Siding with the Turtles

On the First Things blog, Michael Milliner distinguishes between two types of Cold Blooded Christianity:

To scan the popular Christian publications today is to conclude that the category of heresy has not been lost, but it has been relocated. The new anathema is “cultural Christianity.” “Missional Christians” disparage it. The supposed demise of Christendom is the rallying cry of young, hip evangelicals. Many would prefer to be labeled “Arian” than derided as “Constantinian.” They suspect even classical Christian doctrine, infected as it supposedly is with the cultural categories of Greek thought.

For them, culture is as dispensable to Christianity as a hermit crab’s shell is to the crab. The true essence of the gospel might don cultural attire when necessary, but only to just as quickly cast it off, seeking new garb to attract a fresh set of converts. Hence the jettisoning of one more outgrown shell—the Mainline Protestant ascendancy of American Christianity—is cause for the post-Christendom crowd to rejoice. From this perspective, glorious stone edifices in Manhattan such as Fifth Avenue Presbyterian and St. Thomas’ Episcopal are but discarded seashells scattered on the church’s historical shoreline. The Holy Spirit has found new and better habitations, like house-churches and theology-on-tap sessions in bars.

For others, culture is less easily distinguished from Christianity. It is almost an indispensable to Christianity as a turtle’s shell is to the turtle. A turtle is permanently fused to its habitation by its backbone and ribs; the shell is inextricable from the creature itself. Removing it would rip the animal apart. In its single shell lie a turtle’s protection, distinction, and beauty. This unique relationship to its hardened exterior is what places turtles among the earth’s oldest reptiles—contemporaries of both dinosaurs and us. This relationship to culture calls to mind St. Patrick’s Cathedral, also on Fifth Avenue. When one thinks of “American Catholicism,” one does not think of an abstract idea—one thinks instead of the shimmering stone edifice packed with worshipers at 3 p.m. on any given weekday in a way that its neighboring churches, say St. Thomas’ and Fifth Avenue Presbyterian, are not. . . .

Pearl River Map Turtle
(Pascagoula Map Turtle photo by Paul Bratescu)

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