Friday, September 19, 2014

Being Pilgrims- As It Should Be

Since the title of this blog is the Wanderings of a postModern Pilgrim, and pilgrimage is a key image for me, I was struck by the title of a book I came across at our local library: Strangers and Pilgrims Once More: Being Disciples of Jesus in a Post-Christendom World by Addison Hodges Hart. (Note: Whoever finds books to pick for our local library does an amazing job of finding diverse and broad-based ones. If you ever read this: Thanks!)

In this book, Hart is setting up the idea that we are in the midst of a very significant shift in the Church's life and history. The world we live in, Hart says, is a post-Christendom world, the end of a world that began when Constantine followed the cross and Christianity became a state religion. It is now time for the focus to become Christianity, not the state-supported version(s) that have existed for 1800 years.

After an introduction to the ideas of Christendom and state religion, etc. he sets up five ideas, the first four of which he compares and contrasts with the world that Christendom has fostered.

  • dogma, creed and orthodoxy, not dogmatism that divides and confuses;
  • the Bible, not anti-intellectual biblical literalism;
  • evangelism, not polemics, arguments and controversy;
  • sacramental unity in baptism and communion, not disunity through abuse and misinterpretation;
  • and always stays focused on the centrality of Jesus.
Hart is an amazingly eclectic person, although I am not sure he would agree with that about his theology. I get the feeling that he has a very strong and deep understanding of what being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, means and how that often differs significantly from the Christendom model where issues take on a more legalistic (my word) direction. He sees how through the past 1800 years the church- and therefore the message of Christ- has been co-opted by merging it with nationalism, patriotism and state control melding with church control. He is a strong critic of many policies of governments that many in the United States (the religious right) have made hallmarks of faith.

At the same time Hart seems to miss the stricter understanding of Christian morals and values that a Christendom model supports. In the early explanations he says that many of the failures of morals and values in our world today is a sign that the Christendom model has lost its power. Which, as I see it, leads to his view that Christians who follow the morals and values of Christ are going to be strangers and pilgrims in the world again. The believer will be outside the political and cultural mainstream now that the mainstream is no longer based on traditional Christian values.

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised- and frustrated- by the book. Hart appears to be quite consistent in his understandings and explanations. There is a sense, though, that his moral stances may very well be the Achilles heel of his thesis. In some ways his arguments do not leave open the possibility of continuing revelation of understanding in a vastly different world from the one the Church began in. He is clearly not a fundamentalist or right-wing Christian. Maybe he is right, though, that we have such difficulty with "morals and values" because we have accepted the ways of the world in order to be good citizens.

It is an excellent book, however, and caused me to take steps back and think about what it might mean to be a stranger and pilgrim in this different landscape.

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