Thursday, March 27, 2014

Futureville by Skye Jethani

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. My integrity is not for sale. Those who know me well are aware I would relish the chance to give a bad review in exchange for a free book. If I've failed to do so, it has nothing to do with the source of the material and only with the material itself.

Skye Jethani has a unique way of approaching faith and life. I appreciated greatly his perspective in The Divine Commodity and eagerly anticipate his important contributions to public faith. Futureville is an exploration of human purpose in the context of God's overall purpose for creation. Jethani examines the whole scriptural narrative and helps reclaim the biblical concept of vocation - finding responsibility and purpose in everyday life. Futureville is a stand in for the cosmic conclusion, heaven, paradise, whatever comes next. Futureville argues that by properly understanding God's purpose and desired end for creation we can more appropriately live within it. Jethani guides the reader away from the false hopes of humanism and escapism that so captivate Christians and resets the frame on redemption and resurrection; a move I wholeheartedly support and am excited to see more often in print.

Some chapters and some sections of chapters in the book are well written, poignant, and powerfully effective. The book as a whole, however, seemed disjointed and unconnected. It likely needed to be longer or separated into two volumes - one discussing the theology and interpretation of Futureville and the other elucidating what those conclusions mean for Christian life. The two are not well combined in Futureville and the reading experience suffers.

There are some key, if common, mistakes that fall below expectations for a thinker and writer of Jethani's abilities. In explaining the shortcomings of humanism and escapism (dubbed evolution and evacuation for prime alliterative effect) there is too much of a straw man built up. The targets are too easy precisely because all of the positive elements of each belief system are saved for incorporation into "Resurrection," Jethani's third way. I like the third way and I am happy it's included, but there has to be a better way of investigating alternatives than the clumsy manner pursued here.

I really did find the book helpful and positive. While not the best example of what it's trying to do, it is a prominent example and the good parts are surely good enough to make up for the shortcomings.

At the same time, one section in particular really upset me. In the section on humanism he plays up the notion of evolution - primarily social evolution - and the idea that humanity will continue to improve and get better, more moral, more peaceful, more successful as time goes along. He calls the evolution of men to supermen a natural outflow of Darwin's chain of evolution from bacteria to jellyfish to minnows, mice, monkeys, and men. He then proceeds to announce his book won't discuss those kinds of scientific controversies.

There are just better ways of making this point. Again it seems like lazy construction. Even if you're among the disbelievers of biological evolution, a responsible party would take pains to represent the idea in a responsible manner, not playing into the "we came from monkeys" stereotype that's already ingrained in the minds of your largely evangelical audience.

That may be an odd soap box on which to stand and shout, but I'd hope leaders, like Jethani, would take seriously the responsibility to bridge such divides rather than perpetuate them.

Normally, I'd give Futureville 4 out of 5. It's got some very good parts, with a solid focus, with some awkward writings and poor construction. However, there are just too many shortcuts and examples of literary laziness to move it above mediocre.

There are definitely better books with a similar message out there. They may be a little more technical and not quite as accessible, but they're far more straightforward and connected. If you're really just interested in the author, he's got better books available as well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cosmos, Evolution, Relationship, and the Mystery of God

It seems we've always had a clear dichotomy in religious approaches to creation (or at least, publicly we've had a dichotomy) - either God controlled the process of creation or it was random. This has become the great divide between science and faith.

I've really been loving the new Cosmos series Seth MacFarlane and Neil deGrasse Tyson put together (Sundays at 9pm on FOX), but, as many people have noted, the script has been less than kind to the integration of faith and science. On the one hand, I can understand this. For most of its history, science has been denounced and attacked by religious authority (which was basically "authority" for most of that time). Now that science has the power in the relationship, it may be difficult to kiss and make nice.

Tyson used phrasing when talking about the evolution of life that sounds downright religious in and of itself. I'm not sure about his particular beliefs, but that certainly is the attitude of some scientists - nature is awesome, complex, and inspirational enough on its own, there's no real need for deity.

I can see that. I continue to marvel at the majesty and intricacy of nature - for me it only helps to expand my perspective, enlarge my frame of reference, and increase my wonder at the marvels of God.

I truly believe any scientific discovery that some think capable of removing the need for God has, in its sights, a God too small. I also think people of faith might not be giving nature, or God, enough credit when it comes to creativity and ingenuity.

When I think about relationship, true relationship, I believe it must be devoid of control. Both philosophically and theologically, I believe love can be the only genuine motivator in true relationship.

That being said, why couldn't God have created through a process of loving freedom? Why does every step, every mutation of the evolutionary process have to be directed by God?

To me, God is more awesome, more holy, more amazing if God's process of creation and interaction with creation is truly free.

I don't have to believe God dictates the details of life to affirm God has the future under control. I just don't. In fact, I think I like life - and God - better when that's the case.

It's not a firm conclusion, but what if God created a creation with a mind of its own - with a complex system of development that would produce intelligent, self-aware life in some form or another? It seems to me, if this is the case, it makes a lot of sense with an image of God as both powerful and loving.

People tend to reject new suggestions or observations that contradict the world they've created around themselves. Change is difficult - I hate it more than most - but if we're approaching the world with open arms and an open mind, the discoveries of science become wonderful additions to the rich tapestry of life. We may have to change the way we approach God or think about life, but that just makes the true faith commitments even more exciting and breathtaking and magnificent.

Scripture says that perfect love drives out all fear. There is no fear in God's good news; fear has no place in faith. There is nothing to fear in science because God is God of all.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reclaiming Eve

I was excited when the invitation came to participate in the blog tour for Nazarene Publishing House's new book, Reclaiming Eve, by Suzanne Burden, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright.*

The first eight pages or so of chapter one ramble on a bit too much, like the authors are trying to cushion the blow of what they're about to say - and it's very likely they are - but the content itself is powerful and important, perhaps the cushion is needed. What's contained therein, is a valuable message about the place of women in the world and specifically in the Church: Women are valuable creations in the image of God, necessary and full partners in God's plan of redemption. Reclaiming Eve is confessional and narrative and unflinching and graceful all at the same time.

I recognize the awkward position I occupy as a man, reviewing a book by women, for women, about women, but I am glad for the opportunity, as a pastor, as the father of a daughter, and for more personal reasons.

The only real, definite calling I've ever felt from God was to preach. Subsequently, when I was in seminary I took every preaching class I could get my hands on. I learned a lot from those professors that really helped to shape and form that calling into something real. I think I learned a lot more though, from a specific group of fellow students.

It was my first preaching class; I was very nervous. Like most preaching courses, a lot of the time was used for preaching and hearing others preach. We had a lot of good preachers in the class, a lot of people who spent much time and effort preparing and preaching their sermons. We also had quite a few women in the class (it was the one required preaching class - oddly, my elective preaching classes never had many - or sometimes any! - women in them).

As I sat listening to these women preachers, a strange dichotomy built up inside me. They were not "good" preachers by any subjective definition I'd built up over the years. I'd heard at least two, maybe three sermons per week ever year of my life (oh the joys of growing up in the Church). These sermons from these women didn't register as "good," based on that experience. But they were good. Really good. We had some kick-ass preachers in that class. The best sermons in the course were from the women, undoubtedly.

So, I had to ask myself why they didn't seem "good" on first blush. I realized, it was because my perception of preaching had so been shaped by men, it was impossible, without work, to hear feminine preaching. Even those women preachers of past generations had to adopt a lot of the traditional male characteristics to be heard - loud voices, strong gestures, an almost shouted delivery.

I sat in that little chapel overcome with mixed regret and joy. Regret that the Church had, for so long, missed out on the strong, important, necessary voice of at least half our membership. These preachers were not weak and passive, but authoritative and strong in feminine ways. They were being themselves, not trying to assume the expectations for preachers that centuries of dominant men had laid out for the Church. My denomination had ordained women from the very beginning, but we've been awfully bad about treating women preachers with equality and justice through the years. It was a joyous thing to recognize that this generation of women finally felt free to be themselves in the pulpit and to assume the mantle of preacher in uniquely feminine ways.

It was also joyous because I don't naturally inhabit those traditionally masculine elements of preaching either. I'm much more quiet and inquisitive. I don't do shouting well or aggressive or dominant. That's just not me. That morning in preaching class, those women helped me understand that what's most important to my call as preacher is myself and my interaction with the text, my ability to allow God's Holy Spirit to speak uniquely through me and not some supposed expectation of preacher.

That experience confirmed my commitment to fairness and equality in ministry. And, as a happy irony, Carla Sunberg, one of the authors of this book, is now the President of that very seminary.

One major critique I have of Reclaiming Eve is that I'm not sure it goes far enough. They set up a partnership, used often, of adam and ezer, using two Hebrew words from Genesis to signify men and women. The "reclaiming" part of Reclaiming Eve is to recognize ezer as an equal partner - the typical definition is "a power, equal to, facing." The woman was created to be a helper, the way God is a helper, not as a subordinate.

My issue, though, is that I've always seen men as ezer as well as women. The way the Hebrew works in Genesis, there is no designation of the human as male or female - we often assume because adam is both the word for human and, later, the man's name, that a man was created first. That might be the case, but scripture never says that specifically. It says a human being was created - and it's not until after part of that human is removed to create Eve, that adam really becomes Adam. If ezer means a truly equal, complementary partner, then both Adam and Eve are ezer, equal in support of each other and only in combination - men and women working together in community - is humanity complete.

I recognize the reason for associating ezer with women in the book - the purpose of the book is to restore the confidence and position of women in the eyes of both themselves and the Church - but I think we need to be careful in its usage to not support a kind of subordinate complementarianism that is emerging in so many corners of evangelicalism. Equal is equal, even if it is different. I wrote more about this in another post.

Reclaiming Eve is a book that needed to be written and needs to be read. It's important coming from women, as well. This does present some problems if the authors want to avoid being dismissed as "crazy feminists" by the kind of people who do such a thing. They probably could not go as far as I did above in stressing equality - and they continue to use masculine pronouns for God.

I was at first turned off by the feminine illustrations (I have no experience trying on dresses), but then I realized that most books for a "general audience" have no problem using strictly masculine illustrations and assuming women will follow, why is the opposite not appropriate?

I then realized this book really is for women. The final three chapters deal specifically with ways women interact with each other and the Church. They are different in nature and tone than the first four chapters and are addressed specifically to women. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, I just hope, in the future, more books - by men and women - will include the kind of radically empowering gospel the authors of Reclaiming Eve manage to pack into its first half.

At worst it is a powerful conversation starter and a profound support for women who often feel lost in the Church; at best it provides great fuel to the Church's active promotion of women as full partners in life and ministry.

Read this book!

* I did receive a free copy of the book in preparation for this post, but that does not, in any way, affect what I have to say, nor would I let it. Anyone who knows me knows that is most definitely true.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

About Time

I am really terrible at enjoying my life. I always feel like I need to be doing something. I'm sure some of this comes from my intense insecurity. i don't know why, but I feel this deep desire to prove myself - to make myself different, better, than I am.

I want to play in the mud without freaking out. I've never been able to be dirty. I want to skip all the things I "should" be doing to play with my daughter. It's not that I find her boring - quite the opposite - I just so often feel a duty to do something else.

I don't know where that comes from or why it's so persistent, but it's real.

I watched this movie the other night - About Time - about a guy who can go back in time and relive (fix) things that have happened. It's a love story, but more than just boy and girl. It's more than just a father and son. It's a love story about how to live life right. To love.

It's complicated. It's difficult. It doesn't mean solving everybody's problems and sometimes it costs us more than it costs other people. But enjoying life means loving deeply.

I think, often, I'm far too afraid.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Gospel of More

I know I've written about this before, but apparently that confession was not good enough. I continue to find myself consumed with consuming. I am not a shopper, per say. I don't spend money recklessly (except, perhaps on gummy candies of one kind or another - and maybe fast food milkshakes). I don't define myself by the things I own. I am not a consumer in the traditional sense.

I do, however, consume information. I read everything I can get my hands on. I've tried (and succeeded to some degree) in the last year or so to skip things that don't interest me. An obvious choice, I know, but a big challenge for me. I have a few blogs I read, a few preachers whose sermons I enjoy and a couple podcasts in which I regularly partake. I've got them all nicely organized and delivered to my Feedly page for efficient consumption.

I spend a lot of time reading and listening to crap. Interesting, often stimulating, occasionally important crap, but crap nonetheless.

I get Entertainment Weekly, which is a constant reminder of all the tv shows and movies I'm not watching, despite their obvious value and critical acclaim. I keep talking about getting netflix in the summer when our family has more free time - because that's exactly how we should be spending our summer: huddled on the couch watching TV!

I've only recently realized something that's probably been readily apparent to my wife for years: I'm never gonna catch up. There will always be more movies, more shows, more podcasts, more interesting, informative things to fill my mind and drive my imagination. That realization, in itself, is incredibly freeing.

I recognize it could lead to debilitating depression. There is so much out there I might know and never will. In a sense that's sad. In another sense it's wonderful. There will never be enough. The amount of things I won't experience is infinite - so if I add to it, it won't actually grow any (ask a mathematician if you didn't follow that).

I can chose, if I dare, if I have the willpower, to focus my attention on things vitally important to the rest of my life, not things that are self-important or portend some kind of intellectual completeness.

I'll be trying, over the next few weeks, to free myself from some measure of connection to my drug of choice. My Feedly link is tucked away nicely in an obscure bookmarks folder. Buried, for the time being. In a few weeks (months, maybe) I'll revisit it. There will be too much content to consume it all. I'll have to chose. I may chose to just ignore all of it.

Yes, I will be missing out on things I may never encounter. Interviews that will never happen again, words that will never be expressed in exactly the same way. But, in the end, when I really sit and think about it. There's nothing on those pages that will make any difference in my life - outside of my bizarre satisfaction in getting them done.

I shall not participate in the gospel of more. There is always more to know, more to be done, more to have. I will never have it all. As fun as trying is sometimes, it is detrimental to life - real life. Hopefully I can stop and smell the proverbial roses a bit this Spring...

...but not every rose, because that's obsessive and as satisfying as it is, it's also incredible stressful and will ultimately lead to me to shrivel up and die.

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I had my first real parental battle of wills the other day. I was doing dishes while my daughter was eating her breakfast. I heard a big smash and turned to see she'd slammed her hand into her cereal bowl and strewn cheerios across the room. It may have been an accident, but she's taken to playing with her cheerios when she's full lately and I suspected otherwise (she's got impressive fine motor skills).

In hindsight (and at my wife's suggestion) I probably just should have had her help me pick them up. In the moment, I didn't think of it. I reminder her what I'd told her every day that week, "We don't play with our food. We don't throw our food." And I asked her to say "sorry" for spilling her cheerios.

She's said sorry before. She recognizes when she's done something wrong and when we ask, she's pretty good about apologizing. That morning she refused. "No!"

She's almost two. The "nos" have arrived and more are on the way. I get that.

I picked up the spilled cereal and told her she couldn't get down until she said, "Sorry, Dad." She was not happy about that. She screamed and (fake) cried for a while and just kept getting angry. I picked her up and sat her on my lap and calmed her and explained what had happened and why she needed to apologize.

My first thought was that she was too young to quite understand what had happened and I know children that age have trouble with if/then statements and consequences. So I asked her why I was upset and if she'd done something wrong. She responded pretty quickly and clearly that cheerios on the floor were her fault and it was wrong. I was surprised at her level of awareness. I asked if she would say "sorry." Again she refused.

I tried a different tactic, again asking what happened and she responded the same way. I asked if she would do it again. She got a huge smile on her face and said, "Yes!" She clearly had fun spilling the cheerios.

This is where the true parent conundrum comes in. She clearly knew what she did, that I didn't like it and she didn't care. She also knew I was holding her in my lap and she wasn't to get down until she apologized. Who gives in here?

If I believed she wasn't quite aware of what was going on, I could let it pass. Reminder her of right behavior and save the real lesson for later. But she knew. I could tell she knew. She said she knew. I could see in the mischievous eye twinkle she knew exactly what was going on.

It was a real battle of wills. And I'm pretty stubborn.

We sat on that kitchen chair for more than an hour. Every few minutes she'd ask to get down or cry and we'd go over the events of the morning again and I'd ask for an apology. "No!"

Finally, I knew this couldn't go on all day. I called my wife at work to explain. She didn't have any idea either, but she reaffirmed that we shouldn't let her get away with things she knows are wrong. She also hinted that perhaps 75 minutes of sitting was punishment enough. I put my daughter down after one more discussion and she calmly went and sat on the couch by herself for another twenty minutes and it allowed us both to recover. We had a great day overall.

It got me thinking, though, about apologies. Even a child younger than two had the urge to hold out rather than apologize for something she's not really sorry for. Where does that come from? It makes sense to me in older children or adults, people with a more developed sense of self and relationship - it's a protection, a sign of independence - but a child that young. I wondered (I still do) if it's something deeper.

In my family, after every fight, we had to say "sorry" and "I forgive you," whether we meant it or not. There were always those times when one or more of us refused and we had to sit in our rooms until we complied. Most of the time we said it just to be done with it and moved on (whether we meant it or not). I was always amazed that my parents never seemed to know (at least they never indicated they knew) that we were lying.

Of course they knew.

My parents were teaching us a whole mess of valuable lesson that I only came to appreciate much later. First, they were showing us how to finish a fight. When the arguing is done and the offenses are made, you apologize - and you forgive. That's how reconciliation happens.

What's more, they were teaching us (without us ever knowing - I was well over 20 and married before it dawned on me what I'd learned) that saying things you know deep down to be true (even when you don't feel like meaning them) helps you to internalize and live them out.

I say I'm sorry when I've hurt someone, not because I feel sorry or because I always regret saying what I said, but because I know this relationship is not one I want permanently broken. I know a fight takes two (or more people) and everyone is to blame in some measure (even if it's just a little bit), therefore an apology will be necessary unless we're ready to write off the relationship altogether.

I apologize because I know it's necessary, not because I'm sorry. And, you know what, that apology helps me be sorry. It might not happen right away, but it begins the healing process, both internally and within the relationship. The same thing applies to "I forgive you;" you don't have to feel it, just know it's necessary.

The principle applies to a lot of things. I've found it especially helpful in matters of faith or ethics. Saying, "all people are valuable" might be a lie if we're judging by our feelings and inclinations, but if it is a faith claim - something we believe deep down (even if we don't feel it), it is still true. What's more, saying it helps us feel it.

A lot of people will say this is being fake. I tend to believe that accepting your feelings as determinative of your actions is being fake. That's not really who you are, it's just how you feel in the moment. Feelings change. Our core beliefs rarely do. In fact, I'd say speaking only out of our feelings betrays a belief that our feelings define us.

Your feelings do not define you. No one wants to be judged by their weakest moment (or their strongest, really - that's a lot to live up to). We want to be taken for who we really are.

I'm not saying feelings don't matter - and speaking them aloud is quite helpful. "I don't want to be in this room right now," or "I don't like you very much at the moment," can be positive steps to resolution. But the expression of our feelings does need to be accompanied by an expression of our belief. "I don't like you very much right now," needs to come with, "I love you and that will not change."

I hope my daughter learns to apologize. I hope we can convince her that it's healthier for her and for everyone else to use those words of calm and comfort easily. I hope she can learn early that her feelings do not define her, but for now, I'll enjoy my stubborn little girl and the fact she still wants to talk to me about everything.

In the end, though, as much as everyone says she acts like me, she's very much like her mom in this way. After a few hours of cooling off, I asked her again about the cheerios and what happened in the morning. I asked if she'd say, "Sorry." She smiled and said, "sorry, Dad," and went right back to playing as if it were no big deal.

I suppose I still have a few lessons to learn about how to argue, myself.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Political Future

I used some expiring airline miles last year to get a subscription to The Economist. This is a magazine geared towards very rich well-connected people. All the ads involve private planes and watches that cost more than my car. It's full of inquiries for high level diplomatic jobs and request for bids on projects like building an interstate highway system in Angola - you know, the usual stuff.

Anyway, I'm learning a bit about economics; there's also a lot of commentary on politics around the world. The Economist is a pretty solidly conservative magazine. Not conservative in the American sense, but solidly European conservative. What's fascinating is that, when commenting on US economic policy, they always tend to cherry-pick and endorse the kinds of moderate-Republican ideas that could never get passed in a million years. (Incidently, they couldn't get passed because the majority of their own party would call them traitors and neither party seems keen to vote for anything the other party comes up with, no matter how much they like it or how much real sense it makes.)

Reading this magazine, which is old (ancient in terms of economics; if it weren't for the name I might think the magazine preceded the professional discipline altogether), it's easy to get the impression that the solution to America's problems is just one vote away.

There's an easy to believe narrative - that some moderate Republican sweeps to the forefront of national consciousness, bullies his (we're talking the GOP after all) way through the primaries and takes the White House on noting but personal charisma and the confidence of common sense.

I almost wrote a blog post extrapolating the realities of this narrative as a prediction of the next three years.

But, sadly, this narrative is an unrealistic, mean-spirited joke. It is the narrative our political classes try to sell us each election cycle - that we're only one vote away from sanity (or conversely, inept stupidity). We usually buy it. We like happy endings.

In reality, though, a narrative of this sort would require too many people to sacrifice their own power and personal interest for the common good. Powerful people don't generally work that way. Yes, we can point to heroes of the past who did that very thing - George Washington who refused to be King or [fill in name here] who conceded an election they could have continued to challenge. But really, we know those names because they are exceptions.

If I were to predict the political future - as much as I'd like to construct a beautiful, heart-stirring narrative with a warm, fuzzy conclusion all wrapped up in a utopian, American-flag bow - here's just not much good to say. People in power will cling desperately to it. Those who do manage to wrest some of it away will quite soon begin to act like the people they overthrew. Life for those at the bottom will remain relatively unchanged.

It is the story of human history.

Ultimately, I'm glad for this little reminder today. The Economist is smart, plus they actually cover news from the entire world on a regular basis, people would all be better off reading it more often - at the very least it would raise the level of discourse in our world - but in the end, solutions are only easy on paper.

One positive note, though, I was much quicker to recognize the callow allure of political theater and to wake myself up from the dream that governments and elections are the key to human interaction. I am happy to watch the happenstances of the electoral class as spectator sport, but I am even happier to be free from those connections. A while back I made the decision to throw my lot in with the politics of everyday life, to commit full-bore to the Church as an alternative system of doing life together (Jesus for President!). I've exempted myself from my place in the structures and systems of government. That choice just seems smarter and easier to maintain as the years go by.

Don't get me wrong - I'm looking forward to some excellent theater in the next election cycle - I'm just not pinning my hopes on that cycle getting us anywhere we haven't been before.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Past, Present, and the Past-Present

The evangelical world is a strange little microcosm of religion. These days (and I suspect, most days) we seem pretty divided between the past and what's next. I think it's always been this way for us. We tend to be fadish. One thing comes along, it gets tired, then something new pops up, we fight over change for a while, then the traditionalists sort of die off and things move on to the next fad. It's a cycle.

It used to be relatively petty things, like types of music and appropriate dress, etc. Then we went to slightly more important things - ecclesiology (the goals of our congregations), and leadership training, etc. Now we've moved a bit further afield and we're creating a pretty large divide in things like theology, the content of worship (not just the structure), and even ethics.*

They're not such easy things to overlook or let pass.

There seems to be a typical disconnect, though, in the positions. It is still very much a traditional vs progressive vibe. Some people want to maintain the history - the things that have worked over time and proven true - while others want to move forward into creative and, at times, uncharted waters.

These are the classic definitions of liberal and conservative, even if they tend to be unrecognizable, given our other cultural uses of those terms. Ultimately, though, from each perspective, the divide is about trust. Traditionalists don't trust something untested, something that might potentially reform and remake faith as they know it. Sensible mistrust. Progressives don't trust that historical faith and practice can provide substance for a changing future world.

Like most disagreements, both are likely right and both are likely wrong. If it were any other way, things would get solved much more quickly.

What's so ironic about these positions in evangelicalism is how similar they are to one another. It's essentially the same argument separated by a generation or two.

Those people we call traditional evangelicals today are the descendants of what were once liberal Christian radicals. Evangelicalism arose out of the social, holiness, and revival movements of the 1800's, where people felt the traditional Christian hierarchy (both Catholic and Protestant) were too staid, intellectual, formal, unmoving. People encountered God in unique, transformational ways that were not explained or expressed well by the Church as they knew it. In many cases, this tradition was written out entirely. A lot of the sects that have become evangelical mainstream today don't recognize any real Church tradition between the New Testament and their own founding.

Over time, these traditions also became organized and solidified and institutionalized. Thus, those we tend to call "traditional" are really just the descendants of evangelical radicals. And those progressives (usually their kids or grandkids) are, at once, both the next generation of their own belief system and also the previous generation.

It's a lack of historical perspective that inadvertently supports the main gospel address of such problems: "Stop fighting! We're all in this together. Both of you, act like it!"

These arguments over tradition and innovation are, in actuality, simply not broad enough in perspective.

What evangelicals missed out on the first time around is the foundation of 1800 years of Church history and experience. All of that was rejected because of how it was being portrayed and played out in a specific, limited, context. But there is a treasure trove of history to mine for spirit-filled, gospel-infused lessons, learned and refined over the course of centuries of faithful life and worship.

And yes, some of the "traditions" of evangelicalism need to be thrown out simply because they were formed without the proper historical context. It's sort of the way I have to laugh when people describe hymns from the early 1900s as "old hymns of the Church," as if there wasn't important, powerful musical expression before that time.

And yes, there are things about evangelicalism that need to change going forward, but doing so by throwing out the history and tradition of the Church is only going to repeat the mistakes of the past. A solely progressive future will inevitably end in a rootless, confusing faith the next generation will ultimately reject - and subsequently move the whole tradition farther from the Church as a whole. A solely traditionalist future will be one of slow death and disappearance - without a new generation to carry on the lessons of the past, if they are told to conform or get out, well that's no future at all.

The answer is not in the present or the past - it's in whatever we call the pre-past. For evangelicals, it's looking beyond simply the generation that brought disconnect from the Church. It's a rediscovery of God's lessons learned through ages of experience.

Traditional (the "old school") and progressive evangelicals need each other. We need progressives to question and point out places where the evangelical tradition is blind or missed the mark; and we need traditionalists to hold fast to historical inquiry and the importance of foundation. But we also need both groups to work together to find our place in the larger Christian story - for it is in our story, from the moment of creation through the present day, that we find the context by which we properly engage the world.

We are our parents, and our kids are us. Until we comes to grips with that reality, we're just going to be lost in a sea of disagreement.

We're all in this together. We might as well try to get along.

*Phyllis Tickle presents a really simple and profound explanation of this organizational and sociological struggle for faith movements in her book, The Great Emergence - which I reviewed a while back.