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).

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