>They say to never judge a book by it’s cover. And this is true. Sometimes the cover is completely underwhelming for the quality of what is inside. Other times the cover is seemingly the best part. I have read two book in the last 5 years that were both wonderful and I think that their titles are the best two subtitles of any books I have heard of.
The First is Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).
The second is a Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished CHRISTIAN
Crunchy Cons came at a perfect time in my life. My wife and I had been trying to live a different way for a couple years. We had tried to get away from the cycle of credit card debt, eating factory farmed meat and things like that. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones! In fact this book is about how people all across North America had been making some of the same adjustments and coming to some of the same convictions that we had. The interesting part is that there was no manual, no spokesperson, no school that was preaching or teaching how to do it. It was a phenomenon- a spontaneous movement of like minded people all seemingly making the same changes at about the same time. It was amazing to read and to learn that we weren’t the only ones. It was a unique migration — if you will.
A Generous Orthodoxy was a similar story.
Two years ago I made a list of some groups and Christian schools of thought that I hoped to have a conversation with and dialogue about the direction that the church could go. I had grown tired of the partisan arguing between denominations and dogmas of my youth. I knew I wanted to go a different direction. I made this list and said somehow we need to frame the conversation in a way that both Pentecostals who believe that every one who is filled with the Spirit can speak in tongues – and Dispensationalist who think that speaking in tongues died at the end of the apostolic age (when the apostles died) can both be in the conversation.
I’m tired of one group saying that the other group aren’t Christians
or real Christians.
I wanted to have a dialogue between those whose roots go back to the 18th century and John Wesley in England who believe in free will – and of those whose roots go back to the 17th century and John Calvin’s Dutch and Swiss context who don’t believe in free will.
It was a long list.
Six months ago I was part of a conversation between a group that believed not just in the virgin birth but in the immaculate conception (which, for those of you who don’t know isn’t about Jesus Conception but Mary’s conception because later it was thought that she also needed to be conceived this way in order to be without sin otherwise she would have passed it on to Jesus) and another group who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and was sinless but did not believe in a virgin birth for him – that is something that was added quite a bit later. It was added they said because of the belief in that day that sin came through the father’s seed in the sex act and so there needed to be no semen in order for Jesus to have been sinless. There was a third group that was saying it didn’t matter either way – that the virgin birth was not essential for what happened on the cross and in eternity. The first group said it was essential for it was in the Bible and if you don’t believe it then you don’t believe the Bible – that you can not just pick and choose what to believe and what not to. the second group pointed out that the Prodigal Son of Luke 15 was in the Bible and that it was not literal. It was a parable too.
SO you can see that this is a real pickle. I think that the conversation about the virgin birth is a really good conversation. But it’s not going to work if it causes one group to say that the other group isn’t Christians and for the other group to say that the first group are not real Christians but mindless sheep following blindly superstitions of the past.
Part of the problem is that, for so many of us, we no longer have the structures of the past to decide who’s right. We don’t live in an age of the state sponsored church and the church sponsored state. It was easier (in one sense) when to be German was to be Lutheran, or to be English enrolled to in the church of England, were being Dutch meant you were part of the Dutch Reformed Church or for Russians the Russian Orthodox Church. That list could go on and on but you get my point.
So who is going to decide who’s in? The optimist in me hopes that this post-denominational era give us the opportunity to erase some of the old battle lines. The pessimists in me is afraid that we are more fractured than ever before and there is no venue to have this conversation and no unifying authority. Obviously I believe in the power and presence of Holy Spirit. Only the gentle dove is not coercive but invitational, not dominating but participatory and relational. I don’t know what that means to the conversation.
And that is scary. Because there are some big things on horizon!
I was part of a conversation between a group who says that homosexuality is a biblical sin. The other group was saying that those six verses sprinkled throughout the Bible are not about sexual orientation but about an act that we would all still be against.* There was a third group saying that as we explore the human genome, if it turns out that sexual orientation is genetic we are going to have to change how we be those six verses.
Now my only point in all of this is that we can’t afford to have one group saying that the other group, because of this belief, is not Christians and are “out” of the conversation. I am hoping for a construct and a framework so that all three groups get to be “in” the conversation.
This would be the case for those who believe that the world was created 6-10,000 years ago in 6 – 24 hour periods. It would also include those who believe that every ancient tribe had its own origin stories that were told as these epic poems and that what we have recorded in Genesis is simply the Hebrew’s version of it. We would also include those who are agnostics on the issue and say that it isn’t one of the criteria for a relationship with Christ and his Church.
This would be the same for those who believe that we live in the End Times and that Jesus is coming back soon. It would also include those who think that apocalyptic writing was part of a lost genre and that it was a political view of the Roman empire and it has nothing to do with our time – that there is no end of the world. We would also include those who say that there’s no way we can know so let’s not make it an issue.
This would enable people who think that the Bread and the Wine actually become the body and blood of the Lord to take communion with those say that it remains Bread and Wine but that we take it by faith to be those things – as well as – those who say that the Bread and the Wine are symbols that remind us of the broken body and spilled blood. Then Jesus’ prayer in John 17 could be heard and all three groups could be ‘one’ at the Table of the Lord.
My hope is that like “Crunchy Cons” that I am not the only one and this is instead a global desire to move in a direction and that like “a Generous Orthodoxy” we find this attitude.
* If you study household codes of the time, you will see that it is what we would call ‘statutory rape’ or something similar that we have legal words for. Remember that things are often lost in translation and that homosexuality is the English word that comes with it’s own baggage. The Hebrew and Greek words are different.