It’s not easy being green

kermit     If you’ve been challenged by this call to develop a postChristian Gospel, please know that it has been something I’ve been struggling with for quite some time. Remaining true to the Biblical/historical constructs of our faith, and to the Church, while trying to acclimate our message into yet another cultural context is no easy matter. Wycliffe Bible Translators face this challenge with every new language group they encounter; as did early Western Christian missionaries trying to introduce Western Christian constructs to Eastern and African cultures). Our difficulty is in recognizing that our postChristian era has developed its own culture and language group, based on its basic premise that there are no absolute truths; there is no meta-narrative to explain all of reality; there is no one singular system of belief that can encompass the grand diversity of human experience. At this point, of course, genuine Christians must disagree and still engage with the prevailing points of view.
     It is thus, at this point of division, that we must still follow our Lord into this world’s various cultures, adapting His time-tested message to be understood within the grand diversity of human experiences. This is not a task to be taken on lightly, let alone naively. Our message can neither be too complex to be grasped by the simple, nor can it be so simple that its matrix, woven throughout human history and into both ends of eternity, be lost in “the simple gospel,” with no context outside of the Creation/Fall/Redemption/Fulfillment rubric. That is why we must end our consideration of a postChristian Gospel with a reference to BEING GREEN.
     Being green, surprisingly, refers to more than environmental/ecological responsibility. The framework to which I refer comes from a 1969 musical piece sung by Kermit the Frog, Ring-master of Jim Henderson’s MUPPETS. I encourage you to watch it; go to-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpiIWMWWVco&feature=related to view our hero sing it in his own croaks.] “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green.” (lyrics by Joe Rapposo)
     In the song, Kermit’s point is this- that he may not like the way he is, blending in, often passed over, ordinary; but this is the way he is and that’s that. He is the color of Spring; he is cool & friendly-like. And though as a frog he is small, he can be big, like an ocean, or important, like a mountain. He is green, and that’s just fine. Engaging the postChristian heart is a lot like being green. We may not be too good at it, we certainly don’t fit into our culture’s predominant mindset, but we have to remain true to who we are, to what we believe, and to be what Christ has designed us to be in the grand scheme of things. We are each called upon and designed to play our part in the daily activities of the Lilly Pond. Some days we just sit around and zap flies with our tongues; other days we may run into those postmodern Bull Frogs that beat up on us and take away our pad, trying to push us out of the operations of the Pond entirely. Nonetheless, God has plopped many of us in the middle of the postChristian Pond and expects us to live up to our responsibilities as a vital part of this society’s nurturing and development. We are here to bring Christ’s peace, forgiveness, and new life to the rest of the Pond. We may not like the taste of fresh fly on our tongue…, but we’d better get used to it if we’re going to make a difference.
     There remains yet one more thing to consider- merely practical suggestions on how to be who you are, within your own personality, family, church, and society, as you endeavor to translate the Christian message into postChristian-speak.
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Play Time
1.      How do you befriend a person who is in pain and/or angry?

2.      To the best of your recollection, what is the Christian Gospel?
a.       Now find someone who is NOT a Christian and ask them what it is.
b.      Tell them your understanding of the Gospel. Ask for their feedback.
3.      Interview people, Christian and otherwise, about the statement- The only absolute truth is that there are no absolute truths. What did you learn?
4.      Ask people if they have overriding principles that govern their actions. Learn.
5.      How are your overriding principles apparent in your actions?
6.      Given that throughout history the Christian faith has adapted to fit into every people group, culture and era around the world, what do you think of the idea of a postChristian Gospel? Is it opening Pandora’s Box?
7.      To what extent is our message a mind-to-mind transfer of information leading to a decision to follow Christ? To what extent is it a heart-to-heart thing leading to an encounter with Christ that can be explained later?
8.      In what circumstances is a problem-solving model of the gospel more appropriate? In what circumstances is a fulfillment model more appropriate?
9.      How do you discover the presuppositions and assumptions a person holds about life and the Christian interpretation of life?
10.  How simple is the Gospel? How expansive could it be?
11.  How are you doing at being in the world, but not of it?
12.  Where do you have a tough time bein’ green?

NEXT TIME~ AFTERTHOUGHTS: my best ideas come to me in the shower
…mostly green,
Gary
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Offering Christ in a postChristian culture-My best ideas come to me when I’m driving

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You know how it goes. You finish something, then you finish it again— similar to the “here’s my first final draft” submission scenario of so many doctoral theses. This first last entry will set forth practical ideas so you won’t simply put it aside and do nothing. First, to deal with the realities of this major cultural shift to a postmodern/postChristian society, I’ll suggest some personal characteristics which you will need to integrate, with some degree of wholeness, into your life and livelihood.  Then I’ll lay out more general observations to keep in the back of your head as you move about, surrounded by a postChristian/post-moral population. Please, as you read this blog, know that these recommendations are only applicable if you are serious about relating to the emerging set of people we presently refer to as postmoderns.  I prefer to describe them aspostChristian, or even as post-morals.

     First, you will need a little patience. It takes time to understand paradigm shifts and how they affect everything. It takes time to gain an eagle’s eye perspective on your own culture, community, and personal heritage. You almost need to have an out of body experience, to be able to fly over your world like an eagle to truly see yourself, in this place & time. When you step back a bit and observe, even your own self seems different; and in many ways, people today are different. Flash observations just do not work.

     We have to learn to live alongside people who are increasingly different from ourselves. Don’t jump to conclusions after one encounter with people outside your own social group; people have arrived where they are in life over long, hard roads; some roads, quite far from your own path. Take time to win the right to allow people to trust you with their road’s story, on their terms, on their turf. Some time ago, I met with an ALPHA group. We had met together before, but never quite like this— one Australian, two Iranian Muslims, and four Chinese students from Beijing (all in their late 20s–early 30s). Our small group fell into a discussion of the differences between being raised in a Christianized society (America), a Muslim society (Iran), and an atheistic society (China). The Muslims were convinced that Islam was the one true religion because it was the most recent, which meant that it was the most complete, incorporating all previous religions into it. The Chinese, not-quite-atheists were brand new to the idea of a God even existing. How could God be Jesus if Jesus came to earth? It was an exciting evening of interchange, disagreement, and friendship as each person was able to speak without fear of recrimination or evangelistic attack. No one had to win. As the only Christian in the group, I was honored to watch our Lord begin to work His miracles in these people. I just needed to be there, modeling honest, transparent Christian faith, speaking the Truth in love. It was not a time to whip out a Gospel outline and proceed to read through it; it was not a time to maneuver the conversation around to Christian things. It was rather a time for me to be still and to listen for the voice of God’s Holy Spirit coming out of these curious individuals. I was amazed at the genuinely Biblical images and ideology they espoused without even knowing it. Then I just had to wait. As said earlier, God is in control; we don’t have to be. New expressions of faith evolve naturally with time and generational transitions[i]; so learn patience.

     On the other hand, as Christians in a rapidly evolving society, we do not have a lot of time to adapt to our changing world. It used to be that paradigm shifts occurred about every 200-500 years. When the printing press enabled merchants to carry information (as well as their wares) across Eurasia those shifts accelerated paradigm change to about every 40-50 years.  With the dissemination of communication technology that figure is accelerating even more today. What communicates our faith today will have to change or update not every 20 – 30 years, but every 5 years.  George Barna, in BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century,[ii] says that, at best, we have no more than 3-5 years to catch up before things shift again. Then, we need to surpass the culture in breaking ground for the next shift to follow.[iii] “If you can see the future coming,” says Barna, “it’s too late.”

     NEXT time, in the first-last-entry, I’ll leave you with some observations about how to immerse yourself in our new postChristian world, and how to fall in love with her people. Seriously.

Writing one final EMPulse in this series…, maybe,

Gary

[i] “Generational Dominance” refers to the overall influence any particular generation, or subculture within that generation, exerts over a regional or national culture in general.

[ii] George Barna. BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century. (Regal Books, Ventura, CA) 2001.

[iii] George Barna. BOILING POINT: Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century. (Regal Books, Ventura, CA) 2001. p.20.

Clueless Christianity: EMPulse #13 

heart-in-hands “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

~Matthew 11:28. (NIV)

Clueless Christianity: EMPulse #13. A Christian Message to a postChristian Heart:

it’s not that easy bein’ green”. [Part 2…, of many]

We’ve taken quite a long hiatus to seek God in our Advent series. It is now time we return to our primary thrust of offering Christ to the postChristian Heart.

Let’s start by examining some of the shifts from our present assumptions to the mindset of our postmodern/postChristian world.

Summarizing the Gospel:

~the gospel-made-simple, since 1949.

Historically, the Christian message has always contained at least four ingredients—

  1. There is a God in the heavens who has created us and loves us; He wants us to worship Him.
  2. We have rejected God’s love for us as well as His call for us to worship Him; this rejection we know as sin.
  3. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was sent to earth, voluntarily, to pay the penalty for our sin and rebellion against our Creator.
  4. Belief in Jesus Christ, coupled with repentance, will result in our forgiveness and salvation from certain punishment for our sin and rebellion. And we get to go to heaven.

Or, more popularly—

  1. You have a problem—you are a sinner.
  2. We have a solution to your problem—Jesus Christ
  3. Agree with our solution to your problem—Believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior (as opposed to being just a church member).
  4. Your problem will be solved— Then you will be saved from eternal damnation in hell and go to heaven.

The difficulty postChristian people have with either of these formulations is that they no longer hold a presuppositional platform in their thinking process. These historical Christian Truths rest on certain assumptions once widely understood in both Modern and preModern times. They are now lost to thepostModern/postChristian mind.

It might surprise you that this gospel was designed in 1949 in post WWII and based on a sales model of the Fuller Brush Company and the Hoover Vacuum Company.

These were the assumptions and presuppositions of the vast majority of Christians worldwide, but especially of those in the Second and Third Worlds—  Europe, colonized Africa/India, and the West, North America. These assumptions, the core values of the Christian faith, are now obliterated amidst the milieu of skeptical pluralism in postModern/postChristian societies.

ØThe Gospel in Limbo: the loss of a Christian conscience

The assumptions of postModern/postChristian philosophy are no simple matter to collect due to their very nature. For if you start with the assumption The only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth (Paul Feyerabend, 1924-1994), which postmodern philosophers posit, it becomes somewhat impossible to state what is and what is not in describing it. Nonetheless, with special thanks to Mathematical Physicist Dr. Milo Wolff, the assumptions of postmodernism might be as follows—

     The current Postmodern belief is that a correct description of Reality is impossible. This extreme skepticism assumes that;

a) All truth is limited, approximate, and is constantly evolving (Nietzsche, Kuhn, Popper).

b) No theory can ever be proved true – we can only show that a theory is false (Popper).

c) No theory can ever explain all things consistently (Godel’s incompleteness theorem).

d) There is always a separation between our mind & ideas of things and the thing in itself (Kant).

e) Physical reality is not deterministic (Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, Bohr).

f) Scientific concepts are mental constructs (logical positivism, Mach, Carnap).

g) Metaphysics is empty of content.

h) Thus absolute and certain truth that explains all things is[i]

To put it another way, the assumptions of postmodernism in regards to Christianity might be—

  1. There is no single theory, be it scientific, philosophic, or religious, that can explain everything. (Read- Christianity does not have the corner on Truth.)
  2. All accepted assumptions about our values, philosophies, religious beliefs, or scientific discoveries must be reexamined and challenged.
  3. Religion, though once important to explain mystery, is of no further use.
  4. Karma— payback is sweet. What you give out is what you will receive.
  5. Individual, pragmatic values are more important than group systems.
  6. The tenets of the Christian faith are, at best, mythical, relying on unreliable and unverifiable historic documents.
  7. Personal Christian experience is most likely a projection of wishful thinking, culturally delimited by experience and religious exposure.
  8. Individual beliefs are not binding on anyone else.

No matter how you slice it, the assumptions of postModern thought cut across and thoroughly reject the historical formulations of the Christian faith.  They leave, literally, no room for any reformulation of Christian Truth in their “mindset.” Truly, we are two ships passing in the night.

NEXT TIME~ A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart part 3.
Framing a postChristian Gospel: opening Pandora’s box

Offering a postChristian mind its Heart,

Gary

Making a Difference

jfk quoteHappy New Year!

     There’s a line in the movie The Greatest Showman, that came out Christmas 2017, which stuck with me. It’s actually a quote from P.T Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman in the movie.

 

“No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

     Too many of us, trying to fit in, actually merely blend in. We become part of the background while others step forward. We react to what is going on around us rather than initiating actions that will matter.

     In the progression of history, we are living in a hiatus, a time between times. If you think of time as a series of phases and transitions, we are in a transition, about to enter into some new yet-to-be-defined reality. What a great time to be alive! We get to write the definers of the next age, of the next paradigms of human perspectives.

     The great thing about transitions is that we cannot turn back; we must forge ahead.

     Sadly, too many of us want to live in the past. We’ve entrenched ourselves in the belief that the past was more secure, more stable, safer. It is change, the new, that is to be feared. Really!?! This is why our schools & colleges should require a course in HISTORY, no matter what your major. We have lost our way.

     Christians have taken the sports mantra No Fear and turned it into a tee-shirt— Fear not… . [Isaiah 41:10] Yet we Christians seem more afraid to face change, to face the future, to face our world’s fluctuating foundations and values than anyone. What’s with that, anyway?!?

     The genuine Christian should not strive to fit in, to blend. Rather, to make a difference in the world; from the lives of those around them, to the world arena. Let’s step forward and be counted.

     So instead of New Year’s Resolutions, make action plans; instead of setting personal goals, set people goals. Who will you help? Who can you love like Jesus? Who can you pass on your wisdom to? And don’t tell anyone. Just do it.

Make a difference,
Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ a consideration of postChristian apologetics

Advent #4 Peace

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Merry Christmas!

      The angels declared to the shepherds “…peace among those with whom he is pleased.”  Yet, those were not peaceful times in Israel. The revolt of the Maccabees had been crushed. Roman invaders had set up their own “parallel” government; and there were weekly executions of rebellious Jews. How could these times ever be considered peaceful? Still, the angels proclaimed PEACE!

      An odd announcement for those times. And ours. Taking the world as a whole, there is not a wide dispersion of peace abounding. Just glance at your news-feed. Scan your own life; peaceful? Yet it was in such times that the Lord God Creator of the universe chose to enter our realm. [“in the fullness of time, God sent forth his son ”] To this day there still remains evidence of His arrival— us. Yes, us. Christ birth, life, and death have done all that is necessary to open the way for us to be restored in a relationship with our Creator. One question we need always ask of ourselves is— Do our lives bear evidence of His coming?

      Another question— Do you think your life would change for the better in a relationship with God? Or, is a relationship with God really matter that much?

      These are not a trick questions; so, here’s another.

      Do you think your life might carry more peace within, in a relationship with God?

      I’ve always felt less-than-fully-human when I move outside my own relationship with the God who made me. Like half of me is missing. Identity crisis.

      In Romans 12:8 we learn that “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all.” This peace, between individuals, political factions, and governments, is only possible if it emanates from a heart of peace.

      This Christmas, seek this kind of inward peace that it might flow throughout our world.

Be peace,
Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ Christ!

ADVENT #3— JOY!  ~the shepherd’s candle.

16 December 2018

      Merry Christmas!

            If you’ve watched the opening video…, you have watched it, right?!? Anyway, after you HAVE watched it, you’ve already grasped the point of Advent candle #3— our joy is to be expressed, not only on a hill outside of Bethlehem on a star lit night, but in the midst of the marketplace, the town square, among people who need to see, and hear, our joy this Christmastime.

            How many Christians have you met that portray the Christian life as a life of sacrifice, drudgery, or somber obedience. In too many ways have we hid our light under a bushel, encased in our silent personalities, afraid to let it shine? Or maybe your Christian faith is a personal matter, between you and the Lord: if so, then you would be disobeying His commandment to go out into our world and make disciples.” [Matthew 28:18-20.]  Though we may carry a quiet faith, a personal faith, it is by no means to be a surreptitious one; “they will know you by your love…. “  It is at least that. Yes?

            Our Western, especially American, culture can rob us of our joy in so many ways. For one, we can make Christmas about everything except Christ. Oh, we may replace Him with the baby Jesus, and the sweet manger scene. Jolly ol’ Santa Claus with his bag of toys & delights. Or we may supplant Him completely with buying & giving, shopping, rushing around to get one-last-thing. We’re like that.

            Let me ask you something— Where does your joy come from? Is it like the shepherds’ surprise and wonder at the splendor of myriad of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men, with whom He is well pleased!”  Or does it come from buying your kids (or grandkids) one super-duper awesome Christmas gift? Maybe it comes from receiving something this Christmas that you truly didn’t expect to get. Don’t get me wrong; all this is great, and fun, and joy producing in oodles of delight, with candy kisses thrown in. I like that too.  J

            Still, I want most of my joy this Christmas season to come from Jesus. The birth of the Omnipotent God into our meager realm, to live, to thrive, and, eventually, to die: that I might live!  HALLELUJAH!

Behold our King,
Gary
Dr. Gary Davis, President
www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ An ADVENT of PEACE!

Empulse #12 A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart

kermit_the_frogSarah had come to faith in Christ during  college. After two years in the campus group she showed up in our home out of frustration. She was visibly distraught. Her Christian staff worker had told her she “just needed to trust Jesus.” “That,” she said, “just was too simplistic.” She was aggravated, angry, and very near the detonation point. As we sat that evening in front of our wood stove she collected herself to tell my wife and me a story we could hardly believe.

            Sarah[i] had grown up in a proper family in a rural area in New York; mother, father, two sisters and one brother, older. On the surface everything appeared to be status quo. But just below the surface lay insidious evil. Sarah’s older brother had been raping her every day of her life since she was eleven years old. One of her sisters found her in tears one day after one of her brother’s assaults. In the process of trying to shield her brother, Sarah’s sister Jennifer[ii] guessed what had been going on and told Sarah that she, too, was also being raped by their brother every day. When they confronted their brother he threatened to commit suicide. Sarah and Jennifer told Bob[iii] that he had to tell their parents within the week or they were going to the police.

            The two sisters were resolute in their determination and insisted that Bob follow through and tell their parents what he had done to them. Instead, to their shock, Bob committed suicide. He left a suicide note for his parents blaming Sarah for everything (leaving out any mention of Jennifer).  Sarah began to sob, scream, curse, and go completely out of control as she told us that her parents believed what her brother had written in his farewell letter. They told her that she would just have to admit her complicity in the ongoing, five year “affair” she had had with her older brother. After Bob’s funeral, Sarah’s and Jennifer’s older sister told them that she too had been raped by him, repeatedly; but they did not want to speak about it, ever again.

            It was now close to midnight. Starr and I were having trouble staying awake. As I put another log in the wood stove, Sarah cried, “How can I ever ‘just trust in Jesus!?!’ He suffered and died for my sins once and for all…, and it was done with. I died every day of my life for seven years. He has no idea what I went through.”

            Sarah’s story is not the only one of its kind. In my role as a counselor I have heard similar stories more times than I would have imagined.  There is truly a lot of pain out there. Not that the pain in our era is any greater or more severe than at any time. Each epoch inflicts its own form of tribulation and torture on its populace. Wars, genocides, rapes, wholesale slaughter of entire peoples and other gruesome agonies have found their way into our history books.  They remain glibly reported events of a distant past. But for those who lived through them, who suffered through assault, or war, or witnessed genocide, the actuality was excruciatingly devastating and left lifelong scars. Life was lost to an evil enemy from whom there was no escape; there seemed no end to suffering. But people always held out hope— hope of rescue, hope of survival, hope in their God. Hope that, in the end, things could be worked out.

Until now.

As we have shifted into this postChristian era any spiritual basis for hope has been totally obliterated.  It has been supplanted by forms of pragmatism, hedonism, self-absorbed isolationism, or a simple denial of the harshness of personal and global tragedy.  People are also disappointed in a god who is not there. Hope has become a contrived notion of a cynical society, held out like a carrot on a stick. Hope in a god, any god, is perceived as a naïve pretense couched in the spiritual jargon of religion.  Empty words.

So how can the message of hope that is offered by Jesus Christ be heard, understood, and believed in such a truth-weary & broken culture?

This is the question that we will now seek to answer. And the answer will cross many lines of safety, many given definers of the gospel and how to present the truth claims of the faith.

            On a personal note, this part of the series is not easy for me to write. I know Sarah, and others like her, who have sought hope in the Christian gospel and Christian community, and found only glib patronages.

Offering hope, in a deforested war zone.

Gary

Dr. Gary Davis, President

www.CluelessChristianity.com  

NEXT TIME~ A Christian Message for a postChristian Heart: part 2

[i] Not her real name.

[ii] Not her real name either.

[iii] Not his real name.