Connection is the cure to addiction

Jesus teaches us how to live in real, life giving community. Perhaps we need to by a lot more intentional about reorienting our focus from celebrating the life giving relationships and faith we find in church to going out into the world and inviting people in pain to find life with us.

In the 1970’s Bruce Alexander, a researcher in Vancouver, discovered that the social experience of laboratory rats in addiction experiments had a profound effect on whether or not the rats became physically addicted to various substances.

Essentially, what he discovered was that isolated rats, kept in bare cages by themselves, when fed addictive substances quickly became physically addicted. But rats in stimulating environments (happy cages) kept with other rats, rejected the drugs they were fed and had a significant physical resistance to developing addiction.

His work has been repeated over the years and is referenced in a new book by Johann Hari called “Chasing the Scream: The first and last days of the War on Drugs”. Hari references Alexanders’ work and subsequent research by Gabor and Cohen on human addictive behavior.

In an article on his research Hari writes about the futility of our present models of treatment for addiction where we treat physical addiction by essentially asking people to endure pain (withdrawal and denial) rather than suffer the worse pain (physical and emotional) which is caused by the active addiction:

“If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”

You can read the whole article here.

Rhode Island has the highest rate of marijuana use (and I’m told of heroin use) of any state in the US. We’re also a place that is suffering from a lack of hope in the future. We’re a place where, it is my observation, people find it much to easy to isolate themselves into small groups, small families or stable small communities of acquaintances. People will cut themselves off from the larger connections that a vibrant participation in community or activity might bring.

It seems to me that our congregations might have the real solution to the pain that so many people are self treating with illegal substances. Jesus teaches us how to live in real, life giving community. Perhaps we need to by a lot more intentional about reorienting our focus from celebrating the life giving relationships and faith we find in church to going out into the world and inviting people in pain to find life with us.

Entangled States, the book

2250856I was talking with the publisher of Entangled States (the book that grew out of the blog, sermons and other writings I’ve done over the years) and he told me that we have just about sold out of the first printing.

The book was really his idea, and he’s the one who managed to take a pile of things that I’ve said over the years and turn them into something coherent and readable. Once he had put it together and I’d had a chance to do some editing, we published it online on Amazon and iTunes. That’s where I thought it belonged, being such a strong believer in digital media. But a number of friends asked if there was any way we could turn it into a paper edition as they much preferred to read a physical book to an e-book. David Ord (the publisher) found a way to do it, and even started a new virtual press in the process.

David’s waiting to see if there’s enough interest to warrant a second printing, so if you want to make sure to get a copy, grab one. (Entangled States will always be available in an e-book format.)

If you would like a paper copy, here’s bit of the publisher’s blurb and a link to the website to order one.

“No matter how adamantly we insist on being divided, every now and then we can’t help but catch a glimpse of the fact we are bound together. Such a glimpse may come in the form of a spiritual experience, a sense that the universe is suffused with a divine Presence. Or it may occur in a laboratory, as a scientist discovers a connection no one has ever seen before and realizes there is a unity to reality.”

More at publisher’s site.

For what it’s worth, should there be any profits from the book, they will be donated to youth and young adult ministries here in the Diocese of Rhode Island. (ECC specifically.)

Not one but many: The American Nations

As a person who grew up on the border between the Midlands and Appalachia to essentially Yankee parents, who lived for a while in Tidewater and in El Norte (the US Southwest) and who now lives in Yankeedom, Woodward’s book makes sense of things I’ve noticed but couldn’t explain.

A few months ago a book by Colin Woodward called “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” (on Amazon here) lit up my Facebook and Twitter feeds with many of my friends sharing an analysis of the culture wars in America that could be rationalized by the authors thesis.

The short version is that the “northern” cultures of the US (Yankeedom, New Amsterdam, Midlands and the Left Coast) are locked in a fundamental disagreement with the Dixie cultures (Deep South, Tidewater and Appalachia) over issues like the environment, gay rights, and gun control. The fractures in Washington DC and the increasing conflict that fills the talk shows are all part of a struggle for dominance in the United States that has been going on since before the Revolutionary War.

If you’re interested in current events or politics, you ought to read the book. As a person who grew up on the border between the Midlands and Appalachia to essentially Yankee parents, who lived for a while in Tidewater and in El Norte (the US Southwest) and who now lives in Yankeedom, this book makes sense of things I’ve noticed but couldn’t explain.

For instance, within the Episcopal Church, the one regional grouping of dioceses (called a Province) that is reasonably successful is Province 1 – the New England Province. And according to Woodward, Province 1 is the only Province of the Episcopal Church that I can see which is essentially a single American culture. (The states in Province 1 are all part of Yankeedom – not all of Yankeedom is in Province 1, but it’s the only mono-culture Province.) I wonder if reorganizing the Provinces by culture rather than arbitrary state divisions would make them more effective.

As I’ve been participating in the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, and meeting regularly with leaders from across the Americas (including representatives of the South Pacific culture) I’m more and more convinced that it’s critically important to remember that the Church spans multiple cultures and that what makes sense in one context doesn’t in another. That point that the context matters is something that the Anglican Communion office has been stressing, particularly as Anglicans and Episcopalians struggle to stay in relationship across significant cultural boundaries. As much as context matters in the Anglican Communion, it matters in the Episcopal Church as well.

There’s a lot to think about in the points being made in the book. If you’ve not read it, and you’re thinking about or involved in issues at a national level (whether church or state) I really think it’s worth your time to pick this one up. It’s a fast read – especially if you’re a history buff. Stick with it, the most thought provoking section, for me at least, was the final chapters in which Woodward discusses the Culture Wars of the last century.

The new Amazon Kindle (quick review)

I ordered the original Kindle the day it was released. I’d been dreaming of a device like that for years; a small, energy efficient tool optimized for reading long form writing. I’ve not been disappointed.

I ordered the iPad the day it came out. I ordered it for the iBookstore and the Kindle application. Adding color, email, web browsing, etc, to the ability to carry my whole library with me seemed like the next step in the logical chain. I’m still using it and its effectively replaced my laptop for travel use.

So I ordered a new Kindle (the cheapest version possible) the day it came out. It arrived yesterday. It’s exactly what I was hoping it would be. It’s small, light weight, has reasonable storage and an excellent e-ink screen. And buttons, blessed buttons!

I’ve realized that I do most of my reading online these days. Tools like Instapaper and Readability, even the reader function of the Safari browser make it possible for me to read long essays, articles and short stories quickly. The iPad is extraordinarily well suited for this. It works pretty well for book reading too, though not as well as I’d hoped. It’s much better than the original Kindle for reading books with illustrations, or for annotating texts. But its weight and size make it hard to curl up with hour after hour. And it can be hard on the eyes…

The Kindle e-ink display, especially the third generation display found in the latest batch of Kindles, is perfect for reading. It’s non-glare, high contrast, and there’s no sense of a display scanning when you use it. It’s monochrome, but that’s more of an asset than a liability when reading books or long essays. It’s very light. It has excellent battery life (though to be honest so do all the Apple devices). It’s a perfect secondary device, a back up for traveling, or for taking outside to read on the patio or around the pool.

It works just like you’d expect. No surprises, no issues. If anything it might be a little too light. I’m used to the heft of an iPhone or an iPad. They feel substantial. The new Kindle is so lightweight that I’m afraid to hold it with too strong a grip. It feels like it would snap. But the screen is awesome. And it quickly synced with my existing purchased and I was reading my newest one in just a few minutes.

And it has buttons. I decided to go with the cheapest possible model in part because it was cheap. This is a secondary tool with a specific usage case. I didn’t particularly care about the 3g access; I can use my iPhone as a mobile hotspot if that’s needed. I don’t particularly won’t a first generation touch e-ink screen. I’m not at all convinced that it’s going to work – the smearing from fingerprints is much more noticeable on my Kindle than it is on my iPhone or iPad for instance. And I’m not optimistic about the accuracy the new screen is going to have in tracking finger movements.

I just want a tool optimized for a specific task – reading novels. This has buttons to turn the page (which means you don’t have to move your hand around) and there are no accuracy issues to manage. It’s not great for annotations or highlighting, but the iPad is. Besides I hardly ever annotate a novel. I scribble up the margins (metaphorically speaking) on reference works – but I prefer to do that on iPad with its color display and larger screen.

The price is right too. Actually the price of both the Kindle and the entry level Kindle Touch are very interesting. Breaking the $100 barrier may mean that these become impulse items – stocking stuffers at Christmas. I expect it won’t be too long before there are vending machines selling these things in airports. For a reader this is a great option.

But as Steve Jobs said once, “people don’t read books anymore…” I don’t think the tablet makers are worried. And I expect that’s why Amazon seems to have put most of its eggs into the Kindle Fire rather than the e-ink devices it released this week.

The eternal textbook and the Episcopal Church

I remember the first time I picked up a copy of an anthology of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings. I was honestly astonished at the intelligence and the insight. It wasn’t so much the discovery that Thomas was an intellect for the ages, it was that his ideas still made me think and reconsider what I thought I had settled even though they were written nearly 800 years ago.

The idea that it would be worth reading an author that old was not something I instinctively understood. I was, at the time, a grad student in physics. Physics is a field that is advancing so quickly that books older than a decade or so are already out of date (unless they’re written at the basic introductory level, and even then…). When I returned to teaching in the first part of this decade, I had to spend the summer getting up to speed on what was now the common wisdom in the field of Astronomy. Not having kept current for 20 years or so meant that much of what I remembered was the consensus understanding wasn’t anymore. The most striking idea was the model for the formation of Luna. Instead of being formed near the orbit of Mercury and then later being captured by the Earth, now the idea was that the Earth had been hit by a Mars sized planetoid and the Earth-Luna system was the result. (That’s now being questioned, but hey, it’s 10 years later.)

Because of that most of the expensive textbooks that we all bought in college and in graduation school are no longer worth nearly what they used to be. Knowledge and research have changed the scholarly thinking. Those $150 books, and tens of thousands of dollars invested in a library have to an extent been wasted. (Not completely of course – some books retain their utility. My Greek grammars for instance. And books that I keep for historical reasons. But even biblical translations seem to have a sell-by date of late.)

So, what if the new e-book revolution, in which we typically buy a license to a book and not the actual data, did something about this.

A piece on Ars-Technica reports on a conversation between Yun Xie and Vikram Savkar and sets up the context thusly:

“The main problem is that textbooks are not research-oriented, nor are they up-to-date. Most are already behind the times by the time you buy them. Of course, the relevance of having an updated textbook is field-dependent. Topics in biochemistry and molecular biology change much more quickly than those in general chemistry. Nevertheless, for many fields, an up-to-date textbook could be a useful tool, both for the professors who have to teach from it and for any students that continue in the field.

Textbooks are also falling behind when it comes to technology, as any interactive content has to be provided via separate media. Thus, it was exciting to see the implementation of what’s being claimed as the “first interactive textbook” called Principles of Biology. Introductory biology courses in the California State University (CSU) system will use Principles of Biology as the primary text for the 2011/2012 academic year. We got in touch with Vikram Savkar, senior vice president and publishing director at Nature Publishing Group (NPG), to get the details on how students can benefit from interactive, digital textbooks.”

From here.

The basic idea is that if you buy a text, you actually buy a lifetime license to that includes all the updates and new editions. It means that your text books will always be current and will always reflect the latest scholarly consensus in the field.

I’ve seen a bit of this already in the religious books categories. I own a large library of text that are accessed either via the Accordance engine or the Logos engine. Both have their advantages, but most importantly, both generally offer free updates. And some publishers are beginning to see the advantage. I recently bought a license to the Hermenia series of commentaries published Augsburg/Fortress. There are print editions, but mostly they are a companion to the e-book editions. The commentaries start with the idea of not having to be bound to a certain number of pages or volumes. It allows the authors and editors to go into great detail, albeit occasionally excruciating detail on a verse or a particular phrase. But it’s all there. And a 30 Mb file weighs as much as a 4 Mb file. Which means I can carry all this detail around much more easily than would be practical in a physical edition.

There’s a new series being published by Logos itself that is specifically viewed as an e-book only. Which means that updates, etc. will all be included in the purchase. And new information, photos, papers, etc. will all be included too. That work is just getting underway but it reflects the sort of thinking found in the conversation linked above.

And then there’s the Open-Source textbook series. (Check out this source for instance.) Between this and the free courses that schools like M.I.T. and Yale are posting online, pretty soon any interested person will be able to freely access any course they’re interested in studying tuition free.

Anyone know of any religious bodies following suit?

Is anyone thinking about how the Episcopal Church might get going along these lines? The BCP is DRM free right? That’s true for pretty much everything except the Hymnal I think. What about books being published by Church Publishing? No one is making much money on them as far as I hear, and Church Publishing has been losing money. What if we thought through embracing the free-open-text model and changed the business model by which we do our denominational publishing? Eternal texts, freely updated.

Sort of a “give the music away and sell the t-shirt” model that people expect is coming in the Music industry. It will look different for us of course, but the underlying idea is the same; rethinking a business model for publishing in an era when the act of publishing is nearly free.

Harry Potter e-books? What does this mean?

I’m not sure if it’s a sign of the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, but on the new Harry Potter fan-site and e-commerce store that goes live late next month, you can finally by digital versions of all seven volumes of J.K. Rowling’s series.

“Until recently, reports have been speculating that the rights to sell the e-books would be worth as much as $160 million. By retaining the rights and selling them through her own platform, Rowling stands to make much more. She is not, however, completely turning her back on the hands that fed her—her publishers around the world will get a cut of e-book sales and will no doubt benefit from the “halo effect” of an uplift in print sales.

In a further bold move, Rowling has opted to keep the e-books DRM-free, meaning that they are not locked into one device or platform. She is instead opting for digital watermarking that links the identity of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book. This doesn’t prevent copyright theft but does ensure that any copies will be traceable to a particular user. This is similar to how iTunes is DRM-free, but embeds user account information within each file purchased.”

More here.

I saw a note online yesterday that Barnes and Noble is being kept afloat financially right now by the sale of its e-books and it’s Nook e-reader. I think I’ve mentioned before that Amazon reports that it’s Kindle editions are now outselling both the hardback and paperback versions of editions combined. Pretty amazing for a tech that’s only been on the market for a few years. I bought the very first Kindle on the first day it was offered. I’d been expecting something like this revolution to happen and it seemed to me that Amazon had the best shot of staying afloat long-term. (The one big concern to have about e-books is what happens when the company that sells them goes under. Most of the e-books have encryption that requires the companies servers to agree that you have permission to open them when you go to read one of them. That’s what’s nice about these new volumes from Pottermore. Like the iTunes tracks these days, it’s clear you bought them, so giving them away means you’re forever linked to them, but if the Apple goes out of business, your tunes will still play.)

How long do you think it’s going to take for the Episcopal Church to have a really good version of the Prayer Book and our Hymnals available for download and electronic reading? I have a copy of the Prayer Book on my iPad, but there are significant font issues in the app. It’s okay for emergency use, but it’s not a substitute for the real thing yet.

More to the point, how long till we start providing, via wi-fi, copies of the worship bulletin for download in the nave?

We’re installing a fiber connection to the Cathedral here in Phoenix this summer, and I’ll be putting wi-fi in the nave as soon as that’s completed. My plan is to have a local webpage that runs on a proxy when you get online using the nave’s network. That webpage should have the link to download the bulletin.

Thinking that through, we’ll have to make sure that the bulletin is useable on a phone or a tablet. I’m not sure I know how to do that yet. Anyone have any experience with such a thing?

The advantages to doing something like this are significant. As our congregation is growing, we’re using way more bread, wine and most of all, paper. And paper is getting really expensive. The electricity we’d have to use to make this system work is going to way less damaging to our bottom line than the truckloads of paper we’re using right now…

Jesus Wars: Phillip Jenkins

Every year it’s always a bit of trial to find a good book for Lenten study, but it was a little easier this year than most. Late last year I finished Jenkins book on the lost history of Eastern Christianity and was so impressed by it that I decided to take a shot on his newest book; “The Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Year.”

Mind you, Jenkins, a recognized authority in Church History and formerly a darling of the more strident evangelicals, is no liberal. He writes both as a historian, and as a person of faith. You get a sense of his own struggle with the implications that the details of the history he lays out has for an overly romanticized vision of the Church. (The sort of vision that I tend to stray into more often than is warranted.)

We’re using this book for our Lenten series and I’m reading it with a group of ordinands that I’ve been asked to help prepare for ministry in the Episcopal Church. Both groups have been delighted with the book. It reads well. In fact most of the people in both groups have galloped ahead and finished the book ahead of schedule. A few have gone back and bought Jenkins’ book on the lost Churches of the East and his earlier book on the rise of African Christianity.

The most telling point for me comes in the introduction to the book. I was already familiar with the struggles over Christology in the early Church but I think I tended to imagine the struggling was all very genteel. A raised eyebrow over sherry or something like that. Very proper.

Jenkins points out, picking up a theme of his previous book, that if we want to have a sense of the daily life of the early Church we should be looking at Islam today. He notes in passing in his previous book that much of the common life of Islam is directly descended from the popular piety of what we call the Syriac and Nestorian Churches. (What he calls the Miaphysites – whose Primate was found in Babylon and who broke away from the Orthodox, Chalcedon faith in the fourth and fifth centuries.) He notes that the minaret has its origin in the poles that the stylites lived upon, and the regular bowing to the East that is a common part of daily Islamic practice is a custom well known among the Syriac Christians.

If we want to have a sense of the real flavor of the struggle between the Chalcedonian Christians and the Miaphysite Christians, we should look at the present day struggles between the Sunni and the Shiite Muslims. The Iraq Iran wars represent just about the level of ferocity as the literal wars between the Chalcedonian and Myphysite churches in their day. The Arab street has nothing really on the old Blue and Green factions of Constantinople (New Rome) whose chariot racing factionalism rather naturally bled over into religious sectarianism.

Watching the film Agora earlier this year was a visceral glimpse into the world that Jenkins is writing about. If you’ve seen the movie but not read the book (or vice-versa) make sure to complete the pairing.

The other big impression the book has made upon me is to put some of the present political scheming within the denomination that I am a part of (Episcopal) into a large context. It’s hard to get nearly as upset over the scandal of people writing nasty blog posts about each other when you read of bishops using their thuggish monks to bash in the heads of the priests and bishops who opposed their theological views. We may take each other to court, but that’s a much better venue for uncontrolled conflict in the Church than the battlefield. Perhaps we need to do a better job making that point to some of the people affecting scandal over the present state of affairs within modern mainline Christianity.

But it is the scandal over the present division that the books presentation of history makes even more concerning. Yes, we’re fighting with subpoenas and not with clubs or swords today, but we’re still fighting. Jenkins points out that Islam rose so meteorically, and so categorically killed off the Syriac christians (in the same way it is doing today) because the Western parts of the Church (Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox) refused to come to their aid. The schism was so deep at that point that we could no longer imagine that there was a reason to make common cause.

Mainline denominations, and pretty much all of organized Christian religion are in serious decline in the West today. And rather than make common cause with each other to teach about the God who loves us and would save us from ourselves, the gulf between us is growing wider and wider. It won’t be too long I fear before the concept of working cooperatively with each other becomes as unimaginable to us as it was the Eastern and Western Christians of the sixth and seventh centuries.

How fast is the Beacon of Gondor? : Dot Physics

It’s been a long summer already. How long? Physics professors, waiting around for classes to start, have enough time on their hands to answer important (to me) for questions about events in the Lord of the Rings.

In the film there’s a beautiful cinematic sequence that shows the signal beacons being lit in Gondor and then the signal fires being lit along the tops of the mountains until the alarm is raised in Rohan:


Video here.

So, a professor in Louisianna asks the same question I did when I saw it: “How long does it actually take to alert the Rhoridiim?”

Rhett Allain writes:

“Can I get an estimate of these three parameters from that movie clip? Oh, yes I can. Will it be realistic? Who knows. Here is the stuff I found.

  • When Pippin lights the first signal, it takes about 12 seconds from the time he puts the fire on it until it is mostly lit.
  • After the first signal is on fire, Gandalf sees the next signal only 6 seconds later. WHAT?
  • The guys (or gals) at the next station must have just been sitting there staring and waiting for a signal. Oh, it was probably like 40 years since the last time it was used. I guess you can do stuff like that if you don’t have youtube. But wait, the more I think about this, the more upset I get. I am ok with invisible rings, flying dragons, glowing swords and stuff. However, it is beyond the bounds of reason to expect me to believe that some guys are sitting way on the other mountain with a hair-triggered lighting mechanism. Six seconds. Seriously.
  • The next time to light is 12 seconds. That is reaction plus light time.
  • The next one is at night and has a total time of about 6 seconds. At night! Don’t these guys even sleep?
  • 3 seconds for the next one. Come on man.

In this last one, Aragon notices the signal in under 2 seconds. Luck or skill?”

Read the full article here to see what he gets for an answer.

Spoiler: The film sequence isn’t too over the top fanciful at all.

Thanks to David Simmons for the heads up about the post.

McLaren responds to critiques of “A New Kind of Christianity”

I’m leading a group here in the Diocese of Arizona that’s reading through Brian McLaren’s newest book. At the beginning of the week I posted a critique of his criticism of the Graeco-Roman world view and its effect on reading the Bible properly. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to have the reaction I had.

So McLaren has posted a response to the critics.

“1. I would encourage people who are critical of the chapter (4) dealing with Plato and Aristotle to be sure to read the lengthy endnotes for the chapter, especially notes 1, 2, 3, 5, 14, and 17, where I address some or maybe most of their concerns. I noticed how some of the criticism paraphrases exactly the kinds of provisos and qualifications I offer in notes 1 and 2, which made me think the commenters hadn’t seen those notes. Perhaps I should have included these provisos in the text itself. At any rate, in the notes (and at points in the text itself) I try to make it clear that I’m dealing with some of the popularized ‘isms’ associated with these great philosophers, not with their rich and nuanced thinking itself, which I also acknowledge could never be reduced to a simple or formulaic summary. If someone is seeking a thorough understanding of these philosophers themselves, I imagine Nathan would be a good source of information. My purpose was to offer some explanation for how a certain narrative alien to Jesus and his gospel may have come to frame Jesus and his gospel. Whether my proposed explanation is valid or not, this narrative still arose from somewhere, and still deserves some attention, and, I think, questioning.”

Read the full response here, there’s a great deal more.

To which I respond, “fair enough”.

As I’ve gotten further into the book, McLaren’s left this particular line alone and if following different ones. At the moment he’s pointing out that our sense of what it is to properly interpret scripture is highly culturally conditioned. He’s listing the horrific ways that the Bible was used to justify human slavery in the southern U.S. As I read these sections, there’s not much to disagree with. It’s pretty standard stuff and represents much of what was being discussed, taught, debated, etc at Yale when I was a student at the Divinity School there back in the late 80’s.

I still think McLaren could strengthen his argument against the traditional Reformation reading of the Bible by saying it no longer makes sense to us in the 21st century rather than by dismissing the sources that the Reformers used to make their argument. But, that’s a nuance and not a dismissal of the main point.

… More as I get further into the book.

Some first thoughts on “A New Kind of Christianity”

I’ve asked some of my “students” to read Brian McLaren’s new book “A New Kind of Christianity” with me as part of our regular weekly seminar. I’m just a few chapters in and I thought it might be useful to post some of my impressions as I’m reading along. This series of posts won’t be so much a book report as a journal of ideas that McLaren’s writing sparks.

I’m going to try this at the suggestion of Diana Butler-Bass. Diana preached at Trinity Cathedral over the weekend (we’ll be posting the audio of her sermon here tomorrow) and in between the services, as she was signing books and greeting visitors, our conversation turned to Brian McLaren’s new book. I was sharing some of my reservations with her, and she’s the one who suggested posting them so that you all might shoot at them, and that Brian might have a chance to see them.

I’m not particularly interested in condemning a book that I haven’t fully read, so if you’re waiting for that, you’re going to be disappointed. Also, while I have some quibbles with the ideas that are presented, I actually think there’s a great deal of value in what I’ve read so far. I get the sense that McLaren is involved in the primary theological task of the 21st century – the “re-traditioning” of the Church (to borrow a term from Butler-Bass).

The book opens with a brief manifesto of sorts, laying out the reasons why the traditional Christianity of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century is no longer working for the majority of people in the West. That’s a key point I think; that it’s no longer working for people in the cultural west. Because clearly the enlightenment version of Christianity that grew out of the Reformation is very effective in the developing world of Africa and in the Far East. And that goes for both the Protestant and the post-Council of Trent Catholic versions.

But I think McLaren’s got the right of it in the West. The Reformation was immediately preceded by what a friend of mine names a “plausibility collapse”. The web and scaffolding of ideas that upheld the Medieval worldview suddenly collapsed, almost overnight. Luther’s rejection of the cult of relics and papal selling of indulgences found willing ears in a culture that suddenly couldn’t find a way to make sense of what had made sense. It’s seemed to me for a while now that the West underwent a similar moment of plausibility collapse back in the 1960’s. (1968 I guess if you want me to pick a year.) And the reverberations and internal cognitive dissonance from that event have shaped the arc of politics, culture and theology since.

At any rate, coming out of the Sixties, the classical reformation ideas of Christianity were no longer self-evident to people. Folks began to reject them out of hand, and to date, nothing really robust has been found to replace them. (Note that I’m trying to be precise and point to the idea of classical reformation ideas.)

I think part of this has to do with the fact that going forward from the 1950’s, we stopped teaching the classical canon of literature. Latin was dropped from many curricula. Classical greek is no longer common. And with the loss of the classical canon, the regular exposure to the great ideas of Greece and Rome has faded. Much of western pedagogy until the 1950’s tended to follow the old Roman teaching methods of classical education. Read the Canon. Learn the Canon. Emulate the Canon. But the need to share new science and ideas pushed the classical canon aside, into a backwater of sorts, and today very few people are intimately familiar with the ideas of Plato or Aristotle.

And because so much of the Reformation grew out of the West’s recovery of these classical ideas during the Renaissance, when the classical scaffolding was removed from the common experience, the Reformation’s logical exposition of God ceased making sense to people.

My first quibble with McLaren’s writing, so far at least, is that he’s created a sort of stalking horse that he calls the “Graeco-Roman” worldview. He describes a six line narrative arc for salvation history that grows out of this Graeco-Roman worldview. And he ridicules and rejects it. He does so in much the same way that people today reject and ridicule the Anselmian doctrine of the Atonement. The problem is though that when they ridicule the ideas of Anselm, they’re not actually engaging his ideas. They’re engaging a parody and dismissing that. And while they’re right to dismiss the parody, it might be more useful for folks to try to understand the full idea first, and then dismiss that if they so desire.

I sort of get the feeling that McLaren’s rhetoric gets away from him in the first section as he poo-poos the Platonic world view. At least I hope that’s what’s happened. Preachers do tend to have problems with rhetorical flourishes. (Don’t ask me how I know this…)

Here’s what I suggest to strengthen his argument – at least as far as I’ve read. Rather then saying that the whole enterprise of the Church is flawed because it’s concept of salvation and cosmology has been understood through the lenses of a Graeco-Roman; simply say that the classical form that made sense to the Church’s that grew out of the Reformation no longer works today. It no longer works because we’re no longer exposed to it in school. We have been given new sets of lenses.

And just as the Reformation grew out of a cultural shift (“Emergence” to borrow Phyllis Tickle’s term), what we are becoming will do that as well.

So, I agree that we must recast much of the traditional reformation language. I agree that the Reformation world view no longer works. I don’t think though that it’s worthy of total rejection though because there’s an awful lot of useful ideas buried deep within it and rejecting the whole means we’ll necessarily reject the useful parts too.

(Aside: This reminds me of something I tried to point out when teaching the History of Science. When a new paradigm comes along, the new paradigm has to be explain as much as the old paradigm did and then extend that for it to be taken seriously. Just coming up with a new paradigm and explaining something new is fun, but not terribly helpful if you can’t explain the things the old paradigm did. Relativity is so impressive because in the case of slow velocity, it collapses to Newtonian physics.)

As I’m reading now (in book 1 of “A New Kind of Christianity”) McLaren has called for a return to the Jewish narrative structure of the Old Testament. It seems to me that he’s recapitulating the work of Hans Frei (who helped created the Yale Method of biblical criticism) – calling for us to read the biblical narrative as a narrative and not as an atomistic string of aphorisms. Yay for Brian in this.

Returning to the text, reading it anew through “Jewish” eyes is most likely going to be a profitable path. Not though because that’s the secret key to unlocking everything. We already know the key: Jesus. But it’s useful because rereading the texts with a new set of lenses will probably be the way we find a scaffolding and web of ideas that will allow to construct a world-view that speaks to the next 500 years or so of human experience (again a la Tickle).

… so that’s what I’ve got so far. If you’ve read the book, I’d be curious to hear your reactions to the first section as well. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Anthony Dale Hunt seems to be reacting to the same thing that I am in his essay here.