Re: Why post-Christian?

From: Howard J. Van Till <>
Date: Mon Jun 07 2004 - 16:58:45 EDT

On 6/4/04 3:33 PM, "Jim Armstrong" <> wrote:

> 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.
Hmmm. Sounds like non-coercive or contributive action to me :)
> 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.
Right, not all action performed in the name of Christ is exemplary of what
Jesus modeled.
> 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.
Yes, to do as Jesus did is not easy.

> 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.
Agreed. And the success of some particular institutionalized version of
Christianity must not be the highest priority.
> 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.
If I understand you correctly, Iım not opposed to this. To put it in a more
positive light, Iıd call it, ³Taking ownership (in the sense of personal
responsibility) of what we find to have the ring of truth and to be worth
putting into practice.²
> The gospel appears to be still very attractive when the message and the lives
> of a church and its leadership are congruent.
Are you suggesting that actions speak as loud as, or louder than, words?
> 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.
In place of ³ownership² I might use a word like ³triumphalism.²
> 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?
Well said, Jim, but thatıs not the way that institutionalized religion gains
power. And if power is our model (that is, if power is the most admired
attribute of our portrait of God) then the institutional church is not
likely to put this into practice.
> 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.
Youıre looking for a reformation of spirit, not another power structure.
> 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.
Sounds excellent, but the organizing of it would not be easy.
> 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.
I take it that you are here talking about the high cost of doing things the
³old standard way² (staying ill-informed and not challenging institutional
systems built on ignorance and misunderstanding).
> 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?
Jim, thanks for your very thoughtful contribution. Keep us informed of your
continuing thoughts and actions along these lines.

Received on Mon Jun 7 17:16:33 2004

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