Ortland is speaking primarily of Southern culture but I would want to extend it further. The post brought to mind Flanner O’Connor’s words from Wise Blood, “There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.” O’Connor is speaking of how a gentle, nice, acceptable Christianity, and if I may add to her meaning, a cultural Christianity, guts the gospel of its beauty. One can actually keep Jesus away by choosing to live a life that is mired in cultural goodness and niceness. That is not only accurate, but it’s also frightening that we have the capacity to do that.
Soren Kierkegaard in Practice of Christianity, laments that the gospel did not get announced in this world to offer gentle comfort. What he meant, as far as I understand, is that comfort is the result of one taking the gospel seriously – the forgiveness of debt owed to God, the entrance into life itself and becoming transparent, etc and this comfort comes from God. To take the gospel as simply a cultural lifestyle is to change the gospel from God’s comfort to our own self-comfort. In other words, in Kierkegaard’s thinking, the gospel as God’s power to actually redeem is now dumbed down. What’s wild is that Kierkegaard saw even gentle cultural Christianity as representative of despair.
Culture is a very powerful thing that has the ability to numb us into a faith that has been subverted by our own definition of comfort. When the gospel becomes negatively affected by culture and gets reduced to pleasantness or niceness or even a quiet desperation of “I’ve tried it before and it doesn’t work but I can’t give up going to church” then the meaning of the gospel gets obscured.