Thursday, March 15, 2012

Theological Mumbo Jumbo

I've always been fascinated by the concept of religionless Christianity as proposed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German pastor and professor, who led the "confessing church" as a protest to the mainstream church that sold out to Hitler during his rise. He continues to be one of the foremost thinkers to influence my own understanding of Christian life.

Unfortunately, Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis before he really had a chance to flesh out these ideas in practice. Lately, a host of young Christians are beginning to explore what it means to be faithful to a lived out gospel in our present cultural context.

Peter Rollins is an Irish philosopher and author who is exploring, in thought and practice, exactly what it looks like to participate in religionless Christianity. I've found a lot in his writing and speaking, that has caused me to think about what it means to believe and what it means to be a Christian.

His basic premise is that belief comes not from what we say we believe, but from how we act. The fault of religion, at least in this context, is that it spends too much time and energy on what to believe and not nearly enough on actually believing/living it. We should be constantly challenged by God, through scripture - the story of God, but this should be means to an end and not an end in itself.

The idea of Christianity is to be formed in the image of Christ. Our participation in Christianity should be engagement in practices that allow God to shape us into the people we're created to be. In the scope of modern, intellectual understanding these became condensed into listening and reading - hearing sermons and studying books about belief. Don't get me wrong, I'm an intellectual whether I like it or not, these practices are important; they're just insufficient.

They help us understand and recognize the beliefs we should hold - they're wonderful at developing intellectual assent, a powerful element of self-realization. What they lack, is the physical, formational ability required for true belief. There are some of us, motivated by intellectual assent, who will change our habits and thus exercise belief. Speaking strictly for myself, I just don't have the discipline to do so.

As we embark on this Grand Experiment, we'll be seeking to fully discern and implement these practices in ways that shape and form us into the kind of community we seek. Some of these make sense when it's just the three of us (along with the wife and baby): like serving in local community organizations, sharing a meal with friends, enjoying creation, helping those in need, etc. Other practices are more difficult - corporate worship for example.

The biggest question I have, one we'll have to wrestle with as we go, is how to maintain Christ as the center point around which these practice revolve. Obviously, Christ is central for us, but as we engage people in practices not traditionally or exclusively associated with Christian practice (service, creation care, etc), will we be able to effectively communicate our motivation and framework?

We shall see.


J. Thomas said...

Christianity seems particularly vulnerable to this disconnect between the things we believe conceptually, and the things we do practically. Whether we're considering the Protestant emphasis on salvation by grace alone through faith alone, or the Roman Catholic emphasis on the purification available through confession, or even the Greek Orthodox emphasis on simple presence and participation in the Christian community, it seems that Christianity, perhaps due to the message of the Gospel itself, leaves embodiment up to the discretion and willful participation of believers to a much larger degree than some other faith systems. Perhaps apart from legislating and enforcing specific embodiments, which I would not support, this is a reality the Church must deal with perpetually.

Ryan said...

Yeah, I'm learning more and more that what seems "right" or "better" in terms of faith practice is generally related to that aspect of lived faith that has been lacking.

The things I grew up with and defined my early faith are those things I tend to take for granted; I long for other aspects I haven't experienced as much.

The most important aspect, I guess, is that we're communities of Christ who continually seek to embody the gospel.