So the other night I went with a friend to a small group he’s a part of. They were discussing Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. Yes, I’ve read it. No, I don’t intend to give a book review of it. There’s enough of those around. What I wanted to talk about was something that came up in conversation at said group.
We were going over the chapter on Hell. Yes, that chapter, the one where Rob Bell talks about how it’s OK to believe that everyone will eventually be saved, even after this life, and still be a Christian. Again, I’m not talking about that.
What I want to talk about is making Christianity attractive.
Some of you read that sentence and scoffed at it. “Why do we need to make the Gospel attractive, Pat? It should be attractive enough by itself, and if people don’t like it, tough! The cross offensive to many!”
Well, that’s the kind of attitude I don’t want to have, because I don’t think Jesus had that same attitude. Yes, I do agree that the cross is offensive to some, just as Scripture says it is…but I don’t agree that we have to keep making it offensive.
Here’s what I mean: I think we’re so shut in our own little God boxes that we refuse to dialogue about anything beyond our own scope of understanding of Christianity. Fact of the matter is: Christianity is so big that it includes many traditions outside the one we were raised in. I remember when I first encountered people who weren’t Pentecostal (easily one of the weirdest experiences I ever had); I felt like they were not really following God because they didn’t do church my way. This is obviously a bad way to look at other Christians who don’t go to my church.
Here’s some of the things Christians do to other Christians that they shouldn’t.
1) Talk about their doctrine as if there’s no way it could be true. This is especially true in Protestant circles when speaking about Catholics. I once watched a sermon where Mark Driscoll broke down different beliefs on the afterlife, and when he spoke about purgatory, he initiated that section with “This isn’t true, but you’re going to see people in heaven who believed it.” This statement confused me greatly. If it’s not true, would we really see them amongst the redeemed in the age to come? This leads me into my next point…
2) Refuse to admit that we don’t know the answer to a question. This is a practice that should really stop. Protestant theology is very systematic, and utilizes logic and scripture to come to conclusions about God. Catholic theology is like this when it comes to its ethics, but when hitting more spiritual aspects of its practices, such as apostolic succession (the papacy), veneration of saints, etc., things get a tad more confusing, and they’re OK with that. A lot of Catholic and Orthodox theology is very mystical, and Protestants tend to not like this approach. If someone asks a question, we HAVE to answer it, or at least we believe we have to.
3) Refuse to acknowledge the multifaceted nature of God and the Gospel. Most Protestant churches will have stances in different areas. They have ethical position papers on things like drinking, dancing, abortion, and homosexuality, but don’t delve into matters like immigration, child labor, or fair trade status. Their theology covers matters like inerrancy and the nature of Jesus as God and man, but never anything about spiritual practices such as lectio divina or meditation. The Catholic churches can be a little broader about these matters (they’ve had 2000 years to get it figured out; Protestants have only had about 500), but even they won’t touch some subjects, or accept criticism on their current doctrine. No, we like our God like we like our coffee: our way.
Obviously, this isn’t the best way to do church.
Now, I’ve talked about needing a more unified church, and I still don’t know what that looks like at all. There are so many traditions, so many boxes we’ve placed God into that it is difficult to remove them all and organize our thoughts more efficiently, but I think that what areas a church needs to focus in are these three areas:
1) Spiritual practice. This includes what goes on Sunday Mornings and whatever other times you choose to have service. It also serves to help make classes and groups exploring new avenues of praising God, or at least avenues of worship outside our own scope. Let’s not stick to our denomination’s typical practices of worship and branch out to new ones.
2) Social matters. This extends beyond abortion and gay marriage. There are multiple social elements to the gospel, including clear method on how to act upon them WITHOUT government assistance. There’s a serious disconnect between the American church and the poor today; something the Apostles would never have dreamed of.
3) Education. Most lay people do not take their faith beyond what they hear from the pulpit and the occasional inspirational book. The church can do better to educate members on their faith, giving them solid food instead of just milk for spiritual nourishment. This includes finances, theology, ethics, and mysticism.
None of this makes much sense probably, but a broader view in each of these areas would serve the church at large much, much better.