“Cultural Christianity” as Fakery

mooreRussell Moore explains:

We sang a lot in my home church about being strangers and exiles, longing for a home somewhere beyond the skies. But I never felt like a stranger or an outsider until I tried to earn my Boy Scout “God and Country” badge.

Our troop was made up, as our community was, mostly of Baptist and Catholic children, and we would gather each week at St. Mary’s to talk about what it meant to be morally straight. To work on earning this badge, though, we were shuttled over to the United Methodist church for sessions on what it meant to do our part for Christian America. Afterward, we had an open question and answer session with the pastor. And that’s when I discovered I was embarrassing the preacher, my troop leader, and maybe even my country. I wanted to talk theology.

My pastor was warm and welcoming, but I rarely had the opportunity to sit and ask whatever I wanted, and what was on my mind was the devil. A classmate of mine at the elementary school had watched some horror film on demonic possession, and he told me all about it, eerie voices, heads that turned all the way around, the whole thing. It shook me up. So I asked, “Can a Christian be possessed by a demon, or are we protected from that by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?”

The Methodist minister had been ebullient to that point, in the way a county supervisor cutting a ribbon at a storefront might be. But now he seemed uncomfortable, shifting in his chair and laughing stiltedly. He hemmed and hawed about pre-modern conceptions of mental illness and about the personification of social structures, with lots of throat clearing between every clause. I had no idea what he was talking about, and there was too much at stake to let him off the hook this easily. I didn’t want to risk projectile vomiting demonic ooze.

My grandmother was Catholic, but could I spare the time it would take to get to her house to round up a crucifix? I asked the question again. This time he was abrupt, and clear: “There’s no such thing as demons.”

Now, I was really confused. “Oh, but there are,” I said. “Look, right here in the Gospel of Mark, it says . . .” The pastor interrupted me to tell me he was quite familiar with Mark, and with Matthew, and with Q, whatever that was. He knew they believed in the devil, but he didn’t. In this day and age, the literal existence of angels and demons wasn’t tenable. This was the first time I’d ever encountered anyone, in person, who knew what the Bible said but just disagreed with it. And he was the preacher. Moreover, I picked up in the nonverbal cues there that he didn’t just find the idea of angels and demons incredible; he found it embarrassing.

That was just the setup. Here is the point:

The “God and Country” badge wasn’t really about conforming us to the gospel, or to the Bible, to any confessional Christian tradition, or even, for that matter, to the “mere Christianity” of the ancient creeds and councils. This project didn’t want to immerse us (or even sprinkle us) into the strange world of the Bible, with its fiery spirits and burning bushes and empty tombs. We were here for the right kind of Christianity, the sort that was a means to an end. We were to have enough Christianity to fight the Communists and save the Republic, as long as we didn’t take it all too seriously.

We weren’t there to carry a cross; we were there to earn a badge. We weren’t to be about Christ and kingdom, just God and country. This notion of Christian America stood in the backdrop of the culture wars of the last generation. If we are to engage in a new context, we must understand what we, perhaps unwittingly, embraced, and how to navigate beyond it.

This “cultural Christianity” that Moore describes is not Christianity; it is a false civic religion that has led, and is still leading, many people straight to hell. This looks to be a great book.

Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2015), 11-12.

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