RT: What’s the concept of church that you are addressing with postChristian?
I think we’ve fallen victim to the misapprehension that worship, or church, is the point. Those are simply a means to an end though. Too often we’ve become so fixated on preserving our traditions, our buildings, our budgets or even our own personal pride that we’ve ended up worshipping the false god of religion.
People can be Christ-like without necessarily going to church, just as people can go to church every week – or even work in one, for that matter – and hardly resemble Jesus at all. Personally, I care far less about what form the Church takes in the future, how much of what we have now lasts, or how much it grows numerically. What I am passionate about is helping people seek God together, to share their stories, to hold one another accountable, and through intentional community, multiply one another’s joys and share the burden of our sorrows.
Ideally, this is what Church is about at its core. But it’s ended up being about so much more, much of which really keeps us from a Jesus Path. In so much as Church as it exists today can facilitate this humbly and with a heart of service, I support it; as for the rest, I welcome its disintegration.
RT: Who did you have in mind when you were writing postChristian? In other words, who does the postChristian narrative serve?
Certainly those who are drawn to this person we call Jesus, but who are suspicious of the Church that often lays claim to him. It’s also for those still within institutional Christianity who are desperate for a bigger understanding of what’s going on both within the Church and beyond it; With respect to the changing face of religion in the culture.
Does religion matter in the West any more? What went wrong? What can be done about it? Do we even need religion in the world today? Anyone compelled by such questions will find plenty to think about and wrestle with in the pages of postChristian.
RT: What inspired you to write postChristian? Was there and experience that led to it, conversation or observation of what’s happening in the church?
When I was 17 years old, I was kicked out of the Baptist church for asking too many questions. My youth minister actually threw a Bible at my head! I vowed that, if I ever had anything to do with religion in the future, it would be in a space where my questions, doubts and struggles weren’t just tolerated; they were welcomed. So this has been the trajectory or my entire writing career, more or less, to engage those interested in wrestling with the hard questions around the importance of theology, religion, social justice and the Gospel in our lives.
Particularly with respect to postChristian, I found myself having more and more discussions with people about whether or not we were in a post-Christian reality in the United States. In short: yes we are. More specifically, we’re in a post-Christendom reality, which means that the Christian voice isn’t necessarily the biggest, loudest voice at the table any more. And in some ways that’s good for Christianity and good for the culture as a whole, as it gives us permission to try so hard to hold on to old power structures, and to reclaim a more humble, service-minded walk in our pursuit of Jesus.
RT: What’s the most important thing that you hope the reader takes away from the book?
More than anything else, I want people to have hope. I want church leaders to find hope in the persistence of God’s Word in the world, whether this or that church or denominations survives. I want those who have been beaten up by Church to find hope that they are not alone, and that just because they don’t seem to fit in a church doesn’t mean they can’t be Christ-like in how they live. And I’d like for those who have called for the removal of organized religion from the public square to find hope in the fact that at least some of us within the larger Christian tribe are seeking new ways to coexist with them without forcing them to be more like us.
RT: What type(s) of action would you like to see people take after reading the postChristian?
Lots of discussion. I hope it stirs imaginations, sparks dialogue, and even leads to some serious personal reflection. No one gets away without a challenge in this book. I’m realistic; this one book isn’t going to change the course of history, but if it contributes to some reconciliation of broken bonds among us, and if it helps us re-imagine Christianity in a way that more closely resembles the life and teachings of Jesus, I’d be more than happy with that.
RT: Do you feel that the work you’ve done in writing postChristian transcends racial boundaries? In other words, is this a book for people, no matter what your ethnicity or social location?
The book takes on some universally human themes. We all struggle with lust, anger, greed, judgment and fear. We also all long to be more loving, courageous and humble, at least I hope we do! postChristian is a sort of roadmap for the future of faith, and it does that in part by looking at the big theological and historical picture. But I try to focus as much as possible on personal story, since human narrative is the thing that binds us together as a larger culture. Story is universal.
The book also calls out exploitive ministries like prosperity gospel, which disproportionately preys on the marginalized and disenfranchised. I also emphasize a theology of liberation as a necessary path forward, one in which oppressor and oppressed must find ways to coexist in peace, together. That is certainly something that people from various oppressed groups can relate to on a deeply personal level.
RT: How can people get involved with the work that you are doing?
Find or help create intentional community, wherever you are. That can be a church family, but it can also be a group that gathers regularly at your home, coffeehouse or pub to discuss things that matter to you. Help model for people how to vulnerably and freely share their story by learning first how to share yours. Invest in people not because you might get them to go to church or to think more like you, but because they might have something to offer that could change you for the better, no matter who they are, and because they’re divinely-inspired creations of God.
There are plenty of noble causes out there, and I am not an advocate for one or another in particular. I do believe, though, that the real belonging, togetherness and real meaning we speak of when we say “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…” can be found, right here and right now. But it’s hard work. There’s no magic wand. It takes time, one person, one relationship, one story at a time.
RT: What’s next for you after the book tour? Any new project you can give us a heads up on?
I’ll be touring the country throughout the fall, talking about this book. But I’m always blogging over at Patheos, podcasting for the Homebrewed Christianity CultureCast, and folks can connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or by email by visiting my website. They can check out a sample of my new novel, Blood Doctrine, there, and keep up with all my travels and writing.
As for a next book, I am working on a project focusing on what Jesus has to say about gender, sex, sexuality and embodied spirituality. More on that as I have more specifics to share, but I think it’s another one of those difficult, important conversations we need to be having.