Syncretism: the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.
Leslie Newbigin made an important observation after returning from missionary service in India about his own cultural form of Christianity in England back in the 70’s. Europe in general is ahead of American culture in many of these kinds of trends, the relation of Christianity to culture, immigration patterns, the role of Islam in society, etc. Anyway, Newbigin observed that instead of confronting the culture with the Gospel, he found Christianity in the West, especially in its Protestant form, perpetually trying to fit the gospel into his native post Enlightenment culture. This was characterized by Newbigin as an advanced form of syncretism. Our form of Christianity may not in fact be genuine, let alone Biblical. In my opinion, we have, ironically, advanced the idea of a cultural form of faith even further. It has a different feel in America, my native culture, but it is there if you really want to see it. In common terms, what does this mean? I posted a photo here of the Hagia Sophia church to help us think about the premise. Is it a church? Wait…no, a mosque! Well no actually, today it’s a museum. What is this building? What was it in time past? Can we still tell? To me, it is a metaphor for the topic of syncretistic Christianity. What are the layers and identities that others see in our expression of Christianity? Don't worry, I don't think our churches will become mosques in the future. I'm just using the idea as a metaphor for the concept of layers of identity and perception.
Well, that is the same set of questions many have of Christianity today in America, especially my focus friends. Is our faith about attending the most hip church with contemporary music? Is salvation about guaranteed entrance into heaven? Is our faith about a conservative political agenda, or a liberal one for that matter? What is the Gospel all about and are we living it? I’d love to ask my blog readers some of these questions? Someone has already gotten the ball rolling in responding to my last post. They began to wonder about the notion of syncretism in Western Christianity when I made a reference to my dissertation. We normally reserve that epitaph for situations on the mission field but I’d like to turn this one around on us. So, here are my questions: 1) Is American Christianity syncretistic? 2) If so, in what ways do you see that to be the case? Maybe we can work on the follow-up suggestions to these questions later on.
Here is some interesting information about the Hagia Sophia that I got from Wikipedia. It might help in understanding the basic assessment about syncretism. This building (Greek: á¼‰γÎ¯α ΣοφÎ¯α; Holy Wisdom) is now known as the Ayasofya Museum, but was an early Christian Church and later an Eastern Orthodox church which was transformed into a mosque in 1453 by the Turks, and converted into a museum in 1935. Get the point? It is located in Istanbul, Turkey, on the Turkish Thrace. It is regularly considered one of the greatest and most beautiful buildings in history. Its conquest by the Ottomans at the fall of Constantinople is considered one of the great tragedies of Christianity by the Greek Orthodox faithful. The name comes from the Greek name á¼‰γÎ¯α ΣοφÎ¯α, a contraction of ΝαÏŒς τá¿†ς á¼‰γÎ¯ας τοá¿¦ Θεοá¿¦ ΣοφÎ¯ας, meaning "Church of the Holy Wisdom of God". It is also known as Sancta Sophia in Latin and Ayasofya in Turkish. Although it is sometimes called "Saint Sophia" in English, it is not named after a saint named Sophia — the Greek word sophia means "wisdom."
It was constructed in five years, from 532 to 537, at the orders of Emperor Justinian I and designed by Isidore of Miletus.