INTRODUCTION: Christianity needs a Second Reformation
Led by Martin Luther five hundred years ago, the western Christian Church shed many of its most peculiar beliefs in a social earthquake called the Protestant Reformation. This website argues for the need for a Second Reformation of Christianity which would be founded on more modern views of Scripture and acceptance of established scientific facts. Such a reformation would shed outdated and irrational beliefs and would stress the dynamic core of God’s Good News for humankind.
Such a revolution would change Christianity. The result would be a religion called New Christianity. New Christianity would explain the essence of the real Jesus to modern people based on modern research into the historical Jesus and traditional church doctrine.
Today, what we should call Old Christianity is weakening in the USA and is almost dead in Europe. Why?
Obviously, there are multiple causes, but one of the main reasons for the decline of conventional Christianity is that the traditional Christian belief system is littered with unnecessary accretions dating from 2,000 years ago. Many of these are not essential to the core message of Christianity: Salvation and redemption are possible for everyone. In addition, modern interpretations of Scripture and widely accepted scientific ideas have made many of those cultural accretions seem odd, outdated, and/or objectionable.
This site seeks to strip Christianity of its pre-modern barnacles by accepting newly found historical or scientific facts. Due to modern scholarship we know more today about Jesus, Paul, first century Palestine, and the first century Roman Empire than Martin Luther or John Calvin ever knew. This scholarship underscores the fact that the true gospel is indeed "good news."
Here are a few examples of problematic beliefs for Christians living in the 21st Century:
Today, people simply can’t believe that one original man and woman were created 6,000 years ago and gave rise to the human race.
People doubt that sin can be inherited (from an Adam and Eve).
They don’t believe that the crucifixion of a human being could be a requirement by a loving God.
They are repulsed by the cruelty shown by “God’s people” in the Old Testament.
They have great difficulty believing that Jesus was born in a virgin birth.
They smile when told that Jesus of Nazareth will return to earth riding on a cloud and blowing a trumpet.
They wonder how a God of love could end the world in the horrific way described in the Book of Revelation.
They have doubts about the existence of a Devil.
They are put off by the idea that due to a predestined “election,” some people will achieve “salvation” and others will suffer “damnation.”
They don’t believe that if they do not “claim Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior” then they will go to Hell.
To be sure, some modern Christians pick and choose among these claims, but science and the advances in knowledge it has brought about have dealt all these claims a heavy blow.
Christians raised in the church will object. “Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘All Scripture is inspired by God…?’ (2 Timothy 3:16) How is it possible to pick and choose among scriptures, discounting some over others?” This is an excellent question.
The answer comes when one reads the Bible enough to realize that contradictions appear. In that case we use common sense and usually gravitate to one of the passages over another that contradicts it. Perhaps the favored passage sounds more authentic, or one passage seems to break up the natural sequence of the previous or following passages. Scholars have developed their own procedures in determining authentic from inauthentic scriptural passages.
Examples abound. Matthew, Mark, and Luke report that Jesus was crucified on Passover. John insists it was the day before. It isn’t possible that Jesus was crucified twice. We must choose.
Or consider the Ascension. Matthew describes this as occurring on a mountain in Galilee. Mark reports that Jesus ascended while in Jerusalem. Luke insists that it occurred in Bethany. John doesn’t report an ascension, simply that Jesus made multiple appearances. How does one determine the truth?
This website attempts to rationalize this problem, using generally accepted principles of “criticism” (as in “critique”) and the generally accepted precepts of modern science.
Christianity and Science
We hold that Christians should embrace generally settled scientific facts since facts can indeed support belief in a Supreme Being. For example, science has shown that 13.8 billion years ago all matter in the universe condensed into a mass smaller than the size of a pinhead and then exploded, creating a new universe. Today, we know that the expansion of the universe is accelerating by a process still only partly understood. The Big Bang Theory is a creation story that is empirically accurate, and yet as fantastic as that presented in the Book of Genesis. And the mystery remains: where did matter and energy come from? "From God” is still a respectable answer.
Even mundane scientific knowledge can attest to the existence of an intelligent, rational God hidden behind the face of the universe. For instance, many of the operations of the universe can be reduced to mathematical equations. An example is the balance between inertia and gravity in the orbits of our universe’s planets which can be reduced to mathematical formulae. The energy that holds the molecules of a shirt button together can be calculated by multiplying the button’s mass by the speed of light squared. The laws of physics, chemistry and many other areas of science all give impressive evidence of a great, rational Mind at work in the universe, a Mind still cloaked in mystery, just as the God of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others is ultimately mysterious. For all these reasons, Christians should not fear science. It is simply a testament of another kind.
In this age of advanced science, Christians should stand where John Calvin stood at the dawn of the Scientific Revolution. Confronted by the discoveries of Galileo, he rejected the idea of a heliocentric universe, but remarked that if it proved to be true, we would have to return to the Scriptures and reinterpret them. We also should reinterpret the scriptures. Christians should learn to accept generally settled scientific facts and reinterpret Biblical assertions which are clearly fanciful or metaphorical.
Here are some examples of such assertions that can certainly be reinterpreted from a contemporary perspective:
The Garden of Eden story in Genesis 2 is not empirically true, but it can be accepted as metaphorical truth. In Hebrew, the word “Adam” can be translated to mean “humankind,” and the word “Eve” translated as meaning “life.” The story of the Garden of Eden was one way that a prescientific people could answer the important questions, “Where did we come from?” and “Why is there so much trouble in the world?” It’s a good story that retains its truth as metaphor. God made us. We have free will to make choices. Pride (ego) causes much trouble. We tend to shift blame and make excuses. Those Scriptural truths are still powerful.
Or consider the story of creation presented in Genesis 1. It has been scientifically proven that creation did not occur 6,000 years ago, nor was it accomplished in six days. Instead, the universe surely began with the previously-mentioned Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Yet Christians need not abandon that lovely story in Genesis 1. It should be accepted as the way a prescientific people answered the question, “Where did the universe and everything in it come from?” And note again, science cannot answer the question of where the Big Bang’s matter and energy came from. The answer – God made them – is not necessarily less true than other speculations.
The foibles of human nature as explained by certain parts of the Bible should also be examined and reinterpreted in the light of more contemporary ideas and theories concerning human behavior. If humans tend to be prideful, selfish, and resistant to the assumption of responsibility, where did those qualities come from? The Apostle Paul claimed that sin has been inherited from Adam and Eve and exists in all of us from birth (Romans 5:18). This claim seems peculiar in the 21st Century since modern genetics tells us that sin is not an inherited trait and that we simply make bad free will choices sometimes. Similarly, Paul’s contention that humans are governed entirely by evil is extreme and untrue: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). Clearly, humans are capable of both good and bad actions and thoughts and studies in psychiatry and neurology show that human behavior is governed by a complex combination of factors, including genetics, environmental conditions, and even technological advances.
Finally, Paul’s contention that death comes to us because of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12) is simply wrong. Every living creature eventually dies. Even stars are born, grow old, and die. Death is simply part of a natural cycle. These antiquated assertions must be reinterpreted and understood as ways a pre-modern humans tried to explain their world.
The Flood story is another one that can be reinterpreted in the light of science. In human prehistory, there were many floods. Humans were still emerging from the Old Stone Age and an Ice Age as the globe began warming 10,000 years ago. At the peak of the Ice Age 25,000 years ago, the oceans were about 400 feet lower than they are today. As trillions of tons of ice melted, the oceans rose, flooding the Mediterranean basin, San Francisco Bay, the Black Sea basin, and the Persian Gulf. These cataclysmic events occurred within the oral history of people living in Old Testament times, leaving a memory.
However, there may be another possible explanation behind the Flood story. Noah lived in the Tigris-Euphrates flood plain. Rain clouds blew to the east from the Mediterranean Sea and hit the Zagros Mountains just east of that floodplain, then rose against the mountains and dumped their moisture into the rivers below, flooding the dikes, farms, and villages located in the area. Noah, a responsible fellow, perhaps seeing the dikes cracking in the summer heat and being unable to motivate people to work on repairs, could have foreseen trouble and built a raft to be ready to escape possible death and destruction. Tt is also possible that his actions could have been prompted by a vision of some kind. If Noah managed to save his family and his livestock from a once-in-a-century storm event, and he survived to tell his extraordinary tale, the Flood story would have been born. Over succeeding centuries, the dramatic story was embellished as it was retold.
Of course, the Flood story is certainly not entirely factually true. First, there’s not enough water on the planet to cover all the mountains on earth. Second, where would Noah have gotten two of every species living on the planet at the time? How could food for every species of animal be obtained and kept fresh for 40 days, and so on? If the Flood story is reinterpreted as a local, devastating event that has been exaggerated over time, then it makes sense and can be appreciated. People love a dramatic story with a happy ending.
Noah's Ark (Replica)
The Biblical account of the conquest of the Promised Land contains harrowing instructions from “the Lord” that are difficult for modern Christians to defend: “Kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man” (Numbers 31:17). “Destroy them totally… Show them no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 7:2). These Old Testament passages simply illustrate the way people waged war in those days; they should not be taken as instructions for carrying out God’s will. Although the writers of such passages justify such actions by saying that the instructions to carry them out came from “the Lord,” we should consider that the God of the New Testament is a loving and just God to all, including non-Jews. Had He wished for the inhabitants of the Promised Land to vacate, he could have simply put “the fear of God” into them and made them depart in panic.
Thus, as the above examples illustrate, many stories in the Bible should be seen as legends, either invented by pre-scientific peoples to answer timeless questions, or exaggerated by them in accounts of actual historic events.
In summary, this website focuses on certain claims made in the New Testament which have caused much contention and which are historically inaccurate and/or factually impossible. It argues that the simple, clear message given by Jesus of Nazareth has been distorted and misrepresented, especially by:
the Book of Revelation, which has terrorized Christians (and Muslims) for millennia with the false expectation of an apocalyptic End of the World,
the Gospel of John, which has given us so many strange doctrines that we cannot easily list them here, and
the Apostle Paul, whose doctrinal innovations, (especially his unique Atonement Doctrine) and sour depiction of human nature, have warped our understanding of the core message of Christianity--that God simply requires that we live righteous lives in service to his Kingdom here on earth.
A more hopeful Christian belief system, founded on the original teachings of Jesus contained in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) should replace the outdated and irrelevant views contained in the above-mentioned writings.* A modern "New Christianity" that would emerge would contain four main ideas: :
We should diligently pursue the tasks that God has given each person to do in this life, usually to raise children to honorable adulthood, and to pursue one’s special “calling,” using one’s God-given special talent.
We must avoid sin and uphold the moral order.
We should be kindhearted, generous, and forgiving, neither seeking revenge nor holding grudges.
These three should be the subject of daily prayer, meditation, and Scripture reading.
Adopting these four tenets will help Christianity recover from its decline by emphasizing its most basic and powerful message while shedding many of the irrational and outdated accretions dating from the first century, CE.
*For an attempt to more fully enunciate the core beliefs preached by Jesus of Nazareth as found in the Synoptic Gospels, go to 21st Century Beliefs on this website.