A ‘Kind’ of Conservatism

Three encounters in the past month have opened my eyes to a ‘kind’ of conservatism that I am suspicious I was not hip to previously. In the heated spectrum-thinking cultural climate that exists today, it is easy to get distracted by the exaggerated and inflammatory. What is more difficult to perceive is a kinder, gentler conservative mentality.

Here are 3 places it showed up recently:

  1. In fielding some criticism about our interview with the Cambridge Intelligent Design guest.
  2. In my tussle with the Aquinas crew (and their follow up blog posts)
  3. In conversations with two different pastors that I have known for decades – both inquiring as to my new progressive/emergent take on two thing quite ‘foundational’ to them (creation & evangelism).

The sentences are subtle – but once you pick up a pattern you begin to hear them more clearly.

“Since God is not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, we gain nothing by using feminine pronouns for God … so let’s just stick with the tradition we have and the way it is in the Bible.”

That was the one that caught my attention. Then I started hearing that same formulation in other places.

“No one has ever provided iron-clad proof of macro-evolution … in the lack of definitive conclusion,Biblical creation is just as valid as any other ‘belief’ since we can’t prove it either way”

or

“You might be right about these cultural changes and the future of the church … but who is to say that your fancy new way will be any better than what we have now?  We might as well not tinker with anything since there is no guarantee it will fix the problem – and might possibly create different or bigger problems.”

This is a subtle type of conserving. It is not the blatant ideological animosity that gets all the press and dominates the airwaves. It is a more quiet concern that we not move too far too fast.

Here is my fear: it seems to me that this tactic is employed by – and born out of – a status quo that seeks to protect / preserve itself.  It is neither aggressive or egregious but is potentially just as harmful as it’s venomous counterpart. MP9004065481-196x300

“I get what you are saying Bo … but what’s not to say that 10 or 20 years from now your new fangled ideas don’t look just as dated and flawed as those you are criticizing today?”

See how it works?  Since my innovation today might seemed cliché to the next generation … let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and think that we have it all figured out. In fact, why change anything?

This ‘kind’ of conservatism doesn’t necessarily have a radical agenda. It doesn’t need one. It would be just fine if things stayed mostly as they are. It is perfectly suited to the current conditions. Stasis and a romantic reflection on the past is a perfect incubator for its ongoing preservation and, consequently, promulgation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. 

John Piper’s WAMM Calvinist

One might think it a bummer timing-wise for John Piper, releasing his new poem/video foray into the arts just before Beyoncé surprised the music world with a new album (and accompanying videos), but with the amount of tweets and Facebook shares it’s getting, it appears Beyoncé and Piper might just have different enough crowds for both bask in the limelight for a while. Very surprising right?!

What was surprising to me was just how starkly obvious it is who is targeted and probably moved by the video for “The Calvinist.” The style and content of the poem itself is obvious enough: a conflicted but committed Calvinist, extolling a powerful God above in every sphere of his life. However it is the visuals (as is often the case) that really drives home just who the target audience–the theological community to be touched by such a piece–is.  Like the main character, it is the white American middle-class male (WAMM), whose God is talking to him. I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t before reading my thoughts, because it’s precisely the feel of this guy’s life that captures the theology and sentiment Piper’s aiming for.untitled

Now I do not intend to smear Piper here, but merely provide a juxtaposition, or imaginative alternate visual accompaniment to these words, to show just how important this video starring a WAMM is to the poem. My claim, is that it has to be a white American middle-class male because the words and the theology of the poem would be puzzling or even offensive in most other visual contexts.

As a WAMM who’s privileged, got a virtually nuclear family, respectable work, time to wander the woods with his moleskin, and take long jogs, the poem fits the bill. What he needs is humility (he is fallible), a sense of appreciation for the pretty cushy life he appears to have, a continued faithfulness to fight the good fight, and above all, an understanding that God is the source of all of this blessing.

But you see, this is exactly what connects with this dude, with a young Christian man whose God serves to keep him in line, whose worship is warranted based on who he is in his power and grandeur. Indeed, it is a kingly “God above,” for whom the ocean is only a “thimbleful,” that has the majesty to pacify any quarries this young man might have. This is the most suitable God for keeping the WAMM faithful and in the word, right? For it is the sheer sublime vision of the transcendent potter vs. clay God that dishes out the perfect recipe of humility and triumphalism the WAMM needs. He needs to be humbled for sure, by the sublime immensity of his God, but he also needs a vision of the triumphal end to help him boot-strap it through to the end, and beyond.

Imagine though, for a second, if you can, the visual of an urban center. No better yet, go watch the opening scenes of Detropia, a recent documentary of the decay of Detroit. What feel would this poetic reading have without the WAMM? What if the person depicted what as young mother sitting in a waiting room at a resource center? How would “The Calvinist” feel to us with that subject? Confusing. Misplaced in it’s grandeur. Way too triumphal. Pious. Macho. Maybe even offensive.

My point is not that every theological poem Piper writes should fit any context. Of course, the form demands a gender and some loose narratives to embody the poem. Rather, my point is that theologies evidence tendencies to better expression in some contexts over others. The Calvinist, is the story of the God the WAMM needs, but not many others. Is this just happenstance? Could Piper have just as easily capture the Calvinist ethos with a poem and video set in Detropia? I highly doubt it…

What is clear I think, is that what the WAMM needs to hear about God or write in his moleskin journal is a far cry from many others contexts, and the fact that The Calvinist works terrifically well for the WAMM–it’s arch and feel is spot on–but might feel ‘all bad’ in most other contexts, is reason to give pause. All theology is contextual, and theologized art is too, but we must look for why the coherences between theology and art obtain where they do. Of course, Max Weber long ago pointed to the “elective affinity” between Calvinism and Capitalism. Have we here an evidence of an similar sort elective affinity between the WAMM and the triumphal Calvinism of the Piperian brand.

I think so and I don’t like it.

TNT: Letters Edition

A cast of two halves! In the first half Bo and Tripp respond to 3 letters from listeners.

Then we get a call with Micky Jones about choosing a seminary (43rd minute) – and when we come back for the 4th and final letter things get a little rowdy.  It turns out the resurrection is a topic that brings some important distinctions between the nerds.

Here are some resources that are mentioned on this episode.  tntpcsubad

How to read the Bible by Kugel

Chalice BIble Commentary series

How to take the Bible seriously but not literally by Borg

The Everyone series by N.T. Wright

Exodus by Fretheim

a mother’s lament

Evangelical defense of same sex

Elizabeth Johnson Barrel Aged

Triune Atonement by Sung-Park

Saved from Sacrifice by Heim

The Non-violent Atonement by Weaver

Contemporary Christologies by Schweitzer

Cross & Covenant by Larry shelton

*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***


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‘Atheist Churches’ are more traditional than Emergents

I am loving the conversations that have come out of the publicity tour of Sunday Assemblies. The feedback and pushback that is being generated by these ‘atheist churches’ is proving very informative. I am actually learning a lot about how people think of church, atheism, tradition, and community.

If nothing else comes out of their moment in the spotlight, it has been very enlightening. I do, however, think that some more will come out of this.

The most illuminating resource that I have found so far was an interview with co-founder of Sunday Assembly, Pippa Evans on the Nomad Podcast ep. 55. Nomad is based in Britain – as are the comedic co-founders of Sunday Assembly – and Nomad comes out of the ‘fresh expressions’ branch of the emergent movement.

The interview with Pippa (Sanderson Jones, the other co-founder, comes in at the end) is 100% worth your time. The two things that stood out the most to me were:

  1.  Pippa talks about and has adopted the ‘form’ of church.
  2. The Nomad hosts hated it – but for the opposite reason you would think.

1. The Form: Pippa was very clear in several spots about her background in church. The telling part for me, toward the end, was when she mentioned being in Soul Survivor. If you don’t know what that is, you may have missed the reference. Soul Survivor is a very charismatic movement that has developed worship leaders and a style that has been imported around the world – including by US American evangelicals & charismatics.

Pippa explains the formula – it is all about flow:

  • Start with two high energy songs – one of them needs to be familiar and singable
  • A short presentation of poetry or reading (this is like the opening prayer or scripture equivalent)
  • A slower song
  • The offering
  • The sermon (presenting an idea)
  • Response / Confession of thanks (stuff your are grateful for)
  • A big song so that it ends with a bang

Pretty standard stuff! What it reminded me of was the hilarious parody video from a couple of years ago (which started out an in-house joke for a worship conference) about the formula for contemporary evangelical/charismatic worship services.

 

2. Traditional. The fascinating point that made by the Nomad hosts was that walking into and sitting through a Sunday Assembly was painful because it was reclaiming and repurposing all of the things they disliked about going to traditional church! The whole reason they are into ‘fresh expressions’ is because they found so little in the forms of the church.

They were horrified to walk in and find:

  • people sitting in strait rows
  • everyone facing forward
  • huge screens at the front with song lyrics
  • one person doing all the talking
  • passive participation by the audience
  • it was Sunday morning

My favorite part was when they asked Pippa about the possibility of conversation at future Assemblies.  She was not hopeful or  excited about the idea. She said that some people have asked for a Q&A segment at the Assemblies and that is not likely either. Her point is that things like conversation and Q&A’s happen in other places. That is not what the Sunday Assembly is for.

It was at this point that the Nomad hosts made the observation that – at least in this sense – the ‘atheist churches’ are more traditional than their emergent (fresh expressions) gatherings which have de-centered meetings and deconstructed elements. That was an epiphany for me.

I am so glad that Sunday Assembly is doing this – and even more pleased that they are so approachable about what they are doing and why they are doing it. I have already had more than a dozen conversations about ‘why we do what we do‘ with people. IMG_2181

I can tell you this though – now that I have met in the round and been in conversational church … I don’t know if I could go back to  everybody facing the same direction and not have interactive sermons Sunday after Sunday. I’m pretty sure that the future of the church is de-centered and conversational/participatory.

Let me know what you think – as you can tell, I love hearing other’s thoughts and being in conversation.   -Bo 

Apple Updates and the Church

I have been thinking about the church and technology a lot lately. Part of it comes from planning to update a sanctuary constructed in 1951. Some of it has to do with recruiting a team to handle all the tech stuff at ‘church plant’. A bit of it came from the odd analogy that was used repeatedly about the ‘glitches’ related to the initial launch of the Affordable Health Care Act website and all of the sigh-up problems. People, including the President, said “yeah but even Apple has glitches when it first launches a product”.

An inexact comparison to be sure.

One of the questions that we are asking at the Loft LA, as we enter into our second year, is:

“What does it mean to use the Ancient-Future model of church in West LA?”17-85-BE3-134-08.0006-John Wesley

We come out of a United Methodist Church – which is a classic and beautiful expression of the Mainline tradition of Protestant Christianity.  The Loft is attempting to reclaim and hold onto the best of that inherited tradition … while at the same time engaging the culture around us in way that is contemporary and appropriate.
I’ll confess. It is a tricky section of water to navigate.

To use my favorite bowling analogy, there are gutters on each side that you want to avoid.
On the one side, you have a temptation to cater to the culture and concede so much of the Christian tradition that you have basically assimilated to the surrounding culture that you are nearly indistinguishable from it! This can happen in patterns of consumption, political views, sexuality, financial matters, or any other number of areas.

On the other side, you have the assumption that the inherited tradition, the given forms, are inherently relevant and effective in every place and in ever time since they were divinely delivered and historically proven. What this impulse to conserve leads to is reification of some previous era or expression of church that was culturally appropriate by which has since expired in its effectiveness in doing so. For a group whose gospel is, at its core, about incarnation … this is unacceptable.

This is why we think that the ‘Ancient-Future model’ of church is the best way forward for a young community.
Here is a short video about my recent experience with an old Apple TV that was given to me and why it triggered some thoughts about christian community for me.

Apple Updates and the Church from Bo Sanders on Vimeo.

In technology, when you fall enough behind on your updates, you can actually trap yourself with the inability to update. This is the definition of irrelevant. The christian spirituality that is employed in much of the North American church may be in this kind of danger. I am nervous that we are looking to get resources (updates) from sources (servers) that don’t exist anymore.

We are looking for solutions in things that don’t exist anymore.

The danger, for a religion that is at its core incarnation, is that the inability to be conversant with the surrounding culture in the epitome of irrelevance.

__________

Ancient-Future is a model that was popularized by Robert Webber before he changed his emphasis, focus and tone at the end of his life. His books on Faith, Worship, Evangelism and Time are supremely helpful and informative. 

My quoting him does not imply a wholesale endorsement of all of his works or thoughts. 

Literally Changing What It Means

Yesterday it came out that the definition of ‘literally’ was literally being changed in the dictionary. A CNN report said in places  as informal as Google and as official as  Mariam-Webster and Cambridge dictionaries it is now “”Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.”

The writer of the article was snarky:

Next thing they’ll be telling us that there’s no ham in hamburger, no egg in eggplant, a boxing ring isn’t round and tennis shoes aren’t just for tennis.

We’re literally over it.

The meaning of words drift, adapt and change over time. There is the famous example of “Thou” that Martin Buber brought so much attention to. The dictionary does not determine their meaning as much as it reflects their use.

Today an article appeared over at the Sojo blog by our beloved friend (and co-host of the Culture Cast) Christian Piatt who had a chance to interview Eric Elnes, author of Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of the Christian Faith and Asphalt Jesus, about the changing face Christianity in 21st America.

Elnes walked across the country:

  in 2006 with a group called CrossWalk America, which included a network of 150 churches from a dozen or so denominations and over 11,000 individuals. We walked to raise awareness that not all Christians are alike, and that large — and growing — numbers of Christians embrace a more “progressive” vision of Christianity than what one finds portrayed in the media.

Part of what came out of that experience was an awareness of the need for some new labels and to modify the meaning of some old ones. In both classically liberal/mainline circles and, interestingly, in conservative camps as well.

I will let you read the article for the whole conversation.  They part that stood out to me (and to Geoff Holsclaw who pointed me to it) was the section related to the label ‘progressive’. For the past couple of weeks I have enjoyed a lively set of conversation here about the Liberal Label and ‘progressive’ among others. Elnes explains why he has moved on from simple ‘progressive':

Don’t get me wrong when I back off of the word “progressive.” This has been my adopted label for years, and the walk was made in the name of Progressive Christianity. But I’ve had to come to terms with its weaknesses. For many Christians, “progressive” is just another term for classic Christian liberalism. They have adopted the label because it’s more publically acceptable than “liberal.” Christian liberalism was an important movement in America in the 19th and 20th centuries, and without it, Christianity would be struggling even more than it already does to embrace science and issues of social justice. But like any movement, liberalism has had a certain lifespan. We gleaned the best insights of liberalism and moved on long ago.

My favorite line is ” We also appreciate many of the fruits of liberalism, like social justice, inclusivity, and openness to other faiths. We affirm the positive role that doubt and uncertainty play in a healthy faith, recognizing that faith and science can be allies in the pursuit of truth.”

The reason I enjoyed the article so much was that it reflected some classic journeys about how people came to envision themselves as liberal, conservative, and progressive. I hear these stories all the time. I love these stories. Listening to people’s faith journey is one of my favorite things about what I do.  The problem is that I do not find myself in those stories – not exactly.

I grew up Evangelical with a hint of the charismatic. In my 20’s I went to Bible college was both emboldened in my charismatic leanings and horrified at the conservative nastiness I often encountered by those I shared the classroom with. People who grew up a little more fundamentalist or reformed than me had a very different experience of being Evangelical. They were some type of culture war … we were wrapped up in evangelism, missions, and issues of holiness – but without that culture clash. (in hind site, it was probably because we were allergic to politics).

After college I had a decade-long pastorate in an evangelical/charismatic church plant. I loved it. In the final years of that time I started reading N.T. Wright and then Brian McLaren – instead of Josh McDowell and Ravi Zacharias. I was warned by denominational leadership to be careful with that McLaren guy but by then I was on my way to George Fox Evangelical Seminary. I assumed I would study with Len Sweet until I met Randy Woodley.17-85-BE3-134-08.0006-John Wesley

Fast-forward 6 years and I am presently prepping for qualifying exams as a classically mainline grad school and ministering at a mainline church (albs & stoles – stained glass and lectionary). I never stopped praying however. I never went through that predictable thing that Elnes describes. Yes, I moved on from the superstitious elements of the tradition. Sure, I reformatted my cosmology and even adapted my metaphysics. I engaged Biblical scholarship which radically altered my view of scripture. I realized that politics wasn’t just permissible but , as Jesus modeled, was necessary.

All of that is to say that I stand by my posts of the past 3 weeks that we need to move on from the Liberal label and with Elnes we need to nuance ‘progressive’ in ways that are more clear.  I like his distinctions within progressive christianity. I know people in all of those camps.

I , however, am going to stick with “spirit-filled processy christo-centric hyperTheist” for myself.