The focal point of early Christian self-understanding was not a holy book or a cultic rite, not mystic experience and magic invocation, but a set of relationships: the experience of God’s presence among one another and through one another. To embrace the gospel means to enter into a community, the one cannot be obtained without the other.
The following is an excerpt from Peter Rollins’ newest book, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction. In this section, Rollins describes a service in which those gathered are invited to interact with and change the words as they saw fit to the Nicene Creed. At the close of the service, the finished arrangement as follows was then read aloud:
I believe that creeds aren’t worth the paper they are written on… But I still believe in God.
I believe that if you look at my life, you’ll only sometimes see what I believe.
I believe that if we have two coats, we should give one away (though I don’t do it).
Today I don’t believe in anything; tomorrow who knows.
I sometimes believe in God—one who existed before time, beyond gender or fathom.
Maker of heaven and earth and ginger (all good things), whales, two-hundred-foot cliffs, cloud banks, shipwrecks,
And in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost—how?
Born of a fourteen-year-old, Mary, scared out of her wits
Was crucified, dead, and buried, and I used to believe in the penal substitution theory of atonement, but now I just see a violent death and struggle to see how violence can ever be redemptive…
He descended into hell, or was hell all around him all the time?
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into safety of abstraction, away from having to feel this, from dealing with this,
And sits, maybe sprawls, on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.
I believe in me; I believe in the Spirit, Sophia, wisdom…
The holy catholic (i.e., everybody) Church;
The Communion of saints; does this mean me?
The Forgiveness of sins (but I still fell shame); (don’t you?)
The Resurrection of the body.
I believe in singing the body electric
And the life everlasting,
A life we find right here in our midst.
It could be said that humans have always sought, in different ways, to be God. It is natural for us to want to escape our finitude, to have the answers, to gain a God’s-eye view of the universe. But interestingly, within the Christian narrative, becoming like God would mean embracing our humanity. For this is what we see in the Incarnation. Becoming like God would mean affirming our finitude, celebrating our limits, and accepting that we are immersed in mystery. These are not signs that we’ve somehow failed to touch the heart of faith; instead, facing their reality demonstrates courage and faith. Indeed, it is a sacred act that is not something we do to our faith but is an expression of our faith. When we accept our unknowing and brokenness, we are not weakening our faith, we are boldly expressing it.
… [A]ll of this language of imitation and participation, all the pious and pastoral meditation on the believer’s cross, takes on a new dimension if we take the measure of the social character of Jesus’ cross.
The believer’s cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded. The believer’s cross is, like that of Jesus, the price of social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of a path freely chosen after counting the cost. It is not, like Luther’s or Thomas Müntzer’s or Zinzendorf’s or Kierkegaard’s cross or Anfechtung, an inward wrestling of the sensitive soul with self and sin; it is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come. The Word:
“The servant is not greater than his master.
If they persecuted me they will persecute you.”
is not a pastoral counsel to help with the ambiguities of life; it is a normative statement about the relation of our social obedience to the messianity of Jesus. Representing as he did the divine order now at hand, accessible; renouncing as he did the legitimate use of violence and the accrediting of the existing authorities; renouncing as well the ritual purity of noninvolvement, his people will encounter in ways analogous to his own the hostility of the old order.
Being human, Jesus must have been subject somehow or other to the testings of pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust; but it does not enter into the concerns of the Gospel writer to give us any information about any struggles he may have had with their attraction. The one temptation the man Jesus faced—and faced again and again—as a constitutive element of his public ministry, was the temptation to exercise social responsibility, in the interest of justified revolution, through the use of available violent methods. Social withdrawal was no temptation to him; that option (which most Christians take part of the time) was excluded at the outset. Any alliance with the Sadducean establishment in the exercise of conservative social responsibility (which most Christians choose the rest of the time) was likewise excluded at the outset. We understand Jesus only if we can empathize with this threefold reject: the self-evident, axiomatic, sweeping rejection of both quietism and establishment responsibility, and the difficult, constantly reopened, genuinely attractive option of the crusade.
—John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus