Simplification, Subtlety and the Saviour

Generally speaking, we don’t live in a world of nuance. For all the talk in the popular culture for the many shades of grey out there and of the many varieties of truth, when it comes right down to the actual discussions we have, everything seems radically simple.

Socially you’re either conservative or you’re progressive. Politically you’re either right wing or left wing. Spiritually, you’re either “religious” (whatever that means) or secular.

While these labels can have their use in framing a discussion, or at least in avoiding long explanations each and every time people discuss other topics, the fact is that we have moved away from the use of labels to simplify real communication, and moved into using these ad hoc labels and begun to use them as definitions as to what people believe.

The problem is that labels can be useful as long as they’re taken as tentative. When they become definitions, they will often end up making things far more difficult instead of making things easier. People will begin to talk around each other rather than to each other. This has especially become the case when talking about “evangelical Christianity” (so much so that some theologians are confused about whether to cop to the title, at least in North America).

whatcottIn my experience, though, the most troubling development has been the desire to lump Christianity in with some very… not Christian opinions. It’s even worse when it’s not open opponents to Christianity that do this, but people who claim to be Christian. Such is the case of one Bill Whatcott.

Mr. Whatcott is in the habit of attacking homosexuality in our culture, advocating (it seems) the very extreme position that because homosexual practice is unbiblical (a position I agree with), that it should also be illegal (yeah, not so much). The worst part is that in advocating this position, he promulgated flyers which included a parody song winsomely entitled “kill the homosexuals”. He claims (through a lawsuit no less) that this was simply (horribly ill-advised) hyperbole, which he modified by explaining later in the pamphlet that he simply desired that those who practice homosexuality repent and come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

As a Christian I can only agree that people who engage in unbiblical behaviour should repent and come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. As many of my less-theologically-conservative friends lament, I believe that includes homosexual practice, but (much less lamentably, methinks) it also includes advocating the murder of identifiable groups of people. Thus, in my (and I think most evangelical Christians’) understanding of evangelical Christianity, Bill Whatcott needs to repent every bit as much as the most promiscuous homosexual. The problem is that in our age of radical simplification, Whatcott’s hyperbolic opinion is often referred to as “Christian”, even if most Christians would clearly disavow the opinion.

When it comes to what beliefs are “Christian”, the defining characteristic cannot be that many (or even most) Christians believe it, but rather what Christ taught, as revealed in scripture. Indeed, if people take the time to understand Christ’s teaching, I think we’ll find that He provides correction and even open rebuke to many of the things most Christians seem to think and do. While we need to be clear about the message of Christ and its implications, we need to be careful of the tendency to exchange clarity for simplification.

Of course, this does not mean Christianity has no meaning (if you do not believe in Christ, you are not a Christian…. even as if you do not submit to Allah, you are not a Muslim and if you do not seek to follow the enlightened one, you are not a Buddhist). Rather it means that as Christians, lets be careful to limit the beliefs we call “Christian” to those advocated through the one we call the Christ.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.