Caricatures of Christianity

It takes all kinds to make a … church.

The following typology juxtaposes caricatures of three kinds of Christians. More could probably be devised. I call them caricatures because they are exaggerations. No actual Christian will fit neatly into just one of these categories. We’re all more multi-dimensional than our conceptual representations give us credit for. That said, it might be the case that you recognize yourself more in one type than others. It’s not a bad thing if you’re able to admit that to yourself, especially if you use that self-awareness as a diagnostic tool for determining your competencies and deficiencies. Not only would such an exercise potentially help round you out as a Christian, but also it would enhance your capacity to understand and sympathize with Christians of different types. A big part of this will simply be a matter of coming to recognize orientations different from your own as equally authentic expressions of Christianity.

This typology was inspired by a similar effort from Telford Work, who was himself fleshing out George Lindbeck’s typology of theories of religion. Note, though, that my third type does not correspond to Lindbeck’s cultural-linguistic account of religion. I’m not trying my hand at the same explanatory endeavor. Whereas Lindbeck is adjudicating between competing accounts of the essence of religion, I am only trying to describe three complementary impulses within Christianity. Whatever Christianity is, it’s some kind of thing that has proven itself able to motivate and coordinate such various distinct forms of the expenditure of human energy and attention as the following.

  The Scholastic The Pietist The Social Gospeler
Gospel as worldview corrective emotional experience societal policy
Salvation ignorance→knowledge antipathy→enthusiasm loss of agency→ restoration of agency
Evangelism apologetics testimony advocacy
Conversion assent to beliefs surrender to feelings compliance to vocation
Discipleship education spiritual direction service
Pastor teacher spiritual director community organizer
Sanctuary classroom site of experience rallying point
Sermon lecture vehicle of experience call to action
Bible encyclopedia devotional anthology manifesto
Favorite Bible Passages Pro 1:7; Ro 12:2; 2 Cor 10:5; 1 Peter 3:15 Psalms Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17-18; Leviticus 19:34
Favored Genre of Literature polemic treatise autobiography open letters (as acts of protest)
Temptations dead orthodoxy; arrogance anti-intellectualism; preoccupation with self eclipse of God’s agency; preoccupation with the secular, the immanent, and the present
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