Friday, July 22

Christianity as an Existential Communication

Since I begun my journey outside of fundamentalism, nothing has influenced me more than the idea that “Christianity is not a doctrine, but an existential communication." (For those who are confused, an 'existential communication' is something that is expressed by how you act and how you live, so essentially it is expressed by your existence.) In contrast, the prevailing view today is that someone is a Christian if they believe a few certain key doctrines/truths (and say them to God with the sinners’ prayer), and that the essence of Christianity is these doctrines/truths. I would argue that Christianity is much less a "system of beliefs that form a worldview" and more a "lifestyle that is expressed existentially"

The New Testament, which is what Christians base their religion on, is mostly ethical in nature. Throughout the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus presents his followers not with theological statements but ethical commands. In Jerusalem someone became a follower of Christ by an 'ethical initiation' of sorts, he had to give up his position and possessions in society in order to follow. So the Christians were separated from the Jews primarily by how they lived, not what they believed. Christ said in John 13:35 that "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." The disciple was known through love, not philosophy, theology, doctrine, or social standing. Our Christianity is expressed to others existentially.

Furthermore, Christ did not come with new knowledge or theological understanding. As he said in Matthew 5:17 he came not to other throw the law, his addition (and salvation) was ethical. In this sense, the Christians grew spiritually through their discipleship with Christ (which was purely existential), not through theological understanding. There is also a lot of evidence in the gospels to support an existential understanding of redemption/judgment. As we shall see, our Christianity is expressed to God existentially as well:

Forgiveness of sins because of love:

Luke 7:47

Matthew 6:14

Matthew 25:31-46

Judgment from no love:

Matthew 18:23-35

Matthew 6:15

With these verses, you get the impression that God relates to you based on how you relate to others. "Love covers a multitude of sins" is rarely heard in a typical church sermon, and yet Jesus seemed to teach that quite clearly. This does not mean salvation or redemption through works though. Just like in the parable of the servant and the master (Matthew 18:23-35), God’s grace can pierce through the most depraved sinner. All God is asking from us is to show our gratitude, and we do that by extending the same grace we received from God to others.

The point here is that there must be an existential basis for your Christianity above all else, and that the measure of a Christian is not piety or theological understanding but their imitation of Christ. As Kierkegaard once remarked "The existential always shows what you truly believe", and if today's generation is anything to go by, we are all heathen unbelievers.


Blogger SteveJ said...

Nice site, Tim. Quite a thought-provoking post. I'll have to read some Kirkegaard.

6:13 AM  
Blogger Gaunilo said...

I've always had a certain amount of fear and trembling about reading Kierkegaard.

Well said. A major generator of my own journey out of fundamentalism was the realization that Christianity is not a religion of doctrine and intellectual belief - it is driven by faith, hope, and love: by existentials.

A significant part of my own theological interest is coming to understand a Christian belief, after modernity, that is defined not by doctrine by the imperatives of love and justice.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

The point here is that there must be an existential basis for your Christianity above all else, and that the measure of a Christian is not piety or theological understanding but their imitation of Christ.

Do we not have any higher calling? Amen what a great post! It challenges me to be more like the One Who served and loved me first.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Thanks for all your kind comments :).

Kierkegaard comes highly reccomended from me. Steve if your interested to get into him, look at the link that's on the main page. And look around it for a "primer" about what Kierkegaard basically wrote about/believed, and what book of his you'd probably be most interested in. He really is amazing.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

Kierkegaard was real difficult for me in my last year of Theology training, but my mind is so small. ;)

10:51 AM  
Blogger Gaunilo said...

There are some thinkers who make all of our minds feel small - Kierkegaard is definitely one of them.

3:02 AM  
Blogger Oscar said...

You have yet again caused me to think outside the box of fundamentalism in which I’m reluctantly exposed to on a weekly basis. I have always admired your critical discernment towards doctrine and your ability to judge doctrine/truth upon the merit of their basis rather than the current orthodoxy. Keep up the good research!

8:25 PM  
Blogger be...create said...

Friday, November 11, 2005
I am in the process of researching/comparing Kierkegaard's critique of Christianity (christendom) and Nietzche's critique of Christianity. Kierkegaard is the most influencial people i have ever studied. I appreciate your site, and your endeavors in this area. I am very much interested in reading more about "Existential Christianity" (having been raised fairly fundamental myself).
Although ultimately i see no formula for the way to live, just simple and complex suggestions that may or may not prove to be helpful.

5:48 AM  
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1:44 PM  

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