Is there a transformative power in Christianity?

January 10, 2008 at 12:01 am 10 comments

John WesleyI have been reflecting for some time on the idea of “separateness” that is so often espoused by Wesleyan theology. John Wesley built an entire tradition of Christianity on the notion of holiness. As a Christian, I believed Wesleyan theology to be superior to Calvinism and other options because Wesleyanism seemed to take the idea of holiness seriously. In a very poetic sense, Wesleyan theology is desirable because it purports a fallen creation that can be redeemed in this life.

Considering that I attend a Wesleyan-holiness Christian college, it is a safe assumption that the faculty and students of this institution should be an adequate case study in what it means to be “set apart.”

First, let’s establish the foundation of what Wesleyan theology claims of holiness. It references such passages as Hebrews 6:1, Philippians 3:15 and 1 Corinthians 2:6 which all call Christians to be “perfect.” There is a particular fondness for 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless.” Now, I have to give Wesleyan theologians credit where it is due. I am glad that they at least take their own Scriptures seriously. Instead of rationalizing “be holy as I am holy,” they embrace the notion.

The danger, of course, is that some holiness-theology Christians can become arrogant and believe themselves to be above others. However, most thinking Wesleyans are more responsible in their understanding of the implications of these verses on their lives. They strive for holiness, for perfect love, for “Christian perfection.” The Nazarene denomination, in particular, believes that Christians can experience a ‘second work of grace’ called Entire Sanctification, in which the believer can, for lack of better words, ‘rise above sin.’

So then, lets examine these Christians by their own standards. Are they set apart? A cursory review of the students at my on campus reveals little difference than my friends at secular schools. Of course, drinking is outlawed and sex is taboo, but I would wager to say that a good 75% of students partake in one or both of these activities regularly. But these kinds of behaviors aside, what difference is there really?

There is proportionally the same amount of Christian kids who go tanning and waste time and money on an effort to become more attractive according to an arbitrary social construct. Not that this action is necessarily bad, but why would a Christian, holy, perfected and sanctified from worldly desires partake in such an action? John Wesley taught his followers to “gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” He encouraged them to abstain from frivolous expenses and give back to those in need. But the Christians here purchase the same clothes as non-Christians at secular clothes. I would argue that a statistically identical number of students here purchase unnecessarily expensive clothes for social reasons.

Of course, I do not believe these kinds of behaviors are bad. But then, what makes the students here “set apart?” I see no city on a hill. I see no light of the world. Nothing that would make an outsider want to join in. Going deeper than those superficial issues, the Christians here are equally as prideful and gossipy as their secular counterparts.

There is no real difference. Now there are certain behaviors that are adjusted to live in this community. Most students go to church. Most abstain from excessive cursing. They are more than willing to proclaim Jesus’ name and disparage postmodernism, liberalism, feminism, etc.

Among all the Christians I have known in my life, some are nice and some are not. Some are generous and some are not. Some are humble and some are proud. Some truly care about others and some are egocentric. This call to “be holy” seems to be either unheard or untrue. What is interesting is that the Christian Bible, if read objectively, does not say that Christians might be holy, but rather that the Holy Spirit will effect a holy character in Christian believers.

We can make the following observation:
- If the Christian bible valid is true, then all Christians will become holy
- And all Christians do not become holy
- Therefore, the Christian bible is not valid and true

Conclusion? There is no more transformative power in Christianity than there is in any other socially constructed system. The changes in behavior of students here are formed by community rather than a transcendent Spirit that empowers its believers. In the same way that different cultures, regions, families and political traditions form certain beliefs, thoughts and behaviors, Christianity has the same effect.

- carriedthecross

Entry filed under: CarriedTheCross. Tags: , , , , , .

Rationalizing Faith Are de-converts doomed to live in the pit of existentialist despair?

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. LeoPardus  |  January 10, 2008 at 3:26 am

    When I put up my reasons I can no longer believe, this was one of them. Somebody who knows how to do the links right could link to “Reasons why I can no longer believe: 3 – Unchanged lives

  • 2. Renacier  |  January 10, 2008 at 11:53 am

    The problem with a question like this is that there will be any number of believers who say “Yes! I was transformed! I can feel myself as closer to what my God wants me to be.”
    And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all well and good to feel like a ‘more holy’ person.

    But do you act it? Do you really? Are you kinder, more loving, more compassionate? Do you love your enemies as well as you love your friends? And do you show it?

    I had always thought that is there was a transformative power in Christianity it was meant not to change yourself, but to change the way you reacted to and connected to other people.

  • 3. karen  |  January 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    There is no more transformative power in Christianity than there is in any other socially constructed system. The changes in behavior of students here are formed by community rather than a transcendent Spirit that empowers its believers. In the same way that different cultures, regions, families and political traditions form certain beliefs, thoughts and behaviors, Christianity has the same effect.

    Very salient point and an excellent commentary overall. This was one of the major “cognitive dissonance” issues that came up during my deconversion, and still rings very true for me.

  • 4. Pete W  |  January 10, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Or, alternatively, are these people actually not as Christian as they proclaim to be? Could it not be that actually, they aren’t practicing what they’re preaching, because they don’t actually believe it?

    Lots of people are willing to pay lip-service to their faith; very few actually follow through.

    I always liked the saying “I’d listen to your words, but your actions call you a liar”

  • 5. confusedchristian  |  January 10, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Pete, then you have atheists that live just as good of lives as the Christians who “practice what you preach” – seems to prove there is no transformation at all.

  • 6. confusedchristian  |  January 10, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    except the transformation the human takes upon them self, but no transformation from any higher power.

  • 7. Thinking Ape  |  January 10, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Pete questions,

    are these people actually not as Christian as they proclaim to be? Could it not be that actually, they aren’t practicing what they’re preaching, because they don’t actually believe it?

    carriedthecross, I suppose you could have seen this coming. I think it would be safe to say that nobody really is a Christian then, except for a select few – a very select few.

    Who, Pete, if I may ask, are the people that actually “follow through” with their faith? Priests? Pastors? Missionaries? “Good” Christians? Pete, you are on a very slippery apologetic slope here, not to mention theologically absurd. What does it mean, to you, to “follow through” with your “faith”? What do you think it meant to Jesus… Paul…. Peter?

  • 8. OneSmallStep  |  January 10, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    There is no more transformative power in Christianity than there is in any other socially constructed system.

    I think you can also add the observation that if God only transformed through one religion, then we wouldn’t see the same types of transformations in religions such as Mormonism, or Islam. We wouldn’t even see this type of transformation in atheism.

  • [...] ®oberto’sFor this week, I’m going to look at what being a Christian entails. After a post from de-conversion inspired me to write a comment, I was then away for the weekend at my [...]

  • [...] this week, I’m going to look at what being a Christian entails. After a post from de-conversion inspired me to write a comment, I was then away for the weekend at my [...]

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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