Blog, Friday's Five Good Answers

Is the church narrating what it means to be an American or is America narrating what it means to be the church? Five Good Answers with Dr. Tripp York, Author of Third Way Allegiance

Tripp York is a friend of mine. He is also one of the most interesting people I know. Tripp is involved in university theater productions (both acting and directing); he is an author, a skateboarder, a surfer, and a well-degreed professor of theology (with papers from Duke University which makes him an intolerably loyal fan of “Coach K” and the men’s basketball team). I could go on and tell you that he was also at one time the lead singer of his own punk band, but you already get the picture…Tripp has incredible passion for life. He is a controversial thinker that always challenges me with new perspectives (even when we don’t see eye to eye). Tripp has a huge heart for people and a burning enthusiasm to discover what it means to live a genuine life of faith in the modern world. When he asked me to write the forward for his latest book, I was more than honored: I was excited to get my hands on the manuscript to read it.

Here is an excerpt from my foreword, which I think will give you some perspective on Dr. York’s latest work:

This book by Dr.York reads like letters to the American Church. In Third Way Allegiance, he examines three aspects of American Christianity through collections of essays that focus on the practice, politics, and worship expressions of our faith. He asks the tough questions about faith: Is the church narrating what it means to be an American or is America narrating what it means to be the church? He calls American Christians back to subversive ways of grace and nonviolence and assures them that “obedience is never without effect.” He argues that our lifestyles should put the scandal back in our discourse about God, reminds that Christianity is not philosophically defensible, and points us back to early Christianity and the ideas of 3rd century Christians that claimed, “I believe because it is absurd.”

… He writes with pop-culture savvy, a strong command of theology and Scripture and a respect for church history to deliver a message those readers will find challenging, yet accessible. York is anything but tame. Even when I don’t agree with him, I am always challenged by his thoughts. His controversial views will draw you into thinking about how your faith can be expressed in a truer, more radical way. This is truly a book that every professor, layperson, pastor and student should read. I believe Dr. York’s call to a different type of Allegiance is something that can transform your faith in a powerful way.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Tripp in what turned out to be an extremely honest and, at times, provocative discussion.

(Tripp has an infectious laugh and uses it often — so I should disclaim that when he writes: [laughs] – he is actually laughing.)

So…why does this author assert that he DOES NOT claim to follow Jesus?

Whyis his mom NOT going to be happy about his next book?

Here is “Friday’s Five Good Answers” with Dr. Tripp York:

Matt: What do you see as the 21st century churches’ greatest challenge?

Tripp: I see we’re going big with the first question. That’s a tough one, but I guess I would have to say, ‘Recovering from the complete unadulterated paganism it has mysteriously retrieved from antiquity!’ [Laughs] Well, perhaps I should qualify that a bit—although, it is a lot more fun to speak without concern for nuance. I should say that Christianity in North America, not necessarily throughout the world, has so completely severed its ties from historical/European Christianity that we have no means of knowing when we have adopted pagan philosophies such as Gnosticism and enthusiasm. Not that I have anything against paganism. I’m all for it. Well, not unequivocally, of course. Certainly not Gnosticism—that’s just silly. If we’re going to revive pagan cults, I say let’s start with the celebration of Dionysius. That’s the one I’m working on!

It’s just an interesting world we live in when Jehovah’s Witnesses have more in common with historical Christianity than most Christians. Perhaps that is fitting. I mean, I love Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were one of the few groups in Germany to resist Hitler. While many German Christians were pushing Jews, gypsies, the mentally handicapped and homosexuals in gas chambers the Jehovah Witnesses knew better because they had theological resources that kept them from making an idol out of the nation-state. I don’t think Christians in North America have those resources.

Matt: What do you see happening in Christianity now that makes you hopeful or inspires you?

Tripp: Um . . . not much . . . ? [Laughs] No seriously, not much.

I guess we have folks like Shane Claiborne and Greg Boyd. I just wish Boyd would drop that process/open theism nonsense—hey Greg, Aquinas was right! [Laughs] The Catholic Worker Movement is still rocking in some places. John Dear as well as Dorothy and Gwen Hennessey are out there raising holy hell. Daniel Berrigan reminds me of a very poetic Polycarp (sans the dove flying out of his chest). Pennsylvania and Ohio have a large number of Amish. Goshen College just became, in practice, Mennonite again. Andy and Nekeisha Alexis-Baker at Jesus Radicals are doing incredibly interesting things.

And, to be honest, people like Matt Litton who are out there trying to figure out how being a Christian makes certain claims on a person that may not necessarily be enjoyable or self-serving provides hope. You know, how does something like the Sermon on the Mount, if taken seriously, wreck your world? Because it does . . . or it will. That’s why I’ve been keeping my distance from it. Jesus’ teachings are way too intense. I don’t know if I want to claim them, you know? John tells us that if you say you know Jesus but you don’t obey him then you’re a liar. I’d rather just be open about it and say, “I probably don’t know him.”

Matt: Who are your favorite writers?

Tripp: This is the greatest question ever. In terms of fiction, it’s hard to top Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy. I also enjoy the insights of Chuck Palahniuk and I really like Yann Martel. My favorite fiction writers are people in the graphic novel/comic book scene. Neil Gaiman (of course, his novel American Gods is amazing); Brian Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man is one of the best stories told in the past twenty years. His Pride of Baghdad is phenomenal, too. You can’t go wrong with Garth Ennis, Mike Carey, Alan Moore, Evan Dorkin (long live The Pirate Corps/Hectic Planet!), and Jill Thompson. I think the creative ingenuity of these writers/artists is crucial in terms of how we imaginatively construct and narrate our world(s).

I should also mention playwrights like Mamet and Stoppard . . . oh, and Moss Hart and George Kaufmann are unbeatable.

In terms of non-fiction, I enjoy Zizek, Cavell, West, Derrick Jensen, Carol Adams, David Bentley Hart, Wendell Berry, Terry Eagleton, Stanley Fish . . . I could go on forever. Actually, some of the most important material I’ve been reading has been in the realm of animal behavior and wildlife conservation. The connections people like Jane Goodall, Marc Bekoff, Jeffrey Masson, and Frans De Waal make in terms of our relationships with other animals, the earth, food, sustainability, and what it means to live peaceably within the entire biotic community, well, they are just absolutely out-narrating everything going on in so-called professional theology. So many of our theologians are just bourgeoisie mall-shoppers occupying some incredibly over-funded chair writing for their own self-aggrandizement without any real connection as to how we are all part of this magnificent thing called creation. Why we treat it as something to plunder, rather than a gift, baffles me. Save the red howler monkeys, man! I miss the shit out of Steve Irwin. I really do. He represented the kind of people who are good for this world. We need his sort of insanity, because . . . you know . . . that guy was nuts. But God love him for it. It’s what we need.

Matt: What are you hoping to communicate in your recently published book Third Way Allegiance?

Tripp: That I was able to snag such a lofty writer as yourself for the foreword! Seriously, I do appreciate you lending your name to the book (you keep strange company, my friend).

Basically, I want to uncover the incredibly sneaky ways Christian practice is unwittingly undermined by our allegiance to the state and capitalism. Note, I’m not just blandly ripping on the state and the so-called free market—that requires too little effort and is probably just fashionable enough to buttress the very object of protest—I’m just pointing out how our non-reflective allegiance to them shapes Christian discourse in such a way that Christianity no longer narrates these twin entities. Instead, the state and the market end up narrating Christianity. That’s when things get messy, because the next thing you know you’re singing war-hymns while wearing bracelets proclaiming Jesus the Prince of Peace. It’s mind-boggling.

Matt: What are you working on beyond Third Way Allegiance?

Tripp: Well, I would love to tell you about a three volume series I am editing called The Peaceable Kingdom Series. It includes writers such as Claiborne and Boyd (as mentioned above), Stanley Hauerwas, Amy Laura Hall, Laura Hobgoood-Oster, Lee Camp, Brian McLaren . . . oh, lots of people. I can’t remember everyone involved—just a whole litany of ridiculously cool human beings (I asked a capuchin or two but they wisely declined).

I’d rather, however, tell you about my book coming out at the end of summer called The Devil Wears Nada (can you post a link to it? If so, here you go: It’s about my search for Satan in order to prove the existence of God (as well as attempt to make a pact with ‘Old Horny’ in order to pay off my student loans). No, seriously, it’s true. It’s a memoir chronicling my adventures searching for the diabolical Lucifer so that I can present a better argument for God’s existence than the ontological argument. Actually, the ontological argument is pretty tight. Let’s say better than Kant’s moral argument or Paley’s argument by design. Those are terrible. Anyway, as it says on the back of the book, it wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, but it certainly wasn’t the worst (which, I don’t know what that says about me). It’s really quite funny—even when it seems like someone is about to either punch me in the face or attempt to cast a spell on me (wiccans . . . gotta love those ladies in tune with river nymphs). It includes a number of conversations, interviews, all sorts of interesting experiences with priests, ministers, spiritual warriors, exorcists, Satanists, pagans, lots of episodes of Supernatural, and my various attempts to not only locate Satan and his inferno-bound posse, but even conjure the spirit of my hero Harpo Marx (the group hosting the séance kicked me out because I said, in all seriousness I might add, “Harpo, if you’re there . . . honk your horn.”)

Not to give too much away, but one thing I learned from my search for the first fallen creature is that there are a whole lot of people in this world without a sense of humor. I mean, just flat-out across the spectrum. Really devout people of various religious communities were quite tolerant at first, but once you challenge the notion of, for instance, an actual talking snake, the hostility was incredible (I bet the serpent’s Hebrew was rough, because, you know, I’ve always assumed reptiles would struggle with consonants). I’m sure Zizek is right to suggest that such defensiveness is simply a sign of a person’s own inability to truly believe what they claim to believe, but still . . . put down the fists. Watch some Mitch Hedberg and chill out.

Regardless, I’m pretty sure my mom is going to be none-too-pleased with the book. I’ve already asked my dad not to read it (it may not be for the pious at heart). To be honest, I will really need to make some cash on this one because I’m quite convinced I will never land another teaching job once it’s published. Damn, I wish I was tenured.


“Friday’s Five Good Answers” will take several weeks off but return with more interesting interviews this coming August!

One thought on “Is the church narrating what it means to be an American or is America narrating what it means to be the church? Five Good Answers with Dr. Tripp York, Author of Third Way Allegiance

  1. So, this guy is way smarter than I’ll ever be, but I love the idea behind both of these books. Off to check him out some more. Thanks for introducing us all to him.

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