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Post Modern Christian Education, #CDSPTheology, and the Decline of Church Involvement

Tomorrow, classes start for my second fall semester at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Since I started, I’ve had much less time for writing in my blog, so I figured I’d try to get this post written before all my writing energy goes elsewhere. If I can manage it, I’ll post extracts from some of what I’m reading and writing for class here, but don’t be surprised if there are fewer posts here over the coming few months.

This semester, I’m taking Post Modern Christian Education and Theology 1. I’ve done my readings for the first week and find them overlapping in some interesting ways. I’m also thinking about current events and how they might relate to these classes.

Morgan Guyton has a post up on Patheos about the Roman Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse Scandals in Pennsylvania and the call by Archbishop Vigano for Pope Francis to resign. No, You Can’t Blame Pope Francis For This. He writes, “It is not simply a matter of policy; it is a theological issue.” The original post got a bunch of comments and my sharing of it on Facebook got its share of comments too.

It seems like there are several different components to the discussion that seem to be talking past each other. How should the church be organized and how hierarchical should the organization be? Richard Hooker, an influential sixteenth century Anglican theologian, in his “Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie”, considers the role of bishops or presbyters in church polity to be adiaphora, or a matter indifferent to salvation.

How libertarian or authoritarian should church leadership be? What role should gender play in church leadership? How do we understand sexuality? Lots of fun topics to explore. Is lack of consensus on these issues leading to a decline in church attendance?

Yesterday, after nearly 200 years, the UCC Church of the Redeemer in New Haven, CT had its final service. Around me, more and more Episcopal churches are moving to part-time priests. What is the future for churches in the United States?

As I think about clergy sexual abuse scandals, the decline of church attendance in the United States, not to mention the impact of climate change on our world, it seems like all that is missing is a pre-exilic prophet, from the time before the Babylonian exile, putting things all into a greater context. It could be supplemented by more readings of the current U.S. Presidency in the context of The Scottish Play.

How do we link the stories of pre-exilic prophets and Shakespeare to our situation today? One of the books I’m reading for Post Modern Christian Education, Soul Stories: African American Christian Education by Anne Streaty Wimberly talks about “storylinking”. It will be interesting to explore how we can link some of these stories.

One interesting exploration of this was the introduction to James K.A Smith’s “How (not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor” which we read for this week. I appreciated the references to David Foster Wallace’s stories (pages 14-17).

Yet what I found even more interesting was the discussion of different aspects of “secular”. Smith describes Taylor’s view of secularism this way:

A society is secular3 insofar as religious belief or belief in God is understood to be one option among others, and thus contestable (and contested).

(pages 21-22)

This leads me over to my thoughts about Theology 1. We’ve started off with Alister E. McGrath’s “Christian Theology: An Introduction” and Ralph McMichael’s “The Vocation of Anglican Theology”. I’ve been thinking a lot about western Christianity’s apparent need for its theology to be systematic and rational, especially after the Enlightenment.

How does a systematic rational theology help us deal with the aftermath of the Great War, with the Holocaust, with nuclear weapons, and with climate change? Are there limits to our systematic rationalism?

Has western culture fallen into a form of idolatry where created rationality is worshiped instead of the creator of all that is rational or beyond what can be understood rationally? How does this fit with Taylor’s talk about secular society and the decline of church involvement in the United States?

Recently, a friend spoke about her thoughts on why religion is declining in the United States. She attributed it to problems people have believing in the angry God of the Old Testament and the religion of angry white men who worship this God and hate homosexuals.

I don’t believe that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is this angry God that many people caricaturize God as. Perhaps the bigger issue is that the assumption is that we live in a rational world and we can understand God rationally. It seems like we’ve lost our ability to see and appreciate that which transcends our understanding, and that this is the great loss. It is where I find common ground with those who have little use for God that are seeking to reconnect life to art. It is like trying to reconnect life to spirit and things that go beyond rationality.

It will be interesting to see how my thoughts and feeling evolve over the coming term. It will be interesting to see how some of our national and global dramas shake out over the coming months, and, of course, it will be interesting to see how much time I can make for posting to my blog.