Author Archives: Gregg Monteith

Going to the Next Level (147)

In this episode John and Gregg round-out their “coaching versus Christianity” discussion.  Gregg begins by affirming his perspective that it is both normal and potentially helpful to find oneself more deeply engaged or compelled by pursuits other than Christianity.

John wonders: what core questions could help listeners ask themselves to evaluate theses types of situations?

In response, Gregg advocates “bracketing out” any guilt that one may feel about the matter, instead ask oneself: What do you value about this other activity? What keeps you coming back to this other activity?  In short, ask What is it about who you are and about the nature of this this other activity that forms a “vital connection”?

John wonders where Gregg has most experienced this.  Gregg explains that it was becoming and living as an agnostic that provided him some of the most profound insights about himself and about the faith that he had been living before (and had rejected because it was unliveable).  However, Gregg notes the significant difficulty with this idea: few Christians could seriously value an activity or orientation that results in the rejection of Christianity.

In this sense, Gregg is not so much suggesting that Christian listeners reject their Christianity but is asking all listeners to be really focused on truth and really focused on love.  Further, Gregg is asking listeners to be rigorous and deeply honest in evaluating how well Christianity—as the framework that is supposed to be the most effective in invigorating and perpetuating love and truth—in really working out for them?

So Gregg notes that the same orientation that led him to agnosticism (i.e., not wanting to believe a lie and instead wanting to believe what is most truthful) eventually, through the context of new understandings and new experiences, led ‘back’ to a new and different Christianity.  Thus Gregg sees similarities between coaching and agnosticism: it has a different theory (and approaches matters from a different perspective) than Christianity.

Yet this is not an attempt to harmonize coaching and Christianity, but rather to allow what is integral to both to “come out” in order that certain inputs from coaching can inform Christian belief and practice and vice versa.  Gregg also contrasts this with the typical Christian way of engaging with non-Christian perspectives, which is “to start with Christianity” in order effectively to Christianize the new perspective—to make a “Christian version” of coaching, for example.

Instead Gregg advocates starting with the other perspective in order to allow its full content and real strengths to be most evident (and then allow this content and strength to positively impact Christianity).  By leveraging the strengths of this other perspectives Christians may be able to overcome a narrower—and less helpful—way of engaging with their faith and with the world, such as Gregg saw when facilitating the Sunday morning class at his church.

So Gregg recommends holding one’s Christian views and the contrasting perspective (for instance, coaching) in tension and taking a much more indirect approach to one’s faith when doing so.  In other words, asking questions about the general understandings or larger content of Christianity rather than becoming pre-occupied with smaller, more isolated notions (such as using individual verses or a single biblical passage to “trump” coaching rather than comparing coaching with the larger understandings of the whole of Christian Scripture).

John notes the power of understanding our values.  Values can be a huge informer into our identity, and working with values requires removing judgement.  Values are the things that make us fell most alive and when violated (or in opposition to our values) make us the angriest.  They are an intrinsic part of us and usually don’t change very much.  So for John clarity and the absence of chaos are major values, and so he experienced dissonance when looking for that clarity in Christianity.

John and Gregg also discuss Gregg’s new Integration Project: a set of services for churches and Christian organizations designed to, as the per the podcast’s tagline, “defuse destructive ideologies, unsnarl confused ideas, and consider love and truth in Christianity.”  Gregg is especially focused on presenting love and truth in the context of Christian formation.  Further, Gregg explains a new, “in lieu of” church global program called Life & Faith.  So if church is mostly for Christians, Life & Faith is simply for people.

Thus the Integration Project integrates life and faith and incorporates love and truth, and it comprises a curriculum, a series of seminars, a mentorship program and the global program, Life & Faith.  Gregg is now actively promoting the Integration Project and seeking to provide his services in facilitating this project in a variety of contexts.

John and Gregg close the episode by John explaining that he will be taking a step back from the podcast as he finishes his coaching certification and considers some new options for the near future, while Gregg embarks on some solo efforts, presenting and explaining the Integration Project on the podcast.

 

Dinosaurs and Drumheller (146)

In this episode John and Gregg record the podcast together for the first time in person in Drumheller, Alberta. In it they discuss their recent trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the world’s preeminent dinosaur museums, that is located in Drumheller.

John explains how, while at the museum, he was struck by the amount of time and dedication that the paleontologist had put into their work. Gregg agrees, and believes that the same type of clear, direct and convincing presentation that the museum offered about dinosaurs is exactly what the church’s presentation of Christianity should be like.

Gregg emphasizes that he is not suggesting that the church should be treating God as a paleontologist might treat a fossil, because fossils are data to be assessed through examination while God is an entity to be know through relationship and objective sources (such as the biblical text but also through the natural and human sciences, and real world interactions). Thus the relational nature of Christianity differentiates it from the task of paleontology, but the careful approach and clear, convincing presentation should be

John was also struck by how his former Christian views (of cynicism toward evolution) were aroused as he walked through the museum. For example, how do they know that a certain fossil is 200 million years old? Gregg suggests that, with this “museum model,” he could imagine that resources (such as experts in a given field) can be accessed to offer clear, sensible and convincing explanations for these sorts of estimates.

Gregg again insists that the church should offer similarly compelling, thorough, and even-keeled explanations such as would allow outsiders to engage productively with Christianity rather than viewing it as intellectually bankrupt or irrelevant. However, the type of expertise that the church needs should not be concentrated in a few individuals but should be spread throughout the body of Christians.

Returning to the question of evolution, Gregg notes that the typical evangelical starting place—starting with God—is problematic (and indeed, impossible). Further, “starting” with the Bible (even as an “artificial” starting place) risks preferencing the Bible in unwarranted ways. So the museum’s fossils vastly pre-date the writing of the Bible, yet many evangelicals attempt to use the Bible for the purpose of disproving evolution, something for which Gregg sees no basis or intention.

Gregg suggests that evangelicals should use visits to places like this museum as experiments to understand how better to listen to, and so relate with, non-Christians. Further, Gregg explains how he sees atheism as, at its core, a “truth-seeking enterprise.” Gregg thus sees this as good reason for taking atheistic views seriously.

John relates a past experience of someone strongly holding to the importance of the “six literal days of creation” (as described in the Bible) and their belief that it was foundational to believing all of the Bible.  John sees this as largely unimportant.

Gregg both agrees and disagrees. He agrees that, on the one hand, one may legitimately become a Christian regardless of holding to six day creationism or theistic evolution. Yet on the other hand Gregg disagrees: insofar as perspectives such as evolution have been well documented and evidenced (if not proven) by information sources outside of the Bible then Christians are deeply remiss if they do not engage with and embrace them. And this is not only for the sake of maintaining the credibility of Christianity with non-Christians but also for the sake of one’s own intellectual integrity.

Further, insofar as the evidence about the physical world is truthful, this same evidence is able to act as a predictor and indicator of human origins (Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, citing pages 24 and 27). On this basis Gregg advocates using these and other understandings derived from the physical world—from the created order—as arbiters between competing (and seemingly stalemated) theologies!

In other words, there is a necessary and productive relationship between creation and salvation, and truthful knowledge within one realm can act as yardstick for evaluating truthfulness in the other.

Correction: in discussing Your Inner Fish Gregg mentioned that the fossil of Tiktaalik was found on Baffin Island. It was in fact found on Ellesmere Island.

Ownership, Coaching and Christianity (145)

In this episode John and Gregg return to John’s positive engagement with coaching and his unfulfilling engagement with Christianity.

Gregg’s hunch is that John’s situation offers an example that is very applicable for many listeners, in that the phenomena of finding one’s faith to be lackluster in comparison with other activities or pursuits seems not only common but normal. Thus the fitting response is one of “investigation,” in order to gain understanding (rather than berating oneself or feeling guilty for one’s current reality). Out of this better understanding one may then be able to leverage valuable insights in other areas that can profitably be applied to one’s faith.

Thus Gregg opens with the notion that Christianity—or at least one’s experience of it—is never “great all the time.” Indeed, he argues that this is a destructive ideology. Questioning John, Gregg wonders what basic aspects of coaching work for John, and how / what about these same aspects don’t work for John when it comes to Christianity.

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Coaching and Christianity (144)

This episode continues John and Gregg’s conversation about John’s excitement around coaching and lack of enthusiasm for Christianity. Yet Gregg proposes that this may actually offer positive orientation for John’s engagement with Christianity.

Gregg believes that there are many Christians in a similar position to John, such that they are excited and enthused more by baseball, their hobbies, their work or their volunteering than by their engagement with God or the Bible. Much like their discussion of “biblical illiteracy” in episode #54, Gregg believes that John’s lack of enthusiasm for Christianity is not a problem but may be the symptom of some other issue.

To begin with, John explains that he both coaches others and is coached himself. Gregg wonders: what is the “value proposition” for John in coaching?

John explains that the core tenet of the “co-active coaching” model is personal transformation. In this way coaches are much more hands-off than, for example, accountability partners or personal trainers. Thus coaching aims are empowering clients to learn more about themselves en route to becoming the “best versions of themselves.”

John acknowledges that Gregg sees personal transformation as core to the Christian faith, yet John experiences coaching to be much more effective in this regard than Christianity!

To clarify the coach’s role John explains that, unlike a consultant who offers advice, the coach offers clarity, guidance, structure and techniques. Further, a key component to successful coaching is lack of judgement on the coaches part, in part because the coaching model views people to be “creative, resourceful, and whole.”

Gregg reframes the lack of judgement as full acceptance, and reframes the emphasis on client choices as taking full responsibility for oneself. So Gregg sees coaching as “road testing,” and sees the coaching model’s view of people as being very close to a biblical anthropology (such that people are often creative enough, resourceful enough, and whole enough to make good choices, not simply “fallen and sinful” and so only making bad choices).

And where Gregg sees the coaching model as empowering clients and helping them believe in and embody their self-worth, John agrees and believes that coaching is the most effective means to bring this about.

Yet here again Gregg sees great continuity between coaching and Christianity. For example, Gregg argues that the type of road testing that can be perfected through coaching is perhaps the ideal method for adjudicating between various biblical interpretations that, on the basis of exegesis alone, appear to be equally valid.

When John pushes back on the notion that Christians cannot orient themselves by asking “Who do I want to be?” Gregg strongly demurs: he hunches that 95% of those Christians who would believe this also find baseball, their hobbies, their work or their volunteering to be more interesting and compelling than their Christianity!

So Gregg claims that if trying “to love God” by mustering the emotions simply does not work, then this should be seen as a valid indicator that mustering emotions is not the right way to be approaching the matter.

Thus Gregg argues for the need within Christian theology for a sufficiently nuanced and viable formulation of the “greatest commandment.” So Gregg references Paul Ricoeur’s definition of this command as a “poetic” command.  Similarly, Gregg sees as highly problematic the need that Christians have to explain the truth of their beliefs, by way of apologetics, to outsiders. In other words, how did one become a Christian if one did not believe already that Christianity was (sufficiently) true?

John finishes by noting that when situations in our lives “are not working” it’s usually best to vocalize it, both to ourselves and to others (and so to have someone who will be able to listen and help you with investigating the matter. Further, in seeking to improve things (rather than simply complaining) we are actually moving toward transformation.

Self Discovery as a Hobby or Lifestyle? (143)

In this episode John and Gregg take their discussion in a different direction. Beginning with a retrospective of the podcast, they discuss a potentially “new way” for Untangling Christianity to fulfill one of it’s original purposes which was to give hope to other people.  John originally put this as, “I have to believe that there is at least one person out there who is going through the same thing that I am, and I think that our discussions could help them.”

John begins by explaining how, over the past 3 years, he has driven 85 to 90% of the podcasts and that a major motivator for “bringing the fire” on these topics was his sense of frustration or confusion in what he was reading or hearing about Christianity–often that it didn’t make sense in light of his lived reality. In this way, the podcast helped John fulfill his personal mission statement of “bringing order to chaos and clarity to confusion.”

By contrast, John presently finds himself engaged in other topics of interest, with a particular emphasis on coaching. Yet where John sees this as potential problem, Gregg sees this as an enormous benefit.

Specifically, John is concerned about being inauthentic on the podcast and “going through the motions.” Gregg, on the other hand, views John’s “doldrums” about podcasting and Christianity as being entirely normal and, by focusing on the matter, offers a fantastic opportunity for him and John to engage in a very real and personal way around a matter that is so common (and problematic) for evangelicals!

In terms of moving the discussion forward Gregg wonders about the difference between coaching and their podcasting. In other words, Gregg sees coaching as a “client-driven activity” yet sees their podcasting as a “transparent view into a lifestyle of self-development.” In this way he argues that, while the podcasting could end, the underlying activity that he and John report and share within the podcast is actually a lifestyle, not an activity.

Further, Gregg wonders what it would be like for John to participate in the podcast if he were motivated by interest rather than by excitement or frustration?

Going back to the original point about the podcast being helpful to others in the situation, John wonders: What suggestions would Gregg offer to listeners who find themselves in a position similar to John’s? Gregg offers two things.

First, don’t feel guilty: it’s normal to be enthusiastic about such things as a new business, a hobby, coaching a team or a sport, etc. And it also seems normal to feel less enthusiastic about Christianity, or not to feel excited / motivated about one’s Christian beliefs all of the time.  Second, Gregg encourages listeners in this position to itemize what it is about their area(s) of interest (such as, for John, “coaching”) that seem relevant or attractive, and to do the same about their Christian beliefs, itemizing what is unappealing or uninteresting.