The Christian Agnostic

By: Brian Robertson

From The Christian Agnostic (1965)
Leslie D. Weatherhead

The past week or two I’ve been reading and rereading an exceptional book — The Christian Agnostic by Leslie Weatherhead. It’s worth a look, believe me, and one which you may agree or disagree with, but enjoy the fact it gives you something to ponder. Here’s a lengthy passage from the book:

I feel that it is no sin to be an agnostic. By “agnostic” I do not of course mean the atheist, who declares that there is no God. The simplest reader of this book will realize that no one can prove a negative like that. Robinson Crusoe could prove that there was a man on his island. He could never have proved there was not. For a man might have hidden behind the only trees he did not search, or dodged there when he was not looking. To me it seems a strange mentality by which a man can look up into the starlit sky or even down into a humble flower or listen to a haunting tune or watch a sunset, meditate on some deed of utter self-sacrifice or on the mystery of human love, and say, “I know that in this whole universe there cannot possibly be God.” Since I have talked with many self-styled “atheists,” I have come to believe that the true species does not exist, and that atheism, so-called, is either an emotional deviation in the same category as neurotic illness and with a similar causation, or else the denial of the existence of a mythical figure who certainly does not exist. The latter type of “atheist” is welcome, for he helps us to find the true God and to exclude false ideas about him.

Nor by “agnostic” do I mean–to quote my dictionary–”one who holds that nothing is known or likely to be known of the existence of a God or of anything beyond material phenomena.”

I am writing for the “Christian agnostic,” by which I mean a person who is immensely attracted by Christ and who seeks to show his spirit, to meet the challenges, hardships and sorrows of life in the light of that spirit, but who, though he is sure of many Christian truths, feels that he cannot honestly and conscientiously “sign on the dotted line” that he believes certain theological ideas about which some branches of the church dogmatize; churches from which he feels excluded because he cannot “believe.” His intellectual integrity makes him say about many things, “It may be so. I do not know.”

I believe passionately that Christianity is a way of life, not a theological system with which one must be in intellectual agreement. I feel that Christ would admit into discipleship anyone who sincerely desired to follow him and allow that disciple to make his creed out of his experience; to listen, to consider, to pray, to follow, and ultimately to believe only those convictions about which the experience of fellowship made him sure…

The thoughtful layman often feels, however, that the churches are far more concerned to defend a hoary tradition than to follow the moving light of new insights and understanding; far more concerned to defend historic language than to discover truth…

Dr. Whately Carington spoke for thousands when he wrote, “The churches are so deeply committed to a set of technical propositions, bound to appear either incredible, or offensive, or irrelevant to any reasonable man, that they alienate rather than attract just those whose support they most desire.” He goes on to say, “As I see it, all questions regarding the factual accuracy of Biblical statements–notably such ‘miraculous’ events as Virgin Birth, Resurrection, etc.–are wholly irrelevant to the true issues. Indeed, I should go so far as to say myself that the whole value of the Gospel story to mankind–and it is very great–lies not in its historical but in its legendary, mythical, or ‘typical’ character. It is not, I think, the Sermon on the Mount–or at least not this alone–that constitutes the peculiar contribution of Christianity to human thought, for very similar maxims are to be found elsewhere, and in any event could be deduced from first principles. It is to be found, rather, in the affirmation that all that is best and highest in man, as typified in the person of Jesus, is bound to arouse opposition, is often persecuted and apparently destroyed–yet is in fact indestructible and does perennially ‘rise again’ triumphant over seeming disaster. It is because this affirmation is (as I believe) profoundly true, and because mankind has dimly yet tenaciously perceived it to be true, and because the Christian conception of the ‘best in man’ (as in the Sermon) is more advanced than that associated with the usual hero myths (physical prowess, etc.) that true Christianity can claim to be a faith worth holding.”

Not for much longer will the world put up with the lies, the superstitions and the distortions with which the joyous and essentially simple message of Christ has been overlaid… The Christianity of tomorrow will embrace all truth wherever it is found or however men have come to apprehend it, whether through specifically Christian teaching or through Buddhism or Mohammedanism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism or even through the bleak desert of apparent atheism. Many of our greatest minds pass through the latter, feeling that to deny all is nearer the truth than to be identified with those who deny all approaches to truth save their own, and in their narrowness and exclusiveness deny love which is more fundamental than anything else. Every denomination within organized Christianity contains a valuable truth, but none contains all the truth… Where in the Gospels are we ever told that Christ demanded belief in some theological proposition before he would admit a seeker into discipleship? The answer is that he never did. Belief in a person, yes. I believe in a host of my friends. I love them and I am certain that they would never do a mean or dirty trick or let me down by a breach of friendship. But friendship does not involve my agreeing with the intellectual positions which they hold… Peter [disciple] knew nothing of, far less did he believe in, the Virgin Birth, the Trinity and many theological improbabilities which some men have demanded from their fellows before they allowed them the label, “Christian.” This is far indeed from the attitude of Christ… Believing theological dogmas was not Christ’s test of those who sought to be his disciples, and for another very important and fundamental fact, you cannot believe a thing because you are told to believe it… Truth is self-authenticating….

Jesus never mentioned the Virgin Birth, neither was it for centuries any part of the missionary message of the church. We still make of prime importance matters about which Jesus said nothing. How can a matter be fundamental in a religion when the founder of the religion never mentioned it? And all this goes, not for the Virgin Birth only, but for a dozen improbabilities about which not even a reverent agnosticism is allowed by the die-hard Scribes and Pharisees of today…

Let me instance the case of Darwin. In his autobiography there is a sad passage in which he says that he was “very unwilling to give up” his belief in Christianity, but at last, he wrote, “disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete.” He adds this sentence: “I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for, if so, the plain language of the test seems to show that the men who do not believe–and this would include my father, brother, and almost all my best friends–will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.”

There is no recorded saying of Jesus in which He explicitly connects His death with the forgiveness or remission of sins… Sin is not something which can be “paid for” by the suffering of another… Frankly, it is nonsense to say, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Hebrews 9:22)…

I am sure we can only recommend Christianity to the thoughtful men of today by a restatement which admits a large degree of agnosticism, eliminates magic, dispenses with imposed authority, and abolishes, from our conception of God, horror and cruelty which would degrade a man, let alone God. Such a restatement should not put up creedal walls, let alone allow them to exclude loving souls who seek to follow Christ. He never demanded from anyone support for theological propositions, but told us to love God and our fellows and to react in all crises in the spirit which animated him…

Let me quote here some words of the Buddha:

“Believe nothing because a so-called wise man said it.
Believe nothing because a belief is generally held.
Believe nothing because it is written in ancient books.
Believe nothing because it is said to be of divine origin.
Believe nothing because someone else believes it.
Believe only what you yourself judge to be true.”

It is the testimony of Christians that amid all the uncertainties of relativism they have discovered that to which they may surrender themselves in complete trust. They have encountered a reality which gives them confidence that the universe is trustworthy. What they have known and experienced of love is something that they believe will hold firm in all the stresses and tests of life and prove stronger than death itself… If the word “know” has any meaning, then, in a tiny, imperfect way, I have known God. I am certain of God, and that God is love. I have had experiences, few, but convincing, which have no meaning apart from the faith that God is, and that a mysterious, loving omnipotence embraces all lives, gathers them all into a plan and will never desert them but will bring to them all utter peace and endless joy…

And then, warmed of heart by some contact with love, by some word of another, printed, written or spoken, or even by the glory of a summer morning, or the quiet music of the sea at night, I come back, and his grace comes flooding in, cleansing, refreshing, renewing, uplifting, like the sparkling tide in a dull, muddy backwater. Then the whole earth fills with his glory, and once more I know that all is well. The mind recovers its resilience and gaiety, the soul finds its rest, and the will takes once more the upward road, and knows that the Great Companion is near, and that he will never weary of mankind, or regard a single soul as too unimportant, or too unworthy, to be his friend.


[As much as the Christian church has alienated me, I still have great hope it will evolve into something closer to the heart of Christs’ teachings. The church of 200 years ago, doesn’t resemble the church of today, and the church of 200 years hence, will not resemble ours. There is definetly a new age-y/spiritual renaissance happening here in the west. When my Luthern church makes a “banquet” every Sunday, I don’t partake of every dish that they try to feed me, but I love the company!]


[Can someone explain to me a bit more what a ‘Christian Agnostic is or believes? I feel that this is the path I want to take, cause it seems to relate to me, but I want to make sure I understand it all myself. I am a Christian and don’t believe in religion, and am a bit skeptical about God and if he exists or not. Anyone who can help me in understanding about this I’d appreciate it.]


[From Wikipedia:

“Agnosticism (from the Greek “a,” meaning “without,” and Gnosticism or “gnosis,” meaning knowledge) means “unknowable,” and is the philosophical view that the truth value of certain claims — particularly theological claims regarding metaphysics, afterlife or the existence of God, god(s), or deities — is unknown or, depending on the form of agnosticism, inherently unknowable.

“Agnostics claim either that it is not possible to have absolute or certain knowledge of God or gods; or, alternatively, that while certainty may be possible, they personally have no knowledge. Agnosticism in both cases involves some form of skepticism.”

The way Whitehead means “Christian Agnostic” draws from that. He says, basically, that there are some areas in Christianity where he has definite experience/proof to satisfy himself. For example, he does not doubt the existence of God or even the Divinity of Jesus, although, on the latter, he says he believes in it but does not know what it means, exactly.

In short, a Christian Agnostic is one who walks with a combination of great Faith and great Doubt at the same time, realizing there are certain things he or she simply cannot or does not know at this time.

An atheist for example, simply denies the existence of God. Some Christians completely affirm the existence of God. An Agnostic believes in God, but does not profess to have a complete understanding. In many theological areas, a little agnosticism is not a bad thing!]