The eminent biblical scholar Marcus J. Borg has written in the epilogue of his book, “Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary,” that we are living at a time when there two very different Christianities. One group is known in common usage as the “Christian Right.” This group is both theologically and politically conservative. Theologically the Christian right affirms biblical inerrancy and literal interpretation. Politically, it supports the political right with varying degrees of conviction. This group is against evolution, abortion, homosexuality, and is best known for its emphasis on “values,” but its values focus quite narrowly on questions related to sexuality, including gender. It supports the civic affirmation of Christianity, including prayer in public schools and the Ten Commandments in public places.
The second group often referred to as “progressive Christians” are found mostly in mainline denominations. They study the Bible with an open mind and are not afraid of biblical criticism, stories as metaphor, and historical and scientific facts. As this group moves into emergent and emerging Christianity the adherents are committed to adult theological reeducation as a way of reclaiming the richness of the Bible and the Christian tradition. It is a movement beyond the hardened forms of much of evangelicalism. Their communities encourage the spiritual practices of the Christian tradition such as contemplative prayer, and pay attention to our relationship to “what is,” the sacred, God.
There are many who live their faith somewhere in the middle between these two diverse groups, but with two opposing messages it is understandable why Christianity is undergoing a transition. As Marcus Borg points out in his description of this diversity, the majority of his students at Oregon State University grew up outside of the church. He writes, “Most of them have a very negative view of Christianity. In surveys, they regularly characterize Christians as anti-intellectual, literalistic, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted. It is not difficult to discern where they got this impression.” (p. 299)
The “Christian Right” continues to affirm their “hardened” perspective which gives the non-churched this negative impression of Christians. The emergent church, however, is presenting the gospel in another fashion. Their communities emphasize compassion, justice, and peace as the central virtues of the Christian life. “They seek to take seriously God’s passion for the world.” They take seriously the role of beauty as a mediator of the sacred, which includes care for the beauty and health of earth’s environment.
There have always been divisions among Christians. It used to be between Gnostics and Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants, or simply issues dividing the many Christian denominations from one another. Today, the issue has more to do with the way devout people view the Biblical message and how they choose to share it. Each person can make that decision for herself/himself. Your choice will make a difference in the way you live your life. Which do you choose?