Recently Pew Research pointed to an increase of the “Nones.” Those who, when queried, noted no religious affiliation. The response to the news seems to be varied. Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research, often looks for both the concern and the possibility when referencing Lifeway Research findings, or reports from other research groups. He weighed in on the Pew Research report here. He concludes his reflections,
So, as society moves away from Christian identification, let’s meet them on the road and say, “We did not believe in that expression of Christianity anyway. Let me tell you about Jesus and how he changes everything.”
Stetzer believes the current religious climate allows Christians the opportunity to address the matter of Christian identity. Ed picks a theme that for some is packed into the descriptor post-Christendom. You may quibble with the definition or description of Christian identity that Ed would put forward, but that he recognizes the issue turns on, “What is a Christian,” puts him in interesting company.
I say interesting because this may be the simplest way to get at what some have argued since the 1960’s when in differing iterations the point was to say, “We don’t believe in that God either.” Or, to borrow from even farther back, when we consider the way Christians were labeled atheists in their early years it stemmed from their rejection of the Greco-Roman pantheon of the gods. Preferring the story of Jesus the Christ rather than stories about the gods on Olympus earned them the label, atheists.
It is also why some suggest that Christians may be the only true atheists in that if we rid ourselves the our idolized visions of God then we may readily reject any popular notion that exchanges God revealed in Jesus for mutated versions of god made in my image. It is easier to reject populist visions of God, Ed seems to contend, if we may also say, “We do not believe in that expression of Christianity anyway.” The vision we have of God impacts the vision we express in our form of Christianity.
This puts Ed on similar ground as Meister Eckhart who said, “God rid me of God.” Or, maybe you prefer Augustine who noted that if we think we have apprehended God we likely have created an idol.
My friend Greg Horton, here on the blog often referred to as The Ex-Reverend, interviewed Brian McLaren for Oklahoma City’s independent newspaper in anticipation of Brian’s book tour stop in Oklahoma City tonight. The full interview will be posted on Horton’s website at some point along the way. Nestled in the shortened version for The Gazette is how McLaren expresses his newest project,
McLaren seeks to create a strong Christian identity that is benevolent toward other faiths. He sees it as not just a theological issue, but a geopolitical necessity.
“We are facing monumental global crises — the environment, the divide between rich and poor, proliferation of nuclear weapons, the threat of catastrophic war,” he said. “Governments and religions cannot tackle these problems alone.”
The solution, McLaren believes, is to take the advice of fellow evangelical Rick Warren.
“Warren likes to say that he’s not interested in interfaith dialogue as much as he’s interested in interfaith projects. If we can do that, it can open up a new chapter in Christian mission,” he said.
McLaren, like Warren, is interested in Christian mission. There will not be many true believers who could accept the two could possibly share similar visions at any point on the spectrum. Only those who have such a narrow view of orthodoxy, that for instance to use other than the King James Version of the Bible signals apostasy, throwing Warren under the bus just the same.
As I noted here, I have not read Brian’s new book. But, it will be interesting to see just how he proposes that we show ourselves neighborly to those who share a different faith than our own. He puts it this way in the close of the referenced piece,
“We have actually had Christians mobilizing to prevent the building of mosques in the United States,” he said. “Do you think Muslims in those cities feel like they have loving Christian neighbors? We have to speak up with them and in their defense.”
Christian identity that shows up in lives lived other than in the Way of Jesus – his character and treatment of other human beings – is weak and ineffective in the face of religious pluralism. The hard work of loving our neighbor regardless of their religion, or none, creates the sort of Christian identity that underscores the mission of God in the world.