Sacred Cows Among Carnivorous Christians, Or Bowing At The Holy Words

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.

If Rob Bell is a dirty word (see yesterday’s post), than C.S. Lewis is a holy word.

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? 

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12 Responses to Sacred Cows Among Carnivorous Christians, Or Bowing At The Holy Words

  1. Chris says:

    I think anyone that people regard as a “sacred cow” almost assuredly would not regard themselves as such. Depending on what circles you travel people place certain individuals in very high esteem. I personally would probably bristle if I’d heard certain people I admire maligned by the likes of Mr. Jones. Jones almost seems to take a perverse delight in dissing people that he knows others esteem, especially if they happen to be conservative or evangelical icons. He’s not content with letting his own ideas persuade, but for some reason he feels the need to throw mud and let everyone know what he thinks about so-and-so. I don’t know his heart but to me it comes across often as jealousy, or sour grapes, but I could be wrong. It’s a risky thing, I think to bad-mouth others that’s why I personally would refrain from naming names of other iconic or near iconic figures, (Jones just came up via your reference) because in doing so we may be maligning the servants of God.

    • I think Tony pointed out he was doing it to be provocative, however I saw it as a worthwhile opportunity to analyze our idolization – I know I’ve got ’em. So though he did it to stir feathers, not the best intention, I do think we can gleam something from it.

      • especially with regards to C.S. Lewis in particular. I’ve seen many people deify him (practically). Surely he’s provided great leadership, but I think we could all take a step back from those sacred cows and see what we’re doing to them. But I see nearly unquestioned loyalty to Lewis, and I also see that as bordering on dangerous.

    • Chris says:

      Just a quick comment. I don’t think people deify Lewis. I think they admire him. He was extremely intelligent and highly quotable. He’d also very much been through the wringer, spiritually speaking. He had great empathy for non-believers (he had been one himself) and the man on the street. As I said before most people that some regard as some kind of “sacred cow” would never regard themselves as such. Lewis would be the first to tell you of all of his own personal flaws, which makes him all the more admirable. Sometimes I just think a person garnering so much admiration makes certain people very uncomfortable if they are insecure and it creates resentment and jealousy.

      • can’t tell if your implying me in that last sentence – no matter I definitely see what your saying. I think C.S. Lewis is great. I shouldn’t use the word deify – of course no one actually regards him as God – but I have seen someone (various pastors actually) lift him up higher than is probably healthy. That said, that fault is not with Lewis.

  2. Celebrity worship is dear I say, retarded. It puts believers in the league with Oprah lovers, sports fans who kill each other, groupies and Baby Boomers who can’t accept that Jim Morrison really died.

    Personally, I could care less about names. What I want to know is how can what you have to say that will get me closer to God? Where’s the revelation!?! If you have it, I don’t care if you’re my kid, or a rock star.

    I have a dozen or so favorite books because they transfromed my life in the same way that some Bible passages did. After that, who cares?

  3. Larry Hughes says:

    I have to agree with David on celebrity worship. I look to what God has to say. Although reading other mortal’s words might give an insight to issues, they are only words from mortals, Not God.

  4. Amy says:

    Look, I don’t know why these people act like Henri Nouwen was all that. A lot of people don’t know about one of his best (and one of my absolute favorite) books by Nouwen– THE INNER VOICE OF LOVE. Apparently, these people don’t know that Nouwen fought homosexual urges “for the glory of God” (his words, not mine), but also depression and mental illness!!! Personally, all this just makes him more awesome and more human to me… 🙂 Again, I had heard of Nouwen here and there, but it was this book that impacted me. I love his stuff, but I wonder if the people who quote him actually know what he’s saying. It seems like they don’t. (Then again, how many people quote God and don’t actually know what they’re saying…)

    I remember reading C.S. Lewis’ THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE in my early teens. My Wiccan neighbor gave it to me to borrow (no kidding). My parents were like, “We’ve got more books by that guy.” So I just started reading his other books. I was shocked when I read a Philip Yancey book and it quoted C.S. Lewis!!! I was in shock!

    These authors were never pushed on me. I simply picked up the books my parents had around (we’re book people) and read them. It sort of says a lot about parents providing their children with good reading material, doesn’t it?

    To me, it seems like Rob Bell is a sacred cow. Say ANYTHING against Rob Bell and a bunch of wanna-be seminary hipsters attack you. It. is. dumb. As if I can’t disagree with his or anyone else’s book….because I can and I will. I actually didn’t read LOVE WINS yet, so I don’t know how I feel about it, but it’s sitting here on my desk for review.

  5. I actually nearly wrote about Rob Bell being a new sacred cow. I suspect he’s lost some of that status – accusations of universalism will do that to ya. I knew Nouwen fought those urges, and I agree if anything it gives him more credibility – but of course those things take away from his credibility in other circles.

    • Amy says:

      I’m pretty sure that Henri Nouwen would want to be known for his biggest struggles that lead him to his stunning statements. He just seems like that sort of dude.

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