Media

Seculosity: When Religion Leaves the Building, A Conversation with David Zahl

Are you spiritual but not religious? Maybe you are religious but not spiritual. What do those categories even mean? Are we always going to find ourselves in an Inigo Montoya moment, “You keep using that word . . . “

Religion observers and Christian leaders have for some time been offering explanations for a decline in church attendance in the West. Some contend we are experiencing an end of Christendom, a period where Christianity played a socio-cultural role in nearly every area of civic life. Others viewed the shift as a move away from religion altogether. New descriptions like the Nones and Dones have become new sociological categories used when conducting surveys of the religious habits of Americans. Is that too narrow?

Meet my new friend David Zahl. His new book, Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What To Do About It, offers a different perspective on the religiosity of Americans. It is not that his idea would not have explanatory power in the West or even other parts of the world. But his personal context is the United States.

One of my friends uses the phrase to describe his departure from Christianity, “I left the building.” If you are a literalist you may miss the layers of this self-description. I have contended that some leave the building without leaving the Faith. After reading David’s book, I am left wondering if Religion has left the building. And, if it has, that is a good thing.

Christianity may be classified, categorized, as a religion. But, I would argue, at its core is anti-religion. That religion has left the building should be good news for the Church, for Christianity. Here I use Religion as a set of rules to live by. Christianity may be, and certainly has been, used or practiced by some as a Rule of Life. Doing so makes of Christianity the very thing that Jesus came to liberate human beings from. Bookkeeping according to a set of rules is not grace at any level. Submitting to a new set of rules for life is merely exchanging one capricious task master for another. Jesus offers something different – grace.

If you have not been persuaded by my little blog blurb to head over and order a copy of Seculosity, give our conversation a listen. Then, I hope you will get your copy!

David Zahl is the director of Mockingbird Ministries and editor-in-chief of the Mockingbird blog. Born in New York City and brought up elsewhere, David graduated from Georgetown University in 2001, and then worked for several years as a youth minister in New England. In 2007 he founded Mockingbird in NYC. Today David and his wife Cate reside in Charlottesville, VA with their three boys, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church. His first book, A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll,appeared in 2014. Most recently, David co-authored Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) with Will McDavid and Ethan Richardson. Even after all these years, he’s still mourning the end of Calvin and Hobbes (and hoping that Morrissey and Marr will bury the hatchet). His favorite theologian is probably a cross between Johnny Cash, Flannery O’Connor and his brother Simeon.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

Why Makes Justice So Controversial?

Oklahoma incarcerates more people per capita than any other State in the Union – men and women. Legislators work to reform our justice system. The gears turn slowly. Part of the issue turns on how we talk about justice.

Last year, a group of Evangelicals, some from my tribe of Southern Baptists, developed what is referred to as the Statement on Social Justice. A list of affirmations and denials, accompanied by a list of Scriptures, has been signed by a nearly 11,000 people to date. The SJS, a shorthand for the document, took center stage in a segment at the recent Shepherd’s Conference hosted by John MacArthur Jr., one of the initial signatories. Some on the panel had signed the Statement while others had not. Even among hosts and guests, it was clear there was an underlying point of contention, if not outright division.

What is it that makes justice so hard to discuss for Christians, particularly many Evangelicals? Justice, for some philosophers, is the un-deconstructable subject. Yet, listening to some Evangelicals one wonders if it is not destructive. It certainly has proven contentious in online exchanges be it blog posts or Twitter exchanges. There are intimations, if not outright assertions, that a focus on justice obscures the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

One sure way to come off dismissive is to refer to your opponent at a Social Justice Warrior, SJW for short. Take it a step further and accuse your interlocutor of Cultural Marxism. Game Over. The related labeling and acts of ascription leave us with more than a few Inigo Montoya moments. You keep using that word . . . . It appears to be quite satisfying to go in search of someone, on your team, that will give the label or ascription your preferred nuance. Now you have found your authority and can claim intellectual high ground. We call that insider baseball. Why not take up a source that appears to have not dog in your internecine squabble. Take this piece from Andrew Lynn. I have yet to see Lynn locked in a Twitter battle over the SJS.

Maybe it would be good to tak up the testimonial of someone who actually admits to being a full-on Marxist. Here is a piece, albeit a little wonky at te close, that provides an existential experience with Marxism. Haykin clearly understands many throw around Cultural Marxism the say way they use to throw around the word Liberal. It was more to incite than interrogate.

If a person takes the time to write a blogpost alleging error, maybe it would be good to look at the issue using a greater breadth of sources than simply those that confirm an existing bias. It could be one of the most Christian things to do.

The recent combination of articles and videos prompted me to invite a group of friends, all Southern Baptists, and relative nobodies, to consider what is going on, even getting done, in these internecine debates. This first part of our discussion offers a critique. We will get together again to offer some constructive ideas in a future episdoe.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.



Preaching As Resistance

Many resist preaching, listening to preachers, that is. Preachers may be the worst. I have attended denominational meetings and watched folks get up and leave when the preaching begins. Imagine thinking mundane business to be more interesting than the preacher you may not have heard before.

Over the past thirty years, I have read less than a handful of preaching books. I have only listened to a few sermons over those same years outside of attending meetings where preaching placed prominently on the conference agenda. It has not been a practice to read many sermons either.

Over the past couple of years that has changed. I think Joe Thorn is correct that most of us preach to ourselves before preaching to or with a congregation. Podcasts have helped to provide the means to listen to a variety of preachers and sermons.

Last Fall I attended an event at my Alma Mater, Oklahoma Baptist University. The one-day conference was on Black Preaching. After that event, I ordered several suggested books on preaching and committed to reading or listening to a sermon a day this year. There are some resolutions I may have dropped quickly, this is not one of them. The practice has been good for me.

I caught up with Phil Snider recently. We talked about a book of sermons he recently edited, Preaching As Resistance: Voices of Hope, Justice, & Solidarity. Rather than a book on the mechanics of preaching, Phil set out to address the craft as public theological discourse,

Crafting sermons that invite listeners to faithfully imagine, embody, and experience the transformation harbored in the gospel of Christ is among the most difficult of all vocational tasks.

p.1

If you read sermons, this is a book for you. And, if you are interested in thinking about preaching as public theological discourse, get the book for the Introduction and Afterword by Richard W. Voelz. In the meantime, listen in to our conversation and hopefully you will give more thought to the theological content of your preaching.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

Who Said God Can’t?

A local meteorologist described the recent F-4 tornado in Alabama. We know a thing or two about tornadoes in Oklahoma. The scene of the 24-mile swath cut by the massive tornado brought back memories of what we simply refer to in our area as, The May 3rd Tornado. It was hard to imagine the area described by a resident who lost her home as something like a forest. One of our local meteorologist looked it up and the affected area had never experienced a tornado before. 

I am waiting on Pat Robertson, or even John Piper, to declare what sin was being judged in rural Alabama. Like everyone else, those who rush to explain the why of these events represent our human need, at least our tendency, to look for the cause that produced the effect. Given our lack of omniscience, human beings often raise more questions in pursuit of the one answer.

For Christians, the available possibilities seem to have been explored and refined but often still leave us short on comfort. On the extremes we either submit to randomness or determinism. Honestly, neither of those two extremes requires Divine agency. When we add Divine agency to the equation, we get the picture of a God with no power or all-power. Most prefer the latter to the former. Even then, the consequent questions raised either leave us with deep mystery should we refuse to make God the culprit for it all.

Thomas J. Oord provides a different response to the issue. At once the title of his book provokes a startling possibility, God Can’t. Before you dismiss Oord’s proposal out of hand, consider that the matter for Tom is not centered on the normal depictions of power. Taking the more academic ideas from his earlier work, The Uncontrolling Love of God, Oord locates his proposal squarely within the framework of our lived experience. Rather than leave God with no power or with all-power, Tom invites the reader to consider the complexity of Theodicy through a hermeneutics of love. That is my interpretation.

When I learned that Tom’s new book would be coming out, I was looking forward to how he would present his ideas. The nagging question I had was what prompted Tom to look at something other than the available possibilities to the problem of suffering. It is not as if the subject has lain dormant and Oord resurrected it for us. Instead, Tom’s own experiences of life have made this an ongoing interest. You could say he is fully vested.

In this episode of patheolgoical, Tom and I talk about the big ideas in his book. He lays them out in a way that the reader may easily follow. Woven in and out of his ideas that center on essential kenosis are stories so common it is hard not to think with Tom about theodicy anew.

Pastors, counselors, lay leaders, if you are like me, you will find lots to chew on in God Can’t. Even more, I suspect you will want a copy of your own. Whether or not you arrive where Tom has, you will not be able to escape his deep commitment to the self-giving, other-directed love of God and its implications for how we understand, and maybe as importantly how we talk about, suffering.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

On the Other Side of the Ash Heap

There is not going to be a return to things as they were. Or are. Think of it as the notion that to step into a river at the same place, does not mean you are stepping into the same water. The water in which you stepped in downstream.

It is not hard to become captive, enslaved, to things as they were. Marriage counselors often hear, “We would like to get back to the way we were.” While the sentiment is appreciated, it is not possible. The way you were is what led to where you are. But, what about mental illness? Is there a better on the other side. After all, we are not in absolute control of our brian chemistry.

Trust the Process

On this episode of Patheological my friend Scott Curry, who self-describes as a *lifer* when it comes to depression, encourages us that even with the chemistry we cannot control there is a process that may lead to something better on the other side of the ash heap.

We continue mapping onto the experience of depression the story of Job. Scott fell in love with Hebrew Wisdom Literature and in turn the book of Job. While wrestling with his own experience with depression, he noticed some helpful if not future altering connections that led him to exhort those who might be battling depression to trust the process. There are similarities to what we might suggest to those battling addiction.

Courage?

Scott does not offer a self-help remedy. He does insist the move to life after the ash heap, after working with mental health care professionals in light of one’s self-awareness there is an issue with ongoing depression, calls for courage. One teaser. Often we read the end of Job and are not sure what to do with the description Job receiving double what he had before. Given the poetic nature of the literature, Scott prods us to think of the way we feel after such a low time – the pain and suffering with depression – as life is twice as good.

Give the episode a listen. This is really a culmination of three podcasts that stretch from last year to these past two episodes. The most recent may be found here.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

Featured Image