Apollos or Christ?
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
February 29, 2012 - Causal explanations for sociological trends are notoriously slippery. Thus, it is the better part of prudence to avoid idle pontification in the mode of oversimplification. The sagacity of this counsel notwithstanding, Rick Santorum recently found himself in the position of having commented, “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”
Whether the causal connection between the two phenomena was intended in calling attention to the statistical correlation, the rhetorical implication seems inescapable. College education (perhaps especially in a radically secular context) is primarily (if not uniquely) responsible for a loss of religious commitment among maturing adults.
In our sound bite culture, such analyses become sacrificial offerings on the virtual altars of the blogs. Consequently, rather than being occasions for inquiry into Truth, comments like Santorum’s become brand-identity markers against which the image-conscious, cyber-sophisticated align themselves in the virtual marketplace.
As an example of the latter, consider a recent op-ed piece by Tim King on why college students are leaving the Christian faith. Contra Santorum, King asserts that college isn’t to blame for losing one’s religion. Instead, King alleges, “the exodus [from the church] is about hypocrisy.” King goes on to offer a narrative explanation as predictable as it is bad. Young people are disillusioned because public figures like Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, or Tony Perkins portray Christianity as being “pro-rich, pro-white, pro-America and anti-gay.” Thankfully, in his own case, King has been rescued by mentors like Jim Wallis and Scot McKnight who affirm the Jesus that King read about in Scriptures – the one who “taught love, acceptance, peace and concern for the poor.”
The butter cream texture with which such smooth rhetoric slides into the belly of one’s soul is likely to lead the unsuspecting dinner guest to overlook the fact that what is being swallowed is poison. To assert, as King effectively has, that commitment to Christ among the young depends upon the rhetorical finesse of those professing Christian faith in the public square is to assume following Christ is about maintaining the right social media profile, i.e., having the “right” Facebook friends or followers on Twitter.
The Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthian Christians in the sharpest terms for such nonsense. For when one says, “I follow Jim Wallis,” and another, “I follow Franklin Graham,” are you not being merely human? What then is Franklin Graham? What is Jim Wallis? (I Corinthians 3:4-5). Answer: Nothing!
To confess, as King does, that the rhetorical stances of various Christian leaders makes him “ashamed to call myself a Christian” is to reduce the Gospel to image management. If young people are, as King alleges, leaving the church because they are embarrassed by some specific subset of the forgiven sinners that constitute Christ’s bride, then they were never in love with the Bridegroom in the first place. Like King, they may, for a time, find solace in their identification with what they mistakenly take to be the “more presentable parts” of the body, but having failed to attend to the life-giving Head, their destiny is the rotting flesh of a corpse.