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Reaching

Post-evangelical musings

Wrapped up Blue Like Jazz this morning. Some thought-provoking stuff sprinkled through the second half, and I want to be on my guard not to simply dismiss those things that rubbed me the wrong way. Taken as matters of fact, many of Miller's observations are highly questionable; as opinions, they simply are what they are. Really, the book is a lot like reading someone's journal, and it's easier for me to give it the level of consideration its due by not viewing it more highly or prescriptively than that. Since I read the journals of other interesting people daily, I don't think I stand as awed by it as some readers seem to be. Even so, it's good to have some challenge in order to better evaluate what I believe and consider new perspectives. Maybe I'll go back and dig in a little more later.

Had a good talk with John a while back about the "post-evangelical" mindset. Seems that lots of those driving the emerging church movement come from a strong but restrictive religious background, complete with home and/or Christian schooling (from what I gather, those qualities apply to Miller). In many cases, their leanings are a response to, and often rebellion against, this culture, as well as an exploring of the limits of newfound freedom. It can be a challenge to reconcile all that with continued devotion to Christ and a high view of His Church, and that's the challenge so many are taking up. It's akin to Amish rumspringa in many respects, though the old authority structures often completely lose voice in the life of a post-evangelical. Thus, they can be left to continue wandering without much call from community to commit to a (non-self-defined) life of faith—unless that community is built from the ground up by like-minded, "relevant" people.

Since that's not my background, I'm often puzzled by where some of the post-evangelicals are coming from. My first exposure to it was in my seminary intro theology course a few years back. The rest of the students seemed floored ("disrupted," in their jargon) by dealing directly with some of the messier aspects of theology, often leaving class stunned and sometimes spiralling into a crisis of faith. I didn't get the big deal. Had these folks honestly never thought about some of these issues and their implications?

But that's the thing—they hadn't. It was probably avoided in their churches and schools, which were also insular from other perspectives (Christian and non). And so, it's completely understandable to become skeptical of a faith system that seems to have withheld God from you, perhaps so skeptical that it seems a better thing to reject religion altogether (at least in its historic forms) and begin fresh with a "nonreligious Christian spirituality." Still, from where I sit, that can be a self-centered cop-out, an immature response to legitimate (but often misattributed) pain. I'm challenged and honored to share the journey of following Christ with these brothers and sisters, but I'm not likely to seek them out as leaders—not until the pendulum swings back a bit and the Kingdom's reality outside their experience becomes more real and compelling to them.

Comments

Blue Like Jazz is on my list of books to read.

I'm attending a church that could easily be described as emerging/post evangelical. My experience is that a lot of our members/attenders (including me) and leaders have found it as an escape from larger para/mega churches. Have you found the same?
Seems like it, but I'm far from an expert and have a great chance of being dead wrong on any and all of this.

My church has similar qualities. I'm thankful, however, that we are intentionally connected to the historic church and to our denomination. Remaining under the authority of elders with an ongoing track record with Christ (even if they "do church traditionally") is huge and steers us from just reinventing church to our preferences. We need that. Our congregation likely would have dissolved three years ago without that tether to the greater church.

Even so, something as simple as regular participation in corporate worship is a challenge for a rumspringa congregation like ours. We have far to go and much to learn.
But that's the thing—they hadn't.

So true!

I suppose I would have to classify myself as pre-evangelical. Is that term being used at all?
If not, you have dibs!
Well said.

I'm pre-evangelical too, so I really don't grok the "emerging" thing.
What do you mean by "pre-evangelical"?
My Christian tradition pre-dates the "evangelical" movement. Many of the cultural issues of that movement don't apply to my way of thinking.
some of the messier aspects of theology...the old authority structures often completely lose voice ... community is built from the ground up by like-minded, "relevant" people....the Kingdom's reality outside their experience...

This gives me a lot to chew on. I hope that I am able to see past the end of my own nose, but in the same breath, I see some of these errors in myself. because it's all about me, the commenter. :oP

". Taken as matters of fact, many of Miller's observations are highly questionable; as opinions, they simply are what they are. Really, the book is a lot like reading someone's journal, and it's easier for me to give it the level of consideration its due by not viewing it more highly or prescriptively than that."

Agreed. While I read the book and sort of liked it, I had the same basic reaction that you did.

Have you read Ancient/Future Faith?

Back to my snake handlin'.

Boy, you hit something on the head. I grew up as a Christian pretty much on my own. At eleven I had to call strangers from the Grace Baptist Church directory to ask for rides to services and Bible studies. I learned early that it was a kind of blessing to have grown up outside of things. In a way, I'm still outside of things, but I always hunger for God's church and am convicted that, even in my most justified judgmental moments, I am called to humility and submission. Church is a privilege.

I'm hearing an awful lot of this talk made to prove something, if you know what I mean. People have to prove they have their very own faith, not a boring, shameful, unhip received faith of their parents. Many, especially with Christian educations, have been unchallenged and seem to have a gnawing feeling in their guts that they aren't properly sophisticated (they aren't, but so what?) and hip. They want to find a third way so that they can face Jesus on the Judgment Day whilst still being comfortable at gay rights rallies and what not. It's all so nauseating and self-conscious. The only important thing is loving God as commanded. When we are ashamed of our families and people, well, we are deeply impoverished. I'm really glad that I am granted a God who picks me up when I fall, and a vision of life that is often clearer than I expect.

Yes, this Evangelical self-hatred is pathetic. God is hip enough for me, I guess. I could say more, I guess. But you know all, Mr L.
Having been able to talk with Mr. Miller about his book and what he believes, I would have to say that that's not at all the point he's getting at. He's much more of a comparist in his writing: he sees something that seems out of place in culture, compares it with an analogy, and moves on. He's actually much more frank about admitting that he has struggled with questions about his faith (which is a completely healthy thing to do, and I doubt you'd disagree), and then he offers his solutions, or at least the ones that have worked for him.

I think the point he's trying to make is that there's a deeper problem underlying all of this--our need to compare. It happens out there, it's happened in this thread (just take a look at the reactions in the comments--why?), and it happens at every point of Christian history.

You could say I am a post-evangelical, if you will--I have many pre-modern ideas, but I have a postmodern life experience of coming to Christ. However, I don't think that dismissing all of post-evangelical thought circles as just reliant on feelings and experience is a very fair nor honest statement.

I would argue on the other hand, that emerging culture and its postmodern equivalent are a reaction to the knee-deep faith that they grew up in (and yes, this is a historical repetition; it's happened multiple times nearly every century since Christ's resurrection), and the admittal that the current systems are not providing the level of depth they need to grow as Christians. While it may be working for you in your mindset, which is as you admitted related to your upbringing, it's not for them. And they're doing, in my opinion, what they should do--find Jesus the way that He's shown Himself to you, embrace it and run with it.

Their theology is solid, their commitment to church and community is often much stronger than most non-post-evangelicals would give it credit, and they have a unique advantage to their benefit: they can relate, almost uncannily well, with the culture around them. This has brought many to Christ (myself included) and I would find it simply arrogant to criticize.

It's alright that you have your dissensions and differences with this culture. That's fine--really, it is. It's healthy too. But this isn't a simple black-and-white matter either: we're supposed to live with one accord, but that doesn't mean we all live as Corinthians, either.
Having been able to talk with Mr. Miller about his book and what he believes, I would have to say that that's not at all the point he's getting at.

What isn't? This is just an entry in my journal, filled with my thoughts—I wasn't trying to define what point Miller may have been making, or even talking about him much at all beyond the first paragraph of this entry. My observations were peripherally connected to reading the book, but I didn't mean to suggest they were anyone's but my own. Sorry if that was unclear.

Thanks for sharing the rest of your thoughts, though!
Lee, stop offering your own opinions in your journal. It's very inconvenient for the rest of us. ;)
I too found the book to be a reaction against the restrictive backgrounds. Being one of those who hail from the anti-Harry Potter/no dancing/barefoot & pregnant churches, I really tried to watch my thoughts and motivations as I pulled myself out of that restrictive arena into a walk with my Abba. I didn't want to use my faith as a way to rebel. It seems with some of those in this mode of thought the elder brother inside of them has taken his toys and started a new game with similar but less challenging rules. Alterna-christians jazzing up their religion to collectively conform by not conforming.