Doing Christianity

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We all tend to read complex Christian books analyzing the Scriptures, analyzing the various doctrines. And all that does is complicate the issues. God sent down all his rules and regulations; they were ignored. He sent the prophets; they were ignored. Jesus came down himself to tell us how to live real human lives, and he was ignored. Since then, scholars have written critical and analytical things about the Scriptures. But C. S. Lewis wrote in his books, This is how to do what Jesus taught. His message is, “Stop talking about it, stop studying it, just get out there and do Christianity.” Jack did it.

Douglas Gresham on his step-dad, CS Lewis.

The last question of this interview, and answer, is especially timely.

17 Responses to “Doing Christianity”

  1. Scaliant Says:

    I’m obviously biased– given that I spend a lot of time talking about and studying Christianity, and arguably far, far less time “doing Christianity.” I wonder, though, if those are mutually exclusive actovotoes; can I study Christianity in a way that also entails doing Christianity, or is it impossible for those realms to overlap? If I’m talking about Christianity, is it possible that my conversation partners and I are looking for *how* to “do Christianity” or “do Christianity” more fully (given that even at its simplest — love God/your neighbor, do justice/love kindness/walk humly with your God, etc. — this is far from a clear and easy venture?

    But then, I’m a heathen on the best of days πŸ˜€

  2. Scaliant Says:

    … oh, and that’s “mutually exclusive actIvItIes.” Apparently good spelling and blog commenting *are* mutually exclusive.

  3. Patrick Says:

    actovotoes? They make a great dip for nachos.

    I’m certain these aren’t mutually exclusive activities. Indeed, CS Lewis is an especially potent person to be used as a model for the interactivity of the two realms, being he was at the top of the game in academia. So, it is not an anti-intellectualism being discussed here, it is more a consideration of what it means to be a Christian. Studying isn’t bad, indeed it’s wonderful.

    But, it’s not the core bit of what it means to be a Christian. A person spending all their time talking about or studying Christianity in Academia or in the Church has absolutely no bearing on whether they are truly reflecting Christ in this world. That’s the point being made, I think. They are two different issues altogether, meaning of course both can be pursued, but just because one is pursued it does not mean the other is being pursued.

    The trick is, I think, it isn’t that hard of a venture. We simply decide we won’t do the easy things so make convoluted attempts to do a substitute.

    Take Church for instance. Acts paints it pretty simply. They gathered together everyday for prayer and to discuss Scripture. They ate a meal, chatted, were willing to help each other out. Well, we won’t do that, so we’ll create all manner of systems, and programs, and whatnot to artificially manifest the same sort of community.

    It’s not that it isn’t simple. It’s that it’s simple but we don’t want to do it. Douglas Gresham is making the point that Lewis got this, and in both word and deed lived out the Christian life in its simplicity.

    In one of his books he makes a related point about love. Reading about love, studying the emotional, psychological, physiological aspects of love is one thing. Being “in love” is an entirely different thing altogether.

    What makes a person a “good” Christian? It’s the doing of it. Studying is wonderful, but only has merit if the doing is being done. Acting faith is an entirely different thing than studying faith.

    You ask, “can I study Christianity in a way that also entails doing Christianity?” Indeed, this is the very calling of the Church. It’s just that a good many volumes have been written on all manner of ancillary topics intended to make being in a Church entirely off putting except for the ones making the complicated and arbitrary rules for involvement.

  4. Scaliant Says:

    You make some very good points — for example, I wholeheartedly agree that a grasp of Christian theology or history does not have a great deal of bearing on whether and how ably one “does Christianity.” Some of my Jewish friends who know more about Jewish literature of the 1st century (a.k.a. the gospels) than I ever will are a case in point. That being said, I think “doing Christianity” is hard — Chesterton’s witty quote notwithstanding. That difficulty, in my view, is already apparent from the biblical record: You mention Acts, but by the beginning of the fifth chapter of the book, there’s already dissent, prejudice, mistreatment, rivalry, etc. in the Church, and the further one gets into Paul’s letters, the more the difficulty of “doing Christianity” (in and of itself a very Pelagian-sounding term) becomes apparent.

    On a very practical level, I end up racking my brain (and assorted bits) on how to “do Christianity” much of the time when interacting with other people: How do I “do Christianity” when interacting with a single mom who’s being abused by her child (who may or may not be a drug user) — and what if she’s a student of mine? There’s a story akin to this one for virtually every person once you really get to know them, thus my personal difficulty with figuring out how to most effectively “do Christianity” in these settings.

  5. Patrick Says:

    I think Paul’s point in his letters was precisely what I’m saying — “Stop messing around and do it.” Paul constantly is reminding the churches about Christ, so they can act like the people they are supposed to be. Like now, the early communities made it more difficult as they succumbed to their own pride, doubt, fears and selfish ambitions.

    From your example it is clear that life is hard. Facing sin and death and disaster is hard. Doing Christianity, however, is not about having exact insight and power to manage all things. Doing Christianity is not about being a super hero or constant bearer of profound wisdom to answer any situation. If these things are your standard of a succesful Christian walk then of course it’s difficult and impossible.

    What is it? It is loving a person, it is being “there” for a person, it is offering help in whatever need is available according to your abilities. It is honoring and respecting and serving. It is walking in a way which honors God and which honors those he has created.

    How do you do Christianity in your example or any of the other manifold examples? You pray for and with the person, you ask for wisdom, you act according to the Spirit’s prompting in your heart in response to those prayers.

    Of course life is hard, but the core demands of a Christian walk are not that hard, it’s that we just often don’t want to follow those promptings of the Spirit, or would rather spend our time doing something for our own pursuits.

    Gresham’s comments have to be put into the exact context of Lewis. Gresham and Lewis watched the woman they loved the most die of painful cancer. This is entirely awful. Yet, Gresham said Lewis “did Christianity” especially in this setting, and in a way which still, after 40 years, resonates in Gresham’s soul.

    Indeed, some of the people who “do” Christianity the best are those who have walked or still walk through enormously difficult circumstances. Paul being a great example. He could accuse his churches of occasional faithlessness because they certainly didn’t have a worse time of it than he did.

  6. Scaliant Says:

    You’ll be happy to hear that I’ve been acting — unconsciously, of course — in accordance with your advice (… like most of my examples, it’s not just an example πŸ˜‰

    Life is hard — there can be no doubt about it, and harder for some than for others. Personally, though — with no authoritative claim — I find it difficult to strike a Christ-like balance between attending to the needs of one person or to another, being present for this woman or that man, prioritizing time alone with God (as Jesus did) and prioritizing time spent with others, fasting and feasting, etc.

    This is, I guess you would argue, the point of being attentive to the rhythm of the Spirit, and I contend that for myself at least, that is a difficult task — and one that historically the Church has missed the mark on rather more often than not.

    Is that an excuse for failling to “do Christianity”? Of course not. But frankly, I am a lot more prone to having compassion with a person, a church or even the Church who struggle to “do Christianity” if I acknowledge that it seems to be a challenging venture for fallen human beings.

  7. Patrick Says:

    Let’s talk about sin for a second. It is entirely easy not to sin. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Yet I sin at times (I know, it’s a shock). This isn’t because not sinning is necessarily too hard to do, it’s that I don’t do what is easy. Living a Christian life is not that hard, doing Christianity is not that hard, praying regularly is not that hard. But we don’t do it.

    Indeed, it’s a lot harder, in many cases, to sin. We go out of our way to sin. It’s a lot more difficult to put together a massive system of church activities to simulate community. It’s a lot more difficult to come up with precise and complicated definitions of theological minutiae.

    What does Scripture say about following the rhythms of the Spirit? Well, love God and your neighbor. Don’t do anything which grieves the Spirit. Pray regularly. These aren’t complex commands involving memorization of exact formulas or patterning our lives like religious machines.

    This involves doing those simple things every day, in each part of our lives, and in doing this we become light to this world as we release our own authority and control over being Christians, and let the Spirit work through us in doing Christianity.

    It is a challenging venture for fallen humans, but as the Scriptures say, we’ve only ourselves to blame for the fact. It’s not that it’s too difficult, it’s that we would rather not do it because at our cores we don’t have the faith to act on it.

    Exercise is much the same way for many people. Exercising isn’t that hard. Eating right, moving the body around, getting that heart to pump can be done in countless ways, but America has a huge issue with a lack of exercise.

    How does a person stay in shape? Well, exercise regularly, eat right, drink water. Not at all that hard. It’s easy to do in fact, but people just don’t do it for whatever reason.

    Doing Christianity really is a lot like doing exercise. Learning about physiology, techniques, getting a gym membership, etc. and so on is helpful but a person actually has to get to exercising for it to make a difference.

  8. Patrick Says:

    Also, I should note, it seems like you are seeing Gresham’s comments about Lewis as a judgment over your Christian life. I don’t think this is it at all. In many cases, especially prior to Lewis, a lot of the Christian conversation was about mastering detailed theology. Fundamentalists didn’t just insist on avoiding the vices of the barroom, there was also the accompanying insistence on having precise diagrams of the End Times, formulating the exact dates of Creation, or Jesus’ birthday, going to services three or four times a week for the various programs and otherwise having a systematic approach to Christianity focusing on all manner of peripherals. Lewis, in his writings and in his life, say don’t worry about those things.

    Indeed, your very examples (which are examples even if also more than that) are signs you are listening to the core values of Christianity. Doing Christianity means asking the right sorts of questions about a situation rather than insisting on acting in some manner which seems religious but doesn’t reflect Christ.

    Doing Christianity, using the analogy above, is like exercising. You sound as if you consider doing Christianity the equivalent to competing in Mr. or Ms. Olympia. Doing Christianity is not about perfection, it’s about our orientation towards this world. Being perfect is entirely difficult. Working towards it is entirely less so.

  9. Scaliant Says:

    > LetΓƒΒ’Γ’β€šΒ¬Γ’β€žΒ’s talk about sin for a second. It is entirely easy not to sin.

    Intriguing! And I thought that had been dealt with some time in the late 4th/early 5th centuries πŸ˜‰

  10. Patrick Says:

    I am Wesleyan you know. And the 4th and 5th century became entirely too Augustinian.

    Postmodern Spirituality is all about theosis, my friend. πŸ™‚

  11. Scaliant Says:

    See, I sense that may be the root of the disagreement — I’m rather Augustinian, I fear. Nothing like a couple of years in a Presbyterian seminary to beat the postmodernity out of a person, I guess πŸ˜‰

  12. Patrick Says:

    Indeed, most certainly the case, and most likely also a matter of us likely agreeing wholeheartedly in actions but not so much in the talking bits. Oddly enough my few years in a semi-Presbyterian Seminary beat the postmodernity into me and well wiped out any potential traces of Reformed theology.

    But then maybe I’m not Wesleyan but Quaker, a current point of exploration.

  13. Scaliant Says:

    Very interesting — and both very much worth exploring. I’m thinking I’m either an Episcopalian or a Catholic, the current pope (and title-page article from the current First Things) notwithstanding.

  14. Scaliant Says:

    Actually, a thought occurred to me — aren’t Quakers almost by definition pacifists? Somehow I can’t very well see you going down that particular road.

  15. Patrick Says:

    Yeah, I’m quite not a pacifist. Maybe I’m a Greeneian sort of Quaker. However, that’s only one aspect, and as it would be impossible for me to fit anywhere completely I’m thinking it’s worth exploring the rest of their beliefs. I especially appreciate their understanding of the Holy Spirit, and so that’s likely the new draw. There’s a few other things which I am finding line up quite closely with Quaker thought.

    Plus, the word in the family is the Odens are somehow descended from George Fox.

  16. Johann Helgason Says:

    Very Urgent Prayer Request

    Urgent Prayer Request
    Dear Brother & Sisters In Christ about 11 weeks ago i was eating breed i almost suffocation i did call ambulance they did come i was coming home from hospital i have to eat just yogurt & sop next days or weeks i did have go to research inside my thought are so sore lot of swelling inside much swollen in oesophagus , 2 days later i did have hard time breathing i went to hospital & they did send me home with medication
    next days i could not yogurt & sop not even water
    I did end hospital they did make another research same resold they told me you will able to eat next days but that was case next 6 weeks i was just able eat yogurt & sop build up drink i was getting very week physically well i did order time with specialist doctors she did looked to file & said here is something wrong here . i will go to deep research on esophagus after 2 days . i did have stop taking medication one week before the research i feel so much pain all doctors have told me i should have recover be now
    but i have not recover but i can eat mix baby food with pasta
    i have admitted i m so scared or frightened i feel some time hard time breathing.
    I Love Jesus with all my heart He have really work in my heart Thought this sickness i was not in church for some years but know i have enjoy wonderful church thoug this i m almost all nights in that church with live worship .
    so strange before this happens i did ask Lord help me stop smoking & i did Drink soda Pepsi cola i did drink 4 Liter each day
    i remember saying i can not do this in my strength
    well i have not smoking cigarette or drink Pepsi in 9 weeks never happen before well i m to not able to do that hard time breathing. & I will never do that again that for sure
    this been so slow recovery i m in anxiety for the deep research on my oesophagus after 2 days
    i get bad panic attack after this experience
    Place pray for me i needed prayer i was born again in church 1989
    God Blesss you & best Regards from Reykjavik Iceland
    Your Brother in Christ PLACE Pray For Me
    Johann Helgason I m 38 years old

  17. Patrick Says:

    Certainly Johann. I will pray. Keep in touch.