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Switch to Forum Live View Christian agnosticism
6 years ago  ::  Mar 09, 2009 - 9:03PM #1
Zosima K
Posts: 29

Christian agnosticism means being a Christian despite uncertainty about whether Christian teachings are true.  It is not an oxymoron because the two terms refer to different things - agnosticism to knowledge, and Christianity to belief. 


The Christian agnostic acknowledges that it is not possible to know for certain if God exists.  And if God does exist then there are additional unanswerable questions such as Why is there suffering? Why would God create a world knowing the pain we would all endure? What's the meaning of life? How can we know what God wants from us? Does God interact with the world? If so, in what ways?  Of all religions, how does one know Christianity is true?  And so on.  Religion often uses storytelling to explore these questions.  But belief is a matter of faith and not a matter of what can be proven or disproven.  So we should not fault each other for believing or disbelieving. 


Christianity requires additional leaps of faith.  Various Christians may differ on particular points of belief, but this short list is common to all Christians: belief in God the Father; Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God through whom new life is extended to humanity; the Holy Spirit; the Bible as a foundational expression of Christian belief; and the Church as a community of believers. 


Christian disagreements over the details of theology are many and will never be completely resolved.  But the Christian agnostic understands that the most important thing is not to battle over who is right and who is wrong, but rather to try to understand each other through respectful dialogue. 


Faith and doubt are often seen as antagonistic, but faith and doubt as complimentary is another way of looking at it.  They coexist in tension, but without one there would not be the other, and so there is much to be learned from engaging this tension.  So the Christian agnostic need not believe basic Christian teachings without reservation, but simply keep an open mind about the possible truth of these teachings and to live as if they are true. 


A Christian agnostic is someone who:


 Is open to Christian faith claims while acknowledging the inability to know factually.

  • Values doubt as complementary to faith, and who engages instead of suppressing doubt.
  • Acknowledges the lack of a satisfactory answer to the problem of evil and suffering, but who carries out the struggle with this problem in the context of faith rather than the rejection of faith. But those who reject faith are respected for their honest response to this difficult problem.
  • Leaves the answers to specific questions open to the individual, such as whether the resurrection was both a physical and a spiritual event, or only a spiritual one. But a Christian agnostic is unlikely to understand the crucifixion as a death demanded by an angry God, but rather as a sacrifice in terms of the risk God was willing to take knowing what would happen should He become incarnate. As such, the crucifixion is for our sins not in the sense of a debt to be paid to God, but instead as humanity hearing the victim's voice to show us what sin is capable of, so that we can be led away from sin. (See Gil Bailie's Violence Unvieled.)
  • Believes that the moral life of a Christian is best expressed by living the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, and love of God and neighbor. Judging others is inappropriate because no one is perfect, and so no one has the moral superiority that judgment implies.
  • Understands the Bible as a collection of books written over a 1,000-year timeframe. As such, it represents a conversation with and about God, with God as the central conversation partner. But the people who wrote the Bible were working within the cultures and worldviews of their day, so the Christian agnostic is unlikely to view the Bible as inerrant. This stands in contrast to the conservative view that the Bible is a divine monologue written by God, inerrant not only in theology but in history and science as well. In contrast, the Christian agnostic tries to understand the dynamics of the conversations happening within the Bible, and to engage these conversations. Many Bible stories are understood not literally, but as parables. (See Marcus Borg's Reading the Bible Again for the First Time.)
  • Instead of searching for the "historical Jesus," understands this quest not as history in the scientific sense, but rather as deconstructionist theology. As such, it is misguided because the Gospels are narratives of faith. The Christian agnostic recognizes that the resurrection experience, however understood, has always been the starting point of the Christian faith. The Gospels were written to explore the answer to the central question, "Who do you say I am?" (See Luke Timothy Johnson's The Real Jesus.)
  • Recognizes that the details of eternal life are unknown to us, but even if one believes that salvation comes only through Christ, one can also believe that Christ could save people of other faiths.
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6 years ago  ::  Mar 10, 2009 - 3:49PM #2
grampawombat
Posts: 269

If you are the person who began a similar thread on a board that I couldn't find, I appreciate very much that you have brought this topic to the progressive Christianity board. The way you have described it fits in well with much of what people here on the progressive Christianity board have to say about their religious convictions. As I indicated in my previous post on the other board, I have a copy of The Christian Agnostic, written in 1964 by British theologian Leslie Weatherhead. I hope to read it soon.


I realize that for some the term "Christian Agnostic" is an oxymoron, but I do not agree with that assessment. For me, Christianity is about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, and is definitely not dependent on the more conventional ideas of or beliefs about God.

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 10, 2009 - 6:14PM #3
Zosima K
Posts: 29

Yeah, I'm the same dude.


On the other board, I agreed with Starcomet that the word agnostic could confuse many people.  I suggested that post-modern Chritianity might be a better term.  Although I'd add that by post-modern I do not mean that Truth is relative, but instead that our individual perspectives are relative.  Or in biblical terms, we see as through a glass darkly.

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 11, 2009 - 8:23AM #4
wayfarer2k
Posts: 18

This is a good thread for discussion. If I remember correctly, an agnostic is one who claims not to know. In a certain way of knowing, I am an agnostic. If God is known through presuppositional statements, then, yes, I doubt those statements. God, in presuppositional form, is merely anthropomorphic -- he is a "he", he is a person, he is separate from other persons, he is a "superhuman" who sometimes intervenes in human affairs to affect his will. This form of knowing God is called supernatural theism and this is the Bible's main portrait of God. We know this God by learning about how different (holy) he is from us and how he wants us to live (the law). And, of course, the over-riding question about this God is 1) how can we approach someone so "other" from us and live (maybe forevermore) with this "other." The claim of this kind of knowing is that we can't know this God until something is done about our sin, hence the atonement. I'm an agnostic (and possibly an atheist) about knowing this God.


The other kind of knowing is more related to how the Bible describes Adam "knowing" Eve. It is not a knowing through presuppositions or statements of fact. It is a knowing through experience, a knowing through relationship, through the pains and joys of relating. In this kind of knowing, although the differences between the two are acknowledged, there is still, somehow, a common bond. It is the ability to interact with the other out of mutual love and respect. In this kind of knowing, we know God, not as a being "out there" but as a presence in our lives with which we interact. Or to put it in biblical terms, God is love. Love cannot be known through presuppositions or statements of fact. Love can only be known through the experience of being in love. In this way of knowing God, I am not an agnostic. I do claim, in some small degree, to experience this form of God. Of course, this way of knowing God is not quite as center stage in the Bible as is supernatural theism. I'm okay with that. Supernatural theism (God as the other) is the natural language of worship. But it tends to make God "out there", not here. Knowing God, experiencing God, relating to God is growing to see God as the one in whom we live and move and have our being. And I find this way of knowing God to be much more transformative than the way of just acknowledging facts about God.


Conservative Christianity is often rife with knowing God through presuppositions. Hence the creeds, the statements of faith, the doctrinal statements, etc. For this way of knowing God, belief is central. One must believe in God because God cannot be known through experience.


For many progressive/emerging Christians, beliefs about God are not as central. Rather, God is known through experience. And for many of us, this experience of knowing God comes through knowing Jesus. To experience the person of Jesus is, on some level, to experience God himself.


To me, the distinctions are important. When I want to know God, I look to and experience Jesus. I trust in God's Spirit. I don't try to look at every statement of God in the Bible and try to get them to jibe with each other. Instead, I know God by experiencing the person of Jesus in my life. About this, I am not an agnostic. I do claim to know. And the test of my knowing God this way is by looking, not at what I believe or don't believe, but at the fruit in my life. Jesus said that his followers would know God by loving God. And he said his followers would be known as his followers by how they love others. It is not about beliefs, it is about love. If we love, then we know God. If we don't love, then our claim to know God is hollow. May we all grow in knowing God through experiencing love. 

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 12, 2009 - 2:41PM #5
Starcomet
Posts: 414

I agree, but I will play devil's advocate again.


I dicussed this with a person on another thread who is an atheist and he says that is not possible.


If you are a Christian, you cannot be agnostic (not knowing God) and be a theist (knowing God). You have to be either one.

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 12, 2009 - 3:17PM #6
Jlaustill
Posts: 12

Mar 12, 2009 -- 2:41PM, Starcomet wrote:


I agree, but I will play devil's advocate again.


I dicussed this with a person on another thread who is an atheist and he says that is not possible.


If you are a Christian, you cannot be agnostic (not knowing God) and be a theist (knowing God). You have to be either one.




The person in the other thread is confusing belief and knowing.  Belief implies faith, knowing implies fact.  Faith is by definition something you take as true based upon no observable facts.  If you have any observable facts and/or proof of something then you cannot believe in it, you can only accept it as true i.e. know it.  Literaraly speaking faith and fact are mutually exclusive ideas and/or concepts.


It is perfectly logical to say I have no proof that God exists, yet I choose to have faith that he does.  This by definition also makes you agnostic, as you are by virtue of having faith admitting that you do not know for sure.  Along the same lines, all athiests and fundies are also taking their beliefs on faith, none of them have any proof of what they belief.  To say you will only believe in what can be proven is indeed an oxymoron.   Since God can neither be proven nor disproven, any system of spirituality that does not take faith into account can have neither a belief in, or a disbelief in God.


As an interesting sidenote, if you belief as Jesus said that you are saved by faith then do you really want proof?

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 12, 2009 - 4:03PM #7
Starcomet
Posts: 414

Mar 12, 2009 -- 3:17PM, Jlaustill wrote:


Mar 12, 2009 -- 2:41PM, Starcomet wrote:


I agree, but I will play devil's advocate again.


I dicussed this with a person on another thread who is an atheist and he says that is not possible.


If you are a Christian, you cannot be agnostic (not knowing God) and be a theist (knowing God). You have to be either one.




The person in the other thread is confusing belief and knowing.  Belief implies faith, knowing implies fact.  Faith is by definition something you take as true based upon no observable facts.  If you have any observable facts and/or proof of something then you cannot believe in it, you can only accept it as true i.e. know it.  Literaraly speaking faith and fact are mutually exclusive ideas and/or concepts.


It is perfectly logical to say I have no proof that God exists, yet I choose to have faith that he does.  This by definition also makes you agnostic, as you are by virtue of having faith admitting that you do not know for sure.  Along the same lines, all athiests and fundies are also taking their beliefs on faith, none of them have any proof of what they belief.  To say you will only believe in what can be proven is indeed an oxymoron.   Since God can neither be proven nor disproven, any system of spirituality that does not take faith into account can have neither a belief in, or a disbelief in God.


As an interesting sidenote, if you belief as Jesus said that you are saved by faith then do you really want proof?




Agreed, but I think reason and faith can come together. But yes Knowing is different from believing for the most part. Well according to him agnosticism is just a move people use to dodge question they cannot answer. I wonder what his evidence is that god is non-existant?

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 12, 2009 - 11:31PM #8
grampawombat
Posts: 269
I'm more interested in trying to figure out what I believe than how I am defined, but I do feel comfortable about calling myself a Christian Agnostic. I have been an active Protestant church member for most of the last 48 years. I have served on several church boards, and am serving on one now.

When I post on the atheist board, which I do on occasion, I refer to myself as a theist. I feel that this distinguishes me from those who feel strrongly that there is no such thing as God. On the other hand, I started a thread there for agnostics, as I have a lot of respect for those who are up front about either their uncertainty or their conviction that no one, so far, can really know whether or not God exists. I agree with that latter position.

In the statement on my profile I wrote that God is coming into being, and is a present hope of a future reality. I think of this statement more as a matter of speculation than belief, but there is, somewhere at or near the center of my being (whatever that is) a sense that this speculation is accurate.
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6 years ago  ::  Mar 13, 2009 - 9:27AM #9
Starcomet
Posts: 414

Mar 12, 2009 -- 11:31PM, grampawombat wrote:

I'm more interested in trying to figure out what I believe than how I am defined, but I do feel comfortable about calling myself a Christian Agnostic. I have been an active Protestant church member for most of the last 48 years. I have served on several church boards, and am serving on one now. When I post on the atheist board, which I do on occasion, I refer to myself as a theist. I feel that this distinguishes me from those who feel strrongly that there is no such thing as God. On the other hand, I started a thread there for agnostics, as I have a lot of respect for those who are up front about either their uncertainty or their conviction that no one, so far, can really know whether or not God exists. I agree with that latter position. In the statement on my profile I wrote that God is coming into being, and is a present hope of a future reality. I think of this statement more as a matter of speculation than belief, but there is, somewhere at or near the center of my being (whatever that is) a sense that this speculation is accurate.



Indeed, all we have is speculations as we are still searching for answers. But I also believe that some are speculations must be true.

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 13, 2009 - 9:31AM #10
Jlaustill
Posts: 12

Mar 12, 2009 -- 11:31PM, grampawombat wrote:

I'm more interested in trying to figure out what I believe than how I am defined, but I do feel comfortable about calling myself a Christian Agnostic. I have been an active Protestant church member for most of the last 48 years. I have served on several church boards, and am serving on one now.   When I post on the atheist board, which I do on occasion, I refer to myself as a theist. I feel that this distinguishes me from those who feel strrongly that there is no such thing as God. On the other hand, I started a thread there for agnostics, as I have a lot of respect for those who are up front about either their uncertainty or their conviction that no one, so far, can really know whether or not God exists. I agree with that latter position.  In the statement on my profile I wrote that God is coming into being, and is a present hope of a future reality. I think of this statement more as a matter of speculation than belief, but there is, somewhere at or near the center of my being (whatever that is) a sense that this speculation is accurate.



I understand your desire to know what you believe 100%.  I find for myself that the harder I try to label and/or define myself the more I am forced to understand what I believe.  That however may not be true for everyone.

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