At this time, I have spent a couple years in the deep Bible belt of the East Coast. On a daily basis I have been working with Pastors and Ministry Leaders from all across Florida and the South East and have been able to learn from them and observe them up close.
These opportunities, along with all the experiences I have enjoyed growing up on the West Coast, have given me some unusual insights into Two Different Philosophies on Christianity.
My experiences on the East Coast have been very enriching. I have been able to work with some of the brighter minds in Biblical Doctrines and Biblical Practices and have enjoyed leaning from their knowledge and experiences. However, I have also been taken back by some of the East Coast trends.
Recently, while traveling with a church family to a Florida Gators game, I engaged them in a theological discussion. To my dismay, I was quickly introduced to some of their shaky theology namely, their belief that suicide victims are not allowed eternal life in spite of their salvation. A few simple arguments quickly introduced them to the concept of eternal salvation, but I was still aghast at their level of knowledge, even after being in the faith for over 40 years.
This example is just compounded by my observations at the University of North Florida, my school. At this school, and in the southern community in general, a large majority of individuals claim Christianity. However, after some simple questions and observations, I have been able to assume that generally, only about 40% of individuals claiming Christianity seem to practice it publicly or can engage in a simple conversation on the basic tenants of Christianity (i.e. Salvation by Faith, The Virgin Birth).
Recently, I compared this percentage of students to the students I met in my years in California. In California, it was uncommon to find students who would publicly claim Christianity; however, of those who did, 90% would be able to engage me in deep theological conversations of substantial value.
These two percentages provide the basis of two different stories and philosophies.
The first story I want to address is the one that the East Coast presents us. Despite strong leadership and uncompromising values, the church of East Coast has become uncontrollably weak. The basis of its strength has become tradition. The traditions of the church have become the primary source of information for its growing members. These traditions, while based on and (usually) in the Bible, are hardly a meaningful substitute for the Bible. The results of valuing a tradition over the scripture can be seen in the Catholic church. While the Catholic Church is a strong source of moral strength, it is not doctrinally sound and a majority of it members are solely members for traditions sake.
This traditionalism is quickly stripped when one approaches the West Coast. Sure there are traditional churches, but tradition is not the foundation of the West Coast Christian. Recently, one of my Alabama friends served as a summer missionary in Yosemite National Park in California. Upon her return, the student expressed to me “People don’t like Christians in California.” I laughed. I couldn’t understand her at first so I asked her to explain. She expounded by relating how people were not open to Christ and would publicly mock her for her faith. Once again, I laughed. After all, what was so unusual about that? That was what people did back “home.” I was not aware that this was unusual as it was part of every day life in my home state. I knew growing up that being “Christian” was not normal, usual, or cool in California. Individuals who are Christian are constantly attacked in many ways both physical and spiritual. Christians in California need a reason for being Christian. On the West Coast, the shroud of tradition is quickly shredded by teachers who don’t just opposed you for your beliefs, but publicly crucify you for them too. Through this, a student can only hold onto the greatest belief to preserve them. The belief in Jesus Christ and his infallible word, the Bible. This is the basis of the West Coast faith. Traditions, fads, and cliques might all be present in a church, but in order for it to grow with true Christians, it must preach a doctrine based in the Word of God.
I believe that this is the basis of Right Coast Vs East Coast Christianity. The Bible belt has long enjoyed Christianity by fiat. A Christianity because it is so. A Christianity that looks to its past (traditions) to insure its future. However, as is well known, an organism is grown and strengthened through tribulation. Tribulation has built the church of the West Coast and has forced the church to look to its creator for its perseverance. This creator is the same one that destroyed the traditions of the Jews to create a faith based in himself.