Retrofitted Christianity?

I’d like to introduce you to a couple of people you may not know.

One is Mark D. Roberts, a blogging presbyterian pastor, who is a seriously thoughtful guy.  (Remember, I’m the guy who was bashing mainline denominations recently.)  I have enormous respect for the man, and his writing.  His book on praying through the Psalms, “No Holds Barred”, is simply wonderful.   Don’t take that as meaning I agree with him on everything he writes…  Hey, it’s me!  But he’s someone to contend with.

The other is Andrew Sullivan, whose blog, The Daily Dish, is often interesting and provocative.  Sullivan is a frequent writer for Time and other “mainstream media” outlets.

Sullivan has written a book, “The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back” that is reviewed by Roberts here.

Here is how Roberts introduces Sullivan:

A skilled writer and creative thinker, Sullivan combines in one man several attributes that rarely share the same human body. He is a gay, Christian, Roman Catholic, conservative who voted for John Kerry. (He may be the only one of this species in existence today.) It’s no surprise that such a combination leads to unusual perspectives, many of which can be found on Sullivan’s blog,

This is a very thoughtful review, of a book on conservatism that will surprise you.

If you aren’t familiar with either author, this review of one by the other is a great place to start.

Here is Robert’s description of Sullivan’s reading contradictions into the gospels:

Once again, I fear Sullivan has bought into a bit of retrofitted Christian dogma, which exaggerates the differences among the gospels for the sake of discounting them. Ironically, the kind of literalistic reading that allows some scholars to find multiple contradictions among the gospels is exactly the sort of thing Sullivan despises among fundamentalists. I am not the first to point out that fundamentalist Christians and liberal scholars who reject biblical authority both tend to read the Bible in the same, overly literalistic way.

Is something like this also at issue re: the different ways emergent church(EC) folks and the “traditionalists” read scripture?  I have the feeling sometimes that the leftward tilt of much of the EC is defended by very literal readings of certain scriptures, and very post-modern interpretation of others….

Others have observed that the various religious traditions simply differ on which parts of scripture they take seriously.  You know: Nazarenes stress the “free will” parts, and Baptists stress the “elect” part.  :-)  Is that all that’s really going on in the EC?  Or is the EC something new?

Robert’s opinion is that Sullivan seems to embrace a “retrofitted Christianity”.

I find Sullivan’s thoughts about Christianity fascinating for several reasons. One is that he epitomizes something I’d call “Retrofitted Christianity.” What do I mean by this? If you look up “retrofit” in the dictionary, one definition reads: “To provide with parts, devices, or equipment not in existence or available at the time of original manufacture.” If you retrofit a classic car, for example, you might give it a new engine that wasn’t available when the car was first built. So retrofitted Christianity is a version of classic faith that includes new parts that weren’t there at first. Some people, like Andrew Sullivan, think this is a better or even more authentic version of the faith. Others, like me, for example, are concerned that the retrofitted version of Christianity exemplified by Sullivan lacks some essential parts, even though it gets some things right.

I think something like this is at the core of my concerns with the EC.  But I’m still reading.

One thought on “Retrofitted Christianity?

  1. aly hawkins

    Great post, Phil. I think your concerns about the EC are warranted. I also think that the 2,000 year history of Christianity is a study in swinging from one pole to the other, all in an effort to find the sweet spot in the middle. Ergo, the swinging going on right now doesn’t worry me too much, at least not over the long haul. If there’s no movement, THEN we have a problem.

    I also don’t worry too much because there is such a diversity of voices in the EC movement. I don’t think this blog is representative of that breadth, but if you do a little digging, I think you’ll find that there are EC sympathizers in every tradition, from Reformed (SBC, PCUSA, Lutheran) to Mainline (Episcopal, UMC) to middling Evangelical (Wesleyan-Holiness, Covenant, various Charismatics) to Orthodox (RC, Eastern Orthodox). The fact that so many who couldn’t previously agree on where to have lunch are now talking together about the mission and kingdom of God is a good indicator to me that anyone who tries to get too far off course will have plenty of brethren yelling them down from the ledge.

    I heard an interview with Andrew Sullivan last week and thought I might want to read his book. We’ll see if I can fit it in with the abstinence editing. I’ll let you know…

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