Nevertheless, conservative evangelical Christianity is spreading in Africa and in the other parts of the world because it is truth, yes, but mainly because it provides the rigid structure, the rules and requirements, the firm creeds and doctrines, that human beings crave. It replaces the gray tones that inherently exist in life with stark blacks and whites, and this is comforting.
I am going to suggest, however, that we can't accept church growth, an increase in our numbers, as the only indicator of the health of the global church. Just because something is growing doesn't mean it's healthy. I often think of the most successful exports of American culture that I've seen as I've traveled around the world. As many readers will affirm, it's not pretty. Sometimes the memes that catch on are precisely those we are most embarrassed about.
But the problem is deeper than a choice between different expressions of Christianity. The kind of doctrinaire religious expression that spreads so easily around the world actually misses the point of the Gospel. In his response to the Brooks column mentioned above, Andrew Sullivan wisely identifies the problem, "Fundamentalism, in this sense, is not a rigorous theology. It is rigid resistance to a rigorous theology. It's a form of denial and despair. It is rigorous only within a theological structure that does not account for the growth and expansion of human knowledge. It is therefore, to my mind, an expression of a lack of faith rather than an excess of it."
The question that remains, then, is this: Can we return the mystery to Christianity, can we celebrate the ambiguities, and work together to forward the Gospel despite differences in theology? Or, will we continue to export a rigid brand of Christianity that answers humanity's modern desire for certainty and our eternal desire for order, but looks more and more like American culture, and less like the culture of the early church?
I echo my call from last week for progressive/post-evangelicals to turn their attention outward, to the global church. We have a reading of the Gospel that is desperately needed around the world. It may be more difficult to offer the truth without the comforts associated with rigid laws, but, I am suggesting, it is something more akin to the good news that Jesus charged us with sharing.