The Dangerous Case of the "Syncretistic Christian"
Syncretism is defined by google as the “amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” Generally I think of the word “syncretism” in almost exclusively a religious sense; with one example being certain forms of Roman Catholicism in South America where it is common for people to blend their Catholic religion with the spirit worship tradition common in the area. Because of this amalgamation of two largely opposing creeds we end up seeing holidays such as the “Day of the Dead” or even more distinct forms of animism where people pray or make sacrifices to inanimate objects.
Syncretism however is not limited to the South American continent; in fact I am convinced that this tendency to mix worldviews and religions is far more pervasive than we would ever dare to think. Could it be that even you and me, likely professing Christians living in modern societies, are ever under the threat of compromising our precious faith “once delivered to the saints.” Could it be possible that we have blended our faith already with the prevailing spirit of the age?
I have seen it firsthand.
The religion of today fits largely under the umbrella of “Postmodernism”. It may not have official buildings of worship or traditional clergy members with corresponding attire, but it is a religion nonetheless. With doctrinal creeds, patron saints, and even worship songs. That the vast majority of us fail to recognize this reality only emboldens its threat to the church.
Though there are many offshoots of it, Postmodernism is in essence the belief that you define truth for you. No one can impose their personal reality on your reality because reality is determined by you. And they are not you! They say: “Do whatever floats your boat.” Or: “You be you, and as long as you are happy that is all that really matters.” The greatest commandment of the Postmodern religion is unsurprisingly the most quoted Scripture in 2016: “Judge not lest ye be judged!” And just like Jesus, Postmodernism’s primary ethic is “love”. Unlike Jesus, however, this kind of love is not the sort that actually cares about someone, but the sort of love that permits and desires nothing else than for others to feel good right now.
As described, the tenants of Postmodernism could not be in any more distinct opposition to the tenants of Christianity. One believes human beings to be inherently good, one believes them to be inherently evil and worthy of hell. One believes God (if there is one) wants people to be happy, one believes God wants people to be saved. One believes in a nice God, one believes in a holy God. One believes in a God who has not revealed himself clearly, one believes in a God who has spoken with crystal clear precision.
And yet, with all the contradictions between these two irreconcilable religions, multitudes of Christians have married the two. Without even knowing what they have done. Completely unawares.
So syncretistic Christians might still go to church. They will likely claim to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus and be passionate about the needy in the community. They likely will give cognitive assent to the majority of traditionally Christian doctrines: such as the divinity of Christ, or the nature of the trinity. They may say the right words, but inside something has changed. Truth with a capital “T” has become relative. Dogmatic texts in Scripture that were once clear have become “just your interpretation.” Talk of sin has become hate speech, in fact to the Christian postmodernist, the only real sin is calling something a sin.
Have you seen this before?
This has happened because no worldly philosophy is contained in a vacuum. Postmodernism is not some isolated belief system we can analyze in a sanitized laboratory environment with nylon gloves, unafraid of it taking hold of us. In actuality, Postmodernism is something that touches each and every one of us on every side. Like a fish in water, we too are immersed in the philosophies of the times in which we live that are always subtly influencing the way we think and the way we see the world. Without asking for permission.
Millennials (my generation) are incredibly susceptible to the creeds of postmodernism in part because we have grown up in it, and in part because we have been conditioned not to think. D. A. Carson in his book The Gagging of God references Sue Brown as saying: “if the image has replaced the word, music has replaced the book.” Carson continues on: “Young people watch and listen more than they read. Music appeals primarily to the emotions…it carries words past the critical faculty into the affections where they may do either good or harm. Music and image, then, the two most potent influences on young people today, conspire to bypass the reasoning powers of the minds and to encourage thinking by association rather than by analysis.”
This is spot on. As a generation of watchers and listeners we have grown up with handicapped abilities to analyze thoughts, positions, and worldviews. We find ourselves so affected by the fire hose of post-modern propaganda that permeates media and Hollywood, that we incorporate its tenants for no other reason than we “feel it to be true.” Such is the power of songs.
So though we may cognitively hold to traditionally Christian doctrines and tenants, our most core belief systems have been powerfully altered to that of a post-modern framework—for no other reason than we have failed to address them. And we continue to hold the two in total harmony because we have forgotten (or never learned) how to think.
The problem with all this is: a “Syncretistic Christian” is not a Christian at all. He may have the illusion of a Christian faith, but his compromised religion is nothing more than a false religion that needs to be corrected back to the Truth. In order to do this we all must go back to the Word of God and recall the ability to think critically about the doctrines we knowingly or unknowingly believe. And then we must stop kidding ourselves and pick one side or the other: Either be taken with the current or swim against it.
Only let us get off the fence.
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
Carson, D. A. The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1996. Kindle Edition. Location 1155-1160.