Busting Myths About Christianity: Assessing Myths 4-6

The other day, we looked at three myths that dog Christianity, particularly the form found in America. Today we'll examine three more.

The ten myths:

  1. Christians are more judgmental than non-Christians.
  2. Christians are stingier than non-Christians.
  3. Christians are more intolerant of other people than non-Christians.
  4. Christians are more short-sighted than non-Christians. 
  5. Christians don't know how to have fun. 
  6. Christians despise intellectuals more than non-Christians do.
  7. Christians prefer kitsch over important art.
  8. Christian subculture mimics the world rather than creating anything lasting.
  9. Companies run by Christians are as unethical as secular companies, and perhaps more so.
  10. Christianity causes more problems in the world than any other religion.

Let's look at numbers four through six…

4. Christians are more short-sighted than non-Christians

You won't find a church with a Fifty Year Plan. Or a Twenty, for that matter. Long-range goals don't figure into much of what we do in American Christianity. In many way, we American Christians resemble a school full of amnesiacs, always learning, but never remembering the past well enough to build toward a future.

Somehow, we've allowed the first half of one passage to subsume the rest of Scripture: 

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"– yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
—James 4:13-14 ESV

While most of us would deem "Live for today for tomorrow you die," to be the ultimate self-centered expression of a culture hellbent on hedonism, we've somehow aligned it with the James passage. We get all dispensational and start talking how "it's all going to burn." Our lives take on "So what?" sheen.

That so many people who call themselves believers fall into this trap should bother us. But it doesn't.

Jesus said this:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
—Matthew 6:19-21 ESV

We need to look at James in light of Jesus. The Lord tells us that our mist-like life here and now has eternal purpose that will carry over into the afterlife. Singer-Sargent "Hercules and the Hydra"It is one thing to live for the day, but quite another to live for the day so eternity is richer.

You don't hear enough sermons about storing up treasure in heaven. I hear plenty about living the good life now, yet the only correct way to understand "it's all going to burn" is not as an excuse to cover profligacy this side of heaven, but as the means of testing every man's and woman's work after we die.

Who can blame a non-Christian for going for the gusto now? He or she's got nothing else to look forward to. Some will move beyond the "live for the moment" lifestyle that plagues America, opting for the concept of a "legacy." Even that may be wishful thiking, hoping our typical three-month collective memory will somehow stretch out to a century or more.

But when a Christian adopts "grab all the gusto' as a personal motto? That's the most pathetic short-sightedness of all. Yet how much of modern Christianity in the United States lives by that mantra? Better that we all be poor wretches considered the scum of the earth by non-Christians than we build a Camelot now that will only succumb to moths and rust.

Are all Christians that short-sighted? No. But increasingly, our churches fill with folks looking for the good life stamped by the Holy Spirit's seal of approval. When our preaching says nothing of building a true legacy that we will actually play out in eternity based upon what we do now, our short-sightedness damns us to a future as the shoe-shine boys of heaven, buffing the sandals of saints who laid it all down, even unto death.

We know we have an eternal future. What is more short-sighted than living as if that doesn't matter?

Assessment: Confirmed

***

5. Christians don't know how to have fun

When it comes to amusing ourselves to death, I think American Christians find as many ways to do it as non-Christians, albeit with fewer F-words and less full-frontal nudity.

We demanded, and seem to have received, more movies geared to Christians. And while the finished products haven't been all that spectacular, our craving for more will ensure they keep coming–with increasing regularity.

I plan on writing more about this topic in the near future, but in many ways, we Christians in the United States traded sanctification for entertainment. When God Himself no longer seems to excite us, we surround Him with our little cultural dog and pony shows, praying someone will pay attention. How else do we explain the entertainment complexes we used to call "churches." At one point in time, we went to see men on fire for God, but now preachers have to literally pour gasoline over themselves and light a match to get anyone to sit up and take notice.

Oddly enough, this fifth myth may be a remnant from the Seventies, before Christians got hip to their entertainment choices. I'm not sure non-Christians today hold the opinion that Christians don't have fun. That's been replaced with the concept that Christians don't really care about the life and death belief system they hold, practicing those beliefs more as a hobby than a way of life. If anything, it's the non-Christian who's grown more serious about life, while too many of us Christians worry that our new 60" TV still isn't big enough to show all the fine detail in the latest Left Behind video game we bought after reading the book and seeing the movie.

It's quite sad that in so many instances the one thing that separates us from non-Christians isn't the amount of entertainment we consume, but the randomly-sterilized nature of the entertainment we spend millions of dollars buying. Sure, their violent video game has swearing, but our violent video game doesn't.

If we think we're fooling God with that kind of subtlety, we're only fooling ourselves.

Assessment: Busted—perhaps too Busted

***

6. Christians despise intellectuals more than non-Christians do 

It would be safe to say that I don't personally know any Christian intellectuals. On the other hand, while I do not know any non-Christian intellectuals, either, I know a few who have convinced themselves they are. And as we all know, an audience that only consists of one's self is usually an easy audience to please.

First Things has a couple online articles covering Mark Noll's seminal book on this issue, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (found here and here). Dr. Noll researched that book during my tenure at Wheaton, and though I never took any classes from him, I had a few other profs I'd classify as intellectuals. Unfortunately, like most intellectuals, those profs congregated in very tight circles. The less intellectually rigid of us rarely encountered them "in the wild." And so it is today.

I knew an Old Testament scholar who attended the same church I once did. Sadly, that church never seriously appreciated the kind of study that scholar pursued. Though they trotted him out on occasion as a kind of "please take the witness stand, Doctor" expert, he eventually left the church. I suspect he tired of being a sort of intellectual freakshow amid people who'd rather be watching Fear Factor.

So whither the Christain intellectual? Do any still exist?

Say what we will about history, but it's loaded with Christians (and people who mentally assented to Christianity) who drove the arts, philosophy, literature, and science—and in large numbers.

But what happened to them all? Where did they go? Sure, you see a Plantinga here, and a…uh, hmm. I'm not coming up with any names for contemporary Christian lit authors. Artists? Nope—no one comes to mind. In fact, I suspect that most Christians, even if their lives depended on it, couldn't name one contemporary Christian intellectual or artist.

Are we so bereft today that all we can remember are those great Christian intellectual luminaries of the past? Christianity nurtured Western civilization into being, yet in the 21st century we Christians gave it all away.

Perhaps we missed the point of this verse:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
—1 Corinthians 1:20 ESV

Rather than understanding that cleverly invented myths from the world's wisemen don't trump the eternal truth of God correctly handled God's wise men, we threw all the wisemen—and their wisdom, no matter the source–out.

That this ignores most of the rest of Scripture, and also makes a fine distorted case for tearing all the wisdom books out of the Bible, eludes far too many people. In the end, Christianity never calls anyone to turn off his mind. To insist it does only results in the kind of brain-dead emotionalism that leads to error. Hoisting godly wisdom by it own petard makes the Church look vacant in the cranium.

While the non-Christian may ignore the intellectuals, I suspect precious few of them are hauling out treatises to discredit the life of the mind. We Christians of the 21st century, unlike our predecessors of long ago, seem to be the ones intent on slaying the intellect.

If the few Christian intellects left decry the problem, perhaps there's some truth to the rumor. But then, we don't listen to anything they say anyway.

Assessment: Confirmed

***

More myth assessments in days ahead…

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{Image: Hercules and the Hydra by John Singer-Sargent — Simply awesome.

by Dan Edelen

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13 Comments

  1. Posted January 2, 2007 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Dan,
    Where are the Christian intellectuals? There was a day when those intellectuals affected more than faith and were respected in circles outside of the theological tradition as great thinkers. An unintended consequence of the “battle for the Bible,” not that I am relegating Scripture to a place of minor importance, but the overemphasis has led to a paucity of modern Christian literature. The only good book anymore is a commentary.

    Perhaps I am a bit jaded by Dr. Noll’s book, though the premise is true, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there isn’t one,” but I see very little promise in some of those who consider themselves great thinkers.

    Far too many blog discussions are based in “the Bible says what it means and means what it says.” To me, that premise is darn near a non-starter (and I am a conservative innerrantist). We need Christian thinkers today more than ever and not of the Warren stripe, to deal with and help the Christian world think through such issues as poverty, the AIDS pandemic, and the environment. It frightens me that most evangelicals’ eyebrows do not even curl at the hint of these issues. But Bono is heartily addressing these, and he is a Christian, right? Insufficient.

    However, like you said, if its all going to be burned away anyway, what difference does it make?

  2. AlieraKieron
    Posted January 2, 2007 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    There may not be many *evangelical* intellectuals, but there are great many Christian ones. The Catholic church, for example, produces some truly great minds. But the reformed churches all too often throw the intellectual baby out with the “Papist! PAAAAPPPIIIIISSSSTTT!!” bathwater.

    • Posted January 2, 2007 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      AlieraKieron,

      It’s telling that both Mark Noll and Alvin Plantinga teach at Notre Dame now, rather than at Calvin College and Wheaton College.

  3. Posted January 2, 2007 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Aliera is quite right – tragically so for those of us who claim to be protestants but never think deeply or often enough to legitimately protest anything.

    When I want to read protestant Christian intellectuals I am limited to the likes of Moreland, Noll, Guinness – hardly best sellers. Catholic intellectuals such as Peter Kreeft, however, calmly wade into the deep end of the mental pool, much more immersed and comfortable with the turbulent waters of the mind. They do not seem to fear where their thoughts or ruminations might lead them, perhaps because they submit to the authority of Rome.

    Protestants have even more reason to venture into the fog, believing in (or saying we believe in) the authority of the Bible. No thought is dangerous if we are willing to subject all conclusions to the truth of Scripture.

    I am not a Christian intellectual – yet. To be such is one of my deepest aspirations, though.

  4. Posted January 2, 2007 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    To the question “where are the Christian Intellectuals?” I would add “What is a Christian Intellectual?”

    “Intellectual” is defined as looking at the rational, rather than the emotional. One has only to read the lyrics of a praise song, and then listen to it in a service, to understand where the intellectuals have gone. We are an emotional bunch, evangelicals. I remember back when the great hope for the salvation of the Catholic Church was Charismatic Catholisism. An interesting concept, yes?

    Why do Christians have such a hard time rationalizing God? “It’s just something I believe in…”, or my favorite, “it’s a personal issue and I’d rather not talk about it.” What else is there to do BUT talk about it? And if we can’t, then we are abandoning the last command Christ left us with…How can we make disciples if we are unable to express the hope that lies within us? I think one of the main reasons Christianity is so corrupt today is because we are unable to intelligently rationalize our faith in God. And the biggest cause of that is that we simply do not study His word and discuss it amongst ourselves. So do we despise intellectuals? I don’t think so, I believe, as I’ve said before, we fear them, because we are unable to provide an answer to their doubt, and so we make their doubt our own.

    • Posted January 2, 2007 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      David,

      This is the fruit of overemphasizing a personal relationship with Christ. In the end, the tendency is toward individualism. Individualism renders every individual an expert, whether true or not. Sadly, the freedom we got from the Reformation led to this problem. The Reformation assumes that all people will be serious about their faith and will pursue the Lord to the max. Otherwise, we get half-baked disciples who cannot reason. What Luther worked so hard for winds up despised in the end.

      • Posted January 3, 2007 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

        I wonder how the Christian community would respond to this? “Jesus did not die for me. He died in order to give glory to His Father.” Because, while there is truth in saying that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; we are to have the same spirit that Jesus had, which is obedience even to death, to the glory of God. Jesus died for us, it is true, but He died because He desired, above all things, to glorify God. Can we say the same thing? We should! Emotion will only take one so far along that path. One might die for a loved one, but will one die for an enemy? Only rational clarity will take one down that path. I lean way out on a limb here: If we are to take our scripture seriously, only those are saved.

  5. Posted January 2, 2007 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Christians and planning ahead, now that’s a tough one. While it’s true that we are taught that we should not worry about tomorrow, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for it. Which is not to say that God won’t scramble those plans as He sees fit. Christians live in an interesting world, actually, in that we are the only people who can honestly say that everything is getting done according to plan…It just isn’t necessarily ours. So are we short-sighted? We shouldn’t be. In fact, our planning should extend to the end of the world and beyond. But we act short-sighted because we have no faith. If we had any faith at all, our plans would involve conquering the world for Christ and the glory of God. If we had any faith at all, our plans would included our neighbors salvation, and the spread of His body through-out our town and into the suburbs, (or vice-versa)! “Plan” is another word for “believe.”

  6. Posted January 2, 2007 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I think we have the wrong concept of fun, in that we are self-centered and believe that “fun” gives me pleasure. If we were more concerned about God and what gives Him pleasure, then Christians would have more fun than we can imagine.

  7. francisco
    Posted January 3, 2007 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    As for evangelical intellectuals, have you ever thought of David Wells?

    • Posted January 3, 2007 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Francisco,

      I’ve read Wells. I like him. He’s one of the guys who inspired me to think harder about the state of the Church.

      But ultimately, his focus on ecclesiology and theology prevents Wells from being the kind of multi-disciplined intellectual that can speak on a national stage. He’s primarily an academic rather than the type of philosopher/thinker that can talk on a wide variety of topics. He’s also rather narrow in some regards. By that I mean he’s got a singular view and he’s locked into it, as if nothing could ever shake him enough to contemplate other options. In other words, he’s not visionary. I don’t think that lack is good in a true intellectual. Wells is not a Francis Schaeffer-type. We need someone like Schaeffer more so than Wells.

      This is not to denigrate Wells. Like I said, I’ve gotten a lot from Wells’s ecclesiastical views, but he doesn’t typically delve into issues like the economy, the environment, and other social issues.

      Lastly, while he’s written many things against postmodernism, he seems utterly resistant to developing the kind of thought patterns required of someone who must speak to a postmodern age. Schaeffer did this brilliantly, but Wells can only critique; he can’t meet postmoderns where they are. He’s too stuck in modernism to bridge the gap. He most definitely sees the problems, but his solutions won’t work correctly in a world that thinks in a whole different way. Wells keeps shouting for the genie to get back in the bottle. That’s not going to happen. We need better.

  8. E
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I am a Romanian who is an Orthodox Christian and a self-proclaimed intellectual. My parents both are of the same faith as I am, and both hold PhD’s in biomedical research. My grandfather is a theologian and writes copiously about Romanian cultural history and politics. My uncle is a bio ethicist who collaborates extensively with international scholars of the same profession who are non-orthodox, and even non-religious. I am in pursuit of a MS in experimental psychology. I hold the tradition in my family as an existence proof that a Christianity and secular scholasticism are (at times) compatible.

    So the hypothesis: perhaps the “incompatibility” discussed is specific to contemporary American protestantism. There are several contemporary french Catholic intellectuals I know of, and plenty American orthodox ones (at my church, which is on a university campus, at least 30% of the parishioners hold at least an MS/MA). I also have several friends who are Buddhist/American/intellectual.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Blog Quotes at Counseling Notes on January 2, 2007 at 8:38 am

    [...] From Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum: You won’t find a church with a Fifty Year Plan. Or a Twenty, for that matter. Long-range goals don’t figure into much of what we do in American Christianity. In many way, we American Christians resemble a school full of amnesiacs, always learning, but never remembering the past well enough to build toward a future. [...]

  2. By Good. (Engl.) « 230 km on February 29, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    [...] Sanctum is blogging an interesting series right now which was the inspiration for this post. In Busting Myths about Christianity, Dan says this: So whither the Christian intellectual? Do any still [...]

  3. By Blog Quotes | Bowden McElroy on August 11, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    [...] Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum: You won’t find a church with a Fifty Year Plan. Or a Twenty, for that matter. Long-range [...]

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