Golden Oldie (part one)

From the archives of Modern Reformation, excerpt from “The Incarnation and Multiculturalism“:

One of the ways, however, where the church has become conformed to the world concerns this very notion of how Christ is like us. One of the assumptions which governs so much of our lives is the idea that it is impossible for an individual of a particular race, gender, or sexual orientation to understand the experience of someone different. Or put differently, that people from one kind of background cannot identify with someone from a different background. This perspective tells us that the conditions of knowledge change according to differences in gender, race, ethnicity and whatever else distinguishes individuals in the census data. This is the outlook behind various political initiatives to affirm the rights and livelihoods of various minorities, advertisements which portray living white European men as little more than unthinking, uncaring louses, and various efforts in the academic and artistic worlds to include the expressions of oppressed outsiders and demonize the expressions of dead white, European men. Conversely, the idea that the experience of a particular human being is somehow universal or representative is increasinly regarded as arguable if not downright foolish.

That followers of Jesus Christ would capitulate to such thinking is well nigh remarkable. Yet, evidence continues to mount which shows that Christians are more and more faithful to the dogma of multiculturalism than to orthodox Christian teaching. Mainline Protestants have been at this game the longest. When those communions embraced the idea that Protestant orthodoxy was the product of a bygone age with little relevance for the knowledge and social arrangements of the modern world, mainstream Protestantism opened the door of the household of faith to arguments which deny that theological truth, religious practice, and ecclesiastical office transcend the time and place. Still, conservative Protestants, even conservative Presbyterians have made up for lost time. At many conservative colleges and seminaries one hears an increasing number of calls for greater racial and gender diversity within the faculty, student body and curriculum. White male professors and the traditional theological curriculum, it is said, are neither representative nor affirming of the peoples to whom the church is called to minister. Along the same lines run some of the arguments for home missions and church growth. If we try to establish churches among either urban minorities or suburban baby boomers, can we really expect the truths of the Westminster Confession of Faith or the piety of seventeenth century Puritans to make any sense? Don’t we need to contextualize the gospel in a way that makes the gospel relevant to the problems which confront African Americans, Hispanics and unchurched Harry and his wife? So many church planting experts devise strategies for establishing churches that will appeal to different age or ethnic groups. Then there is the steady stream of study Bibles which evangelical publishers continue to produce, the woman’s study Bible, the men’s study Bible, the Bible for teens, and the Bible for seniors. So too does worship suffer at the hands of multiculturalism. Advocates of contemporary worship forms insist that older patterns and forms of corporate worship are meaningless and hence oppressive to younger believers who have grown up with television and rock ‘n roll. And to take but one more example, the debates in some Reformed denominations about the ordination of women follows from the logic that human experience is not universal but rather partial or specific to different kinds of people. So many who favor women’s ordination argue that women clergy are much better equipped to address the needs of the church’s largest constituency, other women because they, and only they know what it is like to be a woman. So, if you think that the question of cultural diversity is only one for the politicians in Washington or the professors at our leading universities, think again. More and more God’s people are succumbing to the notion that men and women, African-Americans and whites, young and old, and urbanites and suburbanites are fundamentally different, with little in human experience binding them together or giving them a common frame of reference.

The reason for going on at such length about this is not the problem it poses for public life. To be sure this is a problem. But the church has a different task than to make the United States a harmonious place to live. Rather, the danger of such thinking is that it flies in the face of the gospel. It directly contradicts what our text here teaches, that is, that Jesus is like us.

If we were to capitulate entirely to the habits of our culture about personal identity, that we are merely products of our various physical traits such as skin color, family background, sex, socio-economic status, or career, then we would be people of little hope. For we would not be able to identify with Jesus or he with us. The Christ whom we worship, who calls us into his presence and makes it possible because of his sacrifice for us to enter into the holy of holies surrounded though invisible by the saints and angels, is really very different from according to the contemporary mindset. This Christ, who is supposed to belike us in all things, except for sin, is far removed from us. After all, he was and in some sense still is in his glorified body a single, male, Jew who lived in first-century Palestine and worked throughout most of his life as a carpenter. All that he has in common with Americans living in the late twentieth-century is not much more than a pulse. And this is the real danger of such ways of thinking. Because if Christ is so different from us, then he really could not have identified with us and cannot set us free from our guilt and misery.

The way Americans commonly identify themselves has little to do with what the Bible teaches. The incarnation, the truth that the second person of the trinity took to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, teaches that what matters most in human experience is not what physical characteristics divide us but rather it teaches what is universal to the human condition. Our physical traits may matter to the world and so hurt or help our chances of find a job and living a well-adjusted life. But these concerns are insignificant in the light of eternity. What matters most men and women is that they are created in God’s image and for the purpose of having fellowship with him. Of course the possibilities for that fellowship have been ruptured by sin. That is why Christ took human form, why he assumed the image of God given to humanity, that he might restore his beloved to fellowship with God. This is the real significance of the human form that Jesus took, that it was a form given for the purpose of glorifying and enjoying God, not for the purpose of wielding power over others or proving our standing as victims of oppression. Jesus was and is like us in his humanity despite his being a Jewish, male heterosexual bachelor from working class background. And his similarity to us is crucial to our salvation.