I’m sure Rev. Bolz-Weber would be the first to say her book is not meant to be a theology textbook, definitely not a Systematic Theology treatment. I expect she would also be quick to say it does not necessarily reflect or even represent Progressive Christianity. It is her personal faith. Yet, it is about her “faith” and she makes statements of “faith” which represent what she believes to be true about God and Jesus and people and the dynamic of living and believing. She does so as a Pastor with a seminary education and as a “spiritual leader”. She has taken up the position to minister to people with regard to their relationship to God and Jesus, however, she might view it. As confused as she might feel she is about such things and as mysterious as she may think they are, she has set out to speak with some “authority” about them or perhaps some knowledge.
Despite the contention often voiced that God is bigger than our conceptions, that God is ultimately a mystery, that God cannot be contained in propositions, and that faith is not the same as statements of scientific fact or other forms of knowledge, it’s hard to ignore what appear to be “propositions” about Jesus and God. These are made as statements of what is true. They are also made against the backdrop of being raised in the very conservative and fundamentalist Church of Christ. She often interacts with what she was taught and other expressions of the same sort of beliefs to contract them with what she now believes and preaches.
In the book there are recurring ideas and themes. There is the theme, “Where is God in suffering” in which she also touches on the cross and incarnation. There is what she finds as the compelling dynamic of “death and resurrection” by which God makes people whole, over and over and the overarching theme of grace, or perhaps Grace, with a big “G” which she considers the hallmark of Lutheranism and of her perspective on God, Jesus and Christianity. These are the things she seeks to represent in her life, preaching and her ministry to people. This latter touches on the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross.
Perhaps she would distance all of this from “theology” or things like “Christology” and “Anthropology” and all the other classic subsets of Theology proper, but nonetheless, that what her statements represent, soft and tentative as they may be in their presentation. No matter how personal they might be. What’s more, she supports these from the Bible. She acknowledges that there are a lot of awful parts of the Bible, parts she heard in the Church of Christ, but also some really “awesome” parts. She acknowledges that it is foolish to believe the Bible was “written by God”, but yet, being written by people, it is still, in some way, revelatory of true knowledge about the divine.
She states she never ceased to believe in God during her sojourn outside the Church. She simply turned her back on what she had been taught for the most part. She seems to have embraced some of it, added to it as with the “goddess” and female side of God, modified it and then brought it back into the realm of the Church and Lutheranism and the Bible, reframed it, recast it and baptized it. She states she never did become an atheist and in response to a conversation while interning as a Hospital Chaplain tells one woman who identifies as an atheist, she could “never pull that off”.
So, I will look at statements she makes about these sort of “theology” type things and see what I can make of them and ask my own questions. My primary question is, “How exactly does that work”? “Can you be a bit more specific, flesh it out a little”?
As I’ve said, it is an engaging, if not for me rather frustrating at time, read. I believe the most troubling and perhaps most telling aspect of her view and perhaps most determinitive of her answer to my “Why”? questions is her “anthropology” or view of “people”. Here is a quote on trying to be Unitarian.
“In the end, as much as I desperately wanted to be Unitarian, I couldn’t, because what I needed was a specific divine source of reconciliation and wholeness, a source that is connected to me in love, bue does not come from inside of me”.
Earlier in the passage she states:
“Unitarians are such smart, good people. They seem so hopeful. They vote Democrat and recycle and love women and they let you believe anything you want to, and I wanted to be one of them badly. But I couldn’t pull it off. Four years of sobriety hadn’t come to me as the result of hopefulness and positive thinking. It wzs grace. Unitarians just don’t talk much about our need for God’s grace. They have a higher opinion of human beings than I have ever felt comfortable claiming, as someone who both reads the paper and knows the condition of my own heart”. …. “I couldn’t be comforted by my own divinity or awesomeness, although I’d love it if I could”.
She sees herself and others as broken or at least not whole, and in desperate need of something entirely outside of themselves and of divine, essentially supernatural, origin to just get by. The need does not seem to admit of much progress. It seems to be a cycle of a few steps forward and some lessor number of steps backward. It is something that requires a cycle of dying and being raised again over and over entirely from something outside yourself by a power you cannot in any way lay claim to. This is a desperate anthropology and not really that different from the traditional Christian view of people.