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Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype? In other words, is your style an anti-style?

I like beards.

And, as I’ve mentioned before, I home-brewed before it was trendy to do so.

That’s about where I part ways with the hipster movement- that, and being a tail-end Gen Xer, I’m too old for the movement.

Take a look at seminary campuses, however, and you will see the hipster’s intentionally cultivated look of antiquation everywhere. It might lead you to conclude the trend is but a form of Christian subterfuge.

And yet….and yet…perhaps at root there’s something about hipsterism that’s deeply at odds with the Christian faith.

Consider the argument made in the NY Times by Christy Wampole:

The irony of the Hipster is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

One of the points I like to make to couples preparing for their wedding is that marriage is a means of grace precisely because it forces us into a relationship of mutual vulnerability. Physical nakedness isn’t the only kind of nakedness required by marriage. There’s an emotional nakedness too.

And, in this way, I think marriage points out a deeper, more fundamental truth about what it means to be a Christian; namely, just as Jesus makes himself completely vulnerable to the Father and follows his path in faithfulness, we demonstrate our faith by our willingness to be vulnerable, genuine, real and authentic to others.

If this so then there’s something incongruent between following Jesus and following an intentionally defensive posture. 

Of course, maybe this speculation hits home for me because, while fashion may not be my thing, I am ironic to the core. What Wampole says about herself could easily be my own confession:

I find it difficult to give sincere gifts. Instead, I often give what in the past would have been accepted only at a White Elephant gift exchange: a kitschy painting from a thrift store, a coffee mug with flashy images of “Texas, the Lone Star State,” plastic Mexican wrestler figures. Good for a chuckle in the moment, but worth little in the long term. Something about the responsibility of choosing a personal, meaningful gift for a friend feels too intimate, too momentous. I somehow cannot bear the thought of a friend disliking a gift I’d chosen with sincerity. The simple act of noticing my self-defensive behavior has made me think deeply about how potentially toxic ironic posturing could be.

Realizing I’m guilty as charged, I wonder if it’s not, after all, a bad thing that, as my 6 year old son likes to point out with glee, it only takes a 20 second trailer of The Blind Side (‘You threaten my son, you threaten me’) to get me to weeping like a baby. Seriously. 

I’ve always been embarrassed by falling prey to such a saccharine movie but now I wonder if it might not be good news.

Here’s the full article by Wampole.

 

And are United Methodists now reaping the bitter fruit of having done so a century ago?

I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s new book, Center Church, the past week. In it, Keller gives much attention to the task/question of contextualization; that is, how we do communicate our message to the given context in which we live.

Keller notes that it’s not really a question of whether or not we should contextualize.

We can’t avoid contextualization unless we’re willing to avoid communication altogether. Every time we paraphrase a scripture passage, every time we extrapolate a point or a meaning, every time we settle upon what we think is the ‘plain sense’ of scripture we’re contextualizing BECAUSE, after all, we’re also a part of the culture and formed by it in ways we don’t always know.

Just ask Harrison Ford in Witness, Christians can’t avoid being in the world and  we never really cease to be of the world either. 

Preaching, then, is just a simpler term for contextualization.

So the question isn’t if we should translate the Gospel to culture but how.

Keller argues that Mainline (liberal) Christianity in the early 20th century sought to make Christianity palatable to the modern world by redefining orthodox Christian doctrine in naturalistic terms– terms stripped of a reliance upon revelation and the supernatural.

 The result was a Christianity redefined thus:

The Bible is filled with divine wisdom, but this doesn’t mean it’s inerrant. It’s a human document containing errors and contradictions. 

 Jesus is the Son of God but this doesn’t mean he was preexistent or divine. He was instead a great man infused with God’s Spirit. 

Jesus’ death is not a cosmic even that propitiates God’s wrath at Sin. It’s an example of sacrificial love that changes us by moving our hearts to follow his example. 

 Becoming a Christian, then, doesn’t entail the supernatural act of new birth (conversion prompted by grace). It means to follow the example of Jesus, follow the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. 

You can agree or not with Keller’s point of view, but there’s no question the breakdown above quite simply IS the dominant articulation of Christianity among most United Methodist (and other mainline traditions) churches and clergy.

This is what makes most mainline Christians ‘liberal’ even if they think of themselves as conservative politically.

Here’s Keller contention:

You can’t make such adaptations to what scripture is, who Jesus is, what the Cross does and how you become a Christian without creating a religion that is entirely new and alien to Christianity. 

The Mainline/Liberal effort to reconcile Christianity to the modern world of the 20th century (the naturalistic world), Keller says, results not in an adaptation of Christianity but in an entirely new religion that contradicts orthodox Christianity.

Even if you would quibble with Keller’s characterization, his next question remains TNT:

By adapting the faith to the norms of the ‘modern early 20th century world’ did Mainline/Liberal Christianity back the wrong horse?

Mainline Christians a century ago assumed that what was ‘modern’ for them would remain so- that those who clung to a revelation-based, supernatural understanding of the faith would be judged to be on the wrong side of history.

Keller says this was a category mistake.

Late modernity and postmodernity, he notes, has rejected modernism’s confidence that science and reason can ultimately answer all our important questions and that technology can solve all our problems.

In other words, 100 years removed from Methodism’s capitulation to culture, that culture has shifted out from under the Church. 

In other words, Mainline Christianity wedded itself to what is now a fading, obsolete view.

And since adapting its faith claims to the culture a century ago, Mainline Christianity has experienced steep decline; meanwhile, Pentecostalism (the least modern- Enlightenment based- form of Christianity) and Eastern Orthodox Christianity have grown exponentially in the past hundred years.

So its a cautionary tale.

The how of contextualization should refer more to our mode of communication than to the content of our confession.

The Least Segregated Hour(s)?

Jason Micheli —  September 3, 2012 — 1 Comment

The Least Segregated Hour(s)?

The wife and I took the boys to see Premium Rush, a pretty tight B chase movie about a fixed-gear bicycle deliveryman. We see a lot of movies especially in the summer. This summer we’ve seen the Avengers several times, the Spiderman reboot, Batman and, gosh, I don’t want else.

Maybe because it’s political convention season or maybe jogging through the neighborhood or driving through the church parking lot and seeing the competing signs and bumper stickers has gotten my attention, but watching Premium Rush I found myself remembering and resonating with this article from the NY Times from a few weeks ago.

Sitting in the dark with several hundred strangers watching a fictional cyclist zip through Manhattan, I became acutely aware that all of us there in the theater quite possibly had nothing in common other than our love of film, our desire for escape, our longing to laugh or smile or be distracted by another’s life.

In our dark sanctuary, our political, partisan opinions mattered not at all. And, realizing that, I realized how, increasingly, the same cannot be said for churches. The movie house may be the least segregated, most politically diverse outlet left in the culture. The same is not true of Christian churches.

Increasingly, congregations and denominations are becoming monochromatic in terms of their partisan affiliations. The days are gone when Christians of one party regarded the Christians of the other party as brothers and sisters in a Body which demanded a more ultimate loyalty. It should not be the case that Marvel superheroes elicit greater non-partisanship than Jesus. That Christians have allowed that to happen may be sign, I fear, of where or in whom we actually put our faith and devotion.