Box Religion vs. An Open Theism



So what is Christianity in a box? Box Christianity is an approach to understanding the divine which places a concrete set of beliefs into a tidy little framework, or box. Typically these beliefs include (1) original sin, (2) substitutionary atonement, (3) an omniscient and omnipotent God, (4) the Second Coming, (5) and eternal life in either in heaven or hell.


Original sin is the doctrine that humanity fell from grace and into sinfulness. Subsequently we are all born sinful creatures with little hope for redemption. We continually miss the mark and fall short of God’s high standards throughout our lives. As such we are so weak and worthless that we cannot make amends to God for our wickedness.


The only way we could appease God would be to show our contrition by sacrificing something of value to God and thus bribe Him to forgive us. But we have nothing of such value that it could appease God. The loving God provided the worthy sacrifice in the form of his only son, Jesus whom was sacrificed on the cross to “pay” for our sins. Thus Jesus was the perfect substitute for our sacrifice and through this act we are atoned or reconciled to God.


The god of box religion is all knowing and all powerful, residing outside the box, presumably in a place nefariously referred to as heaven. The all-powerful god can do anything He pleases. From time to time if He feels the urge He can come into the box in answer to one’s pleading. Whether He does so or not is at His whim, but regardless it is assumed that whatever He does is for a good reason, even if it is putting one through hell on earth.


Box religion believes Jesus, who was crucified was resurrected from the dead, in bodily form and taken into heaven to be with God. Jesus can be used as a pleader to God for us by invoking his name in our pleadings. Thus prayers are typically ended in box religion with the phrase “in Jesus name we ask this.” Box religion believes that Jesus will return again to the earth at some time to usher in a new world of peace. Only, instead of coming as the compassionate healing, lover of his enemies, in the second coming he will come as a warrior vanquishing a sword and killing his enemies. Presumably, his first coming ended unfortunately and he is not going to try that routine again. After slaying his enemies only the good guys will be left.


Finally the trump card in box religion is a belief that one’s destiny after physical death is to exist eternally in either the paradise of heaven, again an undisclosed location, or the anguish of hell, also an undisclosed place, but one filled with extreme unpleasantries. Catholics believed for some time of a nether world where one could be in limbo and there was hope to work out their future through the prayers of others and some additional suffering. This was called purgatory.  This is the trump card because it defers a lot of people from even questioning the validity of box religion. Who would want to take the chance of being wrong and spending a hellish eternity? It is understood that those outside of the religion box are definitely headed for hell and this places a special demand on those sharing the box religion to save others. This occurs by inviting those poor souls into the box which they can do by declaring Jesus as their lord and savior. It can feel quite warm and cozy in the box, which reinforces box religion’s power over people.



Thinking Outside the Box – An Open Theism.


Box religion predominates Christianity, at least in the United States. But, what if the suppositions of box religion just weren’t true?


What if we took the position of imago deo? That is, instead of original sin we invoke original blessing? Made in the image of God, we may not be perfect, and clearly we have our shortcomings, but that instead of being hopelessly sinful and filled with iniquity, that we have this wonderful potential to evolve into something really marvelous. Further, what if God is that loving entity that has the power and desire to guide us and empower us toward achieving that marvelous ending?


Further, what if instead of substitutionary atonement we understand Jesus as the one who was God saturated, in a sense, the fully human one, and as such showed us that model which we have the potential to evolve into. Jesus is the atoning one, but not through his cruel death, but through his gracious and compassionate life.  God’s love then is seen as unconditional as Jesus taught, rather than conditioned on Jesus’ cruel death.


Further, what if God is not supernatural, but that reality is God’s natural state. Rather than God residing outside of reality in some nether world, that God is among every existing thing. That as Tillich said, God is the very ground of all that exists, all being. Or as Knitter has added all becoming as well. What if God is the flexible glue that holds everything together in an expanding, unfolding and evolving synchronous harmony? Not God in a box, but God everywhere and in everything, including me and including you and all else throughout the universe which is still groaning as it develops as Scripture alludes, “as a woman in the throes of childbirth.”


What if the second coming has already occurred? What if the resurrection is spiritual, with the meaning of Jesus’ way the full truth that is always available and cannot be snuffed out? It exits in all communities, small and large where tenants of Jesus’ vision of the kingdom is implemented, however imperfectly, yet sincerely? Even when it seems to be dead, a remnant resurrects it in each new generation and each new beginning. Thus the light continues to shine in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.


What if there is no heaven or hell? Rather, what if we all join a spiritual existence that is the realm of God and in such become part of the past evolving into the future?


Box Religion or Open Theism?

So there it is. Box religion or an open theism? Original sin or original blessing? A spiteful God reconciled to us through blood sacrifice or an unconditional loving Deity working for our betterment? A supernatural God outside reality or God the essence of reality? Jesus coming again as a warrior or the spirit of Jesus always available to help us evolve into full humanity? The promise of Heaven and threat of hell or an eternal spiritual existence in the realm of God? I guess we have a choice in what and how we believe, but how can one become aware of the choice if fearfully stuck inside the Box?

Sam Gould

Divide, Colorado

April, 2017