Union Theological Seminary is back in the news, with another display of the theological deterioration that liberalism brings.
I trace the progression something like this: the failure to hold to the truth about God as revealed in Scripture leads to an over-emphasis on the immanent, on the matters of this world; accordingly, the Divine transcendence collapses into immanence–aided by the feminist impulse, which takes umbrage at the masculine personalism of God in the Bible, and pushes either in the direction of goddess-worship or a loss of God’s personalism (or, paradoxically, both); the result is a slide from theism into panentheism, the conflation of Creator with creation. I’ve read that Paul Tillich, possibly the most renowned 20th-century American liberal theologian, came to the point where he couldn’t really pray, but only meditate in or upon nature; God had ceased to be personal in his conception.
What I’m saying is that when your gospel becomes too this-worldly, so does your picture of God.
I am not saying that Union has arrived at panentheism yet, only that they are perhaps on the road there. They have certainly arrived upon a place of absurdity; what else can you call a worship service involving confession to plants of mankind’s sin against creation?
To quote Union’s widely-circulated tweet:
Today in chapel, we confessed to plants. Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.
What do you confess to the plants in your life?
It is not entirely clear whether they prayed to plants (i.e., regarded them as divine) or simply whether they prayed about their misdeeds towards plants or prayed with plants to God, so I give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t actually worship the plants. But they did confess to them, regarding them as “beings who sustain us.”
It is one thing to poetically address plants as a sort of metaphor, or to speak about how they reveal God, as in Psalm 19 or my own poor poem from yesterday. It is quite another to confess our sins to plants, as though they were personal beings and as though it were them, not their Creator, who we have offended by our wasteful destruction of the environment. It insinuates devotion to Gaia, rather than to God.
Faced with criticism over this debacle, Union has defended their decision by pointing out that they weren’t exactly committed to wholehearted devotion to the one true God anyway. As their statement is reported in the Washington Examiner article linked above, in their chapels:
“One day, you may come in to find a traditional Anglican communion, another day you may enter into a service of Buddhist meditation or Muslim prayer,” the spokesperson continued. “Another, you may find a Pentecostal praise service or a silent Quaker meeting. We create a home where people can worship side by side, in traditions similar to and very different to their own. Through this process, we learn from our neighbors and discern our own faith more deeply.”
That does fill in the picture, but its hardly comforting for anyone concerned about the students’ souls.
There is a God, a righteous and holy God, a jealous God–the God who says, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isa. 42:8, NIV).
You must know Him; that is the single most important thing in this life.
There’s no absolution from confessing your sins to a fern. It can’t forgive you. It’s not the tree of life. You have to bring your sins, instead, to Christ who bore them on the cross. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24, ESV).
But when you turn away from the cross, you can get so lost you find yourself talking to trees.