Today’s Western practice of Christianity appears to be evolving into a form that can only be described as intellectually irrelevant. I would be interested to hear a counterargument to this that doesn’t strictly involve outliers. Anyone who cares about the religion must admit it’s not currently held in high esteem anywhere in our national conversation, even and especially by its own practitioners (an admission that is often followed by no small amount of fear, the unintentional posture of defeat). It seems the best a thoughtful Christian can offer the national conversation is not disagreeing, by which I mean not disagreeing with science, gay marriage, sex education, etc., thus distancing themselves from their extremist siblings. But what new ideas do we have to contribute? One could reasonably say Christians are more interested in debating theology than expanding it—undoubtedly to its detriment. A rich and elegant religion has been made superfluous by focusing on issues that “secular” society has moved past.
What better example of this than in my last year at Calvin, when a professor was let go for suggesting that Adam and Eve were likely not real historical figures? Aside from no one outside the faith caring in the least, firing someone over this alleged controversy shows a preference for dogma over intellectual rigor, and from one of Christianity’s more liberal institutions. No other field of study would have batted an eye at the suggestion. It certainly speaks to the stagnance of the Christian conversation that blind devotion to biblical literalism is encouraged in an academic setting. This is a maintenance mindset, maintaining religion as if it were something as simple as an antique car. In time the engine will fail, despite the best efforts of its devoted hobbyists.
Christianity did not remain relevant in the events of the world at large for two thousand years because of strict adherence to dogma. Quite the opposite. You and I are reading our Bibles in English due to a crucial act of bold heresy, one of many in Christianity’s history of spiritual evolution. We cherish the names of our great reformers and speak dismissively of those they combatted. Yet there persists a mindset that Christianity mustn’t change—and if it does change, it must change into something closer to what it once was (a nebulous idea, at best). The obvious metaphor here is to what we call an unchanging language. I’ll leave it to anyone who disagrees to reconcile their denomination’s history with this notion of permanence.
And still, a fear of change, of the “secular”—perhaps because the present age’s secular voices have been far more adept at challenging Christianity than vice versa. In public debate, specifically regarding issues of public policy, it is not appropriate to justify a stance with “because the Bible told me so,” or any similar line of thinking, and proceed to move on as if that’s that. This has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with sound reason. Taking, for example, the issue of gay marriage, or anything regarding matters of LGBTQ rights for that matter: it took no “gay agenda” for the majority of our citizens to support it in lieu of the religious outcry. The paltry reasoning that hung its hat on a few verses taken out of historical, cultural, and literary context was sufficient enough in quashing itself. All anyone saw from the outside looking in was intentionally blind devotion that resulted in discrimination. The proposed moral implications simply did not translate to a non-religious mind. It was, and unfortunately still is, a conversation that doesn’t reflect well on Christianity’s potential. A more likely reason many Christians struggle with gay marriage is that there’s no historical precedent to guide them, and change—especially towards a moral that secular culture embraced first—frightens.
I’m certain several voices would challenge me on this matter, but it’s not a challenge I’m particularly interested in. Not to be obstinate, but I’m tired of hearing Christians use reason to defend unreasonableness. It’s a toxic line of thinking. Christianity is beholden to reason as much as any other practice, and reason, like the humans who employ it, changes over time, as it must as new information is continually discovered. Until there is a robust and widespread theology among us that encourages participation in this change—that which is new and yet to be—Christianity will seem like no more than an antiquated hobby to everyone outside it. Of course, it’s not an antiquated hobby, nor is it intellectually irrelevant, but it is upon nobody else but the believers to put those ideas to rest. Again, I want to know, what new ideas do we have to contribute?
Will Montei is currently in pursuit of a Masters in Teaching at Seattle Pacific University. He has been writing for the post calvin since it began in 2013.