Am I a Christian?

David Kemp finds much to agree with in the June edition of Progressive Voices. This lead him to ponder whether he can still call himself a Christian. He starts with the quote in the front cover, from Karen Armstrong.

Am I a Christian?

“Jesus did not spend a great deal of time discoursing about the trinity or original sin or the incarnation, which have preoccupied later Christians. He went around doing good and being compassionate.”

I look forward to each copy of Progressive Voices and enjoy a newsy, informative and stimulating read. They seem to get better each time and the June edition, for me, topped them all.

Karen Armstrong’s quote on the front cover was, I thought, very apt and pertinent to the thinking behind several of the articles. I particularly enjoyed three of the main writings, Ashram of the Holy Trinity (R J Harvey), The Jesus of History? (Brian Wilson) and A Simple Supper? (Jack Dean).

I wish we could discuss, in church, the ideas in these articles without upsetting the more literal members of the congregation but at the present time it would probably have a very negative effect. Are we too timid? Jesus did not hesitate to challenge the orthodoxy of his day when he considered it was not in accordance with his understanding.

The ‘Progressive’ thoughts, with which I feel very comfortable, do, however, raise several questions:

1. I was brought up in an unquestioning environment of the chapel and have ‘evolved’ in my thinking. Would I be in the same position if I had not had the grounding in Bible knowledge? Do we need to start, like children and Father Christmas, accepting the stories literally and grow into a wider and fuller understanding or could we dive in at the deep end?

2. Rituals and mystery have been an important part of Christianity. If those that no longer have relevance or reflect our thinking are removed, what is to replace them – if anything?

3. Can I consider myself a Christian when I challenge many of the fundamental ideas I am expected to accept? I think ‘A follower of the life and teachings of Jesus’ would more accurately describe my position.

4. Many people I know do not attend regular church services but they do live good, kindly, loving and generous lives. Would they be attracted to a church stripped of outmoded ritual and beliefs? Spiritual understanding is rather vague and can give few hooks upon which to hang our faith. This brings me back to the first question and how ‘timeless hooks’ can be offered.

5. Where do we go from here?

I try to sow seeds of my own faith in the hope that one day they might grow, especially with members of my own family. They, like many of their generation, are very busy and, when I think back, it was only after I retired that I gave myself the time and space to think deeply about these things. Meanwhile I try to live my faith and look forward to the next edition of Progressive Voices.

Yours sincerely, David Kemp

We would welcome your comments on David’s letter.


1 On 15/11/2015 George Drake wrote:

However we look at it, our whole way of life, all our laws and moral standards are based on the principles of traditionally understood Christianity. It is the ‘bedrock’ of our society, and even though the majority of our citizens no longer accept Christianity as portrayed in most of our churches as literally true, we are so steeped in the traditions and rituals that to try to change them will have to be a gradual process; we can only keep pushing progressive ideas, in the hope that eventually a more believable form of Christianity will be accepted.
David’s second point, ‘rituals and mystery’, being an important part of Christianity, and what do we put in their place if we remove them as being no longer relevant. With some careful thought most of the rituals could be reinterpreted in a progressive way; take point four of the eight points for instance, understanding that the sharing of bread and wine as an expression of our common humanity; this gets away from eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, which is abhorrent to many people when taken literally instead of symbolically; Baptism could be understood as an act of thanksgiving and welcome. Other rituals could be similarly reinterpreted.
David asks, “Can I consider myself a Christian” - well if he can’t, I can’t either; the problem as I see it is once one puts a name to something, such as “Christian”, it puts one in a ‘box’ and one is expected to act in a certain way, accept certain rules, or believe certain things; I think ‘A follower of the life and teachings of Jesus ’ would be a better way of describing the way many ‘progressives’ would describe themselves.
David’s point number four, ‘getting people back into church’. I can only speak from personal experience; the church I attend is fairly ‘traditional’ and I am a lone voice trying to push progressive ideas. However, although most members don’t share my views, we are still friends, and visitors remark on the friendly welcome they receive; could this be more important than whether a church is ‘traditional’ or ‘progressive’?
David’s final point, ‘Where do we go from here?’ - I don’t know; but can I suggest a few lines from Max Ehrmann’s poem ‘Desiderata’ – ‘And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.’

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