Creed or Chaos?

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of
Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the
fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma
does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose
that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist
that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is
hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple
and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex
doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal
to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a
little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this
Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the
Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.

-Dorothy Sayers in “Creed or Chaos?”

Thus begins essay number four in “Letters to a Diminished Church.” This essay was the title piece of a collection of essays Sayers published under the same title in the late 1940s. Yes, that’s right, sixty years ago. (By the way, you may have noticed I skipped over the third essay in he book. Its title is “Creative Mind,” and while it was interesting in its own right, I have yet to figure out exactly what the editor thought it had to do with arguing the relevance of Christian doctrine.)

When I read this over my dinner at the office tonight, I about choked on my chicken finger, and I had to stop work for a bit to write this. And this is only the beginning. Sayers goes on to elaborate on the nature of the ninety-nine percent with a razor sharp perceptiveness and prophetic relevance to us that will take your breath away. She describes three classes of people: frank and open heathens, whose ideas about Christianity are a jumble of “rags and tags of Bible anecdotes and clotted mythological nonsense;” ignorant Christians, whose idea of Jesus is based on a mild, gentle sentimentality combined with “vaguely humanistic ethics” that she associates with the Arian heresy; and, finally, more-or-less instructed churchgoers, who know what the Bible says about some things, but whose battle readiness on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic is comparable to “a boy with a peashooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns.”

This is unbelievably good, relevant, challenging stuff for us to soak in. Besides Sayers wonderful skill with words, her laser focus on perhaps the most crucial issue for the church of our day make her work must reading for all of us. We have two choices–two ways–creed or chaos. There are no other options.

An Anthem for Today’s Church Culture

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may say, I don’t care what they may do

I don’t care what they may say, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright


Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may know, I don’t care where they may go

I don’t care what they may know, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah


Jesus, he’s my friend; Jesus, he’s my friend

He took me by the hand; led me far from this land

Jesus, he’s my friend


Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah

Jesus is just alright with me, Jesus is just alright


I don’t care what they may say, I don’t care what they may do

I don’t care what they may say, Jesus is just alright, oh yeah


My wife and I went with a group of friends to see the Doobie Brothers in concert last night. Wow! So many of the reunion concerts you go to just show how the artists skills have declined over the years, but these guys were amazing. I guess after playing together thirty years you get to know each other’s moves pretty well. Three of the guys in the band were early members in the 1970s and are still on top of their game.


Of course the song “Jesus Is Just Alright” was one of their early hits, and when they started it up it occurred to me that these lyrics, taken literally, are the perfect anthem for most of today’s evangelical culture.


More and more today, those who identify themselves as “Christians” are taking the view that Jesus, my friend, my buddy, who I hang with sometimes when it’s convenient, or talk to when I need something, is OK with me. That is, so long as he doesn’t do or say anything inconvenient about his Lordship, or doesn’t interfere in my life too much.


My reading of the Bible leads me to the conclusion that Jesus is a lot more than “just alright.” Jesus is all right, if you’ll forgive the word play. Jesus is and never intended to be “just” anything, but he will be just in the end, to the great dismay of many who think that they will be alright when that day comes.


My friend? Yes, but not primarily. Jesus is my friend and brother in God’s family, but more importantly and first he is Lord, Savior, and God. In these roles, he demands things from us by right. Things like obedience, reverence, and worship; not just a call now and then to check in.


I DO care what they may say, because wrong thinking about who Jesus is on the part of the church is one of the big reasons people don’t see the difference between Christianity and every other world religion. They see it as just another menu choice, another brand of eternity insurance just in case God is really out there. We have to see the real, biblical Jesus and act accordingly so that the world around us will see that Jesus is far more than just alright.

Testing Ourselves

“In ordinary times we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is. If, now and again, this remote and academic problem is so unmannerly as to thrust its way into our minds, there are plenty of things we can do to drive the intruder away. We can get the car out or go to a party or to the cinema or read a detective story or have a row with a district council or write a letter to the papers about the habits of the nightjar or Shakespeare’s use of nautical metaphor. Thus we build up a defense mechanism against self-questioning because, to tell the truth, we are very much afraid of ourselves.”

– Dorothy Sayers in “What We Do Believe?

This is the opening paragraph in the second essay in “Letters to a Diminished Church.” In this essay Sayers goes phrase by phrase through one of the ancient creeds, expanding a bit on the meaning each phrase contains.

Before beginning the phrase by phrase discussion, she describes those moments when we are forced to come face to face with what we really believe, those moments of crisis where all the fluff is burned away and the real questions of life are forced to the front. Since this essay was written during World War II, the circumstance she uses is sitting in a cellar with a gas mask waiting for the bomb to drop. She says this about faith. “What we in fact believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on.”

Her point here is that what we really believe is proven by the way we act when the crisis comes. What is it that we do without having to think? This is the kind of test that Paul had in mind when he told us, through the Corinthians (II Cor. 13:5), to check and see if we are really in the faith. Sadly, we have far too many people populating our churches today that are practical deists or atheists.

I pray that, painful though it may be, God will purify his church, and begin with me.

The More things Change…

“Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – dull dogma as pepole call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama.”

– Dorothy Sayers, “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged”

A few weeks ago I ran across a book while browsing the bookstore whose title and author intrigued me. The title is “Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine” and the author is Dorothy Sayers. The book is a collection of short essays Sayers wrote on doctrine and its relevance that has been compiled recently, and I think couldn’t be more timely. The quote above is the first paragraph of the first essay, which was originally written in the 1930s.

Dorothy Sayers is perhaps best known for her mystery writing. Her most most famous character is Lord Peter Wimsey.

While the book itself is somewhat poorly edited (a number of obvious typographical and transcription errors), the razor sharp insights of the author make it worth a read. I plan to post some thoughts on each essay over the next several days/weeks as I finish reading them. Here’s more from the first essay.

After a discussion of who Jesus was and how his life, ministry, death and resurrection fit in the big picture, she says this:

“If this is dull, the what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused hiim of being a bore – on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting houshold pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.”

How prophetic these words were for what we see going on today. It only goes to prove that
the more we think we have changed for the better, the more we find that we never really change. Something about a fallen world and a fallen nature perhaps?

Dancing on the Edges of the Cultural Abyss

One of the big news items of the past few days has been the debate in the US Senate over the proposed Constitutional amendment defining marriage. There has been a lot of noise about how the senators took the chicken way out by killing the issue before they would have to declare themselves in a specific vote. There has been an equal amount of noise labeling those in favor of defining marriage “traditionally” as being between one man and one woman as bigots, homophobes, etc. Shrill voices on both sides. Angry name-calling and lots of angst have been stirred up by this issue.

Just to be clear, I believe that one man and one woman is the absolutely right formula for marriage as defined by our Creator. But I see all the energy exerted to decry views on both sides as dancing around the edges of the real abyss. This issue, along with many others that the current evangelical culture seems willing to go to its death over, is peripheral to the real core issue. What we are facing is a clash of worldviews, and it’s even more basic than the debate over the truth or falsehood of Christianity that is raging, most recently as a result of the DaVinci Code book and movie. The first issue is whether God exists or not; the real fundamental argument is between the theistic and the non-theistic worldview, and this is the essential abyss that separates the sides on all these questions.

What all this boils down to is whether there is any source of absolute right and wrong. It is the root of the epistemological question post-modernism raises: is there truth and is it knowable. Until we address this fundamental issue, all we are doing on the issues of gay rights (including the definition of marriage), abortion, faith in the public square, etc. is shouting at each other across the barricades. There can be no real, meaningful debate, because we aren’t even agreed on the terms we use. Truth, right, and wrong mean different things to the two sides, so even though we think we’re having meaningful discussions, they are meaningless, as if one person is speaking English and the other an obscure tribal dialect from the deep Amazon jungle.

Until we in the evangelical Christian culture wake up to this and make the attempt to get at the real issue of whether and who God is in our culture we will continue to shout meaningless threats across the barricades, dancing on the edges, rather than begin the long, hard work of breaking them down and using the pieces to build a bridge across the abyss.