In 2018, I weighed in at a doughy 250lbs. While I liked to think of myself as “muscular,” looking back on some older pictures (thank you Facebook), it is hard to deny that I was really just chubby. My wife gently directed me to a program at her hospital. It was a medically monitored weight loss program for individuals considered obese. That was me. So, I enrolled in the program, which entailed a high protein, low calorie diet. Over the next ten weeks, I ate 800 calories a day, exercised for 90 minutes six days a week, and slept 8 hours every night. The program required discipline. It required me to adhere to a strict regimen in order to lose the weight (I ended up losing 50 lbs over a ten week period).
It also required a commitment from my family. For their part, they committed to purge the cupboards and fridge of foods that were a particular temptation to me. As I wrote in Thinking Christian,
Like anyone who has ever tried to lose weight can attest, you not only have to attend to the food you eat, but also to the food you keep in the house. A cupboard full of potato chips, cookies, and other goodies will often be too much to resist. Eliminating those foods from the environment is often the best step toward more healthy eating.
“Cleaning out the cupboards” applies to more than weight loss. It also applies to Christian thought. As Christians, we cannot live on a diet solely made up of less-than theological content and expect to stay focused on our primary task of demonstrating the difference Christ’s resurrection makes to the way we live in the world. We can’t become more spiritually fit while leaving certain sorts of Christian content in our “cupboards.” I am focusing here on Christian content because less-than theological Christian content seems uniquely problematic. That is the case because Christian content has a higher potential to distort the Christian message by closing off conversation, making matters seem simpler than they actually are, and so tying God to a particular perspective that it becomes virtually impossible to hold any other view.
So, how might we decide what content gets to stay and which has to go? While there aren’t hard and fast rules for choosing what we consume, I think there are some questions we can ask about the content, particularly the Christian content, we consume that may guide our thinking.
- Is the story being told without taking the complexity of the world into account?– We must be wary of content that makes matters simpler than they should be. You can read more on terrible simplification in Thinking Christian.
- Does the content have a redemptive arc?– If we truly believe God is working in the world, the content we produce should not dismiss the challenging realities we face or the sins we commit. At the same time, we would do well to consider whether we are consuming a steady diet of content that keeps us focused on the ways the world is not as it should be. We would also do well to seek out content that reminds us that God will redeem the word and make all things new.
- Is the content constructed in a way that seeks to unify or otherwise build up the body of Christ?- After reading a piece of Christian content, we should ask ourselves how it is that it has inspired us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. How has it inspired us to use the gifts God has given us to bless the body of Christ? Again, a steady diet of content that is more divisive than unifying will, it seems to me, create more permanent fissures within the Church.
Do I believe we should throw out some Christian content wholesale? Absolutely. However, in purging content, I do not think that we should also purge authors. I tend to think there are some authors out there whose work is too simple, too divisive, and too sure of itself. Even so, I’m leery of suggesting that we should just eliminate their voices from our conversations or, worse, kick them out of our community as if they are modern-day heretics.
Instead, it seems to me that it is our responsibility, as the community of faith, to form one another. It is our responsibility to be and make disciples. As such, we must commit to helping those who create content not by telling them never to write again, but by challenging them to write in a manner increasingly more commensurate with who we are as a community dedicated to offering faithful testimony about the Triune God and all the work He has done and is doing.
We don’t offer that sort of testimony by shunning members of our community. We do it by embracing our mission to be and make disciples within the comfort and crucible of the church. Our job as consumers of Christian content is to be the sort of community that allows Christian authors to create fitting theological content. As Hauerwas notes, “The ability to write well theologically relies on a church to exist that makes such writing possible.” It is up to us, then, to become a community that makes good theology possible by purging our cupboards of content that is less-than theological and helping those who produce the content we consume understand what it means to write well for the church.