Fifty Shades of Christianity

In Candid Christianity: The Blog, Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone

Before you freak out, this is not a post about how the popular book Fifty Shades of Grey is metaphor for anything Christian at all.

Take a deep breath.

Honestly, I just thought I’d capitalize on the “Fifty Shades…” branding to bring attention to a completely separate (but very appropriate) issue facing Christianity in America. I suppose I could best introduce the topic by asking you a simple question.

“What is Christianity?”

Simple question. Fifty (shades of) different answers. Turns out Christianity means different things to different people in our secular society and the American Church culture.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of such shades, but we will discuss a few of the prominent ones. In doing so we might find the disconnect between what society (and some Christians) thinks Christianity is about and what it’s really about.

Philanthropic Christianity

This version of Christian focuses on the “love thy neighbor” aspect of Christianity the most. For those who expect a Philanthropic Christianity, the gospel is hampered by the church’s lack of “doing good things” for the community. Or, even from individual Christians loving their neighbor the way they should.

Those holding to this expectation of Christianity find church gathering (like Sunday morning worship or small groups) irrelevant. To them, Jesus would not be holed up in some church congregation singing and listening to one man talk about the “same thing over and over.” They’d much rather see a church who is thoroughly entrenched in philanthropy (on both large and small levels). Never mind the fact that most philanthropy is meant to go unnoticed (which may be why they don’t SEE the church’s impact). For these folks, the presence of churches represent little human empires who are wasting resources on stage lights, guitar players, and good orators.

Focal passages from the Bible typically include those that focus on social interaction and helping the needy.

Intellectual Christianity

This version of Christianity focuses largely on various forms of academia, from biblical trivia knowledge, to philosophical ideation, to apologetics, to systematic theologies and historical facts. For those who expect an Intellectual Christianity, knowing the hows and whys of scripture are extremely important. Especially now, in an age where Christianity no longer holds the benefit of the doubt. To be able to talk intelligently about what you believe and why you believe is the epitome of spiritual growth.

Those holding this expectation of Christianity find most churches to be too shallow and simplistic in its teachings. To them, preparing for the scientific and philosophical enemies of the gospel is the clearest way to blaze the trail for the gospel to be heard. More, it proves that Christianity is not a simple man’s religion, and that we aren’t all idiots after all. Great pride can be taken in one’s worldview because it takes an intellectual, thinking man to really appreciate the nuances of scripture and therefore the validity of the gospel.

Inspirational Christianity

This version of the Christianity focuses largely on the ways the Holy Spirit shows up in the lives of Christians. For those who expect an Inspiration Christianity, the power of the Holy Spirit takes front and center. You can expect these folks to what to both voluntarily leverage the Holy Spirit for their own benefit (healing, prosperity, freedom, deliverance, power) and involuntarily be inspired by the Spirit to speak in tongues, holy dance and the like. For them, the evidence of the Holy Spirit, through one of the aforementioned forms, is proof God has indeed entered your heart.

Those holding this expectation of Christianity are frustrated by those congregations who are less demonstrative in their worship and more quiet in their listening. For them, “the redeemed of the Lord say so.” And that means Sunday morning gatherings are not meant to be contemplative affairs. Expression of God’s grace through worship (public songs and prayer, mostly) is the key aspect of the power of the Christian life. Focus on spiritual warfare and the abundant life highlight the Christian lifestyle. You either have it, or you’re waiting on it. But it’s yours. These look to experience God in extravagant ways, and views those who have not yet had such experiences as less… well, spiritual.

Dogmatic Christianity

This version of Christianity focuses largely on the ways we are meant to be obedient to God in our lives. Obedience to God’s rules are of the utmost priority in life. For those who expect a Dogmatic Christianity, Jesus is our LORD and Savior (emphasis on LORD). And as such, we are subject to a long list of Christian commands and checklists (including, but not limited to political positions, social expectations, and aggressive “bible-thumping” evangelism).

Those holding this expectation of Christianity often see the church as too influenced by secular society, or at least to concerned with being like by it. Words such as “compromising the gospel” and “sugar coating the truth” are often used to describe what they believe to be a Christian culture that has gone away from the often offensive statutes of the Bible and its gospel. These truth-tellers care less about method and more about message. They believe that the gospel truth should be told in its most dogmatic version to all, and that those who ignore or reject it simply reject God. More, they are often dissatisfied with the way Christians are living around them. To them, Christians and their struggle with sin is indicative of their desires to “be of the world,” not their progressive (yet totally incomplete) steps from glory to glory.

The Real Deal

Frankly, there are aspects of all four of these viewpoints that are correct and should be adhered to. The problem with our view of Christianity is not that our ideas are incorrect, it’s just that they are often incomplete. Jesus called us to a well balanced life of loving God and our neighbor by commanding that we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. He didn’t say pick one of the four. He said love with all of them.

So for me, the Christian life comes to three words after you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

Hear and obey.

Hearing requires a relationship. Obedience requires a willful surrender of self to fall into God’s will. That’s the Christian life in a nutshell. Everything else is likely an overemphasis that leads to a life out of balance with God.

Which of the four views talked about here do you lean most into?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.