Eric Geiger on the importance of being well-rounded in ministry. Primarily focusing on just the “what”, “who” or “where” of ministry can be a real danger:
There is great danger in being only a “what,” “who,” or “where” leader. “What” leaders often love what they do more than the people they serve or the people they serve alongside. Ministry can easily become about them and the opportunity to utilize their gifts. “What” leaders must become more passionate for the church than for what they do for the church. While I deeply value loyalty, “who” leaders can drift into valuing the relationships more than valuing the health of the ministry. And “where” leaders can lose focus on important ministry functions while simply “loving where they serve.”
From CAPC – Kirk Bozeman discusses a Christian meme that expresses the collective frustration of Christians when engaging in apologetics/evangelism with a specific type of people:
And you walk out of the library with your head held high and immediately run into that guy. Often (though not always) an atheist, he’s the guy who — after a few minutes of “discussion” — has made it very clear that he doesn’t care at all about your hard work toward “faith seeking understanding.” He’s not taking you seriously in any way and obviously assumes that anyone with a faith commitment is intellectually flawed and incoherent. You try to tell him about Alvin Plantinga and warrant, but he rolls his eyes and starts back in.
It gets frustrating, I get it. You see the logical inconsistencies in his thinking that he refuses to see and the rude and abrasive way that he dismisses your attempt at friendly interaction. You start to feel that button-pushing is his main objective, not mutual understanding. You’re trying to have a genuine apologetic discussion, really are trying to be respectful, and it’s not being reciprocated in any way.
Bozeman on the dangers of those internet memes and what they may reveal about our own hearts:
But should this be done through passive photo-caption meme? Probably not. Not because we “sink to their level” (a very self-righteous phrase), but simply because it’s dangerous and unhelpful. I’ve found out from personal experience that snarkiness is rarely a good road to take — you’re setting out into dangerous territory. Someone is going to say something we will all later regret, and, personally, I feel that quite a few of these photo-caption memes are quite regrettable, even embarrassing.
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Andrew Sullivan’s call for Christians, in short, to ditch the “middle man” and to embrace the real thing:
Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. Ignore them, writes Andrew Sullivan, and embrace Him.
To be sure, I do believe the church today suffers from a wide variety of internal divisions and external issues. What he seems to specifically mourn over is the fact that an imperfect people living out (or even taking advantage of) watered-down teachings has been damaging to all those involved. To that end, I agree with Sullivan’s premise and can see that he’s written a passionate and well-written article. Nevertheless, I think there are several fundamental shortcomings with his argument.
Where is the gospel? – The most striking part of his blog post was the fact that, despite its length, the good news of Christianity was barely mentioned. Sure, there was a brief mentioning of God’s love, but nowhere did Sullivan attempt to mention the gospel message. In fact, in citing Thomas Jefferson (who isolated Jesus’ exact words from rest of the NT “fluff” and created his own bible) as evidence for his argument, Sullivan is espousing the need for the church to better embrace the teachings of Jesus. The problem with Sullivan’s method of reasoning is that, simply put, you cannot divorce the teachings of Jesus from His death and resurrection. By trying to do so, you fall into the real danger of turning the good news of Christianity into a legalistic, moral reformation project. Here is the excerpt I’m specifically addressing:
Jefferson feared that the alternative to a Christianity founded on “internal persuasion” was a revival of the brutal, bloody wars of religion that America was founded to escape. And what he grasped in his sacrilegious mutilation of a sacred text was the core simplicity of Jesus’ message of renunciation. He believed that stripped of the doctrines of the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the various miracles, the message of Jesus was the deepest miracle. And that it was radically simple. It was explained in stories, parables, and metaphors—not theological doctrines of immense complexity. It was proven by his willingness to submit himself to an unjustified execution. The cross itself was not the point; nor was the intense physical suffering he endured. The point was how he conducted himself through it all—calm, loving, accepting, radically surrendering even the basic control of his own body and telling us that this was what it means to truly transcend our world and be with God. Jesus, like Francis, was a homeless person, as were his closest followers. He possessed nothing—and thereby everything.
Where’s the balance? – Sullivan seems to waver with regard to his stance on the sphere of influence of religion. On the whole, his entire post seems to hint at a necessary privatization of one’s faith insofar as there’s a need for a return back to basics. At the same time, he makes a caveat by noting that there is a time and place for Christians to publicly unite on fundamental issues, especially in the realm of politics. To be fair though, multiple sides and schools of thought are still arguing on this very question and issue of balance to this day.
Let us not be the spot-finders – The church has damaged its own credibility in countless ways and, as Sullivan notes, it is necessary that we all confess and repent of the mistakes and harm we have caused. Indeed, in this fallen world that we live in, Christians will continue to make mistakes. Nevertheless, I feel that Sullivan makes an overgeneralization. While his point is specific and well-intentioned in saying that we need to “ignore hypocrites and watered-down ‘teachings'”, the way he argues for this point seems to imply it’s a larger issue than it really is. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of churches and church leaders that probably shouldn’t be operating the way they are. However, I feel that he’s doing a little bit of what Spurgeon would call “spot-finding”. To overgeneralize (thereby committing the fallacy of composition) the church based on unflattering examples while ignoring the common grace/good that is being poured out through so many faithful churches is a mistake, I believe.
Trevin Wax (via his blog on TGC) eloquently echoing many of my own thoughts and responses to Sullivan’s article:
Sullivan wants to take Christ’s teaching without Christ Himself. His vision tries to deliver Christ’s message of love without the atoning cross that gives love its meaning. It wants Christ’s justice without the victorious resurrection that launches the new world God has promised , the new world that totally changes the landscape for how we view everything: ethics, morals, politics, art, law.
Jesus’ teachings are not just about embarking on a new journey, embracing a new way of life, or experiencing a new spirituality. They are about His ushering in a new world order – a kingdom that encompasses everything.
Snip away at the miracles, like Thomas Jefferson, and you may be left with only the red letters. But even those red letters testify to the world-changing news of the kingdom’s arrival. This isn’t a Jesus whose message you can understand apart from His cross and resurrection.
The answer to Andrew Sullivan is to point back to everything the Gospels tell us. Let’s not isolate the sayings of Jesus we like and fit Him into our vision for how the world should work. Instead, let’s fall at the feet of King Jesus, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to fit our lives into His vision, a vision of the world to come that has crashed into the world that is.