This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that must die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?
As many have stated in this series already, there are likely many things which ought to die so that the faith can move forward in an impactful way. Some of these things deal with the organization of the church; others with the beliefs of the people who make up the church. It is of the latter that I think a monumental change must take place.
What I am going to say may sound frightening. It may even sound a bit heretical. Obviously, I believe it is neither overly frightening nor heretical, although I certainly anticipate that some who read this will question it. Good. We need more questioners in the church.
My idea is that we need to let our worship of the bible die. Completely get rid of it. Burn it to the ground. What is this worship of the bible, you say? Well, simply put, it is the deification of the scriptures which has taken place in American Evangelical Christianity. The notion that the bible is “the very word of God”, elevated to the same level as Jesus (who, if we recall, is the Word of God incarnate); created to be a sort of fourth member of the Trinity.
We have God the Father, we have Christ the Son, and we have the Spirit. Well, we also have the good book. And the problem is the good book has taken on a role of being something that is Holy, magical, powerful on its own accord. Some look for special meanings in the way the verses are written. Others seek a connection with God through study of the scriptures and memorization of their words. Vastly more simply read the words and ask people to do what is written in them. After all, if Paul says he likes turnips and dislikes carrots that must mean we all need to dislike carrots, right? Or more likely, if Paul tells a group of believers in a struggling young church how to go about disciplining wayward members, which means we too must discipline our wayward members in the same way, correct?
Lots of churches hold this sort of view. A very large church here in Seattle says they are a “bible believing church”, and they read the gospels with a black and white mentality. If it’s in the bible, it must be “true”, whatever that means. There is no room for dissenting opinions. No area to question. The church needs more people who question.
This calls to mind another of the great Abrahamic faiths; Islam. In Islam, the Quran is the literal word of God. You can’t translate the Quran from the Arabic, because God’s word is found in the Arabic documents, and God’s words don’t change. You can get an English version of the Quran, but it ceases to be the Quran to some degree once it has undergone this translation. Neither can you interpret the Quran (I know, I know, anyone reading anything is interpreting it through their own hermeneutical lens, but lets just assume that the great Imam’s of the faith aren’t actually interpreting it). The point is that Muslims believe the Quran is the word of God. Anything God wants to say to humans is said in the Quran.
Christians, on the other hand, generally believe something else entirely. The faith holds that Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Everything God wants to say to humanity is said through the incarnation of Christ, affirmed through the Holy Spirit. The scriptures are the accounts of God’s people written down, through history, of how God interacts with a particular tribe and people. The scriptures hold meaning and relevance, and they are a wonderful tool that point us to the living center of the faith; Christ.
The problem then becomes when various churches and religious leaders open the scriptures and read them as law. It’s tough to relate to a God that is abstract and at times aloof, so instead we like to open the Bible and relate to God in a simple, black and white way. It’s a temptation, and for a lot of people, it makes being a Christian much easier when you feel like you just have to follow a set of rules or guidelines. This can create a unified mentality in a church, but it stifles creative expression and differing opinions, and eventually leads to groupthink.
My challenge to the church in the next 100 years is to begin to imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have a simple answer to many of life’s questions. It is tempting to flip open the Bible and seek out the answers in its pages. The God of the universe has come to us incarnate, given us the Spirit of life, and is unfettered. We should celebrate the scriptures and learn from them, use them as our guide and as a wonderful tradition of the church, consult them and allow them to create the prayers and the language of God’s people. But the Word of God is Christ, and that is exciting.
Jeffrey Maxin: Jeff is a case manager on the Inpatient Psychiatric Unit of Seattle Children’s Hospital. He attended Seattle Pacific University, and later graduated from Princeton Seminary with a Masters of Divinity in 2008. While not working with hurting adolescents and children, Jeffrey enjoys gardening, watching baseball, and exercising. You can follow him on twitter @jeffreymaxin