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From the Twentieth Anniversary Report November 2004
2. The Christian Resurgence Focus
While Realistic Living has been deeply engaged in the secular world, our core focus has been and remains Christian Resurgence. This has puzzled some of our supporters, those who are the most disillusioned with contemporary Christian practices. And to be truthful, our own critique of the institutions of Christianity is severe. With rare exceptions, these institutions have not internalized the wonders and enduring relevance of the twentieth century theological revolution.
At the same time we have not been willing to abandon our Christian roots. We believe that the revitalization of Christian heritage is not a lost cause. The core difficulty is that the institutions that are claiming to carry, protect, and advance this heritage are old wineskins in which the new wine of a vital Christian resurgence cannot be held. New communal and institutional forms have to be built. New methods of group life have to be learned. New qualities of leadership have to be developed. New programs for ongoing Christian maturity have to be created. These are daunting tasks, and we claim to be only one small body of experimentation with these challenging issues.
Why do we see this work as so important? We have realized that a vital Christian heritage is needed, especially on those continents where Christian symbols have been so deeply embedded and so deeply perverted. No healing of the Spirit life of those places is likely without a healing of Christian practice. Also, we feel that Christianity is a heritage with gifts of Spirit wisdom for the entire planet. While many treasures are found in all religious heritages, many of them overlapping, Christianity still has its special contributions to make. One lies in the biblical emphasis on meeting God in the ordinary events of human history. This leads to a passion for ethics and social justice that is very prominent in a full flowering of the Christian heritage. Another gift of a fully incarnated Christian vision is its full affirmation of nature and the human body. The God of Christian worship is met in the ordinary processes of our natural lives. It is this meeting of the Awesome Holiness in every aspect of nature that gives nature a sacredness and undergirds a complete ecological ethics. Also, a resurgence of a full understanding of the Christian breakthrough opens us to a respectful and creative dialogue with all the other religious heritages that have nurtured Spirit for the peoples of the earth. Practicing Christianity need not mean being a bigot.
Our Christian resurgence focus has taken practical form in our weekly meetings for self-conscious Christian nurture and in our theological and methodological writings that support other local groups across the world. In 1990 we began meeting with members of our advisory board every summer for three days of Christian fellowship, communal experimentation, and advisement on the overall work of Realistic Living. This annual meeting has evolved into a covenantal membership organization called “the Symposium.” The Symposium is a group of the Realistic Living constituency who have embraced the task of ongoing research in religion and social ethics, the organization of local circles of Christian nurture, and the expansion of the Christian resurgence thrust into the regions and institutions of North America and beyond. To read Roger Alexander’s story of beginning the most recent Christian Resurgence Circle click here.
Associate Symposium members share in any of this work and research they wish. Full Symposium members get together once or twice each year, e-mail each other each month, serve on an action committee, and work toward establishing local expressions of Christian nurture and mission.
In addition, we created a three-day Leadership Training School that provides a context for deepening and for learning the methods needed for local Christian work. Most recently we initiated a Sojourn program in which participants come to Bonham, Texas for a month of advanced study and nurturing activities directed toward further maturation. An attendee of our initial Sojourn, John Stowell, created a report of his experiences. To read part of that report click here.
All these are small efforts compared to the vast need, but their quality makes them significant and potentially expandable to thousands of people. This quality has to do with cultivating a Spirit-level approach to every topic, including a Spirit-level approach to Christian scriptures. Genuine Christian resurgence requires that we revitalize our appropriation of the Bible. The absence of a Spirit-level approach in most churches results in a literalistic or rationalistic approach to the Bible.
The stories of the New Testament were told to express the Awe to which the entire Christian community was awakening. For example, in the story of the transfiguration in Mark 9:1-10, three disciples see Jesus in dazzling form in conversation with two other dazzling figures, Moses and Elijah. At the end of the story we find this sentence, “Then, quite suddenly, they looked all round them and saw nobody at all with them but Jesus.”
The perception of dazzle had passed. Moses and Elijah had vanished. There was no voice speaking from a cloud. There was just plain old ordinary Jesus. This ordinary Jesus, just as ordinary as any of us, was, nevertheless, family with Final Reality. We are all part of that family, for Awe is our true nature beneath all our self-inflicted dross. Jesus is both divine and human in no different sense than each of us is divine and human. And to say that we are divine does not mean that we are synonymous with the Final Overallness, but that we participate in the Awe-dazzle of the overall dazzling Awesomeness, in family with which we have our essential being.
Every New Testament story is likewise about matters of this profundity which we miss when we are mired in our biblical literalism and rationalism. Christianity cannot survive as a viable religion for postmodern humans without this deep corrective in our approach to the Bible. Gene’s book, The Call of the Awe, expands on the topic of Awe and biblical interpretation as well as doing dialogues with other religious traditions. This book is our most important presentation of our primary focus on Christian resurgence.