Tag Archives: postevangelicalism

after fundamentalism: where do you go from here?

This is a cross post (that has been updated) from Unsettled Christianity

Dear friend,

I have heard about your dilemma. Trust me, I have. You’re sick and tired of hearing about how you can’t criticize your senior pastor, because “Touch not my annointed.” Every Sunday you feel like you want to leave, but you can’t. Once you make the decision to leave, this open letter will be for you. So, here’s a few pieces of (unsolicited) advice for when you make the drastic move.

1. Fundamentalist churches rely on closed cultures. Not only do fundamentalists believe that their religious beliefs are absolutely true, they believe that the surrounding culture is evidence of those beliefs, for better or worse. Cultural hegemony is a part of fundamentalist religions, whether they be Christianity or atheism. The best way to resist the idolization of culture, say the dominant cultural norms in the U.S., for example is to learn to appreciate diversity. Many seekers who desire to leave evangelicalism/fundamentalism will begin to see a whole new world open to them, but unfortunately it will not be from a cross-cultural perspective. My advice would be to seek out friendships not just with persons who look like you, but also persons who you probably despised as a fundamentalist. Take risks, reject the cultural boundaries and the racist stereotypes you heard about from congregants, and not only become friends with Persons of Color. Listen to our concerns, fellowship with us in our communities. Consider perhaps the more nuanced perspective that the problem with fundamentalism was not just about much of the legalism that goes on, but also the promoting of American empire that goes with it.

2. As an aspiring pastor someday, I understand the need for both self-care and pastoral care in people’s lives. So I am not going to take it lightly when I say this: if you feel that you need to take a break from attending institutional church services, then do it. A number of persons who leave fundamentalism is because of the spiritual and sexual abuse found within the culture of fundamentalist churches. If the local churches in your surrounding area are not likely to be safe places for you to seek the LORD, I would suggest going the organic church route. Be sure that you stay in a spiritual community, because we can’t do it alone. No one can. I also realize there will be situations where people will choose the valid alternative of rejecting religion and the idea of a higher power altogether. We need to give persons their own space and converse with them on their own terms.  Either way, if you are an expat of fundamentalism, it’s very important that you find at least one person you believe you can confide in. If this is a case of abuse, I would recommend contacting the local authorities.

3. The thing to remember is that if you are a person searching for an escape out of fundamentalist bondage, is that you are never alone. There are thousands of persons like you with a similar story. That being said, be discerning in who you read after you have “officially” arrived in PostEvangelical Land. When it comes to millenials especially, there is not ONE person who represents or speaks for us. Not. One. A number of postevangelical leaders see themselves as the future of Christianity. Having a blog and a couple of book deals, or speaking at a few conferences does not entitle anyone to having a monopoly on what it means to be an ex-fundamentalist. There are many ways to be in community with others without having to adopt labels like “missional” or “emergent” etc. Evaluate all of your options, but don’t pat yourself on the back for it. Learn. Grow. Move on.

4. There are a number of toxic communities that hate-watch Christianity. Do not be a part of them. Your healing does not need to rely on hating the very person you once were. The key is to accept a nuanced and critical view of yourself in the past, and not to live there. You don’t want to be shamed into hating your former life, and therefore shaming your probable family members/friends who are still caught up in fundamentalist culture.

5. Fifth, I would ask that you give peace a chance. Given the fact that fundamentalism requires a culture of violence, and sometimes even pronounced admiration for warfare, the traditional nonviolent ethics first embraced by the early Church and on through the centuries is a valid alternative to fundamentalism’s violence, epistemological, or other.

6. Lastly, go to a library. Google. Research. Study the early church. Learn Hebrew or Greek. Know that your story of leaving fundamentalism is more than about you. It’s about recognizing that Christianity is a centuries old tradition that was birthed out of Judaism. The story of Christ and his work is much larger than we can ever express or imagine. God is bigger than our idols.

Amen.

original post: here

blogging while Christian, factions, & thoughts on the #Divergent trilogy

Image from the Divergent Wikia

One of my favorite things about this new trend of Young Adult dystopian fiction is that the authors give a lot of attention in great detail to those at the margins (though they are not the protagonists unfortunately). In the case of The Hunger Games trilogy, it was the Avox, and in the case of the Divergent trilogy (so far I am working on Insurgent), it is the Factionless.  Maybe I ought to do a series comparing the Factionless and Avox when I finish the Divergent Trilogy, and the roles that the marginalized play in moving stories forward.  Yet for me, I didn’t get into Divergent right away.  The first time I read it, I dropped it after the first 8 chapters.  After some time, I picked it up again, and instead of looking for something completely like the Hunger Games, I found well, every good writing!

Divergent takes place in a divided, post-apocalyptic Chicago.  The people are divided up into five factions: Erudite, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Candor.  As their namesake suggests, each faction is dedicated to the virtues they are named after: intelligence, self-sacrifice, bravery, kindness, and truth-telling.  As a fan, I personally prefer Erudite, and I seem to have always have seen myself as a mad scientist in that light at times.

Other times, I feel like Dauntless, the wildly courageous soldiers who have a mission to protect the walls of the city.

And sometimes that Dauntless side causes others to refer to me as being a member of Candor, someone who speaks truth to power occassionally. I have accepted the fact that I may not be just one, that I may be Divergent. I think being Divergent, especially when it comes to theology, gets me in trouble with others a lot of the time. Using myself as an example, I know that I enjoy doing Liberation, Patristic, and Open, and Peace theologies. For me, they are all interconnected, while for others, they are irreconcileable.  Maybe because some see Christianity as something like the world in Divergent, where on your 18th birthday, or perhaps after you have graduated college or seminary, you get to pick which faction you want to belong to the rest of your life. Some may choose Mainline Protestantism, others Conservative evangelicalism, and still others, Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Once you choose your faction,(ideally) you learn the history, practices and habits of that faction.  Unlike the world of Divergent, you can leave and choose a new faction if you want. Online in the world of blogging, Christian writers have set themselves up in factions to reflect this reality.  There are factions that are more like Amity.  And you see them on Facebook or blogging, and they just want everyone to get along, to be nice, and break bread together.  If you disagree with them over something they wrote, they’ll passively-aggressively write back, “I’m praying for you, sister,” or end their comments with “Blessings” because genuine disagreement is a threat to their hegemonic I mean really friendly Christian spaces!

There are those Erudite theologians online, whose writing is INCOMPREHENSIBLE!  And you’re like, what in the world are they talking about half of the time? Why is this even important? It’s not like the average layperson will care? AMIRITE????

 

Honestly, I am still working through the Divergent Trilogy, and the implications it has theologically.  I am excited to finish and share more of my thoughts on the novels.

Fundamentalism and Post-Evangelical Culture

saved faye

After the World Vision drama that spread all over the interwebs, there have been a few posts on postevangelicals farewelling evangelicalism (well, sorta?). Over at Christ And Post Culture, Hannah Anderson wrote an excellent post putting post-evangelicalism in historical context, Farewell Evangelicalism?: Not So Fast. At Canon And Culture, Rob Schwarzwalder asked, Why Younger Evangelicals Are Leaving the Church: Some Arguments Against The Conventional Wisdom

Thirdly, Dianna E Anderson posted last week, Life In The Borderlands: A Taxonomical Analysis of Post-Evangelicalism

As a guy who really digs church history, and who has studied the history of evangelicalism, let me add these thoughts. Post-evangelicals are not leaving evangelicalism, vis-a-vis actual evangelical churches and its institutions for its faults, like its anti-intellectualism, its social conservativism, and stuffy institutions. These three features aforementioned are actually found in mainline Protestant churches as well. And well, basically, U.S. American Christianity. This reputation of Christianity being a tool of right-wing politics in media is what Post-Evangelicals are protesting against. They don’t want to be seen as “not liking” the Bible like those evil Mainliners, but they want to definitely be seen as not being one of those Republican Conservative FundieVangelicals.

By now, we all know the type, the Hilary Faye’s (Saved!) hypocritical White Blonde Aryan spokeswomen for Hollywood’s view of Christianity. Sure, there’s some truth to these tropes, but I think underlying both the protest of PostEvangelicals that they are indeed different, and the ignorance of media stereotypes is the lack of knowledge of evangelical religious history. Post-Evangelicalism/The Emergent church represents the rejection of an Evangelicalism that came out of fundamentalism. U.S. American fundamentalism was, according to George Marsden in Fundamentalism And American Culture, a movement that came from the North before the time of the Civil War. The fundamentalist movement was (and continues to be) interdenominational and includes Calvinist, revivalist, dispensationalist, holiness, pietist and Reformed religionists. The Civil War was seen as a millennial event where God’s kingdom, in the eyes of some, prevailed (12-13). This millennialism, perpetuated by middle class Victorian-lite Northerners served as one of the forerunners of fundamentalism (21-22).

At that time, America was viewed as a New Israel because Jeffersonianism placed a very optimistic view of humanity. However, pre-millenial dispensationalism first advanced by C.I. Scofield rejected modern notions of progress and instead suggested true Christians withdraw from society. Scofield’s approach indicated a change that happened in evangelicalism that showed a drop in political and social activism on the part of American evangelicals from 1900-1930. The evangelist D L Moody (1837-1899), for example, was deeply set against the social gospel movement (37). The fundamentalists concerns were primarily doctrinal purity (118-123). Right ideas and thinking would lead to right action.  Not only were the first fundamentalists concerned with the purity of Protestant church teachings, they also were committed to racial purity.  D.L. Moody was a believer in the Lost Cause and defending the violent institution of Jim & Jane Crow law by hosting and preaching at race-segregated revival events.

Fundamentalism had a particular view of history. While it said it was adverse to liberal notions of progress, dispensationalist theology still held that history was on Christians’ side, and that the Rapture would be a supernatural, disruptive event where God destroys the world in order to, um save it? In a similar vein, Marxists views revolution as a man-made event (as opposed to fundamentalist supernaturalism) that has a similar disruptive effect. In dispensationalism, these acts include the promotion of perpetual warfare in the Middle East to initiate God leashing hell on Earth. In other words, the way to transcend history is by way of acts of violence.

One of the hallmarks of post-evangelicalism as it has manifested itself online is the form of tone-policing that I have written about on a few occassions.  Inherent to this fundamentalist-lite form of disciplining virtual behavior is the belief in authentic relationships yet without real risk of confrontation.  A commitment to “genuine” relationships has replaced the commitment of doctrinal purity.  Any variety of criticism geared toward post-evangelicals from the right or left is demonized as “vicious” or “aggressive” calling out culture.  Take for example myself; if I write a post critiquing Rob Bell book when it comes to race, I can expect both the comment section and Twitter to be filled with questions like, “So, do you REALLY think Rob Bell (or Wm. Paul Young, or whoever) is a white supremacist?”  Critiques aimed at institutional practices and social norms are taken personally because post-evangelicals, like fundamentalist icons  D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and  Billy Graham view sin as primarily an individual phenomenon.  It is this brand of individualism  that makes  fundamentalism and post-evangelicalism incapable of addressing their own complicities in institutional racism.

“Angry” Social Justice bloggers break the great social taboo of not adhering to postevangelicals’ (misguided) definitions of relationality.  Meanwhile, there exists a double-standard of Post-Evangelical bloggers remaining free to write speculative personal attacks about their least favorite celebrity mega-church pastors.  Small-minded people talk about people.

I think that what is telling is that at the end of almost every post-evangelical post declaring the evacuation of a label they left years ago, is that there’s a sense they believe that history is on their side.  Like the dispensationalists of old, it’s only a matter of time before progress (according to them) is made.  Allusions to “resurrection” without any acknowledgement of the cross reveals nothing but bourgeoisie Emergent Christian theologies of glory.  Frederick Douglass once said, without struggle, there is no progress.  But Post-Evangelical leaders see themselves as Transcendent, Universal, & context-less, somehow beyond history, and so the focus is more on the story of progress itself, rather than concrete narratives of struggle.

When seen in this historical light, we see that indeed, post-evangelicals resemble their fundamentalist forebears more than they like to imagine. While the Calvinist variety of fundamentalism is owned by the TGKKK with their “farewells” to all heretics, post-evangelicals deploy shame versus dissidents with faux-gressive, hegemonic calls to Christian unity. Saying “farewell” and making passive-aggressive crocodile tears over “unity” are two sides of the same coin.  Sometimes, old Fundamentalist habits die hard.