Sometimes I wonder if those who barricade themselves within certain interpretations of ‘Traditional’ or ‘Orthodox’ or ‘Conservative Evangelical’ Christianity are actually doing so because they are desperate to believe in God… but have never actually tangibly experienced God-as-Event (in Badiou’s sense of the word ‘Event’). When ‘Tradition’ is all that you have of God, then it is no wonder that challenges to ‘Tradition’ (or how that ‘Tradition’ is narrated and interpreted by this contingent) appear to be so threatening.
I sometimes wonder this, not because I think that these so-called ‘orthodox’ Christians are more closed to God than the rest of us, but because I spent 7 summers working with teens and young adults who came from Conservative Evangelical families. During those 7 summers, I discovered that, although Conservative Evangelical kids are taught to speak of having a ‘personal relationship with God’ almost all of them have never actually encountered God in any meaningful, transformative or concrete way. I remember when I first awakened to the observation that I was actually an oddity for believing I had actually had such experiences and this so surprised me that my first thought was: “Well, why the heck are you guys Christians then??”
Not surprisingly, it turned out that many of these people only identified as Christians because their parents had trained them to do so. Consequently, when they moved on to independence and to other environments, their Christian faith (sometimes quickly, sometimes gradually) disappeared.
However, others could not face the trauma of walking away from their faith and so, in the absence of a lived encounter with God, went on to immerse themselves in apologetics, and the history and doctrines of various (in this case, Reformed or Evangelical) Christian denominations.
Several of these people have ended up within the walls of the Christian Academy. Consequently, it does not surprise me that Christian academics often end up speaking condescendingly of those who talk of having a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus or, to provide another example, those who speak of the notion of exploring ‘God as a lover’. Thus, those who have never experienced God-as-Event end up building theological systems that downplay the significance of one’s personal encounter with God (i.e. one’s personal experiences are not to be trusted or treated as any sort of authority), and end up overemphasizing the history of Christian doctrine (although it should be noted that this narration of history is almost always fraught with value judgments and acts of exclusion in order to end up confirming previously established views).
However, those who have encountered God-as-Event cannot view this (fictional!) Tradition with the same urgency or authority. Granted, the various streams of Christianity, and the multiple traditions that trace their way throughout the last two thousand years, are an important witness to the activity of the Word of God in history… but one has now been freed from the need to desperately cling to one particular ideological interpretation of that history — in fact, one can even more critically engage with these things because, after the Event, one’s faith in God will remain regardless of what one discovers in the traditions or in Christianity’s many orthodoxies.
Thankfully, this at least was the experience of a minority of the people with whom I worked for those 7 summers. Awakening to the realization that God could be known as Event, these few were lucky enough to look for that experience, and to be found by it. Would that we were all so fortunate!