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Unity in love; unity in purpose—possible, or a pipe dream?

This post is a part of the Rally to Restore Unity hosted on Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

NOTE:  I largely wrote this post last night, prior to learning about the Bin Laden death.  Thus, I make no mention of it.  I’ll just say here, no matter your perspective on it, that I hope we could consider this apposite RTRU sign(Courtesy of @WritingJoy). 

If you knew me back in my high school and (especially) college days, you would probably know that the concept of Christian unity was always a passion of mine.  I always felt like the church’s fragmentation and Christians’ general distrust towards each other was a tragedy, and that God has called the church to live and act as one… and that by remaining fragmented, the church’s message to the world would continue to be tarnished. 

Of course, I should clarify that by “concept” of Christian unity…I meant: “If only all churches would just believe the same things THAT I DO, and care about the things I CARE ABOUT, then we would be able to truly be one again.”

Of course, I didn’t think about it that way at the time… back then, I would’ve said it this way:

“If only all churches believed what the Bible says…. then we would be truly one.” 

So simple!  Why hadn’t anyone else thought of this before???  Smile 

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in church

 

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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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Is communal identity an idol for the church?

 

 

Some of you may know that I am presently looking at pursuing a Ph.D. (and as some of you know, there will be news in that department, one way or the other, in the next few weeks, God willing).   A number of impulses have motivated this pursuit, but many of those impulses can be summarized in the category of communal identity-formation:  how it’s formed, shaped, changed, etc.

Theoretically, Christian identity is rooted in Christ, beyond culture or location, instead of, as in other cases, religion being embedded in culture/society and actually serving its needs.  But history, unfortunately, far more often testifies to the latter case than the former. 

This reality has yielded some recent thoughts about the fact that stable community identities are a god.  What follows are some of the raw thoughts (leaving out many details) I’ve had about this:

 

[YOU CAN SKIP OVER THE HISTORICAL RAMBLINGS DOWN TO  “Thus our modern search:” IF YOU’RE PRESSED FOR TIME….or easily bored.]Smile 

***

Despite the modern myth that we act as individuals, at the end of the day humans want to belong to something bigger— a greater task and purpose, and a community.  This is a primary motivator of most group behavior—both for the leaders of those groups who are charged with maintaining that stability, and for the people who, at times, will take the trade-offs that come from that leadership for the sake of stability. 

[Calvin, I believe, saw this in part, when he called humans “idol factories.”]

The early church, seeing their new identity in Christ as a liberation from both the defeatism in their Jewish identity and the subjugation in their Roman identity, began to craft a new identity, under a new set of rules established by the “Kingdom (of God),” where subjugation and power and dominance were alien forces—and all (from every tribe and tongue) were welcomed to participate in their new society.  This created a destabilizing force that threatened Jewish and Roman power structures alike, although the strength of that force ironically grew with every attempt to destroy it.

But from Constantine onward, (particularly Western) Christian identity became inextricably tied to the powers that be, rather than being an alternative to it.  Religion, just as in most cases worldwide, came to serve the needs of the “identity-stabilizers,” i.e., the Holy Roman Empire, the Vatican, and various nobilities throughout the ages.  Yet the fear of the people was not merely that of intimidation or threat of hellfire (although these fears were certainly wielded by the powerful); it was also that their understanding of who they were in community, and thus their purpose and source of meaning, might be threatened if their overlords did not maintain their posts.

Various threats to stability gradually evolved into waves of societal movement, including the Renaissance (there is a reason why art and science were frequently condemned by the church), the Reformation, and the rise of Modernity and Enlightenment.  Freedom was rediscovered, and in the case of the Reformation, such freedom was once again appropriated to the Christian story. But, without the centralized structures of feudalism and religion to shape and hold community identity, fear eventually set in, and people began to form new community identities.  At the same time, people became almost addicted to the concept of revolution in various forms (forming whole identity-creating myths around the revolutionary stories of the past)- thus beginning an endless cycle of:   rebel—re-coalesce and redefine community—power abuse (real or perceived)—new rebellion.  [This is coupled, with every new rebellion, with a redefining of one’s group-identity, which leads to greater exclusion between sub-groups, defining one’s group as “not” like another.]

Protestant churches, therefore, are wired to continue protesting!—it’s in their ever-evolving community DNA.  The American individualism-mythology, coupled with its revolution-mythology, created an environment for the Protestant church that exacerbated this evolution—and thus a Christian landscape where splits, divisions, near-splits, or threats of splits, have become as commonplace as American flags inside our sanctuaries. 

There is an inherently instability to Protestant churches, who have a love-hate relationship with their sense of modern individuals rights and freedoms.  Ironically, modern individualism leaves in its wake the need for communal identity-stability—which, as history has shown, often leads to the suppression of individuals, and particularly the minority and the outcast.

Thus our modern search:   to espouse the irrefutable “right” perspective, have the “right” religion, have the “right” foundational beliefs around which one could structure their community lives, and belong to the “right” (i.e., the most powerful and influential) religious institution that will preserve all of this stuff for us, so that we’ll once again have stability, and everyone who disagrees with us will be able to SEE that we are right, because it will be obvious… and they will join us, instead of threaten our destabilization. Thus, also, came the need to preserve these institutions- through intimidation, and yes… the threat of hellfire. 

Which would be followed by, inevitably, someone coming up with a better “right” way.  Followed by another split.  Followed by another. 

Which (and this is what is particularly salient to my interests) has led to churches and other ideologies making identity as simple and as streamlined as possible, rooted out any threat of inconsistency or perceived error…. but as a result reducing their communal identities to such a degree that their sense of purpose and meaning is almost NULLIFIED—and their ability to exclude and subjugate has become AMPLIFIED.

***

What are we to make of all of this?  What IS the viable alternative?  We’re not going back to the abuses of medieval Catholicism; we can’t transport ourselves back in time to the early church; we don’t want to get away from the liberating aspects that modernity has brought us [despite modernity’s limitations, it has brought us art, science, technology, etc., that can and have indeed made the world better]. As it is now, we either have lords, or doctrines, suppress our freedoms in exchange for a stable communal identity…and if either get too oppressive, we just overthrow them and form a new communal identity [and create more division]!  But isn’t there a better way to think about this?

The postmodern world has produced much thought to help us navigate these waters—and versions of a “postmodern Christianity” have also arisen from out of these resources, as well as the frustration from the reduction from which modern evangelicalism, as well as virtually every form of Protestantism, suffers.

The more optimistic of us say…there IS a viable alternative: 

Learn our lessons from the past, and take them with us into the future.

Give up the idol of “stable communal identity.”  That is what “dying to self” means in the Christian tradition.

Christians, embrace Jesus and the salvation-narrative extending throughout the scriptures as the centerpiece of our identity…not to exclude others, but to choose to use a Jesus-colored set of lenses with which to view the world [using the stories of Jesus to challenge our perceptions, without trying to stuff every inch of scripture into your interpretive grid]. 

Live by the Kingdom of God…. with its new set of rules, and its forever-permeable borders…. the kingdom free of class distinction. 

YOU DON’T HAVE TO NECESSARILY THROW YOUR INTERPRETIVE GRIDS IN THE TRASH.   They can help us understand God, and yourself, better.  But let your grid be malleable, open to influence from other (even non-explicitly Christian) sources.  Be humble enough to admit that your interpretation is just that.  And if people don’t agree with you, well, maybe you can learn from them the best you can, and thus model openness to them.  

Let the stability and sense of community come from Christ and resulting fellowship with others; see all people as creations of God, treat them as such, and rest in that.  That won’t physically reunite the church in itself, and it won’t undo all forms of hegemony in the faith overnight…. but it’s a potential start, I think, towards a more united community, and a less reduced understanding of Christian identity. 

For those of you who made it this far…. am I off-base?

[This is an oversimplification on OH so many levels, and it also needs some solid, unbiased research to back it up.   It’s just something I’m wondering about, as the possibility for doctoral studies loom….]

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2011 in 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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God-Notes: Bonus Post on “A New Conversation”

(sub-title:  Apophasis and Pigs with Lipstick)

(a.k.a. Josh, Perhaps Unwisely, Takes the Gloves Off)

At the end of the day, what “a new conversation” means to me is a new kind of openness and humility in our conversations about faith.  In fact, I would argue, as I have often shared when I have taught about spirituality, that such an openness is what makes faith faith

The way that Christian theology (esp. in the East) talks about this is through apophatic approaches to theology; a.k.a. “negative theology,” which emphasizes that which we inherently know to be true:

GOD.  IS.   MYSTERY. 

And so when postmodern theology says that all our theologies, doctrines, and ideas about God are interpreted—for me, that is a reaffirmation of this very ancient idea: at the end of the day, we don’t know diddly-squat.  Our theologies are our imperfect attempts to grasp the ineffable.

———————————————————————-

In my mind, if Christians could simply affirm this statement, and therefore have a more open approach to their own beliefs and to others, we would go a long way in a) both deepening our own sense of faith, and b) addressing the postmodern critiques of the church.  We would, in my opinion, have a far more compelling witness of faith to give to the world—and the postmodern world in particular. 

What hurts that witness, however, is churches that are mimicking the forms of “relevant Christianity,” but are actually doing promoting the exact same narrowness and shallow faith that the modern church has been offering for centuries:

Possible EXAMPLE A:  I was driving back home from the youth retreat I was leading this weekend, from San Antonio to Huntsville, and per usual I drove through the town of Bastrop.  On the highway there I saw this billboard:

bastrop church

Obviously geared towards “post-Christians”—those who have left the church—the word “Foundation” implies that this “church” (or “ministry,” whatever they call themselves) sees themselves as the providers of what is “foundational” to faith—which in our culture, usually means “a certain explication of doctrine.”  (I guess they think that they just explain it better, or less boring, or more faithfully, than whatever church experience their target audience had before.)

I checked out their website when I got home; unsurprisingly, I wasn’t impressed.

Of course, you don’t have to drive through Texas long, I’ve discovered, before you’ll see a billboard that targets “post-Christians.”  I wonder how often those billboards translate into a person finding an authentic community where faith is nurtured and service is rendered.   And, I wonder if the people who are further jaded and pissed off by the church or its presumptuous signs outnumber those who are suddenly inspired to join a church again while driving down the highway.

Possible EXAMPLE B:  Christians in large part have ignored their Jewish history for the majority of their existence, which is in my opinion a major mistake.  That tendency, though, has shifted in recent years— it seems to me that ever since Rob Bell—the “postmodern-friendly”-preacher-turned-reluctant-megachurch-pastor-and-prolific-speaker—became famous for talking about Jesus’ Jewishness and for preaching heavily from Leviticus and Numbers, more and more preachers seem to be spending time elaborately explaining the Hebrew Scriptures.  (I recently saw this example on TV.)

And more are using whiteboards to do their very elaborate, “scholarly” talks.  whiteboard_lineup

This conference’s ads had that “Rob Bell” feel and a “postmodern” art and style—but seriously, when your keynote is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, how “postmodern” are you going to be?

And more are wearing glasses—although that’s probably not related to Bell.  I concede that that probably has something to do with eyesight, and with the general belief that glasses make you look smarter. 

(But see, now, thanks to Bell, smart is sexy!)

The thing is, Christians [often dispensationalist evangelicals] have been leading Holy Land tours and [erroneously] quoting Hebrew prophecies to “prove” their own theological agendas for a while, now—but I wonder how much Mars Hill’s success has led to a number of stylistic copycats—who are simply preaching the same message as they always have?

Possible EXAMPLE C:  That leads me to one of the more egregious offenders of the "trying to look relevant and cool but really just doing the same things the church has always done”-problem:  the other Mars Hill Church in Seattle, along with Mark Driscoll and his Resurgence Movement [A.K.A. Operation Screw Seminary], which has popularized what I might call a “Pissed-Off Hyper-Not-So-Calvinistic Calvinism with Reduced Fat.” [“Fat,” in this statement, means, “theological and spiritual depth.”]

He has gained a HUGE following.  Even as you read this, somewhere in the world there is a “Driscollian” already plotting my web-based evisceration… and maybe that person is you.  [Hi there, btw.  Hope you’re having a great day.  Jesus loves you.] And his methodology has been both copied and planted in church communities all over the country (admittedly it is not entirely his methodology… but his popularity has been markedly influential).

Minions, I implore you…. ATTACK!!!

(but only if you’re a dude.)

 

(Okay, that’s a little over the top.  Sorry. )

Driscoll was buddies with McLaren, as the story goes—until he realized that he and the rest of the Emerging-questioners were beginning to ask scary questions about God and gender, scripture, hell, atonement, foreknowledge, predestination….things that are apparently untouchable (even though MILLIONS of Christians around the world, throughout history, have all kinds of opinions about these matters).  Just the questions themselves were enough to provoke him to openly condemn McLaren and others as heretics, and to then openly mock their views of Jesus as “hippie” and “limp-wristed.” [McLaren responds to this famous Driscollian description later in the book—so we’ll go there later.]

Besides the overt aggression that drips off of him and his unrelenting willingness to offend whenever I have heard him speak (admittedly a small sample size) or read his writings, my biggest problem with Driscoll is that he constantly seems to place himself in the “countercultural” category— in order to be countercultural, in other words, you have to believe in a masculine God, pain and suffering as God-ordained, penal substitution as the centerpiece of salvation, male leadership, etc…. and that anyone who might question these things, among others, doesn’t really take the Gospel seriously and has acquiesced to the world. 

Except, that message is the “cultural” message— it’s the reduced Gospel-message that is common to the church in its modern expression (which developed originally in response to modern culture).    It’s not as radical as he makes it out to be… except for its radical brazenness and dismissal of other opinions.   In my eyes, it seems that Driscoll is the one trying to be relevant… or at least appear so.

 

That’s not to say that everything Driscoll’s Mars Hill, or any of the churches that are putting on the “face” of postmodernity without the “substance” of it, do, is bad.  Far from it.  But as popular as these churches are, I fear that the backlash and the “anti-witness” they create may be more severe than the brand of Christianity that they are selling. 

 

There is a big difference in trying to be relevant, to look relevant, or to appeal to people, and actually being relevant, real, authentic, and most importantly, humble and open (Just look at the seeker church movement).  Contrary to popular belief, the latter IS based out of conviction. 

If so-called “post-Christians” cannot tell the difference between the two anymore, I fear that Christians will continue to all be painted with the same brush of acquiescent, reductionistic narrow-mindedness, and any existing sliver of opportunity for them to open themselves up to faith will close off entirely. 

 

GOD. IS.  MYSTERY…. and HOWEVER you look stylistically as a church community, affirming that mystery (as Calvin did)  is where the “new conversation” begins.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2011 in church, theology

 

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

 

(Based on A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren; Chapter 2)

 

[BTW, I’m listening to The Suburbs in honor of Arcade Fire’s victory over the establishment last night (or, I’m in mourning of Arcade Fire’s now-inevitable becoming part of the establishment, depending on how cynical my mood is) as I am typing.  So if this post begins to sound angst-ridden, sleep-deprived, or somewhat tortured, you know why.

Oh, I also presently live about 10 miles away from the town that I believe is much of the inspiration for the album—The Woodlands in Texas.  I like playing the album when I drive through…esp. the song “Half Light II.”

Related reward waiting at the end of this post.

Okay, as you were.]

The sense that McLaren has, as well as many others, that a “new conversation” is necessary—that something has monumentally changed in our world that might actually present an opportunity to the church, although the church treats the world like it’s a threat—might illicit a number of questions/responses from those new to the idea.

Even though I’ve been in this “new conversation” for over six years now, I found myself “re-asking” myself many of these questions as I read A New Kind of Christianity (ANKC).  Here are a few, for which I try to offer some responses as well:

Is “postmodernity” really such a monumental change?  Isn’t the world always changing?  It’s not so much that the world is changing, but that the world is changing so fast, and has such a broad impact.  I don’t think this is a huge topic of debate. 

The bigger question here is whether or not we are actually moving away from modernity…. or just into another form of modernity.  I do think we are moving into something new, although we still very much live in a “modern” world.

It’s important to note, as McLaren does, that “postmodernity” doesn’t mean a complete rejection of all things modern (we can still find science, technology, and democracy valuable, for example [even though we may not consider these things as inherently good!])—in fact, we can never “go back” to the “pre-modern” days.  However, I’d say that postmodernity allows us to be more accepting of the wisdom of the pre-modern ages, and to not automatically assume that modern is better than post-modern (Example:  philosophers are today looking to reclaim Aristotle and his virtue ethics).

Why should Christianity embrace postmodernity?  –Well, it’s not about “embracing” a “movement” or anything…. but the Christian faith needs to begin to dialogue with the culture, instead of running from it.  If churches claim absolute truth, assurance, easy answers to complicated problems, and promote individualism, they are at risk of irrelevancy. 

But it’s even more than just being heard or accepted….. the church needs to ask the questions that the postmodern world has made possible, because there’s something to these questions.   Answering these questions (not just in opposition to them, but actually submitting our faith to the fire) might actually temper it and make it stronger [or are we afraid that the fire will burn it up?  Is the issue that our faith is too weak to ask questions about it?].

Isn’t Christianity an established institution?  Wouldn’t that make it antithetical to postmodern thought?  Isn’t postmodernity inherently “anti-religion”?  Again, I’d argue no.   Christianity has become “institutionalized,” but that doesn’t make faith something that requires institution to survive. [It does, in an important sense, “require” community, which requires organization…but that’s another discussion.] In fact, my understanding is that it was the modern world is hostile to faith…. and that (esp. Protestant) Christianity in its contemporary forms developed in reaction to this threat… and in doing so became “modernized” themselves (they are focused on the individual, the “provable,” the transactional, the simplified, etc….).  The postmodern world, on the other hand, is VERY interested in spirituality, even if “postmoderns” are suspicious of “religion” (particularly its ties to power). 

But shouldn’t Christianity influence culture, and not the other way around?  This is a difficult question to answer— and it’s the one that might be the most troubling for some Christians.  The simple response is that the Christianity that we now possess is NOT a pure Christianity!…. It is, depending on your background, a modernized version of Christianity… and while that hasn’t been all bad, it has skewed our perception and has made faith untenable for many.  Until you begin to see that, the idea that we should change something, or ask new questions, will be an impossible one to grasp. 

The fact is, there is no “pure Christianity.”  Such a thing is inaccessible (and perhaps not even desirable!).  That’s part of what postmodernity has taught us.  Everything is interpreted.  That doesn’t mean we throw everything out the window— but it does mean we take a wider-angle lens at the world, and hold our beliefs with more humility and a genuine willingness to change if need be.

Ahh…. pure Christianity.  Refreshingly nonexistent.

Isn’t all the “new Christianity” talk a little problematic?  What makes us so special?  The truth is, Christians were asking many of the same questions as McLaren and others about faith decades, and even centuries, ago.  And the church has always had reform movements among the fold, usually along its fringes.    We could argue that the Reformation wasn’t anything new either—John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, the Brethren of the Common Life in the Netherlands, Erasmus, the Franciscans, etc. etc. all made many of the same claims and issued many similar concerns as Martin Luther.  Similarly, the social justice “movement,” the ecumenical “movement,” the missional church “movement,” “new monasticism,” etc. etc… have all been a part of the ebb and flow of question-asking and reform-making over the past century in the church—and today these “movements” are showing greater continuity and expression, flowing together into a wide, momentous stream that has begun to shape and captivate churches nationwide and worldwide. 

So, no, we’re not special…. but if we fail to run with the ball that we’ve been passed, we’d be unfaithful. 

[And now, your reward:]

click on the link:

 

from last year’s web concert… two of the best songs from their first album. Some profanity at the beginning.
 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in church, theology

 

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