In memory of Michael Spencer, who died 8 years ago on April 5, 2010.
A part of the reason post-evangelicals have a hard time emotionally moving on from evangelicalism is that a part of them misses it.
• Richard Beck
What’s hard is losing friends, a community, a sense of belonging, a shared narrative. It’s not so much about friends becoming enemies, but the more subtle disorientation of not really fitting anywhere.
• Peter Enns
…the great source of suffering in our modern world is the loss of tribe, the loss of belonging to a tight knit community that grounds us, supports us, and gives us a sense of home and purpose.
• Sebastian Junger
• • •
What an insightful set of posts I’ve been reading over at Experimental Theology, Richard Beck’s blog!
One thing I love about Beck is that he is self-critical about his life and his beliefs and loyalties. In recent months he has been practicing that critique toward the post-evangelical, progressive Christian movement, of which he considers himself a part. The current series examines the question of why post-evangelicals are having such a hard time disconnecting from the nostalgia of their past and why they continue, in many cases, to find themselves in what we here at IM have long called “the post-evangelical wilderness.”
Beck thinks it has something to do with people leaving a well-defined “tribe” but never finding one to replace it.
Following Jonathan Haidt, whose book on moral reasoning we studied last year, Beck has come to see that “Tribes run deep into the human psyche. Tribes are integral to human flourishing. Tribes help us carry our suffering and pain, and they give us a sense of shared purpose and meaning. Tribes give us a home.”
That’s why it’s not easy to leave a tribe without simultaneously aching for the home we once knew. The mixture of exhilarating freedom from the strictures of the tribe combined with a poignant sense of loss and lostness can be confusing, even paralyzing.
Hey folks, this is Chaplain Mike. I’m still writing about post-evangelicalism and it’s 13 years out now.
To illustrate, in one of his posts Richard Beck talks about how hard it can be for soldiers to reintegrate back into society after having the powerful bonding experiences they’ve known in a “band of brothers” who lay down their lives for each other.
I’ve seen this happen with groups we’ve taken on mission trips. The intense immersive experience of being dropped into a wildly different culture with others, sharing new, exotic, and transformative experiences not only shapes the individuals who participate, but creates bonds that last forever. Coming home can be a serious letdown. We have reunions and tell the stories over and over again.
The evangelical church was long my tribe. I still feel strong bonds with people from all the churches in which I served and the congregations among whom I lived. I’ve always tried to view church in terms of extended family, and that is what these parishes have been for me. Though I have moved away from many of the beliefs we shared, I cannot put aside the organic connections I made with brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m happy to be free from bad theology; I miss the closeness of sharing a common life with people I love.
As Beck describes them, tribes seem to work best with a more conservative ethos. The moral values Jonathan Haidt talks about that conservatives treasure, such as loyalty, sacredness, and respect for authority, are fundamental to building strong tribes.
On the other hand, progressives tend to value inclusiveness, creative innovation, and change. These kinds of emphases tend to “aerosolize” groups — accentuating individuality, freedom, liberality, and diversity. They are liberating values, not “binding,” cohesive ones.
As a result, post-evangelicals who departed from evangelicalism and moved to the left tend to be “lone wolves” looking for a home. And simultaneously not wanting one.
Richard Beck has come to recognize this as a problem for progressives. Believing that “tribes are necessary for human flourishing,” Beck describes many of us as “unmoored, lonely and adrift as isolated, aerosolized individuals living life in late-modern capitalism.”
Nevertheless, we find it hard to get excited about finding a new tribe. Too many bad memories. Too much institutional suspicion. Too much wariness about the potential for toxicity and spiritual abuse.
One of the reasons we abandoned evangelicalism is that we found it to be unself-aware and therefore lacking the ability to be self-critical. Beck’s post on “Tribes and Self-Criticism” encourages us to seek tribes that, on the other hand, have the resources to look in the mirror and reform themselves. In a brilliant take on the Hebrew Bible, he notes that the entire First Testament is actually an exercise in self-criticism, as the exilic community is encouraged to look back on their history and learn its lessons so that they might adapt and have hope going forward.
If we need to be members of tribes, let us at least seek ones that examine themselves and face the truth.
Bottom line: “the counter-cultural way of Jesus requires a community of spiritual formation.” A tribe if you will. A supportive home. A “world,” I sometimes call it (a Seinfeldian reference). If evangelicalism is no longer my “world,” what is?
Richard Beck suggests that progressives need their own versions of Dreher’s The Benedict Option, which is, after all, an encouragement for Christians to build strong tribes in which to raise our young and pass on the teachings and values of Christ. Why? Because, as Beck so rightly says…
Cruciform, self-donating love is way, way more than liberal tolerance. Cruciform, self-donating love is hard, sacrificially hard. Consequently, we need a tribe to form us into the ways of Jesus.
• • •
Richard Beck’s “On Tribes and Community” Posts