How could a conservative Christian—an ordained minister with a beard, no less—be against not only Christianity, but theology, sacraments, and ethics as well? Yet that is the stance Peter Leithart takes in this provocative “theological bricolage.”
Seeking to rethink evangelical notions of culture, church, and state, Leithart offers a series of short essays, aphorisms, and parables that challenge the current dichotomies that govern both Christian and non- Christian thinking about church and state, the secular and the religious.
But his argument isn’t limited to being merely “against.” Leithart reveals a much larger vision of Christian society, defined by the stories, symbols, rituals, and rules of a renewed community—the city of God.
Click here to read a sample!
The Bible never mentions Christianity. It does not preach Christianity, nor does it encourage us to preach Christianity. Paul did not preach Christianity, nor did any of the other apostles. During centuries when the Church was strong and vibrant, she did not preach Christianity either. Christianity, like Judaism and “Yahwism,” is an invention of biblical scholars, theologians, and politicians, and one of its chief effects is to keep Christians and the Church in their proper marginal place. The Bible speaks of Christians and of the Church, but Christianity is Gnostic, and the Church firmly rejected Gnosticism from her earliest days.
Christianity is the heresy of heresies, the underlying cause of the weakness, lethargy, sickness, and failure of the modern church.
In a sense, I have stated a simple fact: the word “Christianity” does not appear in the Bible, so it is quite impossible for the Bible to encourage us to believe or preach or practice Christianity. In itself, this linguistic fact has little significance. I worship and pray to the triune God, though the word Trinity never appears in Scripture.
Even the absence of the word Christianity is not entirely irrelevant, because it demonstrates that God is perfectly capable of revealing Himself and His plan without using that word. More important, however, is the fact that the Bible does not even have the concept of Christianity. This, of course, begs the question of what I mean by “Christianity.” On the one hand, Christianity sometimes refers to a set of doctrines or a system of ideas. It is contrasted with the teachings of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam.
By this definition, Christianity is what Christian people believe about God, man, sin, Christ, the world, the future, and so on. The Bible, however, never speaks of such beliefs except as all-embracing, self-committing confessions of God’s people. The Bible gives no hint that a Christian “belief system” might be isolated from the life of the Church, subjected to a scientific or logical analysis, and have its truth compared with competing “belief systems.”
The Church is not a people united by common ideas, ideas which collectively go under the name “Christianity.” When the Bible speaks of a people united by faith it does not simply mean that we have the same beliefs about reality. Though the New Testament does use “faith” to refer to a set of teachings (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:7), “faith” stretches out to include one’s entire “stance” in life, a stance that encompasses beliefs about the world but also unarticulated or inarticulable attitudes, hopes, and habits of thought, action, or feeling.
To be of “one mind” (Phil. 1:27) means to share projects, aspirations, and ventures, not merely to hold to the same collection of doctrines. Besides, the Church is united not only by one faith but also by one baptism (Eph. 4:4–6), manifests her unity in common participation in one loaf (1 Cor. 10:17), and lives together in mutual deference, submission, and love.
The Bible, in short, is not an ideological tract and does not teach an ideology. Scripture does present a certain view of the world that has true propositional content. But it is an error, and a fatal one, to suggest that, once we have systematised the propositional content of Scripture, the result is a “world-view” called Christianity to which we can give our assent, and there an end. French usage notwithstanding (christianisme), it is a radical distortion to think of Scripture’s teaching as an “ism.”
If one is a Christian at all, he or she is (however imperfectly) a Christian from head to toe, inside and out. As the late liturgical scholar Mark Searle put it, everyone has a way of “leaning into life,” and the Christian strives to “lean into life,” all of life, Christianly. Conversion does not simply install a new “religious” program over the existing operating system. It installs a new operating system.
Christian community, by the same token, is not an extra “religious” layer on social life. The Church is not a club for religious people. The Church is a way of living together before God, a new way of being human together. What Jesus and the apostles proclaimed was not a new ideology or a new religion, in our attenuated modern sense. What they proclaimed was salvation, and that meant a new human world, a new social and political reality. They proclaimed that God had established the eschatological order of human life in the midst of history, not perfectly but truly.