An automated transcript of this conversation can be found below.

Helpful Resources:

Jamie'sĀ  website

Recommend book by Jamie: The Christian Doctrine

Automated Transcript:


Good afternoon, everybody, or morning as it may be where you are. It's great to connect with you. This seems like a, a wonderful crew and a great way to sort of continue to revitalize your ministries and grateful to be part of it. Larry asked me to, to reflect with you a little bit about this last book I did called on the road with Saint Augustin. And so what I wanna do is I, I guess I just wanna put some themes on the table that would then be the basis I I'm really interested to hear from you and the, so the conversation piece is what I'm most interested in because I feel like I selfishly get to hear a little bit from the front lines and how work goes in ministry and that's a learning opportunity for me.


So let me, what I wanna, I'll say. I wanna work my way back to Augustine by saying that I think what's crucial for ministry in our current context is an appropriate, sophisticated understanding of the secular age in which we find ourselves. So I'm sure some of, you know, the work of the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor whose own work is really kind of generative and influential for a lot of my own. And in, in many ways, the backstory for writing a book on Saint Augustine in the 21st century is having come through something like Charles Taylor's I think wonderfully complex and sophisticated take on what it means that we live in a secular age. And so I wanna set up the Augustine resource by coming through a very, very quick rendition of that account because, and the reason why I think it makes a difference is this is about the posture we bring to the environmental conditions in which we find ourselves.


And I would say too many Christian understandings of our secular age are mostly reactionary and defensive and alarmist, and paint a picture of our so-called cultural, the, the zeitgeist in which we find ourselves in which the posture is this or this, or, you know, this it's, it's this posture of defense and resistance and battle and so on and so forth. And I honestly just think that misses how much opportunity there is, is in our secular age. I actually think it misses the, the ways in which our posture should be one of open handedness both in terms of offering our neighbors gifts, but also to receive some gifts and to be listening to our neighbors. As we think about the gospel in our, our context for me, one of the, the ways to kind of crystallize how beautifully messy our secular age is.


And, and by that, I mean, maybe what I should say is I think the sort of reactionary reactive negative takes who negative takes on our secular age, generally paint secularity, simply as a tale of unbelief, disbelief, atheism, so on and so forth. And I just think the secular age in which we find ourselves is way more spiritually messy than that in really, really interesting and intriguing ways. And some of you have probably heard me talk about this before, but there's a British novelist named Julian Barnes who still not really read enough on the side, the pond, but he wrote a memoir in 2008 called nothing to be frightened of. And in the now you have to remember Julian Barnes is in a way kind of a poster child of European secularization, right? He is of a generation who never grew up going to church has no religious heritage instruction, catechesis whatsoever. And yet in this memoir at several key points, he would say this line, I don't believe in God, but I miss him. I don't believe in God, but I miss him.


I cannot think of a better encapsulation of the curious perplexing, spiritual messiness of our secular age than that line. I don't believe in God, but I miss him. You feel the tension, you feel the alienation, you feel the reject, obviously I don't believe, but it's the second part, the missing the longing, the sense of something's AIS, something's out of line. Something is lacking. I think when you put those two things together, that goes a long way to explaining why our secular age is not primarily an age of disbelief or unbelief. It is an age of disordered and misordered longing for transcendence. It is an age in which there is nothing about our secular age that has faced or erased people's inbuilt, spiritual hunger what has happened with grant. And I, I won't spend too much time on this story, but what has happened is the shifts that have taken place over the last 500 years, 100 years.


However you wanna think about it, have just sort of displaced that hunger. There's been a kind of migration of where that spiritual, longing and hunger goes, but it's, it's still very much alive. And so it finds its expression in an explosion of Spiritu rather than some sort of settled, cold, hard scientific atheistic rationality, right. And so it, and it, and it finds its expression in all kinds of Spiritu from Peloton, honestly to messianic, strongman political movements. Do you know what I mean? Like every, everybody is still looking for something to join something, to belong to something that gives meaning and significance, something that has a sense of Tacy about it. It's just that they kind of want that without the trappings of say communal obligations or traditional institutional frameworks and so on and so forth. I'm not saying that this is a, like a wonderful world to live in.


I'm just saying it is the world we live in. And, and there is much more spiritual, openness and hunger there than I think we sometimes realize. And if, if we just have the defensive posture, if we're just telling the decline narrative about our secular age, we actually miss the opportunity to be sort of attuned to when those, those deep longings for transcendence, those deep spiritual hungers manifest themselves, albeit in sort of weird contorted, strange perplexing ways. I I'm, what I'm saying is let's look at these, I'll just say in sort of Augustinian terms, these malformed spiritual longings as not, you know her moles to be whacked down as much as testimonies, backhanded testimonies of the fact that our neighbors still find themselves hungering for something transcendent, something divine. Now two things, first of all, I'm trying to paint a picture of the world as people experience it in Seattle, New York and Los Angeles.


Right. In other words, I I'm, I'm, I'm trying to give us a handle to understand a world that is more deeply secularized than probably still a lot of the geographical context in which many of us minister. So for example, I live in this place called grand rapids, Michigan. Maybe you've heard of it. The story of secularization in the is not the same as the story of secularization in Seattle or LA or New York, do you know, do so. But of us, whether you are pastoring in Zealand or you're pastoring in Lancaster, or you're pastoring in Lethbridge or whatever it might be, this is also the world that is coming for you. This is it's, it's mostly a lag. Although we could, this would be part of, what's interesting to talk about forms of life that were forged in sick immigrant religious communities have a law long lifespan.


So I think we also shouldn't be surprised that thicker forms of institutional religion persist longer, especially in area. I'm not just thinking of Dutch reform traditions, but you could apply this more broadly. It's not surprising that those forms of more traditional institutional of just lives have a longer lifespan because they are carried in habits and the sociology of a community. And so there's, there's, it's almost like different parts of our countries live in different time zones, spiritually speaking. And I think part that would be part of what it'd be interesting to talk through. The only thing I would say is the effect of media is also so universalizing that I think 20 year olds in Holland, Michigan are probably closer to a world in New York than 60 year olds in Holland, Michigan. Do you know what I mean? There's just a kind of way that their imagination is being shaped and transformed.


And I think if we are going to be attuned to generational complexity one of the things I guess I'm encouraging is the more you can become theological anthropologists of Los Angeles, the more you will understand 20 something things in your neighborhood. But we can, we can, we can talk about that. Okay. One more feature of our secular age, and then I wanna explain, well, why would we be talking about St Augustin in this context? Taylor says another feature of our secular age is not that everybody becomes an atheist, right? It's not that everybody starts disbelieve it's that there is this sort of cross pressured experience where now there are so many different ways to believe, and we all live in proximity to these different worldviews and these different takes on this world and these different forms of life and different Spiritu. We all live so sort of entwined and muddled together.


And in proximity to one another, that we all also regularly hear and encounter alternative stories about how to be human alternative accounts of what meaning and significance is, and because of the, that experience of proximity and difference, we experience what Taylor calls cross pressure, where we face. We confront if you will, in many ways, the power and viability of alternative faiths not that make us disbelieve, but that do introduce a kind of contestability of what we believe that maybe we earlier generations could have happily lived in oblivion of. Does that make sense? In other words there's a sense in which it's not that Christians stop being Christians just because we live in a secular age, but there is a new experience of being a Christian in a secular age, where now I live alongside people who, by the way, live meaningful, rich, moral lives, who believe something fundamentally different, very, very different than I do.


And that itself just living alongside that is unsettling enough that it introduces this sense of the kind of contestability of my belief. I can't assume that everybody believes what I believe, but also the element of doubt, right? So doubt becomes a constant companion of believing it's I believe instead of doubting it's, I believe wild doubting. Now the flip side of that, however, is the ways and extent to which those who don't believe are also haunted by contestability and the cross pressures. And so the doubt, if you will also will find themselves haunted by faith by like, maybe there's something more, maybe there's something to this Christianity, maybe there's, there's something going on there. I, I I'll give you two recent one, if you want a little cultural artifact to ex explore this world that we're talking about is that me? Do you hear music? Sorry. oh, it's my phone. Nobody ever calls me. Hang on a sec.


I forgot I had a phone. I apologize. A cultural artifact. Here's a little homework. If you're interested, there is an amazing novel, new novel by an Irish author named Sally Rooney. Has anybody ever, she wrote a big famous novel a few years ago called normal people, which then became an HBO or a Hulu series. But her latest one is called beautiful world. Where are you? And to me, it's a great artifact of our secular age that that pastors would do well to read because it's a kind of ethnography of the secular context in which we find ourselves, which is by, by the way, one that is fraught with sexual longings and encounters and disordered experiences of the world and, and people who don't believe in God. And then what keeps welling up is not just religion, but Jesus, and this, this, this central character who is, you know, the deeply secularized is surprised to keep finding herself sort of encountering Jesus.


And what makes this novel interesting is Sally Rooney, as far as I know, has no kind of religious affiliation or interest or whatever. And yet she's documenting a world in which you know, young, 20 somethings who are trying to their way in the world, all of a sudden find themselves bumping up against the gospel, bumping up against the go, the church, bumping up against Jesus, very, very specifically Jesus in, in really powerful ways. So I think it's a really interesting time to be engaged in ministry where you find this kind of cross pressured experience. That will sound strange, but that's exactly why I thought Augustine becomes a very, very interesting guide spiritual guide for seekers in the 21st century as we know it. Why? Well, okay. So for those of you, I, I, I need to stop assuming that everybody sleeps with a copy of the confessions under their pillow and so on and so forth.


So little, just a little brief reminder of Augustine. So Augustine lives in the late three hundreds and early four hundreds. So fourth to fifth century in north Africa contemporary Algeria, he's basically from what is contemporary Algeria. He is was a, you could kind of say he was a biracial kid. His dad was Roman. His mom was African probably Burber. He knew the clash of cultures in his own home. He was an ambitious climber who was interested in everything that takes people to Manhattan power, money, and sex. And his confessions are really the narrative of his looking for what he thought would be happiness in those things climbing. And, and one of the things that becomes interesting is it is a migration story. So the young provincial African Augustine sort of makes his way to the local university in Carthage, but that's just a stepping stone.


So he can eventually get to Rome and be working in the emperor's palace in Milan. Eventually it's a very, very familiar of age story of ambition and a cultural ascent. And in many ways, I think Augustin is a kind of character who would feel so familiar to 20 somethings today. That was his, this was his journey in his twenties and the way I encapsulate it, and this is the way Augustin does in a, his confessions. He says he was looking for love in all the wrong places, right? In other words, all of this quest, all of this ambition, all of his pursuits were really examples of a kind of disordering of what was an inbuilt hunger for God. And now he's looking for it in all of these other places. So in many ways, what I think is fascinating about Augustine is he's a very familiar character.


He's a perennial character. I, I know so many young people in DC for whom they read Augustine's story. And it's like, that's me like that, that, that was, that was, that's why I'm here. This is what I was chasing. However, what's also interesting is that actually at the heart of this is a sort of Augustinian diagnosis of idolatry. Now this, this is, this is a insider a conversation. So I, I, I, I wanna flag that when I'm talking to, you know, quote unquote non-Christian audiences, when I'm actually trying to reach the seeker, I don't come in and say, so let tell you why you're an Idol's. What I'm saying is Augustin's particular phenomenology of idolatry. I think illuminates our cultural context because for Augustin, all of his idolatries were not primarily matters of disordered belief. His idolatries were not primarily matters of incorrect thinking. They were instances of disordered longing.


So what he's looking for in sex and conquest sexual conquest was a kind of full and, and resonance and significance and connection that of course, sexual conquest could never deliver. Right. Do you know what I mean? That, that, that his frat boy sort of endeavors, it, it was doomed to fail and disappoint. And he would say the same thing about getting political power or achieving educational success or whatever it might be, what happened is all of these things, which could be good creation could be creation goods in and of themselves when they are sort of amplified. So that I treat them as if they're everything now is just a recipe for existential disappointment, right? Because no created thing, no created thing would ever bear the weight of my infinite longing. And so what, what I almost said haggle what Augustin said, what Augustin says is it's almost like he had to go through the failures of his idols to under stand that he really longed for something so much more, right.


It's Al and this is why Augustine's story is really framed by the parable of the prodigal sun. The confessions is completely structured around the parable of the prodigal sun in Luke chapter 15. And so the first four to five books are really about the son who comes to the one who made him the father, the creator, and says, give me the gift. Give me my inheritance for, for geeks in the room, the Greek word for inheritance there, or the, the, the Latin word for inheritance traces back. Well, no, in the new Testament, the Greek word for inheritance is USIA, which means being or substance. So think of this as a parable of human existence, the son, the created one comes to the father, the maker and says, give me my USIA, give me my inheritance, give me my existence. And I wanna that and live as if you were dead as if you didn't exist.


And so I'm going to seize my being. I'm going to seize this, inheritance, this gift of existence, and now I'm gonna do it my way. And I'm going off to a distant country. I go to Vegas, sex, drugs, and rock and roll obliterate, everything. And what happens, the sun is reduced to nothingness. So you go from being to nothingness when you live on your own terms. And then Luke 15, 11, he comes to himself, there's this wake up call. And he remembers, I, he, by the way, at this point, he's, he's feeding pigs who are eating better than him. He's reduced to less than animality. And in this sense, he has this wake up call and he remembers who he is and who he is. And the return to the father is actually finding himself. The confessions is a journey of finding himself, but in a way, he it's only when he went through the disappointments and failures of his idols, that he was primed to be able to see what his heart really hungered for.


And grace was then being found in the one that made him. I, I, I think it's a very, very powerful story. One of the themes that I run with in the book is how much this parallels recovery communities, right? And, and the way there's there's a sense in which the, the power and beauty of recovery is all illusions are gone, right? You have to, you have to walk through all your delusions. One, one of the lines in, in the big book, I think is your best thinking, got you here. Do you know what I mean? You're not gonna think your way out this problem, your best thinking got you here. So you have to just drop all the facades and that utter vulnerability, which is precisely that when you realize how dependent you are and, and the, you know, the covert theology, that's still carried in recovery of, of recognizing the higher power.


That's kind of, that's sort of August's story all that to say, sorry, I'm chatting too long here. That that is exactly why. I think Augustine is sort of a perennial template of existential hunger in which well, two things in which some of our neighbors will see themselves. But also, I wonder if those of us ministry in this context can sort of see our neighbors through this lens and it opens up new possibilities of what we think it looks like to bear witness to the gospel in this secular age. Okay. I'll stop there. Is that, is that a good start for us?


That's a great start. So kind of ministry question, I guess you talk about you know, a community cross pressures and no, but they don't want community obligations. They don't want institutional stuff.


Christianity is kind of about community obligations and institutional stuff. How do we work toward building or telling a better story in this context? And, you know, do we need to imagine telling that story in a different way? And so I'm reflecting a little bit here on your work in the arts and novels in those kind of things, but, but, you know, we're, we're used to telling the story and, you know, poor spiritual laws or whatever, right. And, and those are no longer those no longer carry momentum at least not in context. So how do we a better story and yeah. How does that story actually take root for people rather than just saying, well, that's just a story. I'm pushing it to the side. Cause I don't like Christianity.


Yeah. Great question. Let me, let me get into it backwards. So about how we tell the story. Yes. This, this is exact why I, I work with a literary and arts journal called image journal, and it's precisely because I think the way to the heart is through the imagination much more than it is through the intellect. So I have, I have zero stock and apologetics and I have moved my entire portfolio into art. Why? Because there, I think we make our way in the world much more on the basis of how we imagine ourselves and the story in which we find ourselves and the way that you can get people to start to sort of open themselves up to imagining themselves in a different story is you can't argue them into that. It's much more like a wooing and enticing, a picturing it's an invitational and the invitation has to hit people at the imagination.


So in some ways, you know, a Flannery O'Connor short story does so much more work in helping our neighbors imagine a way of being human and being with one another than an op-ed in the New York times or even a Tim Keller book. Do you know what I mean? Like there's just a, there's a different register of opera here. Paul, in that sense, I still think Paul Schrader infamous Calvin dropout is one of the most powerful and potent ambassadors of the gospel today. If you haven't seen his latest movie card counter, it is an absolutely Pascalian meditation on human brokenness and hope. It's really, really, really powerful. Terence Malik films are, are very much animated by the same thing. So I'm, I'm with you. And I, I think now what does that mean sort of on the ground for you all? One thing I often talk to preachers about is look, if, if you imagine a, a sermon as a mode of rhetoric and discourse, and you imagine rhetoric and discourse on a continuum that runs from the doctoral dissertation to the poem, please put your sermons on the, the right a, a, a, a sermon is much more about a poetic avocation of God's promises to the world than it is a disposition on an argument or something like that.


And I think this is do you know, Neil planting's little book reading for preaching? It's a great little book where he says, this is why preachers need to sort of baptize their, their vocabularies, the vocabularies and poetry because there's, there's a way in which the cadences of story work difficult now. Okay. But I wanna come back to your, your question about like, how do we get people? What do we do at the anti institutionalization maybe will be a way to rephrase that? So one of the struggles I think, of our secular age as people experience it is the myth of authenticity, right? What I mean by this is this, this overwhelming burden to be singular and unique and express your a as a kind of, one of a kind. Do you know what I mean? So on the one hand, there's all this burden and expectation in our late modern culture that you express your authentic self.


What we don't tell people is how utterly exhausting that is that to, to, and this, to me, this explains the RA rampant mental health challenges of 20 somethings. I teach at Calvin university, the, across the board in higher education, the challenges of depression and anxiety amongst 22 year olds is just heart break. It's absolutely heartbreaking. And I'm convinced it's tied to this burden that everybody is supposed to be putting on their own show for the world. That's the, this myth of authenticity. What I think may I don't have a formula to talk people into why they should belong to something. What I will say is I think the desire to belong is built into us as God's image barriers. And I think the burden of this solitary expressive version of authenticity is starting to be felt culturally. And I think it's reaching a, a, a NA dear, which, and the very burdens and failures of this kind of authentic individualistic solitary way of imagining ourselves is, is going to be a kind of brokenness that opens people up to a kind of belonging that they might be surprised to find themselves in. I also, I'm not an sociologist, but I do also wonder if the isolation of the pandemic is going to have a weird swing back where people might all of a sudden be, be sort of hungering for a kind of community that they wouldn't have expected before. But I, I, I'm not predicting, I'm just trying to give a diagnosis a little.


Thanks. So as you can imagine, the conversation we're having leads to long questions rather than short PIY


Ones. Yeah.


Yeah. And so, so, so Peter I'm gonna ask you to unmute yourself and just read the question great. Because if I read it, it's not gonna go as well. So if you unmute yourself and read your question, and then Ben, after that, if you would unmute yourself after Jamie gets done with that question and read yours.


So yeah, this goes back to the audio books conversation we were having, like who, who actually reads the stuff makes a difference. So I I'll, I'll give myself the discipline of reading exactly what I wrote, cuz if I, if I don't then I'll digress too much and make it longer. In the last week, I had one conversation with my daughter. Who's a doula who offers Reiki and touchless healing. And she explained how that works. I also was present when my mother asked my 22 year old niece to explain why formerly she, why, why formerly she changed their first name to a gender neutral name and why neutral pronouns are better. I, I see in both of them, some of the cross pressure that you have that you described there's, there's a remnant in there. And then there's, there's this other thing in the first a departure from science and a being drawn to something else.


And the second an elevation, sorry, I lost my screen here. In the second, yeah, an elevation of the Christian remnant notion of not oppressing the less powerful, but elevating that into a, a near religious doctrine and practice of its own. So in other words, to who call her, she now is a sin which is hard to get used to when it's your, you know, when you've lived with, with her that, that way. So I'm fascinated by this truly fascinated, cuz I love cultural trends. But I also don't know how to speak into it, how to address it. And so I attempt, at least with my own daughter, I was able to, to say that biblically what she describes or within Christianity that I know it's not impossible that this is valid. And, and yet I don't know what to do beyond that. And I certainly don't know what to do with my niece cuz to try, I even have a conversation as an older white male in the state that she's in would seem domineering and colonial to her. And so I wouldn't even be able to say, do you realize that this movement that you're in is actually part of this secular age that is rooted in Christian ideas. So how, how gimme some thoughts on how to speak into that kind of experience.


Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Great examples. So maybe, maybe one way to just think about what I'm encouraging. I'll, I'll keep talking about this as posture, right. Rather than answer. So the posture I'm encouraging is if you step into now an appreciation for the spiritual messiness of our secular age what, what I wanna encourage us is the first move of our posture should be to be curious, to be curious and to not be alarmist or defensive. And I'm not saying that this is the final move or it's the only move I'm saying the first move should be to be curious to be listeners. And, and now I, and I mean to be theologically curious and to be like spiritually curious. And so what I, when, when you encounter phenomena like this, it's sort of like, okay, ask this Augustinian question. What are they looking for?


What are they longing for? What, what hunger is manifested in this instance, in this case, whatever it might be. Right. in some ways I think the most fundamental on Gian question is what do you want, right? What are you, what are you longing for? So, okay. What's so you let's take the first example. What are they, what are they longing for? What are they looking for? My, my, my first sort of curious response is, oh, I think that's a really interesting manifestation of a desire for holism right. A kind of holistic and, and then I've become theologically curious because I think actually that kind of holistic picture of how to be human. I resonates a lot with what I know of the scriptures, right? And that, that, and by the way, also what I know of the reform traditions understand ending of the scriptures and how to be whole and what it is to be fully human.


And so now, instead of feeling like I have to have an answer or a defense, I've got the beginning of a bridge, which is really just not the end of the conversation. It's just the beginning of the conversation because whatever we are hoping for in terms of mission is not going to be winning an argument. It is going to be inviting people into communities of belonging. Do you know what I mean? And it seems to me that being curious, listening, building that bridge and then looking for, you know, Fran, this is a throwback Francis Shafer used to talk about what he call points of contact points of contact, where it's like, oh, I see we have this similar concern, right. Or we have this similar question that seems to me like a bridge building point, which then opens the possibility for them entertaining the story that you want to offer, which isn't even bigger story. Right. And maybe there'll be parts of that stories that kind of pushes back on them at some point, but you just don't have to race to that because it can be an invitation to unfolding. Does that, does that make sense?


Great. Yeah. Yeah. I, what, what what's, what might frustrate you some today is I, I don't have formulas I'm, I'm encouraging posture, which means that all of you will be doing very important discerning work where you find yourselves. In some ways I, I, I make the argument in my book awaiting the king that all pastors have to be ethnographers. That is all, all pastors need to really learn how to read the kind of rituals of the cultural context in which they find or so, and that this is kind of like an exercise now. Thanks, Ben. I'm gonna have you go next.


Sure. Thank you so much. Professor Smith. It's great to hear from you again. Hey,


It's Jamie you're. You're graduated. It's Jamie now.


Okay. I'll try. It still feels weird, but I'll try. So one of the things that, that I find to be a roadblock for, for people I'm trying to minister to is just accepting scripture, accepting the Bible as an authoritative document. And so, you know, I, I, I think I'm clear in my own mind that, you know, people have to be drawn into a certain extent and they have to see Christ alive in you. And they have to see the church in action before some of those walls can come down. But at the end of the day, like if you wanna preach Christ you, you can't the, the, the basis for Christ is the, the word which tells his story. And so if people have kind of an innate skepticism or a cynicism towards like an authoritative document, you know, I found that to be something that's tricky to, to get people to accept that.


And then another, another kind of roadblock, which I think is especially prevalent in our, in our day and age is just the exclusivity of the, of the claims of Christ and sort of the, you know, come, come to me, Jesus, on the one hand is, is very welcoming and accepting of come to me and I, and I offer life and I'm the bread of life and I'm the way, but, but then it's like, but if you don't accept what Christ offers, then the alternative is, you know, you're gonna go to hell. And for a lot of people, they just, they just can't accept kind of Christianity's sort of what, what they perceive as an intolerant view towards the, the non-believer. So yeah. Any, any thoughts on approaching those two issues?


Yeah, let me see. I might not get to the second one, but let me, let me take a first shot out of the cause they're related, they're gonna be related, right? Because the exclusivity is tied to the authority of the claims and so on and so forth. So my thought is that and this, by the way, this is also, I still think something I learned from Frances Shaffer from whom I had to unlearn a lot, but this is still right. There is a sense in which I think the, the conversation starts by helping folks see that they already functionally accord, some authority authority over their lives. Right? So I, so I, I, I don't think there is anyone who lives out a form of life, who doesn't functionally ACCE to some authority. Now they might think they might tell themselves this remarkable story about their own autonomy and individuality and, and stuff like that.


The problem is they have almost always absorbed that story from somewhere and someone in some community. So there's, I think there's something about bringing to the surface and helping people to see that it's not a question of whether you live under authority, but which, and which communities and authorities, you have functionally and effectively granted authority over how you think of yourself. I would say, this is exactly what goes on in identity formation, right? I don't think there is any sort of identity formation that hasn't functionally decide that somebody's rendition of a story is the one that they wanna fit into. Right? So there's all kinds of people who think they leave Christianity and become atheist because they become scientific. When what that really means is they just wanna belong to the group of people who think they're too smart to believe. Do you know what I mean?


Like, there's a weird, weird posturing and dynamic that goes on there. My, my sense is the point is to kinda level the playing field and realize, okay, it's not a question of whether you live under some authority, but which, and then we could start to have a conversation about which authority would, by the way. I'm, it's a little hard for me to understand this conversation going as abstractly as I'm putting it right now. I'm, I guess I'm talking more like a strategy rather than a particular concrete tactic, but I, in some ways now, how, how would you then offer scripture differently if you were framing it in this level, playing field? Interestingly, this is exactly a Dustin's experience. So the chapter on identity in my book is where I do scripture, because what finally, and, and by the way, Augustine had a very negative view of the Bible.


He thought it was stupid. He thought it was simplistic. He thought he thought he was too smart for the Bible. And part of the journey is him coming to realize, and, and by the way, it's the influence of Ambrose ship. Ambros who basically opens the door for him to reconsider it. And this is why it's a little frightening, but probably the portal to this bigger reconsideration goes through a person, right? It goes through people. It goes through a community who are living out a different way because of the Bible that makes people reconsider what the Bible is. This, this, by the way I would say is the great testimony of black Christianity in the United States of America, right? Is that a people so enslaved and oppressed could reimagine themselves on the basis of the Bible is an unbelievable testimony for the power of the Bible. I think it's, it's getting people to understand, to see how the Bible's understanding of them unlocks something of their own dignity identity.


It, it, it has to be a story that resonates and all of a sudden they see something about out themselves that they couldn't have seen otherwise. So it's a sort of taste and see approach. We'd have to get more specific about how that goes. But, but I think it's mostly a matter of offering the Bible as a, a garment. And you say, try this on, does this actually fit you better than the other stories that you've been living into and realizing that their identity is this kind of contest of authorities, this contest of, of stories? I, I I'm, I'm sorry, that's a bit abstract, but it's, it's it is sort of the framework in which I think about it past story, how that plays out, that'd be, it'd be interesting to hear people share stories of how they try to do that.




Yeah. It's helpful. Thanks.


Thanks. I wanna try to flip this a little bit. So when you talk about you know, the willingness to listen to kind of lean into that, to hear and basically don't be anxious. I think that we deal with a lot of people in our congregation who are extremely anxious, who are extremely fearful, who wanna Batten down the hatches, who wanna make sure that, you know, nothing gets out, how do we help carry people out of that posture of fear and anxiety and bating down the hatches to be able to help them list and to the culture that's around us and, you know, know they can be stable in their faith, but they can still listen and walk with people.


Such a great question. I guess one of the reasons why I am encouraging this alternative posture to our secular age is because I think in it is a gift for the church to remember who she is. And I, I think you're right, by the way, Larry, I think too much of the church operates out of fear and anxiety, and that is a failure of catechesis. It is it, we, we have to, we have to say that the parallel of the fraught challenge of a secular age is also a failure of the formation of the body of Christ.


And in some sense, I think the biggest question the church should be asking itself right now is are we even the body, the community that could welcome people coming to us with these hungers when they, when all of the other gods have failed, I'm not sure that we are, I'm not at all. Sure. We're and I think that's because we, we underestimated the extent to which we confused the power of the gospel and the presence of the spirit with just some sort of cultural defaults and our status within our societies, in which we found ourselves. I, I think the church is going to have to go through a, a, a transformation to realize that fear, do you know this line from Marilyn Robinson, the novelist Maryland Robinson fear is not a Christian habit of mind. Fear is not a Christian habit mind.


I, I think a more robust ecclesiology coupled with a much more robust attention to the body as a body of formation, not just information but of formation is we need to sort of reenter our lives as Christians around the center of gravity. That is word and table, that is Christ and spirit. And, and until we do that, we are gonna keep being anxious because if we think, oh, well, we've just got a bunch of ideas and worldviews and rules and laws, and those seem under threat. I, I think I don't know if I'm answering your question, but I'm actually really passionate about what you're talking about. There, there's, there's a sense in which I think the church needs to take this opportunity to reenter itself in Christ and not just our cultural defaults, not just the traditions that have been handed down to us, but to recalibrate our identity in in order to really be centered in hope.


I think if the church is not hopeful, we misunderstand God's promises. I, I think that probably finds expression in a much richer ESCA way of being Christian. Then we have tended to foster. I, I, I would say this is, this is just a little bit of inside baseball, but I do think in our reformational tradition, we have tended to be people of creation and we keep imagining back to creation order and so on and so forth that we are like, you know, the renewal of creation. I think we, we have lost a sense of ESCA logical expectation and the hope that animates us. And because of that, we are much more susceptible to fear and to anxiety. So yeah, to me, it's precisely the church's fear. That is a sign of the failure of our formation. And, and what it would look like for us to overcome that I don't have the formula, but I think I, I see the necessity is that a I don't, I'm worried. That's not. Yeah, no,


That's great. And so it's really, but it's also this picture of, I also just often say to churches that I work with renewal, I say it took you 30 years to get your don't expect three weeks to get out of it. And so this is a long process, right? A long


Kind thing. That's right. That's right. I, I will say by the way, just related to that I, I have a bit of a hobby horse for what I call Catholicity. So I actually think the way to renewal for the church for the Protestant church is to actually retrieve the treasures of Felicity by that. I don't mean Rome. I don't think Rome owns Catholicity, but what I mean are the many good gifts of the heritage and tradition of the spirit that have been handed down through the centuries. It's exactly why I think the Calvin Institute of Christian worship has been such an engine of renewal because in many ways it just has a sense of it's not what is the next best thing, or what's the new, sexy thing that everybody's doing, but what are the treasures we forgot that we need to retrieve, but doing that in a newly contextualized way that, that, that Catholicity also then builds a sense of solidarity across Christian traditions?


I do think one of the things that's crucial in a secular age is we just can't fight well, the irony freaking nomination, but we, we we need more solidarity between Christian streams and traditions than ever, and to find our sort of commonality in that Catholicity, even then granting that each of us have accents and distinctives and, you know, unique apostolates to give one another. But I think Catholic is both a binding agent and this resource to think of the gifts that are available to us for the future. It's another reason why I, you know, my, my recommendation is, oh, you wanna think about ministry in the 21st century? Have I got somebody from you for you? He's from the three hundreds, but the point is there's something per, and there's a kind of wisdom that we forgot in modernity that's carried in, in that ancient wisdom. So yeah. Yeah. Sorry. That was a


No, that's great. So I'm guessing that then the, the book you would recommend is the, is the confessions to pastors who are trying to figure out this Catholicity thing, or do you have something that's a little bit more that shorter one might say rather than reading the entire confessions?


No, you should all read the confessions. It's it's. I mean, it's, it's, it's, it's engaging the, the yeah, I still one other work of Augustans that people dont pay attention to that you might find of interest because I'm guessing many of you are also preachers. He has a work called some translate it on Christian doctrine, but that's a terrible translation. The, the Latin is day doctrina Christian. And so the better translation is teaching Christianity and it's really his manual for, so it, and interestingly, Larry, to your earlier question, it gets into rhetoric and the way that rhetoric works and the way story works. But, but the first book of teaching Christianity data tri is Augustin's account of love of the right order of love. And it's a pretty encapsulated piece to get that way, thinking about Augustin and idolatry and so on and so forth. So that might be a more accessible way into it.


Great. This could go on forever, cuz there are still a bunch of questions we're not gonna get to, but Jamie, sorry about that for being with us today and it it's been been a gift. Thank you. And just, just a, a quick word for everybody. Next Eder is gonna join us and have a conversation with ed. But but for not, do you have any last word you wanna throw out Jamie before we we say


Goodbye? No, just, just blessings on your endeavors. I, I, I know that we are here trying to resource what you're doing, but we also know that there's a wisdom that's forged in the trenches. And so that's why I'm, I'm so grateful for your questions and the work that you're doing and let's consider ourselves partners in this.


All right. Good. Well, thank you everyone. Have a good rest of the day.


Thanks everybody.