Saturday, June 2, 2012

“Christian” Ideas that Aren’t (6)


1.    “I’m more of a New Testament Christian.”
2.    “The Old Testament is legalistic and about law; the New Testament is about love and grace.
3.    “God helps those who help themselves.”
4.    “Those who do not work should not eat.”
5.    “Minds are like umbrellas.  They work best when open.”
6.    “My faith is private/personal and nobody else’s business”

This is one of the gold-plated, top shelf, 100% guaranteed “truths” of “Christian” faith in our country.  Almost every stripe of “Christian” endorses it (save perhaps those pesky Fundamentalists and flaky Charismatics who seem to think it might matter to others what we believe).

I believe the Fundamentalists and Charismatics on this one! 

And all of us ought to as well!

Now I’m not talking about what they believe, the content of their theology.  There’s much that’s questionable with them on that score.  But that it might matter to others what we believe, and that we share those beliefs with others in the church as well as outside, is something we can learn from them.

You see, there’s no such thing as a “private” (or “personal” if that’s your word for private) faith.  And that’s because there’s no such thing as a private/personal me!

In our culture we are taught to think of ourselves and others as billiard balls rolling around on a pool table.  As such an entity, we are fully self-sufficient, a complete billiard ball by and unto ourselves.  Occasional contact with other balls on the table is inevitable, but while they may change our direction, they do not change us.  These contacts do not in any way constitute who we are.  As such “persons” we can indeed have a “private” faith, shared with God alone.

In Christian faith, however, persons are never thought of as “private” in this way.  Instead, we are constituted by our relationships with God and others.  We are more like those models we used to make of molecules in high school chemistry class.  We connected small Styrofoam balls with toothpicks or pipe cleaners to model the different elements connected together to form molecules.  Who you are matters to me, and to who I am and will become.  And vice versa.  We are “members of one another” (Rom.12:5), as Paul puts it.  Thus it matters what I believe, and that I share my faith, my relationship to God, with you, and you with me.  This network of relatedness is what we call “personal,” what makes us persons, and it is never private.  This is the reality and richness of our lives.

So our cultural consensus plays us false here.  Unless our “faith” is merely a set of religious beliefs we hold as true, to withhold our relationship with God from others and them theirs from us is tantamount to depriving ourselves of what we most need to survive and thrive as God’s beloved creatures.

And is it not such life-giving, life-sustaining connectedness with God in and through others that many are seeking today (whether they know it or not)?  Christian faith is personal, that is, it entails each of us embracing our identity and calling in Christ and together living that identity and calling in the world.  But it is never private.  A private “God/Jesus and me” faith is neither Christian or personal, and to that degree, at least, seriously sub-Christian.

Any wonder few are attracted to what we offer them as “Christianity” these days? 

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