Confessing in the spirit of liberal Christianity

Lecture by prof.dr Johan F. Goud
Utrecht, April 20, 2005

1. What does it actually mean: to confess your faith?

1.1. Some (very) general remarks about our cultural situation: anthropological dispute; the quest for spirituality; postmodern relativism; the pluralist challenge.

1.2. Confessing in a liberal Christian way moves between two positions:
· It is more reasonable and more pious to be silent on God
· It is preferable to only re-think and re-say the tradition of faith

1.3. Four characteristics of a real confession (referring to Peter’s confession in Mark 8):
· Authenticity: a personal answer to a personal question
· Much more than only the repetition of old words and ideas
· Much more than only words
· Not in conformity with what is considered to be normal, but in many cases ‘generally disputed’

“What is to be concluded regarding written confessions starting with the expression ‘We believe’, which are used in liturgies and elsewhere in the churches? It is evident that ‘authenticity’ means something different in such contexts. But it seems possible to derive some important insights from the analysis just given. Such confessions have to appeal to the personal conviction of believers; they urge to more than only the pronouncing of words; they are inserted in a tradion of confessing but don’t shrink from some shifts in meaning and expression; they are loyal toi the actual cultural situation but prepared to take risks.” (transl.from Wij geloven – wat geloven wij? Remonstrants belijden in 1940 en nu, Zoetermeer 2004, p.22-23).

2. Is a confession needed in our time?

Three reasons to answer this question in a positive way:

2.1. Postmodern man as an unceasingly changing Proteus. He/she needs trustworthy images and a real community of ‘friends’, pointing beyond itself.

2.2. The religious and cultural conflicts dominating our world and ourselves, require a universal perspective which is embedded in a coherent religious conviction. E.g.:

Therefore, we believe in God’s holy Ghost,
Who surpasses all that divides people
And inspires them to all that is holy and just and good,
So that they will, freed from self-conceit,
Praying, singing, acting en silent,
Praise and serve God.

2.3. Against relativism and scepticism (afortiori the indifferentism and cynicism they may lead to), we need to be reminded of the significant values of truthfulness and courage

We know and desire to accept
That our spirit cannot find peace in the certainty of what it knows or professes,
But in the astonished understanding of what it is bequeathed and given
That our will cannot find its destiny in doubt or indifference,
But in alertness, trust and solidarity with all that lives
That our feelings are not the prisoner of avarice and lust for power,
But can develop in a yearning for all that is different and untouched
That our existence is not completed by who we are and what we have
But by what is infinitely larger than we can comprehend.

This (perhaps not subversive, but at least disturbing) reminder receives concrete form in the wisdom and the courage of Jesus Christ. E.g.:

We believe in Jesus Christ, the true man,
Who came and passed by and loved people,
The face of God which looks at us and disturbs us.
He walked with God and was crucified
But lives, beyond His own and our deaths.
He is our holy example of wisdom and of courage
And brings close to us God’s eternal love,
That forgives and reconciles.

Claudia Pietryga
Claudia deed zowel een sociaal-agogische als journalistieke opleiding en is alweer bijna tien jaar freelance journalist. Ze schrijft het liefste over maatschappelijke onderwerpen en publiceerde onder meer stukken in de Flair, Hallo Jumbo, Spits, Het Parool, diverse blogs, lokale bladen en uiteenlopende (online) media voor met name ondernemers.
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