6.08.2009

XWB Discussion Post #1

This post is a part of the online discussion about Doug Pagitt's book "A Christianity Worth Believing in anticipation of his visit to Columbus."

Introduction: "I want to believe differently."

The following is an excerpt from chapter 1, taken from here. You can also listen to a reading of the chapter or download a .pdf of the whole chapter here.

I am a Christian — a theologically trained, church-planting, evangelizing, Jesus-loving Christian. I trust in resurrection, and I seek to join with God in the world. But I have problem, an internal conflict that has only gotten worse in my twenty years of following this faith. It’s the kind of problem I tell others about with great caution and no small amount of anxiety.

I am a Christian, but I don’t believe in Christianity.

At least I don’t believe in the versions of Christianity that have prevailed for the last fifteen hundred years, the ones that were perfectly suitable in their time and place but have little connection with this time and place. The ones that answer questions we no longer ask and fail to consider questions we can no longer ignore. The ones that don’t mesh with what we know about God and the world and our place in it. I want to be very clear: I am not conflicted because I struggle to believe. I am conflicted because I want to believe differently.

I especially appreciate Doug's honesty here, right at the beginning of the book, clearing confessing his faith, but admitting to his unbelief in the prevailing systems of Christianity and struggle to believe differently.

Have you felt this tension before, between loving Jesus, but not loving Christianity? Where has it led you? What particular parts of the "versions of Christianity" do you struggle with, disagree with, or give you problems? Is it possible to be a Christian but not believe in Christianity? How will that affect your involvement in church and with other Christians?

Perhaps the most important questions are, if you have felt this tension, how have you successfully resolved it or found answers? Where do you find hope, even within Christianity? Obviously in the book Doug goes on to offer, as the subtitle states, "a hope-filled, open-armed, alive and well faith for the left-out, left-behind and let-down." But it may be important first to recognize that there are many who love Jesus, but are feeling beat down and disappointed with the versions of Christianity that are commonly offered.

7 comments:

Glenn King said...

My understanding is that you do not mind impute into these discussions even from those persons who do not particularly see themselves as "Emergent" Christians. So let me throw in few thoughts by which I probably vary greatly from others. My experience is quite different and probably places me completely out of the Christian community. Most of my life I in fact have had a difficulty in loving "Jesus." I in fact have always been able to relate to God more than to Jesus. The problem for me has always been that I have always been vary unclear which is the true version of Jesus. I can only "know" Jesus though the various interpretation that Christianity has offered of him. None of these in my eyes has ever been fully satisfactory. In the modern period of course many new interpretations are being offered by liberals such as Dominac Crossen, Marcus Borg etc. (Note. I am not really very read in the emergent writers.) I do not find these all that persuasive either. So the point is I can not really make a major distinction between Christ and Church because the church or at lest certain writers in the Church decide how we are to see Jesus.

My other response to your questions, is that I am not at all sure what "not believing in Christianity" means? Obviously all Christian churches and theologies have problems. They all are imperfect. None of them are change agents or justice seeking entities. That is probably inevitable because human nature in general resists justice and change. Since human beings make up the church the church will have a real problem in that as well. However in spite of this I am increasing finding things that I do like in Christianity. Often these are involved the whole tradition of art, architecture, worship, the devotion, the beauty of liturgies, the inspired writing of individual Christian prophets mystics and thinkers. I appreciate a lot of this stuff. Therefore while I have a jaded perception of modern Christianity in the fact is that there is much in the ancient and not so ancient traditions of Christianity in which I do believe.

Glenn

NancyJ said...

The Emergent movement stirred within me a longing that traditional Christianity had not.

A longing for truth
A longing for hope
A longing for God.

However, to live in this state of longing is tiring. It is difficult to sustain that kind of energy as its very nature is tension. And I grew weary.

In the past several months I have noticed that my questions not do not have the intensity nor are they in as great of number as they once were. (The very thing that fueled my energy in the Emergent movement.)

If Christianity contains all the answers and the Emergent movement contains all the questions, maybe we could consider another path—one where we would continue to say yes to the longing deep within us that compels us to find and know God…



I yearn for a place not yet known to me.
Something deep within beckons me to go.

Come drink deeply of the cup named longing;
Listen for the melody uniquely yours.

But the longing holds a bitterness and stench potent beyond my ability to drink.
And the melody takes me further toward a place I no longer wish to travel.

Sip slowly, Beloved; taste the sweet within the bitter.
Move with the gentle rhythm of the song.


And you will arrive.

NancyJ

Nick Nelson said...

In the last several years, as I have lived different places around the country, I have found the desire to “believe differently” and the notion that there is something that the American or Western or Traditional Church has missed or forgotten or lost to be very common. I want to believe that this common longing for something more points to truth. I think what has been lost is an accurate picture of the Kingdom and the centrality of the call to manifest the Kingdom in Jesus’ message. I have prayed fervently that God would show me His Kingdom, that I could know Him and Jesus, better, more fully. Over the years, that prayer has been answered bit by bit, in pieces, like a puzzle. But it isn’t mystical or a secret. In fact, I have found that it is right there in front of us in the Book we all claim to be the word of God

G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not be tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.” I think this strikes to the core of what has been lost in the Church. The modern (and post-modern) Church has nuanced and caveated its way out of The Way. Upon reading the words of Jesus, it seems like Americans have said, “He can’t possibly have really meant that. If I did that it would ruin my life. People would think I was weird. I wouldn’t fit in. It would be extremely uncomfortable. He probably meant something more like…” And funny how what Jesus meant to say conveniently fits right in with our worldly ambitions, desires, and paradigms. Bonheoffer talked about a costly discipleship, and indeed the life Jesus calls us to costs us everything. The faith which Christianity often indulges costs very little. Precisely because there is no cost, it is worth very little, which is why the title of Pagitt’s book rings true in my heart.

I loved Nancy’s poem. She emphasized movement. I think “questioning” can be made into an idol and we can get stuck in the mire of questions. And since so many of the questions we have don’t really have answers, if we make finding the answers contingent upon moving forward, we may never move. For sure, doubt and questioning are a vital part of faith, but they must be balanced by confidence in something for there to be movement. This is where I think the Bible becomes so critical. There are truths there that move us forward, closer to Jesus, closer to God, deeper into the Kingdom.

Glenn hinted at this with, “None of them are change agents or justice seeking entities.” We know almost intuitively that justice is central to the character of God and this is a big part of what is missing in the church. Jesus said, “I desire compassion, not a sacrifice.” (Matt 9:13 and 12:7). The term sacrifice here refers to the religious ritual. This reveals to us the heart of Jesus. He isn’t obtuse about what he means by compassion either, and yet it seems the western church and many Christians just don’t get it or don’t want to. We are warned against this in James, “Faith without works is dead.” (2:20). The church, while on the surface does many works/charity, often times does so in a way that is divorced from true relationship and interaction with those it is serving. As a consequence it loses much of the spiritual value. Jesus didn’t merely minister to the poor, he lived life with them, knew them as brother and sisters. When he said he desired compassion, not a sacrifice, he was sharing a meal with a group of people who had been marginalized by their society; he validated their status as His children and revealed to them their true value. Unfortunately, getting truly, deeply involved in peoples’ lives is uncomfortable and messy and we want comfort. But these works, this compassion, gives us something to hold on to, to move forward with, to toil for and long after while we are asking our questions. And along with way, seeking first the kingdom, you will find Jesus, glimpses here and there, in the faces of the needy and in broken lives resurrected.

The Metzes said...

As a pastor, working with people in churches have made the distinction between Christ and Christianity very vivid. Many more people in my church are in love with Christianity than Christ. Your post is in the vein of Dan Kimball's book They Like Jesus but not the Church. I find this distinction incredibly provocative, and, unfortunately, more often than not true.

I see many in my church who treat the church as though the church they are part of is nothing more than another social setting teaching lessons on being a Good American. That's what you do in our culture: vote, pay taxes, keep your lawn mowed at a respectable length, complain about gas prices, go to church, etc. It's the disease of suburbia that I work in the midst of every day. Few of us ask what implications Jesus' has for us. It's a lot safer to sit around in small groups in the safety of our church debating subtleties in our orthodoxy, securing the boundaries of our Christendom. That's what most of our folks have done for generations. That's all we know. The great thing Emergent has done is provide a format to step outside the boundary of "safe" discussion and pursue Christ outside the box of "Christianity."

The key for me is to ask the questions respectfully and also humbly honoring the generations past that have harbored safety and security for a pantheon of people. Questions force us to look at our foundations, they question our existence, but they don't have to destroy it. Perhaps the great contribution of Emergent will be the realization of the necessity of a disassociation from our social construct in revealing "our truth."

Glenn King said...

Nancy, first I would like to say that I liked the poem. Are you the author or another? Could I ask you some questions regarding your statement?

"The Emergent movement stirred within me a longing that traditional Christianity had not.

A longing for truth
A longing for hope
A longing for God."

I am curious could you explain that statement more? What do you mean when you state that traditional Christianity does not stir you and emergent Christianity does? Why particularly does traditional Christianity not stir you and why does Emergent Christianity have the opposite effect? Note. I am really not Emergent and have some real difficulty understanding Emergent viewpoints on many issues. Through much of my own life Christianity has hardly inspired me either but then seldom have the images of Jesus communicated by the traditional church's inspired me. The second question deals with your longing for truth, hope, and God. What do you mean by a longing for truth? There is clearly factual informational truth, metaphysical truth, the truth shall set you free type of truth that Jesus refers to in the book of John. I do not understand that truth either. What kind of truth do you long for? Further more what is the relationship between your desire for truth and the longing for God?

This is all I have to ask. I am just attempting to get a grasp on emergent thinking.

Glenn King

NancyJ said...

Glenn,

In answer--I go back to the place of the beginning of all my questions—the Garden of Eden. (Even though the creation story may be myth, I still think truth is embedded there.)

Christianity defines God as all knowing, all powerful, all present.

If God is all knowing, why would he put the equivalent of a pedophile in a playroom with an innocent two year old and then get angry when the two year old was no match for that evil?

If God is all powerful, why wouldn’t He have destroyed Satan back in the Garden?

If God is all present, why did He need to call out to Adam, Where are you?

So these are really naïve questions, right? And a theologian would scoff at them. The Emergent Cohort became a safe place for me to wrestle with these questions and many more.

Who is God? What is truth? What is my hope for life right now beyond my getting into Heaven? Was God’s plan for us all along to include suffering and evil? Without evil and suffering, would we know compassion, humility and what it truly means to be loved?

I deeply respect and am grateful for Christianity. I want to continue to understand all that it means to follow Jesus and I still love to read the Bible. As I ask questions outside of the boundaries of Christianity, it is not my intention to be offensive or sacrilegious—I just want to get closer to God.

I am the author of the poem. I have in the past been content with immediate answers and a simple life. Longing is new to me and different. Not only is this longing without neat and tidy resolutions, it is painful to want something that seems impossible.

However, I am finding its benefits. There is an undercurrent of rightness to it and it requires patience and trust because so much uncertainty accompanies it.

If the Emergent movement began with questions and a longing for deeper truth, I believe this is where the movement needs to go…

To accept that the lengthy, cumbersome and sometimes painful aspect of Longing’s path is as important as any answers we might find along the way.

Jane Johnson said...

Glenn,

I was intrigued by your comment that you have always been able to relate more to God than to Jesus, because I feel the same way. As a little girl I was always thinking of "God" when I prayed in my head. When you're only 4, ideas like the Trinity or even Jesus' death don't make a lot of sense, so I think that for many years before I could understand these things I was experiencing God much more than conceptualizing or dogmatizing (nice word, huh) God.

Christianity is a product of human culture, born from humans desperately lifting their minds up to supernatural truths. I think the same thing is true of other religions.

The experiential nature of my faith and my tendency to think of Christianity as a cultural product really liberates me to consider God through whatever conceptualizations are the most resonant and useful. This also liberates me from feeling of guilt and struggle as I decide to reject aspects of my native Christianity.