Making Christianity weird again?

This is intriguing, and so pathetic–in the older, non-disparaging sense of that word. Rod Dreher goes to a conference, and hears not only the problem laid out nicely, but the cause of it:

This Wichita conference I’ve been at over the weekend was on the theme of wonder in Christianity. I had several important conversations about Millennials and the Christian faith, and the strong consensus — I’m talking about among college professors who teach them — is that even in Christian colleges, undergraduates come almost entirely ignorant of the Christian faith.

In a panel discussion yesterday, the Reformed philosopher James K.A. Smith told the audience, “We need to remember that for every finger we point at Millennials, there are three pointing back at us. We have failed them. We have failed to catechize them. This is our fault.” He added that this is the fruit of a completely discredited approach to youth ministry.

Speaking with another academic there, I told him about a discussion I’d had with a group of Evangelical professors, who not only said that many of their undergraduates had not even a rudimentary understanding of Christianity, but that many of them came from such broken homes that they lacked a concept of what a stable marriage and family life looks like. These weren’t professors griping about their students; these were professors grieving over what these kids have been cheated of by the adults who ought to have formed them. When I related that story yesterday, the professor I told it to, who teaches in a Christian college in the South, said he sees the same thing every day of every year.

(My dad just told me that at the Christian school run by his church, one-third of the students are being raised by their grandparents—and at the public school where his sister is a principal, that is true for more than half.)

And what does Dreher see as a potential solution?

On the panel discussion, Catholic theologian Bo Bonner made an intriguing suggestion: that we need our Christianity to quit trying to conform to the world, and instead to “be a lot stranger.” His point is that if young people are given the choice between unbelief and a faith that puts a light God gloss on the same consumerism and materialism that everybody else lives with, then who can blame young people for rejecting it? Because that is not historic Christianity.

Because that is not historic Christianity. The real thing is wild, and weird; it is not a set of ideas, but a way of life. There will always be some people — young, middle-aged, and old — haunted by the sense that there is something else there, a longing that cannot be anesthetized away. If the church stands true to itself, and doesn’t apologize for itself, then they will come.

What? “Be a lot stranger”? Why not simply be more practical, and dedicate ourselves to teaching them how to live a faithful Christian life, to forming their characters–which, of course, would require us to form our own characters to the point where we can model a faithful life for them.

The theologian says “if young people are given the choice between unbelief and a faith that puts a light God gloss on the same consumerism and materialism that everybody else lives with, then who can blame young people for rejecting it? ” Well, no one, surely. But are those the only two choices we have left to present?

I’m all for learning to appreciate the wonder of God’s creation, but this smacks of desperation: we’ve failed at the hard job of teaching people how to live a Christian life, and so far our gimmicks have proven ineffective in the long term—maybe this wonder thing will get them back inside!

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3 thoughts on “Making Christianity weird again?

  1. Why not just shape our characters? Because we’d end up as Roman stoics, and the American South has already had plenty of stoicism. Walker Percy got that part right.

    I can’t make a full commentary this morning, because it would require searching and studying all the references in Dreher’s article, but I did go back and read the article itself, and I think part of the problem is in Bonner’s choice (likely off the cuff) choice of the word “strange.” It rubbed me the wrong way at first too. But “strange” conjures up so many different kinds of mental images that it’s almost a meaningless word. I think what he really meant is something closer to “holy.” The problem is aptly illustrated by the degeneration of the most abused word in modern Evangelicalism, “awesome.” If Christianity could just relearn the meaning of that one word, we’d be getting closer to what Bonner is talking about.

  2. Why not just shape our characters? Because we’d end up as Roman stoics, and the American South has already had plenty of stoicism. Walker Percy got that part right.

    Laura,

    I agree that there is a danger in just shaping our characters if we don’t have the proper understanding of what shape they should take. But I think there is a longstanding Christian tradition of character shaping to a proper end, namely spiritual formation.

    And I’m not objecting to Bonner’s idea that Christianity should be “strange”, or otherworldly, at least in the contrast it offers to worldliness. And I only mildly object to his point (if it was his point, Dreher only paraphrases here) that young people should be given strangeness as a choice.

    My objection is to this, which I should have boldfaced:

    There will always be some people — young, middle-aged, and old — haunted by the sense that there is something else there, a longing that cannot be anesthetized away. If the church stands true to itself, and doesn’t apologize for itself, then they will come.

    This is Dreher’s pathetic response to failing to catechize our own children–look for some aspect of the faith that might catch the attention of a few if we just spiff it up a bit.

  3. The significant lack of Christian knowledge is troubling. I teach Sunday School, and have rejected every “curriculum” I’ve run across. In my class, we read the Bible and talk about it. I also make time for “Random Bible Question Time with Luke” at the end of the class where kids can ask me anything they’ve wanted to know about God, religion, or the Bible. I don’t always know, but I can look it up! I want them to know the content of the Bible, that they can read it, and that it is possible to understand it; that Christianity is reasonable, and that there are answers to their questions, even if people disagree as to which answer is best.

    Then my mom suggested I start putting some stuff on YouTube, so I did. Shameless self promotion here: http://www.theblogogy.com/ Sorry, this kind of thing gets me excited [smile]. May the grace of Jesus Christ transform our lives and the lives of the children around us so they are drawn to Him!

    ~Luke

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