Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?

Last week as I was having coffee with friends, I mentioned that I was really enjoying Philip Yancey’s book Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church (2001). One of my friends didn’t know who Yancey is.
Yancey (b. 1949), I explained, is a widely read Christian author who has written often for Christianity Today. My friend then asked this rhetorical question: Isn’t that a rather conservative magazine?
In response I told him how Eric Rust, my esteemed seminary professor, referred to it as “Christianity Yesterday.” (An article in it had criticized Dr. Rust, accusing him of being a liberal.)
CT’s 60th Anniversary
The next day I opened the new issue of CT, as it is often called, and saw that it was the 60th anniversary edition. After awaking from a dream in 1953 and feeling led to found a new Christian magazine, Billy Graham was successful in getting the first issue of CT published in October 1956.
I was impressed with the cover of the new anniversary issue: the picture of a painting by Makoto Fujimura, the Japanese-American artist I recently introduced (see here). The painting’s title is “Grace Remains—Nard,” based on Mark 14:6-9. 
"Grace Remains -- Nard" by Makoto Fujimura
Through the past 60 years I have read CT off and on. For several years now have been getting an email from CT almost daily with links to articles and other information. I have mixed feelings, however. There is some good and helpful stuff, but at other times I agree with Dr. Rust: it seems like Christianity yesterday.


The “Radiant Center”
My positive feelings toward CT are because of people like Yancey, who is still one of the fourteen “editors at large.” It is hard to find fault with people like him. He is the author of the scintillating book What’s So Amazing About Grace? (1997), and he, among several others, has written many superlative articles for CT.
In Soul Survivor Yancey tells about writing the cover story for a 1983 issue of CT. It was about Gandhi. Yancey remarked that he “was not prepared for the volume of hate mail the article generated” (p. 171). Many of his conservative readers thought he/they should not praise a “heathen” (non-Christian) so profusely.
In my book The Limits of Liberalism (2010), I call for seeking Christianity’s “radiant center,” between the extremes of fundamentalism and liberalism. In many ways Christianity Today, and certainly Philip Yancey, is a good example of a publication, and a person, in that center—although the magazine would definitely be on the right side of the center.
Beautiful Orthodoxy
The cover story of the new issue is “Beautiful Orthodoxy,” which is also the title of editor Mark’s Galli’s short new book, which I’ve just read. The book wasn’t bad, but I was a bit disappointed in it.
To the degree that Galli and others editors at CT thinks that “beautiful orthodoxy” and Christianity today requires blanket condemnation of any abortion by any woman and the denigration of LGBTQ people, I’m afraid it needs to considered “Christianity yesterday.”
The growing percentage of the “nones” in American society is not so much because of their rejection of “orthodox” Christian doctrines but rather because of the condemnatory, intolerant, and judgmental attitudes of purveyors of traditional Christianity.
While I take great exception with much of what Bishop John Shelby Spong writes—he is an example of the liberal extreme—I do think he makes a valid point in his 1998 book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die.

We need a Christianity today that focuses on meeting current challenges rather than just seeking to preserve yesterday’s ideas and practices.

7 comments:

  1. A local Thinking Friend who, like me, attended The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and who taught at a SB seminary, writes,

    "Leroy. Of late, I've shied away from center/right/left issues. But I would like to see your book on liberalism. Sounds like Yancey is a tribute to moving thought along. And I loved Eric Rust's assessment. . . . He clearly was one of our best thinkers."

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago writes,

    "Thanks as always, Leroy, for your provocative comments.

    "On Tuesday, a friend and I visited the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette, a suburb of Chicago. It is a very impressive edifice and worth a visit. Baha'ism was founded in Iran in the nineteenth century by Mirza Husayn-Ali (known as Baha'u'llah to Baha'is). There are only about five million Baha'is worldwide and 155,000 in the U S.

    "A pamphlet from the Temple lists the 'core principles' of the Baha'i faith:

    "Oneness of humanity and dignity of every human being
    "Freedom from prejudice
    "Equality of men and women
    "Spiritual solution to economic problems
    "Commitment to education and the search for truth
    "Harmony of faith, reason and science
    "Highest moral standards

    "Most liberal Christians can agree with this set of principles. One would hope that these are the principles of the future, not yesterday."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for once again adding substantial comments to the blogsite, Eric.

      It may be as far back as the 1980s, but there was a woman who was briefly an adjunct professor at the university in Japan where I taught who told me that she had been "saved" in a Billy Graham Crusade as a young woman. But, she said, she became disillusioned with that form of Christianity so had been an adherent of Baha'i for the previous several years.

      The church June and I are members of would be able, easily, to affirm all the "core principles" of Baha'i, in addition to specifically Christian beliefs. If the women I just mentioned had been in a church like ours, seeking to embrace Christianity today that is moving toward the future, she likely would not have felt the need to embrace a different faith system.

      Delete
  3. An interesting take. I have never considered that "Christianity Today" was an emphasis on the dynamic of "Today" rather than the foundation of Christ in "Christianity". I am no longer convinced that there is a "radiant center" to the Church. Arrogance, acrimony, bitterness, shunning, and excommunication seem to be the norm, not love or welcome. (By keeping one's mouth shut, beliefs to oneself, and learning the pertinent rituals, one can fit in most places - "When in Rome...". But how long can one pose a facade? Having been burned by the novel doctrinaires of the western Church which so frequently divides, I am thankful to be settling into the traditional orthodoxy of the eastern Church, with its grace (and yes, I have been burned by the Greek Orthodox as well).

    The Orthodox emphasis of the Church is, "We know where Christ is, but not where He isn't."

    Thankfully there can be friendships outside of, and in spite of religion. Yancy makes a good run at grace, and I recommend the book.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I read Bishop Spong's book some years ago, and remember being surprised that his basic argument was not around a list of needed changed, but rather a careful observation of how the church was already changing. Personally, I believe the church has always been changing, as has the society around it. In biology this is called evolution. Part of this evolution is the tendency to always create new options moving forward, options which frequently get tangled up with other options. It was true in the days of Paul, when he lamented the divisions in the church. It was true in the days of Jesus, when Judaism was divided into Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and even those secular tax collectors. The early church laid down markers of "orthodoxy," but large numbers of Christians went separate ways. For instance, when Augustine became bishop of Hippo, the Donatists outnumbered the orthodox in his community. What he did as the representative of the Roman Catholic Church was far more Roman than Christian. He laid the foundation for what later became known as the Inquisition. In time the cultural and theological differences between east and west lead to the formal split between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Then five hundred years ago the Protestant Reformation opened the way to many more divisions.

    The prophet Joel said "...I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days , I will pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:28-29) It is not an easy time for the church when all this happens. Whether the spirit pours out abolitionism or pentecostalism, liberalism or fundamentalism, these are constant and varied challenges to the church. When the shock of the new is too great, a total rupture can happen, as when secular humanism emerged from a frustrated evangelical liberalism. It is always a challenge to find new being and orthodox grounding all at the same time.

    My own church is in the process of reviewing an historic Baptist principle, believers baptism, as it applies to adult transfers from other denominations that practice infant baptism. We are collectively reading through a book on the subject, and will later consider what if any changes we will approve. Several former Methodists in the church have spoken up in the process, and used words like "confusion" to explain their re-baptism experiences. Personally, I have lived with a parallel confusion because I was allowed to join many years ago on my statement of faith and prior baptism. I was born across the river, among the Saints in Zion, and when it comes to baptism they were full-throated Baptists. Of course, when I walked the aisle I was laying the heavy burden of Joseph Smith, Jr. and the golden plates on the altar, and by coming on my prior baptism, I was declining to pick up the equally heavy burden of Rev. Criswell and the original autographs. The church I joined was still struggling with the aftermath of nineteenth century Landmarkism, and the church I was leaving (RLDS) was struggling with the aftermath of nineteenth century Mormonism. I was dangerously liberal enough to jump from one to the other, as readers of this blog may have noticed.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Would you mind if I quoted part of your response? :
    The prophet Joel said "...I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days , I will pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:28-29) It is not an easy time for the church when all this happens. Whether the spirit pours out abolitionism or pentecostalism, liberalism or fundamentalism, these are constant and varied challenges to the church. When the shock of the new is too great, a total rupture can happen, as when secular humanism emerged from a frustrated evangelical liberalism. It is always a challenge to find new being and orthodox grounding all at the same time.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Aside from reading parts of Christianity Today and reading more of Christian Century in a library somewhere when researching a question, I have never subscribed to or been a steady reader of either. However, as well written, accessible, dependable journals, I appreciated them both.

    Similarly, I appreciate being able to read the postings of friends above who feel keenly about these issues of being contemporary about long running theological issues

    It seems to be that there is continuing relevancy in categorizing positions as left or right or same of center, or as progressive and traditional, but it is that, grouping a current thought by its similarity to past different positions. They also relate to denominations, communities institutionalized around these positions.

    As a practical matter, I give of myself and take from one denomination rather than another, but recognize shortcomings of all denominations.

    I am inclined to see and treat "Christianity today" more as a movement than as a potentially united organization or institutional "church"

    All the more important then to listen to and value all of these heartfelt views as long as they are "heartfelt", i.e. coming from the integrity of a thinking, caring persons.

    Thanks to you for the stimulation and all the thinking, feeling bloggers.

    ReplyDelete