They’re Only Words
I recently met Mike Todd, sole proprietor of Waving or Drowning, in the comments to my post Mark Driscoll and the Progressive Double Standard. We had a hearty disagreement, but Mike seemed to be interested in actually talking to me, rather than just tell me my modern theology is worthless in the postmodern world, then scurry off into the night. We went back and forth a couple of times, and I thought that it might be worth it for us to talk more, and on more subject. So, today we are launching our semi-official semi-dialogue.
It’s semi-official because we want to see if it will work before we go full-bore. It’s a semi-dialogue because at first it won’t be a “dialogue” at all. We’re going to start with dual monologues; we’ll each answer the question, and the other will offer no response. This will be building a basis for our conversation so that we can understand each other. Then we’ll get to the back-and-forth.
The monologue questions will be in the vein of our prompt today; they are simply setting the table for the deep discourse that will happen later. I hope you enjoy this discussion and return for our future interactions.
Conservative and progressive Christians often use the same language in very different ways. To keep things clear we’ll be giving our definitions of “faith”, “salvation”, and “Christianity”.
(I have a growing sinus infection, and my head is throbbing, so this may not be as flowing and decorated as I’d like, but I press on)
Language is a funny thing. George Carlin has opened one of his acts with this bit:
I love words. I thank you for hearing my words.
I want to tell you something about words that I think is important.
They’re my work, they’re my play, they’re my passion.
Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid.
then we assign a word to a thought and we’re stuck with that word for
that thought, so be careful with words. I like to think that the same
words that hurt can heal, it is a matter of how you pick them.
In communications class we talk about how some things get lost in translation even when we’re speaking the same language. We each assign words to thoughts in our own way, and though we may do this similarly, we it’s never quite the same…even when we agree. When we disagree, it’s this same phenomenon on steroids, so it takes something like this to clarify.
When I use the word “faith” in reference to Christ it means two things. Most basically it means belief that he is who he said he is. It’s also trust in him to do what he said he’d do. That’s what it means.
Then there are the implications. Faith in Jesus implies that you dedicate your life to serving him, placing him above everything; that you strive to follow his commands in every way possible; that you are a doer of the Word and not a hearer only.
In light of Vatican II and what has come out of it, it’s necessary to say that I am not hopeful or optimistic about the possibility of “anonymous Christians”. This idea says that, despite what Jesus taught, our faith doesn’t save us, but our actions do. Neither am I hopeful or optimistic about the salvation of Christians who choose not to do the things Jesus commanded.
“Salvation” used to seem like something that needed no explanation when talking to other Christians. Then one day someone one said to me, “What do you mean by salvation?” To some it means simply release from earthly restrictions: poverty, slavery, oppression, etc. I don’t think that aligns with Jesus’ teachings.
In fact, it sounds pretty similar to the Word-Faith doctrine, only instead of riches Jesus promises just a little bit more than you have now…a little more freedom, a little more comfort, a little more money. This doesn’t sound like the Gospel to me.
Let me be clear: I think we, as Christians, should be working to free captives, empower the oppressed, and lift up the poor. But this is not the salvation that Jesus promised. If it is, what do we say to Onesimus? What about the Christian slaves who were not set free? What about those who remained poor, or got poorer after their conversion?
The salvation that Jesus promised is much more than that. It’s eternal. He says those who believe will not be condemned; that he has gone to prepare a place for us; that the criminal would be with him in paradise. These are not promises of temporal comfort, but of eternal redemption.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Jesus takes the punishment for our sin, thereby saving us from Hell. As a result we are set free from our bondage to sin, empowered against the oppression of the “principalities and powers”, and blessed with spiritual riches. Though incredibly imperfect, our response to that is “Christianity.”
There are two Christiainies: Cultural Christianity, which I’ll refer to as “Christendom”, and our best attempts at following the Way of Jesus, which I will simply call, “Christianity”. I think recognizing these as to separate entities that interact and overlap, but are not one in the same, will help communication.
Christendom is what you are witnessing when you see clearly unregenerate people claiming Christ but living in opposition to him. Christendom tells people that all that is important is that you show up…participation is optional. Christendom allows people to say, “Jesus is Lord,” while choosing to remain completely consumed by greed, pride, lust, selfishness, and hatred.
Christianity is about trying to follow the teachings of Christ and the Apostles in the purest sense. The Way is an ideal. It’s what we move towards. It’s what Paul was talking about when he said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” It’s what our lives look like when we are abiding in the True Vine. Christianity is us trying to reach it.
I hope that paves over a few of the potential bumps in the road in our future conversations, and clears up how I feel for anyone who was wondering. Here’s a link to Mike’s post.