Who Took the "Christ" out of "Christian"?
Thursday, December 31, 2009
I recently read a blog by my daughter, Jenny, that touched me greatly. I asked permission (and recieved it) to post it here.
Very thought-provoking. I think I'll join her in the reading of the Gospels...again. It's all about Him!!!
Who Took the "Christ" out of "Christian"?
I've been thinking a lot lately about what it really means to be a Christian, and about the challenges of being or calling oneself a Christian in American society. As a missionary kid in Liberia, I had friends from many different nations, cultures, and faiths, and was faced early with the fact that many good, devout people believed very differently than I did. The sincerity and devotion of my Muslim, Buddhist, and Jain friends challenged me. They held tight to the doctrines they were taught from infancy, lived out their faith in the ways prescribed by their sacred books and cultures.
I couldn't help but wonder, was I any different? I had been born to Christian parents in the backwoods of Wisconsin, and I believed in Jesus with all my heart. But if I had been born in Taiwan, like my friend Yu-San, would I be a Buddhist? If I had been born in the Cameroon, like my friend Mohammed, would I be a Muslim?
The answer made me uncomfortable. I figured that if I was going to ask Yu-San or Mohammed to reconsider their beliefs, to be willing to chuck everything they had been taught by the people they loved the most out the window, I had better be willing to do the same. To ask questions. To regard my culture with a critical eye. To be willing to temper my "worldview" with as much logical and emotional distance as I could muster.
That was a very good thing, a refining and refocusing of my faith. And honestly, I think this is an area where "third culture kids," children who are raised in a culture that is not their own, have an advantage. They are the perpetual outsiders, savvy anthropologists who don't fit into their home or host cultures (whichever is which). Everyone sees the world through their own pair of glasses, the lenses focused by education, experience, and cultural expectations--it's just that third culture kids tend to have several pairs lying around, and find it easier to change them at will.
Anyhow. Fast forward twenty years, to a sleepy little county in Northern Wisconsin. Churches abound, their libraries stocked with books on developing a "Christian worldview" (invariably written by evangelical Protestant males of European descent). Christian novels, Christian newspapers, Christian music, Christian tee-shirts, Christian dietary supplements (?!) are everywhere. Politicians on both sides of the aisle season their speeches with oblique allusions to their Christian faith, in the hopes that if they can just brush the hem of Jesus' garment, some of his glory will rub off on their agendas. And while not everyone in Douglas County, Wisconsin would claim to be a Christian, there are precious few of them who would claim to be anything else, a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist.
My question is, how is it possible to be a Christian in a place like this? How is it possible to tell the difference between your faith and your culture when they are, for all intensive purposes, one and the same? I'm overstating the point, obviously, but our preconceptions of what it means to be a Christian are HUGE. Do we assume Christians talk a certain way? Vote a certain way? Dress a certain way? Drink (or not drink!) a certain way? If we're honest, most of us would question the salvation of a man seen swigging alcohol at a party with prostitutes. Good thing Jesus didn't need to be saved.
If we strip away the preconceptions, take off our glasses and try our hardest to step outside our carefully crafted worldview, what are we left with? Is it enough? Is your faith built on the shifting sand of cultural Christianity, on what you've heard at church, from loved ones, on Christian media or from the latest Beth Moore Bible study? If those same sources told you something different, would you believe differently?
Or is your faith built on something that doesn't change, on the salvation of God through the person of Jesus, as revealed through scripture?
It's not an easy question to answer, and it can be hard to see Jesus through the religion that sprung up around him. I struggle with this constantly--I even struggle to remember to struggle, to keep searching for more and more of God instead of settling into the warm, familiar comfort of American "churchianity." But I am afraid that the American church has been lulled to sleep by a false sense of security, that instead of running the race with perseverance, we're playing the hare and hunkering down for a theological snooze, certain of our innate superiority and inevitable victory.
I guess what I'm really asking is have we put our faith in Jesus, or have we put our faith in Christianity? And which would we choose if (and when) the two are at odds?
If you're not sure you can tell the difference between the two, a good place to start would be by reading the Gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--in long, uninterrupted hunks, so you can get a sense of the big picture unfolding in each book, instead of little snatches of verses read out of order and out of context. Study Jesus--viewing the church through the lens of the Gospels, instead of vice-versa, can be very enlightening. I'm going to be kicking off my 2010 Bible reading with another pass through the Gospels, to refresh my focus on the person of Jesus. It's just so, so easy to lose sight of him...