Why I won’t leave the church

For all the angst out there about evangelicals “leaving church,” and there are good reasons to get disappointed (so don’t get me wrong), Scot McKnight hits another home run in an interview regarding his latest book. When asked about evangelicals “leaving the church” he says this:

…as divorce is easy so leaving church is easy. The rugged commitment to one another that ought to shape a person’s commitment to a church has been transcended today by seeing church as a place to go to hear a sermon and get something, and if the sermon isn’t good enough or if the person is not getting enough out of it, they pack up and move on. This denies the fundamental commitment to one another in the New Testament church as a fellowship. Leaving a church needs to be experienced more like a divorce than a change of scenery.

For all the problems of the evangelical church, if I leave and don’t work on being better in my own faith, how can I demand something else “get better?” If I am in it to help things “get better” there are greater opportunities for flourishing again in the Body of Christ. Truth be told, if I leave this “disappointment” for greener pastures… I’ll find disappointment over there as well. To further Scot’s divorce analogy, the first divorce makes it a bit easier to bolt the second marriage as well…

I am committed to the Church. The particular expression I work and worship in is where I have the deepest roots. I also have the deepest problems here as well. But I love the full expression of the Body of Christ as well. I love my city where Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians gather for Good Friday. It’s where each of us as pastors gather monthly and love each other. We learn to love the greater expressions of the Body of Christ.

Let’s resist the temptation to pack up and move on. Let’s work harder and loving one another, challenging one another, and having the opportunity to possibly grow up rather than spin in perpetual toddler cycle.

Let’s at least get to the table to talk

What I long for is the honest conversation in the church. I want to drop my misconceptions and just invite a conversation. It’s incredibly difficult. For one, I can’t get those things completely out of my head. I have to work harder at simple listening.

For another, when people see me, they see my labels. So, because I’m Pentecostal… or “evangelical”… or white… or male… somehow there is not a conversation to be had. Misconceptions run both ways.

I won’t be labeled automatically. Not if I can help it. I know it will happen, but that’s not on me. It’s up to me to make sure I’m not letting labels get quickly in the way so it blocks a conversation with someone else.

But let’s at least get to the table to talk.

Scot McKnight has some powerful questions on the “success” of a church. I like some of these challenging questions!

Asked as a question, Who is invisible in your church?

To the degree folks are invisible, we don’t have the right view of the church or the right view of the Christian life.

Here are some examples:

Widows
Children
Poor
Ethnically different
Women
Faith strugglers

Then…. BOOM:

What about gays and lesbians? Let’s ignore the debates about what the Bible teaches and ask this question: Are they able to be honest about their sexual orientation? Or do they catch the message the gospel is not for them? Does your church want redemption or exclusion?

For me, I want to at least get to the table to have the conversation. As uncomfortable as it is, I long for those deep moments where something real is possible.

The devaluing of human life

Usually when it comes to war and use of force, especially use of troops, media sources like The New York Times are fairly pacifist. (Depending on the president in office at the time and their political party, of course.) Generally speaking, many media outlets back off the calling for use of force.

But this editorial in The New York Times was strident.

They want force against ISIS. NOW. Tough words are laid down in this piece:

Will the world do nothing to stop extremist groups…

And this:

But the United Nations says it is largely powerless to deal with the threat, and Western governments claim they have more urgent military objectives.

This is dangerously wrong.

And this:

Why hasn’t the international community responded?

I’ve certainly asked questions like this of the media before. Where IS your outrage?

The difference is this: I am burdened over the loss of life. There is a systematic persecution raging in many part of the world against Christians. Thousands displaced. Thousands killed. Slaughter every week that should shock us. Al-Shabaab killed 148 Christians in Kenya last week. Targeted them in a university and shot them.

The outrage The Times has over ISIS? National treasure… STUFF… is being destroyed. It took the destruction of artifacts for the paper to shout, “Why aren’t we nuking these people???”

Not one word in this piece about the extreme loss of human life. It’s not even that they’re silent on Christians being slaughtered. It’s any religious group. The silence, as they say, is deafening.

It is the height of hypocrisy and it is revealing of a soul all at the same time. I could call it an “elitist” attitude or a “liberal” attitude, but that’s just too narrow. What it is… is scary. People of influence, people of means, people of persuasion who sit back and say nothing about the loss of human life… and if they do they will hesitate to show the loss is due to religious affiliation… but destroy a painting and they are ready to call for nuclear war.

This is the world they want. A world without religion in the public square. They don’t want people going “all moral” on them about the value of human life. This is a world where “freedom of religion” is about the “individual” and their right to keep their religion to themselves… just don’t drag it out there for the public to see.

This isn’t about conservative or liberal theology, or conservative or liberal Christianity. This is about a deep desire in those spouting off a false belief in the “progressive improvement” of humanity without religion getting their ultimate way. The value system is warped, and it’s on full display in this ridiculous opinion piece. Center stage.

Religion at its core isn’t the problem. It’s the insistence on not having religion in the public square adding to the debate that is the problem. Without religion in the public square, there is the false belief that humanity will only get “better and better” and if there are problems in this world, it is religion that is at fault.

It is not religion. It is human. Humanity has a problem. At our core, we want to be the little gods. We want to be in ultimate control. And left to our own devices… we don’t improve ourselves very well. We tend to start world wars and find more ways to destroy people than ever before. That’s not religion. That’s humanity.

But a world with less religion, and by that if it means fewer religious people, so be it, is a GOOD thing… in their view. Just save the artwork!

Imagine: A New Day

In his book, Simply Good News, NT Wright defines Christian spirituality:

Christian spirituality — an awareness of the loving and guiding presence of God, sorrow for sin and gratitude for forgiveness, the possibility and challenge of prayer, a love for God and for our neighbors, the desire for holiness and the hard moral work it requires, the gradual or sudden emergence of particular vocations, a lively hope for God’s eventual new creation — is generated by the good news of what HAS happened in the past and what WILL happen in the future. All this and much, much more is what is meant by the good news in the present.

It’s a new day. It’s resurrection. It’s the Kingdom. It’s time to live it.

Politics and the Kingdom of God

It is good timing that has me reading NT Wright’s Surprised by Scripture the same week the news is exploding from a new Indiana law regarding discrimination and religious rights.

Wright’s chapter, “Our Politics Are Too Small” is powerful. Some thoughts:

“…martyrdom (which is what happens when the church bears witness to God’s call to the rulers and the rulers shoot the messenger) is an inalienable part of political theology. You can have as high a theology of the God-given calling of rulers you like, as long as your theology of the church’s witness and martyrdom matches it stride for stride.”

It is realizing that no matter who is in control politicallly at any given time, the final say will ultimately rest with King Jesus. “Thus the church, in its biblical commitment to ‘doing God in public,’ is called to learn how to collaborate without compromise… and to criticize without dualism.”

The church needs to criticize even current forms if democracy. In Wright’s view our current glorification of democracy arises out of the Enlightenment dualism that banished God from the public square Andes elevated “the voice of the people.” We need to hold powerful (democratic) governments to account. We, as the church, also need to be held to a high standard.

“Our culture is moving in all kinds of ways toward a post-post-modernism that has yet to be shaped but for which our public world longs as it lurches from boredom and trivia to dangerous and dehumanizing behavior.”

We need a serious biblical witness to God in public. We need a sound grounding in the Word to display a full wisdom in the world again. We have the shrill voices of fundamentalism, the shrill denials of secularism, and the nihilism of the world. We need a solid representation of Christ in the public square for holistic good.

“Doing business with God in public is always complicated, but it is never dull.”

Somehow we’ve turned the good news into bad news

In Simply Good News, Wright goes into far more detail as to how we’ve managed to distort the announcement of the good news of the Kingdom into one of an angry God and simple fragments of a much fuller truth. It is well worth the time to read through his fuller treatment of how we have gone from proclaiming the good news to offering “good advice” to fragmenting the gospel so badly we’ve reduced it to bumper sticker theology that leaves people with a sense that God is just angry all the time.

A couple of years ago I had a guest speaker at my church and as we sat for the meal before our ministry time, he just began with his theology of God being mad. “God really is mad.” He went on to quote several verses dealing with the anger of God toward sin. It was in that moment I really want to exhibit a bit of righteous anger myself and uninvite him immediately.

The fragments we use are true… to an extent. We need to understand that saying “Jesus died in my place” is true. But to let that be the central part of the good news proclamation is to miss the greater picture, in Wright’s view.

We’ve turned Christianity into a “system.” We have a “system” of thought, a “system” of evangelism, a “system” of what is “central” to the gospel.

Again, it is important to read Wright’s fuller treatment in the book, but his contention is that we are missing the fuller picture of the gospel. We miss God as Creator and we miss the whole idea of covenant. As Creator, the whole world belongs to God and he longs to put that world right at last. It is about ALL of creation being redeemed. You can’t read Romans 8 without coming away with that conclusion.

In covenant, God calls Israel to be his people. It is a call of love. The call to covenant comes out of a heart of love, not anger.

Wright does deal with wrath and the meaning of God’s wrath. He doesn’t negate it. He calls us to keep it in context.

God’s goal in the good news is the restoration and transformation of ALL creation. Then Wright really puts the hammer down on our slim, distorted views of how we see the “central” message of the gospel these days:

To imagine a gospel that has forgotten about creation and covenant; to imagine a gospel with an angry deity who is pacified only by the blood of an innocent victim; to imagine good news that, instead of restoring and completing the work of the world’s creation, is prepared to throw away the world and take some people (“souls”) to a different location, namely a disembodied heaven — this picture looks far more like a complicated form of paganism than genuine biblical Christianity. (p. 74)

Somehow, we’ve turned the truly good news of Jesus Christ into some really bad news.

It’s time to re-think our view of the Kingdom of God.

It is simply good news

I am starting into NT Wright’s book, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good. 

As usual with Wright at this point in my life, it is refreshing reading. Wright has done such a marvelous job of paring down issues over time. He can be as complicated as the next scholar. Here, he keeps it basic.

It’s about good news. What we offer today most of the time is good advice.

For Paul the apostle, it boils down to this:

God had come in the person of Jesus; God was coming, to the whole world, in the presence and power of his Spirit wherever the good news was announced. And one day — the God now made known in Jesus — would come back to finish the task, to be all in all, to fill the world with his glory and love, to transform everything, to rectify everything, to heal everything with his powerful love. (p. 34)

THIS is some good news! The desperate need of our day is to recapture this vision of good news. It is something to proclaim, to live out, to stay passionate about. This good news is also a scandal and foolishness. But to those who hear and receive, to those who are thirsty and find living water, it is good news.