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

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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. 

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When Good Isn’t Enough (3/3)

Last week I posted a little about my interest in Practical Theology (PT) and  the subsequent philosophical orientation with which I will be engaging research: social constructivism

I had some very heady (and public) conversations with colleagues this Summer who desperately wanted to paint me as a ‘Liberal’ who is afraid of my own shadow (afraid to admit it/come out of the theological closet, etc.)

My assertion was that, as a social constructivist, I am more in a agreement with communitarian concerns than I am with liberal loyalties. Communitarians have a very harsh critique of liberalism where it:

considers classical liberalism to be ontologically and epistemologically incoherent, and opposes it on those grounds. Unlike classical liberalism, which construes communities as originating from the voluntary acts of pre-community individuals, it emphasizes the role of the community in defining and shaping individuals.

While I clearly hold some positions that overlap with liberal stances, and while I do presently serve at a classically Mainline church that exists within the liberal tradition of church expressions … I do not do so as a liberal. I grew evangelical, went very charismatic and then emerged into whatever kind of deconstructed christianity this is.

I jokingly said that I don’t identify as a liberal for the same reason that I don’t wear a medium-size Tshirt. It doesn’t fit and doesn’t cover some things I find important (ie. my belly).Facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

 

The problem with being progressive:

I have flirted with the idea of just being a progressive even while I bristle at the notion of societal evolution, inevitable progress or the consequences of a colonial notion of ‘civilization’.

I realize that some liberals have engaged in post-colonial, feminist or liberation approaches – so that those concerns are not mutually exclusive.

 

So what do I mean when I say that Liberal doesn’t go far enough?

 Take post-colonial concerns

Classic liberalism has had two responses to the colonial problem. I will call them:

assimilation and reservations.

They can either come to us, act like us, learn to think like us, speak like us and live among us … or they can go over there and do their own thing without bothering us.

In fact, is it self-congratulatory either way. If indigenous folks assimilate we feel validated as open and accepting – even multi-cultural or diverse! If we ‘give them their own space’ we pat ourselves on the back for being understanding and accepting of other cultures. Let’s be honest – at least it isn’t conquest and genocide after all.

Neither one of those approaches is satisfactory. The first is unacceptable because it still presumes the hegemonic power of the dominant culture and it is looking at the indigenous community as something that needs to be absorbed, adapted or modified. The second is unacceptable because it sees the two cultures as incommensurable without realizing the power differential to  conquest.

I am not looking for a nicer, more gentle version of colonialism or empire. As a researcher-advocate, I want to hear the voice and experience of impacted communities in their own words. If that leads to an opportunity for partnership, great. If not, I have to accept that I am not in control of the outcome nor am I referee to make sure that people play by my rules. In the post-colonial context, indigenous peoples are not to be adopted & adapted … nor are they to be ‘left to their own devices’. Neither of these approaches is acceptable.

Something else is needed. Practical Theology and its qualitative methods provide me a starting point to engaging in a different way – one that addresses larger issues of systemic and institutional concerns, one that hears the voice of the communities most affected, and one that provides the possibility of change in the real lived experiences of those involved.

Let me give you an example. James Cone writes near the end of ‘The Cross and The Lynching Tree':

White theologians in the past century have written thousands of books about Jesus’ cross without remarking on the analogy between the crucifixion of Jesus and the lynching of black people. One must suppose that in order to feel comfortable in the Christian faith, whites needed theologians to interpret the gospel in a way that would not require them to acknowledge white supremacy as America’s greatest sin. 

Then Cone comments on perhaps the quintessential evolving- liberal theologian that America has ever had:

Reinhold Niebuhr could write and preach about the cross with profound theological imagination and say nothing of how the violence of white supremacy invalidated the faith of white churches. It takes a lot of theological blindness to do that, especially since the vigilantes were white Christians who claimed to worship the Jew lynched in Jerusalem.

 

I hope that these past three posts have helped to clarify why Practical Theology holds possibilities for me as a discipline and why I have chosen a social constructivist orientation within the research.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read these 3 posts and to give me such high quality feedback and/or affirmation.

 

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New Heresy: Labelianism

You’ve heard of Sabellianism (you might even fit the bill practically speaking), but have you heard of Labelianism? Make no mistake, this new, more pernicious, more gruesomely heretical heresy is widespread within the Christian community these days and unlike many other heresies which might be more prone to crop up in certain ‘types’ of Christianity more than others (e.g. adoptionism in classical Liberal Theology, etc.), Labelianism seems to be running rampant in all kinds of Christian circles, from ‘conservative’ to ‘liberal,’ from low church to high ( I may have even just committed it! read on…). Unlike Tripp’s recent advocation of a healthy form of heresy, this one is all bad, a blot on the whole Christian conversation.

Why?  By what sneaking devilish logic has yet another heresy crept into the hearts and minds of the people, and why did the ancients miss it (not succumb to it?)?

I will keep my words brief as our time now should be spent mobilizing against such unholy writ. The Labelians (we Labelians) have written much of late and rather than attempting to detail every mark of its presence, a virtual impossible task given its shapeshifting quality, I’ll try to answer three questions: What is it? Who’s at risk? How do we purge it?

What is it?

Part of what makes it so pernicious is the fact that it takes many different forms, but at root it all boils down to an oversimplified understanding of what it means to have, bear, and use a label. This is how virtually everyone can be guilty of it–from the Labelian who uses a label (wittingly or not) as a politicized category or means of self-distinction from others, to the self-determining Labelian respondent who confidently trots out their own ‘private label.’  Both, for very different reasons and perhaps to varying degrees, are Labelians. Likewise, the third-party, resolute as they are in their grasp of the heresytradition and spectrum of difference enough to make the call, risks the Labelian pitfall in their heart as they seek to schematize and display the disputants within their own mind…or blog.

The ‘use Labelian’ believes they hold a position distinguished from polarized or now seemingly defunct, less-than-vibrant positions in a debate.  In essence, they categorize a list of alternative positions under a (usually very simplified) rubric in order to use those labels as something that goes proxy (stands in) for a full explanation of the distinctions between the alternatives and theirs. In Christian theological contexts, evangelical and “centrist” perspectives are prone to this version of Labelianism.  Is it more prevalent here than in more “liberal” or “left” contexts? Seems like it to me, but I’d be interested to hear others reactions.

Perhaps being a use Labelian is more natural to the evangelical/centrist precisely because it is inherent to the more conservative posture in a disagreement to seek to preserve the name or identity of the disputed concept or identity marker against the pull of other away from what they presume to be the faithful rendering of the concept. This relates to my earlier post on millennials and the seemingly endless self-analyzing and possessive nature of some evangelical communities. The preservation/possessive is a conservative weakness, and the use Labelian is the politicized, put-in-print version of this mode of thinking.

The ‘private Labelian’ oversimplifies what it means to bear a label by committing something loosely analogous to what Wittgenstein called a “private langauge.” Wittgenstein famously argued that it is incoherent and impossible for an individual to have their own (private) langauge precisely because the nature of language usage and development is a corporate affair, a public function of a form of life (cultural community). You can’t create anything ‘inside’ or privately that isn’t parasitic upon previously developed public concepts or words. Necessarily, things mean only in a historied public way. (Nate Gilmour alluded to this line of thought in a comment on one of Bo’s recent posts)

While the private Labelian might not be developing their own completely private label, they do risk failing to realize that what label they bear is perhaps not best explored or explained by them. They risking making their own maturation or development, through this or that world of theological ideas, something by which they uniquely and privately have taken what they want and formed something intentionally. The most important thing I’ve learned from thinkers like Wittgenstein is that we are virtually never the best gauge of who we are.  The inner life, our identity amidst a vast tradition, and what we are best called, is an exceedingly messy affair that is much more a function of contingent public circumstances. Where we fit (theologically or otherwise) is not for us to decide.

There are no private labels. Theological designators don’t mean anything privately.  The best determination of what we are is not us, but the aftermath of the context we’ve grown through so much so that someone you do not know, a historian many years from now, will define you better than you did.

Who’s at risk?

We all are. We’re all defining things too rigidly to categorize another for the sake of distinction, or recoiling into falsely privatized terminology. Yes, labels (maybe even Labelians) are necessary (not necessary evils), but their invocation must always be explored and used in a paradoxical way. They are true of us so much as we will be shown (perhaps only hypothetically for those of us whose positions won’t historically recorded) to fit within such and such exceedingly loose category that is largely defined by a few central figures that vaguely represent a common ethos or moment in theological landscape. We will be who we are label-wise according to history.

How do we purge it?

As shapeshifting as Labelianism is, it’s hard to pin down a sure-fire purgation method.  The use Labelian needs nuance and perhaps more time with historians of religion and theology.  If you want to talk about “liberal” or “mainline, ” spend time with a Gary Dorrien who shows just how exceedingly diverse and diffuse this category is. Realize that our use of labels is always at risk of functioning as a politicized identity marker. For the private Labelian, be humbled that you know who you are (theologically) less than a hypothetical historian will years after you’ve returned to dust. By all means use terminology to distinguish your view, but use them with the hope of their being tweaked and corrected by those informed listeners within the theological community you find yourself in.

Let’s not burn the Labelians at the stake.  There would be no we left in that case.  But let’s do our best to burn off our over-definition of the other with terminology that fails to do justice to ever-morphing nature of language and the politics of theological labels. Likewise let us burn off our sense of self-definition. Great ideas and theological moves work within labels debunking and deconstructing them through the process of new work that later generations will define much better than we do.

There’s no easy answer, no set model for labeling in this paradoxical context, but good theology–good Christianity–is not hurriedly schematizing views (yours or others).

 

 

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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.

 

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The Limits of Labels

I have insomnia tonight – a rare occasion these days. I’m not in the mood to read any more about the use of Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle in Practical Theology so I brewed some coffee and revisited some of the online happenings from the past couple of months.

I found 3 pairs of things that I think are worth bringing up again. I will attempt to state everything in the positive as much as possible.

A couple of months ago, I made a case for the usefulness of labels. That included a couple of clarifiers:

  • that the label was used to more accurately locate a person or a thought – and not as a pejorative.
  • that the label was used accurately and not as a means to marginalize or discredit someone.

As I have attempted to make clear in various places, that when those two conditions are not the case it can be not only unhelpful, but flat-out inaccurate.

The second thing I thought was worth revisiting is that original Roger Olson article that got all of this started. Dr. Olson proclaims why he is not a liberal christian. I too have declared that I am not a liberal christian. However, I vary from Olson in my approach in several key ways.

  1. I say that being a liberal christian is a perfectly valid thing to be and that if I were one I would be so proudly. Dr. Olson doesn’t seem to have such a favorable disposition to it.
  2. I attempt to make a distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. Dr. Olson uses them seemingly interchangeably – especially in the beginning of his article. That impacts his conclusions later on.

These two points of departure are illustrative. I say something positive about the liberal tradition and I distinguish it from the ongoing trajectory of some of it’s heirs.

Here is why that is significant:

First, Dr. Olson references 2 renowned scholars as to their summation of the Liberal tradition.

  • Claude Welch: “maximal acknowledgment of the claims of modernity” in theology.
  • Gary Dorrien: defines liberal religion as rejection of any authority outside the self.

I find myself in neither of these maxims. I know people who fit them to a ‘T’ though.
I ,however, have engaged far too much post-colonial, liberation and feminist theology and am too deep into the hermeneutical turn to be there.

Second – and most importantly – Dr. Olson uses the term freely to say “If you don’t hold to this traditional/classical position .. I think of you as a Liberal.” I am saying that the term should be used very specifically by:

  1. Its historical connection to the tradition of Schleiermacher. 
  2. Its basis in the centrality of the conception of the self as primary.
  3. Its ongoing expression as a ‘constellation of loyalties’ that are in line with the previous two as well as in contrast with Conservative/Fundamentalist positions on the ‘foundationalist’ spectrum.

I don’t follow Schleiermacher, I don’t subscribe to the primacy of the self and I am post-foundational. I am therefore 0 for 3 in the classic conception of liberalism.

I hope these clarifications help clear things up. I have been very grateful for the robust conversation of the past weeks. The pushback has helped me greatly to clear up my position here and hopefully to avoid some of the confusion in future conversations by listing the 3 distinguishing marks of liberalism as well as Welch’s and Dorrien’s summations.

 

 

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What On Earth Is The Church Doing? a response to Fitch

In response to the post from earlier this week “Leaving Behind the Liberal Label’ I got a fantastic follow-up question from the master of the question mark himself: David Fitch 

It was so good that I have made my response its own post.  I would love your feedback on this one. 

Bo,

Just FYI, when I was at Garrett 20 years ago, virtually every “liberal” I knew referred to themselves as within the liberal tradition, but embraced the aggressive critique of all five things you bullet point, including the embrace of continental philosophy. They called themselves “revised liberals” and I worked among them wonderfully. They all categorically rejected Hauerwas/Yoder (as well as Milbank etc.) to whom I had become attached to as the means of working through these many issues. It seems that the issues of

1.) divinity of Christ and any exclusive claims attached to that,

2.) the central role of the church in God’s work in the world, were problems for them.

So, just a thought, aren’t you really a “revised liberal”- not that there’s anything wrong with that ;) -. And could you clarify where you’re at in terms of at least these 2 categories. Love you man!! (please forgive unabashed expression of affection).

@David Fitch THIS is the perfect follow-up question for this post! So I will attempt to answer it as clearly as possible (break out the bullet points)

  • I am so happy to learn that there is such thing as ‘revised liberals’. They sound fantastic.
  • I love that revised liberals engage the 5 areas of concern that I highlighted.
  • If I were a revised liberal I would wear it like a badge of honor!  But alas I am not one.

SEE – this is my point!   You outline 2 distinctives here that are a fascinating delineation – and neither results in a classification of liberal concern for me!

  1.  divinity of Christ and any exclusive claims attached to that,
  2.  the central role of the church in God’s work in the world,

Both were problems for them as you say. Neither is a problem for me!  

  • With the help of John Cobb’s christological approach I have worked my way through the Creedal constructs as historic snapshots of theological expression in given periods and have come – in a narrative sense – so see how vital it is that we attempt to articulate for our time what they were attempting to articulate for theirs!

That is part of being faithful to tradition – not to simply parrot (repetition without difference) antiquated formulations based in former understandings of cosmology and metaphysics … But to actively engage in an incarnation-enbodiment of those convictions in our contemporary context.

We are attempting to be faithful to the historic trajectory … but trajectory is mission-al. It goes somewhere. It has a journey motif. Yes, it is incarnation-al but it also has univers-al implications.

  • Which brings us to the second point: The central role of the church in God’s work in the world.Poppy

I use this kind of language all the time! While you and I might differ from here on how this happens … we are in agreement here. Now, for clarity I will (and have) openly stated my disdain for the approach of Radical Orthodoxy and any similar attempt at counter-modern or anti-modern expressions of church as somewhere between fictional  at best and fantastical at worst. But as to the role of the church in God’s activity in world?  Christ has no body but us – to quote Teresa of Avila.

Nerdy SideNote: I recognize Lindbeck’s Cultural-Linguistic framework as a descriptive – not a prescriptive – diagnostic of what role scripture plays in the contemporary church.

Therefor - when you ask “aren’t you really a “revised liberal”? – not that there’s anything wrong with that”,  the resounding answer is ‘No!‘  It sounds like a completely valid way to participate in the christian tradition – and if I were one, I would be so proudly … but alas I am not.

I am a christo-centric hyperTheist.  See what I mean?  Neither ‘revised Liberalism’ nor ‘post-Liberal’ go far enough for me. 

Thoughts? 

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Leaving Behind The ‘Liberal’ Label

Once is an incident. Twice is a trend. Three times is a pattern.

This the now the 3rd time this thing idea about shying away from the label ‘liberal’ has come up.

  1. I heard it for the first time almost 10 years ago: “Emergents are just cool liberals”. This came from conservative, evangelical and reformed folks who were squawking at the Blue Parakeets that were new to the yard.
  2. More recently Fitch & Holsclaw leveled the accusation in their new book Prodigal Christianity and Tony Jones took exception.
  3. Then last week the idea was suggested on a different blog that Tripp & I were really just closet liberals who where afraid of the label because of its intrinsic baggage.

I tend to bury my big point in the final quarter of every blog post. For the purpose of clarity I am going to begin putting them at the top of the post. Here is my main point:

There is nothing wrong with being liberal. It is one of many valid ways to participate in the christian tradition. If I were liberal I would be so proudly. I am not liberal. Liberal approaches do not go far enough to combat capitalism, address colonial consequences or repent of the Constantinian compromise that led to Christendom it’s subsequent horrors.

 Tripp and I are not liberal. We are left-leaning. We are progressive. We are postmodern in our approach. We are emergent in our expression. We are playfully heretical (in a good way) and we are innovative where appropriate given our christo-centric hyperTheism.

But we are not liberal. Liberalism doesn’t go far enough in addressing five of our biggest concerns:

  • Critique of Capitalism and Consumerism
  • Post-Colonial consequences
  • Continental Philosophy’s reflection on late modern thought
  • Criticism of Christendom (Western and Constantinian)
  • Our cultures’ dangerous cocktail of Nationalism and Militarism

I have written extensively about how Progressive is not Liberal and even got taken to task over at Scot McKnight’s blog for trying to make that distinction. I will say this again:

There is nothing wrong with being liberal. It is one of many valid ways to participate in the christian tradition.

If I were liberal I would be so proudly. But alas I am not.

 

One last thing in closing:  I understand the historic drift of the term ‘Liberal’. I know what it meant in the 1700’s (specifically as it relates to individualistic epistemology) and I understand what it has become in the late 20th century (a constellation of loyalties and identity markers). I also know about it’s demise as an impotent political approach and I get why some evangelicals are allergic to the term and thus why some would desire to shy away from it. I get all that. I even recognize the unique draw of its individualistic epistemology. 000_0008

What I am saying is that calling me a closet liberal who is afraid to be identified by the label is like saying that I don’t wear ‘medium’ sized T-shirts because I don’t like the letter M. It is to miss the point. I don’t wear medium sized T-shirts because they are not big enough and don’t cover some essential areas that I deeply care about.

i.e.  It just doesn’t fit.

 

I would go on at length but fear it would be interpreted that I doth protest too much. 

 

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The Thing With Labels

On this week’s TNT I proposed that labels can be good and helpful. They don’t need to be divisive or negative. pantry_labels2

Now some people want to eschew labels all together. I get why they might want to do that but I find that not only a daunting task but a nearly impossible way to proceed through society and culture.

What I am suggesting is that labels are unavoidable and can be helpful – IF a couple of things are clarified.

Like labeling a Pilsner and a Pale Ale, it is necessary to know that you are getting a different product BECAUSE it has come through a different process and has different ingredients.

This is not a problem. An Episcopalian is different from a Nazarene and an Unitarian in pretty significant ways. No one balks at that.

Where this does become a problem is when

  1. You mean the label meanly – in a pejorative way. 
  2. When you don’t use the label correctly.

Both of these came up recently in an episode that is illustrative. In Fitch and Holsclaw’s new book Prodigal Christianity:

Please keep in mind – I am not trying to start-up the argument again and thus will not link to the original posts – I am trying to talk more broadly about HOW we use labels in theological conversation. 

“On the one hand, we are less than satisfied with what the “new kind of Christianity” has become. Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, and others have helped us ask important questions and contributed greatly to creating a generous and compassionate Christianity, and to them we remain grateful friends. But their answers have often lacked substance on which we could live, and what goes by the name of “the emerging church” now appears to have settled into another version of mainline Christianity.”

This is a horrible couple of sentences. First, because Tony Jones rails against the mainline.  Second, because as a mainline pastor (which I am) the use of that phrase is not remotely being utilized correctly.

Mainline is an expression of church. It is both a model of organization and a historic expression.

I think that what Fitch meant by it was a liberal theology. But liberal is a constellation of loyalties – a series of commitments that form and APPROACH to theology.

Now you can see the problem. The term was meant to distance the authors FROM those other 3 (McLaren, Jones, Pagitt) AND it was used incorrectly. 

Pilsner and Pale Ale,  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon,  these are labeled as such and that is not a problem. But something happens theologically when labels are assigned BY others instead of letting one self-identify and when those labels are not accurate.

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In a post-script, Tripp says in the TNT that he thinks something else is going on entirely.  He thinks that this error is really the result of trying to say something theologically when in reality is it ethics … but you don’t want to say so!

Jones is theologically orthodox. Fitch is probably left of Jones politically (due to Zizek). Tripp think that this is really only about homosexuality but that Fitch doesn’t want to say it – so he attempted to get at it theologically and thus missed his mark, causing confusion and conflict.

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I would love you thoughts on this issue of labels: their utility and their misuse. 

 

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Beauty, Bodies and Blunders

President Obama got in some hot water for a compliment he paid California Attorney General Kamala Harris. He said:

You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It’s true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years. [via The Los Angeles Times]

A remark like that is never going to go over well. It was just one sentence but we could talk for days about it!

I know that I am an odd bird in that I often see the silver lining in things that other people think are really bad – like taking the Lord’s name in vain. I like that people do it. It means that the name of God still carries some gravity. No one is cursing Thor when they smash their thumb with a hammer. No one is blaspheming Zeus when they get cut off in traffic. Anyway …

I was happy to see the outrage and level of outcry over the President’s remarks. I love when stuff like this happens outside the walls of the church and I think to myself “Ok, it’s not just us that are sensitive, reactive and protest-ant. Good, I was starting to worry”.

You have to forgive me. I come from a very muscular – testosterone – ‘Wild at Heart’ brand of Christianity. In the last decade I have migrated to a progressive – critical theory – ‘She Who Is’ brand of faith.

The thing that has been most difficult for me is to figure out what to do with the body. 

As a contextual theologian and an Ancient-Future practitioner, I am deeply concerned with issues of incarnation and embodiment of the gospel. Our faith can not be merely intellectual, super-natural or institutional. Our faith must embodied, or in-bodied and lived-out. 

I have figured out, through 6 years of blogging, how to talk with conservative, evangelical, and charismatic Christians about almost everything  related to faith and practice in ways that they can hear. The issues of sexuality remain the most illusive.

The problem seems to relate to a giant pot-hole in the road to understanding that is so treacherous it almost doesn’t leave enough room to move without careening into the pit of ‘natural design’.

What complicates matter all the more is that there is a serious ditch on the other side of the road – one that was dug by Augustine’s legacy  (I hate Augustine’s influence on church history) regarding the badness of the body, a specifically sexuality.

Here then is the issue: If I am talking about somebody and I’m listing all of that they bring to the table in areas of smarts, relationship, experience, and capacity … am I to act like they don’t have a flesh container? It asks me to act like they have no body.

Yes. That is what we want you to do.  Jonathan Chait at New York explains:

For those who don’t see the problem here, the degree to which women are judged by their appearance remains an important hurdle to gender equality in the workforce. Women have a hard time being judged purely on their merits. Discussing their appearance in the context of evaluating their job performance makes it worse. It’s not a compliment. And for a president who has become a cultural model for many of his supporters in so many other ways, the example he’s setting here is disgraceful. [New York]

Even while I write this I can hear my more conservative Christian brothers saying “That is ridiculous! This is the sissy-fication of our culture.”  To which I can only reply,”Yes. It is the leveling of a historically unequal playing field.” obamakamala1_1365167806

I get why culturally, we don’t want the President even acknowledging her flesh container at all. We don’t want pastors commenting on congregant’s looks. I get it.

But as thinking christians, is anyone else worried about the implications for this kind of willful charade? Do we think that President Obama doesn’t see her? Are we under the impression that he doesn’t notice her beauty? Do we think that she, in her private moments, doesn’t want to be found attractive? Do we think that she doesn’t invest time and energy in her looks?

“It doesn’t matter! Just don’t say it. Not ever ever ever.”  And I get that. What I am asking about is the ramifications for the embodied practices of the life of faith. What we have learned from church history  (and reality TV)- from fundamentalist pastor’s daughters to celibate priests – is that repression of desires in one place (public) is bound to cause pressure which bubbles up some place else (private).

We have to break the ‘old boys network’ mentality. I get that. I am worried about the secondary effect of perpetuating a deadly dualism between body and mind/soul.

I clearly need help thinking this through. Anyone want to chime in on this? 

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