The Problem with Reconstructing Christianity (Bricolage? pt 1)


Several years ago I spoke with a friend who had just spent the night partying and clubbing. He was disappointed in himself and felt that his life was heading in the wrong direction. God, he felt, was calling him to himself, but my friend was headed the other way. With a look of remorse on his face, he told me he didn't want to live the party and booze life but the God-honoring one instead. I was stoked about our conversation until the next day when he got on the phone and spoke to one of his friends. For some strange reason the remorseful "I-want-to-follow-God" person was replaced by the "I had a great time at the club last night" person. At first I was blown away by the change in his story until I remembered that my friend was helplessly addicted to being the center of attention. This internal motivation led him to do and say whatever he could in order to get noticed. If telling a Jesus-follower that he was repenting of his sin got him attention, he would do so. But if telling his secular friends that he was enjoying his sin got him attention he would switch his story. In short, he would do anything and say everything just to get noticed. Perhaps, in the words of Chris August, he felt "alone and undiscovered"[1] and was willing to play moral, ethical, and personality bricolage so long as he got the attention he was craving.

Most of us have done the same thing in our lives. At the very least, we know someone who we can easily identify as the proverbial people-pleaser. They are willing to tinker with their personality just to be accepted and liked. People who live this way are often referred to as phony, fake, wanna-be's, spineless, chameleons, untrustworthy and  the list goes on and on. At the end of the day people who catch onto their game lose respect for them. The saddest part is this: Phony people may feel as though they are gaining popularity, but ultimately they damage themselves. Our likes and dislikes, our fashion, our morals, our values, our ideologies and beliefs, our personality and uniqueness all makeup who we are. Seen together all of these tiny elements are like paragraphs and chapters which together make up the story that is you. But when a person tinkers with these elements for the sake of popularity they damage their story, their authenticity, and their identity.

In 1941, a German theologian by the name of Rudolf Bultmann proposed a theory known as demythologization. Although the theory did not originate with Bultmann, this was arguably the first time it was popularized. Bultmann's basic contention was that mankind had become too enlightened to believe the miracles in the Bible and that if Christians were to succeed in spreading their faith they would have to demythologize (erase the myths) from the Bible (ie. Noahs Ark, Miracles of Jesus, etc.) in order to make it more appealing to modern thinkers. 

Weird as that may sound, Bultmann was not the first, and neither would he be the last theologian to propose a redefining or restructuring of Christianity in order to make it more appealing to the culture. In recent years movements such as the Emergent Church[2] have attempted to redefine Christianity in order for the secular world to notice it. Matt Slick expressed the post-modern challenge well when he stated that,
The danger of postmodernism is that it tends to deny the ability to know things for sure. It even undermines the construction of language by stating that words can be interpreted differently, that language is fluid, and that the Bible, written in ancient languages, is open to various interpretations of equal validity."[3] 
In an attempt to reach this rising relativistic generation, many emergents have proposed a redefining of Christianity. For some, it is not enough to simply rethink the way we "do" church. Instead, we must also rethink our beliefs as a whole. One proponent of emergent theology summarized it well when he said,
"We do not think this [Emerging Church Movement] is about changing your worship service. We do not think this is about…how you structure your church staff. This is actually about changing theology. This is about our belief that theology changes. The message of the gospel changes. It’s not just the method that changes."[4]
As a result, many emergents have come to deny core Christian beliefs such as baptism and the sacrificial atonement of Jesus. Brian McLaren, a popular emergent church proponent "went as far to trivialize baptism as being no more than a statement of 'We are clean; they are unclean.'"[5] In his article "A Generous Apostasy", a first hand account at an emergent convention, Aaron Muth said,
After lunch, I spotted McLaren making his way to the table of the young freshman girls... that I had just had lunch with, so I made my way to their table. One of the students sheepishly asked McLaren, 'Do you believe in the blood atonement of Christ.' McLaren confidently and forcefully answered, 'Absolutely not.'[6]
Noble as their intentions may be, Christians who play theological bricolage in order to gain popularity among the secular, post-modern generations damage Christianity. By subverting core biblical truths, they are damaging the story the Bible tells about God. Much like the personality, values and beliefs of a person each biblical doctrine (teaching) is best seen as a paragraph or chapter within a book. Alone it makes little sense, but when united with every other chapter and paragraph, a beautiful, authentic, and genuine story of God emerges. This story is perfect, attractive, powerful, and experientially life-changing. And whenever limited human minds attempt to tinker with doctrine for the sake of popularity they inevitably change the story of God. And unless we are willing to suggest that we can tell a better God-story than the one God has told of himself then any attempt at theological bricolage only serves to make God less attractive, less powerful, and consequently, less experiential and life changing. In the end God becomes a people-pleaser, a chameleon, and a phony capable of altering his story for the sake of approval.

Thankfully, the emergents are wrong. The God-story of scripture does not change. "Jesus the Anointed One is always the same: yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb. 13:8).[7] David the poet said of him, "...You are the same, You will never change..." (Psa. 102:27). The seer Malachi quoted him saying, "I am the Eternal One, I never change" (Mal. 3:6). And James the brother of Jesus said, "Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above, courtesy of the Father of lights. He is consistent. He won’t change His mind or play tricks in the shadows." (Ja. 1:17). 

It was because of the truth of this unchanging God - a genuine, authentic, for-real kind of God -that Peter the friend of Jesus could say, "false teachers will rise up in the future among you. They will slip in with their destructive opinions, denying the very Master who bought their freedom and dooming themselves to destruction swiftly, but not before they attract others by their unbridled and immoral behavior. Because of them and their ways, others will criticize and condemn the path of truth..." (1 Pet. 2:1-2). John, the student of love, also said "do not trust every spirit. Instead, examine them carefully to determine if they come from God, because the corrupt world is filled with the voices of many false prophets" (1 Joh. 4:1). And Paul, the converted tyrant warned, "No matter the source of the false gospel, even if it is preached by us or a heavenly messenger, ignore it. May those who add to or subtract from the gospel of Jesus be eternally cursed" (Gal. 1:4)!

This is who God is. Consistent. Steady. Unchanging. Unvarying. Unswerving. Undeviating, Unwavering. Unfluctuating. True to type. God is not phony, fake, a wanna-be, spineless, a chameleon, or untrustworthy. He is who he is. He has revealed himself as he is. And he will always be who he has been. His story never changes. His message to mankind never alters. His word is not up for auction. His truth is not for sale. He will not lie for as Solomon the wise said, "Lying lips disgust the Eternal" (Pro. 12:22). He is transparent, trustworthy, authentic, genuine, and honest. In a word full of scams, charlatans, and liars we need a God who is for-real. And the moment we decide to play theological bricolage we take away the very thing this starving generation needs - someone they can trust.

Not only do we ruin the God-story when we attempt to redefine Christianity, but we also damage the authenticity and identity of Christianity. These elements are ruined because the God-story of Christianity is rooted in the ancient self-revelation of God known as the Bible. Therefore, any attempt to reconstruct the story must deny the reliability of this book. Inherent in this book is also the identity of Christianity. Emergents say that it's OK to question or reinterpret the book because words don't have real meanings but then they go on and publish books on which they teach their views and expect others to place their faith in those words. So words do have meaning so long as the book has been published by an emergent author. But when it comes to scripture - that we can question all we want. The self-refuting and hypocritical nature of this position is evident. Emergent's are not attempting to reinterpret scripture. Instead, they are effectively creating their own religion complete with its own set of sacred writings and practices which are loosely based on Christianity (and other religions) and heavily rooted in post-modern philosophy. This "new" Christianity cannot be demonstrated from the faith-journey of the ancients who experienced God and, inspired by his Spirit, wrote the story for future generations. As a result, to call this "new Christianity" Christianity is disingenuous and perfunctory. The story it tells does not gel with the story the ancient seers and apostles told; thus, it cannot be the same faith or even the same God. Emergent Christianity is an ersatz Christianity - a faith without foundation, roots, and identity.

But true Christianity stands firm. Its story continues to change lives all over the world for it is grounded firmly on the testimony of God-lovers who were moved by God himself to write the Bible we now hold. In the Bible is chronicled the memoirs of a God who loves so relentlessly and recklessly that he was willing to be separated from his son in order that he might reconcile a rebellious race back to himself. God made mankind, but mankind rebelled against him and was consequently lost. But Jesus Christ gave everything he had in order to win us back. Jesus himself tells the story of a merchant who found a precious pearl. When he did, he sold everything he had and purchased the pearl. The pearl was so valuable to him that he was willing to give all in order to have it. The merchant is none other and Jesus himself and the pearl is you. That pearl is me. The broken, destitute, cast aside, broken, rebellious human race. That is the central story of scripture and every doctrine it teaches adds to the beauty of this story. Thus, to change one doctrine is to damage the story. But the story is charming, delightful, graceful and satisfying. It doesn't need to evolve. It doesn't need to be changed. It stands on its own beauty as the most life-altering and propositionally experiential narrative that has ever been told.

While this post is far from complex or exhaustive I would like to suggest that, apart from all of the other more "scholarly" reasons for rejecting the reconstruction of Christianity, the damage such a reconstruction poses to the beautiful God-story of scripture and the authenticity/identity of Christianity is reason enough to avoid the temptation to play bricolage with theology.

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[1] Christ August. 7 x 70, Song lyrics.
[2] Note: The Emergent Church movement, as all movements, has its conservatives and liberals, its original proponents and its fanatical/ extremist wings. The ideologies I refute in this article are more often found among those extreme wings of the movement. It is not my intention to paint the entire movement on the ideas of those fanatical proponents. However, because those proponents tend to be the most influential and popular it is their overall concepts that I refute.
[3] Matt Slick. "The Emerging Church and Postmodernism", [web: http://carm.org/emerging-church-postmodernism].
[4] Tony Jones (“A New Theology for a New World.” A workshop for the 2004 Emergent Convention in San Diego) [Web: http://www.alwaysbeready.com/emerging-church?id=142].
[5] Brian McLaren as quoted by Cherie Lynn Milliron. "Student Responds to Third Way Conference," [Web: http://advindicate.com/articles/2013/10/3/student-responds-to-third-way-conference].
[6] Aaron Muth. "A Generous Apostacy," [Web: http://advindicate.com/articles/2013/10/3/a-generous-apostasy].
[7] All texts are quoted from The Voice Bible version

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