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Everybody Else’s Biggest Problem: The Rise of the “Nones”

Everybody Else’s Biggest Problem: The Rise of the “Nones”

Welcome to the second installment of act three of author Ted Scofield’s series on everybody else’s biggest problem but your own. If you missed one or more of the previous installments, the entire series can be found here.

Last time we met Dr. Jean Twenge, author and professor, who has documented in our nation “a clear cultural shift toward individualism and focusing on self.” With the help of Ayn Rand and Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, we also asked ourselves, In our radically selfish world, what god do we now serve?

Fifteen years after her groundbreaking research on individualism, Dr. Twenge helps us answer…

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Book Review: Falling Into Grace by John Newton

Book Review: Falling Into Grace by John Newton

Most of what lives on bookstore shelves marked “Christian” should actually be marked “Self Help with the Name Jesus Thrown In” (I’m looking at you, Osteen). But John Newton’s latest book, Falling Into Grace: Exploring Our Inner Life with God begins not with us climbing the corporate ladder to the Kingdom, but with us falling. In fact, Newton makes it pretty clear from the beginning:

“This book is an invitation to let yourself fall. It’s a reminder that because you’re already home free from the beginning, any fall can always be a fall into grace. And so don’t expect to find within these…

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Religious Isolation and the Ridiculousness of Play

Religious Isolation and the Ridiculousness of Play

I’ve been meaning to post some quotes from Jack Miles’ interview with The Sun for a while now, but somehow it’s gotten lost in the shuffle. It’s from the March issue on religion. Miles, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and ex-Jesuit, discussed the current fear of commitment in America (of which he, as a vow-breaker himself, is admittedly a part).

When asked about the recent Pew Research results, which show that young people are turning away from religion, and which we’ve blogged about at length, Miles says:

Yes, I’ve seen those numbers. Some claim that religion has faded because its dogma is contradicted…

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Black Day, Stormy Night: Don’t Die Without Knowing Prince

Black Day, Stormy Night: Don’t Die Without Knowing Prince

Deeply saddened by the news of Prince’s death today at age 57. Since it’s borderline impossible to find his music online, those looking for some immediate catharsis would do well to tune into Minnesota public radio The Current, which is streaming his records non-stop.

Like everyone else who was alive in the 80s, Purple Rain and its many singles were my entry point into the music of Prince Rogers Nelson: the bassless “When Doves Cry”, the euphoric “Let’s Go Crazy”, the Journey-cribbing title track (no joke). Yet while I treasured my “Batdance” cassette single, I’d be lying if I didn’t say…

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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.

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Kierkegaard on the (Lost) Offense of Christianity

Kierkegaard on the (Lost) Offense of Christianity

[T]ake away the possibility of offense, as they have done in Christendom, and the whole of Christianity is direct communication; and then Christianity is done away with, for it has become an easy thing, a superficial something which neither wounds nor heals profoundly enough; it is the false invention of human sympathy which forgets the infinite qualitative difference between God and man.

-Søren Kierkegaard, “The Offence,” Training in Christianity

Kierkegaard handles the problem of the “messianic secret” still, to me, better than almost anyone. That secret is the question of why Jesus, after healing people, often tells them to tell no one….

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“I’m New Here: What’s Going On?” A Conference Preview

What a joy it is to host everyone at Calvary St. George’s for the 9th Annual Mockingbird Conference! Things are shaping up for a memorable weekend with great food, excellent speakers, and a topic that any human being in 2016 can appreciate–Relief. For friends who are new to church, new to Mockingbird, new to Christianity, new to New York, here’s a pre-conference word of Relief for you.

We are Mel Smith and Bryan Jarrell, and we’ll be hosting the breakout session “I’m New Here: What’s Going On?” At this session, we’ll talk about The Law, The Gospel, the Bible, everyday life, and Mockingbird’s vision to connect all those things with the human heart. If it’s your first time at a Mockingbird event, if you’ve come to the conference by yourself, or even if you have attended the last 8 and are wondering “what am I doing here?”, join us!

Together we will explore how God’s immeasurable grace intersects with our human experience through the culture, faith expressions, and everyday living. Here at Mockingbird we can seek to explore the threads of truth & grace as we interact with the world around us.

Travel safe, see you next week!

Nothing else in the world matters but the kindness of grace, God’s gift to suffering mortals. ~Jack Kerouac

Pre-register here!

So You Have Your Doubts…

So You Have Your Doubts…

Last week, William Irwin wrote an op-ed for the New York Times’ philosophy forum, The Stone, called “God Is a Question, Not an Answer.” Despite the nauseating title, and the ever more nauseating 2,000-plus comments that have come in the week since it has been published, the article asks a lot of tough questions about the nature of faith in an era that loves expressing itself in the semantics of certainty.

What’s so compelling about Irwin’s article is that he sees the same dedication to certainty on both sides of the “faith” question. In other words, to Irwin, those who staunchly…

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How the Webb Was Woven: April Playlist

How the Webb Was Woven: April Playlist

“You really should listen to this guy”, he said. “A couple of the songs on his new record remind me of what you were saying tonight.”

“I don’t really listen to Christian music”, I responded, half seriously.

“Yeah, um, well, your loss. There’s a strong Yankee Hotel Foxtrot vibe on his new one.”

I’m not proud of the exchange, which took place back in 2005. I had just given a talk to some high school students, and one of the older boys had wanted to engage afterward by telling me about musician Derek Webb. I’d given him…

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From the Archives: Projecting Our Way Through Holy Week

From the Archives: Projecting Our Way Through Holy Week

The friendly overtures of a person whom we no longer love, overtures which strike us, in our indifference to her, as excessive, would perhaps have fallen a long way short of satisfying our love. Those tender speeches, that invitation or acceptance, we think only of the pleasure which they would have given us, and not of all those speeches and meetings by which we would have wished to see them immediately followed, which we should, as likely as not, simply by our avidity for them, have precluded from ever happening. So that we can never be certain that the good…

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Jesus and the Dinosaurs: Nature, Salvation, and History

Jesus and the Dinosaurs: Nature, Salvation, and History

Last week, the online edition of Nature, the premier journal for the natural sciences, published a study by evolutionary biologist Mary Schweitzer which confirmed the presence of medullary bone in the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in Montana in 2000. Medullary bone is found, in living species, only in birds and is uniquely associated with pregnancy. Schweitzer concluded reasonably that the T. rex relics were likely that of a pregnant female, and that analysis for the presence of medullary bone in fossils “would provide a means for unambiguous gender determination and reproductive status in extinct theropods.” Extrapolation of her findings…

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Jesus Fulfilled None of W.H. Auden’s Dreams

Writing for The Chimera in the summer of 1943, W.H. Auden let fly this zinger, appropriate for Holy Week:

www2_664561_400x400If a man who is in love is asked what gives his beloved such unique value for him over all other persons, he can only answer: “She is the fulfillment of all my dreams.” If the questioner has undergone any similar experience, the subjectivity of this answer causes no offense because the lover makes no claim that others should feel the same. He not only admits that “she is beautiful” means “she is beautiful for me but not necessarily for you” but glories in this admission.

If a man who professes himself a Christian is asked why he believes Jesus to be the Christ, his position is much more difficult, since he cannot believe this without meaning that all who believe otherwise are in error, yet at the same time he can give a no more objective answer than the lover: “I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image.”

Thus, if a Christian is asked: “Why Jesus and not Socrates or Buddha or Confucious or Mahomet?” perhaps all he can say is: “None of the others arouse all sides of my being to cry ‘Crucify Him’.”