Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Unnecessary Divorces (an orthodox rebel responds to Frank Schaeffer)

I've mentioned before how there is a great swath of young Christians who feel the need to rebel against the perceived dead formalism of past generations and subsequently create a more vibrate, living Christian Faith. As I've listened to the "conversation" of these well-intended souls, I stumbled across this article by Frank Schaeffer (the son of Christian luminary Francis Schaeffer). I suggest you read it carefully, because he says some interesting things.

Now, I am glad that Mr. Schaeffer feels the loss of connection between modern Christianity and its ancient Faith and practice. I too think that a return to the liturgy, and the fundamental communion that it brings, would do a great amount of good in every Christian circle. It is a great shame that most modern, American Christians have been severed from their past, which (as I've demonstrated elsewhere) is full of a much wisdom and beauty.

However, just like every other so-called "progressive" Christian, Mr. Schaeffer can't seem to shake off one misguided mantra: solid theological content is ultimately irrelevant (because it is divisive); what really matters is just the ceremony itself and a sense of "[m]ystery and open-mindedness when it comes to theological content: uncertainty is good" (emphasis mine). The substance is unimportant. What is important is the show: grasp the rites and rituals with an iron grasp, but let things like doctrine and truth be fluid and in flux. This is the same old foolish idea that monkey-wrenches the whole operation.

As I've said before, I'm all for a return to humility in our doctrine. We need to recognize that God is so much bigger than our systems that we make for Him. It is a dangerous mistake to put God in a box, but it is an equally dangerous mistake to think that He has no sharp, distinct lines at all, lines that He Himself laid down for us, revealed to us in Scripture. True, He does not reveal all (for there are not enough books in the world to capture it all), but He has revealed some, and that some is fixed and immoveable. It cannot be erased without disastrous consequence.

Think about it: what is the liturgy without doctrine? What is all our Christian ceremony without those nasty creeds codified from the Scriptures (that nasty closed canon)? What does the Eucharist even mean without the hard doctrines of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, without the fixed, substantive idea that Christ was "conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary," etc.? What does worship mean without the hard doctrines of God's Holiness and Incomprehensible nature, without the idea of "God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"? What does community and communion mean without the hard doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, without the idea that we "believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints," etc.?

I will tell you what they all mean: nothing. They mean absolutely nothing anymore, because they have no substance. The beliefs, the hard, doctrinal truths that we believe, are the substance. Lose them, and the whole thing evaporates, leaving behind the husk of dead formalism, the very thing that many in Mr. Schaeffer's camp are trying to escape. What they need to realize is that there is nothing without belief in solid, revealed truth, the truth of God's word, simultaneously simplified and expounded in creeds and dogmas and doctrines. There is no liturgy or community or worship or even Christianity itself without the certainty that certain things are true.

I will never understand the unnecessary divorces that we commit in the name of Christ. The old fundamentalists and evangelicals divorced Truth and Life, fell on the side of Truth, and received an impotent religiosity. But "progressive" Christians (from emergents to anarchists) are no better, for they too have divorced Truth from Life, but instead fell on the side of Life, and what have they gotten for it? An anti-formalism and fundamental skepticism that can find no place to rest, no identity to call its own, and not even the Faith they love so dearly can survive the corrosive chaos. The saddest thing about modern, American Christianity is how from generation to generation we always take a part of the picture rather than the whole, and the result is always worse than where we began.

Here is one true dogma, and I state it defiantly in the face of all modern Christian simplifiers, from radical fundys to radical pomos: it is not Truth or Life but rather Truth and Life: Certainty and Beauty, Light and Love, infinite solid ground beneath our feet and an infinite sky over our heads. They hold each other in a fierce and fiery paradox, and by their presence the whole edifice of the Christian Faith rises and rest stable and secure. But lose either of those elements, and you don't have Christianity anymore. In fact, you have nothing at all.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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