New church


I’m having trouble moving through everything you have taught me in books and in the wisdom school and reconciling it with the words in the petition you signed. Specifically these words: “We believe that the centrality of Christ, the importance of both conversion and discipleship, the authority of the Scriptures, and the “good news” of the gospel…” Conversion seems a bit out of line with some of the way wisdom asks us to move in this life. Additionally, I’ve been really working at trying to figure out how to build a “new” church. In other words, you’ve talked about needing a new story and the old model maybe being outgrown. This moving forward has occupied most of my thoughts and efforts these days. When you came back from the Vatican and said that we shouldn’t give up on the church, it really gave me pause. I know you never said the church was bad but I’ve definitely been moved through my reading of you and Teilhard and to see it as something we’ve outgrown. This is obviously a very hard viewpoint from someone with a collar so I’ve been trying real hard to be in integrity with wisdom and the way it is flowing. Your recent words have me feeling like I’m way off base and kind of like a heretic. Is there anything you can say that might help me make sense of some of this?

With love,


Hi Stef,

Thanks for this great and challenging question. (By the way, the petition being referred to here is “A Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump,” sponsored by, which you’ll find on my Facebook page.) Many in our Wisdom Community have followed my lead and signed as well, but thank you so much for calling me out on whether it’s not essentially hypocritical to do so. Can I really agree to the statement about the centrality of Christ, the importance of conversion and discipleship, the authority of scriptures, etc.???? And if so, how does that interface with my Wisdom teaching?

I have to admit that I’ve so far in my ministry been brushed fairly lightly by the evangelical “velvet glove and iron fist.”  Many of my dear friends have been smeared with the label of “non-Christ centered” and “non Christian” for far less than I’ve put out there. And yes, it’s happened to me in a few painful episodes in my ministry, from which I’m still licking my wounds, so I’m well aware that the way I interpret the centrality of Christ, conversion and discipleship, and scriptural authority is not doubt a real stretch from the usual fundamentalist spin on these things.

But yes, these points are all essentially what I affirmed in my ordination vows and still hold sacred. My “centrality of Christ” is a Teilhardian kind of centrality—cosmic rather than juridical—but it’s still the heart of what I’m about. Conversion and discipleship are for me simply a more traditional way of languaging what Wisdom calls “awakening” and “spiritual practice.” And while I don’t accord authority to scripture at the literal, proof-texting level often promulgated by fundamentalism, the Bible is still for me a living, breathing treasury of sacred wisdom (otherwise how could I do lectio divina?), and as a Christian, it’s my ultimate court of appeal. My understanding of authority is ultimate and inclusive rather than exclusive, but I still bow the knee of the heart to that authority.

So in my heart of hearts, I can sign the petition in good conscience. The alternative—the mental and overpsychologized, visionless, tepid version of Christianity promulgated by so much of liberal progressive Christianity is, at least in my books, an equal if not greater affront to the Wisdom heart of Christ.

Mostly, I am thrilled to see a significant slice of responsible Christian evangelicals stepping up to the plate and calling out their fellow evangelicals for the failure to recognize that Donald Trump represents an abortion of core Christian values and an affront and danger to humanity. Among the authors of this petition are such esteemed evangelical  visionaries as Jim Wallis, Shawn Claiborne, and Brian McClaren, who like myself are trying to win the name “Christian” back from the ugly and angry extremist quarters that have shanghai’ed it in recent decades. Despite our differing theological interpretations of the  “the centrality of Christ,” we all know about the centrality of love and compassion. And that, finally, is what we need to stand together for as Christians as our country—and our world—navigate the eye of the needle on November 8.