Andrew Sullivan has been thinking about Christianity lately – what’s happening to it on a large scale. I don’t think he’s doing a great job expressing himself on this topic, and I think he is aware of this. I think he’s fighting the good fight, but something about it is daunting and indeed depressing.
For confirmation of this all you need to do is read through the comments on his piece. This is true for all internet comments of course, which generally are depressing.
One general observation is that religious people – myself included – very quickly get bogged down in details. The phenomenon is so large, and so complex, and so personal, that the number of details to get bogged down in is nearly infinite.
A second problem is language. People take language so seriously, and they use it so confidently. I know I need to write about this in some kind of focused way, but I am convinced, from real intimacy with ancient languages and ancient ways of thinking, that the following words are alien to the Gospels and would be very difficult to express in the koine Greek of the early Christians: sin, repentance, church, confession, miracle, authority, Bible, “Person” (as in “One God three persons”), morality, and soul. I could probably find or think of more, but these alone are a significant list. People speak so confidently about these terms as Christian terms. It may be true that there is no way to say “sin” in koine in any way that doesn’t simply mean “mistake,” but nowadays I’m tempted, like lots of others, to just give up and let the ignorants win. They may not even bother learning to read the actual Scripture – for the obvious reason, that it’s not actually important to them – but still it’s tempting to cede the floor, as always, to the people who make the most noise and have the greatest numbers.
But the first thing I’d recommend for a “whither Christianity” action plan would be: learn Greek. Laugh any preacher off the stage who literally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Another general point: when explaining the Gospel, try translating what you have to say into koine, and then translating it back into English. If the message gets utterly scrambled by passing through the language of the early Gospel, it may not be the same message as the Gospel. I’m not saying that we can’t innovate. I’m just saying that a process like this may introduce a little more awareness of where the seams (and gaps) are between what is personal, cultural, and Gospel.