Thursday, July 05, 2012

Our "Choose Your Own Jesus" Culture

Plate, by Gary Wilson

I'm finally settling in to read Ross Douthat's Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.  Douthat writes for the New York Times. I've read his stuff for some time now, and usually enjoy it.

What about his book's title? Are we really a "nation of heretics?" Of course. Here's how to easily see this.
1. Read, as if for the very first time, the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
2. Read, in the same way, our culture. Walk, listen, observe. Look at the church today in America. Read and listen to "Christian" voices.
3. Stand amazed at the disjunct between #1 and #2.

The Real Jesus, Jesus of the Revolutionary Kingdom, is rarely found.

Douthat writes: "The Jesus of the New Testament, whose paradoxical mix of qualities and commandments presents a challenge to every ideology and faction, has been replaced in the hearts and minds of many Americans with a more congenial figure— a “choose your own Jesus” who better fits their own preconceptions about what a savior should and shouldn’t be." (Kindle Locations 201-204)

We have, and have exported in the name of "missions," the false "teaching that God wants everyone to get rich— that your house or car or high-paying job was intended for you from before the foundation of the world, and that the test of true faith is the rewards that it reaps for believers here on earth." (Kindle Locations 205-207)

"For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics." (Kindle Locations 220-221)

That is one way to look at America.

Douthat points out that, in many ways, America has always been heretical in relation to Christianity. But now we have a different problem: "the weakness of the orthodox response" to the shallow, relativistic, moralistic therapeutic deistic "Jesus" that slides chameleon-like throughout our culture. We now have the truly unrevolutionary "Jesus," the non-challenging "Jesus," in our aquiescence to the postmodern hermeneutical (and non-reflective) theory that makes Jesus into a Rorschach test.

If that's the truth about Jesus, it's not for me. I am less interested in having a "Jesus" made in my own image, since I have become too acquainted with myself.

But of course its not the truth about Jesus. It's heresy. And "heresy" is, as defined by Alister McGrath, "as a form of Christian belief that, more by accident than design, ultimately ends up subverting, destabilizing or even destroying the core of Christian faith.” (Kindle Locations 284-286)

Correct. The variegated views on Jesus in our culture today are almost entirely arrived at by accident, since no reasonable person would ever intentionally create such religion.

Douthat is looking for a few champions of "orthdoxy" ("right doctrine), by which he means things such as "the belief that there exists “a faith once delivered to the saints,” and that the core of Christianity is an inheritance from the first apostles, rather than being something that every believer can and should develop for himself." (Kindle Locations 303-305) If I wanted to believe something about ultimate reality, tell me why in the world I would ever listen to someone like you? Or, for that matter, someone like me?