Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Steady, Relentless Faith - Thoughts on Christian Tolerance

We tend to be creatures who run most of our lives on "autopilot", barely conscious of our selves, the nature of our relationships, God above or any other thought-worthy occupation.

Yet our fast slipping culture is always about the business of creating something of a reaction in the minds of Christians, both conscious and unselfconscious. This is often precisely the point when the Church gets into trouble. Being yet short of her ultimate goal, "without spot or blemish", she betrays that all-too-human character trait of imbalance, of running to extremes and making sudden assumptions of self-immutability (think of Y-2k).

A major example of this tendency toward overreaction is when the culture was slipping rapidly in the period 1890-1945 or so. Post-Darwin, post-Enlightenment, post-Industrial Revolution and post 2nd Great Awakening, we needed a new theology. And the progressive theological establishments in Europe (especially Germany) were more than happy to oblige.

As the liberal theological debates intensified into the 1920s, a major movement was born which eventually embraced the moniker of Christian Fundamentalism. This reactionary movement, combining the revivalism of the Finney era, the camp and conference movement of the western frontier expansion, along with its step-child Premillenialism became a spiritual retreat from the culture, became anti-culture, and eventually became something of a ghetto into which the faithful retreated in order to protect and preserve that which they believed were the non-negotiable "fundamentals" of the Christian faith. The self-described character trait of "faithful" which they embraced was seen as "intolerant" by the larger culture undergoing slippage.

This Fundamentalism resulted in an encased, closed-minded, inbred expression of the "way true of Jesus", to the neglect and ignorance of the "true way of Jesus". Correct doctrine and being "right" trumped all. Thus american Christianity split into two thought streams - the Fundamentalists with the trademark "we are right, the whole world is wrong, and we really don't care that much about love, thank you", and the reaction to Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism in it's varied, shifting forms, always seeking to become more "relevant" to the culture, usually by conforming itself to it.

Progressive strains of Evangelicalism, in an attempt to be relevant to the culture, tend to morph into something amorphous, edge-less, with few boundaries and void of the "saltiness" that Jesus declared without which, you become "useless to men".

Somewhere in the middle of these two streams is truth - a Jesus-shaped tolerance and relevance that is, if nothing else, steady as it is relentless.

In the face of fast-paced cultural slippage ("Progressivism"), the place of the believer is not to react in fear, pulling out of the marketplace, taking our toys and hiding in our Christian ghettos hoping the thing will blow over. Nor is it to wave a big banner of "I'm a Christian, but I'm okay- I don't believe like the others! I like Che Guavara!", etc, etc.

The truth is in-between, in the way that Jesus walked, which in the end is not hard to determine. He blasted the "fundamentalists" of His day. When He even mentioned a place called Hell it was in the context of these two types of characters: the established, unteachable religious class and those who acknowledged truth, but allowed the "saltiness" and the hard edges to be ground to nothing. So while he certainly was no hide-your-head-in-the-sand Fundamentalist, neither was he an Occupy Movement loving progressive making sure the culture was aware that He was not like those other "mean-spirited" Christians, so intolerant.

A Jesus-shaped tolerance comes with maturity, reflection and a steady, relentless faith. Such can go neither to the bunker with the Fundamentalists, nor let the teeth of the "salty" elements of the Gospel slip through in an effort to be politically correct, "cool" and accepted by the culture.

A steady, relentless faith, alive, awake, and genuine, is a Jesus-shaped faith marked by love, compassion, hope AND truth.

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