Almost Christian

We are, all of us, “Quasimodos.”

That funny-sounding Latin word, familiar as the name of the hunchback of Notre Dame, means literally “partially-formed” or (as it translates 1 Peter 2.2) “newly-born.” The idea is that you’re in process, on the way, not fully mature. As we said in Sunday’s sermon, that is every Christian in this life.

There is a shadow side to this notion of being a Quasimodo, however.

In their book Soul Searching, based on research into the religious lives of America’s youth, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton write,

We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition…It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is being actively colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith.

Drawing on the research of Smith and Denton, author Kenda Creasy-Dean asserts that many people in American congregations are “unwittingly being formed into an imposter faith that poses as Christianity, but that in fact lacks the holy desire and missional clarity necessary for Christian discipleship.”

They are, in her words, almost Christian. That is not the kind of “Quasimodo” that you and I want to be.

It’s important to quote the rest of that verse from 1 Peter: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2.2-3).

Peter’s point is not that we would seek to stay Quasimodos, even though we never fully arrive this side of the kingdom of heaven. Rather, Peter is admonishing Christians to strive for maturity—not to be content as spiritual toddlers.

What accounts for this “Almost Christianity”?

Creasy-Dean does not mince words: “An adherence to a do-good, feel-good spirituality that has little to do with the Triune God of Christian tradition and even less to do with loving Jesus Christ enough to follow him into the world.”

Churches are tempted to offer a more accessible, user-friendly version of Christianity in order to attract newcomers—or retain the young. This is in fact the problem, Creasy-Dean says.

“The solution lies not in beefing up congregational youth programs or making worship more ‘cool’ and attractive, but in modeling the kind of mature, passionate faith we say we want young people to have.”

Following Jesus is not “cool” in our world today. It will become even less so in years to come. All the more reason that you and I, Quasimodos all of us, must continue striving to grow deeper into the salvation that we have received.

The newly-born and not-yet-born generations depend upon it.

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