Spoiler alert: This is a rant! There is a time to call a spade a spade and it is here. I simply have to get this off my chest and, perhaps, it will resonate with more than the handful it deeply offends.
The article “On breaking with the faith” has been celebrated by many committed to the institutional church and a colleague in particular. What’s more is that in the immediate follow up “On keeping the faith” the author adds nothing. It’s the same old expected and “right thing to say”. And, curiously, is nothing different to what those de-converting and deconstructing and encouraging others to do the same are themselves doing.
But what irks me with an article, authors and colleagues like this is that they choose to fail to engage meaningfully with those deconstructionists who are not only de-converting themselves but also helping others to do so. It is an article so self/church-centered that it cannot engage with, listen to or dialogue with those it sees as “wandering off the path of faith for the arid wilderness of unbelief.” At the heart there is a false contrast between authentic faith as institutional Christianity and those deconstructing from such institutional commitments as leading themselves and others into “new beliefs”. At the root the problem I have with the article and my colleagues high admiration thereof is that it relies on the politics of agreement to fly under the radar as a prime example of the continuing failure of institutionalized Christians to listen to, dialogue with, understand and mutually respect those de-converting and deconstructing. People are not leaving Christianity for another faith but instead leaving a faith that is far off track that it believes it is what Christianity “is”. They’re leaving a faith that has gone astray and remains as arrogant as ever in refusing not only to acknowledge the concerns but in arguing that it remains the Catholic and Orthodox faith albeit as Evangelical Protestantism.
I admit and completely embrace the fact that I am an individual who has “defiantly declared” that there is such a significant and paradigmatic fault with the institutional church, what I call the Church, that I define myself as post-Church, post-Evangelical, and even as post-Christian, and encourage others to do the same. This is because what Christianity “is” is precisely what it “is not”. Because what the Christianity that is the Christianity that is now Catholicism and Protestantism stems from Christendom and its reconstruction within and in relation to Modernity. What Christianity “is” bears little resemblance to the earlier expressions such as during the Patristic and Matristic era and will bear little resemblance to the post-Christianity expressions of the faith that will emerge in the years to come. Where Christendom first argued the necessity of the institutional church those now Catholic and Protestant respectively argue the sufficiency of the Tradition and Word of God and solipsistically collapses the real presence of God as solely provided by and in the services and activities of the institutional church and its officials. Christianity is a faith that collapses God so completely into the institutional church that it then fails to recognize God when God draws near in Person to speak and act and also fails to recognize the people of God beyond itself being led out by Godself. It is a faith where the Tradition and Word of God must be sufficient due to God’s relational absence. It is a faith that will argue that it “knows” God solely through Tradition and the Word of God but fails to recognize that the God of their faith is an idol constructed by reason that is as deaf, dumb and impotent as every other idol it argues against. The God, or idol, of Christianity and its representatives have little to none of Christ’s capacity to restore, forgive, heal and reconcile. To de-convert from the Christianity that is now Catholicism and Protestantism is vital for those seeking to discover less what a Christian and Christianity really “is” than to discover the God who really is and was and is to come. It is a stripping down of the accruals of the Christians faith that have been so central at the expense of actually knowing God’s relational and intimate presence, voice and touch. It is the recognition that what Christianity is post-Christendom as Catholicism and Protestantism is an impoverished and poor imitation of the ekklesia tou theo that Christ is committed to and abides within.
Sure those de-converting and deconstructing may not agree yet on what is paradigmatically central, but this is because the conversation is ongoing. And this is probably because they are struggling to shed the ‘doing church paradigm’ along with all the guilt, concerns and stress associated therewith. And of course, the conversation is shaped in large part as protest and response to the Protestant and Evangelical inquisition that demands trading a vital discovering of God for weekly attendance at shows and services the institutional church and its leaders really needs to provide and draw a tithe on. And if you’d take a few minutes to listen and hear what those de-converting and deconstructing are saying, you’d recognize their activities as instigated by and in response to God. It is, perhaps in its saddest expressions then that their attempt to do church is as those crippled and abused by the institutional church. They don’t know how to be and do church apart from the institutional expression of the church because they’ve been so impoverished within it. So dear author and colleagues hold your list of what validates a church for you up to yourself as a mirror and consider that those are your failings. After all, whose teaching have they sat under week after week, month after month and year after year while starving for God? It is yours! You have taught them nothing. What a monumental waste of their time. They fail not despite what they’re doing but because of what you my dear author and colleagues have done and are doing. And if you listened a bit longer you’d recognize they’re brave in leaving the certainty of faith in your fold tied to God (an idol) as silent, absent, impotent and perhaps dead to open to the risk that God may or may not be and yet hold the invitation open. You’d recognize that in this there is no small amount of risk and therewith that there is no greater faith in God than the faith that the God of Christendom and now Catholicism and Protestantism is not that God. Their leaving is both prayer and invitation to God. It is no small undertaking leaving the comforts of the institutional church with its certainties of faith to invite God as the Stranger in order to develop a friendship toward companionship and onwards and deeper toward genuine and meaningful intimacy. After all, it is the institutional Church that has long taught them that God does not and will not come and that they are not deserving of God’s time, efforts, attention and affection. And despite this, they still leave as an invitation to God. That very act of sheer absurdity is an act of great faith. It ought to be encouraged and nurtured, even by you dear author and colleagues. Why is this so hard for you to understand and why so threatening?
The fundamental problem with the institutional church is how self-centered and self-serving it is. It makes the institutional church central to everything. It keeps making itself as the institutional church the authority on the faith whether holding the Tradition or the Word of God in its hands but not letting either direct them or others toward relational engagement with God. And in so doing it makes little to no space for a relationship with God and, in fact, doesn’t even know how to do so. Instead, in so doing it loses the right to call itself “the church” because the earliest notion was of a community gathering to meet with God drawing near in Person to speak and act. When a community gathers only to meet about God, it is not a community that can or should be called a church. It is instead a community that has traded being in identity and practice the ekklesia tou theo (the community that meets together with God) to become the ekklesia tou didaskos/manthetes (the community that gathers to meet and learn about God & the professionals who gather the community to teach them about God) (yes please, correct my poor attempt at expressing this in Koine Greek).
I can’t imagine that the author, or my colleagues, are so utterly inept and incompetent at research that they cannot find an “intellectual reason” to de-convert and deconstruct and encourage others to do the same. I can, however, recognize that their world(view) is so paradigmatically defined by, within, and in relation to the institutional church that the politics of agreement herds them toward model problems provided by their world(view) in which the institutional church is the ecclesiological center around which even the basilea tou theo or kingdom/reign of God/Heaven revolves. They are themselves so institutionalized that they cannot but seek to institutionalize others. I dialogue with many whose identity and investment lies not in the kingdom/reign of God/Heaven but in doing church as in planting, serving in and growing churches – institutional churches – dare I say ‘their churches’ as contributed toward and worked in by the author and my colleagues. They cannot find an “intellectual reason” not because one cannot be found but because of the blinkers provided by an institutional expression of the faith they have been willing to put on themselves and in turn have to put on others. They cannot find an “intellectual reason” because to do so they would have to acknowledge they’ve made great careers at supporting the institutional church with very little contribution to the kingdom/reign of God/Heaven. And what contribution they have made has largely been accidental, the result of God working despite them but we can thank God for at least that. In fact, whatever contribution they have made toward others lives could perhaps have earned them more and served others better had they made their vocation medicine or psychoanalysis or even given the time they’ve given weekly to church to instead volunteering in community service opportunities such as Community Policing or Firefighting or at the SPCA.
So dear author of the article and colleagues who celebrate it, to find an “intellectual reason” you only need to read the previous paragraphs here. Failing that, I can provide a short reading list. And failing willingness to put time and intellectual effort in understanding and grappling with the issues and process, why not at least meet me for a cuppa in person or via Skype. I’ll happily give my time toward helping you understand the ‘intellectual reasons’ and my proverbial door will always remain open to exploring them. At least simply go back and read the paragraphs again. Or read my upcoming blog post “On necessity, sufficiency and the ‘real’ presence of God”. Let them sink in. Seriously, perhaps go read them again a third time. And again a fourth. Can you acknowledge the “intellectual reason” now? If not, go read them a fifth time. And if you still cannot at least have the humility to concede that it is perhaps it is your world(view) that blinds you so much that you cannot and will not recognize them? What else is your world(view) blinding you to?