“Two Sterile Camps” of Christianity

As I was reading on the bus this morning, I happened to come across this quote that illustrates the chasm fixed between conservative and liberal Christians. It’s one-sided, I’ll admit, and it’s long, but it’s useful nonetheless, and dovetails nicely with my earlier post this morning:

Christianity has in our time increasingly divided itself into these two sterile camps, neither of which gives hope of having the ability to revive this ancient faith system. The fundamentalists will appeal to the need for emotional security by trafficking in religious certainty. The system they create will survive momentarily — it might even flourish for a time — but it will not endure. Delusions can be immensely satisfying. For short periods of time people seem to enjoy turning off their brains and listening to those who assure them that all is well.

The anger, however, that is present in this premodern religious revival reveals its own vulnerability. Anger cannot dispel doubt. Suggested enemies — liberals, secular humanists, false prophets, whatever the nomenclature — cannot finally be blamed for the unbelievability of nonsensical words. Fundamentalism is both an expression of and an assisting cause in the terminal sickness that hangs over religious life today. When the depth of that sickness becomes obvious, it will leave in its wake disillusionment, despair, and pain. No seeds of renewal are contained in a literalism that is itself afraid of truth.

The other sterile camp confronting institutionalized religion today is an empty postmodern secularity that has infected both the mainline churches and the society at large. It expresses itself in the shallow life dedicated to the search for material pleasure conducted within a vast spiritual vacuum. It is revealed in the lives of those for whom God has died and fate is the final arbiter of meaning. Frequently this attitude is not so much articulated as it is lived. It is a response even of those who, because of the habits of a lifetime, still relate to religious institutions at nominal levels, even though they find no real sustenance there. Membership in such an institution does not finally affect their life, and ultimately it is so tangential to their being that they will not pass on to their children a living religious heritage. No seeds of renewal will be found for the church in those who either consciously or unconsciously take up citizenship in the secular city.

The church that does not face this dilemma seriously either does not understand the problem or does not know how to address it. Such a church drifts aimlessly, replacing faith with fellowship, avoiding the tough issues of life, standing for less and less for fear another part of its family will be offended and depart, knowing full well that the church’s drawing power is declining day by day. There is no future for Christianity unless the essence of Christian truth can be extracted from the phenomenalistic framework of the ancient past.

From John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, 133-134. Emphasis added.

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