Back in April, the Guardian ran a piece by Giles Fraser entitled "Christianity, when properly understood, is a religion of losers." The piece is pretty sensational, playing on the offense of readers who are sympathetic to the Christian message, but Fraser keeps his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as he writes. Instead of bashing Christians along with his fellow writers at The Guardian (e.g., this and this), he stands up for them. But he does so ironically, appealing to psychology and worldly wisdom to justify his defense of religion to his secular readership. But what else can you do? To stand up for Christians now days is to stand up for boycotters, doomsdayers, liars, social weirdos, extroverted bigots, intellectual goobers, and people who think that prayer alone can solve mental illness (those links are from The Guardian alone). Which is to say, un-ironically standing for Christ today means swallowing some serious humble pie, something most Evangelicals simply cannot do.
Fraser's piece is meant to defend Christianity, and, to be fair, most of what he says is actually true. He says that to be Christian is to admit you don't have it all together. It's to admit to being a loser, and then it's the freedom to get over yourself and move on to a way of life where you don't actually have to be awesome. We follow Christ, a man who was born poor and died a criminal's death. It only makes sense that we would follow in his steps.
Like I said, all that is fine and good, but it does what all liberal thought does. It rips Truth out of context. Fraser is trying desperately to justify himself and his religion to a secular group and he uses their lingo to do it. This is what's been called the psychologization of religion. He is taking the elements of the faith and finding use for them in his worldview, pragmatically selecting bits and pieces of the faith to save, pieces that would appeal even to secularists because they make our natural human lives better. His argument is seductive because he takes a truth (that Christianity is actually for losers), and rips it out of its (admittedly offensive) historical and redemptive context (a context which involves original sin and the irrepressible proof of God's perfect, holy sovereignty).
The proper context for our being losers is in that big story which finds its climax in Christ’s being a winner. Christ has defeated evil and the grave in order to give us life, not so that his followers can “discover something about themselves that winners cannot ever appreciate," as great as that may be. That makes the Gospel and our faith all about us; it buys into the "therapeutic deism” definition of faith. But faith isn’t about me and my therapy, it’s about a supernatural reality I can’t see or even comprehend--otherwise it ain't faith; it’s a psychological self-help.
So the thing that jumped out at me and made me put fingers to iPad-screen today is this seemingly noble attempt of Fraser to comply with the world's sensibilities and connect with them on a common human level over religion--something that otherwise has done nothing but divide. It made me think, Is this the way forward for modern religion? Sort of half-hearted apologies for our orthodoxy, a picking and choosing of the parts most beneficial to quote/unquote human flourishing?
We modern Christians are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We either hold to our orthodoxy and come off offensive, or we dumb it down, throw in a few tattoos to appeal to the culture, and thereby lose the very thing that makes us, well, us.
The hope for Evangelicals-at-large, according to the Guardian, is one Nadia Bolz-Weber. That linked article’s tagline is “With her bracing outlook—and her body art—the Lutheran pastor from Denver may be able to attract people to her church who would otherwise be wary of this form of Christianity" (emphasis mine). But considering the piece got a grand total of 98 shares over its year of being online, it’s hard for even me to see it.
Her tattoos, her persona, everything about her is crafted for greatest social impact. The writer acknowledges that her approach is abnormal, but he says "it may be the only kind that can break through the crust of dislike and suspicion which insulates increasing numbers of younger Americans from Christianity.” Meaning, the only kind of religion we can really hold to now--which is socially respectable--is the ironic religion where we hold to some parts of orthodoxy (just enough to be identifiable) and oust others, just as proof that we aren't like them: we haven’t committed philosophical and intellectual suicide like the Quakers, et. al.
Bolz-Weber is doing the same thing as Fraser here: she's “trying to distance her brand of Christianity from both sides in the American culture wars.” She does it by taking the pure form of Christianity and filing off the edges that our culture finds too sharp to handle. The problem is she has to file away so much that there’s nothing but an amorphous blob left. All Fraser has is an ironic shrug of the shoulders. All Bolz-Weber has are parodies. “She parodies the hymn Amazing Grace: 'It’s not like "I once was blind, and now can see": it’s more like, "I once was blind and now I have really bad vision"’.”
And, in the eyes of the secular culture, that's all we poor, duped Christians have left. We were promised eyes to see the supernatural reality of an infinite-yet-personal God, eyes which see by faith "as in a mirror dimly" right now, but which soon will see "face-to-face" (1 Cor 13:12). But, unfortunately, as reward for our cynicism and liberalism, all we have now is "really bad vision." But hey, at least we have tattoos, the aching smugness of our irony, and a solid 98 shares on social media!