Slouching towards the “American Jesus” – part I

17 11 2009

open_bible1

With friends like these…

Ordinarily, I don’t read Protestant blogs, especially those of the “Catholic friendly” type. So places like the Internet Monk rarely see my virtual shadow graze their screen full of pixels. One post on Josh S.’ blog did link to a post on this other blog, and since I have of late thought that I am being unfair to Protestant religious culture and the brave Catholics who venture to “dialogue” with it (mostly converts themselves), I decided to take a gander. From my understanding, the owner of this popular website is ambivalent towards Catholicism and Orthodoxy since his wife has converted to the one True, Roman Faith. So apparently, he really wants to know what we think, and people far more patient than I am have tried to explain it to him. In spite of these efforts, the Protestant blogger has to conclude the following:

I appreciate the worship, reverence, holiness, sacrifice, devotion and prayerfulness I see in Catholic Christians. In the category of Jesus shaped spirituality, there is much to affirm about the Catholic way of being Christian…

What continues to haunt me, however, is not the resolution of my own differences with Catholicism. I’m quite satisfied that, minus some devastating alteration in my own view of faith, God and the church, I’ll be a Protestant on the bus with the “Happy Enough” Protestants till the end of my ride.

We traded the errors of Rome for what we have now. I can be glad we do not believe in the assumption of Mary or in indulgences, but from there, I’m left sad that I can go weeks without hearing the Gospel, but never a day without moralism, culture war idolatry and consumer church.

A thoughtful reflection on the real nature of American Protestantism, perhaps, but it comes as the reverse side of the same cultural coin. The author finds that there are things in the Catholic Church, like Thomas Merton, liturgy, and many of the aesthetic trappings that bring a believer “closer to Jesus”, while there are others (devotion to the Virgin, transubstantiation, and the sacramental priesthood) that separate the believer even more from Jesus. At least he is honest in stating that Protestantism does the same thing. But at the end of the day, a Catholic is still left with the feeling: “with friends like these…”

Which is perhaps why I pay about zero attention to what American Protestants think about historical Catholicism. It’s not that I don’t want them to convert, or that I concede for a minute that Catholicism is “un-Scriptural”. It is just that I feel that the entire paradigm in which Americans think of Christianity is so hopelessly broken that it is no use to try to engage it. To the Protestant’s concession that we have deep, spiritual writers, and sober, structured, Bible-inspired worship, my immediate reaction is to hand him a Green Scapular and possibly an extra Juan Soldado holy card (if I have one on me), and exhort him to commend himself to the unfailing prayers of the Virgin. It’s not just that I like being a curmudgeon. It is that at this point, I would much rather hang out with the homosexual agnostic who admires church architecture all the while hating every doctrine of the Church than some heretic who knitpicks at my religious patrimony to see what is Christian and what is “pagan”. That for me is incredibly insulting.

He may be right about how Protestantism is shaping up in this country, but his principles are still so incredibly warped that nothing could really come of it.

(To be continued)


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9 responses

27 11 2009
Josh S

Which is a more miraculous conversion? Somebody like Spencer (totally jacked up ecclesiology and sacramental theology) or somebody like Josh (thinks he already IS Catholic)?

I would be more miraculous. It would take a nervous breakdown for Spencer to convert, something that is not entirely unimaginable for him. But I’d have to start believing that I am a complete idiot, something far, far more unlikely for me. So I think my conversion to the One True Bureaucratic Hierarchy That Christ Founded would be more miraculous.

On a more serious note: I’m not sure on what grounds you’re insulted. The fact is that any Protestant, by virtue of considering himself a “Christian,” is going to have some areas of commonality with Catholics. Moreover, because of the reality of historical events, we are compelled to have some kind of interpretation of Christian history from about 300 AD through 1529 AD. Depending on how we interpret that history, and how we see ourselves in relationship to it, we will look at Catholicism with varying degrees of sympathy. And not only that, but interpreting and understanding our own history requires picking apart your religious patrimony. This is impossible to avoid. As much as you might think we ought to, we’re not going to ever buy into the Catholic version of events, at least, not as long as we remain unconverted and in the jaws of heretical Hell, five circles below where the Greek pederasts hang out.

This is in fact the exact same issue Christians have in relation to Judaism. If you’re a Christian, you have to explain just what was going on in Near Eastern history up until about 30 AD and what you are in relation to it. And you’re going to explain it in a way much different than the various sects of Jews do, and even coming to an explanation is going to require picking apart their religious patrimony. Not only that, but by the nature of our own origin, we’re going to end up finding a thing or two to appreciate about Judaism–some of us more, some of us less–while still not swallowing the whole thing (as that would mean renouncing Christ).

Do you expect Jews to be offended by Christians who like some things about Judaism (say, the entire Old Testament), yet are not Jews? What about Christians who have the nerve to appropriate the Old Testament to their own religion without bringing along the Talmud for the ride?

23 11 2009
Jared B.

It’s starting to really get in my craw when a “culture warrior” type Catholic will say that their conservative Presbyterian (or whatever) neighbor is “more Catholic” than the “bad Catholics” who vote for Democrats or what-the-Hell-ever they like to pick at. Everything is about making the right individual choices, and following the right political paradigm, more so than it is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ

I guess I am one of those types, who perceives more in common with Protestants who have similar views on ethics (a moral view only gets “political” from the perspective of those who want opposing viewpoints to shut up) than I do with many people who are technically Catholics. But I gotta say this: everything IS about making the right individual choices, because those are the only kinds of choices individuals are capable of making. If Joe Presbyterian has beliefs on some issues that happen to be in accord with Magisterial teaching more than Jill Catholic, don’t shoot the messenger for pointing that out.

19 11 2009
Tapestry

they preferred to go to churches that proclaimed their political fears, their insecurities, their hatreds, and then simply uttered out the name “Jesus” every now and then.

LOL…

18 11 2009
Agostino

Leah, I think you have a valid question, though I’m afraid I don’t have any answers. Though not fond of Anabaptist theology in any way, I have a lot of respect for how the Amish, Old Order Mennonites, etc. order their own societies, and of the few that I’ve met, I’ve never met one who was as pushy with their beliefs as we find with a lot of other low-church American Protestants. But perhaps that’s what makes these groups the most relevant, in what Evangelicals can learn from them: people have more respect for the “strong silent type” than they have for those grappling to be the loudest child in the room.

17 11 2009
Leah

I’ve often thought that when most Americans think of “Christianity,” what they’re actually referring to is Geneva-style Calvinism in a three-piece suit with a bit of Pentecostalism thrown in to keep things interesting. However, how would groups like the Amish, the Hutterites, and the Old Order Mennonites (i.e., “The Third Way” Anabaptists) fit into this scheme or are they just too fringe to even be considered relevant?

17 11 2009
Christopher

Which is a more miraculous conversion? Somebody like Spencer (totally jacked up ecclesiology and sacramental theology) or somebody like Josh (thinks he already IS Catholic)?

17 11 2009
Agostino

Sam,

I find myself reading your comment and agreeing heartily. Before I started my current ministerial experiment a little over a year ago, I read every book and report on church-planting I could get my hands on: Arlin Rothague’s Sizing Up a Congregation series, ECUSA’s church-planting report, Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church, and what have you. But when I started observing what happened in the field and what the mega-churches actually preach (bear in mind, I live in the same town as Rod Parsley), I found that what worked was the complete opposite of everything I had read.

What I found was that instead of people coming to hear the message of the Gospel rightly proclaimed, they preferred to go to churches that proclaimed their political fears, their insecurities, their hatreds, and then simply uttered out the name “Jesus” every now and then. That’s what I’ve encountered in the majority of mega-churches I’ve encountered, and I feel that the fact such a system is so widely popular — not to mention the viewpoints of those who leave these churches and convert to agnosticism, atheism, neopaganism, etc. — is a solid affirmation of everything you and Ariston just said, as well as Arturo’s statement that the American view of Christianity is hopelessly broken.

17 11 2009
Ariston

I feel sorry for Spencer in a way, because every time I read that blog it is obvious that he is working out private angst and troubles in a very public manner. He is a smart enough man, but in the end, he’s creating a faith for a market segment of one (which he calls Jesus-shaped spirituality, what a great brand name). He wants this and that from there, but not the rest, and this and that from there, but not the rest. He covers his tracks with theological terms, but what he really wants is the church of Michael Spencer, like nearly every other American Protestant is really only looking for the church of Me.

17 11 2009
Sam Urfer

Yeah, I can appreciate your position. I will read and comment on IM and other such blogs, but there is an increasing feeling of “why?” to the experience. All it ends up being, in the end, is circling argument, and that gets nowhere.

It’s starting to really get in my craw when a “culture warrior” type Catholic will say that their conservative Presbyterian (or whatever) neighbor is “more Catholic” than the “bad Catholics” who vote for Democrats or what-the-Hell-ever they like to pick at. Everything is about making the right individual choices, and following the right political paradigm, more so than it is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ (slipping into my own Evangelical roots there, eh? Well, I mean the whole shebang, with priests and sacraments and Mary, not just the parts that make me comfortable and happy; otherwise how would it be any different from “Singing a New Church Into Being”?).

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