I have migrated – both theologically and geographically – from where I was raised. My move from the east to the west coast was mirrored by a similar (and more than symbolic) move in theology.
I grew up with Josh McDowell being the most reasonable (pun intended) voice of faith. I even went to the Billy Graham School of Evangelism and focused on apologetics. I bought Ravi Zacharias books on tape (and later CDs) and used my best stuff when I spoke to college groups or at outreaches. I loved it and it went pretty well most of the time.
At one point the questions changed and then the answers didn’t seem to work as well. Around this same time I read Brian McLaren and Len Sweet and, like a billiard ball struck by the cue ball, I was radically redirected into a different trajectory. Actually, truth be told, I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t figure it out until I was cautioned about using N.T. Wright as my go-to scholar. One day it just hit me: if McLaren and Wright are the far edge before you are ‘out of bounds’ then I might be playing the wrong game… or least have been taught the wrong rules.
I went to a progressive Evangelical seminary* (by that I mean that it acknowledged post-modernity and interacted with biblical scholarship) and then moved again to a radically liberal Doctoral program and started working at a Mainline church. I love the doctrinal freedom and the intellectual integrity, even as I do miss a couple of things as well.
Perhaps the greatest adjustment I have had to make is not just the absence of apologetics (which is noticeable) but the presence of apologizing for our Christian heritage/perspective. It gives me whiplash every time I realize that we have moved from apologetics to apologizing for Christianity.
Now, I have strong anabaptist leaning and I am as suspicious of Christian-ism as anyone. But I think that we are in real danger here.
A very popular blog from a renowned scholar came out this week that asked if Progressive Christianity is the last best hope for the future of the church. I’m not convinced that it is, in fact I’m nervous about the future of this branch of the family tree. Do I think that the nature of the universe and science are with us? Absolutely. Do I worry about the organizational and motivational challenges that seem to work against us? Definitely.
Forgive me if you think that I am being harsh. I am simply trying to say that if we who are not conservative-fundamentalist go into the world feeling bad about what we represent and embarrassed about the tradition that we have inherited, it doesn’t provide much to build on.
As a contextual theologian I am a huge proponent of articulating our particular – constructed – embedded – conditioned located-ness. But if we are going to walk around with our tails between our legs people will mistake our epistemic humility for being spineless and impotent.
I’m proud to be a thoughtful Christian. I think that we bring something great to the world. I have no interest in apologizing for speaking from a Christian perspective, but neither do I have any desire to concede the microphone or public spotlight to less-thoughtful [since no one is thought-less] Christian voices (ie. Pat Robertson) just because they are loud and proud.
p.s. I have been contending for the inherent theological value of the terms Evangelical, Liberal, Progressive, and Emergent.
p.p.s McLaren has a great story about not being spineless in Inter-religious dialogue during my interview with him.
*George Fox Evangelical Seminary