Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity

Can we avoid the dilemma Werner Harenberg describes here?

Is it then true, as Hans-Dieter Bastian of Bonn writes in a brochure recommended by several Church leaders, that “many pastors” at the Kirchentag in Köln in 1965 would have demonstrated a “total unawareness of the language of modern Biblical science”? And “the protestant church Christian (in the widest sense) is estranged from the Bible even, and precisely, if he (still) allows himself to be preached at (!) each Sunday”?

If all of that is not true, then why do none of these pastors rise up and rebel, these pastors who are here scolded for being ignorant of a discipline, their own discipline, pastors of whom it is said that the more they preach, the more they alienate the “Church Christians” from the Bible? But if all of that is true, then how great must be the “wailing wall” to which the Christians must go?

Many console themselves by saying that at the present time two extreme directions — the completely conservative and the completely modern — are prominent and that the truth is to be sought and found in the middle along with the majority of Protestant Christians. But must that first not be demonstrated? Is it true for the majority of professors of theology? And how could one find the correct mixture in the middle and still avoid mediocrity?

“The church has no right to appeal to Jesus, to Luther, or to Calvin, if it values faith less than statistics” (Rudolf Augstein 94). This if-sentence is aimed at the Protestant church. Is there anyone who hesitates to express a truth, or even a truth of faith, because he fears the departure and the (statistically measurable) forfeiture of biblical literalists, or the loss of prestige by the departure of the modern theologians? One ought not to answer that question too quickly.

Werner Harenberg, Der Spiegel on the New Testament (trans. James H. Burtness; London: Macmillan, 1970), 190-191.


I tend to lean towards accepting anyone who claims to be a Christian (mostly as a reaction against how I used to deny that most people who claimed to be Christians actually were Christians). But Harenberg here throws up a serious challenge to my inclusive view of Christianity: trying to make an inclusive, moderate definition of Christianity may actually turn out to miss the mark completely. An inclusive Christianity will turn into a mediocre Christianity, afraid of standing for what is true, for fear of alienating people.

Of course, the easy reaction to Harenberg’s objection would simply be to hole oneself up within one’s own doctrinal community and declare one’s community to be the only true group of Christians left on Earth. That’s the stuff of fundamentalism and militant apocalyptic cults; it’s obviously going too far.

What do you think? How should we strike a balance between limp-wristed mediocrity and militant separatism? How can we strike that balance? In what ways can we establish a median Christianity without straying into mediocre Christianity?


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3 responses to “Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity

  1. Pingback: Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 2 | Ex Libris

  2. Pingback: A “New Testament Confession” (Median vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 3) | Ex Libris

  3. Pingback: Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 4: Conclusions | Ex Libris

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