Feedback: my comments and thoughts on the course
The discussion group in which I partnered on the final segment of the course, covering the salvation offered by Jesus in a pluralistic world, showed the diversity of views which has been a feature of much of the course, but perhaps people were less ready to bend their own attitudes here than in previous areas. The selection of which of the four approaches we best identified with - exclusivist, inclusive, pluralistic or transformationalist, caused difficulty right down to these terms themselves which at least one felt were insulting. Who wants to be thought of as exclusive?
Yet my own upbringing and understanding places me in the exclusivist camp, despite the name. I am a Christian because of the unique qualities of Jesus, and I believe his promises and feel that evangelism to all peoples across the world is the business we as Christians are engaged in. God loves all his children, of whatever faith and of no faith, but he came in human form to show us the way. Otherwise why would be have bothered. We are at the early stages of the process; 1/3 of the world exposed to Christianity - a tiny fraction of the millions of years man has been on earth. It is proceeding surprisingly fast. But it must proceed. Christianity is not just another religion - it is the fact of what created the universe and it is the fact of the love of God for his creations. Other followers of God can find salvation and everlasting life, but those of us with the huge privilege of knowing Jesus have a guide along that path, which if we heed it, can greatly facilitate that aim.
On this course it became clear to me that most others do not share my beliefs in these matters, and have a view of Jesus that places him as a kind of semi-divine superman with an ultra-close relationship with God, but different from God. ie: there are two (possibly three, including the spirit) Gods. The Trinity is a far more more acceptable model for me, indicating Father, Son, and Spirit as manifestations of God, so we can pray to and worship Jesus as well as the Spirit as well as God. On this point I differ profoundly with the views of Bill Phipps who told me personally in answer to a question on a conference call Nov 7, 1997, that we donít pray to Jesus!
I came to the United Church in 1987, choosing it because of the wonderful people in this particular congregation. Faced with the same decision today, and knowing what I do about UC generally held beliefs, I would not have joined. I stay for two reasons. The continued fellowship of this congregation, and the existence of the renewal groups whose platform is "Fellowship" magazine, with whom I identify totally.
The course made me think deeply on many matters. The need to journal as we went along was a cornerstone of this course, allowing us to record some of our elements of faith. My faith was strengthened, despite its divergence from other members in the group.
The main issues that emerged for me were in the many areas the course failed to recognize that I consider essentials. There was little content to support the divinity of Jesus. Nothing about his healing ministry, that continues widely to this day. The aims of having a personal relationship with Jesus were not stressed, and as suggested above there was little content in the area of sharing our faith with others and evangelism generally. It was as if its more important just for everyone to have their own beliefs, whatever they may be, as long as they can articulate them. The resurrection seemed to be presented as a take it or leave it issue. As an ex-atheist, I came back to Christianity through discovering the supernatural elements of the faith: the prophesy, the virgin birth, the healing miracles, the resurrection in bodily form. Without these I would never have returned. I wasnít looking for a philosophy; I was looking for a real power capable of creation and capable of living today. More recently the existence of the secret codes in the original Hebrew of the Tora and much of the OT have convinced me utterly of the capability for total control of menís (the writers of the bible) actions by a God who is so powerful that a virgin birth would be a task of blinding simplicity. Again, no mention of the secret codes on this course. WHY NOT? The only reason I can come up with is that the writers of the course were trying to reduce the stature of Jesus, to make him more believable to agnostics and skeptics. Yet my own story shows that the dilution of faith is the opposite of what is needed to bring people to the Lord.
The "Reconciling and Making New" course was worthwhile not because it taught us much, but because it made us think about what we already believe. In contrast, the Alpha course teaches a LOT, and helps people discover what they might believe. I want my church leaders to show me what I might believe, as Billy Graham and Luis Palau have done. I have taken part in the current Moderator debate (see www.igs.net/~tonyc/mod.html). I did this because of my strongly held beliefs and wish to evangelize them. I donít want to make my faith NEW. The old faith is just fine.