I remember a Far Side strip where scientists are looking at a group of people in an enclosure. "Yes, gentlemen, they're fools," one says, "but the question remains what kind of fools are they?" Funny.
John Shuck is a pastor in good standing in the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. He believes that Jesus may have lived, but most of what we know about him (lowercase "h" on purpose) is legend, not reality. That's primarily because Shuck believes that God is merely a symbol, not a reality. He believes that there is no personal, supernatural being. All religion, in his view, is a human construct aimed at finding meaning. He believes there is no life after death. You're born, you live, you die, end of story.
What's interesting, though, is that Pastor Shuck uses the very same language that Christians do. (I know that it upsets some that I suggest without reservation or question that the pastor is not a Christian. He may be a lot of things, but, no matter what you believe, rejecting the basic teachings of Christianity defines you as "not a Christian".) I offer this, then, as evidence of the problem of language. I offer this to demonstrate that words do have meaning and that communication fails when we reject that principle ... as our world is tending to do more and more.
In his Statement of Faith, the one he had to give the congregation he was going to serve in order to be put in place there, Shuck uses all the right words in describing Christ (who, remember, to him is an historical but basically mythical figure who has died and lives no more). He describes Christ as Comforter and "the Risen Christ", Encouragement, "my Forgiveness", Savior, Truth, and Hope (among other descriptives). Now, that's all good, isn't it? Yes, yes it is. But wait ... if Pastor Shuck actually denies that Christ was resurrected (and he does), then what did he mean by "the Risen Christ"? And if he didn't mean what it appears to mean there, is he using these terms different than we are? And, as it turns out, these are valid questions. As it turns out, he is using all the same terminology with none of the same meaning.
The "Risen Christ" concept, to him, is that Mr. Shuck can be a good person like Christ was and can, then, be a form of a "resurrected Jesus". As "Comforter" this idea makes the pastor feel better. As "Encouragement", Jesus's concern for the poor gives the pastor encouragement to press on for social justice. As "my Forgiveness", he can experience forgiveness as he forgives others and he can go on with his life. As "Savior", John is rescued from "all forces that would deny 'my dignity', saved from 'myself', saved from 'distractions and false ideals'." Saved from wrath? No, not at all. As "Truth", "You encourage me to seek and to learn. You spur me never to be satisfied with what I know." That is, Christ is "truth" in a generic principle sense. Look for it. Never think you have it. As "Hope", Jesus invites him to "work for a world in which all are housed, clothed, fed, educated", a world of "non-violence", a world where "humanity has forgotten how to fight".
These terms are radically different than the standard biblical, Christian usage. They ignore a literally "Risen Christ" (which, according to Paul, nullifies Christianity entirely -- 1 Cor 15:14). In fact, Christ did not die for the sins of humanity. They deny the presence of the genuine Comforter (where this capital "C" has meaning). The encouragement to follow Christ isn't there. The forgiveness of sin isn't there. The salvation from God's wrath to God's family isn't there. The hope of eternity in the presence of God isn't there. None of the basic beliefs of Christianity are there, even though the basic terms are used.
To those of you who say, "Yeah, well, I can see that he's not orthodox" or even "I can see that he's wrong", and then go on to say, "but what difference does it make to me? Why should we be concerned about it?", I have something to say. You see, it's much like the question, "So what if they change the definition of marriage? How will that affect your marriage?" It's an important question. Does it matter if radical breaks from the truth go unannounced and unanswered? Or should we just say, "Yeah, there are a lot of people on the Internet that are wrong. I can live with that."?
As it turns out, this pastor is not benign. He believes that it is his duty to draw others away from orthodoxy ... what he calls "superstition". He isn't remaining in the pulpit because he's stubborn. He's remaining there to fight Christianity. And that's not my conclusion; it's his stated belief. He told a commenter on his blog, "I am a PCUSA minister in good standing with my denomination. I feel I represent an important part of the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition. I rip off nothing. I am at home even as I challenge the denomination to reform its theology and commitments." By definition this is one of those "who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15). While he intentionally distances himself from Christian doctrine, he classifies himself as one of those who "went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). The former is listed as a "false prophet" and the latter as an "antichrist".
My point is not John Shuck. The Church is littered with wolves and false prophets. We were actually told that would be the case. Getting up in arms over this guy won't serve a good purpose. Being aware will. Answering the heresies will. We are told to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask about your hope. And when true believers are asked "What do you believe?", you're going to have to give account for the fact that a "minister in good standing" believes everything contrary to your orthodoxy. It matters.