Reborn Gentiles and Heathens

There are many reports that the churches of Europe are empty and church participation in America is dwindling as well. Besides the tough economic climate, I believe the growth of secularism and the discoveries of modern science have favored human rationality over faith in the God of the Bible. This post-modern movement is generating a new crop of atheists or what I call “reborn gentiles.”

This is a good thing! Why?

It will force religion to dig deeper into God’s revealed wisdom so that theology can interface with science and human reasoning. In fact, a theology that will turn heads must be able to augment science with new insights into formulating breakthrough theories of causal process and a deeper understanding of the laws of the universe.

Scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg has offered the world just such a potent new approach. He even states that this new theology will gain its main growth from gentiles and those who have rejected traditional forms of organized religion.

So these times should offer sweet pickings for a New Church founded on Swedenborg’s visionary insights. Such a church exists.

Having been brought up Catholic, then leaving the church, I certainly had obtained “reborn gentile” status when I was finally introduced to Swedenborg’s amazing ideas. I am living proof of Swedenborg’s prediction.

Unfortunately, this new church, armed with a treasure house of potent new material, hasn’t yet caught the world’s imagination. Having spent a quarter century in the advertising and marketing field I think I know why. They offer high quality steak but don’t know how to make it sizzle. In biblical terms, they have yet to figure out how to put their new wine into new bottles.

They have “packaged” their potent belief system into a somewhat generic protestant-style church—an old bottle. Should a newcomer visit a Swedenborgian church, in most cases, he or she will not be able to immediately perceive a notable difference, or, as they say in the Ad biz, a unique selling point.  And even if the visitor happens to hear and recognize something new in the minister’s sermon, the congregation will often fall back into worldly banter after the service. What is a visitor supposed to take away from such an un-colorful and indistinct encounter that makes them want to come back? All churches can provide hugs and smiling, helpful people—nothing new there.

Being an author (with an advertising background) I know that a consumer in a bookstore takes about eight seconds making the decision to purchase or not to purchase a particular book. So lots of thought goes into putting a “wow factor” on the front and back covers of the book. A potential buyer wants to know immediately (especially these days) whether the book offers them something of value—that is noticeably different from other books on the shelf.

So, too, a church—especially one that is blessed with explosive and paradigm-changing ideas like Swedenborg’s. But meaningful growth isn’t happening.

I suspect that the Swedenborgian Church fears coming off as “too weird” or as a “cult” and worries about being accepted. It doesn’t have to look weird—it just has to be intellectually riveting! The answer to its potential growth comes from knowing how to win over the minds of the “reborn gentiles” and those in the secular movement. This will require bold new literature, innovative media, discussions with the scientific community and even designing sections of the physical church to deliver a new experience for worshippers and visitors.

Heaven forbid if some writer happens to convince people about the freshness and relevance of Swedenborg’s contributions to the world of human ideas and the church bearing his name fails to viscerally reflect a similar uniqueness and “sizzle.”

http://www.provinggod.com

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About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at http://www.staircasepress.com
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14 Responses to Reborn Gentiles and Heathens

  1. Glenn says:

    But the sizzle will fizzle, won’t it? And one is still left with the steak. Do you know anyone who eats steak because it sizzles? I don’t. They eat steak because they like steak.

    I read someone recently who seemed to be plugged into what you are. At least he seemed to as exuberant as you, and on a similar topic. And he made an interesting statement, that the next New Church will not be a representative church, but an emblematic church. His exuberance had him failing to recognize that he said, in effect, “The next vehicle I buy won’t be a car, no siree, it’ll be an automobile.”

    However much elation of mind may be useful in fashioning advertising and marketing plans, Swedenborg does not have kind things to say about the spiritual consequences of eleation of mind.

  2. Walt says:

    Excellent article on what the churches representing Swedenborg’s writings need to do in order to reach more people. I do not live in an area where there is a Swedenborg Church and would like to start a group to study his writings. Do you have any suggestions on how someone like myself could start a study group and hopefully from this study group reach out to others as well?

  3. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Very clever. However, what do you think “putting new wine into new bottles” actually means? I am not challenging the New Church’s “steak.” I am challenging its creativity and presentation. Swedenborgians only know how to talk to themselves.

    The success of this blog is that most of my readers are non-Swedenborgians.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  4. thegodguy says:

    Dear Walt,

    Always start with friends who share similar interests. In order to help you more I may need to hear about what kind of obstacles you are anticipating or actually experiencing.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  5. Glenn says:

    Swedenborg’s explanation of new wine in new bottles has its variations, one of which is that the Divine truths of the New Testament are contained in the precepts and commandments of the Lord.

    A more modern interpretation, however, seems to be that attention-getting, mind-captivating and sticky ruminations (if not concepts) are contained in blog posts of 500 words or less. There is little doubt that Mr. Bernays would be proud. And there is little doubt that he would go further by, say, seeking to partner with Cirque du Soleil to convey represe… uh, emblematic… portrayals of key concepts. The baroqueness and floridity of the performers’ costumes would be well-suited to the style of speech ascendant when the truths were first scratched onto parchment. And the aerialists would be well positioned for addressing the spiritual realm. Just think–people would be willing paying for entertainment, yet also would be exposed to your version of “new wine”. Shared profits from the shows could fund the snazzy educational materials you’d like to have a hand in assembling and disseminating. And Matthew Lesko could be hired to sell them on late-nite TV.

    The possibilities are intriguing indeed!

  6. thegodguy says:

    I love creative responses. No one will ever accuse you of putting new wine in old bottles!

    Your eternal friend,
    TheGodGuy

  7. Derrick says:

    Hello GodGuy,

    I just wanted to start by saying thank you for what you are doing here. I am a semi-regular reader and New Church pastor of 2 years. I really appreciate your enthusiasm and your goals. They are truly worthy goals that I also hold near and dear to my heart.

    I just wanted to contribute to the conversation on this one. I have done some thinking about marketing the New Church (obviously not nearly as much as you have), and I agree that there really needs to be a lot more unapologetic, direct, and accessible communication about the works of Swedenborg. I am of a different denomination than yours so I cannot speak for you, but for us, I think we basically cook steak at home, feed our family with it, and wonder why no one comes and joins us for dinner. Maybe because they were not invited.

    In terms of new wine skins, I have often wondered how much this really applies to the New Church vs. Christianity. It is very true for Christianity vs. Judaism: circumcision became baptism, animal sacrifices became holy supper, a Sabbath of no work became a Sabbath of instruction, and cleanliness laws became repentance. For the New Church vs. Christianity, baptism became baptism, holy supper became holy supper, a Sabbath of instruction became a Sabbath of instruction, and repentance became repentance. It was almost as if there were no new wine skin (or bottle if you prefer) given and ordained by God for the New Church. But what I think did happen was that the wine went through final fermentation and now instead of new wine, we have perfectly aged wine in the wine skins in which the process was begun. The challenge is not to make a new brand of wine, but to educate the pallet.

  8. thegodguy says:

    Dear Derrick,

    Thank you for contributing to this most timely and important discussion.

    I do not know what you mean by saying you are of a different denomination. I belong to no Swedenborgian denomination and rarely will you find me in a church on Sunday mornings. (My only official connection to a Swedenborgian organization is the Swedenborg Scientific Association.) I am an outsider and therefore feel I have a valid point of view when judging the “sizzle” of the steak or the “bottle” wine is put in.

    Swedenborg’s various writings are like the steak or new wine. Swedenborgian discussions, sermons and evangelistic efforts are therefore the various ways people attempt to make these teachings appetizing. A steak can be made more or less appetizing by the cook or chef. And we often judge a wine by the external design and information on the bottle that either persuades or fails to persuade us to make the purchase.

    It is up to the person who is trying to sell the steak or new wine to make it as appetizing as possible. That is why both great chefs or advertising people put lots of creative energy into their presentations.

    Let me offer an example. Years ago, I was once invited by a Swedenborgian church to give a sermon at one of its services. My topic was Jacob’s Ladder. I began my talk by giving a technically correct but totally “dry” and left-brain description of this biblical story. Then I abruptly stopped and apologized to the congregation for my left-brain presentation. I then informed the audience that because Jacob had put “oil” on the rock – that he had used as a pillow during his provocative dream – that I now had to change my perspective more towards the human heart and give a “right-brained” interpretation of the story.

    I began with the words “Once upon a time . . . ” Everyone’s posture and backs immediately straightened up by this unexpected approach.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  9. Glenn says:

    GG,

    Everyone’s posture and backs immediately straightened up by this unexpected approach.

    Well, of course! Slouching diminishes the oomph that can be injected into the throwing of rotten tomatoes! Booo! Booo!

    Kiddin’ aside, I believe I see better now the tack you’re taking, and the rationale behind it.

    In their Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath make mention of the Curse of Knowledge, regarding which they say, Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.

    Perhaps it can be said that this ‘Curse of Knowledge’ not infrequently contributes to the formulation of explanations and presentations which are clear and vivid for the initiating providers (and others ‘already in the know’), while simultaneously being dull as ditchwater and incomprehensible for the intended receivers. In response to this, you’ve adopted a tack designed to replace dullness with liveliness, and incomprehensibility with an initial understanding, which tack is employed via ideational attempts (as opposed to lexical attempts) at vulgate versions of snippets of Swedenborg’s science, philosophy and theology.

    If so, then I would suggest that Derrick’s observation, which I both like and appreciate–and which is that The challenge is not to make a new brand of wine, but to educate the pallet–retains is applicability for such time as when the uninformed pallet has come to know, by way of its tasting-experience, that the ‘wine’ exists.

    Briefly: You’re approach (perhaps) has to do with the initial acquisition of the wine, and Derrick’s observation has to do with the development of the pallet’s appreciation for that wine after its initial acquisition.

    Did I just not make sense? Quick! Hand me the rotten–tomato repellant!

    Glenn

  10. thegodguy says:

    Dear Glenn,

    Bingo! The New Church has had a couple of centuries to get out its message but with limited success. I am simply experimenting with new ways for communicating Swedenborg’s ideas in the hopes of capturing the world’s imagination. The Lord has given us new wine and it is our challenge to “bottle it” for proper distribution to the public.

    Because I am experimenting, I may make a boo-boo or two along the way. Hopefully my efforts will lead other Swedenborgian thinkers to create more bold and imaginative works for the future.

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  11. Glenn says:

    GG,

    Okaaaay… I finally get what’s going on here.

    Thanks for your (considerable) patience,
    Glenn

  12. thegodguy says:

    Glenn,

    Thanks for having the heart of a true new churchman!

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

  13. Derrick says:

    GodGuy,

    Sorry for the lengthy break in correspondence; I took a much need vacation. I would like to make a couple of clarifications.

    I made that comment about denominations merely trying to speak from my own experience with the churches that I am affiliated with. It is a bit of a side bar and not important compared to the point that we don’t really even try very much to get people to come.

    I would also agree that there needs to a lot of know how, artistry, and effort put into the aspects of the church that make the ideas appealing and accessible. I think what I reacted to was the Biblical allusion and the usual application of it.

    What I was driving at was that there is a real challenge to selling the wine to Christianity. They already have wine and Swedenborgian wine isn’t that different from the outside. Surprisingly, (or perhaps not) there has been less effort to reach this market than the secular. A secular audience has the least experience with wine, and so for them the packaging is probably the most important. But to the Christian, it truly is a matter of pallet education, because it doesn’t seem that different from the outside–on the bottle.

    So I guess it comes back to the old marketing saw of a marketer knowing his market.

  14. thegodguy says:

    Dear Derrick,

    Yes, a marketer must know his or her market. Plus something else. A marketer must understand their product or service in a new, more imaginative way, so that the message (and its benefit) is quickly noticed.

    My study of Swedenborg’s wine has revealed to me that God and science are one. Whether you believe that or not it is becoming a “hot topic.” This is the niche that I am exploring because it takes aim at many of the current paradigms of our post-modern world. Up to now. most of those who have embraced Swedenborg’s visionary insights have “packaged it” into a protestant style church (old bottle). The New Church (if it wants to grow) will someday make their bottle every bit as dynamic as their wine. “Pallet education” in regards to doctrine requires opening one’s inner mind to detect and savor new subtle tastes and flavors. This requires ministers and instructors to deliver their message in more unique ways. However, most of their training is in communicating with people who already have purchased the bottle and taken a few “swigs.”

    Spiritually yours,
    TheGodGuy

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