When I interviewed Phyllis Tickle for Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, she reflected on the seismic changes she sees occurring in contemporary Christianity. "Evangelicalism has lost much of its credibility and much of its spiritual energy as of late, in much the same way that mainline Protestantism has." Lest anyone find this news so depressing they want to run for cover, Phyllis offers some much needed historical and hopeful perspective. "About every 500 years, the church feels compelled to have a giant rummage sale." During the last such upheaval, the Great Reformation of 500 years ago, Protestantism took over hegemony. But Roman Catholicism did not die. It just had to drop back and reconfigure. Each time a rummage sale has happened, in other words, whatever held pride of place simply gets broken apart into smaller pieces, and then it picks itself up and to use Diana Butler Bass's term, "re-tradition.
As I ride along the religious superhighway, I find I need some new tools to help me navigate this process. For starters, Andrew Jones' blog provides excellent ongoing reflections of the changing Christian landscape from a global perspective, as Proost UK offers worship resources that help refuel me and recharge my batteries. Recently, I caught wind of Tickle's radical yet totally orthodox retelling of the gospel. In The Words of Jesus: A Gospel of the Sayings of Our Lord with Reflections Tickle categorizes the sayings of Jesus into five categories: Public Teachings, Private Instructions, Healing Dialogues, Intimate Conversations, and the Post-Resurrection Encounters.
"Psychologists have demonstrated many times over that what we say is tailored to and informed by the audience to whom we say it. In a sense, in other words, while each of us may be an integer, we have various configurations or arrangements of our "self" that we modify, exchange, and employ according to our perception of those whom we are at any given moment engaging. Jesus of Nazareth, being fully human, followed that same pattern, though once again I had never perceived or even entertained such a possibility until I began listening to Him shift emphases, adapt rhetoric, and fashion varying modes of analogy to fit those with whom He was speaking."
Thanks to Lacey's latest and, unfortunately, last book, The Liberator (a revolutionary retelling of the New Testament), the Inspired by the Bible Experience: New Testament audio CD (nothing says "Oh my God" like Samuel L. Jackson channeling the voice of the Almighty), and Tickle's commentary, I've been immersed in scripture from some rather unique vantage points. Over the past year, instead of trying to memorize scripture and verse, I'm allowing these sweet holy words to fall on my ears and into my mouth. It's like I'm falling in love all over again with this radical love-making, rule-breaking, life-taking Christ.
Becky Garrison is senior contributing writer for The Wittenburg Door. Portions of this posting are excerpted from The New Atheists Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail. Reprinted with permission from Thomas Nelson, Inc.