The Culture of the Malleable Christ
The authors of the very cool Evangelical Catholicism blog respond to the phenomenon of Giving Kiosks/ATMs for Jesus, worship bands covering Aerosmith songs, sermons available on podcast, men's groups devoting whole meetings to discussing the spiritual implications of dining at Hooters, etc. I love this Blog! Find them from now on in the side bar.
I think there is a problem (with the Church's) overall spirit of concession to prevailing social trends. Church, the Bible and Jesus must be made relevant and rendered malleable to cultural shifts. At what expense?
The mega-church phenomenon and Biblical fudamentalism live or die on convenience. Conversion and salvation have been reduced to a simple 20-second prayer, "I accept you, Jesus, in my heart as Lord and savior...". Worship is nothing more than a few great tunes and a self-help sermon. Sunday service is pitched not as a participation in eternal divine worship but as a "great way to start your week". Discipleship is feeling good about yourself and about God, with the only commitment entailing that 20-second prayer and doing your best in day-to-day affairs. Churches must compete with one another to attract church-goers, spending thousands of dollars in television, billboard and stadium advertisements.
What strikes me about this form of "Christianity" is that Christ is not necessary. Indeed, Christ is an idea, perhaps even just an ideal, an example. Christ is not portrayed as he truly was--a 1st century, Levitically-minded Jewish Messiah who demanded obedience, suffering and possible solitude in exchange for the promise of salvation...
To answer these questions in the affirmative is to wrench Christ from his culture, his historical embeddedness. If we relativise or minimize Jesus' teachings and liturgical structures, we no longer need Jesus to be anything but an idea or an ideal, a memory or a ghost.... In other words, let's just talk about how his death--which really could have happened in any time and any place at any age--frees me from sin and the obligation to do ANYTHING more than admit with my mind that this death happened sometime for me.
And so I return again to the "At what expense?" There is no question that a religion that is packed with good times and great friends is very attractive. And the more this religion caters to my everyday life--blue jeans, Aerosmith songs, ATMs and promise of financial well-being--the better. The success of evangelical mega-church is not measured in terms of faith but in terms of numbers. This is not to say that there is no faith to be found among the attendees of these services. Far from it. Perhaps it's the pastors who mislead: If the true Christ, that is, the historically conditioned and eternally unbound Son of God, is not preached along with his full message, then how can anyone speak of true Christian belief? The combination of Gnosticism and Pelagianism with a monetary twist that is found in most mega-churches hardly constitutes authentic, biblical, historically-conscious Christianity.