Re: Why post-Christian?

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Fri Jun 04 2004 - 15:33:44 EDT

Howard (and George) - I saw that phrase as the focus as well, but
suggest that "the powers of civilization" cannot "be brought into its
service" unless and until we make a significantly better case for it
being attracted into doing so. It will not be brought by
...uh...coersion into such service. It is not incidental that scripture
refers to positive influence of the good news in terms of nuancing
influences, ...seasoning and leavening. That which we esteem as good is
by nature relatively weak in terms of raw power and force, but not
ultimate influence. So I see it as a matter of attraction. And that's
where the difficulty arises.

One has only to think of very visible ministries that preach caring for
the poor and disadvantaged from a setting of extravagant affluence,
declarations from the pulpit and representative assemblies conferences
that alienate whole segments of the population at the same time they
sing "Just as I Am" at invitation time, messages implied or explicit
that the criteria for judgments in the scripture somehow have more to do
with observances than observation and response to human needs ("inasmuch
as you have done it to one of these the least of my children, you done
it unto me."), moral failure in high places (inevitable) responded to
with a lack of appropriate consequential discipline (inexcusable), the
relative paucity of encouragement and venues to ponder and thoughtfully
respond to some of the harder problems including how to respect our
differences within the community, and - God help us - communities of
Christians around the world still warring on non-Christian communities
because they can't possibly be seeking the same god, ...and so on with a
list all too easy to expand. Oh yeh, there is of course that matter of
kicking against the goads in the science area, which some of us maintain
also diminishes the witness of the larger Christian community.

To be sure (gratefully), in contrast to this there are Christians all
over the world from whom flow gentle, ministering, grace-adorned,
mercy-sharing, life-giving activity and influence - folks who reflect
with reasonable fidelity the core teachings and examples of Jesus as I
understand them. But the problem is that the strident voices, the
hostile, argumentative, and debasing interactions, and other incongruent
witness from other sectors of that community are always ubiquitously
and frustratingly visible, overshadowing the steady devoted classless
and borderless actions of the former, unfortunately defining a
unattractive working impression of Christianity for a great many people
outside that community (and for some within as well).

What a dilemma! We can't eliminate errant human behavior. And we can't
fix the media's tendency to cover the inconsistencies. What's left? It
certainly looks like working harder doing the same thing(s) and
expecting different results is not quite the answer. And for my money,
the problem still lies in the expression of our Christianity.

There are a couple of relevant data points that speak to me. One is that
some of the rapidly growing churches have dared to say quite overtly,
both verbally and operationally, that we are all, every one of us in the
same situation with respect to having it all together and being all we
have the potential to be in the service and purpose of our Creator. The
teachings tend to be simple and unadorned, real and connected to life in
all its dimensions, and straight to the heart of the Gospel, offering at
the same time lots of mutual support and companionship through the hard
stuff. They generally don't convey the idea that you have to get "fixed"
before you can become a part of the fellowship. You can come as you are
and start from there.

Another data point lies in the fact that there are so many people
presently outside of church communities who have a strong sense of need
for spiritual exploration and development, but avoid the church
community precisely because of the unattractive and incongruent voices
and actions that create the negative part of its public image. And, of
course, there are a great many who have left the church settings, hurt
and/or disenchanted for related reasons. More than a few of these in the
latter category feel a need strongly enough that they are even
tentatively reapproaching the organized churches, but on their own
terms, sifting out the pieces and people that resonate with their areas
of need. With the church, we pejoratively call this cafeteria Christianity.

The gospel appears to be still very attractive when the message and the
lives of a church and its leadership are congruent.

IMHO, attractiveness is the key, and it suffers in the presence of
ownership, ...ownership of rightness, ownership of position, power and
authority, of wealth and comfort. These things are not pretty when they
dominate the life of an professing Christian because they are so
antithetical to the essential teachings of Jesus. They are the artifacts
of stewardship run amok wherein a critical distinction between
stewardship and ownership is lost.

My heart says it may be time again for a sort of reformation within the
church body at large, a serious reexamination of the substance of Jesus
teachings and actions as a foundation (revelation in the flesh, if you
will!), and perhaps a loosened grip on some of the interpretations of
revelation that have found a place in Christianity's expressions to the
detriment of the rather simple principles outlined by Jesus' life and
teachings. This is a whole different thing than reversion to more
conservative expressions which tend to be divisive and exclusive. Did
Jesus react in intolerance and offense to those he approached (other
than those religious leaders he upbraided!)? Or did his interactions
embody respect while responding to their needs? How can we justify
before the God we serve the righteous posturing that drives wedges
between avowed servants of the selfsame God? Following up on an earlier
discussion, how can we even justify the religious enmity that exists at
the interfaces among Christians, Jews, and Muslims?

Though my heart says this, my perspective is that a Luther-like
person-led reformation is not an answer. That just brings us full
circle. And yet, I am not fatalistic (however negative this post may
sound). I refuse to think that the face of Christianity must always be
defined to this extent by its negative examples. It's just that I
believe that significant change to the better will come slowly, and then
only if there is unrelenting jam-jar-opening-type influence for change.
Perhaps a partial answer lies in creating more conversation, more
participation in actions that move in directions that make the influence
and actions of Christianity more relevant to a world context in all its
facets, and of course education in its many forms. These fall in the
domain of ASA and that's why I enjoy the dialogue here.

In a practical sense, though, I have been seriously pondering two lines
of action.

One is some sort of neighborhood conversation among any who might be
interested in a little more visibility of the greater landscapes of
Christianity (its essentials, its history, and its kaleidescope of
perspectives), and in better understanding and insights into the
workings in the common ground of science and religion, including ways to
begin viewing them in an integrative framework.

The second is actually the substance of a proposal I recently worked on
which is in the evaluation process. The basic idea is to begin a
dialogue with clergy focused on an attempt to identify ways in which
pastors can come to more effectively encourage positive engagement of
the opportunities and challenges that present themselves at the
confluence of science and religion in increasing numbers and consequence
with each passing day. The hook for engaging their interest are several
high costs to their mission and to the future that are largely
unrecognized in the pastoral community, accruing in the absence of
significant involvement in conversations and leadership relating to
these issues. I'll just list the four costs here. The essential bits
have been discussed variously in this venue, but perhaps not drawn
together and articulated in quite this way and with this motivation.

Cost 1 - Compromised influence - Unfortunately, this unintended cost
situation is nurtured and exacerbated by persistent and increasingly
influential public voices from particular sectors of the communities of
faith that in essence drive a philosophical wedge of contention between
the realms of scientific and religious thought. In doing so, these same
voices also have the effect of significantly diminishing the influence
and even opportunity of highly trained and devout men and women who have
committed their personal energy and resources to engage the challenges
of today's world armed with a balance of science and faith
perspectives. This issue has been raised for example by Francis
Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the
National Institutes of Health.

 Cost 2 - Diversion of young talent - A pulpit that is silent or
misinformed with respect to the overlap of science and religion fails to
convey the worthwhileness and importance of commitments to lifetime work
in scientific disciplines. This has the extremely costly effect of
deflecting gifted young people away from life-changing and
future-altering scientific endeavor, depriving both the worlds of
science and faith, and their future beneficiaries, of many aspiring and
capable contributors who embrace spirituality as an integral part of
their lives.

 Cost 3 - Suboptimal public action -- Many of today's social, political,
and science-derived issues are among the most complicated and
consequential we have ever faced, necessitating the fullest measure of
wisdom as we enter the uncharted waters of this new millennium. The path
to a single best decision often does not exist, and even the best
available alternatives all too easily translate directly into misery and
lost human lives. But, poorly informed decisions cost more.
Consequently, at those decision points we need the best prepared,
knowledgeable and thoughtful leaders, influencers, scientists and voters
that are well-informed and well grounded in both technical and value
foundations of science and faith respectively.

 Cost 4 - Unnecessary crisis- And finally, young men and women are too
often tragically confronted with an artificial either/or choice between
acceptance of some of the most profound findings of science and their
very belief in a transcendental deity. Faced with this choice alone,
sadly many find themselves choosing to set aside as contradictory and
irrelevant every aspect of belief in a divinity and the accompanying
spiritual walk with its insights and wisdom. Recent news coverage of an
impasse reached between a professing atheist Boy Scout and the Boy
Scouts of America organization has its roots in just such a misguided
proposition presented years earlier to this Seattle-area Boy Scout.

Where to go after making such a case is a much larger matter, of course.
But perhaps these may be of value as nucleating agents for some other
efforts that could in time move more positively toward bringing the
powers of civilization into the purpose found in Christ.

...or so it seemeth to me.

Sorry this got long and classroomy. Other ideas?


Howard J. Van Till wrote:

>I had earlier offered the following quotation for comment:
>>>This age into which we are moving has been called post-Christian, meaning
>>>that the Christian faith has lost control over the conduct of life. The
>>>reason for this is not the rising power of sin; the reason is our failure to
>>>show how the rising powers of science can be applied to the purpose of human
>>>existence when this purpose is found in Christ. The blame does not rest on
>>>the evil of scientific civilization; the blame rests on those of us who have
>>>responsibility for interpreting the revelation in such a way that the powers
>>>of civilization can be brought into its service. This we have not done.
>On 6/3/04 2:15 AM, "Jim Armstrong" <> wrote:
>>There seems to be a thread of validity appearing here and there in this
>>statement IMHO. And I agree that there is some culpability that can be
>>assigned to some within the Christian community who struggle with
>>interpreting revelation with reasonable fidelity.
>>That said, however, in the statement offered for comment, words like
>>"control of life" and "powers of civilization" portray the landscape in
>>a context of a power and authority struggle. I think that's the wrong
>>framework and is itself symptomatic of part of the cause of much of the
>>loss of influence and attractiveness in the world.
>>...or so it seemeth to me. JimA
>OK, I concede that there may be a bit too much "control and power" language
>here. However, the idea that there is a power struggle lurking beneath the
>surface of science/religion discussions may not be very far from the truth.
>One way of describing the power struggle aspect is to pose the question: Who
>gets to decide what is "true" about such things as the formational history
>of the universe; observation-based science or text-based theology?
>What I found more interesting in the quoted paragraph was the author's
>challenge to bring modern, scientifically-minded civilization into the
>service of a concept of human purpose built on God's revelation in Christ.
>As I see it, the message in this paragraph was, in effect, "If our
>civilization has become post-Christian, don't blame science as if it were
>the cause of a rise in sin, blame those of us who have failed to bring
>science into the service of God's revelation in Christ."
>Howard Van Till
Received on Fri Jun 4 16:09:01 2004

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