Radical Christianity? [!]
Author Brett McCracken had an interesting piece in the WSJ the other day that reminded me of one frustration I thought I had left behind as an Evangelical but thoroughly find in the Catholic Church as well. That frustration is the strange desire to be “relevant” to the world, finding a way to make Christianity cool, popular, rebellious, radical, or really any label that is coveted by the mass of the White Liberal Bourgeoisie. McCracken was the one who introduced me to the term “hipster Christianity” in trying to describe the movement of Evangelical Americans to make Christianity appeal to my generation, often with laughable results.
The author and I are of the same age and we both also share the concern when we realize that our peers, with whom we grew up together at worship services and Bible summer camps, are largely leaving their Christian circles and not returning.
One way to combat this trend of abandoning the communal life is to conform to the social popularity in a washed up Liberal Theology that thinks of the Church as always playing catch-up with the culture. This is why you have such events as Jesus Jam Rock and Roll night, Folk Mass (apparently it does appeal to youth, though I have only seen Boomers get excited about it), and Pizza/Baptism Sunday (a favorite of this authors). These events and emergent outreaches are done with the greatest intentions and the people behind such outreaches have some the biggest hearts I have ever encountered who come up with these events as an act of love. So it is that I have a hard time being overly critical of such things as the Emergent Church and all its counterparts, though I may have a laugh at their expense when such videos like the one below emerge.
The only real criticism that I offer anymore is one that was directed at me during my activist days by a pastor who I was not wise enough to listen to then but I now see what he was talking about. Father Reginald made the point that in everything we do we must remember that Christianity is not a social program, an ethical philosophy, a political party, or a self-help network. If the Gospel message is ever reduced to something like this than it has lost its point entirely. Christianity is, Father would say, a radical shift of the person to imitate Christ in every way possible. Christ did not come to make bad men good or to make sad people less sad but to make the dead rise. That God became human in the Incarnation and the died to rise again is the whole substance of Christianity, and if it was not true then Christianity would be a very silly undertaking despite whatever good it may have done. The Incarnation also reinforced a message from the Old Testament that each person is imago dei and deserving of the love shown to God.
The message of Christ to feed the hungry, share your goods with your neighbor, and love all you see is not a message of a social philosopher or an economist but the message of God showing humanity the way. I bring up this point to the various hipster movements because it needs to be realized that Christianity is most attractive when it lives in imitation of Christ. The faith is offensive at times–as I’m sure it was quite offensive when Christ called people liars, broods of vipers, or even Satan–but it is also most attractive when it demands of us what Christ demanded. When we orient ourselves to prayer and making ourselves more like Christ we are driven to do the radical things that Christianity has done well when it was at its greatest: show charity, establish hospitals, excel in learning, feed and cloth the poor, humble the proud, and demonstrate good even when opposed by evil. No other social program or youth outreach can achieve this.
With the end of this long sermon, my dear reader, I ask for your prayers that I actually follow the advice of good Fr. Reginald and commit myself to better devotion. Cheers for a better time, MJL.
UPDATE: As always, Fr. Stephen at the Glory to God blog makes a point I was trying to make with more clarity and insight. Go forth and read here!