Finally, a useful proposal for confirmation in a progressive mainline church.
After four years of half-heartedly running 9th graders through a doctrinal gauntlet of the divine attributes, Christology, and the authority of Scripture, Diana Butler-Bass has given clear voice to the nagging sense I’ve had that trying to tell young people what Christians believe is a fool’s errand. It’s doesn’t help them. It can only leave them with a choice: do I also believe that Jesus miraculously healed people and that God is all powerful? The clear implication is that if they don’t, then they’re not Christians and shouldn’t say that they are.
While the “Belief” chapter in Butler-Bass’s new book Christianity After Religion: The End of The Church And The Beginning of A New Spiritual Awakening never addresses confirmation directly, the implications for it and for every expression of Christian formation are far-reaching.
Consider this summation of why focusing on “what” Christians ought to believe is problematic in the second decade of the 21st century:
As science, history, and psychology offered ever more sophisticated understandings of the universe and human experience, some Christians became increasingly hostile to secular knowledge, building museums to creationism, proclaiming that America is a Christian nation, and excommunicating those who would question the existence of hell. Put simply, as they reacted to unbelief, certain Christians asked for more belief about increasingly unbelievable things.
In order to redefine the religious question of “what do I believe?,” Butler-Bass proposes two “spiritual questions”: how do I believe? and who do I believe? This is going to be my new rubric for engaging confirmation, like, now.
Take the former:
How differs from what. “How do I get to your house?” “How would that move change my family’s life?” “How do I love?” How is the interrogator of direction, of doing, of curiosity, of process, of learning, of living.
In short, “how” is experiential.
“Who” is also experiential. “Who” is about my experience of a relationship with a person and of that person’s authenticity. “In the emerging spiritual culture, what matters much less than who is sharing the news, and the messenger has become the message.”
“Who” is about privileging relationships in faith formation.
Take my friends Brian, Chad, and Landon.
Brian is in charge of a church agency responsible for making recommendations about controversial matters related to denominational investments. For over 10 years, I’ve known Brian as a faithful, responsible, trustworthy friend. What I believe about his agency’s recommendations has as much to do with my friendship with Brian as it does my objective reading of the issues themselves. Not because he’s my boy and I’ve got his back (as true as that is) but because I can’t believe that he would stake his faith and conviction to a recommendation that wasn’t worth those things. I know he wouldn’t.
Same thing with my friend Landon, a friend of nearly 20 years and a hopeless malcontent who’s always looking to upset someone’s apple cart. What I have experienced in my long friendship with Landon is a person who authentically engages matters that I and others leave alone. I’ve come to trust my sense that if Landon is stirred up about something, then perhaps I should be to. My relationship has taught me that he doesn’t get twitterpated about insignificant things.
Also Chad. Chad is typically my first call when I have disquieting questions, not simply because he’s a theological gangsta who quotes Moltmann in his sleep, but more importantly because he pays close attention to my questions and never answers what I’m not asking, whether I’m asking about the Reformed understanding of providence or the merits of a new Android smartphone. My relationship with him has taught me that Chad’s a reliable cat, and I’m tilted toward belief in everything he says.
What relationships shape how you believe? Are you totally comfortable privileging those relationships in parsing out the stuff of faith, or does that feel too subjective?
What does a theology grounded in relationships of trust and authenticity look like?
Previous posts on Christianity After Religion:
When Religion Fails
Questioning The Old Gods
The End of The Beginning