Author Archives: Gregg Monteith

Revamping Untangling Christianity (170)

“. . . in key ways, the evangelical church is neither able to help those inside become truly “Christ-like” nor is it able effectively to persuade those outside that “Christ-likeness” is a valuable or viable way of being.  To put it in Christian terms, in my view the evangelical church essentially fails at both discipleship and the great commission.”

Last episode, #169, I made this is a massive statement.  It’s a bombshell, really.  To clarify my position, I defined this brokenness as “dysfunction” and then presented one example of this dysfunction, that being the inability and / or unwillingness of church leaders to accept challenge, critique, or even engage in productive dialogue with those who hold dissenting views.

So why am I repeating points that I made in the previous episode?

I am repeating these points because it may appear that my views are in conflict with each other, such that this fairly all-encompassing critique of evangelical Christianity seems to contradict my strong affirmation of the value of Christianity in general, which has been a main focus of the podcast.  Particularly, my comments of last episode are far bleaker and more negative than any that I have offered on the podcast to this point.

On the one hand this is due to the format that the podcast has taken, where John Poelstra and I began first by reviewing several books written by evangelicals and following this our later podcasts maintained a rather discussional format, with John typically raising issues or bringing questions upon which I offered commentary and perspective.

And of course, this format also helped our discussions remain in keeping with the podcast’s tagline: we examined (and I offered perspectives to defuse) “destructive ideologies” and to unsnarl “confused ideas” within Christian belief and practice, and we considered Christianity from a perspective where love and truth, truth and love are co-central.

So my goal in repeating the key points of last episode is to highlight a new focus for the podcast, one that began last episode and will become increasingly prevalent as I go on.  This new focus is to clarify the origins of the fundamental flaws in evangelical Christianity (and the entrenched dysfunction that results)—in other words, to present “the problem” as fully and convincingly as possible—and to present, in response, the solutions that I believe are necessary to overcome (and eliminate) the sources of these flaws (and their outworking, as systemic dysfunction).

Why Evangelicalism Fails (169)

The intention of this episode, the fifth episode on the Foundations of Flourishing curriculum 1, was for it to be a “round-up” of the previous four podcasts with a goal of highlighting the most important or perhaps under-exposed aspects of the first half of the curriculum that they present.

However, over the course of producing this series of podcasts and considering the aims and focus areas of the “Foundation of Flourishing” program, I have come to understand that there is a larger issue that needs to be presented as part of presenting this “First Steps” curriculum, which is the initial curriculum of the “Foundations” program.

Let me begin by explaining that the “Foundations of Flourishing” program—and the entire Integration Project of which it is a part—is not primarily an educational effort.  In other words, it is not mainly aimed at providing information or at teaching techniques or strategies.  Instead, it is above all a response to a problem—to what I see as a major and critical problem within evangelical Christianity.

To put it simply, the Integration Project (and the “Foundations of Flourishing” curriculums) are not designed to make what is currently a “good thing” great or even to make an acceptable thing better.  They are instead designed to make an essentially dysfunctional thing functional—to make something that is broken actually work.

Now it may take a moment or two for the full implication of what I am saying here to sink in.  I am actually saying that evangelical Christianity is not simply in need of some improvement “here” or “there.”  I am saying that it is fundamentally broken.  I am of the opinion, in other words, that the evangelical church by and large cannot carry out its role as either imaging Christ or as offering a viable and valuable embodiment of Christianity.

So in key ways the evangelical church is neither able to help those inside become truly “Christ-like” nor is it able effectively to persuade outsiders, at least based on its current presentation of such, that “Christ-likeness” is a valuable or viable way of being.  To use Christian terminology, in my view the evangelical church patently fails at both discipleship and the great commission.

Foundations 4: Communication is Key (168)

This episode features content from module four of the “First Steps” curriculum, entitled: “Dialogue Skills: listening gently, speaking honestly.”

Module four address a key skill for Christians, yet one this is mostly overlooked.  Specifically, as a religion eager to communicate its beliefs to outsiders—many of which are unreceptive and even hostile to these beliefs—it is difficult to overstate the importance of good communication skills for Christians and the Christian church.  So I find it not simply ironic but baffling that Christians pay so so little attention to communication, to the point that I have never heard of a church or Christian organization requiring members to learn communication skills.

This module, then, focuses on “interest-based” communication skills.

Now before I begin I want to be very clear: the purpose of learning such communication skills is not for Christians to debate better, or win more arguments, with non-Christians.  Nor is the point of this module to provide tactics and techniques to help Christians be more persuasive in presenting Christianity to outsiders.  Instead, the point of this module—and the main value of learning interest-based communication skills—is to develop a fuller understanding of a) the other person and her views on a certain topic, b) of myself and my views on the topic, and c) of the actual topic under discussion.

Indeed, the orientation underlying the interest-based communication presented in this module is not an orientation aiming to defeat the other party’s views or necessarily reveal the weaknesses in those views.  That orientation only listens long enough to form a counter-argument, and so it only hears the points that are disagreed with or that seem problematic. By contrast, the orientation promoted here begins with listening openly and fully (but includes speaking gently and, sometimes, critically). This orientation does not aim to undercut or disprove the other position but seeks to understand it and uncover its truth strengths.

To do this, this module introduces the complimentary opposition between affirmation and critique.  In other words, participants learn to affirm others and the value of their views and develop the skills to offer critical responses to those views, yet to do so is a manner that opposes some of the content under discussion rather disparages some individual within the discussion.

This episode close out with a discussion with John Poelstra. More about the different levels of listening John refers to are found in his podcast titled What is Good Listening?

Foundations 3: Inventory-taking (167)

This is the third in a series of eight to ten episodes explaining the first curriculum (called “First Steps”) in the Foundations of Flourishing teaching program.

In this episode Gregg focuses on the double-task of understanding, or “inventorying,” personal beliefs and then assessing how much one values these beliefs (and why).  At first glance “inventory taking” may seem like a simple and straightforward matter for Christians: by definition, a Christian is someone who believe the basic tenets of Christianity.

Yet in Gregg’s experience generic definitions actually prove to be more of an obstacle than an aid.  In other words, the purpose of inventory-taking is to understand more clearly what one believes, one’s personal view or “slant” on these beliefs, and where one’s beliefs comes from. As such, a crucial factor for inventory-taking is the notion of ownership, or the sense that a given belief or viewpoint is one that corresponds to my “core values.”  We can say that we “own” a belief if it takes no or low outside impetus for us to maintain and promote it.  In other words, beliefs that I own are beliefs that I intrinsically want to act upon (even if I am not consist or always successful in doing so).

Inventory-taking also includes the related notion of understanding that our beliefs have an origin, even if there might be multiple points of origin for any given belief. The point is that understanding more about where our beliefs come from helps us evaluate why we hold and value our beliefs as we do.

In the realm of inventory-taking and beliefs, John shares the process he went through to enumerate his own beliefs and encourages people to do the same. You can find the list he created at johnpoelstra.com/beliefs.

Foundations 2: Understanding Fear (166)

This is the second in a series of eight to ten episodes explaining the first curriculum (called “First Steps”) in the Foundations of Flourishing teaching program.

After last episode’s focus on the three negative elements that typically afflict evangelical churches (Legalism, Fear, Ignorance), here Gregg examines fear as the principal element that links legalism and ignorance.