Wednesday, July 1, 2015

An Image Problem or an Essence Problem: What is wrong with us Christians? – Part One, Introducing Dr. Jared Champion’s Blog


Dr. Jared Champion
A few years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a post-funeral dinner with a small group of truly remarkable and uniquely fascinating people. Our overlapping backgrounds intersected more acutely than could be explained by our tangential relationships to the same small handful of lives (a handful recently diminished by a count of one). As we commemorated and commiserated, I recognized other mutual influences as well. Around that life which we celebrated and mourned, some exceptionally meaningful events in my life had been centered. Perhaps that heightened the impact of those conversations, the stories told, and the bonds I felt, some renewed and others newly established. But I have cherished the memory of that evening, and the privilege of being included in it, ever since.

Most of these whom I admire so greatly are scattered inconveniently throughout the northern half of California, and the most academically-focused of them is even less accessible, serving as an assistant professor near the far diagonal corner of these United States. Few of them even post as regularly to Facebook as I’d like. When they do, though, it is a treat. As one who finds that being a theologically-conservative Evangelical requires what many consider to be socially, politically, and especially economically liberal positions, when the academic in question chooses to post, I find it both thoughtful and thought-provoking and thus especially welcome.

And now he has a blog.

As a way of introducing you to it, and engaging in the “constructive discourse” Jared Champion invites in his first post, I’ll start with a quick commentary on the twelve recommendations he makes for correcting the image problem we face in “mainstream Christianity” (by which he means Evangelicalism, not “mainline” denominations). He offers them to us as a way to “clean up their image without sacrificing their core beliefs.” I hope that in taking issue with some of his points, the bulge between my bicuspids will be evident. (Impressed by my own cleverness, I’m leaving that last phrase in. But for the sake of clarity: “Please take the following ‘corrections’ of Dr. Champion’s recommendations as being ‘tongue in cheek.’”)

Dr. Champion begins by suggesting that we in mainstream Christianity “Stop focusing on rules, start focusing on joy.” I could not disagree more. But rather than focusing on any number of rules that we presume to apply to others, there are rules we would find exceptionally helpful if we understood that they undergird anything remotely resembling the joy of knowing that we are in the process of finding, fulfilling, and finding our fulfillment as we are restored toward the image and likeness of a holy God (Genesis 1:27; Ephesians 2:10). There are, in Jesus’ words, two parts to the single great commandment (In Matthew 22:36-40, when Jesus says the second is “like” the first, it is not a comparison of similar statements, but a statement of the same character and substance as the first). To love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength cannot but include loving our neighbor, every neighbor, as we love ourselves. Even the most arcane regulations of scripture, dismissed as being anachronistic at best, serve to bring about the fulfillment on which joy depends—if our joy is anything like that of Jesus.

The second recommendation, “Abandon the victim-narrative,” is already practiced ubiquitously among Evangelicals. Not that Dr. Champion is mistaken about the simpering whine that emanates from those for whom the joy of the Lord should be their strength. But most Evangelicals are immersed in not only their religious privilege but white privilege, militarized privilege, and socio-economic privilege as well. The result is that anytime we encounter the narratives of victims, those oppressed, exploited, dehumanized and destroyed by our avaricious luxury, we abandon the conversation, the community, and any individual person in need. “They deserve their fate,” some claim. Other believe “it’s all about the drug abuse” or “the promiscuity” or “laziness” or “fast food” or “public schools,” etc. And so we allow the prevailing fantasy to continue: “They can stop being poor anytime they choose.”

Thankful for the opportunity to do more "theology in community."
I would enjoy pursuing the other ten recommendations with similar ironies and absurdities. And I believe it could be done entertainingly enough to warrant reading an extra thousand words or so. But I want to be sure my point is not lost in the process. So, here it is: Dr. Champion comes to many of the same conclusions I do. But how can that be? In confronting the “message of anger, intolerance, and fear” evident in mainstream Christianity, he identifies himself with the “progressive Christians” who show “patient grace, unwavering love, and critical engagement.” I identify myself (frequently with reluctance, I admit) as a theologically-conservative Evangelical and as one, I must admit, I do frequently express “anger, intolerance, and fear,” and am impatient, ungracious, and inconsistent in my love for those with whom I critically engage.


Why? Well, that deserves its own post. Tune in to part two for more, and be sure to check out Dr. Champion’s blog in the meantime! You can find it here.

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