The Love Paradigm of Christianity

A church for the "Jesus hates religion" crowd.

Christianity once stood as an institution organized for the purpose preserving the truth. It was not merely a stance of holding to a set of religious beliefs among competing beliefs, but holding truth in a world of lies.

Organized religion was birthed by Christians gathering together to work out a reasoned defense against heresies and cultural perversions and to preserve the writings of the apostles as well as Christians who recorded their apologetic protection of sacred truths. These councils could be said to be the forerunners of modern Christianity.

It might be argued that the first Christians, during the time of the apostles, did not have an organized religion (no Roman Catholic Church or Protestant Denominations). It should be observed, though, that they also lacked a canonical scripture (what we call the Bible), a complete set of writings to preserve the teachings of the church and provide a historical reference. When councils were created to debate heresies, creeds and confessions were drafted to clarify beliefs, and writings copied to be preserved through generations (the Bible), the Christian way of life became an organized religion. For almost two millennia, organized religion has served to preserve the truth and to pass it on to future generations.

In our modern age, Christianity has lost its claim to the truth. Scientific inquiry and ideological diversity have given the irreligious skeptics leverage in laying claim to exclusive knowledge of the truth. In their defeated stance, Christians have become divided and fragmented. The fundamentalists have rebelled against the modern times by separation, the conservatives are seeking a rediscovery of the reformed foundations of Protestantism, and the aimless masses of Christians are seeking havens from the encroaching secularism by joining “non-churches.” Christians no longer look to the church (Catholic or Protestant) for the truth and are abandoning organized religion and its long and important history in search of something “real.”

With the preservation of the truth no longer in the hands of Christians and now in the hands of secular sciences a new paradigm has been emerging to give Christians direction. It is the preservation of love. Good and evil were once defined as the truth being good and the lie being evil (Jesus as the Truth, Satan as a liar). Religions or ideology that denied the claims of Christianity were considered to be a lie.

The emphasis is now on “God is love.” Love is the new truth. It is an all-encompassing idea that is not concerned with the pursuit of truth and ideological clarity, but with unity of any who lay claim to the title of “Christian.” The “love Jesus and hate religion” idea is a reflection of a moving away from the search for truth towards the search for love and the rejection of its counter, hate.

Love as a paradigm is ultimately about acceptance. The word “forgiveness” is often brought up as is the word “judgmental” in describing the problems that Christians have with churches. Organized religion is deemed to be condemning of people, professing Christians and non-Christians alike, being judgmental and without forgiveness. The stereotype is the small town fundamentalist church that announces that people are going to hell for listening to non-Christian music.

The search for forgiveness from judgment uses biblical language and terms, but it masks cultural realities. “Forgiveness” is now synonymous with acceptance and “judgment” synonymous with rejection. Acceptance is love and rejection is hate. The goal is to reach out and connect with others based on a common humanity and the elimination of all boundaries. Complete acceptance (forgiveness) devoid of rejection (judgment) is the fulfillment of “God is love.”

In such a community, sifting through and separating ideas and behaviors into right and wrong is discarded as “judgmental.” A person can live as they see fit and believe as they will and they will be accepted as they are. It is not about Christianity accepting ideas like non-Christian religions, evolution and open sexuality (areas of intense debate), but rather accepting people who practice those ideas without rejecting those ideas. To reject the idea is to reject the person who practices the idea.

A good way to measure this shift is to take the motto “hate the sin, but love the sinner” and change it to “there is no sin, only love for the sinner.” This is the love paradigm and is growing among Christians, especially the younger generation. Sin and judgment are harsh words of a judgmental attitude, of rejection and hate.

The motivation for such a movement is fear. A shift from above ground Christianity in churches towards an underground Christianity in homes is a retreat from lost fields of ideological battle. A secular world based exclusively on humanist sciences for knowledge will eventually be hostile to the church. Persecution would be guaranteed for a Christianity that organized and rose up and stood against the establishment. An underground Christianity, without church or religion, would avoid that persecution. In the past, Christians went underground to avoid persecution and history is repeating itself.

With Christianity no longer founded on its cannon as superior truth, it has only its humanity and the the search for survival and comfort in an un-Christian age. As a religion, Christianity is dying through abandonment. It is moving away from being a declaration of the truth to being a lifestyle of quiet acquiescence under a secular fist. There is much that is cowardly in the rejection of organized religion, though not without sympathy.

Nobody wants to actually believe that the atheists are right, but then again, nobody really believes Christianity is right, either. It is not about right and wrong or truth and lie. It is about love. Anyone can be a Christian. They need only accept that Jesus loves them as they are and requires only that they love others as they themselves are loved. The churches that still preach sin and repentance and salvation from the wrath of a holy God, that still cling to old ideas on Creation and marriage, are considered mausoleums of the evil of hate, full of racism, sexism and homophobia.

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Rethinking Fundamentalism: The Bad, the Bad and the Ugly

Desperado. Why don't you come to your senses?

I talked about the good, the bad and the ugly of Christian fundamentalism in an effort to defend those who labored to defend the orthodox beliefs of the Christian faith. The aggressive theological militancy was heralded as positive while the isolation and the cultural activism were viewed as negative. However, such a view is proving to be less than idea and not nearly as heroic.

The bad is still bad and the ugly still ugly. The good, though, is not so good.

The militancy towards challenges to the orthodox doctrines essentially turns a servant of Christian into a kind of revolutionary activist. In leftist revolutionary movements, militant activism proves to be destructive and disruptive, accomplishing its goals through a form of chaos and subversion rather than the honest exploration and challenging of ideas. For a Christian to essentially use Marxist tactics is adding chaos to chaos. It is little surprise that Christian fundamentalism has done as much damage as it has.

There is a danger in moving away from a fundamentalist stance, as needed as the move is. Available is the option of moderation, of finding a middle ground between preserving established doctrine and adopting modern thought through compromise. In such a place, the fundamentalist meets with theological liberals and for the sake of moderation compromises their stance without reciprocal compromise from liberals.

Though theological conservatives are criticized for their lack of militancy, it is that lack of militancy that may prove to be much more effective. Being moderate in the presentation of ideas need not equate with a compromise those ideas. Theologians can be careful without self-censoring.

Liberal theology continues to be a corrosive force on church doctrine, but countering that erosion can be met with rational and clear discussions in defense of orthodoxy. And as always, the best endorsement of orthodox doctrine remains leading by example in daily life.

I will confess, though, that there is a sadness in laying aside a militant stance. A sense of surrender and defeat hangs like a cloud over the field of conflict. Perhaps the idea of defeat is what drives fundamentalist today. Given just how important and profound the basic claims of Christianity are, the thought of losing them to a world of liberal skepticism is the stuff of nightmares.

Christian Fundamentalism: The Good, The Bad and Ugly

Onward.

If there is one word that summons the worst thoughts over the Christian faith, it is “Fundamentalism.” The stereotypical fundamentalist is a raving madman with a Bible in his hand and spittle hanging from his lips as he angrily denounces to hell everyone but himself for the smallest of indiscretions.

However, Fundamentalism in reality is, save for a few fringe abuses, a bit more benign. It is not so benign that it safe or useful, but it is not quite the domestic terrorist ideology that popular media make it out to be.

Fundamentalism has two primary components. One is a militant stance against challenges to Christian orthodoxy. The other is the call to separate from churches that reject Christian orthodoxy. There is a third component, but that did not fully develop until the mid-point of the twentieth century.

In the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, theological liberals, especially out of Germany, had begun to openly promote ideas that directly altered Christian orthodoxy. Beliefs such as the reliability of scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, and the resurrection of Christ were called into question. In lieu of the certainty proclaimed in the creeds and confessions came the acceptance of all ideas within the church, even if those ideas challenged the very foundation of the church.

Fundamentalism rose up to aggressively engage these ideas on an intellectual level. Five fundamental points were laid out as the basis for all theological arguments against liberal theology. They were the virgin birth of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the atoning death of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the infallibility of scripture. A collection of theological articles was collected and published as The Fundamentals.

The good in Fundamentalism is its militancy. Whereas a mere conservative stance can only present an orthodox view in an effort to persuade, fundamentalism not only presents and defends the orthodox view, but it aggressive examines and dismantles the counter views for the purpose of proving those counter views wrong. It is good to defend and hold what is important, but a good offense can be the best defense.

The bad in Fundamentalism is its tendency to separate. Mainline churches who have adopted liberal theology have lost large numbers of Christians seeking congregations where liberalism is not taught. In some cases, the entire controversy between orthodoxy and liberal theology has left Christians wallowing in complete uncertainty. Non-denominational modern churches have sprung up to find some separate place of neutrality where Jesus is still taught, but without the boundaries of doctrine or orthodoxy. This empty and fragmented wandering has weakened Christianity.

The separation is understandable, though. One of the primary modes of thinking in liberal theology is perpetual uncertainty. This expectation of skepticism by Christians toward their own faith has a corrosive effect and doubt spreads easily. When a church is saturated with uncertainty and deliberately enshrines that uncertainty in its doctrines, then for the sake of belief separation is a viable option.

The ugly is that at some point, Fundamentalism shifted from being militant against theological ideas and became militant against people. Cultural trends such as popular music and technology became the targets. Activist groups sought to counter trends and political ideas, even though these are only surface issues, mere symptoms of a culture no longer influenced by Christianity and Biblical truth.

While Fundamentalism may not have a place in current Christian discourse, there is needed more than just efforts to passively conserve ideas from being lost. The culture is in need of Christians who are willing to do the work of openly challenging secular ideas and theologies for the purpose of defeating them before the church withers into a lifeless museum.