Bob-FunkRobert W. Funk

From The Fourth R
Volume 15-3
May–June 2002

At the Westar Institute and the Jesus Seminar, we are looking for individuals who long to restore integrity and dignity to the Christian tradition. Lest it appear that we are Christian partisans, let me add that we are looking for individuals and communities that aspire to sponsor integrity and historical honesty in the Jewish and Muslim traditions as well. But that must be the subject of a different editorial.

Christian congregations continue to pretend that the old orthodoxies are still valid and functional. We now know that is no longer the case. During the half century just ended, we have come to the end of the Christian era: the hegemony of the christianized, industrialized West over the rest of the globe has crumbled. The symbolic universe that has cradled the Christian myth for two millennia has disintegrated. These momentous changes have come about just as we are entering the global age, an age that began in earnest on 11 September 2001. All Christian theology is now post-Auschwitz theology. We can no longer trust the authority structure of the churches, which seem unable to rise above self-interest. We have suffered — or rather enjoyed — the loss of denominational partisanship among academic scholars of religion, as well as among members of the church alumni association. The contrast between Jewish and Christian biblical scholarship has long since disappeared. Theologians of all persuasions have lost the initiatives to the sciences in determining what is real and what is not. Radical honesty is the ethical cornerstone of any theology that has a future. The time for dissembling is past.

As a consequence of these developments, we find ourselves looking for congregations and communities that are ready to cease posturing and engage in serious educational programs. We want to be associated with persons and communities that have recognized that Christianity does not have an exclusive claim to the mind of God. We desire to be associated with communities and individuals who, although they can no longer endorse the old creeds, have nevertheless maintained the highest ethical standards of behavior. We believe the Christian tradition deserves better than it is getting.

We are looking for professional scholars who have decided not to sit out the cultural transition through which we are now passing in the comfort of their library carrels. We seek theologians who are unwilling to indulge in doubletalk. We are looking for scholars who prefer to address the real questions that perplex all of us rather than to indulge in personal attacks on members of the Jesus Seminar.

We are in quest of clergy who are courageous enough to confess their real convictions to their parishioners. We are searching for church leaders who are dissatisfied with the role of designated believer. We aspire to have in our company priests who are also prophets, and clergy who function as sages.

I am embarrassed by the most recent pronouncement by the Vatican under the title Dominus Iesus, authored by Cardinal Ratzinger — a statement that does no more than reaffirm the primacy of Rome and the absolute superiority of the Christian religion over all other forms of religious expression. Dominus Iesus even refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of other Christian churches.

I am mortified by either the ignorance or the dissembling of TV evangelists and others who endorse fundamentalism and literalisms in the name of Christianity. I am worried by the failure of the scholarship of Islam to enter the modern age. I am concerned that learned Jews do not counter unfounded claims to eminent domain in Palestine.

We can do better and deserve better. We are looking for men and women who will join us in the fight to reduce ignorance and promote literacy. We seek those who are willing to put honesty and integrity above all other concerns. Above all, we seek affiliation with those persons and organizations that have achieved some sense of self-transcendence and yet who are sufficiently self-assured to weather the critical storms ahead. It is an age that calls for both character and vision.

The Westar Institute and the Jesus Seminar are not advocates of a new orthodoxy. We pledge to follow the truth wherever it leads us. We are determined to act on our best knowledge and judgments. Yet we are certain that Christianity must undergo a radical reformation or die. We aspire to enlist those who are bold enough to join Bishop John Shelby Spong, Bishop Richard Holloway, Anne Primavesi, Karen Armstrong, Marcus Borg, Lloyd Geering, and other Fellows of the Jesus Seminar in assessing the future of the faith and exploring a faith for the future.