Reinventing the Wheel, of Sorts

From my friend Tripp, comes this link to an article by The Alban Institute: “Church for the 21st Century”. Tripp cites the paragraphs from the article indicating (though giving no statistics) a similar sort of growth among progressive churches as among the more conservative evangelical and fundamentalist churches and megachurches. I continue to be amused at the self-congratulatory nature of these sorts of things (“See! See! We’re just as good as the fundegelicals!”), as well as the implicit appeal to numerical increase and/or size to justify one’s doctrines and beliefs as approved by and channeling the spirit. (The lower case “s” is intentional. Note the link above.)

I also continue to fail to find myself or anyone else I know in these stereotypes with which the “progressive” churches paint their counterparts. We “conserva-tradition-evan-funda-gelicals” are apparently low-browed, knuckle-draggin’, and nostril-breathin’ folks, who are missing the movement of the spirit (sic) en masse. Which explains why my wife jabs me with her elbow in the middle of the night to get me to roll over, and why I don’t get the “reinvent the wheel every two decades” mentality that seems to drive “progressives.”

But I digress.

Here’s what I noticed from the article:

The Portland scholar and book author [Marcus Borg] went on to describe a “tale of two Christianities,” examining the conflict between contemporary change and resistance to change—both theological and political. Borg sketched the two sides, one embracing the “belief-centered paradigm” and the other the emerging “transformation-centered paradigm” embracing a human understanding of Jesus’s life and work as “grounding” for ongoing personal and social change.

“The transformation-centered paradigm is not an accommodation or reduction of the Christian tradition to modern thought,” said Borg. “Rather it is neo-traditional…a recovery, a retrieval of what was most central [to the faith] before the collision with modernity.”

The transformation-centered paradigm has profound implications for how progressive leaders are “doing church” today. These leaders are rearranging the sanctuary furniture and installing video screens as they find new ways to empower members of their congregations. They are introducing new welcoming rituals, more tables of discussion, and even alternative ways of structuring session meetings.

What’s so funny is that these “progressives” are still stuck in that three-centuries old modernist paradigm of binary opposites: “belief-centered” versus “transformation-centered.” Haven’t any of them heard of this new thing called “Post-mo-der-nism”? It’s pretty slick. It attempts to deconstruct such binarism. So, I mean, how progressive can one be if one is still stuck in a centuries-old paradigm?

Oh, but wait. The Borg clarifies: it’s neotraditional. It attempts to recover the pre-modern “transformation-centered” paradigm. And how does it do it? By moving the furniture and installing new media equipment: “rearranging the sanctuary furniture and installing video screens.”

Isn’t it convenient how these self-congratulatory types don’t make one mention of, oh, I don’t know, such things as: repentence, confession of sin, fasting, and such? How can anyone have “personal transformation” by sitting at a different spot in a room, or by watching videos, unless they are also confronted with their deep and broken sinfulness, their deep bondage to the passions, the sinful inclinations which we embrace and which turn our face from God and our fellow man?

If the Borg wants “transformational” then he needs to experience as much as God will permit in love for his salvation the deep wretched sinfulness with which we are all infected and which breaks us. If these progressives truly want social change, if they can get out of their bondage to the modernist epistemology and paradigm and stop viewing this as “us vs. them”, then they will own the deep and sickening sin which permeates our persons and realize there, in our wretchedness God infuses his mercy and unites us in solidarity to one another.

It won’t happen just because we sit in a circle and watch a Sara McLachlin video.

7 thoughts on “Reinventing the Wheel, of Sorts

  1. Agreed. Liturgy matters. That’s where I go at least. I am trying to get some folk to wrap their heads around the notion that we are not God as we ponder liturgy.

    Strangely it is tricky. How is this possible?

    Dude. It’s strange. Formation matters.

  2. You should read one of Bass’s books. I think you actually might find it interesting. It ain’t postmodern. Not really. But the things that these congregations are after are the traditions of the Church. Yes. It’s piecemeal. But it’s interesting.

    Also note: that these congregations are forming alongside the mega churches. They will be as modernist in their approach as the mega churches.

  3. I was being facetious regarding postmodernism. I just find it ironic that so many who want to jettison “conservative” “fundamentalist” sorts of Christianity in favor of “postmodern” ways of “being/doing church” always resort to modernist paradigms.

    Furthermore, my swipe at modernism was not meant to excuse the Protestant conservative megachurches. The problem is the same whether your Borg reinventing church or a fundagelical reinventing church.

    That’s the problem: reinventing church. Once you start, there’s no stopping. The horizon keeps moving forward, and you get further and further away.

  4. The wheel…it’s so pretty. Let’s reinvent it!

    Sometimes I wonder if that is purely and American/Western European issue. You know, Enlightenment or Progressive or Evolving theories of everything means of course that the church should evolve or change or reinvent itself every generation. So, it’s consistent in that way.

    I just wonder…

  5. You don’t get it. You are reducing progressive faith–entirely inaccurately by the way–so that you can knock down a straw man. Why don’t you read more–Borg, Bass, and others–before you claim to understand what they are saying? Why don’t you visit one of these flourishing mainline churches? They don’t have video screens have rearranged the furniture? Fundamentalism is a 19th century phenomenon.

    I’m afraid they understand postmodernism, and that you are the one with the modern world view–which is all about feeling like you’ve got it figured out.

  6. You clearly have no conception of what is the modernist worldview if you think it’s “all about feeling like you’ve got it figured out.”

    I suggest you yourself do a little boning up on modernism before you come treading into someone else’s bloghome and demonstrate your abysmal ignorance of the matters at hand.

  7. Haven’t any of them heard of this new thing called “Post-mo-der-nism”?

    Ohhh, as a former philosophy major, this had me cracking up for a few minutes. Excellent post!

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