Philip Clayton (Claremont School of Theology) has published numerous books and articles on Christian theology, philosophy, and science. He currently runs a Ford-funded project dedicated to supporting effective forms of Christian community (on the “act locally” side) and to building a strong progressive Christian voice in American society today (on the “think globally” side). His website is here.
Living Interwoven Identities
Whenever we hear about a new release — of a movie, software, whatever — we want it. So what’s Pluralism 2.0, and where can I buy it?
Face it: the old product is really worth turning in. The old debate about pluralism is a loser on all sides. Either you’re faithful to Christ and the Bible, in which case you have to say that all the others are going to burn (at least that’s what I was taught at my Christian college and seminary). Or, according to the rules of the old debate, you endorse multiple routes to salvation, in which case your Christian voice and identity start to collapse, and you’re on your way to a hopeless, heartless relativism. Tertium non datur — there’s no third way.
So you want to invest in Pluralism 2.0; where do you find it? Well, it turns out that it’s such a radical revision of 1.0 that you have to change your whole way of thinking to buy into it. But it’s such a powerful upgrade that it’s worth the time and effort to make the switch. Here’s the idea:
Earlier in this series Ryan Kemp-Pappan blogged that the order is “Belong, Behave, Believe,” not “Believe, Behave, Belong.” That’s right. Each of us — Christian, Jew, Muslim; American, Chinese, Kenyan — belongs more places than we can count. You are a cradle Christian who encountered Buddhism and existentialism in college and social justice ministries after that. I was raised atheist and had a dramatic conversion to Christ in high school. Our friend is a former evangelical who says she can no longer believe, yet she is as preoccupied with Christianity as we are. With such complex, interwoven identities, is it any surprise that “following Jesus” means such different things to different persons?
I’m guessing that most readers of this post in fact already live in Pluralism 2.0. If you’re one of those people, interwoven identities is second-nature to you, like the air we breathe. Of course our Christian identities are not rigid and fully definable in “essentialist” fashion. All important identities weave their roots in, around, and through everything that we are. Does this mean that we have to listen really hard to understand another’s identity? Yes. Does it make judging others, whatever labels they use of themselves, more difficult? You better believe it. Does Pluralism 2.0 make us relativists who could never be Jesus’ disciples with our entire heart, soul, strength, and mind? By no means! (If I had another post, I would walk through the major moments in Jesus’ ministry when he showed incredible awareness of the complexity of human identities, like John 4, Luke 7, and Luke 10.)
A few days ago Brian McLaren blogged about four major crises: the crisis of the planet, the crisis of poverty, the crisis of peace, and the crisis of purpose. By this last he meant “a dysfunctional spirituality system that fails to provide a framing story capable of healing the previous crises.” Many, when they read this, are tempted to build the walls around Christianity higher, to turn Christian theology into the Master Narrative. But Jesus’ kenosis or self-emptying (Phil. 2) teaches me a different lesson. Like the Spirit, let’s be disciples who “come alongside” to represent Jesus with love, compassion, and careful listening before speaking. This was Jesus’ Way.
The next two decades will bring technological and social changes more rapid and revolutionary than anything this planet has ever experienced. Rigidifying the past won’t help us be church in a powerful way to this brave, new world. But boldly finding new ways to be Jesus’ disciples will.