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CHRISTIAN CON ARTISTS?

Postmodernists call us a bunch of "con artists." Surely they’re wrong. Or are they?

Like it or not, today’s churches have been refused by both the 1st and 21st centuries. Agree or not, the "managers of the sacred" have been rejected by both the early church fathers and a spiritually hungry, postmodern world.

It’s not just us. It’s the way we "guide" people to the Good News. Today, for example, people no longer live doctrines. They no longer find renewal in refined rhetoric—or dead rituals—or high-rise institutions. And, they no longer trust the power of the powerful—or the charisma of the charismatic—or the motives of the managers.

Why?

Because postmoderns think we’re a bunch of "manipulators." (Their word, not mine.) They think religion is simply "a tool of the privileged to manipulate those who are not privileged."1 They believe our doctrines are simply tricks of those "in the know" to control those not "in the know." In short, they resent being played with. They resent "con artists"—whether in the church or out of the church.

They can smell "baloney" a mile away.

Why can’t the rest of us smell it? What kind of mistaken consensus have we consented to? Why, after all, would we close our doors to the postmodern world? And why, in heavens name, would we reject our only hope for an emerging church?

More to the point, why would we shoot ourselves in the foot?

"If you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate."2 (St. Paul)

Easily Conned and Easily Used

Of course, people have always been gullible. They’ve always been easily manipulated. And, they’ve always been susceptible to gimmicks and quick fixes—especially "the ignorant and unstable" who "twist and misconstrue (the Word of God) to their own utter destruction."3

In truth, though, the postmodern world is also gullible. Only now, people refuse anyone else feeding their gullibility—they’ll "just feed themselves, thank you very much." With postmoderns, in other words, God’s "word" is no longer somebody else’s opinion—past or present. It’s whatever postmoderns want it to be, whatever best suits their purpose.

It’s a "make-your-own world."

We all agree that endless manipulations have gone on outside the church. We’ve seen it. Skilled psychological entertainers—hypnotists, mind readers, magicians, and the like—are masters of manipulation and control. For example, our body language, eye movements, and clothing reveal almost endless personal "secrets."

And, mind-reading tricks often involve vague comments that apply to anyone: "You’re outgoing, yet with a shy side." Naturally, people hear what they want to hear and easily believe that what they want to hear applies to them.

Of course, we’ve also seen the snake-oil superstitions of voodoo, witchcraft, and "black magic" that feed so successfully on ignorance, hysteria, and self-obsession. Yet—ignorant or not, and subtle or not—some form of manipulative skill leaves all of us open to fake claims and unquestioning beliefs.

We are easily conned and easily used.

Faith or Flesh?

It’s much harder, though, to admit manipulations in the church. Yet, "Legalism, superstition and magic are closely joined by their emphasis on controlling people and events."4 Also, just as often, cleverly "maneuvered" emotions sin as much as they save—distort as much as they disclose—and lie as much as they verify.

For example, many of us don’t really know whether our passion is God’s power or our power—Spirit led or lying manipulation—unselfish or selfish—faith or flesh—eternal or temporal.5 So, deception remains an unfortunate fact of "faith" throughout the Christian world. The "word" can become our destruction as easily as our salvation.

After all, seraph and snake live side by side.

Never mind that "Everybody’s doing it." Christian faith was never intended to draw its significance from illusions or superstitions. Though truly inspired words and rituals always point to a greater Power, they were never intended to replace that power. And, though revered symbols and sacraments always reveal awesome depths, they were never intended to manipulate those depths.

"I fear that we Christians do engage in truly superstitious uses of words and rituals."6

©2005 Thomas Hohstadt

Endnotes

1. David Lochhead, Theology in a Ditigal World (United Church Publishing House, United Church of Canada, 1988), p. 46.

2. Romans 12:6-8, Message Bible.

3. II Peter 3:16, AMP.

4. Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999) p. 140.

5. Thomas Hohstadt, "Warning: Test Your Emotions Before Proceeding" http://www.futurechurch.net/

6. Willard, p. 139.



Future Church Administrator