Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Embarrassment of Resources

DAY 43 OF 46

Want to drive yourself crazy?

Spend two whole days surfing blogs and websites of supposedly important Christian organizations, preachers, theologians, and opinionated blowhards.

Granted, I fall squarely into that last category myself. Well, the "opinionated blowhards" part; I doubt anybody would consider this blog important.  But even this blog helps to illustrate how much evangelical content has been compiled just on the Internet. It's not until you flip from page to page and website to website like I did yesterday, though, that you risk getting really depressed. Not only does this plethora of content stake out all sorts of ideologies, perspectives, convictions, and obsessions regarding Christianity, but after a while, I realized how redundant non-essential most of this well-groomed content is.

Indeed, despite advanced technology, there really isn't anything new under the sun.

Building Bigger Barns?

Perhaps moreso than ever before, the evangelical church in North America has a crushing trove of accessible advice, reference material, sermons, reviews, workshops, articles, podcasts, critiques, Twitter feeds, and rhetoric waiting for its Biblically-astute audience. The sheer volume of these resources must be inexhaustible.

And still, into what has North American evangelical Christianity evolved? Most congregations have yet to be integrated racially and economically. Many congregations try to apologize for the Gospel by making their services appealing to popular culture, ignoring our mandate to be in the world but not of it. The divorce rate among churched people is the same as for unchurched. And we're quickly losing ground on most moral indicators, like drug abuse, extramarital sex, fiscal responsibility, and even scholastic aptitude.

Within these past couple of days, I've read about how some Reformed pastors like to drink beer because it upsets fellow believers, and they justify their churlish attitudes by warping scriptures regarding holiness and weaker brothers to suit their preferences. I've perused vast conference agendas covering all sorts of topics in minutiae for the high-energy preacher. I've waded through biographies of Christian leaders that include litanies of books they've written, parachurch organizations they've launched, and fellow Christian celebrities with which they've ministered. And I've skimmed impressive-sounding content covering topics like missional churches, soft universalists, sustainable evangelism, transformational ministry, transformance, new monasticism, and gender fluidity.

And you thought the Gospel was only about salvation through Christ!

Doctrinal Hedonism?

It all started as what I thought would be a simple research project regarding the emergent church and the Wild Goose Festival coming up this June in North Carolina. But then I learned through my research that the emergent church had pretty much stagnated in 2009, and has been re-branded as post-emergent. And even though most of the featured speakers at the Wild Goose Festival boast legitimate emergent credentials, some of the festival's supporters were also claimed by some trendy hipsters in the Mark Driscoll genre. And then I found where John Piper gave a speech to outline the differences between Reformed emerging churches, like Driscoll says his is, and the emergent fad.

Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. Discouraged. And even uninterested in associating with many of the people whose stuff I've been reading.

People with names you'd most likely be familiar, if you're an evangelical Christian. And some people you maybe even admire.

Not because they're smarter than me, or more spiritual than me, or famous or - as some are - wealthy.  All lumped together, they make faith seem sterile and esoteric.

Working for a church like I did years ago, I've already lost my ability to idolize or become infatuated with Christian leaders. I pray for my pastors, yes, and I value their contributions to the ministry of our church, but beyond that, preachers and teachers and opinionated blowhards are simply mere mortals, just like you and, well, me. It's just the famous ones have savvy publishers, publicists, website designers, and videographers.

It seems that all they really offer is a persona and charisma which we associate with competency, authority, and achievement in our society. And yes, many of the men - and women - we objectify in evangelical Christianity possess exceptional pedigrees in these qualities. But how much has all of this attention we've paid to them and their bullet points really helped believers in North America be authentic, vulnerable, and astute followers of Christ?

Are we, as part of the world's most economically successful and materialistic society, so stunted spiritually that we need these professional Christians to help us be as ineffectual and myopic as we are?  Are these professional Christians the problem, or the people who are paying their salaries?

After all, how many of us still expect our pastors to do most of the heavy-lifting when it comes to spiritual things? And to keep their jobs, might our pastors be perpetuating the problem by building their own little empires of influence they like to call "ministries?"

What if believers across the globe had the same access to this monstrous pile of elite exegesis on doctrines and theology that we have here in North America?  Might they put us to shame by their earnest devotion to Christ - as the persecuted church already does in unsung pockets of the globe?

Even in the Church Economy, We Consumers Share the Blame

Maybe instead of relying on our extensive Christian subculture for relevance, we can demonstrate our faith better not by flaunting our exercise of stereotypically forbidden activities like drinking and dancing, but by demonstrating a Biblical attitude both if you decide to do these things yourself, or if you know other believers don't.

Maybe we can work harder at trying to appreciate the underlying reasons for why a co-worker is treating us in a particularly way; not condoning the causes or the behavior, but having a level of empathy that could help us convey the love of Christ to that person in a meaningful way.

Maybe we could exercise far more discretion in what we allow ourselves to experience in the media that might, however subtly, distort our view of sin and its pernicious dangers.

Maybe we could spend more time in contemplative study of God's Word, as well as in prayer, so that the things we learn about God and our faith come first-generation from the Creator Himself, not necessarily second-generation through professional Christians.  Not that preachers and teachers can't be a valuable resource for developing our faith, but they can't substitute for the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

Think about it:  do we need more preachers in North America?  More church buildings?  More congregations?  More conferences, websites, blogs, Twitter feeds, books, and videos?

Or do we need people of faith to be more committed to Christ, more resolved to learning about Him, more repentant of their sin, more joyful from His grace, more eager to honor Him in all that we do, and more bold to talk about Him within their spheres of influence?

Remember, to whom much is given, much is required.  And here in North America, we have far more resources than we use or need. 

And like any good conservative, I dislike waste.

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