Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity   by Roger Wolsey

published January, 11 2011

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One of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation desires. They end up sleeping through a revolution. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Whether he is befriending a homeless man, berating a homophobic protester, helping heal a broken woman, comforting a sexually abused person, or speaking out for social justice and peace, Roger Wolsey seeks to incarnate the Christian faith that nourishes his spirit and propels him to love more deeply and live more meaningfully.

Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity
is a bold effort to reach across the growing chasm between Christian believers and non-believers. Alarmed that the rich diversity of Christian thinking has been hijacked by rigid conservative dogmatics, Wolsey advances a critical and creative presentation of progressive Christianity. His passion is matched only by his intellect as he explores the geography of faith and invites the reader to experience God the Extreme Adventurer, who takes great risks by encouraging human freedom.

An Inclusive and Winsome Faith

Though Wolsey might not be comfortable to be identified as a Christian apologist in a post-modern era, he certainly asserts a straightforward presentation of an inclusive and winsome Christian faith. He does not shirk from re-thinking classical doctrines, re-examining the historical traditions, and re- invigorating ethical teachings.  Even as he appeals to those alienated, wounded and rejected by religious teachings and people, Wolsey never hides his own profound spiritual nourishment that he drinks from the deep wells of Christian faith.

By challenging contemporary misunderstandings of Christian faith, Wolsey does not distort Christian teaching but draws upon often overlooked currents of theology that are too often besmirched by established religious leaders and missed by the media. A keen participant-observer of contemporary culture, he says that people:

“. . . today tend to embrace a more nuanced, experiential, paradoxical, mystical, metaphorical, and relational approach to faith and spirituality. We like it messy, down-to-earth, and real. Interestingly, this is the same kind of approach to Christianity that early Christians experienced and understood. Hence, what I’m referring to as ‘progressive Christianity’ isn’t new or novel, in many ways it’s a reformation of the Church to its earlier, pre-modernist and pre-Constantinian roots. Ironically, this implies that in reality, it is ‘progressive Christianity’ that is conservative—and that ‘conservative Christianity’ isn’t!”

A “No Pretensions” Author

Honest, blunt, and candid, Wolsey never pretends he is a saint. Often autobiographical, he dares to be open about his own faults and failures. Historically, Christian theologians piously proclaim that they, like all other human beings, are sinners, but instead of opening a window on their weaknesses, they often become self-righteous propagandists of a faith and an ethic by which they do not live.  In contrast, Wolsey tends to over-amplify his sins, saying: “I suck as a pastor, I sucked as a husband, I suck as a father, I suck as a lover, and I might even suck as a human being.” This is not exactly the language of the Pope, Karl Barth, the TV evangelist, or bishops of any denomination!  Yet it is a frank acknowledgment of his own imperfection and need for God’s unconditional love and unmerited grace.  This candor helps him identify with other human beings and their quest for meaning, hope, and healing.

Wolsey also never pretends that he has all the answers. Like the old bumper sticker that reads “Jesus came to take away our sins, not our minds,” Wolsey’s purpose is to prompt people to think, to argue, and to be in dialogue. Judgmental, closed minds and churches trapped in exclusivist, rigid, and dysfunctional theologies will not welcome Wolsey’s insights and ideas, but his vision and voice will be refreshing to a society where more and more people are proclaiming they are “spiritual but not religious.”

Addressing the Contemporary Culture

This primer in progressive Christianity celebrates an all-loving God, a subversive radical Jesus, and a compassionate community of faith.  Less concerned about doctrinal orthodoxy, and more concerned about how people live (orthopraxis), Wolsey yet outlines in detail the distinctions between conservative and progressive visions and versions of Christianity. Readers will find in his charts helpful ways to sort out the differing emphases within Christian theology.

Never fearing to address issues in contemporary culture, Wolsey, for example, directly confronts what many consider the “civil rights cause” of our time—namely issues of human rights posed by gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and inter-sex persons around the world.

Since this book is targeted primarily, but not exclusively, at young adults, it is astonishing to note that 91% of non-church-goers from the age of 16 to 29 think Christianity is anti-homosexual. Furthermore, 80% of the church-goers in that same age group agree!  Wolsey notes that, “Conservative Christianity has largely reduced sin to what happens in people’s bedrooms. Namely, who they should love and how and when they should love them.” He affirms that the condemnation, stigmatization, and discrimination of same-sex loving persons are contrary to the inclusive love of God expressed in Jesus’ ministry and teachings.  

Conservative Christianity’s misrepresentation of the Gospel as being exclusive stands in stark contrast to Christianity’s progressive perspective that God loves and accepts all human beings regardless of sexual orientation and practice. The spiritual faith, that Wolsey proclaims and lives, embraces all God’s people and calls them to be transformed by God’s amazing grace. Wolsey acknowledges that what he writes is neither new nor novel, but a message that needs to be re-asserted and re-claimed, lest the current generation miss the opportunity to experience Christian faith and life at its best.

Rev. Dr. Donald E. Messer

Author of numerous books including, A Conspiracy of Goodness, Contemporary Images of Christian Ministry, and 52 Ways To Create An AIDS Free World, Messer served the Iliff School of Theology from 1981 to 2006. He was President from 1981 to 2000.  He currently serves as Executive Director of the Center for the Church and Global AIDS.

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