In this episode John and Gregg discuss their thoughts on two podcast episodes from The Whitehorse Inn (“Sustainable Churches” and “Consumerism, pragmatism, and the triumph of the therapeutic“) which listener Amy linked to in the Untangling Christianity Facebook group.
John explains how he found the first podcast rather inaccessible. Specifically, he had trouble relating to what seemed to be a heavily Reformed emphasis, the use of Christian jargon, and the general sense of “inside baseball” among the participants. So John is curious about what Amy values in these podcasts and, at the same time, he is careful to note his hesitation that his critical comments not discourage listeners from initiating discussion or offering feedback.
Gregg notes big differences between the two podcasts. On the one hand, Gregg also perceived the first podcast as an “inside conversation” that abounded with assumptions (many of which were problematic and needed to be challenged). Yet all the more Gregg appreciated how the interviewee in the second podcast, Christian Smith, was very careful not to overstep his research or to speculate beyond his findings.
Despite this, Gregg takes issue with Christian Smith’s notion of relevance and what Smith calls the Pathetic impulse in American evangelicalism to be respectable and relevant” (24:50). Yet where Smith seems to define relevance in terms of being present / visible on the socio-political stage Gregg counters that the lack of Christian evangelical credibility, and so their irrelevance, is based on their unwillingness to engage thoughtfully with the larger issues facing Christianity (such as evolution, human sexuality, the nature of hell, etc.).
John expresses frustration with the approach taken in the first podcast. For instance, their explanation that the church should focus on “word and sacrament ministry” is repeated numerous times yet not defined. He also finds their summary that “what the church should offer is the communion of the saints and the fellowship of believers and a life that grows out of the gospel” to be inaccessible and incoherent–what does this even mean and how does it connect with real life?
Gregg agrees. He also found several of their examples to be really problematic. So at 27:30 “The reality is that you go to church . . . (or that you ought to go) to hear the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified and risen again for the forgiveness of all of our sins.” Gregg sees this as the focal understanding shared by the three participants, yet in Gregg’s view this is an incorrect view. In other words, this quotation amounts to the view the Bible’s principle role is to offer information about God.
Yet Gregg understands the Bible to be offering information about who / what God is, who / what human beings are, and how / what the optimal relationship between the two should be. And then, secondarily, the Bible offers information about how humans should relate to each other and to the natural world.
Thus in Gregg’s view the participants in the first podcast have a fundamental misunderstanding about what Church is and what should be happening there. So Gregg views human existence and action / engagement (generally, and especially with God) to be crucially important, whereas the participants seemed overly focused on their theological positions that did not “touch ground” and make sense in light of real, lived existence
Lastly, John and Gregg discuss how starting from different places necessarily brings us to different positions. In this regard Gregg insists that everyone, and especially Christians, must start with their humanity because to do otherwise is to lose touch with one’s origins (and so one’s context for existing and in existence).