In the last few days, the idea of being “almost Christian” has been popping up in different places for me. The book, by Kenda Creasy Dean, “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church“, a review of the same book which pointed me to Wesley’s sermon, “The Almost Christian” and, finally, a weekend-long conference where Bart Campolo spoke about this subject. Now, he didn’t use the term “Almost Christian”, but it’s exactly what he was talking about.
What is an “Almost Christian”? Wesley said it was someone who followed all the forms of Christianity, but didn’t really live it out. In other words, someone who “talked the talk”, but didn’t “walk the walk”. In the sermon where he talked about being “almost a Christian”, he spoke of people who followed all the outward signs of Christianity: not drinking, sleeping around, etc; but, deep down, these people didn’t love God and they didn’t love their neighbor. In Dean’s book, the result of information gathered by the National Study of Youth and Religion, she writes of the watering down of Christian faith into something called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which says:
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die
Again, notice what’s missing. There’s not a single mention of love to be found anywhere in it. This weekend, as I said earlier, I had the privilege of listening to Bart Campolo speak and, intentional or not, what he said was basically an updated version of Wesley’s sermon.
He told us that all that stuff we’d been hearing for years (don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t have sex and, for God’s sake, don’t be gay) were useless if we didn’t love God and love our neighbor. He showed us that loving one another was what Jesus was asking of us. In John 15:9-17, Jesus told his disciples (and, by extension, us)
“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
11-15“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
16“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
17“But remember the root command: Love one another”
Notice there’s no legalistic “Don’t do that” mumbo-jumbo. Just “Love one another”
Loving one another is simple, but oh so hard. It’s simple because it’s cut-and-dried and straightforward. No extra crap, nothing to weigh it down. It’s hard because, to do this, you have to love everybody. Not just the people who like you, not just the ones you like, not just the ones who are easy to love. No, if you’re going to be a real, full-on Christian, you have to love the homeless, the drug addicts, the hookers and gay people. You have to love that one person in the world that gets under your skin and irritates the living shit out of you. If you’re going to be a real Christian, you have to love that liberal, moral relativist that you firmly believe is a heretic and that hard-core Calvinist fundamentalist whose beliefs you think fly in the face of the true message of Christ. Like I said everybody. No exceptions, no take-backs. Otherwise, you’re “almost a Christian”.