A while back I posed a question to my Facebook friends: “Do we need to rethink Christianity?” I asked this question in response to an article concerning the need for part of the Christian Church (specifically, the Roman Catholic Church) to rethink its stance on numerous doctrinal points. Now whether you think the Roman Catholic Church (and/or other more conservative portions of the Christian family) should reconsider the appropriate theology and practice concerning the role of women in the church and definition of marriage, I think that pondering the potential implications of “rethinking Christianity” is important.
First, to even think about “rethinking” Christian faith, we need to consider the definition of “Christian” and/or “Christianity.” Is Christianity something you do on Sunday’s? Does it impact where you work? Is it an institution, a faith, a creed, a personal commitment, a lifestyle, or something else entirely? What level of commitment does Christianity take? Can we combine tenets of Christianity with facets of other cultural and religious systems? Different people define Christian faith differently. There are some theologians and scholars, especially in the American Evangelical tradition, that question whether those who don’t believe exactly (or almost exactly) as they do are actually Christians at all. So before we think about “rethinking” Christianity, it seems important to think about how we define Christianity in the first place.
Second, when thinking about “rethinking” Christianity, we need to talk about what we’re rethinking. This is very much related to defining Christianity. What are we seeking to “rethink”? God? How humanity has access to God? The doctrine of the Trinity? The place of the Christian Bible? Christian social ethics, such as respect for human life? If someone is going to call themselves a Christian and classify themselves, there has to be something “unique” about that position– something that differentiates that classification from other classifications. It may be somewhat naïve of me, but I somewhat confidently think that most people who call themselves Christians would affirm most of the meaning behind of the Apostles Creed (understanding of course that different contexts are going to put different ‘spins’ on its interpretation). Whether or not that is the case, it seems clear that any appropriate “rethinking” that would need to be done about Christianity would necessarily surround issues that, while not unimportant, are not entirely central to the Christian message about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now unfortunately, in the pluralistic culture of the West that is often anti-Christian, many times it seems that commentators and pundits are requesting that Christian faith rethink its foundations. I heard far too much of this during the media attention surrounding the election of Pope Francis. Should the Catholic Church consider modifications in the way things are done around the world? Sure, I don’t see why not. But should the Church consider adding books to the canon, denying the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and elect a practicing lesbian as the next pope (assuming that circumstance would still allow for her to be called “Father”)? I think not.
Third, for many professing Christians, a big step toward “rethinking” Christianity would first necessitate that they actually think about Christianity. Especially within American culture, which has so long been pervaded by Judeo-Christian values and cultural influences, there has been a strong tendency to profess something (generally adherence to or belief in) a form of Christianity without really taking that profession seriously. So before considering a “rethink” of Christian faith, it would behoove many to think seriously about 1) the definition of Christian faith, 2) the implications of that faith, and 3) their application of that faith. Thinking about what you believe should be important. And I think this point underscores what should be central, not only about Christianity, but about all of life — thinking about truth and reality. Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living, underscoring our need to think, especially about those facets of our existence that we deem to be important. As in the article that I read yesterday, far too often in our culture “rethinking” Christianity means not thinking about historic Christian faith and accepting postmodern pluralism in all its vague glory. And thus my response to whether or not we should rethink Christianity along those lines is a resounding ‘No.’ But saying no to rethinking Christian faith in this way does not necessitate that we cease to think about and consider Christianity as it is active in our daily lives. So think about your life and faith– it’s important and leads to a better faith and life, both for you and others. For as C.S. Lewis once said, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”