Over twenty years ago, when I was a graduate student at Duke Divinity School, I remember my thesis advisor, Stanley Hauerwas comparing the reductionism of liberal Protestantism to the robust account of Catholic dogmatic reflection. The former asked the question cynically, "How much of this stuff do I have to believe and still be a Christian?" The latter stated in a tone of wonder, "Look at all this stuff that we Christians get to believe!"
This is not a post on how Protestants should uncritically accept the Catholic belief in the immaculate conception of Mary. Critical thinking and reflections are necessary and should not be neglected. On the other hand, I have just read retired Episcopal Bishop John Spong's essay, "Easter: In Need of Reinterpretation." His unfortunately poor argument is the motivation for my comments. Spong is a smart and thoughtful man to be sure; but if he is right in his reductionist account of Christianity with no bodily raised Jesus, nor a God who does anything miraculous, we Christians ought to give it up and go home. Although he would reject my critique, it is clear to me that his God is a creator who has no power; his God is a redeemer who had no ability to do the unimaginable. His God works within the confines of a woefully limited human imagination. His God is bound to the powers of death, not the God who brings the unimaginable to those who refuse to believe what is only right before their eyes.
C.S. Lewis argued that one of the greatest obstacles to contemporary accounts of Christian theology was the lack of imagination, the lack of faith that God could do something new and unexpected. The bane of modern theology is reductionism, the belief in an impotent God who must conform to our understanding of the way the universe works, the way the world must operate. The problem with the good Bishop Spong's account of Christianity is not that it is unintelligent, but that it lacks imagination.... imagination that the God who created out of nothing can bring life, but is unwilling or unable to bring that very same life back from the dead. It lacks imagination to believe that God works above and beyond what we human beings think is impossible. Bishop Spong's problem is not that his God is too big, but rather that his deity is far too small. Spong has bound the God of the Universe in a box of his own belief and then pleads for us to believe in a God without much power to change the world.
Several years ago when I was in Cuba engaged in teaching mission, we were nearing the end of a worship service one evening. The pastor called individuals to come forward for healing. One woman came to the front of the sanctuary. She had been sick for over a month. The doctors did not know what was wrong with her, but she had a rather high fever. The pastor of the church called me forward and asked me if I would pray for her. I placed my hands on her shoulders. As I began to pray, the heat from her body got warmer on my hands. In the next few moments it got so hot, I could hardly keep my hands on her shoulders. It felt like I was trying to hold on to a radiator. I finished my prayer. My hands were warm and sore. She sat down in her seat in the sanctuary. A few days later as we were preparing to leave for home, one of the church members found me where we were staying. The woman I prayed for woke up that morning-- her fever was gone for the first time in a month. She felt better than she had in weeks.
What happened to her? I am not sure, but I know this. Bishop Spong has no idea how to explain this because his God is too small. He can chalk it up to the psyche of the human mind and its ability to influence the body, but there is no room in a reductionist theology for a truly miraculous act of God. My God is one who literally raises the dead and heals the dying. I cannot explain it, but I know it is true.