14:11 (6 hours ago)
As it is our heritage weekend in September, this column takes on a little bit of history and theology, and the “five points” of James Freeman Clarke. Little did I know, when I wrote this column, Rev. Tony preached about this on the first weekend in August – but I consider it serendipity! So consider this issue of our magazine the “James Freeman Clarke” issue…
In 1886, the Unitarian minister James Freeman Clarke published an essay, “The Five Points of Calvinism and the Five Points of the New Theology.” The doctrine of Calvinism is sometimes summed up by five points: total depravity of all humankind; unconditional election (you don’t need to do anything to be saved); limited atonement (only the “elect” go to heaven); irresistible grace (no free will); and perseverance of the saints (the elect cannot lose their salvation). Many people take issue with these points of theology – as did James Freeman Clarke. He proposed a new five points for a new age. Although we’re officially two centuries on from Clarke’s essay, it is worth looking at what he came up with, as we contemplate our own, 21st century theology:
1. Fatherhood of God:
Clarke believed we are loved by God, and the best example of that love here on earth is the love of a father for his children. Most of us in our century would likely claim motherly love to be at least an equally good example, but the basic gist remains the same – God loves us all
2. Brotherhood of Man
: Apologies again for the sexist language – Clarke means by this as we all
have the same parent in God, all women and men are brethren. As he further puts it, “If God loves them all, they must all have in them something lovable”.
3. Leadership of Jesus:
As a Christian, essential to Clarke is Jesus’ life and example. But Clarke
counsels us not to be led by church dogma, but by Jesus himself – meaning, to get a sense of what the Rabbi Jesus taught his disciples
6. Salvation Here and Hereafter:
Sometimes Clarke’s point here is abbreviated “salvation by
character”, but I like “salvation here and hereafter” better. Clarke affirms that salvation – “the highest peace and joy of which the soul is capable” – is something we should work on here in life, not just in seeking heaven but for the sake of goodness and God. Prayers and professions of faith mean nothing, without a life of integrity.
5. The Progress of Mankind:
Unlike the “old theology”, which put all the emphasis on conversion to some belief, Clarke’s new theology was affixed to the belief that we could make
this world a better place. There is no end to the improvements we might make to the world, if we set our hearts on the teachings of kindness, justice, usefulness, and forgiveness.
At Park Lane Chapel, we do not have a creed or test of beliefs, and consequently we believe many different things. So I hardly expect everyone to agree with all five of these points, nor would I want everyone to. I am curious what you make of them. What would be YOUR foundations for a new age?
No human being knows all the truth – or even close to it. Nevertheless, what we believe is important. If we don’t believe we can change the world for the better, we will probably never try. If we don’t believe we are loved, we may struggle to love
others. I hope humanity’s various beliefs in this century, spoken or unspoken, are adequate to facing the challenges we have inherited. A belief in the potential to make the world better, and a belief that love matters, might both be as important now as they ever were.