Thursday, March 5, 2009

It's Not About Improvement!

Man, I wish I could paint that on the doors of some preachers in this town. I'd start with the guy who preached last Easter that the resurrection is all about stepping into new opportunities in our lives that open up.

In his new (and very important) book Christless Christianity, Michael Horton writes:
“Does Christ come merely to improve our existence in Adam or to end it, sweeping us into his new creation? Is Christianity all about spiritual and moral makeovers or about death and resurrection — radical judgment and radical grace? Is the Word of God a resource for what we have already decided we want and need, or is it God’s living and active criticism of our religion, morality, and pious experience? In other words, is the Bible God’s story, centering on Christ’s redeeming work, that rewrites our stories, or is it something we use to make our stories a little more exciting and interesting?”

There are two problems with pitching Christianity as "making life better" (as one relative of mine's church posts as their mission) or "making you feel better about yourself" (as one local church advertised on the radio this morning).

The first is a problem of effectiveness: It's not really working at reaching the lost, because the majority of lost persons don't think they need Christianity to become better people. They're already "good" people. If that's what Christianity means, who needs it? Brad Pitt doesn't need the gospel to build homes in New Orleans. Oprah Winfrey doesn't need the gospel to set up trust funds for orphans in Africa. Salma Hayek doesn't need the gospel to rescue the suffering in Latin America.
And the average Joe in the West doesn't need the gospel to be nice to his neighbor, conscientious about recycling, charitable towards non-profits, and generally productive in society. Or even to feel better about himself. He's handling that quite all right as it is.

This is why decades of "Seven Steps to Blah Blah Blah" has neither resulted in more conversions nor in maturation of believers. Isn't that crazy? The things we've been doing -- and many churches are still full-tilt committed to continuing -- statistically, demonstratively aren't winning the lost and aren't discipling believers. In geekspeak, that's a big stinkin' FAIL.

Effectiveness is the language of contemporary evangelicalism, but if the data on the results isn't convincing, the second problem with the gospel of self-improvement is a problem of truth. It's just not the gospel message. It is not what Scripture teaches. It is self-centered, self-focused, self-concerned.

What will it take to radically revolutionize the pastoral and ecclesiological culture of evangelicalism toward the unadulterated, explicit gospel? I don't think the answer is pleasant.


Jen said...

This is why I love your blog.

Don said...

Within the evangelical community, when we were pimping purpose driven principles, everything seemed to be preceded by, or followed by, the word "Purpose". All we talked about was "Purpose", or everything was centered around God's "Purposes" for your life. Funny thing, though, is that "Purpose" was always vague (especially when proof-texted with verses taken out of context).

Now the key words are "Life Change", "Changed Lives" or "Changed Life". We've diluted the gospel to "Life Change". How is that any different than what Dr. Phil is selling? What happens when life circumstances don't change? When people get disillusioned with what Dr. Phil is selling, they can go to Dr. Dwyane Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Oprah or any other New Age guru. When they get disillusioned with what we are selling in the name of Jesus, what do they turn to then?

"Life Change", seen in the light of eternity, is the result of Christ's finished work on the cross. Any other view is self-centered and a false gospel.

Randi Jo :) said...

awesome. Man I get soo fired up when I read your blogs - it just really speaks to me. I really know the Spirit is building up a passion in me for the things you're talking about.

This is awesome because just last night (early this morning actually) I sent out an email to my pastor and another to a friend just telling them my heart about just how self-centered we are. I have been praying for God to just burn a passion so fierce for me for Him and for The Body.... becuase I have been noticing in myself my own symptoms of being self-focused. wallowing in pity. Worry. fear. Caring what others think.

He spoke to me, through my own experience ---- how much of a HUGE issue this is. We all really are soo wrapped up in ourselevs? It's a catch 22... when you're apart from God - there's a void that you need to fill. you turn to things which leave you empty -- you feel worse. you are so busy trying to fix/help yourself --- you don't realize if you just give up trying on your own and take your eyes off yourself. HE is the answer. This self-focus... truly is fueled by our schools & culture that teach us to be 'independent' and individualism.....

When God was teaching me this recently (spurred from a post by kathyescobar and also by your 95 theses).... He kept showing me sooo many symptoms of this self-idolatry as you say. In conversation - how much we talk about ourselves. How nobody TRULY ever listens to anybody.

In an "experiment" I did -- I was blown away that I could go days and days just loving on others through listening, asking questions, being with and I could go days without anybody asking about me or asking the question back. I would feel like I should try to interject --- though I didn't want to - I felt I had to try to share my heart/life a bit --- but nobody ever listens if you interject - so I was literally quiet for days and days taking "me" / "i" out of conversation --- and it was amazing that nobody noticed or wondered what was going on in my life. In fact --- I had 2 friends just tell me during that time something like, "oh this was the best, I'm so glad we could get together, you are so awesome"

and I thought -- did I even say anything? how am I awesome - do I even know you? I enjoyed listening to people and actually really didn't miss sharing - because I enjoy listening that much - but it was just WEIRD. It was amazing how much GOd showed me people are just THIRSTY for the validation/approval/friends that are others-focused. and just how SELF focused we are. that thirst is a symptom of needing HIM.

anyway---- I don't share this to in any way think that I'm perfect in this area --- but God IS teaching me how to turn my eyes to Him and truly how to be able to get over myself... yet not in the self pity/ I suck sort of way... that's not what its' about --- but in a, it's not about me - way. Just not even focusing on self at all - so there's no room for self-pity/ pride --- cuz you're just not even focused on you.

PHEW that was a long rambling paragraph.

My POINT is -- this was awesome and I definitely hear what you're saying!

but about Don's comment.. I am ALL about "life change" and that verbage / key words doesn't scare me. I think that we don't talk about His life-changing power enough.

But I think I get what you're saying -- it should be looked at through the lense of what HE does FOR the Body. not changing our lives to be 'easier' / 'feel better'..... not changing our "situation" necessarily --- but what He DOES do is radically change our hearts/Spirit and help us "die to self" . I don't think we talk about Him and the life change He brings enoguh.

enough rambling.. bla bla

:) Blessings to all

Anonymous said...

What Jen said.

Boaly said...

So so True!