Blessed be the bridge-builders (and their books)

After my review of Karen Armstrong’s memoir was posted yesterday, I was searching the internet to verify an aspect of her story, and came across a blog post about Karen Armstrong, written by Jerry Coyne last November. Jerry Coyne is a scientist, professor and author. He wrote the book, Why Evolution is True, which I read a few years ago and enjoyed. I wasn’t really aware of his writing outside of that book. And then I read this blog post, where he calls Armstrong “dangerous” [for her defense of Islam], spoke dismissively of her “palaver”, and mockingly said she “earns her living by making liberal believers feel Sophisticated.”

I don’t know why I was so taken aback by this, as it’s not like I’m unaware of this certain breed of athiests-on-the-internet. I guess it was the dissonance between my favorable impressions of Armstrong from her books on compassion and interfaith understanding, and finding this vehement, contemptuous insistence that she is actually dangerous. (Coyne has written similarly about Armstrong a couple of other times on his blog.)

Unfortunately, I think that bridge-builders like Armstrong often face contempt as they try to create understanding and dialogue in places where partisanship is the norm. So I want to express my appreciation for writers who, in my opinion, are trying to foster havens of respectful dialogue among disparate groups, and within controversial topics. Due to my own personal interests and train of thought right now, the bridge-building authors I have in mind all have written about Christianity.

First, especially in light of his recent death, I want to highlight writer and theologian, Marcus Borg. Several years ago, I read The Heart of Christianity, and I recently finished his book Reading The Bible Again For The First Time. I resonate with his approach to Christianity; his writing gave me encouragement as I resettled into my Christian faith after relinquishing Biblical literalism. In Christianity Today’s obituary, Scot McKnight is quoted as saying: “He patiently listened to all sides of the debates and knew the strengths of evangelicalism and historic orthodoxy, even if he pointed more often to weaknesses. Borg was the kind of progressive/liberal theologian who welcomed evangelicals to the table—as long as they would listen, as well.”

Agnostic Brown University student and budding journalist Kevin Roose sought a deeper understanding of evangelical Christians, and decided to go “undercover” as a student at Liberty University. The result was his thoughtful book, The Unlikely Disciple. As I wrote in my review of it, “[The Unlikely Disciple] is a lovely picture of someone trying to find common ground and understanding with the ‘other side.’ It’s also an intriguing look at a culture whose members are frequently dismissed out of hand.”

In their book, A Climate for Change, Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley sought to persuade Christians that humans have and are contributing to global warming and that Christians should be part of the effort for environmental change. Katharine Hayhoe is a Christian climate scientist. I reviewed Hayhoe and Farley’s book back in 2010, but recently heard about Katharine Hayhoe again in a re-aired NPR episode that had originally been taped in June of last year. A quote from the episode: “In her presentations, Hayhoe says she finds it effective to address the questions people have: How do we know that climate change is even real? How could I care about climate change as a Christian/Conservative/Republican? For some people, she says, it can feel like giving up their identity in order to care about climate change.”

Rachel Held Evansblog was a breath of fresh air as I became increasingly agitated with the church where I was a member, agitated with the whole Christian sub-culture it represented. I loved the people in that church and they loved me, but I was alienated by their rhetoric on certain topics. Evans, who still identifies as an evangelical Christian, articulated some of the doubts and concerns that I had. I definitely identified with aspects of Evans’s memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town. I don’t follow her blog as regularly nowadays, but I still appreciate how she seeks to build bridges within the Christian community. Her blog has a regular interview feature that has included – among many others – “Ask a Reformed Pastor,” “Ask an Interfaith Couple,” “Ask a transgender Christian,” and “Ask a Seventh-Day Adventist.”

Matthew Vines, Justin Lee, and James Brownson have each published books which work toward reforming conservative Christianity’s stance on homosexuality. I’ve read Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian and Justin Lee’s memoir, Torn. I hope to read Brownson’s more densely academic book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality in its entirety this year (I’ve read portions) and also would like to read David Gushee‘s Changing Our Mind after hearing him deliver a speech at last year’s Reformation Project conference in D.C. The speech was called, “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities.” I haven’t reviewed Vines’ or Lee’s book yet, as I’m hoping to finish Brownson’s book and write a comprehensive review of all three, plus Jeff Chu‘s fantastic book Does Jesus Really Love Me? With all of these authors, I see their goal of reform as also a goal of building bridges, as many in Vines and Lee’s situation have understandably left the faith and never looked back, but these two and others have decided to remain and keep the channels of dialogue open.

Are bridge-building authors important to you as a reader? If so, who are the bridge-building writers you admire? What topics are they interested in?

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2 responses to “Blessed be the bridge-builders (and their books)

  1. One of my favorite bridge-building books is The Meaning of Jesus, which Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright wrote together. The opening essay discusses how important it is to have dialogue about things that matter to us and doing so doesn’t necessarily mean giving up our beliefs or denying their importance. In each chapter of the book, they each share their views on some aspect of Jesus and his life and then respond to what the other has written. They agree on some things and disagree on a lot, but they remain respectful throughout.

    • That does sound good and like a perfect encapsulation of bridge-building since both “sides” are present. I haven’t read N.T. Wright though I know who he is.

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