The choice of essay for reviewing in Part III of the book This Side of Heaven: Race, Ethnicity, and Christian Faith was quite a complicated task. This part is called Using and abusing the Bible in Ethnic and Racial Contexts, and the spirit of this part greatly coincides with my personal belief that religious ideas have been abused and transformed in modern world to suit the interests of the society. The most interesting essay in this part is, in my opinion, the work of Vincent Bacote called Church as Lifestyle Distinctive or Typical?. In fact, the name of this essay reminded about one of the key religious questions which were of great interest for me the role and traditions of church in modern society, and what true church should be like.
My personal opinion is that in many cases, church nowadays represents only a symbol and going to church is for many people a simple ritual that does not actually change anything in their actions, beliefs and world outlook. Belief and church have become the attributes of so-called normal life, i.e. only a part of traditional social identity. The author has a similar opinion: Christian behaviour for many people does not differ from middle-class suburban behaviour (Bacote, 2007).
There are many people who forget about Christian rules and gospels immediately when they leave the church, and who consider themselves to be truly Christian. Actually, due to such attitude for many people religion has become a repulsive idea because churches are full of those who imitate Christian way of living and beliefs. And unfortunately, this imitation sometimes is very low-quality. Moreover, people ruling the churches often do it for wealth only. It is not surprising that many people prefer not to visit churches and keep their beliefs deep inside.
The work of Vincent Bacote studies the way of living that church proposes today, and the way of living it is suggested to promote in order to follow Christian gospels and values. This essay discusses the problems of racism and ethnocentrism among others, and shares one of the main ideas described in the previously analyzed chapter Western Images of Others and Otherness by Paul Hiebert. This fundamental idea states that Christian identity is not dominant now, and in Christian society it has to be the prevailing one. Bacote states that currently, modern church represents a group of individuals used to gather because of a commonly held salvation, attained in an individualistic fashion; he subtly notices that individual identity is primary and corporate identity is peripheral and embraced when convenient (Bacote, 2007). Indeed, when it’s appropriate, many people calling themselves Christians follow the traditions; however, whenever their social identity prevails, Christian values are quickly forgotten. Bacote considers that such situation takes place because now the concept of church is atomistic and it is not viewed as a community that might shape one’s identity.
Since modern church tolerates the values of individualism and consumerism, it is possible to state that American religion likely does more to perpetuate racialized society than to reduce it (Bacote, 2007). Although Bacote is showing in his paper that this statement in fact is not true, I would strongly agree with this conclusion. Nowadays, Christianity has become one more attitude of normality, and it is not surprising that minority people are experiencing the same troubles and oppression in Christian community as they have in other communities. Although the Bible states that people are all equal and they all are the children of God, the community agrees with this only theoretically. In practice, minority people can experience this breach between belief and action. On this issue, Bacote asks how white evangelicals can be committed to the truth of the Bible yet live in a way that contradicts it (Bacote, 2007).
What can be done to overcome this contradiction, and what the church lifestyle should be like? The author perceives Christianity as a way of living, as a specific manner of being and doing in the world, and states that Christian beliefs, culture and virtues together form a distinct way of living, totally different from the lifestyle common for modern society. First of all, Christians have their primary allegiance to God, and this primary identity is destined to overcome all previous differences and hostility based on these differences. However, this does not mean that Christians have to lose their personal identities: A deep understanding of church’ ought to obliterate explicit and subtle racial/ethnic idolatry, not by destroying rich human differences, but by rendering them less prominent in identity construction and maintenance (Bacote, 2007). Vincent Bacote describes the church as the way of living, embraced by people who virtually adopt new culture and new family: God is the new parent, Christians are the new siblings, and the new inheritance is the freedom and the resources of the community (Bacote, 2007). Hospitality and forgiveness, as well as the sense of we above individual I are the main qualities of church as a lifestyle. The author concludes that modern churches need to act as one identity, and develop a new catechesis, that promotes a corporate identity totally different from our individualized way of living.
I strongly agree with Vincent Bacote that current church has drifted too far apart from its original idea and meaning, and that radical changes are necessary in order to integrate Christians and to provide enough community and education for living according to Biblical gospels. I believe that Christianity and its values can lead our society to a new, better way of living. People nowadays are becoming more and more individualistic, and hence, more and more lonely; in fact, we are going further and further from Christ’s vision of the mankind as of one family. Actions towards world unity and developing corporate identity should be taken in order to stop further crisis of individualization.