james mcgrath on agnostic christianity

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

James McGrath has written an excellent post on “Agnostic Christianity.” Dr. McGrath concludes:

For me, the answer to the question someone asked recently about Christian agnosticism is that there not only can be Christian agnosticism, but that in fact that is all we have. There are no people who have actual historical certainty about every historic Christian claim about Jesus. There are only people who have managed to attain a feeling of certainty. But being honest about the uncertainty, even though it can be unsettling to feel it, is not at all something to be ashamed of. Instead of describing it as “agnosticism” we could also call it “honesty.”

Dr. McGrath has written about this subject in the past, and I referenced him in an article I wrote for my friend, Jason Boyett, entitled, “On the Virtue of Doubt: A Brief Autobiography of the Skeptic in the Sanctuary.”

I recommend Dr. McGrath’s thoughts to anyone wrestling with issues stemming from a critical study of the biblical text.

5 Responses

  1. To be Christian is to be a follower of Christ and to believe that he is Messiah, the anointed one of God and God with us. Agnostic Christian is an oxymoron. For Dr. McGrath needs to maybe check his dictionary out before writing a book. Agnositc means to believe that this is a God but that not one religion has it right. Christ said, “I am the way.” If you don’t believe that then you are not a christian.

  2. thank you for your comment.

    you said: “To be Christian is to be a follower of Christ”
    – agreed.

    you said: “and to believe that he is Messiah, the anointed one of God”
    – also agreed. messiah means ‘anointed one’. judaism has had many messiahs, as many have been anointed (david, solomon, hezekiah, the high priests, etc.) believing that jesus was an/the expected jewish messiah is central to being a christian.

    you said: “and God with us.”
    – this is different than the jewish understanding of ‘messiah,’ but once the divinity of jesus was canonized and the trinity established as orthodox church doctrine, this became a central tenet of xnty.

    you said: “Agnostic Christian is an oxymoron.”
    – i respectfully disagree. ‘agnostic’ means that one cannot prove a claim, and perhaps never can. this is different that possessing faith or believing that something is true. thus, one can believe a claim while not being able to prove it definitively. this is agnostic christianity.

    you said: “For Dr. McGrath needs to maybe check his dictionary out before writing a book.
    – and i’d recommend you check out diana hacker’s grammar before writing a sentence.

    you said: “Agnositc means to believe that this is a God but that not one religion has it right.
    – again, you are confusing belief with proof. belief is central to christianity, evidence and proof are not.

    you said: “Christ said, “I am the way.” If you don’t believe that then you are not a christian.
    – who said anything about not believing christ ‘is the way’? again, belief is part of agnosticism. agnostics simply admit that a belief is not, and may never be, definitively provable. this is perhaps why jesus and paul speak so much of faith, and not empirical evidence.

    ‘being a christian’ is defined by different persons in different ways. fundamentalists argue that many criteria must be met (the entire catalog of doctrinal requirements), while minimalists argue that fewer criteria are necessary (say, a belief in the resurrection and following the teachings of jesus alone, while not subjecting oneself to the multiple decrees of church councils, etc.).

    regardless of where they stand on the scale, christians tend to condemn liberals to the left of them, and patronizingly shake their heads to those conservatives to the right of them. condemn left, patronize right. thus, people tend to think that those more liberal than they are not christian, while those fundamentalists to their right, while overly legalistic, still are christian.


  3. Honesty? Hmm. I’m of a mind to believe asking a fundamental Christian to be honest is tantamount to asking a dog to unbark. They seem to WANT to believe more than they want to understand. Believing in God and Christ does not have to mean believing the Bible is absolute fact written absolutely by the hand of God.

    I realize many people rely on rules to live by and some want rather strict rules or they might rape, murder, steal and fantasize about someone’s wife or husband in a sexual manner. ;-) God forbid. For real. But many of us are fine with exploring and learning for ourselves what “God” is and what Christ meant in the overall scheme of things.

    For me to know it took a “council” to declare Christ a God is suspicious and to know the Bible was edited convinces me further that a book cannot be holy. Maybe the subject of a book can be “holy” and without error, but once Jocephus-Q-Public has a part in the production of that “holy word” the word is no longer holy but a translation or interpretation of what holiness might have been.

    A Christian’s biggest mistake is worshiping the Bible instead of getting to know God.

  4. Dr Bob: I’ve seen and debated this notion before, which makes me wonder where the term “agnostic Christian” originated?

    The sister term, “agnostic atheist” has also been debated, with the same predictable results.


  5. Agnostic, Shorter Oxford English Dictionary_► A noun. A person who holds the view that nothing can be known of the existence of God or of anything beyond material phenomena.–as mentioned, one can belive something while acknowledging nothing may be known- so rational people are agnostic, but they can be theistic or atheistic agnostics

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