Sunday, December 4, 2011

James' Review of Michael Camp's 31 Reasons for Being Post-Evangelical

My friend Felix reviewed progressive Christian blogger Michael Camp's 31 reasons for leaving evangelicalism and becoming a progressive but not a liberal. Felix copy-and-pasted Camp's post on his own blog and offered his own reactions in red. I'll do the same thing.

Okay, in the spirit of Rachel Held Evans' blog post on 13 Things that Make Me a Lousy Evangelical (and a Lousy Progressive and a Lousy Feminist), I've come up with my own list of 31 reasons I left evangelicalism and became a progressive (for lack of a better term) but not a liberal. So, here we go:

1. I'm allergic to contempary Christian music. I don't mind it myself, but I don't listen to it as much nowadays. When I do listen to music (which is rare), it's usually secular pop. I like the sound of contemporary Christian music, but sometimes it makes me feel uncomfortable because I start evaluating my reaction to the theology of the lyrics.
2. I never believed in the inerrancy of the Bible (and think it's rather obvious it's not inerrant) and got tired of hiding that fact. I don't worry about it that much, to tell you the truth. I just assume that God is a God of unconditional love. If there is a way for the Bible to conform to that, fine. If not, then I don't worry about it, for there are plenty of people who testify that God has been unconditionally loving in their own lives. Plus, I need a God who is unconditionally loving.
3. I realized biblicism (the notion that the Bible is infallible, internally consistent, universally applicable, contains all the truth we need, and makes us certain about most everything) is intellectually hallow and dishonest (see The Bible Made Impossible). I have issues with biblicism myself, for the Bible does strike me as a diverse collection of writings. And I feel no compulsion to harmonize contradictions in an artificial manner.
4. I think it's not only fine to try to ascertain what Jesus meant or what Bible authors meant, in the original culture, but more importantly, if we don't, we're not taking the Bible seriously. We love tradition over truth. I think it's good to try to do this. At the same time, it's interesting that Bible readers throughout history did not have an IVP Bible Background Commentary, yet they got along fairly adequately. But, for me, putting the Bible in its ancient Near Eastern setting largely illustrates how it was a product of ANE time and culture.
5. I think it's perfectly acceptable to pick and choose what one thinks is inspired and true in the Bible. After all, that's how the Bible was composed. Someone else picked and chose and copied and translated, so why can't we? Why do we have to take it on faith and they get to decide? How does one do that you ask? Have an open mind, look at objective biblical scholarship, use some common sense, and let the Spirit speak to your heart. What? You think that's crazy? If accepting everthing at face value works, then why does evangelicalism have a thousand denominations and opinions about what the Bible teaches? I agree with much of this. I sympathize somewhat, however, with fundamentalism's question of how we can trust any of the Bible, if we do not believe in all of it. What should be the foundation of our theology, if we cannot even see God? At the same time, even conservative Christians do not accept all of the Bible, for they downplay or soften many of the parts that disagree with their theology. The Bible is filtered through human subjectivity, which stresses some parts while downplaying other parts. So what can I do? I guess I can be open to whatever wisdom the Bible offers, use common sense, get counsel from others, and pray. And God won't stop loving me if I get things wrong.
6. Despite 2-5 above, I think much of the Bible is inspired by God. It has good stories, principles, and observations about how life works. I don't worry a great deal these days about whether the Bible is inspired and how it is inspired. I just read it, and maybe God can use it to inspire me.
7. After studying the historical and cultural context of the Bible and learning how it has sometimes been miscopied, and frequently mistranslated and misinterpreted (by people who care more about tradition than truth), I find it a remarkably progressive book--okay, okay, minus that stuff about genocide and killing women and children, etc. I agree that it is progressive in that it often champions the poor against their oppressors. I think, though, that conservative Christians downplay the less progressive parts (lifelong slavery for non-Israelite captives) in their attempts to argue that the Bible is divinely-inspired. And I also have issues with the Conquest, especially since the Israelites did not have to kill the women and children. For people outside of Canaan, God had the Israelites take the women and children as captives, while killing only the men. Why couldn't that have been the policy for the Canaanites, as well (assuming it's moral in the first place for one people-group to displace another).
8. I might be called to love him, but I don't like Rick Warren, and especially those Hawaiian shirts he wears. Like Felix, I disagree with Warren's stance that abused wives can't leave their husbands. I also think that the Purpose-Driven Life is over-rated and promotes group-think. But I appreciated some of Rick Warren's questions to Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, for some of them were not the typical right-wing garbage (i.e., thou shalt not flip-flop). He also does appear to be progressive on some issues.
9. R.C. Sproul defending Mark Driscoll makes me a bit nauseous. Okay, a lot nauseous. I respect R.C. Sproul, on some level, because he fairly articulates different perspectives. But I don't like how some evangelicals point to him as some major apologist I should follow, for (as is the case with most apologists) I don't think he proves Christianity is true. As for Mark Driscoll, I can't stand him. I think he comes across as a pompous jerk and a bully. If he says I should do something, I'm tempted to do the opposite.
10. I not only think believing in The Rapture is delusional, but also believing we live in the end times too. I agree, especially since every time since the time after Christ's death has been labeled "the end times" by Christians, so why should I take it seriously? As for the pre-trib rapture, I understand how some Christians arrive at that, but the church fathers didn't believe in it, and biblical texts that supposedly support it have other plausible interpretations.
11. I believe Jesus already returned (figuratively) in the first century (you gotta read my book). I'm open to preterism. It certainly beats being afraid of living in the end-times! It also makes a good-faith attempt to explain how Jesus was not wrong when he said or implied that he would come back in "this generation" or in the lifetime of his disciples. But I have a nagging feeling that preterism is just some inadequate way to defend the Bible. Jesus often presents his coming as corresponding with judgment on the nations, redemption, salvation, etc. That did not happen in 70 C.E. So was Jesus wrong? Maybe. I still hope that God will intervene and make this world better, though.
12. I believe the Bible teaches the good guys get left behind (again, it's in the book). Yup. One is taken, the other is left. The taken one goes where the vultures are, or something like that.
13. I sometimes agree with R.C. Sproul. For example, he actually pretty much believes #11 too. Calvinism disgusts me, but, like I said, I like how R.C. looks at different perspectives and evaluates them, even if I don't agree with where he ends up.
14. Going to a U2 concert is a spiritual experience for me. I don't listen to U2, but I admire Bono for his humanitarian work and for reaching out to right-wing Christian figures to encourage them to show compassion for the least of these.
15. I no longer believe evolution is the enemy. I think there's evidence for it. What its theological implications are, I'm not sure yet.
16. I think intelligent design is a grand idea that needs to be seriously considered. I'm against censorship, so, yes, give ID a fair hearing. But I also don't think gaps in our scientific knowledge should lead to a "God did it" that precludes attempts to find a scientific, naturalistic explanation.
17. I think one can be a practicing gay or lesbian and still follow Christ. This is a hard one for me. I consider myself to be for gay rights, in the sense that I oppose discrimination in housing and employment. I also really don't care if gays marry, as long as the law respects religious institutions not going along with that (as New York's law does). I also think that gays can be good people and experience God, since that occurs in churches, synagogues, AA meetings, etc. But can a practicing gay or lesbian follow "Christ"? My reading of Scripture is that the Bible disapproves of homosexual activity, and I've not been convinced by exegetical attempts to argue otherwise. But is the Bible right that this is God's will? I'd have problems telling a person he has to be celibate for the rest of his natural life. I doubt that God is that cruel.
18. I'm a microbrew enthusiast and love to talk theology over a couple of brews. I'm a tee-totaler, not for religious reasons, but because drinking is not good for me personally. And, overall, I have issues with talking theology, since what it often amounts to is someone else trying to shove his or her religion down my throat. I'd NEED a brew to endure that!
19. Rick Perry makes me really nervous (but not as much as Sarah Palin). He has a certain charm, but he exemplifies so many things that I hate about evangelicals. His whining about persecution for his faith comes to mind. And I don't care what his apologists say: he was hosting that prayer rally to get evangelical votes. I mean, he announced his run for President not long after it. Regarding Sarah Palin, I at first liked her because she struck me as a populist, a reformer, and a common person. Plus, she was hot. Nowadays, I'm not impressed by her lack of knowledge, plus I believe the testimony of those who say she can be a mean girl. I'm also sick of her continual whining and playing the victim.
20. I hate sexual exploitation but find some erotica perfectly acceptable for adults. Are we talking about pornography here? I steer clear of it. I'm not the sort of guy who leaves the room when there's nudity in a movie. But I don't want to become addicted to Internet porn.
21. I think the evangelical church is sex-negative (okay, there are a few good evangelical marriage sex manuals out there, but that's the only exception). I'd say it is, and unrealistically so. People's drives encourage them to have sex. But we don't want venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Consequently, I favor birth control.
22. I think Charlize Theron is hot and I'm not afraid to admit it. Oh, she's okay, I guess.
23. I voted for Barak Obama. I still support him but see a lot of things he could do better. I voted for McCain, but I admired Obama. Nowadays, I don't think he's overly adept as a leader, but he's more compassionate and reasonable than a lot of Republicans.
24. I hate it when Republicans accuse Obama of doing or proposing things that George W. Bush (increased the deficit by $5 trillion) and Ronald Reagan did (raised taxes 11 times). I agree. At least the Obama deficit would stimulate the economy by putting money in people's pockets! On a related note, I also hated how conservatives lambasted liberal incivility when Bush was President, and then they turned around and trashed Obama, calling him Hitler, etc.
25. I think what evangelicals call "church" is a non-biblical, man-made construct (back to my book, and yes, these are shameless plugs!). I don't think so, but I haven't read Michael's book! The church is in the NT. There were meetings. There was discipline. Does that mean I believe everyone is required to go to church? No. But I find that it gives me inspiration and community.
26. I think nine times out of ten spiritual disciplines (praying, fasting, time in the Word, worship, going to cutting-edge, spiritual conferences, and following the latest, trendy book -- think Purpose Driven Life) becomes a legalistic treadmill. I think those things can be a tread-mill, but I need them (on some level) to encourage myself to have a good attitude and to meet life in constructive ways. I've done them differently over the years, though. I used to pray an hour each day over Scripture. Nowadays, I read devotionals and pray for ten minutes, and also when I feel a need to pray.
27. After studying the issue and examining the historical and biblical evidence, I became a Universalist. I think that's a plausible reading of much of Scripture. Eternity does not last forever in parts of the Bible, nor does the fire that is not quenched. And there are passages in Paul about God reconciling all. But some things in Scripture, in my opinion, are hard to square with universalism. Why, for example, would God delay his parousia so people would have time to repent (II Peter 3), if they have opportunities to repent after the parousia?
28. I think the emergent "conversation" is good (and I really like Brian McLaren), but wish they'd come to a concluson once in awhile. Just for grins. I'm pretty much satisfied with them, even when their arguments are bad. I think that their conversations lead to edifying ideas, plus they point out where conservative Christianity has problems and offer an alternative (and, in my view, better) outlook.
29. I often disagree with Bishop Spong, but sometimes I do agree with him. I actually think I read him more in my conservative days than I have lately! I think I agree with him on many things, but I differ from him in that I believe in a personal God. And, while I found him to be affable when he taught at Harvard Divinity School, I find him to be pompous and closed-minded in his polemics.
30. I like Bishop Spong way more than Rick Warren or Mark Driscoll. Heck, I like Pat Robertson more than Mark Driscoll!
31. I think the truth is embodied in a composite of Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright. Yeah, probably. I agree with Borg that Jesus challenged the purity system. But I like how Wright places Jesus' mission into the story of Israel.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Please comment, challenge me, and share your own lists of where you're at!

4 comments:

  1. James,
    Thanks for posting my piece and engaging me. Great responses. It's nice to be stuck in the middle with people like you.

    Cheers, Michael

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Michael! Yep, that's the place to be! :D

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi James, I agree with almost all you say, and like your approach whatever!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I like talking with you, too, Davey. It gives me new ways of thinking about things.

    ReplyDelete

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