Peter: Admiring YOUR Strengths...

Peter Walker(Part II of: Starting With Our Weakness)
Co-Opt Blog Post Part 2

Click here to read more in this conversation…

Starting With Our Weakness: Adele
Starting With Our Weakness: Peter


Admiring Your Strengths
I have a lot of weakness.
If I’m really honest, you have a lot strengths. No, not ‘you’(my obviously-like-minded friends, allies and progressive/liberal/emerging blog compatriots) but YOU, the anonymous posters who find my relativism shocking, my impiety troubling, my language offensive, and my disillusion downright depressing. I don’t say that disparagingly.

And maybe you aren’t just anonymous. To be fair, you’re my friends (in some cases, my closest friends) – online friends like RickNiek and Joan, and flesh-and-blood friends like James and Brent. You care enough about the conversation to cry “foul” when I’m being unfair or reactionary… some of you care enough about ME to cry “bullsh*t” when I’m talking out of the wrong end of myself. Or when I at least sound like I am - when I’m being ungracious, inarticulate, and theologically/conversationally/spiritually lazy.

Adele and I are continuing to reflect on what it means to be transparent about our weaknesses. Part of that necessarily demands that we be honest about “your” strengths. The places where you may hold an upper hand in an argument. Or where we haven’t fully developed a cohesive or coherent argument or apologetic.

To reorient since the last post…

* * *
Peter Rollins said:
“…What I really want to do is to enter into dialogs where I can talk about the weakest part of my argument and you can talk about the weakest part of your argument. and I can accept and celebrate the strongest part of your arguments and visa-versa.”_

* * *

Having grown up in conservative Evangelical Christian environments, there is a lot I still admire, and much I still carry with me. These are not hard-and-fast rules – not every conservative or Evangelical Christian exhibits or even agrees with all of these observations. I don’t want to unfairly stereotype. But these are some STRENGTHS I want to acknowledge:

Conservative/Evangelical Christians…

• …Are passionately and wholeheartedly committed to not only their personal faith, but to advocating for their faith in the real world in dynamic, articulate, intelligent and captivating ways.


• …Attempt to align their personal morality with that of biblical witness, and seek – whenever possible – to avoid ideological disagreements with biblical statements.


• …Tend to successfully avoid “slippery slope” arguments that identify or validate “cracks” in an Evangelical reading of Scripture.


• …Are incredibly successful at adapting their theological understandings to the language of contemporary critique and debate.


• …
REALLY love Jesus!

Let me try to break those down a bit:

1. Conservative/Evangelical Christians are passionately and wholeheartedly committed to not only their personal faith, but to advocating for their faith in the real world in dynamic, articulate, intelligent and captivating ways.

One of the greatest failures of the Liberal Mainline Church has been its inability to differentiate itself from liberal secular culture at large. Evangelicals know how to tap into underlying human needs, fears and drives, and they recognize that many people want to know where they’re going, what their purpose is and what the established boundaries for safe/healthy/normal living are (I have mixed feelings about that, but it’s a powerful reality, and I don’t think it’s all good OR all bad). For the countless people who resonate with this, Liberal Christianity offers very little, while conservative Christianity offers hope, understanding and security.

2. Conservative/Evangelical Christians attempt to align their personal morality with that of biblical witness, and seek – whenever possible – to avoid ideological disagreements with biblical statements. They see, for example, Pauline directives (as in the Colossians Household Code) as still wholly applicable. “Wives, obey your husbands…” Even as women have entered the workplace and nearly every level of political leadership, Evangelicals attempt to be faithful to their reading of the original text’s intent. That perspective sees Biblical witness, not as exhibiting cultural quirks that should be recognized and superceded, but as timelessly applicable. “All Scripture is God-breathed…”

3. Conservative/Evangelical Christians tend to successfully avoid “slippery slope” arguments that identify or validate “cracks” in an Evangelical reading of Scripture. The Colossians Household Code, mentioned above, goes on to list expectations of propriety for slaves and slave masters. It does not challenge the institution of slavery, but rather seeks to gently insert a Christian ethos into that system. I have heard multiple pastors explain that New Testament slavery was not so insidious or violent as the kind of slavery Americans associate from our own sordid history. Rather, Biblical slavery was an almost-respectable, established economic system that actually provided opportunities for slaves to achieve social stature that might be otherwise unattainable outside of their servitude. While I find this argument historically untenable, it is clear that fissures begin to emerge in the foundation of the New Testament’s inerrant, objective, universal authority when contextualization is given too much play. That is not to say Evangelicals do not utilize contextualization (as I will mention in the next point) but that they are careful not to let “context” undermine Truth. In this specific instance, by reframing slavery, they can avoid dealing with the implications of the New Testament (apart from the OT, which has different associated expectations) validating an evil system of servitude and domination.

4. Conservative/Evangelical Christians are incredibly successful at adapting their theological understandings to the language of contemporary critique and debate.

Read anything by Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell and you’ll find highly articulate, well organized, and often inspirational apologetics for Evangelical Christian tenets. I won’t go into them. Read The Case For Christ. They effectively utilize all sorts of rhetorical devices, from Socratic debate to scientific methodology, to construct their arguments and demonstrate the logic of their theological assertions and Biblical interpretations. And frankly, I’m thankful for some of that. There is enough there to validate faith for the thinking person. Strobel demonstrates that a thoughtful, educated person can believe in the unbelievable. Like C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers before.

But I don’t agree with all of Strobel’s conclusions. And I don’t necessarily find his apologetic devices helpful for modeling ideal Christian attitudes and behaviors. In fact, I find the tone of trying to “prove” something particularly intimidating. The attitude behind it is in classic opposition to what Adele and I are trying to do here: find the other’s weaknesses, and exploit them, while emphasizing the strengths of my argument. I haven’t spent considerable time developing any sort of strong refutation to those arguments. I don’t really want to. But if I got up and debated anyone well-versed in the Strobel/McDowell/Kirk Cameron School of Theology, I’d get nailed. The only sorts of fitting arguments still rattling around in my head are theirs. They’re what I grew up with. And frankly, I still haven’t learned how to overcome many of them. At least, not without completing throwing out the Bible and Christian tradition. Which I don’t want to do. I want to be a thinking person who still believes the unbelievable.

5. Conservative/Evangelical Christians REALLY love Jesus. What else is there to say? I know a lot of really intelligent people, with really high-minded values, and very high regard for Jesus. They seek to live the way Jesus might, in this modern world. They think about the things Jesus would care about. They try to do what Jesus would do! But “love?” … “Let’s get back to Jesus’ teachings.”

What I never want to lose, no matter where my faith journey takes me, is an absolutely intimate, passionate love for Jesus Christ. Evangelicals understand this in absolutely personal, reality-altering ways. I’d like to think that I do, too.


THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH IS…
When it comes to theology and debate, the “absolute truth” is, as I have walked away from conservative evangelicalism and its certainties, I have not replaced my old theology with an “equal” (in my view) new theology. I realize, with this blog, that I am standing in the middle of this dusty ol’ town at high noon. There are six-shooters pointed at me and as I reach for my sidearm, I find nothing but an empty holster. “Damn. Threw it away on a whim of conviction. Now I’m unarmed, and I’ve been talking just as big and belligerent as ever…”

Ah, but I’ve been unfair again. Because you aren’t horse thieves or cattle rustlers. You’re the good guys, just like we’re the good guys. And those aren’t guns you’re gripping. They’re Bibles. And I seem to have set mine down…

Maybe, by being counterintuitive here, recognizing your strengths and acknowledging my weaknesses, we can move past the defensive, entrenching zones of hostility that keep us shooting at each other while everyone with any sense stays indoors and wonders when it’ll end. Would it be possible for us to help one-another construct stronger incarnations of our spiritual and religious visions?

I can’t really begin growing spiritually until I acknowledge that there are many, many Christians – even conservative Evangelical Christians – who have theological systems far more developed and refined than my own. In this process, I have to confess that the pushback and disagreements you offer, in friendship, fellowship, and yes, even in antagonism… in the flesh, and through the blogosphere… it is meaningful. Your words have weight/validity/intelligence and are worth my respectful consideration. There’s a powerful part of me that wants to deny all this. I want to invalidate your disagreements, pretend only a fool would contend for a position other than my own, and prove you wrong/ignorant/unformed/mistaken. But the truth is, I’m not intelligent or articulate enough to do that. And even if I was, I wouldn’t want to be.

Adele, thanks again for joining me on this journey!


4 comments:

Existential Punk said...

Peter,

i loved and deeply connected with what you said here:

'Part of that necessarily demands that we be honest about “your” strengths. The places where you may hold an upper hand in an argument. Or where we haven’t fully developed a cohesive or coherent argument or apologetic.'

That is definitely an area where i admit i am weak; not always having a 'cohesive or coherent argument or apologetic.'

A GREAT post and lots to chew on for sure!

Thank you!
Adele

christianquote said...

you have great thought
i begin growing my belief in Christ since i build my life base on His Words only. Not from man's thought. Phylosophy can even make people dizzy,.. but the Truth, the Word (Jesus Himself) will deliver us in His way so we can know what to do next, which way, and how to do

Brent said...

Ah.. Damn! I'm not as conservative/E as I thought. Or at least I would suck if I was trying.

Excellent completion in thought.

Peter said...

Thanks Brent ;)

Popular Posts