Is the Christian religion inherently conservative? The answer is ‘no’ but you could be forgiven for thinking so. I am rarely discouraged. Yesterday I had a free hour so I googled ‘new books in theology’ and sank as I went from list to list.

Christianity, it appears at this moment, has no future.

98% percent of the books that I looked through were in some way related to the past – or worse – past oriented. We are a backward looking people as Christians.

This has been a terrible and ominous realization that I have come to over the past 15 years:

Christianity appears to be inherently conservative. It wants to conserve the previous structures and expressions.

We are in a period where the Christian religion is primarily past-oriented instead of present-centered and future-motivated.

I am always astounded at the number of spiritual/religious/theological projects that start with “Re-“

  • Revisit
  • Reclaim
  • Restore
  • Return
  • Renew
  • Reform
  • Renovate
  • Reframe
  • Redefine
  • Remember
  • Recall
  • Re-imagine
  • Re-present
  • Reinforce
  • Revive
  • Reexamine
  • Redeem
  • React
  • Respond
  • RetreatIMG_7802

It is as if we think that God worked better (or only) in the past and if we could only get BACK to that … then things would be better.

Make Christianity Great Again in a very real impulse.

I have also been looking at the phenomenon in our culture as a whole. Books such as:

Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism

Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

So this impulse seems to be prevalent within our society but it is especially heightened within many churches and traditions.  I get it. I used to really buy in to in. I wanted to have an “Acts 2” church, to get back to the Bible, and to do what Jesus did.

My change began when I bought into this idea of an ‘incarnational’ gospel that translates the gospel (good news of God’s love) into every language and in every place. Translatability is one of the unique aspects of Christianity that sets it apart from other religions.

The next step was looking at the radical changes throughout history and noticing that God seemed to work in every new era, in every new place, and with every new technology. Just start with the printing press and Luther’s protest(ant) reformation, the introduction of radio in the early 20th and the TV in the second half of the 20th century … up through today of people tweeting about how we need to ‘get back to’ and ‘reclaim’ the truth.

The third step was notice the irony of romanticizing the ‘Eden’ of the early church (as if there was only one) in an age of Christian radio stations, bookstores, schools, TV preachers, Study Bibles, megachurches, and the religious right. This romantization is somewhere between a mental imaginary and a commodity fetish.

The forth step was studying history and realizing that there was no ‘simple’ or ‘pure’ or ‘perfect’. It was always messy, complex, contested, and evolving.  The creeds, the councils, the early canon, and even the Acts of the Apostles reveal this.

The final step is confessing that with the advent of capitalism, Christianity is being consumed. It is a product (or production) that is marketed and purchased by ‘church shoppers’. From the parents who pay extra to send their kids to Christian schools to disenchanted evangelicals who convert to Catholicism-Anglicanism  or Orthodoxy, there is a component of consumerism that saturates the entire enterprise. [1] We are sold a distinct brand of religion.

As I travel, and as I get to talk to people from all over, I try to present a vision of the church or christian spirituality that is present-embracing and future-oriented. Some people are open to it but many people are really resistant. The resistance seems to be rooted in a different understanding of the past. A past that I do not want to return to and whose inconsistencies and injustices I do not want to repeat or reinforce. I want to learn from the past in the present, a

Is Christianity inherently conservative. Not exactly. It is for many folks right now. It might seem that we are in a conserving pendulum swing or at least that the brand of Christianity that is most visible (or loudest) is past-oriented. That is not the fully story however.

There is a kind (or type) of stream within Christianity that is socially engaged (present-oriented) and aware of the past enough to make corrections in the future. I hope to be a resource for people who are interested in a non-conservative approach to Christianity.

Next week I will talk about the dangers of reinforcing and repeating the past.



[1]  I get why people convert and I am not judging that. It is the absence of the capitalist component that concerns me. If there is no awareness of this facet of the ‘looking for a better brand’, then one might presume that it was only about ‘truth’ or ‘tradition’ or something more essential or substantial.