Clueless Christianity: Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing. part 4

Hands Puzzle Love Separation HeartGrappling with our culture’s swing to a postChristian mind-set has not been easy for me. In my conversations with normal people the idea of accountability to anyone outside my immediate self sounds nonsensical. It’s tantamount to explaining thermonuclear dynamics to a classical ballet dancer; there is no overlap in perspective or interest.

So, thank you, for bearing with me in my attempts to explain God and His Son, Jesus Christ, to a vast majority of people who have no notion of “god,” let alone of their need for salvation.

Let’s be honest as we continue opening Pandora ’s Box. We want a god, if, indeed, we want a god at all, with whom we are comfortable; a god who resembles us, who has human qualities, but not divine ones. We want a god of our own design, not one who tells us who He is and who we are; we want a god who plays by our rules.  We do not want a God like the Christian God who sets up the parameters of how we are to relate to Him and His world.

Even so, this is the God that postModern people need to see for who He truly is; not a watered-down version of Him, nor a Christianized-sweet-Jesus version of Him. They need to see the God of Glory, the Creator-Sustainer God who desires to love us and enable us to fulfill what He intended for us from the foundation of the universe. And we can only see that happen in reestablishing a connection with Him in Jesus Christ. Confessing sin, seeking His forgiveness for rebellion, and finding fulfillment, need to be blended together for this postChristian era. Any partial “formula” for a relationship with Christ will lead to death, literally.

I do not want to be seen as heretical in my view of God, of Holy Scripture, and especially of the Gospel of our Lord. But it is past time when the Problem Solving/Sales Model gospel presentation needs to be laid to rest. Even those who live in enclaves of evangelical America are so familiar with the content of these formulations that the words have lost their definition and Biblical context.  Summary outlines, though helpful to remember the “main points” of the message, can lack an authentic depth and life-context. It is time for followers of Christ to build rich relationships with those who don’t have the slightest clue as to what our faith is about. The Gospel is much more than a simple 4-5 point summary. It is time we put flesh on the Words of Scripture; it is time we started reading our Bibles and not simply quoting from them. It rests upon us to learn the heartbeat of the Scriptures and the language of our surrounding society…, & to bring them together.  We need to frame our faith and message in ways that can be understood, felt, seen, and lived out in our individual and corporate lives, as one.

Besides being able to couch our message in the mindset of our host culture, we also rests upon us not only to learn their language (Missionology 101), but one thing more— we need to learn to earnestly learn to love them. Love them?!? Love people who are so different from us!?! That’s easier said than done. Quite true. We can hardly love the differences among ourselves. Jesus understood how diverse a people His Church would become; that is why He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) We MUST learn to genuinely love one another (also read- forgive) if we are ever to love “the world!?!”

Yes, precisely.

Any communication to people who have no Christian understanding whatsoever, true postChristians, must be couched in their language, their experience-set, and their precepts. To do so involves expanding our own understanding of the extent and very substance of the Christian message. The gospel is not simply about solving the sin problem. It is so much more. It is about pulling the entirety of human history back in line with the principles that God our Creator set down for us to live by. The greatness of Christ’s message reaches far beyond simple conversion; it calls for relief for those who are poor, justice in our courts, freedom for the oppressed, and healing for those in need. Jesus knew this when he read—

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set oppressed people free.” (Luke 4:18 ISV)

The gospel in a postChristian era has more far reaching effects and implications than individual justification: it involves challenges for the whole person, the whole culture, and the whole world.

NEXT TIME~ Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing part 5.

Heart2Heart,

Gary

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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

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!

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.

BEING a CHRISTIAN in a NEW ERA— it’s a generational thing. Part 1

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“We must become what we seek to create.”— Mohandas Karamchang Ghandi

(Oct 2, 1869 – Jan. 30, 1948  —assassinated on his way to evening prayers.)

     The fact of the matter is that people are different now. Young people find it difficult to relate to the church’s way of doing things. When family structures and society were more stable people did come to church to find answers, to find community, to worship God in a traditional manner. But the breakdown of our society, the dissolution of so many marriages, the Iraq wars, renewed racial conflicts, 9/11, the 2008 financial collapse, and our present political conundrum, have all contributed to the fragmentation of society and isolation of the generations. We have ceased to learn from the older and wiser; this alone constitutes a major fracture in our family cohesion. And thanks to the Baby-Boom of 1946-1964, YOUTH CULTURE (their children) does, in fact, dominate our world.

So when young people ages 14-25 come to church what do they find, generally?[i] They find a shape of Christianity virtually irrelevant to their virtual realities. They find a pyramid power structure contrary to their relationally oriented networked reality. They find generational separation. They find “lecture style” instruction. This is NOT true of every church; but it is true of far too many.

But fear not! Facebook has now has 2.3 billion subscribers, bringing us all back together…, maybe, sorta.  In recent years, more of the Silent Generation is flocking to Facebook to see their grandchildren. So their kids are fleeing for their lives to Instagram and Snapchat. If the Church could do anything to correct this generational drift, it should re-kindle intergenerational relationships; not online, but face to face.

Two American sociologists, Neil Howe and William Strauss, have categorized our generational differences in ways that might also be helpful in our understanding of those differences and in the efforts to bridge the gaps between us… and them. Check out MILLENNIALS RISING: the next great generation, (Randon House; New York, 2000). In essence, generational characteristics must be taken into account when any presentation of the Christian faith is expressed. If they are not considered, both our communication of the faith and its comprehension levels drop into the abyss of vacuity.

The Question for us becomes— How will I express my Christian faith in a way that is appropriate to my culture, to my generation, yet sensitive to other forms of expression, as well as to the world at-large?  In the church context—  how should my worship honor God in the Body of Christ?

Between early 2005 and 2015 NEEDinc conducted a series of interviews with genuine Christians across North America [“Genuine” being defined as a faith whose principles influenced at least 75% of their daily activities]. Each interviewee was drawn from a different generational grouping; each expressed answers to the interview questions in a manner with which they were comfortable.

What we learned from the interviews surprised us a little.

  1. Some saw church as central to their Christian worship while others did not. A common frustration and disappointment in the state of the church crossed all generational lines.
  2. Though all were genuine believers and held a rich faith in Christ, they expressed that faith through worship, music, and societal involvement in different ways and to different extents. This observation followed generational lines and complied with their peer group expressions.
  3. Though younger generations held a respect for their elder’s expressions of faith, it was not reciprocated. Older believers knew little about the formats and subtleties of twenty-somethingexpressions of faith. They judged the younger generation’s faith too emotion-based, too relational, and not grounded enough in a Biblical, comprehensive worldview.
  4. Everyone was willing to consider the other person’s faith expression…, in theory. In practice, well, that didn’t work out so well. “Getting together” at all was the first hurdle to overcome.
  5. ALL considered themselves in process; that is, they understood they were each at different places in their spiritual journey and had much growing yet to come.

Reflection

How would you respond to these five observations? How would you imagine older/younger Christians responding? What commonalities have you observed between different generations of Christians? What issues do you believe still exist between diverse generations? What passions might they share in common? How might different generations of genuine Christians teach each other about their own individual expressions of faith?

NEXT— Being a Christian in a New Era—  Part 2

Gary

[i] I am well aware that to employ the phrase “churches generally,” is impossible. What is at stake here is the general reaction of unchurched youth to traditional Christian worship, whether or not they employ more contemporary worship music.

[Note— If you can find a copy of James O. Gollub’s THE DECADE MATRIX: why the decade you were born into made you what you are today (Addison Wesley Publishing, Reading, MA, 1991), currently out of print, you will learn that the title just about says it all.]

 

Closing Doors #5 A Sliver of Light

prayer_for_usaAs we follow Christianity across the ocean to the Americas you must, by now, see that I have been covering large swaths of history in a single ¾ page offering. This has been unfair. Excellent books have covered far less time periods in far more pages. So this will be the final entry in my cosmic fly-over of the church and its interface with the world around it.

     From 1850 to the present, colossal revolutions swept the Church. The rise of American denominationalism, the struggle over the slavery issue, the Civil War, two World Wars, terrible conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, the Middle East, and a seemingly endless cold war with Russia have overshadowed the Church’s stance in the public forum.

     Add to that the divisive nature of “Christian” personality cults, our flip-flops during the civil-rights movements, and Westboro Baptist Church’s antics, have all placed the Church at odds with the secular society around us. More recently, the conundrum over LGBTQ issues and the “cocooning” of many evangelical churches and ministries, the faith we love is pretty much a joke for the majority of the nation.

     On the plus side, the field meetings of Charles Finney, the urban popularity of Billy Sunday, and the incredible ministry of Billy Graham have done much to keep a positive spin on the true nature of the Christian faith. The ‘70s Jesus People ushered in a new face for a more youthful Christian expression. And where would we be without contemporary Christian music (Hillsong, Rend Collective); even the mainstream music industry has to take notice.

     So how do we keep these doors open so the waiting world can at least see a sliver of light of who we are?

     Well, at the least we need to unlock the doors from our side. Replacing Kingdom language (King, Lord) with less medieval constructs might be a good place to start. And fewer thee’s and thou’s mighteth help. Charles & John Wesley utilized popular well known tunes and put Christian lyrics to them. We’ve got a good jump on that; let’s keep going.

     90% – 95% of Church activities revolve around itself. Think we could change that?!? And what about revising that judgmental attitude toward others?!? Maybe a little more forgiving this time around?

     We could, believe it or not, get involved in local government, or run for public office! Maybe even start a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or a CEO’s Confidentiality Consortium. When I lived in the northeast, I was asked to join the Pioneer Valley Gentlemen’s Whiskey Association because I was a Christian. Go figure. Opening doors.

     God does not want any of us to spend the rest of our days cloistered inside our churches: well, unless you‘re the Pope; and even ee gets out!

     Our place is one of intermingling with the people of our society; both with those of influence and those who don’t have a place to sleep tonight. What has the Lord called you to? Get there. And bring the peace, forgiveness, and joy of our Lord with you.

 … a glimmer in the dust,

  Gary

Closing Door #3 The year 1000

dr gary Davis, clueless, crusades, church history, closed doors

The year 1000 was a pivotal year in both society and Church. Our world was in juxtaposition to itself: Europe was just entering the Middle Ages, when agricultural technology took a great step forward; by contrast, sub-Saharan Africa was still in the darkness of the pre-historical era.

     The entire world population hovered between 250 & 300 million people.

     Within the Church, the authority of the Papacy was in decline. It was the period of saeculum obscurum, the Dark Ages. The church in Europe retreated from “the world” for safety and seclusion. This left an open door for Islam to invade southern Europe and occupy the Iberian Peninsula.

     The dominance of Islam in the Holy Land initiated Pope Urban’s call to all Christians to lead a Holy Crusade against the Muslims who had overrun Jerusalem as well as the Holy City of Constantinople. The Millennium had gotten off to a cataclysmic start. True believers were, once again, confronted with the choice to enter the fray in the Holy Land to defend the faith, or to retreat to walled cities and monasteries for safety, food, and seclusion from the world outside.

     Another notable event was the Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in 1095. The Eastern Church did not believe that Christianity needed one central authority, in one man, as the final arbiter of all matters of faith. The Orthodox Church operated more as a fraternity of churches, rather than a hierarchy of churches that traced papal authority in direct lineage to the Apostle Peter. The Church closed its doors on itself, splitting East and West.

     During the European Plagues, one ending in 750, and another, emerging in Central Asia, to hit Europe in 1346. The second plague became known as The Black Death; nearly 25 million people perished during this pandemic.

     Once again, the Church opened its doors to the poor, weak, and dying; she then swallowed them within; holding tight rein over their actions, land, and purse-strings.

     Too often it takes a devastating event to motivate Christians to reach into the lives of the lost to care for them, feed them, and journey alongside them. We dare not allow the models of our faith in the past determine our present interface with the world around us.

     I know I’ve quoted G.K. Chesterton [1874-1936] before; but it seems apropos to do so again.

What our world needs now is a new kind of Prophet.
Not one like the Prophets of old who told men they were going to die;
But one who would tell them they are not dead yet.

 Not dead yet,

  Gary