Sheila is Back

If you have taken the Discovery Class, you might remember that in the last session Dave mentions Sheila-ism. Robert Belah first introduced people to Sheila and the movement she represented in his book Habits of the Heart. Sheila-ism is the growing trend to individualize our faith according to our own preferences. Here’s Sheila original quote:

“I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice. … It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think God would want us to take care of each other.”

Now for some people this perspective comes as quite a surprise but for many others this is the way they have thought about faith and religion for most of their lives. They are in the habit of picking and choosing what they like based on what fits with their intuition or brings them comfort.

In a recent USA Today article on this subject we read this about Carol Christoffel:

She drifted through a few mainline Protestant denominations in her youth, found a home in the peace and unity message of the Baha’i tradition for several years, and then was drawn deeply into Native American traditional healing practices.
Yet, she also still calls herself Christian.

“I’m a kind of bridge person between cultures. I agree with the teachings of Jesus and … I know many Christians like me who keep the Bible’s social teachings and who care for the earth and for each other,” Christoffel says. “I support people who do good wherever they are.”

A few observations…
1. This explains why such a large majority of the American population can call themselves Christian. For many people, and maybe for society as a whole, the term Christian has been drained of any historic orthodox meaning. It wasn’t too long ago that the term Christian referred to a core set of beliefs that everyone could identify even if they didn’t personally hold them. Now when someone says they are a Christian, it’s almost necessary to ask, “What’s that mean to you?”

2. This is part of the triumph of personal autonomy over institutional authority that isn’t seen only in religion but also in politics, family, sports, etc…

3. To some extent this smorgasbord approach is prevalent in the church. Last week Dave preached a great message on Proverbs 5 entitled Sexual Wisdom. He told me that several people remarked afterwards that preaching a message like that was “brave.” As pastors we were a bit confused. It’s brave at The Crossing to say that sex outside of marriage is a sin? Really? Like that was a surprise?

It’s more likely that people do know the biblical teaching about sex but haven’t made it a part of “their” Christian faith. Like Sheila they’ve chosen what they like from Christianity and ignored or at least minimized what goes against their tastes.

So this leaves us with questions for ourselves. “Who or what is ultimate authority in my life? The Bible or my intuition? Are there biblical teachings that I’m ignoring because they are convenient or I don’t see the benefit of obeying them?”

One more question: Besides sexual ethics, what are clear biblical teachings that Christians often ignore or minimize?

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