Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Compass Point #4 A tale of two Christianities

A blizzard was making its way through Omaha this past Friday night, with high winds and falling snow, as I drove to a mid-town church to hear the beginning of a series of week-end lectures by Marcus Borg, a noted scholar in Jesus studies and a prolific author. Borg's highly popular writings include "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" "Reading the Bible Again for the First Time," "The Last Week" with John Dominic Crossan", and most recently the book "Jesus". That last book bears the subtitle "Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary".

As I entered the santuary of the church for the Friday evening lecture on "A Tale of Two Christianities: Seeing the Differences, Building Bridges", I looked around at who had braved the fierce storm to come hear a lecture on Christianity by a late-middle aged scholar of some repute and not a little controversy. Some 250-300 listeners were in attendance. Most were middle aged, some older, and there were several college age or twenty-somethings in attendance.

Borg stepped to the podium with a relaxed manner, greeted us and asked for our religious affiliation (if we had one!) and then offered news that all across the country there were gatherings of people like us who are not part of the Christian Religious Right! Smiles and light laughter was the response. In response to a few other questions, Borg asked, we all learned that over 2/3 of those present had changed denominations over the course of time. That in itself is increasingly the case for people.

Then Borg commented: "The renewal of Christianity in our time is of increasing interest."
Our presence was testimony of that. He added that adult theological re-education is an urgent task. In a thought-provoking comment he added that "The purpose of the gospel is to move us away from self-preoccupation." What a striking comment from someone who is often labeled liberal, a term that Borg finds problematic and unhelpful.

Borg's lecture on "A Tale of Two Christianities" presented a tabular comparison of what he referred to as "two different paradigms". He commented that we could "shamelessly borrow his material" because he was committed to the renewal of Christianity in our time, so I'll summarize the two paradigms below. (much of this is found in Borg's book "The Heart of Christianity")

Earlier Christian Paradigm/ or Belief-centered Xnity
*Being Xn is about "believing" the right things
*Afterlife centered
*Requirements and rewards
*Christianity is the only way
*Literalist or semi-literalist
*In conflict with Enlightenment
Creation vs. Evolution
*Tends to be apolitical, or politically conservative
*Centered in one's own well-being (in this world or the next)

Emerging Christian Paradigm Or:
Transformation-Centered Xnity
*Being Xn is about "a way, a path," Faith as "centering in God"
*"This life" centered
*Relationship and transformation
*Affirms religious pluralism
*Beyond literalism: much of Xn/biblical language
understood metaphorically
*Integration of Enlightenment; No conflict, and some mutuality
*Tends to be apolitical or moderate/progressive
*Centered in God
(If you line up the two columns, you can compare point by point)

I'll offer a few comments now about these two paradigms and in a later post, explore more of Borg's first lecture. First, I found Borg's exploration of the two paradigms helpful. In the media currently, when the term Christian is used, often it's as a conjunction of Christian and Right-wing politics or theology. There's a growing movement across the country of vital mainline churches that does not fit such a strait-jacket.

Borg did observe that even many mainline Christians grew up in the old paradigm of faith as "belief centered". His own family roots in North Dakota were centered in such a view of faith.
But a growing transformation is taking place. Many of those missing from the mainline churches today, Borg contends and research verifies, moved away from the older paradigm as too "un-believe-able". They did not transfer to conservative churches! That's a myth! Instead, they dropped out.

Borg argues that the task and vocation of the mainline churches centers more in a transmission and embodiment of the new paradigm of "Transformation Centered Christianity". I strongly agree, even though I do not follow Borg completely in all aspects of his theology. Nevertheless,
I do believe that the newer paradigm embraces more clearly, many aspects of a deeper and more ancient tradition of faith in the church. The so-called earlier, belief-centered paradigm, it may be argued, is a more recent phenomenon. More about that later.



At 1:17 PM, Blogger Rodger Sellers said...

Couldn't agree more! And wish I'd of been there with you! I think I would have braved a blizzard to be a part of this discussion also.

Hope all well.



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