Intelligent conversation

One of the realities of being the church is that attitudes and trends in society will inevitably affect the life and ministry of the church. That society and church intersect (or collide, as the case may sometimes be) is not inherently a problem. That the church needs to discern when to embrace societal shifts and when to eschew or combat them is a different story.

Andrew Sullivan, writing for The Economist's "Democracy in America" blog recently discussed the Tea Party movement as an illustration of the apparent demise of intellectual argument in politics. His writing has a certain despairing quality to it. It seems reasonable to assume that his discomfort with emotional versus rational discussions extends beyond the sphere of politics, and into the wider sphere of public discourse.

With a consumer culture and a news media culture alike that rely on sensationalism and public opinion rather than depth of content to "sell" their "product, it is no surprise that our public discourse has become equally as shallow.

In the individualistic and presumably post-modern culture in which we live, intellectual (and intellectual humble) discourse is constantly being replaced with this thing called "worldview." Having a worldview is not inherently problematic. Bounding yourself by your worldview, on the other hand, is the problem. Instead of evaluating ideas on their own merit, we tend to evaluate ideas based on whether or not they fit the rigid worldview that we have constructed around ourselves. The problem with worldviews is that, in their rigid form, they no longer serve as helpful lenses through which to view the world and engage other worldviews. They instead become defense mechanisms and boundaries.

So in this culture of rigid and bounded worldviews, coupled with our infatuation with soundbytes rather than reasoned engagement with ideas, where does this leave the church?

One option would be for the church to reinforce these societal trends: offering to our congregations our own "Christian soundbytes," preaching sermons that merely affirm the political, financial, and social worldview of our members, and reducing our theology to simplistic formulas.

Another option would be for the church to resist these societal trends. This difficult task requires that our churches do not merely lament and despair over these trends; this difficult task requires that our churches become themselves models of honest and humble dialogue. It means preaching and teaching and engaging faith more deeply...and yet opening up as many entry points as possible for all people (lifelong and new Christians) to enter the conversation. It means challenging the boundaries of our congregational worldviews, not haphazardly, but in response to the word of God and the movement of the Spirit. It means accompanying our congregations toward deeper and more inquisitive theology by helping one another ask better questions.

My own opinion? Our culture continues to ask less and less of people, and this seems counter to the life of faith, which not only promises us life (and life abundant!), but also urges us on toward deeper engagement with all of creation, every corner of which has been raised up to new life by the grace of the same one who created it and called it "good."

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