Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Can the Church be saved?

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Some Christians deeply deplore the commercialisation of Christmas, and as we go further into the season, you will hear cries to ‘put back Christ into Christmas’. But if Christians really think about it seriously, they would see they are massively indebted and should be grateful to the merchants and marketers.

Had the West not made Christmas such a deeply embedded cultural custom and capitalists not profited so richly from it, exporting it all over the world, an increasingly marginalised Christianity would lose even more. Yes, as time goes by, we are hearing less about ‘the true meaning of Christmas’, but the fact is we still know there is some connection to a child who was born to be Saviour of the world, and that His name was Jesus.

Even with some secularists insisting on Xmas rather than Christmas, that name of Christ and something about the story of Christianity will leak out as long as Christmas remains big and commercialised. It’s one of the greatest of ironies, but if Christmas had not become so secularised, commercialised and popularised – the highlight of the year in the West and even in some non-Christian cultures – orthodox Christianity would become even more marginalised.

Yes, it’s true that even for Christians it’s a point of pain that so few remember Christ at Christmas, but Christianity is losing its influence so rapidly in Western culture that Christians will come to be thankful for the small mercies afforded them at Christmas time.

GLOBALISATION FACTOR

Gary Spaulding asked me to contribute my thoughts last week for an article he wrote in last Monday’s Gleaner titled ‘Conspiracy against Christianity’. This has prompted me to think about the issue of globalisation and Christianity, the theme of our interview. I pointed out how the Jamaican Church has changed as a result of the impact of globalisation.

A major feature of globalisation and the technological revolution in its wake has been the unleashing of a vast reservoir of information to the average person. The Internet has changed our world. And our world views. Some people had their private doubts about Christian dogmas. But the ability to go online and to plug into this immense storehouse of information has changed everything. You can now link up with other sceptical minds. You can go into chat rooms where your doubts about Christianity and religion in general are reinforced.

You get to be exposed to all the alleged contradictions, dilemmas and conundrums of the Bible. You also, from the privacy of your own space, can travel the world and connect with people who will give you forceful reasons for believing that even this idea of a God is pure myth. It was not just communism and certain dictatorships that have been significantly affected and destabilised by globalisation, cable television and the Internet. Christianity is toppling, too. Can that Humpty Dumpty be put back together again?

The number of Christians who have de-converted is astounding. The number of pastors, theologians and biblical scholars who have renounced their faith and are now atheists and agnostics is staggering. Some decades ago, one could only be exposed to these former Christians if you were reading widely and located them in learned journals and hard-copy books. Not so any longer. By the click of a mouse, you can learn about the leading ex-Christians.

CONTRADICTIONS IN BIBLE

Globalisation has brought us all together in one village. A village largely of sceptics who doubt everything except their own doubts. Some Evangelicals, known for their conservatism, have been retreating from the view that the Bible does not have errors. Many now say openly that the Bible has errors and is fraught with contradictions and moral ambiguities, even atrocities.

Just a couple of months ago, Peter Enns, the well-known Evangelical theologian and Harvard PhD who has taught at Princeton and Fuller Theological Seminary (the top Evangelical seminary) came out with his book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Enns was once a true believer in the Bible. But he said his problem began when he started to read. Too much. “I don’t remember exactly when, but one day it dawned on me that I was becoming ... a reader and not just a reader but a reclusive ‘I-am-fine-not-showering-just-leave-me-I-am-reading’ sort of reader.” That was the beginning of the end of his conservative faith.

And so it has been for many. Once they have plunged themselves in their reading, they have lost their belief that the Bible is absolutely true and trustworthy. In this new book, Enns raises some disturbing questions about God’s dealings, as reported in the Bible. Enns – still a Christian, mind you – asks, “How can Islam be condemned for promoting a warring God who smites the infidel when the Christian God in the Old Testament does pretty much the same thing, only without airplanes?”

Enns says further: “It’s hard to appeal to the God of the Bible to condemn genocide today when the God of the Bible commanded genocide yesterday. This is what we call a theological problem. And it’s a big one, not only because of the whole Canaanite business but because violence seems to be God’s preferred method of conflict resolution.”

Enns is not finished describing the God of the Bible. Speaking of what God essentially told the Israelites, his chosen people of the Old Testament , Enns writes: “On your way to Canaan, whenever you come across a city that is outside of its borders, first offer terms of peace. If they accept, enslave the people. If they refuse, kill the men. You can keep the women, children, livestock and anything else for yourself as spoils of war. But when you enter Canaan, the land I am giving you ... do not offer terms of peace, but kill everything that breathes – including women, children and livestock. Leave nothing alive. Otherwise, you may be tempted to worship their gods.”

Enns’ writing throughout the book is similarly disturbing. He summarises: “The Bible itself, taken on its own terms, raises difficult questions and challenges for faith.”

CRITICAL THINKING WEAK

And many pastors and Christian leaders in Jamaica are ill-equipped to deal with those tough questions. They usually ask members who are raising these issues to “pray and fast” and “have faith”, while being careful not to allow Satan to send “strong delusion” on them. Christian leaders will have to do better than that. They will have to be up to date with their critical reading and thinking, and they must be able to interact powerfully and cogently with to objections, or else the exodus of thinking people from the church will only increase exponentially.

Unfortunately, the brand of Christianity that is growing fastest in Jamaica is the Charismatic-Pentecostal, health-and-wealth, prosperity version, which puts a premium on experientialism, feelings and materialism (however disguised in spiritual packaging). The intellectual and cognitive is usually despised or given very short shrift.

These churches put more emphasis on praise and worship, having a good time in the Lord, miracle-working, faith healing and faith manifestations – God giving you money, good health, a spouse, making your earthly dreams come true, etc. A God who serves your needs – left unfulfilled by a market economy that caters only to the few. They don’t prepare people to deal with the big issues in our culture and the challenges posed by a hedonistic, materialistic and atomistic Western capitalist culture.

So, many thinking people – especially young people – are drifting from the Church and others are being seduced by self-absorption, materialism and pleasure-seeking. Cell phones, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, cable, satellite television, Netflix, etc., etc. More weapons of mass distractions; more salve to sooth our psychic wounds. We live in an age of material abundance and spiritual and intellectual impoverishment.

Even among those who are in the Church, it’s the values of ‘the world’ that have the deepest impact. Look at Jamaica today. So many churches and so much wickedness, corruption, crime, cronyism, lawlessness, injustice, hypocrisy.

An overly sexualised culture, in which even our children are not spared sexual exploitation, and one that privileges ego ratification is inherently hostile to Christian values. The Church has always taught salvation. But can the Church itself be saved?

n Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com.