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CBF presenter questions Christ’s deity

CORRECTED & CLARIFICATION: Publisher of book corrected in third paragraph and clarification added.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Salvation once meant belief in a series of doctrines about Christ, but the advance of society has caused it to become a quest for self-fulfillment, John Killinger said June 19 in a workshop at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Memphis, Tenn.

“Now we are reevaluating and we’re approaching everything with a humbler perspective and seeing God’s hand working in Christ, but not necessarily as the incarnate God in our midst,” Killinger said. “Now, that may be hard for you to hear depending on where you are coming from, but we can talk more about it.”

Executive minister and theologian in residence at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, Killinger’s views are well known. His presentation was titled after his book “The Changing Shape of Our Salvation,” a 2007 release from The Crossroad Publishing Company. Although Smyth & Helwys — a CBF publishing partner — is not the publisher, the company sponsored the workshop and promoted the book during the General Assembly. Smyth & Helwys also is hosting a book-signing for Killinger at its booth in the resource fair.

In the computer age, Killinger argued, religion moved from a belief in doctrines to a quest for self-fulfillment drawing on useful tidbits from an eclectic variety of faith traditions.

“Doctrine isn’t the driving force to many people today” except “to the fundamentalists who insist on it,” Killinger said. “But doctrine is a thing of the past now religiously.”

Pastors can follow this cultural shift by preaching about Jesus’ human side rather than insisting that He was God and that He always existed, Killinger said.

“There’s an altered view of Scripture and of the role of Christ,” he said of Christianity in today’s world. “Christ is still Savior to most of us, but maybe in a slightly different way than before.

“I find from pastors a greater and greater reluctance to preach from the Gospel of John, which used to be the greatest pleasure for most preachers because John was so assertive about the incarnation and the role of Christ” versus “the tendency to go back to Mark and Matthew and Luke to see the more human side of Jesus, who was anointed at the time of His baptism to be the savior of Israel, but not necessarily to be the preexistent one that we find in John.”

When an audience member asked if this view compromised the Gospel, Killinger replied that it represents a more advanced understanding rather than a compromise.

“Jesus Himself has had a lot of things said in His behalf that He never intended. This is one of the things that’s going on today in biblical studies — and I think is much more promising than some of the fundamentalists will allow — is that we are questioning whether Jesus Himself said this or whether an institutional church that grew up in Jesus’ wake said this. This was the purpose of the so-called Jesus Seminar,” Killinger said.

“I’m just suggesting that I think we need to be a little less certain about what Jesus meant, what He was about, what His life and work were about. I think we’re reevaluating all that.”

For example, Jesus did not conceive of Himself as the Savior of the world and may not have viewed Himself a sacrifice at all until the crucifixion, Killinger said.

Killinger said he benefits from the mystical experience of reading John’s Gospel privately but cannot advocate John’s high view of Christ in serious preaching or scholarship.

“There are moments when I can do that privately and mystically myself,” Killinger said of benefiting from John. “But at the same time, in terms of the cultural development of Christianity, I have to look at what the scholars are saying about the first three Gospels.”

Many CBF pastors agree with his views of salvation, Killinger said, citing an experience at a gathering of pastors in South Carolina. When he asked them what salvation meant to them, they all talked about self-fulfillment and love rather than doctrine, Killinger said.

The pastors also said they did not disbelieve in an afterlife but were not overly concerned about it, Killinger said. When asked whether they thought people of other world religions are going to hell, the pastors replied that they did not think in terms of heaven and hell, he said.

During the same workshop June 19, Killinger said the Old Testament book of Daniel “fibbed a lot.” Even though Daniel claims to be written earlier, it was actually written in the second century B.C., he said, and pretends to prophesy about events that occurred previously.

“The scholars almost all admit Daniel fibbed a lot because, as a book, it was actually written in one time and set back in time to make it look as if the prophecies it made came true,” Killinger said. “That would validate other prophecies it was going to include, you see. So that’s cheating a bit.”

Killinger was scheduled to lead two additional workshops June 20 titled “My Life with Jerry Falwell” and “A Dramatic New Interpretation of the Gospel of Mark.”

In its “General Assembly Guide” the CBF says, “The opinions presented in General Assembly ministry workshops are those of the workshop presenters and do not necessarily reflect of the viewpoint of, or endorsement by, The Fellowship or its members.

“Holding to the principles of soul freedom and church freedom, General Assembly workshop presents (sic) do not speak for the Fellowship as an organization or for any of the Fellowship’s members. The ministry workshops are a time for learning and exchanging ideas and are not indicative of personal or organizational doctrinal positions.”
David Roach is a correspondent for Baptist Press based in Louisville, Ky.