Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Christian Curmudgeon

The Christian Curmudgeon

Is “Christian curmudgeon” an oxymoron?

A standard definition of a curmudgeon is “an ill-tempered (and frequently old) person full of stubborn ideas and opinions.” I plead guilty to the whole definition. I surely can be, though I hope I am not always, ill-tempered. Belonging to the earliest baby boomer group, I am not just frequently but all the time old. There is no doubt whatsoever that I have stubborn ideas and opinions. Some of those I hold for the fun of it, but most of them because I think them true.

The curmudgeon partakes of the spirit of Linus Van Pelt: “I love mankind – it’s people I can’t stand.”  I said something similar in an early sermon and repeated it often: “The church would be a wonderful institution if it weren’t for the people.” The curmudgeon is often disappointed with people, not least himself. He understands well why the Bible tells us not to trust in man and why David, faced with three terrible options of chastisement, said, “Let me not fall into the hand of man.”

The curmudgeon also partakes of the spirit of Network’s Howard Beale who persuaded viewers all over the United States to open their windows and shout “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” It’s not that he expects the protest to do much good. But it is his way of saying that things are just not right, himself perhaps the prime example. He agrees with both Cornelius Plantinga and Willie Nelson that things as they are is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”  But, while he is not optimistic, he has not lost all hope for some improvement, however halting and fleeting.

He has low expectations, at least in the short run. This curmudgeon once said, less than half jokingly, “I could never be a post-millennialist; I don’t have the temperament for it.” Actually, it’s not just temperament. It’s the conviction that the world is so messed up that nothing short of the personal coming of Jesus Christ in glory with power, to defeat the powers of darkness, to fix the broken world, and to set his people free from sin and death can put things right. A Christian curmudgeon is a long term optimist, but a short term pessimist.

In the end of curmudgeon is something of an idealist, even romantic. He has a sense of utopia, but he is too realistic (and, I think, too Biblical in outlook) to be a utopian so long as this present age continues. In that sense, he longs for the final in-breaking of the kingdom of God, when at last the kingdoms of this world will be in reality the kingdom of our God and of his Christ and God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. No more sin, no more thorns and thistles, no more sorrow, no more death, no more tears.

No, I do not think a Christian can be a mere curmudgeon. But I hope a curmudgeon can be a mere Christian. What I set out to do in this blog is to speak, for what it’s worth, as a Christian curmudgeon.

I have things I hope to say. And I have things I have said that I hope to repeat. I’ll try to be like the good scribe who “brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”


Isbell said...

I gather from Dr. Hart's tweet that you are in the PCA. Speaking from experience I can say that's a "target rich" environment for a curmudgeon. Happy, curmudging.

Pete O'Brien said...

Well I don't know what I am but I have to fight the urge to slide from pessimism into despair. This life really, really disappoints.

OpaRon said...

As one curmudgeon to another, I'm just glad you are back at the keyboard expressing yourself - and in a way, often expressing some of my own thoughts, but with words that never seem to come to me. I've missed your musings and will look forward to your posts!