Saturday, November 11, 2006

Christianity Today: The Church's Great Malfunctions

Christianity Today: The Church's Great Malfunctions:
"There is a remarkable image in the closing pages of Scripture that has become a touchstone for the way my colleagues and I think about faith and culture. Amid its descriptions of the New Jerusalem, Revelation includes "the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2). The tree holds out hope that whole cultures will be healed and mended, becoming places where people can flourish. And it sets an agenda for faith as a way of life that contributes to that flourishing, in anticipation, here and now.

Too often, however, Christian faith neither mends the world nor helps human beings thrive. To the contrary, it seems to shatter things into pieces, to choke what's new and beautiful before it has chance to take root, to trample underfoot what's good and true. ..."

This was posted yesterday on the Christianity Today website and raises some extremely uncomfortable points. What are these malfunctions? Miroslav Volf separates them into two groups -- the idleness of faith and the oppressiveness of faith.

An idle faith can easily yield to (1) temptation's lure, (2) institutional power, and (3) a misunderstood faith. With regard to the third, Volf refers to Karl Marx, who famously said that "religion is the opiate of the masses." And while that can be true to a point, Volf points out that Marx failed to see that religion can also be a stimulant that energizes people to perform service. Volf also points out that when religion is employed only as a soothing drug or a performance-enhancing drug, it is little more than a crutch. It can, and should be much more than a drug.

With regard to the oppressiveness of faith, Volf points to the violence so often done in the name of religion. He suggests three factors here as well:
  1. A thin faith -- one that puts into practice some of the tenets of faith but not others; i.e. being pro-life, but willing to commit violence to achieve that end)
  2. An irrelevant faith -- Can a 2000-year-old faith actually mean anything in the world today? There is a failure of the intellect here in that people don't try to apply the teachings of Scripture to modern circumstances. This is not a job for theologians; it a the job of all Christians.
  3. An unwillingness to walk the narrow path. Here we can compare the bloody conflicts that revolve around revenge and payback and, say, the response of the Amish community in Pennsylvania that reached out to the family of a man who had killed their children.
I'm sure these aren't exhaustive reasons, but they provide a good place to start a little introspection. Volf says this: "We Christians should be our own most rigorous critics—and be that precisely out of a deep sense of the beauty and goodness of our faith."

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