October 18, 2017

Semi-Open Mic: What conversations should we have in 2015?

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Fuller Seminary has a nice page suggesting “15 Conversations the Church Needs to Have in 2015.” In his introduction to this page, seminary president Mark Labberton says,

Our faculty are always thinking deeply about the issues, challenges, current events and pressing realities we need to grapple with in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in a world that so urgently needs his touch. They are leaders in evangelicalism and pioneers in their fields, nurturing conversations in their classrooms that wrestle with what it means to be called to lead as a Christ follower in this world.

Then the various faculty members contribute a paragraph about one conversation they think is needful for the church to have in the year to come. For example, Kurt Frederickson, Associate Dean for the Doctor of Ministry and Continuing Education and Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry, writes:

The church needs to wrestle with how to live into our unity in Christ, breaking down the barriers of race, class, gender, and age. We are to be a radically different community, not simply a gathering of people “just like me.”

And Francis W. Bridger, Executive Director of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies and Ecclesiastical Professor of Anglican Studies, adds:

How can we act justly and be faithful to the life-changing gospel of Jesus at the same time? How can we witness to the reality of Christ in a culture that is increasingly post-Christian?

I encourage you to read the rest of the contributions and consider what some of the leading professors in American evangelical higher education are thinking about these days.

But that’s not what we’re going to talk about today.

Instead, I’d like to piggy-back on Fuller’s excellent idea and host a semi-Open Mic in which we follow their example and ask a question of our own:

“What conversations do you think we should have here on Internet Monk in 2015?

Here are the rules:

  • Limit your suggestion to one paragraph, please.
  • From 12 midnight to 12 noon eastern time (U.S.) please submit ONLY your conversation idea.
  • After 12 noon, you may begin interacting with other submissions, supporting or challenging them, offering ideas about how one might be improved or why another doesn’t go far enough or why you think another is not a pertinent topic. In short, for the rest of the day we’ll have a conversation about the ideas that have been set forth.

And . . . start.

Comments

  1. I think a discussion of why seminary professors (such as the two you have highlighted above) always seem to revert to the law (something that we ought be doing, or doing differently) and trying to make people ‘better Christians/citizens’. I bring it up because it seems so prevalent and counter-productive…producing only despair (can’t do it)…or pride (I’m doing it).

    • I do *not* believe that discussing “make people ‘better Christians/citizens'” is “law”. It is living life.

      • Anything that we should be doing…is law. There’s NO gospel in it. There’s no freedom in it.

        But for many Christians, ‘the Christian project’ is what it is all about.

        • Enough already says:

          What you’re talking about as “law” (basically what existing as a living breathing human being requires) is not what Paul means by Law (Torah). He most certainly doesn’t mean “anything that we should be doing”.

          • No. Paul states that anything that our existence demands from us…is law.

            That includes the 10 Commandments…and everything else that demands something from us.

        • Your categories are existentially incorrect – something is not either GOSPEL or LAW. Many, most, things are neither. And something not being GOSPEL, or LAW for that matter, does not render something meaningless or worthless.

    • Perhaps we need some New Perspective discussion…..

    • Jesus spent three and a half years trying to teach his disciples to grow into better citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul spent something like thirty years at it. I can look back a year or forty years and say to myself, You’ve come a long way, you’ve got a long way to go, thank You Lord. Part of the thanks goes to iMonk. You find teachers where you find them. Don’t see how this is a matter for either despair or pride. Neither do I see what law or gospel has to do with it except in a historical and foundational sense. I’m doing my best as a child of God to work on this project of my spiritual growth here on Earth with God’s help, and I appreciate all the help I can get.

  2. Faulty O-Ring says:

    1. How can Western Christianity reconcile its responsibilities to European civilization, with its universal aspect? And what insights does socio-biology bring to this struggle over political identity? (The same question could be asked about non-Western national churches, such as the Ethiopian Tehawedo Church.)

    2. I would like to see this site explore various Christian traditions which it has so far overlooked, such as Quakerism, the Mennonites, Swedenborgianism, Mormonism, Christian Unitarianism, Rastafarianism, or the New Age. We often hear from / about Catholic or Orthodox voices, why not these?

    3. Exploration of the writings of selected, representative liberal theologians such as John Spong.

    • I would agree that there is value in exploring the viewpoint of Christian traditions we often overlook, though I would not include everything in that list as a Christian tradition.

      If we had authors who come from and write from such perspectives it would be easier to explore them. I’m not going far out on a limb to say that we won’t be attracting any Amish writers to our conversations. Absent authors from a tradition, we’ll only really be able to explore those viewpoints if an existing author is interested in understanding and representing such a viewpoint.

      • Faulty O-Ring says:

        You never know who might be reading. Or who might respond positively to an invitation to write something.

  3. I think we should have a discussion about how we as American evangelicals should live and prepare for bad economic times. America in general, and Americanized Christianity in particular, worships success. Many of us (and our friends and neighbors) never recovered from the “last” big recession, and I think more may be on the way. We need to seriously reexamine Christ’s teachings on wealth and poverty, and how to adjust our expectations from life.

    • I would be interested in reading such a conversation – I doubt I would have much to contribute. I am very skeptical that religion or Christianity specifically has much of anything new or specific to bring to the table; sound financial management is sound financial management regardless of denomination. But I curious if someone else has novel thoughts about this issue. Certainly the financial future is going to be different than recent past – for countless reasons [regardless if said future is calamitous or prosperous] – so it is a prescient issue.

      • I didn’t have financial planning strategies in mind so much as being mentally and spiritually prepared to lose things that Americans consider essential – high-paying stable jobs, homes, cars, health care. Are we, IOW, prepared to be poor?

        • An interesting twist. The ‘problem’ with the notion is that there is no such thing as an “American”. That is a really diverse group. I wish I could remember the link but there are surveys about attitudes about financial risk/certainty – and they vary widely. The general meme is that the current young generation are more adapted to uncertainly than Boomers and GenX [me] who tend to worry about it a lot more… while living lifestyles that generally involve much more collateralized debt. It is a fascinating topic; people seem to create the circumstances to yield their culturally anticipated level of stress – wierd, more stress does not yield more conservative behavior.

  4. In the quotations above, these words stand out: issues, challenges, pressing, grapple, urgently,leaders, pioneers, wrestle (2x), nurturing conversations, breaking down, radically different.

    My topic suggestion is this: how can we become more peaceful, silent, and humble and leave behind the language of strife, while still loving others and being the face of Christ in the world?

  5. Seeking peacefulness in an unquiet world.

  6. That Other Jean says:

    How is the Evangelical dread of “works righteousness” reconciled with “be(ing) the hands and feet of Jesus Christ”? How is it possible to separate “faith” and “works”? Do they clearly mean different things, or is” faith alone” a kind of selfishness?

    • I felt the [IMO entirely bogus] issue of Works-vs-Faith was well treated in 2014. There was an entire week devoted to the topic; and there was some great conversation.

      • That Other Jean says:

        Thanks for the reminder. I’ll go back and re-read what was said, since I don’t recall that the questions I had then were answered. For what it’s worth, I also think the distinction isn’t worth much–I’m more inclined to believe that faith results in helping others, in ways both practical and spiritual. But I have known some “I’ve got faith and I’m doing OK; if you’re not, you just need more faith–I’ll pray for you.” sort of evangelical Christians. Some of them were good people, but they seemed to see God as a vending machine: prayer resulted in good things, and if it didn’t, pray harder.

  7. I’m inclined toward Damaris’ and Patricia’s suggestions. The blogosphere is loaded with thoughts on how we believers view pop culture and church culture issues. I would love to see us have some discussion on spiritual practices…fasting, fixed hour prayer, pilgrimage, the church year (I know Michael wrote on this before….but maybe some discussion of how we order our time as believers), almsgiving. A look at monastic practices (silence, solitude, chastity, etc.) would also be interesting.

    I can recall my first reading of Internetmonk and feeling a rush of happiness…there were people in the world who had endured and survived post-modernism with scars and pain, just like me…I finally found people I could relate to. I’ve moved into a different place, and I’m finding my peace with God. These are some of the topics that helped me get there.

    How about some biographical sketches from time to time? Saints, writers, theologians, Bible figures…maybe from some unlikely sources? Like say, a Baptist’s perspective on St. Francis? An Orthodox view of Billy Graham’s work?

    Finally, for a broad topic, what if we heard from some different voices on what it would take to have a shared Eucharist amongst all believers?

    Okay, that’s more than one paragraph. I’m stopping now…

  8. I would like to see a conversation about how we never having chose this world reconcile with God. A question I have been asking him ever since I can remember. Lately I realize I must extend grace back to Him in reconciling and I wonder if grace is a two way street as love is. Also it has dawned on me that in Genesis this is never what he wanted for me either and how that fits in with the creation story knowing the presentation is of ideas and thoughts.
    A great amount of weight has been lifted when I started down this road yet I feel it incomplete. Of course Christ is the cornerstone but the ties must be through the whole story.

    Second the Duet. 14 tithe and how that fits with the Temple being cleared and what part of the Temple that actually was and how this all fits with the Prophets. One He had zeal for His Father’s house and also in Malachi when he was speaking about robbing God and why we represent God for own petty reasons through this.

    Another is how the law exposes the love of God or exhibits it. Like the tithe in Duet. I see that the heart of God was in spending time with those He loves and what other laws and how they do the same.

    • “I would like to see a conversation about how we never having chose this world reconcile with God.”

      w, it is my belief that we did indeed choose to come here into whatever particular situation we were born in, that this was not imposed on us, but offered with full disclosure and with complete freedom to say no. Part of the deal involves the blocking of the memory of the deal for this lifetime. Doesn’t mean that every detail of our life was scripted ahead of time, we still have choice in how we react and act upon the story in process. When I first heard this, there was an instant recognition of its truth, at least for me, but it is not the kind of thing that can be proved either by logic or by the Bible. It has given me a great deal of peace and acceptance of what otherwise I might be angry and bitter over, not that I am not still dealing with some of the residue. Yeah, I did agree to this.

      • I read your paragraph over a few times and I’m not getting it. If I were to talk to many people they would say they would not have chose this and the way they are living with wants and desires to be something else. I realize that I am thankful now but most of my life and even to some extent today I would have wanted things to be different especially when it comes to suffering and death. I understand this is a fallen world and God did not want this for us either or the Genesis story about his warning would not be a valid idea. I realize that to him it has always been reconciled in Christ as there was never a plan B but to me this is something I didn’t see till much later in life. Now that I have I seen the so many little things I took for granted in my younger years as extremely special only I wasn’t able to enjoy them as I would be able to now reflecting back on them.

        Reconciling requires that I accept it and also return the exact same thing in order that I am still not rebelling and saying I did not choose this so go away. I don’t know if that makes sense and this is why I am interested in the depths of reconciling. It seems like a concept in healing the rift between us as in Him and I and I have to be willing to do that. Something up until lately I don’t know if I was willing to do. Is any of this making any sense???

        • Yes, making sense. Maybe not choosing this, but accepting it ahead of time, there’s a difference. What if you accepted the assignment of being born into an intentionally created famine situation with the likelihood of dying in pain and misery, helpless before you could walk or talk. What if that soaked up enough pain to push this world over into the new age of realized Kingdom Life, or at least got us closer? Could you do it? I could probably commit to it, and after you’re born you don’t have much choice while you’re a child. It would not be fun.

          What if you accepted the assignment of having to watch your children butchered before your eyes because they would not deny Jesus? What if this soaked up enough pain and evil to push us over, or at least got us closer ? That’s a hard one, I dunno.

          What if you accepted the assignment of living your whole life totally and completely outside the demands of ego, no exceptions, no slack, then rewarded with being tortured to death, but this set multiple people free from captivity and opened a door that couldn’t be shut, would you do it? Could you do it? Maybe the torture part, maybe, living completely outside the ego, I just don’t think I could handle that even if I gave it my best shot, probably not even for a day.

          I don’t pretend to understand all this. Just know that my life makes little sense if it was thrust on me against my will, makes a great deal of sense if I agreed to undergo it beforehand as part of the most difficult schooling in the universe, limited positions available. The hardest part is already done for us. The rest of it is hard, not impossible, perfection not required.

          Are we having fun yet? I’m not, but I’m a lot closer than I was fifty years or five days ago, that could change. It only makes sense to me if I believe that I am being prepared, schooled, for a much bigger assignment. Megalomania? Maybe. If this is not making a worthwhile difference somewhere further down the road, what’s the point? Don’t know the outcome but I’m in it for the duration, I’ve made my commitment, I’ll take it like it comes, God help me.

          • I have had the conversation it would have been easier for me to hang on a cross. I know that the pain would have been excruciating and I would have been scared but It would have been easier for a day or two. The answer back I got was I want you to lay down your life day to day which is very hard for me. I also realize I had made a choice to not do the right things at times in my life but not in the total informed way that I would have chosen. If someone asked me if you do this millions will suffer and die and I could see all the ripples in the pond from it the outcome of my decision might be different. Might be as I am not sure having never had that chance. So in this way Genesis makes a little more sense.

            At some point there was light and I was here having no knowledge at all as to why I was put here. Now I know there must be reason of some sort as to how I fit if it is not just for love. i am not sure i grasp the concepts you are talking about. I realize at some point forgiveness and grace become the extension of His same that I have to issue back to Him in order to make it complete. I need to be forgiven and I need to forgive. I need to be reconciled and I need to reconcile. I need to receive grace and I need to give grace. These things are being given back to Him as He is in everything and doing these things with others at the same time. Somewhere here I sense healing between Him and I and that would include you and everyone else. It is a concept new to me and I still feel that it is incomplete and would like to work through it.

      • Charles, i am interested in finding out about where you heard/read this. It is a minority view, to say the least.

        • I’m putting my money on the “Conversations with God” series of books, by Neale Donald Walsch.

          • Let me make myself clear: I’m not endorsing or recommending these books! No, no, no, a thousand times, Nein (in the word of Karl Barth)! But the ideas Charles gives above are quite similar to Walsch’s ideas in that series of books, and just as counter-intuitive and counter-experiential (never mind logic or the Bible).

          • Robert – thanks, and no clarification needed. I don’t think citing a source means that a person necessarily agrees with the source, only that they’re providing an answer or info. Which is all that you did – answer my question.

        • Numo, I don’t have a particular source for you, tho I can recall running across this concept in a number of places, more or less explicitly. Not in the books Robert cites and I am not familiar with them. I can understand that it wouldn’t resonate with most people, nor is it important to either understand or believe. I have found it very helpful in my own walk as to accepting things hard to accept. While there are no explicit passages in the Bible concerning this, I don’t think anything there contradicts it, and much supports the idea in a general way, such as being known before we were born, and indeed from the beginning. But for me it was an intuitive recognition, not an intellectual concept that was proved. It all depends on the idea that our memory is, not erased, but put out of reach when we are born on Earth for this lifetime. And of course no way to prove that to a skeptical mind. Some people do seem to have the veil thinned a bit, but again that means nothing to a skeptical mind.

  9. Marcus Johnson says:

    I would like to see us discuss celebrity in evangelicalism. I’ve been doing some reading on my own, and I’ve noticed that evangelicalism, as a movement, has created and destroyed its own trove of celebrity pastors, artists, politicians, etc. for the past two centuries. Seems interesting.

  10. I’d love to discuss the topic raised by a joke from the comments on an earlier article. “God may have accepted you, but here at our church our standards are a little bit higher.” Is there anyone who should not be welcome at our churches? Are we prepared to be as crazily gracious as Jesus? How do we address the common situation in which people are welcomed at first, but then held to higher standards once they have been around long enough to “know better”? In a world of liability and CYA, how do we express true forgiveness and hope for redemption?

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      This is a great question. Not merely the “our standards are higher” bit, though there certainly is that. The really tricky situation is the church that sincerely wants to be crazily gracious, welcoming all, but doesn’t know how. I doubt that any really meets the crazily gracious standard. We fallen humans tend automatically to be most comfortable around people like us. What constitutes “like us” might be a matter of race or economic class or educational background or whatever. My downtown urban church has a “door ministry” handing out sack lunches. We regard this as a calling, and in any budget discussion the money for it will be found somewhere. Do we welcome the people receiving the lunches to worship with us? Absolutely! In theory, at least. In practice, when it happens the result tends to be uncomfortable all around. I know of no solution to this.

  11. A continuing conversation about various historical giants of the faith (early church fathers all the way through people such CS Lewis and NT Wright). Their stories, writings, positions on issues, etc… and how they impact us today.

  12. Michael Z says:

    I find that underneath the firmly-held beliefs that tend to generate the most argument and controversy in the church, we actually have another layer of even more deeply-held beliefs that we seldom examine, debate, or question. For example, we seldom question the idea that the sermon is the core of a church service and that growth in faith comes by learning something new about God. Another example is the beliefs we hold about why it is important to not sin; I think in many cases, the reason is a fear of punishment, even if that’s just punishment in the form of “separation from God.” A third example is our beliefs on what the Bible is meant to be, but IM already does a pretty good job of discussing that.

    • The whole building/pastor/sermon paradigm is crying out to be examined. Who is to say that the way we currently do “church” is ordained by God, or whether it has developed in the course of acculturation? Has the pastor centric pattern ALWAYS been thus? Is this really the BEST way to develop the Body of Christ? Are there viable alternatives that we should seek out?

      Currently there are various strategies for building a Church, but is any ONE superior than the others?

  13. I have a friend named Bob who found a way to pray without ceasing while in prison for taking a life. Time is the most important thing I have. Time is all you have in prison. I would like to know more about ways to spend time with God and getting to this point he describes through my busy day. He still does this and works more than anyone I know. I once told a fellow tile setter I looked forward to laying the precious stones that the saints would walk on when we leave here. I got corrected later in thought that I was already doing that here and how this plays out even though it is not forever. Maybe taking something like Paul said in doing everything unto Him and what that means to us. It could be any verse though and letting the minds here expand on it from different points of view. Maybe it could expand mine.

  14. We are to be a radically different community, not simply a gathering of people “just like me.”
    Dunno, would be nice to be in a gathering of at least a few people “like me”…

    Ok, as to the topic: How do we as American Christians help the persecuted church around the world?

  15. Discuss why the same lie the devil told Eve, that “The Man is keeping you down, and you should be like God” is still the lie that animates the world, including most churches. Discuss why a Christian should pretty much mind his own business until there is a direct threat to him and the people he loves. Discuss how incredibly fatigued many of us are by the left-legalists hectoring us (that is, us white Europeans with our not-to-be-atoned for original sins of racism, misogyny, and homophobia) to improve the world for the wretched of the earth, non-white non-Europeans (who are always born innocent and full of grace). Discuss why the brave men and women who conducted the Crusades and the Inquisition, and saved our civilization, are now routinely vilified and slandered even by teachers like NT Wright.
    Discuss why equality on this side of the new Jerusalem is a joke (that’s why we have chess boards and boxing rings, you know), and discuss why democracy is unworkable, always a race to the bottom of human nature, and cannot possibly be supported by anyone who believes a book that rather clearly says “Slaves, obey your masters.”

    • +1. I feel like there’s a lot pandering to the trendy leftist framework among alt-evangelical sites that I feel otherwise have their hearts in the right place.

      But on a similar note, I’d like to hear more discussion about the very notion of a Christian/Western civilization. While many good things have certainly resulted from it, the creation and maintenance of our own civilization bears no resemblance to what Jesus and the Apostles taught.

      There’s a certain strain of alt-right thought that champions the return to the Glory Days of Christendom (William S. Lind’s writings come to mind) that essentially uses Christianity as a tool to achieve its own purpose. I think that much of the spiritual decay in Europe is ultimately the result of a top-down cultural Christianity, and returning to that wouldn’t really do us any good.

      I come down somewhere in the middle, I guess – I’m extremely skeptical of leftist screeching about Racism! Sexism! Homophobia! but also not convinced that the cultural alternatives offered by the Right are really consistent with the Bible. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in the middle, and has yet to be fleshed out in our day.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        Maybe a good discussion would be on how to follow Jesus “somewhere in the middle.” I too am highly skeptical of leftist screeching and right wing ranting.

        Further: A good discussion would be on What loving your neighbor might look like in a highly polarized society. And along the same lines, how do we love our neighbor without necessarily offering our carte blanche approval? (And vice-versa, too!)

    • And when you’ve finished those discussions, clark, you and the three people left in the church with you can discuss why the rest of us are leaving the church in droves.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        +1

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        Nice, Stephen,

        Way to dismiss the concerns and interests of a lot of us. Lord knows we read/hear plenty of leftist or ‘progressive’ ideas here. God forbid anyone should utter anything that goes against the standard leftist narratives on any subject, much less commit blasphemy by defending the traditional view on anything and prove themselves to be a bigot/racist/homophobe/misogynist.

        • “the standard leftist narrative”? You mean like…Galatians 3:28? I’m sorry that all us white europeans are so put upon, having to share the earth with all those other unworthies and everything. Not getting to automatically be first in line is very stressful.

          Patrick, is that really what the Gospel says to you and clark…“Slaves, obey your masters”?

          -sigh-

          • I’ll confess to being interested in what these: “non-racist traditional ideas people call racist” could possibly be?

    • Discuss how incredibly fatigued many of us are by the left-legalists hectoring us (that is, us white Europeans with our not-to-be-atoned for original sins of racism, misogyny, and homophobia) to improve the world for the wretched of the earth, non-white non-Europeans (who are always born innocent and full of grace).

      Wow, Clark, you bring up a good point. The question is can this forum accept an idea that is not slightly left of center.

  16. David Cornwell says:

    Most of us are democrats and Christians. Being believers in democracy, we mostly believe in free speech. There are tensions involved as these values rub shoulders. We are willing to attend huge rallies in support of this “freedom.” But as Christians we believe in loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. How do we thus reconcile these two most important values? How does responsibility in our use of speech temper how we react and respond to other religions, political positions, and ethnic groups? What examples and hints do we find in the lives of Jesus, Paul, and some of our contemporaries? How does scripture inform us?

    • Great subject David! And by “democrats” I believe that you are meaning “democratic in belief” rather than Democrat by registration. Although I’d be willing to bet that THAT registration might describe more here than the flip side. I COULD be wrong, but…

      • David Cornwell says:

        Oscar, yes small d; believer in democracy in whatever form it might take.

        When I think about this subject, I’m not sure we, as followers of Jesus, have free speech. There is a lot of biblical content about what our speech should be about, and what it should not be about. The cartoonist in Paris has had me do a lot of thinking about this subject.

  17. Much of our lives involves financial activity: working, volunteering, buying, selling, giving, receiving, donating. There are lots of passages in scripture addressing these issues. The church has teachings in these areas. There are lots of topics here to discuss.

  18. As both Ken Ham and John Shelby Spong assert (for obviously different reasons), if everything came to being through evolution and not creation, then there never was a pristine state of existence from which humanity could fall, thus the slippery slope from denying young earth creationism to denying the gospel. What is redemption in an evolved world? Does the doctrine of atonement have a place, or is it obsolete and barbaric? Is there a way to defend these doctrines without reverting to young earth creationism? This I believe is the elephant sitting on the coffee table during the recent discussions on cosmology.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Setting aside the assumption that evolution and creation of mutually exclusive, Chaplain Mike has discussed Genesis 2 in a way that at least implicitly addresses this.

      • Assertion rather than assumption. I understand the concept discussed here viewing Genesis as a morality or wisdom story. I understand and agree with that. The problem is that any rejection of young-earth creationism is treated by young-earth creationists, atheists, liberal theologians, etc as toppling an entire house of cards of Christian doctrine build for centuries upon that one card. I don’t think that is true, but I’m not sure how to argue that point. If a solid argument can be identified, then these assertions become non-sequitur. If a solid argument is not available, then we’re looking at a messy game of 52 card pick-up.

        Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned evolution. If Darwin was never born, a literal interpretation of Genesis would still have not made sense.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “Assertion rather than assumption.”

          So it was. My mistake.

          “The problem is that any rejection of young-earth creationism is treated by young-earth creationists, atheists, liberal theologians, etc as toppling an entire house of cards of Christian doctrine build for centuries upon that one card.”

          If by “liberal theologians” you mean Spong & Co., then so what? As I have stated on other occasions, in a lifetime of activity in lefty Lutheran and Episcopal churches, I have not once heard liberal theology espoused either from the pulpit or in private. It is an idea whose time is past, and indeed passed nearly a half century ago. Spong exists far more as a bogeyman for the right than a leader for the left.

          If by “liberal theologians” you mean theologians who voted for Obama, I disagree with the assertion. Even many theologians who didn’t vote for Obama long ago made their peace with both Darwin and astrophysics.

          How to argue the point? Point out that the first two chapters of Genesis are commonly misinterpreted. Follow this by a better interpretation.

          • Again, my bad. I knew “Liberal” was too general and connotative. I do mean “liberal” in terms of Spong. There are many theologians that I highly respect who are often labelled “liberal”, so I have no stones to throw. I even respect Spong to a certain degree, but sometimes he’s too brash and loose with this arguments. The fact that he uses almost the exact same argument as Ham is both amusing and troubling.

            Also, you were actually correct in calling out assumptions in my original comment; I did not mean to imply assumptions as a presupposition of the statement, rather as a hypothetical. (Just imagine a world without hypotheticals…)

            In high school, the pastor assigned to our country Methodist church preached against everything from the Virgin birth, the resurrection, and miracles, so I have witnessed it, although not recently.

            My main point in mentioning Spong is to state that Ken Ham is not the only one using the slippery slope argument regarding Genesis and the gospel. I don’t think liberalism is a particular threat to Christianity. I have a hard enough time differentiating between conservative and liberal; the terms don’t mean what they used to.

    • The cosmological view espoused by the writer(s) of the creation accounts in Genesis is ancient and venerable and wholly commonsensible. Go outside and look around and what do you see? You live on a flat plate that encircles you. The sky is a curved dome. Water falls from the sky and wells up from the earth. Some variation on this view was held all over the Near East until relatively recently in historical time. It is hardly the fault of the ancients that one of the chief casualties of the modern scientific revolution was common sense.

      To stay in touch with reality we must follow the evidence wherever it leads us even if it leads us where we do not wish to go. Evolution is a fact. As incontrovertible as gravity. Who among us fully understands gravity and yet who among us denies that it exists? We are surrounded by unambiguous evidence that gravity exists just as we are surrounded by such evidence the evolution occurs.

      The Dalai Lama famously said that if he found out the scientific findings contradicted a tenet of Buddhism that he would accept the science and reject the Buddhist dogma. Will Christians show that much courage?

      • I think that is part of Spong’s argument, i.e. Christian doctrine is based upon a literal six day creation, a literal garden, and a literal fall; if in fact this is just a story and not literal truth, then everything which follows is false and must change or die. Again, Ham makes almost the same argument, but to defend young earth creationism.

        If Spong (and Ham) are correct, then yes, Christianity needs to change. That is the basis of my question: is change needed or is 2,000 years of Christian theology not dependent upon a particular interpretation of Genesis? Were the church fathers young earth creationists? I don’t believe Augustine was. Yes, some of these questions have been addressed before – either here or in Peter Ennes’ books.

      • Common sense or what can be seen with the naked eye alone?

      • “The Dalai Lama famously said that if he found out the scientific findings contradicted a tenet of Buddhism that he would accept the science and reject the Buddhist dogma. Will Christians show that much courage?”

        I think liberal Christianity in the nineteenth century did show exactly that kind of courage, and it did so by subjecting its own scriptures, the Bible, to the rigors of scholarly analysis, what we now call higher criticism. In fact, these liberal Protestant Christians were the first representatives of any worldwide to do so, and they also insisted that we should, as Christians, follow the truth wherever it leads, even if that means leaving behind traditional dogmas and doctrines. Some of their scholarship may not have been entirely sound, but their spirit was completely in keeping with what the Dalai Lama said, and they were a century ahead of him.

        • ….In fact, these liberal Protestant Christians were the first representatives of any worldwide religion to do so…

        • I’d love to have a blog post talking about THIS point exactly. So what was the fruit? What happened? Are we better off for it? Worse off for it?

          Where does it leave us? What questions did it ask? How uncomfortable or comfortable are we with it?

          Is THIS what semper reforma has to refer to?

    • I think that a series of posts discussing the various atonement theories would be interesting. For something that is central to the christian story, it is interesting that it (unlike say the divinity of Christ) isn’t settled theology.

  19. How can we best oppose the impious and corrupting confluence of Christian fundamentalism and right wing politics in this country?

    • I would like to buy you a beer and commiserate.

      • I’d like to buy both of you a beer and have an interesting, respectful conversation.

        • And if you were truly conservative Christians you would abstain from beer as “avoiding the appearances of evil”. 😉

    • You could replace fundamentalism with liberalism and right with left and have an equally interesting discussion

    • flatrocker says:

      The same way you oppose the impious and corrupting confluence of Christian pluralism, moral relativism and left wing politics in this country.

      Wow – you mean there’s concerns across the full spectrum of Christian political thought?

      Maybe it’s time we stop thinking politically. Now there’s a discussion topic.

      • I no longer believe there a difference between the ends of our spectrums. I consider fundamentalists liberals.

        • “I consider fundamentalist liberals”.

          Totally agree, but would love for you to expound.

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      As though the Left and corruption are strangers to each other…. (eye roll)

  20. I’d like to see something on art in our modern world, how the (American) church relates to art, what the church might have to offer, and why Christian art often seems trite, preachy, predictable, and shallow. I’m talking movies, literature, music, etc.

    • “why Christian art often seems trite, preachy, predictable,”

      Because it has to be Safe/Spiritual, and avoid addressing anything relating to reality, as then it becomes tainted.

      It is frustrating.

      Why are all Religious characters mere tropes that either wax poetically about meaning and destiny, blah blah woof woof [often while people suffer and die all around them] or are crazy zealots. I know Religious people; that ain’t us.

    • Thomas Kinkade paintings!!!

    • Because everyone questioned whether U2 was Christian when they threw on shades, leather pants, industrial rock beats, irony, and the book of Ecclesiastes.

      • Art is a question not an answer. If all we have is answers and no questions then art is beyond us.

  21. Maybe something on the divide between clergy/pastors and laypeople. Perhaps a series of “open letter” from a pastor to a congregation and another from a layperson to clergy. I don’t think that most pastors – who spend virtually their entire lives in safe churchy circles – honestly know how to connect with those they seek to lead. And laypeople often have very high expectations of their clergy. It’d be interesting to see some dialog back and forth about expectations and disappointments.

    • ” I don’t think that most pastors honestly know how to connect with those they seek to lead”

      +100,000.

      “And laypeople often have very high expectations of their clergy”

      Until they just give up on them and become Nones. I do not know that it is so much “high expectations” as a desire to just be @^&^$&@ honest, stop selling to me.

      Too late for me, I left protestantism, but it would be an interesting read.

      • Until they just give up on them and become Nones.

        Full stop right there. That’s false. Maybe in some circumstances, sure, we get tired of being condescended and lied to by the for all intents and purposes functionally illiterate Man of Gawds speaking ex cathedra from their plywood boxes and revivalist stages, but it goes so much deeper than that. Don’t throw all the nones critiques under the bus because we “give up” on pastors; they gave up on us as people long ago.

    • I don’t think that most pastors – who spend virtually their entire lives in safe churchy circles – honestly know how to connect with those they seek to lead.

      The first step is that they need to want to connect. Some just want to “lead”. (How much “some” is probably depends on how pessimistic you are about this topic.)

  22. Like others have said, I also like the idea of discussing the impact of technology, seeking silence and slowing down in an unquiet world. In the instantaneous news world that we live in right now, we fly around from idea to idea and story to story at incredible speed without anything really sinking in. It’d be nice to spend some time talking about slowing down, what that means, and how we might actually do it. It might be interesting to have a “theme” for an entire year, something that’s a continual focus so it really has time to settle in.

  23. Continued talk about the Bible, what it is, what to do and not to do with it, biblicism, science, etc. Already doing a great job with this IMO. And this community is a great place to do it because of the knowledge base and variety of perspectives.

  24. Really, do we convert them? Or help them to be a better _____________ (muslim, hindu, buddhist, new age, etc.)

    What does it mean to love another when the other’s world view is VERY different from your own?

    Can you love another when you are actively campaigning against their world view (LBGT folks, for example)?

    • Christiane says:

      thought-provoking questions

      I suspect the best answer about ‘how it is possible to love the fallen’ lies somewhere within the mystery of the Incarnation and the reality of the Crucifixion and the miracle of the Resurrection.

    • Can Christians learn anything from other religions? We always like to point to other religion when they collaborate with the Bible, i.e. flood narratives. Is it blasphemous to consider if a non-Christian can teach us something? Is there anything to be learned from Buddhism? Could such openness be grounds for outreach?

  25. Let’s talk about what constructive faith, ministry, and relationships looks like in post-Christendom. There is no end to the deconstruction of the “evangelical” experience. And because this deconstruction process is so inward, it seems as though there have been casualties — people have not found the freedom or healing that they have desired, and others have lost the capacity to minister (“serve”) because all that runs in their minds is critique. We know thoroughly of what we do not want, now let’s move towards that which we do want. The image of God still exists, we deserve to pursue it, and the rest of the world deserves to know this good news.

    • “Now let’s move towards that which we do want”

      Where do we go from here; minus the tired examination of how we got here.

    • Well said.

      Some serious detox and deconstruction has been necessary for me and I’m sure there is more to come, but the deconstruction is only good if leads to some kind of new life. I don’t want to waste my life focusing only on what I no longer believe.

    • What Rachel Held Evans posted today counters my point of view here. Pretty good timing! I do disagree with her though, and is why I read her far less than I did 2-3 years ago.

    • I think RHE is still jaded and this happens when you reject something.
      We all have a tendency to throw everything out, even the good.

      I am with you Sean:
      now let’s move towards that which we do want. The image of God still exists, we deserve to pursue it, and the rest of the world deserves to know this good news.

  26. flatrocker says:

    1. Obedience: In looking at the Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – a lot of Franciscans will attest that the hardest vow to keep is obedience. Poverty and chastity are more about lifestyle choices where obedience strikes at our very wills. It becomes a challenge to our ability to live a life of acceptance and about our submissiveness. What role (if any) does obedience play in our modern lives? Is it important? Does it change us in any way?

    2. Mary: Why is she such a focus of contention and contentiousness? When was the last time (if ever) there was a sermon series on Mary at your church? If not, why not? How does her humility become potentially such a lightning rod to some of us?

    3. Brokenness: Why is it that we have such great difficulty in admitting our own brokenness? We talk a good game about being sinners, but when we get right down to it, I wonder if our “independent, self-made Americanism” just won’t let us actually go there. As if admitting it creates a weakness to be exploited – so we just aren’t having it. From a Catholic perspective, we sometimes ask ourselves why are our confessionals empty? And we come up with two broad answers – it is either our shame that keeps us away or we simply don’t have anything to confess. And let us not think this is simply a “Catholic thing.” I wonder how many of us spend most of our days with nothing to confess to our Lord. In our masked existence, in an age devoid of introspection, we simply can’t come to terms with our own brokenness and by consequence we have nothing to say on the subject. Why is that?

    4.New Evangelization: The Catholic Popes (JPII, B16 and Francis) are all calling us to a new evangelization. What exactly does that mean to us? And what exactly was wrong with the “old” one? What can we learn from our past as we move forward?

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “When was the last time (if ever) there was a sermon series on Mary at your church?”

      My tradition doesn’t do sermon series, so in that sense the question is moot. But we also follow the lectionary, which in Advent makes Mary an obvious sermon topic, especially in the B and C years.

      • Rather than a topically-based sermon series, my pastor normally follows through a book of the bible, sometimes taking a year or more. It’s “expository” in theory, although I question whether there are in fact any “expository” sermons out there.

        While there would be no series on Mary, he would cover her in as she appears in the text for that week—and be assured that it would be a less-glorified version than I have heard a few times in Roman Catholic churches. He would assume, and rightly I think, that the text revolves around Jesus, not Mary.

        But, I do think that Mary gets thrown out with the trash far too often, and somehow in evangelical churches she receives no more respect than does Judas.

    • Obedience is definitely a topic worth discussing. It carries sub-topics of who (holy spirit, scripture, magisterium, presbyteria, teaching elders, pastor, discipler, etc..), in what areas, with what controls, and so on.

      Personally one of the words of the lord to me on the day I became a Christian was “You need to submit.” That was the entirety of that word, so all the subtopics were left open for further evaluation. So this issue is perhaps more salient to me than to others. But since Jesus spoke about not abolishing the law, obedience is a topic we all need to sort through.

      • “Obedience” implies an object/person/idea to be “obedient ” TO! This makes the subject one of relativism inasmuch that the object of the “obedience” is not common to all.

        For those in Holy Orders obedience means one thing, to fundamentalist Christians it means obedience to the Bible (and the ACCEPTED application), and to the more liberal (not fundamental) Christian it means obedience to whatever standard that seems good to the one in obedience.

        This could be a great discussion to broach, with a number of different rabbit trails!

        • I’m with you here, Oscar. Obedience to WHAT or to WHOM? Submit to what or to whom?

          “Obedience” will look very different to a Franciscan monk than it will to the resident fundy in your church who wishes a return to patriarchy and legalism.

  27. Joseph (the original) says:

    wine preferences. what is your favorite red wine? white wine? wine variety? wine style? wine brand/label? wine region (domestic and foreign)?

    yeah…

    any Evangelical wandering the wilderness will definitely have a perspective on wine.

    saude!

    • Josh in FW says:

      🙂
      Beer preferences too.

    • Are they any good cocktail recipes that combine beer and wine?

      • I don’t know much about cocktails, but if you want this sort of fusion in a beer try “Consecration” or “Temptation” by Russian River. Barrel-aged in wine barrels. Breathtaking flavors.

        • OldProphet says:

          Dudes, are you guys all alcoholics or what? I don’t. Drink alcohol at all. I come from a long line of drunks, so its like poison to me! Maybe, how far does Christian liberality go? Bottoms up?

        • Interesting; thanks for the suggestion.

        • Sean, that does sound lovely, and definitely a thing for those who like complex flavors.

      • An aggressive IPA, mixed with a dry Mead (honey wine) makes a great combination. The sweetness of the mead counteracts the bitter of the hops and delivers a very drinkable combination. Try it for yourself!

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      I am a whiskey man. Bourbon. Now there is a discussion.

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        Pappy Van Winkle 12-year old Reserve was my favorite of all time, even though I did enjoy the 20-year old too, but the Reserve seemed to be the perfect combination of age and proof that made for a very silky bourbon. Both were gifts to me from family members.

        there’s a local distillery here on the Central Coast, Ascendant Spirits, that make a very nice Breaker Bourbon Whisky that is aged a minimum of 5 years. I do enjoy a fine bourbon…

        I hope to make a Kentucky Bourbon tasting trail journey some day. sounds like one heck of a fun time discovering some of the older distilleries I haven’t heard of yet. saude!

  28. Wow! I gotta say, I’m really impressed with all the ideas tossed out here! Seriously, there’s some great stuff here to talk about!

    I’d like to see more articles/conversations specifically related to the motto of this site, “Continuing Michael Spencer’s legacy of Jesus-shaped spirituality.” What does it mean to be Jesus-shaped? What does Jesus-shaped spirituality look like? In what ways do we drift away from it? When we drift, how do come back to it?

    This might involve the sharing of devotionals or, one of my favorites that I haven’t seen in a while, the posting of Homilies. Maybe a study of a book of the Bible, something like that.

    • “Wow! I gotta say, I’m really impressed with all the ideas tossed out here!”

      +1

      “What does it mean to be Jesus-shaped? ”

      Yes. For me this is becoming yet-another-metaphor that has been flogged into meaninglessness. Let’s just skip the metaphor and discuss what happens next.

      “the posting of Homilies”

      Most of those here in 2014 were beautiful, and just amazing.

  29. Christiane says:

    always good to focus on the CHESED of God . . . what is the role of loving-kindness in Christ’s Name as a response to the Gospel

    and the principle of ‘metanoia’ . . . focusing on the light instead of the darkness . . . always with a mind on Christ who goes before us

    we’ve tried the other ways, but what is the real power of the weapons we haven’t tapped fully . . . the fruit of the Holy Spirit? what happens in the world when they are used in the place of our old human responses ? might be time to explore this as a topic more fully, since the ‘old ways’ of our humankind have failed us all rather badly

  30. I would like to talk about our time.
    In America we are very good at throwing money and goods at people who need help but we are very stingy with our time. One thing I have noticed among the homeless, addicted, mentally ill, and especially our elder population is that they are the loneliest people I know. It is the lament that I hear daily. It makes me feel overwhelmed and sad.

    • yes.

    • This would be a very good topic. I’d especially like to get beyond the “we should do these things,” or “we should develop and support these ministries to these populations (programming)” and explore what it’s like when homeless folks, the addicted and the mentally ill are actually active participants in our congregations. A church I served in was generous and grace-filled and welcoming, but we had no idea what to do when people in these situations were actually among us. We didn’t know how to love them and have them participate without having their situations overwhelm the church. There has to be wisdom out there on this subject.

    • +1

      My 2 cents: Find where these folks live, offer to bring them a meal, sit and listen to their story and make a friend for life.

      • Christiane says:

        ‘and make a friend for life’ . . . or, in the spirit of the Gospel of St. Matthew, you might say
        ‘to make a Friend for all eternity’

        if we truly want to be close to Our Savior, we only have to visit among those who live at the fringes of our society, it is there we can find Him waiting for us . . . take some sandwiches and some coffee, the gift of a warm coat, or some warm boots, and stay for while . . . there are real blessings in such places waiting there for us
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFxcKkpFq-g

    • Heather, when was the last time you heard of some Christian who would dedicate some time regularly to just visit the homeless and talk to them and be a friendly face? Probably NEVER! If they are not sharing the 4 spiritual laws then they consider their time wasted!

      • Hi Oscar!
        That’s a great question, and mostly I would say you are right! Never!
        But, for some unknown reason to me, God has given me much much grace and love for these groups of people! Like most of the time, my cup runneth over for them. I can’t explain it but they are my people. I feel comfortable and alive when I am sharing my time with them. I think if people took the time to LISTEN they would be surprised by what they might hear and learn. We, our society and community, are missing a lot by ignoring these groups of truly amazing people. And in all reality, a lot of us are just one stupid decision away from being in their shoes. (Not the elderly ones I realize! :))
        I do feel quite alone and overwhelmed with the vast amount of people who just need someone to care about them and to treat them as if they are still a human being.

    • Hope4MyFuture says:

      +1 here. The deepest need (after Salvation) is to be heard.

  31. If I had not known where the 15 “conversations” came from, I would have assumed they were from a liberal mainline Protestant church that is still living in the 20th century. My take on where Spirit is leading us centers on Unity in and for the 21st century. This involves union with God as the prime goal and directive for humanity, much as understood in the Orthodox wing, but updated to include centering prayer and western 21st century techniques and understandings of the process. This involves learning to discern between ego-driven and Spirit-led motivation, and moving away from the former and toward the latter, personally and corporately. It also involves unity amongst and within the various churches over defining the absolute core essentials of belief that allow sharing of table, and holding secondary beliefs as private matters. Part of this process is developing a better hermeneutic for reading and understanding the Bible suitable for 21st century needs, something often discussed here and needing ongoing discussion to allow the rest of these matters to evolve and grow.

  32. OldProphet says:

    What place does the Holy Spirit play in today’s church? The use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit today. The power of the Spirit giving power to live holy lives. The validity of God speaking to his people today in all and various ways

    • I have been reading St Basil on this.

      I would add the question: Who is the person of the Holy Spirit.

      I think we get too hung up on what Holy Spirit gives, such as gifts.

      my 2 cents

      • OldProphet says:

        That’s funny. We should not focus on what the HS gives us? You should think about: Comforter, empowerment, favor, annointing, strength, wisdom, healing, consolation, hope, peace, understanding, discernment, gifts, love, grace, etc. That’s a lot of “gives”

    • See: 18-20th centuries for what the Holy Spirit probably does not do.

  33. I’m not sure how to put this but I will try. How can one be salt and light within a church where the leadership does not want to hear any voices not in agreement with the current focus/regime? I and many of my friends are just hanging on, trying to follow Jesus where He seems to be leading us. We stay because our church is also our community. We don’t want to leave our friends or our volunteer ministries. We want our church to continue to be a welcoming and safe place for people to heal, as it has been in the past. But the leadership wants to be trendy “to attract young families.” As a result, they have made changes that pretty much destroyed the youth Sunday school classes and have caused the adult classes to shrink, not grow. Yet if you say anything, you are just a whiner and complainer and they marginalize you.

  34. I’d like to hear some ideas about how creative and artistically inclined Christians can get together, work together on creative projects, share their creations, and bounce ideas off each other. The programmed nature of most churches just doesn’t seem to leave much room for individual creative input, and I’m really at a loss when it comes to how I might use my creative talents to benefit the Body of Christ in a way that’s not self-promotive or an attempt to grab celebrity status. I’d also like to see some discussion on how Christians have expressed their faith artistically throughout history and how the creative arts and the church have influenced each other.

  35. And how about some discussions about church history in all its branchings and variety — maybe picking particular eras, people, or events and discussing their impact and how they connect our past to our present. I think it would be really interesting to read different people’s views on such things as the Great Schism or the Age of Constantine or the Crusades or the Early Reformers or Christianity in Asia during the Middle Ages or Frontier Revivalism in America or historical interaction between Christianity and Judiasm or … the list could go on forever.

  36. SottoVoce says:

    What exactly is this thing we call prayer? What is the point of it? What is it actually capable of accomplishing?

    • Another good topic.

    • I agree. What is prayer? How does it work? Why are we commanded to do it? Is “thinking well of someone” prayer? Should we say “thank you” or “don’t bother” when a non-believer says, “Our thoughts are with you”? Can the Holy Spirit work in the life of a non-believer to effect a form a prayer? Will the Holy Spirit accept as prayer something that the individual didn’t recognize as prayer? Can prayer be retro-active (have you ever prayed, then received something in the mail that day confirming it? It had to have been mailed a day or two before you prayed). If prayer can be retro-active, what does that suggest about the practice of praying for the dead?

      For the answers to these and other mysteries, stay tuned to… Internet Monk.

  37. Jacques Ellul’s Christian anarchism remains entirely unexplored on this site, as best I can tell. Given that he produced such trenchant critiques of “the technological society,” his thought remains very much relevant today, even 20 years after his passing.

    He also had some interesting ideas regarding Christianity’s early infection by Platonism (e.g., eternal human souls displacing resurrected bodies) and of Islam’s influence on Western Christiendom (producing in his view the distant and barely placable God of medieval Catholicism.)

    Few would agree with all of his ideas, but they’re so orthogonal to almost everything else out there that they should be of general interest.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Thank you for bringing up Jacques Elul. I read many of his books many years ago, and they have a way of permanently altering how you view the world. The titles of three of his major books go a long way in explaining the world we live in now:

      1. “The Technological Society”
      2. “Propaganda:
      3. “The Political Illusion”

      Yes, let’s talk about (and with) Jacques Ellul.

      • It would give me an excellent excuse to dust off my Ellul collection and start reading it again…

      • I think I’ve seen either you or Eeyore mention Ellul in a comment or two along the way. I haven’t made it all the way through his tome “The Technological Society” yet, but I really should have finished “Propaganda” by now. On theother hand, his primer on Christianity and Anarchy is a digestible start to his thought, and though it sounds like something from Chick Publications, I’ve found his “The Subversion of Christianity” to be a multiple re-read book.

        And, yes, he does have a way of altering one’s views. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that technology (techne) really does have its own momentum now that I’ve read him.

  38. I have two . . . if I may.

    I would love to hear about issues facing church communities that we don’t have much contact with on a regular basis. What is important to the church in India? Do Catholics and Baptists get along there? Why or why not? What do they emphasize differently in Africa, China, or the Middle East? There are so many questions. I have learned to appreciate the opinions of those of different faith traditions in my later years, and maybe some of the answers for those of us wandering around in the post-evangelical wilderness might be found outside of churches that are dominated by western thinking. Just a thought . . .

    Let’s keep talking about Christ, Jesus-shaped spirituality, grace, and the good-news. Sometimes I can get bent out of sorts by opinions that are too far to the left or right (from my perspective), but the great strength of this site is that it always comes around to Christ. That is why I keep reading. These are topics that never get old.

    • YES!!! American Christianity is but one part of the Body of Christ and we should become more aquainted with our far flung brothers and sister.

    • Agree. Christianity in the US and Europe are becoming far less influential globally. Asia, Africa, Latin America are the new centers of global Christian influence, yet they are rarely discussed here at iMonk; I’d like to see more discussion of global Christianity.

  39. Jesse Reese says:

    Someone else flirted with this topic, and I’m gonna dive in – the theology of religions. And it isn’t just one question, but many. What are religions? How are we to understand them? Is Jesus Christ the only Savior, and, if so, is explicit confession of his Name necessary? Can other religions mediate grace in a hidden way? Are religions other than Christianity aberrations, or somehow providential? How are we to account for similarities and differences in religions? Perhaps the most unaddressed questions in this field: How does the doctrine of the Trinity impact our understanding of religions? and How does the recent trend of recovering the cosmic scale of salvation and eschaton impact the conversation about other religions?

    As an aspiring systematic theology teacher, I have been familiarizing myself with David Migliore’s wonderful introductory text Faith Seeking Understanding, and his chapter on “The Finality of Jesus Christ and Religious Pluralism” have been stirring my thoughts on this matter.

    • I think this would be a great topic, or cluster of topics. I wrestle back and forth with many of these question, because I, otoh, want to hold to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and otoh, want God’s grace to be wide and prodigal enough to embrace everyone, despite our imperfections, sins and deficient understanding.

      • Right. Does the cross of Christ transcend religions?

        While I am firm on the centrality of the cross, that Christ is the source as well as the destination of the Christian, can he be the same for a non-believer, even without that person’s awareness? This echoes an earlier thread about prayer, above.

        I don’t go along with the belief that “all paths lead to the top of the mountain” but I keep coming back to something Jerry Garcia (of Grateful Dead memory) got into: “So many roads I tell you, so many roads I know. All I need is one to take me home.”

        Here’s a video of Jerry in concert—only twelve minutes, not bad for him. The question remains, “Where is Jerry now?” He died a few weeks after this performance.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sFyRQPraJ8

        • “Where is Jerry now?”

          “What in the world ever became of Sweet Jane?”

          Haunting questions.

    • +1. I’m not sure how the conversation could be framed, but it’s an important topic. Maybe it fits in with a conversation about Christian eschatology.

      Your post made me think of a comment from a few days ago in response to Michael Spencer’s post about grace which really got to me. Really your question is about grace and how far God can go and/or wants to go with it. I usually hear “grace” spoken of as an abstract disposition of “unmerited favor” (basically it just means not punishing) but don’t hear much about what form that “favor” might take in the gray areas like the ones that you hit on. So your question boils down to a discussion about the degree to which this “unmerited favor” is or isn’t eschatologically powerless in the face of space, time, culture, religion, what family you were born into, when you happened to be born and when you die, or even our own choices and beliefs. I don’t think we can sufficiently talk about Jesus and the Christian gospel without talking about these kinds of things, even if we can’t agree on dogmatic black and white answers.

  40. Is it possible for an atheist to actually be MORE ethical/moral than a Christian? Are Christians incapable of committing atrocities? Why or why not?

    • I would say capable
      From: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/08/us-centralafrica-inquiry-idUSKBN0KH2BM20150108

      Christian militia in Central African Republic have carried out ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population during the country’s ongoing civil war, but there is no proof there was genocidal intent, a United Nations commission of inquiry has determined.

    • That Other Jean says:

      More than capable. Look at the number of LGBT kids living on the streets because their “Christian” parents threw them out. Check out the fate of Leela Alcorn.

      • Indeed. When I wrote to express some of the thoughts churning in my head as I read reports and stories of Leelah’s suicide, I also wanted to stress that her parents were not part of some fringe or fundamentalist group. As far as I can tell from everything said about their family, it was about as mainstream evangelical as you get. (In my experience, Church of Christ is culturally similar to the largest US protestant denomination.) They were the family next door who were ill served by their faith community. I have no problems imagining at least the opportunity for a similar tragedy among families I personally know if one of their children came out as transgender to them. Note, they didn’t kick their child out of the house. In fact, as I also wrote, I would wager they sought pastoral advice and were following it.

        That’s one aspect of the LGBTQIA conversation that I haven’t seen receive much attention in the evangelical world. Parents of such children typically either receive and trust advice that leads to actions that increase the risk of suicide or other negative outcomes for their child, receive and trust advice to reject their child in a form of ‘tough love’, or reject the advice they receive, embrace their child instead, and are in turn rejected by their faith community. Are those really the only options? Given those options, it’s not even a question for me. I choose my child. But there must be better and more healthy ways to approach it.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Ox,

      check Fr Stephen Freeman’s latest series, including comments, at glory2godforallthings.com. Begin on page 2, “older posts”.

      “You’re not doing better”
      “Why sin is not a moral problem”
      “Going to hell with terrorists and torturers”
      “The un-moral Christian”
      “Of course we are called to be moral – a response to my critics”
      “Eschatological eloquence – Fr Aidan Kimel’s response”
      “While we’re at it – an unmoral word from the holy mountain”
      “The problem of goodnes”
      “St Mary of Egypt and moral progress”

      Dana

    • Hope4MyFuture says:

      That would be interesting! Especially when the atheists act more like Good Samaratans than some Christians.

  41. Asceticism: what place does it have in Christianity? Is it a worthwhile pursuit? Wretched urgency? “It depends”?