Since at least the eighteenth century Christianity has had to contend with an increasingly hostile intellectual and cultural climate throughout the Western world, so that now it seems nearly every major cultural force is arrayed against it. In this article, and the next, I want to discuss one rarely-noted factor working against Christianity and briefly discuss what remedies may be available against it.
The factor that I want to talk about is really one of the cleverest that the Devil has brought against the religion of Jesus Christ, because it affects the imaginationnot the intellect. Therefore, it has no need to come up with arguments nor can we easily find arguments against it. It is more a mood than an opinion. What is it I am talking about? It is this: Christianity is made to seem boring, the Gospel an over familiar story with no bite, no interest, something that almost disgusts rather than attracts. In contrast to the fascination that some people have with other religionsespecially Hinduism or BuddhismChristianity is seen as something dull. It is not just a killjoy, it is one big bore.
The life has gone out of the modern world's perception of the Gospel.
This attitude arises, I think, because in a way our civilization is permeated with the lifeless remnants of Christianity. Our society observes (after a fashion) Christmas and Easter, but instead of being the exciting and vital commemorations of the God-man's birth and death and of the sacrifice of His own life for mankind, they bring back nothing but distant memories of boring Sunday school classes or uncomfortable clothes worn on the twice-yearly visit to church. The life has gone out of the modern world's perception of the Gospel.
The English Anglican writer and scholar, C. S. Lewis, understood this aspect of modern unbelief. In his children's stories, the Chronicles of Narnia, he attempted to present the Gospel in such a way as to make it appear fresh and inviting to those moderns who find it boring. The lion Aslan is Christ, and Lewis hoped, I think, that his readers might find inviting in Aslan those qualities that they might reject in Christ because they are jaded by familiarity. Similarly, in Lewis's novel, That Hideous Strength, the heroine, Jame Studdock, a typical modern secularized unbeliever, is slowly drawn toward God by her contact with a group of men and women gathered around Ransom, the philology professor whom has traveled in space and communicates with angels. But at first she does not connect these new and fascinating experiences with the conventional Christianity she was brought up in.
If it had ever occurred to her to question whether all these things might be the reality behind what she had been taught at school as "religion," she had put the thought aside. The distance between these alarming and operative realities and the memory, say, of fat Mrs. Dimble saying her prayers, was too wide. The things belonged, for her, to different worlds. On the one hand, terror of dreams, rapture of obedience, the tingling light and sound from under the director's door, and the great struggle against an imminent danger; on the other, the smell of pews, horrible lithographs of the Saviour(apparently seven feet high, with the face of a consumptive girl), the embarassment of confirmation classes, the nervous affability of clergymen.
Note that Jane Studdock's memories of Christianity were only of certain superficial and external aspects, but those were what stuck with her. And I think the same is true of our contemporaries. They think they know Christianity, they find nothing interesting in it, and thus they have little or no desire to investigate it further. No desire certainly to find out if there is any intellectual case for it.
Can anything be done to change this jaded attitude? That is the topic I take up in "Is the Gospel Boring?" Part Two.
© 2000 Thomas Storck