In this month’s Christianity Today, David Neff interviews Kallistos Ware of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Neff mentions the Protestant impulse “to crystallize a central message and a central experience.” He asks whether the fullness of the faith in the Orthodox church sometimes obscures the faith’s center.
Neff’s identification of this “boiling down” impulse stuck with me today as I played with the boys and turned into a lobster on the beach in South Haven, MI.
I recognize this impulse to find a center, especially in evangelicalism, but I also think it’s not necessarily a good thing. This could make for a fascinating discussion, but just to mention a few things that give me pause.
First, what are the central things and what lies near the periphery? You might think that Christian eating habits are not that big of a deal but in Galatians 2, Paul saw ecclesial table manners as having everything to do with justification by faith.
Second, it seems that this well-intended impulse has had disastrous anti-nomian effects. Our long history of emphasizing the “central experience” has downplayed lives of discipleship. If you’ve converted already and the central “entrance” experience is finished, what remains? Well, a life of discipleship . . . if you’re interested.
This has been one of the biggest struggles of the Protestant tradition—to try to find something that compels obedience to Jesus.
Third, our evangelism strategies have all been oriented around “boiling down” the faith to its essence, typically something that can be communicated in three minutes or less. What we end up with, quite often, is churches filled with people who feel that they have the “important things” dealt with and figured out. Everything else about the faith is negotiable or unimportant.
There’s lots more to say about all this, of course, but I just wonder if this “boiling down” impulse has been all that helpful, or if it perhaps needs a second look.