Un-Mere Christianity: A Danger of our Times

Genetically Altered Tree Farm, originally uploaded by papalars.

I am currently writing a section of my dissertation on the spiritual disciplines. Someone mentioned to me the other day that everyone and their cousin are writing today about everyday spirituality. Yeah, I’ve made that observation too but I think many miss the point. My general feeling is that when we typically think of spirituality in the church today, we think of the experience of connecting with God, of having that spiritual high, in our own quiet time or personal retreat. We like the spiritual encounter, the epiphany, but prefer to avoid the disciplines, the dark valleys, or the part that requires some exercise of the will, mind, and body. Additionally we don’t seem to connect the inward part with the outward fruit and witness in the world. To change the metaphor, we want the goods in the drive through at church, not out in the work-a-day world, or struggles of life where we have to apply some effort.

This is a prime example of the syncretism I was referring to in the other post before my Mother’s Day greeting to mom. I think I frightened people away with that word. It was a big word and helpful concept but I think I lost some readers. Bear with me a little more on this string. It is crucial to recovering our vitality in our personal lives, the church and witness in the world! Currently, I think we practice a form of genetically altered faith, an Un-Mere Christianity if you will. I’m not using this to express my pro or con opinion about genetic research. I’m merely [there is that word mere again] mentioning that we have tinkered and manipulated a biblical practice that has produced a different kind of faith. It is NOT mere Christianity. Our spirituality is syncretistic. It has been mostly influenced by our culture and less by scripture and Jesus.

The word discipline seems to be currently a bit out of fashion. And with that word, also the notion of discipleship and the binding of our lives to Jesus or his will in our lives. We don’t find these ideas much in our Christian lexicon and actual practice within the church. There are books written about it, yes. But it is not translating into common practice. Maybe this says something about the state of our condition. It appears we approach spirituality today with a general hankering for the experience of something new and deeper, but without any desire or will to pay the dues for that experience. We want, as Bonhoeffer once so eloquently said, a “Christianity without the living Christ” or the demands He makes of us. However, we must realize also, this “is inevitably Christianity without discipleship and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth.” It also has little impact on the world around us and marks us “Christian” in name only. I will post more about this in subsequent reflections. Meanwhile enjoy this funky photo that I engineered yesterday to get the effect of genetically altering something. I think we have done something like this with our spirituality.

Feel free to leave a comment or your opinion. Have a great start to the week.

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  1. I wanted to respond to your post on syncretism becuase I definitely think our culture has strongly influenced our faith. However, the definition threw me becuase it speaks of opposed ideas. I can think of many ways in which our faith is influenced by our culture, but thinking of things that are definitely opposed is different. I could say postmodernism and Christianity, but I also think that there are things to be learned from postmodernism. Elements of it might be opposed to our faith, but not all of it.

    That’s why I couldn’t think of a response.

  2. Author


    Great observation. I should probably unpack the idea of “syncretism” a bit more, especially in the context of mission, and then what happens with our own practice of Christianity in the west.

    The idea of the Gospel being “altered” instead of opposed by pieces of our culture is probably more helpful. You are also correct that sometimes elements in one system of thought, like postmodernism for instance, have pieces that may serve as a corrective to modernism.

    It is probably hard to take a broad stroke and make the statement that all of Western Christianity is syncretistic. I was merely making the challenge that some of it is, and when we see syncretism in other cultural expressions of Christianity, we find it hard to see our own problems in this area. We don’t see the dirt on our own spectacles.

    You’ve motivated me to take this up in further posts. Thanks for you great input.

  3. Well, then let me mention an element of our faith that I think is influenced by American history and our mindset. We are an individualistic country and age. We have lost much of the element of community that is so central to the Church, and our efforts (it is a buzzword) are a feeble attempt to connect with an idea we don’t understand.

    I think a huge part of that comes from the ideology that spurred the French and American revolution. We take pride in the rights of the individual and defend them vehemently. We talk constantly about democracy. I would say this is great governmentally. However, it has so infused our whole culture that the church has been, as you say, altered.

    In the era of the the revolutions you see the rise of a different kind of church… all of the denominations that were persecuted and found their way over to the US. You see the rise of congregational churches and particularly in our age, the immense popularity of baptist churches. We talk a lot about the priesthood of the believer. Church rites lost popularity, I believe because we don’t understand the importance of a communal approach to God. Private devotions are our primary way of connecting to God now. I don’t think this is bad, I think that widespread shift of approach is because of our individualistic society.

    I see it in our church governments as well. We are swinging back towards comfort with denominations, but the rise of congregational churches (community churches, Bible churches, Baptists, etc), mirror a democratic model of government. We don’t trust authority, we wish have authority in the power of the people and right in front of us, not across the country (Presbyterians model a Republic, Catholicism a monarchy). One weakness of this is that doctrine is all over the board because it is guided by people with less education and experience.

    So… that’s more then just one thought in the end! Hopefully I put across something tenable!

  4. Author

    Thanks for the input Kacie,

    I appreciate the insight. It is so true and somewhat ironic, tragic, what have you. Time to push back for a biblical understand of who WE are in the Kingdom of God, as the called out community.



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