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? Diversity of belief and practice have existed from the beginning, at least in Christianity. Wilken continues, 'There is no original Christian faith, no native language, no definitive statement of the meaning of Christ for all times.' (33)
The test of dogma is in the character and life it builds. I suppose there would be few objections to hoping that human beings would be more Christ-like, and it wouldn't hurt if the human family embodied more of the spirit of the compassionate Buddha. If we think of Christianity as a story rather than as an argument, we might avoid the trap of spiritual-empire-building and allow other traditions to be in conversation without own. (144)
As spiritual pilgrims in a wide-open world, some of us have not only learned to trust people on paths other than our own but also have discovered that we cannot go forward on our journey without their help. The central images of Christianity elicit a spirit of hospitality and openness. The pregnancy of new possibilities, the vulnerability of suffering love, the free gift of communion - none of these images bullies or coerces. Each invites conversation. Christ and Buddha are not antithetical. They are not at cross-purposes. Neither are they identical. The man on the cross and the princely contemplative are different images telling different stories. But they are not at war. They can be in conversation. There is grace in both.
Buddha has brought many back home to Christ, and Buddhism enables many to go on calling themselves Christians because the form of Christianity they experienced earlier in their lives had become a suffocating tomb. (146-147)
I believe the Bible and the creeds but not literally, and I am 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. It's all right by me if people believe it literally as long as they get the point that it turns your idea of God upside down . . . Literalism cripples the imagination because it cannot fathom that something could be true on one level and not on another: true as metaphor and teaching but not rue literally. (31)
I haven't mentioned Mary's virginity (perpetual or otherwise). Nor have I taken on the Roman Catholic doctrines of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption . . . While these doctrines (or better, devotions) can be occasions of fruitful meditation, they are, on the whole, distractions and allow people to miss the point of Mary's true role in the story. She reveals eh awesome humility and availability of God. For my part, I won't allow those who insist on a literal interpretations of these myths and doctrines to deprive me of my devotion to her. Was she literally a virgin? I don't know. I do know that in the old stories and commentaries about her, virginity was often a code word for absolute dedication. Christ, in this regard, was even referred to as the archvirgin. 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, but I know many who sincerely believe that she was. (175)
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 ist hat it invites dispute and conversation. The ancient rabbis went in for endless interprtation. That's why I can believe it could be the Word of God. Its meaning is elusive and leads to more and more questions. The philosopher Nietzsche described the Hebrew Bible as the best book in the world. It had this distinction because it is not just a system of worship and beliefs. the Bible is great because it is in constant argument with itself. (202-203)
Are there parts of the Christian language and vocabulary that should be revised or even abandoned? The Roman Catholic writer James Carroll certainly thinks so. He believes that we have made the sacred mistake of putting the cross at the center of Christianity in the wrong way. Carroll insists that Catholics must not only 'reverently and silently' remove the cross from Auschwitz but, far more fundamentally, must remove the cross from the center of Christianity. The Church's fixation on the death of Jesus as the 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.
Such writing disturbs our inherited certainties and, for some, seems to mean the total dismantling of traditional Christianity. It also invites us to learn a new language. Many Christians have come to see that the very foundational documents of Christianity are polluted . . . (132)
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. I don't doubt for one moment the power of sin and evil in the world or the power of sacrificial love as their antidote and the peculiar power of the cross as sign of forgiveness and restoration, but making God vengeful, all in the name of justice, has left thousands of souls deeply wounded and lost to the Church forever.
What does the image of the cross mean to me? It is a sign of the necessary crucifixion of ideologies in the face of concrete human experience - the crucifixion of power plays, the crucifixion of a god we think we can conceptually control. It also is a sign of humanity's need to find someone to blame for its ills. When we suffer or are threatened, we look for scapegoats. (168)
With these statements, Jones is not a Christian. It is impossible to be a Christian apart from a proper understanding of the cross. Though many have found other inherent meanings of the cross in additional to penal substitution, one cannot deny that It was for the purpose of substitution on which Christ bore the penalty due us all that He bore the cross. Jones can repaint the cross into something else all he wants, but he is not left with a masterpiece. He is not left with the gospel.