Posted by: dacalu | 1 November 2009


I am troubled this week by the concept of simplicity. As a university chaplain, I have been challenged to present the Christian message in a simple and compelling way. This was reinforced at a recent conference I attended, and I have tried in numerous ways to make this a reality. This very blog stream (Monday’s Christian) has aimed at Christianity for those unfamiliar with it.

And yet.

I’m still stuck with the notion that Christianity will never be conceptually simple. I characterize Christianity (religion really) into three realms in my latest book, philosophical propositions, ethical norms, and community membership. Phylis Tickle states it much more elegantly as believe, behave, or belong. Not that the three are separate, they simply represent three ways of conceiving of Christianity.

Now if Christianity is about philosophical propositions it should be straightforward to digest our doctrines into a simple credal statement. In fact, this has already been done in the Nicene Creed, but that doesn’t seem to appeal to people, so… I think people want something more contemporary, but equally universal. Still, the main point is that philosophical propositions can be summarized; ethical norms and community membership cannot.

So if I have one of those other models of Christianity, I may never be able to simply summarize my faith. In the behave model, I would have to demonstrate my faith–which reminds me of St. Francis’ saying, “Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.” A simplification could be presented in acts of kindness, but no amount of philosophizing could squeeze it into a verbal framework. Likewise, if I think the church is about belonging, I would be hard pressed to create a verbal summary of that concept. I’d be far more inclined to say with Jesus, “Come and see.”

So I wonder whether one can have Christianity simply presented without having simplistic Christianity.
I love the life of the mind and I do enjoy philosophizing, but when push comes to shove, I will always fall on the side of faith (relationship) seeking understanding, and not understanding seeking faith. I hope you will bear this in mind as I try to verbalize my faith in the coming weeks.

May God grant you wisdom to pursue,
Reason to believe,
And friends to love.


  1. While you love to philosophize, I love to historicize and I see a different difficulty behind what I think you are wrestling with…

    I agree that Christianity is not conceptually simple, nothing that has engaged so many people for so many years ever is, but that does not mean it can’t be expressed/lived/etc simply…it rather means that it cannot be simplified (in the sense of reduced).

    The difficulty I see behind all this is the historical and present inability of Christians to agree about what the essence of Christianity is. It is not simply that Christians disagree as to whether belonging, believing, or behaving is the primary way to be Christian, but we also continually disagree as to how one belongs, what beliefs are essential, and what behaviors are acceptable. Achieving simplicity of expression on these matters would be infinitely easier if we actually all agreed, but we don’t so how do we simply express a faith that finds itself able to house Spong, Pope Benedict, and my friends in charismatic and Holiness traditions?

  2. Yup.
    I do (desperately) want the word “Christianity” to mean something. I also want to be able to convey to people what they’re getting into.

    Thanks Phil.

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