What Is Christianity21?


Christianity21 is an event that JoPa Productions is producing next October 9-11.  And it’s the first event of its kind — historic, you might say.

You see, we have invited 21 of the most compelling voices we can find to present the one idea that they’re most passionate about — the one idea that they think must be heard by Christians in the 21st century.

Each presenter gets 21 minutes to share that idea (think TED Talks).

And each presenter is a woman.

No, this is not a women’s conference.  These are, quite simply, the voices that we need to hear at this point in history.

Christianity21 is open to all — you don’t need to be a pastor to attend.  If you’re interesting in the ways that Christianity is changing, then Christianity21 is for you.

Rick Advises Pastors

I think that Rick Bennett is one of the most under-appreciated emergbloggers around.  Today he’s decided to dole out some advice to pastors.  He and his family have been looking for a church, so he knows of what he speaks.  A few of my faves:

3. Wear shirts that fit. Don’t raid Ed Young, Jr.’s wardrobe. Please. Heck, put on a freakin‘ suit if you need to. And, if you like those tight shirts, lose weight.

17. Offer some snacks and coffee, but don’t brag about it. Wow! You have
Starbucks. I will now come to your church. I mean, you just saved me
$2.00 per week. What a bargain. Conversely, if you have fair trade (and
you should!), let us know. And, don’t just offer fattening donuts. You
are a church and gluttony is a sin.

21. If you actually value the place of women in your church, give them
something to do besides greeter, nursery or back up singer. Your words
betray you.

And last… stop trying to make your church seem so cool. It is
not. It is church. Church does not equal cool. Your marketing should be
honest, not an attempt to show how cool and “with it” you are. The more
you try, the worse you look. Just tell us who you are and invite us
along for the ride. I have seen too many churches trying to be cool and
being inauthentic. If you are a suburb church, don’t act like a city
church. If you are all suburbanites, we will notice when you move your
church into the city to be edgy and then drive home to suburbia. If you
don’t like poor people, justice and art do not fake it just to make us
come to your church. You have turned important things into marketing
points and propaganda. We notice when you are faking it, probably before you do.

America's Next Top Theologian?

rekindlingtheology.jpgSo, if theologians squared off on a reality show, would a brawl endue, like on America’s Next Top Model?  Probably not. But Jonathan L. Walton (who, I must say, was very impressive at Claremont last week) takes up the challenges laid before the Transforming Theology group by me and Jack Fitzmier.

Jonathan oversimplifies my statements to the group, but he does get the sentiment right.  jonathan l walton.jpgIn the final session, I told the group that they had been outflanked by conservative theologians, and, as a result, have been defined by them.  Back in the day of William Jennings Bryan, liberalism was a populist message, but now liberals have become the elites, and conservatives have grabbed the populist mantle.

Further, Jonathan already gets it.  His presentation was more of a sermon than a lecture, and the fact that he blogs at the excellent Religion Dispatches (I demand that you all subscribe now!), shows that he is as interested in the e-world as the academy. Even his scholarship focuses on the intersection of church, theology, and television.

In any event, his post wrestles with the challenge before progressive theologians.  If there is going to be a recovery, Jonathan will likely lead the charge. Money Quote:

This is why any talk about rekindling theological imagination must
distinguish the difference between being popular and making an
impact.  Let’s not forget that the progressive, prophetic tradition has
always made an impact yet has never been popular.  Prophets work from
the margins. And their voice, when at its best, is rejected by the
mainstream. This is why progressive theologians should not be pulled
into a popularity contest. Nor should we strive to create a reality
show, ”America’s Next Top Theologian.” But we must keep our vocation
ever before us; which may or may not involve tenure and institutional

Transforming Theology: Emergence for Emergents, Part One


Phillip Clayton and I sat down on Friday night for a conversation about emergence science and emergent church.  Here’s part one of the video:
Thanks to videographer Ryan Parker.

Transforming Theology Wrap-Up: Everything You Think About Progressive Theology Is Wrong


Well, my time here at Claremont is just about up. I’m sitting in Mudd Auditorium, listening to the second of two public panels.  Here are my reflections, looking back on the last three days.

First, I have to note that I felt somewhat out of place. In general, I think that I can hold my own academically with people who teach at places like Harvard, Vanderbilt, University of Chicago, Yale, and Claremont. But the longer that I’m out of the academy proper, the stranger I feel when I’m surrounded by academic theologians.  And these are academic theologians.  In fact, I was the only conferee without an institutional affiliation — my nametag said “emergent church” under my name.

Second, this liberalism unfamiliar territory for me. I grew up in the mainline church, but it was in the Midwest.  So we were mainline Congregationalists, but I don’t think that we could have been classified as “liberals” per se.  Now, of course, the theologians at this event were at different points along the spectrum. But I guess in general I have rubbed academic shoulders with more center-right folks in the past.

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Liveblogging Transforming Theology – Day 3


Starting Day 3 here at Claremont School of Theology, we’re having panels about whether progressive theology can transform society.

9:26am – Jack Fitzmier, who leads the American Academy of Religion, is intense and challenging.  He says that the right people are not in this room. Who are “academic theologians”? he asks.  The people doing the best work are not systematic and constructive theologians, he says, but practical theologians.  Second, he says the focus should be on practice, not theory.  “The system which allows you to do your job — academic theology — is collapsing.” The number of doctoral programs is declining, as are the job openings. He is pissed.  “We are complicit in this system, because we accept every doctoral candidate who will get FTE funding, because we need their tuition. But there are no job for them when they get out.”

9:31am – Glen Stassen asks, “Where is Reinhold Neibuhr when we need him?” (Someone in the crowd says, “Or Marx?!?”)  How could we, as Christians, have been so naive to think that taking the regulations off of the financial system and expect it to regulate itself?  He’s talking about WMDs, etc., and saying that Christians have lost their sense of sin.

9:48am – A discussion ensues attempting to answer the question, “Are we the ones we’ve been waiting for?” In other words, are the people in this room the ones to resurrect the liberal vision of church, theology, and society.  As you might guess from academics, the most common response is “yes and no.” The equivocation among academics always amazing to me — every time someone gets close to answering a question with some amount of conviction, they always fall back on the line that, “We must think of the people who are not in this room.” It becomes an eternal deferral of action and instead begets more conferences at which the same questions are asks, and the answers are yet again deferred.

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Liveblogging Transforming Theology – Day 2

I’m at the inaugural Transforming Theology gathering: Rekindling Theological Imagination: Transformative Thought for Progressive Action.  Today we’re talking about the church.

9:16am – Harvey Cox, of Harvard, is giving his 5-minute statement.  He thinks there is an epochal shift coming in theology, driven by crises in the economy and environment. “We must live in uncertainty fused with hope.”  We live in a situation analogous to the early Christians, the ending of an age of empire.  What did they do?  They established a network of ecclesiae — gatherings of citizens — and they lived a life of radical sharing, even a communion of goods.  Congregations in this day will need to do the same, and the congregations should transform theology.

9:23am – Delwin Brown says that the progressive Christian students he works with can tell why they’re Christian and why they’re progressive, but they often cannot say why, as Christians, they are progressive.  He admires evangelicals who can articulate their beliefs and social outlook. We have a progressive family of theologies, and academic debates are fine, but we must learn to communicate this in effective ways.

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Transforming Theology — This Week!

Later this week, I’ll be in Southern California at the Transforming Theology for the Church consultation.  A couple of the events are public, so I encourage you to come if you live in SoCal.  But if not, there are lots of ways to follow our doing.  I’ll do my best to blog here; there’s a YouTube channel; a Twitter hashtag (#TT4C); and the Transforming Theology blog.


A nationwide
program to address the crisis of theology

in mainline churches and seminaries.


Transforming the

Friday, March 13th: 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Mudd Theater, Claremont School of Theology
Foothill Blvd. at College Ave. in Claremont

Discussion Leaders:
Tony Jones, Doug Meeks, Mary Fulkerson, Dwight
Hopkins, and Harvey Cox

Panel Participants:
Doug Ottati, Gary Dorrien, Joseph Bracken, Helene
Russell, & Dawn DeVries

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Original Sin: Calvin's Conundrum

The Original Sin Series

When we last heard from our intrepid doctrine, Augustine had taken Paul’s interpretation of Genesis 2-3 in Romans 5 and taken that to mean that Adam’s sin conferred not only death on the entire human race, but also guilt.  This was a big step, to be sure, and, as I’ve written, it hinges on a particular reading of the second creation narrative in Genesis and on a particular biology of the transmission of moral standing via semen.  Some of my readers find both of these fairly dubious.

john-calvin-2-sized.jpgA thousand years after Augustine, John Calvin came along and ginned up the Reformation that Martin Luther had begun just a few years earlier.  Calvin in his monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin took the doctrine of Original Sin one step further than Augustine, arguing that our inherited sinfulness has erased virtually all remnant of the imago dei in us — God might have said, “Let us make man in our image,” but the subsequent sin of Adam expunged that image:

Therefore original sin is seen to be an
hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts
of the soul . . . wherefore those who have defined original sin as the
lack of the original righteousness with which we should have been endowed,
no doubt include, by implication, the whole fact of the matter, but they
have not fully expressed the positive energy of this sin. For our nature
is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil
that it cannot be inactive. Those who have called it concupiscence
[a strong, especially sexual desire, lust] have
used a word by no means wide of the mark, if it were added  (and this is
what many do not concede) that whatever is in man from intellect to will,
from the soul to the flesh, is all defiled and crammed with concupiscence;
or, to sum it up briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing but

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Is There an Evangelical Center?

In the Washington Times, Julia Duin ponders that question in her article, “Evangelicals ponder Dobson’s successor: New generation looks for leader.

It has been interesting watching the shift in power: Franklin Graham is no Billy Graham; the Coral Ridge Hour simply shows reruns of the late D. James Kennedy’s sermons; and Robert Schuller Sr. fired Robert Schuller Jr. from the Crystal Cathedral.

“It’s a changing of the guard,” said Brian McLaren, 52, cited in 2005
by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in

“There is a possibility the religious right will collapse on itself.
Or someone will articulate a new religious center. The evangelical
community has been slowly diversifying, and there may not be a center

No surprise, Richard Land doesn’t agree:

“Anyone who thinks evangelicals are going away as a social force is smoking something illegal.”