A progressive Christian can explore new possibilities to be found in pushing beyond the constraints of theism and a-theism; and the blunt and limited question of believing or not believing in a “theistic” notion of “God.” Folks typically fashion our notion of anything we deem sacred “Oneness” in anthropomorphic terms, so we can more easily relate to the idea, as expressed with the limitations of our human language and experience. The Christian then proceeds to incarnate that God notion with a Christology in which Jesus is historically construed as a co-eternal mediator and – peculiarly – a substitutionary sacrifice.
But for those progressives for whom such a construct is no longer viable or credible, it can be asked what might still be found amidst the theological rubble in a post-modern – even post-deconstructionist – age? Indeed, what may have been there from the start of the entire imaginative process; known in the earliest days of a pre-“Christian” movement, known simply as the Way (of Jesus)? As near as we might be able to discern it with our own creative and interpretive imaginations, what resemblance might it bear to the “voice-print” of an extraordinarily imaginative character we might want to befriend?
In the post-modern quest for a historical Jesus, some now hypothesize we may be dealing with a composite figure; while others even argue Jesus was only a fictional character, a contrivance for socio-political purposes. But even if one were reluctant to embrace the factual premise there was at least one such itinerant Galilean peasant sage that existed in the early part of the first century CE, one can hardly ignore the multi-faceted movement that subsequently arose as a result of such a figure, imaginary or not. Every subsequent individual orator, writer, or their collective early faith community then employed their own active, creative and interpretive imaginations to configure, or reconfigure, whoever, or whatever, that original figure may have been.
It is precisely our own interpretive imagination that draws us into the same sacred activity that is so central to the life and teaching of the Jesus character so consistently portrayed in what so many biblical scholars believe are the most authentic words of that historical figure (or figures). If nothing else, it seems clearly apparent that the Jesus character portrayed in so many of the tales and teachings with which “he” is credited, is clearly that of a social visionary with the most active and creative imagination. His ethical teachings and whacky parables routinely upturn conventional wisdom and common assumptions.
Who – except perhaps in their wildest imagination — would turn the other cheek, walk a second mile, give without measure, or forgive without counting the cost to one’s own self? Or reconsider what imaginative nonsense is found in the storylines of the lost sheep, the prodigal’s unwarranted gift of grace, the “good” Samaritan’s unstinting compassion. Can you imagine such a thing? Every injunction how to treat others, give to others, care for others, forgive others, arises out of the act of imagining the way things could be, or ought to be, instead of the way things are.
Every similitude this Jesus character offers when he gives us another pithy saying about how the “reign of God is like this,” or “like that,” strikes a resonating chord for those who might have eyes to see and ears to hear. In short, every image of that other “kingdom” is borne out of an extraordinary imagination, by a character that may have either been the most imaginative character that ever lived, or we could ever imagine. Read more.