Sunday, July 09, 2006

Scandalous

Okay, so, like I mentioned earlier, I just finished reading Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ron Sider. And just before that I read God's Politics by Jim Wallis. So, there is a lot of stuff Rattling Around. Please forgive me if I start rambling.

One of the things that stuck with me most from Scandal is how we define the gospel and salvation. Sider says:

I am convinced that at the heart of our problem is a one-sided, unbiblical, reductionist understanding of the gospel and salvation. Too many evangelicals in too many ways give the impression that the really important part of the gospel is forgiveness of sins.

While he does agree that forgiveness of sins is, in fact, very important, he goes on to say:

Justification and sanctification are both central parts of the biblical teaching on the gospel and salvation. To overstate the importance of the one is to run the danger of neglecting the other. And that is certainly what popular evangelicalism has done.... we have propagated the heretical notion that people can receive forgiveness without sanctification, heaven without holiness.

It's made me wonder about the answer I would give if someone asked "what is the gospel?" And it makes me wonder about the ways we, as the Church, present the gospel to unbelievers. Do they come away with a sense that the gospel is simply fire insurance? Do they see us living truly transformed lives (ie. living out the gospel)?

And what of new believers? I think the Church as a whole needs to be strengthened in the areas of accountability amongst believers as well as discipleship. It can't be enough to "get people saved" and leave it at that. The Church should be a community made up of people who know how to nurture one another and spur them on towards Christ-likeness.

I know I am a cynic, but does it seem like the majority of believers are not willing to form the kinds of relationships that this would require? Or, if they are willing, are they equipped for those kinds of relationships?

I'll answer for myself. No, and no.

In regard to our reduction of the gospel to "the forgiveness of sins," Sider notes that Jesus never defined the gospel this way. Instead, he says, Jesus always spoke in terms of the kingdom of God. (In Luke 4:43, Jesus says, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.") He points out that, in their gospel accounts, Matthew and Mark both describe the gospel in the same way. Then he illustrates this point by quoting the scriptures in which Jesus sent out his followers on mission trips. Jesus told them to tell the people that the kingdom of God is near. Then he instructed them to heal the sick, raise the dead, etc. (See Matt 10:7-8 and Luke 10:8-9.)

I think the biggest thing that got me from this book is probably the hardest to describe. It has me wondering if western Christians really do get it at all. (And I am referring to myself here too.) Let me see if I can explain, in a rambling sort of way.

I hear lots of Christians say things like, "it's okay to have nice things" when we talk about materialism. That seems to be what we all want to hear. That way we are off the hook when it comes to examing our spending and our desire to accumulate stuff.

But, y'all, we are so steeped in consumerism here in the west that I think most of us have bowed to it and don't even realize it. You know, it IS okay to have nice stuff. God blesses us with material things sometimes. But the Bible is clear. It is NOT okay to have stuff in excess when others (billions of others, by the way) don't have basic comforts and the assurance that their needs will be met. Is it really okay to have 150 DVDs at our disposal, when people all over the world can't even afford adequate health care.

Sider makes the historical generalization that mainline Protestants have generally protested social sins (eg. economic injustice, slavery,) while evangelicals denounced personal sin (eg. stealing, adultery.) For the most part, I have found that to be true in my own experience. Christianity, in my evangelical experience, has always been about dealing with my personal transgressions. But, it is ALL OVER Scripture, that God is none too happy with his people when they turn a blind eye to economic and social injustice.

Jim Wallis made the point in his book that God, in the practice of Jubilee, set up a system that maintained equity. And, though ownership of personal property was allowed, it was always trumped by the concept of equity. Personal gain was always trumped by what was best for society. (And I am speaking very generally here, because I returned that book to the library a long time ago, so I can't give you any specific quotes.)

Moreover, Wallis went on to say that helping people out of systems of injustice is good. But, he warned that, as the Church, we need to work towards changes in society so that unjust systems are no longer pulling people under. In other words, we do need to help people who are poor by giving them sustainable income, but we also need to change the laws, trade practices, and personal habits which contribute to their marginalization.

To sum up, both Sider and Wallis make the point that Christianity is meant to be counter-cultural. I am still trying to grasp what that means for me personally, and what that would look like for the Church as a whole. Here is what Sider says:

The church is a new, visible social order. It is a radical new community visibly living a challenge to the sexual insanity, the racial and social prejudice, and the economic injustice that pervade the rest of society.

I have no idea if this post makes sense. It is my first attempt to put this all into words, so I covet your comments. I am also thinking of reading A Peculiar People. If any of this is of interest to you, perhaps we could read together and post thoughts on our blogs (or my comments section, if you don't have one.)

Gimme what you got.

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12 Comments:

Blogger BooMama said...

One of our close friends who also happens to be a pastor says that one of the biggest problems facing the modern church is a drive-thru mentality when it comes to ministering to the unchurched. We haul them in, see what they need, baptize them when they're saved, and then send them on their merry way - even though they have NO IDEA what it means to live a Christian life in the midst of Christian community.

You might be interested in listening to a series we're going through at our church right now - it's called Radical Restoration - Becoming the Church That God Intended. And the bottom line is that there needs to be a paradigm shift from this self-centered mentality ("that style worship doesn't work for me, that song didn't speak to me") we see in so many churches to a Christ-centered mentality ("did that worship glorify Him? did that song magnify His name?"). And this all ties into the Great Commission, but I need to stop because I'm hijacking your comments. :-)

Great food for thought here, Lori.

Mon Jul 10, 01:44:00 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

You think circles around me Lori.

I've been thinking about how I want to repsond but I keep erasing it. I don't think I can get it out of my head an onto the computer just yet.

Sometimes it's a SLOW process for me... ha ha ha

Mon Jul 10, 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Brenda said...

I'm going to ponder this a while longer before I put in my 2 cents. Like you, I've got lots of thought rattling around, and I don't want to hijack your comments.

Mon Jul 10, 09:58:00 PM  
Blogger PEZmama said...

Believe me, I understand. I've been reading this stuff and I still have a hard time putting my thoughts together.

I am looking forward to hearing what you have to say... even if you have to hijack my comments to do it.

Mon Jul 10, 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Everyday Mommy said...

Okay! Your little Pez head cracks me up!

But, seriously, there was a long discussion on my blog about these issues beginning with a post called "Hard to Believe". Some interesting thoughts.

Wed Jul 12, 11:33:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah's In the Midst of It said...

Lori, I'm cracking up that you read these kinds of books, and I read books like I suggested in my post! I assure you, the books I recommended will be LIGHT compared to what you've been pondering!

Thanks for your thoughts on this--it gives me much to think about:)

Thu Jul 13, 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger Everyday Mommy said...

"It has me wondering if western Christians really do get it at all."

No, I don't believe we do. I think we're so far off the mark that we have no idea how much we've strayed. Much like the Laodicean church,

"You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked." Rev. 3:17

We've been saturated by the culture, rather than saturating the culture. So many churches more closely resemble a business, with a marketing plan, than a biblical body of believers.

Fri Jul 14, 08:33:00 AM  
Blogger Leslie said...

Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible church is speaking about some of this same stuff right now. His sermons are at www.mhbci.org I think. The last series on the Israeli's coming out of Egypt is particularly relevant. I am so jealous that you get to see Robin, Addie, BooMama, and Teresa. In fact, I think I'm turning green!

Sun Jul 16, 10:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Daugherty said...

Hi Lori!
It's Steve Daugherty, Kristi's husband... formerly of Miamisburg, now North Carolina...
Great thoughts, couldn't agree more. Might I suggest a couple of reads?
Jesus and Empire by Richard Horsley
Simply Christian by N.T. Wright

Keep digging.
Steve

Mon Jul 17, 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Brenda said...

Sorry it took me so long to get back to this. I was a church secretary for five years, so I got to see behind the scenes how this church operated. I was disappointed by many of the things I saw and powerless to do anything about it. We were constantly trying out new and better ways to bring people in, but refusing to change the things that were obviously wrong with the way they'd always been done.
Children's department workers took summers off because they needed a break. Everyone was worried about doing more than anybody else. Fewer than half the Sunday school teachers attended meetings. Teacher training was not available.
Children's choir took the place of discipleship training. Committee meetings took the place of adult discipleship.
Church let out precisely at noon, and if the sermon ran a little long, the invitational hymn was cut short.
Money was a big issue. We spent more on entertainment and church socials than we did on benevolence. Our benevolence fund was designated for church members ONLY. You got a neighbor who lost his wife? Let his church take care of his needs. We can't be feeding him if he's not one of our members. This attitude prevailed AFTER we, our church, had been the recipients of contributions that poured in from people and other churches all around the country when our building was destroyed in a tornado.
Our pastor's vision was to rebuild in another location and move into the new building debt-free. We started a fund-raising program, took out a million dollar loan, and moved in as soon as the first phase was completed, still in debt.
We were a self-serving church, interested more in enjoyable "worship" and increasing numbers than in equipping believers to live out their faith outside the church.
Church growth means nothing if its members aren't thriving.
That's my 2 cents. Thanks for listening.

Sat Jul 22, 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger PEZmama said...

Thank you so much for coming back to it, Brenda! Your statement "church growth means nothing if its members aren't thriving" really resonates with me.

Amen, sistah. Amen.

Sat Jul 22, 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Luisa Perkins said...

I'm so impressed that you read so many of these thought-provoking books. I read mainly as a treat; you seem to read mainly for information. You're an example to me.

Tue Mar 27, 04:36:00 PM  

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