Why Should Christianity Change?

Don MacGregor reflects on his journey and considers what positive changes could be made.

I started on a Christian path in 1983, in what I then thought of as a conversion experience, but now would call an awakening to love. I was involved with a large charismatic evangelical church in Leicester, with some lovely people, and I remember the first service I went to there, on Easter Sunday 1983. There was a lot of standing up and sitting down, reciting strange words and singing hymns, and it all struck me as rather weird. I hadn’t been to church since I was nine, and then it was a dour, Presbyterian place that seemed very joyless. But it wasn’t all the strange liturgy and singing that struck me, it was the conversations after and the love shown to us by the people. I suppose this cynical world these days would call it being ‘love-bombed’ but for me it was a real heart-warming experience and made me return there week in week out. Later that year came the real outpouring of love upon me that I call my true awakening.

I have worshipped in huge evangelical churches with 500 on a Sunday morning, sung and played in worship bands, led crazy youth services, been in charge of small inner-city churches with an oppressed congregation, and looked after several rural churches in what I would call terminal decline. But throughout my Christian journey, I have struggled with the church teaching. Part of the reason why is that for a few years prior to this I had studied various teachings of what is variously called the ‘Ageless Wisdom’ or ‘Perennial Wisdom’ or ‘Esoteric Philosophy’. This body of teaching gives an undergirding to all religious traditions, to the human psycho-spiritual makeup and to the whole metaphysical understanding of the universe and its working. No small claim then, but that teaching has undergirded my understanding of Christianity and helped to expand it into something for this 21st century.

I openly admit I’ve struggled as a priest within the Anglican Church, both in England and in Wales. Its liturgy and doctrine stem from outmoded ways of thinking. There are aspects I value and enjoy – the singing, the quiet, the symbology, the prayers. But equally there are parts of even these that I struggle with – the wording of some hymns, the use of outmoded forms of address, the acceptance without any challenge of statements of belief like the Nicene Creed.

Back in 2005, I wrote what I thought should be recited in Church instead of the creed:

The Christian Way

Christians are called, in God’s strength and love and following the example of Christ Jesus, to to walk in the light, which means:

  • to love and care for one another, not to ignore or be indifferent or to hate.
  • to be generous with each other, to look after those in need, not to be selfish, uncaring, or hard of heart.
  • to forgive each other, not to harbour grudges, bitterness or resentment.
  • to live in peace and harmony, not to look for conflict, or to seek violence, revenge and retribution.
  • to live honest, truthful lives, having integrity in our daily living, not to cheat, not to tread on others, not to stab in the back.
  • to seek justice for others, to speak out, to challenge unfair systems, not to hide our heads in the sand.
  • to be stewards of God’s creation, caring for the biosphere in which we exist.
  • to heal and make whole, to work for a better world in which to live.
  • to be joyful, to rejoice in life and in God.

This is the Way of Christ, the way of the kingdom of God, of which Jesus spoke so often.

But, of course, it is not permissible to use anything like that in place of the creed in the Church of England or in Wales. So I’ve struggled with the traditions. These are just some of the issues I have wrestled with. Maybe you have too.

The concept of an almighty, all-powerful, distant and remote God.

  • The doctrine of Jesus the man as the only-begotten Son, hardly human at all.
  • The idea that the death of Jesus appeases the wrath of an angry God.
  • The emphasis that God is ‘up there’ and not ‘in here’.
  • Suffering, and an all-powerful God who ‘allows’ it to happen.
  • The idea of heaven as an eternal reward and hell as an eternal punishment.

The confusing joining of Jesus and the Christ to make Jesus Christ.

I think most of these issues stem from one-sided distortions of teachings that originated in the first millennium and that need much more depth and understanding. They come from earlier ways of looking at the world, from a different paradigm or world view. So why should Christianity change? The simple answer is that the Christian faith as presented in most churches today does not fit with today’s world. It’s not kept up with our understanding of life and the universe. It’s not about punishment and sin. It’s not about going to hell or heaven. It’s about awakening and transformation. That was the essential message of Jesus, “Repent!” meaning “Transform the way you think!” The form of Christianity created by the church has distracted us from his message, and the essence of that message is that we are to be transformed into the sort of person that Jesus of Nazareth had become.


Hugh Valentine

Thank you, Don. The conflicting claims of the organisation of the church(es), and the claims of the gospel, can feel profoundly awkward for some of us at some stages in our lives. In response, my friend Henry encourages what he calls 'feral' spirituality. www.feralspirituality.uk.

Don MacGregor

In reply to Edward Conder, I survived as an Anglican priest by not expressing my views so publically until I retired 6 years ago. I wrote "Blue Sky God: the Evolution of Science and Christanity" back in 2011 while I was in full-time ministry, and that was me developing my own theology to take into account my scientific background, seeing consciousness as primary (mind before matter) and seeing God as the compassionate consciousness in which everything is held. I did have to affirm that I still believed in the Nicene Creed after that was published, to which my response was "Yes, providing I can interpret it in my own way" and the bishop was happy with that! Since then I have expanded my theology into a more universal spirituality, which is reflected in the Wisdom Series I've been writing. I agree that the insitutional church is a long way from embracing these new ideas, but there are still many individuals interested in finding a way of believing that is inclusive and expansive and leaves behind much of the medieval theology..

Ian Todd

I am fully in agreement with all that Don MacGregor says, but also see Edward Conder's point that traditional church denominations seem unable to accept the radical changes that are necessary to make themselves relevant to the 21st century. With regard to the troublesome classical concept of "an almighty, all-powerful, distant and remote God" and "Suffering, and an all-powerful God who ‘allows’ it to happen" – I've found much help in the concepts of 'Open and Relational Theology' and particularly the writings of the theologian Thomas Jay Oord. Indeed, Tom has recently published a book entitled 'The Death of Omnipotence and the Birth of Amipotence' in which he argues that calling God almighty/all-powerful/omnipotent is neither biblically sound or philosophically meaningful, and that God's principle attribute is uncontrolling and unconditional love (hence his term 'Amipotence'). In this and previous books (particularly 'God Can't' and 'The Uncontrolling Love of God') Tom demonstrates how such an understanding of God's nature provides a realistic explanation for the occurrence of evil in the Creation of the God of uncontrolling and unconditional love. I highly recommend all of these books.

edward conder

I agree almost completely with the ideas of Don MacGregor, but doubt that his solution is viable. I can not imagine that the church is capable of change to reflect Jesus's agenda, when it is increasingly focussed on that of the modern Pharisees and the doctrine of the evangelicals. The insecurities of the world today are such as to drive the religious towards a bounded faith in which they can feel safe, rather than one that opens the door to new ideas. I fear that the church will fail to change and the Kingdom of God will become, increasingly, a feature of secular society - as is already apparent in many areas.
How did Don MacGregor survive as an Anglican priest holding such views as he expresses?

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