Bart Campolo vs. Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the future of Spiritual Community

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A lot has been written about Bart Campolo’s transition from Christian faith to atheism.  This isn’t surprising as he was a high profile Christian speaker and activist. What’s most interesting is what Bart is doing now. He’s a USC humanist chaplain. While no longer believing in God per se, Bart spends his time:

…developing a community that offers regular inspiration, pastoral care, supportive fellowship and service opportunities to students, faculty, staff members and local families and individuals exploring or actively pursuing secular goodness as a way of life.
(for an engaging brief talk he gave at the Secular Student Alliance national meeting click here)

Bart no longer believes in the God revealed in Jesus Christ. But he’s a strong believer in the church. Or at least in a secular version of it. In general what I hear most often in blue state metropolitan areas is a deep interest in spirituality, even in Jesus and traditional Christian concepts like grace and vicarious redemption. I don’t encounter loads of atheists. But this interest in spirituality and even willingness to give a hearing to some traditional Christian beliefs usually is stilted by an mention of the church or religious community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer perhaps foresaw this trend when he wrote the following words in a Nazi prison camp:

We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious’…And if therefore man becomes radically religionless—and I think that is already more or less the case (else, how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any ‘religious’ reaction?)—what does that mean for ‘Christianity’?.

Bonhoeffer thought this “religionless Christianity” would be expressed primarily through prayer and acts of love in the world:

The Christian needs to be alone during a definite period of each day for meditation on scripture…and for prayer…even during times of spiritual dryness and apathy. It matters little what form of prayer we adopt…or how many words we use…It will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming—as was Jesus’ language; it will shock people and yet overcome them by its power; it will be the language of a new righteousness and truth, proclaiming God’s peace with men and the coming of his kingdom… Till then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time.

Bonhoeffer thought in the midst of skepticism, genocide, totalitarianism and materialist excess that “only the suffering God could help.” But he knew too well that so many would be ambassadors of the suffering God would be poor emissaries because of the trappings of religion and its tribalistic, legalistic and judgmental tendencies. While he knew that ultimately one can’t separate the Head from the Body, or Christ from the Church, he was willing to consider a radically new understanding of what the Body could and should look like. Bart Campolo thinks the way forward for life giving spiritual community is much different than Bonhoeffer’s. He thinks the hope isn’t in a renewed and radical commitment to faith in the God-Forsaken Suffering God that might require costly sacrifices where the church’s life and structure are concerned. Instead the social structure of the traditional church and even and especially the high school youth group can be retained and utilized. It’s just belief in God, the suffering God, that needs to be dispensed with if we are to have any redemptive hope.

 

Why are Millenials Leaving the Church…?

In a recent post by Rachel Held Evans on CNN’s belief blog she addresses the question of why millenials are leaving the church. She contends the church often makes the mistake of seeking to be “more relevant”.

Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.

This focus is a mistake. She cites the appeal of more traditional liturgical expressions of the faith found in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. Many millenials, like herself, are drawn into these communities because:

the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic…What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.

She also cites the desire for an end to church based participation in the culture wars and greater tolerance and inclusivity on LGBT issues.

If millenials are drawn to Rome and the East because of substance not style, then they want more traditional and conservative expressions of Christianity. The Catholic and Orthodox are more traditional on LBGT issues than most of their Protestant counterparts, certainly more so on participation of women in the full life and leadership of the church. They are also more authoritarian. And in the West these communions are aligning with conservative Protestants to stoke the fire of the culture wars rather than let the embers cool.

Evans, like many evangelicals also fails to take cultural trends that make things like atheism attractive seriously, as Jeffrey Tayler points out in a recent piece for the Atlantic.

The question of fidelity in the Church’s missionary, evangelistic and shepherding efforts is a crucial one. It might require more careful and reflective analysis.

 

Evangelicals The New Internationalists?

Came across a great column (http://nyti.ms/9gISFi) byNicholas Kristoff this morning about evangelical relief efforts. If more Christians were as Christlike as Kristoff maybe secular skeptics would be tempted to take the Gospel more seriously. Here’s a nice concluding quote from the piece:

If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.