Just what the world needed: a new blog! As I get started I thought I’d describe a little of why I think this might interest you.
First, a story.
Years ago, during another contentious election season, I recall hearing someone on a conservative evangelical radio station describing the issues which should be most important to faithful Christians. He mentioned the reinstatement of school prayer, the defense of creationism, standing against the encroachment of the gay lobby, total support of the Israeli state, and being pro-life in every circumstance.
I remember being a little sick to my stomach.
Is that really what trusting Jesus boils down to? Forcing our faith on unsuspecting schoolkids while preventing them from learning science? Preaching fear of our LGBT neighbors? Ignoring the millions of Arab Palestinians–many of them Christian–who were displaced when the UN created a political state for Jewish refugees? Reducing the complicated issues of reproductive rights to broadsides against women in crisis?
Is that really what it means to be a Christian?
And if it is, doesn’t it kind of suck?
A few days later I was in a meeting with a group of denominational leaders, talking about some plans for an interfaith gathering. One pastor was adamant that no one talk about Jesus as the savior, and that we probably ought not to even mention his name. Instead, he went on, we should probably define Christianity solely by the loving behavior it encourages, and the justice it calls for. That would be enough.
I caught myself wondering what Jesus would have said in that meeting, with the wounds in his hands still showing on his resurrection body. I wondered if he would have agreed that some insipid generalizations about Christian social ethics would have adequately summed up his sacrifice. Seriously, I mean what was the point in having Christianity represented at an interfaith event if we couldn’t mention Christ? Were we telling our Jewish brothers and sisters not to mention G-d? Had someone mentioned to the imam that any reference to Allah or Mohammed was off-limits?
And then it struck me. I was starting to feel like I didn’t belong in Christian circles anymore. I couldn’t buy into the narrow views of my most conservative friends, but I also wasn’t willing to water down my faith to the point that it was odorless, colorless, offenseless, and useless.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.
In the years since I started having those feelings, I finished a Ph.D. in history and wrote a book about evangelical scholarship in America. I also spent almost nine years as the senior pastor of an ecumenical church in London. My experiences have led me to believe that a lot of people are having the same struggles that I have—people who want to be loving and generous Christians without tossing the content of our faith to the side.
A handful of authors have helped me along the way: Scot McKnight, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Tim Keller, Nadia Bolz-Weber, N.T. Wright, and Pete Enns, just to name a few. Each one helped me to be a better disciple and a better pastor, because each one gave me some language to think and communicate better about how to be a Christian person of faith, someone who lives the love of Jesus without forgetting who he is.
Now I’m the president of a new seminary in Southern California. My job is to lead an organization that trains Christian leaders across a wide range of traditions and vocations, helping them love their churches and organizations (and their families and neighborhoods) with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
My goal, as you’ll read in the next post, is to find and engage an expression of Christian discipleship that will celebrate the radical inclusion of the gospel of Jesus Christ without gutting that gospel of its transforming power for our lives and our culture and our world. Sounds simple, right?
What I really hope to accomplish is to encourage Christians who have felt left behind (not like that!) by the polarization of our faith discussions in the public sphere. I believe there’s a better way, and I want to explore that better way in my reflection and writing. I believe that when we leave behind the extremes on either side, we’ll find that the best of the Christian faith will remain. I’m choosing to call that The Faith for the Rest of Us, and I’m inviting you to come along. Buckle up.