Efforts to remodel, save, resurrect, reimagine, rebuild, refurbish and revivify Protestant Christianity have been almost endless over the last 50 or 60 years -- to say nothing of the last 500 years, when the Protestant Reformation began.
Almost every Mainline denomination and, more recently, evangelical and conservative branches of the church, have put time and energy into this task as membership has declined and as more and more people have found lots of current churches irrelevant.
Two efforts that have roots in churches that describe themselves as evangelical are especially worth noting. One is the Emergent Church Movement, led by such writers, pastors and/or thinkers as Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, Daniel Shroyer, Tony Jones, the late Phyllis Tickle and, in the Kansas City area, Tim Keel of Jacob's Well.
Another is one I want to tell you a bit about today: The Blue Ocean Faith Movement. Former atheist Dave Schmelzer is prominent in this movement, and he's the author of a new book about it called, unsurprisingly, Blue Ocean Faith, with this enthusiastic subtitle: The vibrant connection to Jesus that opens up insanely great possibilities in a secularizing world -- and might kick off a new Jesus Movement. Whew.
Both the Emergent Church and Blue Ocean Faith movements are not easy to describe to outsiders, in part because both try to avoid insider-outsider language and because there's at least some disagreement among adherents about what is really going on and why.
But both come out of a Christian tradition that has been focused intensely on personal salvation. While that's also a focus in Mainline churches, that concern in those congregations is much more balanced by efforts to repair the world now, to seek social justice, to exercise prophetic voices.
Both the Emergent Church and the Blue Ocean folks have picked up on that Mainline approach and have moved away from a singular focus on declaring Jesus to be one's "personal Lord and Savior" and, thus, getting "saved."
But in moving away from that kind of language, the Blue Ocean approach also seems to de-emphasize traditional Christian Trinitarian theology.
For instance, in Schmelzer's new book, he criticizes the early Protestant Reformation emphasis on "sola scriptura," or scripture alone as an authority for adherents (a problematic idea, to be sure). Instead, he moves to what he calls "solus Jesus." The risk here, of course, is that leaders and adherents will become what I might call "unitarians of the second person" of the Trinity, focusing only on Jesus to the exclusion of God the Father, or creator, and God the Holy Spirit. (And as Schmelzer notes in a footnote in the book, there's so much resistance to a "solus Jesus" approach that "the second you preach only Jesus. . .the knives come out.")
Still, the Blue Ocean concern about not wanting to exclude people is a worthy one. It stands in rather stark contrast to branches of Christianity that want to condemn, say, homosexuals. Or that want to forbid ordination of women as pastors. Or that in some other way create an us-them culture. And there's lots of that exclusionary talk in several branches of the faith.
So I hope that inclusive approach succeeds, but it's hard to imagine that at some point the old schisms and debates won't raise their ugly heads in Blue Ocean churches and demand a hearing, as they have elsewhere.
The book has been published by my friends at ReadTheSpirit.com, whose editor, David Crumm, used to cover religion for the Detroit Free Press. David does terrific work and I'm glad he saw fit to loose this book upon the world, even if I find it not always clearly written. You can find David's interview about the book with Dave Schmelzer here.
There, Blue Ocean is described "revolutionary." I think it's way too soon to give it that kind of label, but we'll see. After all, what Schmelzer says he discovered and is offering through Blue Ocean is "a kind of living, relational connection to Jesus that seems to answer deep cravings from people who'd never imagined they'd be interested in Jesus, as well as from longtime churchgoers." To understand what that might mean will require diving in to the Blue Ocean and not just reading this book.
In any case, I'm glad people like Schmelzer are out there thinking about and acting on behalf of the future of Christianity. But so far I'm not sure anyone has figured out an answer that will work everywhere for everyone.
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THE TRUMP-GOD CONNECTION
The folks at Politico have taken this look at the increasing number of times President Trump speaks publicly about God. What we don't know is whether this is just political manipulation on Trump's part or whether the job of president is so overwhelming that he truly seeks divine help. Let's, uh, pray it's the latter.