Love in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness 3: “Not Even A Hint”

423529_10150586640952700_404624921_nLove in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness 1: “You Are Complete In Christ–Aren’t You?”

Love in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness 2: “Equally Yoked”

Every so often we do this around here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion:  Pick a topic and talk about it for several posts until we’ve beaten it to death and there’s nothing more to say about it.

If you haven’t guessed, we’re in the midst of a series about love.  You can click the links above to catch up on all the past installments, which will be there for ever and ever or at least as long as there’s an internet.

If you are at all familiar with the sort of blogs where I hang out regularly, then you may have heard the term “post-evangelical wilderness”.  For me, this “post-evangelical wilderness” is reality; it is where I have lived for the better part of the previous decade.

As the proud husband of an amazing imaginary wife and proud father of 2.6 amazing imaginary kids (which is to say: a single person), love is one area in which this post-evangelical thing becomes real for me.  So in these posts I am turning a critical eye toward much of what evangelicalism says concerning love, sex, and dating.

Today we are going to look at purity culture as it exists in much of American evangelicalism.

Before we begin, I feel compelled to say this:  Reserving sex for marriage is an important spiritual discipline of the Christian faith.  There are very good reasons for this.  Nothing I have to say in the remainder of this post should in any way be construed as a denial of this basic point.

Yet there are many places in evangelicalism where this idea of saving sex for marriage has sprouted wings and taken on a life of its own.  Many of you probably grew up in youth groups where it was all about sex, and the not having of it.  Many evangelical fringe movements, like the homeschooling movement that the Duggars are the public face of, are thoroughly saturated in this purity culture.  In all of these places sex and the not having of it are elevated to the point of becoming the end-all, be-all of how you distinguish yourself as a Christian and how you live out your faith as a Christian.  This crowds out anything else that can be said about God and reduces Jesus Christ to, at best, an outside observer, an assumed but unimportant presence.

The purity/courtship thing became all the rage in evangelicalism just a little over a decade ago when Josh Harris burst onto the scene with “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”.  This spawned an endless amount of craziness on the subject:  No longer is it sufficient to not jump into the sack before you get married; instead you must not even kiss, hold hands, or engage in any other physical display of affection before marriage.  All of these are the on-ramps to a road which leads straight to sex and from which there are no off-ramps before that final destination.  The courtship movement is now dead, thankfully–in most parts of evangelicalism, at least.  But dead movements, like dead people, never just go away.  They always leave behind a stinking, rotting corpse, which in this case is a generation of young and young-ish adults who have serious hangups about any sort of touching before marriage.  In the present climate it is all but impossible to have a romantic relationship in evangelicalism without getting into all sorts of weirdness concerning this.

Let us not forget that the purity/courtship thing is very dehumanizing to women.  In so much of the evangelical discussion on modesty and purity, it seems that the burden falls disproportionately on women.  On the one hand, women are constantly bombarded with messages from the culture which tell them to dress in ways that will make them attractive to men.  The culture tells women incessantly that they can never be thin enough, fit enough, well-endowed enough, etc.  That is bad enough.  The Church adds insult to injury here by sending the message that women’s bodies are a shameful thing which cause men to be dragged into sin by uncontrollable lustful passions, and that they are therefore responsible to dress in such a way as to keep their brothers in Christ on the straight and narrow.

That is not right, people.

Fellas:  YOU DON’T GET A PASS ON THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!  You are accountable for your own sexual desires and how you act on them.  When Jesus says that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28), he does not give men the option of blaming it on the what the women were wearing.  Instead he says in the very next verse, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out! Better to enter life blind than be thrown into hell with both eyes” (my paraphrase).

And I’m not giving you that option either.  For too long, evangelical culture has come down unjustifiably hard on women while giving men a pass on controlling their sexual passions.  It is way past time to start holding men accountable in this regard.  So you think her neckline is a little too revealing?  TRY LOOKING AT HER FACE!!!!!!!!!!!!  Don’t bitch and moan about how her revealing neckline is leading you into sin.  Try showing some self-control for once instead of blaming women for leading you into sin.

This ties into the notion which is all over the place in evangelicalism that, for men at least, the battle against sexual sin is a lifelong battle which must be fought every day with reckless abandon.  The underlying assumption here is that every thought pertaining to women and their physical appearance is sexual, potentially lustful–that, in other words, it is impossible to look at an attractive young woman on the street and think “Mmm…sexy”, without thinking in the very next breath “I wanna get with her”.

Believe it or not, people, there is no causal connection between “Mmm…sexy” and “I wanna get with her”.  It is possible to see an attractive woman and think “Mmm…sexy”–and then just leave it at that.  There is only a connection if we put it there.  When we make “Mmm…sexy” into an on-ramp that leads inevitably to “I wanna get with her”, then of course it makes sense to speak of a lifelong battle against sexual sin.  And it makes sense to dehumanize women by treating their bodies as shameful things that lead men directly into sin.  And it sets men up for a lifetime of failure when they realize that they cannot get the thought out of their minds and are therefore sexual sinners of the most horrific kind.  But if we would just step back and recognize that the one does not lead inevitably to the other, that “Mmm…sexy” does not lead inevitably to “I wanna get with her”, then there is no lifelong battle to be waged.  There is freedom for women to be who they are, to be loved, affirmed, and celebrated by God and the church for all that they are, their bodies included.  And there is freedom for men to enjoy the company of women and build intimate and satisfying relationships together.

Finally:  Where is God in all of this?  Where is Jesus Christ in all of this?  If we make sexual purity into the primary means by which we identify ourselves as people of God and show ourselves faithful to God, then there is a lifelong battle to be waged.  One which the vast majority of guys will probably lose.  If sexual purity is the end-all, be-all of how you live out your faith, then purity culture and purity rings make perfect sense.

As Christians, we have a story to tell.  A story which the world around us desperately needs to hear.  It is the story of Israel and her engagement with God, a story which comes to its unexpected climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how those events have changed the lives of all whom Jesus has called to follow (that’s you and me, people).  For too long the church in America has been telling alternate stories in which Jesus Christ is at best a marginal figure, an assumed but unimportant presence.  The purity culture is one such alternate story, which is best forgotten as soon as possible.  Let us stop telling these alternate stories and instead get back to the only story which has any power to bring life to a dying world that desperately needs to hear it.

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Charles Featherstone on American Civil Religion

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Charles Featherstone entitled “The Problem of Modernity“.  In this post he looks at American civil religion and how it is deeply influenced by the underlying assumptions of liberal modernity.

His jumping-off point is a public service announcement which aired during a December 1956 episode of Gunsmoke which strongly encouraged church attendance.  Believe it or not, it was possible to run a public service announcement like that back then.  (Just try doing something like that today and see what happens.)  As you read this PSA (I won’t quote it here because then you would have no reason to read Featherstone’s piece), pay attention to the arguments which it uses to promote church attendance:  (1)  The world is in a chaotic state and in order to survive, we need a nation of morally and spiritually strong people; you will get that from church.  (2)  You will face trying circumstances in your life, when you will need the comfort and support which can only come from regular participation in a church community.

Note that this PSA came out in a time when churches were packed, fully funded, and bursting at the seams with children and families.  No doubt many of you would love to see America go back to such a time; no doubt many of you are lamenting the cultural shifts which would make such a PSA impossible today.  But think, people.  Go back to the arguments it is making in order to promote church attendance.  Notice anything?  Notice anything missing?

I’ll tell you what’s missing:  Jesus Christ.

Where is Jesus Christ in all of this?  At best, nothing more than an outside observer, an assumed but unimportant presence.  Featherstone calls it Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a term which has been used to describe much of American Christianity, whether conservative evangelicalism or the liberal mainlines.

Featherstone’s chief focus is the liberal churches, which had their own unique ways of making Jesus Christ not the center of our Christian faith.  (That is the world he lives in; he grew up Lutheran and went through the ELCA’s ordination candidacy process.)  But whether conservative or liberal, the underlying problem is the same for all of American religion:  A surrender to the modernistic liberal way of looking at things, in which the State is the end-all, be-all of human existence and the Church exists to support the State.  Thus the aim of the Church is to produce good citizens, because moral and spiritual strength is part of what it takes to make a good citizen.

Message to all you fellow conservative evangelicals:  The rot did NOT set in with the Supreme Court decision this year, or the cultural shifts of the last few years which made that decision possible.  Nor did it set in with Roe v. Wade, or the removal of prayer from public schools, or any of the other cultural shifts of the sixties which led to the disintegration of the American Christendom of the 40’s and 50’s.  The rot set in much earlier than that.  It began in the 1800’s and possibly before, when we in the American church accepted the presuppositions of modernistic liberalism and began to conflate the qualities that make a good citizen with those that make a good Christian.  (Heads up people:  They’re not the same.)

American Christendom is gone, people.  And it ain’t coming back.  That is a good thing.  Why?  Because we have a story to tell to a world which desperately needs to hear it.  The story of Israel and her encounter with God.  The story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how those events have changed the lives of all whom Jesus has called to follow (that’s you and me, people).  The church of America has been too busy telling a different story:  whether the liberal mainlines telling the story of progress and science and democracy and history and freedom, or conservative evangelicals telling the story of bringing America back to God with good old conservative values or how biblical principles can give you your best life now or how a return to proper doctrine is needed to bring the church and the world out of the pit (take your pick).

Let us stop mourning the loss of American Christendom, or trying to bring it back.  Instead, let us recognize that we have a story to tell to a world which desperately needs to hear it, and get busy telling it.

Read: The Problem of Modernity by Charles Featherstone

Love in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness 2: “Equally Yoked”

423529_10150586640952700_404624921_nLove in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness 1: “You Are Complete In Christ–Aren’t You?”

Every so often we will do this here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion:  Pick a topic and talk about it for several posts until we’ve beaten it to death and there’s nothing more to say about it.

If you haven’t guessed, we’re in the midst of a series about love.  You can click the links above to catch up on all the past installments (only one at this point), which will be there for ever and ever, or at least as long as there’s an internet.

If you are at all familiar with the sort of blogs where I hang out regularly, then you may have heard the term “post-evangelical wilderness”.  For me, this “post-evangelical wilderness” is reality; it is where I have lived for the better part of the previous decade.

This post-evangelical wilderness is a real place inhabited by real people with real stories.  These are people who have grown up in evangelicalism or invested a significant season of life in evangelicalism, but who now, for whatever reason, feel seriously out of place in evangelicalism in its current state–people who are, to quote an RHE post I linked some time back, “caught between who we once were and who we will be, the ghosts of past certainties gripping at our ankles”.

As the proud husband of an amazing imaginary wife and proud father of 2.6 amazing imaginary kids (which is to say: a single person), love is one of the areas in which this post-evangelical thing becomes real for me.  So in these posts I am turning a critical eye toward much of what evangelicalism says concerning love, sex, and dating.

Today we are going to look at the “equally yoked” thing.  This is basically the idea that Christians should not marry outside the Christian faith.  In evangelicalism, this translates into:  Do not date or marry outside of evangelicalism.  In many parts of evangelicalism they take it a step further:  Do not date or marry anyone unless they are at the same level of spiritual maturity as you, or better.

The “equally yoked” thing comes from an illustration in 2 Corinthians, where Paul writes:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?  For we are the temple of the living God.  –2 Corinthians 6:14-16

It is also born out of anxieties related to Old Testament examples such as Solomon, who had multiple foreign wives and concubines who led his heart astray, or Samson, who was determined to pursue and marry foreign women, to his own undoing ultimately.

There is a certain wisdom in this.  If two people in a relationship have differing answers to the most fundamental questions of life and the universe, then that relationship faces long odds of success.

Yet in many places it seems as if the “equally yoked” thing is nothing more than an ideological litmus test.  As if ideological compatibility is a magic bullet that can cover over a whole host of relational difficulties and incompatabilities.  As if a relationship between two people who are very compatible personally, psychologically, and otherwise is doomed to failure if they have ideological differences.

There are an increasing number of stories coming out of the homeschooling movement of evangelicalism (a movement which is all about courtship, purity culture, and the “equally yoked” thing–more on this in a subsequent post) which give the lie to this.  Josh and Anna Duggar are a prime example.

Another effect of the “equally yoked” thing is that it turns us into people who judge where someone is with God based on how they spend their Sunday mornings.  Many layers of relationship have to form before you can feel comfortable asking someone probing questions about where they are spiritually.  But you can get an idea:  If she sleeps in or does her long run on Sunday mornings instead of going to church, it’s a pretty good sign that she is not Christian, or at least not a very mature Christian, and it would very much behoove you to move on.

That seems to be the standard evangelical way of looking at these things.  And that is how I would have looked at things, even as recently as a decade ago.  Now?  Not so sure about that.

At this point, in order to guide our thinking on this issue, let me give you a couple of stories.  The first is of a friend of mine who recently met a girl via a Christian dating site.  They are still in the early stages of their relationship, but for him it is an exciting time as he is fired up by the prospect of taking the lead in all the evangelical spiritual disciplines (like saying the blessing before meals)–just like any good man who subscribes to conservative, complementarian evangelicalism’s ideals of what a man ought to be in the context of a relationship with a woman.

I look at that and I cannot help thinking that there once was a time–as recently as a decade ago–when my heart and imagination would have been fired up by the exact thing.  I would have relished the prospect of meeting a good Christian (read: evangelical) young woman, entering into a relationship with her, and taking the lead in all the ways in which conservative, complementarian evangelicalism expects men to show leadership in their relationships with women.

Now?  Well, if I ever wanted to punish myself for some great and horrible sin, to punish myself disgustingly, I would date an evangelical.

Yes, I’d say some things have shifted on the inside of me over the course of the previous decade.

In all seriousness, though:  If I were to date an evangelical woman, she would have to be someone who is on the same journey as me, or something remotely close to it at least.  That narrows the field significantly.  There aren’t a whole lot of evangelical young women out there who are on this journey.  And to find such a woman in any of the church/ministry environments where I am actively involved–well, I’m just as likely to meet a mature Christian young woman at the local strip club.

One of the experiences which pushed me into the wilderness was a failed relationship (more accurately, a failed attempt at pursuing a relationship) with a young woman I met at my church’s annual singles beach retreat.  I liked her, and I think she actually kinda, sorta liked me.  For a little while, at least.  But then something shifted.  I can’t say what, where, when, why, or how.  If I could, I am convinced that it would have been much better for everyone concerned.  At any rate, that ended with her telling me that I was distracting her from pursuing God and that I needed to back off and give her space.

Now, let me share another story.  You may recall Charles Featherstone’s story which I shared here a couple of weeks back.  His journey to faith took a detour through some of the radical neighborhoods of Islam.  At one point he considered going off to fight in the Bosnian conflict of the mid 90’s with a group that would turn out to be linked to Al-Qaeda.  But at the time he was married, and he viewed that as a higher calling.  His wife Jennifer was a providential relationship in his faith journey.  As he put it:

 But there was Jennifer, whom I’d met at San Francisco State. There would be no one to care for her. She loved me enough to let me go fight a war in a faraway country because my conscience was pulling me there. But I could not leave her. I belonged to her, and she to me.

…Jennifer was slowly catechizing me. Not by telling me about Jesus or demanding that I convert, but simply by being with me. Unlike anyone before, she accepted me for who I was, loving me without condition or reservation. It was an early grace.

This is what fires my imagination:  The idea that I can be in a relationship with a woman and catechize her–not by telling her about Jesus, or by shared evangelical spiritual disciplines such as devotions or blessings before meals, but by simply being with her and loving her.

But get this:  Jennifer was with Charles when he was an unbeliever.  She was a Christian (a Lutheran) who obviously did not share our evangelical hangups about not being “unequally yoked”.

One of the most compelling arguments I hear against dating outside the faith is this:  If I enter into a relationship with a non-Christian, then at some point I am going to have to be a bad boyfriend or a bad Christian.  A bad boyfriend, because any love I show her will of necessity be with an agenda: to get her to become a Christian.  Or a bad Christian, because if I love her and accept her for who she is then I of necessity am choosing her over my faith–choosing her over Christ.

Seeing an example like this makes me push back and ask:  Really?  Are those the only two options on the table?  Is it really not possible to accept someone and love them for who they are, and trust God with the outcome?

Suppose I do date an unbeliever.  Perhaps a couple of years down the road she comes away from the relationship thinking “Not sure I want to be with him for the rest of my life because I can’t believe all the crazy shit those Christians believe.  But gosh, I don’t want to be with another man unless he treats me the way this man treated me.”  How is that not a win?

My imagination is fired up by the idea that I can love someone and accept her for who she is, regardless of where she is with God, and just trust God with the outcome.  That in doing so, I can be the providential relationship (one of them at least) that moves her toward Christ.  I would not know where she is with God or whether or not she believes all the stuff, but what I would know is this:  She is someone whom God loves, someone for whom Christ died, and if she has any reason to doubt that or to not believe it, it sure as hell is not coming from me.

How ironic it would be if I had to date outside evangelicalism–perhaps outside Christianity–in order to find this.

Charles Featherstone on Nadia Bolz-Weber

Last week we looked at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book and a review of it (actually a rather scathing diatribe very thinly disguised as a book review) written by Tim Challies.  Today I wish to direct your attention to a response to the Challies review written by Charles Featherstone.

Featherstone has some insight into Nadia Bolz-Weber because he got to hear her speak back when he was going through the ELCA’s candidacy process for ordination, which he failed.  But his most scathing words are reserved for Challies and those who hold to Challies’ views on what the ministry and those in it ought to look like.

In this review, Challies shows something deep at work in the American church, a piety and culture which demands near absolute sinlessness of its leaders, a sinlessness not grounded in the story of scripture. The Bible is full of sinners — David is my personal favorite, a man who rarely thought before he acted and, so far as I know, only repented twice — who are beloved of God in their sin…

I know the pastors, the overseers, the deacons, Challies wants. The people of “sparkling” character. They cannot look the suffering and sin of the world in the face without condemning it. They cannot walk with those who suffer without finding fault with them. Or, they flinch, their faith too dainty, to gentle, too demanding that the world conform, to speak with any love, compassion, or empathy to those wounded in and wounded by sin. That genteel and priggish pietism is, to me, not taking the office of pastor seriously.

Read: An Accidental Saint by Charles Featherstone

Love in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness 1: “You Are Complete In Christ–Aren’t You?”

423529_10150586640952700_404624921_nToday, and for the next couple of posts, we are going to talk about love.

If you are familiar with the sort of blogs where I hang out regularly, then you are probably familiar with the term “post-evangelical wilderness”.  But for me, this “post-evangelical wilderness” is not simply a fanciful creation of young punk bloggers living in their parents’ basements with nothing better to do with their lives than sit all day in front of their computer screens and write whatever strikes their fancy.  For me, the post-evangelical wilderness is reality.  It is where I have lived for the better part of the previous decade.

I am an evangelical.  Evangelicalism has been a home to me and has formed me deeply through much of my collegiate and young adult existence.  Yet some things inside of me have shifted–due to professional challenges, relational challenges, coming to terms with certain developmental issues in my life–and things in the larger world of evangelicalism have shifted as well, and I no longer feel quite as much at home in evangelicalism as I once did.  As a result I have gone and am going through a lengthy process of deconstructing much of what I had once accepted as certain, and attempting to get rid of anything that is not vitally connected to Jesus.

In this and in the next couple of posts, I am going to turn a critical eye to much of what evangelicalism has to say on the subject of love, sex and dating.  You are all welcome to come along with me for this ride if you wish.

Evangelicalism does a poor job of dealing with the already-but-not-yet aspects of the Christian faith.  Certain things are promised to us by virtue of our relationship with Christ.  We will receive the fullness of what is promised to us in the age to come, when Christ returns.  But we want to believe that we already have the fullness of what is promised to us in Christ.  For example, we want to believe that we receive the fullness of God’s Spirit upon conversion and are thereby able to resist sin, as a result evangelicals have considerable difficulty in dealing with the question of ongoing sin in the life of a believer.

But if we already have all that is promised to us in Christ, what is the point of hope?  Who hopes for what he/she already has?  What is the point of faith?  Where is the virtue in believing and trusting for what you already have?  Isn’t that kind of like the scalper at a football game with a handful of tickets in one hand and a big sign that says “I Need Tickets” in the other?

So it is when evangelicalism says “You don’t need a woman (or a man), because you are already complete in Christ.”

True enough.

I am complete in Christ.  BUT…

I am a physical creature.  I live in a physical body, in a physical world.  I want to experience the actual, physical touch, the actual, physical attention, of an actual, physical human being.

Ours is not the religion of the Gnostics, where only the spiritual matters and the physical doesn’t count for jack shit.  Ours is the religion of a God who created an actual, physical world and then took on an actual, physical human body and came to live in our actual, physical world.  Ours is a religion of actual, physical things–water, bread, wine–which represent underlying spiritual realities.  God attaches physical things to spiritual realities–water to the death and new life which we experience in Baptism, bread and wine to the body and blood of Christ which we receive in the Eucharist–because He knows that we are physical creatures.

So don’t give me any of that claptrap about how we should think of ourselves as “spirits having an occasional human experience rather than humans having an occasional spiritual experience”.  It’s a lie.

I can’t sit there in my room, trying to manufacture some sort of feeling which could be described as closeness to Christ, and expect said feeling to fill the yearning in my heart for the actual, physical touch, the actual, physical attention, of an actual, physical human being.  I refuse to believe that this yearning counts for nothing because I am, in some vague, spiritual sense, “complete in Christ”.

Being “complete in Christ” is something we are promised by virtue of our relationship with Christ.  It is something which we will receive in fullness when Christ comes again at the end of the age.  But it is the height of foolishness to believe that we already have it.  No, we have an advance deposit on it, and we wait in faith and hope for the fullness of it.  We trust in the One who promised these things to us, that He will, at the proper time, make good on all He has promised us.

But in the meantime, we wait.

Is it so wrong for me to want someone to wait with?  To know that she and I are waiting for the same thing, that we can keep each other company, do what we can for each other, be what we can for each other, as we wait together?  I don’t think so.

This is a real, human desire of mine.  I refuse to accept some vague, spiritual feeling of “completeness in Christ” that I am able to work up in a quiet time, or that may come over me in the moment as a poignant worship song is being performed, as a substitute for this.  And I refuse to believe that God expects me to do the same.

Haters Gonna Hate: Challies on Nadia Bolz-Weber

hatersTim Challies is not amused.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor out in Denver, Colorado.  She has recently come out with a new book entitled “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People“.  I have not read it, but from what I am reading about it, it seems to me like a very compelling read.

There are some things about Bolz-Weber and her story which will naturally plunge the evangelical gag reflexes into overdrive.  The tattoos and the foul language may be a bit much for some readers.  The progressive politics for which her strain of Lutheranism is known, is something I can do without.  And the fact that she is a female pastor in a church that ordains female pastors–well, that is enough to push many evangelical sensibilities completely and totally over the edge.  But if you can stick with her, you will find a tale of raw, unvarnished grace in the most unexpected places from one who is desperately aware of her need for God.

Challies has read the book, but that is not what he saw.  Instead, what he sees is someone who is monumentally unqualified to hold the office of pastor:

Let me say it candidly: Bolz-Weber has no business being a pastor and, therefore, no business writing as a pastor. She proves this on nearly every page of her book. Time and again she shows that she is woefully lacking in godly character. Her stories, her word choice, her interactions with her parishioners, her temper, her endlessly foul mouth, her novel interpretations of Scripture—they lead to the alarming and disturbing picture of a person who does not take the office seriously enough to ask if she is qualified to it.

Okay.  I haven’t read the book.  But I can tell you right now:  It takes a HELLA big leap of imagination to get from “She has tattoos, she uses a lot of bad words, and her politics isn’t exactly my thing” to “She does not take the office of pastor seriously and therefore has no business being a pastor.”  One does not, of necessity, follow from the other, and it takes a great deal of creativity to make a case that it does.

Not content to quit while he’s ahead, Challies continues:

…the religion she describes bears little resemblance to Christianity, at least as the Bible describes it. And this, I suppose, is her point: She wants to recreate the Christian faith and make it palatable to the twenty-first-century culture. To do this she uses the Bible when and how it suits her, but without any consistency. She casts doubt on the miraculous and supernatural. She affirms homosexuality and transgenderism. She teaches a form of universalism. She outright denies all kinds of central Christian doctrines including, of course, Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice (which she mocks like this: “God gathers up all our sin, all our broken-ass junk, into God’s own self and transforms all that death into life. Jesus takes our crap and exchanges it for his blessedness.”). What remains in the end has only the barest, weakest, blandest hint of Christianity left.

Again I say:  It takes a HELLA big leap of imagination to get from “She has tattoos, she uses a lot of bad words, and her politics isn’t exactly my thing” to “She does not take the office of pastor seriously and therefore has no business being a pastor.”  I don’t know if she affirms, denies, or teaches any of the things Challies says she does.  I suppose a case can be made that she does, if one reads the book in a certain way.  I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know.  But this reminds me of the illustration from Rob Bell’s book a couple of years back in which someone defaced a fellow believer’s artwork which featured poignant quotes from Gandhi on peacemaking with a post-it note that read “Reality check:  Gandhi’s in hell”.  It is like showing up at the funeral of a teenager who went around saying he was an atheist and telling everybody that he’s in hell and there is no hope for him.  I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know.  But it seems to me that it takes an awful lot of imagination and creativity to get from whatever is in the book to what Challies is saying about it here.

Now Challies steps on the gas:

…This is yet another in a long line of books meant to appeal to those who want to bear the name of Christ but without becoming like Christ. It’s not that Bolz-Weber doesn’t have any interesting or even helpful insights into life, into sin, and into human nature. It’s just that her brand of Christianity confuses worldliness and godliness. No wonder, then, that the eager masses are lapping it up. Her God calls us to himself but then leaves us to be whoever and whatever we want to be.

Once more, with feeling:  It takes a HELLA big leap of imagination to get from “She has tattoos, she uses a lot of bad words, and her politics isn’t exactly my thing” to “She does not take the office of pastor seriously and therefore has no business being a pastor.”  Or in this case, to “Her brand of Christianity confuses worldliness and godliness.  No wonder, then, that the eager masses are lapping it up.”

Again, I suppose it is possible to make read the book in a certain way and make a case for what Challies is saying here.  But again, I have a sneaking suspicion that it takes a great deal of imagination and creativity to get from what is actually in the book to what Challies is saying about it.  One would have to embrace a certain set of theological (or perhaps cultural-disguised-as-theological) presuppositions about what godly character and Christian growth are supposed to look like, and then remain so doggedly committed to those presuppositions that one misses all the evidence of actual godly character and Christian growth because it does not conform to said presuppositions.