As the Body of Christ, in all its various manifestations, moves forward toward the second decade of the 21st Century, I find it both interesting and rewarding to explore the different ways in which diverse segments of the faith are dealing with the major challenges confronting the church. Some groups welcome these challenges and see in them opportunities for growth and expansion, while others resist change like it was the spawn of Satan himself. These latter groups rail against modernism, post-modernism, and even the proverbial partridge in a pear tree as they turn on their collective heel and race head long back to the “good ol’ days” at breakneck speed, never pausing to consider the fact that those days of yore were not all that good by anyone’s measure.
I have always been fascinated by the study of ideas, particularly the movement of ideas across time and geography. Within this area of interest, I also enjoy the researching of how these ideas impact groups of people and, in turn, how groups of people impact these ideas. This is especially fascinating when the object of one’s study is religious and/or spiritual ideas.
Take for example the movement of Christianity and Christian ideas into Ireland. The Catholic Church, in spite of its problems, warts, and hidden agendas, had a generally positive impact of the Celts of Ireland. There was at least somewhat of a stabilizing effect on the culture, but the Church and its ideas was never able to completely erase or eradicate the older spiritual ideas that were an inherent part of the Celtic character and ethos. The result was that the ideas associated with the church impacted this group of people, but at the same time, the Celts ended up having a major impact on the church as well. The result was the creation of a unique, vital, and highly popular form of Christianity that survives to this day. In fact, what has come to be known as Celtic Christianity has enjoyed a major resurgence in worldwide popularity over the past two to three decades.
Please forgive me for the foregoing digression about Celtic Christianity, but I hope it at least gave an illustration of what I mean about the movement of ideas across time and geography. In addition, it is my hope that the side trip gave clarity to what I meant when talking about how ideas impact groups of people and how groups of people can also impact ideas.
With all that said, I find it interesting to look at this sort of thing as the ideas associated with the church continue to encounter the ever-shifting and rapidly changing world in which we live. This whole process is made even more fascinating when one pauses to consider the fact that, unlike the exchange between early medieval Catholicism and the Celts, today’s encounter between Christianity and post-modern, post-Christian culture has no unified system of ideas on either side. The Christian faith is so divided and theologically diverse that it defies cogent definition. For its side of the encounter, post-modern culture is built upon the bedrock of relativism, which is another way of saying that it is built upon the bedrock of no bedrock. Postmodernism prides itself on the absence of absolute truth and blind to the inherent contradiction of doing so, will seemingly fight to the death to prove that no absolute standard of certainty exists.
“What contradiction”, you ask? Well, here’s one for starters. Postmodern thought is constructed on the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth.
I’ll stop before I launch into another side bar discussion. The point is, as one studies the interplay between Christian ideas that run the gamut from staunch fundamentalism to the Unitarian-Universalist open-ended approach and the here today gone tomorrow truths of postmodern culture, about all one ends up with for certain is a migraine.
What I have stated in the above paragraphs leads me to the conclusion that we are living in a most interesting time these days; a time when something old appears to be fighting for its final gasps of breath and something new has moved into the birth canal and the contractions are growing more frequent and intense. Meanwhile, we are frozen in what seems to be an eternal Saturday, halfway between crucifixion and resurrection. It is at precisely such times that definitions become increasingly difficult. It is also on these seemingly eternal Saturdays that rather than judgments and knee-jerk reactionism, we are much better served by tolerant reflection and the realization that we, at least for now, live in an age where definitions are somewhat fluid.
Let me give you an example; one that sometimes sticks in my craw and rides sidesaddle in my mouth.
Often as I do research for this site as well as various writing projects, I read through various blogs of a Christian bent. Recently, I have had the misfortune of encountering more than a few arch-conservative, fundamentalist sites where several nameless, self-appointed “watchmen on the walls,” doctrinal purists, and “real Christians,” sit in name-calling, mud-slinging, judgment of everyone who happens to disagree with their perspective by even a jot or a few tittles. Personally, I find this kind of behavior on the part of so-called believers to be reprehensible, but that’s another story for another time.
On more than one occasion, I have found one of these modern-day Pharisees dragging some teacher or writer through the proverbial keyhole, calling them heretics, apostates, and the brother (and in some cases, sister) of Beelzebub or worse. Even more appalling, more times than not, it is apparent from what these paragons of doctrinal husbandry are saying that they have not bothered to read very much of the writings of whatever author or teacher may have been unfortunate enough to have landed in their crosshairs.
What’s worse is the fact that these self-styled doctrinal experts seem to have arrived at the notion, deluded as it is, that somehow, someone died and appointed them to be the authoritative voice of what does and does not constitute a “Christian.”
Personally, I find this state of affairs sad, tragic, and deplorable.
On one site recently, several of these part-time pundits were engaged in a conversation in which they had worked up a significant amount of bile and spittle over the movement sometimes called “Progressive Christianity. During the course of the online discussion, the participants opined one and all that these apostate progressives could not be “real Christians” because they: a) did not accept the Bible as God’s inerrant and infallible word; b) some of them denied the doctrine of the Virgin Birth; c) did not believe that Jesus was the only way to God; and perhaps worst of all, d) most of them voted for Democrats.
The discussion went on over several pages in which some of the more loquacious experts waxed eloquent about the “true faith” while, at the same time, actually composed a “Black List” of Christian writers and had the audacity to grade these authors on a scale of danger based on their perceived degree of heresy. Authors such as Richard Foster, Tony Campolo, and Dallas Willard were black listed, but placed in a category a few rungs up from the bottom. Even such Evangelical mainstays as Chuck Swindoll and Phillip Yancey did not escape the wrath of these cowboys and I found writers like John Eldredge, Myles Munroe, and can you believe it, Billy Graham, even earned spots in their Hall of Shame.
As for Bishop Spong, he already had his ticket to Hell punched and if Marcus Borg had inadvertently wandered into their clutches, he would have been drawn and quartered faster than you can say Spanish Inquisition. Search as I might, I found no evidence of agape among this bunch.
What galls me the most is the fact that these folks somehow think they have the right to say who is and who is not a Christian. More than once I felt like yelling:
“Hey Gertrude, let’s back that bus up a minute. Something’s bad wrong here!”
You see, friends, as they engaged in their pseudo-punditry, these wise watchmen did nothing to address the real issues facing the Body of Christ in this exciting but challenging time. All their discussion managed to accomplish was to define who was not a fundamentalist and/or evangelical. Just because someone holds views that differ from this stream of the Christian faith, makes them no less Christian and certainly no less valuable in the eyes of God. I suspect that only God really knows who is “a Christian” and even more pertinent, I suspect only God has that right, let alone enough wisdom to do so.
In closing, in case you wonder if this diatribe of mine will end up putting me on their Black List of apostate ne’er-do-wells, you can relax.
I am already on it.
© L. D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved