Why I am Not a Liberal Christian

March 7, 2008 at 9:00 am 113 comments

crosslight.jpgThis post is somewhat of an indirect response, or possibly a reaction, to Mike Clawson’s “I might have become an atheist” post, in which he narrates how his doubts at Bible college almost led him to disbelief, but found a theological home with the emerging Christian movement. I briefly responded (#4) to his post with some concerns, albeit I admit my questions were unfairly rhetorical. I would like to take this opportunity to share my own experience with the movement, since I do have a similar theological background as Mike appears to have had and to state why I could not, with being honest to myself, stay within the liberal emergent village. I do not publish this as a rebuke or even a debate, although I would be more than willing to have an open and frank conversation on the topic.

Like Mike, I too grew up as an evangelical conservative Christian, although not an in-your-face preaching type, I held fundamentalist views (Young earth, Biblical inerrancy, etc.), and was politically conservative. I had reservations about the hawks among my party (Reform/Canadian Alliance at that time), but I was both economically and socially conservative. However, in my second year of Bible college, I thoroughly studied the Sermon on the Mount which led to a political paradigm shift – away from conservatism and into a radical liberalism. Although I was still theologically conservative, my political shift forced me to take a look at my overall intellectual composition. It was at this time I came across an instructor at my conservative Bible college that I thought was completely heretical. I vocally and intensely opposed him at every turn during our Philosophy and Contemporary Church courses.

This instructor taught that morality was not something that should be the focus of our faith, but rather something that was built up after the foundations had been laid. Eventually his message would ring true for me. Our God was not a score-keeping God: even as Cosmic Judge, God did not sit there giving A’s, B’s, and C’s to us based on our good works or evil deeds. It was more important, however, to be authentic, and this authenticity would lead to conversations among fellow Christians and non-Christians, and more significantly, a breakdown of an “us versus them” mentality. As I started to increasingly agree with this particular instructor, and attending their new church meeting group, I learned how today’s evangelicalism was the result of modernism rather than a pursuit of the true church and point of Jesus’ ministry.

However, as life took me to a different locale and I could no longer participate in that particular conversation, I would continue to look for another group I could join, but I could not find any like it. I began to re-evaluate my notes I had taken when studying under my previous instructor. At the same time, I tried to solidify my faith with the works of Soren Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, and other Christian existentialists. However, the doubts that had started in Bible college could not be contained. Although those doubts had started with the Bible, it went far beyond that: experience with Christians, relationships with unbelievers, philosophy of religion, etc. Eventually, when I genuinely asked myself, “Why do I believe what I believe” I no longer had an answer.

I could hold to reading the scriptures in a new way, but what way is the right way? And do we hold this new way simply because we are uncomfortable with what the text is actually speaking, or because of the need to evolve our religious beliefs? Mike stated on his own blog,

I’ve commented before on the irony that most atheists I know actually seem to agree with the conservative, literalist interpretations of scripture held by most fundamentalists and evangelicals. I suppose (in part) because those interpretations are much easier to disbelieve and debunk.

I agree with Mike (well, the first statement anyway). But I don’t stop with this simple recognition: I understand why de-converted Christians look at scripture in this way. For Agnostics like myself and scholars such as Bart Ehrman, we understand that the authors of the books we now call “scripture” did not believe, for the most part, that they were writing “scripture.” We recognize that there are actually books in the Bible that are in complete opposition to other books in the Bible. We recognize that the earliest Christianities were just as full of deceit and intolerance as the fundamentalists today are. The fact is, Jesus was an Jewish apocalyptic fundamentalist. Paul was a post-Jewish apocalyptic fundamentalist. Jesus and Paul were not postmodernists nor were they pluralistic in anyway what so ever. Neither had any interest in the grand “conversation.” They knew the truth and delivered with, dare I say, a divine audacity. Although Paul wavered back and forth on the subject of grace and morality, there is little dispute that Jesus wavered at all – in no way did Jesus believe his blood would affect the sins of all those who would later call themselves “Christians.” Atheists and agnostics read into the literal meaning of the scripture because, for the most part, that is how they were written. Sure, there are many instances of symbolism – but for what? A complete overhaul of the complete plan of salvation? A the complete overhaul of the complete basis of Jesus’ own teachings?

The embarrassing aspect of Christianity is not the intolerance, as many liberals claim, it is its incoherence: its complete inability to give a straight and uncompromising position. The emergent church is just one more evolution in Christianity, in a long list of evolutions, including, but not limited to, American evangelicalism, European modernism, Lutheran and Calvinist Reformation, Medieval Catholicism, Augustinian revisionism, Constantinian dominionism, Ignatian authoritarianism, Gnostic elitism, Johannine spiritualism, Pauline mythologizing, and, of course, Jesus’ own re-interpretation of Judaic law.

It is at this point that I would like those who hold to the “Emerging” perspective to inform me of their own views. I don’t even care so much for a response to my post and my accusations, but I want to know what you actually believe, in a concrete way. What is the Bible actually to you? Who is Jesus? Who is Paul? What is salvation? Does heaven exist? How about sin? I could go on, but I think you got the point. Obviously I am speaking to the more liberal wing of the emerging church, not the “post-emergent,” intolerant, neo-Calvinist wing of Mark Driscoll and company. What stops you from reaching the place of non-theist Bishop Spong?

I enjoy dialogue with the emerging church because they are not afraid to talk, to have a chat, and they admit limited revelation. What I have yet to fathom is how we can stop at arbitrary points in our skepticism and rebuild. I have tried, and as I have stated before, I want a reason to believe. I know many within the emerging movement are artistically or philosophically minded individuals – I want to know how this process works for you because it certainly did not work for me.

-The Apostate

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Blind faith or blinding faith? Opposing the God of the Gaps

113 Comments Add your own

  • 1. writerdd  |  March 7, 2008 at 9:41 am

    The emerging church reminds me of the Jesus Freaks or Jesus People of the 70s. Alas, they seem to have turned into the religious right in the 80s. I hope the same thing does not happen to the EC folks, but I find it hard to be enthusiastic or optimistic about their attempt to escape. I too wonder why they don’t end up where Spong is. But then, I also wonder why Spong doesn’t ditch the last remnants of his facade and let it all go.

  • 2. C R Stamey  |  March 7, 2008 at 10:27 am

    If science posits something which is later refuted by evidence, it replaces it with something supported by the evidence. EC seems to take established Christian suppositions which are proven wrong, then simply replace them with another theory based on desperate reinterpretation, which still has no evidence. Let science or secular society disprove that theory, and they rationalize their belief with another one. Severe a limb of the beast and it simply magically grows a new one. How many limbs must be severed before the beast finally breathes its last?

  • 3. jacob  |  March 7, 2008 at 10:48 am

    i am not an ECer. I’m a fundie. But i thought I’d provide you with a paper that describes pretty accurately some of the emerging church’s beliefs. However, in my experience, every EC is different–which might not bother the EC anyway. Here is the link. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html?start=1

  • 4. Craig Chamberlin  |  March 7, 2008 at 11:53 am

    You make interesting points and it is intriguing to see your journey through the discovery of truths. I will do my best to attempt a discussion or rational response to your request. I’m afraid, however, we will find outselves at an impass when we disagree on the very definition of “concrete”.

    “The embarrassing aspect of Christianity is not the intolerance, as many liberals claim, it is its incoherence: its complete inability to give a straight and uncompromising position.”

    I do not fully understand how this is a weakness for the Christian faith. Your argument implies that the pathway to finding salvation ought to be prescriptive. It points to an argument of if all Christians cannot agree that “take two of Jesus, and call me in the morning” as the solution, then the solution itself is unjustified – if this, indeed, is the method by which salvation is received then the very idea of a relationship with God becomes utterly senseless.

    The modern day Christian finds themselves with their own unique struggles of understanding both salvation and God – so does it not make sense that one prescriptive solution to finding God is ultimately impossible? It is through unique circumstances that the relationship with God can be established, and it is through that relationshin salvation can be achieved. Christ himself told the man who asked him what else he must do to get to heaven to “Give up all of his valuables” and yet when hanging on the cross told the man who confessed his sins to him “Today you will spend with me in paradise.”

    I will do my best to answer your questions, but these answers can only be broadly generalized – if I went into deep detail this post would be even longer than it is now.

    “Bible actually to you?”
    The tool by which man can establish a relationship with the savior Christ.

    “Who is Jesus?”
    The necessary mediator the cleanse the impure man to stand before the infinitely pure Father. If Father is all good, then even the smallest of sin within the heart of man would be an affront within his presence. Christ is the Son that cleanses man to stand before the Father.

    “Who is Paul?”
    A man who established a relationship with Christ and through the holy spirit communicated his own discoveries through that relationship so that future men could find salvation in Christ.

    “What is salvation?”
    A gift offered by Christ through a relationship with him. It is the understanding of the evil of the human heart and that without cleansing, man cannot stand before God. That realization gives the man understanding of his own evils and peace in knowing those evils can be forgiven.

    “Does heaven exist?”
    Without it, there is no hope or meaning in life. Without heaven, all that matters is today and the fulfillment of our own personal pleasures before we die.

    “How about sin?”
    One needs to look no further than the thoughts that come out of their own heart to see sin. If they do not see the evil that comes from their hearts, they are deceiving themselves.

    In conclusion, I do not fully know whether mine is considered the “emerging” perspective. What I argue here has been philosophically argued by those such as C.S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias for a long while now.

    I really enjoyed the post, if you get bored you can jump on over to my weblog. I’d also like to hear back from you regarding this post:

    http://mywisegeneration.blogspot.com

    God bless.

  • 5. Brad  |  March 7, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    “Obviously I am speaking to the more liberal wing of the emerging church, not the “post-emergent,” intolerant, neo-Calvinist wing of Mark Driscoll and company.”

    *winces considerably*…

    OK so I have to confess, I am a huge fan of Driscoll, and would probably consider myself in the theologically reformed/conservative (but not fundie) stream of the EC. Do I come off as intolerant? Or Neo-Calvinistic?

    What (specifically) is the popular beef with him?

    As a hopeful future pastor, I believe that the church should both be doctrinally sound (gospel centered) and exhibit love towards everyone (missional, or orthopraxy). The reformed/conservative emerging church (including the Acts29 Network) seem to be some of the woefully few churches getting this right…

    Hehe, as I recently heard, “If your theology is right but you’re still a jerk, your theology is wrong.”

    Sorry if this is a tangent, I just hear this popular criticism of him often and while I can imagine that his strong rhetoric may have something to do with it, I’ve never heard anything specifically leveled against him.

  • 6. Thinking Ape  |  March 7, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Craig, thank you for your honest response, I will have to get back to you after work today.

    Brad,
    When it comes to Mark Driscoll I held back. I did not add that I believe he is misogynistic and an outright racist – of course, that is only because he is vocal in his condemnation of Jews.
    These are not positions of the conservative emergent movement (although I do believe this is a false label). These are the position of one influential sensationalist teacher that promotes intolerance in a fun preaching style. Driscoll is not intolerant because he is a “conservative emergent” he is intolerant because of the things he says and believes. He admits to having very little Biblical training and proves it in his message – the same goes with his lack of Christian history and his so-called “philosophy degree” that he likes to tout around (his undergraduate degree was in communications with a minor in philosophy).

    Brad, I do not consider you a racist or intolerant. I do not know your theological positions enough to consider you Neo-Calvinist. Personally, I think there is more integrity in holding a conservative theological position than a liberal one, so long as you can provide evidence for doing so.

    I believe that the church should both be doctrinally sound (gospel centered) and exhibit love towards everyone (missional, or orthopraxy).

    I’ve heard these words come out of Driscoll’s mouth as well. It is a nice ideal, but coming from Driscoll it is but empty words. The problem is, what is doctrinally sound? Everyone and their mom has a “doctrinally sound” message to give, but no one can seem to agree on it – and even when they do agree, they seem to be so far away from the original authors, it becomes irrelevant (i.e. doctrine of the Trinity, radical individualism, grace-centered theology).

    I think it is alright to be a jerk sometimes. I think you can be a jerk and right. I don’t think, however, you can hate so many people and then preach love. He has made many comments that are derogatory towards women, towards the rabbinical Jewish movement, and, of course, his fellow Christians who call themselves liberal. If it is only rhetoric, he needs to take a look at what he is saying and preaching to his adherents.

  • 7. Brad  |  March 7, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    “Mysogynistic”

    I can see that claim and have heard it before. As I’ve discussed before with MOI, I can see how some of what he says can appear that way. While I do not know him personally, I know a few who do and have heard them recognize the same problem yet assure that he does not intend mysogyny. For what it’s worth….

    “Racist” and “condemnation of Jews”

    Wow. That is really new to me. I’ve listened to a ton of his stuff and have NEVER heard anything like that… could you please reference something to back it up? It is not that I don’t believe you, I just have never heard it before…

    “He admits to having very little Biblical training…”

    True, he does not have a Seminary degree, but seems to make up for it significantly with rigorous personal study and an Exegetical Theology degree in process (don’t remember where from, though). He is also recognized by those with the theological training as a Gospel-centered pastor (check out The Gospel Coalition’s website). Not one of Jesus’ disciples had theological training before He got a hold of them either, and they still performed ministry…

    “The problem is, what is doctrinally sound?”

    He considers himself Reformed, which is also a requirment for membership into the Acts 29 Network. Not saying that ONLY reformed theology is doctrinally sound, but it qualifies in his book (as well as mine).

    In general, I can definitely agree that he has alienated (at best) many who he should be more cordial to. I totally get you there. I know he has also continually striven to improve in that area, and has apologized publicly on several occasions. No, that doesn’t make it right, but it’s a start and none of us is perfect. It’s just easier to see when so glaringly in the public eye.

    Thanks for the explanation so far, I’d be very interested in reading up on some of your sources and experience as stated above…

  • 8. karen  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Brad, Driscoll has said several things on the record that I and many others (women and men) consider deeply offensive and misogynistic. The fact that some of his supporters defend him doesn’t surprise me, given how big an ego he’s got and how much authority he seems to exert over his congregation.

    Conversation at the Edge had several threads a couple years ago dealing with his nasty statements about women and some very inappropriate (in my mind, anyway) comments he made publicly about his wife and their sex life. Check it out.

  • 9. Longing for Holiday  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    “even as Cosmic Judge, God did not sit there giving A’s, B’s, and C’s to us based on our good works or evil deeds.”

    I am so grateful that I never received that view of God from my spiritual mentors. I learned instead that God – in the form of Jesus – took the punishment for my failing grades and put his straight A report card in my record.

    I took the opposite track: from an agnostic, nominally Christian background to faith. For some reason, I’ve been surrounded by thinking Christians (at Duke, Wharton, in NYC), who only confirmed my faith. In addition to Ravi Zacharias and Lewis (mentioned by Craig), I would add a new apologetic aimed at skeptical New Yorkers: The Reason for God, now #11 on NYT best seller list. You can learn more at http://www.reasonforgod.com/
    I am sure that if you have de-converted, you won’t want to hear these arguments again, but, if you change your mind, I found it a very humby convincing and moving book.

  • 10. Longing for Holiday  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    pardon me, that would be “humbly,” not “humby!”

  • 11. witness  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    I truly appreciated Craig’s comments. In my opinion your views are accurate and biblical. My experience with Emerging types was not good. I have never seen so many “authentic” liars in my life. The EC wants to be known as “Christ Followers”(what a joke) – can’t they see that they are setting themselves up for the secular as a “hypocrite piñatas” Just like the righteous rightwing, holy by day and Haggard by night. Face it, the righteous right and the liberal left both have agendas. Neither represent Jesus Christ accurately.

  • 12. Quester  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Witness,

    “Neither represent Jesus Christ accurately.”

    Do you?

  • 13. witness  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    No. That’s why I need Jesus as Lord.
    Do you?

  • 14. Quester  |  March 7, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Not even a little. I have no trustworthy information on which to base an accurate representation.

  • 15. The de-Convert  |  March 7, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Brad,

    Here’s a post by MOI entitled Mark Driscoll and the Cult of Men

    Paul

  • 16. Brad  |  March 7, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Karen,

    Thanks for the link! I remember the explosion that happened in the wake of the Ted Haggard scandal and Driscoll’s comments on the blog (which seemed to be a significant focus of that link). I’ve also seen much of the other issues raised by his comments.

    I could definitely see where a lot of the complaints come from, but I have to admit that the majority of the material on that link was really… really… biased. Contextually, there was some argumentation that took quotes way out of context, and words used very differently (the word “submit” being a particularly sticky word to use accurately in this debate).

    Anyway, thanks for the info! I’m always open to hearing other viewpoints.

  • 17. karen  |  March 7, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    I could hold to reading the scriptures in a new way, but what way is the right way? And do we hold this new way simply because we are uncomfortable with what the text is actually speaking, or because of the need to evolve our religious beliefs?

    This is my major problem as well, TA. The texts are so removed from their original cultures and so difficult to parse that almost anyone can claim to have a “valid” interpretation – I don’t feel qualified – or even particularly interested in – discerning which interpretation is correct.

    What seems clear is that the liberal interpretations go a long way to making the bible more palatable for today’s women’s movement and general ethics. That’s fine, but it doesn’t persuade me that these interpretations are more accurate than the fundamentalist interpretations I was taught.

    My larger questions about theism in general made stopping my deconversion journey at liberal Christianity impossible. I did attend some non-fundy churches for a while, but found them completely unappealing.

    I also found that I didn’t really have a need to continue as a religious believer. Unlike those whose education and livelihood is dependent on working for a church, or whose family ties are very strong, or who have deep-seated emotional needs for god belief, I didn’t have a lot of qualms about leaving church. I was able to fulfill my community and social and emotional needs without belief in god, and I worked through the family issues over time.

  • 18. Jay  |  March 7, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    “What seems clear is that the liberal interpretations go a long way to making the bible more palatable for today’s women’s movement and general ethics. That’s fine, but it doesn’t persuade me that these interpretations are more accurate than the fundamentalist interpretations I was taught.”

    I think most liberal Christians would agree. From my experience they don’t claim to be adhering the the original intent, in fact many would say the original intent was wrong. I don’t think conservative and liberal Christianity can even be considered the same religion. Most I know have a very mystical understanding of God that doesn’t include the supernatural ideas about God. Some might say, “why not just give up on God then” but who cares, I’m all for a world full of agnostics, atheists and liberal religious folks.

  • 19. Quester  |  March 7, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Jay, what’s the difference between mystical and supernatural?

  • 20. oceallaigh  |  March 7, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    New visitor – this post made the WordPress front page, congrats – I hope anything I write doesn’t tread too much trodden ground, and meets the high standard of posts and comments I’ve seen.

    How many limbs must be severed before the beast finally breathes its last?

    I don’t think enough attention is paid to this question of C R Stamey’s (above). If the sacred books consistently wilt under the scrutiny of critical analysis, a scrutiny that would wilt, say, a Presidential candidate along with it, how do the faiths based on them survive? What is it about “reason” that makes it a “correct”, but not a “better”, answer?

    The “blind faith” matter raised in the prior post is perhaps a step in the right direction, but, I think, only a step.

    I don’t think agnostics/atheists pay enough attention to the phenomenon of religions as social(izing) structures. In a time when every TV advertisement is praising “I the individual”, and to hell with the group (so long as you buy our stuff), I find that it’s mostly the religious congregations that promote the feeling of self-sacrificial community that allows groups of humans to compete successfully with other groups.

    I suggest that the principal message of Jeremiah to the Judeans of his time was, “You have allowed your social compact to deteriorate to the point that you have no chance of rallying your people in time, or with power enough, to survive a neo-Babylonian assault, and you shouldn’t try.” The kings of David’s line ignored him. And Jerusalem was sacked.

    I see the various flavors of Christianity alive today, including the “emergent” ones, as compromises that pick enough common threads out of the tangle that are the Christian writings and doctrines to identify and preserve a community.

    After all, which group of agnostics/atheists do you know of that holds a weekly meeting, with potluck, to celebrate the lives of its members – whether or not their AlAnon sessions have been going well; whether or not they’ve been keeping up with the payments on their Kias?

  • 21. Brad  |  March 7, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    The de-Convert,

    Yeah I remember that, and I think I was in on some of the discussion a few weeks afterwards (it resurfaced again).

    *sigh* I am at seminary and hope to be a church planter down the road largely because of ministry of Mark Driscoll. While it would be fruitless to rehash the debates on previous posts of this kind, I will say that his strong rhetoric and leadership has been a personal encouragement for me, and has shown me that I do not have to check my masculinity at the church door to be a pastor.

    I do not hate women, nor do I resent them, and I am not a mysogynist (just ask my wife). But I really resent the feminist rhetoric that (either implicitly or explicitly) states I must suppress my masculinity, be passive in leading my family, or otherwise apologize for being a “dude.” I’m all for the equality of the genders, but I am very wary of the pendulum swinging too far the other direction. I think much of Driscoll’s rhetoric is (albeit poorly) born out of that same frustration. I am not a fundie, I love my wife, and we work as a team.

    A recent Washington Post piece nicely voices many of my concerns with this cultural trend in the education system:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/02/AR2005120201334.html?referrer=emailarticle

    And with that, I will cease to hijack this thread. My apologies for dong so in the first place, TA. I am trying to me as cordial and honest as I can on an incredibly sticky topic, while also not refraining from voicing my opinion. Thanks everyone.

  • 22. karen  |  March 7, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    I don’t think agnostics/atheists pay enough attention to the phenomenon of religions as social(izing) structures. In a time when every TV advertisement is praising “I the individual”, and to hell with the group (so long as you buy our stuff), I find that it’s mostly the religious congregations that promote the feeling of self-sacrificial community that allows groups of humans to compete successfully with other groups.

    This is a very good point, and one that Julia Sweeney made recently also. There needs to be a non-theistic church alternative for the many people I’m persuaded would not buy the supernatural bunkum if they had a place to congregate and do good works together without it.

    For some people, there’s the UU church, which is tolerant of belief and non-belief. For others, there’s humanism. And there’s also a nascent atheist movement that may have some promise.

  • 23. witness  |  March 7, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Quester, are you a RC?

  • 24. Quester  |  March 7, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    Quester, are you a RC?

    At the moment, Witness, I’m more agnostic than anything else. Why do you ask?

  • 25. Jon F  |  March 7, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    Hi everyone. 3 years ago I rejoined the established church (Presbyterian) and for 2 years really really tried to be a part of it, but eventually gave up. Then I left and joined a home group type setup that was made up of “christians who don’t go to church”. This is probably as good a definition of EC as any. But after 2 years I also gave up on this (and also gave up on christianity) simply because as far as I could see the catch cry of the EC thinking was “its OK to question, it’s OK to think outside the square, it’s OK to buck against traditional views, etc” but all this leads to in the end is the realisation that at the middle of christianity there is nothing at all. This is the inevitable detsination for Spong and all who follow his line of reasoning. But the EC will not accept this, so they remain in this limbo state of not wanting many of the traditional doctrines of the church (heaven, hell, sin, atonement, whatever), are happy to “embrace others of differing beliefs”, but have oh so much trouble taking that last step and realising that christianity is just another religion.
    My 2 cents.

  • 26. witness  |  March 8, 2008 at 12:13 am

    Quester,
    Sorry I asked, as soon as I did I regretted it. Please disregard my inquiry.

    Jon said
    “But the EC will not accept this, so they remain in this limbo state of not wanting many of the traditional doctrines of the church (heaven, hell, sin, atonement, whatever), are happy to “embrace others of differing beliefs”, but have oh so much trouble taking that last step and realising that christianity is just another religion.”

    Jon that is an valid observation. I would take it a tad further though. IMO most serious ECrs (not the faddies) but the real deal people are a closet agno/atheist. I think their just a little too scared to cross the line completely. So they bet both sides of it.

  • 27. witness  |  March 8, 2008 at 12:24 am

    On top of that, if they came out as agno/atheist the controversy would be gone. The attention, the people, the book sales, the parish, all gone————————————-then what!
    They might have to get a job and follow Jesus Christ for free :)

  • 28. KDN  |  March 8, 2008 at 12:46 am

    The embarrassing aspect of Christianity is not the intolerance, as many liberals claim, it is its incoherence: its complete inability to give a straight and uncompromising position. The emergent church is just one more evolution in Christianity, in a long list of evolutions, including, but not limited to, American evangelicalism, European modernism, Lutheran and Calvinist Reformation, Medieval Catholicism, Augustinian revisionism, Constantinian dominionism, Ignatian authoritarianism, Gnostic elitism, Johannine spiritualism, Pauline mythologizing, and, of course, Jesus’ own re-interpretation of Judaic law. The contradictions don’t quite phase me, and maybe that is because I can hide behind the convienent “different cultures, different messages” argument. But I also see Judaism (and other beliefs of the ancient Rome) as essential to Christianity, helping to develop this sense of history, of purpose, of humility, of responsibility. The reformation needed medieval Christianity, evangelism needed modernization, etc.

    So if you ask me what the Bible is, it is largely a part of this history. So is Paul, whether I like it or not. Jesus is the crucial part of this history, the revolutionary. This history does not end with the “New” Testament either, but goes on to today. Salvation would be God’s work in helping us along this evolution, including the revolution on the cross, creating the human race into something that is worth preserving for eternity. Sin is the distance we still have to go to reaching that point.

    I have tried, and as I have stated before, I want a reason to believe.Some days I feel I have this, some days I feel I don’t. The existence of God seems possible, almost probable, but by no means certain. God doesn’t do this to filter out the philosophically cautious – I don’t think God wants our faith and doubts to be about facts and reasons. Facts and reasons and certainity are dry and boring. I was going write a conclusion to this, but maybe it is better I just leave it hanging.

  • 29. Jay  |  March 8, 2008 at 1:17 am

    “I would take it a tad further though. IMO most serious ECrs (not the faddies) but the real deal people are a closet agno/atheist. I think their just a little too scared to cross the line completely. So they bet both sides of it.”

    Oh come on. This is almost like when Christians say that a deconvert never was a christian in the first place. So patronizing. They don’t cross that line because they still believe in God. Maybe one day they will stop believing and then be across the line, but then again maybe not.

  • 30. Gary Meade  |  March 8, 2008 at 2:34 am

    I consider myself more on the liberal side of Christianity, or as I prefer to call it, progressive. However, these days I hesitate to call myself a Christian. I really do love the thoughts of Spong and Marcus Borg, but lack the inspiration I used to receive from the Bible. My deconversion has been a process where I’ve tried to include aspects of EC thought (it began from an interview with leading EC figure Brian Mclaren) with a new look at scripture and a panentheistic interpretation of God. However without a church community, my enthusiasm has been very low.

    I guess the only reason I hold on to a form of theism is based upon intuition – there seems to be a ‘something more’ which has formed the basis of a variety of religious expressions. I can’t put my faith in a modern institution based upon interpretative ideas that no longer ring true, yet I just find myself not ready to let go of the notion that God is actually somewhere in the mess called Christianity.

  • 31. oceallaigh  |  March 8, 2008 at 3:17 am

    without a church community, my enthusiasm has been very low

    If I may say so, Gary, bingo. If, as I think, the principal purpose of a religious congregation is as a socializing structure, designed to protect its human community against both internal “selfish” fragmentation and external threat, then it should indeed be difficult to be “a Christian who doesn’t go to church”. Indeed, the phrase is an oxymoron – the point of the Church is the church.

    The principal challenge I see to a non-theistic church alternative (thank you, Karen, for enlightening me regarding this thought, and for introducing Julia Sweeney) is the difficulty in identifying and maintaining a central metaphor of the “Good”.

    To me, “God” represents the accumulated wisdom of a community, to be tapped in cases of internal or external, personal or communal, stress, and called on for inspiration in case of a situation new to the group. Humans have, so far as I can see, a poor track record when such a supreme authority figure is missing. In fact, we try to replace it, e.g. with Joseph Smith, Hitler, Gandhi, Stalin, Bob Marley, Mao, Bill Gates, or the almighty Dollar. Voltaire famously wrote, “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudra l’inventer”. I think we humans have done precisely this (invent God) several times these past two centuries.

    I am personally at peace with simultaneously being an atheist and attending a Christian church. Because I recognize the power of the “God metaphor” to bring out the best in people. It can also bring out the worst in people – a risk against which any community, religious or otherwise, needs to be constantly on guard.

    I wonder if this “God as a metaphor for the Good” is the factor inhibiting those who have trouble letting go of God.

  • 32. Thinking Ape  |  March 8, 2008 at 3:18 am

    Wow, everyone has some great comments, I wish I had had the day off to respond.

    Brad, I think I am going to leave the Mark Driscoll topic for another post, only because my Driscoll comment, although maybe biased and unsubstantiated at the moment, didn’t have much to contribute to my post. I will only emphasize that leaders, whether in the workplace, politics, or the church, need to act like leaders – not thirteen year olds. On the issue of masculinity, Driscoll has created a false problem and then given a radical solution. No one has ever asked us, as males, or for you, as a future church leader, to check your masculinity at the door. No one. Not feminists, not liberals, nobody.

    Longing for Holiday,

    …I am sure that if you have de-converted, you won’t want to hear these arguments again, but, if you change your mind…

    I thank you for the link you sent, I will be sure to check it out when I have the time. Never assume, however, that a deconvert doesn’t want to hear your side. I didn’t chose to deconvert. I would love for the evidence to present itself so that I could gain at least an iota of my past beliefs. I change my mind when the evidence convinces me, just as in the court of law.

    Craig and everyone else, I will try to get to the responses when I can.

  • 33. KDN  |  March 8, 2008 at 3:51 am

    I change my mind when the evidence convinces me, just as in the court of law. Perhaps I’m speaking needlessly, but be sure to question how you perceive truth relates to truth. Our governments have executive and legislative branches to complement supreme courts of law.

  • 34. mewho  |  March 8, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Thank You, Thinking Ape, for responding to Mike Clawson with a succinct response that answers my begging question to Mike: How can agnostic Christianity be a compelling alternative to Atheism OTHER THAN it allows you a social background for your life? There are no compelling arguments. There is little or no conviction for Biblical “truth”. There is no certainty. It appears to me to be intellectually empty, but a “safer” position than Atheism in our current society.

    I wouldn’t refer to the “emerging church”, or Mike’s version of Christianity as “liberal Christianity”, however. I think it’s “compromised Christianity” or “agnostic Christianity”. And it settles nothing. This post and all of the comments to it just confirm to me that it raises more unjustified positions than fundamentals have to deal with already.

    My point again (and in my response to Mike’s post I infered that he is a “closet Atheist” and my apologies Mike) is that NO ONE can say they are a Christian and then be uncertain about EVERYTHING else that’s in the Bible. Out of one side of the mouth there is a claim that Jesus is Lord because the Bible says so. Out of the other side of the mouth it is suggested that MOST EVERYTHING else the Bible declares is up for grabs, a potluck of beliefs from which to choose and NO ONE can fault you for it. In my humble opinion I think that is “lukewarm” (which I also called Mike – no apologies there) because you have taken what you consider relevant to your life and dismissed the rest as having NO AUTHORITY, and this can be nicely done with ANY religion.

    I would not be impressed with an “emerging” form of Mormonism, or a liberal Islam. I think that they may be improved for a more stable world, but I don’t think they have achieved any more ULTIMATE TRUTH than they had before. They are simply bending to the outward pressures of modernity, which “agnostic Christianity” certainly is.

    Thank you again, Thinking Ape, for a stirring alternative to a watered-down religion. When you say, “The emergent church is just one more evolution in Christianity, in a long list of evolutions…” you are unveiling it for what it is. To any ECer out there, you are just one step away from Atheism or TRUE religious agnosticism and it would do you well to consider why you are riding the fence.

  • 35. Thinking Ape  |  March 8, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    KDN, I agree, and, as you know, no branch of government ever seems to have it right – truth is not democratic. The analogy, however, breaks down because governments rarely interpret the law, the executive usually is above the law and the legislative cares less what we do with the law they created.

    I, before anyone I know, recognize my limitations, as a human being, of knowledge. I can only cast myself as a juror – just one of many trying to decipher the truth through the evidences that have been given. I would definitely hope, however, that the greatest Prosecutor of them all could deliver a sound case.

  • 36. mewho  |  March 8, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    May I make another haphazard comparison for the “agnostic Christian”? A person who would declare they believe Jesus is Lord but are unsure about the other declarations of Scripture is no better than the person who isn’t so sure that Little Red Riding Hood actually wore red, or went through the forest, but they ARE sure that the wolf ate granny, however improbable, and will live there life accordingly based on this truth claim…

  • 37. karen  |  March 8, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    oceallaigh:
    The principal challenge I see to a non-theistic church alternative (thank you, Karen, for enlightening me regarding this thought, and for introducing Julia Sweeney) is the difficulty in identifying and maintaining a central metaphor of the “Good”.

    You’re very welcome! For those who don’t know her, Julia Sweeney is a comedian who is principally known for her stint on Saturday Night Live in the 90s. She deconverted from Catholicism to atheism and has been performing a one-woman show called “Letting Go of God” for several years now around the country.

    It – and she – are just wonderful, truly. At her website I think you can purchase a DVD of the show. It is really worth seeing for anyone who’s gone through the confusion and pain of deconversion. It’s both funny and touching.

    Recently she was interviewed about what she’s learned from doing the show. This is the salient quote (but the whole thing is worth reading):

    Number one: People want to be good. People want to sacrifice for the common good. This is just part of our heritage as human beings.

    I believe we have evolved to have this feeling. We all know how good it feels to help your neighbor do something or contribute, or make some self-sacrifice to do something. Everybody wants that feeling. This is where religion can sneak right in and hand this feeling over to people. All this good will that we’ve evolved to have can be just sucked up by an organization that is really doing things that are probably not for the greater common good. Yet they can deliver that hit to people of feeling like they’re doing something good.

    For example, I just turned 48(!) and I’m still friends with about eight girlfriends in Spokane I’ve known since second grade, who are my age. Six are practicing Catholics, one is at the Universal Church and one converted to Judaism. But all of them do good things with their church, help build women’s shelters. They’re all involved. They all have that feeling.

    When I talk to them about religion, they don’t say, “Oh, did I feel good yesterday thinking how Mary was a virgin and conceived Jesus!” They don’t say anything about Catholicism. They talk about the community work that they’ve done. And that’s what they connect with their church. They assign that good feeling to their church.

    I just observe that over and over again. That wish to do good seems to be such a universal human trait and I think that religion does ill will with that.

    My feeling, from interacting for a couple of years now with many ECers, is that this interest in doing good is central to their involvement with religion. Whether all their theological positions are well-defined or logically defensible is not very important to them.

    I think this is because there are a lot of people who aren’t primarily motivated from the “head” but from the “heart” (emotions). They are thoughtful and freethinking enough to question the nastier tenets of fundamentalism, but unwilling to let go of the central metaphor of supernaturalism, mainly because of the emotional ties they have to the idea of a “father-god” who they can trust and love.

    I’m not just pulling this theory out of my posterior, by the way, this comes from their own explanations in lengthy discussions.

  • 38. karen  |  March 8, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    I wouldn’t refer to the “emerging church”, or Mike’s version of Christianity as “liberal Christianity”, however. I think it’s “compromised Christianity” or “agnostic Christianity”. And it settles nothing. This post and all of the comments to it just confirm to me that it raises more unjustified positions than fundamentals have to deal with already.

    Dave Dickerson’s site is down right now, so I can’t get the link, but he’s a deconvert who is writing a book about atheism and Christianity. He’s also a storyteller and regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life.

    He has a critique of EC that I found really interesting. His point is that ECers want to have it both ways: They don’t want to be identified as fundamentalists (and many of them question the exclusivity of salvation through Christ) but they also don’t want to completely denounce abhorrent beliefs such as a literal hell and the idea of homosexuality as “sinful.”

    Because it is such a hybrid, and deliberately resists being pinned down, I don’t see the EC movement gaining a lot of traction outside of certain demographic groups, frankly. Most people are attracted to religions that provide certainty, a high degree of emotion and moral proscriptions that give them a feeling of “being safe.”

    EC has the same problem that liberal mainline denominations have when they try to compete against fundamentalists and Pentecostals, but without the money and tradition of the established churches behind it. I think that’s a shame, because it seems to me that there is a large percentage of people who will persist in being religious, and I much prefer the liberal/moderate versions to the fundies.

  • 39. Mike Clawson  |  March 8, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    “Because it is such a hybrid, and deliberately resists being pinned down, I don’t see the EC movement gaining a lot of traction outside of certain demographic groups, frankly. Most people are attracted to religions that provide certainty, a high degree of emotion and moral proscriptions that give them a feeling of “being safe.”

    I think there’s probably a lot of truth to what you say here Karen. Most people do want “certainty”, both religious people and non-religious in my experience.

    My difficulty with that is simply that I don’t think certainty is ever possible. Complexity, mystery, and shades of gray just seem to be the inescapable reality of the human condition. I don’t see any way out of that, not for religious believers, and frankly, not for scientific rationalists either. The kind of absolute certainty and security we crave as human beings just isn’t available to us, no matter how much we would like it to be.

    So as I see it, we have two options: we can refuse to acknowledge this and retreat into our bastions of Modern absolutism, whether rationalism, or religious fundamentalism, or whatever; or we can own up to the fact that we don’t know, and we most likely can’t know, and then make the best of that.

    Us ECers are simply Christ followers who are pursuing the daring possibility that this position of epistemic humility is actually better suited for the faithful practice of the way of Christ – that if we truly desire to live justly and lovingly towards others, then the first step actually is to relinquish our hold on the absolutisms that have produced so much injustice and suffering in the past several centuries – whether Christianity, or Marxism, or Capitalism, or Rationalism, or Jihadism, or a host of other systems that claim to be able to reduce the irreducible complexity of human existence to nice, neat little boxes.

    (And yes, that really was one disgustingly long run-on sentence. :) )

    At any rate, I agree with you that the EC may never appeal to anyone outside of that small demographic of postmodern people who are both willing to acknowledge their own lack of certainty, and then stay there and try to figure out what it would look like to actually live there. What I am finding is that it comes down to what you described in your previous post, that we end up being more concerned about “doing good” (i.e. about practicing justice and love) than we are about figuring out all the right answers.

  • 40. ned  |  March 8, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    Mike: For someone who claims to embrace uncertainly, you seem to place a special certainty in Christ. To practice your philosophy consistently, wouldn’t you say following Christ makes as much sense as following a dog? Furthermore, if nothing is certain, how do you know what is justice and love if you end up being more concern about practicing justice and love? The sense of justice might not be absolute, but surely it requires some certainty?

    I find it fascinating that you (or EMers) are so comfortably in adopting the term “postmodern”. Do you in general find your philosophy compatible with postmodern philosophers, such as Foucault?

  • 41. ned  |  March 8, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Mike: Sorry the previous post was interrupted. Part of the postmodernist project is to question the humanist sense of morality. For a postmodernist, “doing good” is essentially impossible or self delusional. Most of the campus postmodernists would be horrified to see the word postmodernism occurring next to Christianity. Have you discussed EC with a postmodern philosopher? I’d like to hear your experience.

  • 42. Jay  |  March 8, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    I’m so confused. Why is EC an agnostic Christianity? Every ECer that I’ve met believes in God and believes that Jesus is the incarnation.

  • 43. Gary Meade  |  March 8, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    I’ve seen here a lot of thought that goes along the lines of, ‘if you reject central tenets of faith such as the resurrection, you cannot be a Christian’. That is a well-worn idea, and understandable in light of what most people understand of the meaning of Easter. However, it must be noted that what we call Christianity is more Roman Catholicism and its derivatives than strictly a faith borne from the Bible. In the years leading up to the formation of catholicism there were many communities that claimed to follow Christ yet had a variety of interpretations as to what that meant.

    I wonder if there are truly any Christian groups that do not in some way deviate from The Book. For the majority of Christians, the Bible is more or less security for maintaining structures of church and faith. Question that and the whole thing crumbles. The question begs me, is there room for myth and metaphor? And if not, then why?

  • 44. Quester  |  March 8, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Gary,

    I’d suppose that the problem would come down to the usefulness or uselessness of the Christian story as a metaphor. If you were to treat the gospel accounts as metaphor, what would they mean, and would that meaning be one that provides a positive message for anyone?

    Personally, if I were to see the Christian story as nothing more than metaphor, I see very little to regard as beneficial or worth thinking about save a small percentage of the parables and maybe one or two teachings.

  • 45. mewho  |  March 8, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    I think that the “emerging church” expresses agnosticism by declaring many tenets of the faith – expressly preached in the Bible – to be ultimately “unknowable”. Mike says: ” Us ECers are simply Christ followers who are pursuing the daring possibility that this position of epistemic humility is actually better suited for the faithful practice of the way of Christ – that if we truly desire to live justly and lovingly towards others, then the first step actually is to relinquish our hold on the absolutisms that have produced so much injustice and suffering in the past several centuries…”

    If Emerging Church Christians are “reliquishing” their hold on absolutes, then much of the Bible is abandoned in a quagmire of personal opinion. Isn’t it an OBVIOUS slippery slope? And is it really “daring”? If a Christian, because of Christianity’s historical missteps, decides that the Bible just ISN’T relevant on a number of present-day issues, but IS relevant when it declares that Jesus is the Christ and that they are a “little Christ”, then I don’t understand how they square the inconsistency in their minds.

    I’m glad to hear that ECers are letting go of Absolute Doctrine, because I can’t think of ANYTHING that has caused more suffering than the preaching of Hell. But this is expressly driven home OVER and OVER again in Scripture. What I’m understanding is that ECers just aren’t sure about that anymore, or are at least willing to let it not be an issue. It does hinder the “desire to live justly and lovingly towards others” after all.

    Help me if I’m understanding correctly, please. Isn’t it inconsistent to think the Bible the Ultimate Authority on God’s Divine Plan, but then to think parts of it can be disregarded as simply “we’re not sure”?

    Jay writes “Every ECer that I’ve met believes in God and believes that Jesus is the incarnation.” But how does one arrive at that conclusion? You can’t get there UNLESS you deem the Bible Divinely Inspired. My point is that ECers aren’t willing to go that far. They do lip service, and what Daniel Dennett says “profess”, but they just don’t “believe” it anymore. As an Atheist, I still cringingly do it just to keep the family peace. ECers seem comfortable saying “I’m not sure” and “I just don’t know”. I think it’s a form of protective camoflage that gets them through life without saying those four dreaded words: I’ve lost my faith! I think it’s fair to say that it is “Agnostic Christianity”.

  • 46. Jay  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:00 am

    “Jay writes “Every ECer that I’ve met believes in God and believes that Jesus is the incarnation.” But how does one arrive at that conclusion? You can’t get there UNLESS you deem the Bible Divinely Inspired.”

    ah…Christians existed before the those books in the bible were written.

  • 47. karen  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:02 am

    At any rate, I agree with you that the EC may never appeal to anyone outside of that small demographic of postmodern people who are both willing to acknowledge their own lack of certainty, and then stay there and try to figure out what it would look like to actually live there.

    Yes. In truth, I think agnosticism/atheism faces the same problem in terms of little mass appeal. There’s no comfort for most people in saying we don’t know if there’s a god, we don’t know if there’s some higher plane of existence, we don’t know if there’s an afterlife, etc.

    That kind of willingness to be unsure just is unappetizing to what seems to be the majority of people. There’s not a lot of comfort in it – indeed, it can be very uncomfortable, particularly when most of the world believes fervently in all of the above and organizes their lives around it.

    Most non-religious people seem to me to value honesty and realism above comfort and security, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

  • 48. Jay  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:04 am

    and again:

    “but they just don’t “believe” it anymore”

    I assume that they do believe therefore they are Christians still. This idea that all these people don’t believe and are just faking it seems a little insane. Sure, some people might have left the faith but fake it for family concerns but I can’t imagine why they would waste their time on the internet faking it. I may not be a Christian but I also don’t assume all these people are lying.

  • 49. Thinking Ape  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:06 am

    ned criticizes,

    To practice your philosophy consistently, wouldn’t you say following Christ makes as much sense as following a dog?

    You didn’t just say that did you? Lets not take this to extremes. If he wants to be consistent he could just say, at worst, following Christ makes as much sense as following Gandhi, or at best, like following Buddha. Jesus was possibly very apocalyptic, but did offer, at one point, a coherent ethical philosophy – albeit a religious one as he was a devout Jew. I don’t think this is the equivalent to following someone who sniffs asses for kicks.

  • 50. Mike Clawson  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Mike: For someone who claims to embrace uncertainly, you seem to place a special certainty in Christ. To practice your philosophy consistently, wouldn’t you say following Christ makes as much sense as following a dog? Furthermore, if nothing is certain, how do you know what is justice and love if you end up being more concern about practicing justice and love? The sense of justice might not be absolute, but surely it requires some certainty?

    I don’t see how any of that follows. Just because we don’t know anything with certainty doesn’t mean we don’t know anything at all. We simply do the best what we have at the moment, while keeping ourselves open to the possibility of new discoveries or new perspectives.

    I find it fascinating that you (or EMers) are so comfortably in adopting the term “postmodern”. Do you in general find your philosophy compatible with postmodern philosophers, such as Foucault?

    We often find ourselves informed by and in dialogue with the ideas of many different “postmodern” philosophers: Foucault, Derrida, Levinas, Gadamer, Rorty, etc. Sometimes some of us agree. Sometimes some of us don’t. But in terms of the general “postmodern” condition of radical epistemic humility, yeah, we’re postmoderns.

    “Have you discussed EC with a postmodern philosopher? I’d like to hear your experience.”

    A few living “postmodern” Christian philosophers include Jack Caputo, Merold Westphal, Jean-Luc Marion, James K.A. Smith, and Bruce Ellis Benson (whom I personally studied under). Several of them also contribute to the Church and Pomo blog. You can check out their stuff and decide for yourself how well you think Christianity meshes with postmodern philosophy. Personally I’ve found it to be a rather fruitful conversation.

  • 51. Mike Clawson  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:21 am

    I assume that they do believe therefore they are Christians still. This idea that all these people don’t believe and are just faking it seems a little insane. Sure, some people might have left the faith but fake it for family concerns but I can’t imagine why they would waste their time on the internet faking it. I may not be a Christian but I also don’t assume all these people are lying.

    Thanks Jay. And no, I’m not lying. I really do believe.

    In fact, I’d argue that agnosticism is a prerequisite for belief. If I already “knew” with absolute certainty, then why would I need to “believe”? It is precisely because I do not possess absolute certainty about anything that a leap of faith is required.

  • 52. Mike Clawson  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:23 am

    Most non-religious people seem to me to value honesty and realism above comfort and security, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

    Yes, that is one of the things I admire most about atheists, and one of the qualities about them that I most try to emulate.

  • 53. Richard  |  March 9, 2008 at 2:20 am

    A few months ago I participated in a discussion over on Debunking Christianity regarding liberal Christianity. I found myself in the odd position of defending liberal religion against what to my mind were some rather misguided criticisms that existed there. The occasion of my doing so was the comments of a liberal Christian commentator who had written on his own blog an essay of why he was a Christian. He (Dr. James McGrath) liked the discussion and re-posted the who thing on his own blog. So, at the risk of sounding like a narcissistic windbag for quoting myself, here is some of what I wrote. I copied it here (actually, I cherry picked some paragraphs ;) ) because it bears on this discussion and that way I dont have to write it again. :

    I think the problem with the view of some atheists is that it suffers from a “positivist bias.” I.e., their criticism rests on the assumption that religion must be about metaphysical and historical propositions that are either literally true or false – or else nothing. Since the conclusion is that the claims are false, the religion is dismissed or declared vapid.

    But I think that gives away much too much to the fundamentalists; it lets them define the rules of the game. For those are the same questions that they are interested in, they just reach different conclusions. But my view is that liberal religionists are asking different questions. They are much less concerned with whether it is true or false and much more concerned with what it means, and how it gets you to live your life and be a better person. Liberal religion is not necessarily committed to the historicity of Jesus’ alleged resurrection. It’s the ideas embodied in that myth that matter. Liberal Jews could care less whether there was an actual Exodus. Its what the story has come to mean to them. I.e., its about freedom and self-determination and all that. What we need to do is ask the liberals themselves why they do not give up the label.

    The reason is usually because they relate passionately to the symbol-system, ideals, images, rituals, etc that comprise their religion. It’s a mistake to consider ourselves, implicitly, as many secularists do (and I myself tend to do), to be somehow abstract, disembodied rational agents. That’s a holdover from Enlightenment and its not really true. We are emotional human beings in a specific context and historical place, which has shaped us and the things we relate to. Yes, a lot of its arbitrary. But so what? Logically, rationally, I know that there is nothing about my family that is superior or better than any other. But do I really need a reason to prefer my family to others? Is it not enough to love it best just because its mine? Yes, its an accident of fate that I was born there and somewhere else. If I were in another family I would love it best. But that does not change the flesh-and-blood reality that *this*, and not somewhere else, is where I was born, and *these*, and not others, are the symbols that relate me to my ideals. Why do I need any better reason?

    Because the truth-claims of Christianity are literally false, says the critic. But, again, so what? Liberal religion is not tied to prepositional claims. Its about what it means to you. So doesn’t that mean you could find equal guidance and inspiration in any number of religions? Well, theologically, yes, but again, at issue is what symbol-system moves you. I could experience the ideal of trying to improve myself ethically through the example of Christ (as depicted in the myths), if I am a Christian, or through Yom Kippur, if I am a Jew. Many have observed that liberal religions have more in common with each other than they do with the conservative members of their own faith. But that does not erase the meaning that my religion has for me, because of accidents of history.

    For those interested in this idea I would recommend a book by Eugene Borowitz called Renewing the Covenant. Borowitz is the leading theologian for liberal/reform Judaism. He offers a good analysis of this sort of “embeddedment” and what it means for the symbol systems you relate to. He believes in a liberal God, but there is no reason someone who does not (such as a Reconstructionist Jew) could not also use the very same approach. His book constitutes what he calls a “postmodern” interpretation. I.e., the enlightnment ideal of the “universal” rational agent is, really, a myth itself. We do not experience the “view from nowhere”. Our human/emotional/symbol-responding selves are inevitably situated in our context in the world, which are accidents of course – but, the message is, that’s okay.

    If I were a liberal Christian, I would say something like this: “Maybe Jesus didn’t think he was the messiah, and maybe there is no God, and there are no miracles. So what? I still find the stories in the Bible salutary and inspiring and thought-provoking. I find the concept of imago Dei, ennobling, even (perhaps especially) if God is just the projection of human ideals. Adam and Eve are a wonderful myth about the way all humans are of a family. The stories, rituals, and community make my life richer and inspire me to make the world better.”

    ps- if anyone wants to read the whole thing (its quite long) its here: http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/11/welcome-richard-m.html

  • 54. ned  |  March 9, 2008 at 2:44 am

    Thinking Ape: (about following dogs) Diogenes might say that it’s much more enlightening to following a dog rather than, say, the Buddha.

  • 55. Quester  |  March 9, 2008 at 4:01 am

    Richard,

    Wow. Okay, I followed your link to read all the comments you had made, and am glad I did. I think it helped me clarify what my problems are with your position.

    And I admit, these are *my* problems with your position. Other’s mileage may vary.

    In many ways, my response to you is like my response to Gary Meade above. If the biblical stories are metaphor, I need help to see how anyone can see them as a helpful metaphor.You said the stories can help “make my life richer and inspire me to make the world better”. I can’t see that. I can see how the bible stories can work as metaphor for God’s desire to develop a relationship with us, but that only works if there is a God. And I need something more than metaphor to tell me that there is a God.

    Let’s take your example of the story of Adam and Eve. In order for me to see it as a “wonderful myth about the way all humans are of a family”, I have to ignore every part of the story except God creating a man and a woman who had children. If the clay, rib, tree, serpent, banishment, punishment and fiery sword are wonderful symbols for you, or anyone reading this, what are they symbols of?

    Almost every story in the Old Testament can be a metaphor of how one person can change the world, if you ignore everything about how that one person changes the world. Otherwise, they are metaphors for how God can change the world and how God might graciously allow us some role in that (which we will invariably mess up somehow). They can be wonderful stories about how God can use us despite our faults, if not for the niggling questions about why God created us so riddled with faults. These questions point to a need to rely on God. I don’t see how that need can be met by relying on metaphor.

    There are religious symbols outside of those within holy texts. We can look at places of worship and see symbols of something greater than us as individuals. This can be wonderful and inspiring, but for me to manage to be inspired, I need to ignore everything about the symbol except that in points to “something”– including everything those symbols say about the something except that it is “greater” than I.

    I look at the Christian church and see crosses and altars and other symbols of sacrifice and death. These are heartening if I can believe death has been conquered and we hold these symbols up in defiance, or in participation in the act of conquering death, or in celebration that death binds us no more, but if death has only been conquered metaphorically, the symbols seem morbid and distressing. I don’t see what joy or inspiration can be found in them. And if death is conquered in more than a metaphorical way, how can we know if all we have is metaphor?

    You use the example of the family you were born into to talk about arbitrary but valid choices for symbols of personal ideals. If I were to suddenly find out I was adopted, I would be shaken. I can imagine, though, finding comfort in family ritual and realizing this family that adopted me is my family, even if we are not biologically related as I had believed.

    If, however, I were to find out that they were actors hired to play the roles of my family members (as in the Truman Show, if you’ve seen that) and they were to get up one day and go back to their own families and lives, I don’t think trying to recreate the rituals on my own or in another group would give me any comfort. I may be able to pursue the same ideals, but I would need another set of symbols.

    I can see how the community can, theoretically, “make my life richer and inspire me to make the world better”, though I have never experienced such a church community. I can’t, just now, see how the stories and rituals can do the same.

    Can someone give me some examples of inspiring religious symbols or rituals that you don’t need to ignore most of in order to receive the inspiration? If so, what inspirations do these symbols or rituals provide you with? What, exactly, are you inspired to do or be, and what in the symbols inspires that in you? I may be beginning to repeat myself in an effort to be as clear as possible in my confusion. I don’t deny that those in the liberal or emerging branches of Christianity have found something. If they claim they have, I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. What, though, have you found?

  • 56. witness  |  March 9, 2008 at 4:54 am

    You may be an ambassador to England or France,
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
    You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
    You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
    They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
    You may be the head of some big TV network,
    You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
    You may be living in another country under another name

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a construction worker working on a home,
    You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
    You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
    You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
    You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
    You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
    You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,
    Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk,
    You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread,
    You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy,
    You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy,
    You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray,
    You may call me anything but no matter what you say

    You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

  • 57. Quester  |  March 9, 2008 at 5:03 am

    You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Witness, even if I were to assume this was a true statement, how is it helpful?

  • 58. ned  |  March 9, 2008 at 6:10 am

    Richard: Very interesting post. Your description of liberal christians sounds like trekkies who get together to discuss the important lessons they learn from Captan Picard. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just that Star Trek really isn’t THAT deep in meaning and most people grow tired of it very quickly. The same can be said about the bible. The point is that unless you acknowledge supernatural inspiration of the bible, all you have is a book club that insists on reading the bible and its various fan fictions. Again, nothing wrong with that but most people don’t do it.

  • 59. witness  |  March 9, 2008 at 11:33 am

    24:15 If you think it is wrong to serve the Lord, choose today whom you will serve.

    YOU’VE GOT TO SERVE SOMEBODY

    No man is an independent island.
    Each man is ruled by some guiding force or principle.
    Certain concepts or principles guide your actions.

    Every man has his gods or God.

    Gods of pleasure, Gods of force, power, Gods of man’s intellectual powers. If you do not choose to serve the true and living God, you are serving some god. Every man has his master passion which becomes the guiding principle of his life.

    Quester, I am praying specifically for you today. I am taking a ton-0-kids fishing today, so you pray for my patience.

    God Bless

  • 60. witness  |  March 9, 2008 at 11:35 am

    an I’m gonna cut church to do it! :)

  • 61. Thinking Ape  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Ned, I have read Diogenes and I have thoroughly studied Buddhism – the latter, I assure you, is much more enlightening.

  • 62. Thinking Ape  |  March 9, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Serve (v): perform duties or services for (another person or an organization).

    Witness, you have stated, repeatedly, that we need to perform duties or services to something.

    One, simply because you keep saying it does not mean it is true, please tell us why you believe it to be true (other than the Bible told me so).

    Two, what about it? I perform duties, as most of us do, for the corporation that hires us – doesn’t say much for the desire and passion of my heart. I perform duties, more importantly, for my family. I love and have passion for my family, my beautiful wife and daughter. I don’t consider them gods. I don’t know what form of logic you are using to do so, or what your definition of god is.

    Three, your focus is tainted and your accusations misguided. The one constant I have found in humanity is that we all, in one way or another, put our own selves in front of everybody and everything else. We don’t necessarily always serve only ourselves, but even our theistic desire to “serve God” comes with its perks, does it not? How many scriptures are complete without some condemnation of non-believers and promises of paradise for the faithful? Something tells me that if god was malevolent and offered us heaven for eternity, we would take it. You would take it. And you would call it good.

    I am praying specifically for you today.

    If a wiccan came up to you and said, “I will pray to the goddess of nature,” how would it make you feel? At best, you would feel pained for their ignorance, at worse, you would feel belittled. Telling someone you are praying for them is psychological warfare, whether you know it or not – it is unbiblical and so typically passive-aggressively American-style Christianity.

  • 63. Thinking Ape  |  March 9, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Craig, I apologize for my tardiness with a response, but, as promised, here it is (re: comment #4)

    I’m afraid, however, we will find outselves at an impass when we disagree on the very definition of “concrete”.

    I think there is little impasse here. When I speak about concrete, I am talking about the rational responses and even solid apologetics – not the spiritual rhetoric of American evangelicalism. I wish for dialogue with substance, not diatribe.

    When I said that the embarrassing aspect of Christianity is its incoherence, you responded,

    I do not fully understand how this is a weakness for the Christian faith. Your argument implies that the pathway to finding salvation ought to be prescriptive.

    I think the misunderstanding lies in the fact that I did not elaborate, at least in this post as it was getting a little long, on what I meant by that statement. Christianity has always been torn between unity and freedom within the church. From its very inception, it has an essence that has been impossible to pin down. This might not be a weakness, as I see something almost similar in Buddhism. The difference, however, is that Christianity, unlike Buddhism, proclaims many universal truths. Of course, this itself wouldn’t be a problem, except that Christianity’s evolution has not been one that we would expect from a religion that proclaims such absolute truth. Instead, we find that unity is found only when a Christian group’s main tenets are stripped away and watered down to such a point that it doesn’t resemble anything that the religion actually stood for (ie, evangelicalism). I believed, as my post shows, that the root of the problem was the lack of knowledge of Christian and Biblical history. Of course what I found was that this lack of unity of apparent even in the Bible itself. And I am not talking about frivolous moral issues, I am speaking about the very core of what it means to be a Christian.

    But what about the prescriptive soteriology? Well, how about it? Simply because I think it is wrong, and you think it is wrong, doesn’t mean that isn’t what is found in Christianity. What does something like Matthew 7 sound to you? He who DOES the WILL of my Father will enter the Kingdom of heaven. This sort of language is found throughout the New Testament, whether in the Jewish Christian writings or the Pauline and Gentile ones.

    if this, indeed, is the method by which salvation is received then the very idea of a relationship with God becomes utterly senseless.

    Yes, I agree.

    The modern day Christian finds themselves with their own unique struggles of understanding both salvation and God – so does it not make sense that one prescriptive solution to finding God is ultimately impossible?

    Yes, it does. I find no fault in your logic. As I have said, I believe the emergent church has offered a much more healthy psychological, and maybe even “spiritual” life than Christianity – but I also believe the same thing about Buddhism. Buddhists, however, don’t call themselves, for better or worse, Christians. The emergent church does. My concern is not whether the EC is right or true on such logical matters, it is whether they are only holding on to Christianity for tradition’s sake.

    [The Bible is] The tool by which man can establish a relationship with the savior Christ.

    This one was a little vague, no? I mean, if I was to say, on poetic terms, that Hamlet was the tool by which I established a relationship with Shakespeare, what would that mean to you? Sure, it would be a little odd, if not creepy (or maybe beautiful for you more artistic types), but it doesn’t tell you a whole lot about what Hamlet is actually about. Why the Bible, why not the Gospel of Thomas? Why not the Holy Teaching of Vimalakirit? Why not Hubbard’s Dianetics or Smith’s Book of Mormon? Can God not be found there, or is his revelation so limited?

    [Jesus is] The necessary mediator the cleanse the impure man to stand before the infinitely pure Father… Christ is the Son that cleanses man to stand before the Father.

    I am gathering this is from the Bible, not your own revelation, correct? After answering the questions above and applying them to this one as well, what is your take on the difference between the synoptic gospels and the Johannine one? As far as I can tell, and you must trust my immersion in the text because I am unwilling to write a book at the moment, John is the only book where Jesus ever claims something so bold and heretical. When Jesus proclaimed that he was the way, the truth, and the light, do you honestly believe that this is what he meant? That he was some sort of spiritual sieve?

    “Who is Paul?”
    A man who established a relationship with Christ and through the holy spirit communicated his own discoveries through that relationship so that future men could find salvation in Christ.

    Isn’t it interesting that Paul is not mentioned in most of the later Christian works that made it in the canon. Luke appears to be the only one to look at Paul in a favourable light. James almost breathes fire on the man, and the Revelation of John almost purposely ignores him – there was only a special place in paradise for Jesus and his 12, no room for the man who has done more for Christianity than any other.

    “What is salvation?”
    A gift offered by Christ through a relationship with him. It is the understanding of the evil of the human heart and that without cleansing, man cannot stand before God. That realization gives the man understanding of his own evils and peace in knowing those evils can be forgiven.

    Do you think this was the orthodox view before Augustine? Sounds closer to gnosticism than the Biblical Christianity I have studied – not that there is anything wrong with gnosticism, I just haven’t heard too many EC’ers vouch for the movement.

    “Does heaven exist?”
    Without it, there is no hope or meaning in life. Without heaven, all that matters is today and the fulfillment of our own personal pleasures before we die.

    Non sequitar. With heaven, life is cheapened. What goes on in this lifetime does not matter as much as it would otherwise. With heaven, all that matters is tomorrow and the fulfillment of your own greedy desire for eternal pleasure, happiness, and joy in heaven. Without heaven, life does matter. In fact, it matters so much that one should love it, be overjoyed to have it, and respect it – not only one’s own life, but everyone elses, as life has its own intrinsic value, value that is found in the here and now, not in an ethereal realm that has never been seen nor given any evidence for, nor one that has any actual possibility, for even an Almighty, all benevolent creator could not hold back suffering – why should heaven be any different?

    “How about sin?”
    One needs to look no further than the thoughts that come out of their own heart to see sin. If they do not see the evil that comes from their hearts, they are deceiving themselves.

    As you can tell, my questions were a bit leading. I didn’t bother throwing in hell, because I figured sin would be enough.
    Your first sentence tells me you believe in something called “sin,” but you did not tell me what it is. Is it rebellion against God? What if God is evil, is it still a sin? Is sin the equivalent of evil? Can God sin? If God does evil, is it sin? If God does something that would be sinful for us, is it sinful for him, or does he get a pass because he is suppose to be good incarnate? Is sin a condition or an act, or both? Again, I think you are more unknowingly influenced by the work of Augustine than scripture, but what would that matter, so long as you are in the tradition of the Catholic church? Furthermore, let us assume you know what you are speaking about: why do you believe that a man-god, sent by another aspect of his personage, an aspect of him that is not a man, would require to sacrifice himself in order to erase the sins of his creation, so that they would not have to suffer the penalty of those sins, death, a penalty that he himself created.

    I realize you are not God and cannot answer for him, but you can answer for why you would believe such an incoherent and nonsensical belief system.

  • 64. Jay  |  March 9, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Quester

    “I can see how the community can, theoretically, “make my life richer and inspire me to make the world better”, though I have never experienced such a church community. I can’t, just now, see how the stories and rituals can do the same.”

    I don’t know if this is how Richard would respond, but I’ll take a swing. The liberal religionist would probably say that if you don’t find whatever inspiring then great, but they find it inspiring. They have no need to evangelize you to their views. Basically, find what rings true to yourself whether that be some form of religion or no religion at all.

  • 65. Quester  |  March 9, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Witness,

    Once again, Thinking Ape has provided a much more eloquent response than I could, based in a deeper and richer education than I can claim.

    At the risk of sounding like a weak and erring echo, your claim is that I have to serve someone. So what? That does not imply there is someone worth serving, let alone that any choice is better or worse than any other choice.

    I might also say, “Everyone has a certain amount of time. They must either spend it, invest it or waste it.” It sounds profound, but provides no guidelines for what might be considered spending, wasting or investing time, nor how time can be considered such a material good.

    You say I have to serve someone. Your song hints that the choices are God or the devil. What if I disagree utterly? Do you have anything to support your claim? Is there any evidence either entity exists? If so, are there consistent guidelines as to what actions or inactions serve one or the other? If so, why don’t people agree on that evidence or those guidelines?

    A song might convince the fictional citizens of Springfield to build a monorail in the Simpsons television series, but I’m going to need more than a song to see anything of worth in what you’re saying.

    And while I appreciate positive thoughts, do make sure you understand the difference between prayer and spellcraft. Whose will do you want done in my life? God’s or yours? If God’s, why do you need to pray for it? Can’t God ensure God’s own will without being nagged into doing what He wants to do anyway? If the purpose of prayer is to improve your relationship with God, I can’t see how praying for me, specifically, will help you in that. Even if it does, that won’t affect me, so why tell me?

  • 66. Quester  |  March 9, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Jay,

    Neither you, nor anyone else, has a need to evangelize me, or even respond to me. You’re right. I suppose I’m just hoping someone could give me some reason to believe again, or even hold onto something of what I’d dedicated my life to for so long. But that’s just my want, and no one has a need to fill it.

    I figured there was no harm in asking, though.

  • 67. Jay  |  March 9, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    I get you Quester. It is a tough time. I remember at one point wanting to believe. Took awhile but finally I realized that its impossible to make oneself believe (or not believe) and to simply accept where I was at.

  • 68. mewho  |  March 9, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Jay,

    Christians DID exist before the Bible. I would imagine that they were very different from those of today, however, because TODAY’S Christians have an authoritative text. It’s the very reason why I believe it to be the work of MAN, not GOD. God WOULD NOT sit down and write a book. I just can’t swallow that.

    I think if a person professes to be a Christian, then they have effectively tethered themselves to an ancient document. How “emergent Christians” get around it is by becoming interpretive contortionist. And the Christians in the early Church realized the problem of consistency of belief, and, lo and behold, we have the Bible. My point is simply that if a Christian says they believe something that contradicts the Bible, then they need to have a VERY strong argument, if they believe Scriptures are powerful and authoritative enough to convince them that it is the communication of an ALL powerful God.

    Christians that say they don’t believe EVERY word of the Bible have a monumental task of convincing me, then, of why they would believe it when it says believe in Jesus or suffer eternally. You can’t have it your way because then you have a swamp of personal opinion.

  • 69. Mike Clawson  |  March 9, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    RE: biblical interpretation – the question of whether it is all literal or all metaphorical seems like a false dichotomy IMHO. It is complex collection of many different documents written in a variety of different Ancient Near Eastern cultures over a span of at least 1000 years containing many different kinds of literature and genres. Why assume it is all anything? Some parts of it are obviously intended as historical accounts (though not the kind of history we are used to in the modern world) but other parts obviously are not. I think a responsible use of scripture (whether as a Christian, or just as an interested scholar, of which I am both) is to read it for the different kinds of literature it is, in it’s historical, cultural, and literary context, and not try to impose on it my preconceived assumptions about what it is supposed to be.

    And as a Christian I see no reason why such a complex document could not also be divinely inspired. Why would divine inspiration mean it can only be read in a simplistic, literalistic (or simplistic, metaphorical) way? Couldn’t the Author of the universe be at least as creative in the types of genres and literature she includes in her book as she is with everything else? Is God somehow not allowed to write poetry, myth, biography, apocalypse, history, letters, etc.? Is he limited to only writing boring moral codes and dry history? (Or only flowery spiritual metaphors with no real world connection?) This either/or mentality is confusing to me. Why is complexity so frightening to people?

    As you can tell, as an emerging Christian I don’t really wholly resonate with either the conservative or the liberal approach to things.

  • 70. Michelle  |  March 9, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Mike, as a conservative Christian I “wholly resonate” with your description of biblical interpretation. I desire to read it in the way it was intended – that can be very hard work – but how else can we be honest with the text?

  • 71. Thinking Ape  |  March 9, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Mike, if Jesus was here today – and I mean the historical, in the flesh Jesus – what sort of church do you think he would be most comfortable in? What sort of church would he be turning the tables? I don’t mean this by what you think Jesus SHOULD be comfortable with, but, based on your reading of scripture, which is our best source on the man, what sort of church, if any, would most resonate with his teachings and his character?

  • 72. Mike Clawson  |  March 9, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    I’m not quite sure how to answer your question TA, as it seems like sort of a non-sequitur from what I just posted. Perhaps you could tell me why you ask? What is underlying your question?

  • 73. Gary Meade  |  March 10, 2008 at 12:35 am

    Mike, on what basis do you determine the Bible as divinely inspired?

  • 74. ned  |  March 10, 2008 at 1:05 am

    Mike: I am confused. You said that you believe that bible is divinely inspired by the author of the universe. That doesn’t sound very “radical epistemic humility”. It is, after all, an epistemic claim. If you were postmodern and embrace uncertainly, shouldn’t you say it’s equally likely that the bible is just another old book, like the Tao Te Ching or greek tragedies?

    De-centralization is an important component of postmodernism, especially in postmodernist literary criticism. When I was earning my degree in literature (in a very pomo department), the bible was analyze solely to marginalize its importance. Emphases were placed on how it was patched from other sources (babylonian, for example) and how mundane it is as a book. As a post-modernist, shouldn’t you embrace the de-canonization movement and seek to reduce the emphasis on a single book (written by white men?)

    I am not criticizing your personal approach to the bible. You can enjoy it anyway you like. My point is that nothing about EC resembles postmodernism in anyway. Why bother calling it postmodern, especially when most postmodernists are highly hostile to religion? Can you imagine Foucault or Derrida nodding along reading your post about the divine origin of the bible?

  • 75. oceallaigh  |  March 10, 2008 at 1:25 am

    The question of the “historical Jesus” and what “church” he’d belong to has interested me ever since the time, four decades ago, when I read the Gospels for the first time and found in Jesus of Nazareth, not the “Prince of Peace” everybody’d been talking about, but an aggro authoritarian who seemed to take special pleasure in yelling at and belittling his followers.

    The task of recovering the history is hard, as many here doubtless know, because the synoptic Gospels have to be stripped to Mark and Q, and John to Signs, and even these, I read, have been heavily edited. But I read that, in some (the earliest?) editions of Mark, Jesus was “indignant”, not “moved”, by the leper’s request for cleansing.

    Such signs make me think that no modern church would even recognize Jesus, or would, recognized or not, let him into their sanctuaries. I have read that Jesus of Nazareth may have belonged to, or split from, the Jewish sect called Essenes, which were definitely anti-Establishment and isolationist in their outlook, at least as they’ve been characterized on the basis of the Qumran scrolls. (I would welcome further information.)

    Bob Marley did many things in his life that were far less than sacred in character. Yet those who worship him, or come close to that, in the context of Rastafarianism, progressively are submerging those negatives to focus on his positives.

    I wonder if the same thing happened in the century after Jesus’s life – and that the nearest modern parallels to the historical Jesus might be the likes of David Koresh.

  • 76. witness  |  March 10, 2008 at 1:40 am

    Quester said
    “You’re right. I suppose I’m just hoping someone could give me some reason to believe again, or even hold onto something of what I’d dedicated my life to for so long. But that’s just my want, and no one has a need to fill it.”
    __________________________________________________
    Hey bro,
    Yesterday I believed you, today I think you’re full of shit! Nice sucker punch Quest- Hey Witness, look at my thumb- POW- boy you’re dumb.

    YEAH BUDDY- I am a sinner and I still need a Saviour and Lord. His name is Jesus Christ. And yes I did pray for you today. Not 4 me- but 4 Him.

    You said “If God’s, why do you need to pray for it?
    Ah I dunno, maybe because I am not a H/C fatalist.

    Don’t beg others to pull a magic rabbit out of a hat, and when they try you critique their attempt. Repent ye and follow the Gospel. I am going to pray for you tonight, again, go ahead and remind me of the fool I am. And I will pray for myself too- the hypocrite I am.
    Thank God for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who saves wretches like me. Nothin’ but the blood of Jesus!

  • 77. Richard  |  March 10, 2008 at 1:41 am

    Quester- I understand where you’re coming from. I wrote what I wrote more as a way of trying to explain liberal religion, which I feel I understand, not so much as defend liberal Christianity in particular.

    In that respect, I’m actually where you are. The symbol system that makes up Christianity (e.g., the cross, sacrifice, the emphasis on sin) has for me taken on such negative connotations that I was never able to, and never interested in, rehabilitating it. That’s why I left Christianity altogether. The harsh, draconian emphasis on sin and salvation that was pounded into my head from fundamentalism made it impossible for those symbols to ever really mean anything else, to me. So could never be a liberal Christian.

    I can appreciate, from afar, that Jesus’ example – perhaps understood as a moral exemplar – might move and inspire others, and I understand that those so moved and inspired are not wed to any particular historical event about Jesus, nor any supernatural hocus-pocus in order to find stories about him meaningful. I just don’t myself share this.

    If I may, it seems as though part of what you are looking for is a new symbol system that functions more or less analogously to the old – i.e, that drives *belief*, and therefore the reassurances that those beliefs provide. Belief that God exists, that death is conquered, that we belong in a universe that was made for us. But that would, to my mind, be swapping one conservative ideology for another. I don’t think liberalism becomes an option or has any appeal until you can really let go of those hopes, mourn the loss of that fantasy, and come to a better peace with the more existential idea that this life is all we have and no one is going to make anything better for us – its all up to us.

    Harsh truths! But, speaking for myself, I found that once I got there, my focus inexorably began to shift to what we *do* have in life. I.e., really letting go of the hopes and divine reassurances I wanted (that fundamentalism provided) but could not have, made it possible for me to appreciate in a whole new way what we *do* have. Life suddenly seemed wonderful and precious, far more than it ever did when I was a Christian. And then I wanted to explore and celebrate that life. And that is where the religious symbols began to peek back in.

    Why? Because for me, nothing is quite as evocative. And that’s *all* Im saying they are – evocative. Its not an English class exercise where I look at, say, the story of Adam and Eve and start creating a table charting out the symbol/symbolized until I have it all down. These things are felt in the gut. You discover that they speak to you. At least, that’s how it has been for me. And thus there is no issue of cherry picking. Of course you cherry pick. Just like we do with all books we ever read, especially, for example, poetry books. We would be perfectly free to pick up one poem, or part of a poem, and ignore the rest if that’s what spoke to us.

    An example, for me, would be the story of Rabbi Eliezer that I recount on the other blog I linked to, about 3 paragraphs down. As I said there, it gives me chills. I didn’t choose for it to! I just find that it does, that it is extraordinarily evocative and memorable *for me* as a way of talking about what ethical maturity is. It also, probably, in my unconscious somewhere, serves to metaphorize my own “spiritual” journey away from fundamentalism – and taking over God’s function, as it were. “Defeating God.”

    So, I feel like I understand what you’re asking for, but sometimes the symbols what once moved you can no longer be rehabilitated. Maybe that’s where you are? Jewish stories and ideals are far enough removed from my former experience that they don’t suffer the contamination from evangelicism, for me, that makes all things Jesusy now shudder-inducing to me. So that helps. But since these things tend to be discovered, not consciously chosen – the symbol finds *you* – then my best advice would be to expose yourself to a lot of symbols, and see if any of them stick. That is, naturally speak to you and express your ideals. You’ll know! So explore Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Sufism. Or maybe you’ll fund more inspiration in science or (non-religious) poetry. Or, hell, the Lord of the Rings! (Which brings up some powerful issues about human happiness, and Nature, and the nature of evil, and more.) Just be wary not to re-import former fundamentalist expectations that this symbol will point to something that is going to save you. This isn’t about salvation, its about deepening an appreciation for life. That’s what symbols do so well.

    Ill end now, before this gets any longer. I hope I didn’t speak out of turn or make any unwarranted assumptions about where you are in this process.

  • 78. witness  |  March 10, 2008 at 1:42 am

    No, I’m not Amish :)

  • 79. Mike Clawson  |  March 10, 2008 at 3:22 am

    Gary:

    Mike, on what basis do you determine the Bible as divinely inspired?

    I don’t “determine” it. I simply believe it to be true, largely based on the effect it has had on my life and the life of others. “Inspired” literally means “God breathed”, which is biblical phrase hearkening back to Genesis 2:7 that implies life, vitality, and spiritual power. Since I have observed scripture’s life-giving power personally, I choose to believe that it is one of the ways God uses to interact with humanity. This is not a statement of absolute knowledge, but a statement of belief.

    ned:

    Mike: I am confused. You said that you believe that bible is divinely inspired by the author of the universe. That doesn’t sound very “radical epistemic humility”. It is, after all, an epistemic claim. If you were postmodern and embrace uncertainly, shouldn’t you say it’s equally likely that the bible is just another old book, like the Tao Te Ching or greek tragedies?

    Again, I am not claiming to know this with certainty. It is something I believe to be true, but I fully admit the possibility that I could be mistaken. Again, epistemic humility doesn’t mean I don’t believe anything, it just means that I hold those beliefs more lightly, more tentatively; aware of the limited and metaphorical nature of language itself, and always open to the possibility that I could be wrong.

    And to be honest, I don’t think it’s necessary to make the Bible’s inspiration exclusive. I believe that God speaks to humanity in many different ways, and the Bible itself speaks of many different things as being “God breathed”, including humanity itself. So I am never surprised to discover God’s truth in all kinds of books, old and new, and all kinds of other things besides.

    Emphases were placed on how it was patched from other sources (babylonian, for example) and how mundane it is as a book.

    So what? What does any of that have to do with whether it is divinely inspired or not? Can’t God work through mundane means and multiple sources as well? I find all that history fascinating personally, and frankly even more “inspiring”.

    As a post-modernist, shouldn’t you embrace the de-canonization movement and seek to reduce the emphasis on a single book (written by white men?)

    White men? Since when are ancient middle easterners considered white men? We’re talking about books written by Semitic peoples, mostly under conditions of exile, oppression and persecution. In fact, some might claim that many of the biblical texts themselves are often attempts by oppressed peoples at deconstructing the imperial narratives they were embedded within.

    My point is that nothing about EC resembles postmodernism in anyway. Why bother calling it postmodern, especially when most postmodernists are highly hostile to religion? Can you imagine Foucault or Derrida nodding along reading your post about the divine origin of the bible?

    I didn’t realize that there was a postmodern orthodoxy to which I had to adhere. As far as I can tell it is very diverse movement, some of which, as you say, is hostile to religion, but other parts which are not entirely. In fact much has been made of the “religious turn” among postmodern philosophers such as Derrida (not to mention Levinas). I also wonder whether you actually checked out the number of contemporary postmodern Christian philosophers that I listed for you in comment #50. They’d probably tend to disagree with you that there is nothing of value for Christians in postmodern thought.

    Nevertheless, it is a conversation, not a dogmatic set of principles, nor a definitive label. I don’t feel the need to agree with everything ever written by so-called postmodern philosophers. As with anything, I take what I find helpful and dialogue about the rest.

  • 80. pyridine  |  March 10, 2008 at 3:27 am

    Mike: that’s very good answer. thanx.

  • 81. ned  |  March 10, 2008 at 3:29 am

    mike: Mike: that’s very good answer. thanx. (i logged on using a wrong account)

  • 82. Thinking Ape  |  March 10, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Mike (re: Comments 69, 71, 72),
    You started with “Re: Biblical Interpretation” but I failed to see many answers, which I think was somewhat purposeful on your part. My questions were not so much concerning what you actually wrote in 69, but with the initial statement that your previous response was going to be about Biblical Interpretation. Do you not agree that the diversity you see in Christianity today and throughout history has been a result of different cultures and different people groups trying to interpret the Bible? At one time in my Christian walk I thought diversity was healthy, because this is often what is taught among theologically-lacking evangelicals. The problem when a Biblical scholar or a seminarian actually looks at Christian diversity, the differences are not what I would call “healthy” or “complimentary.” I simply want to understand who your Jesus is, or whether the Jesus of Palestine during the Roman Empire is at all relevant to you today.

  • 83. witness  |  March 10, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Mike,
    What do you think of the Purpose Driven, Willowcreek, -SS movement desire to amalgamate w/ the EC. Don’t you think they will inadvertently taint your focus w/ their modernist roots. Please tell me that R.W. will not try to sell me EC steaknives- a decade out.

    BTW i like Scot Mcknight type ECr, I think he is honestly trying to convey something here. Don’t you think SS movement will try to put christmas lights on the ECs intent.

    PS (to all) I will not be posting on this combox/blog any longer. I know I will be dearly missed :)

  • 84. Mike Clawson  |  March 10, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Thinking Ape:

    Do you not agree that the diversity you see in Christianity today and throughout history has been a result of different cultures and different people groups trying to interpret the Bible?

    Yes, I agree. Personally I try to take a “generously orthodox” approach to Christian diversity. I see a lot of value in the different traditions of the Christian faith, though there is much I obviously disagree with in each one too. Again, nothing is an either/or. It’s been an ongoing journey and conversation for the past two millenia, and of course we’ve taken many wrong turns along the way, but there are many good and beautiful things too.

    As for my personal view of Jesus, yes, I have been very influenced by biblical scholars such as Tom Wright, James Dunn, Richard Horsley and Dominic Crossan who are attempting to put Jesus back within his first century Jewish and Roman context. I see his gospel message as being one of radical challenge to the imperial powers and Jewish authorities of his day, but in a way that was substantively different from the other Jewish religio-political movements of his day (e.g. the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and Herodians). He was preaching and demonstrating a different vision of the Kingdom of God that IMHO still has relevance for us today. (My friend Brian McLaren just wrote a book, Everything Must Change, that attempts to flesh out some of the contemporary relevance of Jesus’ message.)

    As for which contemporary church best reflects Jesus’ original intent, I’m not sure that’s really the point. We’re no longer first century Jewish peasants. The story has moved on from there. That was Act 3 and we’re now in Act 5. It’d be kind of silly for us to simply go on repeating Act 3 over and over again. Christian faith and practice, IMHO, is something that is dynamic, not static, throughout history. We should no more be trying to mimic the early church than the church of 2000 years hence should be trying to emulate us.

  • 85. Mike Clawson  |  March 10, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    witness

    Mike,
    What do you think of the Purpose Driven, Willowcreek, -SS movement desire to amalgamate w/ the EC. Don’t you think they will inadvertently taint your focus w/ their modernist roots. Please tell me that R.W. will not try to sell me EC steaknives- a decade out.

    I hadn’t heard that they were trying to do that, especially considering many emergent folks are deliberately reacting to and coming out of the megachurch movement. Not that we are necessarily hostile to them. There are some good things there too. However, at best those leaders have been simply indifferent to us thus far. They’ve at least been slightly less hostile towards us than most of the old guard evangelical leaders.

    But yes, if the EC ever becomes merely a pre-packaged church-growth commodity, it would be a very bad thing. I don’t really see that happening though. The “coffee and candles” emergent fad has already passed about 3 or 4 years ago. Those of us that are left are the ones interested in a more substantive theological, philosophical and missional conversation.

  • 86. Thinking Ape  |  March 10, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Mike,
    I am with you up until the last paragraph – although I will have to check out McLaren’s recent book.

    As for which contemporary church best reflects Jesus’ original intent, I’m not sure that’s really the point.

    I suppose this depends on what you believe Jesus’ original intent was. If you are even remotely close to orthodox Christianity, which I am assuming, than you will believe something about how his divine sacrifice is a mediator for all humankind. With this as core, any number of things found in the Bible can be dismissed as culturally relative or even spiritually primitive.

    We’re no longer first century Jewish peasants. The story has moved on from there. That was Act 3 and we’re now in Act 5.

    If you do find, in the Bible, a man who believed his special faith in the Jewish Yahweh led him to an apocalyptic and transformative religious reform – what then? Then Jesus was Act 39, the destruction of the Jewish Temple was Act 40 and the end of that story. Meanwhile, Pauline, Jewish, Johannine, and Gnostic Jesus movement that appeared in Acts 39 and 40 not become the major players in the sequel: how Christianity destroyed Judaism.

    Christian faith and practice, IMHO, is something that is dynamic, not static, throughout history.

    Hence completely disregarding the early church father’s advice and rhetoric against Christian “heretics” – be them Gnostics, Arians, or Pelagians. I am not saying that the church should emulate that of 2000 years ago – I am wondering where the foundations are. Christian faith and practice may be dynamic, but what happens when the historical truth becomes dynamic and evolves with every passing generation? I believe, in my humble opinion, that today’s church in fact has almost nothing to do with who they call their founder – now wouldn’t that be a problem? What is Christianity without Christ? What is Christ without Jesus? What is Jesus without his message? What if his message is completely irrelevant today and the suppose significance of his death was a nonsensical fraud?

  • 87. ED  |  March 10, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    “Do you not agree that the diversity you see in Christianity today and throughout history has been a result of different cultures and different people groups trying to interpret the Bible?”

    I really have a great deal of difficulty reconciling “diversity in christianity” and “different cultures” to the God of the bible. This immutable god has a history of slaying those who don’t give to him in worship what he desires. It seems as though we are simply creating a God that makes up feel good, that makes us all warm and fuzzy and tingly all over. Scripture is the only way I had of understanding ‘Revealed” truth. Once I understood that it was unreliable, that it was not infallible or inerrant I simply quit trying to make sense of church.

  • 88. ED  |  March 10, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    I’m sorry I had to leave before I could finish my thoughts. It seems to me that the christian church has just gradually and covertly adopted the Marcionite doctrine of two gods. The mean and nasty old testament version and the good and loving new testament Jesus model. Even worship in the last century has been gradually transforming itself into an anthropocentric, burger king, uniquely American, quasi-democratic institution that must evolve and adapt to changing times or become extinct. The immutable, sovereign Being of the Old Testament is virtually unrecognizable in todays seeker friendly services. There was a time when the celebration of the mass did not take into consideration any wants and desires of the the people attending. It was a theocentric occasion. Later it ( church services)became about making the congregation happy. Today is has morphed into mega-marketing for the unbeliever. I think the church has become the greatest argument for the non-existence of God. Immutability? I don’t think so!

  • 89. Mike Clawson  |  March 10, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    ED, I’m not sure “immutability” was ever part of the Jewish conception of God. That, I’m pretty sure, was a Greek philosophical concept (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that was added as an attribute of the Christian God by Early Church theologians as the church gradually became less Jewish and more Greek. Biblically speaking though, there’s not much of a case for God being strictly “immutable”, and especially not as he’s portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures. Shoot, he’s changing his mind every five minutes in some of those Old Testament stories!

  • 90. Thinking Ape  |  March 10, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    ED, I think I understand what you were getting across, but I have to agree with Mike on where the immutability of God came from. Perhaps there would have been some Jewish influence, but only in the inter-testamental Judaism – post-greek and deeply Roman. The Yahweh of the majority of Jewish scriptures is closer to the Canaanite El.

  • 91. debbyo  |  March 10, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Mike Clawson said: “Since I have observed scripture’s life-giving power personally, I choose to believe that it is one of the ways God uses to interact with humanity. This is not a statement of absolute knowledge, but a statement of belief.”

    I’m interested in how you “choose to believe”? As you stated, this choice is inspired by how good it makes you feel. Does it ever concern you that your beliefs may be born from wishful thinking? I ask because this would worry me. As a matter of principle, I try to question my motives for any interpretations of events. I can’t figure out any other way to guard against delusional thinking. For example, it might make me happier to think nothing is my fault or that I am a genius. It might even make me feel powerful and inspired. I could choose to believe these things but, unfortunately the evidence is stacked against me.

  • 92. Mike Clawson  |  March 10, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    As you stated, this choice is inspired by how good it makes you feel.

    Really? When did I say that? How do you get that from what I did say, which was “I have observed scripture’s life-giving power personally”?

    What I’m talking about is changed lives. It’s not “wishful thinking” because I’m not talking about what I would like to be true. I’m talking about what I have seen to be true. I have seen people’s lives change for the better through an encounter with the Spirit of God in the Scriptures. In fact I’m in the midst of observing that process right now in the lives of over a dozen people in our church community as we interact weekly with the Bible. People have been radically transformed by what we’ve encountered there together in community.

    Of course this is no kind of absolute “proof”. I could of course come up with all kinds of alternative explanations for what I’ve observed. That’s where the choice comes in. I can choose to take these experiences at face value: i.e. to say that what seems to be the power of the Spirit working through the scriptures to produce change in people’s lives is in fact exactly that. Or I can choose to believe that despite appearances, there is really some other explanation that has nothing to do with God or the Bible. It is a leap of faith, and I can see why reasonable people would likely go either way.

  • 93. debbyo  |  March 11, 2008 at 1:43 am

    Yes, you’re right Mike. You didn’t say religion makes you feel good. You said you “choose to believe”. And the basis on which you choose to believe is: “I have observed scripture’s life-giving power personally”. I interpreted “life-giving” as something like “life-affirming but perhaps you meant without it there is no (eternal) life.

    It’s the choice question where I have the problem. Surely a search for any truth is not just about our preferences or our choices otherwise it risks becoming just an egocentric exercise. Most of the truths we have discovered about the universe (such as the solar system) came from a willingness to abandon cherished notions about humanity’s importance in the universe. We know that the earth revolves around the sun because our needs were irrelevant to the discovery of this truth – more, they were an obstacle. We didn’t choose this to be true. Our choices don’t change the universe – they don’t change the truth. We don’t have this power.

    “It’s not “wishful thinking” because I’m not talking about what I would like to be true.”

    So why didn’t you choose another way? Would you like it not to be true? I would like heaven to be true.

    “I have seen people’s lives change for the better through an encounter with the Spirit of God in the Scriptures. In fact I’m in the midst of observing that process right now in the lives of over a dozen people in our church community as we interact weekly with the Bible. People have been radically transformed by what we’ve encountered there together in community.”

    I’m sure you have. And I have seen people transformed and liberated by shaking off the shackles of a repressive religious upbringing. I am one of them. My partner is another one. I have seen many of my Catholic friends still fearful or spiritually residing in some half-way house where they reject hell but accept heaven – cherry-picking the bible to support their humanitarian views and ignoring the bits that are bigoted and scary. I did that for years too. The fact is I have spent most of my life trying to escape the bad effects of a religion I did not choose. No children do.

    “It is a leap of faith, and I can see why reasonable people would likely go either way.”

    I can’t. Reasonable surely means relying on reason. You know there are many reasons why people feel transformed by religion. You just choose not to go there.

  • 94. Quester  |  March 11, 2008 at 2:32 am

    Jay and Richard,

    Thank-you both for your kind, gentle and thoughtful words. I’m responding to you both together because I think your advice to me was very similar: I need to accept who and where I am.

    I can mourn what I’ve lost, and it is probably healthy to do so, but my desperate, emotional clawing to try to get it back are neither healthy, nor likely to get me anywhere I’d want to be.

    I don’t like that. I don’t want that to be true. But I can see that it probably is.

    Thank-you.

  • 95. ED  |  March 11, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Mike, Thanks for your insight on the origins of the concept of immutability, I had never heard that before and that is very interesting. However, if there is a mutable, evolving God; how do I know who he is? How do I ever hope to get a handle on the attributes of his character and nature? How do I know that someday he won’t morph into a being unworthy of my worship? Or even evil? How do I know that he is pleased with my life? What does it mean to be saved in this schema? Is there even a need to be saved? Why did christ die?
    I was raised in a fundamentalist denomination (AOG) and my de-conversion process is only 6 months old. I am trying to get a handle on even whether I believe in a god or not at this point. The liberal view of god is so strange and abstract that I am having difficulty wrapping my brain around it. Any light that you can shed on this subject is greatly appreciated.

  • 96. Mike Clawson  |  March 11, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    ED, good questions. There are lots of things I could say. One is that (assuming just for the moment that God is real) we are dealing with the transcendent, incomprehensible Creator of the universe. Why should we expect to be able to ever “get a handle on the attributes of his character and nature”? Perhaps it’s more important to simply experience God than to merely define him.

    The other thing I might say is that if your faith becomes more about experiencing God in relationship, and less about having an absolute set of answers to all your questions, then perhaps you can approach some of those other questions more relationally. For instance, are you married or dating? If so how do you get a handle on your SO’s “character or nature”? After all, s/he isn’t immutable either right? How do you know she won’t someday morph into someone unworthy of your affection? How do you know she is pleased with you? Bottom line is you don’t “know”, but you trust him/her because of the relationship you’ve had so far. I think of my relationship with God as very much the same. It’s interactive, and changing, and dynamic.

    And as for what is salvation and whether we need it, well what do you think? When I look around at the world I see all kinds of things we potentially need saving from, not least of which is our own self-destructive, and now potentially globally destructive tendencies as a human race. And that is a big part of precisely what I think Jesus came to save us from.

    BTW, if you want to read more about this way of looking at the gospel, I’d recommend Brian McLaren’s two books, The Secret Message of Jesus and Everything Must Change.

  • 97. ED  |  March 11, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Mike,

    Thanks for the info on Brian McLaren’s books. I will investigate this view further. With respect to your analogy of my spouse morphing / changing; I have the ability to experience my wife in an epistemological manner that I am unable to experience god. Secondarily, my wife is , although a wonderful person, is not worshiped in any sense as a deity. Thirdly, my wife is not eternal.
    Lastly, and maybe this kind of thinking is simply a relic of my past fundamentalist background, she does not have the ability to bless me or curse me, or sentence me to everlasting punishment.

    Thanks for your insight, I will continue to process through your thoughts on this subject.
    Thanks again!
    ED

  • 98. witness  |  March 12, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Another post!?!? — Sorry, I repent, I repent!

    Dear Mike, Oh yeah, it’s out there, Willowcreek will try and cash in on your authenticity. Here are two EC conferences sponsored by Willowcreek in next few months. Heck, one is lead by your good friend Brian Mclaren. Hybels is no dummy he sees the people who are tired of the bible and he will oblige them in ushering it out. This whole thing will end up as a splinter of Roman Catholicism. Like I said before people like Mcknight- I admire because they are truly trying to convey something with sincerity. But Hybels?-

    (lyrics) MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY….MONEY

    Pert much every speaker below at these Willowcreek conferences is either Emergent or Emerging. Would you agree? Not that there is anything wrong with that.

    ________________________________________________________________________

    http://www.growingleadership.com/Conferences/nova/nova_presenters.asp

    http://www.willowcreek.com/shift2008
    ________________________________________________________________________

    Everything Must Change
    Main Session 19:00-10:30am
    Brian Mclaren • Worship with Charlie Hall

    What could change if we applied the message of Jesus—the good news of the Kingdom of God—to the world’s greatest problems?

    Acclaimed author and theologian Brian McLaren will inspire us to envision our world transformed through an insurgence of hope, justice, and compassion.

    Brian McLaren is an author, speaker, pastor, and networker among innovative Christian leaders, whose teaching is stirring people all over the world to think in fresh ways about Christian life and faith. He has also authored numerous books, including his most recent, Everything Must Change.

    Charlie Hall is a singer-songwriter who has a heart for “renewing and encouraging local churches, engaging young and old with social justice action, and widening hearts to see God at work in the whole world.” His authentic and original approach will guide us into celebration and reflection through music.

    Mark Yaconelli is the co-founder and director of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project, and has spent the past 15 years working with students in local church, camp, and conference settings. Mark’s most recent book is entitled Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry.
    Lunch– 12:45-2:15pm
    The Scandal of Grace
    Main Session 32:15-3:45pm
    Shane Claiborne • Charlie Hall

    How would our lives and ministries change us if we saw the image of Jesus each time we looked in the eyes of those who are different from us?

    By sharing his own story, Shane Claiborne will question and challenge our traditional notions of what—and who—is most important to God, and what He is asking for in our lives and ministries.

    Shane Claiborne http://www.irresistiblerevolution.org

    Shane is a founding partner of The Simple Way, a Philadelphia-based community of faith that spends much of their time feeding hungry folks, serving neighborhood children, running a community store, and pursuing peace and justice amongst the poor. Shane is also the author of The Irresistible Revolution.
    Main Session 49:00-10:30am
    Kara Powell • Worship w/ Brandon Grissom

    Do our student ministries often feel a little stale and superficial? Do our students seem that way too? How can we move towards deeper ministries, and deeper connections with our students?

    Through academic research and practical ministry insights, Kara Powell will help us think more deeply about the everyday questions we face in student ministry, helping us find answers that will take us to deeper places.

    Kara Powell http://www.cyfm.net

    Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. She currently volunteers in student ministries at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. She (along with Chap Clark) is the author of Deep Justice in a Broken World.

    Brandon Grissom http://www.brandongrissom.net

    Brandon is a singer-songwriter who leads worship for both the adult services and the junior high ministry (Elevate) of Willow Creek Community Church, as well as various conferences, camps, and churches around the country.
    Break– 10:30-11:15am
    They Like Jesus, But Not the Church
    Main Session 511:15-12:45pm
    Dan Kimball • Brandon Grissom

    Why are many students interested in spiritual things, but disinterested
    in church?

    Using compelling research and real-life stories, Dan Kimball will awaken us to the current perceptions many students have about Christianity and Jesus. Dan will also help us navigate through some of the barriers which may keep us from connecting the next generation with an authentic faith.

    __________________________________

    http://www.growingleadership.com/Conferences/nova/nova_presenters.asp

    The NOVA Experience – a brand new day!
    April 10-12, 2008 – Doubletree International Plaza Hotel, Toronto, ON

    Erwin McManus
    Husband, father, writer, futurist, activist, artist and spiritual and cultural leader – lead pastor and cultural architect of Mosaic in Los Angeles. He is the author of An Unstoppable Force, a Gold Medallion Award finalist; Chasing Daylight; Uprising: a Revolution of the Soul; The Barbarian Way; Stand Against the Wind and Soul Cravings.

    Leonard Sweet
    Currently the E. Stanley Jones professor of evangelism at Drew Theological School, and visiting distinguished professor at George Fox University, Leonard Sweet is the author of more than 100 articles, 600 published sermons and thirty books, most recently The Gospel According to Starbucks.

    Joseph Myers
    Joseph R. Myers is an entrepreneur, speaker, writer, and owner of FrontPorch, a consulting firm that helps churches, businesses, and other organizations promote and develop community. Author of The Search to Belong and Organic Community, Joseph is also a founding partner of the communications arts group settingPace.

    Mark Buchanan
    Mark Buchanan is a pastor of New Life Community Baptist Church in Duncan, BC, and the author of four books: The Rest of God; Your God is Too Safe; Things Unseen; and The Holy Wild. Some days he is restful or playful, without shame.

    Mark Batterson
    Mark serves as lead pastor of National Community Church (theaterchurch.com) in Washington, DC. He feels as called to write as he does to pastor. In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day came out in October of 2006. His next book, Wild Goose Chase, is set to release in April of 2008.

    Archie Coates
    Archie has been Curate at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, the headquarters of the Alpha course, for four years, and an ordained clergyman in the Church of England since 200He is particularly involved in the day to day running of Holy Trinity, especially preaching and teaching, discipleship, training lay pastors and the question of “What happens after Alpha?”

    Jason Hildebrand
    Jason Hildebrand is a professional actor, dramatist and performance coach. He has performed in theatre, film and television, and continues to tour the globe with his acclaimed solo performances. Jason also works with organizations, theatre and film companies and educational institutions in various capacities throughout North America and Europe.
    __________________________________

  • 99. Mike Clawson  |  March 12, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Funny thing witness, but Scot McKnight, whom I know personally, actually attends Willow Creek himself. :)

    The lines aren’t so black and white. Willow and the others have their good points, and they have some points that we emergents would critique as well. That doesn’t mean we have to shun them and refuse to speak at their conferences.

    And you seem to be under the misconception that there is money in conferences and/or book deals. Trust me, as someone who has personally organized an emergent conference, and whose wife currently has a book deal with IVP, there is no money in it. We lost money on our conference, and the money my wife is being paid to write her book versus the time put into writing it works out to about half minimum wage. Anyone who thinks this whole emerging thing is just about money or marketing is sorely misinformed.

  • 100. karen  |  March 12, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    And you seem to be under the misconception that there is money in conferences and/or book deals.

    Maybe not for your church or for other small emergent churches, but I have a very hard time believing that well known evangelical authors, and megachurches like Willowcreek, don’t make money putting out books, tapes, DVDs and hosting speakers and conferences.

  • 101. Mike Clawson  |  March 12, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    I don’t know about Willow, but guarantee that in emerging church circles no one is getting rich off of books or conferences. Even Brian McLaren is losing money on his current Everything Must Change Tour.

    Though from what I know about conference planning, I’d be surprised if even the Willow folks are doing anything more than breaking even on their conferences.

  • 102. LeoPardus  |  March 12, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Mike Clawson:

    Sorry. I don’t believe it. They are not making money eh? Can you produce the financial analyses to prove it? And how are they paying their mortgage, utility bills, etc?

    Your opinion that the EC leaders are not making money on their books, etc carries no more weight than anyone else’s opinion that they are making money hand-over-fist. Somebody’s gonna have to come up with facts. Maybe the ECFA has something about them.

  • 103. karen  |  March 12, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Though from what I know about conference planning, I’d be surprised if even the Willow folks are doing anything more than breaking even on their conferences.

    I belonged to a large evangelical church for nearly 20 years and I was on staff part-time for more than 5.

    Hosting or co-hosting Christian conferences, seminars and workshops accounted for a lucrative part of our budget. We would never have hosted as many of them as we did if they were money-losers. I can’t imagine that Willowcreek would be in a different position than we were.

  • 104. Quester  |  March 15, 2008 at 2:33 am

    I’m willing to believe that there are churches that make money. I keep hearing about these wealthy clergy members with rich parishioners and all this money flowing around. I’m willing to expend the benefit of the doubt to those who claim this happens. I even know of one church within a ten hour drive of where I live that doesn’t need to worry about closing down in the next five years due to lack of money and members.

    Decades ago, yes, the churches were full and money was spent on buildings, furnishings and ministry opportunities. Trust funds were established and the parishes chose to live happily and securely off of the interest.

    Today, parish councils are reluctantly voting to spend those trust funds, deciding it is foolish to close while there is still money in the bank. They pray for a miracle and work to be welcoming to new people. They host workshops and seminars, realizing they might not even break even at the end of the event, in part to reach out, in part to minister to the community, and in part to state “we are still alive!”

    When your congregation consists of twelve people, all over seventy, that affects the priorities.

    A church may do something to make money, or not, but I’m always a little stunned to see the words “Christian” and “lucrative” in the same sentence. It’s just so foreign to me.

  • 105. nater  |  March 15, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    This is not exactly an answer to your questions, but just some thoughts on the “emerging church”.

    You see, here’s the thing… the emerging church is basically an answer to countless other attempts by countless other churches to fix problems they saw in the church before them. That is both a description of and the problem with the movement.

    The emerging church doesn’t like the way the “evangelical” church has handled things, and says, “OK, we need to revisit this thing called church. What is it? Why do we do it? What should it look like”.

    Ok, now at first glance, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, right? But, the problem is, this movement will simply be another attempt by man to fix problems that man has created with man’s solutions, which cannot be done.

    We cannot fix the church by having a conversation, we cannot fix the church by trying out new forms of worship or new methods of prayer. WE cannot fix the church period. God alone can fix the church. God alone can heal the wounds that men under the Christian name have brought upon the church and the world. God alone can save.

    We need to stop thinking in our human terms, and turn to Jesus. He is the answer.

    Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life” – John 14:6

    Instead of all this talking and conversing and trying to make our church palatable, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” – Hebrews 12:2

    In the end, Christianity is all about Jesus.

    Thanks for reading!

    Love,
    nate

  • 106. Mike Clawson  |  March 15, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Again, I don’t know first hand about the big church conferences like the ones at Willow. And I wasn’t talking about the general church budgets either, just conference budgets. All I know is that at the conference we planned this past summer, our planning team had to pay about $3000 out of our own pockets to pull it off… and that was even after we got all of our speakers to agree to come for free.

    I also know that my friend Jim Henderson, who does the Off the Map Conference, paints houses the rest of the year since he sure doesn’t make any money off the OTM event.

    Oh, and they just started charging a small fee for the annual Emergent Glorieta Gathering this past year, mainly because the planners were tired of losing their own money on it every year and thought they’d share the costs around.

    BTW Leo, my information about whether EC authors are making much money off their books comes from first hand conversations on the subject with friends that work for evangelical publishing companies, and also with some of the authors themselves (e.g. Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren etc.) Doug for instance donates all the proceeds of his books to charity, and Tony has to raise funds to support his position as National Coordinator of Emergent Village – and still is only at about 2/3rds salary… so he clearly isn’t independently wealthy from his books.

    As for Brian McLaren, he is probably the only one making any decent money off his books, and yet, according to my publishing friend, probably only enough to replace the pastor’s salary he gave up when he stepped down from his church to devote himself to full time writing, speaking, and activism. He’s also invested quite a bit of it into doing an 11 city speaking tour that’s going on right now; and I happen to know first hand (since I’m on the planning team as a rep for Emergent Village) that it is not even breaking even yet.

    So anyway, I can’t give you exact numbers Leo since I don’t tend to get into those kind of personal details with my friends about their income, but at the same time my statements are based on somewhat more than pure speculation.

  • 107. LeoPardus  |  March 16, 2008 at 1:20 am

    Mike Clawson:

    I’d say your info is reasonably good. Thanks for backing up your statements.

  • 108. LeoPardus  |  March 16, 2008 at 1:30 am

    nate:

    So when’s Jesus gonna step up and heal the wounds?

    And how would folks go about stopping “thinking in human terms”? ‘Twould be more than mildly difficult for humans.

    And do you not think that pretty much ALL the people touting ALL the different ways of “fixing the church” would say that they are “turning to Jesus” and doing it His way?

    And if there were any God behind all this “turning to Jesus”, and “seeking His ways”, and “listening for His voice”, and so on, wouldn’t you think someone would get it right? or manage to actually hear God and actually fix the mess?

    Or is God just hanging loose, letting all flounder around in cluelessness, and so on? Does that sound like the loving, father who cares deeply about his children? Or like the God who is jealous for his name?

  • 109. karen  |  March 16, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I would not be surprised if emergent church conferences don’t make any money, given the size of the movement and the demographics involved. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I get the feeling that most of the adherents (or conversants or whatever they’re called) are youngish people either in their early careers or still in school – not exactly the segment of society that controls most of the income and wealth.

    And I’m sure that small churches with aging populations aren’t raking in money, either.

    However, large evangelical churches in populated areas are most definitely NOT hurting for money – or they weren’t before the last few months when we’ve had a sharp economic downturn in the U.S. The demographic tends to be a bit older, so you get a majority in midlife with established families, in the prime of their working careers, many/most professionals making decent money and a good number of wealthy seniors. Yes, we had some poor people in the congregation, but they were a small minority and I would imagine that’s the case at most mega-churches in suburban areas.

    Many large evangelical churches have opulent facilities that rival any big hotel or convention center. I visited South Coast Community church to attend a funeral a little over a year ago, and it’s like a Christian Disneyland, complete with streams, fountains and striking landscaping on the grounds.

    At the last church I attended, we had a staff numbering over 100. The top four or five pastors – at least – made six-figure salaries. Some of them were given loans from the church to purchase homes well over $1 million here in Southern California. We had a huge budget and often hosted popular events, concerts, plays, conferences, seminars etc that drew thousands of attendees all paying hundreds of dollars.

    Some of the popular programs I remember were about biblical prophecy, End Times, improving marriage, raising godly children, Christian community development, missionary work abroad, and Christian psychology. They all brought in a good amount of funds for our budget.

  • 110. Quester  |  March 16, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for the details, Karen. I didn’t mean to imply I was doubting you, just realizing my own experiences aren’t typical for everyone else. I hear what you describe, and my jaw drops.

    Of course, I’m in a predominantly rural area, where 20,000 people are considered the population of a fair sized city.

  • 111. karen  |  March 17, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    You’re welcome, Q. I didn’t think you were doubting me at all. I just wanted to provide some perspective from my own experience.

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Attention Christian Readers

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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