Thursday, September 24, 2009

Updated: Reflections on Post-Christendom 2

This week my essay is a bit more controversial because I deal with how one acquires/learns/experiences truth. I also talk a bit about how the Christian view of war changed. For the record I am not anti-military defense. Again, be graceful in your judgment. The seminary class room is a safe place to throw out ideas that one is thinking without being immediately judged and put in a category.

1) What of the five categories would you fit the Christendom model into and why?
2) What of the five categories would you fit the majority of the church in North America and why?
3) What of the five categories do you think best reflects the life, ministry, and stories of Jesus Christ and why?

Five ways the church sees Christ interacting with culture:
1) Christ against culture - that is Jesus sought to rebel against the world's culture.
2) Christ above culture - Jesus transcends culture and goes above it neither affecting nor living within it.
3) Christ in culture - Jesus lived in culture and was affected by it and...affected it.
4) Christ and culture in paradox - Jesus and the world are constantly in tension
5) Christ transforming culture - Jesus lived in and attempted to change the culture.

During the height of Christendom church, state, and culture were intertwined (“Christ in culture” category). Christianity influenced all sectors of society. Murray notes that it inspired artists, sculptors, musicians, poets, architects, and craftsmen. Christendom was the initiator of schools, universities, and hospitals (109). Furthermore, religious leaders like bishops were heavily involved in shaping economic policies and political decisions (110). Influence of this magnitude is not necessarily bad. We are called to make disciples and to bring justice and righteousness into all aspects of our lives.

That being said, the marriage of church and state was unhealthy. It was clear that there was a disconnect between Christendom and the Gospel. Theologians began to promote the theory of a just war. They no longer viewed throwing down arms as wise or admirable (115). This decision flew in the face of the Sermon on the Mount. Theologians concluded that Jesus’ calling to love one’s enemy was only practical in interpersonal relationships (121). It seems as though there was a push for justice and righteousness only if it did not undermine the authority of the state/church (119).

Murray notes that the pagan culture greatly influenced the focus of a church service. In the New Testament a service would include discussion and preaching. However, in Christendom churches began to adopt a model acquired from the “pagan culture” that seemed more concerned about “demonstrating a preacher’s knowledge and skill” than influencing the audience (127).

The church in North America possesses a different type of Christendom i.e. Christ against culture. The intentions sound more Christocentric. There is much emphasis on knowing God, on submitting to scripture, and on making Jesus’ name known by all of the nations of the world. That being said, I would agree with Murray that the church has become an “institution rather than a movement and its energies….[are] directed towards maintenance rather than mission” (129). Missions for most of the nineteenth and twentieth century focused primarily on changing people into an American version of Christianity and thus into Americans. For the most part, Christians inadvertently passed a version of American Christendom to parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia (187).

To most in the North American church truth is something to be injected into others and to be defended no matter the cost. It is as though we have captured truth in a shoebox and we are defending it with our lives. In the process we may even slay one of the infiltrators. To the best of my understanding, truth in the OT and NT is found in Yahweh and/or the person of Christ. While there are aspects of truth that can be learned, acquired, and taught, truth itself is experienced best by being in a relationship with the living God.

Jesus definitely was a man that lived in the tensions of life. Thus, his life and stories fall into the “Christ and culture paradox” category. There are aspects of his ministry that fly in the face of culture, aspects that are shaped by the cultural norms of the time, aspects that transcend culture, and aspects that seek to shape culture.

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