Monday, April 16, 2012

The Left Brain Trap Door

Charles Denison's book The Artist's Way of Preaching is an easy read about preaching, but it is also a brilliant summary about the effectiveness of the Church in a postmodern culture. It is the most important book that I have ever read about the problem of preaching and teaching the evangelical message today.
Here is his summary of the postmodern situation, "The culture has shifted. Where once we stood secure on tradition, on education, on training, and on faith itself, a trapdoor seems to have opened. We hang suspended over open air. The culture changed. What do we do now? Is there a safety balloon down rationalism is losing its grip. Ours is a culture that feels betrayed by science and abandoned by logic. Reason cannot answer the deepest questions of life and existence. So where do we look for answers, for hope Our religious institutions have become associated  with the analytical scientific world view.  Indeed, they are in danger of becoming its defenders...we were trained in linear, analytical thought. We were taught that our faith  could be understood through propositions, statements, creeds and theologies. We sat through our lectures; we took our notes. We went to church and got three points of explanation of a text. Now what do we do?"

Here is a critical issue for Episcopalians? We have a deep communication crisis! If there is any denomination that has bought into the modern linear, left brain analytical way of knowing an worshiping God it is us.We describe ourselves as the thinking person's church. However, we are really the defenders of a left brain faith of propositions, traditions, bishops and clergy reading boring sermons.
Recently, I  heard about a group of bishops with a vision for the future. They are concerned about the inability to staff there small rural parishes with ordained priest. The solution is amazing. They argue that seminary training is too expensive and too long for the development of clergy for their rural parishes. So, the answer is to raise a large sum of money, build a conference center and use it as an education center for the preparation of clergy and other needed skilsl for evangelism.
This type of solution might have something going for it if they had designed a formation model totally unlike seminary education, but they have not. What is the definition of insanity? It is doing the same thing expecting different results. The answer to the postmodern crisis is a brick and mortar one. Build a mini seminary with the outdated left brain theology and prepare left brain clergy.


  1. Bill, so on target, thank you. In the deep history, not the silly anglocatholic stuff, of the Tractarian movement in the late 19th and 20th century, sacramental/incarnational theology did emphasize something of what you speak for its own day and culture. That is why, I think, Anglicanism at its best is more like some Judaic and Buddhist movements than left brain Protestantism or RC canon law/doctrine based religion. I strongly believe that Celtic spirituality was and has been the deep undercurrent for us all along which is fluid, relational and emotional. It certainly fits with my boyhood sense of connection to nature I felt on the prairie of western Kansas and have ever since.

  2. I do not know to what group of my colleagues you are referring, but the point of a seminary education was never to get you up to speed on rationalist explanations of the tradition, but to have your faith confront that tradition, and grow through it. I don't think this is now irrelevant.

    We is Europe have designed a formation program that adapts to each ordinand, as well as our particular needs here. We look to give each one the ability to function anywhere in the world, for that is our reality here.

    This is I think the way forward for the rest of the church as well.

  3. Pierre, could you refer specifically to schools, etc. who are using the formation process to which you refer. I would like to read more on any web site you might be able to direct me to. Re. confrontation of personal faith with tradition, you make a good point and was certainly a part of my experience and there was certainly an emotional element to that experience; however, what was lacking was a dialogical element to help create grounded apologetic methods. I learned that only in living with fundamentalists as a teenager and young adult who confronted me as an Episcopalian.

  4. I am glad to hear some of the comments. When the Church decided on professional clergy and sought the approval of the worldly academics, she began the slide into serfdom. As an anglo-catholic who believes that Traditions reinforce the gospel as well as give them corporality to the Evangelical Gospel, I pray that the Lord Jesus will prosper and continue your ministry and mission until you are caught up to be with him in glory.

    Rob Bagwell+
    St Paul's Parish Savannah, GA