On Christians and elitism: maybe we are all guilty

Former Christianity Today (CT) executive editor, Mark Galli, recently wrote a pretty honest piece here about the ways in which the culture of CT promoted a kind of elitism that cozied up to American culture to appear respectable. The implications being unlike those other Christians who rail against the world. The response was interesting to see, especially with chants of “I told you so,” indicating that of course that is what CT does.

Daniel Darling chimed in with some insightful commentary about elitism itself in this piece here. I think it deserves some attention because it transcends the specific charge that Galli is getting at;

In other words, elitism is more of a posture than a position. This tendency shows up in a variety of ways and tempts people across the political spectrum. It can be folks who like to broadcast on Twitter or in op-eds or bestselling books about how terrible evangelicals are. It can be furrowed-browed fans of certain Bible teachers who think nobody ever preaches a Bible passage correctly (except for them, of course). It can be “above-it-all” types who rightly eschew left and right extremes but are insufferable in communicating both their own heroism in this and their discovery, after 2,000 years of church history, the perfect model of cultural engagement.

Right. Elitism is a posture of superiority that proclaims the upper moral position while throwing disdain on that group or those Christians that just aren’t measuring up (like me and my tribe!). So elitism also shows up with our posturing over how well we are able to comprehend what is right and take others to task for not really getting it, for the sake of the kingdom. To be honest, I’ve seen quite a bit of this in the social justice wars. Pro-social justice, CRT friendly advocates denigrating those who have challenged the anti-racism and CRT paradigm as compatible with a Christian worldview as not really being concerned about justice (like them!). On the flip side, I’ve seen posturing in opposition that loves to point out the errors of the social justice warriors and their lack of commitment to scriptural fidelity, how those Christians are destroying the church (not like us!). That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate critiques to be had. There certainly are! The issue is more about the posturing that sticks its nose up on those unfortunate rubes that just aren’t getting it. And you can be sure this applies as much to those chanting “I told you so” as the charges Galli brings up with CT. As Darling writes;

Elitism is thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. It’s a lack of even-handedness. It’s a constant performative self-heroism in public for temporary applause. It delivers critiques of Christians, not with tears and pastoral pleading, but with bitter disdain. I believe this is in conflict with Paul’s command to “make every effort” for unity in the body of Christ.

We would be foolish to believe we are above this. If there’s one thing I’ve come to observe in my 20+ years of walking with the Lord, being in various church circles, and encountering countless saints both in person and online, is that people genuinely take their faith seriously. And why shouldn’t we? This is a faith that has been handed down to us, that has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of Christ, a faith that is based on the steadfast love of the Father who gave his only begotten Son so that we have have life in his name, a faith given by grace due to no merit of our own and upholds us through the vicissitudes of life. There is no greater endeavor than for the Christian to lay hold of what all that faith entails, to strive for understanding and knowledge, to live according to the precepts of God.

As we grow in our reading and understanding of Scripture, we gain knowledge and insights and draw convictions accordingly particularly as it relates to living out our faith in the world. But that earnestness can also produce in us a zeal rooted in our understanding. That zeal is generated by what we learn and the ways we learn that impact how we see the faith lived out in the world. We come to question those who transgress our understandings and convictions and begin to question whether they really understand Scripture (like we do!). I know because I’ve seen this tendency in myself.

Paul’s instruction to us in Romans 12:3 needs constant heeding.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

The two verses that precede this is pretty important in tempering our propensity to take our understanding and turn it into a weapon of elitism under the guise of righteous engagement. We can be way too easily impressed with ourselves! But everything–our learning and understanding of our faith and how we live that out in the world–must be subject to the Lord. It comes with the realization that presenting our bodies means a posture of humility that recognizes God is God and we are not, that we are finite creatures who are capable of blind spots and misunderstandings.  

The bottom line here is that as we wade through the Word, we need to watch our posturing. We must pay attention to the many ways we can think of ourselves so highly that we come to beat our chests while looking down with the attitude, “thank God I’m not like those other Christians.”

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