Believe Something Already: Emergent, LaBeouf, & the Growing Senselessness of Doubt

Believe Something Already: Emergent, LaBeouf, & the Growing Senselessness of Doubt October 27, 2014

Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. 

Last week, two seemingly unrelated blips appeared on my Internet radar and struck a strangely similar chord: Tony Jones’s statistics about the emergent/emerging church, and Shia LaBeouf’s interview on Interview Magazine. 

I’m not entirely sure what point Jones was trying to drive home by reporting that, at least apparently, Christians identifying as “emergent” are not necessarily as liberal as one might think. My guess is that he’s hoping to disprove the common accusations that the emergent/emerging church is just a younger iteration of classic (skeptical) liberalism, and that it is thus a dying/dead movement lacking in any substantial “new” characteristics. I very much appreciated Tony’s book The Church is Flat which capably pushed back on the latter assumption that the movement is dead or without unique, vibrant, or expanding expressions.

But if the research Tony is citing is correct, then my takeaway is more that the majority of those ministries and leaders still “going” and identifying as emergent/emerging are likely closer to the center theologically. Rather than skeptical liberalism there is a core of committed belief. This seems true of Tony himself, and also true of famous emerging mainline leaders like Nadia Bolz-Weber. To be honest, I think Nadia is basically an evangelical, though I’m not sure she’d be super psyched on the label :).

Which brings me to the Shia LaBeouf interview.

Celebrity conversions are a major pet peeve for me. I can’t help but mega-eyeroll the Bieber’s and Kanye’s of the world putting their devotion to Jesus on blast, you know, right before spitting out the most misogynistic lyrics imaginable or maybe assaulting people after hitting their car with an ATV. Jesus has enough douchebags claiming to rep him. We don’t need notorious billionaire prima donnas lining up to be the next Gary Busey, and pastors lining up to be their promoters.

And let it be known that Shia LaBeouf has been a douchebag – kind of a lot lately. Without a doubt. And maybe that was before the filming of Fury, I don’t know, but whatever the timeline, it’s true. And the immature narcissism even comes through in this interview. Without a doubt.

But.

Shia’s conversion on the set of Fury, and his explanation of it in this interview, feels a bit different to me. There is something substantial, even authentic, here. (Not to mention, there seems to be a genuine contrition for his recent behavior.) And, if nothing else, LaBeouf gives a rather cogent (if precocious) description of how the current generation may be swinging back towards Christian faith as a viable option in a confounding, pluralistic age. Here’s what I mean:

I found God doing Fury. I became a Christian man, and not in a f—king bullshit way—in a very real way. I could have just said the prayers that were on the page. But it was a real thing that really saved me. And you can’t identify unless you’re really going through it. It’s a full-blown exchange of heart, a surrender of control…

I’m going through it myself. I’ve been going through an existential crisis. If you look at my behavior, it’s been motivated by a certain discourse. Metamodernism has influenced a lot of my action in the public in this last year and a half… You have both modernist commitment and postmodern detachment—sincerity with a wink. It is all things. It’s a feeling that comes after deconstruction: the ripping apart, or the going to shit of a society, the environmental crisis, the financial crisis, the existential crisis. Metamodernism is the feeling that comes after that… 

After calamity comes hope. And I do feel a deep hopefulness in my life and in my work. Whereas originally I was a very cynical dude, I was very postmodern. The way I dealt with the crises in my life, I was very cynical…

David [Ayers, director of Fury, a Christian] is the f—ing best dude I’ve ever worked for. He’s not the observer; he’s going through it with you. It’s real. There’s no rehearsed fight scenes. You’re getting punched in the face for real. There is no room for actors. It was like becoming Christian—you subject yourself to everything that’s coming. You relinquish everything.

The interview is definitely stream of consciousness on a slightly manic level, but do you see the line of thought here? It is saying something, perhaps something like what Tony’s statistics are saying, if we have ears to hear. Namely, that the postmodern, deconstructive, cynical elevation (idolatry?) of doubt has proven rather useless in a world of uncertainty, calamity, and chaos. 

Elijah’s ancient charge to the lukewarm people of Israel is stunningly relevant – How long will you go limping between two opinions? Believe something already! Choose who you’re going to follow!! And this, not in the old, individualistic sense of the hellfire and brimstone threats, or perhaps even fundamentalist felt-board guilt trips, but in the corporate sense of people deciding to become and to join in communities of belief. 

Indeed, it is a wonderful thing that the fundamentalist idolatry of certainty has met its end in postmodern deconstruction. And, it is an even more wonderful thing that churches are becoming spaces wherein individual doubts can be safely expressed and addressed as part of the life of faith, rather than inimical to it. Yet doubt and cynicism at a corporate level, if they become definitive values of churches and movements, will carry no weight in these metamodern times – nor will they even make sense to those increasingly looking for sense in the wreckage of senselessness.

Doubt, as a corporate thing, is completely unsustainable.

That’s heavy, I know.

But blame this precocious celebrity kid Shia for getting me revved up, and blame Tony’s statistics for saying something (I think) about both the failure of emergent ideologies of doubt and the successful emerging into authentic streams of Christian belief.

I, for one, am happy to go on being an evangelical, however emerging or whatever, and giving up my control to the beauty of belief.


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  • Herm

    Zach, I love you as a brother. I love your sincerity and your reaching out in a vulnerable quest for truth over deceit. Like a brother I’m going to be brutally honest with you because I care that you continue questing until the end of eternity. I can only hope that you receive my childish comments in the spirit of love that they are truly intended.

    Your underlying premise I find in my heart and mind to be correctly founded in our times. It reminded me right away of: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!”

    In my spiritually immature opinion your conclusion jumped right out at my heart and mind as placing your happiness exactly in the middle of your correctly founded premise, neither hot nor cold. We can love the fruit of our neighbor’s mercy toward us and simultaneously hate the fruit our neighbor’s destructively usurping our Father’s authority, which would be both hot and cold opinions. I don’t feel like our Brother would be about to spit us out of His mouth for maintaining both. If we straddled the fence between abiding in the authority of our carnal family and that of our Family of God I can understand us being spit out His mouth.

    Read, please, all admonishments of the seven churches in the book of Revelations as gospel truth directly out of the mouth of Jesus our reining Lord. Read them as applicable right then to those seven churches when written as much as it is to our regions today. These were all regional church fellowships under the full authority of Jesus as their only High Priest and not corporate denominations or defined different belief systems. As members of the Son of Man/Son of God’s church our spiritual survival depends upon just whose voice we follow as to what our ultimate destination would become. To survive the second death that voice has to be solely from the true Holy Spirit of one heart and mind with the Son and the Father.

    All the terms of differing Christian belief systems are denominational and corporately defined. I am willing to support that statement if asked with logic and research but will leave that for most who might doubt its validity to question the Holy Spirit directly. If people not knowing how to distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit specially available to unify all hearts and minds want to define what separates me from carnality I, at least for today, would accept the terms mystic or charismatic as an initial illustration of where I am in my relationship with them and God. My Father simply calls me daughter/son and His Son relates to me as sister/brother.

    In my heart and mind there is no emerging church, theology, dogma, orthodoxy, fundamentalists, evangelicals or any other definition of members in the church under the authority of Jesus our Messiah for those are designations of competing denominational corporations subject to fighting for survival on their own. They each compete to define us and them beyond that of united children in the Family of God, students of Jesus, deacons, elders, prophets, and servants to the life of God’s creation in His image according to the clear example of Jesus’ service as the living and reigning Word/Son of Man/Son of God/Lord/High Priest.

    If I am committed 100 percent (ALL) in love to my Lord God what other voice need I have to define me than the Holy Spirit’s? The veil is rent and the Holy of Holies resides in the risen temple of our united hearts and minds, we have not been orphaned on this Earth.

    To define my allegiances as of or according to the teaching of the gospel or the Christian religion (evangelical) seems to leave me subject to the interpretive authority of an immature mankind while at the same time subject to the authority of the eternal Father through the Holy Ghost directing me in the Way and the Truth exactly as I need now. I choose in full allegiance to one authority to only point to the Way and the Truth who need no outside interpretation for validation. I honestly believe anything separate from that available to all relationship with our creator God is “limping with two different opinions.” How we each arrive at that relationship requires support from all to help those who choose to limp from any other authority to only God’s authority. God knows the heart and mind of each of us to mercifully direct us all to help and be helped as needed and ready.

    Thank you for risking to share with us all in so sincere, merciful, tolerant, honest, and loving a manner that is obviously from your open heart and mind. Thank you for your efforts to provide this regionally English speaking platform of Nuance that we might all meet to share as family in His kind and name. Love you!

  • Hey Herm, I think I understand what you mean, and I’m sure we agree in substance about most things. Always appreciate your thoughtful engagement bro :).

  • Thanks for the article. I’m going to keep chewing on the ideas, but I can tell you’re on to something significant. Or, as you put it, “heavy.” Indeed!

  • thanks maria – and feel free to give me any feedback as you “chew”!