Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Christmas without A Literal Christ: Tim Padgett's Christmas for All

I recently read an online article about Christmas from Tim Padgett at Time Magazine. He covered the gamut from strained relationships between Christians and Muslims to the strained relationships between Christians and atheists. On his way, he took potshots at Fundamentalists and mentioned the death of Christopher Hitchens (a man with a very ironic name). But the thing in his article which stood out to me was his solution to the strained relationships - Christian doctrinal acquiescence in the face of any opposition, and the adoption of a subjective, emotional, and innocuous faith.

Padgett suggests that Christians should believe doctrines, but also suggests that they should believe not because they are true, but because these doctrines are inherently Christian. He says,
Christians believe that Jesus' nativity was a virgin birth . . . [b]ut if you were to show most Christians incontrovertible scientific proof that . . . miracles didn't occur, they would shrug -- because their faith means more to them than that. Because in the end, what they have faith in is the power of the story.
The problem with this way of thinking is that if it isn't true, if the miracles didn't happen, if God does not exist or has not broken into our world, then the story has no power whatsoever. At that point, the story must become whatever helps us sleep at night. His theory makes the Gospel subjective, and insinuates that it could be, or is, untrue. To him that is alright. But the theory has subtly gutted the Gospel of all power and left us all in sin. His theory also reduces any believer to a pitiable, ignorant, wretch. The Apostle Paul once wrote, "[I]f Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:17-19)."

Padgett also writes, "Most of us don't believe in God because we think it's a ticket to heaven. Rather, our belief in God -- our belief in the living ideal of ourselves . . . instills in us a faith that in the end, light always defeats darkness. . ." It sounds like he is here equating God with either a sense of a divine self or at least some kind of self improvement. This sounds like theology a la Oprah. But again, without a God who has spoken, without a measure of good, what self improvement can there be? All there is left is man-made, agreed-upon standards which shift at a whim. The subjective is a dark, cold place without bounds or stability. This is not Christian theology. This has no place alongside Christian doctrine. This is a Christmas without a literal Christ and a subjective Advent without hope of salvation. I hope we all can see that Padgett's Christmas cannot defeat sin and will not provide answers to the Muslim or the atheist.

Instead, I hope that you are able to celebrate the Advent this year with the peace of the knowledge that the God who created and spoke has broken into our world through the virgin's womb, has lived sinlessly, has died ignominiously (and vicariously), has risen gloriously, and is poised to return to destroy all opposition to his dominion and to claim all who are his. Merry Christmas!


Andrew said...

They would shrug not because their faith is in the power of a story, but because "incontrovertible scientific proof" incorrectly assumes science is the ultimate authority, over even God. Christians need look no further than Genesis 1 to see God defying all physical laws, which, frustratingly for athiests, means He cannot be disproven.

Steven Douglas said...

You're absolutely right, Andrew! Thanks for the addition.