Anti-religious religiosity: insufficent complexity in a theology of sufficiency

“We cannot understand religion or religious expressions in terms which are overly simple, and we ought to have a deep, abiding suspicion for explanations of religious behavior which fail the test of sufficient complexity, whether those explanations are given by academics, politicians, members of religious communities, or some combination of all three.”

That’s from my friend, Zack.  I have been thoroughly nauseated in the past few weeks by this ‘Jesus>Religion’ video.  Sorry, I ‘m not going to address this substantively (and sorry Zack for letting the word ‘nausea’ creep a little too closely to your name, they aren’t associated in my mind), and I ‘m not going to pat Jefferson Bethke, Driscoll-iple, for “starting dialogue” or upholding authenticity.  I ‘m happy to hear that some people have been blessed by it – but my stomach churns when I listen to such items.  My heart mourns for those who are being and have been abused by Mars Hill.  I wish I could separate these two thoughts, but for the moment, I can’t.

Simple answers harm.  I believe, simply, that the problem is looking for a simple answer.  Even hearing Bethke admit openly that he was not condemning the church does n’t abate the nausea.  Using a term deceitfully in order to uphold your own view is poor form, especially when that form fits our preference for that which makes agreement a simple matter.  ‘Religion’ for religious people (and those who follow Jesus are by nature ‘religious’) intersects with innumerable aspects of their lives.  It intersects with the political (Jesus came announcing the establishment of his kingdom, interject a study of mishpat in Isaiah), with the communal (the very nature of the church in Acts coupled with the missing priorities extolled in Corinthians and James), with the sociological (uh, people are involved), with the historical (it happened in time – even claiming that others have got it all wrong requires that you acknowledge history), with the phenomenological (stuff happened), etc.

In short, it’s irreducible.  The straw man (straw women are n’t respected enough to be rejected in Driscoll’s overt teaching, which is all that his work can be judged by for most of us) is easily dismissed.  We hit ‘like’ and are lumped in with them or we ignore it, shake our heads, and don’t agree with them.  I completely fail to see how substantive dialogue develops when terms are chosen so poorly.  For me, these concepts fail to deal with issues in sufficient complexity, whether those problems are in the church, marriage, sex, identity, leadership-models, abuse, or counseling.  Explanations can only be applied insofar as they are helpful – I fail to see how anything substantive has been added to the discussions.

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6 responses to “Anti-religious religiosity: insufficent complexity in a theology of sufficiency

  1. Also note Fr. Barron’s comments. The video appeals to a very individualistic sector of evangelicalism, particularly American evangelicalism.

    My issue is that it stirs up emotions without offering a direction. The only answer I can suppose is that I too can feel justified that my church is n’t this way, OR I should join his favored brand of evangelicalism. This I find most unappealing. Try running away from institutions or politics and you find out how much you rely on them.

    Instead of separationism or individualism, it would be better to get to the root of the feelings and express what can be done differently (and please back such items up with historical examples because they’re out there and they should extend beyond a few radicals [at least look closely at Luther’s community and Calvin’s community if these are to be your champions so that you don’t misunderstand them excessively]). Expressing feelings is not an issue. It can be helpful for later analysis and subsequent growth, but this Spoken Word fails to express those emotions in a manner which lends itself to realistic or meaningful change (and I look to Luther for neither of these personally).

  2. I’m more fascinated by the number of hits the video has received and by the number of copycat videos and responses (including your own!) that have cropped up. Pretty fascinating sociological phenomenon.

    Bethke clearly is defining religion to suit his purposes, which is bad because religion is such a charged word – it shouldn’t be treated so lightly (I agree with you). With that said, I don’t think Bethke realized how many people were going to watch his video, but to be honest, one has to be careful what one puts out on YOUTUBE; anything can explode overnight whether you intend it to or not.

    I also don’t like the picture he painted of Christ destroying all religion (inaccurate 21st century young american individualistic evangelical perspective). Christ hated hypocrisy, but not religion itself. Such a message appeals to the anti-The Man mentality and hatred for tradition and old things that often permeates in a society obsessed with youth and the ever-changing new (here is where we need C. S. Lewis). We mold Christ in our image many times.

    I was fascinated by how a couple of Roman Catholic video responses highlighted Jeff’s passion and love for Christ (though they and myself would agree he’s definitely a young guy in his faith who doesn’t entirely know what he’s talking about – he needs to study Scripture some more). Definitely gave me a new understanding of how some in the Roman Catholic church view evangelical Protestants, even guys who don’t always represent well, which is pretty cool. Didn’t mean to imply that the video I posted was ex cathedra the only Roman perspective, so thanks for the other video to check out. Watching it right now.

    Agree that bashing what we perceive as the other side is not most helpful. Historical examples, like you said, are definitely needed.

    Thanks for posting this, as I was completely unaware of the whole thing before your blog. Got me thinking.

  3. To be the devil’s advocate for a second: I think the reaction in question may have arisen out of good intentions; people the likes of Bethke and Driscoll may have found the current trends of anti-Christian and anti-church sentiments threatening and may have wanted to save Christ’s image (and what they consider to be His causes such as getting more people to believe in Him) by separating the two, lumping self-proclaimed Christians and church-activity as (aspects of) ‘religion’ and conveniently–but also quite mistakenly–excluding themselves from this category by pointing fingers at it. Problem is, these loud Christians are creating more harm than the harm they perceive are being done by imperfect Christians, who, in their mind, are misrepresenting Christ. They harm Him by misrepresenting the ‘religious’ Church, which is His Bride; this also becomes a misrepresentation of the Groom, who established the Church and desires to take Her to Himself. Jesus never needed or asked for this kind of protection. I think the responses from the Church community at large is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is outraged at this rogue Christ ambassador acting out of line.

    Having said that, we need to embrace these misguided brothers and take responsibility for the rise of such controversial talk because it would not have arisen, had we been excellent representatives of Christ. The good have been silent too long. I am actually glad that the wise and more orthodox Christians spoke up and pushed back on this occasion, but it would not hurt to have them be louder than these shallow and heretical ones on a more regular basis.

  4. @Dan – really appreciated hearing your thoughts the other night. What is it Treebeard says about ents never saying anything unless it is worth taking the time? I’m glad to have sparked a few thoughts and meaningful conversation.

    Again, I get really heated when we start using terminology that doesn’t express our actual differences or similarities. My view trends more towards the Catholic views expressed here: Bethke is being naive, sincere, but naive in his use of language and the church is an agent for good (although corruption surely can always be found). We need historical perspectives to expand our prejudices a bit beyond arguing against one 21st century anglo-protestant evangelical/individualist perspective with another. For me there’s no point in keeping a debate within the confines of evangelicalism – because that term isn’t especially meaningful for its adherents (very loose configuration). If we want to rally around principles – then we can actually have a discussion.

  5. @Fiona – I don’t mean to say that I have an issue with Driscoll’s or Bethke’s feelings about the state of the church (in a certain subset of America because that seems to be their audience). I take issue (and umbrage) with their weak display of critical thinking (read: over-simplifying damages, like when a judge pronounces all sentences without consideration for context of personal character…in a word, wisdom seeks to apply good while acknowledging complexity).

    I believe they have largely misdiagnosed the nature and core issues of being a Christian in this society (or subset thereof). They think that what separates the Christian is holiness evidenced mostly by a certain concept of manhood leading his family unit and overcoming society’s loose sexual mores. We are called to be different. Jesus said to be ‘perfect as he is perfect’…which is a troubling thought. It’s, again, not nearly as simple as either Bethke or Driscoll want to make the issues sound (for one thing, women’s possible roles are clearly different from the general sentiment in Jesus’ day). That’s where their wisdom has failed but their reasoning has triumphed.

    Others have pointed out that speaking against religion is an atheistic method. I should distinguish we are speaking of atheist fundamentalists – those with an interest in not only ignoring but abolishing religion. (Interesting that the early Christians were termed atheists in certain ill-informed documents) For this type of atheist, putting God to death is the first step before establishing a better society and assuming humanity’s true place in the cosmos. The non-religious Christian also is divorced from any church authority because of the method used. In short, drumming up anti-religious sentiments and then answering them with Jesus is a counterproductive approach. You are left without authority outside of Christ himself (and if that is true, how do we know to trust the Bible?)

    “Jesus never needed or asked for this type of protection.” – I think that is well put.

    I’d like to agree with you about embracing these misguided brothers, but I don’t see how at the moment. We are airing family laundry in public (because they have taken it public) and now the question is one of authority. In this evangelical context…there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable means other than to push back saying this isn’t correct (because we’re representing the gospel by the way we reprimand).

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