So, the week that was. Someone in the Administration decided they did not like their boss, but unlike most of us who would just find a new job, they decided to write about it in the NYTimes and sound all conspiratorial. No self-important ego there, nope. Oh, and two Senators decided that SCOTUS nominee hearings were the perfect place to launch their presidential aspirations and made fools of themselves in the process. I honestly don’t know what’s worse, that they thought that such behavior would “play,” or that in some circles it actually did. All this preening while the oldest and largest Christian institution on the planet continues to flounder in a vile, immoral swamp that has to have the Lord God Himself in tears – and the story is relegated by the preceding nonsense to page 1000 or so. And my mother passed away.
This was indeed a news filled week but far, far from our proudest. So, in the middle of all that, what was the best thing I read this week? It was a woman’s piece from Christianity Today, flogging a book that differentiates between virtue and morality and decries the absence of character formation that is an unfortunate hallmark of Evangelicalism. If there is a theme to the news of the week (excluding the news about my mother, of course), it is in fact the absence of character that seems to define our age. Says the pieces author:
One of the most intriguing and insightful aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy is that virtue is a mean between two extremes—an extreme of excess and an extreme of deficiency, both of which are vices….In today’s increasingly polarized climate, finding a mean between two extremes is an aspect of virtue that is especially pertinent.
Yeah, I think it is time for the American church to reexamine the idea of character formation.
Consider this, the step away from character, even if holding to morality, is a step away from Christ’s ministry. What was it Paul said? Oh yeah –
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
That is to say that in Christ it is not a question of just obeying the rules (morality), but changing fundamentally from an unvirtuous to a virtuous person – changing into someone from whom obedience flows as a matter of self-expression rather than a matter of sheer willpower.
What is truly sad about this whole mess is that is was via the virtues that the church lead the nation. Given the secular origin of the idea of virtue (For the uninitiated Aristotle was no Christian) while we have always disagreed on morality on some level, we have mostly held to the same understanding of virtue. I think most people would still agree on what it means to be virtuous if they ever stopped to think about it. But that’s the problem, we don’t stop to think about it – the idea of virtue has just sort of disappeared. We just seem to be too busy examining our feelings rather than examining ourselves.
So how do we fix it? Well pretty much the solution to every problem that confronts the Christian starts in the same place – acknowledge the problem. In “church talk” we call that confession. Evangelicalism, far and away the predominant expression of Christianity in the U.S, has got to acknowledge that they have focused so exclusively on gaining adherents that they have just about forgotten what to do with them once they have them.
Otherwise we are going to have a lot more weeks like this one – or worse.