This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that must die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
First off, I want to thank all those who contributed to the (Re)Imagining Christianity blog series. The past two months have been filled with some wonderful conversations here on this blog. Some of my favorite have included Lars Rood on why we need younger voices in the church, Sarah Bessey musing on the practice of testimony, Bethany Stolle saying we need to get rid of nostalgia, and John Vest calling for the death of everything that makes Christianity an institution.
I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to contribute to this series as it ends, and I’ve spent the past couple days pondering what needs to die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years. My answer? Theological orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy was a big thing in college when I was a religion major. It was very important to many of us to make sure we had the most “orthodox” perspective on a certain theological issue. Saying that one person had the “orthodox” position was synonymous with saying that person was “right” and everyone else was wrong.
And that doesn’t seem to be something that’s really going to help Christianity flourish in the coming future. Right belief may have been a priority in the past, but as we move toward an understanding of belonging, behavior, belief, it appears that something else has replaced belief as the priority component of Christian faith that more churches should probably be focusing on.
“Faith is resurgent, while dogma is dying. The spiritual, communal, and justice-seeking dimensions of Christianity are now its leading edge…A religion based on subscribing to mandatory beliefs is no longer viable.”
Diana goes on to quote another friend and theologian, Dwight Friesen, who says that “Jesus had no interest in orthodoxy, but rather offered his followers ‘a full and flourishing human life.‘”
As a pastor who works with children, youth and college students, I’m not so much concerned that they have theological orthodoxy, or right beliefs, but that they are seeking, doubting, asking questions, engaging with the story of God, and more importantly, living lives that seek to follow the way of Jesus the Christ.
Think what would happen if conservative (theologically) parents decided it was more important to love their LGBT son or daughter than trying to make a theologically orthodox argument about why it’s wrong for them to be the person whom God created?
Think what would happen if all the churches in your town became less concerned with theological orthodoxy, and became more concerned with how they could unite and work toward bringing about God’s shalom to your community?
Think what would happen if the churches and interest groups in your denomination decided it was less important to take each other to “church court” and more important to actually join together and find new ways to reach out to people in our nation and world who feel hurt and betrayed by a church that claims to bear the good news of the Gospel?
Okay, I can already hear some of you. “There you go! We knew it! All of this progressive/emergent theology is nothing but theological relativism. You don’t have any respect for the word of God!”
Does this mean anything goes? Perhaps it sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but I don’t think this necessarily means anything goes. I think there are some beliefs that are hateful, hurtful, incorrect and not synonymous with the love and grace of Jesus. There are probably some times when we need to do some redirection, theologically.
But I think this frees us from theologically policing our children, youth, college students and congregation members. If people are truly striving to live out the gospel, to share the love and grace of Jesus Christ with others in their lives, to embody the shalom of God in the world with all people….I think it’s probably okay if someone decides there’s no hell, someone else struggles with predestination and someone else doubts the Jesus is the only way to salvation.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that we must hold onto and live out more fully so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
However, it’s not just about what needs to die in order for Christianity to truly impact the world in the future. There is plenty about our faith that causes Christians to do so much to work towards God’s kingdom. I think the one thing we must hold onto is the idea that we are able to partner with God, to become co-creators in this world.
Unfortunately, there is a lot that has, over the years, caused Christianity to become viewed as a somewhat passive religion. Our Sunday morning worship doesn’t help much, as we ask people to come to church, sit (and stand, from time to time) and hear music, hear choirs sing to them, listen to beautifully-crafted prayers and sit and passively receive a sermon from the “expert” in the room. There isn’t much that happens on a Sunday morning in many of our churches that is particularly active.
However, embracing this idea that we are called to partner with God and work toward helping to bring about God’s kingdom is an active, engaged, wholistic concept. The missional church has helped to bring this idea to the forefront with the idea of focusing on God’s mission. It’s not that each and every church needs to get together and create their own mission statement. No, it’s about looking for where God is already active in the world and look to find new ways to join in God’s mission.
If we, on a regular basis, find ways to continually remind people of the active nature of our faith, I think that might help create a more vibrant and expressive version of our faith. We might see that people can more readily get behind a faith that calls us to act, instead of simply agreeing to a list of doctrines and beliefs that are “theologically orthodox.”
Adam Walker Cleaveland: I write this blog.