Christians with a difference

July 24, 2013 in Theology · 2 comments

mondrian

While reflecting on the nature of evangelical Christianity, this quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters came to mind:

My dear Wormwood,

The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’. You know–Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

“If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference” — but of course we do have differences, and often important ones at that! I agree with the sentiment that we should seek unity, that we should cling to “mere” Christianity and that we should hold our differences with humility. But therein lies the rub: what for one Christian is a minor theological difference not worth quibbling over is, for another, a heresy that threatens the very foundations of belief.

What beliefs do unite us? What are the essentials? What defines someone as a Christian? Is it merely a self-designation that has a potentially different meaning for each person? Simply a follower of Jesus? A profession that Jesus is Lord? An affirmation that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day? Agreement with the Apostles’ Creed? With the Nicene Creed?

But moving past those essentials (whatever they may be), how do we negotiate our differences on other matters? How do we hold true to our deeply held beliefs while still respecting — and even welcoming — the diverse beliefs of others? How do we find unity as “mere Christians” when we have so many seemingly unbridgeable theological gaps?

2 comments… read them below or add one

Dennis July 25, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Much as I admire C.S. Lewis, I disagree with him often. Is there any such thing as a “mere” Christian? Aren’t all Christians “Christian and?” We’re Christian and human, Christian and gendered, Christian and of a particular nationality, ethnicity or culture…the ‘ands’ are practically limitless. All of those qualities (and plenty more) define parts of our individual identities just as much as our faith does. Defining essential Christianity has been attempted with only relative and parochial success; in the end, I suspect it will be the wheat and the tares. God will have to be the one who decides, because, God knows, we can’t.

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Dan July 30, 2013 at 8:05 am

I agree that it’s God who decides, and in light of that fact, it seems that we’re far too hung up on labels and definitions — which is precisely Lewis’ point. But I do think Lewis at least partially addresses some of your concerns in the Preface to Mere Christianity.

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