According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thinking About a New Kind of Christianity. One that is Postmodern. Part 1/3


In the months ahead I hope to rewrite Christendom's Evangelical heritage in terms of Postmodern Christianity whose faith must let go of its many past foundational elements of its narrative constructs and begin updating those older narratives into a more flexible, less mechanised, more dynamically constructed theology that better engages our understanding of who God is, what He is doing, and how He is effecting our world.

To begin with I wish to use Andrew Perriman's theological starting point of God calling a remnant people to Himself in terms of purpose and calling, commitments and labor, expectancies and potentialities. From there I wish to dis-engage from our European heritage of dogmas and traditions, and then re-engage the bible with a fuller language of postmodern and relational theology.

By way of example, this process would be similar to dis-engaging from classical Newtonian physics as an ultimate descriptor of our cosmogony to the alternative, and no less real, re-engagement of physics from a quantum mechanics scientific viewpoint. One mathematical model works with the world of the large, while the other mathematical model works with the world of the small. Lately, through string theory, the discovery of the Higgs-Boson particle, and other similar theories, the gap between the worlds of classical and quantum physics begin to seem more bridgeable. More intertwined. Similarly, the Christian faith stands in a correspondent state of engagement.

However, the 21st century church still is using an older language, concepts and constructs of the past while impossibly trying to relate to the newer discoveries of postmodern Christian theorists, theologians, philosophers, and pragmatists. This newer language of discovery is different. It's foreign. It feels alien. Strange. And at times absurd. It leaves us puzzled, confused, frighten, threaten, defeated, broken and perhaps even willing to throw out all our belief systems as untrue, too biased, too localized, too subjective, or frivolous. But these very human elements and personal knee-jerk reactions are actually the very starting point to positively re-framing, and re-arrangement of, our faith if it is to expand and grow lest it die upon the antiquities of past traditions and dogmas. Antiquities that once were founded upon the hotbeds of a living, dynamic faith, but now are beginning to feel more like dying, irrelevant idols we needlessly cling to, fight for, and refuse to give up.

But just like the older concepts of classical physics which have become "updated" to be more useful in the modern era of engineering projects, so too are the newer concepts of quantum physics giving to us the ability to better engineer God's complex creation that we have more recently discovered through the newer quantumized tools of interaction. Similarly, for some Christians it will be difficult to update their faith so that it can continue to exist in postmodern times of religious plurality and inter-faith dialogue. For others, they will be driven to radically re-express every aspect of Christianity in fundamentally altering terms that may leave little, or no, resemblance to the church's past dogmas. And yet for others like myself that fall in the range of constructive theologians (by nature, if not by trade), we will want to engage both systems and try to build a bridge between both worldviews of the old and the new. While at the same time chiding faith-camps on both sides of the bridge for either not giving up enough, or for giving up too much. For being too rigid and in danger of losing their faith. Or so flexible, as to lose the centrality of what they were initially seeking to recharge, uplift and re-energize. We're looking for balance while retaining substance. Reasonableness while remaining true to the biblical word.

So if you're a Calvinist, expect to speak of God in less deterministic terms - as One who is not in control of all things at all times - and rather think of God as One who partners with His freewill creation (which includes mankind). Who influences rather than coerces. Who suffers with us and despairs of sin and evil (and thus, to some, seems weak and unable to help. Or to others, prohibited to act... something I defer to think of as God self-limiting Himself.) Who may not (or cannot) stop evil and harm because of either self-limitations incurred when creating a freewilled creation or, because by His very act of creation sin entered into what was holy and good. Which thus prohibits His coercive interaction upon a free-willed creation. Who encourages obedience to His will and purposes but does not demand it or force it. Who uses our failures and refusals to His ultimate goals of recreation and renewal. These are only some, of many, many ideas being discussed within postmodern Christianity that we should think through ourselves - sometimes in admonstrative critique (did I just make up a new word? or simply misuse admonish... poets ask that question at times), but mostly, to help enliven our faith, and our faith-walk in this world.

Further, expect to think of God as not the unchanging One, but One who is changeable, just as we (and the world of creation) change from day-to-day. This is part of what it means to be in the Image of God. To think in terms of process and relatedness. That is, to consider all things are in flux and in dynamic adaptability. So too is God in process because He wishes to relate to us and will change Himself with the changes we go through (or will be changed in Himself by the experiences He experiences by/from His creation)... like the example of a parent who changes with their kids as they grow up into maturity through life's experiences, brokenness, harms and delights. Or like the child itself growing up within the world with all of its rich experiences good and bad, fulfilling and desettling, impossibly being able to hold a past stage of life from immortal change and timeless eternity. These aspects describe our humanness - we are relational beings just as God is a relational being in His essence. Moreover, we have no self-identity without having social interaction with each other (or with other things) gained through event and process. Just as the physical concepts of Einstenian time-and-space bear no meaning without interaction with one another through event, so too we bear no meaning within ourselves without interaction with each other that are formed as a series of events. The same can be said of God. Creation gives God meaning just as God gives creation meaning through mutual interactions formed as a series of shaping events. God changes from day-to-day in his immortal, timeless essence. It is a mystery we cannot understand but a seemingly true mystery that we must allow without compartmentalizing His essence, His authority, His deity or the divinity of His fellowship.

But by saying these things doesn't necessarily mean that we, as postmodern Christians, shouldn't remember the church's past creeds and confessions as its gatekeepers of past historical legacies hard won and perilously wrestled away from past withholding auspices of the reigning catholic church and/or powers of the religious state through inquisitions, torture, brutality, death and destruction. However, we are updating those past ideologies into a postmodernistic language of expression. When we do this we're going to say things differently. And, if necessary, even create a new language to speak of God and of His relationship to the world. For without a new language we cannot break the bonds to the antiquated past that has held our present-day language in similar bondage. We need new concepts, new symbols, new words to infill a Christianity that must grow and change and adapt from its older version of itself to this day's more postmodern culture. A culture holding hostage the modern day church in its present day language, paradigms and expressions. And why not?! Does not the bible teach that man's view of the world is finite and that God's is infinite? When God questioned Job did He not tell Job the same thing? It would be the height of human audacity to presume that our knowledge of God is limited to the past and that God is consequently limited  by our past systematic statements (or symbolic representations) of Himself. Or by our simplistic/naive belief systems that have attempted to grasp Him eons ago through the ancient mind when we are just discovering the dynamicy of the bible based upon its fluidity of communication (which is what I think the original writers of the bible would ultimately want us to do even as we we were gauging their words through our own static, inflexible, belief systems). This is the mystery of the Holy Spirit charged with communicating God's eternal word to humanity's future days and ages seeking to behold God's wisdom of revelation which is bound within theology's perception of what a good hermeneutic should, and shouldn't, be.

Inflexible belief systems can ultimately be destructive or harmful to willing, and evolving, postmodern societal interactions should the church chose not to evolve at an organic level. Whether naturally, or by man's intercessory provisioning, or even by the prophetic activity of its inherent counsel resident within its Spirit indwelt visionaries). But to foolishly expect that, (i) mankind (and creation) will no longer evolve with one another, but must ever -and-always remain statically bound to one another through past enriching or conforming paradigms, expressions, practices, and worldviews alone, is unreasonable. Or that, (ii) our relationship with the divine Otherness of the Eternal One has been fully proscribed by the genius of older theologians, bishops, priests, and rabbis, would be beyond the bounds of our practical experience and expectant imaginations. It would place an unrealistic burden upon the church by ascribing to the church of yesteryear  an impolitic expectation of knowing, being, grasping, even managing, timeless truths unbent to modern, or postmodern, or post-postmodern (and beyond), needs, insights, proscriptions, charters, knowledge, worldly experience,  and spiritual provisioning based upon a yet-to-be-realized evolving society of mankind that would prophetically re-envision all aspects of mankind's future orders, sciences, technologies, constitutions and praxis - both theoretical and pragmatic. This would be foolishness. The height of audacity to which today's present orthodox church arranged around its present theologies would pretend admission to while at the same time creating for itself a time-bound community of believers unwilling, and unable, to struggle with society's polypluralisms for effective missional witness. 

However, if this is not the case, than we should both allow - and expect! - more enlightened thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, worship and faith practices to proceed forth from this very reasonable and natural essay between the God of the cosmos and His creation. An essay that may rewrite its experiences of God with a sharpened pen more attune to the needs of today's societies. One that would speak to mankind's search for morality, truth and error, like the relationship between old friends beheld in intimate conversation seeking fuller expression with one another - speaking from the depths of one's heart telling each other what is true, but had become lost in the conventions of words and experiences impossible to envisage, conceive, paint, or portray. That, like friendships, as they grow old and perhaps more intimate (or more apart) with one another, so too will man's corporate relationship with God expand or contract as each discovers, or refuses discovery, or even infuses discovery, with the language of the other. Between God and man. And man to God. This is the language of experience. The language of timeful relationship as it moves and breathes around the life of the other. A language which cannot be held static to the reforms and experiences of past saints and scholars. But a language which must be continually expressed in some manner or way as only time and experience will allow. The Christianity of one's youth must and will change. If it does not it will die becoming traditionalized and solidified by an inanimate, dead faith centered around past memories, ideas, and experiences. The language of faith and life cannot admit this. And never will.

So then, with that said, let us turn our attention to "A new kind of Evangelicalism" - one that is neither conservative nor modern - but one that might better attune towards all things God and man, church and faith, life and breath... mostly because I'm an optimist who believes God is always alive, always present with us, always speaking His word to us, through all things and in every indescribable way to our imaginings and unimaginable hopes and dreams, as befitting His divine council and wisdom, Spirit and grace. Eh verily, O Lord, Amen!

R.E. Slater
April 4, 2012
partial edits: February 28, 2014


The Full Series:

Thinking About a New Kind of Christianity.
One that is Postmodern.
Part 1/3
One that is Postmodern.
Part 2/3
One that is Postmodern.
Part 3/3
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/04/thinking-about-new-kind-of-christianity_07.html



Related Articles:

What Wikipedia Has to Say About the Emerging/Emergent Church.
An Introduction.
Part 1/2
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-wikipedia-has-to-say-about.html


What Wikipedia Has to Say About the Emerging/Emergent Church.
My Personal Observations.
Part 2/2
http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-wikipedia-has-to-say-about_26.html



* * * * * * * * * * * *


Evangelicalism, A new kind of
29 March 2012

As I would redefine the term from a narrative-historical perspective, an “evangelical” in the broadest sense is someone who finds “good news” in the long and complex story of the historic family of Abraham, descended through Jesus. Or better, the church is “evangelical” insofar as it finds good news in that story.

The evangelical vocation

What Abraham stood for was the remaking of God’s good creation in microcosm, as a world within a world, after humanity had chosen, in defiance of the creator:

  1. self-determination (Adam and Eve),
  2. a course of violence and injustice (the generation destroyed in the flood) and,
  3. the idolatry of empire (the builders of Babel). 
That still encapsulates the broad purpose of the people of God: the church is not an aggregation of redeemed individuals; it is an alternative society, set in opposition to the idolatry, self-interest, injustice, violence, tyranny, oppression, and systemic arrogance of what we glibly call “fallen” humanity. To be evangelical is to embrace the full scope of that opposition.

But this has always been a troubled, painful, and controversial vocation. We still find it extremely difficult and unnatural to live up to the ideal of a just people, reconciled to the creator, as a blessing to the nations. To be evangelical, therefore, is to be unreasonably, absurdly, stubbornly optimistic about the concrete and symbolic potential of this people’s narrated existence; and we are sustained in that optimism by what is now for us, since Jesus, the unfailing grace of God.

The evangelical narrative

As I understand it, the bible tells the story of the people of God from the call of Abraham to the climactic moment when his descendants inherited the pagan world. It is authoritative for the church precisely because it tells this story. This, I think, is the proper starting point for an evangelical hermeneutic: the Bible sets the narrative trajectory for the people of God throughout the coming ages.

The story is told partly “historically” and partly prophetically or apocalyptically. The New Testament deals with a critical period when it appeared that the family of Abraham, in the form of national Israel, was about to lose the right, under devastating circumstances, to represent the creator God amongst the nations. Israel was hell bent on a course that would lead to the destruction of its national and religious existence, but in the fulness of time a young wonder-working prophet from Nazareth entered the charged political arena proclaiming a narrow and difficult path that would lead to life, though he was not confident that many find it.

The good news of Jesus (in historical context)

His death for the sins of his people defined the way forward for faithful Israel. His resurrection from the dead convinced his followers that the creator God, the God of Israel, had not only made him the way, the truth, and the life for his people, but also had given him the authority to judge and rule over the nations. This was the “good news” that was proclaimed first in Jerusalem and then across the Greek-Roman world. The inclusion of Gentiles in the commonwealth of Israel at this juncture was itself a sign to the empire of the transformation to come. This is the evangelical heart of the narrative: the “gospel” is public and political, not private and personal.

The exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of the Father set in train a long historical process. Through the faithful witness of communities of eschatological transformation the pagan world, which had for so many centuries opposed the God of Israel and oppressed his people, would be overthrown, and every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ—and not any other god—was Lord, to the glory of Israel’s God.

Apocalyptic Trinitarianism

So from this point onwards the family of Abraham has had to relate to the one creator God on new terms—as the Father who determines the fate of his people, as the Son who has been given authority to reign, and as the Spirit who is the inspiring, empowering presence of the creator in the midst of his people. A statement of Trinitarian belief that is genuinely biblical—and so genuinely evangelical—has to take account of the apocalyptic narrative of Jesus’ “sonship”: unlike the pagan kings he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled himself to the point of death on a Roman cross; because of this obedience he was exalted, and given authority to rule as Lord and king, to the glory of Israel’s God.

To Christendom and beyond

This is how the family of Abraham, for so long confined to the small beleaguered state of Israel, came to inherit the world. But the story does not stop there, and evangelicals must learn how to make sense of the continuing narrative. European Christendom, as both a political and a theological construct, lasted in one form or other for perhaps 1700 years, to be defeated in the end by the combined forces of secular rationalism and post-imperial pluralism.

The heirs of European Christendom have been mostly exiled from the territory that they once dominated, and in order to survive are having to disengage themselves from many of the habits of thought and practice that characterize a world that no longer exists.

But an evangelical, being an incorrigible optimist, believes that the story is by no means over; that the family of Abraham, descended through Jesus, has a viable future; that there is still “new creation” ahead of us. Moreover, an evangelical has the confidence to invite people into this difficult historical journey of corporate witness.

The whole story (plus actions)

So to be an evangelical community now is to find and proclaim the good news that arises from this whole story. It is good news that God is; that he still calls into existence a servant people for his own possession, to be priests and prophets in the world; that he remains faithful towards those who trust him; that he can still hold his own against the powerful cultural forces that oppose him and oppress his people; that he is still able to effect the renewal of his creation in ways that convince us that he will not finally be defeated but will make all things new.

It is good news that Jesus died for the historical family of Abraham; it is good news that there is no longer the possibility of terminal failure; it is good news that the doors of that community are open; it is good news that in and around this community lives are transformed, the sick are healed, sight is restored to the blind, the poor are comforted, captives are set free, relationships are renewed, divisions are healed, prejudices and fears are overcome.

It is good news that sometimes this is not all just words….


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