Q & R: How Interactive is God? What Good is the Christian Label?

Here's the Q:

I first read the 'A New Kind of Christian' trilogy about 12 years ago now. Like many others have testified those books were hugely instrumental in helping me at a time when I was increasingly disillusioned with a black and white evangelical faith. Since then I'm an avid reader/listener of many similar authors/podcasts.
However, there is still one question I really wrestle with. Well, there's a few actually! I'll try and explain ...
I love the notion that being a Christian isn't about  'inviting Jesus into our heart' but rather it's about accepting Jesus' invitation to become part of his plan to love the world etc. This makes sense to me and has been liberating.
However, I know of many people who would claim to have no faith but who practically demonstrate Christ's  love for the world and people  (and often do so far 'better' than many who claim to be Christians!). I guess my question is how would 'being a Christian' change their lives? For example, one could say they are already doing the work of God, they are already being 'like Jesus' to the world and their neighbour. Would them knowing/believing that they are participating in God's plan 'add/change' anything in their lives?
The other question I wrestle with hugely is how 'interactive' is God (if at all)?
I guess the bit of my 'old kind of Christianity' I miss is that 'feeling/belief' that God was with me, that if I was worried about something He'd hear me, that I could trust that he knew me intimately and loved me etc etc.  Whereas I love the 'new' kind of Christianity I've discovered and it completely makes sense to me I do feel that I've 'lost' that quiet, calming sense that God is with me and 'will be there for me'. It's almost like I'm so wary of the 'old kind of Christianity' that I don't know if there are any bits of it I can keep?!!
I now have a 1 year old and I think it's the experience of becoming a parent that is prompting these questions in me. I can see how at a practical level we can encourage her to love the world and her neighbour and that by doing this we are loving God. But is there any place at all for a personal side of faith? I'm not talking in terms of having charismatic experiences but more in that sense of knowing that God is there and he's listening (and maybe answering sometimes?!).
I hope that makes sense!
Here's the R:
Two great questions, each deserving a book at least, but here's a very brief response.
How is God interactive?
I remember trying to address this in the 2nd book of the NKOC trilogy, The Story We Find Ourselves In (as I recall?), where I talked about God not being outside or above a pool table, reaching in to snatch this ball or nudge that one on occasion, but rather, God being in and with the players, working through them in "natural" processes. This is the approach of process/open/relational theology, and I think it is the place many of us end up after grappling with these questions for decades - and reflecting both on the Scriptures and our experience. If you're unfamiliar with this approach, I'd recommend Thomas Oord's work as an introduction along with this helpful book - by the brilliant Philip Clayton: Adventures in the Spirit: God, World, Divine Action
With this approach, God is even more here and near and present - not less, not in an interventionist sense, but rather, in the sense of a companion ... with whom we co-create our lives and the future, closer than our breath and heartbeat.
What Good is the Christian label?
These days, it too often seems to do more harm than good, with huge chunks of Christianity being absorbed into white nationalism and militarism. Disgusting and depressing indeed!
So affiliating with the Christian religion might make some people "twice the sons of hell" they were before. But ... I must say that just as anyone who wants to learn the four noble truths and eightfold path of Buddhism would be greatly enriched by learning about the Buddha and joining the Buddhist sangha - so anyone deeply dedicated to following the Way would benefit by finding a community of humble disciples seeking to live in the way of Christ ... with or without labels. I hope that helps!

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Stand with Farmworkers – sign up for 1 day fast

First, consider the recent flood of Hollywood-related sexual harassment allegations ... and then imagine what it's like to be a female farmworker in the fields in Florida (and elsewhere). Talk about vulnerable. That's why farmworkers and faith leaders and others have come together to create the Alliance for Fair Food. If consumers can put pressure on restaurants on grocery chains, those powerful corporations can join the Fair Food Program that guarantees safe working conditions for farmworkers. Sadly, Wendy's (and Publix) have refused to follow the positive example of McDonald's, Taco Bell, Walmart, and other food sellers. I'll be part of a fast and protest on January 18 - praying, fasting, and standing for a change of heart among leaders and customers, so that vulnerable people can be protected while they work hard to plant, tend, and harvest the fresh food we all enjoy. Learn more - and sign up - here:


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Francis Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer, and Letter to Lucy

I am one of thousands (millions?) who became a devotee of Francis Schaeffer in the 1970's. Escape from Reason, The God Who is There, He is There and He is Not Silent, True Spirituality, Pollution and the Death of Man ... I devoured everything he wrote. For a generation of young fundamentalists like me, Schaeffer was our gateway into the world of philosophy and art. He told us we could use our brains, that we could take art, literature, and film seriously, that the counter-culture had some things right ...

I remember feeling ... dismayed, I suppose is the word for it ... when Schaeffer became an apologist for the Religious Right. Had he been co-opted, or had he sold out ... or was he really in league with Robertson, Falwell, and their fellow culture warriors?

I think it was in Francis' book A Christian Manifesto where I felt especially alarmed. As I recall, he held up Oliver Cromwell (!) as a spiritual hero of sorts, and there were intimations of armed rebellion against the government, wrapped in talk of "lex rex" versus "rex lex." (In fact, I remember in the early 80's hearing about "Christian Militia" in the deep south who were training in weaponry, inspired by Schaeffer to prepare for war.)

I also was a fan of Francis and Edith Schaeffer's son, Frank. His A Time for Anger made me laugh out loud and introduced me to a master of the art of rant. Years later, I read Frank's Calvin Becker trilogy (Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma) and (this is an old English major speaking) I still feel they are three of the most delightful and insightful novels I've ever read. His "And God said, 'Billy!'" was also quite powerful, reminiscent of the great Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins, but even more God-haunted.

Frank and I became friends through Wild Goose Festival, where we're two of the resident grandpas walking around, thrilled to see honest young people passionate about justice and an authentic spirituality in an era of so much crass religious crap. (Frank would have used much more vivid diction in the preceding sentence.)

When Letter to Lucy became available, I was one of the first to download it ... which suggests one of many unique things about the book. It's best read on an IPad or other digital device, the bigger the screen and the higher the resolution, the better, because this book isn't simply a feast of words ... it's a visual and musical feast as well.

This is Frank's ode to beauty, his theology of beauty if you will, because like many of us, Frank has let go of so much that he inherited from fundamentalism, but he hasn't let go of the pearl of great price ... a deep reverence and passionate love for beauty, which for Frank, is the best and most trustworthy signature or trace of the divine that we have.

One feels Frank's grandchildren, especially Lucy, present on every page, because he is writing for them, not to them as much as for their benefit. He acknowledges the megatons of crass religious crap that are being spread liberally on us all by the bigly (believe me!) dispersal fan of Donald Trump; Frank challenges us not to surrender to that political and religious shower of stench, but to defy it by seeking beauty in the ugliest of administrations.

Through beauty - in forms from jazz to classical, from sculpture to film, from children's literature to Shakespeare - we can survive these times, and build a better world for our grandchildren on the other side, Frank argues.

But he doesn't just argue. He demonstrates. So when he mentions a great piece of jazz, you can click and listen. When he mentions a great piece of sculpture, you can see a photograph of it on the page. He lets us sample the ways he is enriching the lives of his grandchildren.

Along the way, he talks about his family, his upbringing, his faults and mistakes, his misadventures in the rumbling bowels of the Religious Right. At times he's furious, at times, hilarious ... but throughout, he's as sincere as a furiously loving grandfather can be, and that passionate sincerity is downright ... evangelical, in the absolute best and lower-case sense of the word.

Yes, Frank has joyfully left fundamentalism/evangelicalism behind, but he is still an evangelist ... of beauty, which signals goodness, which points to truth. And in this, he shows that he has not betrayed his parents at all; rather, he has found the heart of what they loved most in Christianity and in God (remember Edith's Hidden Art?) ... and he is setting it free from the tacky religious duct tape in which it was bound.

This is a beautiful book, and I recommend it to all who yearn for liberation from what religion and politics have become in the age of Trump, Fascism, and Lies. Buy it (download it) here.


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If you’re ANYWHERE near Seattle Washington this weekend …

I hope you'll join me on Sunday at the amazing EastLake Church at 9:30 or 11 am, where I'll be speaking. Watch a few recent services if you'd like an idea of why I love this church so much. Really - this church is one of the bright spots out there.

Sunday night - I'll be part of a Pub Chat, in downtown Bothell - details here: https://eastlakecc.formstack.com/forms/pubchat_brianmclaren

And on Saturday from 10 - 4:30, I'll be part of the NO JOKE PROJECT - details here. If you want to be part of healing the divides - often intensified rather than bridged by religion - this is an event for you. You'll learn the art of crossing the difference divide ... at Seattle First United Methodist.

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The Last Reformation … and the Next Reformation

The last reformation is said to have begun on an identifiable day - October 31, 1517, corresponding to a single identifiable event - Luther's nailing 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. In fact, the conditions for the reformation had been building for more than a century. Similarly, the next reformation has been building for over a hundred years and is gaining momentum as we speak.

The last reformation is associated with one "great man" - Martin Luther. He was joined by other "great men" - all white and European. The next reformation will be associated not with one "great man" but with many diverse people - especially women and people of color. The contribution of Liberation Theology, Black Theology, Feminist/Eco-Feminist/Womanist/Queer and related theologies will be as central to the next reformation as white European theology was to the last reformation

The last reformation occurred just over 50 years after the Doctrine of Discovery was articulated by Pope Nicolas V, unleashing the era of the conquistadors and colonizers and fueling their white Christian supremacy. The next reformation is occurring just over 50 years after the Holocaust and the first nuclear war - both of which demonstrated the genocide to which white Christian Supremacy naturally led. If the first Reformation was a feature of the period of colonialism and white Christian supremacy, the next reformation will be a post-colonial reality that seeks to dismantle supremacy in all its forms.

The last reformation was born between Copernicus and Galileo, and its theology matured in the era of Sir Isaac Newton - an era of certainty, laws, duality, and linearity. The next reformation is being born in the aftermath of Darwin, Freud, Einstein, Heisenberg, Crick, and others ... an era of possibility, development, multiplicity, and systems. It will re-incarnate Christian faith in this new universe, which is at least as different from the modern universe as the modern universe was from its premodern antecedent.

The last reformation challenged the infallible authority of a single male hierarchy headed by one man by establishing multiple male hierarchies headed by many men. It replaced an infallible pope with an inerrant Bible (papal authority with paper authority), an absolute monarch with an absolute constitution. It was aided in this process by a new technology - the modern printing press. The next reformation challenges male authorities with diverse voices, and is suspicious of hierarchies altogether, preferring organizations that are accountable to their members. It is being aided in this process by new technologies - especially the internet and podcasts.

The last reformation came to fruition during an ongoing battle with Islam and an ongoing oppression of Jews. The next reformation is coming to be during a struggle not to defeat or oppress other religions, but to learn to live peaceably as neighbors, and more than neighbors: allies ... allies in a struggle against forces that threaten all of human existence - including environmental degradation due to greed and ignorance, the proliferation of weapons - especially weapons of mass destruction, and the growing gap between super-rich elites and everyone else.

The last reformation assumed that Christian faith was, at its essence, a system of beliefs, so Catholics and Protestants argued whose system was most correct. The next reformation seeks a way of life that will promote human thriving for all, in tune with the Spirit of God and the life and teaching of Jesus.

The last reformation argued which church had the best guarantee to evacuate souls to heaven after death. The next reformation seeks to build a movement to protect God's beloved creation, including all people (no exceptions), from human sin before death.

The last reformation unleashed a race for world domination between Catholics and Protestants and their nation states, a race that lasted nearly 500 years. The world cannot survive another 500 years of theologies of domination. The next reformation can - if we make it so - unleash 500 years of regeneration, seeking to restore what has been plundered from the earth and from the poor.

The last reformation began with a Catholic church marked by obscene corruption. The next reformation is taking shape when Catholic and Protestant churches are similarly stained by scandal and loss of moral authority, from pedophile Catholic priests to Protestant political sycophants and prosperity-gospel charlatans.

For all its faults, the last reformation sought to deal with the problems of its day to the best of its faith and ability. The next reformation will similarly be plagued by faults and failures as it engages with the crises of today and tomorrow, seeking the grace and guidance of God at every step.

The last reformation is officially over. It's time for the next reformation!



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