In part one of this series I dealt with the problem and the video produced at TAM (The Amazing Meeting) 2014 by Daniel Dennett on church survival. It seems to be his belief and hope that the church will not survive but fail to evolve and thus be destroyed by process of elimination. In my last post on this subject I engaged this idea and both conceded and challenged some of Dennett’s points. Now I would like to offer some solutions to the problem that is being presented.
1) Use the other edge of the sword – I find it interesting that the Daniel Dennett in his video at TAM 2014 does talk about the internet as a double edge sword for religious people. This is actually a concession that at times the religious folks have used the internet to good effect. It is true that atheists have used the internet to good effect against Christians and other religious folks in America. But that double edge sword cuts both ways as it is also true for the atheists. There are a lot of good apologetic sites out there and apologists that are highly intelligent and educated but they do not get good airplay for one simple reason and that is we are ignoring the fact the world is a much more transparent so we still try to cover up the complicated questions of faith instead of engaging them.
This plays out practically in the family that does not have internet connection because of the moral and faith risks it might present. They avoid information of any type and that is not going to help the problem because if you have children they will take a different way when they get older. The internet and technology have no morality in and of themselves, they are tools and if the internet is part of the problem we need to work hard to make it part of the solution.
2) Embrace the New Transparency – I have long advocated honesty right out of the gate and one of the places we start dishonesty is Sunday School. The fact is children are often told only the happy stories without some of the inconvenient problems of some of those stories. Try talking to grade school children about Abraham, Sarah and Hagar with mentioning the fact that Abraham that great hero of faith is polygamist. That the story of David and Goliath actually ends with David cutting off Goliath’s head with his own sword and parading around with that head for several days, or that the story of Joshua is the story of attempted genocide. If we are going to pick the stories of the bible we want to tell children, we need to pick stories that we either don’t have to censor or find a way to address those problems honestly at that level. To top of f the problem we really foster this idea that only the teachers should search the Bible and not the students. Children cannot properly understand the Bible we tell ourselves but I have now worked with children and the bible long enough that children often have better understandings than adults at times.
This gets worse when we get to youth level. Young people are absolutely immersed in the new transparency and so we need to accept that genie is out of the bottle. If you make a statement about a Biblical character in Sunday School be prepared for them to Google it from their cell phones. If you make a statement like “porn is bad for you” understand that any youth can look that up and try to find a study that says that and they will find no good independent study says that and your going to be called on it. You cannot BS youth anymore, they are smart and have access to anything they want to research. I find because of this most youth pastors are woefully prepared to deal with the very hard and very real questions that youth ask. They either avoid the topics they think will lead to these discussion or they simply don’t allow conversation both of which are dishonest approaches. If you are going to pastor youth, be prepared to do the real work of answering their questions and don’t be afraid to say: “I don’t know.’
Adult level, there is simply the main problem that we avoid issues from the pulpit or simply do not address them. Textual problems, ethical problems and all the rest are never addressed from the pulpit to the teaching lecture. Understand your adults have the same access to this information and they no longer really have some parent over them saying they can’t look it up on the internet. Don’t run from this, embrace it. It is time to start talking and stop censoring.
3) Remove ridged thinking, theology and doctrine wherever possible – I agree that one thing that will be destroyed in the present new transparency is dictatorships. I find myself amazed that in some of the most rigidly controlled countries that thanks to the internet the truth still gets out. I want to submit to you that any theology, thought or doctrine that advocates some kind of dictatorial view of church leadership or God’s authority is going to take a nasty knock. Theological systems that refuse to move even in the light of solid Biblical and secular research are not going to do well as they are exposed to the light and alternate opinions. Like it or not certain doctrines like Verbal Plenary Inspiration of Scripture and Calvinism are not going to do well in the long run. I know some of you are saying: ‘but Calvinism as making a comeback”. I would argue, that the Calvinism that was making a comeback was so changed it wasn’t really Calvinism and that now people are starting to look at it closer and they are having a change of heart. I think this is the product of the New Transparency in that every time something gets popular in Christianity it suddenly get more scrutiny and also gets hammered from every side. Only systems that are fluid, ready to change in light of further evidence and open-minded can survive in such an environment.
I think this could help us understand God better. This transparency has opened the way for new concepts and new ideas about God and they need to be engaged. We can never be too sure of our personal view of God that we cannot hear other ideas. It is this rigid point of view being arrogantly smug that we understand god that needs to go in the light of the New Transparency.
4) Allow the people to take responsibility for their own morality and faith – The days of the clergy being able to dictate terms to how everyone should live in their church are numbered. Moral codes as standards for membership are going to be more of a hurdle in the future and this is not because people’s holiness standards are slipping. What is happening is that whenever a preacher makes a moral statement from the pulpit, they are being challenged. The new transparency is causing anything people say to be challenged. It is no longer enough in our society to simply say X is wrong because the Bible says it is wrong. People also want the practical side of why that is so, they also might challenge the interpretation of the passage that leads to the conclusions offered by the preacher.
As an example, I know of several denominations that do not allowed divorced and remarried persons to hold office in their church. Their reasoning is that Paul tells office holders to be the ‘husband of one wife’. I never really bought into this interpretation because ‘husband of one wife’ could also mean not polygamist. The fact that divorce is not even mentioned in these passages also makes the interpretation suspect. My point is not to tell people who hold this view they are wrong so much as to point out that it is a debatable point and so churches should not be making hard in concrete rules about this issue but leaving it to the consciences of the individuals who might be seeking church office.
There are lots of moral issues like this where the new transparency causes the proper response to me to be that we should allow personal choice and focus on moral issues where the commands of scripture are far more crystal clear. Letting people have their own moral choices about such issues is simply the most honest way to go in the light of this transparency. It also brings back into the church something that has long been missing, the ability to converse on certain issues to actually provide reasonable solutions.
5) Do your research – Before you make some outlandish statement, before you condemn people who practice X and Y to hell and before you make a statement about the so called ‘enemies’ of the faith, do your research. This is simply an application of a practical idea of think before you speak or ‘season your words with salt’. Too often I see debates online or on Facebook go horribly bad for believers because they don’t know anything but are merely spouting off what they have been told. They are also guilty of propping up popular Christian opinion without asking if that opinion is even valid. The new transparency means that the information is often there and we just are too lazy or to busy to take the time to do the research so we have an informed opinion.
As a recent example from this blog, I have only to cite the conversation from this post as an example of my own poor judgment. I had taken as gospel a professor I had once had. His view on relativity meant miracles were more possible in a relative universe than Newton’s was what I was going on and one of the responders called me on it. I was saying something that I truly had not researched myself. I did something most Christian’s don’t do which is said he was right to criticism and asked for his suggestions of reading material. If you haven’t done you research and you doggedly cling to what you are saying and then it proves false you are going to not only make yourself out to be a bigger idiot but the cause of Christ will suffer. If you honestly don’t know be honest and say you don’t know but you will research until you find out.
I see this problem often. We parrot too much what we have been told and haven’t done our homework ourselves. In the era of the New Transparency in information we really have no excuses to do this. We need to either learn to refer to someone who has done the work or we need to do the work ourselves before we go spouting off what we think.
6) Know what offends non-religious folks and don’t do it – I had a great deal of sadness recently watching an internet conversation between an atheist friend an a well-meaning Christian woman. She used a term that was offensive to him ‘evangelical atheists’. Now I understand the point that she was trying to make but atheists have a hard time with religious type terms associated with them. ‘Evangelical’ is such a term. She kept insisting this was true and I understand the point she was trying to make, but she needed to drop it. Now I will be the first to tell you I see religious elements in atheism. It is my opinion that they have their own ‘unsinkable rubber ducks’ as much as any other belief system. The problem is you will never get past first base talking that way. Atheists have their own protective membranes too.
By the same token, I also like to say that sometimes atheists like to run and hide too when it comes to this kind of talk. They get offended to end conversation when they get caught not doing their own research or a good argument is presented to them. The question is if the theist is are going to live and die for a term that atheists or other non-religious folks find offensive. Drop the term but ask about the concept. In the case, of ‘evangelical atheist” I would first have asked the person if they were saying there weren’t certain atheists that went out to try to convince people to leave their faith and if so what would they call them if there were such atheists? Have enough respect for them to let them define themselves.
This is of course not an exhaustive list but the main idea is to accept the idea that nothing can be kept secret anymore and in the church whose founder said the words:
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” – John 3:19-21
The idea is that people who believe in Christ should be the largest advocates of transparency in information and ethics. Our deeds, beliefs and actions should be something that we should want to put on display because they are true and inspired by God. It is actually a sad thing that something like the internet had to get us to head this direction somewhat by force through changing the situation in the world. We should have been leading the charge a long time ago, instead of being dragged along.
In part three, I want to testify from my own life and ministry how I have started to embrace the new transparency as Christian and minister. I hope it will illustrate these points with more concrete examples.