Stand at a coffee bar long enough, you'll eventually hear someone order a decaf latté made with skim milk. Whenever I hear that, I'm reminded of the coffee bar we used to frequent (even though I'm not a coffee drinker; you may have guessed that my wife is, though) that had gotten that order often enough, they'd put it on the menu. I think this may have been JP's, in Holland, where Sara, Hap, Wayne and I went to college, since they were fond of naming their drinks; in any case, whichever establishment it was, in putting the decaf non-fat latté on the menu, had named it "What's the Point?" For some reason, none of the patrons ever actually used the name—but you can bet the baristas did . . . :)
I was reminded of this recently in visiting another church for a funeral. It was a UCC congregation, and clearly in step with the liberalism of that denomination; I was out in the hall on kid duty, since our younger ones lack the patience or understanding to sit through a service, so I had plenty of time to read the various materials they had up on the walls. One big eye-catching display was of the graduates of their most recent confirmation class, with "CONGRATULATIONS CONFIRMANDS!" in big letters, life-size head shots of the teens, and copies of brief essays they had written. It made me rather sad, because from the essays, the only thing these students had been confirmed in was what they already believed; there was little gospel there, and little sense of God challenging their comfortable conclusions. It was all much more about them creating their own idea of Christianity than it was about God creating and recreating them.
The most extreme example of this, and the one that really caught my eye, was one young woman who declared in her essay, "I am an atheist." I looked at that and I thought, "Why bother? What's the point?" And what's the point of a church that can teach its children about God, have one of them come out declaring herself an atheist, and consider that a good thing and something to be celebrated? She has every right to her atheism, certainly, but I can't help thinking, that's an awfully thin-blooded version of the gospel; in the end, in the coffee bar of life, that's little more than a decaf non-fat latté with a shot of God (or maybe even a half shot). What really is the point, anyway?
I always wonder the same thing when I hear about atheists/agnostics pursuing theological training. The local divinity schools are full of self-professed nonChristians. I couldn't imagine devoting my educational life to training in a spiritual thought and a spiritual life that I didn't actually believe in.