The church – is it even Christian?

the nature of God?

christian churchSometimes being a Christian is odd for me. Maybe because I spent over a decade away from the church, pretty much the entire 1970s, I am able to see the other side.

In Anything But Christian: Why Millennials Leave the Church, the author, Emma Cooper, notes: “Hello, friends. We’re not apes, you know. The reason we’re staring blankly back is that, frankly, we’re insulted. We don’t want coffee. We don’t want multi-colored stage lights.
“We want Jesus.
“And we can’t find Him in your churches.”

That’s a stinging indictment. It always reminds me of the description Tom Lehrer uses, “Sell the product,” in the introduction to The Vatican Rag over a half-century ago.

Another piece: Let’s Stop Pretending Christianity Is Even “Christian” Anymore. “The vast majority of Christians can’t even explain the main tenet of their faith and look very little like their founder. Why?”

Benjamin Sledge posits that people believe: “God is a cosmic genie or butler who gives you Werther’s Original candies — much like your WWII vet grandad did — as long as you’re nice.” Yeah, too often that DOES seem to be the case. Inoffensive, non-threatening pablum that talks a lot and says nothing.

I find myself surprisingly agreeing with Scott Sullivan, a conservative theologian:

“There’s something that gets under my skin… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone object to doctrines like Divine Simplicity or even just arguments for God’s existence by saying this…

“‘I don’t need all that theology, my Bible is all I need to know my God.’

“First, that’s a theological statement. Second, it’s also pretty bad theology. Here’s the deal, and it’ll probably be pretty controversial: The Bible was not written in isolation from the Church nor is it written systematically to explain doctrine.”

This is why I tend to be mystified with literal believers in the Bible. It makes no sense to me. I’ve read the Bible at least thrice all the way through, the KJV in 1977-8, the RSV in the mid-1980s, and the NIV in 1996-7. I’m overdue for another pass, probably the NRSV.

Sullivan notes, correctly, “It’s mostly narrative, history, and written letters. Even Paul’s letters, which contain a lot of instruction, focus more on the moral implications of Christian doctrines. Where do we find a systematic break down of the nature of God?

“There aren’t any extended doctrinal explanation of essential Christian doctrines like the Trinity or the Incarnation. Rather, there are bits and pieces of these doctrines scattered throughout Scripture and received clarification with its gradual unpacking by great thinkers throughout the history of the Church.”

Sullivan is fond of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. His larger point is this: “We would be fools to reject 2,000 years of reflection on what natural reason and Divine Revelation tell us about the nature of God.”

For me, this verse from Jeremiah 29 speaks to me: “Thus says the Lord of hosts. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Even though it’s Old Testament scripture, it feels like the message of a New Testament Jesus.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

4 thoughts on “The church – is it even Christian?”

  1. Wow. Thank you Roger, as i get ready to go to what i believe, is a Jesus based church in the city.

  2. “We’re not apes, you know.”
    Well, yeah, we are. A particular breed of apes, but it’s pretty clear that we’re cousins to the other primates, but with a lot more hubris.
    I think what religious people get out of it is mostly what they EXPECT to get, a self-fulfilling prophesy. If they want support, they find it. If they want guidance, they can finD it. If they want EXCUSES for questionable behavior, it’s thete too.
    I don’t believe in the supernatural, so my perspective is secular. I see the Old Testament as oral history transformed by mythology, and the letters of the apostles as culturally-biases. Revelation, as a bad trip, man. But a secular reading of the gospels, much as Thomas Jefferson’s edited version, has good advice by the Nazarean as to how people can better treat each other, parables that amplify the Golden Rule. And that’s a good thing, and I do reflect on the Beaitudes, and the Good Samaritan as to how I shoukd live my life in human society. But the “reward” of resurrection or punishment of hellfire? Nah. They provide no benefit to trying to lead a good life and only inspire occasional nightmares.

  3. Abraham’s genius was not in the details. It was a recognition that creation wasn’t the result of an assortment of competing entities, but a single, conflicted, multi-faceted one whose sets of rationale, natural law, mathematical sequences, emotional bursts and so forth were simply not going to line up to the narrative Abraham chose to use to make all of this clear. Believing in all of that as a Godless coincidence is preferable to reducing God’s creation to a clever 900-word narrative.

    If Jesus at all trumps Abrahamic theology, it is in his disassociation of faith practice from nationalism. If Christianity has one central flaw, it is to ignore that separation. New Covenant: Continously prove you love God by seeing God in your neighbor’s face and being God’s hands in how you treat your neighbor. Love your neighbor, not your neighborhood.

    Nothing in the Bible can be used to justify a superstitious believe that its Text is any more than a quadrant of a spiritual search. (That from John Wesley, whose quadrangle involved Scripture, apostolic authority, but also reason and personal inspiration.)

    We never make greater mistakes than when we think what we know reflects something absolute.

  4. Steve – I ABSOLUTELY agree with your last sentence. I was a Methodist longer than I was a Presbyterian, so I recognize the quadrilateral as useful. Uthaclena – by “not apes”, I think the quotation referred to how church people, DESPERATE for new members, seem to treat the visitors as creatures that they want to be able to show that they’ve brought into their zoo. “We are still relevant!”

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