Tag Archives: #evangelical

Brothers under the Skin

“We’re on a Mission from God”  (Jake and Elwood, the notorious Blues Brothers)


As the story goes, Jake (recently released from prison) and his brother, Elwood need to raise a lot of money in a short amount of time to save the Catholic school they grew up in.  They are in dire need and are looking for some hope.  It is out of a charismatic religious experience where they ‘see the light’ and find their mission from God.  For them, the revealed truth is to get the band back together. 

What about you?  What’s it going to take for you to believe?  What does it take to move from the epistemological position of not-believing to the assuredness of belief?  What exactly is the discernable space and varied location between belief and not-belief? 

These seem to be just a few of the questions that Charles Taylor sets out to explain in his masterful and astonishingly complete volume of work in “A Secular Age“.  I am not sure I have ever picked up a book with such a vast proposal as this one has, to explain the true macro shifts in ideas, beliefs and thinking within the secular and religious milieu.  In this way, as challenging as it is, Taylor’s work deserves not only to be read, but increasingly re-read. 

Being a lover of history and its connection to our present day context, I found his treatment of the Protestant Reformation as a major influence in the evolution of belief and knowledge that eventually led to the age of secularism we have today to be profoundly interesting.  Notably the inherent privatization of faith within the new Protestantism as it dramatically changed the ‘center of gravity of religious life’, no longer needing the church magic from the hierarchy, the sacred now became a matter of more inward and personal faith.  It is at least in this way that the Reformation layed the very groundwork neccessary for the present Secular age.  Taylor calls this shift the “Great Disembedding”, away from the transcendent commonwealth and to the immanence of the individual.  The pre-modern world previous to 1500 A.D. lived within the construct of the ‘porous’ self where there wasn’t a clear boundary between the spiritual and physical worlds.  With a clear disenchantment of this pre-modern world, the modern secular age was birthed within the ‘buffered’ self, a distinct disengagement from everything outside of the physical world. 

However, one of the main theses of Taylor’s work that captured my attention was his assertion that there is not an entirely opposite location between belief and not-belief, the religious and the secular.  He refers to the sides as ‘brothers under the skin’. 

But it’s not an accident that “Christians” fall into similar deviations to those of “secular humanists”.  As I have tried to show throughout this book, we both emerge from the same long process of Reform in Latin Christendom.  We are brothers udner the skin. (p. 675)

These brothers form a kind of step-family that Taylor calls “Secularity 3″; a middle way where belief and unbelief co-exist somewhat uneasily.  Whether from a place of belief or unbelief, Taylor asserts that humans are self-interpreting animals looking for meaning through the interpretation of their world.  These interpretations are where we get our sense of self and we often find it in one another.  The ultimate experience of our interpretations is what Taylor calls ‘fullness‘.  Fullness is where our answers are found and truth is self-evident and experienced.  Whether it be belief or unbelief, both brothers are seeking fullness through the interpretation of their world.  In this way, belief and unbelief are not competing theories, but are rather different means of understanding and searching for meaning (eventually leading to fullness).  Belief seeks its ultimate interpretation in the Transcendent (the realm beyond human life) and unbelief seeks its interpretive meaning in the immanent (within human life). 

So do either of the brothers ultimately lead to the ‘fullness’ that they set out to achieve?  Do they see the light?  Does their mission from God or not God get revealed?  Is one brother clearly preferred over the other?  Taylor finds several dilemmas in asserting any sense of clear distinction here in his conclusions.  He establishes that either brother requires at least an ‘anticipatory confidence’ (leap of faith) regardless of how one proclaims truth within the Transcendent and the other from it’s Immanent world.  He states:

We see from all this how life in a secular age (i.e. Secularity 3) is uneasy and cross-pressured, and doesn’t lend itself easily to a comfortable resting place.  This is what we see in the polemic, but it emerges also if we look at a range of concerns that are endemic to this age, those which touch on the issue of meaning in life. (p. 676)

‘Uneasy and cross-pressured’, does this at times describe your belief or not-belief?  It does mine and that’s coming from a guy who believes he’s on a mission from God.  😉



The Scandal of Thoughtless Christianity

This week our cohort is reading through and reflecting on Mark A. Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”   His thesis is pretty simple, yet provocative for the Evangelical.  “American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for generations.” (3)  His critique is not one from an outsider casting stones from afar, rather he describes himself as a ‘wounded lover’.  He is an evangelical protestant who simply wishes this was not the case, but the scandulous reality remains.  The American evangelical church is busy with action, but dangerously ‘anti-intellectual’ (26) in terms of grounded thought.  Noll points out that:  “For a Christian, the most important consideration is not pragmatic results, or even the weight of history, but the truth.” (50) 

So what’s the scandal?  Is it just a matter of focus?  Evangelicals are the ‘doers’ of the Church family, pragmatically focused on missional efforts and engaging the popular culture.  What’s the problem?  Noll proclaims that this isn’t ‘Christian’ thinking, rather it is more akin to “modern-day Manichaeans, gnostics, or docetists.” (51)  The separation of ‘this’ world and it’s thinking is of no consequence, that only efforts in relationship to eternal destiny is what is important.  This kind of dualism is not new, it’s historically been around, but it isn’t orthodox Christianity and Noll wants to call that out. 

Evangelicals are not interested in being involved in what is determined in the ‘mind’ of Western culture, they leave that to the activity of ‘this world’.  This is the scandal.  Re: the mind of Western culture:

“They define what is important, they specify procedures to be respected, they set agendas for analyzing the practical problems of the world, they provide vocabulary for dealing with the perennial Great Issues, they produce the books that get read and that over decades continue to influence thinking around the world – and they do these tasks not only for the people who are aware of their existence but for us all.  (51)

I am convinced that a large reason for the Evangelical withdraw from influential modern thought is within it’s chosen eschatology.  Largely influenced by the post-enlightenment, modern America dispensational idea of a pre-tribulation rapture, the end in mine is a world far from here where God dwells.  Thus what remains here has little value and is in essence, Godless.  I categorically reject this interpretation of the NT acknoledgements of the Second Coming and believe wholeheartedly that the the coming ‘new heaven and new earth’ will be a restoration of this one, not one in another cosmic galaxy beyond the clouds.  This is my home, but it is not yet Resurrected or completely restored.  However, it IS being restored, day by day, moment by moment, the Kingdom has come and IS coming. Therefore love this earth, love this culture, love these neighbors, love this future, love this place and time for thought.  I don’t see it as something that is waiting to be discarded, I see it as the very hope of a Kingdom that is coming and is waiting in pregnant expectation.  My value is here, in this place, with these people, noticing the glory of a God who is not far away but crosses to and fro from this side of the veil to the other. 

Therefore, I see intellectual Christian thought as a partnership with a God who created this world and it’s truths to be found.  Every new learning is a revelation of the Great Mind that put it all into being.  We are not in a culture war, the fact is that we abandoned culture.  That’s the scandal of it all. 

Love is an Orientation

“Reconciliation can only begin by searching our own souls and unabashedly uncovering our own secret conceits and prejudices.”  (82)


Our doctorate cohort is reading Andrew Marin’s Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community” this week and I found it to be a very compelling read on what the virture of Christian love is to be about.  In fact, I’ve been waiting to read on book on this issue from this perspective for some time, I didn’t know it existed. 

My intention is not to focus on the close-ended questions of right/wrong, biblical/unbiblical, genetic/conditioned, etc. etc.  Those questions/answers/opinions/interpretations are discussed in a thousand other venues of the inter-webs so I’ll choose to focus my gaze differently here.  Marin puts it this way:  “The way forward with the GLBT community is not a debate on the Bible’s statements about same-sex sexual behavior but a discussion of how to have an intimate, real, conversational relationship with the Father and Judge.” (87)

What I care to focus on is can we have gracious, charitable, human conversation with the gay community as the evangelical church?  Can we talk as fellow human beings trying to find the healing of all our brokeness before the One who made all of us?  Don’t we all have that in common, a desire to find the wholeness of our created humanity?  Isn’t that the beginning of our spiritual longings, a humility that starts with the recognition that I don’t have it all together?  Don’t we all share a spiritual ‘hiraeth’, a longing to be home?  I think we do, I think the table is big enough, round enough and hospitable enough for all to gather around it for those conversations.  Regardless of sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, class, size, status, stock options, appearance, background, education, vocation, family history, zip code, passport etc. , can we sit at the round table and seek truth together?  I hope so, because it is there where the need in me finds resonance in the needs of others.  We share the same poverty and longing to be whole, regardless of the specifics. 

According to Marin, he proposes that this dialogue ought to start with those who believe that God is love and that is their central and defining orientation.  The conversation is not about agreeing, it’s just about loving each other enough to ‘hear’ the other .  “Validation is different from affirmation, and it is an essential starting point to take gay people at their word.  The more skeptical we are, the more we doubt the validity of a gay’s or lesbian’s life, the more shallow and ineffective our relationships become.” (35) 

It is my perspective that church is very similar to an AA meeting.  You opt-in by showing up, each time.  You come voluntarily, you invest because you believe you have a sickness that is beyond you and within the community of others you find hope.  In addition, there is this ‘higher power’ that offers perspective and wisdom that is not of this broken world.  The ‘higher power’ offers elevated thoughts for health and healing, the community finds that voice in one another.  You keep coming and by showing up you keep opting in out of a place of need, you never leave your place of need.  No one judges another, rather they find resonance in the brokenness of another.  It is honest, it is sometimes raw, but it is where life works.  Marin says that: “Church is a place to give rest to your soul, a place of gathering where anyone should be able to come and involve themselves with a community of believers who are joined by a common faith in the Lord Almighty.” (59)

What does Christian community look like?  Marin shares a story in chapter 8 of Dr. Becky Kuhn of Global Lifeworks, an organization dedicated to education and collaboration for a healthier HIV/AIDS community.  In working with HIV/AIDS patients, Dr. Becky has realized that there is one common communication that all her patients want of her:  1) “Please don’t lie to me” and 2) “Please don’t leave me”. (140)   Is it possible for the Christian community to take this kind of call seriously and seek to build a bridge to not only the gay community, but any community of broken fellow human beings?   If we insist on being the judge and jury of the world we didn’t create, are we reflecting the wholeness of our God or the brokenness yet within us, not them?

I really appreciated Marin’s treatment and experience of what has become a tension-filled and politcally charged issue for the church in America.  I’ll close with his words:  “The Christian community must honestly, authentically, sincerely and humbly represent ourselves, our beliefs and our actions as the bearers of Christ’s message.” (169)  . . . “All God needs are willing hearts to extend his unconditional love for all his children – gay and straight.  This is our blessing.  This is our bold calling.  This is our orientation.” (189) 

I agree.