In my last post I wrote about how I’m afraid to name drop certain Christians, fearful that I’ll be cast aside simply for the association. I wrote that post as a prelude to this one, even though Tony Jones, the one I’m afraid to name drop, couldn’t play a more minor role in this one. To me, his minor role only speaks to the absurdity of the fear I experienced and the importance of taking yesterday’s post seriously.
Tony’s lately taken up picking on sacred cows among Christians – those writers, theologians and pastors who are treated as though they are untouchable saints. We would never state that so bluntly, but I think many unknowingly esteem them so high as their halo brushes up against Jesus’ feet. C.S. Lewis and Henri Nouwen are two big ones who are constantly mentioned and highly revered (Mother Teresa Martin Luther King Jr. are demi-goods for social justice Christians). I know several people who use C.S. Lewis quotes and ideas to win arguments, as they carry nearly as much weight as the Bible.
The term sacred cow couldn’t be more fitting in light of the exodus story where the Jews fashion an idol out of a golden calf because they’ve grown tired of an ambiguous and unseen God.
It’s completely reasonable to want, even need, Christian role models. Following Jesus isn’t the most natural thing in the world, and so to have tangible things we can point to then it makes the pursuit of crucifying self a little more realistic. It’s great that we have people we can look so highly upon but at the same time there is an inherent danger of deity-fying them – elevating them to a lofty and frankly unreasonable status. There they become idols, ideas of perfection that aren’t attainable. We often look to them as children do their fathers – as if they can do no wrong.
I think the biggest danger of all in this is that we begin to think they were true saints – never a selfish thought, never an unloving word, never a mistake made. I think there is potential for tremendous psychological damage here as we can harp on ourselves for our own shortcomings, believing that if we just tried to be more like A.W. Tozer then we’d be saints.
I bet on more than one occasion C.S. Lewis was a jerk. Imagine our disappointment. Henri Nouwen fought same sex urges. And we quote him?!
And their faith? I can guarantee it wasn’t effortless. I guarantee it took every fiber of the being and then some. I’m confident it was a struggle to deny self and let Jesus’ love shine, rather than their own glory. And I’m confident that sometimes, even often, they lost that battle.
Who are other sacred cows in Christianity? Are there other dangers in having sacred cows?