UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Considering post-theistic churches

A debate over God’s place in 21st-century Christianity can’t be avoided

By David Wilson

A well-known minister recently sat in my office, sipping coffee and chatting about the state of the United Church today. The conversation turned to the subject of theology. Matter-of-factly, the minister declared, “Our congregation now considers itself post-theistic.”

I felt my eyebrows rise, but I’m not sure whether it was the content of the declaration or the blasé tone in which it was delivered that startled me the most. As I understand post-theism, the minister was saying that his congregation has come to believe that the traditional idea of God no longer speaks to their individual or collective experience. Post-theists don’t reject God, as do atheists, but rather take a neutral view: God takes a back seat to spiritual questing and community building.

Most United Church members likely reject this idea with varying degrees of chagrin. They have a point: editing God out of the Christian narrative does seem to change the story beyond recognition. It raises a fundamental question: is a church that plays down God even a church anymore?

The congregations that writer Sarah Boesveld visited while researching this month’s feature on post-theistic churches answer with a resounding yes — the loving, just and peaceful community nurtured in these churches is deeply sacred.

These first stirrings of post-theism are bound to get tongues wagging. And that’s good. Talking about faith ranks alongside asking for money in the United Church’s list of things it does with little relish. In the past, theological debates have left scars, which is perhaps the risk you run when you forge a new denomination out of three different traditions. I can’t see how a debate over God’s place in 21st-century Christianity can be avoided. It goes right to the heart of what it will mean to be church in the years ahead.

People are already talking. Last fall, we asked six United Church writers to describe what God means for them today. They delivered six equally heartfelt yet significantly divergent points of view. We also ended up with a slew of letters that thanked the writers and us for breaking the ice and getting the conversation started.

Whether it takes place in lecture halls, in ministers’ studies or at midweek pub nights, the conversation is nothing to fear. It goes hand in hand with being a church irrevocably in transition. Undertaken with respect and civility, it will show those already in the pews that their church is serious about the future, that it isn’t stuck in the past; to those on the outside looking in, it will show a little of the spark Canadians expect from the United Church.

Who knows — maybe that spark will ignite something.


Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Environment

Song leader, police and gate blockers in front of the Kinder Morgan gates. Photo by Kimiko Karpoff

A Kinder Morgan protest in photos and song

by Kimiko Karpoff

A faith leader reflects on protesting the pipeline with the Water Protectors from the Tsleil-Waututh nation.

Promotional Image

Editorials

The United Church Observer's editor and publisher, Jocelyn Bell. Photo: Lindsay Palmer

Observations: #MeToo

by Jocelyn Bell

Our hope is that by giving voice to these #MeToo stories, a new conversation about sexual misconduct can begin.

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Society

June 2018

Why some women of colour are hesitant to say #MeToo

by Jacky Habib

Three women share their stories in the hope of creating safe spaces they never had.

Environment

May 2018

A Kinder Morgan protest in photos and song

by Kimiko Karpoff

On April 28, 2018, faith leaders from many traditions, including the United Church, stood in solidarity with Water Protectors from the Tsleil-Waututh nation to protest the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion in Burnaby, B.C.. Kimiko Karpoff captured the day in pictures.

Faith

June 2018

After 93 years, this will be the United Church's last General Council meeting

by Mike Milne

When the United Church meets in July, top priorities will be a streamlined governance structure and Indigenous ministries.

Justice

June 2018

#MeToo in the United Church

by Trisha Elliott

9 women share their stories of harassment and sexual assault in the United Church.

Columns

May 2018

On grief and the healing power of gardening

by Paul Fraumeni

A writer reflects on how growing tomatoes is helping him find peace while dealing with the loss of loved ones, including his son.

Editorials

June 2018

Observations: #MeToo

by Jocelyn Bell

Our hope is that by giving voice to these #MeToo stories, a new conversation about sexual misconduct can begin.

Promotional Image