What if science produced an incontrovertible piece of evidence that proves Jesus didn’t die for our sins? Would you continue trying to live a life centered on loving God and loving your neighbor? If the resurrection was debunked, would the lived example of Jesus be enough for you to continue identifying as a Christian? Why are we really doing all of this praying and going to church every week? Are we exercising our faith, or are we searching for certainty?
Most of us would like to get to a place in our Christian walk where we’re as faithful as Job, but that’s probably not going to happen.
Faith is hard won; it’s a journey that passes through our adversities, and is the final result of exhaustively interrogating our beliefs. We live in a time where scientific reason sheds light on the mysteries of the world, yet faith depends on us suspending our quest for certainty and embracing the unknowable. There are times when I don’t know if I’m more invested in the teachings of Jesus or in the reward of heaven. At times, I’ve found myself hoping prayer and communion could connect me to a certainty about my beliefs that true faith doesn’t allow. My quest for assurance is no different than someone praying for money or revenge. I’m a prisoner to my inability to freely accept the gift of salvation given to us, yet I want more.
I see three dominant types of Christianity practiced today: Diagnostic, Medicinal and Empowerment. I know Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists and a number of people from other denominations who fall into each of these categories. I’ve seen the attributes that accompany these types of Christianity in pulpits, sitting on Deacons row, and in the pews. This is in no way an attempt to redefine Christian belief based on my small sampling of experiences, but I spend a lot of time in churches and around Christians. Each of these forms of Christianity is rooted in what the individual seeks from their personal relationship with the Lord.
The first type is Diagnostic Christianity.
Practitioners of Diagnostic Christianity use (and misuse) the Bible to critique the condition of the world. This form of Christianity is propagated by those who believe all of the world’s ills could be solved by a greater commitment to the teachings of Jesus. I don’t disagree that society would benefit from a mass spiritual and intellectual reawakening, but Scripture teaches us that none are righteous. If every person made the choice to come to the Father it couldn’t eradicate the sins of greed, hatred and jealousy. Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “In a place where all are Christians ipso facto none are Christians.” Society’s problems are far more complicated than the diagnosis this type of Christianity allows room for. The call for a modern day Christian Renaissance is in essence their way of saying “fix it Jesus.” Instead of actively working to change the things about their church or community, they duck the task of being a good steward. These Christians have a cure for every ailment, but no desire to administer it.
The second form of Christianity is Medicinal.
Practitioners of Medicinal Christianity use the Lord’s promises as comfort from the conditions the world has imposed on them. Many of these Christians have resigned themselves to the fact that their kingdom shall come and they will become in heaven what they cannot be on Earth. The trap of Medicinal Christianity is acceptance. Instead of being liberated by God’s omnipotence, these believers become slaves to it. These are the people Marx was describing when he wrote, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” They read Scripture, but never connect with the emancipatory message contained in it.
The last of the three dominant forms of Christianity I see practiced is Empowerment Christianity.
This brand of faith is practiced by Christ’s eternal optimists. There’s not an obstacle life can place in front of these Christians that they won’t give God the glory for as they attempt to overcome it. They have a belief in the Lord so strong that they rarely, if ever, outwardly question the circumstances of their life. This is the group of believers who accomplish what was thought to be impossible. Obviously, they’re not perfect, but they emulate the life of Jesus in a way that makes the lives of those around them better. The sad thing about Empowerment Christianity is that enough of us aren’t connected to it. These Christians have no problem diagnosing society’s ills, they’re assured of their place in heaven, yet they set out to do the hard work of changing their communities.
There are over 100 verses in the Bible that hammer home the fact that our salvation can’t be earned through works, but none of those verses give us permission to sit on the sidelines.
Christianity is egalitarian in the sense that no one can bribe their way into heaven. All of us—irrespective of our gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic background—are given the chance to exchange our belief that Jesus died for the remission of our sins for entrance into the Kingdom. This admission price asks us to invest in something we can’t prove in a way that’s contrary to the certainty our fleshly desires. The genius of this proposition is that belief, for many, is a much steeper price than money or deeds. Having your name appear in the Lamb’s Book of Life is already more than any of us can afford, yet we still want more from God. I’m not saying we shouldn’t call on the Father in a crisis, but too often we reduce God to our personal genie or ATM. Savior is synonymous with Messiah, but so are liberator, leader and champion. While we’re here we should make every effort to be free, follow the example of Jesus, and champion causes bigger than ourselves. If we do those things maybe our doubts and insecurities will take care of themselves.
Danny Cardwell is a Deacon at Piney Grove Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Virginia. He has tutored, lectured and mentored at-risk youth in churches, group homes and inside the Virginia Department of Corrections. He blogs at Thought Wrestler.