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:
- Active listening.
- Holding their beliefs to be as valuable as my own.
- Drawing out the real strength in their arguments.
- 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):
- 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?
- If you could change one thing about Christianity, what would that one thing be?
- What about that thing is important to you / what about it needs changing?
- If you have a positive thought about God or the idea of a divine being, what the most positive thought that you often have?
- If you have negative thoughts about God or the idea of a divine being, what is the most negative thought that you often have?
- 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.