Desperate for relevance at Christmas

Ecclesiology Theology / Biblical Studies

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St Matthew-in-the-City Anglican church in downtown Auckland offended a few people with a Christmas billboard.

I can’t think how…

Archdeacon Glynn  Cardy dubs the church’s brand of faith as “Progressive Christianity.” It’s a faith that “believes the Christmas stories are fictitious accounts designed to introduce the radical nature of the adult Jesus.” What’s surprising is that the Rev Cardy actually appears to think that this is a good humoured lampoon against traditional, orthodox Christianity. As everyone knows, historic Christianity teaches that God had sex with Mary, right?

How can ludicrous caricatures like this possibly portray liberal/progressive Christianity as anything other than juvenile and ignorant (or perhaps dishonest, misrepresenting the faith of others so as to burn a straw man). Click the link at the start of this post, and what you’ll see, unfortunately, is more of the same misrepresentation and false bravado at the courage involved in crass religious humour.

The billboard didn’t last, and has been vandalised already, little more than five hours after it went up. I’m no fan of vandalism of course, but people can hardly be amazed here. Imagine a billboard along the lines of “Jews, for the last time: It’s just a wall. Get over it” or “Ah, Hillary Clinton. Imagine thinking that a woman could become anything.” It would hardly wash to say “All we really want is to lampoon women,” or “But we were only making fun of Jews. JEWS!” It’s an ironic twist that in a rather self serving defence, maintining that Jesus is all about accepting the rejects and rejecting the powerful, this church is actually offering a justification for attempting to publicly make fun of mainstream Christianity and write it off as “fundamentalist,” apparently banking on the fact that it will be unpopular (rejected?) enough that not too many people will care.

The fact is, so called “progressive” Christianity has few reservations about stunts like this because it has little to offer and is somewhat desparate. Within, for example the Presbyterian and Anglican churches here in New Zealand, they are losing the war and are a shrinking voice, fading into the oblivion of obscurity. By contrast, evangelical congregations are on the rise and at a national level the decisions being made are more in keeping with traditional Christian belief than ever before in the last 30 years. People are (for what I take to be obvious reasons) taking seriously the fact that it’s frankly a bit facile to expect to be given church resources as well as recognition as a Christian movement while denying more or less all of the truth claims of the Christian faith, from the resurrection of Jesus to the virgin birth, or even in many cases the very existence of God.

It isn’t a surprise that the churches that are experiencing growth are the evangelical churches that do not try to divorce the moral aspects of Christianity from its claims about reality. I have no reason to think that attention-seeking tactics like these are going to change that.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Bob December 17, 2009, 11:49 pm

    Somehow reminds me of this verse

    Matthew 5:13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

  • Dan December 18, 2009, 4:41 am

    I’m wondering exactly who their target audience is? People who already hate Christianity, Christians, Christ, and God are not going to suddenly say “Hey, I think I’ll hop on down to that church.” Most believing Christians who see that billboard will react with revulsion and start searching for the proper combination of chemicals that will destroy exactly the brain cells that store the image. Most non-believers will feel vaguely uncomfortable because most people still recognize blasphemy. And the “hip and trendy and edgy” folks who would say “that’s cool, I’m gonna go” will abandon the church for the next new hip and trendy and edgy thing that comes along.

    Where was marketing in all of this?

  • Raphael December 18, 2009, 10:39 am

    Glenn, my brother heard him talking on the radio trying to defend the ad: “he was postulating that the add was justified as most Christians do not really believe in the virgin birth and when questioned by the radio interviewer about Him being the Son of God he stated that we are all sons of God and it was merely a term of endearment or identification rather than actual ‘Sonship'”

    I have to ask why this man even calls himself a Christian.

  • Bob December 18, 2009, 7:06 pm

    “the add was justified as most Christians do not really believe in the virgin birth”

    And I bet the radio didn’t ask where he got that information that most Christians do not really believe.

  • Glenn December 18, 2009, 7:21 pm

    Exactly Bob. I can think of no method of counting that would result in the claim that “most Christians” don’t believe in the virgin birth.

    Of course, by historical orthodox standards 100% of Christians believe in the virgin birth, since denying this claim places one outside of the historic Christian faith as far as theology is concerned.

    But even if we include the liberals and so-called “atheist Christians” like Lloyd Geering, they make up such a minority of worldwide Christianity that we’d still end up with an overwhelming majority affirming the virgin birth.

    Further evidence, I suppose, that theological liberalism and honesty do not always make good bedfellows.

  • The Whyman December 18, 2009, 8:50 pm

    If it weren’t in front of a Church building, one could be forgiven for mistaking it for an attack by a militant atheistic “group”.

    In fact, in the ‘teaser’ on network news I initially thought just that.

  • Raphael December 18, 2009, 9:42 pm

    It’s the type of billboard I would expect from Hell’s Pizza, not from a Church

  • Glenn December 18, 2009, 9:49 pm

    Well I suppose strictly speaking, Raphael, it isn’t a church!

  • Rob December 19, 2009, 3:13 pm

    Well I suppose strictly speaking, Raphael, it isn’t a church!

    “Synagogue of Satan” — to use a nice Biblical term — might be an appropriate name for the deluded folk…

  • Kenny December 22, 2009, 8:19 am

    Amazing how these sorts of folk can present themselves as so intelligent, informed and enlightened and at the same time say and do so many things that are downright stupid, ignorant and bigoted. This sort of conceited hypocrisy absolutely disgusts me!

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