My last post shared that I recently read Flannery O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood, which tells the story of a young man’s attempt to convince others why they don’t need Christ as their Savior. The novel is rich in many ways, not the least of which is how O’Connor presciently exposes the modern-day consumer approach to Christianity we find today in America.[ref]Wise Blood was published more than 60 years ago (1952).[/ref] In the story a man named Hoover Shoats, a huckster peddling himself as Onnie Jay Holy, preaches to the public about a brand new kind of Christianity he believes people will want to buy into…literally.[ref]$1 according to Shoats. “Not too much to pay to unlock that little rose of sweetness inside you!” (O’Connor, Wise Blood, 86-87)[/ref] Shoats, in his homespun Southern drawl, gives three reasons why the masses “can trust this [new kind of] church“:
#1: It’s a church where there’s no mystery
and you have everything figured out.
“…you don’t have to believe nothing you don’t understand and approve of. If you don’t understand it, it ain’t true, and that’s all there is to it. No jokers in the deck, friends.”[ref]Flannery O’Connor, Collected Works, ‘Wise Blood’, 86.[/ref]
#2: It’s a church where you get to interpret
the Bible however you feel.
“…It’s based on your own personal interpritation of the Bible, friends. You can sit at home and interprit your own Bible however you feel in your heart it ought to be interprited. That’s right, just the way Jesus would have done it.”[ref]Ibid, 86-87.[/ref]
#3: It’s a church where you are the expert
and no one knows better than you.
“…This church is up-to-date! When you’re in this church you can know that there’s nothing or nobody ahead of you, nobody knows nothing you don’t know, all that cards are on the table, friends, and that’s a fack!”[ref]Ibid, 87.[/ref]
The desire for Shoats’ new brand of Christianity is alive and well today. I hear it from people every so often, if not with their words, at least in spirit:
- I want a Christianity where I can figure it all out and nothing troubles me about following Jesus.
- I want a Christianity that agrees with my moral sensibilities and endorses the things I endorse.
- I want a Christianity that keeps me where I am spiritually and protects me from others telling me what I should believe or practice.
Fortunately, Shoats has just the church for them. He calls it “the Holy Church of Christ Without Christ.”
Did you catch that? It’s pretty straight-forward.
O’Connor wants readers to understand that not only is this type of Christianity one which finds great appeal to our modern, consumerist, Western sensibilities but, more importantly, that it isn’t Christianity. In other words, if this is the kind of Christianity you want, then you don’t really want Christianity. Why? Because Shoats’ brand of faith appeals to people who, ultimately, want what Jesus offers but don’t want Jesus…really. They like the Savior part of who Jesus is but pass on the whole “Lord” thing because it would demand they submit to Christ, link arms with his community (the local church), and willing be led by others (e.g., pastors/shepherds/elders/etc.). But to do this one would have to choose Jesus over his love for individualism, consumerism, and isolationism. He would have to choose the way of repentance and obedience. He would have to embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. Simply put, he would have to embrace Jesus as Jesus.
If he doesn’t want to do that.
- If he wants to never struggle with the demands of following Jesus…
- If he wants to embrace certain parts of the Bible because it reinforces his worldview while rejecting (or reinterpreting) the parts of the Scripture that contradict it…
- If he wants to be free from a community where people can speak into his life, character, and conduct for the sake of personal holiness; or the idea of anyone telling him what to do, period…
…he can go to church, it just won’t be the one where Jesus is.
It will be the church of Christ without Christ.