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Median Christianity vs. Mediocre Christianity, pt. 2

Note: This post continues the discussion I started yesterday on Median Christianity and Mediocre Christianity.

What does someone need to believe in order to be a true Christian? Moreover, what does someone need to be able to confess in order to be considered a true Christian? That’s the question Werner Harenberg is asking here:

Does what Gerhard Ebeling writes about every confession still apply to the Apostles’ Creed: It has “a separatist function. It draws the line between true and false doctrine. A uniting confession in the sense of one that refrained from drawing any distinctions from false doctrine would be a contradiction in terms. For a confession always presupposes a casus confessionis. It is the pronouncement of a decision.” And if this no longer applies to the Apostles’ Creed, how otherwise will the “line between true and false doctrine” be drawn?

In the Apostles’ Creed there is much which many can no longer believe or will no longer believe. Modern theologians teach that a man must not, or perhaps only ought not, believe it. Why not another confession of faith which every believer can speak without qualification? Professor [Ernst] Barnikol has asked this question and has wanted to know whether “the congregations and the servants of the Word today must not have the evangelical courage to do it.” He received no answer.

A church is not credible in which literally everything is, and remains, questionable. But a church is credible in which one may, to be sure, ask everything, but in which one cannot answer everything.

Luther once wrote: “It is not we who preserve the proclamation of the Church; it was not our forefathers; it will not be our descendants. But it was, is still, and will be him who says ‘I am with you always, to the close of the age.'” “It is not we,” Hans Grass also consoles the reader at the end of his book on the resurrection, “who preserve the church in the storms of the time and in the often still more dangerous times of calm when everything seems to go so well and smoothly, when Christianity has become again a self-evident presupposition of the middle-class and when we are in danger of becoming sluggish in the faith and of falling asleep. But is he who preserves the church.”

He = Jesus.

Which Jesus?

(From Werner Harenberg, Der Spiegel on the New Testament (trans. James H. Burtness; London: Macmillan, 1970), 191-192.)

I’m with Ernst Barnikol. The Church Catholic needs a confession that every believer, regardless of tradition, can affirm. And we need the courage to do away with anything that pretends to be essential to faith but should actually hold no pride of place. I’ll develop my thoughts on this later (hopefully tomorrow or Saturday), but for now, I’d like to propose this as the only confession necessary to prove Christian faith:

“Christ, the Lord, is risen.”

Anything more, and the confession would alienate true believers who happen to be modernist/postmodernist in the way they think. Anything less — though I fear it may already be too much “less” for some — and it would alienate true believers who happen to be traditionalist in the way they think.

What do you think? Is this confession, simple as it is, enough to prove that someone is a Christian? Does it say enough to be a good confession of Median Christianity while avoiding the pitfall of Mediocre Christianity?


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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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An Ecumenical Definition of Inerrency

I find this definition of inerrency to be quite helpful. I think it can accomodate both a conservative and a liberal view of Scripture — in other words, it would help reconcile the two perpetually warring clans of Christianity.

“Since therefore everything which the inspired editor or holy writer expressed is to be valued as expressed by the Holy Spirit, it is to be confessed that the books of scripture teach with certainty, fidelity, and without error the truth which God wants to have set down in the Holy Scripture for the sake of our salvation.”

[Anton Vögtle, “Die Konstitution über die Offenbarung,” quoted in Werner Harenberg, Der Spiegel on the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1970), 55.]

This definition allows for many of the points of friction between conservative and liberal Christians to be smoothed away. Did Moses write the Pentatech or was it edited over the course of several centuries? Doesn’t matter. Does Genesis 1-3 address human origins or is it a metaphor for the human need for God or a critique of other, contemporaneous religions’ view of the divine? Doesn’t matter. Are the Gospels concerned primarily with the historical or the theological? Doesn’t matter.

In short, each group could maintain its own particular understanding of Scripture — it would be unfair, for instance, under the guise of ecumenism or Christian cooperation, to try to force a Young-Earth Creationist to give up his/her hermeneutic — while still finding common ground to accept the other side’s position as valid. Each side could then be captive both to conscience and to consensus.

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Christian Cooperation in a Nutshell

“Many live in the illusion that the true unity of the church would be won if the great majority of Christians would agree to the same dogmatic formula. But identity of dogmatic formulas is of no importance. There must be unity in faith, that is, in unconditioned trust in the Word of God. Each one may say it and confess it as he wishes.”

Manfred Mezger, quoted in Werner Harenberg, Der Spiegel on the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1970), 39.

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