The recently-departed Andy Griffith had a great routine, Football, as a stand-up comic before his long decades on television. It starts off with this:
It was back last October, I believe it was, we was gonna hold a Tent Service off at this college town ….
From there, he goes on to recount his first encounter with football. Like most humor, it’s less funny on repeat hearings, but I laughed until I cried first time. Treat yourself if you’ve never heard it.
I thought of it this morning as I learned that Jason Peters, Front Porch Republic’s “Bar Jester,” is taking a sabbatical from weekly, systematic blogging. To him I owe the tag “Krustianity,” derived initially from my favorite of his blogs, Mere Krustianity (if you’re not in “the club,” that’s an allusion).
Here is, for my tastes, the key excerpt:
If you find yourself in bars, as I sometimes rarely do, and if you find yourself in heated conversation therein with people hostile to religion, as I often do, you may have a strong desire, as I always do, to establish a widely agreed-on way of distinguishing between what you believe and what Colorado Springs believes. Well at long last I’ve done it:
If someone were to shorten the field by forty yards, widen it by twenty, give you thirteen downs to advance twelve yards for a first down, and award you six points for doing so, you’d rightly object to his calling this new game “football.” You’d say to him, “that one’s taken. Find another name.”
I think the same applies to that fairly old, solid, and stately religion known as “Christianity.” Those who have altered the faith beyond recognition should come up with a new name for what it is they’re practicing. I suggest “Krustianity.”
Yup. Whatever the new game is, it isn’t football. It seems almost providential that Andy started his story with a Tent Meeting, a progenitor of today’s chapels-cum-coffee-bars in improbable places like former big box stores, the apotheosis of Evangelical Krustianity. The “’Bible Harvest Chapel,’ which is a kind of movie theater retrofitted to a former big box electronics store” was the Bar Jester’s launch pad.
But with even Colorado Springs now trying to distinguish between what it believes and “what Colorado Springs believes,” there perhaps is room for hope that Krustians will again become recognizably Christian. My habitual pessimism has been challenged by lots of little signs, the size of a man’s fist, that people are starting to “get” things of various degrees of importance – things about which American culture generally, and American religious culture in particular, started on a real bender many decades (or even centuries) ago.
One such sign is the establishment of a Patristics Center at Wheaton College, which I grew up seeing as the Evangelical’s Jerusalem. Another is the widespread influence of Orthodox theology through western academic theology over the past century or so. Once you get to know the early Church writers, it’s hard to argue in sincerity – and I’ll give credit for a redemptive dose of sincerity to many Evangelicals (though fewer than I once thought) – that early Christianity was essential Evangelical, especially in its ecclesiology, its doctrine of the Church.
There are people with a financial interest in, indeed a livelihood tied up with, running places like Bible Harvest Chapel, but if the GOP can collapse in a decade, so can Krustianity.
The odds of “New Christians” getting it right will rise dramatically if they cease ignoring or even despising Christian history. “To be deep in history is to cease being Protestant,” Cardinal Newman said, but that’s a risk a person of integrity will take.
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A side note may be in Order. I rarely write about mainstream Protestantism, and there are a couple of reasons for that.
First, I never was a mainstream Protestant, whereas I was unequivocally Evangelical for 29 years and equivocally Evangelical for an additional 20. I’m still connected, as closely as one can be connected to anyone, to an equivocal Evangelical. In two weeks, I will be recovering from the 45th-year reunion of my class at an Evangelical boarding high school, which was and remains very formative in my life.
These people remain, in a sense, my spiritual family. I care about them. I want them to get it right without further ado.
Second, old habits die hard. As an Evangelical, I wrote off mainstream Protestantism as moribund. I now suspect there was more life there than I thought, but I still think it’s dying and, rightly or wrongly, I give its members less credit for sincere Christian faith than I give Evangelicals (as I said: old habits die hard), and thus have lower hopes for them becoming Orthodox instead of just lapsing into … oh, never mind.
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