Over at Reformation21, Carl Truman reviews a Christian review of the film Milk. Part of his review focuses on the new buzz word of the postmodern–“authentic.” He points out that “authentic” anything is not a word for describing behavior, because it is not an ethical term–it is a term that is devoid of any moral content, biblically speaking. He writes,
If honesty and consistency between belief and action, even at personal risk, are the criteria for judging that somebody is worthy of emulation, then what is to stop a spoiled eight year old screaming for the latest toy, or Adolf Hitler, or even serial killers from being such? All offer examples of sincerely held beliefs in action. (emphasis mine)
So is it proper to use “authentic” as a description for Christian faith and living? He writes,
…sometimes it is not acting on impulses, not comforming public behaviour to inner drives and instincts which is appropriate — particularly, for Christians (at least one would hope), when those drives and instincts are opposed to the teaching of scripture. Being sold out to the wrong set of beliefs, be those beliefs white supremacy, exploitation of the poor, in-your-face gay lifestyle, or wife-beating, is not admirable.
Although I am not emphasizing his entire review of the movie, I think his analysis of the use of “authentic” as being morally vacuous and potentially a justification for all kinds of evil, should cause us to give pause and question whether or not it is a category that should be used in assessing ours or anyone’s behavior.
Let me offer a quick biblical critique of “authenticity.” First, Jesus tells us in Matthew 11.29-30: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our rest is not found in borrowing the ideas of the world and adopting them as our own by synthesizing them with Christianity. All that we need comes directly from Christ–not Christ and the world. Our faith is lived out in Christ–not in postmodern authenticity.
Second, Jesus says in Matthew 16:24-26: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his lifewill lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” When we take Christ’s yoke upon us and then live out our faith in him, it includes not only living according to his words alone–it includes us denying our desires to incorporate the world into our faith. This statement of Jesus was his response to Peter who made a correct profession of faith, but then contradicted that profession when his worldly thinking caused him to rebuke Christ for announcing his intention to live a gospel life–a life of the cross. We do not find life by mixing worldly wisdom with the gospel–that will only keep us from living the gospel–for the gospel life of faith is a life of the cross.
Lastly, the apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5.13-14: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Life in Christ is truly a life of freedom and liberty–but not a liberty to behave authentically, but a liberty to live lovingly and self-sacrificially. We are not to act in light of our desires, but in light of the desires of Christ. He lovingly gave up his life for us when we were his enemies. We are to love and serve one another in that same way–this is not about being authentic, its about being in Christ.
My point in this is that we don’t have to adopt a word like “authentic” because it is popular–especially when what is communicated by the word is antithetical to the call of the gospel living of the cross, self-sacrifice and love. When we live this way, we are not being authentic, we are being the opposite of authentic; we are living out our new identity in Christ. We don’t need to adopt a worldly term to describe that–the Bible has already provided one, its called “holy.”
But I guess “holy” is just not cool enough and smacks of sectarianism and intolerance.