SHOULD the church adapt to a post-Google world?

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SHOULD the church adapt to a post-Google world?

As the big “Theology After Google” event closes down, it finally strikes me: this major conference wasn’t really about Google. In one sense, it wasn’t even about technology. At a deeper level, it was about two questions: should the church adapt to the rapidly changing world around us? And, if so, what precisely should we do?

Should the church adapt? Well, imagine the alternative. Indeed, there’s an easy way to see it up close and personal: just go to the websites of the critics of the Theology After Google (TAG) conference. Ken Silva called the TAG conference a “heresy fest” and, later, “nothing more than a warped and toxic twisting of the actual Christian faith.” You — each of you, each reader — has to decide for himself or herself. I encourage you to go to Ken’s blog and read it with an open mind. In the same vein, I’d encourage you to watch the professors at Southern Baptist Theology Seminary tear apart Brian McLaren’s newest book, A New Kind of Christianity, in a panel discussion. Decide for yourself whether adapting to the world (and the people!) around us amounts to selling Christianity down the river.

You may agree with Ken and the irrate professors. Or you may even think that our TransformingTheology project — the call for the church to adapt to an emerging world and emerging technologies — is even worse than Ken thinks. Perhaps the TAG conference, and the present writer, should be put on his sidebar of dangerous leaders, alongside Rick Warren (and, if you follow the links on Rick, alongside “radical Roman Catholic apostates such as Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the militantly pro-Roman Catholic Church spiritual Gestapo Unit known as the Jesuits”).

On the other hand, you may endorse the motif that ran through every speaker and every workshop at the Theology After Google event: we best follow Jesus by attempting to be Christ-like to the people around us … by attempting to meet them where they are. Using new technologies, and thinking in new ways about our faith are part of that. The central Christian questions and concerns are still our concerns, but the answers can be affected by the new things we’re learning and the new conversations we’re having.

It really is a choice. Ken Silva and the Southern Baptist seminary professors really do embody a different attitude toward the world “after Google” than we do. Which way will you choose?


Paul Holcombe

March 14, 2010at 12:57 am

Well, I am certainly not on the side of those who tore apart Brian McLaren’s book. I noticed Bruce Ware was on the panel. It’s usually a good bet that if he opposes something then I will probably like it (e.g., Open Theism). Bring on the McLaren book!

Paul Holcombe

March 14, 2010at 1:02 am

I will definitely not choose the side of the Southern Baptists.

max j.

March 14, 2010at 3:15 am

Well, I, for one, found the whole thing quite encouraging. As a religious progressive, I was uplifted to see my neo/post-evangelical Christian brothers and sisters (finally!) willing to seriously engage with the the insights from and challenges of the contemporary world, with it’s various social, scientific, economic, psychological, ecological, and, yes, technological movements.

Change can truly be scary for people who lack the courage (and, dare I say, lack the FAITH) to trust in the novel, often surprising ways of the Spirit; to risk opening up themselves to the possibility of genuine, radical transformation. So, it’s not at all surprising that Ken Silva and his like-minded “conservers” would do their best to try and keep Christianity in a box.

It is my fervent prayer that the Emergent Impulse continues to “infect” more and more church folks, enabling them to join the Cosmic Christ in ushering in the once and future Commonwealth of God/dess.

pax, max

Ken Silva

March 14, 2010at 11:12 am

“Ken Silva and the Southern Baptist seminary professors really do embody a different attitude toward the world ‘after Google’ than we do.”

Phil, I think it would be more accurate to say we employ a different attitude toward what the late Christian apologist Dr. Walter Martin, interestingly enough SBC himself, so often called “the historic, orthodox, Christian faith” than you do.

The differences aren’t over “the world”; no one’s arguing that the Gospel doesn’t have a secondary phase, which involves caring for our fellow man, they concern theological fundmentals i.e. cardinal doctrines of Christianity.

Rocky supinger

March 14, 2010at 11:25 am

I didn’t even know who Ken Silva was before someone (Steve Knight?) mentioned him in a talk. I don’t think there can be any doubt the way forward and the Silva is the mouthpiece of a movement in its death throes. TAG, for me, was steeped in Christian proclamation. Here’s the difference, I think: Silva and his ilk are steeped in an extreme form of the evangelical Pauline proclamation about Jesus. TAG, emergent, progressive theology: these are aiming to embody Jesus’ own proclamation, especially as it concerned children, the poor, the sick, and the outcast. Silva is fond of saying that Emergent wants to make Christianity “palatable” to contemporary culture, but that’s not right. This conversation, this friendship, wants to share with contemporary culture the good news that it is cherished by God.

Philip Clayton

March 14, 2010at 12:52 pm

Great opening comments. And Ken, thanks for posting. I guess the question is: is there a two-way relationship between the Gospel and “the world after Google”?

Ken Silva

March 14, 2010at 1:26 pm


The same Person, namely God the Holy Spirit, spoke through both Jesus, in His humanity, and Paul so there’s zero conflict between the two.

And the Good News for any culture is the proclaimation (Red Letters by the way) of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins in Jesus Christ.


No problem; my point is “the world fater Google” has nothing to do with the message of the Gospel itself, which I stated above.

I would also say that it’s quite obvious I’m all for using technology to proclaim that message, as well as, to defend the faith once for all delivered, in the first century, to the saints.


March 14, 2010at 3:21 pm

Each age has had to adjust for its time and context. Adaptation has been a part of the Church since the Church has been the Church. Here are a few of the people who have led some of these adaptations: Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Lydia, Phoebe, Clement, Macrina, Irenaeus, Syncletica, Tertullian, Origen, Hildegard, First Council of Nicaea, Anselm, Abelard, Lombard, Augustine, Pelagius, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Council of Trent, Spener, Wesley, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Hodge, Briggs, Niagara Bible Conference, Rauschenbusch, Vatican II, Schillebeeckx, Barth, Niebuhr, Tillich, Edwards, Bultmann, Moltmann, Johnson, Ruether, Sobrino, Tamez, Cone, Grant, Pui Lan, Dube, Cobb, Keller, Wright, Borg, McLaren, Theology After Google, etc. All of these people and groups adapted the Church’s theologies and practices in an effort to help the Church be faithful, the message be relevant, and ministry be effective. That’s not wrong or controversial. That’s practical and faithful. It demonstrates the Church’s ability to discern God’s voice and apply Scriptural wisdom to our different and changing contexts. So the Church is going to be expressed and embodied differently in each congregation as adaptations are made along the way. These adaptations are what the Church has always done as we seek to faithfully live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in each new age and location. As we adapt ourselves, we are not called to “be” (imitate) Jesus by doing ministry just like he did in the lands were he traveled. That’s not adaptation – and it’s certainly not realistic. Instead, we are called to be faithful to the Gospel in the particular place we live, and in ways that make sense for the place we live. So, the fundamental question of the Church isn’t: What would Jesus do? The fundamental question is: What would Jesus have us do in our particular time and place? That’s the question each of us must face. And each of us will have a different answer. The important thing is to be faithful to the answer that each of us discerns. The common thread will be adaptation and change as we seek to be as faithful and effective as possible in our different contexts. As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” For the sake of the effectiveness of the Church and our ability to share the Good News, we need to adapt. Theology After Google was one important conversation along the path toward good and faithful adaptation. We need more conversations like these. They help us to discern the best ways to adapt the Church in our postmodern, internet-based world. As our foremothers and forefathers in faith have always done, we must continue to mold ourselves into ever-new designs from the clay that has been passed onto us.

Rocky Supinger

March 14, 2010at 6:10 pm


I’m not positing a conflict between Jesus and Paul, only summarizing what seem to be the dominant emphases in evangelical vs. progressive theological reflection. I don’t think you’d disagree that progressives and mainliners could do to wrestle with the propositional either/or, this/that, Pauline canon. Likewise, evangelicals could stand to take Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom of God more seriously.

Ken Silva

March 14, 2010at 8:03 pm


I understand what you mean; and I guess what I’m trying to say is, a progressive e.g. like Marcus Borg, and one such as I who holds to the historic Christian faith I alluded to before, can never have unity.

We don’t believe in the same Jesus; so as admirable as it is to try and make a “big tent” Christianity to include us both, in the end, it ceases to be Christian.

That said, there’s nothing even in Reformation theology that precludes caring for the good of our fellow man. Without arguing I’m simply stating that my point is, as I see it, we don’t need to jettison proper Christian doctrine even in an “after Google world.”

John King

March 14, 2010at 8:51 pm

I think that most Christians would agree that technology should be used in the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. I am not sure that the Christian communities can yet discern all of the ways that technology could be used, what ways should be used, or the consequences of using technology.

One advantage of technology is that our message can be communicated faster, less expensively, and to more people where they are at any given time. As a result, more people can participate in the process of thinking about our faith. This freedom to participate could lead to more passion, commitment, and creativity. Additionally, some technologies put the expression of faith into a public space open to direct challenge and debate, possibly strengthening our own perspectives.

However, there could be some disadvantages. As more people can express themselves, the diversity of viewpoints can multiply. Those concerned with issues of orthodoxy versus heresy may find the diversity of interpretations overwhelming. Even today, if one ventures an expression of faith in any online venue, one will find many differences of opinion. Some of them are informed, but many are poorly informed. It is difficult to weigh these many opinions. It could lead to more confusion. With the large fissures between Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox, and Protestantism along with the tremendous fractionalization within Protestantism itself, Christianity may already have completed a very tall tower of Babel. Technology may make it worse before it gets better, if it does ever get better. Also, as our message enters further into the public square, Christians may lose the debate. The use of technology may also lead to de-personalization and a further emphasis on the individuality of our faith. While certain technologies may help us overcome these issues, (at the risk of sounding sappy), sometimes there is no substitute for a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand when we fall, or a community of love to accept us as we are.

Beyond these issues of technology, (if I dare speak as a progressive), I see three major inter-related challenges. First, Christians need a clear, simple, straightforward, understandable expression of our faith that does not needlessly put us at odds with our worldviews nor make us appear delusional. At the same time, our expression of faith, while informed by our increasing knowledge, cannot abandon core truths of Christianity. I keep listening! Quite a challenge. Second, Christianity needs men and women who have experienced the power of God in Jesus Christ in their lives, experiences that will drive a passion and commitment that overcomes the call of comfort, power, recognition, or wealth. A passion and commitment that opens the hearts and lives of other people. Finally, Christians need to build communities of faith, acceptance, equality, freedom, justice, and love in which the kingdom of God draws near.

Philip Clayton

March 14, 2010at 9:39 pm

If you read through the nine responses, you get a powerful impression of Christians struggling to find ways to respond with compassion and insight to the contemporary world. I deeply value this open discussion and the religious commitment that underlies it. In a sense, it’s MORE valuable because we are wrestling together with hard questions of what it means to be Christlike today, even though we don’t agree on all the details.

For this reason, it makes me sad to read above, “We don’t believe in the same Jesus; so as admirable as it is to try and make a ‘big tent’ Christianity to include us both, in the end, it ceases to be Christian.” I don’t think that would be the impression of the neutral observer on this site.

It is an honor to be able to host posts with the kind of depth and insight that I have just read. May they be of value for all those who visit this site…

Ken Silva

March 14, 2010at 9:58 pm

To be clear, I said of a liberal/progressive like Marcus Borg: “We don’t believe in the same Jesus.” And you said, “I don’t think that would be the impression of the neutral observer on this site.”

So this neutral observer would think that someone like myself who holds to the full Deity of Jesus Christ, in addition to His full humanity, and Marcus Borg who believes Jesus was simply a man, believe in the same Jesus?


March 14, 2010at 10:14 pm

Christianity has been diverse from the beginning. Mark is different than Matthew. Paul is different than Peter. Abelard is different than Lombard. Luther is different than Wesley. Hodge is different than Briggs. NT Wright is different than Marcus Borg. Philip Clayton is different than Brian McLaren. The list goes on and on. The key is to find the dignity in our differences. We are all different members of the same Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). We all have different gifts for ministry. So, it fills me with hope and joy when I hear people like Clayton and McLaren explore ways of effectively engaging in “big tent” Christianity. Both of these theologians are committed to being open and inclusive of different perspectives. Both speak with nuance and charitably. Both invite as many people to the table as possible. In a world of too much adversarial banter, I’m grateful for the voices in the Church that call us together. In the end, I think Jonathan Sacks is correct: “We will learn to live with diversity once we understand the God-given, world-enhancing dignity of difference.”

Philip Clayton

March 15, 2010at 12:48 am

Brian, beautifully put.

— Philip

John King

March 15, 2010at 10:26 am

Diversity. We are all different, something to be celebrated indeed. However, I doubt that I could use the word “we” in the previous sentence without having something in common with my fellow human beings. Christian diversity. One source if it is in the New Testament itself. Another source is in the very different, specific situations that all persons and communities find themselves and the choices they make. However, we have indeed reached a sad place when any Christian can say that “we do not believe in the same Jesus”. It is because of this sadness that I am interested in what Christians share in common. Not for the purpose of preserving any particular old orthodoxy or for convincing anyone of a new orthodoxy, but for the sake of love and community.

While I do not think that Mr. Silva’s perspective lacks the ability to communicate the gospel to some people, I find that its lack of openness to the world and its resistance to new understandings causes this perspective to fail many people, including myself. I find myself willing to explore any possibility. I think that puts me firmly on the progressive side (however, I really dislike that word). However, I do not view myself as a progressive Christian. I view myself as a Christian. But, my openness causes some to put me on the “outside” of the faith. That is sad. This sadness motivates me to search for some common ground. While I do not come from a Catholic tradition, I think the Hans Kung has some interesting things to say about our common Christian faith. Because of his influence, when I use an adjective to modify my Christianity, I use “ecumenical”.

1 Thessalonians is probably the first surviving text of the Christian faith. Paul starts his letter by describing the church of the Thessalonians as “in God and the Lord Jesus Christ”. I must admit that I have not made much progress, that is satisfying, toward a common ground. However, for me, the very fact of the New Testament writings themselves is one common ground on which we can stand. No matter how much more a Christian may want to say about the New Testament, I would hope that we could all agree that it is the permanent starting point for our common identity. Dare I say more?

Cal Thomsen

March 15, 2010at 11:49 am

I, with long-standing evangelical roots, didn’t go to the TAG conference for the technology. I went for the chance to think about the church, its mission, and its future. The conference was anything but a “heresy fest.” It was a moving and meaningful chance to think about what it means to take the Lordship of Jesus seriously in a world that is defined by radically new ways of communicating and creating community. It was a chance to ponder what it means to be church when we can’t simply fit people into neat, prepackaged boxes and where we can’t just assume that all the questions are answered and we can’t neatly divide the world into those who are heretics and those who aren’t. And we definitely can’t assume that they way we’ve always said things will even get through to most people.

For me it was also a powerful opportunity to reflect on my own sense of mission. These words from the musical “Wicked” come to mind:

So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine

As I get ready to go back to work in my church and to teach ministerial students about evangelism next quarter I will know that my story is different because I was there.


Dong-Sik Park

March 16, 2010at 2:06 pm

I cannot forget the day when I heard about for the first time Minjung Theology. I was a faithful high school student who wanted to become a pastor. A senior who was a progressive seminary student lectured about minjung’s life and minjung theology. It was a shock to me and totally opposite to my conservative faith, so that I told him: “If I recognize that you are right, after I enter university and study, I will not be silent about church and history. However, if you are wrong, I will not tolerate you.”

This was a story when I was a member of Korean Student Christian Movement (KSCM) which many people called a kind of “heresy” or an illegal circle.

However, this heresy enabled me to open my eyes and to see and know other aspects which I had never seen in my life. Thank to this heresy, I became an open-mined person in university and the senior was my hero at that time.

I hope conservative Christians to know that although they think they alone grasp the full gospel of God in their hands, it cannot be fully apprehended in their hands which have gap between fingers, because gracious gospel of God is like water, so that their small hands cannot grasp it.

For me, since the worst enemy in Christians is the rejection to the novelty, Whitehead’s insight is helpful for them: “The world is thus faced by the paradox that, at least in its higher actualities, it craves for novelty and yet is haunted by terror at the loss of the past, with its familiarities and its loved ones” (Whitehead, Process and Reality, 340).

In a sense, are they not haunted by heresy which is called familiarity?

John King

March 16, 2010at 4:11 pm

Mr. Park,

I really like your quote from Whitehead. If we only worked to conserve the past, we would never progress. I am not much of a reader of Whitehead, but I get the impression that he also thought the past influenced or was in some way included in each new event.

I am less comfortable with the idea of “heresy”. Who gets to decide what is established religious beliefs? If you are RC, I guess it is ultimately the Pope. If you are Othodox, I guess, it is “the Tradition” of the church. For the fundamentalist Protestants, they tried to make a inerrant, literalistic perspective of the Bible some kind of final authority. Personaly, I am not comfortable with any of these options. Without establishing the standard, there cannot be any heresy.

From the NT times there have been several major perspectives that were used to present the gospel. With all of their shortcomings, they all had power to open the hearts of man to the good news of Jesus Christ. Many of these perspectives still operate today with more or less power. It seems that something new continues to come forth. For myself, I like the questions more than the answers; so many of these new things speak to me. For others the familiar is more comfortable. For those who believe that they have found the truth, it is hard for them to hear something different or new. As each of us get older, many get more comfortable with the answers that we have chosen in life and are more resistance to change.

For myself I am most comfortable with the diversity of views while at the same time trying to bridge our differences with an emphasis on what Christians have in common. It seems that we will never be able (and maybe we should not) to cross the bridges and stand all on one side; but, if we build the bridges, we can, at least, cross over on occassion and visit/share/love our fellow Christians.

Dong-Sik Park

March 16, 2010at 9:12 pm

Mr. King,

I agree with your points, and, especially, like your last three verbs, “visit/share/love.” Here I use the term “heresy” just to criticize Ken Silva’s “heresy fest.” The heresy about which conservative Christians criticize is not really heresy, but just another perspective in Christianity.

max j.

March 17, 2010at 5:42 pm

In the words of my old mentor, David Ray Griffin (following Walter Bauer), “Orthodoxy is just another word for ‘majority rule.’ ”

This tendency towards what Hegel called “the philosophy of the Right,” where powerful elites (or powerful church councils) get to decide they MUST be doing the will of God (otherwise, why would they be in power?) has always struck me as profoundly ANTI-Christian, if by “Christian” we mean a worldview based on the ACTUAL teachings and life-example of Jesus the Christ.

BTW, good to hear from you, Dong-Sik. You remind me of another of my favorite Whitehead quotes from P&R:

“There remains the final reflection, how shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the DEPTHS in the nature of things. In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly.”

Good words to live by, IMHO.

John King

March 17, 2010at 6:36 pm

Max j.

Very good words from Whitehead indeed. Your proposal of “Christian” as the worldview based on the ACTUAL teachings and life-example of Jesus the Christ is good. I think it has some correspondence with the proposal that something that is common for all Christians is that the NT act as the permanent starting point for our common identity. For where else do we get the ACTUAL teachings and life-example of Jesus the Christ? There are some extracanonical sources that may help, but at least the NT can be the starting point. The focus on Jesus as the basis of a Christian worldview goes along with some traditions that view what we learn of Jesus in the the NT becomes the lens through which we interpret the rest of the scriptures. In some of Kaseman’s works, he seems to argue for some such “canon within the canon”.

John L

March 17, 2010at 7:54 pm

Max, your Whitehead quote brings to mind something Isaac Newton said some 300 years ago,

“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

or Hamlet,

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”

I’m really enjoying this conversation, and glad to see Ken engaging constructively with it. Much like John King (xlnt comments!), I am most comfortable among a diversity of well-intentioned, thoughtfully-considered viewpoints. Looking for shared merit where others may see only irreconcilable differences is, I would suggest, the first step towards Jesus’ absurdly paradoxical command to love one’s enemies.

Philip Clayton

March 17, 2010at 8:05 pm

I am proud of the comments that have been posted here. You don’t all agree. But you envision a kind of theological conversation that we have not seen enough of, and you are actually embodying your ideals in your posts. Even more noticeable, you don’t argue for this kind of dialogue out of Enlightenment or rationalist assumptions, but out of the life and teachings of Jesus. To many in our culture today, that will come as a shock — and indeed, perhaps a refreshing one. I hope we can bring the position you are defending, and the way that you’re defending it, to an ever wider audience!

— Philip

John King

March 18, 2010at 9:55 am

Mr Clayton,

Quoting you, “I hope we can bring the position you are defending, and the way that you’re defending it, to an ever wider audience!”

I could not agree more! While I could not attend TAG, I am guessing that you have summarized one of its goals. The online space is extremely varied and it is difficult to find reasonable discussions of faith. Every person should be respected, but each of us needs to have help in discerning the truth.

I find particularly helpful those who post short videos online directed to a specific point. The voice and the face adds to the communication.

I will keep watching for new ideas!

Andrew G

March 19, 2010at 1:09 am

It seems to me that in trying to jettison the so-called big tent of Christianity, Mr Silva is at risk of setting himself (and perhaps those of his intellectual forebears) as judge, jury and executioner.

I thought that it is a divine responsibility to decide what is “Christian”. Using terms like “ceases to be Christian” on those we don’t agree with could be construed as a pointer to the form of pharisaical and narrow-minded bigotry that Jesus scathingly rebuked.

I’m no scholar or theologian, but in 15 years of frontline mission I’ve never seen someone won to the faith by dogma (sorry Calvin).

Dong-Sik Park

March 19, 2010at 1:23 am

Max, my private teacher of Whitehead,

Amen on your comments and love your another quoting from Whitehead.

John King

March 19, 2010at 6:37 am

Andrew G quoting your words,

“…… but in 15 years of frontline mission I’ve never seen someone won to the faith by dogma (sorry Calvin).”

Andrew, I think that is a very astute observation. I think much of our intellectual understanding of faith comes after our basic commitment of faith, trust, and hope that is many times inspired by the love of other people, by an existential crisis, by the interaction with a supporting community, or by a response of awe and wonder at our life in such a amazing world.

I think that many would agree that the language of faith can only be understood within the context in which it is used.

Philip Clayton

March 19, 2010at 7:58 am

Friends, just a quick note: Ken and I may disagree in our interpretation of what is most helpful to the church today. He thinks that certain very specific beliefs about Jesus are indispensable to Christian discipleship. But I don’t think that Ken is being a Pharisee. He has very strong convictions and pursues them with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind. As far as I can tell, he lives consistently with his beliefs. I think Andrew meant to affirm that an overemphasis on getting the beliefs right CAN lead to a pharisaical approach to religion. But I wouldn’t want readers to think that he was making an ad hominem comment.

— Philip


March 24, 2010at 8:10 am

Pharisees were the religious progressives of the day. They were were adapting Judaism for a post-Temple world after the Temple was destroyed. Their adaptations were very important for “emergent” Jews and are therefore the foundation of all modern forms of Judaism today. So, Pharisees were not law-worshiping, belief-touting, fundamentalist-sounding religious zealots. They were the progressive innovators of the day. Obviously, they get a bad reputation in the New Testament. But that is because the Pharisees and the early Jewish Christians were in comptetion with one another for the future of Judaism. Both sides exchanged some pretty rough banter against one another as they tried to define and distigish themselves. But that doesn’t mean we have to follow their example of competitive banter today. We can learn from the mistakes of the past. And now, looking back, we can honor the Pharisees as being progressive, savvy innovators as they attempted to adapt Judaism for the new world they faced. So, may we all be appropriately pharisaical!

Philip Clayton

March 24, 2010at 8:56 am

All right, Brian, you got me. To use the term in this sense sends some rather different conotations than the ones most readers of the New Testament get! — Philip


March 24, 2010at 11:34 am

Although I don’t necessarily agree with Ken’s remarks, I have to give him credit for his willingness to share his convictions amidst a cast of emergent church guys.

We all know we are living in the midst of a ‘shift,’ regardless of how one wishes to portray it. We have all seen it explicated a thousand times over by theologians, pastors, and churchgoers. It is conversations/conferences like this that help us make sense of our context, and properly communicate to our culture; i.e. Paul on Mars Hill.

So, I can appreciate Dr. Clayton’s work to do all we can to communicate our message in the most effective way possible, while I also appreciate Ken’s stance to not ‘compromise’ what he believes to be essential doctrine.

I think the emergent church movement would agree that if we continue in our modern dogmatic modes of thought, we will in a sense, “do away with Christianity,” by ignoring our context, while the SBC fears that if we surrender certain fundamental dogmatisms (what we claim to be true), we will do the same.

So, as we move forward, I think that we would all agree that we don’t want find that “Christendom has done away with Christianity, without being quite aware of it.”- Kierkegaard

Perhaps we all agree on this?

Jeff Alexander

March 24, 2010at 5:50 pm

“we best follow Jesus by attempting to be Christ-like to the people around us”

“Christ-like” What automatic unexamined assumptions and understandings do we have here in this term? Is there a standard “we all agree on” definition of “Christlikeness”? Or do we just assume we all know what being “Christ-like” is and just move on. As you know if we just assume, the possibility of making an “ass” out of “u’ and “me” goes way up. We have the witness of the New Testament writers as to what Jesus was like, which serves as a reference and the New Testament also makes the radical assertion that the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth is now directly knowable to our souls so we can cross correlate and confirm what we read in the NT with our personal experience of him. A possible convention or seminar topic “What is Christlikeness?” “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” I John 2:6

Andrew G

March 25, 2010at 12:19 am

In what way were the Pharisees “adapting Judaism for a post-Temple world after the Temple was destroyed”? Wasn’t the temple still standing when Jesus was calling the white-washed walls? And wasn’t the vast majority of the New Testament written by the time the Temple was torn asunder in AD70?

Philip Clayton

March 25, 2010at 2:54 am

Mike, I agree. I am not interested in reducing the Christian faith to something foreign to it. I think Jesus’ message still speaks powerfully to our contemporary world. That’s what makes me sad as I read the criticisms of my work and this site online. They assume that it’s a zero-sum game: the more we let Christianity be relevant to the contemporary world, the more they charge that we have have sold it out.

Jeff, I do think that we can (must!) think about what Christlikeness means and keep that as our focus.

Andrew, I’ll let Brian answer your question.

— Philip


March 25, 2010at 11:16 am

Dr. Clayton,

I believe what is percieved as “selling-out” is really only about a giving up of an immanentist critique of reason, and adopting a view of transcendence. This is what I believe postmodernity offers that modernity cannot. So to me, it’s not about “changing Christ,” as previously entertained above, or a different Christ, it’s what meta-narrative (if you will) we adopt to get the message out. We used modernity for a while, and now it looks like it’s time to move on. For some reason, more fundamentalist groups are unwilling to view it this way, and see the “selling-out” as a falling away from absolutes, or painting a different Jesus.

Great conversation.

John King

April 1, 2010at 7:39 am

There is a very interesting article at Religion Dispatches on the web entitled:

What do “The Christians” Believe? Easton Reflections from a Non-Christian.

The article speaks to the issue of the diversity of Christian belief in not a very positive light; but it is though provoking.

There is a new book that has come out entitled:

Ecumenism means You, too.

I have not read the book yet, but am looking forward to it even more in light of the discussion here and the article at Religion Dispatches

Peace in God and Jesus Christ

Philip Clayton

April 1, 2010at 9:40 am

John is referring to Gary Laderman’s article at — given the extremes in Christianity, he argues, perhaps it’s better to give up on the term altogether.

But why would we say this? Why not use the abuses as the occasion for reclaiming the power of Jesus’ life and teachings? If that message has been overlaid with dogmas and accretions, why not work to scrape them away? What we need is a “Just Christian” movement (pun attended), a return to a Just Faith.

John King

April 1, 2010at 9:54 am

Dr. Clayton,

I could not agree more.

As I have said before,

“For myself I am most comfortable with the diversity of views while at the same time trying to bridge our differences with an emphasis on what Christians have in common. It seems that we will never be able (and maybe we should not) to cross the bridges and stand all on one side; but, if we build the bridges, we can, at least, cross over on occassion and visit/share/love our fellow Christians”

I am forever comfortable with our differences, but relentless on finding and clarifying our common faith.

Peace in God and Jesus Christ

Philip Clayton

April 1, 2010at 12:48 pm

John, beautifully put! — Philip

Steve Harmon

April 3, 2010at 11:43 pm


Thanks for the book plug for Ecumenism Means You, Too: Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity.

For anyone wondering about the book John was referencing, here’s a link to a preview of the book:

Grace and peace,

Steve Harmon

John King

April 7, 2010at 9:22 am

There have been two interesting responses posted at Religion Dispatches to Gary Laderman’s article

Rex Hand

April 20, 2010at 3:50 pm

Given that I have some extensive interaction with Pentecostal sect which I also believe, maybe mistakenly, is closely related to what the SBC believes…the full Deity of Jesus Christ or as the they say ” Jesus is God manifested in the flesh.” Considering the nature of this topic is would not seem implausible to accept this view as I am aware that the Bible states this in more than a few verses in the New Testament. So I think what I am saying is in alignment with Ken Silva and not a Trinitarian view. For me, I like this view, however in no way am I unshakable in my belief of this or anything else for that matter. Also being drawn to toward scientific methods helps me to stay grounded, and in keeping an open mind leaving room for dialectic review of beliefs, structures, and opinions on all topics. But for some factions and groups who are unyielding in their beliefs, there comes a danger of pernicious outcomes. Learning to be amicable toward others’ beliefs can be difficult in the broad spectrum. Today’s religious extremism overshadows the good purpose that religion plays in the lives of many, but I also see the danger of religious control over people as well. Church to me is a form of crowd control; although deeply held Christian values and beliefs are an important staple in my household. Interestingly though, even the Four Horsemen find that religious values and traditions do not escape their recognition or practice in some instances such as sending Christmas cards as Dennett claims to do. Thanks Phil for an outlet such as this as it draws me from the mathematical world for a time.

Philip Clayton

April 24, 2010at 10:08 am

Rex, it’s great to see you posting. Some of the comments to my blog, “Do No Shared Christian Convictions Remain?” address your comment here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.

Take care,

ford expert

July 25, 2010at 3:46 pm

The status quo sucks.

Sent from my iPhone 4G


August 13, 2010at 12:04 pm

I’ll take Ken Silva, and orthadox biblical Christianity over the world loving man-centered compromising new age emergent church, any day of the week.

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