Christian Syncretism

syn·cre·tism  noun
the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.

It is impossible to be free of all our cultural influences.  Christ pronounced His followers to be IN the world but not OF the world, yet many cultural influences seem inescapable this side of the Resurrection.  As a result, many believers can add to Biblical Christianity in a way that leads to philosophical or religious syncretism.  In some respects, this may be largely unavoidable; therefore, we striveto identify and purge the antichristian elements of cultural influence from our thinking.  There is a difference between something being “unbiblical” and being outright “antibiblical”.  As much as we may not like to admit it, God has left some gray areas in the Biblical revelation in terms of practical living in a hostile world.  In an honest desire to follow Christ’s incarnational model by contextualizing the gospel (in order to better communicate it within our dominant culture), we may inadvertently risk religious syncretism.

Luke 11:23 NLT – “Anyone who isn’t with me [Jesus Christ] opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.”

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 ESV –  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

I’d like to take a few posts to look at the areas in which we may be tempted to syncretize our Christianity so we may better align ourselves to the mind of Christ.  Let me give a brief synopsis of some views which tend infect or colonize a Christ-worldview:

 MORALISTIC THERAPEUTIC DEISM
The biggie (see: http://www.albertmohler.com/2005/04/11/moralistic-therapeutic-deism-the-new-american-religion-2/).  Most Americans regardless of what they call themselves are actually MTD.  This includes most American Roman Catholics and non-churchgoing theists as well self-identifying “Christians”.  Reform and Conservative Judaism would also fall largely into this camp.  Later we’ll examine this view more closely.

THE RELIGION OF “LEFTISM”
Perhaps associated more with political movements and positions typically classified as “liberal” or “progressive”, this has been a leading religious/philosophical worldview for the past century or more.  Though many embrace atheism or agnosticism, we’ll look at how it tends to infiltrate Christian believers producing another form of religious syncretism.

“For at least the last hundred years, the world’s most dynamic religion has been neither Christianity nor Islam. It has been leftism…Outside of the Muslim world, it is virtually the only way in which news is reported, and virtually the only way in which young people are educated from elementary school through university… The truth is that the Left has been far more successful in converting Jews and Christians to leftism than Christianity and Judaism have been in influencing leftists to convert to Christianity or Judaism.”  – Dennis Prager

THE RELIGION OF “FRESHNESS”
The Greco-Roman veneration of youthfulness and the aversion to growing up, a la Diana West (http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/the-death-of-the-grown-up) has combined with incredible technological innovation in recent years.  As a result, there is a worldview that celebrates and values the fresh, the new, the cutting-edge, the young, etc., above nearly all things.  Though not automatically opposed to Biblical Christianity, it can tempt believers to disdain or detach from the historically-valid and long-established aspects of Christian worship, ministry, disciple-making, etc., not to mention true eldership.

AMERICANISM
Because of the exceptional status of the U.S.A. in world history (fostered largely because of its rootedness in and/or association with Bible principles), it is very easy for some believers to confuse or blend their love and view of Christ with their love and view of America. We’ll look at some of the subtle (or not-so-subtle) ways this syncretism emerges.

CHRISTIAN ANCESTOR WORSHIP
Often the most orthodox of the forms of Christian syncretism, this view tends to idolize the past in a way that sabotages the present and the future.  The elders, the pioneers, the generation who sacrificed for our heritage, and so forth, are often romanticized to become equated with the saving gospel if not the Savior Himself.  Whether idolizing the Apostles, or the Reformers, more recent “men of God”, or even just the methods used by previous generations, this tendency to ancestor worship is easily missed while often destructive.

MESSY-ANIC “JEWS”
Perhaps more unbalanced than outright heretical, some Christians have become so enamored with Israel and the Jewish roots of Christianity that they seem to have clumsily syncretized Christianity with parts of Judaism.  In addition to speaking some “Gentile Hebrew” and/or expecting the coming eternal salvation of national Israel, some of these non-Jewish Christians can prove harsh or unloving toward their fellow believers (in the deity and resurrection of Christ) while loving their Christ-denying Jewish neighbors.

In the next posts, we can unpack each item (not an exhaustive list, by the way) to see how best to respond.  The question for those for desire to live as disciples of Jesus Christ is this:  “Who or what is really discipling us?”  If we are not intentionally being discipled by Christ through His word, we may be unintentionally discipled in something altogether foreign to the Way of Christ.  The mix becomes syncretism.

Luke 6:40 ESV – A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.