Reflections by Rev Dr Paul Tonson - Interim Minister

Exploring a Progressive Faith

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Natural Spirituality - Progressive or Orthodox?

This congregation and SWell represent the wellbeing and joy that people find in living out a sense of the spiritual in the midst of life. The triumphalist Christian church has sometimes asserted that Jesus was the originator of personal faith but 600 years earlier, Jeremiah announced the New Testament (=Covenant) in which the divine law would be known in every heart and no priest would be needed. Jesus’ ministry demonstrated this and at his Last Supper he identified with Jeremiah, speaking of the wine as the cup of the new covenant.

More and more people today identify themselves as spiritual but not religious (SBNR). They make the same witness as Jesus did that a sense of the divine is not limited to religion. Religion may enhance our individual spirituality or it may quench the spirit. Spirituality is a human awareness that is not easy to define. One measure of it for me is a sense of privilege and call that makes my life a response to the divine rather than a self-assertive grasping at all that comes my way.  

Around 20, I attended an Easter Camp Missionary Meeting where an almost retired missionary left an enduring message with me. ‘What is a call? It is 1. Seeing a need, and 2. Having the opportunity to respond.’ No need to agonize over ‘God’s plan for my life’. Instead, a strong appeal to a spiritual understanding of life as a response of self-giving.

The great Albert Schweitzer exhibited this response. He was a scholar of the gospels and of the Way of Jesus and a seminary principal when at age 31 he took up medical studies and went to work and die in Gabon, West Africa. He chose ordinary language to express his faith and his spiritual relationship to the universe: ‘Reverence for Life’.

With a broader understanding of spirituality we may be agnostic about some truth claims about Jesus. Is our faith still orthodox? Methodist preacher, Leslie Weatherhead, wrote positively about this in 1965: The Christian Agnostic: “... many professing agnostics are nearer belief in the true God than are many conventional church-goers…”

Theology and religion provide significant structures for our faith. But spirituality is at the heart of our daily living. Like Schweitzer, may we find that our spirituality has power to turn mere morality and legalistic living into transforming compassion that can make a difference in the world.

A.S dates 1875 -1965; From 1893 he studied Philosophy and Protestant theology. Ph.D. in 1899 at University of Tübingen. 1900 became pastor - St. Nicolas in Strassburg, 1901, principal of the Theological Seminary in Strassburg. In 1905 completed The Quest of the Historical Jesus. From 31 to 36 he studied medicine and then gave himself to serving humanity, with Jesus as his example.
“Reverence for life brings us into a spiritual relation with the world which is independent of all knowledge of the universe. By practising reverence for life we become good, deep and alive.”

Christian agnostics practice a distinct form of agnosticism that applies only to the properties of God. They hold that it is difficult or impossible to be sure of anything beyond the basic tenets of the Christian faith. They believe that God or a higher power might exist, that Jesus may have a special relationship with God, might in some way be divine, and that God might perhaps be worshipped. This belief system has deep roots in the early days of the Church.[1]

... many professing agnostics are nearer belief in the true God than are many conventional church-goers who believe in a body that does not exist whom they miscall God.”  Leslie Weatherhead (1965) The Christian Agnostic. (Methodist Minister; 1893-1976)


Habitat Uniting Church Office
2 Minona Street, Hawthorn VIC
phone 9819 2844

St David's Centre
2 Mont Albert Rd (cnr Burke Rd)
Canterbury VIC

Habitat Spirituality Centre
SWell Centre (Ex Augustine)

2 Minona St, Hawthorn VIC

Kew Uniting Church
23 Highbury Grove