Sunday, July 06, 2008

Fundamental differences between early Christianity and modern Christianity

As I've been trying to write an introduction for a nearly completed book on early Christianity, I've been trying to figure out the best way to break to people the news that there are fundamental differences between early Christianity and modern Christianity. These differences are surprising, even shocking, but are not easily recognized by many Christians today.

Of course, whatever people think about the idea that such differences exist, it won't change what the early Christians believed. So if they happened to believe a set of doctrines that were indeed different, then not even the strongest of opinions or the loudest of objections will change that fact. Now nearing the completion of a book outlining early Christianity, I think there is so much evidence that their doctrines were substantially different that it is very difficult to see how this could not be the case. The problem is that the news that early Christian doctrines were very different is an uncomfortable one for many Christians today.

I can't think of any way I can make this news more comfortable for Christians. This is especially true for older Christians, who have invested decades of their lives and identities in doctrines that the early Christians simply didn't believe. The idea that the doctrines they had built so many years of their lives on arose not with Jesus but many centuries after him would surely be a hard pill to swallow.

One thing that may make the news more tolerable is that it fits better with current trends that emphasize social action and responsibility. I was thinking about this last Sunday, when the sermon so passionately related Jesus' concern for the poor and underprivileged. It was followed by some songs about theology that struck me as completely disconnected from such a message. At least the early Christian doctrines were, in this sense, quite modern.

Perhaps I don't need to worry about making the news less uncomfortable for modern Christians. It's hardly a new thing to be saying. Countless people who have pointed it out in the past have been largely ignored by the general Christian population. This news won't make people uncomfortable if they ignore it. Even if they take heed, it is not my job in life to make other people feel comfortable.

Yet in the case of the book I'm co-authoring, it is important, since I hope that some people will take the time to read it. How they react to such news might affect how they read the book, and how they feel about their own faith once they have. So does anyone have any ideas on how I could best let people know that there are major differences between early and modern Christianity?


Anonymous said...

If that's a major thesis of your book, I don't see how you could get away from stating it plainly on the back cover. You can't very well spring it on people in the last chapter! I think the best course of action is just to be clear that the book is controversial, and accept that some people won't read it because of that fact.

Katherine said...

It could perhaps be helpful to approach it from the angle of 'have you ever had the feeling that there was something strange about the Christianity you were taught, and had the uneasy feeling that some things didn't quite add up?' It's my impression that a substantial number of people quietly wonder if they're the only one who's noticed that there's a few holes. They assume that the people who teach them what it *really* means must know better than they do, and they're being too simplistic or not having enough faith or something. Kind of an Emperor's New Clothes situation. That's what it was like for me anyway. Might be a good way to personalise it.