IVP - Strangely Dim - Good News for Short Attention Spans

November 25, 2008

Good News for Short Attention Spans

Pity the poor seminarian, forced to articulate the totality of Christianity in a carefully worded, highly scrutinized document. I occasionally go to a regional meeting for my denomination where candidates for ordination have to stand there while a room full of people read their faith statements and then saunter up to a central microphone to tell them what's wrong with it. The lines of each faith statement are numbered for the convenience of reading and, more important, confronting: "I think it's wonderful that on line seven you speak so movingly of the love of God, but can you help me understand how, on line eight, you contend that this loving God willfully punishes people eternally for something so minor as failing to believe in his Son?" This litany of back-handed compliments and theological posturing is sufferable only because it's so perfunctory; I've yet to attend such a meeting where the doctrinal hazing wasn't followed immediately by unanimous approval of ordination.

The statement of faith is, some might say, an artifact of modernity. They're inheritors of the creedal tradition, when communities of faith would gather and come to consensus about what God had revealed about himself, his creation and his purposes. Such creeds would then be returned to the faith communities, where they would be declared in unison as part of the service. I grew up reciting the Nicene Creed week after week after week, and never once did someone saunter up to a microphone and argue for or against including a comma in line four.

But statements of faith have served as much to distinguish communities of faith as to unite them. They're invitations to an argument, a shot across the bow of other denominations or organizations to confront perceived slippage in the integrity of the Christian faith. They get longer and longer, with more and more numbers for ease of reading and, more important, for ease of shredding. And they're required for seminary graduation, the theological equivalent of requiring someone to stand on a firing range wearing a T-shirt with a bull's-eye on it.

One countertrend to such carefully crafted documents as the statement of faith is Twitter, a forum for communicating random information in 140 characters or less. A few theologians in the Presbymergent community, most notably Adam Walker Cleaveland and Shawn Coons, have taken up the challenge of twittering their faith: stating clearly and concisely how they perceive the heart of Christianity. You can check out the growing pool of entries here.

I like the idea of twittering your faith; it's not only a good challenge to say what you believe in as few words possible, it's a good exercise to do so and then get on with your day, which presumably is an outworking of what you've just twittered. And even beyond that, to declare your faith in a forum that is necessarily ephemeral--each Twitter entry will soon enough be replaced by the next, potentially something as mundane as "stuck in traffic"--is to acknowledge that we are finite and incomplete, that we're still growing in our appreciation of a faith that precedes us by millennia and will extend far beyond us, even to the end of the age.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at November 25, 2008 9:36 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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