“You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that we live in a culture of asphyxiating “performancism.” Performancism is the mindset that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. It casts achievements not as something we do or don’t do but as something we are (or aren’t). The money we earn, the car we drive, the schools we attend, aren’t merely reflective of our occupation or ability; they are reflective of us. They are constitutive rather than descriptive. In this schema, success equals life, and failure is tantamount to death.

Performancism leads us to spend our lives frantically propping up our image or reputation, trying to have it all, do it all, and do it all well, often at a cost to ourselves and those we love. Life becomes a hamster wheel of endless earning and proving and maintenance and management, where all we can see is our own feet. Before long we are living in a constant state of anxiety, fear, and resentment. A few years ago, Dr. Richard Leahy, an anxiety specialist, was quoted as saying, “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

Sadly, the church has not proven immune to performancism. An institution theoretically devoted to providing comfort to those in need is in trouble because it has embraced the same pressure-cooker we find everywhere else.In recent years, a handful of popular books have been published urging a more robust and radical expression of the Christian faith. I heartily amen the desire to take one’s faith seriously and demonstrate before the watching world a willingness to be more than just Sunday churchgoers. The unintended consequence of this push, however, is that we can give people the impression that Christianity is first and foremost about the sacrifices we make rather than the sacrifice Jesus made for us – our performance rather than his performance for us. The hub of Christianity is not “do something for Jesus.” The hub of Christianity is “Jesus has done everything for you.” And my fear is that too many people, both inside and outside the church, have heard our “do more, try harder” sermons and pleas for intensified devotion and concluded that the focus of the Christian faith is the work that we do instead of the work God has done for us in the person of Jesus.”

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Tullian Tchividjian on Grace vs. Performancism

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Or for a piece of famous fluffiness that doesn’t just pretend about what real lives can be like, but moves on into one of the world’s least convincing pretences about what people themselves are like, consider the teased and coiffed nylon monument that is ‘Imagine’: surely the My Little Pony of philosophical statements. John and Yoko all in white, John at the white piano, John drifting through the white rooms of a white mansion, and all the while the sweet drivel flowing. Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine there’s no hell. Imagine all the people, living life in – hello? Excuse me? Take religion out of the picture, and everybody spontaneously starts living life in peace? I don’t know about you, but in my experience peace is not the default state of human beings, any more than having an apartment the size of Joey and Chandler’s is. Peace is not the state of being we return to, like water running downhill, whenever there’s nothing external to perturb us. Peace between people is an achievement, a state of affairs we put together effortfully in the face of competing interests, and primate dominance dynamics, and our evolved tendency to cease our sympathies at the boundaries of our tribe. Peace within people is made difficult to say the least by the way that we tend to have an actual, you know, emotional life going on, rather than an empty space between our ears with a shaft of dusty sunlight in it, and a lone moth flittering round and round. Peace is not the norm; peace is rare, and where we do manage to institutionalise it in a human society, it’s usually because we’ve been intelligently pessimistic about human proclivities, and found a way to work with the grain of them in a system of intense mutual suspicion like the US Constitution, a document which assumes that absolutely everybody will be corrupt and power-hungry given half a chance. As for the inner version, I’m not at peace all that often, and I doubt you are either. I’m absolutely bloody certain that John Lennon wasn’t. The mouthy Scouse git he was as well as the songwriter of genius, the leatherboy who allegedly kicked his best friend in the head in Hamburg, didn’t go away just because he put on the white suit. What seems to be at work in ‘Imagine’ is the idea – always beloved by those who are frightened of themselves – that we’re good underneath, good by nature, and only do bad things because we’ve been forced out of shape by some external force, some malevolent aspect of this world’s power structures. In this case, I suppose, by the education the Christian Brothers were dishing out in 1950s Liverpool, which was strong on kicks and curses, and loving descriptions of the tortures of the damned. It’s a theory that isn’t falsifiable, because there always are power structures there to be blamed when people behave badly. Like the theory that markets left to themselves would produce perfectly just outcomes (when markets never are left to themselves) it’s immune to disproof. But, and let me put this as gently as I can, it doesn’t seem terribly likely. We long to believe it because it’s what we lack. We dream of the peace we haven’t got, and to make ourselves look as if we do have it, we dress ourselves up in the iconography of the heaven we just announced we were ditching. White robes, the celestial glare of over-exposed film: ‘Imagine’ looks like one part A Matter of Life and Death to one part Hymns Ancient and Modern. Only sillier.

(From Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, Kindle location 132-163)

Francis Spufford on John Lennon’s “Imagine”

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Whatever else might be said about inerrancy, once Scripture is seen fundamentally as a means of bringing us into a personal encounter with the Christ of the gospel story, the need for inerrancy wanes. While Scripture would have to be reliable *overall* as a witness to God’s redemptive work in order to mediate a transformative encounter with Christ, such reliability does not demand that every passage be inerrant, and it certainly does not demand that every passage be inerrant, and it certainly does not require that the plain sense of each passage be prima facie correct. If the heart of Scripture is the message that God has acted in history through Christ to save a fallen humanity and reconcile the world to Himself–and if the purpose of the Scriptures is to mediate a personal encounter with this saviour who was not defeated by death and so is not merely a character in history but a living presence in whom we can place our trust–then the question of whether, for instance, Samson really slew a thousand Philistine soldiers wielding nothing but a donkey’s jawbone becomes of little importance.

– from God’s Final Victory, p. 63

Eric Reitan and John Kronen on inerrancy

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What, then, about the differences between studying science and practising religion? One seminal difference is that, whereas the sciences aim to explain empirical phenomena by theoretical unification, religions are concerned with the ultimate horizons of reality, including life-orienting questions about how to attune oneself to overarching patterns of meaning. This transempirical orientation of religion comes to the fore in the idea of God. In the monotheistic traditions, God is not thought to be an empirical object, as if God “existed” as one item among others (within the world of beyond the world). Rather, God is assumed to be real and effective by being the creative source, which informs, pervades, and surrounds everything that exists. “No one has ever seen God”, as the Christian tradition soberly acknowledges (1 John 4:12). The reason is not that God is an absent reality but that God is the encompassing reality, the one “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

– in the foreword to Wolfhart Pannenberg, The Historicity of Nature: Essays on Science and Theology, p. xvi

Niels Henrik Gregersen on the difference between science and religion

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In times of pressure or anxiety—like when Mother was dying—I’ll do a daily rosary for everybody. Or I’ll light candles and climb in the bathtub, try to put my mind where my body is—the best prayers are completely silent. Otherwise, I do a lot of begging. I just beg, beg, beg, beg like a dog, for myself and those I love. And I do the cursory, “If it’s your will . . .” but God knows that I want everything when I want it. He knows I’m selfish and want a zillion bucks and big tits and to be five-ten. So I’m not fooling him with that “If it’s your will” shit. The real prayer happens when I’m really desperate, like when I was going through a period of illness last year. Amazing what power there is in surrender to suffering. Most of my life I dodged it, or tried to drink it away—“it” being any reality that discomfited me.

Mary Kerr on prayer

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Theology matters only because – and when – there is more to life than theology, and when that “more” shows its presence within the theology that is done. So Thomas fails to finish [the Summa], thereby exhibiting the presence of this “more” in the most dramatic way possible – by leaving space for it. His final sentence is not an empty and disappointing failure to finish. It is an apotheosis. By his silence Thomas does not stop teaching theology. He does not stop doing theology. On the contrary, by his silence he teaches something about doing theology that he could not have taught by any other means.

Denys Turner

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