Friday, July 27, 2012

Skilled Christianity

(http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2012/07/skilled-christianity.html)
Posted on 7.27.2012

I've been blogging for over six years, and if you've been with me from the beginning you may have detected a change in the tone and tenor of this blog.

In the early years this blog seemed much more doubt-filled. But over time it has seemed to some of my friends that the blog has grown more faithful and apologetical. In the early years my tone toward Christianity was more aggressive and attacking, the voice of an outsider (though coming from an insider). In recent years my tone is more insider trying to show how Christianity might be "held together." I've been trading in criticism for something more constructive. And I have to admit that my faith over the last six years has been bolstered by a variety of things. Some highlights:

My rediscovery of prayer in The Book of Common Prayer.

Reading the bible with the damned (to borrow Bob Ekblad's phrase) in my experiences with Freedom Fellowship and the prison bible study I lead.

My discovery of theologians and saints over the last six years who have helped me reconfigure my theology (e.g., during the last sis years I discovered--or seriously engaged with--Rene Girard, William Stringfellow, Dorothy Day, Therese of Lisieux, James Alison, Orthodox theology, Arthur McGill, Christus Victor, Walter Wink, Christian anarchism, J├╝rgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf, Walter Brueggemann, Thomas Talbott, N.T. Wright, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr and Rowan Williams. I've also reconnected with influences like George MacDonald and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.)
Because of all this, I am increasingly able to "give an account" of Christianity.

But am I more faith filled?

I don't think so. I'm more faithful, perhaps, but not more faith-filled.

I'm still heterodox. I'm still wrestling with the problem of horrific suffering. I'm still struggling with doubts. I don't think any of that has changed in the background. And these things continue to shape the content of the blog. I don't think anyone would describe this blog as conservative or particularly orthodox. Day in and day out this blog is going to be unsettling to most Christians. Some things haven't much changed.

So what has changed?

I'd describe the change this way: I'm not necessarily a more faith-filled Christian, but I am a more skilled Christian.

And those two things look a whole lot alike. In fact, given how I see things, I think skill and faith should be taken as synonyms in many cases.

I don't know if I believe more, but I am more skilled in the faith. And blogging has been a big part of developing that skill.

What is this skill?

To borrow from Hauerwas, it's the skill of description. Here is how George Lindbeck describes it in his book The Nature of Doctrine:
To become a Christian involves learning the story of Israel and of Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one’s world in its terms.
The skill is the ability to describe my world as a Christian. The skill is the ability to use Christianity to make meaning of my experience, a uniquely Christian meaning and a meaning that gives me life and life to those with whom I come into contact. It is the skill in describing my world to allow me to experience resurrection in the midst of death's works. (And that last sentence is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.) It is the skill in using my faith to become more human and humane.

Let me give a recent example. If you are a regular reader you know I've been experimenting a great deal with the language of the demonic. In the last year or so I've talked a lot about things like demonic possession and exorcism. Which would have seemed crazy six years ago when my tone was more "scientific." But I've been experimenting with description along these lines. And some of these experiments have been pretty creative. For example, my post about the demonic in Scooby-Doo. What I've been doing in these sorts posts is experimenting with the language of the demonic in describing my experience, in making meaning of my life and as a way to find life. Similar and parallel experiments are happening with my recent interest in Christus Victor theology.

So that's what you've been noticing, for those who have noticed, over the last of six years.

My talents of description have been growing, by leaps and bounds. My faith journey is still riddled with doubt, and that still comes through. But over the years I have become increasingly more skilled in my faith.

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