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Selling Our Religion

July 11, 2007

Rev J. has a great post on his blog in which he asks three pertinent questions regarding the commercialization of Christianity and the lack of mainline Christian voices in the mainstream media.

  1. Does America really like its Christianity conservative?
  2. Do people actually like listening to this stuff (the end is coming)?
  3. To what extent is this phenomenon related to the selling of fear?

Rev. J. is absolutely right in my opinion.  Nearly all of the religious programming I have experienced on television and radio is extremely conservative, hyperfocused on the book of Revelation and the Darbyist interpretation of it, highly critical of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches (and their members), and seemingly aligned with the Republican party.

I have found myself very frustrated that when my children sell magazine subscriptions as fundraisers for school I could subscribe to Christianity Today (very conservative) but not The Christian Century or Sojourners (not as conservative).  That’s how pervasive the conservative branch of Christianity is these days.  You have to intentionally go out of your way to be exposed to an alternative viewpoint.  (The idea that a mainline, middle-of-the-road viewpoint would be considered an “alternative” should be testimony enough).

I don’t know what role fear plays in this, and I’m certain that the principle of “follow the money” applies here, but one thing is for sure: certainty sells.  If you listen to these religious folks long enough, there is no question -they are absolutely right about everything (at least in their own minds).  There is no truth other than theirs.  Anyone who disagrees with them or questions their judgments is downright apostate.  So if I proclaim that I have the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then I can easily sell it to you if you think I’m trustworthy and you believe me.

And lots of United Methodists have bought it.

Here are some of my thoughts.

  1. How many United Methodists realize that “Left Behind” theology (Darbyism) is utterly dependent upon TULIP Calvinism?  The very idea that the Bible outlines exactly how the end times will go down depends upon the doctrine of predestination.  And Methodist theology is not TULIP theology – Wesley was deeply influenced by a Calvinist of a totally different kind, Arminius.
  2. People have been convinced for fifteen hundred years that Revelation was “coming true”.  Perhaps it always has been coming true in an existential sense, and Revelation’s warnings and calls to repentance should be read existentially rather than literally.
  3. How can mainline Christianity reclaim a voice in the public square?  Do we stand a chance without partisan political financial backing?

I don’t have any solutions to these problems.  We’ve been studying Revelation in one of my churches, and those who already believed in rapture theology still believe it.  I still listen to TV and radio preachers for all the wrong reasons (their absolute certainty, absolute literalism make me laugh sometimes) and I lament the lack of balance in the public arena.  I am both amused and extremely frustrated that the “new atheism” fails to take into account any theological insights of the twentieth century (Barth, Tillich, Niebuhr, Whitehead, Hartshorne).

I fear for the future of a reasoned faith.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. arachnerd permalink
    July 11, 2007 1:16 pm

    But a “reasoned faith” doesn’t fit into any neat, tidy little box or category. There’s too much grey area… or multifaceted colorful kaleidoscope area to be pigeon-holed. Christians like us in fact welcome that aspect of our faith, but I guess to others it must seem indecisive or something… I don’t know.
    I think the part of that equation that bothers me the most is that when we label ourselves “Christian” do people think that we automatically agree with & buy into the doctrines & theologies of these fear-mongering hacks? I think they do. I’m ashamed to admit it, but sometimes it’s easier for me to conveniently leave that part of myself out of conversation. I just find it counter-productive to argue faith like that.

  2. July 11, 2007 2:36 pm

    I think a lot of the end times sensation has to do with the handful of christian fiction writers that delve into areas of spiritual warfare and the end times. It needs to be remembered that these are fiction books, and really should be read for entertainment only, not for good theology.
    That being said, there are so many different ideas of what a “Christian” is that it depends on the person. Some people will imagine a right wing judgmental fear mongering money grubbing bible thumping hack, other’s won’t. It may be easier to leave the conversation, but if you want to change the perception this is not the way to do it.
    All this being said, I do believe that scripture must be taken literally, and that there are a multitude of applications from scripture, but only one correct meaning – and that meaning is what the author (and in a more ultimate sense the Holy Spirit) had in mind when it was written. To change the meaning from what the original author had in mind is to damage the scripture. It opens a whole realm of relativisim with no absolutes. This scares me.

  3. July 11, 2007 8:04 pm

    Welcome and thanks for joining the conversation, Brett.

    I appreciate your take on biblical hermeneutics and interpretation. I agree that understanding the original authors’ intent is essential to a complete understanding of the meaning of scripture. But we must also always be aware of the problematic nature of making such assumptions. In many cases, we do not know who the original authors were, or even necessarily their historical situations. All scholarship makes assumptions that may be true or false.

    One scholar may assume that the Gospel of John, the Johannine letters and the Revelation were written by the same dude. The next may see each as being written and redacted by communities rather than individuals. But there is also really compelling linguistic evidence that the fourth gospel and the Revelation could not have been written by the same hand. If you assume that Revelation was written by the author of G. John, then certain theological and Christological assumptions will necessarily follow. If different authorship is assumed, then different theological conclusions emerge.

    During our study, we were reading a passage late in Revelation. One of our parishioners asked, “now this is all happening during the tribulation, ain’t it?” Well, the answer is “yes” if you operate under the dispensational Darbyist (LaHaye, etc.) framework, but Revelation itself knows nothing of a tribulation period in which the true believers are taken up into heaven. The only way to get to a tribulation period is to do some fuzzy math with Daniel and using an out-of-context passage from Paul – but an awful lot of folks buy it uncritically.

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