Why I Am Hopeful for the Future of American Christianity

I was reflecting today on the many different subjects I’ve written about over these past few months, and realized that while I’ve offered a lot of insights, and expressed numerous laments, I’ve been at an imbalance– forgetting to write about things which give me hope for American Christianity.

Today, I want to fix that.

I realize that it’s hard for readers to get to know the real me simply by reading my articles from afar, and that based on some of the subjects I’ve covered, it might be tempting to think that I’ve become just another cynic.

That, would be a tragic assumption.

The truth is, the entire reason why I spend my time reading, critiquing, writing, and in my brick and mortar life– teaching about God– is because I am incurably hopeful for the future of American Christianity.

Shocking, I get it. But, it’s true.

My relationship with American Christianity is like one of those relationships where you tolerate a mound of immature, obnoxious behaviors, because of potential you see in that person deep down– potential that is so valuable, you’re not willing to walk away from it. Sure, some days they drive you crazy and you question why it is that you keep investing in them, but in your heart of hearts you know that the potential you see is worth the hard work of character reformation.

This, is the relationship I have with the brand of Christianity we have here in Americaland.

Yet, with all of the frustrations and headaches this relationship gives me, at the end of the day I am filled with hope that a new chapter– a more beautiful chapter– in American Christianity is dawning.

So, here are 10 reasons why I am hopeful for the future of American Christianity:

1. We have a mixture of old-and-new movements cropping up, that are each inspiring, motivating, and engaging people.

Instead of the same, often stale expressions of Christianity our parents had, the reformation currently happening in American Christianity is producing some inspiring movements/new expressions of our faith, while also returning us to the beauty that can be found in historic tradition.

One of the most encouraging movements I’m seeing, is a return to and growth in, a modern Anabaptist movement. This is the tradition I most closely identify with, and believe it to be a breath of fresh air for anyone looking for a more counter-cultural, yet ridiculously relevant expression of faith. The Anabaptist tradition is the perfect blend of all this, and more. If you’re looking for something different but don’t want something recently invented, Anabaptist is where the party is happening. The fact that more and more people are finding this beautiful tradition, has me beyond enthusiastic for what the future of American Christianity might look like.

 In addition to a renewal of the Anabaptist tradition, I’m also encouraged at the results of Emerging Christianity over the last several years. The Emergent discussion has been providing people a safe place to wrestle with their faith and has been engaging those who otherwise, might be left out of the big discussion on faith. Having safe space with my emergent friends was one of the keys that facilitated my reorientation of faith– something I discuss at length in my upcoming book.

2. Jesus and the GOP are going through a divorce, and I doubt there will be any re-marriages.

Growing up, as soon as you came forward to ask Jesus into your heart, you were practically given a voter registration card that already had the box for GOP checked off. Thankfully, this is less and less the case as people are beginning to realize that Jesus is so counter-cultural, that he doesn’t fit into any political party– GOP or otherwise. The fact that the next generation doesn’t see being a good Christian as synonymous to being a good republican, has me hopeful that not only will this divorce be permanent, but that there won’t be any marriages to any other political parties either.

3. We’re finally listening to voices from outside of our own cultural context.

Here in the west, we like to hear ourselves talk. Unfortunately, this has also been true in theology– giving primacy to western, male voices instead of a plurality of witnesses across the globe. More and more, both within the academy and without, we are recognizing the need to listen to theological contributions that originate outside of our own borders. These diverse theological and cultural contributions will continue to enrich our faith, in both theory and praxis.

4. The next generation cares about gender equality.

I believe the next generation of Christians will continue to make massive gains toward gender equality in our churches. One of the things which has hindered the forward progress of the American Church over the past few generations is that too many voices have been shut out– not because of lack of calling or lack of ability, but simply because they were born with the wrong genitals for leadership. I believe this next generation is beginning to understand and embrace that the Pauline epistles have been profoundly misapplied, and that we will see more and more pulpits filled by called and qualified women. This too, will deeply enrich our faith.

5.The next generation cares about social justice.

The justice factor is perhaps the item that has me most excited about the future of American Christianity. Whereas previous generations were more concerned with getting everyone into the boat before the end came, this generation believes that followers of Jesus must be engaged in a lifestyle of making the world a little less broken in the here-and now. If you want proof of just how big and inspiring the justice movement is becoming, you HAVE to attend The Justice Conference. What Ken Wytsma has done for the future of American Christianity through this conference is immeasurable. Though I’m sure he’s too humble to fully receive that, Ken’s contributions to the future of American Christianity are something future generations will long benefit from.

6. Jesus is as popular than ever, and we can build upon this.

As Dan Kimball pointed out in his 2007 book, They Like Jesus but not the Church, Jesus is more popular than ever. Even folks who have nothing to do with organized Christianity are still finding something compelling about the person of Jesus– and actually want to wrestle with what he taught. Since I’m in the business of telling people about the radical message of Jesus– because I actually want people to know and experience Jesus– this is the best news out there. The fact that this blog has a solid atheist following– people who don’t follow me as trolls, but as actual readers who engage with what I write, shows that while people might be turned off to Christians– they’re actually willing to interact with the teachings of Jesus.

You don’t get more set up for success than that.

7. The next generation is rediscovering that becoming a peacemaker is not an optional aspect of the Gospel.

They’re tired of all the war and violence– we’re tired of all the war and violence. While the previous generation would host events like “bring your gun to church day”, this generation is waking up to the understanding that becoming nonviolent peacemakers is a central requirement of actually being able to claim that you’re “following” Jesus. As they continue to get fed up with a violent society, and a faux Christianity which condones the use of violence, I believe we will see tides change and Christianity become a more legitimately counter-cultural force. This next generation, I believe, will have a majority who will stand against a violent, gun-culture, and instead will live lives dedicated to peacemaking.

8. Culturally diverse churches will become more and more the norm.

As Soong-Chan Rah points out in his book The Next Evangelicalism, immigrants are overwhelmingly saving a dying American Christianity. While across the country we have old, white congregations closing their doors because there isn’t a new generation behind them, we conversely see the immigrants coming into the country to be people who not just hold Christian values, but actively engage the church. This combination of stale, white religion dying off, while we have an infusion of enthusiastic Christian diversity, means that in time, diverse churches will become the norm. This new diversity will change the face of American Christianity in a million beautiful ways if we embrace it, and learn from each other– which, I believe we will.

9. Those typically considered outsiders, are finding more and more safe places where they can connect to God.

 I believe this next generation has a heart for including the excluded. While historically many groups and classes of people have been pushed to the margins, I think the next generation of Christians will do a much better job at creating churches were we find the sign “All Are Welcome” to be more than an empty platitude. We’ve done a good job at creating places where we can connect with God, but I believe the next generation will create more and more safe places where the “other” can have a safe place to connect to God as well.

Jesus was all about inviting the excluded to come join him for dinner, and I think the next generation of Christians actually get that.

10. The next generation is rediscovering a holistic view of the atonement.

Finally, what is perhaps the most significant culture shift in American Christianity is the rediscovery of a holistic view of the atonement. While the previous generation most often understood the atonement in terms of a legal, penal transaction where Jesus was punished in our place, the current generation is beginning to understand that this view of the atonement is extremely limited at best. We’re now seeing a return to the classical view of the atonement, where instead of simply “paying our fine” as it is often over simplified, people are beginning to understand that on the cross, Christ was reconciling all of creation to himself. This larger view of the atonement is leading people to embrace the fact that we are invited to participate in the reconciliation of all things– the reconciliation of ourselves with creation, the reconciliation of broken social systems, the reconciliation of oppressive culture, etc. Developing a holistic view of the atonement means that people are less and less passing out tracts, and more and more people are finding ways to participate in what God’s doing in the world– reconciling everything. This simple but monumental shift in view will have positive impacts for individuals, entire communities, and the environment.

 

So, don’t ever get confused: I critique the cultural expressions of Christianity in America, because I believe there is a better day to come. I speak out to reform cultural expressions of the faith, because I believe there is enough raw potential hidden beneath our dysfunction, that we could change the world.

With all my heart, I believe that the best days in the history of American Christianity are in front of us– not behind us.

I believe.

I remain hopeful.

… and I won’t be giving up on this journey anytime soon.

 

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  • Guest

    Ben, I would add, that the next generation cares about Environmental Justice, as #11
    Love this post thanks for sharing and trying to be balanced.

  • David Wolfe

    Love this post thanks for sharing and trying to be balanced. I would add, that the next generation cares about Environmental Justice, as #11

  • Storymaker

    I agree with the notion of being concerned for the environment. The rape of the environment over the last 100 years may have been condoned by Christianity (Americans in particular — how else could you progress and be number one?), but the problem is now worldwide and has become a ‘universal’ problem.

  • Terry Firma

    “Although Europe and the Americas still are home to a majority of the world’s Christians (63%), that share is much lower than it was in 1910 (93%). And the proportion of Europeans and Americans who are Christian has dropped from 95% in 1910 to 76% in 2010 in Europe as a whole, and from 96% to 86% in the Americas as a whole.” That’s a finding from a comprehensive Pew report on worldwide Christian demographics. http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/

    Christianity has generally been on the rise in OTHER parts of the world (Asia and Africa), where the education system is fundamentally broken. But the more educated people are, the less likely they are to believe in irrationality such as talking snakes, men surviving in the bellies of whales, water turning into wine, and all the other magic tricks that you apparently have to swallow as real and sacred in order to be a good Christian.

    You and I probably agree that we ought to build a world where a proper education is available to all. But if/when we do, I doubt that it will end well for your tribe. Recent history bears me out here. The majority of countries that score at or near the top academically are also that ones where rapid secularization is taking place. No coincidence.

  • http://faithlikeaman.blogspot.com/ Ryan Blanchard

    I wonder if Christianity needs to shrink before it improve. As one of his non-troll atheist readers, I think he’s right that there are attractive elements of Jesus’ message, even if the truth-value of him being God (and there being a God at all) is probably non-existant. Certainly one doesn’t need Jesus to be a decent person, but he seems to have that affect on some people.

    One thing I love about groups like the Quakers is that it’s almost irrelevant whether the Christian message is actually true or not. What matters is the focus on justice, peace, community, etc.. For them, faith really means faith, not “facts that we claim to believe, even though we think we can prove most of it.” I’m not remotely interested in being told I have a sin nature, and that my thoughts are where my eternal destination will be determined, but if Christianity can help advance causes like LGBT equality and lessen wars, more power to it.

  • Unabashedly Christian

    There are also plenty of educated individuals who purposefully choose to embrace a humility that leaves them open to the wonder and awe they possessed as a child. I earned both a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art and a Juris Doctor in Law. As an artist I see and can relate to the intricate design and beauty of creation. As a lawyer, the habit of critical thinking compels me to consider and then recognize the Designer. Then too my soul is inescapably drawn to the truth of Jesus Christ and simple beauty of His message of love for God and mankind.

  • Terry Firma

    You’re talking about the anecdotal. I’m talking about trends and demographics.

  • Unabashedly Christian

    Ah, but a mind can change in the blink of an eye. Truth has a way of doing that. That is why demographics and trends are about as meaningful in the scheme of things as hairstyles and skirt lengths. You can only presume this is anecdotal. It is impossible to know exactly how many educated people currently think just like me or to predict how many educated people will reach the same conclusions I have, tomorrow.

  • Terry Firma

    OK…. What specifically makes you think that the secularization trends in Europe and North America will reverse? Because “truth”?

  • Unabashedly Christian

    Trends and demographics are entirely subject to change so that makes them inherently unreliable for predicting the future of faith in the world. Anyone can speculate but if circumstances change then the trend or demographic might change as well.

    Every human being no matter their education level has the
    same potential for awareness of things formerly unconsidered. You have no way of knowing how a life altering event will impact the people affected and neither do I. But we do know there will be life altering events, joys and even small obstacles in everyone’s life that will inevitably move people along and to some extent change the direction in which they were headed.

    I also know that the power of God to reach His creation is
    outside of our frame of reference and beyond our ability to fully comprehend. I would venture to guess that few in the first century would have predicted the success of the Great
    Commission.

    Neither God consciousness nor a longing for Jesus Christ is quantifiable. That is why faith doesn’t fit into a secular paradigm.

  • Terry Firma

    If you want to pooh-pooh the predictive powers of long-term data trends, sure, you could throw up your hands and exclaim that “anything could happen.” And I suppose anything could. But given the international data, collected over decades by places like the Pew Forum and others, it’s much more reasonable to extrapolate that religion will lose ground as secular (non-religious) education improves and spreads. That’s been the pattern since the early 20th century.

  • Y. A. Warren

    We humans forget how young we are in terms of recorded history. A trend in the last couple of millenia does not make for a trend for all time.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    A good point, Y.A. Another area where Xnty has had to adjust, generally not very deftly or wisely, is eschatology (“end times”). The entire Jewish/Xn story revolves around a supposed time-table of God choosing Abraham, then elaborating the “covenant” with Jacob, then Moses, eventually “fulfilling” it in Christ. All this in under two millennia, with two since. What if human civilizations (not just wandering cave people) are actually at least many tens of thousands of years old (which there IS actual evidence for)? Or more?

    I believe the mistakenly short time-frame of orthodox Judaism/Xnty is a major problem that will also require addressing (not to mention the attendant ethnocentric aspect that has made most of the rest of the world superfluous).

  • Y. A. Warren

    If only we could see the Bible as history, rather than prophecy, and admit that history is simply an interpretation of events, as seen through the eyes of the writer. Each translation includes much interpretation, based on the world view, language, and history of the interpreter. Especially in ancient documents where many pieces of the documents are missing, how much margin for error does this leave?

    The term “Chosen People” can’t be the best translation. I’m convinced that the Jews are those who chose to live by the laws proposed for one segment of society, an experiment in civilization, if you will.

    I see the Bible as a story of the evolution of the religious beliefs of humanity, with Pentecost being the handing over of absolute free will to seek The Sacred Spirit in creating a new earth, as it is in “heaven.” That seems to me to be the spirit by which the laws of justice were originally presented to humanity. I call this spirit of responsible compassion sacred because I believe it is the better part of humanity.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    I’ve addressed the issue of “chosen people” previously– you might enjoy this article, Y.A:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/standing-with-israel/

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Well put! I agree with all that I think I understood, but I’m not quite clear on what you mean about Pentecost, and the “originally presented to humanity” part…. Can you elaborate?

  • Y. A. Warren

    “There are also plenty of educated individuals who purposefully choose to embrace a humility that leaves them open to the wonder and awe they possessed as a child. ” So beautiful, and so three-year-old simple. Does saying that I don’t believe what other people say about “God” make me an a-theist?

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    On my lunch break right now– am in California at Fuller this week. All of my colleagues are from Asia or Africa, so I’ll throw this out to the group and have some discussion around it. Will let you know if they have any provoking insight.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Wish you were part of the conversation I am in right now– my African and Asian colleagues categorically disagree, especially with the assumption that their education systems are fundamentally broken. Will have to talk about it over a beer next time.

  • Terry Firma

    What African nation, especially sub-Sahara, would you say has an education system worth emulating?

    The picture is more nuanced for Asia, with China, Japan, Taiwan, and S-Korea doing really well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_student_performance

    You know what’s striking about those particular Asian countries? That religion is a quiet and mostly unobtrusive presence there. China deserves serious demerits because it keeps religious expression under its dictatorial thumb (keeps religion artificially small, if you will), but that does not apply to the other countries.

    So, I think my point stands: generally, where religious fervor takes hold, education levels suffer, and where education and academic performance are taken seriously, religious power and religious participation wane.

    If we manage to educate more of the world’s poor, across all nations, all religions will be worse off. Which is how I’d like it!

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    They were from Korea, China, and Ghana, and all three disagreed. It is an interesting assumption, which may be true, but I don’t see data that says it is. “Does education levels in society affect the religious levels of individuals in society” would make an interesting PhD project, but until you actually research the correlation between the two, it remains an assumption which may or may not turn out to be correct. It’s hard to look at a set of data (like your original article) and automatically assert why the data is the way it is. That takes a bit more digging.

    You might be right, but I think you’re jumping the gun.

  • Terry Firma

    You want data?

    In Great Britain, “Lifelong theists are disproportionately made up of those with no academic qualifications, whereas lifelong atheists are disproportionately made up of those with a Bachelor’s degree (but not a master’s or PhD). Moreover, lifelong atheists are disproportionately underrepresented in the category of those who have “no academic qualifications”. Lifelong atheists, in other words, are better educated than lifelong theists.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/oct/05/atheist-religion-education-demographics-class

    And elsewhere? I addressed the matter here: http://moralcompassblog.com/2013/03/29/more-education-less-religion/, with my source being a Canadian study that I linked to. I encourage you to read it.

    There’s more work to be done in this field (there always is!), but the admittedly limited data seem to go my way a lot more than yours. As always, though, I could be wrong, in which case you’d do me a favor by pointing out how and what.

  • The Curator

    I think that the original commenter is forgetting very well educated people like Joseph Campbell, who, said, quote:
    “Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”
    This is our current state of affairs. Education, can actually fix this, create a society that looks at these matter more richly than either of those points of view. Most people here are ahead of this curve.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    I think you are getting at a fundamental principle, though it is a fairly complex one… hard to summarize well, briefly. I agree there is a correlation between more education and “less” religion, but particularly less provincial, dogmatic religion. Well-educated people very often still have a strong religious “drive” or need to connect to something “higher” or beyond themselves and humanity. But that is likely to be a more universalist faith with a less “intervening, in-control” kind of God (traditional theism). And, as per my comment above, such a faith is NOT looking to the “imminent” (or very soon) “return of Christ”. That concept is closely correlated with a sense of frustration with the direction of “the world”, with that same need for God to finally “take control” and make all things right…. Things have gotten so “bad” (even if they are actually improved, overall) that it MUST be soon.

  • Just Sayin’

    Only an American could write about something called “American Christianity.”

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Not sure what other term to use in order to distinguish between the expression of Christianity we see in the US, versus the cultural expressions we see in Latin America or Africa. All are very different expressions of Christianity. It would be impossible to make generalized critiques without identifying the cultural context.

  • Just Sayin’

    It’s just that fundies are notorious for talking about the American this and the American that, America this and America that, the American people this, the American people that. It’s a variety of American exceptionalism, as if the Nicene Creed is somehow different in America . . .

    That was my point. Sorry for the crypticism.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    We speak about ‘American Christianity’ all the time in Europe. It’s a common enough phrase.

    Step out your front door sometime, see the world….

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    I am not optimistic at all because for many people, the only choice left to us should be one between fundamentalism and militant atheism.

    But I wish you were right :=)

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    Just out of curiousity, what would you define as ‘militant atheism?’ Because I’ve seen militant Islam and experienced militant Christianity and yet most people define ‘militant atheism’ as being able to quote Dawkins from memory and not even attending Mass on Christmas.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    I define militant atheism as the belief that religion ought to disappear and religious believers ought to be despised and scorned.

    The fact that few people confess that in public changes nothing, their actions show this is what they deeply believe.

    Jeffery Jay Lowder http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/ and http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ are examples of NON-militant atheists, although they do defend atheism with intellectual arguments.

    On my blog I am interacting with nice atheists who argue against Christianity in a respectful way.

    But I am completely unwilling to interact with the village-antitheists of richarddawkins.com or friendlyatheist because most of the time, all what one gets are ridicule, emotional bullying and insults, but intellectually this remains very shallow.

    2013/10/23 Disqus

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    By the way, Christians behaving in the same way are definitely militant. Actually, they are nasty fundamentalists of the worst kind.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    Well, I truly hope you never encounter true militant Christians. Or militant atheists for that matter. Because ‘passionate, stubborn, nasty, obsessive, or trollish’ does not translate to ‘militant.’ Any sort of militant ideology is one that uses force, terror, and violence to achieve it’s goals, often times through an organised militia force. That’s the definition. Unfortunately you can’t simply redefine words in order to make a group of people seem more dangerous or evil no matter how much you dislike them. Christian or atheist.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    In France it is not the definition of militant, we speak of militants for gay rights, for instance, even if they are far from being extremists or even disagreeable.
    I strongly doubt that your definition of “militant” is valid everywhere in the English-speaking world.

    “*Militant* is usually used to describe a person engaged in aggressive verbal OR physical combat (e.g. an activist,
    revolutionary , terroristor
    insurgent ).”

    This is clearly compatible with the use of the word.

    2013/10/23 Disqus

  • John Richard Clinton Maenpaa

    Well, if you demand an example of militant atheism in the most absolutist/literalist sense, there’s always Pol Pot… Stalin… Mao…

  • John Richard Clinton Maenpaa

    Then there is Mussolini, who was a militant, but not necessarily about his atheism…

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    Little known fact. For most of his adult life, Stalin identified as Catholic, although he wasn’t a practising one. And there is a difference between a militant who is secular and a militant who uses violence to spread the cause of atheism…

    However

    Nowhere did I demand an example of a militant atheist. Not once did I say that there weren’t militant atheists. You just projected that on me because you wanted to somehow link what I was saying to mass murderers. My point was, the OP should use a term to describe someone when they don’t fit that term. Especially a term that references horrific violence and atrocities. Have there been militant atheists in the past? I’d say yes. But I am not one, even though the OP would like to think I am. I write a blog. I read other blogs. That doesn’t put me under the same umbrella as Mao.

  • Kevin DeShields

    Fantastic article Benjamin. I am indeed hopefully as well.

  • gimpi1

    I hope you’re right, Ben.

    I would point out that where you want your faith to go is to some extent where it used to be. Many Christians were, in the past, worried about issues of social justice, equity and more focused on a loving God.

    It’s only in the past 35 years or so that I’ve seen this merger between Christianity and gutter capitalism. I personally regard it as a bitter fruit of southern racism and religion, brought to the fore by Nixon’s Southern Strategy after LBJ signed the Civil and Voting Rights acts. For some reason, the racism, gender restrictions and general cruelty of many southern churches metastasized through much of the Christian community. Darn shame, too.

    I guarantee in the past, you would not have heard Christians yelling out, “Let him die!” at a political debate where someone dying in part because of lack of access to medical care was being discussed. You did, in 2012. Lots of us outsiders noticed. In general, we didn’t care for it. “Damaging witness” anyone?

  • Y. A. Warren

    Hope is what we have as humans. This is a beautiful expression of that hope. I especially like the credit you are ascribing to the youth.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Ben, have you written more elsewhere about a “holistic view” of the atonement? Especially in relation to changing current views of atonement? I do consider this a “linchpin” issue for Evangelicalism, particularly for the “personal salvation” aspect that has long been so central in American Xnty. In terms of theology derived directly from canonical scripture, it is hard to trace when and how now-predominant concepts of atonement became prominent back then.

    When we read carefully and comparatively within the New Testament itself, it seems very doubtful that James, the other Jerusalem leaders and the Jeru. believers in general saw Jesus’ death as atoning sacrifice the way Paul did. That is only confirmed by contemporary-era non-canonical texts that were circulated and considered on a par, generally, with those eventually canonized. (Of course such a reading DOES require taking Luke’s accounts in Acts VERY cautiously and not carelessly combining them with Paul’s often very different recountings. Acts is really the linchpin of the “received” view of Christian origins, and Luke was a very insightful, clever guy with a high purpose and agenda in mind that we have trouble grasping, along with his supposedly “historical” methods.)

  • Y. A. Warren

    Thank you for bringing up Paul’s perspective. Paul’s worldview was that of a warrior class. I have long-believed that much of the problem with what we call “Christianity” is that not all “Christians” are following the example of Jesus as their “Christ.”

    Jesus was apparently an observant, joyful Jew, who continually celebrated his earthly life with family and friends. The extreme emphasis on his last few days of suffering and death seems to be a warrior society’s approach to what makes for that which is sacred in society.

    Coming from a tradition of blood sacrifice to gods of wrath and retribution, this seems to have been a natural next step, but Jesus enjoined his followers to seek peace on earth as it is “in heaven” and gave a prescription for doing so in Matthew 18:15-22.

    This says to me that all of the brothers and sisters of Abraham’s seeds must come together, admit, apologize, and make amends for all the evil done by our common ancestors.

    Jesus showed us how to do this, but we would rather not fully evolve as responsibly compassionate, fully human beings, if it means giving up some of our animal pack (tribal) superiority and power. Only through cooperation do we become fully human. Only through responsible compassion are we actually following Jesus as “The Christ.”

  • outragex

    Many progressive or liberal Christians are troubled by the old view of atonement because of the picture it paints of God . What kind of all-loving God would require this type of “fine” as Corey describes it to be paid on our behalf? I will confess I don’t have a good explanation for the new idea about atonement either. I’ll have to look for more of the author’s writing to see how he explains it.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    We’re actually not advocating for a new idea at all. The idea of penal substitution, that Jesus paid a fine, is actually the new idea– only been around for 500 years or so, and mostly because many of the reformers were lawyers before theologians, and they added their legal worldview into theology. Prior to that, from the time of 1000, it was seen as “satisfying God’s honor”, which was similar to penal substitution, but not quite. However, for the entire first 1,000 years of Christianity, the view was “Christus Victor”, where as scripture says, Jesus came to defeat the power of the Devil. In doing this, he was reconciling all of creation to himself, as Paul writes. The classical view of the atonement, which we prefer, is simply the original Christian belief.

    So, we’re not trying to come up with something new– the penal substitution is the something new, and we’re trying to return to the historic view of the cross.

  • outragex

    Thank you for your response-it’s great to be able to discuss this with the author. I like the shot at – I mean reference – to lawyers! I have always liked the idea of God living among us people and submitting to the joys, pains and indignities involved in mortal life. I still don’t get why death and suffering in such a dramatic way was necessary for our Savior to “defeat the power of the Devil.” Please help me connect the crucifixion with reconciling creation and defeating the big D. So if not “blood atonement” or “satisfying God’s honor” then why? Peace!

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    You’re asking some good questions. It’s hard to tease them all out in the comments section or summarize all the reading I did in seminary in a few sentences, so forgive me that my answers are really incomplete here.

    It wasn’t a shot at lawyers– that’s really church history. Many of the reformers were lawyers with a medieval understanding of the world, and that’s where the penal substitution concept came from.

    As far as blood atonement, blood atonement never covered intentional sins in the OT. It was only for unintentional sins. There’s never been an atonement for intentional sin until Jesus– but it wasn’t “blood” that did it. It was his death– but it didn’t need to be a bloody death to accomplish that.

    He defeated the power of the devil by living a sinless life, dying a death he didn’t owe God, and raising back to life.

    I affirm a “substitutionary” death, just not the penal understanding of it (which isn’t necessarily totally incorrect, just limited– not the big picture). Yes, Jesus died for me. He also died to reconcile creation (as Paul says, on the cross he was reconciling “all things unto himself” which is where creation comes into the cross). We are now moving to a time when God will return to the earth, dwell with humanity, and when all the brokenness will be restored to the way he originally made it. The cross wasn’t simply God reconciling me, he was fixing everything.

    1 John 3:8 “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil”

  • outragex

    Thanks again! Blessings.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    I haven’t written articles specifically on the atonement, but I do plan to in the future as it’s one of my passions that I spent a great deal of time wrestling with in Seminary.

  • Y. A. Warren

    I did read your post about Israel. The historical novel “The Hope” by Herman Wouk, maybe the best “professor” of modern Israeli history ever, enlightened me a great deal about the true meaning of the government entity called Israel. The political entity is simply that, a political entity. Taking the name of “God” in vain for political purposes seems to be the way with all mainstream religions.

    In looking at the historical perspective for religious rivalry, we must look no farther in Judeo-Christianity than Genesis. Genesis is full of parents turning their children against each other. I believe Cain and Abel were in competition because of their parents’ competition with each other. Abraham started the war among the lines of his own sons with his mistreatment of Ishmael and his mother. And look at the trouble making in the story of Jacob and Esau. All caused by parental competition.

    We are given a prescription for making peace with our eternal and earthly brothers and sisters in Matthew 18:15-22, but we continue to incorporate only what suits our earthly purposes of pursuing power from the example of Jesus, preferring to defer to the Old Testament and the patriarchs for our guidance in how to live.

    I don’t believe that Jesus was born to die for our sins; I believe Jesus lived to show us how to live, and that he died only because he had to become a martyr to make his point in our drama-loving human society.

  • Lydia Cranston

    I appreciate this article very much. It is easy to be discourages about Christianity in America.

  • jrrozko

    So encouraged to read this sort of vision coming from a fellow Fuller DMiss’r ;) How are you not in my cohort on Anabaptist Perspectives in Missional Ecclesiology?!

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Dude, I had no idea there was an Anabaptist Perspective cohort! What year are you guys in? I’m in Cohort 19. As much as I love my cohort, I would have LOVED to have been in a cohort with other Anabaptist.

  • jrrozko

    3 years down and a dissertation to go. Wilbert Shenk and James Krabill have been our mentors and the research interests of others in the cohort have been great. Catch me on Twitter or Facebook – would love to stay connected.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Sounds great! Looks like you’re one year ahead of me, but would have been an awesome cohort!

  • Y. A. Warren

    My problem with “Christianity” is that the majority of religions calling themselves “Christian” are clearly not following Jesus as their christ.