Christians as the light of the world
One of the interesting things about Klout is how it takes one’s posts across various social media and assigns a person expertise in different subject areas. For example, I am an expert at the 99.9% percentile of however-Klout-figures-things-out in Accounting — which is probably just a realization of my gaining an appreciable amount of likes on Facebook for posting funny comments and puns about accounting (get it…realizing gains on appreciation? …OK, that wasn’t good). For whatever it’s worth, I’m also an expert at the 99.9% percentile on Mormonism, which probably leads me to suspect that, I dunno, people who actually have a lot to say on Mormonism are too busy to be using social media?
And interestingly, I am at the 99.9% percentile of “religion” but only at the 99.1% percentile of “atheism”…which either means I’m slightly better at being religious than at being an atheist, or that there are a handful of atheists who are better at talking that up on social media than I am.
But one of the coolest things about Klout is that it allows you to explore blog posts and articles relating to your topics of expertise. I admit that I’m pretty good at keeping track of the best Mormon blogs, but I have to say that Klout has done a pretty good job of exposing me to interesting comment that I didn’t have any idea about. One thing I discovered somehow was a Plough interview between Peter Mommsen and Stanley Hauerwas. I could probably write a post on any number of the topics in this interview, but I wanted to address one subject, because it’s something I’ve seen discussed a bit before.
How appealing should a Christian life be?
At some point, the discussion turns to the role of the church. The interviewer and interviewee are both convinced that the role of the church isn’t merely to create community, but that Christians are to be ambassadors to the world. When Mommsen asks what mission the church has, Hauerwas corrects him:
The church doesn’t have a mission. The church is mission. Our fundamental being is based on the presumption that we are witnesses to a Christ who is known only through witnesses. To be a witness means you bear the marks of Christ so that your life gives life to others. I can’t imagine Christians who are not fundamentally in mission as constitutive of their very being – because you don’t know who Christ is except by someone else telling you who Christ is. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore it is the task of Christians to embody the joy that comes from being made part of the body of Christ. That joy should be infectious and pull other people toward it. How many of us have actually asked another person to follow Christ? In my experience, far too few.
Obviously, if you have any passing familiarity with Christianity, you should be aware of the idea that Christians are witnesses of Christ. And you should be aware that Christians believe they must embody the joy that comes from being such a witness.
(I will say that I liked the way this is phrased here: for Hauerwas to recognize that Christians are “witnesses to a Christ who is known only through witnesses” seems very different from the position I’ve thought was standard to most forms of Christianity — that one can and should somehow seek an independent relationship with Jesus outside of what anyone else has said or done. I’m sure I’m probably misunderstanding what he means here.)
Conceptually, though, this makes sense to me. That Christianity should be a religion whose effects shine through in the lives of its adherents. And I understand that this can be a bit more complicated (because the goals of Christianity may not be the same goals as secular philosophies, so we shouldn’t necessarily expect Christians to exemplify the life goals of any secular system.)
But it seems to me that there are problems.
How appealing are Christian lives?
It seems to me that most Christians do not live lives that are very distinctive to me. Maybe I only think that because I have lived in a thoroughly Christian-infused society so I don’t really know what a truly non-Christian society would look like. Or maybe nearly the opposite is true — maybe I don’t realize that my society is not very Christian at all, and really, I mostly engage with people who are only nominally or culturally Christian.
I don’t want to say that there aren’t any Christian folks whom I admire, because that’s not true. Those sorts of folks actually do lead me to suspect sometimes that maybe one or the other claims from my previous paragraph may be true.
…but then I think about people I know who claim to be (and seem to be) some of the most devoutly religious Christians I know, and I think that I don’t want to be like them.
I was raised in a conservative religion, and I have lived most of my life in states with conservative, highly religious people. And I can say that I don’t find that conservative religious value system all that appealing.
I mean, maybe that is to be expected from a not-so-religious, more liberal type of person.
But isn’t that a problem for a religion like Christianity? What if the thing they think should be infectious instead seems to be turning people away?
Why Christian lives might seem unappealing
I know that Christians have a few rebuttals for this state affairs. These rebuttals, quite frankly, seem like just-so stories. They are just too convenient. I’ll just address a couple of them.
- Christians aren’t perfect.
While Christ indeed produces effects in people’s lives, ultimately, people are still (recovering) sinners, so one should expect Christians to have the same issues of sinful human nature as everyone else, even if they are enabled by the Spirit to try to work through these issues.
- Non-Christians aren’t perfect.
Another argument would be that non-Christians, because we don’t see through a Christian lens, are not as capable of appreciating how awesome Christianity is. Here I think of the latter part of Romans 1 — we fester more in our sin, being given over to our shameful lusts. So how could we recognize what is good from such a state?
As I mention, these explanations both seem just too convenient to me. But sure, I guess they could work.
But isn’t that weird, one way or another? Christian lives should be full of infectious joy, and yet, many people don’t see it that way.
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