New Here?
     
Church

The Absolutely Fabulous Canterbury Cathedral

The Absolutely Fabulous Canterbury Cathedral

When I was a kid my parents had pretty strict rules about what we were allowed to watch on television. There was no Full House or Double Dare. And Blossom was totally out of the question. I spent my middle school evenings watching Nick at Nite. So there was a lot of Dragnet and Green Acres. Also, my Dad would, on occasion, let me watch Absolutely Fabulous with him.

Retrospectively, it wasn’t exactly Mr. Rogers. If you have never watched AbFab, then get to work. It’s a show about two drunken, pill popping, ludicrous characters named Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone…

Read More > > >

From the Magazine: Molly Worthen on Cultural Identity in the American Church

With the Church Issue out the door and hitting mailboxes this week, we thought it might be prudent to post a teaser edition of our amazing interview with religious historian and New York Times contributor Molly Worthen. 

If you want to order the Church Issue or subscribe, this is the place to do it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 9.15.30 AMIn the introduction to her 2014 book, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, historian and journalist Molly Worthen sets out to reappraise the term “evangelical”—both what it has meant and what it continues to mean today. She discusses the inherent distrust of American evangelical culture in the wider public sphere, where evangelicals on the whole are typecasted as hostile or anachronistic, too blinded by an authoritarian faith to confront the discoveries of science and reason. Yet Worthen argues that this characterization misrepresents wide swaths of evangelicals, that, on the whole, evangelicals are far more thoughtful and diverse than most critics realize. Worthen argues that evangelicals have been further from ‘authoritarian’ than the intellectual spheres that so readily spurn them:

The central source of anti-intellectualism in evangelical life is the antithesis of “authoritarianism.” It is evangelicals’ ongoing crisis of authority—their struggle to reconcile reason with revelation, heart with head, and private piety with the public square—that best explains their anxiety and animosity toward intellectual life. Thinkers in the democratic West celebrate their freedom of thought but practice a certain kind of unwavering obedience—bowing to the Enlightenment before all other gods—that allows modern intellectual life to function. Evangelicals, by contrast, are torn between sovereign powers that each claim supremacy.

In a way, this tension has been the story of the Church universal, perpetually buffeted between the unique revelation of truth in Jesus Christ, and the world of independent thought that also demands their everyday consideration. The Church, for better or worse, tends to operate in tandem with these powers, which has always led to tricky (and often, precarious) outcomes.

Worthen argues that evangelicals today are still searching for firm footing. As a journalist, the current moments of discord seem of particular interest to her. Her articles in the New York Times often engage the tension between the doctrines of tolerance given us by secular liberalism, and the exclusive truth claims made by the many we would call “evangelicals.” As a Professor at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), she is also interested in how secular thought and identity politics on American campuses have tended to provoke similar kinds of exclusive truth claims on its students, though to a different end. As you will see in our interview, for Molly Worthen, evangelicals are a group of believers who have found it necessary to reconcile the constraints of the public sphere and the demands of their own personal belief.

Worthen spoke to us from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

M

Are there contemporary issues today within the Church that are simply rehashings of an old issue from centuries ago?

MW

Sure, I’m often aware of continuities, and I try to stress them to my students. I teach a course on North American religion since European contact, and one of the themes is the way Christians have always struggled with the paradoxes that define their faith. These paradoxes are what give Christianity its majesty and brilliance, but they’re also what cause great frustration among believers. It has seemed to me that, over the millennia, people who are deemed heretics by defenders of orthodoxy are Christians who sought to resolve one or more of the key paradoxes of Christianity—whether it was to try to separate Christ’s human and divine nature or to try to rationalize the mystery of the Trinity or to push apart the paradox of free will and divine sovereignty.

41-xe2IErwL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_And then there are the less Trinitarian paradoxes that continue to pop up in contemporary religion, that deal with culture—the paradox of the Christian calling to be ‘in the world but not of it’—that dilemma frames so many issues for Christians today.

The paradox whereby Paul calls Christians to be always alert to the way in which culture can become confused with the Gospel, and worldly identities blended with identity in Christ—that one is so apparent in the current presidential election. It certainly illuminates the appeal of Donald Trump’s xenophobic, nativist, essentially white supremacist language. Some evangelical leaders I’ve asked about this insist that evangelicals who support Trump are not real evangelicals because many of them don’t go to church, but the fact is that “evangelical” has become a kind of cultural identity that churches do not control.

One trend I’ve been following is the way in which more and more evangelical leaders are calling for American Christians to think of themselves as a “moral minority,” a Christian counterculture, to recognize that the ship has sailed on marriage equality and that they can no longer aspire to “take the country back.” And yet, at the same time, we have the evangelical grassroots rallying for a presidential candidate who is resurrecting the rhetoric of Jerry Falwell, speaking about how the “silent majority” is back to reclaim the country. I mean, this is what Trump says! So there’s a widening gap between the strategies and desires of many evangelical leaders, and what seem to be the sentiments of their constituents.

M

College students are certainly up against a lot, especially if they’re professing a faith that has exclusive truth claims. Your recent article in the New York Times, “Hallelujah College,” talked a little bit about that too, about the Christian student in a world of trigger warnings and what Jonathan Haidt called, “emotional coddling.” Can you share your thoughts there?

MW

I think that the general paradigm on most secular campuses is that of New Left identity politics, in which we all claim a certain set of identities based on our life experiences. We have authority to speak from those identities because of our experiences, and we must grant all respect and sovereignty to other people’s identity claims and adopt a posture of openness, but never confrontation or judgment. My students, even those who come from conservative Christian backgrounds, have been steeped in that culture for long enough that they obey its rules without really thinking about them. On one hand, pragmatically, it works. It produces a fairly civil conversation. Most of the time, it allows people with very different perspectives to coexist.

But the fact is that traditional Christianity has a different way of conceiving of human nature and truth claims than do modern secular liberals. I think that modern secular liberals have not worked through some of the inconsistencies in their own ideologies when it comes to the accommodation of traditional religions, Christian or otherwise. You know, this problem is really coming to the fore in Western Europe, as these secular European liberal democracies try to accommodate and acculturate huge numbers of conservative Muslim immigrants. For the secular liberal, it’s the old problem of, “How do you tolerate the intolerant?” What boundaries do you enforce?

It’s a conversation that liberals have been exempt from having for a long time, at least in this country, and what I find interesting is the way conservative Christian students are trying to compel that conversation. Although both sides sometimes fall prey to a sense of moral superiority, and the rigidity of their own assumptions can prevent them from totally hearing the other side, I think liberals have a lot to learn from the way religious conservatives have learned to articulate their presuppositions and understand the intellectual framework of their own worldview. I think liberals, especially at universities, where they do enjoy cultural dominance, have not always had to come to terms with the logic of their own ideas.

Order your copy here!

The Archbishop’s Identity Never Changes

The Archbishop’s Identity Never Changes

Welby and his biological father, Anthony Montague Browne.

Not sure if you’ve been following the story unfolding around Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby this past week, but it is truly extraordinary, both in its details and in what it reveals about the Archbishop himself. In a nutshell, at the age of 60, it has been discovered via a DNA test that Welby’s parentage is quite different than he had always been told/assumed. It turns out that his father was not Gavin Welby (a first generation Jewish immigrant to the UK, described by The Telegraph as an “alcoholic trickster”) after all…

Read More > > >

From The New Yorker: Or Will They?

NewYorkerLions

The Most Foolish Job in the World: Planting a Grace-Centered Church

This conference breakout preview comes to us from our friend Curt Benham, who will be speaking this Friday afternoon at Mockingbird NYC

15-years-on-does-zoolander-2-deliver-exclusive-spoiler-free-review-829293

Church planting is so hot right now.

These are heady times in the Church Planting Industrial Complex. There’s lots of money flowing around, and lots of conferences with lots of hype and lots of really, really, ridiculously good looking people slinging lots of “actionable steps” to help you plant the church of your dreams and make a Giant Impact ™ for Christ on your city.

Church planters have become the tech entrepreneurs of Western Christendom. We’re the ones who must innovate, innovate, and innovate some more in order to get all those wayward millennials’ butts back in the pews and make our cities a utopian paradise.

But here’s what they won’t tell you: church planting will kill you (ministers and laypersons alike). You will die. The law (of church planting), which promises life, will in fact kill you.

In other words, planting a church looks a lot like a life. You have big dreams for your church (or for your career, or for your children), and you feel empowered to take control of those dreams, become the master of your domain, execute your strategy, and ride off in the glow of your success. But you soon realize that you do not have control, and that the millennials aren’t showing up, and that your city is not becoming a utopian paradise, and that people are sick of hearing about grace and want “better, deeper” sermons with more “life application,” and that you’re a crappy “leader.” Ultimately, even though you talk about him all the time, you realize that you are not God. And that kills you. That’s the death-blow.

Resurrection is pretty sweet too, though. What comes out of the ashes of a dead church planter and his/her dead church can be a beautiful thing. Resurrection life usually looks nothing like what you expected or what you would have chosen. But it’s beautiful.

In this break-out session we’ll get honest about the joys and the sorrows of planting a grace-focused church.

Pre-register here!

Now Available: The Church Issue of The Mockingbird!

Now Available: The Church Issue of The Mockingbird!

Issue number seven has arrived! We really love this one and think you will too. Needless to say, the theme this time is a potent one. Yet as laden with history and hope and hurt as the subject may be, that didn’t stop us from having some fun. Below find the Opener from the Editor, and our Table of Contents. And, of course, you can order your copy here.

We’ll Leave a Light On For You

When you think of the word “church,” what do you think? What images spring to mind? Old stone, baptismal fonts? Dim stadium lights, hands raised? Pews?…

Read More > > >

The Difference Between Christmas and Easter

The Difference Between Christmas and Easter

A few paragraphs from James Martin’s remarkable article in this past Sunday’s Wall Street Journal, “The Challenge of Easter”:

The Christmas story is largely nonthreatening to nonbelievers: Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary and Joseph and the adoring shepherds, is easy to take. As the Gospels of Matthew and Luke recount, there was no little danger involved for Mary and Joseph. But for the most part, it can be accepted as a charming story. Even nonbelievers might appreciate the birth of a great teacher.

By contrast, the Easter story is both appalling and astonishing: the craven betrayal of Jesus by one…

Read More > > >

Personality Assessments: Grace in Neuroses

Personality Assessments: Grace in Neuroses

In seminary there were three really important questions you asked your fellow students:

What diocese are you from? (New York)
Sherry or Port? (Lemon-tini)
What is your Myers Briggs? (INFJ)

I haven’t figured out if Myers Briggs was a part of the Gnostic gospels or the Apocrypha, but it is a fundamental personality identifier in mainline Protestant seminary culture. So it must be in the scriptures somewhere. As a J, I can tell you that it was the fastest way to sort out the weirdos from the weirdest. And also, it was a great way to preemptively excuse your bad behavior. Once I learned…

Read More > > >

Maundy Thursday Miscellany: Mr Rogers, Stinky Feet, Memes, Cartoons, and Jams, plus Love & Friendship!

Maundy Thursday Miscellany: Mr Rogers, Stinky Feet, Memes, Cartoons, and Jams, plus Love & Friendship!

First, if you didn’t get around to the Mr. Rogers’ story a few weeks ago, TODAY is the day!

Second, no one tells a better foot-washing story than Sally Lloyd-Jones in The Jesus Storybook Bible, for which an animated version exists. God loves stinky feet, people:

Third, the Last Supper Meme of the Year is definitely:

Fourth, Six Maundy Thursday Jams That Aren’t “Sweet Cherry Wine”

The Last Supper – Johnny Cash
Sister I Need Wine – Guided by Voices
Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread – Bob Dylan
(Gotta Get) A Meal Ticket – Elton John
Pass Me Down the Wine – Oasis
Hollywood – Tobias Jesso…

Read More > > >

The Primary Definition of an Evangelical

The Primary Definition of an Evangelical

This election cycle, Donald Trump’s ascendancy to front-runner status has given religion beat writers a whole new angle of thinkpiece to write: what exactly is an Evangelical, and why are they voting for Trump. At least a half-dozen of them are produced daily, it seems, from major publications like The Washington Post and the New York Times to your friendly neighborhood religious blog. Evangelical bastions like Christianity Today magazine and Liberty University are weighing in on the discussion, and even smaller Evangelical outlets like Relevant Magazine are trying to parse the Trump phenomenon. Flummoxed political insiders aren’t the only ones left…

Read More > > >

The Graduates (Almost): Thoughts on Church and Worship

The Graduates (Almost): Thoughts on Church and Worship

This is Part 2 of a multi-part series about college, faith, and the expectations of millennials from the perspective of two near-graduates: David and Lizzie, Mockingbird’s finest interns.

In our first “Millennials” post, Lizzie and I discussed the confluence of work and play in college and the uncertainties in discerning our next steps. In the second, we thought about our church experiences as young people. We noticed, as we talked and wrote, that we spend a lot of time in worship, and that worship is rarely focused on Jesus, much less anything beyond our phone screens. For Lizzie, jamming out at a Widespread…

Read More > > >

Failed Tightrope Walkers: Henri Nouwen on the Second Temptation of Christ

Failed Tightrope Walkers: Henri Nouwen on the Second Temptation of Christ

As we press on through the season of Lent, we are reminded of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness (too bad Last Days in the Desert won’t be wide-released until May 2016!).

Like the middle child in most families, the second temptation is often overlooked and rolled in with the whole. Writer-priest Henri Nouwen gives it some due attention in his short book In the Name of Jesus (ht ER) in which he confesses that in his life, despite being a celebrated Harvard professor and a writer of considerable, especially spiritual, repute, he nevertheless felt the need to demonstrate whatever power he felt he had–even…

Read More > > >