UPDATE (12/12/11): I recently reread through this, and have recognized that–well, it’s quite long, and stylistically characteristic of an almost Kerouac prose (that is, minus the bennies–or benzedrine if you aren’t hip to the lingo; but probably the equivalent of coffee intake.).
It has come to me that this is one of the most frequented posts of mine, and yet least influential–of sorts.
Many of the topics and points listed are heretofore not as drawn out or clear as they have become more presently to me. My views still stand, but have since become more prevalent in my mind, as well as been given more examples, and more of a hash out to form valid conclusions (not that I think that I didn’t make any valid conclusions here).
Further, I would like to rewrite this post (someday) more a la mode of my current clarity.
If I was asked point blank the question “Is Christendom relevant today?” I would answer without any operose, YES. However, If I were to be asked if the Modern Evangelical Church, or ‘Christianity’ is relevant today, I would reply without mitigation, NO. The differences I see between the two questions or what I’ve dubbed (or perhaps have taken what others have dubbed) ‘Modern Christianity’ and ‘Post-Modern Christianity’ are somewhat spelled out in this blog post, but have become more and more clear as my pursuance has developed. Furthermore, the comparison I’ve discovered I would absolutely love to publish in book form–there’s that much to speak about. So if anyone has any tips or interest, email me. (I was thinking about titling it “Mere Christianity 2,” but I cannot for the life of me decide whether ‘Mere Christianity’ is too much of an adytum to title a book as if it were a sequel to it.)
But as for now, I would encourage anyone that wishes to know, or wants to dialogue, to ask away.
Email me, or leave me a comment with your questions and I will continue discussion that way.
But if you just want to read the flow of thought uninterrupted by simple things like a need to eat, or see daylight, then by all means, strap yourself in and read ahead.
There’s been a steady—if not exponential shift in Christianity lately which, more and more seems to be drawing attention to itself. This may not seem like much of a big deal to many, but to those on either side it has the tenacity and force to pit brother against brother—even those coming from the same household, many raised with and still believing in traditional Christian teachings and beliefs.
My biggest concern that I’ve always seemed to have with modern evangelical Christianity is this: we are to be known by “our love” and yet at the heart of all things, this love seems to be lacking. Now, I do not believe that this love has faded, but like Chesterton, I feel it’s been misplaced, or more, misguided and disillusioned. We cling to verses like those found in 1st Corinthians 13 about love, but lose sight of verses like 1 John 4: 16.
God has died.
And what he has been replaced with is us and our dogmatic interpretations of His “Word.” As Chad Holtz said (I paraphrase because I don’t remember quite word for word), “Unfortunately for us, we didn’t get the Bible we would want, we got the Bible God wanted for us.”
If it were left up to us, what would we ask for? I know myself—and more and more I’m realizing I’m not alone in this; I would want right and wrong. I would want a book which told me exactly what to do, how to do it, and how to plan out my life to match God’s plan.
If it were left up to us, we would want “the Law.”
And this is exactly what God gave when we wanted it in the first place. Yet as Paul writes (Romans 3:20), we were given the Law to show us through our own eyes that we could never uphold it. Though the law, we are supposed to become consciously aware of our own harmarita—missing the mark.
Then Jesus came to “fulfill” the Law. There is no difference in any one of us, Paul writes, for all have harmarita, all miss the mark, and ALL are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
And this is supposed to be GOOD NEWS! During that time, the Good News wasn’t that God will Judge the world, and the only way out of that judgment is to believe in Jesus, but that God’s judgment was/is JESUS! That we all fall short, and that’s okay, because God has sent Jesus to pick up the slack for all of us!
Yet the further we have gotten away from this, the further it has been malformed back into something that resembles “the Law.” If we believe correctly, and utter some words correctly, then we will be saved from the wrathful judgment of God that awaits us.
I won’t tell you what has been, because I’m sure you are all familiar with it. What I do want to stress is that this type of Christianity is still the Poster Child of everyone who calls themselves followers of Christ. This face of Christianity—turn or burn, choose Jesus to escape God’s wrath, is what made me struggle for so long telling people my beliefs…more so simply stating I’m a Christian. Every single label that has been associated with Christianity has stemmed from its malformation the last 100 years or so—give or take. And it’s still prevalent today! The labels and stigmas to Christianity haven’t faded or adjusted over time.
But what is this “new” (I call it new, but I only do so because in the face of modern Christianity, something that may be older than it is still new in the eyes of everyone that witnesses it.) Christianity that is emergent and is this Christianity at its heart more relevant to today than ever before?
Well, to get into that is to address the issue of modern evangelical Christianity and its impact on the modern American society.
1) Modern Christianity stresses a focus on one’s sin rather than God’s sacrifice.
I do not wish to undermine humility in the face of the eternal. But the thing about Jesus is not only is He the “image of the invisible God,” but He came to show us just what God’s judgment and love is all about. In every case of accusation of sin brought against Jesus, what was his response, pointing out the person’s inadequacy, or showing love regardless? And then, what would he end with? “Go and sin no more.” This has been taken to be something of a command but in the original Greek structure (as with a lot of things which have been taken as “commandments” of Jesus), this translates more into a statement of promise. “You will go and not hamartia (miss the mark) anymore.”
Without words, without baptism, without anything external, these people came face to face with God’s heart—Jesus, and they walked away changed, never the same. By coming into contact with the TRUE Jesus, and experiencing his Love, and by extension then, the Love of God, they walked away and did not hamartia (miss the mark) anymore.
2) Modern Christianity has equivocated Hell to a place of eternal punishment and suffering rather than discipline.
Now this one takes a little bit to chew and is really one of the key dividing points between “modern Christianity” and what has been dubbed “post-modern, emergent liberal Christianity.” Rather than get into it in extent here, I’d rather just link to my blog about Hell (which may or may not be up someday, and will be linked here) and let you take it from there.
What I do wish to stress is this: the nature of God comes through so prevalently when you read through the scriptures. And one of the key elements of his nature is that in everything where “punishment” is involved, it’s to teach, to educate. Hebrews says “endure hardship (punishment) as discipline. God is treating you like Sons.” In the Old Testament there is this ebb and flow between God and the Israelites where they seem to fail—fall short, God rebukes them, and then they come back to God. What this looks like can depend on the paradigm you choose to view it from. But it does not change the fact that God’s heart was for them to be “His people” and part of all of that was to teach them what that looks like. Why? Faith for Faith’s sake. How do you depend on someone until you are put through trials and—be it a long hard road or not, you let go and allow yourself to trust them? Some of us (me) more than others, it takes a long, long, LONG time for me to trust. I am open and trusting, sure, but to TRUST, I need to know. And that takes a lot. It takes a lot of trials and tribulations to get me past myself and my own issues and really trust another person. Can these be seen as “punishment?” Sometimes, yeah. It’s even worse to for me to really be shown love by someone. I have to mess up A LOT and have the person consistently show me grace, show me love, for me to really get it. Can this be considered “punishment?” A self inflicted form of punishment, sure, I would say that.
Secondly, whereas God’s nature is that he seems to “punish” to educate; God’s nature prevails in where every time there is destruction, it is for creation—or rather, NEW CREATION. Sodom and Gomorrah were burned, surely, but in Ezekiel (16: 53-55) the LORD says that Sodom will be “restored” and will that the LORD will “restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters.”
In Luke (19:10) Jesus says that the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost. That word lost in the Greek is appollumi—which is more often translated into “perished” or “destroyed.” So the Son of Man has come to seek (look for) and save the destroyed.
God may seem to be in the business of doom and gloom, but it doesn’t appear to be his ends—which Jesus saves us from, but his means. To get us to Him, we (by we, I mean the hamartia in man) must first be destroyed.
So Hell (to which I get into in my other blog post–coming soon) I believe to be very real. I do not believe it to be an end, but a means to an end. As Lewis puts it in the great divorce (and I’ll get into in a bit) “Hell is a state of mind…and every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind—is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly.” And elsewhere he says, “ both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley [Heaven itself] but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved [salvation NOT BEING A “CHOICE” TO CHOOSE BETWEEN HAVING OR NOT; but salvation truly being as an awakening from a dream into reality; whether you awake or not does not affect reality, nor the fact that you are dreaming]. Not only the twilight in that town [Hell], but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell.”
Hell can be here.
Like Heaven can be here.
And if that’s the case, then Hell is nothing more than a choice of ours. But that doesn’t make it God’s choice. And it doesn’t make it a place we cannot leave.
I’ll mention this briefly here (and will continue it further later in this post), but think about the story of the prodigal son. When the Father threw a party for the son’s return, where was the older brother? And what was his response? Was he so far away from the party that he couldn’t hear the music or his father not find him? Did the father say to the older son “alright, you’ve made your choice, now you will be excommunicated from me, forever!”
3) By isolating the ‘world’ from what they believe to be the Truth, modern Christians have actually isolated themselves.
Modern Christianity has had a motto of “everyone welcome” since the beginning. It is only in the past 100 years or so that an underlying tone has been added to those two words which make it translate into “everyone welcome, but…you have to say what we want you to say and do what we want you to do. And THEN you can feel the love.”
This type of tone and double standard is what drives a wedge between people and God. The ‘world’ now wants no part of God, because it wants no part of a people who claim to follow God and live in ‘freedom’ but are in no way FREE. They view the God that’s being preached in the same light as who is preaching that God. A God who says “come to me, I love you, I created you! But…you need to change a few things first. Stop being gay. Stop being addicted to porn. Cut your hair. Take out your earrings. And…those tattoos…yeah…about those.” I joke toward the end there but really. This is the type of God being preached.
The Jesus that is preached is a Jesus hanging on the Cross who points out what you did to Him. A loving God who says “I love you this much,” but in a way where you feel worthless; and as a result, despise His presence.
“All are Welcome [to the cross], but…you better be willing to feel like shit and hate everything about yourself when you get there.”
4) Modern Christianity has infiltrated American politics and as a result, become indistinguishable from a Political platform and ideology.
The early church began a revolution again a government system which worshiped its governmental institution as a God. We now have the “conservative right;” so associated with Christians and voting individuals that the heart of Christianity has become rife with the face of a political ideology. Modern Christians are associated with “conservative republican” officials, and vice versa. Gone are the days where Jesus says to political authorities “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But NOW (there’s that time reference again, as if what was ‘at hand’ is now present) my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18: 36)
Now however, we have Bill O’Reilly, Glen Beck, ALL of Fox News, Sarah Palin, Bush Jr., Jay and Jordan Sekulow and the ACLJ, Focus on the Family, and more which—by saying you are a Christian directly associates you with these political ideologies which seem more geared toward establishing the “Kingdom” on earth, than seeking the King.
Jesus said “for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world; to testify to truth. EVERYONE on the side of truth listens to me.”
Everyone on the side of truth. Are you for truth—be it in whatever form it comes in? Then you listen to Jesus. Whether you know it or not.
I read an online blog titled “On the Internet, Christianity is Losing By a Long Shot,” by Hemant Mehta—the “Friendly Atheist.” (you can find it here) In it, he comments on Josh McDowell’s statement
“The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not. Now here is the problem, going all the way back, when Al Gore invented the Internet [he said jokingly], I made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that’s exactly what has happened. It’s like this. How do you really know, there is so much out there… This abundance [of information] has led to skepticism. And then the Internet has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].”
So, this seems to pertain to both my points 3 and 4—as well as serve as a good transition into the heart and meat of my reasoning here.
This seems to be a mindset (both in, and a label from the outside of) in modern American Christians to seclude themselves, hide away from anything which may “challenge” their beliefs, and at the same time back and support a political system which carries the same values they’ve (the Church) has established to be good and right.
So here we come to it: Is this Christianity thriving in the world—and more specifically, the Nation of the United States?
I would posit that it’s not. Not only is it not relevant, it’s divisive, abusive, avoidant of Science and anything which may challenge “the Church,” fear that “faith” may be shaken or even “lost(appollumi…hmmm.),” encouraging a mentality that one should never question and seek for themselves, only listen to what is given to them by dogmatic leaders and other’s interpretations of scripture; and preaching from a platform that what is really important is to get in to Heaven and avoid Hell, at the same time reducing the sacrifice of Christ to a ticket out of the frying pan to those that ‘choose’ correctly—it reduces the fulfillment of the Law, back to Law.
It changes the Cross from something which—when we come to, makes us aware that we can never “make the mark” but that it’s okay, because Christ bridged whatever the gap may be; reducing it to a way to do right and avoid wrong.
It reduces “the fulfillment of the Law,” to “Law.”
Now as I said, there seems to be a movement, a revolution in Christianity today which is causing a lot of waves in the modern American Evangelical Church.
It has been viewed as a worse threat than Atheism and Skepticism. It has gone so far as to be labeled as “false prophets” sent to infiltrate the church and cause many to believe in lies. Sincerely, even I have been told (online) that my father is Satan and that just as he is able to take on the form of an “angel of light,” so I am able to come off as truthful and sincere when at the heart I’m there to cause others to fall into…well, the pits and throngs of Hell, I’m assuming. One article online has labeled this movement as the “no offense” Christianity. (Link here) An emergence of Christian believers who “water down” Christianity to make it easier for the world to handle, and through it all, are “less likely than their predecessors to draw non-negotiable lines in the sands of culture.”
Non-negotiable lines. Really. That those like Rob Bell and Chad Holtz and Peter Hiett and Jay Bakker and…well, those are the ones I’m most familiar with so we’ll stick to these; are simply “wishy-washy” believers who don’t really want to step on anyone’s toes and offend ‘the world’ so they avoid cut and dry, clear defined limits and boundaries to their “form of Christianity.”
Is it really that? Or is this “emergent liberal” form of Christianity—this “post-modern” inclusionist Gospel is part of a kingdom that is “not of this world?” Could it be that they are not “watering down” Christianity , but rejecting the dogmatic, religious, manmade values which were never instructed nor intended the “church” to be or have?
I posit this: Contrary to what Christianity preaches—namely, that WE HAVE THE WAY, we don’t.
WE DON’T HAVE THE WAY. THE WAY HAS US.
This revolution in Christianity isn’t stirring anything new; it’s prophetically encouraging a return to the old. A return to God, and who he is.
This revolution in Christianity doesn’t hide from science, philosophy or any thought which is non—or rather, extra-biblical; it is on the side of Truth. And finds truth everywhere. Out of every religion out there—Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Atheism (that’s right, it’s a religion. It takes just as much ‘faith’ to believe it, it follows a system and set of dogmas, it’s a religion), Skepticism, Science, etc., none have the audacity to claim to follow THE TRUTH. Christianity does. Other religions may say they have the words of truth, or a way to get to the truth, but only Christianity holds that it follows THE TRUTH.
As such, the truth that lay in Buddhism, what can the true Christian say? That truth in that non “Christian” area is Jesus!
The truth in Islam, what can the true Christian say? That truth is Jesus!
The truth in Judaism, what can the true Christian say? That truth is Jesus!
The truth found in any branch of Science, what can the true Christian say? That truth is Jesus coming through!
And even the ‘truth’ that lay in Atheism, what can the true Christian say? That truth is Jesus.
What does that mean for this generation? A generation that longs to seek, longs to know? Real Christianity isn’t about shutting yourself off from the world, but exploring it. It’s not about not asking questions, but about asking all you can. Faith isn’t trying to believe something you know isn’t true, but coming face to face with Truth, in the flesh, personified, in a way more real than you can ever know.
It means not having a connection between beliefs and government—in fact, it’s starting a revolution in the people—not the government, that stirs. That rises up and accepts being part of a kingdom that is both not and not yet, both here and not seen temporally and spatially.
It’s about knowing you are the last and the least—and so is everybody. But guess what. God is throwing a party because of it. That the lost are now found. You, me, everybody.
It means following a living Savior, not a dead (or dying) church leader, dogma, denomination. It means living according to the “Word” (Jesus) who is personal, and loving, and gives wisdom and knowledge when asked. Not turning the “Word” (Scripture) into a means of delegating right and wrong. That is TRUTH. So you are free to seek, free to question, free to be skeptical.
It means seeing truth, not choosing truth. It means that know it or not, like it or not, we are all saved. THAT’S REALITY.
It means that just as Heaven, the Kingdom, Jesus, are reality, Hell can be just as real—though it is not. Hell can be felt like cold, though it’s merely an absence of heat, seen like a shadow, though it is cast by light and is, in itself, an absence of light.
Hell can and has been felt by many of us, but it is not a place that is the other option for not “choosing” truth. Instead, it means believing that for God, all things are possible, and nothing is impossible. If it is possible for God to redeem all, and He wills to redeem all, then it seems that He may redeem all.
It means living in a Kingdom which is “NOW.” It means that eternity does not await us, but can start now. It means when Jesus stresses us to live as if it were “the end,” what he is really stressing is for us to live as if it’s the end of ourselves, and the beginning of “now,” the beginning of the Kingdom. It means we don’t have to look to the future in hopes of something great, or live worried that Jesus may come “like a thief in the night,” but to live as if every day were that beginning of eternity, in a present Kingdom that we all rule in (Ephesians 2:6).
It means that what has been interpreted as “commands” of Jesus (John 14:15; Acts 1:8; throughout the Gospels when He says, “Go and sin no more.”), are seen in the true light of Him who spoke them. What were thought to be commands are really promises. “You will be my witnesses…” (read as a promise, not as an imperative command); “you will go and [hamartia] no more;” “If you love me, you will keep my command.” It’ll just happen. We will quite simply be His witnesses; we will quite simply not be “sinful;” we will—without any obligation, keep His command.
And what was His command? (John 13:34) To love. “If you love me, you will love.”
It means loving all, and being loved. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” It’s about knowing love; and as the bible states it, knowing love is knowing God. It’s about taking and by implication, replacing all of the times where the word “love” is used, both in scripture and out (think beyond just 1 Corinthians 13), with God. It means knowing God will not say “you’re welcome, but…” instead saying “welcome home!”
And what does it mean to “believers” who are already “in the know?” Well, this is the area of choice. It means you choose to “believe” God’s story, or our own. In Luke (15), Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. Actually, the “lost” (appollumi) son. If you are not familiar with it, I encourage you to check it out, but what I want to focus on is the older brother. From verse 25 on we read how the older brother returns from working and comes near to the house and hears music and dancing. He’s at the party—or at least just outside it. It says he became angry and refused to go in. So his father went to him and pleads with him to join the party. He tells his father, essentially, that he “has been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders,” and points out how the father never gave him even a goat to celebrate with; but the lost son—who is a sinner and squanderer of all that the father gave him comes home, they throw a party. The father’s response to him is this: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
A couple of points stand out to me about this.
1) The older brother is at the party. Right there, he just chooses not to join. If heaven is a party for the lost, then Hell is choosing not to join. And who is more prone—according to this parable, to not join the party? Those that felt they have done no wrong ever. Those that are insulted and hurt by God’s grace on the lost, the destroyed. Those who think they have it figured out—those who claim to know and have “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
2) The father comes to the older brother and pleads. God comes to us even in those times and reasons and pleads and tries without making us, to join in the celebration.
3) The son’s response makes the father out to be a slave driver. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed orders.”
In the older brother’s mind, God is slave driver; someone who makes you do what’s right for fear of punishment or consequence. “Never disobeyed orders.” His view of God is a fearful one, and not a very good picture of a “father.” He also feels like all his work is slavish, in his mind, he needs to earn son-ship, by doing what is right and not disobeying. This sounds like many a believer who has a mindset of this world being nothing but God’s way of slavishly preparing us. And it is up to us to earn what we naturally are (that is, children of God).
In this mentality, he also holds himself higher than his brother. He is the brother that does no wrong. The Father should love him more. And yet, here the father is throwing a party for the returned “lost” brother. To him, his father’s love isn’t fair. He can’t see past his own pride to see the father’s love—nor his own hamartia. By focusing on all the things he’s done “right,” he’s lost sight of the father’s love of him even when he does “wrong,” just for the sheer fact that he is his father’s son.
4) The father’s response is simple and yet all encompassing. “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
Thus, it’s up to us to choose. Do we view the party through the paradigm of the older brother? Do we make ourselves out to be righteous? And in turn, make God out to be an unfair slave driver? Do we long to see things as crafted in “our story?” Where we earn God’s love, the party, by slaving away for God every chance we can? Or do we view things through God’s story? Where not only does He tell us, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours;” but that we recognize the “prodigal” in ourselves—the lost, the destroyed, in us, that God is throwing a party for?
It seems that when we make ourselves out to be nothing, Jesus becomes everything. And it becomes a party worth celebrating—both in eternity, and in the eternity now.
It seems when we are constantly reminded of the prodigal we (all of us—the world) are, the celebration becomes all the more sweet; and hearing God tell us “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours,” becomes all the more heartrending.
But when we choose to see and believe our version of the story, our love grows cold. We close off; we begin to long for a justice that makes us come out ahead. We long to have God tell us that we did right, and these others that did wrong—well, they’ll get theirs.
We let our love grow cold.
In Matthew 24, Jesus lays out what is coined the “signs of the end of the age.” And rather than go into all the meanings of “age,” “end,” etc, one thing stands out to me. Many quote verse 11 as a reference to the emergent “post-modern” form of Christianity which seems to be making its way like yeast in dough among the Nation; calling them (us) the “false prophets” who appear and deceive many people. I don’t want to get into a name blame here, I simply want to point out the following verse. “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”
I used to read that as saying with an increase of wickedness, comes a decrease of love. But in light of the parable of the prodigal son—and more specifically his older brother, it seems to me now that it should be read this way: “because of the increase of revealed sin—and the grace which covers those sins (rf. Romans 5: 20), the love of most will grow cold.” I feel as if the further we get away from Jesus, the Cross, and what Christ did for me, the further we fall into the snare of “what I do for Christ.” We lose sight of who first loved us, and covered us in love, to wash us clean, and we turn then to angry judgment passed on those who don’t “uphold” God’s Law, and “slave” for Him like we do.
The love grows cold.
Yet on the flip side. Suppose we stand firm, suppose we do not stop loving. We, who recognize that we are loved by God, and thus, continue to love.
Well then there’s the party. Yet therein also lay the all too present and hurtful truth of abandonment, hatred, aposunagogos. In John 16, Jesus says to the disciples after talk of the command of love that the church will flat out hate and despise them. He previously talks of the world “hating” the disciples, but the world does not control the synagogue—the church, the world does not believe in God. In verse 2 of chapter 16 Jesus says “They will put you out of the synagogue (Greek aposunagogos-lit. an adjective denoting “expelled from the congregation, excommunicated.”); in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”
The establishment of the modern American Evangelical Christian Church does not like to have its boat rocked. Further, it is very weary of anyone claiming to be Christians who do not follow their personal set of morals, dogmas, and values. And if you hold to what they have termed “Emergent” Christianity, or as I feel best describes it, “Inclusionist Christianity,” you better believe that the majority will “put you out of the synagogue.” Ask any of the aforementioned pastors (Rob Bell, Chad Holtz, Peter Hiett, Jay Bakker, etc.).
The church will crucify you.
But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe the ‘new wave’ of ‘Universalist-Inclusionist, non-existent Hell, watered down’ Christianity is more REAL than what’s been preached all these years could ever dream of.
Maybe this revolution of Christianity isn’t watered down. Maybe it’s us that get watered down. And it’s Christ that gets more concentrated, more real.
Maybe this new revolution of Christianity isn’t so much a revolution, but is really more a new REVELATION.