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What’s New in the Pew Religious Landscape Study?

May 28, 2015

What are the real reasons people are abandoning Mainline churches but not Evangelical ones? How are Americans likely to respond to a rapid increase in the number of Muslims here?

These and other questions are addressed in an informative and interesting Q and A article by David Masci of the Pew Research Center on the large “Religious Landscape Study” they recently released.  It is an interview with David Campbell, co-author of  American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us and author of other books.   You can find the article here.

The only question I’ll comment on is the one posed as, Why have mainline Protestants continued to decline dramatically, while evangelical Protestants have shown only small declines?”

I will summarize Campbell’s answer as saying it’s not as theological as we might think.  More social… in this sense: Evangelicals once needed and now tend to retain a stronger sub-culture that bonds people closer and makes leaving less attractive or “practical”.  Since Mainline churches were always a more integral part of broader culture, secularization tends to hurt them more.  It weakens the “glue” holding them to traditional beliefs and church “ways”.  And Campbell calls Evangelicals “highly innovative, entrepreneurial, and adaptable”.  Mainline Protestants not so much.

I might add that there is more energy in Evangelicalism, both “positive” in terms of social bonds, commitment to God (and country, usually), and “negative” in terms of fear and anger about “where the country is going”.  And that tends to include determination to do something about it (witness how much the Tea Party overlaps with Evangelicalism). To me, if we could combine the intensity and enthusiasm of Evangelicalism with the compassion and development/justice focus of Mainliners it would be “unstoppable”!

Can God Possibly be Angry?

May 22, 2015

I’m about to finish Jesus Against Christianity: Reclaiming the Missing Jesus by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer. Incredible book! (More coming on that later.) His central point about the nonviolent God revealed by the nonviolent Jesus is absolutely crucial for a healthy faith both personally and on a community, societal or global level.

The point for today’s post is that God can be totally nonviolent (against the “common sense” of most people) if God is unthreatened and loves unconditionally (as “orthodoxy” and most Christians state).

So earlier today I saw that Kathy Escobar’s latest blog post, “Underneath Anger”, here, is closely related to nonviolence.   It’s part of a “synchroblog” and links to another great post by Michael Roden titled “Anger is not a Godly Emotion”, here.  By the title Michael means God does not have such an emotion, not that we should expect ourselves never to have it.

The logic is very tight.  He is correct.

However, this raises major issues for most Christians, which I address in the comment I posted on the thread as follows:

Great article! Important insights on the source and control of anger. And I fully agree: God has no occasion for either fear or anger.

But, for “believers” and all readers of Scripture this immediately raises the question, “What about all the passages in which God IS angry, jealous, punishing, vengeful?” Either one must jettison the kind of God you rightly describe or acknowledge that Scripture writers often projected HUMAN emotions and traits onto God… created God in our image.

Even the way Jesus is sometimes “quoted” and portrayed in the Gospels and in Revelation shows this same distortion. It creates irreconcilable contradictions in what he said and was. It really leaves us no choice than to recognize the human flaws in the Bible; and to do the emotionally and intellectually HARD WORK of “critical reading” of the Bible. Only then can we have intellectual integrity in discerning that the “revelation” in it is of the truly unconditional, unthreatened love that is God’s nature… which precludes ANY anger, wrath, punishment, coercion, etc.

How do you deal with the biblical passages and the common conception of most that God is often angry, either with us personally or with our society, our world? 

Will I Meet Evangelicals and Emergents at “Seizing an Alternative” in June?

May 17, 2015

Have you heard of “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization”, a conference, June 4-7, in Pomona, CA? If not, I think you’ll want to at least know about it – see what it’s covering, who will be there, etc.

There are a number of reasons.  To begin, I understand the Evangelical world, having “lived” there to age 45 or so… and I yet follow it enough to know its powerful influence in U.S. culture, politics, environmental issues, etc.  And that influence extends around the globe.  It is tough to accomplish much legislatively, at least on a national level, without some level of Evangelical “buy in” or support.  And lately Evangelicals have been helping to elect many who are not environmentally wise but often oppose important directions we need to go on a national level (as well as other levels). And what about creative solutions, potentially from Evangelicals as well as others, to widely-recognized problems? (Climate change being just a leading one of them.)

If they become so-minded, Evangelicals could offer much more leadership on stewardship of the earth, care for those most affected by ecological disasters that are not always “out of the blue”, etc. Also, Evangelicals, and especially the open and searching among them such as “Emergents”, will here have opportunity to see the intensely earthy and practical side of Process theology and philosophy which can seem too complicated to many.  So I’m hoping I will see them in good numbers at this important and high-powered conference in just a few weeks, although I’m not optimistic… for reasons I won’t go into now.

My main purpose in this post is to strongly encourage anyone to attend who can possibly free a long week-end in early June… or even one day or two, for those living near enough.  Plenary sessions, with internationally known speakers such as Bill McKibben and Indian physicist Vandana Shiva, are free and open to the public.  Single-day registrations are also available.

But even if you can’t come, I think you’ll find it worth your time to look over information about the conference on its website here.  Many professions and academic disciplines are contributing, offering their members and others interested an amazing variety of topics both theoretical and practical.  There are 82 groups (or “tracks”) organized under 12 sections.  That means 82 simultaneous sessions at certain hours of the day… the tortuous aspect being that you can only be in one each session (switching between tracks is allowed but not encouraged).

I was privileged to go to an early planning session for the conference, as an outsider, well over a year ago.  I was impressed that they were working  hard on ways to maximize the practical results of the conference; create effective follow-up and follow-through.  So I expect that this will not be just another feel-good (or perhaps bad) seminar after which everyone goes back to mostly whatever they were doing and little of lasting value happens.  Here will be gathered passionate people who are willing to rattle cages and take action, many in the habit of doing so for a long time already and seeking synergy to multiply their efforts.


90-year-old John Cobb Inspires with a Brilliant Summary of the Bible and Message of Jesus

May 15, 2015

Ninety years of learning and wisdom like you’ve never heard it before! And not abstractions but the distinctives of Jesus’ message and why we should follow it… stand in his prophetic tradition (even if we’re not “Christian”).

Besides his 90th birthday, the setting for this incredible brief talk (not really a sermon though given in a church) is the upcoming “Seizing an Alternative” conference – June 4-7 in Pomona, CA.

So I have two powerful reasons to link to Dr. Cobb’s message below.  First, because it is more than worth your time to hear it… a clear, compelling explanation of Jesus’ call to live out the “Kingdom of God” right now which fits with a broad range of Christian theologies and incorporates some people who don’t even identify as Christian.

Second, because the long-planned conference he has had a major role in organizing (he’s only “retired” on paper) is fast-approaching and I want to do my small part in promoting it.  Even if you know you won’t be attending, you should take a look at what this large and impacting conference is about… both why and how an alternative must be seized to the “business as usual” systems which threaten our spiritual and our physical welfare now more than ever before. 

First, Dr. Cobb’s talk is here

Second, check out this incredible conference here

And report in on how Dr. Cobb’s talk has impacted you and if you plan on attending the conference… PLEASE (I’d love to link up with you there).  

Can Evangelical Christianity Be Saved from Itself? An Interview with Rachel Held Evans

May 8, 2015

Howard Pepper:

If you’re not familiar with both Valerie Tarico (interviewer and author) and Rachel Held Evans (interviewee and author), you should be! I know them both a little and it’s wonderful to see them interacting. This interview is loaded with wisdom and hard-gained insights.

I stopped identifying as Evangelical many years ago, unlike Rachel, but I grasp and respect her stance, given its openness, thoughtfulness and graciousness. People like her are very valuable in the process of helping many others either mature and become more healthy in their faith or gracefully transition to a belief-system and type of community that fits them better (including leaving “religion” entirely).

Originally posted on ValerieTarico:

Rachel Held Evans BibleRachel Held Evans has been called “the most polarizing woman in Evangelicalism.” She is a New York Times bestselling author of three books and a popular blog in which she wrestles honestly with the cruelties and contradictions in her Christian tradition from the standpoint of a loving insider on a quest to understand God and goodness more deeply. Her most recent book, Searching for Sunday, brings readers along as Held Evans, still a self-identified Evangelical explores and embraces the liturgical ritual of the Episcopal tradition. It is a loosely connected collection of musings structured around the seven traditional sacraments of the Christian tradition: baptism, confession, communion, holy orders, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.

In this interview, Held Evans discusses both the book and her broader faith journey.

Tarico: My readers know me to be post-Christian, a self-described spiritual non-theist and ardent critic of the Evangelical fundamentalism in…

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John Dominic Crossan’s new book on the Bible and God’s violence

April 14, 2015

Scholar Peter Enns posted this short review/summary of a fascinating book by John Crossan… Well worth the read, although I will warn you that it is in somewhat philosophical or legal language in places.  But go ahead… it’s good to be stretched!

a brief thought on John Dominic Crossan’s new book on the Bible and God’s violence.

Jesus’ Final Week: Peace amid Violence?

March 31, 2015

The Gospels of the New Testament focus on Jesus’ final week, or the “Passion of Christ” more than anything else.  “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. Confrontation with priests and scribes.  Arrest and denial by Peter. Trial, mocking and scourging.  Crucifixion. Resurrection.

Sandwiched between these events is a well-known but poorly remembered or understood incident: the “cleansing of the Temple”.  That’s the order in which Matthew, Mark and Luke present it.  John places what appears to be the same event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (a difference that is more than trivial).

What is the significance of this action by Jesus? What may it tell us about him? Whether we take it as based on fact or only as another part of the larger “Passion” story that is mostly fictional, it seems to say some important things.  It also seems to provide the clearest, most sensible provocation for the arrest of Jesus of many reasons offered.  That is, if the incident was as major an event as the Gospels, particularly Mark, seem to convey.  There it seems to be well beyond the merely symbolic action that many consider it.  More like “occupy the Temple”.  Literally. For at least a number of hours. (See Mark 15, and my discussion of it here.)

In this previous article I bring out a fascinating, generally overlooked aspect of the Barabbas story. Remember the offer of Pilate to free either Barabbas or Jesus? Barabbas was imprisoned for murder during “the insurrection”.  Mark never explains… it sounds as though this rebellion may have been known decades later as a specific event.  Perhaps more likely, it may be meant to represent one of the many uprisings we know occurred both in Jerusalem and around the countryside.  Or does the term refer to the Temple cleansing by Jesus and his supporters?

Regardless, it is rare in the Gospels that we see any glimpse of the serious unrest in Israel in the time of Jesus.  But here is one.  One which we tend to read right past.  Yet it indicates an insurrection involving at least 3 rebels (by inference, and likely more) and more than one death (see Mark 15).  The “thieves” crucified with Jesus were “bandits” (closer translation of the Greek term) who we would call guerrilla fighters or insurrectionists.  They must have been captured around the time of the cleansing incident….  Is it possible the action was not fully under Jesus’ control and became more violent than he intended?

If the incident was relatively small and brief the accounts still indicate some amount of force exerted by Jesus, and potential injury.  What does this say about what we tend to see as a commitment to nonviolence by Jesus? Especially when combined with statements that at least a few of his disciples were armed and that at least one put up violent resistance at Jesus’ arrest?

I am not one to try to “harmonize” all conflicting accounts in the Gospels or other parts of the Bible. But in this case, consistency may exist.  Here do we perhaps see Jesus walking a tightrope without falling to either the violent ways of Empire on one side or to passive acceptance of oppression on the other? If so, this incident may be showing Jesus as a model for approaching and trying to provoke systemic change – it is seldom simple and without cost.

What do you see when you read the passages on this last great action of Jesus prior to his arrest? 


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