Christian identity crisis #157
Friday, 7 October 2022 5:00 pm
Romans 7:15-8:3, NIV
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.
I’m having another of the Christian identity crises that afflict me fairly regularly these days. Which Christian “camp” am I in? The orthodox / “conservative” one, or the progressive one? My best answer is, “I don’t know”. I find myself aligning with both at different times, on different subjects, engaging with different people. Being labelled or judged a liberal progressive and a conservative bigot or dinosaur on the same day has been a familiar experience of mine.
This “double take” has reached fever pitch in these past few days in which the forced resignation of Andrew Thorburn as CEO of the Essendon Football Club has saturated (especially Christian) Australian social media interaction. I’ve found myself in regular both agreement and disagreement with fellow believers from right across the conservative-progressive spectrum.
Why is this so? Well I suspect there’s a host of factors at work, which I hope I might share and reflect on over times to come. Here and now I’d like to reflect on just one or two angles. First, I think it’s fair to say that I align more now with the progressive “camp” than I did say 10-15 years ago; but probably not uniformly. I’m still very much a “card-carrying” evangelical. Yes, the ‘E’ word, and worn with pride too, bad press notwithstanding.
One factor that has increasingly frustrated me with fellow evangelicals has been around expectations of life in a post-Christian pluralist liberal democracy. It seems to me that too many of us evangelicals have seriously unrealistic expectations of how the world at large should regard us. When something in the public square goes against us we first retreat into our echo chamber, where we exchange arguments based on shared biblical or theological suppositions, thereby justifying our position to our mutual satisfaction. Having done so we then step into the public square to complain of what an injustice it is that the general community doesn’t accept the reasonableness of our position. We are the persecuted.
One of many ways that phenomenon plays out has I think been prominent in the animated conversations around Mr Thorburn, the Essendon Football Club, and City on a Hill church. I’m referring to the concept that personhood can be distinguished from behaviour. A popular Christian dictum is “Love the sinner; hate the sin”. Christians take utterly for granted the reasonableness of this proposition. If one’s worldview is shaped by the Bible and orthodox Christian theology, it becomes a simple no-brainer. It’s assumed in biblical texts such as the one I’ve posted at the top among many others. It’s basic to Christian epistemology and discipleship. Conceptually we might summarise it like this: I am a person, who sins. As a person I am created by God, in the image of God, who fundamentally loves me. Separate from that is my behaviour, some of which is unacceptable to God my judge, requiring my repentance. To address this discrepancy, God my loving Creator has provided overwhelming grace in Christ, thus freeing me from condemnation. Simul justus et peccator. A sinner yet righteous. Then, reflecting that truth about God and me, I regard other humans in the same way. I affirm their innate worth as persons, even as I reject some of their behaviour, urging repentance and faith.
As I read the popular mind, the dominant worldview or epistemology of the culture we live within, the above distinction between a person and their behaviour largely doesn’t exist. There may be vestiges of it here and there, such as when a parent wrestles with heinous crimes committed by a child they love. But in general community life in our western liberal democracy, there’s no distinction between persons and the way they conduct their lives. If you say you respect people, that fundamentally means accepting the way they choose to live. If you don’t do that, your claim to love and respect them is nonsensical and void.
That it seems to me is why the Christian insistence that we truly love, for instance, members of the LGBTQ+ community or mothers who choose abortion, repeatedly falls on deaf ears. If I’m right, then no amount of restating that we love all people without exception will wash with most of our community leaders. The claim makes perfect sense to us because of our Christian worldview. It makes little or no sense beyond the orthodox Christian community.
I believe this is part of the reason most people regarded Mr Thorburn’s position as EFC CEO as untenable, and why I’m enjoying another identity crisis.