Meet Fred

Meet Fred. Fred grew up in a Christian home as a preacher's kid and a military brat. His dad was both a pastor and a chaplain in the army. He had a normal childhood and, as any good preacher's kid would be, was in the church every time the doors were open. He learned the stories we all grew up with as children - Moses parting the Red Sea, Jesus turning water into wine, Samson killing thousands of Philistines by pushing down the pillars of a building - the stories that normally get young boys' blood pumping.

As Fred grew up in the church, he began to notice a problem: The passion, ferver and excitement in Christianity seemed to have disappeared. Churches that used to be bursting at the seams with those wanting to hear God's Word taught were closing their doors, while the majority of people that graced the church with their presence seemed bored and uninterested. They came to church for the same reason Fred did - it was what they had always done.

Fred also noticed that the church had lost much of what it used to stand for. People identified with Christianity because of the culture they lived in. After all if the culture is based on Christian principles, they reasoned, and I'm born into the culture, I must be Christian. Christianity wasn't unique any more. Being called a "Christian" didn't seem to mean anything any more. And the more Fred searched the more discouraged he became. Not only did the church seem to be losing ground, it didn't seem to care. It didn't seem relevant, didn't seem palatteable, and didn't seem to be effective at all.

Sound familiar?

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention. Fred lived nearly three-hundred years ago.

Fredrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher isn't exactly the person you would expect a conservative Christian to quote. Those familiar with his name recognize him as one of the fathers, if not the father of modern liberalism.

Schleiermacher was fed up with what he perceived as flaws in Christianity during his day, and set out to do something to defend Christianity against people who wrote it off as culturally and intellectually irrelevant. But in doing so, he committed several fatal errors that ultimately did more harm than good.

In "defending" Christianity, Schleiermacher gave up many of the basic doctrines that had been essential to the church since its beginning. He called miracles, revelation and inspiration "fairy tales," and proposed a church that was based almost solely on feeling. Religion was not about "Knowing or Doing, but a modification of Feeling or of immediate self-consciousness. And when you give up essential ground to critics just for the sake of agreement, bad things start to happen.
Sound familiar?

There's a discussion going on within Christianity in the 21st century that mirrors almost exactly some of the ideas that started Schleiermacher on his quest in the late 18th century. The church seems to be losing influence in America. The modern culture is disengaged. A majority of those who attend show up because they always have. The majority of America tells surveyors that they are "Christian," but truth be told, the majority of them see American citizenship and Christianity as synonymous terms.

But the problem is not Christianity.

Schleiermacher goofed when he examined the problem and decided that the problem was Christianity, and that Christianity needed to be rescued from extinction. So, he changed Christianity and gave up some of the essentials in order to be more culturally relevant. His answer to the cultural problem was to adopt a "generous orthodoxy" that agreed to fudge on some issues in order to bring more people in.

Did I say "generous orthodoxy?" Those aren't Schleiermacher's words. They're the words of a 21st century theologian who is attempting to answer the same question Schleiermacher answered. I think he's a well-meaning guy, who has aptly articulated a very real problem within Christianity today. But the problem isn't with Christianity.

Christianity does not need our help. It doesn't need to be rescued from anything. And it isn't our prerogative to change Christianity so we can get more people involved. We don't need to change Christianity to make it "relevant." Christianity is already relevant. We may change what we do to show Christianity's relevance, but Christianity itself can never be changed. And that's a very important distinction.

I'm all for cultural relevance. I'm all for creativity. But we have to understand that while we have freedom to be creative in what we do, we do not have freedom to be creative in what we are.

When Fred set out, he set out to solve a very real problem. But in the end, he sacrificed more than was his to give. I fear many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are dancing dangerously close to the same slippery slope that claimed Schleiermacher's life, and fear even more greatly that the result of their concessions will be the same. We're still paying for Schleiermacher's mistakes today. Let's not do the same for those who will come after us.


Jamie McBride said...

Amen Chris.

Remember this as you move into a staff position after seminary. Teach your flock this. If you don’t, they will learn from those teaching these things. You may also face pressure from those in the flock and even your fellow staff at times.

Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your blog.


Randy said...

I think you give Brian McLaren too much grace. On the other hand I've heard John MacArthur say several times that people who come up with bad theology don't necessarily do it on purpose, they just are careless with their interpretation of scripture.

Chris Freeland said...

I've met a couple of these guys, and they seem like well meaning guys trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, they don't see the long term repurcussions of what they do.