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Miniblog #132: Searching for the Golden Mean of American Christianity

by Carson T. Clark on October 1, 2012

Within American Christianity I see a landscape wrought with all sorts of erroneous, unhealthy polarizations. On the whole, we’ve been undiscerningly imbued by our culture with a relentless commitment to autonomy, consumerism, democracy, novelty, pragmatism, and the like. Unsurprisingly, more than a few have perceived the glaring deficiencies of these presuppositions and responded with a reactionary swing to the other extreme.11.Individualism is delivered over to collectivism. Criticism gives way to defense. Independence is sacrificed to authority. Innovation is subsumed by restoration. Immediacy takes a backseat to longevity. This list could go on indefinitely. Meanwhile, I’m made uneasy whenever people assert an unassailable commitment to any of these extremes. It’s like my spidey sense goes off or something. It produces in my heart a nagging feeling that something is amiss, in my mind a profound intellectual skepticism, and in my soul a strange spiritual disconnect that I cannot fully explain. Having reflected on these matters a great deal over the years I cannot help but think another way must be possible. Surely there must be a balance between the individual and the community, private illumination and public revelation, isolated practices and corporate rituals, contemporary worldviews and ancient traditions, organic relationships and principled structures, creative renewal and cherished inheritance, rigorous thought and transparent feeling, etc. One day it struck me. What I’m basically looking for is Aristotle’s golden mean of American Christianity.22.The purpose of which isn’t creating or maintaining moderation but rather honestly upholding the innate tensions and paradoxes that already exist within the biblical, historical Christian faith.

  • Stephen

    It strikes me that that might be a good topic for a book/dissertation. That is, exploring the way that Christianity both shapes and is shapes by the cultures into which it inserts itself, and maybe trying to find if there’s some sort of ideal or best way for it to interact with the culture in which it is placed, or examining which have been the best elements of that interaction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Bozeman/1143676742 James Bozeman

    Thought number one: The “middle” that you speak of need not be equidistant from the extremes. The classic “middle” in Christianity is always Christ. Some positions that people take are closer to the reality that Christ *is* in Himself. Others (persons, positions, teachings, etc) are farther away, even moving away from Christ toward heresy.

    Thought number two: Christ says this of himself in Matthew 10: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” If this is true about Christ, then he would appear to be one of the extremes that we would try to avoid in order to occupy an imagined “middle” way. But the fact is that Christ is the middle. It’s just that we shift so much in our lives and our perceptions, that we lose sight of the the True middle.

    The balance that you are describing, in any case, sounds much like my experience of the Orthodox faith. It is solid ground, and speaks definitively on those few subjects about which there can be no argument; things like the incarnation, the Trinity, the virgin birth, the cross, and so forth. Some things are simply non-negotiable in order for one to remain true to Jesus Christ, regardless of any sort of Christian version of the golden mean. In such a case, our first goal is Christ, and not some sort of middle ground.

    But even within this “dogmatic framework” and within the Tradition handed down to us though time, there is room to think and disagree and discuss. There is room to hold disbelief in certain aspects of Orthodox Tradition in suspension while one attempts to deal with the issue (I struggled greatly over the certain issues as I was becoming Orthodox, but I chose to simply shelve those issues until I could make sense of them, which eventually I did).

    The balance is always Christ. And our experience of Christ is clearest and most real within the context of His community, the Church.

    This is becoming too abstract, so I will pause there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Bozeman/1143676742 James Bozeman

    Perhaps I am making too many assumptions in my post below about what you are trying to say here, Carson. What are the extremes that you are alluding to? For example, in the case of individual and community?

  • http://www.facebook.com/rebecca.hope.osborn Rebecca Osborn

    With some things – such as individualism vs. communalism, from your post – I think the truth lies less in a mean between extremes (like 50% of each) than it does in a complete engagement in both (more like 100% of each). In order to be healthy individuals with meaningful presence to ourselves, we have to be engaged in community. In order to be contributing members of a community, we have to use our individual capacities. That is the fashion in which I think of myself as a reformed/evangelical catholic (or reverse the noun/adjective position, I don’t care). I am all for moderation inasmuch as it is non-extremism. But I’d rather see complete engagement, which I think of as incarnation (at least, thinking of Jesus as 100% God and 100% man).

    With other things, of course, the problem is extremism itself, and anything “moderate” between them is so far removed from either that it doesn’t deserve to be on the same scale.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      “With some things – such as individualism vs. communalism, from your post – I think the truth lies less in a mean between extremes (like 50% of each) than it does in a complete engagement in both (more like 100% of each).”

      Agreed. Much like heart and mind. 50% of each is terrible. Gotta be 100% both.

      “In order to be healthy individuals with meaningful presence to
      ourselves, we have to be engaged in community. In order to be
      contributing members of a community, we have to use our individual
      capacities. That is the fashion in which I think of myself as a reformed/evangelical catholic (or reverse the noun/adjective position, don’t care). I am all for moderation inasmuch as it is non-extremism.
      But I’d rather see complete engagement, which I think of as incarnation (at least, thinking of Jesus as 100% God and 100% man).”

      No disagreement. Perhaps “golden mean” isn’t the best concept to utilize here.

      “With other things, of course, the problem is extremism itself, and
      anything ‘moderate’ between them is so far removed from either that it
      doesn’t deserve to be on the same scale.”

      I’m in agreement again.

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