October 21, 2020

Riffs: 3:24:07: A “Post-Christian” Confessional at The Parish

pic_house-cards.jpgBHT fellow Tom Hinkle reposts this confessional piece from a blogger at “The Parish.” If you want to read 1) the TR version of where the emerging church is going or 2) my opinion of what much of evangelical fundamentalism is producing, then this is your piece. It’s a rant, it’s honest, it’s harrowing, it’s a mixed bag, but it needs to be read.

A few thoughts:

1) At any given moment, you can take to the keyboard and things can sound very bad, or not so bad, or who knows except you? This is one of those posts that’s capturing a moment of real honest doubt, uncertainty and near collapse of an entire structure. I don’t know this brother. I don’t normally read his blog. I don’t know his journey, but I respect it. I’ve said to many who have written me that the honest unbeliever is far closer to real faith than the pretending, phony religious adherent.

Listen to Job. Listen to the Psalms. Listen to the dark nights of the soul in Christian history. All those cries aren’t the same, but we need the reminder that these voices are part of the extended Christian family.

2) I have no doubt that when a person moves away from a community where all is certain and doubts are sinful to a more tolerant and diverse community, there is a rush of accumulated uncertainty that surfaces. In some cases, it’s an almost overwhelming flood, making it impossible to work through any one question. I see this with kids leaving high school, and I sense it here.

As I said, I don’t know this man’s journey, but it certainly sounds as if years of accumulated questions, insufficient answers (you proponents of inerrancy should start to get defensive now) and frustrations at make-shift paradigms have surfaced and demanded attention.

3) I agree with Jason at the BHT: the emerging church addresses its audience honestly. I do the same with my students. That means that the doubts, questions and rants are going to “emerge.” That will be apostasy and the demise of evangelical certainty to some. It’s way overdue, in my opinion.

It’s going to be controversial when the people who are moving toward or away our creedal affirmations are allowed to have a voice. It may be a blog, or a small group, or the freedom to express in art or poetry. The questions are going to come. When they come from committed atheists, we seem to know what to do: rally and counter attack. But when they come from brothers and sisters, it’s simply very unsettling to many of us. Sadly, some of our leaders will treat a questioner like this brother as a threat to the faith of others, and will employ rhetoric and name-calling to push him further outside. “They went out from us because they weren’t of us.” And all that.

When our communities create an openness that prompts some of our number to voice these kinds of unsettling questions, we can diagnose/blame the emerging church, we can get out our rhetorical weapons, or we can continue the work of community with the offer to work through these issues together.

4) I can’t help but think that some of what we are reading here is the fruit of the “New Atheism” and its more visible presence in the culture as much as anything in the emerging church. If Doug Padgett or Brian Mclaren go as far out as possible, they are still far from the tone we read here. If this brother is like me, then the voices of confident atheists often have an impact. When I am blind to their faith-leaps and worldview commitments, it is easy to be drawn in to their criticisms, PARTICULARLY as they intersect with what we know best: the hypocrisy and failures of Christians.

5) Anytime I hear the failures of the church and of Christians to “be like Jesus” and to “be authentic,” etc, I realize that two things are happening: 1) the power of being right about what’s wrong- a deeply seductive critical posture- is at work here. 2) This same critique works within the Christian worldview, in fact its roots are throughout the Bible, especially the old covenant history and prophets.

The moral stance of the New Atheists, of course, is ridiculous because they have no transcendent source of this moral authority they say is compulsory, no cogent and consistent way to say that one thing is better than another except what they have borrowed from someone’s objective ethical system, and certainly no particularly convincing argument that theism in general is generically disqualified.

6) If a Christian hasn’t felt the absurdity and outrage of Christian belief, then I recommend they do so before they are ambushed. It’s outrageously unlikely. The entire business: God. Bible. Jesus. Gospel. Heaven. Hell. It’s completely bizarre. Of course, any manifestion of reality is, in the end, full of the bizarre, the unlikely and the ridiculous. Why is the existence of hell more outrageous than the existence of a butterfly? if there is no revelation that puts the created world in a moral context, then we are simply making up the difference between one thing and another, and the reasons for existence are totally unknown. Is the great “circle of life” eating and killing one another all that pleasant?

I agree with C.S. Lewis that if Christianity isn’t true, then eastern religions have the best explanatory power. Monism says that there is no outrage in the universe because everything is one thing, and our distinctions are the cause of our problems.

So when I read a post full of the outrage that’s possible at various aspects of Christian belief and practice, I am praying that the author will come to see the outrage implicit in any kind of existence apart from God and a worldview that provides context.

7) I think we do better to throw out everything and start our belief project from scratch as opposed to trying to hold on to anything we really can’t believe because we are afraid of what might happen. Philosophy is dangerous. You can find yourself without a job, friends, even family. People have had to move and start life over when they couldn’t believe the old stuff anymore.

Let me be straight for moment, and I write all of this very respectfully of this brother or any other on the same journey.

Jesus is not on the radar of human history for any reason other than the resurrection.

If he is raised from the dead, then the Gospel picture of Jesus is credible, and the Jesus that comes in the Gospel is the Jesus of the orthodox Christian creeds.

He’s not the Jesus of everything Christians have ever done, or of the majority of what Christians consider important. He’s not the Jesus of all the human psychological sickness, arrogant rhetoric or cruel actions that have come along in his name. But he is the Jesus of John 1:1-18, and of I Corinthians 15:1-11, and of a lot of what Christians have done that’s inexplicable without him, from art to social justice to simple community.

You cannot reduce Jesus to anything less than the Christ of the creeds and still have Jesus. You’ll have something else.

Jesus was angry at religion. Jesus ridiculed the Pharisees’ use of the Bible. Jesus said we better become like children. Jesus said the Kingdom is here now, and that the church was something he was building, not that we were building. In other words, I think most of the rant against the failure of Christianity comes with Jesus.

But the inspiration of the Bible comes with Jesus as well. As does heaven. Hell. Justification. Substitutionary atonement. And so on. Just how much comes along with Jesus is the reason we have a two thousand year old discussion.

8) Now, having responded as respectfully and constructively as I know how to a brother that I want to affirm, I want to raise some fairly negative criticism of a few of these points.

If God is active in the world, he’s the best disguised force in existence. This from someone who grew up Pentecostal. This is the problem. Pentecostalism infects its adherents with the need to see God’s active presence in ways that simply rarely occur. I’ve watched this for decades, and it’s a major reason things look as they do. Get a sacramental view of reality.

Heaven is someplace I don’t want to be. As an endless CCM concert, I agree. As a world/universe put to rights, it must be what every politically active, social justice seeking,peace-making, praying believer wants. What are we looking for in all this desire, brother? Read Jonathan Edwards, Heaven: A World of Love. Read N.T. Wright and lose the image of heaven most of us were sold by simplistic fundamentalism.

People who have actually read the Bible know it is one of the most schizophrenic, neurotic, racist, xenophobic, sexist compilations of stories ever assembled. As it should be if it is written by human beings. If the proof of inspiration is the absence of the realities listed above, just exactly whose story would it be? Looks a lot like the evening news + God’s Kingdom coming in Jesus right in the midst of the mess.

“…are one step above insane.” There’s a lot of good ways to characterize those with whom you now differ and defer. This isn’t one of them. You impale your credibility of what is true when you say men like Ravi Zacharias and R.C. Sproul are almost insane.

I don’t like the myth of redemptive violence. A person who “likes” what was done to Jesus does have some issues. I agree that the adoration of violence as violence is sick. The recognition that D-Day may have freed millions, however, is not sick. It’s appreciation.

If Gandhi and Mother Teresa aren’t Christians, it’s a club I don’t want to be a part of. Well, Ghandi didn’t want to be a Christian and said so for good reasons, given his culture. I join you in abhorring the exclusion of Mother Theresa from heaven by some fundamentalists because she is RC or imperfect. I don’t quite see where my preferences about who is or isn’t a Christian are really helpful. I regularly leave the salvation of Socrates, etc in the hands of God, not of Christians.

In fact, I’m convinced that more often than not, the church has been and continues to be antichrist... You sound like Luther….who stuck with the church, fighting his whole life for its purity. Screwing it up some, and helping it some. That’s probably all of our stories, and why we should want the church to be simple and focused on Jesus and the Gospel.

It’s not like no one has ever felt these things or worked on these aspects of faith. Before you declare yourself an indy post-Christian with more in common with atheists than the church, take a few months and find the great conversation. It’s not on the radio, and rarely appears in the blogosphere.

UPDATE: Here’s Phil Johnson’s assessment. “But Emerging and postmodern Christians have a very blithe and facile way of glorifying doubt, to the point where even an attack on the very essence of Christianity can be celebrated as an expression of “honesty” and “humility,” even if it’s just rank unbelief.” Make up your own mind on that one.


  1. chrisstiles says

    People who have actually read the Bible know it is one of the most schizophrenic, neurotic, racist, xenophobic, sexist compilations of stories ever assembled.

    As an addendum. Similiarly to the argument about signs/Pentecostalism, this is where extreme forms of inerrancy can lead – by insisting on a uniform view of how God’s inspiration is played out through the different types of literature in the Bible, disillusionment will always get played out this.

  2. chrisstiles says

    Gah. Should have been “Disillusionment will always end up being played out this way”.

  3. I have to say that I’ve been disappointed with some responses to Greg’s list, mostly on two fronts.

    1. The assumption that he picked up Crossan or some other “liberal” writer, swallowed it whole, and then churned out this post without much more thought. First off, Greg is quite critical of Jesus Seminar-related scholarship, so that’s off the mark already. But one needs to have been acquainted with his blog, his story, and his real influences (Barth, Yoder, and the Wesleys mainly) for some time in order to see how he got here. This isn’t an emergent thing. He only officially became associated with emergent (after a much longer period of questioning and critique) within the past year or so.

    2. The reaction to his Ghandi comment along the lines that God doesn’t consider “being nice to poor people” to be all that important. The one BHT poster’s explanation of Matthew 25 is incredibly off base and can only be read his way through thick preconceived lenses. It is plainly about caring for the “least of these,” i.e., the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned. If that isn’t enough, consider the hundreds of verses spanning the entire Old Testament calling Israel to care for the poor. Consider the prophets repeatedly telling Israel that God doesn’t care about worship and sacrifices; that God wants justice and mercy and care for the widow and orphan much, much more. Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord REQUIRE of you but to do justice,” etc. Consider James’ criticism of people who say to the hungry, “God bless you” without dealing with their physical needs. Why is the so-called “social gospel” still considered so anathema in some Christian circles when it is so plainly Biblical?

  4. Thats a Lutheran seminary student, but you might want to check recently scholarly views of Matt 25 and what Jesus meant by “brothers.” I think he’s probably not alone in that view, as odd as it sounds.

    I respect Greg, but he put that out there on the blog to be read, and I’m sure he understands it was provocative and generated reaction.

  5. Oh, I’d say he most certainly understands that. It’s just a shame that such posts are read in such a vacuum. But then again, that’s a great risk in such matters.