The ‘Theoblogian’ Cometh… losing our religion and finding dialogue of depth

One of those classic questions from Friday night youth group campfires came up this week in a conversation and I didnt see it coming – “so, what does it mean to be a Christian?” Frankly, it is tempting to throw the force field of ‘theology qua theology’ around me akin to Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four and then speak with authority from within the protective bubble – “Oh, just go to this website – here – and follow the easy steps.” Life, it seems, doesnt offer such manga-like liberty of distance. The fact of the matter is, this guy really wanted to know and was looking to me to deliver the goods. I suppose I shouldnt be so suprized, its just that since moving out of full time church work and into academia, I dont get approached on this front nearly as much! As Frost put it, two roads that seem divided pretty quickly converge – (1) cynicism at the Church (“why do you join such a group ?!”) and (2) sincere empathy (“let me tell you my story of faith – somewhere you may make a connection…”)

How should we respond to such a basic question?

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  1. Similar thing happened to me recently when all my abstract bluster was called as a bluff and I was asked: “Yeah, but what do you think happens to you when you die?”

    Like Satan, I knew at that moment I’d been beat … and I had to lay that shiny fiddle of gold at Johnny’s feet.

  2. I suppose the question – this altar call of sorts akin to those christian snuff films like “Thief in the Night” – hits all of us in one way or another. Part of the risk of dialogue. I think this is similar to the discussion on ‘credo’ – that we all ‘believe’ something on these ultimate questions… but do we own this belief with others?

    Charlie Daniels is certainly going to make a comeback – along with 38 Special and Whitesnake… just a matter of time

  3. I’m tempted to say that the best approach is a bit of both – cynicism, or let’s say “critical reflection” about not simply the Church but that which parades as “Christian” in our culture, but also an element of personal reflection. I mean, this is what it really comes down to, right, what it’s really all about: a personal journey, that is, some interior life of faith, but that which is only lived out in the larger communal setting of culture, or Church, or some other form of fellowship, Christian or otherwise, called Church or not.

    If I were hit up with that question (and man it’s been a long time since I was, thankfully), I think I’d want to point to, obviously, the example Jesus set in life, ministry, teaching, death, and as testified to in Scripture – to strive to live (and die) in such a way is what it means to be a Christian.

    And I’d want to suggest that this isn’t necessarily what goes around calling itself Christian, especially in post-9/11 USA, carrying “God Hates Fags” placards and gazing suspiciously at every person w/ dark skin or a turban.

    But I don’t think I could do this apart from my own personal experience, my own faith journey – I mean, not just a narcissistic re-telling of every detail of my testimony, but real “without wax” type honesty about what I feel God has “revealed” (yes, I need those scare-quotes) to me in and by various times/ways/means, and about what I believe (or strive to believe), and about what I just don’t know about – since that’s where faith kicks in hard-core.

    MWD and I were talking today, over amazingly good Erdinger Dunkel Weissbiere and spicy sausage Uber-Lounge pizza, about how the role of the theologian in this day and age has to be, on some level, about helping people identify the religious, or spiritual, or sacred longings and practices in their “secular” lives (some of those lives perhaps wholly secular; some, like most of us, caught somehwere in-between the realm of the ecclesia and that which lies outside it). We cannot afford to ignore “the religious” or “the sacred” in the world, and I think, as Christian theologians anyway, we engage with these features of secular life so as to point people toward the kind of wholeness and life abundant that can be found in Jesus – accepting that, for some, this may or may not be found within the walls of the Church, but might in fact be found at rock concerts or tattoo conventions or movie theatres or in the pages of novels…

    This is where I start to lose my head, because I don’t want to negate the necessity of the Church and her practices, BUT I think that we cannot limit, by our own designation, the Love of God, or the Communion of Christ, or the working of the Spirit, to the walls of a building, or to the people whose names are on a certain membership list. But, in some sense, it is these people, gathered and called Church, who in their worship and testimony and their very lives make such communion, such life, possible and evident and available. They keep the story alive.

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