Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Different Phases

Written by: on February 14, 2013

Different Phases

The title caught me.  I resonated with it immediately, thinking of others – then realization sat in.  He was talking about me.

Ross Douthat in Bad Religion holds the premise that through the ages, a “core orthodoxy” has held the church together and allowed her to weather the storms of heresy.  However, today heresies are growing stronger as something obligatory has to fill the empty void present because our past religious experiences aren’t sufficient for this day and time.

Age doesn’t guarantee wisdom or intelligence but it does allow for a vast array of experiences which can be meaningful when interpreted and processed correctly.  I pictured myself in almost every stage and expression of faith that Douthat described.  And in each of these phases, I chose my “own Jesus,” as he suggests is the process of most.  Some chapters I applauded out loud while others made me squirm in my seat as “chief of heretics.”

I began my faith journey during the height of the Jesus revolution, Billy Graham and churches full of attendees.  Although disillusion was beginning for many, in Kansas and the Midwest – where trends arrive about 20 years late – we experienced the growth and popularity that Douthat speaks of.  People like Norman Vincent Peal, Niebuhr and even Martin Luther King seemed far away.  We had faith in our Faith.

My mainline Protestant denomination was growing.  There was excitement in the air.  The seminaries were full and jobs were plentiful.  But something happened; the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution and globalization.  Personally I struggled with becoming political without being partisan – I agreed with Senator Mark Hatfield’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place!  But then I moved to a large city where people called my church and my faith irrelevant.  I still felt the joy of Christianity, but with doubts coming at me from many directions, questions crept in.  It wasn’t from those outside of the church but those within. Those that said my seminary training was too liberal.  That the mystery I knew to be faith wasn’t black and white enough. 

Douthat explains that “Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character.”  My generation believed in mystery, in areas of gray, of not having all of the answers – but I was finding out that many younger than myself felt differently, and worse, were even challenging my Christianity.

As I began moving further from the adherents of a utopianism and nationalistic gospel, my denomination seemed to me less relevant.  When I would challenge people to worship Christ rather than America, I was being non-religious, “and a pastor at that!” they would say.

My own disillusionment prompted me to leave organized religion for a time and work in business.  But even during that time of sabbatical, my boss, a conservative of the type mentioned above had me pledge allegiance to Focus on the Family, Jim Dobson and Pat Robertson!  He from time to time would even give me gifts of money, stating “don’t worry – the Bible promises that the more I give away, the more I’ll receive.” (an easy idea for the head of a company who had more money than he needed!).

Yes, I had read “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey and debated various positions of “post, pre and ahhhhh.”  But now it wasn’t even up for debate.  If I didn’t believe like certain followers of apocalypticism, I might as well keep my mouth shut.

I began to drift, further toward the Liberal side, further toward Accommodation.  I thought “these crazy people are driving many away from Jesus’ message.  We need to live only by the Gospel.  Paul was a chauvinist and out of step.  The Jesus I want is in the “red letters.” 

The more I studied different religions and traveled overseas, solipsism begged at my brain –, I even watched and could relate to Julia Roberts in “Eat, Pray, Love” managing however  to pass through that phase with little harm done.

So I sit today, full of questions. But also full of faith.  Although I still lean toward Accommodation, (I just think the people in that camp are nicer, but primarily, because I can’t stand those caught up in nationalism and the prosperity gospel).  I want the Christian message to matter – today, in our reality, with the mystery it once held.  Let’s allow the core beliefs of orthodoxy to pervade us once again.  Let’s allow mystery to reign supreme and allow discussion and doubt.

As Douthat outlines in his book, “America’s problem isn’t too much religion or too little of it. It’s bad religion.”  I’m still trying to figure out what good religion looks like.  He gives some direction including; the Opportunities that Postmodernism allow, a Benedict option, applying ourselves to the Next Christendom and just settling for an age of Diminished Expectations.  Perhaps I’ll migrate back toward the middle, but for now, I’m happy where I am – in search of core orthodoxy, surrounded by lots of mystery.

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