Thursday, June 11, 2009

IS CHRISTIANITY PRACTICAL?

A few brief, still-developing responses to an age-old, ever-current question

These are apparently bottom-line questions for most detractors, cynics, skeptics, and onlookers, as well as seekers, and would-be advocates of the Christian way:

- “Is Christianity practical?”
- “Does it work?”
- “Does it make a difference?”
- "Is it pragmatic?"
- “Given all the options, is this the best way to approach and live life in a world such as this?”

To such questions I offer a few brief and still-developing responses. All of these are rooted in emergent 1st-century Christianity and apropos to 21st-century complexity. Note: none of these deny or excuse the distortions and abuses of some believers and the church as an organization exersizing corrupt power in the 2 millenia since.

1. The upheaval described in Acts 2 immediately spawns equitably-realigned social relationships and continuing compassion. See Acts 2:42-47.

2. Long after the initial impacts of Pentecost dissipate, a new order and priorities rooted in compassion continue to challenge and reshape age-old social norms. See Acts 4:32-36.

3. Personal freedom and meaning are restored. In the accounts of The Acts of the Apostles, time and again people are moved from slavish religion, social domination, and despair, toward personal liberation and unprecedented levels of personal value and meaning.

4. Authentic forgiveness becomes a definitive marker of Christian faith. Both received personally and offered to others even in the most troubling of situations, forgiveness is perhaps the most psychologically sound and relationally restorative contribution Christianity has to offer individuals and the world.

5. Personal purpose is connected to others and to a world-saving focus. Personal development is intimately tied to one’s contribution to and interdependency with others. The focus is neither self-preservation nor group advancement, but the realization of the principles and Spirit of love for all as a remedy for alienation and domination that has for millennia defined relationships, ideologies, and institutions in every culture.

6. Christianity conveys a realism about the limits and potentials of individuals and groups. Look elsewhere for a miracle-a-minute, hyper-spirituality, perfected people, flawless performance, or pure organizational life. But if you want to be met where you are as you are and challenged—and empowered—to become all you were intended to be, you’ve come to the right place.

7. Cultural and socio-economic border-crossing is the norm. Primitive Christianity served to preserve and defend no class, caste, group, race, religion or culture. Instead, it became the common-ground mixing bowl of every imaginable culture and walk of life. Its adherents are challenged today as never before to cross borders with loving intention and become a harmonious body of disparate people with a common faith, hope and love.

8. Personal holiness is related to the restoration of worldly intention. To be a holy person has little to do with isolation from others, withdraw from worldly realities, pietistic markers, or negation of God-given capacities and appetites. Personal holiness is related to one’s willingness to serve for the restoration and renewal of this world--here and now.

9. The basis of goodness is relocated away from trying-harder treadmills, fad spiritualities, and empty rules-keeping. The story of the early Christians repeats a common refrain: it is by grace you are saved by faith, not by works, so that no one can boast. Salvation is received, not earned. Personal vitality is not contingent upon jumping through hoops, mouthing certain prayers, giving great amounts, etc. It is, from start to finish, about faith, trust, hope, and love--what we call grace.

10. Christianity introduces restorative justice as a better process and outcome than retributive justice. One of the most overlooked but important impacts of a faith response to the death and resurrection of Jesus is in the manner in which human justice is viewed and carried out. Just as the law that could not save is surpassed in Jesus, so is the punitive or retributive justice that could not restore people or relationships at any level. Both the value of one life and hope for one life conveyed through Jesus points to an effective restorative justice we have hardly begun to explore.

11. Christianity is not a means to practical ends, but a response of gratitude to God’s grace. Whether or not Christianity is practical or leads to practical benefits is of secondary importance or value to the world. More than anything else, it is a worshipful response to the mercy and hope extended to every person through the revelation of Jesus Christ. It should be noted, however, that those who make such a response--focusing on Jesus as model, example, and source of hope--would become reflectors of God’s loving intention for individuals and the world, is of no small consequence.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

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