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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

The UnChristian

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There have been a few times in my life when I’ve said, “Finally, someone is saying that.”  I’ve been personally frustrated with myself sometimes for not knowing how to articulate my thoughts and feelings of frustration about being a Christian.  To those who are close to me, it’s no surprise that though I deeply and passionately consider myself a Christ-follower, or follower of The Way, I have struggled to be identified with the word “Christian” as it has come to be understood in, particulary, the current North American cultural context.  I often find myself more “at home” and comfortable with those who aren’t Christians that in most churches.  (remind me to tell you the story of the Indigo concert sometime)  Many people are trying to bring correction to what it means to be a Christian, to bring “the church” closer to the biblical church.  Some are called Emergent, some post-modern, or as David Tomlinson called it in his book, post-evangelical, others radical, others are just plain written off.  I’ve often wondered, if Jesus came to church with me, is this really what he had in mind when he said things like “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” [Matthew 16:18]  Would Jesus be as enamored with the current model of church as we are or ourselves, or would he be embarrassed?  Would he be disappointed?  Would he be frustrated?I remember reading an article in The Onion (a satirical comedy new mag) that was talking about a Lutheran college administrator who was claiming to be called by God to his new position.  To me, one of the most poignant lines in the article was this one:

Christ denied being anywhere near the Indianapolis church, explaining that he was “speaking to a sickly young boy” in Asunción, Paraguay, at the time of the alleged conversation.

But even more poignant point were these two, which hit harder:

“What was his name? Bartlett? Beckett?” Christ asked. “I have a hard time telling those middle-class suburban types apart.”

“When I first heard that a man in Indiana was claiming I told him to become a Lutheran-college administrator, I was sort of amused,” Christ said. “When I speak to someone, I’m used to them having–how shall I put it?–loftier goals than a mid-level administration post. This really isn’t the sort of thing I usually bother intervening in.”  

What struck me about the ironic or satirical comedy commentary here was that often we spiritualize our lifestyles, decisions, and even our views of the world and give them a Christian coating to make them go down more easily, kind of like a spiritual Tyenol gel tablet.  Down deep, I realize that the church is not what it should be.  I often feel incapacitated to make any significant change.  Sure, we each can make incremental change, and even larger change as one increment builds upon another.  But are we really the broken and risen body of Jesus Christ in this world?  Really now?

There is a book out right now that has gotten me thinking about sharing some of my feelings around this more publicly.  Now and then you read something and say, “There it is.  Finally, someone is saying it.”  Two years ago, I felt that way when I read Rob Bell’s, Velvet Elvis.  He voiced many things that I’ve been thinking for a long time.  When I read Blue Like Jazz 4 years ago, I felt that way.  And now I’m a few pages into “The UnChristian” and I’m feeling it again.  This is a book that says a lot of the thing that have been personally bothering me for the last 15 years or so.  Yeah, 15 years.  I’m getting old.  Since college, really.  And the wonderful thing about this book is that Kinnaman has the research of the Barna group to back it up.  The results of this study (I haven’t read the prescriptive responses offered in the book by it, yet… but we’ll see) simply must be grappled with by the church today.

Here’s the deal.  Many today in conservative evangelical circles (of which I’m a part) and particularly those that lean more towards the fundamentalist background are taking huge shots at those labelled with the words “Emergent” or anyone who is trying to speak to the church a corrective word.  The problem here is that so many of the critics of these (mostly) younger Christians and some of their older mouthpieces (read McLaren, Hirsch, Sweet, etc.) is that the critique attacks based on previous cultural presuppositional stances of the American evangelical church, particular that vein that was reactionary to liberal potestantism and the multicultural, pluralism of the late 80’s and early 90’s, rather than based out of a historical-biblical and kingdom-missional Christo-centric theology of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Glorification.

Anyway, if I get some time in the next week or so, I’ll write out some thoughts on rekindled by the book.  In addition, I’m starting to read “Everything Must Change” by McLaren as well, so stay tuned for thoughts from that as well.

(Oh, and props to my A2 friends who helped me to rethink, reword, and try to relive a historical, biblical, missional, kingdom oriented Christo-centric faith.  We’ve thought alot, talked a lot, struggled a lot, and we need to act a little more.  You know who you are, and you are missed.)


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