The New York post has an article today by Robert Goldberg which details the inadequacies of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring to market life-saving medications. If you are American, this article will only make you shake your head in disbelief at the way bureaucracy and antiquated thinking can stymie real progress. On the other hand I saw in this article an analogy to contemporary Christianity. Is it not also the case that huge swaths of Christianity are stuck in 19th century theology and burdened by denominational confessions, statements of faith, hierarchies of power, and spending endless sums of money administrating a failing institution?
I cannot help but think that Christianity is being shaken at her foundations. Many who feel these theological seismic quakes shudder in fear. The great institution with which they have identified is crumbling, brick by theological brick, wall by hierarchical wall. It may be true that Evangelicalism is being embraced by large numbers in Africa. It is also true that this is little more than a mimetic phenomenon where cultures that have more in common with the 14th century than the 21st will easily embrace a story of a violent god. On the other hand, Europe has been post-Christian since the post WW II period. In the US, Evangelical churches are losing members at a rapid rate, and the fall of those who rose so high highlights the problem of personality and celebrity driven Christendom. Christianity is changing!
Like the FDA, Christianity has a vested interest in slowing down the process of healing and health. Christendom has for the past 1,800 years relied on fear: fear of death, fear of hell, fear of being deemed a heretic, fear of sin, especially mortal sin, fear of the devil, fear of the out-of-ordinary, fear of judgment, fear of failure, and not least, fear of God. The Christian Churches have oft used fear as the tool by which to control the masses who became little more than a slave working force for an institution hell-bent on self-perpetuation. I am not only speaking of medieval Catholicism and Byzantized Orthodoxy, but also of Evangelical and ‘Protestant Orthodoxy’ and all of her illegitimate children, like Fundamentalism and the 40,000+ denominations and sects she has produced.
As long as the church was about fear of death and could control death, then she was a powerful money making machine. Once people saw through this clever charade, once the biblical meta-narrative was shaped in terms of God’s story (think Karl Barth, the salvation-historical school of the 1950’s, the biblical theology schools of the early 1970’s, the narrative theological movement of the 1980’s and 90’s), once HELL was challenged, once the PENAL substitution theory of atonement was challenged, once the problem of the ANGRY god stories of the Jewish Scriptures were challenged, and finally, once INERRANCY and INFALLIBILITY were shown to be poor definitions of such a multiphonic collection of texts (the Bible), in other words, once the four pillars of a retributive theology were challenged, then the walls started crumbling in a visible fashion.
The Gospel is not affected by the perils that beset Christendom. In fact, it is the Gospel that is causing these seismic shifts. Yes, it is the Gospel that is deconstructing all modern religion beginning with the house in which it was raised: Christianity. The non-sacrificial Gospel, the gospel of the nonviolent God, has broken through the pages of Holy Scripture with a clarity only glimpsed at before in the church’s long and storied history. Today, however, it is being proclaimed by scholars, bloggers, posters, clergy and preachers of all types. These same come from many different places and traditions within Christendom but they are all glimpsing a similar vision: that vision of Jesus as Peacemaker, as Lover of Humanity, as True Human.
As I read Goldberg’s article on the inadequacies of the FDA regarding Ebola, I could not help think of Christianity and the broken, the hurt, the marginalized, the beaten down, the abused, the impoverished. She drains what little resources the resourceless have and continues to preach worldviews rather than the gospel. She amasses great numbers but few disciples.
Well, at last this is crumbling in our lifetime, and it is God’s doing. Our God seeks to bring healing, not catastrophe, peace, not conflict, hope, not despair, life, not death to our world. The Gospel of the Nonviolent God, the Abba of Jesus, is indeed Good News. Sacrificial Christianity is having her Temple cleansed and she doesn’t like it one bit. Little wonder those who are sharing this good news are vilified, condemned, called every name under the sun (I have personal experiences of these things) and damned to perdition. Like the prophets of old, and the Lord Jesus, we are calling for mercy, not sacrifice.
To those who have left ‘the church’ or have become agnostics or atheists because there were too many unanswered questions and unsatisfactory answers in the Augustinian-Constantinian paradigm I say this: come hear the joyous news which all along deep down in your heart you dared not to believe. Yes, Virginia, there is a loving God. To those who are dissatisfied with the surface explanations, the piss-poor scholarship, the biased and arrogant stance of Theologians of Fear, I welcome you to the wonderful world of deep critical thinking, robust spirituality, all the while remaining within the orbit of that which has always been the heart of Christian theology: the beautiful vision of God as Trinitarian community revealed in the Forgiving Crucified Jesus.
To those of you who have put your trust in your theology, remember this. No one is saved by knowledge. No one is ever saved by believing correct doctrine. It is God that saves, not our IQ score. As Bernard Ramm once told us in class “God has to forgive our theology just like he forgives our sin.” If you really desire to be free, if you really long to know Jesus, if your heart is begging you to let go of fear and embrace God’s Love in Jesus, then do so. Don’t look back. Leave the building…before it falls down around you.