The Call to Controversy

Need something stimulating to think about?

You could hardly go wrong with Brian McLaren’s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity.”

This book is certainly continuing to stir up not only healthy dialogue about important topics of faith, but also controversy in the Christian arena. It seems that there is very little middle-ground of opinion in regards to this book. People tend to either love it or hate it. And like it or not, in Christian circles this book looks to be THE “most talked-about” read of the year.

So, why endorse something that is the source of such controversy? Well, for several reasons:

1) WE NEED TO BE AWARE OF THE DISCUSSION.

Lots of people will be talking about this book and the questions that it raises. And make no mistake, they are important questions, no matter what you think are the correct answers. These are the questions of 21st century Christianity; questions of both those inside and outside the mainstream church today. Whether you realize it or not, you will be a part of this discussion. In fact, your voice will help shape this discussion.

And let me suggest that you actually read what is being stated by this intriguing side of the discussion. I have and will continue to read many disparaging comments and blogs about Brian McLaren’s view from people who disagree with his answers, which by the way is just part of the healthy dialogue. But, what is not healthy is that many of the people on the opposite side of the debate have not actually read McLaren’s books.

“That Brian McLaren has really gone off the deep end. I think he’s dangerous.”
“Have you read his book?”
“No, but I’ve heard he said such and such.”

Brian McLaren

Maybe we ought to be a bit more informed as we enter this discussion. Whether it is McLaren or MacArthur, maybe we should actually LISTEN to what they have to say and the context in which they say it before we criticize them. In fact, while you may disagree with either person in many areas, you may find some common ground as well. Or perhaps even more importantly, you may disagree with the conclusions, but may find a respectful appreciation for the spirit of the person and their questions.

In a recent interview, McLaren makes a case for this in responding to the way people easily dismiss his questions as “liberal” without considering his possibly more complex stance:

“I wouldn’t want to overlook the many ways in which my proposals differ from traditional liberal theology. My attitudes and commitments regarding Jesus, the Holy Spirit, scripture, spiritual experience, institutionalism, personal commitment and conversion, evangelism and discipleship, and many other subjects make many of my liberal friends think of me as conservative. Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals simply use the word “liberal” as a way to say, “Let’s stop listening to this person. He’s too different from us, and so is not worth our time and attention.” I hope that’s not the case, but sometimes, this is what I feel like when evangelicals use “the L word.”

For me, liberal is not automatically a bad word. If liberal means free from tyranny, I’m for it. If liberal means generous, I’m for it. If liberal means believing that our best days are ahead of us, I’m for it. If liberal means welcoming honest questions and giving honest scholarship a fair hearing, I’m for it. If, on the other hand, liberal means without restraint, or careless about tradition, or dismissive of scripture, or institutional and lukewarm regarding commitment to Christ, and so on, then I wouldn’t want to be associated with that. And we could say parallel things about the word conservative.”

Huh, maybe he’s not as crazy as people say. But, that’s not important. You don’t have to agree with McLaren, but maybe we should give him a fair-hearing (or rather reading). It may be that he is not as “off-the-deep-end” as we think. Or even if he is, that he is at least still committed to the best of his mental and reasoning ability to Jesus, if only incorrect.

2) WE NEED TO BE THINKERS

What I like best about this book is that it forces us to wrestle with concepts we take for granted and THINK. Controversy can only exist where people are seriously grasping and thinking and reasoning. And in that way, a healthy dose of controversy is probably very good for the modern church.

I work with high school students on a regular basis, and by far my greatest goal in my time with them is not to give them all the answers. Do I want them to have good answers? Of course. But more importantly, I want them to learn HOW to question, HOW to find good answers. I want to help them learn HOW to THINK. Many more questions will come up in their lives long after I am gone, and I’d rather they learned how to critically think about those questions sure-to-come in the future rather than just have some spoon-fed responses from me about the ones they are asking right now.

Ironically, many high schoolers I know are better at wrestling with questions and learning to think than a lot of adults. And maybe that is a bigger problem in our churches today than we’d care to admit. We just don’t think for ourselves. We’ve accepted long-held answers (many of which might be correct, by the way) to many old questions (some of which people aren’t asking anymore) without ever thinking it through ourselves. We are lazy. Lazy theologically. Lazy mentally.

This has direct consequences for our witness to the world. Because while we are busy being content with answers to questions we’ve never genuinely asked ourselves, the rest of the world is actively and honestly seeking answers. The church is irrelevant because by and large we can’t speak authentically to these questions. We appear to be a second-hand, consignment store of truth because we are primarily selling the “hand-me-down responses” of generations before us rather than doing the hard work of wrestling with the deeper questions and making sense of them in this time and context for ourselves.

Consider just these few questions: How is the Bible unique and why should it apply to my life? What makes the Bible authoritative in my life? How do I know it is the “Word of God?” What does it mean that it was “inspired?” What in the Bible is culturally-conditioned for people at the time of it’s writing and what is a universal-truth that applies to me? How do I know the difference? Can I know the difference? Is there a difference?

While just the tip of the proverbial ice-berg, these questions alone go a long way in helping answer modern dilemmas such as human sexuality, the character of God, the purpose of Jesus, social justice, and other ethical considerations.

Some will agree with the conclusions of the author and others will not. But no matter what you think of McLaren’s answers, what is undisputable is that these questions need to be asked. Or rather, these questions are already being asked by many people (friends, family, co-workers) around us. McLaren is not by far the first person to ask these questions, but he is suggesting that rather than dismissing the people who ask them maybe we ought to spend some time struggling with them as well and as a community “led by the Spirit” recalibrating the answers to this time and in our current context.

As McLaren says:

“That’s why, in the end, I hope people will actually read the book with an open heart and mind. I’m not expecting that anyone will agree with everything — that’s not my point. But I am hoping that people will be stimulated to think, and maybe even to dream of better possibilities … so the Christianity of the future can continue to learn and grow and not simply repeat the past or be stuck in the present.”

Is it dangerous to read a book that challenges things that you believe and causes you to ask some rather unsettling questions about your core beliefs? Possibly. But far more dangerous for the church today is not reading these books and not asking these inquiries.

So go ahead and risk it. It’s okay to hang up the “under-construction: please come back later” sign on your theology for the weekend. Pick up the book and let it mess you up a little bit. Be okay to let the questions move you to a place of uncertainty for a while. Inhale the ambiguity and breathe deep the tension of inquisition.

It may be that once the smoke and fog has cleared you find yourself with some “real” answers. Or at the very least, a greater understanding & compassion for and a stronger, more respected voice into the life of seekers around you.

It could be the church will be healthier for the controversy.

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“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #3)

[Response #3 from SEATTLE – Part 7 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Dear M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I Melissa:  (Hey, correct spelling and alliteration!)

Hahahaha!!   Now shouldn’t you have been listening or praying or singing at the church service the other day, not writing emails in your head!  LOL.  You crack me up.  You are a theology junkie!  Maybe we both need a 12-step recovery program…LOL

Now on to your response . . . I think we might be going around in circles here a bit.  I don’t totally disagree with what you are saying.  In fact, I find myself nodding my head as I read.   These are my only clarifications:

Clarification #1:

I definitely think that part of what Jesus is saying here includes non-believers.  My point was simply that Jesus said that the world would hate us as it hated him, and the majority of those that hated Jesus were the religious crowd.  I think that idea is definitely implied in Jesus’ statement here (that would have been who the disciples thought of instantly), although his use of the word “world” certainly encompasses more than that.

And, though admittedly there are some differences in Jewish religion of the 1st century and Christianity today (though I don’t agree with all the differences that you propose), I definitely think it still applies to us in both ways today.   While I agree that the religious leaders didn’t approve of or follow Jesus as the Messiah, they DID claim to follow God.  And there are many, I believe, that claim to follow God today that when it comes right down to it are a bit uncomfortable with the radical life and teachings of Jesus.  At least they live that way.  The difference may be that the Pharisees never claimed to follow Jesus and many today do, but obviously saying you follow Jesus and actually following Him are very different things.   In that way, there may be many more similarities than you might think.

In fact, I don’t think it takes much imagination to say there are many today that could be described by your words:  “Pious and self-righteous, pure blood [Christians] who had always been in charge” offended by “sinners with equal access to eternal life” . . . “because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.”   (arrangement mine)

Now, I’m not trying to label anyone into that category, because really it is a matter of the heart.  I simply think there are certain parallels.  Certainly there are people, like me, that often get caught up in religion rather than following Christ.   It is as much a struggle for me as any Pharisee of old.  Religion is dangerous at all times.  In Jesus’ time.  And in our time.

What concerns me is that some people read that statement of Jesus and take it not as a caution of the logical outcome of His radical message (of course many will reject it), but as a mandate for their methodology.  So you hear things like, “Well, Jesus said we would be hated, so we’ll do whatever it takes for them to hate us the most.”  And while those sentiments carry the noble feeling of doing our “religious duty,” I’m afraid they are a very poor way of understanding Jesus’ final prayer for his people, which ends with his desire that the “world” may know Him because of their “LOVE” for each other.   (John 17)

I believe Jesus is saying that the natural conclusion is that so-called believers and unbelievers will hate us if we truly follow him, not that we should do everything in our power TO BE hated by people.   It isn’t a badge of honor or a litmus test of some kind, it is simply a reality of living a radical Jesus life.

And so in this clarification, I totally agree with your last line of that point, “Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves ‘religious.’”

Clarification #2:

Look, I’m not saying we should agree with pop culture that says sin isn’t sin.  Taking a stance on what we believe to be sin is important.  And while I’m for critically thinking and making sure we are labeling sin correctly, I don’t think we should just tell people that whatever they do is ok by God.

For instance, there are many people who don’t choose to believe in Christ that also don’t appreciate my stance on the nature of homosexuality.  And I’m sure I’m not popular in those circles either.

You see, I know the “world” is going to at times hate me.  And that is ok.  I just want to make sure that they hate me not because of my attitude but because of the radical message of Jesus.   The truth does divide people.  I get that.  I just want to make sure it is the truth that is doing the dividing and not me.

Again, my problem with [megapastor] is not his truth, but his methods.   Do people need truth?  Absolutely.  But I think most people need relationship to really experience truth.  Remember, Jesus said he was Truth.  But he wasn’t some cold, philosophical concept of truth.  He wasn’t truth on a sign.  He wasn’t truth in a government’s law.

He was Incarnational Truth.  Relational Truth.

Truth, as defined by the life of Jesus, is more than “I’m right” and “you’re wrong”.   It is Truth that becomes flesh and lives in our mess and dies for people who will never deserve it and many that will never accept it.   It is Truth in relationship.   It doesn’t compromise, but it doesn’t demean or coerce either.   It is a Truth that woos like a lover, not compels like a tyrant.

And so in the end, I may love people, fight for people and invest in people, but they may still choose to hate the message of Jesus that I believe in.  And maybe me because of it.   I’m totally ok with that.  Wide path, narrow path.   I just don’t want any of my actions to unnecessarily cause rejection.  If they reject Jesus, fine.   I just don’t want my methods to be why.  If any part of the message of life being accepted by them relies on me as the messenger, I want to err on the side of love not protest.

Now, should churches be doing more than a carwash and food drives?  Of course!  I’m a preacher!  I think people need God’s word.  But, I think we have divorced the social components of the gospel from the propositional truth components.   We tend to break down into camps of either one or the other, when Jesus seemed to hold on to both.   And it is the extremism (of either side) that I think becomes dangerous and leads to lazy spirituality or capricious elitism.

And so, in my mind, I feel as though we agree a great deal here.  Hopefully you agree! ☺  I’m all for calling sin what it is.  Humanity needs to know where it is broken, so it can be healed.  And, I’m for staying the course on those convictions through cultural pressure.

My only clarifications here are that we think very carefully about the methods we use in offering these truths to people who are free to choose to ignore them.   And then be OK to live in a world where many will not agree with us though we give our own lives to show them.   That we would be so committed to bringing Truth to people that we would sacrifice even our own rights or lives to bring them to Him, not simply take the easy way out (from my perspective) and protest them.

Power-under.  Not power-over.

As far as your last line about being united, I agree with that as well.  I don’t hate [megapastor].  I don’t even know him personally.  And I hope I don’t come off that way.    In reality, I’ve thought a lot about that and I do choose to love him.   To be a consistent lover of people, like Jesus, I’m called to love the brothers and sisters I disagree with as much as I love the people I think they often turn off.   Like it or not, right or wrong, they are my family.  And you can choose your friends, but you’re stuck with your family.  ☺

However, while I love them, I will still question their methods, their theology and their understanding of God’s grace.  For it was within these ranks that Jesus reserves his challenges and questions.   And beyond the pattern of His life, it is those letters to the churches in Revelation and the words in 1 Corinthians (among others) that compel me to do so.  For these are words directed towards believers and the correction we are to make within the community of Christ.

“I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral . . . [but] with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NIV)

Apparently, Paul saved his moral criticism for the believers as well, rather than outsiders.

Okey, doke….

Now, I gotta go cause my wife is making dinner and I told her that I would be home 30 minutes ago.   And yes, I probably could stand to miss a meal here and there, but if I get home in time I’ll be able to watch my daughter put banana chunks in her hair while she eats and who would wanna miss that?

Grace and Peace,

SEATTLE

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#3)

[Letter #3 from MISSISSIPPI – Part 6  of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hello again SEATTLE,

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Sitting in church listening and thinking, I have come up with more thoughts for you on this conversation.

First, I have also experienced the desire to let people know that not all Christians are like “that.”  I’ve spent time and energy trying to convince some people of that, and finally realized that as long as I believed the Bible was exclusively true, and not just a nice story, they thought of me like “that” anyway.  So I guess I have gotten burned by that type of motivation….I also came to realize that pride was at least part of it.  “If you knew ME you might have a better view of Christians, I’m not THAT kind of (ignorant, stupid, prejudiced, kooky, crazy, homophobic, racist, redneck, protesting, abortion-clinic-blowing-up, hateful or judgmental) Christian.”  I really thought that those adjectives were the problem. And for some people, maybe they are.  Let’s make sure we aren’t doing the damage ourselves, however, by misrepresenting our brothers and sisters as actually being this way, if they are not…(dishonest protest picture).

Second, I mentioned that Jesus promised the world would hate us.  Not that we should seek that out from the world, but that we shouldn’t have a problem with the world hating us or hating Jesus because of us.  It’s just not true that “we must be doing something wrong if people hate us.” In fact, considering what Jesus promises, a more appropriate question would be, are we following him with integrity if no one hates us?

You interpret “the world” to mean other Christians. This gets into a really common attitude today.  People love to say that Christ’s biggest enemies were the religious people of his day…implying therefore, if He came back today, WE would be his enemies.  Todd Agnew’s popular song, “My Jesus” says: my Jesus would never be accepted in my church / The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet / But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud / I think He’d prefer Beale Street [bars/nightclubs] to the stained glass crowd….

Back then “religious” people were completely different than they are today.  They were an orthodox group with special status…not just any common person could believe and become “religious” the way they do today.  For the most part, those who are “religious” by today’s definition are not modern-day Pharisees, but rather his disciples!  His disciples were sinners who changed their entire lives after encountering him.  The “sinners” he loved too much, gathered around to hear him speak the good news.  They loved and believed in him.

The Pharisees’ problem was not that Jesus loved too much, it was his message that sinners-become-disciples had equal or greater spiritual status than the Pharisees.  The prodigal son who comes home and the man who begins work at the 11th hour receive equal rewards as lifelong rule-keepers.  Rather than the pious and self-righteous, pure-blood Jews who had always been in charge, every day “sinners” had equal access to eternal life.  This offended those in charge, because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.  My point is that Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves “religious.”

I also think you made a false statement about the world we live in.  You said, “If people who DID believe thought Jesus loved too much, how much more those who don’t believe?”  First, like I said, I don’t think it was those who believed, and I don’t think it was loving too much, it was not wanting everyone who believed in Christ to be saved.  But, my real problem with this statement is that it misrepresents our culture.  Tolerance, acceptance and affirmation are the gods of our age.  I would be shocked if “the world” would ever hate anyone for loving too much today.  So I really just don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about here.

Finally, I thought about Sodom & Gomorrah and Lot’s attitude there, and that he was praised as a righteous man…He did not engage or accept the culture there.  In fact he was accused of “judging” them simply for not wanting to aid them in their sin.  You mentioned Jonah…whatever other points might be made, the message he was sent by God to preach to total strangers was, repent or be destroyed.  That was the message, and it worked!  Even though he didn’t love them first or at all, even though they had no relationship with him and no reason to listen to him.  Verbal violence?  God was pleased that he was able to spare Ninevah (I am sure they were thrilled too) and that would not have been possible if not for Jonah’s message.  In Revelation and the letters to the churches, tolerating the sinful, immoral and idolatrous among them is an incredible offense against Jesus; not tolerating or even hating the wicked is seen as a virtue!  In Romans 1, Paul talks about people knowing that sins deserve death but that they not only continued sinning but also approved of those who did, implying that something other than approval was needed.

Intolerance for sin seems to be biblical….but it’s pretty much the worst thing you could display in our culture. So I think that’s a pretty good reason why the world might hate us. I never said we should be hateful or that we should not love sinners, but I don’t think that we should turn against other Christians who feel called to speak the truth.  We don’t know that someone might not be saved that way.  Who’s to say that but God?  One of my old churches decided to not try to bring anyone to church but just offer free water or carwashes on Saturday so they could be loving like Jesus.  That’s good for the church members, but I’m sure it won’t help anyone else’s soul.  And frankly, as long as there is just 1 wacky church out there to make the news, our PR with the world is never going to be improved anyway.  That seems to be the wrong tree to be barking up.

Like I said, I’m not condoning hate and I do realize there are hateful Christians out there.  I’m also not saying that having these meaningful, loving relationships with the lost is wrong.  I don’t think that, I think it’s awesome.  I’m glad there are Christians out there doing that but I am also glad there are Christians out there willing to speak the truth in a culture where that is one of the only things considered to be “wrong.”  It’s a shame that believers are hating you for what you’re doing, but I also think it’s a shame that believers have joined the world in hating the others for their message.  Because I think that’s what we are all supposed to be about, in a united way, now more than ever.

Many more thoughts to follow…. I have started rereading the NT through this lens.  It is strange that I would consider something so important and basic, a new way of thinking.  But for me, a lot of these questions and considerations really are new.  I suppose what is new, is the postmodern statement that protest without relationship is verbal violence, along with the presumption that publicly speaking truth is “protest.” But whatever the prompting, I think the question is important and deserves to have time spent on it!  So, thanks again.

MISSISSIPPI

“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #2)

[Response #2 from SEATTLE – Part 5 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey, MISSISSIPPI:

Hahahahaha!  You respond so quickly!  It takes me weeks to have time to sit down and write an email like that, and before I wake up you have written back. =)  So, I thought I would continue the dialogue—a little quicker myself.

And I think you must have been watching me write the last email because I really was smiling and laughing half the time!  Of course, it was late at night and I get a little delirious when I’m tired.   Well, and Jay Leno and Conan were on, so that makes me laugh too.

But, I also do appreciate a good friendly conversation that isn’t communicated through anger, meanness or general insensitivity.  If you only saw some of the emails and comments that come my way!  I don’t even show them to my wife, most of the time, because they are so full of anger and intensity.  And sadly, they often come from “Christian” brothers and sisters.

I really believe that these are the types of civil and open conversations that more Christians should be having with each other.   And I sincerely appreciate your views and the attitude with which you communicate them.

In regards to your last email, I think we probably agree in more areas than we realize.  For instance, I agree that at times we will be persecuted by people for standing up for what is right.  As you correctly stated, Jesus promises us that the world will hate us as it hated him.   And in that regard, I am OK with not being popular or liked.  Trust me, I have to have some thick skin to write blogs like that!  As much as you might think there are many who would cheer that blog, there are three times more that would like to dis-fellowship me for it.   I simply choose not to post their emails or comments because they are too rude and at times vulgar.

Here is the rub for me, though.  I believe Jesus was willing to be hated and I should too.  However, I just want to make sure that I am hated for the things that Jesus was hated for.  I want to “stand-up” for what Jesus stood for.   And as I read through the gospels, I can’t think of a single time that Jesus was hated because of his proclamation of repentance to people that were notorious sinners, unbelievers, non-religious or of other religious persuasion.  His methods seemed different when it came to outsiders.  He didn’t shy away from the problem, but he didn’t seem to start with behavior modification or correction either.   I do think Jesus wants repentance, but I can’t find any story there that is similar in method to the [mega-pastor] event.  Jesus lived love, and out of that love, spoke healing truth into people’s lives.  His message was about the “Kingdom” available to all, not simply adjusting your behavior.

Honestly, I really want to have those conversations with people around me that are hurting.  And I do engage in those conversations.  In all my relationships with people that don’t follow Christ, I am longing toward one-day (in some cases sooner, others later) sharing the truth as I see it in God’s word that can set them free from oppression, self-indulgence, greed, hostility, loneliness, and despair.  But, with so many of them I can’t start there or they’ll never hear it.  I have to earn that right to speak into their life.

I approach it that way (and hopefully some of my other nut job Christian friends do too) not because I’m ashamed of the message, but because I’m not ashamed to love them regardless of whether or not they ever believe it.

Also, I agree that there are those apparently following Christ who appear “ashamed” of the relationship and of any standard that God calls us to.  Whether this is more so now than at other times, I don’t know.  It seems that truly following Christ has always been counter-cultural and the temptation exists to make His radical claims more palatable.

This, of course, is unnecessary.  And those that distance themselves from the difficult parts of Jesus’ teaching in order to make Jesus sound more acceptable to hearers are not only fooling themselves, but really deceiving those they intend to attract.  And at any rate, I think there are many well-meaning people that are lumped into this category that actually believe more of what I have described above than just “shame” in following Christ.

And, I’m not saying that there aren’t ever going to be times that non-believers disagree with us and even antagonize us for it.  I think that happens too and we should be OK with it.  But I think that happens for similar reasons when the world sees us caring for people it casts-off (i.e. drug dealers, sex offenders, terrorists, etc.).  If people who DID BELIEVE think that Jesus loved too much, how much more those that don’t believe?

Interestingly, though, when Jesus talks about being hated, the reference—I believe—is more the religious people around them than the non-religious.  In Jesus’ own context it was the religious leaders that always hated him.  It was they who killed him.  Not because he preached so much propositional truth, but because he loved too much. Or, if preaching, because he preached the truth about love.

In that way, I think [the mega-pastor] (if the illustrated scenario you described was accurate) misunderstood sacrifice.   He could have still been unpopular in his belief on homosexuality (I think that is fine, in fact, theologically we agree), but found an equally unpopular way (in Jesus’ sense) of loving outsiders.  Instead, it felt to me like he was willing to be unpopular with the world to in some small way be more popular with his church friends.

Now I’M being dangerous because I’m guessing at his motives!  And maybe I’m mistaking his motives (which isn’t really my point anyway—I’m not criticizing his motives, he might be a fine man, just his methods that I don’t think are consistent with Jesus), but if he did feel like a prophet, he’d do well to remember that is was God’s people that were angry with the prophets, not outsiders.  They existed, primarily, to reform God’s people, not convert others.  (the only exception I can think of here is Jonah, and without going into another long email, I think the circumstances illustrate a similar point).

In terms of media, I think you are right here as well.  They do often cast all Christians in one-boat as a bunch of wackos.   Of course media has an agenda too.  And very often they do choose the worst to represent us all.  And in that way, they share part of the blame of the perception of Christians today.  Although, I think we’d be wise to own up to our own fair share responsibility.   The Church does do some weird things sometimes!  LOL.

But, this comes down to several things for me too.  1)  There is a difference, I think, between the “cultural Christianity” in America today and real Authentic Jesus-following stuff.   The “cultural Christianity” (CC) is what makes the news.  It’s the people that say they are Christian, go to church occasionally, but live lives that look nothing like Christ.  Christianity isn’t so much a lifestyle to them, but a cultural definition of who they are.  However, whenever there is something to protest (and I’m not lumping [mega-pastor] in with this group) that is different than their American-Christian worldview, they are the first to speak up.  Not so much based on conviction about Christ’s transformation in their life or the world, but out of a sense of pride in their worldview they’ve always known being right.  These are the people that news agency’s love because they are full of hypocrisy, contradictions and have volatile sound-bites.

Then, there are the many good and devoted followers of Jesus in this country that really live what they preach and love God deeply.   And it is this group that I think you rightly pointed out are doing a great many things in their churches and communities that doesn’t make the TV.  And to these people I am deeply indebted and extremely proud.

Now, I know for me personally, when I am found agreeing with the media about the Christian stereotype, it is not because I’m ashamed of what that latter group believes and lives, or that I find it easier to perpetuate the media’s skewed perceptions.   But, rather, it is my agreement that the former group IS fraudulent and in many ways destructive.   I want people to see through that type of commitment anyway.

Which brings me to the second point . . . 2) I often spend a great deal of time criticizing the former group because I have to convince people today that not all Christians are like that.   To convince them that there are many followers-of-Jesus found in group 2 that are consistent, truthful and worthy of admiration.   It’s why I often don’t even use the name “Christian” for myself anymore (because it is culturally associated with CC), but use something else, such as “follower-of-Christ.”

My thought is that many people our age have noticed this difference as well.  Now, no doubt there are some that simply want to hide from difficulty, as you suggest, and it is easier for them to agree with mainstream thoughts about Christians.  And shame on them.

But a great deal more may simply be trying to make the point that Christianity is not a cultural garment to be worn when convenient, but is a life-altering commitment that invades every moment of your life.   It may be that this language we hear is an attempt at making that distinction in post-Christian culture that thinks they’ve heard everything there is to know about Jesus already—even though they probably haven’t.

Can it go overboard?  Probably.  I think it is a tough line to walk.   You are trying to build credibility, while still showing the good that exists in the bride of Christ.   Maybe I don’t always walk it correctly myself.  But, I really do try hard.   And I’m sure people of both good and bad motives go overboard in this area and that is regrettable.

At any rate, while not all helpful or purely motivated, some of what I hear today actually gives me hope that things can be better, not worse.

Ok.  Long enough for email #2.   See you got me all thinking today, when I should be working!  LOL.

Grace and peace,

SEATTLE

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#2)

[Letter #2 from MISSISSIPPI – Part 4  of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey SEATTLE,

Superb response!!  So good to hear back from you.  I love how much time you spent responding and how thoughtful and helpful to me this is.  I agree with you about the attitude of humility, and this is something I can learn from….of course.

I’m relieved to know that picture wasn’t from the actual protest and wasn’t actually a picture of real Christians protesting.  Putting it in your blog about Hutch is really misleading (I’m glad it wasn’t you) and it illustrates my feelings pretty well.  I do agree that there was likely a better way for him to go about this.  But for the sake of argument, let’s say that he didn’t do this to make himself feel good or hold on to any rights but because he prayed about it and genuinely thought his message needed to be heard by a hurting, lost world.  Maybe more as a prophet. The picture which is not even from a real event, somehow ends up illustrating his message. Fair?  No.  But maybe that is the very picture of what Jesus did, in laying down his personal rights to popularity, to being liked or loved, to not being a target for persecution and murder; I think he had to lay down those rights in order to speak the truth to people who didn’t want to hear it. Yes, he did it lovingly and through sacrifice but his message of repentance was never absent.

I think being persecuted for speaking truth is also a Christ-like way of laying your personal rights down, not keeping silent about the truth so people will look more favorably on you and your beliefs.  I just don’t think we can be caught up in how we might be represented in the media, in a world that is hostile to Christ.  If you’re angry at the picture of Christians that gets portrayed in the media, you should actually be angry with the media.  They ignore all the good that churches and Christians do and focus on the few cases they can find that misrepresent Christ; or they distort the actions of genuine Christians themselves, kind of like that fake protesting picture being shown in the context of Hutch’s protest.  But since Christ was treated no better, maybe we shouldn’t be angry at all—maybe we should expect others to see us this way and continue on faithfully, not bending our message to suit the fancy of those who are convicted by it and don’t wish to be.

I’m not so worried about the slippery slope, or keeping intact a culture that recognizes the moral truths that have produced a wonderful society.  I understand that Christianity has thrived more in cultures that are hostile to it.  My thinking is all about how and what Christians are saying about the truth.  Are we ashamed to be recipients of his grace, to know the One way and the One truth? Are we ashamed of the privilege and blessing of being saved, of telling others they need saving too? Are we ashamed of the material blessings God has given us, as we have lived faithful, generous, disciplined lives, and as we use it to bless others in ways that no other group of people does?  I hear this “Christian guilt” everywhere I turn and have a hard time squaring it with Scripture. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes;” Rom. 1:16

It seems that more often than not especially with Christians our age, there is a public bashing of Christianity, and of those who would preach the Word or call sin what it is, and many of us are changing the message or watering it down because the world sees it as intolerant.  The world feels condemned in the presence of truth, but truth is not the problem.  The world WILL see our message in a very negative way if we are at all true to it.  Jesus promises exactly that.  We have to be true to the Word and let that be seen by the world—as much as they may then hate us, or Jesus for it (He promises us that too).  Only then will the hurting lost people who are actually looking for an answer, see any difference between our message and that of the world’s message of moral relativism.  To do otherwise is to hide our light under a bushel.  Obviously, there are more and less effective ways of doing this but I have to say I am weary of hearing Christians say that we should apologize to non Christians and never ever tell them the truth about their lives.  I’m not saying we should cast stones by any means, but we go so far as to agree with the lies the media is spreading about who we are!  Talk about doing something because it makes us feel good…I’m pretty sure no one is going to want to throw rocks at our heads or crucify us for such statements.

Anyway, that’s my concern and where I’m coming from.  I hear what you’re saying too & have read Miller, Claiborne, Camp, Wallis etc.  I have really enjoyed this dialogue b/c usually people get kind of uptight, over serious or angry and I can almost hear your laughter and smile coming across through cyberspace. God has blessed you with a beautiful compassion for the lost and hurting in our world and no doubt, if all Christians were like you then I do think our message would have a lot more weight.  I do.  So, you have been a really good example and given me a lot to think about with your blog and email.  Thanks so much for taking the time to read all this and respond.  I will be thinking about what you have said and pray about my understanding of these times and our role in them.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

MISSISSIPPI

“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #1)

[Response #1 from SEATTLE – Part 3 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey, MISSISSIPPI:

Thanks for your note!  It is just great to hear from you guys.  Tania showed me some pictures of your kids and I can’t believe how big they have gotten.  Crazy!

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond.  My life is a little hectic right now.  Ministry is going completely awesome, but between all the work there and learning to be a dad it feels like I don’t have time to just sit down and “be” sometimes.

Anyway, your response was a little involved and in order to take it seriously, I needed a little bit of time to answer.  This is really the first time I have sat down since I first read it, and had time to respond.   So, all that to say, sorry it took so long. ☺

In regards to your concerns, I suppose I have a few thoughts.   First, I think I understand where you are coming from in being confused with apparently opposing points-of-view.   In fact, that is why I think these discussions are so important and that our views should be held with a degree of humility.  These are very complicated issues, involving real people and not abstract theology.

I have read a great deal on the issue of homosexuality (from a biblical perspective and otherwise) from many different authors from many different backgrounds.  And in that reading and research of my own, I have probably found myself more confused, not less.   There are genuinely good reasons that people argue over this stuff.  I used to think that the matter was rather cut and dry (homosexuality in all forms is sin), and like you, I assumed that those who argued against it were more motivated by political agenda than honest struggle with God’s truth.   However, I now think it is more difficult than that.

This argument exists in large part because there are legitimate reasons (at least in my mind) for disagreement.  For instance, there are word choices that the Apostle Paul could have chosen that would have made it much more clear (i.e. in Romans 1 and 1 Cor. 6:9-10, etc.), but unfortunately he didn’t.  And the Greek words he did use carry more ambiguity than I am comfortable with.   I encourage you to look into it yourself, of course, but I’ll be the first to admit that I end up more “confused” for the research, to use your terminology.

All that said and despite what I consider legitimate dissension, here is where I come out personally on this issue…  I still believe that as best as I can tell, homosexuality in all its forms is normatively sinful.  Hahahahaha!   And you thought I was going all crazy on you!

Anyways, there are lots of reasons for me ending up here, but this response will be long enough as is.  LOL.

However, even though this is my conviction (and what I will stand up for and teach), I have learned to hold that conviction with as much humility as I can.  Philosophers speak of a term, “epistemological humility.”  It means being humble about what you think you know and believe, because history it seems is full of well-meaning people who were passionately convinced on many issues (slavery or women’s rights to name just two), but on the wrong side of justice as we look back at them now.

And so, I live in this weird world where I hold to my convictions and teach them unapologetically, but try not to hold them so tightly that they define me more by what I’m against than what I am for.

Interestingly enough, most of my non-Christian friends already knew the troubling spots about homosexuality in the Bible before I did.  And, in my experience, they have become much more open to my understanding of homosexuality since I became humble in my dialogue with them about it.   It‘s as if they trust what I have to say more now that they perceive that I’m not just proverbially “drinking the Kool-Aid” of Christianity, but willing to think critically and openly.

And in that sense, I have learned to be a little less scared of the “slippery slope” theology that I think you expressed in your response.   It’s that feeling that Christians today buy into little things that might seem harmless; things the culture tells them is ok, but in the end is a slow start to a fast decline in the righteous path of God.

Now, I do feel scared about that at times.  But more often than not it is about things that are much more subtle, and in my mind, much more dangerous.  Things like consumerism, misplaced patriotism that becomes synonymous with faith in God, or spiritual pride.  That could be a whole response in itself!  LOL.

And to some degree I think issues like homosexuality are like that as well.  It concerns me greatly that a person would simply accept homosexuality as a normative behavior without wrestling with God’s word.  But it also concerns me that someone would condemn it without doing the same diligent work.   We tend to be lazy.   Lazy in our study of God’s Word and lazy in our dialogue with God and each other about what that Word might mean.  And in that sense, I think there are a lot of people out there that are sliding into either total relativism or total elitism, and I believe both slopes are equally slippery.

In terms of [The Mega-Pastor], I suppose I was a bit hard on him.   I looked into the graphic that you mentioned.   I actually didn’t put that in the blog myself;  I had an assistant who did that for me (I’m not all that tech savvy).  FYI — That photo isn’t from the [mega-pastor] protest, but is apparently a famous parody of those types of protests.  And in that way, I agree it may be misleading.  [Note to reader:  I have left it posted as it was for the purpose of this conversation].

In any event, I talked with people close to [the mega-pastor] and I think I understand his point-of-view in holding the protest.  I understand that he is protesting not the event but it’s placement in the educational system.

My problem with the protest was not with his concerns but with his methods.  There is definitely some pro-gay agenda to that event.  No doubt.  But several things are important here, 1) it is an event put on by students, not adults coming in to “indoctrinate” them.   Had it been a planned school event, hosted by the district or its employees, I think [mega-pastor] would have a better argument.   And 2) the effective end to his method was all my non-Christian friends (and everyone in Seattle) seeing Christians standing up for what they are AGAINST again.  All they saw was Christians protesting gay people.   And in that way, [mega-pastor] could have been right—and even won the battle—but because of his methods, lost the war for those people’s hearts.

Now, maybe that isn’t what [mega-pastor] wanted to communicate, but I don’t think that really matters.  That IS WHAT WAS COMMUNICATED.

So, how would I respond better?  I’m not sure.  I’m thinking it through for this year.  But, what I think would be more powerful is for Christians to EARN the right to speak into these students lives by showing up and RALLYING around the parts of it that they can support—such as the protection of the weak and vulnerable.   And even if they know there is an underlying gay agenda, to show up and demonstrate that they are FOR things like love, compassion, and grace too.

It’s an issue of language.  [Mega-pastor] didn’t speak a language that reached those students or that community.  He held a protest that made him and his followers FEEL GOOD about themselves and their convictions, but in the end, it didn’t reach a single person (that I know of) with a life-changing opportunity of faith in God.   He stood up for his rights, when he should have laid them down.  He asserted his beliefs by force, when he could have sacrificed his time and pride with unconditional love.

And in that way, I do believe that an act can be “violent” without actually being “violent.”  Well, maybe that’s not the real problem.  Maybe it was simply that it didn’t demonstrate “ultimate Jesus-like love.”

Listen, I know this is counter-intuitive.  It seems like exactly the opposite of what we should do when culture presses in on us.  It seems like we should fight back.  It seems like we should protest and pass legislation and speak loudly.   It seems ridiculous to be right but not ask for your rights.

But, I’m absolutely convinced that even though it makes no sense, it is the way of Jesus.   I think what Jesus came to teach us is that the “power-over” model of persuasion belongs to the world and not us.  In some strange way, it is the “power-under” model of love and sacrifice that wins the day.  That love wins.  Not protest.  I mean, that was Jesus’ own life model, wasn’t it?   He didn’t protest prostitutes, he loved them and forgave them.  He didn’t pass laws on greedy tax collectors, he went and ate dinner with them.   He didn’t even fight back when he was accused on trumped up charges, He choose instead to die for those who brought the charges.

Somehow, I think we have bought into the model of the world and tried to fit Jesus into it, rather than just follow the example of Christ.   And when we do that, we may very well win the battle for being “right”, but lose the hearts and souls of many people as collateral damage.

Anyway, that is a long answer to your questions, I know.  But you did ask, and I would feel bad blowing you off with some trite answers rather than the thoughts of my heart.  I only hope that I have clearly answered what you were really asking.

At any rate, it is discussions like this that I think Christians would be best served having right now.  Especially in light of new California laws and retaliations.   It may be that we have much to still learn in how to live with this righteousness “not our own.”

Give my best to your family.  I pray that you all are still enjoying Mississippi and of course that you will decide it isn’t for you and move back to Seattle!  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Grace and peace,

SEATTLE.