Using religious technology on people does not equal sharing good news
Plus, a link to Paul Kingsnorth's conversion story
My three-and-a-half years of involvement in an evangelism-centered college ministry followed by many years of involvement in evangelism-emphatic churches skewed my understanding of religious conversion toward a transactional one. This was not a side effect. These institutions/organizations trained me to become proficient in a particular methodology that was developed to encourage on-the-spot human decisions that supposedly represented conversion. Looking back, I can see now how reductionist it was. Here’s a set of propositional truths. Understand them. Receive them. Pray in this manner to demonstrate you’ve received them. Voilà, you are now saved.
I now recognize that methodology as a form of technology—one that could only arise in a society that is already deeply technicist, or that fully believes in (and does not question) the utility of technology for improving anything and everything. It couldn’t be more different than the world we encounter in the scriptures—a world immersed in story, poetry, narrative, and disruptive encounter.
Over the past two years, I’ve been on somewhat of a quest to heal my imagination from the ways it has been damaged by religious technicism. Not that I’ve had any idea how to go about it. Our modern milieu makes it very difficult to do so. But last year around this time, Peter sent me a link to the conversion story of novelist and essayist Paul Kingsnorth. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but his engaging writing style immediately drew me in. And I’ll tell you what… his story did something in me. I wept. SO MUCH. His account both exposed and acted as a healing balm for a gaping wound I didn’t even know I had.
Some of you are undoubtedly familiar with it already, but for the many of you who are not, I invite you to read his story ( ← click on the link), which he entitled “The Cross and the Machine.”
Here’s a teaser:
This was how I ended up a priest of the witch gods.
The short version of the story is that I joined my local Wiccan coven… My coven used to do its rituals in the woods under the full moon. It was fun, and it made things happen. I discovered that magic is real. It works. Who it works for is another question.
At last I was home, where I belonged: in the woods, worshipping a nature goddess under the stars. I even got to wear a cloak. Everything seemed to have fallen into place. Until I started having dreams.
I had known, I suppose, that the abyss was still there inside me—that what I was doing in the woods, though affecting, was at some level still play-acting. Then, one night, I dreamed of Jesus. The dream was vivid, and when I woke up I wrote down what I had heard him say, and I drew what he had looked like. The crux of the matter was that he was to be the next step on my spiritual path. I didn’t believe that or want it to be true. But the image and the message reminded me of something strange that had happened a few months before. My wife and I were out to dinner, celebrating our wedding anniversary, when suddenly she said to me, “You’re going to become a Christian.” When I asked her what on earth she was talking about, she said she didn’t know; she had just had a feeling and needed to tell me.
Happy reading, friends.
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Merriam-Webster defines technology as “a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical (marked by or characteristic of specialization) processes, methods, or knowledge.”
See https://ellul.org/themes/ellul-and-technique/ if you want to delve into this concept further.
So many examples of God sending us messages through others. I remember a missionary (who was a preacher's kid) was told by a woman she didn't quite consider a friend, that the woman had a dream and was to tell the young woman that God wanted her to go to Africa and be a missionary. The young woman asked her dad,, "Why didn't God tell me that directly?" Dad said, "Well, when do you take time to listen to what God is telling you?" God loves us and uses all the means necessary to help us connect our lives with their intended purpose. Thank you.
Man, I read that essay of his a while back... but certainly could use a re-read!