Sunday, April 30

Not for the kids?.. Looking for a simple Christianity

Luke 18:
15And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.
16But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
17Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.

Defining the word “Christianity” can be quite complicated, and exploring everything that constitutes “Christianity” can be a harrowing ordeal for those not appropriately educated. Indeed, Christianity has over the centuries evolved from a community of people who followed Jesus into a major religion that has tens of thousands of denominations and sub-denominations. All these denominations were formed from an individual’s subjective experience of God and interpretation of the Bible, and the differences among them are often very obscure theological/philosophical questions that don’t affect my life much whichever way.

Whatever happened to Christ’s idea of approaching the kingdom of God “as a little child”? The conclusion that I drew from the above verses is that Christianity is fundamentally simple. The biggest question an inquiry into the meaning of Christianity can answer is whether Christianity is simple by nature or complicated by design. I doubt there would be many who’d argue that Christianity is supposed to be complicated, but why doesn’t modern Christianity realize this simplicity?

When I say simple, I do not mean what is going on in Sunday schools. Most commonly what Sunday school involves is teaching the children the important (and not so important) doctrines that the church’s denomination subscribes to. That is not a simple Christianity, but rather Christianity simplified. Intellectual doctrines that were created with adult minds being simplified to the point that a little child could somewhat grasp it. Being able to lower Christianity to a child’s level does not make Christianity simple at all, and the question of what “simple Christianity” means remains a mystery.

The nature of a simple Christianity can be discovered with the next conclusion (one that is more rash and controversial than the last) I will draw:

Since Christianity is simple, it is existential.

This statement claims that Christianity is simple due to it being existential by nature. Christianity is not found in reason, the intellectual, the doctrinal, or the systematic. Christianity is essentially existential (for previous sketches of what an existential Christianity means, see my article archive), and one virtue of an existential Christianity is that it is simple (simple in the sense that its essence is entirely independent of intellectual complication).

This does not mean a Christianity that is anti-intellectual or definitively irrational, however, since it does not necessarily follow that being independent of reason means being in conflict with reason. What I am trying to get at here is that the essence of a simple Christianity lies in our existence within the world, not our intellectual contemplation within the mind.

Existential Christianity is not just about privileging the practical over the theoretical though. Existentialism is not about ignoring the ultimate intellectual questions (such as “what is truth?”, “what is real?”, “what is the meaning of life?”), but rather finding the answers to these questions within our lived experience and not reason. Philosophers (such as the existentialists) come to this conclusion through their philosophy, poets through their artistic musings, workers through their work, and lovers through their love.

In conclusion, Christianity is simple and Existential. Those two terms are interconnected, but not entirely synonymous. Modern Christianity is not essentially existential, and thereby it is not a simple Christianity. It is caught up in the rigours of the doctrinal, to the point where it is now claimed that Christianity is these doctrines, and are constituted by them. Jesus wants followers to come to the kingdom of God as a little child, and by that he is pointing out the virtue of existential innocence that little children possess.


Anonymous Andreas said...

Great entry!

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

What does it mean that Jesus lived in this world, that "the word became flesh and dwelt among us"? There is obviously a one line sunday school answer, but like most of these questions, the answer could be developed for thousands of pages and still be just beginning. As we discover more about the fact that Jesus existed in our world we will discover more about what it means for us to exist in our world. If, as you say, Christianity is, at its heart, existential, then we must look to what it truly means to say that Christ Himself is existential.
"The differences are often very obscure questions that don't affect my life much whichever way." "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." It is true that many "Christians" have placed more faith in their beliefs about God, than in God Himself. We are one body, and we have One Thing in common. Those who are willing to set aside, or at least to suspend dogma about, those things that aren't essential (existential?) and truly come together with that One Thing in mind, these will discover what true community looks like, what the church was intended to be, and how God can work when His people are intently focused on Him alone.

I must confess that I don't really know what "existential" really means. Nor do I understand what "existential christianity" is. I've read many of your other posts, even the one's that "explain" what you mean by existential christianity, but I still don't think I've got it. But I may be quibbling over terminology, because I find that I have been having the same thoughts that I read here, or upon reading new thoughts I find that I am in agreement.

I have a copy of Fear and Trembling, but I haven't read it yet, I've read Crime and Punishment, and I just started the Cost of Discipleship, only to read an old post of yours today where you recomment it as "existential". Perhaps I'll find as I dive into these books that the things that God has been teaching me about reality from reading His word with an open heart and being completely open to His calling wherever it leads, whatever the cost, that these words will merely echo the voice of God already bouncing around inside my existence.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Good luck with those books daniel, although I didn't get that much from Crime and Punishment except light entertainment. If you like dostoyevsky, i'd go for "notes from the underground", very great.

The word "Existential" takes on alot of specific meanings, but it most generally means "of, or relating to, existence". That may seem like a pretty empty word, but it can mean quite a bit.

I'd argue that traditional christian thought (which stemmed from the philosophy of the time) began to intellectualize the christian faith and form systematic doctrines. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but they then proceeded to assign the "meaning" and "essence" of Christianity and christian concepts to reason. Sin became a doctrine, Jesus became a doctrine, God became a doctrine, and very little was said about what Christ actually instructed to the disciples.

Existential Christianity is a "correction" of this huge misinterpretation of Jesus, and an attempt to relate the essence of Christianity back to our existence. The sin of humanity is located in our lived experience in the world, and thus Christ's salvation is purely existential. This, I believe, has far-reaching implications on all aspects of Christian issues. This is my purpose for the blog, to explore what an "existential Christianity" means.

Hope that helped, let me know if it didnt.

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9:10 PM  
Anonymous Prince Beelezebub said...

Dearest Timothy,

You obviously have worked yourself into quite a fuss over what should be a very simple exercise. Religion can be much more gratifying than the cumbersome quandry you make of it. I invite you to join me and learn how to get the most out of religion and have the fun you obviously need.

Your friend until The End,


2:18 PM  
Blogger Timothy said...

haha, the most scathing critique existential christianity has received yet. Good job, and for the record my life is very fun filled.

11:15 PM  
Blogger spent said...

if you get it then how much more have you got over those who must be mistaken. are you just another finger pointer?

2:12 PM  
Blogger spent said...

if you get it then how much more have you got over those who must be mistaken. are you just another finger pointer?

2:12 PM  
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