One of my areas of study is Christian culture — namely, the messages pastors preach and the rhetoric they use to do so, and also the perspective of Christianity through which most believers live their lives. My greatest concern is that the state of church is detrimental to itself, potentially even on a pathway toward self-destruction. (Not entirely, of course. There are still many Christians producing excellent work and living out the Kingdom of God. If you wish for more on my opinions of the state of church, you can go to any of the following: The Dangers of Church Division, Are Christians Being Attacked in America?, Personal Revelation and Fact Checking Pastors, Concerning the Rhetoric of Pastors, Never Again do I Want to Hear a Pastor Talk About Marriage, Is Modern Christianity Gnostic?, On “Christianese”, or Advice on Avoiding Pastoral Manipulation)
My concern is that Christianity is pushing itself into a position of being completely irrelevant — a white noise machine. Many pastors of megachurches have conjured false realities and factless caricatures of reality, and they use the monopoly they posses on Christian culture to lure believers into these phantasmagories. For example, you have, as Chris Hedges labeled them, “neo-fascist” ideologues in the radical religious right movement, such as Vision America and Gateway Church, who are successfully making numerous Tea Party members and teaching a violent God, but failing to proclaim the true Kingdom of God.
All of that being noted, one must ask: what credibility is there to our Christian testimony? Or, more precisely, upon what platform must we stand to proclaim the Kingdom of God into the 21st century?
Today, I watched a debate between Lorenzo Albacete and Christopher Hitchens. At the 20 minute mark, Christopher Hitchens is asked a question about whether or not witnessing a miracle would convince him that God exists. Using a version Hume’s argument, Hitchens said that he would sooner doubt his own perceptions of the event rather than give credence to miracles because one is never justified in believing the testimony or “experience” of miracles. (That’s my summary. You can watch the clip for his full statement).
In response, Albacete — a Catholic monsignor, who had a close friendship with Pope John Paul II — said he agreed with Hitchens. What? How could agree with Hitchens’ argument if you believe in the miracle that God raised Jesus from the dead? Albacete elaborates as follows:
“I want to comment by underlying my 1,000 times agreement with you and with someone else. I think Jesus thought the same way. Because he made it very clear at the end that he did not have a very high view of the power of miracles to help anyone [believe]. [Now summarizing Jesus] ‘These people won’t believe, even if someone came back from the dead.’ There is one factor, however, upon which he risked everything, upon which he was willing to risk the authenticity of who he was. [On the night before he died], he says in the Gospel of Saint John: ‘The people, the world will believe only to the degree that you love one another. If you break this love, the world is right in not believing any of my claims.’ I read that, and I see that to that degree [I recognize more of this unconditional love], I recognize more of this presence [of God]. But the moment I cannot live up to that love, it goes away, and I’m abandoned to a world of miracles that will, in fact, produce no certainty at all.”
Albacete is not advocated that Christians stop believing in miracles, but rather that the credibility of Christian testimony and the message of Jesus rests upon our ability to demonstrate love. A radical love that transcends the conventional capabilities of our species is a more powerful argument for the truth of Christianity and the existence of God than any miracle ever could.
People will again turn to Christianity if they can see Christ as the true revelation of God, and that his resurrection is the confirmation of this revelation (albeit not the entirety of God’s revelation). Christianity, of course, is based to a large degree upon the historical resurrection of Jesus. But the revelation of God, in our day and age, is found primarily through an encounter with the person of Jesus himself, or — as Paul would say — the Spirit of Christ. This event is not God telling us a history story, but an existential encounter with God’s own being.
Thus, if Christianity wants to regain its credibility, we must learn again what it means to be radical lovers. We must stand up for the poor and the oppressed. We must advocate for peace in a world addicted to violence. And we must extend the power of God’s mercy to even the most heinous sinners.
As an example, consider Martin Luther King Jr. He is, undoubtably, one of the most credible sources in America. If King expressed his view on an issue, you can bet almost everyone will hold it with respect and sincerely consider it. How did King arrive at this position? It was through self-sacrificing, courageous, and an informed love, which expressed itself non-violently and passionately and extended to all corners of society. That is our model of achieving a credible testimony, and I pray God’s Holy Spirit will give us the passion to do so.