The Challenge of Free Thought

I’ve spent the better part of the last two days puzzling over Theodore Parker’s “The Transient and Permanent in Christianity”… and I honestly have no idea what to make of it.

I am with Parker when he talks about the permanent being truth, which he identifies as finding in God and Jesus. I see what he means when he argues that ritual, dogma, even biblical texts are transient, and we shouldn’t use them as our barometer for truth.

But what I am struggling with is the inevitable conclusion – that we don’t need ministers telling us what the scriptures mean, that we don’t even need scripture to know the truth of Jesus, that we only need our own experience. I want to ask Parker how we can know about Jesus if we discard the New Testament.. are we to only seek our particular, individual impressions? Rely on faulty oral tradition with a healthy dose of skepticism?

In my youth, I was highly attracted to the transcendentalists – I was all about the personal, individual experience of the transcendent God. And maybe I still am to some degree. But I find as I get older that we have rituals, stories, knowledge that we can share through the ages – traditions passed down through the collective conscious/unconscious – that are valid and crucial to being humans freely seeking.

I am willing to have my thoughts on Parker disproved – it may be that my interpretation is wrong. But I find myself in reading him, longing for something to hold on to.

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Learn more about my ministry at The Art of Meaning

Read my thoughts about congregational life at Hold My Chalice