Over at Books & Culture, I have a piece on the late poet Reginald Shepherd, a gay African-American poet from the Bronx who was interested in what he called the “myth” of Christianity throughout his life. At the end, right before he died, his partner tells us he converted. The nature of that conversion is between Shepherd and God. Yet, as I note in the review, in his final poem “the cold power of mythology’s gods is contrasted with the humble power of grace”:
Here we have a God who descends to man, becoming a weak, suckling child, in order to save. This God is indeed different from the cruel, misanthropic Greco-Roman gods of pure force. In this final poem, Shepherd captures the essence of what makes the “star” of Christianity unlike the mythical “stars” of the Greco-Romans. And it is something that both attracts and repels Shepherd. It is “a pearl, an irritant.”
Whatever his final state with respect to God, Shepherd clearly understood the radical difference of the gospel, and it is this difference that made the gospel both so appealing and so repelling to him. I wonder if this is why Christ in Revelation expresses such loathing towards those that are “lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold.” Those who either love or hate the gospel have at least understood it is something different, something otherworldly. However, those that express either a tepid acceptance of Christ (such as in “cultural Christianity”) or a tepid rejection of Him (in what we could call “cultural agnosticism,” which often holds that Christ was good but not God) steadfastly refuse to acknowledge even this.