Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Irony

One of the recent struggles I have is to avoid being a Protestant liberal. A part of me wants to adopt what Scot McKnight calls an "ironic faith", which usually takes the form of either doing church with like-minded people or distancing oneself from church in order to be closer to Jesus and neighbour. But the better part of me resists, eventually deciding that an "Omega Course" for exiting Christianity and "giving up Christianity" for lent are stupid ideas. The Chip Monk --over at Living Gently in a Violent World -- has written about this phenomenon as it pertains to Greenbelt, a festival about which I know very little. I do know that the slogan "where faith, arts and justice meet" annoys me, but it could be worse - it could have additional, tortured post-evangelical buzz-words-with-no-content like "narrative" and "community" in there too. Unfortunately, they do make it into the Vision, which involves "reimagining the Christian narrative for the present moment." What is this? Have our business-like churches today outsourced art and justice and imagination to festivals like Greenbelt and The Wild Goose (The U.S. equivalent)? It's as if a deal has been struck, with the church taking the unwanted-but-necessary-role as exclusive, closed defender of orthodoxy while cool festivals and organisations get the enviable role as open-inclusive-diverse-edgy communities of faith and love and justice and music and all that stuff normal, rational people like.

Anyway, I'm ranting about something I know little about, and, admittedly, something I find intriguing as well as annoying. What I really wanted to do was point out an irony at the heart of this ironic faith movement. Slavoj Zizek could be seen as a post-evangelical ally, an intellectual figure who justifies an ironic stance towards traditional Christian belief and practice. Not so.

…if there is an ideological experience at its purest, at its zero-level, then it occurs the moment we adopt an attitude of ironic distance, laughing at the follies in which we are ready to believe – it is at this moment of liberating laughter, when we look down on the absurdity of our faith, that we become pure subjects of ideology, that ideology exerts its strongest hold over us.

Post-evangelical might just be another way of saying "out of the frying pan and into the fire."


  1. I had thought about forwarding this to you yesterday, but now is even more appropriate:

    "No amount of witty and supposedly prophetic and reforming criticism of the church can" replace being part of it.--Barth, Christian Life,189

  2. Thanks, Kevin. I feel the word God is saying to me is "Pull your finger out."

  3. Hi Declan,
    I know we don't know each other but I'm just fascinated by these views of Greenbelt and post evangelicals (as I was over in Nothing left for Caeasr) and truth be told I'm a bit mystified by it all.
    For instance I could point out that Chip Monk and Kevin belong to ____ Community Church which from what you are saying doesn't really mean that much. But I know it does mean something to that particular church so I know the word 'community' can have content.
    Traditional orthodox Christianity is something that would condemn me and my wife as she is breaking with long church history and becoming an ordained minister, and that would condemn me for being a sinful man and not showing true church leadership.Much of church history thought it was wrong to ordain women, so I'm not sure I'd call myself orthodox. Maybe a follower of 'The Way'?
    I have just been downloading Greenbelt mp3's from 2009 and listening. Today I heard about St. Aidan and John Calvin while walking into town so it isn't all about Giving up Christianity for Lent etc...

  4. If you ask me, the word "community" in ____ Community Church is redundant, but that's neither here nor there!

    As for orthodoxy, I don't think it works the way you appear to think it works, therefore I don't see it as condemning either you or your wife. And though it ought to go without saying, I don't think being a post-evangelical is all about giving up Christianity for lent. That was simply a useful machination to mention because its perpetrator -- Pete Rollins -- leans on Zizek an awful lot, hence the irony.

  5. It does work the way it appears to work because for most of it's history the traditional,universal church has been ruled and governed by men.

    Taking the historical church seriously means that I would ask myself why for so much of history men have governed and if Helen being a minister is just a cultural phenomenon or if so many people would have got it wrong (and would still get it wrong). If the line is that 'we can't going of and doing our own thing, we are the church and all in it together and learn from the saints who gone before' then that makes me \t least wonder why there have been so few women ministers. and then there is a decision to ditch a bucket load of that tradition and do our own thing.

    We would be/are classed as being liberal Protestants by nature of what Helen does. By going to Greenbelt we would also be labelled liberal. What can you do? All I know is that Greenbelt (which I've been to 6 or 7 times) has given us a far broader (an accurate) picture of the church that anything else I've been to.

    That is because everybody is not the same as me there, unlike my local church. It has challenged me about practicing justice instead of just worrying about my personal salvation, and encouraged me to write songs and music. I don't see any harm in saying I wish my home congregation was a more like Greenbelt.( Which isn't the same as saying I wish my home church was Greenbelt)

    As for Zizek, I have never understood a single thing he has said....my brain wasn't built for Zizek

  6. I would probably be classed as a Protestant liberal by some people, as would the man who commented first on this piece. But what I mean by Protestant liberalism is something more specific. It is, in short, the transporting of the language of liberal democracy into the church, so that the church is described as "tolerant", "open", "inclusive" rather than "one, holy, catholic, apostolic". A Protestant liberal as I use the term could describe the State in the same way that he or she could describe the church, which the better part of me sees as deeply problematic.

    As for Greenbelt, I should have listened to Wittgenstein:

    "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

  7. Well I guess that Wittgenstein advice would have to apply to me and what I know about Protestant liberalism..

    But I also know that the reason why some people would be against ordaining woman ministers are because they think that the church is/has been pandering to culture by being tolerant, open and inclusive because 'what kind of dark ages organization would deny capable women the chance to serve because they are a woman'? So perhaps that has made me more wary of terms like one, holy, catholic, apostolic church..