Christians Disconnected From Outsiders (152)

In this episode Gregg discusses comments made in the Untangling Christianity Facebook Group regarding comments that he made in episode #149.  Specifically, a listener is advocating against Gregg’s view and is stating that Christians are seeking to engage with outsiders and are, generally, doing a good job at it.

Gregg introduces the discussion by noting the difference between framing a matter “positively” (or according the potential gains associated with the program) versus framing a matter “negatively” (or according to the existing problems that need to be overcome).

He poses a preliminary questions: How do we (Christians) approach something familiar so that we can see it in a fresh way?  In other words, are we right to Christians like the “fish” that cannot see the water that surrounds it.  Yet Gregg believes that this analogy does not hold because no one is every in only a single cultural context.  On the other hand, it seems that the more likely notion typically at play for Christians is the belief that they are to be “separate from the world,” which results in what Gregg sees as a “disconnect” Christians and outsiders.

To this end, Gregg argues that the best way to measure how well Christians are relating with non-Christians on their terms is to ask the non-Christians!  Yet it is rare for Christians to have sustained conversations with non-Christians (rather than estimating the effectiveness of our programs for “seekers,” etc.).  Stated differently, there is a need for Christians actively to be seeking feedback from others.

Otherwise, Christians risk applying their own categories, understandings, and views to outsiders (and thus not just completely misunderstanding the outsiders but being perceived as “out of touch” and even “disconnected with real life” by such individuals).  So this also means that Christians need to stop insisting that non-Christians think / believe like Christians in order to understand that Christianity is true.  Yet no self-respecting person would do this.  Instead, Christians want to present how Christianity is rational, which means approaching non-Christians on their terms.  This means asking ourselves (and non-Christians!) “What’s in it for them” to attend a Christian event, come to a church service, etc.

Another notion that Gregg finds to be problematic is the Christian view that, if they don’t have all of the answers, they have all of the answers that count.  Gregg finds this simply to be untrue: there is a great deal of brokenness in Christian circles.  Further, there is often both a confusion of God’s notion of “right community” and the notions of such that are popular among Christians, and there is confusion about the role of the Holy Spirit such that, for many Christians, the Holy Spirit can be counted on to improve their abilities in all areas of life (and thus their sense of their own responsibility often seems greatly reduced).

In terms of churches needing to be places that outsiders find to be relevant and “open” to outsiders from their perspectives (or from an Integration Project perspective, allowing Christianity to be presented in an “embraceable” way), Gregg advocates that churches are not first to be places of worship but places where love and truth are promoted and embodied in a manner that creates “sufficient” conditions for most people, most of the time, to relate rightly with God, with themselves, with others and with the world around them.

So by orienting themselves toward “Christian approachability,” a main focus of Christian gatherings would be to have discussions about things that participants believe to be meaningful and significant in real life.  Indeed, Gregg sees the only reason to continue with “church as it has always been done” is if Christians believe that the massive decline in church attendance and Christian credibility is due to those outside of the church.  Yet Gregg disagrees: there is massive evidence to show that

Further, part of the reason for both of these declines is an overemphasis by Christians on a) salvation (over creation) and b) biblical knowledge (over experience and living in the world).

Ultimately, Gregg views most Christian attitudes toward outsiders to be arrogant and ethnocentric, with Christians believing that “they have the goods” and so their job is “to speak” (and that they are only to listen to outsiders long enough for the non-Christian to feel comfortable in hearing a presentation of the Gospel).

Excellence and Inclusivity (151)

In this episode Gregg talks about the necessity for Christians to be pursuing excellence and the conditions for inclusivity within Christian communities.

He does so by drawing on his experience of moving from a small town is South-Central Alberta to Canmore Alberta, 15 minutes from Banff National Park, and the differences in employment experience that his spouse has had in their previous location versus in the town of Banff, where she is currently employed.

Gregg explains how the atmosphere in his new town is one where everyone seems excited and pleased to be there, and as a consequence seem eager to welcome new comers and share what they value about living in this place.  By contrast, in his previous town people seemed mostly just to “find themselves there” and to be confined to small thinking and even a smallness of being.

The comparison is made between Christian churches: communities are open to outsiders and generally “inclusive” when people value their environment because they delight in the opportunities that it offers–they value the selves that they are becoming through being connected with this community or church.  By contrast, Christian communities become “exclusive (and thus cliquey or club-like in mentality) when they find themselves with limited goals, aspirations, and options and the fear and resentment that this breeds of those who are outside of this restricted approach to life.

Gregg also notes the sharp contrast between the employment opportunity his spouse was offered in Banff, where the focus is achieving excellence, versus previous employment opportunities in their former town (which seemed very much to focus on mediocrity).

Further, he argues that excellence is not only a valuable orientation but that to be a Christian yet not  to pursue excellence in any given area is to undercut one’s ability to relate rightly with God!  Similarly, the gains made through the pursuit of excellence in one area will properly set our expectations–and create synergies–for the pursuit of excellence in other areas.

In this way, a commitment to excellence and seeking environments that offer valuable opportunities for self-development (and so create openness) are lifestyles: they require our full attention and life-long dedication.  Gregg links these lifestyles with the aims of the Integration Project and suggests 5 tips that will help to promote excellence (over mediocrity) and inclusivity (over exclusivity):

  1. Seek dialogue,
  2. Beware of binaries,
  3. Examine concepts / develop a “conceptual toolbox,”
  4. Listen for prevalent questions,
  5. Identify core values

He describes the Integration Project as a way of being most human by being in right relationship with God, with oneself, and with others.  By corollary then, he notes that excellence should be a hallmark both of rich humanity and of right humanity.

What Do You Deserve? (150)

In this episode John and Gregg re-connect to discuss the idea of whether we “deserve” certain things. John takes this idea from the Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (upon which John has also podcasted).

John is intrigued by the notion of whether we “deserve” certain things and how we would know. John notes that the typical Christian answer to the question of “What do we deserve?” is often along the lines of, “We deserve nothing but God’s judgement and punishment because of sin” (i.e., hell). John also notes the American notion of “perusing happiness” how it often carries the air of something people think they “deserve.”

Gregg wonders: what word or words could we substitute for the word “deserve,” to help clarify its sense? John substitutes “needed.” Gregg offers two different options. First, “mandated” (in the sense that one is mandated or destined to have goodness and happiness). Second, “eligible” (in the sense of being eligible or allowed to have goodness and happiness). Gregg sees this whole notion as deeply related to the degree of control that one has (or thinks that one should have) over one’s life.
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Feeling Dirty at Church (149)

In this episode Gregg goes further regarding the Integration Project.

He begins by expressing doubt that “seekers” actually exist, arguing that this is a fictional category of people created by Christians.  Instead, Gregg views those people who appear most open to Christianity as perhaps a) those with past exposure but who have not been marginalized by Christianity, b) those who have ulterior motives for attending Christian events (such as being attracted to / in a relationship with someone who is Christian).  In other words, these people are typically better identified as members of a larger group such as agnostics or atheists, but for various reasons are willing to be engage with Christianity in certain ways / at certain points in their lives.

Next, Gregg draws some distinctions between the aims of church, typically, and the aims of the Integration Project.  He sees a significant disjunction in that churches are aimed at and “for” Christians, yet Christianity claims to be relevant and necessary to everyone.  One indication of this disjunction is that churches rarely if ever consider how outsiders will quantify the value to them of a given church, Christian organization, etc.
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Considering Love and Truth (148)

In this episode, Gregg takes the discussion of the previous few episodes (on Coaching versus Christianity) as a point of departure to begin a new, solo podcasting series that focuses on “love and truth in Christianity.”

Gregg explains the importance of this  focus using the tagline of the Untangling Christianity podcast: “Defusing destructive ideologies, unsnarling confused ideas, considering love and truth in Christianity.”  Specifically, John and Gregg have spent considerable time over the past 140+ episodes clearing away a variety of destructive perspectives and straightening a variety of confused ideas.

Comparing the perspectives associated with evangelical Christianity to a table that is full to over-flowing, Gregg notes that the process of engaging with these destructive ideologies and confused ideas has been to “clear space” at this table in order for something that is new and different to be place upon it, ready for consideration.

So Gregg introduces the Integration Project, which aims at furthering human flourishing by empowering participants to recognize, pursue, acquire and re-distribute two core human needs: love and truth / truth and love.  The Integration Project (or IP) positions these two needs as co-central components within a complimentary opposition (or a productive tension).
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