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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: evangelical

[jesus]

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this idea of domesticating Jesus has so much merit. Sometimes I wonder if we have not violated the commandment "You shall have no other gods before me" when we have fashioned for ourselves a new jesus to worship (yes, the lower case is on purpose) who is not the Jesus of the Bible. This is partly the point of the rant by Green Day on American Idiot in songs like Jesus of Suburbia.

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Merton for the Soul

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Too often too many of us turn a blind eye to social or moral injustice, poverty, or the mere craziness which makes our world turn these days. For so many people, the market insanities of the last year have "forced" us to react - only it may be too little to late. Why didn't we react to this over-consumerism before we got to this place of collective dysfunction?

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Been away...

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I've been away from blogging for awhile now.  For those of you who read regularly, I apologize for not writing.  I don't share much personal/ family stuff here, but for a long time now, my family has been very sick and I've been on a couple of vacations.  We've had a number of crazy illnesses, including all 3 kids each having pneumonia twice.  We've had an average of about 2.5 doctor, hospital, or ER visits per week since November, and it's been wearing us down.  In addition, our house got struck by lightening and our dog almost died twice.  (No, I'm not joking).  I don't talk much about spiritual warfare, but nothing else explains it.  Yesterday I was talking to a doctor from the Infectious Disease Clinic at Devos Children's Hospital, and told him to continue to run tests, but that I was asking a lot of people to pray for us.  I've been continuing to read as much as I can, which isn't enough, and continued to think.  I had a lot of ideas for posts, and then they got lost along with the sleep that seemed to disapate right before my opened eyes.

Recently, I've been reading some critics of what are called either postfoundationalists/ postconservatives like Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Roger Olson, et al.  I'm interested in the conservative evangelical response to projects which seek to take postmodern thinking seriously while also holding strongly to evangelicalism and scripture.  I've been reading all sides, but I tend to tip towards the Grenz, Franke, Olsons as well as some of what James KA Smith, Carl Raschke, Kevin VanHoozer, John Stackhouse, and others like them would say.  I like to read the critics because it helps to clarify and challenge my own thinking. 

I've also been toying with some article and book ideas, but haven't recently found the time to write with the kids' being sick and life in general.  Some space/ time to write would be awesome.

Anyway, I'll be back with what are, I think, some interesting posts coming from my interchange with Jim Speigel on Gum, Geckos, and God starting on Monday.  I couldn't limit my questions to one, so we're going to go back and forth a bit on a number of questions.  I hope you enjoy it... and the book is a lot of fun to read.


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 3

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McLaren, in the interview I mentioned earlier, talks about how this deconstruction works.   I mentioned that the emerging church is a kind of "back to the Bible movement," even though many see it as unorthodox.  It may be, in some ways, but that might not be bad.  Reforming - including Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and many contemporaries - is about going back to the Bible, deconstructing how culture has influenced us, and "reforming" to the word of God - which is the norming norm (to use Grenz/ Franke language).  Here is one way that McLaren says it:

...mentioning different lists of names isn't that important, but what's really important is that this stuff has been simmering in the biblical text itself, and we've been very well trained not to see it.  We've been trained to look for certain things and not for others... "What you focus on determines what you miss."

Deconstructing your faith is not about losing your faith - or at least it doesn't have to be.  It's about discovering where the things we believe come from and how we ascertained them.  It's about discovering what "eyes" or through which "glasses" we see the world, the bible, and ourselves.  Then, it's about trying to figure out what God is really saying both contextually and extra-contextually.  That's just normal exegesis - discovering what is enculturated and what's not, and how God incarnates himself in our own culture, in these times.  When we admit and understand our cultural, theological, and personal biases, we can compare those to the biases of others, and we can try to understand what God speaks outside of those, as well as to them.  Then, we begin to reconstruct our faith - keeping some of our biases, and shedding others.

Although he doesn't get into the technical side of this (and I would nuance this much more), I like how Olson says it in "How to be Evangelical without being Conservative":

For me Scripture (including Jesus Christ as the interpretive center) trumps tradition, reason, and experience.  To be more precise about how I do theology, I recognize Scripture and tradition as the two sources and norms of theology (with Scripture primary adn the Great Tradition of Christian belief secondary) and reason and experience as interpretive tools to help us sort out and understand Scripture and tradition. [p. 145]


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Response to Henry

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Henry asks some great, probing questions.  [see his comment under "How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2] And just as an aside... Henry... I really appreciate how you've written these questions and challenges to myself and to the emerging postmoderns in the church.  You show your concern, raise real issues, and do so in a way that is not condemning, hostile, or out of fear.  How I wish more people would approach conversation in such a careful and honorable manner. I've struggled with your questions, too.  I address a few of the issues you're asking about in a limited manner in the follwoing posts:

The question really is, what can we know for sure?  What is true?  What doesn't change?  And how do we know what is truly true?  What is orthodox, and aren't there certain, base objective truths?  I hear in some of your questions some of the key concerns that some are raising around the Emergent church like the virgin birth, the atonement wars, the wideness or narrowness of salvation, etc. 

The first thing that I would say is something I've said briefly before:  truth is personal.  Not relative, and not "this is my truth" personal, but instead, truth is personal because Jesus is the truth, and he is a person.  Knowing Jesus is knowing the truth.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me."  I believe that.  Do I know it for sure?  I know Jesus, and I trust what he says.  I trust that the Scriptures are God's word and that it's true and that it tells me about Jesus and that I can encounter him through the Scriptures.  That means I also trust the virgin birth.  I trust that my sins are atoned for and covered by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Can I say those things are objectively true?  You see, here is where I get stuck.  I believe - have faith - that it's true.  I put my trust in it.  I believe it is "objectively" true, I suppose, but more and more I don't really care much about objectivity.  I don't really care much about proof.  I don't mean to be glib, but what I mean is that what I think is objective, someone else will likely see differently.  Is there an unmoveable reality out there that is truly true?  Yes.  Do we have access to that truth in a way that is "descriptively" true for everyone?  If we did, we wouldn't be having this discussion because it would be clear.  But I don't think that means I can't say someone is wrong.  You see, because we cannot ascertain what is true on our own because of our cultural embededness, our biases, and even more - our sinfulness, we rely on the personal nature of God as he speaks to us in individuals within communities of faith.  The community of faith - throughout the ages, and in our current context - is really important as we discern what God has said and is saying.  

I really like what Franke and Grenz say on this matter in which the Holy Spirit speaks in the context of our culture through the trajectory of Christian history and creates our current reality as he interacts with us in a living way.  (that's a bad simplification... but it gives a broad brush).  That is alive and relational and faith-based and dependent upon the God of history who continues to live and speak today.  He doesn't speak in contradition to himself, but He does help us to interact with a changing world.  There is, then, a historical theological continuity combined with a contemporary constructive creativity consistent with his character and unfolding plan.  We discern this in conversation with God through faith, engaging his Word within the living community which is the body of Christ.  It is this living body, grounded in the Word and birthed out of Christian and Jewish history that gives us the boundaries and rules of engagement.  And here is where the deconstruction (or reforming) comes in.  The body, because it is always embeded culturally, doesn't always get the picture of what God is saying right, and so our theology develops as our relationship with God develops as we continue to deepen in our understanding of his revealed Word as we live into new historical, cultural situations.

Does that make truth relative and not objective?  I don't think so.  Relative to God's working with a fallen community, maybe.  Certainly our ascertaining the truth is always positioned, encultured, and understood within the eyes of our times, families, language, etc.  I just don't think the categories of "objective" and "relative" are all that helpful anymore.  I'm more concerned with how we hear God, how we read the Bible with an understanding of our cultural, linguistic baggage, and really hear God's living word through the Scripture, how we find more faithful understandings of his revelation, and how we can trust him more and hear his voice more clearly. 

You ask what my gold standard is:  God's self-revelation primarily through the Scriptures (sola scriptura) and secondarily through his body, the church, as we hear, speak, and live the Word together.  I know that's not as easy to nail down, but faith and trust rarely are. 

I think things like the virgin birth, the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Trinity, the missio dei, and many more things have been clearly spoken, heard, and lived out by the church throughout the ages.  But I also share the concern of many emerging leaders that we have attached many cultural, philosophical, and historical items to these that are inappropriate and have functionally become a part of the core for many Christians - especially evangelicals and fundamentalists.

What I think a lot of the detractors of the emerging church miss is that much of the movement (not all of it... there is much wrong with the emerging church movement) is a back to the bible movement.  The problem comes when going back to the bible challenges our current biases, our current comfortable ways of life, our preferable politics, our desirable economics, or our (forgive me here) mostly upper classs suburban cultural mores. 


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The Future of Evangelicalism 7

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So, here's the first picture.  I'm sure I'll create another one.  The idea here is that the middle represents a centered set of core evangelical beliefs, cradled in the larger bosom of Christianity as a whole - represented by the pentagon (oh, should've made that 7-sided!)  There are 5 representative streams of evangelicalism here that represent a different "bounded" set of denomination/ community/ historical beliefs.  These might be, for instance, Baptist, Reformed, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Anglican or something like that (there are many streams, of course).  What this picture misses is a couple of things:

  1. I don't like how the picture intimates that, for instance, the orange group of evangelicals, by being closer to the center, are somehow more orthodox.  I don't mean to imply that, but didn't know how else to draw it.  I would interpret this to mean that all 5 streams are equally valid as evangelical communities of faith, but who interpret Scripture somewhat differently and have some differing doctrinal, practical, or theological beliefs - but that these are secondary. 
  2. The pastor friend I mentioned drew a picture with people who were either approaching the center or moving away from it.  He pondered whether orthodoxy could be defined based upon which way they were pointed, not how close they were to the center.  This reminds me of the biblical meaning of "repent" as "turning" Godward and changing direction.  I like that idea, that the "lines"  of "in" and "out" don't matter as much as which direction you're heading, or your bearing. (I think some of this idea for him came from Brian McLaren if I remember correctly, from a book i never read.)
  3. It also missing a kind of blurry edge.  If you would take all of these 5 potentially faithful evangelical streams, the things all 5 agree on are numerous, even if 2 or three agree on some different things and disagree with others.

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The Future of Evangelicalism 6

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So, I've been writing a lot about being an evangelical, the core of evangelicalism, and in previous posts, what it really means to be a Christian living in the Kingdom of the resurrected King Jesus.  I'm focusing on evangelicals, because that's what I consider myself.  I'm have also occassionally wrtitten about and am going to write more at some point about the emerging and Emergent Church (which is widening quite a bit beyond evangelicalism these days).  The question is, what do I think about Christianity in general?  Are only evangelicals Christians?  By no means.  There are a lot of Christians, and we all have some pretty serious agreements and differences.  I prefer to talk about the differences within evangelicalism right now for a lot of reasons, but I want to affirm that we have brothers and sisters who love Jeus Christ, but who come from different streams and have a lot of different beliefs.  Sure, I think they're often wrong on a lot of things, we disagree on biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and we often have differing ideas about where authority is based.  However, do I think many if not most of them are Christians and will be with us in eternity?  Yup.  Do I think that praying to Mary means someone will go hell?  No way.  Do I think that being saved by grace through faith is key?  Yup.  Still believe that.  In fact, awhile back I was listening to a podcast interview of NT Wright when he shared interesting similar sentiments with which I have a lot of affinity.  His comments here reminded me of my study of the changes that happened with Vatican II as well as a document called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" and an evangelical assessment by Timothy George that have been important in my growth over the years and helpful in my relationships with Catholic friends to find common ground.  Here's what NT Wright said (you can find the transcript of the interview here):

Trevin Wax: You mentioned earlier Hans Kung. How would you distinguish your views on justification from that of official Roman Catholic teaching? N.T. Wright: Well, it’s a nice question as to what official Roman Catholic teaching really means these days. I remember once, after there’d been an official agreement on the doctrine of salvation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, I went to do a public debate with Ted Yarnold who’s one of the great Catholic theologians at Oxford, sadly dead now. We went off to a big ecumenical gathering in Reading, between Oxford and London, and we chatted in the car about who would speak first. I said, “Well, you’re the senior here. You better go first and lead off.” So he did. He began by saying, “Let’s just remind ourselves what the doctrine of justification is. It is that there’s nothing whatever we can do to earn God’s favor. It must come entirely from God’s grace. And the only thing that we can possibly do is nothing of ourselves, merely believe in the astonishing goodness and grace of God.” And I stood up and said, “We might as well go home because obviously we’re on the same page here. If your chaps had been saying this 400 years ago, we mightn’t have got into all this problem.”

There's a lot too that.  Back in 1999 I wrote an article called Broadening the Scope that I never sent to anyone to be published (a bad habit of mine, many articles never sent out) as I was beginning to really get to know some Catholics (yes, true, I didn't know many before that.)  Since that time, I've made a lot of friends with Catholics - some of my most favorite were connected to the Word of God community from Ann Arbor, some of whom are evangelicals and to whom much of this would apply in some ways (although there is a tension still in the issue of authority of the church in relationship to the biblicism as a core belief).  Anyway, I reread this article of mine recently and thought I'd post it for some perspective on where I've been.  You can link to it here if you're interested.

So, back to the future of evangelicalism.  I'm talking, then, about "evangelicals" not everyone who is a Christian.  In a sense, I'm still trying to figure out who "we" are by looking to the past and not really looking to the future at all.  However, having a starting point might actually help move us forward, so in that sense, it does have to do with the future of evangelicalism.

Anyway, as I've struggled to figure out whether I'm "in" or "out" (because some people say people like me are "out" of evangelicalism), I've learned something that's been quite helpful to me.  Some evangelicals prefer what is referred to as a “bounded set” of beliefs by which to draw boundaries in order to determine “who’s in” and “who’s out.”  This approach takes a set of beliefs or statements or propositions or doctrine, and draws a circle around them, creating a bounded set of accepted beliefs.   If you're in the circle, you're orthodox, if you're out, you're unorthodox.  Others talke about what is called a “centered set” which refers instead to the important core center and focuses on whether our theology and practice are moving towards (orthodox) or away (unorthodox) from the center.  This style seeks not to see who’s in and who’s out, but to be committed to moving towards the center and core beliefs without worrying as much about the theological edges. 

Guess which one I prefer?  In my estimation, the second type promotes a ministry and style that seeks to be “winsome” rather than “boundaried” and in which someone can “belong” before they “become,” whereas a bounded set of beliefs tends to only allow those who are “in” to truly belong.  A more generous evangelical practice seems to be our history as a faith community.

I recently spoke with another pastor friend of mine, and we did some drawing on a white board.  His drawing was helpful to me, and since then I've expanded upon it.  I'm going to try to put it in visual form and put it up soon.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 5

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Here are a couple of famous ways of trying to put define the center of evangelicalism with both clarity, and generosity.  What I mean by that is there is enough clarity as to actually have some definition and now just include everyone, and also some generosity so that it allows for many to call themselves evangelicals if they can at least affirm these central items.  This also doesn't mean that other issues don't matter.  Certainly - there are lost of theological, biblical, cultural, moral, spiritual, and pragmatic (if not more) issues to wrestle through.  But these are attempts to create a kind of definition around our diverse family.  First, David Bebbington (British historian) provides the following hallmarks of evangelicalism which are oft-quoted as a reference point for basic evangelicalism [David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: a history from the 1730’s to the 1980’s, 1989, pp. 1-19].  To my remembrance, Mark Noll affirms these as well in one of his books (but I couldn't find it recently... so if someone can help there, that'd be great):  

  1. Conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed
  2. Activism, the expression of the gospel in effort
  3. Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible
  4. Crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross

I tend to agree with Allen Yeh when he says, “I think the Lausanne Covenant articulates more fully what David Bebbington was getting at. It holds to Bibliocentrism but defines it. Anyone can say they subscribe to the Bible, and then twist Scripture to suit their agenda. However, the Lausanne Covenant starts with the Bible and shows how social justice, evangelism, and doxology all spring from its pages. It is a holistic theology, it is right theology (orthodoxy) and I think that it is as good a definition of “evangelical” as we have today.”  [The Other Journal, “Toward a Fuller Definition of Evangelical,” November 3, 2006.]

John Stackhouse, Jr. offers these 5 characteristics [John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “Evangelical Theology Should be Evangelical” in Evangelical Futures, 2000, pp. 40-43]:

  1. Evangelicals believe and champion the gospel of God’s work of salvation and particularly as it is focused in the person of Jesus Christ. 
  2. Evangelicals believe and champion the Bible as the uniquely authoritative rendition of God’s word in words to us. 
  3. Evangelicals believe and champion conversion as the correct way to describe God’s work of salvation in each Christian and as a reality to be experienced, not merely affirmed. 
  4. Evangelicals believe and champion mission as the chief goal of Christian life on earth.
  5. Evangelicals believe and champion these four elements of the generic Christian tradition as primary, central, and nonnegotiable, leaving other convictions as secondary and non-essential. 

I would give the following names to Stackhouse's sentences:  Christological, Bible-based, Conversional, Missiological (I prefer missional), and Generously Orthodox.

Kenneth Collins gives the following as what he calls the Four Enduring Emphases of Evangelicalism:

  1. Normative value of Scripture in the Christian Life
  2. Necessity of conversion
  3. Cruciality of the atoning work of Christ as the sole mediator between God and humanity
  4. Imperative of Evangelism

Ok.  Note the similarities?  Especially note how these fit into the documents I noted earlier.  I think these help to approach a center for evangelicalism.


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The Future of Evangelicalism 4

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As I've taken a look at some different definitions of "evangelical," there have been some similarities and congruencies.  Even as you look at the statements that I have listed in the previous posts which represent a wide set of evangelicals with different theological standings around the globe, there is a remarkable "center,"  what Stan Grenz referred to in his book "Renewing the Center: evangelical theology in a post-theological era."  Several scholars have tried to nail down  these "core beliefs" to create a kind of center to the movement.  And that's clear... evangelicalism is a movement rather than a static set of beliefs or a certain community body.  Evangelicalism certainly has historical roots, contextual grounding, and theological past, but it also has a multi-cultural, global character that defies one single line of history or cultural context.  I'd like to list a few of these definitions of the "center" of evangelicalism over the next couple of posts, and I think we'll all see some similarities and congruencies. Let's just start, though, with Robert Webber, who has offered much to bridge the Christian past with the Christian future, particularly in evangelicalism.  In his "The Younger Evangelicals" he tries to answer the question, "Who are the Evangelicals?"  He says, "...evangelicals stand in continuity with each other throughout the history of the church.  Our commonality is expressed in the four uses of the word evangelical: biblical, theological, historical, and culture."  He then goes on to explain futher:

  1. The biblical use of evangelical simply refers to the euangelion, the good news that salvation has arrived in Jesus Christ.
  2. [The theological use] refers to those who affirm Scripture as the authoritative Word of God and accept the creeds of the early church as accurate reflections of the gospel.  (He specifically mentions the Apostles, Nicene, and Chalcedon Creeds.)
  3. The historical usage of evangelical refers to all those movements in history that have attempted to restore a vital historic Christianity to the church at those momentns when the church has become dead in spirit or has departed from the faith of the fathers. (He calls this evangelical renewal and cites the monastics, the Protestant reformation, pietism, the Oxford movement, and the major evangelical awakenings.)
  4. A cultural evangelical is defined by the biblical, theological, and historical uses of the term (1-3 above) but is rooted in a particular paradigm of thought.  Webber then goes on to talk about evangelicalism's connection in the past to modernism and Cartesian rationalism, and the premise of this particular book is that "a new evangelical paradigm, is emerging."  [p. 15]  In other words, #4 is changing.

These four desciptions are helpful, but to me they don't say quite enough.   They're describe in some ways what an evangelical looks like, but what about what an evangelical believes?  Certainly #1 and #2 get at that a bit, but not much.  In the next post I'll offer a couple others that I think are helpful.


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How Deconstruction and Postmodern Philosophy Saved My Faith

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I know that sounds strange to many of you when you hear it coming from the perspective of a Christian Pastor.  However, I think in some ways it’s true.  I actually could’ve written, “My Conversion, Thanks to Deconstructionism”.  I’ve been playing around with an article on this topic, but just haven’t gotten to really writing it, yet.  However, I’ve gotten a little start.  So, I thought I’d drop a little of it here. Let me just begin by saying that in the evangelical church in general, deconstructionism is pretty much a bad word.  It smacks of relativism, the loss of truth, and a philosophy that pushes against the God of the Bible.  That may be descriptively true of some versions of deconstruction and of the potential of some forms, but it certainly was not true in my case.  In fact, this is why this post is written with this particular title.  A couple things are important in relationship to this issue for me:

  1. Deconstructionism (and some other philosophy that could be considered related or prefiguring deconstructionism) really did help create a faith crisis for me back in about 1991.  In fact, it helped me to walk away from the faith I learned as a child.
  2. Deconstructionism helped me to see the world in a whole different light.  It “stripped the emperor,” if you will, on so many “faiths” that people put their trust and hope in – including my own.  This combined with the push on diversity in college campuses in the early 90’s was palpable.  My introduction to postmodern philosophy at this time opened my eyes to the many “framing stories” that people were living from, and caused me to seriously question the possibility of a grand narrative tying them all together.  At that point, I seriously questioned any viability of “one God” or “one reality.”
  3. Deconstruction for me was followed by an encounter with the living Christ.  This encounter was, of course, on a personal level, within my own cultural setting, and in the language I could understand.  Christ also spoke very directly to me in that conversion experience about the issue of diversity and pluralism, and spoke through it in a way that I found deeply troubling and beautiful all at the same time.
  4. My conversion through deconstruction, my immersion in postmodern philosophy, and my reintroduction to Christ created in me a deep passion that was deeply evangelical and yet still, interestingly, postmodern.

Ok, for many of you that sounds like a serious contradiction.  And here’s the trouble.  Since 1993 when I both came to know Christ and inhaled much postmodern philosophy, I began to develop an understanding of faith in Jesus Christ that I felt was still evangelical, still deeply committed to One God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), still committed to issues of truth, and yet I still considered myself both postmodern and in some ways, a deconstructionist.  And yet, I sensed no necessary contradiction.  In fact, in my own mind, I was able to work out an understanding of my Christian faith that was still biblical, faithful, evangelical, and still in many ways postmodern.  But what I heard from so many Christians was that this wasn’t possible, that postmodernity inevitably lead to relativism and the loss of truth, and that deconstructionists were truth haters undermining the faith.  I just didn’t see it that way.  But I felt quite alone.  It's one of the reasons that I've often felt like I didn't "fit".

Times have changed.  I’m 35 now (still not very old, or wise for that matter), and I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin.  I have had some unbelievable breakthroughs in understanding more clearly how and why I was not so uncomfortable with postmodern philosophy or deconstruction even as a deeply committed evangelical Christian.  I’m not afraid of the labels anymore… partly because many of the people who like to put labels on a) don’t understand what we’re talking about and are only derivatively dismissive out of fear or some other external driving force or b) won’t take the time to listen what I (and/ or others) really think.  So, if you’re tempted after this post to label me, be slow to label until you listen a bit more.


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