I read a post over at the Orthosphere some weeks ago on the role of sacrifice within historic cultures. People felt a burden of sin and were motivated to make sacrifices in order to be purified or redeemed.
The core theology of Christianity fits within this framework: it is through the sacrifice of Christ - the lamb of God - that the sins of the world are taken away.
This feeling - of the burden of sin - is obviously a powerful one, as it remained very strong in the West right up to the early modern period.
And today? It is still found powerfully within the churches. There is still a strong current of belief which emphasises how broken we are and how much in need of being saved.
This is the part of the church which sets itself amongst the moral outcasts, or those wounded or suffering - as Christ himself did.
There are secular liberals, too, who still seem to follow, in their own way, a similar framework. There are liberals who feel a burden of guilt and who seek atonement (sometimes through the sacrifice of their coethnics). In this way, liberalism does connect with a longstanding and significant part of the human experience, but it does so in a way that is unusually self-destructive.
The second kind of Christian is the one who seeks communion, or who is oriented to the experience of God's presence in the world.
This kind of Christianity is not very theological, as what matters is the lived experience. It has been strongest in the Orthodox and the High Catholic and Anglican traditions. It is oriented to virtue, to the sacraments, to the dignity and solemnity of the mass, to the beauty of church architecture and music, and, more generally, to the experience of the transcendent in life, as for instance in the beauty of nature.
It is not a type of Christianity that is focused much on brokenness, as it is oriented to what is good, true and beautiful, so these Christians want to be held to high moral standards as part of a church culture.
So the question is whether the churches are to go with Christians A or Christians B. I should declare here that I fit much more readily in the B category. Even so, I don't think that the B category can ever fully represent Christianity. In its core theology, in the life of Christ, and in the powerful tendency for people to feel the burden of sin, there is much support for Christianity A.
The recent trend, anyway, has been for the Catholic church to try to divest itself of Christians B. If you go to a suburban Catholic parish, now, you will not find a beautiful church building, or a solemn and dignified mass, or a respect for the sacraments, or a focus on standards of personal morality.
It seems to me, too, that Pope Francis is attempting to steer the Catholic church in the direction of Christianity A. I get a sense of this when Pope Francis seeks to downplay church moral teachings in order to bring the church closer to those who are morally outcast.
Will the church be better off without Christians B? I don't think so. Christianity B is there in the Bible too and it has been in the church tradition from early on. Without it, Christianity would tend to drift in the direction (admittedly this is an extreme example) of the Lutheran minister, Nadia Bolz-Weber. (hat tip: Laura Wood)
She is one of those moral outcasts:
A quick tour through her 44 years doesn’t seem likely to wind up here. It includes teen rebellion against her family’s fundamentalist Christianity, a nose dive into drug and alcohol addiction, a lifestyle of sleeping around and a stint doing stand-up in a grungy Denver comedy club. She is part of society’s outsiders, she writes in her memoir, its “underside dwellers . . . cynics, alcoholics and queers.”
She is almost celebrated for her moral brokenness rather than her virtue:
“You show us all your dirty laundry! It’s all out there!” the Rev. John Elford of the University United Methodist Church booms, as if he is introducing a rock star, leading the cheering crowd into an impassioned round of hymn-singing.
She's not too concerned about rules:
Her message: Forget what you’ve been told about the golden rule — God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things. God, she argues, offers you grace regardless of who you are or what you do.
Christianity, Bolz-Weber preaches, has nothing to do with rules
She seems to deliberately set herself apart from Christians B here:
“I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset,” she says. God is present in these challenging interactions, she says.
“I never experience God in camping or trees or nature. I hate nature,” she told the Austin crowd as she paced the stage. “God invented takeout and duvets for a reason.”
Everything is broken, everything a mess:
Bolz-Weber says she abhors “spirituality,” which she sees as a limp kind of self-improvement plan. She prefers a cranky, troublemaking and real God who at times of loss and pain doesn’t have the answers either.
“God isn’t feeling smug about the whole thing,” she writes about Jesus’s resurrection and the idea that the story is used as fodder for judgment. “God is not distant at the cross. . . . God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as [bad] as the rest of us.”
She is not oriented to what is excellent:
Four years and a seminary degree later, Bolz-Weber founded what today is casually called House. It’s a start-up of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with an “anti-excellence, pro-participation” policy.
She is a very pure (radical?) type of Christian A. Unsurprisingly, she has attracted something of a following - as I wrote earlier, Christianity A does connect to something significant. But could a pure type of Christianity A really hold the same kind of numbers as one that brings together both A and B?
I really don't think so. The Catholic church did it better in the past, I believe, when it managed to draw in both.