When Christianity comes across as dull

The redoubtable Anthony Sacramone tells about how he was influenced–indeed, evangelized–by  C. S. Lewis.

Mr. Sacramone had gone through through a Lutheran parochial school, learned the Catechism, was confirmed.  But, like many young people, he left all of that behind as soon as he could.  Christianity, he says, “seemed so small, constricting, even petty.”  He became an atheist, but in the course of researching a story idea, he stumbled upon Lewis, who “made Christianity bigger than anything I could imagine.”  Later, he came back to Lutheranism.

Read about this after the jump, and then I want to pose some questions.   Christianity has mind-blowing teachings–the infinite God becoming a man, then taking the evil of the world into Himself and resolving it by dying and rising again and offering free forgiveness and everlasting life–so how in the world is it possible to make them seem dull?   I mean, I can see why someone might not believe it, but how can Christianity be so poorly presented that it  seems “small, constricting, even petty”?  And yet somehow that’s the way it comes across to many people, especially young people brought up in the church.  This is surely a communication fail of the highest magnitude. 

From Anthony Sacramone, On This Day 50 Years Ago, a Great Man of God Fell Asleep | Strange Herring.  Please click the link and read his whole story.  Here is the climax:

You see, growing up, Christianity seemed so small, constricting, even petty, and my dreams were so big. But Lewis made Christianity bigger than anything I could imagine. I was looking for the Will to Power. Lewis pointed to the Way of Powerlessness, which, in his construal of the Faith, offered so much more in this life and the next. It was a Faith that could not only produce great art but was Art—God re-creating a new humanity in his son. It was a Faith that could integrate the latest scientific pronouncements into its great narrative without flinching, because the Earth and its history were also God’s work. It was a Faith that could not only make sense of my life’s story but that was the story behind all stories. It was both fantastic and the ground of all reality.

C.S. Lewis was the first Christian to convince me that Christianity was too good to be false.

How is it that Christianity can come across as small, petty, and boring?  Is this a failure of the imagination on the part of the teacher or the learner or both?  How can we change that?  We could make confirmation students read C. S. Lewis, I suppose, but what is it C. S. Lewis does that pastors and other teachers could also be doing?

Let me propose some reasons:  (1)  Adolescents associate the church with their parents and find them “small, constricting, and petty.”  (2)  Adolescents want to have sex, and Christianity would restrict that.  (3)  For adults too, as Victor Schlovsky has shown, familiarity can make us stop noticing and appreciating what we have.  Art and literature, says Schlovsky–which would include books by C. S. Lewis–can “defamiliarize” our experience, enabling us to increase our perception of what we have learned to ignore.  (4)  Catechesis is often reduced to rote memorization–which adolescents find tedious and unpleasant (whereas if they tried it when they were in the first few grades they would enjoy it and be good at it)–with not enough attention to “what does this mean?”

What else?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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