Normally, when I put together a post, I have a clear idea of what I’m addressing and attempt to articulate a cogent thesis. I’m not so sure I’ll do that with this topic but wanted to put pen to paper about some rather unsettling thoughts that have been gurgling around in my head lately.
When you de- something its essentially removal of that element. So when I say de-humanizing, it means the removal of the human element similar to de-icing getting rid of ice from a surface. Of course, I’m not saying removing humans from Christianity because that would not make any sense. But its something along the same lines, removing the elements that make us human but more importantly, how our humanity contributes to our Christianity and co-mingles with it.
Throughout its history, Christianity has had this penchant of reaction to phenomenon that threatens it (or at least perceived that way). When it goes one way, away from orthodox belief or practice, it isn’t long before the pendulum swings the other way to preserve, fight for and uphold correct Christian beliefs.
This has been especially true in reaction to anything deemed liberal. For conservative Christians who affirm the historic doctrines of Christianity and particularly, the authority, infallibility of Scripture as the inerrant word of God, the muddying or even dismissal of doctrine in favor of what is deemed a man-centered theology naturally brings out opposition. We want God to be honored on his terms, not ours.
Now, the reaction is not without merit. Contemporary evangelicalism has been influenced by a myriad of psychologically based, new age oriented philosophy that has elevated our humanity in ways that undermine Christian orthodoxy. Human thoughts, attributes and definitions become the defining mechanism by which Christianity is shaped. Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition an insightful article, Deists Who Love Jesus (and talk like Freud) on this kind of shaping. God’s desires become replaced by felt needs, relationship with God is subject to experiences that are emotionally satisfying, Scripture is interpreted in ways that appease us and church is refashioned to accommodate an agreeable formula of community.
But to counteract what can be deemed as self-centeredness, we can swing the pendulum too far the other way. In order to uphold the sovereignty and wholly-otherness of God, to preserve the integrity of Scripture as the word of God, to honor ecclesial authority and purpose, to we can remove the human element so much that Christianity becomes all about a set of beliefs that only touch us as along as we say and do the right things. Dismissing human thoughts, words, or actions is perceived to be honoring God and separating from anything that resembles us wanting our way.
I believe this creates a flattened, one dimension Christianity. God-centered does not mean man-nothingness. While Christianity is defined according to what God revealed through his word, it certainly was for the purpose of redeeming his creation. That’s us. It is even written in our historic creed “for us and our salvation.” The glory of the incarnation was more than just God descending to save us, but became one of us and dwelt among us. The breadth of Scripture ought to convey to us that Christianity is more than a set of propositions and commands, but God’s intentional actions towards a mush of people who displayed all sorts of human reactions and emotions.
“Us” is pretty complex. Our humanity has far more to contribute than mouths that make the right confessions, hands that serve the church and feet that take the good news to the world. We have different personalities, family backgrounds, experiences, fears, concerns, wants and needs. What may satisfy one person, may unsettle the other. Treating our humanity as irrelevant or in a one-dimension fashion kind of undercuts the very thing that makes the multi-faceted, diverse fashion of our witness to Christ so rich. Rather than ignoring our humanity, our Christianity should make us more aware of it. Because it is within that reality that we recognize our need for a Savior.
God made man in his image and placed eternity on our heart. We all grope for God. The one though the ones who reject Christ will misplace this meaning in other ways. So it makes sense that experience play a part in our Christianity. Acknowledging that simple fact doesn’t mean that experience should rule or that our faith and practice be subject to experience, only that it is a reality of our being.
Here is where I find we become impatient and judgmental with each other when confronted with experience we have not had ourselves. And even if we did, perhaps not the same way. That’s why we need to be gentle with people who struggle with aspects of Christian doctrine and practice, realizing that often these struggles are born out of the human experience. Again, I’m not saying that means we shape Christianity around that experience but neither can we ignore it.
And surely we have a Scripture a record of people who often tripped over their own humanity. Reading the Psalms, I’m reminded that being human means we experience joy and pain, fears and triumph and express it accordingly. Let’s give God a bit more credit in what he created and recognize that being Christian doesn’t mean less human but in the awareness of our humanity, we have eternal hope. That is what makes the difference.