One big reason why Christianity has gotten a bad rap in post-world WWII Europe is that increasingly it began to be seen as hypocritical and disingenuous. Partly, as a result, the churches saw massive losses in the 60s and 70s. Statistics show that in my own country the Netherlands, for instance, the decline has still not come to a halt. I realize that a reduction to a single cause of any historical phenomenon is asking for trouble. But I’m not a historian and my purpose in this article is not to give an exhaustive overview of the decline of Christianity in Europe. Rather, I want to address a similar problem in evangelicalism where the accusation of hypocrisy points to a weird tension between evangelical theology and justice.
Bonhoeffer’s theology is multifaceted. It can be approached from many different sides and applied for different purposes. In part, this is because Bonhoeffer developed such a rich theological narrative, in part, because his theology addressed people in their context, in part, it is because his theology stands under the influence of many, often opposing voices. It is no wonder that there are many interpretations of Bonhoeffer’s theology that often conflict with each other. There is even a [book] out that addresses the problem of the many different Bonhoeffer’s that are paraded as the original in support of this or that theological or ethical stance.
Vanaf het moment dat de moderne wereld van zich liet horen is christelijke theologie in de verdediging geweest. Gaandeweg nam die verdediging steeds meer het karakter aan van crisismanagement. Steeds meer mensen vonden dat God niet incarneert, geen wonderen doet, en geen historische realiteit kan zijn. De bijbelse God werd alsmaar meer terrein ontnomen. De resulterende “God of the gaps” had steeds minder onverklaarbare zaken waar die garant voor kon staan en zo de toevlucht toe kon nemen.
I recently got interviewed by Clint Heacock from the MindShift Podcast about the deconstruction of my evangelical faith. Clint also asked me about the theological process involved and if there was any reconstruction after it all fell apart. I did retain something—or better, found something new—after all. It is called the theology of the cross.
By the way, the theologian I refer to but whose name eludes me (as always) during the interview is Justo L. González.
The following is an excerpt from a chapter that I am contributing to a book about and by evangelicals who fell through the bottom of their faith and deconstructed hard. Except for sharing on social media the following should not be copied or used otherwise. It’s personal and real though there is much more to my story that is in the chapter and not here. But still, enjoy.
The Slippery Slope of Black and White
Given the personal circumstances I found myself in after one year of Seminary, I slowly started dissembling the evangelical bulwark. One beautiful thing with tightly knit systems of thought is that once one piece of it goes broke the whole building disintegrates. Once one piece topples, the whole system becomes a cascading row of dominos. This process can take a couple of years but for those who do not shy away from the challenges and manage to avoid the boomerang effect (the snapping back to the old paradigm upon returning to one’s original community of faith), the collapse is unavoidable.
My friend, Dwaine Sutherland, was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) this weekend in Minnesota. I’ve known Dwaine for some years and from the first moment I met him in the library of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, I realized, by observing his body language and listening to his Southern accent, that he was not your typical Lutheran. Like me, he has a background in evangelicalism. This is the story of his struggle away from double predestination Calvinism toward becoming a Lutheran pastor. Congrats on your ordination Dwaine! May you be a faithful shepherd of God’s flock.
I have opened many sermons, preaching at congregations that had not met me before, with a humorous, “No I am not from Minnesota”. My southern accent does stand out and it is a novelty for some to hear the liturgy done with a Tennessee country accent. So, how did a small-town Tennessee boy end up as a Lutheran Pastor in the Midwest? I get this question quite often.
What To Do When God is Unfaithful
We often talk about human unfaithfulness. Novels become bestsellers partly to the extent their plots involve the right amounts of betrayal, infidelity, and intrigue. Why is this? The answer is that human beings are prone to unfaithfulness even though they know it is a vice rather than a virtue. Unfaithfulness is all around us. Not just in marriages. How often don’t we fail to live up to our friend’s expectations? How often don’t we break our own rules? We disappoint friends, let down colleagues, break promises to our children, etc.. In short, being human is to be unfaithful.
This article is the fourth and final installment of my series on evangelicalism. The central question is whether there is faith after evangelicalism and a theology to support it. Obviously, there is; there are post-evangelicals. If understood purely temporally, there are a lot of people who once were evangelical but are now “post,” i.e. “after.” They’re done. It is also obvious that there are plenty of post-evangelical theologians when we understand the “post” in post-evangelical temporally. I happily call myself a post-evangelical theologian in that sense. I once was able to dig the gig and then I couldn’t and then I didn’t. I became “post.”
A Devotional on the Cross
Imagine a cross. The cross has a vertical pole and a crossbar. It is not hard to imagine the vertical pole representing the dynamic between below and above. Christ was nailed to that cross. He hung suspended between heaven and earth, deserted by the dwellers of both. In Christ reconciled with God, Christians the world over are participants in that vertical dimension. The connection with God has been established. The vertical pole represents the relationship with God. They also have a responsibility in the horizontal.
Today I will tell a little more about what I want with this blog. It is my hope to initiate an impietist tradition. As you can perhaps guess, impietism is something like the opposite of pietism, the well-known movement of personal devotion and sincerity of faith within 18th century Lutheranism. In truth, the difference is actually more subtle, since the Pietists got a couple things right. My impietism is intended for the degenerate, for those who feel like they are un-born-again. So let’s have a little impietist talk.