The beauty of a “post-Christian” era (quote)

[Post-Christian] I love that term, actually because Christianity could well be its best when it gets completely undone. And Christians who are committed to prophetic presence in the world should be, in one sense, thrilled by the possibility of it being post-Christian.

Because it may mean we’re coming to the end of some structures of religiosity that were deadly. You know, in the Protestant Reformation they were calling it the end of Christendom. And what emerged on the other side of it was a completely new form. [Example of John Calvin.]

Serene Jones from an interview with Bill Moyer (summary and highlights by Tyler here; watch here.) There’s a lot about economics and social justice. At another point in the interview, Cornel West says,

I think it has to do a lot with the profound spiritual crisis, a kind of spiritual malnutrition, an emptiness of soul, a whole culture of indifference that says, in fact, that you can possess your soul, by means of possessing commodities of thinking somehow you can conquer the world, your world, and end up losing your soul. These are old truths. These are old biblical truths.

I should probably note here (with my sociologist friend Brad Wright in mind) that these are anecdotal observations in need of more careful research; it’s quite likely that people have been observing similar trends throughout Christian history.

On the first quote, I agree, but I also hesitate because I feel like one of the “cool” things to do these days is beat up on the institutional church. . . the institutional church has always been something of a paradox.  On the one hand, we are well aware of all its limitations and shortcomings—how it hurts the wounded and hinders the good news. At the same time, the institutional church provides the place where many people meet God and provides the infrastructure from which so much of the world’s injustices can be addressed and healed. Any way you look at it, it’s full of broken people (including—maybe especially—its leaders), but God seems to be able to use it in spite of itself just has he uses us despite of ourselves.

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3 thoughts on “The beauty of a “post-Christian” era (quote)

  1. Ben, I also watched the conversation between Bill Moyer, Cornell West, and Gary Dorrien . I was also concerned about these two statements you quoted above. Frankly I was a little perplexed and did not know what to make out of these powerful words, particularly Jone’s attractive term”post-Christian” era. I’m uncertain whether she was being prophetic or speaking of an existential condition of American Christianity?

  2. Ben says:

    Thanks for commenting here, Lou. I know this is productivity month for you, so I feel honored.

    I didn’t get a chance to watch the whole interview–internet speed and cost here makes it impractical, and I have not even been to the US in four years, so I can’t even make my own observations. I’m sure the American church is alive and well, but from what I read a shift does seem to be taking place. (Even the empirical studies I read seem to be bearing this out.) So is Jones being “prophetic” or “existential”? My guess is that it’s probably a little of both. It may be a growing trend or a trajectory.

    Where the church clings to its old forms it will definitely become “post.” But the beauty of the Gospel is that it can strike at the heart of all times and cultures. Innovation isn’t always a good thing, and I think current younger cultures almost have a fetish with innovation (which itself drives the innovation of people going back to more ancient forms of worship). At the same time, one of the things American Christianity probably has going for it, that say European Christianity didn’t in many eras is the impulse in some sectors to stay relevant and fresh. (Now I’m guessing we are seeing more of these “American” trends in Europe too.) There’s always a battle between old and new.

    As Jones pointed out in her reference to Calvin, we have probably been saying post-Christian throughout the history of the church (I can see some evidence of a variation of this in Acts.) I think every generation wrestles with the religiosity of their parents’ generation, so post-Christian probably means less post-following Jesus, and more post-the-cultural manifestations-of-the-Christian-religion-I-grew-up-with. At some point people will try to bottle, package, or control the “new, fresh” expressions of following Jesus and they will become the old religiosity for the next generation–e.g. Calvin vs. today’s Calvanists. (I’m always struck by how churches seem to be stuck singing the songs that were fresh when the 40 somethings of the congregation were in college. ;-).

    In my worldview, God has more space to enter into our personal lives in the liminal spaces where we get stripped of things that make us comfortable. Where post-Christian does this, it’s going to be exciting. Where it simply tosses people into the sea of uncertainty, . . . we need some balance.

    Maybe I’m more comfortable with the word “post-Christian” itself because I’ve been hearing it for a while. African scholars have been seeing it as an opportunity for more African theologies to begin to flourish.

    In America, it probably means that a lot of people that were carried along by the culture will “drop off”; we should have been just as concerned about them when they were “riding along”. At least now there’s more integrity in where they stand.

    I think Cone strikes at one of the great temptations of humankind–wealth and control. From the outside looking in, it certainly seems to have its grip on American culture, and it’s gaining more influence here–witness prosperity gospel. As he points out, this this is an age-old temptation that we will always probably have with us. As God drops the scales from our eyes and makes us more aware of its grip on our lives, we become able to enter into more of his real work.

    Counting down to the end of July and hearing you reflect more on these kinds of things.

  3. Fabio says:

    What’s my inspiration, what’s makes you get up every day ? What’s the thing that keeps making you work day after day, maybe your kids?, maybe your wife,  maybe our obligation as man of our household ? ….many time before in my life I found it very hard to get up out of bed, depression, anger, I hated every one, many times  I think ? if I found him or he found me , am talking about someone that steeped in my life just at the right time , I never seen him with my eyes , but I’ll tell you this much I know he speaks in my heart , and now I am blessed every I get up and every night I go to sleep I give glory and thanks to him that paid for me in full to the one that send him , and wait on the consular to guide me thru all.

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