Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
Is the description “A Christian agnostic” helpful?
“Agnostic” means “without knowledge”, and to an extent every Christian
exists in this state this side of eternity. But militant agnosticism insists
that knowledge of God, the supernatural, and life after death cannot be
obtained, and therefore it attacks as superstition or credulity the beliefs of
those who make any claim to know of them.
A position that would typically be described as “Christian agnostic” is that
of a person who is committed to following the ethical teaching and example of
Jesus as the greatest teacher of love, while rejecting the Gospel accounts of
his miracles as added by gullible followers, and his teaching on God and the
afterlife as being subject to the influence of contemporary beliefs. Indeed,
Jesus admitted that there were things about which he, too, was “without
knowledge” (Mark 13.32).
While I do not completely share this viewpoint, I, for one, would not be
prepared to deny such agnostics the right to label themselves “Christian”.
Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey, Surrey
An agnostic says you cannot know God in the certain way you can know
material things, but such a person could, none the less, choose to follow the
life and teaching of Jesus. He could quote St Paul that we now see in a mirror
dimly (I Corinthians 13.12), and walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5.7).
Though you cannot give a scientific proof of God, some Christians assert
that their personal experience assures them of his reality. Nevertheless, we
need the humility that admits there is much we do not know about God and his
will, and we may be mistaken.
At the same time, being a Christian means committed response rather than
sitting on the fence.
The combination of limited knowledge with confident behaviour is illustrated
in 1 John 3.2-3: “We are God’s children now, it does not yet appear what we
shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall
see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope purifies himself.”
(Canon) John Goodchild
In 1972, I heard Michael Ramsey, while talking to a group of clergy at
Windsor, describe himself as “a Christian agnostic”. He explained it by saying
that he did not have a ready answer to all our theological questions.
I have often used the expression myself in a similar context. Surely
we all walk by faith, and not by sight. And I have heard it said: “Faith is
living with uncertainty.”
(The Revd) David Platt
What can we do when God seems remote? G. C.
Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times,
33 Upper Street, London N1 0PN.