Not That Kind of Christian

Not That Kind of Christian October 3, 2019

It was great having Tripp Fuller visit Indianapolis recently. It was almost ten years ago when I appeared as a guest on his podcast.

Early Christian Monotheism with James McGrath: Homebrewed Christianity 68

Back then he was still numbering them. I’m not sure when he stopped but after the first thousand I suppose it probably makes sense to stop numbering them and just name them instead. I feel like back then, we weren’t even calling them “podcasts” yet, although it is long enough ago that I’m not entirely sure. (For those who may be interested, my own ReligionProf Podcast will resume with new episodes soon, although I’m not sure I’ll be trying to maintain having them appear weekly, as opposed to occasionally when it makes sense to record one. We’ll see.)

Tripp’s topic for the event I managed to attend was one he didn’t choose himself: “Not That Kind of Christian.” I really appreciated the way he addressed the tendency of progressive/liberal Christians to define ourselves by what we aren’t, rather than focusing on what and who we are. Hanging out afterwards, I asked him if he has a good name to articulate that positive Christian stance. One that he mentioned is one I’ve also toyed with using: “Just Christian.” It sounds like “simply Christian” and yet also could be taken to emphasize justice. I mentioned to him my only half serious suggestion about how great it would be to call my stance which embraces critical thinking and methods like historical critical inquiry “Critical Christianity,” because then when we gather for worship we could call it “Critical Mass.” Yes, in case you didn’t already know this, I’d happily embrace a name for my religious stance based on its pun potential.

More seriously, here’s one definition of progressive/liberal Christianity, from Gary Dorrien:

[L]iberal theology is defined by its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially the natural and social sciences; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people.

Tripp said lots of great things, and shared songs he wrote (several of which you can listen to online). One thing that particularly struck me was a story and some thoughts he shared about “cooties,” in which he explored the elaborate efforts children go to deal with a problem that is only imagined, a way of differentiating gender and creating in-group and out-group that can become increasingly complex. Likewise our theologies can revolve around a problem that is in fact itself a result of our inability to rethink our imagined and symbolic worldviews and systems. When he suggested that Jesus was a “professional cootie-catcher,” it seemed very fitting, as Jesus showed himself willing to dare to transgress purity rules and challenge or reject outright ostracizing divisions. But this brief summary doesn’t do justice to the point.

If you ever have the chance, go hear Tripp talk. And sing. But in the meantime, listen to his podcasts. There’s enough there to keep you listening and engaged for a long time.

Also relevant:

Funny Fundamentalism. Laugh at bad Bad Theology.

Also from Tripp Fuller, one of my favorite authors:

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  • John MacDonald

    That’s interesting. I thought I came up with “Critical Christianity” name in the comment section of this Religion Prof blog post here:

    • John MacDonald

      In the “Critical Christianity” blog post you refer to, you also mention:

      The last time I blogged about this, someone made the interesting suggestion that it could be called “critical Christianity.” For a number of reasons I like that suggestion, although I fear that it would sound like it is something negative, even though it need not be understood that way. “Critical” can mean both criticizing and critiquing, and analyzing carefully. There is something appropriate about including this word in the description of that approach to Christianity that embraces historical and literary criticism of the Bible. Plus, if we start a movement with this title, the liturgy or order of service followed at “Critical Christian Churches” could be called “Critical Mass”!

      I was the “someone” who made the suggestion.

      • Yes, thank you! I tend not to mention someone unless I have their permission to do so, or unless I am sure they are happy to take the blame for what they suggested. I think it is a matter of credit rather than blame, but I wasn’t sure that others feel the same way about the name. 🙂 Either way, I love it. Thank you again for suggesting it!

        • John MacDonald


          More importantly, the Joker starts tonight. I have my ticket! Can’t wait!

        • John MacDonald

          “Critical” is such a great word in my eyes, representing the thoughtful Christianity of the critical scholars, as opposed to the dogmatic Christianity of the conservative fundamentalists. It also has meaning for me of the so-called Copernican Revolution and “Critical” period of Kant’s thinking, which I would argue is one of the Key events in the history of Philosophy.

          • John MacDonald

            Replaced “so-called” with “wonderful and genius.” Talk about bad word choice the first time!

  • Without at all detracting from anything said above, my sense is that most integral to the spiritual character of present-day liberal Christian people is a non-defensive relationship toward people of different views, a completely open and welcoming attitude toward other great religions even to the point of wanting and expecting to learn spiritually treasured concepts and practices from people of other religions, and an all but reflexively positive, but still critically evaluated, stand toward ideas and policies representing progressive social justice. These are my people!

    • John MacDonald

      Derrida says we have to make Ethics First Philosophy and First Religion. It is only by placing the critical attitude before the systems we erect that dogmas such as “The traditional understanding of marriage” are secondary to the social justice mandate. Justice has a positive component of tentatively erecting a system, but also a deconstructive component of dismantling marginalization, violence, etc.