Author Archives: Gregg Monteith

Meeting Non-Christians Where They Are At (154)

In this episode Gregg continues his review of—and commentary on—a conversation that took place in the Untangling Christianity Facebook group.  NB: All comments have been quoted (and names mentioned) with permission.

As with the first podcast in this series, this podcast is likely to move faster be “denser” than most, and so re-listening to sections may be helpful.

The basic topic under discussion is whether Christians actually engage with non-Christians well (that is, in a way that is “on their terms” and that respects the views and understandings of non-Christians).  In particular, Gregg sees the role of interpretation as the overarching concern, as well as the necessity for life and faith to be fully and duly integrated.

So Gregg comments that “Hence my emphasis in the Integration Project on “real life” and insisting that the only Christianity that makes sense and that is worth holding is one where faith and life are related in a way that is truly and appropriately reciprocal.  In other words, where life informs faith just as faith informs life.  And where we read (or understand) the Bible in light of the world and read (or understand) the world in light of the Bible.  Theologically, this is about interpreting the most accurate relationship between salvation and creation—the one that best reflects both biblical and “real world” information sources by doing justice to both, in their own contexts and through their interaction.  And here I cite my mentor’s formulation: ‘creation frames salvation, salvation refigures creation’.”

One of the clearest indicators of the impact of truthfulness of Christianity and of God’s love upon us as Christians is our willingness to engage with the outsider on equal terms.  Particularly, this means listening to other party’s perspective well enough to be able to repeat it back to them to their satisfaction and ask questions that engage them about their views!

Further, this means figuring out the parts of my views that are problematic  (and how: irrational, unloving, excessive, etc.) to others.  This is done by:

  1. Active listening.
  2. Holding their beliefs to be as valuable as my own.
  3. Drawing out the real strength in their arguments.
  4. Wanting to learn as much as I can from whomever I am speaking with or listening to.

The above dispositions and skills manifest in our conversations by the ability (and sensitivity) of Christians to ask productive questions.  Here are some examples of productive questions (questions that, ironically, Gregg never hears Christians ask of non-Christians):

  1. If there was one thing that you wish that Christians knew or understood better about non-Christians, or you wish that I understood about you and your perspective, what would that be?
  2. If you could change one thing about Christianity, what would that one thing be?
  3. What about that thing is important to you / what about it needs changing?
  4. If you have a positive thought about God or the idea of a divine being, what the most positive thought that you often have?
  5. If you have negative thoughts about God or the idea of a divine being, what is the most negative thought that you often have?
  6. What do you believe a constructive, valuable conversation about personal beliefs would look like?

Gregg finishes by noting the primacy of the “greatest commandment” and how its result is human happiness (which both follows Augustine’s thinking in De Beata Vita and is the focus of the Integration Project, where such happiness is the result of becoming “fully functioning” or becoming my “best self” through loving God entirely, loving myself rightly, and loving others likewise).  Yet he explains that many Christians have been taught that their “chief aim” is something different, namely “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

The next podcast in this series examines the Westminster Confession Shorter Catechism Article #1, where Gregg argues for a subtle but important difference between focusing on happiness (as the result of becoming “fully functioning” or becoming my “best self”), which occurs as a result of being in right relationship with God, with myself, with others and with my world and aiming “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” as one’s top priority.

Understanding Non-Christians Starts With Them (153)

In this episode Gregg summarizes–and responds to–an interesting conversation that took place in the Untangling Christianity Facebook group in mid-September.   NB: all comments have been quoted (and names mentioned) with permission.

Gregg begins by indicating that this podcast is likely to move faster be “denser” than most, and so re-listening to sections may be necessary.

The basic topic under discussion is whether Christians actually engage with non-Christians well (that is, in a way that is “on their terms” and that respects the views and understandings of non-Christians).

After reading portions of his interaction with Amy, Gregg reads the main parts of an exchange between Amy and Anna. Gregg comments on a number of aspects of the conversation.  Particularly, he remarks on the need for such conversations to be sustained in order for participants to gain deeper insights and greater clarity (“sustained” in terms of engaging with a variety of related sub-topics that contribute to the assumptions held by many Christians regarding the main topic, and clarifying these assumptions and / or debunking false understandings, as necessary).

This podcast represents the first in a series of three that summarize–and respond to–this conversation in the Untangling Christianity Facebook group.

 

 

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.
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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.
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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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