John Bennison Words and Ways | 2011 | September

What Kind of “Christian?” – Part II

[This is the second of a two-part commentary on this subject. To print and/or read a pdf version both commentaries, click here.]

Preface: Who’s got which Jesus?

 

Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life.

 Country western singer, Bobby Bare

 

St. Xavier High in Cincinnati has a helluva football team, but the all-boys Catholic school is still muzzled by their administration with regard to what are permissible cheers from the bleachers during game time.  So when rival Colerain high school team broke their winning streak by missing a 45-yard field goal attempt during the last minute of a recent game, and the best thing the losers could do was console themselves chanting, “We got girls!” Xavier fans resorted to the only comeback they had left as the ultimate victor’s cry, “Well, we got Jesus!”

Apparently that was too much for Colerain’s coach, Tom Bolden. He could respect the talents of their star quarterback, the superior skill of their wide receivers, and the solid strength of their defensive linemen.  But claiming divine favor?  “That’s where I’ve got to draw the line,” Bolden was caught saying on some amateur video. “They ought to be embarrassed.”

Do you ever find yourself wishing you coulda’ been there, to offer a better comeback line?  What about, “We got girls, and we got Jesus too!”  Even better, I bet the Xavier Bomber‘s could have stumped and stupefied Colerain’s Cardinals if they’d fired back a more astute, “And exactly which Jesus have you got?”  For truth be told, the Jesus I’ve come to know from the gospel traditions is one that seemed to find himself on the side of more losers than winners.

In fact, figuring out which Jesus is your Jesus may be the key to understanding the title you might accord him as Christ, and exactly what kind of Christian you may be.  But first, a look at the context of the question, from both a contemporary and historical point of view.

 

I. What kind of Christian?  Organized or Disorganized?

 

More often than not, to hear the public media and secular press tell it, aren’t Christians all alike?  They’re typically conservative, fundamentalist/literalist, judgmental, and –when exposed to the light of day – hypocritical.  Either that, or they’re establishment types, with some nominal affiliation to a dwindling mainline denominational institution; or a relatively small radical fringe that takes the gospel’s social/communal agenda so seriously that it proves itself to be mainstream-averse.

More and more these days, however, the diversity of so-called “designer” religion is observed to be increasingly pervading the spiritual landscape.  Newly released research outlined in statistical expert George Barna’s new book Futurecast, tracks the rise of both the “un-churched” and emerging forms of personal religious expression.

“America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions,” he says.  “We want everything customized to our personal needs — our clothing, our food, our education. Now it’s our religion.  People say, ‘I believe in God. I believe the Bible is a good book. And then I believe whatever I want.'”

Barna critiques churches still peddling an old familiar message that has gone ‘round in circles for centuries: “’Jesus is the answer. Accept him. Say this little Sinners Prayer and keep coming back.’ It doesn’t work. People end up bored, burned out and empty,” Barna says. “They look at church and wonder, ‘Jesus died for this?'”

Barna’s research indicates a downtrend in all areas of religious belief and behavior, except two:  More people claim they have accepted Jesus as their savior (whatever that means); and second, more expect to go to heaven (whatever that means).

[Sep 13, 2011 … By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY]

 

This suggests a couple things.  One is the spiritual questions and yearnings about ultimate value and meaning – along with the mythic, metaphorical and even liturgical ways we find to illumine them – are both irrepressible and ever changing.

And secondly, as a result, it does not lend itself well to permanent institutionalization, but is a universal phenomenon forever in process.  [Pilgrims on a journey, on “pathways” that may lead us from where we are to where we long to be, is a good way to describe it!]

To look at a contemporary counterpart to Barna’s latest research in American Christianity, one can look at what’s happening in the new emerging world super power, China; where Christianity is permitted in state-sanctioned churches, and where Catholicism and Protestantism are designated by the state as two separate religions.  So, when it comes to designating what kind of Christian you might be, in the eyes of the State apparently that suffices!

These churches report to the State Administration for Religious Affairs, and are forbidden to take part in any religious activity outside their places of worship. They adhere to the slogan, “Love the country – love your religion.” … And, in return the Party promotes atheism in schools but undertakes “to protect and respect religion until such time as religion itself will disappear.”

Interestingly enough however, these (official numbers of state sanctioned churches) are dwarfed by unofficial “house churches” spreading across the country.  Both the state-sanctioned institutionalized form of Christianity and the State itself feel threatened.  The official “churches of accommodation” fear the house churches’ fervor may provoke a government backlash; because what the authorities consider non-negotiable is the disorganized house churches’ refusal to acknowledge any official authority over their organization.  It leads me to wonder, is it merely some anti-authoritarian sentiment that’s going on; or some other intrinsic longing of the human heart?  A BBC reporter offers his findings from his recent assignment:

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