On the Scriptures
An important thing I have discovered during my first year of studying in an Evangelical Bible college is that most "Bible-believing" Christians interpret the Scriptures through the lenses of the contemporary American culture and values (and in other countries, also influenced by their own). Despite their claims that they believe in the Scriptures, their faith in the Bible is necessarily mixed with (and informed by) their cultural, social, political, and even personal biases. Very few can read the Scriptures in their original languages; and those who can still must know the cultural and religious contexts to fully understand what the Bible means. The Scriptures do not exist in a vacuum. They are written in human languages, for their intended audiences, and are transcribed and translated countless times before reaching us.
For this reason, I do not claim that the Bible (in its Jewish, Catholic, Anglican, or Protestant varieties) is "inerrant" or "infallible," lest I fall into the temptation of bibliolatry (worship of a book, which is just as much idolatry) or even bibliomancy (an entirely out-of-context and random use of Bible verses, as though it's some kind of fortunetelling). I will simply take a position that I take the Bible seriously, in its proper historical and social contexts, but not "literally." (Note that even those who claim to hold to a biblical literalism only do so very selectively.)
On salvation and atonement
The popular Protestant (and particularly Evangelical) doctrine of salvation is a relatively new one. Throughout the history of Christianity there have always been several competing views of soteriology, and the idea of crucified Jesus as a way to propitiate the wrath of God who would otherwise send us to eternal hellfire, is only one among them and something that has been oversimplified and popularized by the revival preachers of the two Great Awakenings. Early Christianity instead held a view that Christ redeemed humanity both as a ransom and as a way of recapitulation ("Christus Victor"). This was a mainstream belief until the 11th century when Anselm of Canterbury formulated a new doctrine that later became part of the Protestant (and by extension, Evangelical) view of salvation. It is worth noting that Christus Victor is still part of the Eastern Orthodox theology of salvation (which is characterized as theosis, or transformation of humanity into God-like nature). Furthermore, the New Testament word for atonement in Koine Greek, kallatage, means reconciliation, rather than a payment of debts to satisfy an angry God. And 1 Peter 3:18-20 indicates that God's reconciliation also reaches out to the life after death, which also means all will be ultimately reconciled (1 Timothy 4:10).
I reject the Calvinistic notion of predestination -- a belief that God (even before the beginning of time!) chose to create a majority of people so God can condemn them to eternal hellfire so that God may be glorified -- as incompatible with the Genesis proclamation of all creations as "good." Likewise, I reject the hyper-Arminian view that one could be "saved" and then later "lose the salvation" because they failed to live up to God's standards of holiness according to whatever their pastor says (a toxic doctrine that often leads some churches to become authoritarian, legalistic, and abusive). These sorts of beliefs are too widely accepted by too many "believers." If we the fallible humans did to their own children what they believe God does to the majority of humankind, we would rightly be condemned for child abuse and society would not tolerate that. Are humans more moral than God is? Are we more loving than "God of Love"? At the end of the day, the Gospel is radically inclusive and thus is a "Good News" for all.
On the revelation, Christianity, and other religions
To me, my Christian faith is more about the "religion of Jesus" rather than the "religion about Jesus." While we do not live in first-century Israel and its cultural and social milieu, what we know is that much of what is part of the modern Christian religion are later innovations, imported from Greco-Roman philosophies and European traditions. I am aware, however, that any attempt at recreating the "Original Christianity" is futile, and I believe that traditions play an important role that deserves respect. Yet, the traditions and revelations are not static. They are organic and each generation builds something new upon them.
One of the most succinct summaries of how Christians derive their faiths from is the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral" that is attributed to John Wesley: Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. I think all the four elements are important and must be taken seriously, but may not become substitutes for God.
According to Christian theology, we live in the age of the Holy Spirit following the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his return to heaven. The first congregation of believers, according to the book of Acts, was formed when the Holy Spirit descended and filled the followers of Jesus gathered on the day of Shavuot (Pentecost). From that moment forward, the early congregations emphasized the direct experience of the Divine no longer mediated by the temple priesthood or by the religious authority. Pentecostal movement arose in the United States around the turn of the 20th century and was later joined by the supradenominational Charismatic movement, recaptured these experiential and mystical aspects of Christian faith for the modern era.
Like the Pentecostals' theological ancestors Wesleyans and Anglicans, I also affirm that the inner Light of Christ dwells in all people even if they are unaware or unconscious of it (This is also the foundation of the Society of Friends' theology). as God's grace precedes our awareness ("prevenient grace"). In this sense, I believe that God always offers a means of connection to all, regardless of one's religious affiliation, beliefs, folk practices, traditions, or lack thereof; and that most traditional religions contain certain elements of the truth. Nevertheless, I do not believe that all religions are equal, nor do I affirm a form of "anything goes" spirituality uprooted from the Scriptures, tradition, and reason (otherwise, I would also have to affirm destructive religious extremism and abusive cults as "equally valid"). As Christians have long said, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity." While we can endlessly argue what the "essentials" are (that's pretty much the history of Christianity!), I am not here to question whatever goes between you and God.
On consistent life ethic
The ethics of life in today's American society is a point of heated controversy. Often it is weaponized by the Left and the Right alike to rally their base and to raise campaign funds. A simplistic label of "pro-life" or "pro-choice" has become a lazy litmus test for ideological loyalty, while entirely ignoring the deeper nuances and implications.
I hold to the views of consistent life ethic (CLE). This means affirming and respecting life in all its forms and stages. This means principled, faith-based moral oppositions to:
- wars and the military-industrial complex
- the carceral-industrial complex and police state, society's addiction to retribution and dependence on police powers, and death penalties and excessive prison sentences without possibilities of parole or meaningful rehabilitation programs
- the economic-political violence against the poor that denies their basic human rights to food, housing, and health
- unjust and racist laws that relegate the people of color, immigrants, and refugees to a subhuman status
- the promotion of hateful rhetoric and dehumanizing conditions against LGBTQ+ people
A consistent life ethic also by necessity advocates for environmental justice and reduction or elimination of unnecessary killing of non-human life forms.
Having said, however, it is important to emphasize that I equally oppose the right-wing agenda of enforcing their "pro-life" policy through the police-state violence and carceral-state machinery, and their persistent lack of moral and political will (or more likely, refusal) to fund the social safety net, healthcare, and sex education that could significantly reduce the demands for abortion. Furthermore, those who have had an abortion in the past should never be stigmatized or condemned, and we ought to be sensitive to their trauma and circumstances.
On worship, sacraments, and prayer
My journey as a Christian began in the culture of Evangelicalism and formed through Baptist and Pentecostal churches. As such, I was not familiar with ritualistic and sacramental expressions of the faith. In my adult years, I was deeply immersed in the traditions of Judaism and Anglicanism, and I developed a profound appreciation for the ritual beauty that is rooted in a long history. I am therefore supportive of the emergent church movement that seeks to reintegrate these elements back into the contemporary church.
Having said that, however, it is also important to not get too caught up in the rituals to the point where they become repetitive and meaningless religious or cultural exercises; or to let traditions keep us from adapting and innovating to the present conditions (something all churches had to wrestle with, vis-à-vis COVID-19). Tradition has a vote, but not a veto.
Much has been written and preached about prayer. To some, it is just a ritual. To others, especially among the Evangelicals, it is seen as a way to personally communicate with God and even a form of "spiritual warfare" that moves the hands of God to effect specific results. The English word, prayer, comes from Latin precari, which means to "beg" or "ask." But do we need to beg God? If God is omniscient (all-knowing) God knows everything before even we beg for anything. God even knows the deepest motives of our hearts. Would unchanging God be influenced or moved to act in our favor, as if we are some kind of divine lobbyists making deals with God? I have concluded that prayer exists not for God's sake but ours. The idea of "praying to God" therefore is more of a metaphor that was given to ancient people who were accustomed to the idea of petitioning the clan chief or the monarch. Rather, the "under the hood" actions of prayer is that it aligns our minds and thoughts to be in unity with God's truth, elevating the divine idea while destroying "every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and to capture every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, also see Romans 12:2). Ultimately, the only unlimited freedom we possess resides in our minds and souls in union with the perfect intelligence of God.