Today is Easter Monday. Yesterday I joyfully celebrated the resurrection of Christ and today I am enjoying the afterglow of the joyful worship I experienced yesterday with my fellow believers.
Does civilization advance or retreat; and, is the quality of human existence facilitated or hindered among those who seriously believe and practice Christianity?
I wrote this question in my journal last week.
These are “gospel-infested” places.
And yet, our region is a greenhouse for poverty, drug abuse and ignorance.
Yes, I know. Some of the country’s wealthiest people live in our suburbs. Some of this region’s counties are among the nation’s richest. If you drive the interstate from Atlanta to Nashville and on to Louisville, you will experience a region that seems economically vibrant and which is attracting vast numbers of migrants and immigrants from around the world. Our interstates are national arteries and link our zones of health one to one another. Along their path, all is well. But outside this economic and cultural bubble is staggering decay.
Words like this are often a setup for some political discussion. Not these. My questions are spiritual.
Jesus said that a good tree bears good fruit and that a bad tree bears bad fruit. What am I to say then about the education levels in our gospel-soaked counties, which consistently rate among America’s lowest? Is our gospel-soaked culture a good tree or a bad tree?
An honest Christian must face these issues not primarily as a social or a political problem but as a spiritual one. We must conclude that either the gospel comforts but does not transform –as Marx believed – or that our beloved folk forms of the faith have proven inadequate for transforming individuals and cultures. The Balm of Gilead is a song, but perhaps not a real medicine.
In his second epistle, St. Peter says that we must “add to our faith knowledge.” Therefore, piety without the transforming teachings and practices of our faith is disobedience to the faith. In other words, a sentimental attachment to a familiar folk form of the faith is not necessarily the faith. Otherwise, the religion of Bach, Aquinas, Pascal, Dunn, Mendel, Milton, Wren, Wilberforce, Bonheoffer, and Jonathan Edwards would have made much more of an impact upon our region. After all, many contemporary Christians around here profess to believe a much purer form of Christianity than the people I have just named.
Those who created our culture thought of Christianity as a profound way of thinking and living that one intentionally adopts (or intentionally rejects) in order to form his or her intellect and behavior.
The book goes on but this blog must end. So I conclude for now with this: not all forms of Christian faith represent it equally well. Some are enjoyable but not transformative. Some address individual change but profess no interest in making a cultural impact. Some talk about societal impact but expect little change in the disciple himself. Christian movements should be judged by how they impact the individuals and cultures they serve.
It was said of the wise men that traveled to see Christ, that “when they saw the light they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
I have been looking for that light while I drive; looking at the failed schools, the broken health care system, the drug addiction and, most of all, at the nearly illiterate, broken and impoverished people who try to survive in Appalachia and the rural South.
Perhaps we need a reformation.