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Grand Rapids, MI

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Holistic Christianity

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One of the ongoing issues that seems to rise in my mind, and a lot lately in the Emergent movement is the issue that I will call Holistic Christianity.  Rob Bell talks about it a lot.  Brian McLaren's new book Everything must change is about it.  You read it in recent books like Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Jesus of Suburbia by Mike Erre among many others.  Rick Warren and Bill Hybels have also made a turn in ministry and thought to deal with it..  There seems to be a constant tension in our Christianity between the spiritual and the physical.  That may seem too simplistic, but that's probably the most simple way I can think about it.  Much of today's angst among the young as shown in UnChristian, and much of the dissatisfaction that many of us inside the church feel goes to this problem, this dualism.

It's not a new issue, really.  Let's just go back to something I mentioned a couple of posts ago: 20th century liberalism and fundamentalism.  There is the split.  Liberalism believed you could bring the Kingdom and build the Kingdom here and now.  They focused so much on the physical here and now, that they lost touch with the spiritual by and by.  Evangelism was lost in favor of social action.  The fundamentalists did just the opposite.  They focused so much on the fundamentals  (inerrancy and authority of the bible, the virgin birth & deity of Jesus, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the return of Christ) and "winning" people to these fundamentals through conversion, that anything involving the physical life (poverty, social justice, equity, disease) became secondary and "worldly."  They became too heavenly minded to be much earthly good, while the opposite was true of liberalism.  It's a common problem that lives in our history, is molded in our religious DNA.  Pick a side, most churches and faith communities will, if not openly, then implicitly say.

It was new in the Bible, either.  Remember when God said the following:

"The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. [Isaiah 1:11-13; 17]

Or this one that is so famous:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. [James 2:14-16]

It's an age old issue, a dualistic division that threatens our faith.  What would it look like hold these two important pieces of Christianity together?  Is it possible?  Who is doing it well?  If you follow what Willow and Saddleback (cf. P.E.A.C.E. Plan) do, you'll notice that in the last 5 or so years, Rick and Bill have launched whole new ministries and supported organizations that are working at social justice, racial reconciliation, poverty eradication, AIDS awareness and response, reconstruction of devastation from natural disaster, and neither has lost its fervor for evangelism, spiritual development, or conservative evangelical theology.  One of the questions is how this is working inside their churches.  Are the churches themselves becoming more integrated (I use the word "integrity" and "integrated" to mean "whole" and "holistic" or undivided) or are there factions within the churches passionate about these often dichotomized passions of Jesus?


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