According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Love, Hell, and Trampolines: In Conversation with Rob Bell



by J.R. Daniel Kirk
July 5, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I was alerted to the fact that the Rob Bell Reader for Kindle was selling for just the right price on Amazon. Which is to say, of course, that it was free (as it still is today, as it is also at Barnes and Ignoble for Nook and in the iTunes store for whatever people read on when they buy at the iTunes store).

Having never read anything Bell has written prior to this, I figured this was as good an excuse as any to see what he’s up to. The book is forthrightly offered as a teaser for the books Bell has published with HarperOne and Zondervan (both part of the same parent company). Each of the five chapters is a selection from one of Bell’s earlier books: Love Wins, Velvet Elvis, Sex God, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and Drops Like Stars.

Here’s my bottom line: Bell offers a compelling overarching theological vision, peppered with various detailed exegetical and/or theological claims that make me wince.

The book’s selection from Love Wins is Bell’s exposition of the Prodigal Son parable. It contains some vivid, beautiful insights about our lives as they stand in relation to God:
Hell is our refusal to trust God’s retelling of our story. We all have our version of events. Who we are, who we aren’t what we’ve done, what that means for our future. Our worth, value, significance. The things we believe about ourselves that we cling to despite the pain and agony they’re causing us.
This description of the brothers, each needing the father to retell their stories as stories of beloved sons, each refusing in their own way to believe it at different points in the story, is packed with insight. The brothers both have skewed visions. And the father offers them each a new story of acceptance and love.

But one wonders whether this metaphorical description of “hell” is really to the point when reading an author who is claiming to make a point about “hell” as a potential destiny for human beings who reject the work of God on their behalf.
We believe all sorts of things about ourselves. What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God’s version of our story.
Yes. That.

Toward the end, Bell comes around to a stronger argument about Hell. If this God we serve is the one who is constantly rewriting our stories of guilt and shame with his story of peace and grace and forgiveness and love, then how can this same God turn on a dime and cast into Hell those who refuse?

What sort of grace and forgiveness and love are those?

What kind of God is that?

This is an important question for us to wrestle with.

How one understands the gospel they claim, and the God who offers it, will inevitably impact how a person lives. Bell joins the ranks of those who call us away from a gospel that’s too small: a focus on “getting in” that does not entail a whole new life, is a truncated gospel at best.
We’re invited to trust the retelling now, so that we’re already taking part in the kind of love that can overtake the whole world.
Bell presents a captivating vision, and it is not without its challenge to us to examine our shortcomings. This is not just about “inclusion,” but calling us to repentance as well. He writes these challenging words:
The second truth, one that is much more subtle and much more toxic as well, is that the older brother is separated from his father as well, even though he’s stayed home. His problem is his “goodness.”
His rule-keeping and law-abiding confidence in his own works has actually served to distance him from his father.
The parable is, in fact, told in Luke 15 to a bunch of older brother types who are grumpy about the folks Jesus is celebrating. Bell does a great job of bringing this back around to us, the presumed insiders, to challenge how we posture ourselves toward the rest. Ok, so that was just one chapter of the reader.

But perhaps its illustrative: Bell has a penetrating theological vision that is worth learning from, even when we find ourselves disagreeing along the way.



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Can God speak through myth?

http://rachelheldevans.com/bible-myth

by Rachel Held Evans
July 10, 2012
Comments

Today we continue our discussion of Peter Enns’ excellent book, Inspiration and Incarnation, as part of our series on learning to love the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be.

As we move to Chapter 2—“The Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern Literature” — I am struck afresh with just how perfect this book fits with our theme. In it, Enns focuses on three specific problems/questions raised by the modern study of the Old Testament and uses those specific problems/questions to engage in a broader conversation about the nature of Scripture. According to Enns, many evangelicals have assumed a defensive posture when it comes to confronting the linguistic, historical, and archeological evidence that shows the Bible to be “firmly situated in the ancient world in which it was produced,” for fear that such “situatedness” detracts from its divine nature.

Rather than ignoring or lamenting the evidence, Enns suggests we allow it to teach us something about how the Bible ought to be read and interpreted. “The problems many of us feel regarding the Bible may have less to do with the Bible itself and more to do with our own preconceptions,” he writes. “I have found again and again that listening to how the Bible itself behaves and suspending preconceived notions (as much as that is possible) about how we think the Bible to behave is refreshing, creative, exciting and spiritually rewarding.” (p. 15)

Last week, we discussed Enns’ incarnational analogy— in which he posits that just as Jesus assumed the language, culture, and life of a first-century Jewish teacher, so the Bible belonged in the ancient worlds that produced it. “It was not an abstract, otherworldly book, dropped out of heaven,” Enns writes. “It was connected to and therefore spoke to those ancient cultures.”

This week, with Chapter 2, we get an up close look at the ancient world that produced the Bible, particularly the ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature shaped much of its content.

A Reality Check

Enns first highlights the impact of Akkadian Literature, which likely predates the biblical text and which includes creation and flood accounts remarkably similar to those we find in the Bible. (If, like me, you had a mini faith crisis in Intro to Ancient Literature after reading Enuma Elish or Gilgabmesh, you will know exactly what he’s talking about.) He also notes the similarities between The Code of Hammurabi and the laws found in Exodus; between Hittite suzerainty treaties and Deuteronomy; and between the Egyptian instructions of Amenemope and the book of Proverbs.

He then points to archeological finds such as the Tel Dan inscription and the Siloam Tunnel Inscription to highlight the likely historicity of King David and Israel’s monarchs as well as similarities in how ancient people reported historical events. I won’t get into detail here, but I strongly encourage those unfamiliar with ANE texts to study this chapter, which will serve as something of a reality check regarding the context in which the Bible was written and the worldview it shares with the sacred texts of other ANE cultures.

These similarities raise some important questions: 
  • Does the Bible report historical fact, or is it just a bunch of stories culled from other ancient cultures? 
  • What does it mean for other cultures to have an influence on the Bible that we believe is revealed by God? 
  • If the Bible is a “culturally conditioned” product, what relevance does it have today? 
  • Can we really say that the Bible is unique? Can really say it is the word of God?

“The problem...is that showing how at home the Bible is in the ancient world makes it look less special in some respects—less unique,” writes Enns. “What can we say about the uniqueness of the Bible when, in so many areas, it bears striking similarities to the beliefs and practices of other nations?” (p. 32) According to Enns:

“The newfound evidence for the cultural settings of the Bible led many to conclude that the Bible is essentially defined by these cultural factors. The ‘context of Scripture’ became the primary determining factor in defining what the Bible is....

The conservatives’ reaction was also problematic in that it implicitly assumed what their opponents also assumed: the Bible, being the word of God, ought to be historically accurate in all its details (since God would not lie or make errors) and unique its own setting (since God’s word is revealed, which implies a specific type of uniqueness)....

Conservatives have tended to employ a strategy of selective engagement, embracing evidence that seems to support their assumptions... but retreating from evidence that seems to undercut these assumptions.” (47)

In the midst of all this, “the doctrinal implications of the Bible being so much a part of its ancient contexts are still not being addressed as much as they should,” says Enns. He proposes a new way forward, beyond the liberal/conservative divide that involves adjusting our expectations about how the Bible should behave.

Enns proceeds to do just that by helping the reader adjust his/her expectations regarding: 1) the creation and flood accounts, 2) customs laws, and proverbs, and 3) monarchy.

Genesis and Myth: Creation & the Flood

Today I want to focus on the creation and flood accounts, because they provide perhaps the best (and most controversial?) example of what it means to adjust one’s expectations when it comes to reading Scripture, a critical part of learning to the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be.

As Enns notes in the book, it’s become almost impossible to discuss Genesis as myth without making people angry, as the word “myth,” in everyday use, has come to mean something other than a literary genre. The distinction between myth and history, says Enns, “presupposes—without stating explicitly—that what is historical, in a modern sense of the word, is more real, of more value, more like something God would do, than myth. So, the argument goes, if Genesis is myth, then it is not ‘of God.’”

Enns clarifies the fact that myth is an ancient, pre-modern, pre-scientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories. He then raises the question: “Why is it that God can’t use the category we call myth to speak to ancient Israelites?”

He writes:
“The reason the opening chapters of Genesis look so much like the literature of ancient Mesopotamia is that the worldview categories of the ancient Near East were ubiquitous and normative at the time. Of course, different cultures had different myths, but the point is that they all had them...What makes Genesis different from its ancient Near Eastern counterparts is that it begins to make the point to Abraham and his seed that the God they are bound to, the God who called them into existence, is different from the gods around them....

The biblical worldview described in Genesis is an Ancient Near Eastern one. But the ordering of the world (e.g., the separation of water from land) did not result from a morbid conflict within a dysfunction divine family, as we read in Enuma Elish. It was simply this amazing God who spoke.” (p. 53, 54-55)

In other words, the author is making a theological point, not a scientific or historical one.

Enns reminds the reader that the worldview described in Genesis is a decidedly ANE one, portraying the earth as a flat disk supported by pillars, with water above and below, and a solid, fixed firmament. This is how Abraham would have understood the universe, how the writer of Genesis would have understood the universe, and how the first storytellers, readers, and listeners of Scripture would have understood the universe. It is therefore coutnerproductive to try and impose our own advanced (and yet, in the grand scheme of things, still limited) assumptions regarding cosmology onto the text.

To me, this is the money quote:

“We do not protect the Bible or render it more believable to modern people by trying to demonstrate that it is consistent with modern science.... It is a fundamental misunderstanding of Genesis to expect it to answer questions generated by a modern worldview, such as whether the days were literal or figurative, or whether the days of creation can be lined up with modern science, or whether the flood was local or universal. The question that Genesis is prepared to answer is whether Yahweh, the God of Israel, is worthy of worship. And that point is made not by allowing ancient Israelites to catch a glimpse of a spherical earth or a heliocentric universe. It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance.” (p. 55)

Concludes Enns, “this is what it means for God to speak at a certain time and place—he enters their world. He speaks and acts in ways that makes sense to them. This is surely what it means for God to reveal himself to people –he accommodates, condescends, meets them where they are. The phrase word of God does not imply disconnectedness to its environment.”

And again we are reminded of Christ—the fullest and most complete revelation of God—who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but humbled himself and became like us. If God is willing to put on human flesh in order to communicate to us, why wouldn’t he be willing to speak human languages—complete with human literary devices and human words and human cosmological assumptions—to communicate?

I find this freeing....

In college I was trained to fight against this view of Scripture with every fiber of my being, and yet, when I began seeking a more intellectually honest faith, it was this view of Scripture that finally released me from gripping fear and doubt.

I had been asking questions that the Bible didn’t answer. I had been forcing onto it my own modern, Western assumptions. I had been trying to explain away every possible contradiction, every historical or scientific "problem," in order to force the Bible into my own predetermined paradigm. I believed that in order for the Bible to be God’s word it had to conform to my ideals of historical and scientific proofs. It was a bit like demanding that Jesus be fully human without getting thirsty, or without sleeping, or without assuming a language and ethnicity and gender.

And when the Bible didn’t perform as I expected it to perform, I nearly lost my faith.

This is why I am so thankful for scholars and like Enns who have helped me confront my own prejudices and learn to love the Bible for what it is, not what I want it to be. (Thanks, Pete!)

Next week we will discuss this a bit further, with some additional examples....

* * *

So, what do you think? Have you had to confront the similarities between the Bible and other ANE texts? What is your reaction when Genesis is described as “myth”?

 
* * *


Continue to -

Part 1 - How Are We to Understand
"Noah and the Flood?"



 



 

Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between

'Church Steeple' photo (c) 2011, ank2798 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/


by Rachel Held Evans
July 16, 2012

“Why is it that the choice among churches always seems to be
the choice between intelligence on ice and ignorance on fire?”
 
– Diana Butler Bass


“Give people a common enemy, and you will give them a common identity.
Deprive them of an enemy and you will deprive them of the crutch by which they know who they are.”
 
– James Alison


As you may have noticed, a flurry of articles and blog posts have materialized in the wake of the Episcopal Church USA General Convention, many asserting that the Episcopal Church’s declining numbers, and those of other Mainline Protestant churches, are direct result of their progressive policies. The most notable of these responses came from Ross Douthat of the New York Times who asked, “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?

“Instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes,” Douthat wrote, “the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace... Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves."

Dianna Butler Bass responded with an article entitled “Can Christianity be Saved?” in which she reminds Douthat that conservative churches are also in decline. “In the last decade,” she writes, “as conservative denominations lost members, their leaders have not equated the loss with unfaithfulness. Instead, they refer to declines as demographic "blips," waning evangelism, or the impact of secular culture. Membership decline has no inherent theological meaning for either liberals or conservatives. Decline only means, as Gallup pointed out in a just-released survey, that Americans have lost confidence in all forms of institutional religion. The real question is not 'Can liberal Christianity be saved?' The real question is:'Can Christianity be saved?'

Both were thoughtful, relatively charitable articles, but I was disheartened to see my Facebook and Twitter feeds light up with gleeful jeers from conservative evangelicals essentially saying, “let the liberals die!” followed by defensive responses from more progressive Mainliners reminding them, “we may be dying but we’re taking you with us!

Missing from the whole dialog was any sense that we’re in this together, that, as followers of Jesus, we may need to put our heads together to re-imagine what it means to be the Church in a postmodern, American culture where confidence in organized religion is at an all-time low.

Meanwhile, I feel totally caught in between.

For one thing, I don’t "fit" in the conservative evangelical church:

  • I believe in evolution.
  • I vote for democrats.
  • I doubt.
  • I enjoy interfaith dialog and cooperation.
  • I like smells, bells, liturgy, and ritual—particularly when it comes to the Eucharist.
  • I’m passionate about gender equality in marriage and church leadership.
  • I’m tired of the culture wars.
  • I want to become a better advocate for social justice.
  • I want my LGBT friends to feel welcome and accepted in their own churches.
  • I’m convinced that the Gospel is about more than “getting saved” from hell. 

But I don’t "fit" in the progressive, Mainline church either:

  • I love a good Bible study.
  • I think doctrine and theology are important enough to teach and debate.
  • I think it’s vital that we talk about, and address, sin.
  • I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus.
  • I want to participate in interfaith dialog and cooperation while still maintaining a strong Christian identity.
  • I want to engage in passionate worship, passionate justice, and passionate biblical study and application, passionate community.
  • I’m totally down with a bit of spontaneous, group “popcorn” prayer, complete with hand-holding and references to the Holy Spirit “moving in this place.”
  • I’m convinced that the Gospel is about more than being a good person.

These objections represent generalizations, of course (and, it should be stated, this whole conversation is unique to Western—particularly American—Christianity). I know plenty of evangelicals who embrace the science of evolution, and I know plenty of mainliners who are passionate about both social justice and theology. But the reason I struggle to go to church on Sunday mornings is because I generally feel like I have to choose between two non-negotiable “packages.” There are things I really love about evangelicalism and there are things I really love about progressive Protestantism, but because these two groups tend to forge their identities in reaction to one another— by the degree to which they are not like those “other Christians”—Sunday morning can feel an awful lot like an exercise in picking sides. And often, when I find myself actually sitting in the pew, the pastor or priest will at some point in the service, either subtly or overtly, speak of the “other side” as an enemy.

Apparently I’m not alone. I asked on my Facebook page if you ever feel caught between “liberal” and “conservative” Christianity, and here’s what some of you said:
  • "I feel caught in the middle. I've always been unsure how much to trust all the theological conclusions of ‘liberal Christianity’ (but that's not to say that I doubt this demographic's sincere commitment to Christ). The thing that disappoints me about conservative Christianity is that you are often expected to accept your beliefs as a ‘package deal’ and you are seen as weird if you think differently on certain points. Also, the expectations of how women are supposed to conduct their lives within conservative Christianity is borderline stifling, even though I know many women who enjoy that lifestyle......I am just a fish out of water there, and so is my husband." – Reh
  • "What disappoints me is the sense that either/both sides are close-minded. Even among the liberal ones who speak of openness and respect and listening to each other, there is palpable disdain for the conservative and evangelical opinions. (And I can say that since I am a member of probably the most liberal Christian denomination right now and have heard some of these comments.)" – Susan
  • “I'm definitely in the middle, but wouldn't say I feel ‘caught’ there -- we've got a lot of company these days! Disappointed on the conservative side when I run into judgmentalism, legalism, and a fear of engaging with Scripture (and reality) in its full messy ambiguity. Disappointed on the liberal side when I run into smugness, reductionism, and embarrassment at the supernatural.” - Joel
  • “The disappointment, for me, lies within the existence of partisanship within these two ideologies. I believe it is the allowance of the ‘us vs. them’ mentality within these two factions that creates a continuum of animosity and a refusal to collaborate and compromise. Having a difference of opinion is one thing. But treating those differences as two opposing sports teams attempting to win the ‘game’ (sometimes at all costs) is detrimental to both sides.” – Josh
  • "I take the teachings of Jesus too seriously to be welcome among conservatives and take the rest of the Bible too seriously to be welcome among liberals. So rather than feeling caught between them, I feel like I'm alienated by both." - Mike
  •  
  • “What disappoints me on both ends of the spectrum is the misplacement of importance on things other than Jesus. Jesus is what all of this is about, and whenever we make it about anything else, we are losing sight of the goal and the point.” – Amy
  • “YES! My understanding of the two may not be accurate, but from my understanding of what that means, I often feel in the middle. By my liberal friends I'm accused of being too conservative and by my conservative friends I'm painted a flaming liberal. I'm disappointed with conservative evangelicalism because they seem legalistic and fearful. So many opinions seem driven by fear. I'm disappointed with liberal Protestantism because of a tendency to reject the institution completely just because it's an institution and to "buck" tradition and authority...For me, I need to combine the best aspects of where Christianity is going with the best aspects of where it has been to find a faith that feels authentic to me and what I believe about God and His bride. Right now, it feels like a fight to prove who is right, with both sides going more extreme than finding a middle where we take the best of both and find a faith that will actually change the world.” – Carrie
  • "Neither have room for the idea that having all the answers might not be possible." – Corinne
Some of you confessed that, rather than accepting one Christian “package” or the other, you’ve simply bowed out of church altogether—unable to fit into either group. (I can certainly relate to this dilemma.) Multiple studies suggest that this is exactly what’s happening, as young adults in particular leave the Church in droves. I suspect that the liberal/conservative divide itself is a factor in these declining numbers, and yet the divide grows with every new disconcerting study as liberals and conservatives point at one another and yell, “It’s your fault!”

Frankly, I find the whole conversation a bit depressing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want either group to “meet its demise” because I love elements of both! In fact, I think there are a lot of progressive, mainline churches that could benefit from a shot of evangelicalism, and a lot of evangelical churches who could benefit from a shot of progressivism. We have so much to learn from one another, but instead we’re like a pair of toddlers fighting over space in the sandbox.

But if the early church could survive—and in fact, thrive amidst persecution—when it included both Jews and Gentiles, zealots and tax collectors, slaves and owners, men and women, those in support of circumcision and those against it, those staunchly opposed to eating food that had been sacrificed to idols and those who felt it necessary, then I think modern American Christianity can survive when it includes democrats and republicans, biblical literalists and biblical non-literalists, Calvinists and Arminians...so long as we’re not rooting for one another’s demise.

With this in mind, maybe being “in between” isn’t so bad. Maybe being “in between” puts those of us who find ourselves torn between conservative Christianity and liberal Christianity in a position to act as peacemakers and bridge-builders between the two groups. Maybe it enables us to help break down these binaries altogether, as we are living proof that you don’t have to choose one or the other.

I’m not exactly sure what this peacemaking process will look like, but I have a few ideas of how we can get started:

Let’s be ourselves

This may surprise you, seeing as how I’m a blogger with an outspoken opinion on everything, but when I’m a part of a conservative Christian community, I tend to keep my more progressive views quiet, and when I’m a part of a more liberal Christian community, I tend to keep my more liberal views quiet. I don’t want to cause division. I don’t want to be shamed. I don’t want to make Sunday mornings any more difficult than they already are.

And so I essentially fake it through worship and community activities, accepting whatever “package” that particular church has to offer, then feeling distant and removed as I go through the motions before eventually quitting.

But what if I stopped faking it? What if I brought myself—my gifts, my questions, my opinions—to church? What if, instead of conforming to the mold, I refused to accept it?

When I think of someone doing this well, I think of my friend Alise Wright. Alise, whose best friend is gay, is openly gay-affirming, and yet she continues to attend and serve a more conservative church where few of her fellow worshipers would agree with her position on homosexuality. In fact, she helps lead worship every Sunday! What I love about Alise is that she’ll straight-up tell you what she thinks about something, but never demand that you agree. She doesn’t make a big stink about it; she just participates in her faith community as herself, refusing to accept the “package deal.”

Perhaps church leaders will lay off some of the “us vs. them” language from the pulpit when they realize that characteristics they typically associate with “them” exist in some of “us.” This begins with all of us being more honest with one another.

Let’s create and nurture diverse communities of faith

As you know, we tried to start a church that was a blend of evangelicalism and progressivism here in Dayton and it didn’t exactly pan out. For a while, this made me skeptical that such a community could survive anywhere, but then I started to travel.

I was invited to speak to faith communities that displayed a crazy blend of evangelical fervor and progressive inclusivism, that included a diverse group of people politically, theologically, and socially, and that loved one another like I’ve never seen before. More and more of these communities are popping up around the country. I think of RISE Church in Harrisonburg (United Methodist), Missiongathering in San Diego (Disciples of Christ), The Refuge (non-denominational) and The House for All Sinners and Saints (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in Denver, and many more.

None of these communities look exactly the same—(some are more conservative/progressive than others and worship styles vary)—but that’s exactly why they are thriving. They’re not buying into the “package deal.” The existence of these communities should encourage us. They speak to the fact that there is a grassroots movement afoot that transcends old labels and that may very well give us a glimpse of the future of Christianity in America.

Let’s learn to argue better

I have no problem with Christians arguing with one another. Really. We’re brothers and sisters, for goodness sake! Of course we’re going to argue! We just need to learn to do it better.

Obviously, because some disagreements have practical implications that affect worship and organization, denominations will continue to exist. I think that’s a good thing. The notion of a homogeneous Church that looks exactly the same in doctrine and practice from congregation to congregation, culture to culture, community to community, is unrealistic and unhelpful. But surely we can allow these differences to exist without questioning one another’s commitment to the faith and without rooting for one another’s demise!

For example, I will continue to speak out passionately against the patriarchy advocated by folks like John Piper because I feel strongly that the Church is better served when men and women are treated as functional equals. But if John and I had the chance to share communion together—to partake together of the body and blood of Christ—I would do it in heartbeat. I disagree with him, but he is my brother. We have more commonalities than differences. I think we just forget sometimes that we argue because of what we have in common.

Conservative, liberal, or in-between, we should continue to debate the doctrines and practices closest to our hearts. Unity is not the same as uniformity. But when we debate, we should do it assuming the best about one another, taking our thumbs off the scale, honoring our shared commitment to Christ.

We don’t have to be on the same page on every issue in order to love one another and work for peace.