Am I A Bad Presbyterian?

by Andrew Tatusko

I was baptized Catholic, but became a Presbyterian in 1990. I went to a Presbyterian College and a Presbyterian seminary. I passed everything including Presbytery trials to become an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament in the PCUSA in 2000. I backed off because I did not feel ready. My theology was not formed or mature enough to honestly and healthily lead a flock to sound spiritual depth and understanding.

My theology has changed a lot over the years. Here is a list of things I now believe and when I question these beliefs, as I have for a few years, they seem to strengthen and mature with time. So tell me, am I a bad Presbyterian?

Sola Scriptura

The idea of sola scriptura does not make sense. It is never scripture alone that is the authority of faith or the church. It is only scripture through a tradition that ratifies a certain reading of scripture that gives it authority. The idea was a move of political ambition to challenge primarily the Pope. To make this a foundation of authority today misses the point of where real authority rests. A book is only words on a page until a people legitimates a specific social use for that book. The authority of the book comes from a people who then legitimate human authority structures in a social frame with that same book. Scripture alone is just a book. Scripture and tradition that are enacted by people through a view of faith in God given shape only through that tradition’s use of Scripture to validate what that faith means is the cauldron of authority.

Total Depravity

People actually do choose if they desire to seek union with God or not. God does not choose some and condemn others. That’s nonsense and betrays the diversity of human reason and freedom as agents in the world. As image bearers of God, humans have a unique place in the order of nature the centerpiece of which is the ability to choose alternatives even as God chose to create and reveal God’s self to that creation. This will make more sense with the next two heavy theological propositions.

Atonement

I no longer accept the penal subsistutionary atonement as rational much less scriptural dogma. The idea that God was compelled to kill his Son (as if the Son did not possess the fullness of the Godhead) in order to fulfill God’s law divides the Trinity for the sake of law. It also denigrates the Incarnation and its effect on humanity as a revelation of God. Christ as the true human being fully God reveals what was not possible with Adam and Eve: full union with God. It is Christ who reveals in the Incarnation the true nature of humanity.

On the Cross, Christ empties his divine nature resulting in his death. So it is not Christ paying back God’s law of punishment for sin, but Christ taking on his own self the sins of those who have rejected God, again. In the end, Christ assumes the divine nature and raises from the dead nullifying the effect of sin. It is not the Cross which reveals the full force and end of sin which is death that saves us. It is that only God who emptied God’s self in death and then raises from the dead that reveals the nature of grace.

Predestination

Predestination must be understood only against a God who is eternally in the “present.” Words like “knowledge”, “choice”, and “will” are all contingent on a function of time. In God there is no “time.” Before we are born, the relationship between the world and God has been eternally reconciled in Christ. It is in this grace that all people are born. All people are therefore capable of making a choice to enter into union with God through the reconciling act that Christ has already enacted in eternity. The presence of the Holy Spirit everywhere bears witness to this reconciliation drawing everything into union with God. But people still have to choose that union.

Marriage

The church needs to get out of the business of ratifying marriage licenses for the state. It also has to get beyond the link between the penis and the vagina as a basis for marriage. Clearly marriage is not the same as it once was where women were property. This is a good thing. Nor is marriage for the purpose of pro-creation alone. But, as the inter-penetration of the hypostases of the Trinity in a bond of love reveal, human beings are created to find a bond of love with others. To deny that bond of love based on anatomy alone not only misses the point of marital union theologically, it also places far to much cultural currency on the taboo of same gender relationships.

If God is love and God has no gender (but for symbolic gender), then it is only theologically responsible to confer that same bond of love to human beings regardless of gender and regardless of sex positions in which a couple may engage. What is required is a self-limitation of those in a bond of union no matter how conceived where egoistic ambition takes a back seat to the discipline of loving each other.

So there you have it. I remember none of this in the Book of Order. I haven’t even discussed baptism and communion which I think are more symbolic as social rituals to nourish our belief and remember these and other facets of our theology.

So I am a bad Presbyterian. Are you?

Andrew Tatusko is an academic administrator and grant activity director at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA. He also earned the M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary where he also was awarded the Fellowship in Practical Theology.  This blog originally appeared at his blog, Notes from Off Center and is reprinted with permission.


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