Thinking Out Loud

I've been thinking about some of the things people on the emergent side of the blogosphere have been saying lately about why people like Jesus but hate the church. Many of them sound suspiciously familiar, but let's admit a few things about the sociological group in the U.S. known and recognized as "Christian":

There is no effort to think about substantive differences inside the sociological loaf of bread. That is: when Pat Robertson says something stupid, everyone from Marginal Mike and Lukewarm Lisa to John MacArthur, John Piper and J. Ligon Duncan takes a credibility hit, and nobody comes out to say, "Pat, please shut up." The leadership of the church has to be more open and public about its repudiation of kooks -- whoever they are. In the American Christian loaf, there is a lot of bread, a lot of vacuous pockets, and enough whole-grain nuts to make the whole loaf full of, um, high fiber, if you see what I'm saying.

There is no effort to systematically and publicly underscore meaningful theological differences. You can prove this yourself by asking any nominal Christian or any non-believer this question: "Is there a substantive difference between what the Bible teaches and what the Koran teaches?" There's no way to approach even the Protestant/Catholic divide -- let alone the Presbyterian/Baptist divide -- when most people can't even identify the uniqueness and superiority of Christ.

There is no effort on the part of denominational leaders across the board to repudiate men who reject denominationalism for the sake of building private empires. The slogan, "I follow Jesus" (and its ugly brother, "I follow the Holy Spirit") ought to be treated in exactly the same way Paul told the Corinthians to treat that slogan -- which is, to reject it from people who use it to garner favor and position inside the church. The exact same thing ought to be true when men embrace denominationalism to raise their own personal capital.

There is also no attempt to distinguish between the actual stumbling block of the Gospel and phony stumbling blocks which people erect to protect themselves from evangelism. For example, it's a phony stumbling block -- a ruse, a red herring -- when someone says they think the church is "too judgmental". Too judgmental about what? When was the last time there was a book burning at a local church that you didn't have to hunt up via Google? How about a live protest against -- let alone public evangelism toward -- homosexuals which was meaningful? The church is not one-tenth as judgmental as the radical political left in this country, and that is to its shame.

And let me be clear about something, before I get misquoted: book burning and public picketing of objectionable events is judgmental. Yelling at homosexuals who are walking around at their version of public worship is judgmental and antithetical to the Gospel. Tearing up books and throwing them into a fire in front of TV cameras is ignorant and mean-spirited. But when does this happen, really? Who has personally witnessed such a thing? Nobody I know -- and I have lived both in large, metropolitan cities and now in the Bible belt.

[UPDATED: To be fair, James White experienced some really amazing stumbling blocks this weekend, so I do actually know somebody who has been a victim of "too judgmental". My suggestion, James, is to post old women in electric wheelchairs outside the church next week and let Lonnie see what kind of stuff he's made of.]

However, at the exact same time, the church is also not 10% as involved in influencing the culture as the radical political left. We live in a bunker, and we behave in public like people who live in a bunker -- which is to say, we have no idea how to act. We look away when people look us in the eye; we stammer, and don't understand the cadences of normal human speech. We act like we have never seen a person outside of our own family before. So on the one hand, we have no idea how to object to things we know are wrong, and on the other hand we don't even know how to treat other people like human beings because we live in the 21st century versions of caves.

I think these are true things -- this is how it really is in the world. And this is not to the church's credit by any leap of the imagination. But what concerns me about these things is that somehow they are used to leverage the good conscience of the church (irony: you'd think that a church like the one above doesn't have a good conscience) to listen to people who are not in or of the church to motivate some kind of change.

Listen: the reason to change is that we are being disobedient to God. There is a great side effect of doing that -- we will decimate the criticisms of those outside the church, and win people by our love rather than by our slogans or arguments. But the method for change is Gospel-centered reformation, and the motive for change which sticks is God-ward love and obedience. So if you have the complaints, above, you're right: those things are true. The question is whether becoming what the culture wants us to be is the answer, or will we be the solution to culture.