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All Over the Map

Alana Massey's How to Take Christ Out of Christianity
All Over the Map

 

By Drew Trotter

 

People have believed that becoming a member of a religious group costs an extraordinary amount since even before King Agrippa wondered if Paul wanted him to become a Christian so quickly (Acts 26:28, ESV). Paul had just asked the king if he believed: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” After the king objects to this “easy believism”, Paul’s answer is interesting. “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” Paul not only affirms that Agrippa could become a Christian by a simple affirmation of the gospel, he also implies that anyone—working class guards, slaves who would have been present in the court: anyone—who hears and responds with belief could become as Paul is, a member of the sect increasingly known as “Christ ones” or, as we know them, Christians.

For Paul, the fact was that one could become a Christian in a moment, the moment it takes to believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophetic promise that God would send a Deliverer, and that Deliverer had come in His own Person, the god/man Jesus Christ. Simple. Only believe in Him.

Alana Massey, a Yale divinity school graduate, blogger, and general gadfly, has given us a quintessential summary in this article of the postmodern, millennial’s notion of how religion should work: just take Christ out of the picture and leave all the ethical and communal content of the faith there. Citing recent religion polls that show that the category of “Nones” has grown strong in the last few years, and siding with this group, as one who remains “unable to will myself into any belief in God or gods”, Massey nevertheless can will herself, in fact easily accepts herself, to be part of the Episcopalian faith into which she was born.

She lists three reasons she and many like her find it hard to shake off the trappings of the faith, while not embracing its demands for belief: 1) the emotional benefit of singing together with others or passing the peace at the end of worship; 2) feeling grounded in a group where one can “celebrate life’s milestones and heartbreaks”; and 3) not finding in the dry spiritual wasteland of secularism “sufficient ethical frameworks and systems of accountability to enforce them.”

Massey then goes on to survey the landscape of religious/ethical involvement at the present time, primarily dissing anyone who insists others believe a set of doctrines in order to be included in their group. To her credit she is an equal opportunity employer in this regard. Richard Dawkins and the “new atheists” come in for as much condemnation as any evangelical group, which insists on affirmation of the ancient verities of the Christian faith. And they are treated no worse than liberal Protestantism with a lot of “half-committed believers in their pews,” who do not inspire “further invest[ment] in the collective.”

So where does Massey find actual groups of people meeting and working in a healthy way together? She refers to several groups, but at this point her essay breaks down because those groups either have beliefs that sustain and motivate their social activity, or they don’t in which case they lack those “sufficient ethical frameworks” that will keep people from giving up on them and embracing secularism.

Her one example of a community, which has everyone worshipping under one roof, All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, appears to do no more than accommodate three different congregations under one roof, worshipping at different times, with different belief systems and perhaps different programs. What’s so radical and new about that? Thousands of Christian churches worship every Sunday in secular high school buildings; while they have an agreement together, does that make them unified in any meaningful sense?

In other words, Massey wants to have it both ways. She wants a system that has accountability and substance so that she can embrace it as meaningful, but she only finds that in groups, which have the humility to affirm their system as given by God and not based on the frailty and fallibility of human endeavor. Yet she doesn’t want to bow the knee to that Deity and accept His direction for her life and for the society in which she lives.

When John summarizes Jesus’s incarnation in that wonderful prologue to his Gospel, he says that Jesus came to earth “full of grace and truth.” Tellingly, neither word is used once in Massey’s article. A Christianity without Christ indeed.

 

Alana Massey’s opinion piece can be found here.

A response by Christian apologist Trevin Wax was published shortly thereafter. Wax’s response is also worth reading and can be found here.

 

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