Saturday, March 14, 2009

A counter-intuitive moment

I linked to USA Today's "Religion in America" report a few days ago.

The report found what many folks already know - Americans are "do it yourself" religionists, down on churches but interested enough in spiritual matters to look into various religious and philosophical traditions.

Leaders of The Episcopal Church (TEC) respond with what sounds like common sense - "We must become more like them to reach them." The thought was expressed in January at the denomination's Executive Council meeting. Member Ted Mollegen said, "...we seem poised as a denomination to effectively reach the 'spiritual but not religious' in new ways, but it will require nimbleness to adapt to our rapidly changing social context."

In Northern Michigan, the denomination is working to appoint a bishop who "walks the paths of Christianity and Buddhism together." This would seem like a perfect icon of American cultural religion.

Intuition says, "Be more like them and they'll come." But intuition is wrong. "They" won't come for what they already have. What does a "Buddhist-Christian" offer that they can't concoct with a few clicks around the internet? And folks who are looking for "spirituality, not religion" are not going to be interested in Mr. Mollegen's "Executive Council" and its insatiable hunger for money to spend on business meetings and lawsuits.

This is where counter-intuition kicks in. Counter-intuition says, "Hmmm, maybe if we really apply the Christian message in our church, people who are exploring spirituality might get something to consider."

That's the approach at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where Pastor and theological writer Tim Keller reaches young, "secular" New Yorkers in large numbers. He does this without gimmicks - the worship there lacks the "seeker sensitive" theatrics of the megachurch movement. It is just plain ol', mainstream Presbyterianism - what works so powerfully is that Keller sticks to the foundational Christian theology of his tradition and spends time in Q & A offering it for the concerns of those who check out the church. They don't all buy it, but many do. And all get a chance to hear the Gospel as they conduct their spiritual search.

This Sunday's Epistle cuts right to the heart of the matter: "The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18) We need to be counter-intuitive, putting the foolish message out there. As an Episcopal Priest, I can tell you that the denomination is starved for leaders who can do just that. May God give us messengers of the cross.

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