The Sunday Assembly – A Non-Theist Response to Religion

MET-AJ-GODLESS-CHURCH-1108For well more than a century freethinkers, and religious skeptics, have gathered, talked and participated in various forms of social interaction without any expression of formal religion. In 1882 the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago was founded to provide a meeting and fellowship for just such a gathering.

The Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago describes itself as a democratic fellowship and spiritual home for those who seek a rational, compassionate philosophy of life without regard to belief or non-belief in a supreme being. According to their website they value “the importance of living an ethical, responsible, and joyful life [and] promote intellectual, philosophical, and artistic freedom, avoiding dogma and rigid creed.” They also say of themselves: “While respectful of the faiths and traditions we have been born to, we serve as a new religion or as an alternative to religion.” A full-blown description can be seen on their very attractive website.

A new movement, similar in many ways, began in January a year ago in London and now already has over thirty meeting places in the United States. This

What Does Christ’s Victory Mean for Understanding His Death?

anastas1The New Testament is filled with material concerning the victory of Christ over the powers of evil, a victory finally accomplished, and announced, through his death and resurrection.

One of the seminal texts that comes to mind here is in Matthew’s Gospel.

22 Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. 23 All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.” 25 He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if

How the Enlightenment Took the Church Away from Jesus & Him Crucified

The ancient church did not debate ideas about “appeasing the wrath of God through Christ’s death.” The Christ they worshiped, as we’ve seen, was the victor over the powers. They expressed this in their worship. This can also be discovered in their hymns, in baptism, in their preaching, at the eucharist, and in the recorded prayers of the earliest Christians. It runs like a scarlet thread throughout. If this were understood at all I believe the present evangelical wars about the atonement would be stopped almost instantly.

UnknownMany examples of my point about the early church can be offered but one that has helped me is found in the oldest prayer of thanksgiving we have that was said over the bread and wine in the eucharist. It is the prayer preserved for us by Hippolytus in The Apostolic Tradition, a work written around A.D. 215. This particular prayer points to the theme of Christ’s victory. Here is an important sample of this ancient faith congregational prayer:

Fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people, he

Seminaries, Pastoral Training and the Future of the Church in North America

monkimage-1.phpI visited the campus of Northern Seminary in nearby Lombard (IL) last week to meet with Greg Henson, the chief of institutional advancement for the school. Greg and I were connected by three mutual friends within the short span of three weeks. We felt it important to talk face-to-face since so many friends had suggested that we meet. Greg is a 31-year old innovative (Millennial) thinker who understands what is really happening to educational institutions in America. He also grasps how these changes are having a profound impact on all our seminaries. His daily work is to understand these changes and to help Northern adjust to the post-Christendom future. One of my partner ministries in the ACT3 Network routinely sends me to seminaries all over North America to recruit faculty for a summer training opportunity. As a result of this work I have visited something like 40-50 seminary campuses over the last 28 months. By asking a lot of questions, and by spending time with administrators, faculty and students, I have seen first-hand what is going on

Non-Voluntarist Protestantism and the Dangers of Secular Modernity

There are two types of churches which constitute the visible expression of  Christianity in the modern age. For the sake of simplicity let me call these two expressions of the church the non-voluntary and the voluntary models. If these seem initially confusing they should be clearer as soon as you read what follows.

Non-Voluntary Churches

imagesThe decline of non-voluntarist Western Christianity, of both the Catholic and Protestant variety, has been much greater than that of the voluntarist variety of church expression. This should not really be surprising if you consider the context of this statement. A good part of church decline in the West has been the decline in the “mainline” churches. “When a state church loses its central role in society it loses something of its soul” (An Introduction to Christianity, 347). This is exactly what has transpired over the last sixty years or so.

In these mainline churches God was humanized and anything remotely like severity was all but removed. Liberalism led many young people to turn away from divine transcendence toward “human values,” values that were more

Living as Aliens in Post-Christendom Culture (5)

images-1Christian sociologist James Davison Hunter has written one of the most important studies of what it means to be faithfully present in the modern, increasingly post-Christendom world that I have been describing over the last two weeks. His magisterial book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford, 2010, has helped many of us think about how to live faithfully in the modern context. Perhaps the most important question that Hunter asks, and answers, is: “How might Christians in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative?” I have attempted to provide some response to this same question by writing about living in a time of cultural and spiritual captivity as “a colony of heaven,” or as “aliens.”

Hunter suggests that what is really needed is a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, one he calls “faithful presence”–an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional. His model works out both in relationships

Living as Aliens in a Post-Christendom Culture (1)

I suggested in my series last week, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” that Christians were called by God in Christ to live as “a colony of heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Because of this calling we are to live as God’s new creation, thus as “aliens and exiles.” This is clearly the same point made by the apostle Peter when he writes:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. [ Live as Servants of God ] Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge (1 Peter 2:10-12).

imagesI decided, upon further reflection, to look at the primary uses of the English word “alien” in our modern context to see how we use this word and to see

The Babylonian Captivity of the American Church (4)

A Colony of Heaven

James Moffatt’s translation of the New Testament translates politeuma, in Philippians 3:20, as: “We are a colony of heaven.” The Jews in the Dispersion, and living in Babylon, understood this very well. They knew what it meant to live as “strangers” in a strange land. They understood that they were aliens trying to live on someone else’s turf (Resident Aliens, 11).

In the first century Jewish believers in Jesus as Messiah understood what it meant to gather in the name of the Lord and sing the praises of the slaughtered Lamb in corporate worship of the triune God. They understood that they were a colony, a beachhead, an outpost in the middle of a foreign culture. When they gathered they did not seek to shape the culture so much as to encourage one another and catechize their new converts and children. Their calling was to learn the lifestyle of faith and to live it in a way that was countercultural. Rome was full of gods and many kinds of spirituality and worship. These Christian believers were seen as a sect of the Jews who

The Babylonian Captivity of the American Church (1)

If the Bugle Gives an Indistinct Sound, How Will We Be Awakened?

Over the last month or so I have done a series of twelve blogs on the “The Spiritual State of the Nation.” I wrote these after reading the results of several exit polls following the November election. I sought not so much to explain the political landscape as to ask what was happening to the spiritual life of Christians in 2012? My desire, in these articles, was to reflect on our present spiritual state and what we can and should do about it. Now I would like to propose an adequate theological and social model for how we should live in these very different times.

Lessons from the Protestant Reformation

Scholars and students of the Protestant Reformation know that Martin Luther wrote three important polemical books in the second half of 1520. These books, all quickly printed and distributed quite widely, helped to fuel the growing Protestant movement. They were equal parts prophetic, provocative and bombastic. Whatever he wanted to accomplish in writing these books, the result was that the church could no longer retain its cozy

My Theology is Getting More Complex – My Faith Is Growing More Simple

On Thursday evening I engaged with a long thread of discussion on my Facebook page about a post made by a popular author by the name of Jim Palmer. Jim lives in Nashville and is a former evangelical pastor who left the pastoral ministry several years ago. He writes some helpful and genuinely provocative stuff. I have not read his three primary books, two published by Nelson and one by a private publisher, but I have read a number of reviews of them. Most comments on Amazon are glowing and demonstrate his popularity. A few come from the far right and talk about “new age” tendencies and other such nonsense. I have honestly sought to get a handle on what he, and his particular writing, is about. I’m still not quite sure what Jim is doing but I am getting a clearer sense over the last 48 hours or so. From what I’ve read, at least up to this point, Palmer mixes his painful experience of the religion of “ought and should” (my words) with his very bad experience of church. In the process


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: