What is Christianity for?

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This is a question I’ve asked a few times here at SixOh6. It seems like a good question to revisit at Easter. And here’s my my quick-and-dirty answer: I don’t have a good answer.

Or rather: I have multiple answers.

If one takes Christianity seriously as faith, then the answer for many Christians is something like: Christianity is the way we come into right relationship with God. It plugs us into an eternal perspective, and we are redeemed from our sinful and broken natures by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus and choosing to live as He would have us.

I’m not sure I believe that entirely. As always, I’m one foot in and one foot out of the church.

The foot out: I don’t think I know precisely the nature of God, or what God wants from us, and some of the things traditional Christianity has told us are bad — and this, in my life, ranges all the way from “dancing” to “being gay” — I’ve found, with experience, are actually good.

Still: There’s the example of Jesus. Who warned us against living by the sword. Who ate with tax collectors. Who repeatedly confounded the social expectations of his time, and did it on behalf of adultresses, the meek, the prisoners and the rest of society’s castoffs.

There’s the foot in.

If my writings here at SixOh6 seem occasionally muddled, it’s because while I live my life with one foot out, I expect self-proclaimed Christians to live the former version of Christianity — with an eternal perspective. The tribalism I see in American Christians seems to me to be precisely the opposite of that.

Maybe that’s hypocritical of me.

Rod Dreher, as you know by now, is a source of some frustration to me. And I think he captured why in this essay about why traditional Christian notions of sex are so important.

Is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives—or gave—Christianity its power as a social force?

I think it’s kind of clear that for Dreher, the answer is, uh, “yes.”

But I also think he has the question wrong. He’s not interrogating whether Christianity’s purpose is to be a social force.

It gets complicated. I think if you live out Christianity with that eternal perspective, it will definitely flow through your temporal life an have social ramifications. But that’s a byproduct of living with the eternal perspective, not the purpose.

On the other hand, if you’re me, living with one foot out of the church, with maybe only a nodding hope of the eternal perspective — well, what’s left except the social ramifications? And if that’s the case, who am I to get mad at Rod Dreher for treating his faith that way?

I’m not a good Christian. That’s the choice I make, based on my best sense of what I know. But I want Christians to be the best Christians they can be.

This is partly right:

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

I’m definitely seeing through the glass darkly. What’s Christianity for? Finding out if the rest of it is true, I guess.

Author: joeldermole

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.

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