If a non-believing friend ask you to define or explain Christianity, how would you respond? It might take some thought and some understanding of how much the friend might or might not know, but most of us would likely explain the central figure of Christ, the Son of God, who died for our sins, was resurrected on the third day after his death, and ascended to heaven. But what if the friend went further, and asked you to explain why there are so many denominations, so many variants, so many forms of Christianity, and so many disagreements on basic tenets of the faith?
That might be a more complicated answer. In Living the Dream? The Problem with Escapist, Exhibitionist, Empire-Building Christianity, Tristan Sherwin has a relatively simple answer that itself has a complex explanation. We’re understanding our faith as an extension of our personal dreams. “Jesus didn’t die so that our dreams could come true,” he writes. “He gave his life for the dream of God.” We’ve allowed our personal dreams and ambitions, including how we are shaped by the culture, to shape our faith and how we respond to God.
It’s no wonder that Christianity is so fractured and splintered, with the breaks and divisions seeming to grow every day.
|Tristan Sherwin and family|
Sherwin begins at the beginning, with the book of Genesis and how we generally understand it and what we read into it because we’re either embracing what the culture says or fighting what the culture insists we believe. We often get into the weeds here, and we like to have our own weed patch. Scripture has been used to justify everything from slavery to war. In a self-therapeutic culture like which grips most of the Western word today, we can consider Scripture as the way to make us feel better and loved, or that it gives us special knowledge (and gifts) that others don’t have, or that it justifies political globalism and political nationalism. (Remember Jesus telling Pilate that his kingdom wasn’t of this world?)
Our individual faith is directly affected. Consider worship services that are emotionally charged. “All this stimulation may help to explain why many of us struggle with prayer and contemplation in the privacy of our homes, and why so many of us struggle to sense God during our own periods of suffering.” Despite what we experience on Sundays, he says, “God-moments” aren’t hyperactive or adrenaline-fueled.
God, he says, is “at home in the stillness; we’re the only who get restless.”
One of the most beautiful images Sherwin uses in the book is the idea of soliloquy, that “Jesus is the soliloquy of God spoken into the dissonance” of our struggle to fully understand and explain our experience of God. There is a wonderful stillness about that idea, a freshness that speaks to our deepest souls.
Sherwin is a teacher at Metro Christian Centre at Bury, England, near Manchester, where he lives with his family. He’s previously published Love: Expressed.
If you’re looking to challenge or test your own ideas about Christianity and your personal faith, the well-written and engaging Living the Dream? is a good place to start. You will rethink how you understand many parts of scripture and discover how you read your own cultural context into what you believe about God.
Related: Tristan Sherwin’s Love: Expressed.