called modern world.  Christianity doesn't need anyone to save it.  If it has any truth, it will continue.  If it hasn't, it deserves to die" (p. 43).
    3. "I see the world through the images of Christianity, which teaches me that I encounter God in everyone I meet regardless of what they believe" (p. 64).
  5. Doctrine
    1. "A 'doctrine' is not like the fact to be believed but rather a way of being in the world that is validated by experience" (p. 207-8).
  6. Evolution
    1. "So we began not with Adam and Eve, but 4 billion years ago, when life began in the seas.  Life came ashore only 425 million years ago.  Our immediate ancestors were relative newcomers, showing up 423 million years later.  Homo erectus came on the scene 750,000 years ago, and Homo sapiens 150,000 years after that.  Our crowd, Homo sapiens sapiens, has been around for only about 90,000 years.  That's the background to our story, which celebrates our solidarity with the other animals.  We are reminded that we share more than 98% of our DNA with the chimpanzee.  And--wonder of wonders-- this human creature began to speak and tell stories" (p. 205).
  7. God
    1. "The doctrine of the holy and undivided Trinity is a doctrine about what it is to be human" (p. 177).
    2. "God was clearly God, and yet God came to them in three ways that were distinct but not separate" (p. 178).
  8. Jesus
    1. "The church's fixation on the death of Jesus as a universal saving act must end, and the place of the cross must be reimagined in Christian faith.  Why?  Because of the cult of suffering and the vindictive God behind it" (p. 132).
    2. "Duffy is right when he insists:  'The cross is not some arbitrary demand of God imposed on a hapless victim... but a marker where human beings find themselves, at the intersection of justice and mercy, time and eternity, death and life.  All of which, of course, is the language of myth: but myth is the coin of religion, which make sense of our world by telling such stories"  (p. 133).
    3. "We call Jesus divine because he makes visible the mystery in his living, dying, and rising to new life.  He shows us that we exist only in relationship with each other and that the secret of life is found in giving it away" (p. 142).
    4. "Christ and Buddha are not antithetical" (p. 146).
    5. "The question, 'Is Jesus God?', is not like questions such as 'Was Abraham Lincoln from Illinois?' The questions sound the same, but the latter question is easily settled by me and a few inquiries.  The question about Christ's divinity is a far larger one, about how we interpret the world.  We don't know what life means until we have learned how to turn it into a story-- a myth.  A myth, in a sense, is not something untrue, but a story without which the truth could not be told" (p. 149).
    6. "Jesus is the way to a new kind of life.  Jesus and Buddha have this in common with all great spiritual teachers-- to make human beings more conscious of themselves, to get to be more real" (p. 194).
    7. "The other thread of just criticism addresses the suggestion implicit in the cross that Jesus' sacrifice was to appease an angry God.  Penal substitution was the name of this vile doctrine" (p. 168). 3
  9. Mary
    1. "I believe the Bible and the creeds but not literally, and I'm no atheist.  I love the tradition and am nurtured by it.  I have a great devotion to Mary the Mother of God but am agnostic about her literal virginity-- or, to put it bluntly, I couldn't care less about it" (p. 31).
    2. "For my part, I won't allow those who insist on a literal interpretations [sic] of these myths and doctrines to deprive me of my devotion to her [Mary].  Was she literally a virgin?  I don't know...But  much of the emphasis on virginity arose from a negative and destructive view of sexuality.  So I doubt very much whether Mary was literally a virgin..." (p. 175).
  10. Miscellaneous
    1. "Being a human being is to be summoned to participate in a great myth because our lives need interpreting.  Our interpretation of life will depend on the particular myth to which we are captive" (p. 115).
    2. "The opening of the Fourth Gospel has been translated, 'in the beginning was the conversation and the conversation was God and in the fullness of time that conversation entered into our flesh.'  If I had to sum up the theological method of my faith commitment, it would be to affirm my trust in that conversation" (p. 179).
    3. "We become truly free if we open our lives for other people and share life with them, and if other people open their lives for us and share them with us" (p. 181).
    4. "It is a mistake to think that you have to swallow a few correct beliefs before you can embark on a spiritual journey" (p. 193).
    5. "In short, if we start with experience (and I think we should), we are in for a rough ride.  We are wedded to poetry, myth, metaphor, and the dangers of subjectivity.  That's why we need each other to keep testing for reality" (p. 194).
  11. Mystical
    1. "Still others seemed centuries ahead of me, exploring terrain I have yet to discover.  My friend Robert lives a cosmos full of intelligence and love.  He sees in the history of the evolution of consciousness a divine direction and purpose" (p. 36).
    2. "Mistrusted by both extremes, I see the mystical and contemplative as the necessary grounding for social action and involvement in issues of justice."  Page 88
  12. Religion
    1. "Our first task in reimagining religion, then, is to move from the narrowly tribal, where our story is the only story, to a wider definition of "tribe" that can embrace stories other than our own, told by people who are different from us" (p. 16).
    2. "I think of the many versions of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism now playing in the world and I wonder: why label?  Why ask is it Christian, Muslim, Buddhist?  Why not ask simply: is it true?" (p. 33).
  13. Truth
    1. "Stories about a Muslim or Christian heaven are great works of imagination but are diminished when taken to exclude others as literally true.  They banish other equally valid fantasies about a realm that can never be described" (p. 163-64).
  14. Yoga
    1. "George took up yoga, which speeded his recovery.  Later he stayed for several weeks in a Tibetan monastery in Northern California.  He still calls himself a Christian but the disciplines of yoga and Eastern meditation are part of his life now and have helped him to go deeper into his own tradition" (p. 147).

From what I see of biblical revelation and what I read from Alan Jones, the two are in opposition.  The book "Reimagining Christianity, is dangerous and is, in my opinion, helped along by the spirit of anti-Christ.  Is it good for anything?  Yes, two things:  an example of heresy and lighting bond-fires.

 

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  • 1. Jones, Alan., Reimagining Christianity, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2005.
  • 2. www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0471457078.html.
  • 3. Penal Substitution is the legal aspect of Jesus' atonement dealing with satisfying God's wrath.  The Law of God has punishments.  If you sin, you suffer God's wrath.  Jesus' sacrifice was legal in that it fulfilled the requirements of God's law by substituting himself for us (Isa. 53:4-6), taking our place of death on the cross.

 

 

 

 
 
CARM ison