Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Cynicism Unleashed

Do you remember my post on this book? Well I have long since finished it but have yet to put my comments about it. And now I realize I NEED to return it since I've had it so long!

I have been increasingly cynical of the what I call "marketing of Christianity" that I am getting at my own church and that seems so common in a lot of churches. It's like they are trying to convince people to DO it, like they try to convince them to buy pop. To me it seems to be "seeker-friendly" churches that have gone too far and are starting to lose what the real relationship with Jesus is all about in the first place. Now - I am not criticizing my church in everything, but have felt this blah feeling of lack of depth for awhile. And maybe it is my own blah-ness compounding it because the people I know there, I love. But what happened to talking about holiness and more depth. I understand the difficulty a preacher must have trying to appeal and teach to all levels of an audience, and our preacher is a good one! He is Bible preaching, Jesus teaching.... but after picking up this book, it makes me feel like Jesus needs to sift the goats from the sheep.

The authors are pretty blunt and critical in some of their observations about different churches they visit. The atheist who is along for the ride and for his opinion has some insightful and very real things to say that about 99% of the time I agree with him on. The lack of sincerity or the way church is done the same everywhere- a couple songs (whatever style), a message of some sort, collecting money, and some sort of greeting, all within an hour or 2. I want more!! I want to not go to church, but to be THE CHURCH. And I know that is sometimes a struggle for me too, so who I am to criticize how they do church since I'm not there helping "plan it."

Anyways enough of my soapbox.... here's some mind provoking quotes from the book for you:

He talks about "defending the space" not just the faith, and knowing all the right answers and apologetics, but the space that exists between any 2 people when they trust each other. "Fro some reason Christians continue to believe that we can talk people into following Jesus. That's why we think we need to memorize the right words or even our own story. We all know the impact it has on us when someone listens to us. This simple act is so rare that whoever practises it (even poorly) is immediately set apart in our minds as someone we would like to spend more time with. Defending the space means we practise listening."

"The final ministry years are the tip of the Incarnation, the visible interaction of humanity and divinity, but the first 30 are just as vital to understanding what God looks like when he is living a life more like the one we live. Defending the space involves embracing the ordinariness of our lives instead of pretending to be something we're not. When we practise leading with weakness rather than strength we let God be the strong one."

"Jesus didn't just teach principles, he taught practices. He gave people something to do. He didn't just each about forgiveness, He told them to forgive their debtors. He didn't just talk about love as a concept; He told people to love their enemies. He didn't just tell people to think about changing their behaviors; He told them to repent."

"Jesus never intended His movement to become part of the religion business, but it has. Consequently when you ask people about their relationship with Jesus, they might begin with something personal, but are likely to add the name of the church they attend, who their pastor is and the unique attributes of their belief system. Today a shift is taking place in our culture-people are more and more comfortable talking about their spirituality and less about their beliefs or religion. This should not be an obstacle for followers of Jesus since he had no interest in religion."

OK I know that was a bit long but..... now you don't have to read the book unless you really want to know what he thinks of Saddleback or Willow Creek. Some really good stuff even with all their constructive criticism of the N. American (well I guess only American- which I found quite different than the Canadian version, but we're similar). Makes me think about how much I do that is religion and just bearing the image of a "Christian" and how much I do that is Jesus and bearing only His image. I'm a long way off, so maybe this atheist has helped me realize more that we're all just people to be real with. I've been getting a lot better at listening than I used to be, but asking good questions-- I want to be better at, to initiate some interesting discussion without feeling like I have to defend anything- HE can defend Himself.


"bigcanadiangirl" said...

Interesting. I might have to pick that up. My instinct though is to be defensive of that kind of criticism/cynicism because I am part of a "big church" that I love. Don't you think that people's experiences are very individual and very dependent on the condition of their hearts and what they bring to the fellowship? Some people think my church is “just a seeker church”- but I see God working through people in intimate and unusual yet tangible ways. I feel fed and challenged, now more than ever and I think I’m beyond the seeker phase. I’ll shut up now because I haven’t read the book.

Linda Drew said...

It is an interesting read and has less to do with the size of the church, and exactly like you said, more to do with the condition of people's hearts. I don't always feel particularly fed at my church, but feel so much more fed when I serve in some capacity, so it is all about what you bring!! That all said, I have decided to LOVE my church wholeheartedly and do what I can to make it a place I love to be. I think in bigger churches, it's easier to feel disconnected. Center St. is NOT just a seeker church! at all! These places have the resources to bring so much help and love to the community.

The Dukes Family said...

Very interesting book. I'm part of a big church too, and I really think it all depends on the leadership of the church and what they're after for the body. I know seeker churches that are trying so hard to be socially relevant that they lose the entire message of Jesus, but I think other churches do it so well ... appeal to the seeker and remain socially relevant but only to a point where it doesn't infringe at all on the truth of the gospel.

Sandra said...

I'm so behind on your blog and excited to be catching up on your amazing thoughts. :)

I don't have the heart to read this timely book. We've been living outside of Christian culture (because, for our family, that is what church has been reduced to)for, I think, four years.

We are increasingly stunned and embarassed by the behaviors and habits that followers of Jesus claim as being Godly or annointed or set apart or righteous or necessary.

We remain outside of a structured church family because we do not know how to belong to one without giving our souls to that work ~ and we have no soul left to give to building the kingdoms of men.

On the other hand, we are becoming increasingly intentional and focused in expressing Christ to our pre-Christian friends. Seeker sensitive? Not really. Sensitive to the seeker? I pray we are--always. But the message of the Cross is hard and life-demanding. We are trying to un-learn the watered down message; to re-learn the clear way to Salvation.

We love, love, love the Body of Christ, too. We serve her (from far outside her services and programs), we pray for her, and we wonder obsessively if we are in error to have removed ourselves from her to this extreme.

We appreciate that for many people knowing God and being a part of a Sunday morning culture are inseparable. We also know that our choice to step aside stirs strong emotion in those beautiful people: hatred, anger, and fierce rejection.

Listening in on this conversation with you and your friends, I see that there is room for more grace and patience in our family's approach. I am moved by your committment to the church as-is and by your determination to follow well yourselves, despite what may be amiss around you.

Linda Drew said...

I am totally all over going TO the people rather than trying to bring them to us!