The Patina of Christianity

Patina occurs over time on surfaces of such things as bronze, wood, and cloth. It changes the surface of the object, over time, covering the original object with change producing a different surface, or even hiding the original surface. The Statue of Liberty is an example of what patina does to copper. The James Ossuary Box was examined according the patina that had settled over the years, as has the Shroud of Turin. So too Christianity must be.

The Christian Faith has existed for nearly 2000 years; it is bound to have patina covering it. The Reformation scraped some off; current theological trends are attempting to do the same thing, to go further to the original source through biblical studies of context and culture. Many are afraid at what is being discovered and how it is affecting their belief system. No longer are we only to accept the words and works of those who have come before us, but we can get to the source of thought for the writers of the New Testament. It is difficult for some, because studies are showing that some of that patina is indeed the thoughts of us. That is not to say that we do not add by our experience some truth to the base material. Indeed, many that have come before have accurately portrayed the faith of the early Church.

A previous congregation that I attended serves today as a prime example of patina. They loved their former pastor, no doubt, but they quoted him extensively. As humans do, sometimes those quotes contradicted each other in minute details. It was not until they started to quote him has saying something where it was originally recorded in Scripture that I began to wonder if they were following the deceased pastor or the Scriptures themselves. They would quote him as saying something, but the very words that he said were found in Scripture. Further, they would use his facts, and although he was not an ignorant man he was misinformed on more than a few things, to substantiate their own knowledge and weigh anything new against what he determined should be the truth. The Scripture, while verbally was the source of thought, became secondary because the congregation focused only on his interpretation and viewed Scripture, history and science through his words. They insulated themselves from examining Scripture through the patina of their recent tradition.

This is why I desire to focus on biblical studies, instead of theology. There is no doubt that theology must play a role in biblical studies but I intend to focus not on Tradition or developed theology, but on the theology which first bound the early followers of Christ together, gave rise to their interpretation of Him, and what finally defined their words as they first took to pen the Gospel Story or answer questions posed to the new community.

Like any scraping of patina, there are times when the violence of the worker will damage something, but we must judge to see if that damage harms the patina or the original source. Violence is not always a terrible thing, in that a certain amount of gentle roughness is need to removed the long entrenched viewpoints and understanding of what Scripture says. The Scriptures were not written in our culture, context or time, and yet, we seem to passively accept that the Apostles and Prophets wrote according to our ears. Ignoring the culture and context, which is the rich beauty of the times in which the writers lived, and supplanting it with our own, is a heinous act which should be stopped.

Generally, Christians have little to no problem challenging new trends in the religion, such as the Prosperity Gospel which has gripped the United States and now threatens to maim Africa, and rightfully so, but when it comes to examining their own viewpoints, they bulk. Why? Surely if we can examine these new fads by the light of Scripture, we can examine our viewpoints, no matter how right they are, by light of the authors of Scripture.

I intend in my studies to get past the patina of tradition, to the heart of the matter.


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9 Replies to “The Patina of Christianity”

  1. I used to think exactly as you do, though you appreciate theology much more than I did. I can no longer think that way though. There is no reason why the early church is “more correct” than the later church. The only way that thought is defensible is to say that there is an undeviating (and thus specific) position (or proposition) upon which Christianity rests. That is a large presumption, at least in my mind. I can't help but see the world via relation and dialectic, which is what the first thirteen hundred years of Christian theology proclaimed it to be. (Disclaimer: this is coming from a computer programmer, we're as analytical as they come)

  2. Jobelenus, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that all patina is wrong, or that one era had it 'right'. I am saying however, that if we continue to build patina, we will lose the original material soon enough. I am not saying that later on, my interests may not shift to more theological concerns, especially the theology which developed later – it almost has too – but for now, I want to study the base material, moving past the patina.

  3. Hrmm, I haven't seen material lost as patina has grown. Patina that is not useful is quickly discarded. Perhaps you're referring to the collective work of all Christians across all time. This is why I think finding oneself in a tradition and community is fantastic. There is a group with which you can sort out what is useful and not useful. But that is where the analogy falls down, patina can only grow it doesn't fall off.

  4. But, Jobelenus, what if we were to find that what we have known so represented as modern Christianity is wholly different than what the first Christians intended or practiced?

  5. Shouldn't it be different? I mean wasn't Jesus wholly different than what the Hebrew Prophets intended or practiced? (your critical biblical studies answer yes). Of course, your argument is “But Jesus is true.” You're giving a value statement to an analytical question. Analytical questions (such as critical biblical study) are incapable of giving value statements. Your value statement presupposes that Christianity is only meaningful and true when it remains within what the first Christians intended and practiced. But why is this so?

    Is Christianity not a dialectical approach to understanding our experience in the world, God, and the revelation of Jesus Christ? I ask only as someone who has been forced to ask himself these questions and come out with some surprising answers.

  6. Was He wholly different? Was Christianity in the beginning wholly different that either the Palestinian Judaism or the Judaism which developed in the Diaspora? No, not all that much. As a matter of fact, it wasn't until some time afterward that there was a Christianity apart from Judaism. It was 'The Way', another sect of Judaism. Granted, there was dramatic changes in the Law and its application, but how clean was that break? I say it took a while because the Gentiles were coming into Judaism, not creating something new.

    And you are making my value statements for me, some of which I disagree – so do I disagree with you or with me?

    I think Christian it valuable, true and meaningful removed from Palestine, no doubt – we have seen it happen thusly, but against, what do we correct ourselves by? Is Christianity a philosophy so that we may expand it? Or is it something more that we seek to let it expand but still tie it to its Founder and principle officers, so to speak?

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