How To Take Christ out of Christianity

Last week Alana Massey wrote a fascinating piece for The Washington Post titled “How To Take Christ out of Christianity.” The gist of the article is this. Churches need to make room for unbelievers who do not want to follow Christ but who want to remain connected to the community and moral vision of Christianity. That is precisely what she wishes for herself, an unbelieving Episcopalian. She writes:

And though I am without a god, I am not alone.

The group of nonbelievers dubbed “Nones” in the media — because they don’t mark a religious affiliation on demographic surveys — grew from 15 percent of the U.S. population to 20 percent between 2007 and 2012; almost a third of them are under 30. These are the people who identify with ambivalent, ambiguous statements like “I’m spiritual, but not religious”; “I’m kind of agnostic”; “Now I’m an atheist, but I grew up Catholic”; or “I believe in something, but I don’t know if it’s God.” There are those of us, too, who still feel a profound connection to the Christianity we grew up with but who can no longer — or never could — connect those feelings to theistic belief. Some miss the ritual of singing in unison or wishing peace to their neighbors in a pew. Others miss feeling grounded in a community where they can celebrate life’s milestones and heartbreaks. Some find secular life lacking in sufficient ethical frameworks and systems of accountability to reinforce them. For many, it is a combination of all three.

All those severed connections, though, mean a new opportunity to create spaces for the “culturally Christian” nonbeliever and to examine how churches lost them in the first place.

Two quick thoughts about this:

1. Faithful churches would do well to welcome unbelievers to hear the word preached. It is our mission to make real and vital connections to seekers. But churches would lose all integrity if they did what this author is suggesting. “Creating spaces” in the membership for those who are “culturally Christian” is making a place for those who have a form of godliness but who deny its power (1 Tim. 3:5). Light cannot fellowship with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). And it is a recipe for spiritual ruin when a church’s membership makes no distinction between disciples and the world, and yet that is exactly what this article calls for. In short, this article is a non-starter for faithful churches.

2. There is an obvious longing in this article that shouldn’t be missed. In fact, this author’s wistfulness might even evoke our compassion and hopefulness. She recognizes that she has lost something profound in the loss of her Christian faith. What she doesn’t yet recognize is that the moral order of Christianity is not an end in itself but bears witness to the One who is. In short, the hole that this writer is trying to fill won’t be filled by simply adopting the symbols and traditions of a faith that she doesn’t believe in. It can only be filled by the God who made her and who loves her. The spiritual bankruptcy of secularism has left her high and dry, and she wants more. And maybe that is not such a bad thing.

[Read the rest here. Listen to Albert Mohler’s commentary on this article here.]

12 Responses to How To Take Christ out of Christianity

  1. Kenneth Abbott May 4, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    “Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom.” And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee. Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether first to know thee or call upon thee. But who can invoke thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may invoke thee as another than thou art. It may be that we should invoke thee in order that we may come to know thee. But “how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?” Now, “they shall praise the Lord who seek him, ”for “those who seek shall find him,” and, finding him, shall praise him. I will seek thee, O Lord, and call upon thee. I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher.

    Augustine of Hippo, “The Confessions,” Book 1, Chapter 1

  2. Chris Ryan May 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm #

    I saw this. And scratched my head. If you took Christ out of Christianity all you’d have left would be ianity. What’s a fella to do with that?

    There’s already plenty of space at church for ‘cultural Christians’…We should welcome the unsaved but I don’t think we should encourage cultural Christianity anymore than we should encourage cultural Islam or cultural Atheism.

    • Kenneth Abbott May 4, 2015 at 2:02 pm #

      “If you took Christ out of Christianity all you’d have left would be ianity. What’s a fella to do with that?”

      Put an extra “n” in “ianity” and call the result what it really is.

      J. G. Machen had the answer for this nonsense about 90 years ago.

    • James Bradshaw May 4, 2015 at 11:15 pm #

      Chris, I’d much prefer cultural Christianity to cultural Islam. At least Christians aren’t shooting people who draw pictures of Jesus.

      • ian Shaw May 5, 2015 at 8:46 am #

        Amen to that!

  3. ian Shaw May 4, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

    If you take Christ out of Christianity, what they point? Without Christ, there’s no resurrection, no substitutionary atonement for sins, et al. Which would make us all just Deists, or Jewish at best, right? Without Christ, out faith is a lie, and if it’s a lie, what’s the point? Without Christ, we all still fall under God’s wrathful judgment, and if that the case, why would you “want to remain connected to the community and moral vision of Christianity.”

    Without Christ, where can a cultural Christian find hope? Joy? Peace? Christians don’t worship/believe/obey Christ just to get justification, but because of what He did. Because of what He has done for me, I live to serve Him!

    “an unbelieving Episcopalian”. To be Episcopalian, doesn’t that require belief? If I said that I’m “an unbelieving Christian”, logically, makes me not a Christian at all- so why use the word even?

    • David Phillips May 5, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

      There are plenty of “unbelieving” people in churches. Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, you name it, they’re there. It’s like a trial membership that never ends. You get the “warm fuzzies” without actually having to get your feet wet. If you take out the death, burial, and resurrection, of Christ, all you have are a bunch of people trying to be nice and do good. You may as well attend a Unitarian-Universalist congregation, or some other way-out, so called church. It’d be cool if everybody got into heaven, but since so many refuse the gospel, or just can’t bring themselves to the point of grace (I guess that’s refusing as well), ain’t gonna happen.

  4. Dal Bailey May 4, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

    All those severed connections, though, mean a new opportunity to create spaces for the “culturally Christian” nonbeliever and to examine how churches lost them in the first place.

    Who severed the connection? I doubt it was God/

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