Future of Evangelicalism
How to Derail the New Monasticism An Interview with Shane Claiborne
The language I hear that's really encouraging is that we need a consistent ethic of life. There are a lot of folks talking about that, especially young people who believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, which means that we need to interrupt whatever destroys life and dignity, in the womb or in the tomb, so that poverty, war, death, all become "Life" issues.
I also see a real non-duality of political thinking: not an either/or, but an attempt to make the best out of this. And that's exactly what I see Jesus doing: making the best out of the limited political options of his time. He's trying to take the Pharisees further than their own legalism. He's trying to lead the zealots to do something more courageous than killing their enemies. That takes a lot of humility and a lot of creativity to bring people together.
What is something that conservative Christians should know about liberal Christians?
I've tried not to get boxed in and to stay true to what I feel and to integrate those things. Consequently, I've gotten banned from a conservative school, and I've gotten cancelled from speaking at a progressive school in Boston; I'll get caught at a Catholic speaking event, and then I'll speak at Lifefest, which was a very traditional evangelical event that Glenn Beck was talking about. So I am very careful. And one of the things that I would say is that we always have to be careful of self-righteousness, no matter what form it takes. Jesus talked about the yeast of the Pharisees, and this is the thing that he's really talking about -- the infection of self-righteousness and judgmentalism and pretension.
I think I see that on both sides. Just one story that's really interesting: I was invited to speak at Azusa Pacific University in California, which has progressive Quaker roots but also has one of the largest ROTCs in a Christian college. I was invited to speak on Veteran's Day by accident, but I was told that the ROTC was really upset I was speaking because I'm a pacifist. I was warned that the ROTC were coming in full military fatigues and that they may walk out on me while I was speaking. And not only that, but the complicated and social justice crowd progressive Christian students had painted t-shirts that said Jesus is a pacifist.
I said "shame on you" for talking not with each other but at each other. I got to shake hands with both crowds. I think that that's the trickiness. There are a lot of people who don't want to talk with you; they want to talk at you or around you and that's a really dangerous thing. So all of us Christians, whether liberal or conservative, have an obligation to nip that kind of conflict in the bud. Jesus is crystal clear in Matthew 5:18 that if we have a problem with someone we should get up from the altar and go reconcile with a brother or sister. I would encourage both sides to talk with each other and to expect that our critics are going to be our best teachers. That takes a lot of humility. What am I going to learn from someone who says "Amen" to everything I say? I'm going to learn a lot more from someone who challenges me and pulls out other scriptures and voices from history that might think differently.
The tricky thing is, I see folks, especially many of the young people I know, who don't really fit easily in one of those boxes. So there are certainly folks like Mark Driscoll, who is a Neo-Fundamentalist in Seattle. I've known him for ten years, so when he says something that I think is ridiculous I will call him on the phone. I will say, I don't think that was helpful, can you tell me what you meant. And then I'll invite him to dinner next time he's in Philly. There's an opportunity for much more civility and humility. But there's also the opportunity to really mess that up, and to repeat the patterns of the religious right and the culture wars that the generation before us had.
Ten years out, if your dream for the church and its ministry were to come true, how would it be transforming America?
In some ways, Mother Teresa's prayer and hope was that the church would be the fragrance of Christ in the world. I think that's a beautiful and poetic way of speaking of the body of Christ. We are literally to be the hands and the feet of God. We are to do the things that Jesus did, to build and heal and remind the world of God's love. The church has not done a great job at that, I think, in the last few decades.
As one theologian said, the gospel spreads best not through force but through fascination. I think a lot of Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, has become less fascinating to the world. This is where I point to some of the Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, and Quakers who have understood Christianity as a lifestyle and a fragrance to the world. The peculiarity and the distinctiveness of Jesus, economically, politically, when it comes to non-violence -- all of those things. There is something incredibly relevant about the Sermon on the Mount, and what Jesus is teaching us in light of the current world that we live in. So in some ways, I just hope that we have a church that says, "Maybe Jesus really meant the stuff he said."
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.