Monday, August 01, 2005

How Christian is America?

That question is one of the provocative take-aways readers will get from Bill McKibben's essay, The Christian Paradox, in the latest issue of Harper's Magazine. One doesn't even have to agree with the liberal political agenda to which McKibben apparently subscribes to know that the guy is onto something, something very important.

In addition to being a liberal, McKibben is an active, church-going Christian appalled by the failure of the American Church to take seriously Jesus' call to love one's neighbor.

It also concerns him, as it does me, that so much of America has embraced a cartoon version of Christian faith advanced by people like Joel Osteen. These peddlers of a fake Christianity may appeal to Americans' inclination toward self-serving spirituality and the worship of money, but they have little in common with the Savior Who says that the last shall be first and the first last, Who calls His followers to love others as we love ourselves.

McKibben also decries how most Americans who identify themselves as Christians have no notion of what Biblical Christianity is about. This is all the more appalling because, as McKibben points out, fully 85% of Americans call themselves Christians, making the United States the most religiously homogeneous First World country on the planet. (By comparison, only 77% of Israelis identify themselves as Jewish.)

Lest you think that McKibben is nothing but a scourge or a screed, I assure you that he's not. He approaches his entire discussion with great humility, acknowledging his own faults and his own hypocrisy. In the end, McKibben seems to be aiming at two things in his well-written piece:

(1) He wants to lament the unwillingness of American Christians to apply the teachings of Jesus to everyday living;

(2) He wants to hold out the hope of what could happen if Christians got serious about living out their faith, not in the impositionalist posture of Christian legalists, but as people set free from worry about self after surrendering to the Lordship of a crucified, risen, and ever-living Savior.

McKibben's essay will make it worth your while to pick up a copy of the August issue of Harper's.

1 comment:

MikeW said...

I spent some time years ago at Bible School in England run by the Torchbearers. I still remember one line from one of the teachers: "Most people worship a Jesus of their imagination." For me, rings particularly true nowadays. Hard to argue, I think, that consumerism isn't the true god among all the assorted gods people kneel before. I'll check out the article in Harpers. Thanks!