Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review of Andrew Root's "Faith Formation in a Secular Age" (Part 6)

7: Faith and Its Formation in a Secular Age


We think of our world in terms of subtraction. For example, we taken prayer out of school, lost our moral guidelines, church attendance has declined.  More liberal folks think if we could just get rid of religion we be more rational and peaceful. Our faith formation, then, becomes a plugging up of the holes caused by this subtraction. But these pragmatic actions don’t work because the problem is not subtraction.

Charles Taylor says it this way: “Modernity is defined not just by our ‘losing’ an earlier world, but by the kind of human culture that we have constructed.”[1] It’s not the world we’ve known minus some vital components we can replace but a whole new world. “Rather than subtraction, we’ve added layers of authenticity and youthfulness, creating forms of cultural and social life where ‘the God gap,’ for many, simply isn’t there.” (2458)

“The adding of the mass society and its need for consumer want brought forth a bohemianism that turned us from duty to authenticity—making those who are full of youth the priests of self-fulfillment.” (2458) Faith, or what guide and directs our lives, has fundamentally shifted, become new. And the church has not grasped or grappled with that. “The age of authenticity has turned our conception of faith into something that more closely matches the imaginary of authenticity than it does biblical faith.” (2469)

We keep trying to shore up faith by inducing assent to various “truths” and solidify institutional participation. What cuts the nerve of faith in the age of authenticity, however, is the reality of God, the plausibility of transcendence and assumption that the world is flat. ‘In the age of authenticity, the self is buffered, the world is disenchanted, and God is always on the verge of being reduced to a psychologically created imaginary friend.” (2477)

Picketed Faith

God is still a “picket” in our North American cultural fence but the reason why for those whose still have it is now authenticity. People choose or not for their own reasons to keep or jettison the God “picket.” Subtraction stories make everything into a concept. And concepts make no claim on us. We pick and choose what we believe in the age of authenticity. Subtraction and authenticity go together.

“Faith formation as plugging holes created by subtraction plays into the logic of subtraction. The youthful priests of authenticity are willing to flatten the world, removing complexity and conceiving of life as a random bundle of concepts that can be kept or discarded as one individually chooses.” (2497)

“In the end, faith is not really “something” but rather “the absence of subtraction.” Faith is not constructive but is rather the (chosen) unwillingness to subtract a concept from your individually constituted fence (most often given to you by your parents). We don’t treat faith as a movement into a new reality or a sense of entering into the Spirit; neither does faith mean relating to God and others in some different way. Rather, we operate as though faith is simply the willingness to resist subtraction.” (2507)

Three Kinds of “Secular”

The real issue, even more than the loss of God as a concept, is the reality of God himself. The age of authenticity  has made the world flat (as we have seen) and the idea of God or transcendence unbelievable or at least much more difficult to believe in.

“More pervasive is that our culture has little room for belief in a God who is both transcendent and personal, who acts to bring forth an all-new reality, promising transformation. It is not necessarily subtraction that is our problem but rather the development of a social imaginary that gives little heed to transcendence or divine action.” (2515)

People still do experience transcendence now, but some of the support for that experience, the practices and locales that gave earlier people ways to express and experience it, have been overwhelmed by all the age of authenticity has added.

Charles Taylor tells our cultural story as one of addition rather than subtraction. “All that has been added has, in turn, blocked out the probability of a transcendent God who is anything more than people’s individual pet idea or concept.” (2534) The door to faith has not been subtracted but blocked by a pile of additions (for example, scientific positivism, materialism, expressive individualism).

Secular 1: Sacred versus Secular Planes

500 years ago the secular and sacred were two different temporal planes of reality. All sought the sacred plane. Indeed, that was the point of life. Some people were set apart to tend to the cultivation of the sacred while everyone else did the chores and necessities of daily life. But this was more a strategic separation than a real one. “Transcendence remained an ever-present reality as the farmer lived with an imaginary in which the eternal and temporal planes of existence met and often interpenetrated each other.” (2551)

“Taylor explains that the transcendent was not bound in people’s heads but loose in the world. Some things were secular (like the farmer’s pitchfork) and others sacred (like sacraments, chapels, or the bones of a saint). Some things took you into the transcendent and some did not. The zone where people could encounter transcendence was a massively open door that would dwarf you in its enormity (even to the point of fright), because it was imagined that things in the world were enchanted and the self was porous.” (2579)

Secular 2: Religious versus A-religious Spaces

The transition to the modern world redefined the relation between secular and sacred. “To say “secular” in Secular 2 meant “a particular space that was a-religious.” It was (is) a space where the willing of human minds promises to be absent religion. In turn, the sacred is now a unique space where human willing is allowed to seek the interest of the religious. It is a distinct and special location where religious belief and practice are allowed their freedom.” (2588)

Now the sacred has to invade a secular realm that really has no room for it. Trying to get prayer back into public schools is an example. It’s no longer a situation of planes of eternity and time, but rather a struggle for space in the culture.

In Taylor’s Secular 2, faith, instead of being experience of the transcendent in the permeable realm of the secular, becomes about affiliation (in belief and participation) with the cultural and societal institutions of religion.

“Faith through the lens of Secular 2 is willful affiliation with religious institutions; it is choosing to locate yourself in the cultural space of institutional religion.” (2616)

“We want young people to have faith, which means we want them to define themselves inside religious rather than a-religious spaces.” (2626)

“Divine action is much harder to encounter in Secular 2; transcendence must penetrate the buffered force field of the self and change the will of an individual. Because these spaces have become defined mostly as material, cultural, and societal, the doorway into the transcendent becomes very segregated. To encounter the transcendent, we willfully enter the religious space to open up our mind—feeling mindfully engaged in worship, preaching, and the study of Scripture. We encounter divine action when we really believe something, when we willfully commit to God by committing to religious space over secular—and transcendence itself is only possible in the religious space itself.” (2636)

Secular 3: The Negating of Transcendence

Secular 1 sees transcendence in different planes of existence. Secular 2 segregates faith to a separate sphere a religious one, within a secular, non-religious, sphere. In Secular 3 transcendence and divine action are unbelievable.

“Secular 2’s obsession with the definition of culture and societal locales and its fight over turf through the willing of human minds allow for the creation of a new frame for our social imaginary. And this frame crops out, almost completely, the doorway into the transcendent. Taylor calls this new encasing, an outgrowth of Secular 3, the immanent frame.” (2636-2646)

Secular 3 might have a little place for self-created spirituality, but only as a natural and psychological choice, only as a way of seeking authenticity, finding oneself. Spirituality, then, is bound to and even serves the immanent frame.

Because we assume we know what faith is (keeping people in church and really, really believing something), we can move on quickly to pragmatic tools that win us institutional loyalty. “If faith were truly a reality of cosmic and ontological encounter, if it brought forth into your being a completely alien ontological reality, if it swept you into an encounter with a transcendent force, then defining its shape and possibility would be necessary over and over again.” (2670)  In other words, genuine contact with God requires continual renegotiation and restatement.

“All of this means that something like MTD (which is paradigmatic for the struggle we feel in faith formation) is not the consequence of a dreary church that has subtracted serious faith formation from its mind. Rather, MTD is the direct project (and in fact the endorsed and honored perspective) of faith built for the immanent frame of Secular 3 and the age of authenticity. MTD did not grow like a fungus when we were not looking. MTD is not an unfortunate and haphazard occurrence. It is an intricate construction designed perfectly for the world of Secular 3.” (2685)

Crossed Up

The additions which make Secular 3 possible also make the age of authenticity possible. Freed of all ties, obligations, traditions, and sense of transcendence, we are free to follow our natural desires and material conditions (authenticity). “Youthfulness becomes a deeply significant endorser, for the youthful are those most free from the constraints of the superego against following the natural and material urges of the id.” (2700).

Oddly, even in Secular 3 we sometimes find ourselves sensing, experiencing “echoes of transcendence.” Now, trussed up in the immanent frame, searching for authenticity, it is authenticity itself that is the only way to return to transcendence.

It’s the age of authenticity’s focus on experience that is the path we must take. “Therefore, it may be within cross-pressure itself, between Secular 3 and the echo of the deep longings of human experience, that we can explore what faith and faith formation might be.” (2717)

Too Easy: The Road through Negation

In Secular 3, though we may indeed hear “echoes of transcendence,” these experiences come coated with doubt. We hear them and at the same time hear their negation.

“Rather, for such experiences to be anything more than hiccups of the individual and her journey of authenticity, transcendence or divine action must be reimagined within negation itself (for there is no other zone for it).” (2755)

“Our contemporary faith-formation programs seem to be one step forward and two steps back because they fail to see our issue as Secular 3 (the implausibility of transcendence), choosing rather to focus on Secular 2 (religious vs. a-religious locales). And this wrong focus keeps us from seeing that we are surrounded by negation. It is only within or up against negation that faith can be discussed at all.” (2755)

Summary and Moving Forward

Our experiences of loss, brokenness, and death, but also the liminality of joy and transformational hope that seeks for the negated to be made new may well be the path to grappling with our echoes of transcendence in ways that lead to faithfulness.

It is in Paul, and in his theology of the cross, that we may find the resources to negate the negation of Secular 3 and find access to genuine transcendence and faith formation.

[1] Charles Taylor, “Afterword: Apologia pro Libro suo,” in Warner, VanAntwerpen, and Calhoun, Varieties of Secularism, 302.


A Reflection on the Barmen Declaration in Light of Today's American Crisis

The statements in red are my reflections on the relevance of Barmen for the American situation today.
8.10 - 1. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14.6). "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved." (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
8.12 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation.

We reject the false doctrine that the President, the nation with its needs and pretensions, or the religion that sanctifies it, is a source of God’s revelation for the church’s preaching and teaching.

8.13 - 2. "Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God's assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God's mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords--areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

We reject the false doctrine that there are any areas of life where we can justify actions contrary to Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and teaching by appeal to other authorities claiming to trump Jesus authority.

8.16 - 3. "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together." (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

We reject the false doctrine that the church can trim its message or order itself to live for ideologies or agendas of the powers that be.

8.19 - 4. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant." (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

We reject the false doctrine that apart from the “apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (Eph.4:11) Christ gives the church, others may be vested formally or informally with powers to direct and order the church.

8.22 - 5. "Fear God. Honor the emperor." (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God's commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commision, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church's vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

We reject the false doctrine that the church has any brief from God to serve as an administrative, legislative, or “spiritual” arm of the State.

8.25 - 6. "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matt. 28:20.) "The word of God is not fettered." (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church's commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ's stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.

We reject the false doctrine that the church may violate the third commandment, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God,” by blessing projects and practices of our own devising or desiring with God’s imprimatur.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

21. Mark 6:1-6a

Fresh off this double healing Jesus and his disciples return to Nazareth, Jesus’ home. This scene counterpoints the emphasis on faith in the previous “sandwich.” It shows how lack of faith can hinder even Jesus’ work. Mark tells us he “marveled” or was “amazed” over it (v.6).

It is sabbath and Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. Apparently his teaching and “mighty works” are known in his hometown. This is perhaps what garnered him the opportunity to preach there. All too quickly, however, the “familiarity breeds contempt” syndrome kicks in and local-boy-makes-good morphs into how-could-this-kid-we-all-know be doing all this? An doubt creeps in and turns to “offense” (v.3) at Jesus.

Mark calls Jesus a “carpenter.”

“Early in Jesus’ childhood, Sepphoris, then capital of Galilee, had been destroyed by the Romans, and rebuilding had begun immediately. Thus carpenters were no doubt in demand in Nazareth, a village four miles from the ruins of Sepphoris; and Joseph, Jesus’ father, probably taught his son his own trade, as was common for fathers to do in those days. After Sepphoris had been rebuilt, they probably did most carpentry work from their home, as most Galilean carpenters did. The observation that Jesus is a carpenter is meant to identify him, not to suggest the unlikelihood of a carpenter being a teacher, for we also know of other carpenters who became famous teachers (e.g., Shammai).” (Keener, IVP Background Commentary on the New Testament on Mark 6:3)

Israel had a shameful history of rejecting the prophets God sent to it. Jesus joins himself to that line. And Mark’s portrayal of his authority and power place him at the head of it.

Which makes especially poignant his note: “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them. And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.”

There’s no contradiction here though some have thought so. It’s not just a matter of doing miracles for Jesus. It’s a matter of carrying out God’s New Exodus movement. Healing “a few sick people” marks the limited amount of success his ministry had in his hometown. Jesus could strike no blow for the New Exodus there.

“The point . . . is not that Jesus was powerless apart from men's faith, but that in the absence of faith he could not work mighty works in accordance with the purpose of his ministry; for to have worked miracles where faith was absent would, in most cases anyway, have been merely to have aggravated men's guilt and hardened them against God.” (Cranfield, Mark, 197)

A sobering counterpoint to the faith of Jairus and woman in the crowd, huh? Resistance to Jesus can spring up anywhere and for more or less noble reasons. It even surprised Jesus here!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

From a man who "did" church better than most:

My ecclesiology exactly!
"Hell, I don’t know what the church is. Jesus said something about the fact that He was going to build the church. He did say that the gates of hell would not prevail over it, but He didn’t ask me to build it. And He certainly didn’t ask me to define it. I believe the church is at work in the world only because of my faith in this Jesus person. Trouble is, I don’t know what Jesus is up to or where His church is. That’s good because if I found the church then I’d give it a name and start running it." - Will D. Campbell

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review of Andrew Root's "Formation of Faith in a Secular Age" Vol.1 Part 5

OK, Root has told us how we got here, here being a situation in which Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the default version of “Christianity” among American teenagers and others. Here are some of the benchmarks.
Pre-1960’s Age of Conformity/1960’s On-Age of Authenticity
No going back to conformity, we have to find a way through authenticity to divine action

Unfortunately, youthfulness got identified with authenticity. How?                                            
Flow of our culture answers this.

500 years ago – enchanted world

-self porous, open to transcendent realities (both good and evil), fear of judgment or demonic attack/concern with objective realities

Enlightenment  (17th-18th  centuries - on)  

-self is buffered, closed off to transcendent (world disenchanted), everything becomes subjective-perception, enemy to whatever hinders my own pursuits are not transcendent but other people and ideas, scientific rationalism rules. All that is left is personal authenticity. Inauthenticity is the great evil.
Pre-60’s pursuit of authenticity confined to small groups of the avant garde. The Youth movement of the ‘60’s took it viral. The tools of sex, drugs, rock and roll used to search for authenticity were often mistaken for the movement itself. Church usually damned the movement for its tools.
Buffered selves are still frustrated because of society’s formative role over us. We must unpack and upset them.
The age of authenticity is home to the church’s faith formation.

Nub of problem: loss of nutrients of believability of transcendence. 

Mark 5:21-43: Another Sandwich (20)

We’ve already met Mark’s sandwich technique of storytelling in which he inserts one story between two parts of another allowing both stories to interpret the other. Here we have another. 5:21-24 and 35-43 are the bread while vv.25-34 is the meat between the bread.
Jesus is back on the Jewish side of the sea. Still engulfed by crowds clamoring to be near him. In the midst of all this a leader of the synagogue bursts in on him falling at his feet and  imploring him to come and heal his daughter who is at the point of death. Jesus agrees and they set off to the leader’s home.
Before they get there, however, a woman in the crowd following Jesus who had been hemorrhaging blood for 12 years, snuck up behind him just to touch him. She hoped that might suffice to heal her. In her state this woman was unclean and should have been not have been there in the first place.
Two very different approaches to Jesus. One forward and direct, the other stealthily and from behind. These are two people represent different ends of the social spectrum in Judaism coming to him.
A man comes on behalf of his daughter (12 years-old!)
-with a sense of self (he is named, Jairus),
-proper deference,
-knows how to deal with his life, and
-speaks to Jesus.
A woman creeps up unbeknownst to Jesus in her own need,
-no sense of self (she is unnamed)
-no deference, she merely wants to touch the holy man in hopes that stories she has heard about their power to heal with just a touch may just be true,
-has no resources to deal with her life (indeed, the medical establishment has bankrupted her!), and
-she talks to herself.
Death is the issue here. A near-dead child and an as-good-as dead older woman. The only connection Mark makes between these two women is the number 12. The age of the girl and the number of years hemorrhaging blood for the women. What does this tell us? 12 is the number for Israel (the twelve tribes). These two women are Israel in her near-dead state as a dysfunctional and unjust community.
When the woman gets near enough and touches Jesus’ garment, things begin to happened! She feels cured immediately (v.29), there’s Mark’s favorite word again) and Jesus feels that “power had gone forth from him” and “immediately” (v.30) wants to know who touched him. His disciples shrug their shoulders (and perhaps roll their eyes) for there were people everywhere. Who could tell who touched him?
The woman who was healed could. She comes forward and offers her testimony as to what has happened to her, falling at his feet in gratitude and worship. Jesus accepts her testimony as “faith” (v.34). And then he calls her “Daughter.”
What a word! “Daughter.” To a dying and ostracized woman to a “Daughter.” From reaching out to him in trust, or at least hope, that Jesus would and could heal her. Jesus’ word to this woman encapsulates his message to his people – if they would respond to his call and become through him the people of Abraham God meant them to be, they would escape the coming calamity at Rome’s hands. They would be “made . . . well,” able to “go in peace” (v.34).
At this point Jesus is interrupted by messengers from Jairus’ house telling him his daughter has died and there’s no point to continuing on. But Jesus ignores these heralds and tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” (v.36). He takes only Peter, James, and John and heads off with Jairus to his house.
They arrive to the sounds of professional mourners lamenting the child’s death. Jesus shoes them off with the comment, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” The mourners taunt him, obviously not holding him in the regard Jairus did. N. T. helps us understand what Jesus is getting at here:
“Often in the ancient world, and particularly in Judaism and Christianity, sleep was used as a metaphor for death, and indeed sometimes (as in John 11.11) Jesus says ‘asleep’ when he means ‘dead’. Mark is perhaps hoping that his readers will hear, from the previous chapter, the story of the seed and the plant. It goes to sleep and rises up ... and now that’s what will happen to this girl, as a further sign that the kingdom of God is breaking in upon Israel in the unlikely form  of a young prophet doing extraordinary things in one little town by the lake. A further sign, too, of how the story will end, with astonished people coming to see the place where a dead body once lay but now lies no longer.” (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 84)
Mark recounts the little girl’s raising like this: “Taking her by the hand he said to her, ‘Tal′itha cu′mi’; which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement” (vv.41-42).
This scene clearly anticipates Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus raises her as a sign that even amid the death at work in Jewish religious leadership and institutions (indeed in a Jewish religious leader’s home!), a turn to him can bring life out of death.

Now we can see the effect of Mark’s “sandwich.” The bread of Israel’s dying religious leadership offered life through Jesus and symbolized by Jairus is the outer edge of Jesus’ call. But even if that goes unheeded the meat remains – his call to people to follow him regardless of what their leader do. These stories written up in this way form a potent pair of challenges that embody just what Jesus is up to and what is at stake in his ministry!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review of Andrew Rot's "Faith Formation in a Secular Age vol.1" (Part 4)

5: The Rise of Hip

The Conquest of Cool

Neither the Organization Man of Mass Society and the Bohemian rebels who critiqued them had any use for transcendence. As Root puts it,

“The romanticism of bohemians led them to despise the church but to seek the many flavors of spirituality through desire. Organization Man attended and supported the church but flattened it into a bureaucratic institution without spirituality. Both turned to naturalism (either of desire or of science and organization) that had little room for divine action.” (1666)
Ad-men hated the Organization Man. He was boring and aesthetically uninteresting. An obstacle to their work. They sought for other ways to ply their trade but until the youth movement got underway there were few alternatives to the Organization Man. The latter’s coup against conformity, its “cool,” seemed to advertisers an ally in their effort to revitalize and energize American business.

Cool Competition

The Bohemian cool or hip carried an added benefit not immediately recognized by advertisers. It 

communicated a spirituality perfect for the times. It promoted a salvation tied to authenticity and adherence meant buying things. These things were sacramental realities (cars, clothes, etc.). Thus cool and capitalism are joined at the hip. Heath and Potter say it this way:

“This is a roundabout way of making the point that the bohemian value system—that is, cool—is the very lifeblood of capitalism. Cool people like to see themselves as radicals, subversives who refuse to conform to accepted ways of doing things. And this is exactly what drives capitalism. It is true that genuine creativity is completely rebellious and subversive, since it disrupts existing patterns of thought and life. It subverts everything except capitalism itself.”[1]
Thus, buying was turned from conformity to competition. “Cool moves the competition of capitalism from large to small, from nations and corporations to individuals. In the dawning age of authenticity, I buy not to keep up with the Joneses but to beat them—to be cooler than they are. When cool is our path and authenticity is our aim, consumption is for competition.” (1736) In the late 60’s buying itself became bohemian, an experience full of emotional power.

Rebel Youth
“By heralding the youthful as the projectors of cool and gods of authenticity, they extracted the very humanity of the young and turned their disruptive energy into a transferable spirit that could be connected to products, politicians, and programs needing a hit of legitimacy or excitement. Youthfulness now equaled “rebel,” which has no necessary connection to the experience of young people themselves (ironically violating the very romanticism that got this ball rolling in the first place).” (1764)
And it was the marketers who took this youthfulness viral.

“Buying became an emotive experience of authentic expression, a way of remaining in or returning to your youth—although not necessarily to your historically lived youth (who would want that?) but instead to the supposed freedom and authenticity of “youthfulness.” Youthfulness became an idealized place where each person was completely their wants and desires as they bathed in the glory of being cool. In a world without divine action, youthfulness was now an eschatological category. Youthfulness was the strategic disposition, cool the path, and authenticity the goal.” (1795)
Youth became a sort of fantasy land in which all, even adults, can play. It was an attitude toward life and consumption, not an age category.

How did youthfulness get into the church? How does it lead us away from divine action? How does Moralistic Therapeutic Deism fit into this story? Next chapter.

6: Churches Filled with Bobos—the Beasts of Authenticity

If youthfulness becomes a central strategy to reach authenticity the conditions are perfect for “moralistic,” “therapeutic,” and “deism” to be the core descriptive labels for this new spirituality. It did so in the second half of the 20th century. As a spirituality without transcendence or divine action, youthfulness carries the deistic element of MTD, an anthropology of self-pursuit (the therapeutic), and an ethic for individualism (the moralistic). Once the drive for authenticity is youthfulness, MTD becomes endemic, and you (and God) become your desires. Our conceptions of faith become chained to the pursuit of authenticity through youthfulness.

By the 70’s youthfulness, the age of authenticity, hit full bore. Everyone was now bohemian capitalist, “Bobos,” (bohemian bourgeios) as David Brooks famously named them.[2] In the church, boboism “allow(ed) youthfulness to mutate the transcendent call of Jesus to follow into a therapeutic pursuit of the self without divine action.” (1901). It’s chief effect was to become a safeguard that kept people from being jerks as they chased the authenticity of the self by following their inner rebel youth.

“For the bobo, faith formation and church participation are about cultural participation that can support her individual cultural pursuits for happiness and success. MTD is the perfect description of faith for the bobo.” (1901)

Evangelicalism returned to societal notice in the 50’s after their retreat from public life after the Scopes’ trial debacle. Conformity culture and the post-war Red scare made the call to return to the old-time religion sound plausible. It was particularly in youth ministry - Youth for Christ, Young Life, and Campus Crusade – this approach made an impact.

Even so, it was American mainline Protestantism that remained “the” American religion. Mainliners, though, seemed to have less feel for the dawning age of authenticity than did the evangelicals with their focus on individual conversion and religious experience.

“When the counterculture attacked technocratic scientism and asserted that it was seeking a more authentic spirituality, this resonated with evangelicals, particularly in California. Evangelicalism was much better positioned than the mainline to reach out to a distinct youth culture but also to present youth with a religious conception that made sense within the dawning age of authenticity.” (1930)
Evangelicals were not relatives of the counter-cultural bohemians. Nevertheless, they moved  within the same orbit. Both recognized that mainstream religious life was more an abstraction of real experience than an invitation into it. The mainline had made the gospel boring – and that is a chief sin in the age of authenticity.

Evangelicals contended, however, emotive expression and individual conversion, Christian faith could break forth, offering a chance to go deeper than just the material and natural.

Jesus Freaks

The Holiness movement, a prime source for evangelicalism, though diametrically opposed to the bohemianism of the Beats, were linked with them right at the place of authenticity. Both centered on it, one taking a hedonistic route and the other a route of self-denial.

Pentecostalism took the Holiness movement viral at the turn of the 2oth century. Its impact widened through its spread outside of Pentecostal circles (the Charismatic movement). “Evangelicals were moving more and more into the middle class and bringing with them a potent desire for an authentic religious experience. These middle-class youth driving for authenticity in opposition to scientism were commendable, if shamefully misguided.” (1978)

Scattered Hippies

Evangelicals especially in California, had a vital outreach to the young people of the countercultural revolution.

“These adults didn’t call the young away from their bohemian-inspired pursuit of authenticity—rather, they shared it. Nor did they call them away from their countercultural sensibilities. Instead, they asked them to follow Jesus as a way to find the true authenticity they desired, to continue to be countercultural, but now for the sake of Jesus. Schäfer explains, “The evangelical revival of the 1970s, rather than being nurtured by the rejection of the 1960s, was thus in many ways a ‘Jesus trip’ that grew out of flower power culture. In merging countercultural styles with biblical traditionalism, the evangelicals . . . carried the distinctive combination of subcultural identity and cultural integration that had been at the core of conservative Protestantism.” (1989-2002)
These young people, nurtured by evangelical Christianity, became what we know now as Jesus Freaks.

Theological Slippage

The bohemianism and Freudianism were a form of idealism that saw consciousness raising as the doorway to liberation. If you had the right ideas and wore them like glasses, you’d clearly see the trail to authenticity. Post-1960s liberals did this and made actions of justice-seeking the means to the end of faith formation without divine action.

“The counterculture sought to open people’s minds to the right ideas about their self and society. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll were the elixirs that freed the mind to find the new idea of freedom that would allow you to be fully authentic by remaining forever youthful.” (2914-2022) Unfortunately, the church also bought into the countercultural notion that there is but one culture seeking repression that must be swallowed or spit out whole.

The hippies were looking for right idea to lead them to authenticity. Charismatic Christianity put forth Jesus as that idea. This form of idealism had the impact of flattening divine action, turning the reality of the living Christ into an idea that would allow you as an individual to reach your authentic goal.

“Jesus (bound as an idea), then, was not all that different in form from other ideas, like diet pills, political parties, and all sorts of other products. (It’s no wonder that post-1960s evangelicalism seemed a perfect fit for both consumer/seeker forms of church and forceful entrance into the political scene.) While these charismatic evangelicals continued talking about a personal relationship with Jesus and seeking ecstatic experiences in worship, they nevertheless made faith formation about commitment to the idea of Jesus, stripping formation, ironically, of its transcendent encounter with divine action, making conversion an epistemological shift rather than an ontological encounter.” (2032-2041)
The Pentecostal/Charismatic experience drove those involved right into the cultural stream of seeking authenticity. And that meant leveraging youthfulness as a way to pursue their goal.

Youth Ministry

Youth ministry grew and expanded at this time with a particular brief to capture and utilize this youthfulness. This all started in California but quickly spread abroad. Youth ministry went congregational and it also took a strong turn from catechesis to a journey for authenticity.

“Evangelicals never considered that the trail of cool and the goal of authenticity were in themselves problematic, failing to recognize that the idealism of the counterculture would strip them of transcendence too, making divine action flat. Rather, for evangelicals, what was dangerous (and California seemed to teeter on this) was the potential pitfalls of hedonism that pocked the path of cool like potholes.” (2092-2100)
Thus youth ministry became about promoting the search for authenticity through the Holiness tradition of self-denial.

Bobos and MTD

The counter-cultural revolution never ended. “The ideal has taken different shapes, moving from hippie to punk to hip-hop G, but has remained in essence the resister of an inauthentic system that opposes freedom and expression.” (2108)

“Now that consumption had gone through the exciting days of the 1960s and conformity had been killed by cool, the hippie was free to chase his wants as an adult, using what he bought to express his individuality and therefore remain forever youthful. He could be both bourgeois and bohemian, thanks to the admen and their continued offering of the youthful spirit through bourgeois buying packaged in bohemian longing for authenticity.” (2108)
Youth ministry became a core staple of churches because it could attract the bobo. Bobo parents wanted a church where their children could pursue authenticity but could also be guided protected from upending their cultural progress with bad decisions. Youth ministry, in both mainline and evangelical churches, morphed into releasing the youthful spirit of counterculture for authenticity while in turn also restricting this same youthful spirit from excesses. Evangelicals turned more readily to self-help and therapy for authenticity while the mainline turned to justice.

“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, then, is the descriptor of the spirituality of bobos and their children who seek authenticity through the strategy of youthfulness.” (2149)

“Whether the moralistic and therapeutic elements that are endemic to boboism (and to the larger cultural air that fills our middle-class churches) are fundamentally corrupt is up for debate. Yet when cultural deism is added to the moralistic and the therapeutic, faith formation becomes bastardized.” (2159)

Deism and the Loss of Transcendence

The counter-culture found the spirit of Mass Culture spiritless and pathetic. It sought a spirituality without divine action (a transcendence without a personal divine reality). “The bohemians who inspired the youth movement sought a natural and material spirituality that would open them up not to the personhood of God but to new ideas that would lead them into an idyllic state where cool was constant and authenticity total.” (2176) Fundamentalism had glorified the Bible so fully that the personhood of the triune being of God was overtaken by the idea of inerrancy.

“Boboism brings together both these bourgeois and bohemian conceptions of deism. Like the bohemians and the true children of the counterculture, the bobo longs for spirituality, to escape the mundane and search for meaning. But this search is often bound in ideas. Self-help and therapeutic insights are so powerful because they provide the bobo’s mind with new ideas that help her see her way to authenticity. These new ideas are almost always bound to the strategy of youthfulness, calling her to disrupt the ideas she holds to find new ideas that will give her new meaning. Their spirituality is all about the pursuit of the new, maybe even the cool. It is a deism that wants not a personal experience of another reality or being but new, exciting experiences that enhance her journey to authenticity.” (2185)
Without divine action, faith formation in a bobo-istic church becomes bout belonging to the right church which provide you what you are looking for.

Root summarizes and points the way ahead.

“It is my contention that to reimagine faith formation is to recognize the many layers and cultural realities that have made faith formation so difficult. Too often we’ve assumed that, with a new perspective here and a new pedagogy there, we might provide dynamic ways of forming faith in our people. However, I’ve presented this historical story—or better, this philosophical genealogy—to show that something like MTD is not easily cut out. Rather, it is a tumor that is wrapped around many organs and bones of twentieth- and twenty-first-century American life. If we are still brave enough to try to reimagine faith formation, then it is essential that we begin at the back end, with the D of MTD—deism—exploring and rethinking how it is we encounter divine action itself.” (2206)

[1] Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture (San Francisco: HarperBusiness, 2004), 205.

[2] David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There [New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000].