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New Questions– Compelling reasons for faith. (ANKC/God-Notes)

This week features both: 1) A change in blog theme, if you haven’t already noticed, and 2) Returning to posts inspired by A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  Almost too much awesomeness to handle all at once, I know.  Take deep breaths if you get dizzy. 

There, there.  Everything’s going to be fine.

Actually, my line of thinking for this post originates from a conversation I had with a youth at our church last week about his faith, and the nature of faith in general.  He had some amazing spiritual insight for his age (16), and drew from a variety of religious sources to get there, including a bit of sensationalized religious “wisdom” passed on from peers.  In other words, as research would tell us, he is your typical American teenager [although I’ll give him higher than average marks for spiritual awareness and humility, imo].

It brought my memory back to a familiar question that I faced regularly in college, as I confronted religious diversity for the first time:  “What are the essentials of my belief system?”…. [which is followed by the important corollary:  “Why are they so essential, and what’s actually at risk if those essentials are muddied or disregarded?”]   

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Posted by on April 21, 2011 in theology

 

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Wow… just, wow. Thank you, Brian.

This could have been done via Twitter, but I am so thankful for this post by Brian McLaren today on Red Letter Christians [which I think can possibly be the future platform for furthering a “prog-evangelical” consensus, i.e., a “generous orthodoxy,” that David Fitch and Scot McKnight seem to want. ]that I thought I’d give it a slightly more thorough endorsement (for what it’s worth….)

 

The post’s primary purpose was to address Al Mohler’s critique of…  you guessed it, the heretic of the hour, our friend Rob.  Which is fitting, considering the number of consecutive weeks McLaren has spent at the top of that hit list.   He does a great job of defending his friend:

*He addresses the difference between either framing Bell as choosing heresy over historic Christian beliefs, vs. someone trying to understand the real “gospel” over what the gospel has been reduced to in the modern West. 

*He addresses the hermeneutical questions in play and explains them in plain language.

*He frames Bell as one trying to reconcile God’s love and justice, as opposed to holding them apart as dual, opposing characteristics of God (God divided against himself?)….in contrast to how Bell is being framed as not taking God’s justice seriously at all.

*And (Thank God) he challenges those who have blatantly accused Rob of placating and of being controversial for the purpose of increasing book sales.  (That’s out of line, imho.)

But on a selfish level, based on what I have said here in recent weeks, and also based upon my own discoveries in recent years as a self-described “post-evangelical” who did not grow up in the mainline church but have since joined myself to it…. I really appreciated this from McLaren (emphasis mine):

From childhood I was taught this liberal-mainline-decline narrative (and its counterpart — the conservative-Evangelical-growth narrative). I’m ashamed to say I never questioned it for years. But the narrative, like all prejudices, turns out to be terribly vulnerable — especially if you actually meet many of the people it purports to describe. Consider these possible rebuttals (some of which are quite popular among mainliners, some not):

  • Perhaps it wasn’t liberalism that killed mainline Protestantism. Perhaps it was institutionalism.
  • Perhaps it was an excessive concern among many mainline Protestant leaders to protect their “mainline” status of privilege and power.
  • Perhaps it was complicity with nationalism, a complicity that was exposed as faulty in the 20th Century by two world wars and Vietnam.
  • Perhaps it was liturgical and organizational rigidity.
  • Perhaps the fall of mainline Protestantism had more to do with complacency and a lack of visionary leadership than it did with a willingness to question traditional interpretations of Scripture.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism isn’t dead or even dying: perhaps mainline Protestants have entered a latency period from which a new generation of Christian faith is trying to be born. (And perhaps conservative Protestantism is about to enter that latency period too.)
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism isn’t failing at all, any more than the U.S. Postal Service is failing. (It’s actually doing more work than ever, with proportionately fewer resources than ever.) Perhaps it’s just that the times have changed, and First Class mail isn’t what it used to be, and mainline Protestants think they’re in the stamp-and-envelope business instead of the communication business.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestants are in decline primarily because they haven’t been as good marketers as Evangelicals. Perhaps mainliners haven’t “pandered” to customer demands as well as Evangelicals. They haven’t adopted new technologies — first radio, then TV, then the internet — as savvily as Evangelicals have.
  • Perhaps mainline decline is related to higher college attendance rates — rates that, by the way, Evangelicals are now catching up to. Perhaps conservative Christianity will fare no better in holding young adults who get a college education than mainline Protestants were. Perhaps the graphs will end up in the same place, with just a 30- or 40-year lag.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestants started to decline when they became prophetic — agreeing with Dr. King about the institutional evils of segregation and the Vietnam war. Perhaps being prophetic, which involves calling people forward to a better future, is inherently more costly and less popular than being conservative, which involves calling people back to a better past.
  • Perhaps Evangelicals started to grow when they filled in the same role mainline Protestants used to occupy: the civil religion of the United States.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism collapsed because of hypocrisy and disconnection from real-life issues, and perhaps Evangelicalism is edging ever-closer to a similar collapse.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism was the religion of the American countryside and small town, and it declined as rural and small-town populations declined. And perhaps Evangelicalism is the religion of the American suburbs, and its fate will rise and fall with suburban life.

 

These reasons (although he admits, as well as I, that only the future will tell us for sure) are precisely why I said what I said last week:  that the mainline church (should we even CALL it that anymore!?) is positioned to be a more desirable and stable future for the American church, and if they can embrace that role, they will outlast institutional Evangelicalism. 

I also appreciate him saying what professors began to show to me back during my Fuller days:  Contrary to how they portray themselves, the conservative evangelical church is actually quite secular/modern:

To more and more of us these days, conservative Evangelical/fundamentalist theology looks and sounds more and more like secular conservatism — economic and political — simply dressed up in religious language. If that’s the case, even if Dr. Mohler is right in every detail of his critique, he’d still be wise to apply the flip side of his warning to his own beloved community.

Yes, many of us are rejecting theologies that seem to dress up secular conservative ideology in “Sunday best.” But that doesn’t mean we want to put secular liberal ideology in robes and collars instead. Of course not. We’re seeking — imperfectly at every turn, no doubt — an incarnational theology, a theology that brings radical good news of great joy for all the people, good news that God loves the world and didn’t send Jesus to condemn it but to save it, good news that God’s wrath is not merely punitive but restorative, good news that the fire of God’s holiness is not bent on eternal torment but always works to purify and refine, good news that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more

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Red Letter Christians

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in future, theology

 

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Thoughts on Rob Bell (part four).

 

Evangelicalism’s Doom and the Phoenix that is Mainline Protestantism:  A response (sort-of) to David Fitch and Scot McKnight

 

{DISCLAIMER:  Post (and especially picture captions) are not for the easily offended.}

 

Faculty David Fitch

David Fitch and Scot McKnight are both evangelical theologians of the highest caliber, both with better-than-average communication skills in a field that’s not exactly known for its sublime prose. 

Fitch has a new book out, that you can learn all about here.  I’m excited to get a chance to read it soon, and as you can see for yourself on his website, you can get a copy at a 40% discount.  What a guy. Smile 

[See “our conversation” (in a manner of speaking) after the jump.]

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Posted by on March 21, 2011 in church, emergent, future, RCA, theology

 

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Follow-up from last week: a post that’s NOT about Rob Bell. (VIDEO)

 

I decided to try to do a “follow-up” post to last week’s post about “narrative construction” via a video.  It’s my first time trying this, so it’s a little [lot?] rough.   BTW, if you haven’t tried your hand at responding to last week’s post, give it a shot.  You don’t have to post your answers, if you don’t want to.  

The point is for us to think about the “logic” of a story.  Watch the video and let me know if this idea makes sense or not, and if so, whether or not you think it matters as much as I do.

 

(P.S., let’s continue prayers/thoughts for Japan, the Philippines, Libya, Egypt, and Palestine… conversations such as these run a risk of sounding entirely out-of-touch with the world— and indeed we Christians often are.  Let us always remember that our conversations about faith are empty, without genuine, real-life expressions of that faith expressing itself in love (Gal 5:6), particularly towards the poor, broken, and oppressed. )

Josh’s first attempt at a video blog—go easy on him.
 
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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in bible, theology

 

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God-Notes: The need for a new conversation (part one).

(Based on A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren;
Chapter 1)

 

 

The entire book A New Kind of Christianity is predicated on the idea that the modern world has undergone a seismic shift in the past few decades, and that the church has yet to respond to it, and has actually more often stood in defiance of the shift, to the church’s own detriment.  This same argument has been articulated by countless people in various ways, including McLaren himself in his previous works.  The purpose of this blog, notably, also takes this assumption for granted… as I have come to believe that we need to seriously re-imagine the ways in which we speak about faith in the church in this emerging new world.

Arguments to demonstrate this (and the consequent need for change) come in a variety of flavors; many take a historical approach to the issue based on the hopelessly-broad and intimidating term “postmodernism.”

[I tried to make the word look big and intimidating…  but you have  to use sans serif font when you write about postmodernity—I’m pretty sure there would be a rule about it, that is, if postmodernity had any rules—and NOTHING looks intimidating in sans serif; it’s utterly impossible.  How underwhelming.]

These arguments will undoubtedly mention the people deemed responsible for issuing in the modern era (Descartes, Galileo, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, etc. ) that confronted the religious and political powers of their days, by changing our conception of how we come to knowledge.  The modern argument was that our knowledge of the world need not be forced upon us by powers, but that people could discover certitude for themselves.  In the new shift that began last century, we are discovering the ultimate futility of this enterprise.  So now, we no longer have governing authorities that determine what we hold to be true, but we neither have the capacity within ourselves to (fully?) ascertain what is true.  

*Such arguments might also focus on the implication behind the “knowledge-shift:” the shift towards the individual in modern society… and that the postmodern world has discovered the limits of individualism.

*Or, they might focus on consumerism and economic myths of equal opportunity, which, as we’ve come to realize, aren’t really all that equal. 

*Some might focus on the advent of modern politics, education, and (perhaps especially) science, and how each have been challenged at a fundamental level. 

THE RESULT?

Postmodern pluralism, relativism, globalism, and uncertainty. (AKNC, p.8)   [Could you perhaps find a SCARIER grouping of words for modern Christians?  I, and others, would argue, however, that postmodernism might actually help redeem the Church, and create opportunities for faith!… That discussion is for later, though.]

There’s another way to make the argument, however…. for the explanation of the recent shift and the need for change… because the above explications go over like a lead balloon for some, and others just can never get past the loaded language of “postmodernism,” “pluralism,” “relativism,” etc…. words that Christians have been conditioned to fear…. even if you’re not entirely sure what the words mean.

That’s the personal testimony approach. 

McLaren spends the first few pages of the first chapter of the book taking this approach—although he’s not making an argument per se.  Yet I as I read am reminded of the persuasive power of testimony, as he describes one of his various speaking events that prompted protests, boycotts, warnings, and an attack of yellow leaflets on the windshields of every car in the parking lot.  Yet after he finishes his presentation and meets and greets with attenders, he hears story after story of gratitude:

“(from a pastor) I would have left the ministry and the Christian faith altogether if it weren’t for your book A New Kind of Christian.

“This was the most refreshing day spiritually that I have ever had in my life.”

“I was told terrible things about you.  I don’t see what the fuss is about. [You and me both, buddy.]” 

“(Former MK turned agnostic) Today…I feel like I just may be able to believe again.”

“ (Woman in Catholic church) I tend to feel like a second-class citizen (in the church)…but today I feel that there’s a place for me in God’s work.”

And this last one:

“ (Former wife of former pastor) You’ve put into words  what I’ve always known was true, but was afraid to say.”

   

                                                   [This is your brain.]         

        

[This is your brain on postmodernity… (pick the one that fits you)]

For some, talk about a “postmodern Christianity” creates a cranial nuclear explosion— the attempt to combine two utterly irreconcilable things.  For others, however, it sings of (dare we say?) truth, and actually RESOLVES the tension that is felt when attempting to think of faith and life through our increasingly outmoded Christian lenses framed by modernity.

I am part of the latter group… I wrestled with my faith on and off my entire life—although I am thankful that I never let go of it completely.  But the aspects that seemed to bother me about theology and Scripture were taboo subjects, largely forcing me to explore these questions on my own. 

But it wasn’t until I began to let go of certain aspects of my need for CONTROL regarding my faith (a precondition for modern faith) that I was free to let the entire thing unravel.  And it wasn’t until it began to unravel that I was free to began weaving something entirely new— and as I did so, I found the new weaving stronger, and yet more pliable, than what I had before—and my harrowing wrestling was replaced by gentle questioning and deepening. 

I needed help to get here—- friends in college, my own explorations of the scriptures and the Holy Spirit, and seminary were HUGE parts of it.  But it was also writers, who  “put into words  what I’ve always known was true, but was afraid to say.”  Brian McLaren was one of those writers. 

Simply put—without the “new conversation,” I’m not certain that I would be where I am today as a Christian… and I know I speak for thousands of others as well.  Isn’t that reason enough for skeptics to take a closer, and perhaps less skeptical, look? 

 

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in church, theology

 

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God-Notes: “10 Questions that are Transforming the Faith”

[The first half of this post is basically an update on this blog as a whole.

The second half explains and sets up the following series of posts on Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity. 

Please plan your post-reading/skimming accordingly… and remember to hydrate. ]

 

As I have made a return to the blogging world, I have been looking for an opportunity to jump-start the conversation on here.  While I’ve wanted a more focused and intentional blog, I’ve found that without a little flexibility allowed on my own end, my blogging ceases function altogether.  I am, after all, a P on my Myers-Briggs.  Like, I’m not even a little J.  So don’t even try to fence me in. [Little sensitive, aren’t we?]  For me, discipline must be interwoven with choice. 

Seriously, when I started the new blog kickoff this past July, I wrote about 30 (!) “half-posts” on various topics.  You see, my idea for the blog has been to discuss “God-language” (i.e., the “notes” of the faith)…. how words are used/misused, why they may need to be re-conceived, etc.  For example, I still have half-posts [as I was apparently only half-inspired] on my hard drive dealing with the following words: 

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Posted by on February 9, 2011 in church, theology

 

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