Tag Archives: the way it ought to be

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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The Evolution Wars

I’ve been watching the evolution wars on a couple of biblioblogs recently (specifically, Exploring Our Matrix and Unsettled Christianity). I appreciate the work Dr. McGrath and Joel (respectively) are doing on the subject. However, I can’t help but think that a sustained, direct war on biblical literalism will, in reality, accomplish little actual change. Likewise, the war on liberal theology waged by the conservative side of Christianity (e.g. Al Mohler, Norman Geisler, et al.) will not effect much change, either. In my opinion, here’s why:

1) The two positions differ from each other in first principles.

On the one hand, Christian liberalism is devoted to follow evidence wherever it leads. If the evidence seems to show, for instance, that life arose on Earth through a process that lasted for millions and millions of years, the good liberal has an obligation to follow this evidence to its logical conclusions, even if that means he/she must re-think what it means for God to have created the world.

In the same way, Christian conservatism is devoted to follow the Bible wherever it leads. If the Bible seems to teach, for instance, that God created everything ex nihilo over the course of six 24-hour days, the good conservative has an obligation to follow this teaching to its logical conclusions, even if it means he/she must re-think the nature of science.

2) Both sides say harsh things about the other, but usually only to their supporters (“preaching to the choir”).

It has long been recognized that humility and charity are two mark of true Christian character (see, for instance, C. J. Mahaney’s excellent little book Humility: True Greatness). However, for some reason, both sides in this debate act with very little charity or humility toward the other. Rather than treating each other like fellow Christians — remember, we’re all trying to follow the faith the best way we know how — both sides treat the other like willful distorters of the truth. Such an attitude had its place in the past, but now is anachronistic. For instance, Tertullian wrote, concerning heretics, that “obstinacy must be conquered, not coaxed” (Scorpiace 2). Such a tactic, though, is ineffective in the end, which brings me to my third point:

3) Harsh and direct fighting only serve to make the other side more convinced of their own superiority.

Think back to the last time you had an argument face-to-face with someone. As the argument went on, which was more tempting: to calmly and rationally examine your own position and see how the other side might inform your position in ways you hadn’t seen, or to entrench yourself deeper and argue even harder for what you already thought? If I were a gambling man, I’d bet that it would be the latter more than the former. When you perceive an attack, whether explicit or implicit, on a system of thought that you cherish, the natural response is to attack right back, not to examine yourself or your way of thinking. Which leads to the conclusion that:

4) If you want to persuade someone to your side, you have to be willing to admit where you’re wrong.

Conservatives: do you want to reclaim a historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3? Then be willing to admit that your position has a hard time explaining scientific data cogently. Liberals: do you want to see evolution accepted as fact by all Christians? Then be willing to admit that to do so entails a radical re-thinking of Christian theology, with which not everyone is comfortable. Both sides: do you want to see an end to this debate? Then be willing to admit that your side does not hold a monopoly on truth; be willing to learn from the other.

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“Ecumenism is the Devil’s Game”

“I agree that ecuminicism [sic] is the devil’s game…”
(From a comment on this blog post.)

Such a sentiment flies in the face of how Christians are to treat each other. The Bible clearly says that God’s followers should love each other and have unity among them:

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

(Psalm 133)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. . . . We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

(1 John 4:7-12, 19-21)

To declare that ecumenism, which may be succinctly defined as “inter-denominational humility, charity, and love,” is “the devil’s game” is to profoundly misunderstand the nature of Christian teaching. Doctrine is not a weapon to be wielded against others, nor is it barbed wire for setting up division within the Church.

To take the the Bible seriously — to believe truly that it is “good and pleasant . . . when God’s people live together in unity,” that “there the LORD bestows his blessing, / even life forevermore,” and that “whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” — means that efforts to unite God’s universal church (i.e., ecumenism) must be received not with hate, but with joy.

So, is ecumenism the devil’s game? No. In fact, it is quite the opposite — it is a movement of the Spirit to unite God’s church after two millennia of division.

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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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