- the combination of different forms of belief or practice
- the fusion of two or more originally different inflectional forms
In the definition of syncretism we see that opposing thoughts are combined making one appear to be something that their form of thought does not represent. For example how many times can a pastor count of the funerals he has done where everyone began speaking about God but the person being buried never had anything to do with God? This comes from the perspective that a person is a Christian just because he talks about God. One can think any way and rationalize anything then place “God” in the sentence and everyone listening will presume a Christian has spoken. Because of this, contextualization should be very carefully practiced or it becomes syncretism.
Dr. Eric Redmond responded with a scholarly warning of syncretism within the African American culture when Micheal Jackson died. He also authored an article on the syncretism of Kwanzaa found within the African American community. Dr. Redmond has done an excellent job expressing his concern of what he sees within the African American church and as such I will not express any concerns. He is a prolific author and you can follow him at either of the above links.
I would like to express my appreciation of Dr. Redmond’s stance as he has presented a warning to the African American community that the Caucasian community has overlooked. Syncretism is not only found in the African American community it is also found in the Caucasian community, and I submit to you it is on the same level. Thus, syncretism has found its way in the neo-evangelical movement, as evidenced in the African American community and the Caucasian community, and if not thwarted will eventually take over the SBC.
As defined above syncretism is seen throughout the neo-evangelical movement. Dr. Al Mohler, while giving us a filter for cooperation, has (this author believes) opened a door into the syncretism within the neo-evangelical phenomena. The theological triage system indicates a level of cooperation with groups that one would disavow on certain issues. Thus, the continual blending of cooperating movements eventually blurs the lines to the point that first tier cooperation is the only remaining level. Eventually, due to the inflection of thought, non Christian actions and desires, become expressed as merely edgy and no longer wrong.
A few examples in the Caucasian community can be seen in various perspectives. First, does Glenn Beck ring a bell for anyone? This is a fine example of the theological triage system run amuck. We can cooperate with Mormons on various secular issues. However, it was Jerry Falwell, Jr. that told us we could save Glenn Beck’s soul later, we first had to save the country. With that statement Falwell, Jr. along with Glenn Beck seemingly accepting an orthodox view of the atonement, but calling himself a Mormon, blurs the lines to the point of syncretism. Why? Falwell Jr. relates the salvation of a nation to the salvation of a soul. Did Falwell Jr. only use a play on words? I believe so. What is wrong with that? As a Christian, Falwell Jr. has used a word Christians observed for the eternal bliss that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. By using it as Falwell Jr. did, he evidently wanted us to know that he did not believe Glenn Beck was a Christian, but was perfectly willing to align himself with Beck as the leader of the Christians as we seek to bring God to this nation. Second, just recently Dr. Al Mohler sounded the alarm concerning Yoga. It seems the evangelical world has grasped the philosophy of yoga and baptized it. Dr. Mohler not only received consternation from the evangelical world, he also received it from the Hindus. Why? Hinduism is syncretistic by its very nature. Notice here and here the syncretism that has already infiltrated the evangelical word. Third, in the attempt to make Christianity a part of the mainstream some churches announce, with excitement and glee, any celebrity personalities that are “born again”. Everyone remember when Jane Fonda was announced as getting baptized? Or, when a celebrity dies the church is given many examples of the “Christian” charity the celebrity performed during his life. When Dale Earnhardt died in the 2001 Daytona 500 end of race crash, I remember reading in a news article a Youth Minister reporting how Dale Sr. had Dale Jr. in church as an active part of his youth group. While, I certainly am not questioning the integrity of the Youth Minister that reported this, I am saying the report of it gives an impression that Dale Sr. was an active church goer and dedicated Christian. Fourth, in the Caucasian community, let someone mention Elvis Presley and look out. Bill Gaither had JD Sumner in his Homecoming videos until Sumner’s death. JD Sumner along with his group The Stamps sang back-up for Elvis Presley from 1971 until Pressly’s death in 1977. JD Sumner and the Stamps went from singing back-up to Elvis to being in the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Do not misunderstand, I am not questioning JD Sumner and the Stamps commitment to Christ. What I am questioning, is the true Christian allowing the lines to be blurred between their actions and their commitment. Listen to this interview with Ed Hill and you will see what I mean. The interviewer asks Hill about Elvis’ desire for Gospel Music. The answers give the impression that Elvis, because he loved to sing Gospel Music, certainly had to be a Christian.
Fifth, Southern Gospel music is a music genre that was popularized because of its message about Christ and the Christian life. Well, we certainly have the lines so blurred within this musical community that one has to be careful of statements made concerning homosexuality and other Biblical sins. Many top musicians have “come out of the closet” while others seemingly used the experience to cross over. Take for instance Kirk Talley. Talley’s homosexual desires were exposed by a man that was trying to blackmail him. According to the FBI affidavit Talley felt the internet chat rooms were places he could meet men. Many in the Southern Gospel world knew about Talley’s homosexual tendencies. I do credit Talley for placing himself under a Restoration Team but even that is being questioned. Within the Southern Gospel environment you have people being promoted that openly committed adultery and left their spouses, had affairs among the top singers within the industry, and how many times are the Oak Ridge Boys going to “cross over”? It is this type of industry shenanigans that cause the lines between Christian principles and secular desires to become blurred. It calls into question what one is called to sell out to. Fourth, within the contemporary Christian movement we see the lines blurred. I was in a church and the song that was sung by the choir was a secular song “We all Need Somebody”. Sixth, for others their “missional” call is to the secular world of music. But they have blurred the lines so much their “Christianized” songs are only subtly Christian as explained here
Bono of U2 is a Christian, and many of his lyrics have Christian subtext. However, they’re usually more of the “Jesus Was Way Cool” kind that one would expect given his views on social justice, rather than songs about the power of faith and other such things that are often found in Christian music.
- Actually, Adam Clayton’s the only odd man out religiously. U2 very nearly broke up early on because Bono, Edge, and Larry all belonged to a small evangelical group with a leader who was urging them to give up music because it wasn’t quite “Christian”. After a couple days of seriously considering it, they decided God wouldn’t have given them this skill if He hadn’t meant for them to use it. They put the Christian subtext in as a little nod to the people who want to find it — but it’s subtle enough that those who don’t want to go there don’t have to.
With all of this in the Christian music world we see within the church a clear syncretism that has invaded the worship of the church. Do not get me wrong, I am not against praise bands and other methods to reach our younger generation. But, I do question the blurring of the lines between a clear Christian testimony and the purpose of the praise band. Do we have praise and worship for the “performance” aspect, or is it to lead in worship? If we do this because we desire to set an atmosphere for worship, then why do we have smoke canisters, light streamers, immodestly dressed dancers, along with superstar like musicians? Setting an atmosphere of worship is not about feeling as much as it is filling. Without the filling of the Holy Spirit the feeling the smoke produces is the smoke of fleshly intent and desire. You do not believe me? Try separating your congregation and having one traditional and one contemporary service. Then bring those groups back together in a blended service where traditional and contemporary songs are balanced. One will find that those in the contemporary service are unwilling to go to a blended service. Their reasons will vary, but the main reason will be the are not willing to give up their personal musical tastes. It is amazing to me that those who chastise others over the style of music are only chastising the traditional folk for not wanting to give up the traditional music. I thank God for the Getty’s as they have seen the wisdom in not loosing the theology of the hymns of the faith and brought together the theology and the music. However, it would serve well some of these doing the berating to stop and look at it from another perspective. What does it say about younger believers that will walk away from a fellowship just because a vote did not go the way they expected? It seems that individualism is the driving force of syncretism and everything I covered is merely the fruit of such a force.