Christianity sometimes presents itself as a country club. It presents itself this way even when it doesn't want to, and sometimes it doesn't even know it. I grew up loving to play golf but I played on the public course. I had friends who played at the local country club. When I visited the country club I felt like a visitor even though the members were wonderfully hospitable. Members felt like members and visitors felt like visitors, and knowing that you could "visit" only by invitation made the difference clear. Many experience the church this way. Members know they belong, and visitors know they don't. Well, after all, we might reason, the Christian faith is a religion of salvation, and Stephen Prothero's recent book, "God is Not One," depicted Christianity as a faith concerned with the "way of salvation." And if you are saved, you are a member; if you are not saved, you are not. You might visit, but until you get saved you will know you are not in the club. Christianity has been powerfully effective at creating what might be called a "salvation culture." Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Protestant mainliners, Protestant evangelicals and other families in the church like Pentecostals only offer slight variations on this salvation culture. This message of salvation is that God loves us but God is holy so sin must be dealt with; Jesus Christ died for us and through his death salvation can be found, but to find that salvation one must trust in Jesus Christ and his death. Those who do are both "in the club" and will spend eternity with the club members with God in heaven. In essence, this is Christianity's salvation culture. It is a good message, but it is not the whole message. I want to suggest that the country club image for the Christian faith, its salvation culture, no matter how historic and vital to the Christian church's identity, inadequately frames what might be called its true "gospel culture." If a salvation culture builds a country club, a gospel culture creates a story -- one with a beginning in God's shalom and one that aims at God's shalom. And a gospel culture is not identical to a salvation culture.
You can read the full article here. I hope to post a review of the book in the next week.
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