Christianity and water by W. Wade Stooksberry II

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Commentary
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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Some readers respond to my occasional letters to the editor in The Telegraph (Macon), and regular comments online, by raising questions as to what sort of credentials I bring to my endeavor to address matters of faith, Christianity, religion, etc. A reasonable inquiry: one to which I respond by saying… none.

Well, almost none. That is, I have no formal training or background or certification to point to in any area of theological investigation. My credentials are a settled faith in the articles of orthodox Christianity, as expressed in The Apostles’ and Nicene The DovesCreeds — a faith arrived at after a lifetime of seeking after the truth. As a simple and lowly lay Christian, I have no agenda other than the promotion of what the vast Body of Believers agrees to, the Mere Christianity written of so eloquently by C. S. Lewis. 

I have tried and tested most of the alternatives, including a callow quasi-atheism, followed by vague varieties of humanism, rationalism, secularism, post-modernism, and muddled forms of mysticism. In short, a spectrum of beliefs that comprise what my late friend Michael Kilpatrick called “Whateverism” — the belief in “something, nothing, anything, everything — whatever — as long as it’s not the Biblical God.”

None of the cited permutations of “whateverism” proved to be satisfying in terms of quenching the desire for truth. I am open to any philosophy or religion or system of thought that disproves Christianity by proving itself superior in terms of rationality, reason, consistency, coherence, and truth. Having often asked critics of Biblical Christianity to provide their own version of that superior alternative to it — alas, I’m still waiting for a compelling, or even a competent, response. 

One of the alternatives particularly lacking in merit appears weekly in the Telegraph’s print edition, through columns written by Dr. Bill Cummings. It is a version of Christianity, which became prominent in the 19th and early 20th centuries among agnostic academics, that Lewis referred to as “Christianity and water”. The brilliant Flannery O’Connor lampooned it through the characters Hazel Motes and Hoover Shoats (“Wise Blood”), who sought to establish “the church of Christ without Christ.”

Scholarly terms for this perversion include “the search for the historical Jesus,” or “the demythologization” movement: it posits a version of Jesus Christ who is stripped of his divinity, presented as an only-human itinerant Jewish preacher, moral teacher, and social activist.  We are told that his message is that we are to establish a “community of love,” divested of those pesky mythic accretions like The Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the miracles, and the Resurrection. Words like “radical” and “innovative” and “astonishing” are frequently deployed to describe this message. 

Setting aside the bland flavor of this thin theological gruel — in contrast to the well-seasoned power and glory of the Biblical account — there is a far greater consideration here that is not often addressed. What is this “demythologized” message? If one believes God does not exist, then a “community of love” is subject to the same questions that all moral imperatives are subject to, in terms of why we should conform to them. Questions which, absent an objective and absolute standard, have no ultimate answer. 

Perhaps more troubling is the person that accepts God’s existence, but prefers the mortal and only-human version of Jesus as a “great teacher,” while rejecting his claim to be the incarnation of the Creator God whose atoning death “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Has that person formulated a reality in which God fashioned a world characterized by sin — and its consequences: death, disease, war, crime, poverty, misery, suffering, injustice — but has provided no remedy for it?  No clear path for atonement, or redemption… or eternal life? 

Would not a God who constructed such a world be the antithesis of the loving God, the “Father in Heaven,” we see presented in the Bible? Would he not, in fact, be something akin to a cosmic fiend? One who might inspire our fear and our dread, and even our loathing: but not our worship. 

Written by W. Wade Stookesberry II 

W. Wade Stooksberry II and his wife, Trena, currently form the musical duo The DOVES. Please enjoy their music and videos at their website: http://www.thedovesamerica.com.

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