Perhaps nothing illustrates the way my thinking has changed over the past decade better than the evolution in my appreciation for Marcus Borg.
Like many students of conservative, evangelical theology—the tradition in which I grew up—I first learned of Marcus Borg in his role as one of the most prominent figures involved in something called The Jesus Seminar back in the 1980s and ’90s. That endeavor comprised 150 academics and laypersons who met occasionally to debate the authenticity of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The group’s methodology for registering their individual opinions—i.e. depositing colored marbles in a box, each different color representing greater or lesser likelihood of authenticity—provided ample material for jokes and put-downs in the conservative circles where I moved at the time. Continue reading →
Over the past decade, I have made a lot of changes in what I believe about life and faith and how I evaluate truth claims and worldviews. Like so many others in similar situations, I changed my mind about essential matters when I found that, at the most crucial times in my life, my previously-cherished beliefs simply did not work for me; they promised far more than they delivered.
When I looked more deeply, I found that the superstructure of my belief system crumbled because the foundation on which it rested was riddled with cracks. In philosophical terms, my presuppositions were flawed, so the conclusions based on them turned out to be flawed as well. You don’t have to agree with my assessment here; I’m just putting it out there. Continue reading →
Contemporary Christianity in the U.S., especially of the megachurch variety, is a typically American phenomenon. As soon as it achieved some popular “success,” its leaders began to treat it as a product and to develop programs to enable the product to scale in the marketplace. If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you know where this leads. Ultimately, it’s not the quality of the product that is most important, it is the efficiency of the business plan and the energy and savvy of its marketers.
Genuine faith is not a commodity, however, and the church is not a merchant selling a product. Genuine faith is based on a trusting relationship, with God and with other people. It is not efficiently scalable. It is messy, inconsistent, and notoriously inefficient. It’s more like a family than a business. Continue reading →
Look, if you want to point out how far I fall short of the qualities and traits I admire and write about, you’ll need to take a number. It’s a very long line, and I myself am at the head of it. If you would prefer that I not constantly draw unfavorable comparisons between the beliefs and convictions I used to hold and those I have come to embrace in recent years, again that’s a big club, and I’m actually a charter member.
It is possible, if you follow me on Facebook, that your finger has frequently been poised to press the “unfriend” button beside my name. So far, however, you have demurred because either you believe I will eventually self-destruct, or you still cherish some flickering hope that I will come to my senses and recant my ill-advised excursion to the dark side. Since neither is likely, our continued association may be short-lived. And again, that is an ever-expanding fraternity. Continue reading →
For a person with such strong opinions about, well, almost everything, I have an incredibly thin skin when it comes to criticism. I could have set that sentence in quotation marks, changed the “I” to a “you,” and attributed it to one of the scores of people who have said that to me over the years. I didn’t do that, because I want to make it clear I know it is true.
I can deal with certain kinds of criticism. (I won’t like it, but I can deal with it.) For example, people sometimes point out what they believe are logical inconsistencies or non sequiturs in my writing. I can deal with that because, most of the time, I can explain my thinking to show that the perceived gap in consistency was more misperception than reality. Moreover, when the critique is sound, and my logic really has been faulty, I can show genuine, if sometimes grudging, appreciation.
I have greater difficulty with the more subjective criticism of my character or my motives. In the first place, it is almost impossible to defend oneself against a critique that points up a flaw in character or motivation, whether or not the critique is true and accurate. In the second place, the critique is far too often both true and accurate. Continue reading →
Owing largely to my upbringing in Christian fundamentalism, until just a few years ago, I was completely convinced I had everything figured out when it came to matters of faith and doctrine. Oh, I had made some changes to my thinking in a few areas—as when I embraced the Anabaptist view of biblical nonresistance—but, for the most part, my beliefs and convictions were firmly established on conservative evangelical presuppositions. Continue reading →
Again I thank you for sharing, in a deeply personal way, some aspects of your life and ministry that I had not seriously considered before. Here’s what I took away from your last two letters. (Read them here and here.)
The course of your pilgrimage and the scope of the changes in the way you understand truth, faith, and Christian discipleship have taken an emotional and psychological toll. And while you readily acknowledge that you are less certain about a lot of things than you used to be, you are clearly okay with that.Continue reading →
I’m sure that my last letter raised more questions than it answered with regard to the way I define the term “gospel” these days. For that reason, I wanted to get this follow-up letter off to you with dispatch.
I don’t mean to suggest that everybody gets to define the word for himself or herself. What I do mean is that it’s possible we have not fully understood the meaning of the word in its original context in the New Testament, specifically in those first four books that we call “the Gospels.” Continue reading →
You have referred several times to evangelical Christianity in this exchange of emails. You’ve made it clear that, although evangelicalism was the context for your early Christian formation, you no longer share some of the movement’s foundational presuppositions. In your last letter, however, you said something I had not heard before, and it raised a question I’d like to pursue.
You wrote, “Despite my belief that evangelicalism has lost its way and is flailing around in a confused state of self-misperception, I pray for the movement’s recovery of the gospel of the kingdom.” Could you say a bit more about that?Continue reading →
In your most recent letter, you somewhat sidestepped the question of whether you consider yourself a liberal (just kidding, I know exactly what you meant) :-), but it still raised some additional questions. I pose them now as follow-up, if I may.
First, I know how much it hurt you to lose your job as a teacher, but do you think you would be where you are today if you hadn’t? Second, have you ever considered that you might have formed some of your current positions and opinions as a reactionary response to that unpleasant situation? And finally, when I had you as a teacher, you spoke very critically of a number of well-known liberal scholars and writers. Have you changed your opinion about any or all of them?Continue reading →