Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wimpy Christianity: "We Have Christian Individuals, But Do We Have a Christian Church?"

Thomas Torrance asks very perceptively (as usual) whether or not we actually have a Christian church? He makes the point that we indeed have Christian individuals, but what does this mean when we inhabit an un-Christian church culture? The following Torrance quote comes from his lectureship at the University of Edinburgh, New College in Scotland where he lectured for many years. Understand that as he gave his lectures this takes us back some 40 to 50 years; but his concern then is of course, and more so, just as much of a concern today---especially in the American Evangelical church of which I am a part. Here is what Torrance asked his students:

[W]hat does this have to say to us today about what we call 'evangelical Christianity'? We have been concerned with evangelising men, women, and children as individual human beings, calling for repentance and personal decision for Christ as Lord and saviour, and rightly so. But have we been concerned with the evangelising of the mind of the society in which these people live? If not, how can a Christian church put down roots in an unevangelical society and remain genuinely Christian? I believe this is where evangelical Christianity today has failed terribly. By and large, as far as I can see, even the mind of the church, let alone the mind of society, is still secular in that it shares the mind of the secular society within which it exists. We have Christian people, but do we really have a Christian church? We have people who profess to believe in Christ as Lord and saviour, but do we have a church that is so imbued with the mind of Christ that its members individually and as a community think instinctively in a Christian way? Thomas F. Torrance, "Atonement," 444-45.

Torrance's concern is something that I have been burdened with for quite awhile now. I think the mission field (as one of my other teachers, Ron Frost has said) has actually come to us right in the church. There is such a dearth of sound Christian teaching with an emphasis on lively doctrine (which should produce worship) that I think it can truly be said that the American (Western) Evangelical church, by and large, is lost. That seems to be a hard teaching and critical diagnosis, but if we don't make prescient diagnoses then we are bound to live in the captivity of our society and cultures and not bound by captivity to Christ!

So the goal for pastors and Christian teachers is to teach and model Christ crucified in a way that produces a tsunami and sea change such that there is a communitarian repentance of thought. We not only need to be evangelists to the individual, but we need to evangelize thought patterns and the systemic structures of our society through prophetic and witness oriented evangelism that penetrates down into the depths. Here is something Torrance said to his students in this regard:

[T]here often came a point in my classes when I felt that the students wanted to throw the books at me, as the inner struggle between the gospel and the frame of mind they brought to it became intense. Let us make no mistake about it: divine revelation conflicts sharply with the structure of natural reason, with the secular patterns of thought  that have already become established in our minds through the twist of our ingrained mental alienation from God. We cannot become true theologians without the agonising experience of profound change in the mental structure of our innermost being. Thomas F. Torrance, "Atonement," 443.

The way forward requires courage, and a resolve to disentangle oneself from secular thinking; this resolve must be present first and foremost in the leadership and teaching office of the church. This is a painful process that requires sacrifice, work, and time; or as Jesus said, it requires 'that we take up our crosses daily and follow him'. This isn't an option, by the way, it is a mandate from the one we call Lord! It's time to step up to the mic for a sound check; are you present and accounted for, or are you just going to be another wimpy who continues to feast at the secular table of "having it your way?"


  1. We all know what personal quiet time is, but what about communal quiet time?

    1. I think we're supposed to call that church, Steve ;-).


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