Bold Directions for Dangerous Times

[Reprinted from PCNV Newsletter – November 2021]
by Carl Krieg on September 9, 2021

In a recent article in progressivechristianity.org Jim Burklo wrote about the possibility, if not likelihood, that there will be a flood of disaffected folks leaving the evangelical churches and that progressive congregations should be ready “to attract them by making changes in our styles of worship and congregational life that are necessary to seize this remarkable moment.”
I couldn’t agree more, but there are two other groups that we need to attract, although I’m not sure that “attract” is the right word or attitude. I would rather speak of “making sense to” and “working alongside”, but we surely do need to make changes. Millions of people have left the churches for a long time, and multiple millions more were never interested in the first place. There may be a lot of ex-fundamentalists looking for a new home, but we have been surrounded by “church alumni”, the result of decreasing membership, on the one hand, and an increasingly secular population, on the other. But no matter what group we belong to, we are all human beings who share a search for a meaningful life, and most of us are
what we might call good people. The challenge for the church is to find both a common language and a course of action that includes both disciples of Jesus and secular humanists, not to mention reaching out to other religious traditions as well.

I described one such possibility in an essay, “Ways to Gather”, also found in progressivechristianity.org, and in another piece in progressingspirit.com entitled “Big Change”.

From the former:

“Given the trend of society toward secularism, and given the fact that we all share a common and searching humanity, is there anything new that the church can do that would better the planet? I think there is, and the answer lies in creating two parallel gatherings. In this scenario, on the one hand, the local congregation continues to gather in the traditional fashion, with its order of worship, Bible reading, prayer, music, reflection, etc, albeit hopefully with a new theology. In this context, the members study, learn, act in society, and care for one another.”
On the other hand is a gathering that has no reference to God whatsoever. In the online
journal Progressing Spirit I recently published an article in which I try to envision what such a gathering might look like.

“In the first place, the weekly gathering, perhaps still on Sunday, would be a gathering of folks concerned about the deep issues of life. It would not be limited to adherents of any one religion, or religion at all, but would be open to any and all who choose to sound the depths of their own humanity with others who do the same. At different gatherings, the speaker of the day might be a Christian, a Jew, an atheist, a Muslim, or whatever, who would offer a perspective on the meaning of life, including reference to God, or not. If that person were a Christian, the narrative could be about the life and teaching of Jesus and could include the concept of an incarnate God, or not. Because of the variety of persons present, there will be
no prayer either petitioning or thanking God. Everyone is free, of course, to speak their mind about self and God, but without imposition on any other. There will be silence. There will be music. There will be food and drink. There will be joy, fun and happiness. There will be whatever that gathering, with its particular mixture of persons, decides to do. (edited)”.

Of course, such a gathering need not arise within the context of the local congregation, but why not? I proposed this idea to some Vermont church leaders earlier this year. Here is one response. “We have a group that started here last year (was intended to be a 5 week Lenten series but it moved online during COVID and just kept meeting). About 12 of us meet weekly and we are all quite different. Some have no connection to the church, or very little. There are atheists, agnostics, those with a more conservative theology, and liberal UCC’ers like me. Most were born in this country, but not all. Most have a mainline Protestant background, but not all.

We eat, drink beer, sip wine and talk life and faith in an informal way. We’ve come to know and love one another. A gift from COVID.”

This is a perfect example of what can be: the church helping to create a new type of gathering parallel to and independent of the existing congregation. The one would be deliberately based on the life and teaching of Jesus, the other based on the shared dimensions of our common humanity. It could very well be that a member of the first would also be a member of the second. And it could very well include disaffected evangelicals.

The issue goes way beyond thinking about the future of the church. Our nation is in an extremely dangerous place. We need a renewed model of what it means as a country to be a secular, caring community, and the church has resources to offer such a vision. Who knows what might emerge? Following up on Jim’s article, it is time for the church to be bold and to experiment, and I have no doubt that progressivechristianity.org will continue to be a leader in this movement.

Dr Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of “What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith” and “The Void and the Vision.” As professor and pastor, Dr Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. This article came from progressivechristianity.org.

oOo

4 thoughts on “Bold Directions for Dangerous Times

  1. Ingrid Mary Hindell.

    “I thought so!  Evangelical churches concentrate too much on individual wants, not enough on community needs.  ‘Wants’ attract the younger members of society, but often aren’t delivered (thereby leading to disappointment and disillusionment), whereas there is nothing like a community to support an individual and their family.”

  2. Ingrid Hindell.

    Ingrid Mary: THIS IS FROM MY FAVOURITE BOOK ON RELIGIONS – ending with a little of the teaching I learnt from the Unity Church:

    ‘NEVER SPAKE MAN THUS”.
    (From “The World’s Religions” by Huston Smith) Pp.304-306. [NOT a “Unity” text, but in line I think.]

    It was not what Jesus did, however, that made his contemporaries think of him in new dimensions. It was also what he said. …(People) were astonished (at Jesus’ words, his teaching). And small wonder – if we are not it is only because their edges have been worn smooth by familiarity. If we could recover their original impact we too would be startled. Their beauty would not cover the fact that they are “hard sayings”, a scheme of values so radically at odds with those by which we live that they would rock us like an earthquake.

    We are told that we are not to resist evils; we are to turn the other cheek. The world assumes that friends are to be loved and enemies hated.

    We are told that the sun rises on the just and the unjust alike. The world resents this, feeling that the sun ought to rise only on the just. It is offended when the wicked go unpunished, and would prefer to see them living under perpetual clouds.

    We are told that the publican and the harlot go into heaven before many who are outwardly righteous, where the world assumes that the good people, the respectable people, the people who fulfill the norm and have nothing to be ashamed of will lead the heavenly procession.

    We are told that path and the gate that lead to salvation are narrow. The world, wrapped in conformity and convention assumes that it is safest to follow the crowd.

    We are told to be as carefree as the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. The world assumes that we should take infinite care to build security.

    We are told that it is as difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom as it is for camels to go through the eye of a needle. The world esteems wealth above all.

    We are told that the happy people are those who are meek (i.e. egoless), who weep, and are merciful and pure in heart. The world assumes it is the rich, the wellborn, the powerful who are happy.

    We are told that the Kingdom of God (Good) is within us. The world insists on believing it is an actual “place” to which we are sent after death, and not a condition of consciousness which we can manifest any moment we choose to do so.

    There blows through these teachings, Berdyaev has said, a wind of freedom and liberty that frightens the world and makes it want to deflect them by postponement; not yet, 0 not yet!!

    H.G. Wells was evidently right;’ either there was something mad about this man or our hearts are still too small for what he was trying to tell us.

    And what precisely was he trying to say? Taken together, his parables and his beatitudes (be-attitudes) indeed everything he said, form the surface of a burning glass which focuses man’s awareness on the two most important facts about life: God’s overwhelming love for man [Indeed He is Love, so He can’t help loving us!!!] and the need for man to receive this love [the need for man to REMEMBER this Love is always there, always flowing, ways, which arise in turn, from a belief in “worm of the dust = man himself and not his ego alone, a belief prevalent in many eras] then let it flow outward again toward his neighbours.

  3. Ingrid Hindell

    I find it VERY HARD to go to ‘church in the mornings. I would like to, not only to discuss ‘religion’ but also things like CLIMATE CHANGE, good food, the ‘jab’ booster, etc.

  4. Rodney Eivers

    Thank you, Ingrid, for your thoughtful and insightful response to the article by Carl Krieg.
    Your quotation from Huston Smith’s The World Religions sums up pretty closely the rationale behind my own inclination and practice to follow the Jesus Way.
    Whether or not this leads to participation in`, and support for, institutional Christianity seems to be a question for many people, as it does seem to be for you.
    The anxiety for me, though, is that given the general secularisation of our Western society with fewer and fewer young people being aware of the origins of the Jesus ethic, apart from the fairy story distraction of Christmas, to what extent is the message going to be carried forward without the institution of the church? Who will lead us towards the Kingdom of Go(o)dness?
    This is why, on balance, I continue to support the institutional church in the hope that it can more and more secularise the Gospel. I seek to contribute to this with my theological college scholarships and active participation in my local Uniting Church congregation.
    So, I hope that you will continue to “go to church”. If you look down the right-hand site of this UC Forum website you will find a long list of congregations attended by people who, generally, subscribe to the UC Forum. They may not form complete congregations, though there are one or two exceptions throughout Australia. But the individuals are there. They hang in with their communities but can feel very lonely at times.
    They need people like you, with whom to make contact so as to feel that they are not alone.
    We do appreciate your contribution to this Forum

    Rodney Eivers

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