Are the culture wars real? A case for heresyBy Christian Piatt
Growing up, I heard things at camp and in youth group about how “the world” thought and acted one way, and how “we” were not like that.
The world, it seemed, was intent on unraveling everything I valued as good and true, leaving me with a smoldering pile of ideals and beliefs. It was our job as Christians not only to defend against this frontal attack, but also to fight back in an effort to win souls for the kingdom.
It was an epic battle, now in its beginning stages, but that would play out as depicted in the fantastical, horrifically violent pages within the Book of Revelation. The end is near; which side will you be on?
The Christianity of my youth was much like the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a shining jewel high on a hill, beset on all sides by forces intent solely on its destruction. And our mission, as stewards of the faith, was to preserve and maintain the faith, protecting it at all costs. This, I would later learn, was the theological heart of what I now know as the “culture war.” And some within the walls of the temple might argue I’ve abandoned the cause, or perhaps switched sides all together.
But all of this begs the question: Does such a culture war even exist? I’m not so sure. Though there are those who would work actively to undermine the presence of organized religion anywhere it is found, it’s a relatively small but noisy group.
I do believe, however, that there is a more subtle, dangerous dynamic that threatens the influence of Christianity in today’s world: the threat of pervasive indifference.
A growing number of people just don’t seem to believe that the church, in all its many forms, has much to offer them. They are not interested in becoming a part of another institution, and they certainly have no interest in engaging in some battle — much of which may be confabulated — against the rest of the world.
This is the point at which, much to the chagrin of the established church, heretics are Christianity’s greatest ally. They tend to be the ones on the fringes of the faith, who can see both the dynamics within the faith and those outside its scope. As such, they tend to be the ones who also can help forge new bridges of relationship, while giving permission to burn other “bridges to nowhere” to the ground.
It’s not as if the Catholic Church welcomed Martin Luther with open arms when he nailed his 95 Theses to the church door, challenging much about the way church and Christianity were conducted for centuries up until that point. After all, those on the inside had been given a charge, something to protect and preserve for future generations. But while some may have seen the likes of Luther as seeking the demise of the faith, he actually beckoned new life into it, forging cracks in the edifice that allowed God’s radical work to transform the old into something new.
This was, after all, at the core of Jesus’ mission too, and the prophets who preceded him. It was what drove Origen, Luther and Alexander Campbell to stand up in the face of the institutional authority and claim a greater authority — the inspired Word of God.
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