November 24, 2017

Progressive Antidotes: The Big Question

Early Morning at the Farm, photo by David Cornwell

Early Morning at the Farm, photo by David Cornwell

I was intrigued by an article I put on the iMonk bulletin board yesterday. Zack Hunt posted an overview of points from Morgan Guyton’s new book, How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity.

Guyton and his wife Cheryl are co-directors of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA. He blogs at Mercy Not Sacrifice.

Guyton is known as a “progressive” Christian, and his book and the article list a series of emphases that he claims distinguish such Christianity from “toxic” Christianity.

I am interested in this for a couple of reasons.

  • Second, here at Internet Monk, we’ve tended to focus more on neo-puritan and ancient-future reactions to evangelicalism, and I think it worth exploring the so-called “progressive” stream (we used to say “emerging” to describe many of them) more fully.
  • Third, as I get older, I don’t want to become one of those curmudgeons that can’t show generosity and grace to those who are younger and are in the process of figuring things out when it comes to their faith journey and how it relates to the church at large.

So, I want to take a little time with this book over the next few weeks.

We start today with Morgan Guyton’s introduction, which begins with the provocative question: “Have Christians become what Jesus came to stop us from being?”

As a member of U.S. evangelical culture, the author finds himself troubled by the sneaking suspicion that “the loudest Christian voices today sound so much like the religious authorities who crucified Jesus”. How can this be?

Some place the ultimate blame on Constantine, some on Augustine. Others point the finger at the medieval nominalists. Guyton recognizes that there have always been Christians who displayed a beautiful, attractive faith, but still he laments, “it seems as if the loud, mean Christians are the ones who always win.”

Then he asks a question meant to startle us into a new way of thinking:

How would Christians live differently if we believed that Jesus needs to save the world from us?

Are we troubled enough by what we’ve become that we earnestly want Jesus to save the world from our Christianity?

Morgan Guyton will proceed through this book to identify twelve toxic Christian attitudes and their antidotes.

But for today, let’s just meditate on the big question he raises.

Who do we in the church resemble more today:

  • those who “turned the world upside down” through lives of self-giving love, being willing to die so that the life of Jesus might flow from us for the life of the world?
  • or those who crucified Jesus out of genuine allegiance to God in order to protect their religious system and way of life?

Comments

  1. Who do we in the church resemble more today:
    * those who “turned the world upside down” through lives of self-giving love, being willing to die so that the life of Jesus might flow from us for the life of the world?
    * or those who crucified Jesus out of genuine allegiance to God in order to protect their religious system and way of life?

    The answer to that question is so obvious that even *I* won’t say it. 🙁

    • flatrocker says:

      So what are we willing to do about it?

      In the early 1900’s,the poet laureate Robert Bridges wrote Gerald Manley Hopkins and asked Hopkins what must he do to believe. Flannery O’Conner refers to Manley’s response in a letter she wrote to a college freshman on how to have a faith filled life at college.

      This is what O’Conner wrote….”[Robert] Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, “Give alms.” He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in charity (in the sense of love for the divine image in human beings). Don’t get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that you fail to look for God in this way..

      Also, when asked about the hardships encountered in missionary work, St. Katherine Drexel, the great American saint who did so much for minority education and the poor said, “How do we get accustomed to seeing God in the neighbor? By repeated acts. True love for our Lord does not shrink back from ugliness, dirt, misery and sin. Such children should remind us of Our Little Lord Jesus. Who became a “leper” for our sins. Let us do everything for the poor, in the name of Jesus. Let us look upon them with the eyes of the soul, or put on saintly spectacles, that we may see in them the living image of Jesus.”

      From Hopkins – Give alms
      From St. Katherine – By repeated acts

      Very simple responses. Profoundly simple.

      When we move this beyond our intellectual discourse, safely tucked away in clinical theological analysis, what are we willing to do about it?

      • David Cornwell says:

        Profound, yet so simple. Prayer and fasting for the Church and the world would probably lead us back to this exact point. All the theological correctness in the world will will do us no good without following Jesus at this point.

        When we can suffer with those who also suffer, the world just might take notice.

      • Thank you for this, flatrocker. It’s exactly what I need to hear today.

        • I second that. It’s so simple to remember the poor, and yet we often think we need to do “more”.

      • There’s an apocryphal story about a group of pilgrims visiting St. John while he was in exile on Patmos. They asked him, “Why do you always keep repeating that we should love one another? Surely there is more for us to know?” His reply was something to the effect of, “Well, if you ever get loving each other right, THEN we can move on to something else.”

    • I want to cross post this from a Slacktivist comment by WingedBeast. It’s a parody of a scene in one of the Left Behind books.

      Seems relevant.

      “I must ask you today, are you prepared? Are you willing? Would you give your life for the sake of the gospel?”

      Rayford paused to take a breath and was startled when someone cried out, “I will!”

      Rayford didn’t know what to say. Suddenly, from another part of the sanctuary: “So will I!”

      Three or four others said the same in unison.

      It was the seventh that gave the surprising reaction. “But, are you ready to not?”

      That broke the momentum. More people were ready to say that they would be willing to give their life for the sake of the gospel. But, this new question was a mental swerve. People muttered.

      Raford squinted to try to see the source of the voice. “What was that?”

      The voice asked again. “Are you ready to not die for the sake of the gospel?”

      Raford frowned in confusion. The words were in the right order, but that question didn’t make any sense. “Listen, I don’t know you you are, but-

      “That is incredbily clear.”

      Rayford paused. There was something about this voice, something he didn’t like. Not one bit. “But, this is about following Jesus, here, staying true to our Christian faith.”

      “No, no it isn’t. It’s about saying that you’ll follow Jesus, about saying that you’ll stay true. It’s incredibly easy to say such things. It’s so easy that the cheaufeur to the Antichrist can say them, even believe them. The only thing that could possibly be easier than saying them is death.

      “If you really wanted to impress, you shouldn’t talk about how you’re willing to die for the gospel and you shouldn’t even die for it. You should do comedy, good comedy for the gospel. THAT would be impressive… but not necessary.”

      “All the godly commedians were taken up to Heaven.”

      “That’s a bit of a misunderstanding of that passage, really. It wasn’t the wheat that was taken away, if you’ll read that again. But, really, that’s a side-issue. So is the comedy. The important question is, are you ready for nobody to put a gun to your head at all? Are you ready to live a long, long life feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homless, tending to the sick, visiting prisoners?”

      Rayford smiled. “Of course, I am.”

      “Then, why haven’t you started, yet?”

      Rayford’s smile faultered. This voice wasn’t doing anything right. “I have. Look at what I’m doing, here. Blessed are the poor in spirit and I am tending them, right now, like Bruce has.”

      “I do not care about your ability to use metaphor. There’s a bunker, here, a bunker, also known as money and time spent on concrete, supplies and f#cking phone lines!”

      Rayford had the opening he wanted. “Don’t dare use that-”

      “I can damn well say ‘f#ck’ when I want and when I say ‘damn well’ I do mean ‘damn’!”

  2. Robert F says:

    The delay of Christ’s parousia, and the survival of the church (in significant part as a result of the largely unsystematic and always episodic persecution by the Roman authorities), meant that the church eventually had to reconcile itself to its continued existence in time. That social and political power eventually devolved to the church was also inevitable; it was either that, or cease to exist, except as an insular sect, like the Amish/Mennonite do in our own context (it’s true that the largest group of Mennonites have become more outward-looking, and adopted modern dress and lifestyles, but they have also become embroiled in many of the same problems as mainline/evangelical churches have, and their commitment to pacifism has waned as their outward-looking has increased. Besides that, the plain Amish/Mennonite have for a long time exercised considerable economic and social power in the regions where they settled in this country). Those who survive do so as the result of having acquired social power of some kind; this is a non-negotiable. The question is: Is it possible to use power in a responsible and disciplined way to serve the neighbor, without being co-opted by it? The jury is out on the answer to that question.

    • the church eventually had to reconcile itself to its continued existence in time

      Which is odd, considering how present Jesus was, but then how future the church was in Acts. It’s almost like they forgot Jesus…or later down the road, they remembered/altered Jesus so he was in the present.

      Those who survive do so as the result of having acquired social power of some kind; this is a non-negotiable. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a rock, a stubborn stone, preventing progress and making everyone tiptoe around with bruised toes…

  3. Richard Hershberger says:

    With apologies for the topic drift, what does “progressive Christian” mean? This is an honest question. I look at the “Progressive Christian” channel at Patheos and to not find enlightenment. Am I a progressive Christian? I am a cradle Lutheran, of the socially liberal branch, but liturgically very conservative. Does “progressive Christian” mean anything other than “self-identifies as Christian but at least considers voting for a Democrat”?

    • I hope that going through Guyton’s 12 marks will clarify that, at least somewhat, for all of us.

      • I hope so…when I read that article at zackhunt.net, I was left more with the impression that “progressive Christian” means “self-identifies as both a Christian and a Marxist”. Plus, I quit reading at the “making out with Jesus’ feet” comment.

        • Plus, I quit reading at the “making out with Jesus’ feet” comment.
          I think I’ve sung that one. Hillsong?

        • When I was a worship leader, nothing I knew/sung from Hillsong had such grossly disrespectful lyrics.
          We live in a world where many forces work to take what is lofty and beautiful and pull it down into the mud to make it low and ugly. It is the way of the world, but does it have to be the way of Christianity? When Christians promote some self-professed arbiter of what’s-wrong-with-Christianity who takes something lofty and beautiful (the repentance of a sinner) and makes it low and ugly (har har, she’s making out with Jesus’ feet!), then I can’t convince myself that church, or even Christianity, is something worth bothering with, and it makes me want to look for the lofty and beautiful somewhere else.

  4. One of the biggest turning points in my life came while I was watching the tv mini series “Jesus of Nazareth” as a young fundamentalist/evangelical: I found that I identified more with Jesus enemies. Everything had to change after that.

  5. I was involved (mostly lurking) in a facebook discussion recently when someone brought up something which I’m still pondering. One of the loudest drumbeats we hear is that “We CAN’T! condone sin.” Frequently the context is gay wedding cakes, which is what this was about.

    Into the usual mix someone brought up the question of whether Matthew 5:41 (“And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles”) has something to say here. It’s generally agreed that this refers to laws allowing a Roman soldier to force a civilian to carry his gear for one mile. Personally, I feel that engaging in a commercial transaction in which I will personally profit and possibly get other business doesn’t even compare to hauling the gear of someone I hate for free in the category of “condoning” things. Unless you want to argue that all Roman Soldiers were on their way to serve God I have to conclude that – at a minimum – God’s threshold for “condoning” is WAY higher than most people might think. Perhaps they should have baked them 2 gay wedding cakes for free.

  6. >>I think it worth exploring the so-called “progressive” stream (we used to say “emerging” to describe many of them) more fully.

    CM, I really hope you are not equating the emergent church with progressivism either here or in your mind. It is true that some within the emergent movement ended up in that direction but the movement was not tied to any particular theological or political bent and included many strands, including the Monastery in my view. The emergent church didn’t come to some kind of end, but the arguments over it did. Like post-modernism, with which it was connected, it’s a done deal, let’s get on with life in the 21st century.

    I’m willing to see what this guy has to say, but I’m leery of anyone who self-identifies as a progressive as their main identity along with those self-identified conservatives opposing them. Seems to me we have had a hundred years to figure out that these have a lot more to do with personality type than the Kingdom of God. I’m all for shining the light on toxic Christianity but I think it is found at both ends of the spectrum and in the middle. Dan Merchant wrote a book eight years ago titled Lord, Save Us From Your Followers. The Monkey Trial continues.

    • Charles, it seems to me as I have followed the developments over the years that the term “Progressive Christian” has taken over the mantle of “Emerging.” For example, Patheos’s “Progressive Christian” channel, people who have been identified with both descriptions are included.

      There may be some distinctions to be made in certain instances. For example, Phyllis Tickle wrote an article in which she said, “Many Christians in North America are simultaneously active in both Progressive conversations and in those arising out of, and/or concerned with, Emergence Christianity per se.” However, she also notes differences between the two, for example with their approach to social justice issues (which both care about deeply).

      So, I’m not “equating the emergent church with progressivism” — it is just that the term du jour “progressive Christian” TODAY seems to describe both. Stay tuned. These things are amorphous.

    • Also, I would say that Internet Monk (often accused, especially by the neo-puritans, as “emerging”) has this in common with “emerging” and what many call “progressive Christian” movements: we are post-evangelical.

      Though there are many rivulets, I would still say that there are three primary streams flowing out of evangelicalism to form P-E: the neo-calvinist/puritan stream, the ancient-future stream, and the emerging (including many progressive Christians) stream.

  7. The church has always had both types in her, to some extent or another, and as disciples, we always have both these personas within us. The bad one makes much more noise and gets far more public attention. The good one is harder to spot and blends into the background, as his right hand knows now what his left is doing. But their effect is profoundly felt, even though it goes largely unnoticed. And often, the world will accuse the one of being the other.

    We’re not ever gonna reach a point where we can’t say “the church can and should do better.” But just look at Christendom. The church has turned the world upside down, somehow, in spite of herself. Compare what we enjoy to those living in regions dominated by other religions.

    Are there a lot of noisy, political complainers in America today? Sure. But let’s not confuse their numbers with their decibel levels. And quite often many of the same people are busy pouring out their lives in love and service to their neighbor. And there are no actual crucifixions going on today. Before we set ourselves up as judge and play the “Pharisee card” at our brothers and sisters, consider that by doing so, we may become the very thing we condemn.