John and Gregg begin this episode by discussing an article from Relevant Magazine, entitled “3 Youth Group Lessons I’ve Had to Unlearn,” by Addie Zierman.
Gregg explains that the article expresses a similar perspective to the one that he has adopted in his discussion with Tommi, on the matter of theory versus practice. Specifically, Tommi has charged that Gregg seems to be focused more on theory than on practice, yet Gregg disagrees. Instead he believes that we need to approach practice through theory due to certain orientations within evangelical Christianity.
Gregg highlights how the article suggests that evangelical Christians have actually siloed themselves from others because they have been persuaded to adopt an overly defensive pose, much a Gregg has been highlighting in his series of blog posts about churches that adopt “boundary-focused” approaches to outsiders. Gregg’s point is that the author’s view (that Christians are overly defensive) and that of her church / youth pastor (that Christians will be persecuted and must be ready to give reasons for their beliefs) represent two practical orientations that are not only opposed to each other but stalemated, and that this stalemate can only be overcome by appealing to theory.
Gregg begins this theoretical examination by arguing that real issue for Christians in the Western world today is not to defend God’s truth / Christian ideals and values, but is to show a population that largely disregards and dismisses Christianity that Christianity is in fact relevant! So Christians need to understand that by being primed to be defensive they simply are not recognizing that many non-Christian don’t have a beef with Christianity, they simply view it as “stupid and useless.”
As John notes, this defensive assumption can become a “blind spot” that will make it all the more difficult to perceive matters correctly. Gregg agrees and believes that, as Christians continue to view non-Christians according to Christian categories, so these same Christians will continue to misfire in their conversations with non-Christians, trying to draw out “hidden” agendas, fears, or desires that simply are not there.
John thinks that by making assumptions about who non-Christians are, what they value, and where they are coming from that may well be off base, this will likely result in making them feel like objects (and so alienating them). Gregg agrees: this is a “no win” situation and speculates that any movement that a non-Christian may make toward Christianity on the basis of such a presentation may actually indicate dysfunction on the part of that person!
Gregg summarizes his position by presenting a mock discussion between the author, Addie Zierman, and her former youth pastor.
Addie may tell the youth pastor (for the reasons she notes in her article) that the defensive posture that she was trained to adopt is problematic and needs to be changed. However, the youth pastor may point to Bible verses that support this practice and, while being glad that Addie did not experience overt persecution, estimate that Addie’s experience was an exception. What to do? Which approach is best?
Gregg argues that one can only adjudicate between such perspectives by closely examining the theories that under-gird both of them. This is also Gregg’s overall approach in relating Christianity and real life: this integration and interrelation of theory and practice is essential both to a) explaining the validity of Christianity and b) demonstrating how / why it “has traction” in the real world.
Further, Gregg finds that he must start with theory rather than practice because many Christian churches have embraced misunderstandings and misformulations on the level of theory, as have thus taught Christians to adopt flawed practices as a result. So these practices are most easily highlighted and corrected through an examination and reformulation of their underlying theories.