Just Tell Me What to Think!

March 30, 2011

A lot of people are trying to “detox” from evangelicalism.

That means that people are taking a second look at our previous “assumptions” about the Bible.  People are not so sure the Bible says what we thought.  People are trying to create a gentler Christianity, one that’s not so fundamentalistic.  People are trying to build bridges, break stereotypes, and avoid (or remain vague about) topics like sin and hell.  We’re trying to stop making people mad at us for being Christians.

We hope all this makes us more attractive to “seekers” and outsiders.  We’d like people to think that it’s easy to become a Christian.  We don’t have to agree on much, just one or two really important things.  The rest, well, who can really know what the Bible says?  It’s all up to interpretation.  Sounds good to me.

But while a lot of young evangelical Christians are comfortable staying in this cloudy, Brian McLaren / Rob Bell kind of Christianity, branded as a perpetual “conversation,” who is actually winning the hearts of this generation?

Black Tie Army

Protestant Christianity is on the decline in America.  The only growing denomination is the Pentecostals.  Outside of Protestantism, who’s winning converts left and right?

People like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

You might not believe that.  Everyone knows Mormons and JWs showing up at your door are the butt of jokes.  But they are growing, quickly.

And what do they not have in common with Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, their disciples?

A hundred different people can have different opinions about what Rob Bell might believe.  But there’s no question about what a Mormon believes.  Two Mormon denominations is nothing compared to the confustion of postmodern Protestantism.

Jesus will descend from heaven, and perhaps slide down the Mormons' "seashell" temple in Independence, MO. Date: TBA

There is no room for vagueness disguised as “nuance” or “conversation” as a Mormon or JW.  They are proud of what they believe.  They don’t feel bad about what they believe just because you think they’re goofy.  The Mormons believe Jesus will definitely return to Jackson County, Missouri.  They have a huge temple built a few miles from my home for just such an occasion.  If you don’t believe Jesus will return to Jackson County, or that women should wear ankle-length skirts, or that Joseph Smith recieved the Book of Mormon by looking into a hat, you are not a Mormon, end of story.

No Rules?  No Thanks.

By the logic of the Mormons and JWs, a lot of us have it all wrong.  We’re trying desperately to not be “fundamentalists.”  We’re being “seeker friendly,” trying to lower the bar on what it takes to be a Christian.  And we’re getting our lunch handed to us by people wearing little black ties.

It’s pretty easy to be a Protestant Christian.  You can come to church, or not.  You can tithe your money, but no one really expects you to.  It’s up to you to decide if anything under the sun is a sin or not.  We love to tell people that there are “no rules, just Jesus.”  There really are few rules, except for when you sit or stand in church.

But it’s not easy to be a Mormon or a JW.  If you want to be one of them, you will spend two years as a missionary.  You will tithe your money.  You will submit to the church’s authority.  And if you don’t, you will be kicked out.  And rather than people “freeing” their minds of legalism and leaving, they are coming in droves.

Friendly, But Not “Seeker” Friendly

The grand irony is that while we’re trying to make church as accessible as possible, to be seeker friendly, maybe our efforts are making our churches less seeker friendly.

Maybe people who want to join the church don’t want the endless conversation, debate, interpretation, and shades of gray that you and I love.  They just want to know what we believe. A person who has no church experience probably can’t handle (and doesn’t want to handle) a bunch of choices.  They want to know, black or white, what should they do, what is right and wrong, what does God think.

Maybe that sounds wrong to you.  Christianity isn’t about “rules,” it’s about a “relationship,” right?  But every relationship has boundaries.  People want to know what the boundaries are.  They don’t want to be confused.  They want to know what you believe about about homosexuality, about hell, about sex, about war, about abortion, about money.  You’re going to piss off someone no matter what you believe.  So you might as well believe something, and at least act like you have a right to believe it.

Just in case you’re trying to keep the “conversation” going to avoid “fundamentalism,” be careful.  The shades of gray, the vagueness, the “conversation” we love might become our legalism, our fundamentalism, the hill we die on because we’re certain our fundamentalist neighbors are wrong to be so sure about what the Bible says.  How can you be so sure of what we can’t be sure of?

What do you think?  Do we fight legalism with endless questions, or have we gone off the deep end, and just need to tell people how it is?  Do we actually need more rules to attract people?

70 responses to Just Tell Me What to Think!

  1. Tough one here, Matt.

    So, a lot of people sign up with other religions. Big deal. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

    Heathens is heathens–whether you call them Methodists or Mormons or Moonyes or Moslems or Episcopalians or Pentecostals or Baptists or Catholics or Lutherans or Independent Community Churchgoers.

    And yes, my own denomination is included in the above list of vile, ungodly, wicked heathen. We show up somewhere on every list anybody makes!

    Broad path. Narrow path. And all that jazz.

    Nothing new here.

    The Lord knoweth His own.

    Question is, Am I one of them?

    And, if so, how can I recognize others of my breed?

    Thing is, I can’t. Judas fit right in with the crowd for a long time. One of the gang. In the group photo, he’s the fifth apostle from the left.

    I spend too much time and energy asking, “Lord, what shall that man do?”. The reply I get is the same as the one Peter got, “What is that to thee? Follow thou me”.

    Matt, I title my own website “The Rabid Fundamentalist” and my blog shortens that title to “Rabid Fun”–Editors at the local newspaper (Heathen to a man) used to tease me about being a plain old common, ordinary, garden-variety Christian by calling me a rabid fundamentalist so I accepted the title and began writing a humor column making fun of my own faith (never anybody else’s). Seemed to strike a cord with a lot of troubled people.

    However, there are fewer fundamentals than most folks seem to think. School prayer, abortion, Republican party, vouchers, and “defending” marriage ain’t a one of them. Passing current events and issues merely distract me from following Christ on a one on One basis.

    Were i marooned on an island without another human in a thousand miles, could I still be a Christian?

    The fundamentals I believe are that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again –and He’d kinda like for us to behave till He does. I think other religious stuff is just intellectual froth.

    But that froth proves so attractive. I can argue about how the world began and about how it will end and discuss those doctrines endlessly because neither one makes any moral demand on me. I can’t do a thing about Genesis or Revelation; I live in between those two books. But they’re fun to talk about.

    Anyhow, Matt, I’m getting off track and ranting here. We fundamentalists are prone to that affliction. Pray for us, Especially for John Cowart, a sinner.

    And, if the rich young rulers walk away, look after them sorrowing, then go about your own business.

    John

    • Yeah, it’s a tough one because as you point out, so much stuff is just “froth,” but froth attracts people. We don’t like to use hell as a stick or heaven as a carrot to get people in the door, but there’s no denying it works. Great points as usual, John.

  2. You just took that last 10 years of my church struggle and summarized it in one blog post. I’ve remained “orthodox” (I hesitate to use the word “traditional”) while the churches around me swirled into “seeker friendly” and a half dozen other directions. One church nearly destroyed itself, and today limps along, a shadow of what it once was. Another became a battleground between traditionalists (“don’t change nuthin'”) and radicals (“change everything”). Somewhere, the meaning of the gospel and the church got forgotten.

    Thanks for this post, Matt. It is actually a great personal encouragement.
    Glynn recently posted..Its for the Good of the Children

  3. Do mormons really have an opinion, or do they just do what they are told?

    Having a long, clear set of rules is the easy way out. Just stick to the rules and all is good. You fit in. You are on the up and up. Everyone is happy. But is is really good?
    Jeremy @ confessionsofalegalist recently posted..I am the elder son

  4. “You’re going to piss off someone no matter what you believe. So you might as well believe something, and at least act like you have a right to believe it.”

    Loved this line.

  5. //But every relationship has boundaries.//

    Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.(John 14:21) Sounds like a major boundary in our relationship with Christ. And a great one to remember too.

    nicodemusatnite.com
    Charlie Chang recently posted..Seinfeld conversation

  6. Is it ok for me to just say “Amen” and let it go at that?
    Lazarus recently posted..YAY!! I HAVE ARRIVED! Guest Post over on GROWUP318!!

  7. I struggle with these same issues. My husband and I came to Christ 29 years ago and we attended a Pentecostal church and we gave up drinking and smoking and our former way of life(no one told us we had to but we wanted to) and we lived a very ‘clean’ life. Things got off track about 9 or 10 years ago and my husband decided that the church we were attending was a cult. Anyhow, he strayed and got back into those things we had left behind so many years ago. Now we are living a different life, still serving the Lord but a lot of the boundaries and safeguards have been taken down and I’m not feeling totally comfortable in this. I do feel that after all Christ has done for us, we should give him our very best and, even more importantly, be a witness to those around us. We were drawn to Christ because of a family we watched on our street – we knew they were different and they were very attractive to us. Just want to be that kind of person who is ‘peculiar’.

    • That’s a tough one, since Paul discusses meat offered to idols as a segue to discuss freedom in Christ. It muddies the waters when it comes to what is definitely off limits, and what is free for a Christian to indulge in moderation.

  8. A great read on this topic that includes a discussion of Mormon faith & practice is Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean. Its primary resource is the 2005-06 National Study of Youth & Religion. Dean’s argument would reflect your concerns but suggests a different course of action. Highly recommended.
    Josh recently posted..Wordplay- Bible in 90 – Day 75

  9. Is THAT what that building is for?? Oh, good grief. You’d think Jesus would pick somewhere a little more ritzy for his landing. Independence?? Wasn’t the whole manger thing lowly enough?
    Happy Elf Mom recently posted..Self-Taught

  10. Should our goal just be to attract seekers though? It sounds like you’re saying we need to form opinions just so we’ll have opnions to share to non-believers so they’ll believe the opinions too. I know you don’t think that, but I’m not sure what the solution is based on your post.
    David N. recently posted..Faith like a Child- Questions Included

    • Oh, you should know by now that I don’t always have a solution! :) The problem as I see it isn’t churches falling into fundamentalism again – it’s churches that are so murky in their beliefs that there’s no reason to belong to them.

  11. Holy Spirit, Matt! I can hear the shades of gray flipping you off in the demonic realms!

    People don’t care about the rules, they care about answers. People want to believe they think for themselves, but they watch that same TV shows, have the same trendy electronic gadgets, and join the same social networking site; how religious can you get? It is there they feed on the agendas of others.

    We do the same at church. My kids believe everything they were taught, and have even experienced much of it. The problem is they have put a lot f effort into maintaining a relationship. A lot of folks want to be followers, that is why we have so many spectators in church, and few real participants.

    The problem that I am having with recovering “choice of denomination goes here” is this: If it didn’t work for you, why simply choose the opposite, and call that truth? I got in a bit of a tiff for saying that I thought one of those blog writers was using recovery as an excuse to slam other Christians, so I will leave it at that.

    So, it’s not the rules, it having answers that work in the lives of people. It would be best if we had true spiritual answers. It seems that the Mormons and JW use the relational principals, as well as kind and friendly evangelism to make headway with hurting or needy folks.

    The Pentecostals, in my opinion, are using the spiritual gifts, and godly principals to make a difference for the Kingdom of light. The problem there is that many of the “so called” great evangelical teachers have decided that speaking in tongues is either for another age, to stupid, not essential (I don’t mean for salvation), too rare or whatever. And it is the same for prophecy, healing, miracles, casting out demons, all of which the hard core Pentecostals are familiar with.

    If one were to read 1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13 and 14 as though they were one, we’d see what God expects to do in our churches.

    I am glad folks are recovering from hurtful religious experiences, but to trade that for another, where God does not care about sin, repentance, evangelism, feeding the poor, or whatever your “you can’t be a true Christian if you don’t (or do), is just more of the same, and will eventually produce another powerless form of religion.

    Great blog with a lot of important points.
    David recently posted..Faith vs Disappointment

  12. Good stuff Matt. Do you think LDS and JW are growing because of their certainty or because they are out in droves, beating on doors? Or maybe a little of both.
    Chad Gibbs recently posted..You’ve Got Mail

  13. I’m reading “The Christian Atheist” right now. In his book, Groeschel says is we all TRULY belived in hell and what it must be like, we’d love, serve, care enough about every single person we meet, that we’d do whatever we could to stop them from going there.

    I don’t think we need more rules. We just need to follow the big one Jesus gave us in Matthew 28.
    Marni recently posted..Spring Break!

    • I just finished Groeschel’s book, too. I TRULY believe in hell, but I TRULY don’t have the mind of God to know who’s going there. Since no one TRULY knows, using it as a scare tactic for conversion may be effective for some, but few. I live in Topeka Kansas, and have not seen a single person converted by the signs of Fred Phelps on the street corner.

      • Kathy, I’m sure Marni was suggesting a Fred Phelps type of encounter. She mentions loving, serving and caring to stop people from going there, not protesting and insulting.
        Helen recently posted..Lewis on Standards

    • I don’t know about Hell being literal or figurative, but i TRULY believe in separation from God. That some folks choose not to be part of God. It pains me, but it is their choice and God allows it. It makes me sad because however it works out, i think separation from God will be a place of despair.

      But i don’t see that if God allows it, my trying to beat folks up about Jesus/Hell & the rest is going to change them. I do believe living a life that models the directives of Jesus and speaking for him when i’ve got the opportunity (not just email or FB reprints of “if you truly love Jesus you will . . . “) is the best way i know to reach the folks who want nothing to do with God.
      Kathryn recently posted..Title

      • Again, I don’t see Marni’s comment as trying to beat people out of hell at all. She mentions loving, serving and caring. And yes, sometimes when you love someone, you have to warn them that they are heading in the wrong direction.
        Helen recently posted..Lewis on Standards

        • I wasn’t actually responding to Marni’s comment so much as my experience with evangelicals who believe street evangelism has to be rather brutal.
          Kathryn recently posted..Title

          • Sorry I misunderstood. Marni is a friend of mine! :-) I love her dearly, and thought she was misunderstood. Forgive me?
            Helen recently posted..Lewis on Standards

          • Sure, Helen. No harm.

            I didn’t respond so much to Marni as to Kathy’s comment. I’ve pretty strong feelings on evangelism and how we treat folks. I know it is the tendency to treat people and try to convince them that they are wretched and the dregs of society so that they will “see the need” to come to Jesus.

            That has never made sense to me. People, made in the image of God, usually strive to be good. To beat them up makes no sense to me. We don’t need to convince them that they are worthless, simply that they can’t get to God apart from Jesus. Kind of like two broad jumpers, one can do 8 feet the other 15, trying to jump the Grand Canyon. The second one is really good – but he’s not going to make it.

            I see no reason not to treat folks with kindness when sharing the Gospel. I’ve know too many evangelists who go at it with a “one size fits all” kind of evangelism – and it usually is being brutal to people. While some people may be saved thru this, i think many more are driven away. I think it makes much more sense to follow the Spirit of God and individualize/personalize how we share.
            Kathryn recently posted..Title

          • I understand. I think we are in agreement. Jesus showed such love and compassion to sinners. The only people he got tough with were the Pharisees, and it seems to me he was tough on them for being unloving to both God and people.
            While Jesus wasn’t wishy washy (“Go forth and sin no more”), he didn’t tell people they were worthless. He told them (us) how much they (we) ARE worth! Then he showed them (us) through his death and Resurrection!
            My personal feeling is that it is up to me to demonstrate God’s love, and up to the Holy Spirit to convict people (me included) of their (my) sin. (Not to say that we shouldn’t let people know stealing and killing etc are wrong, just that we don’t need to point fingers at people and chastise)
            Helen recently posted..Lewis on Standards

  14. I think that it’s true that many people simply want answers, not questions and real deep thought. But I don’t think that means that we should try to give them answers just to satisfy them. I don’t have a church to lead or to try to attract members to, but I personally have many more questions than answers not because I want the rest of the world to embrace my Christianity, but because that’s just where I’m at.

    Maybe I’m just naive, but I tend to think that people who are embracing a “gentler” Christianity, people like Rob Bell and others, aren’t thinking about how to get lots of people into their churches, but are seriously trying to embrace what they believe that God is. I suppose I just think that if most of the time the apostles didn’t know exactly what Jesus was talking about, why do we think that we know for sure?

    • I think you are right – people are trying to embrace who God is, and that’s a noble goal. But we’re stuck between that and our command to be able to tell others about God in a clear way that they can understand.

  15. This was so well done! It may explain why I’ve been visiting the Catholic church for the last four months.

  16. I’ve returned after 2 weeks away to a really juicy topic, one that I’ve been contemplating myself for a little more than a year. I knew that when David commented I would agree, and I do.

    I agree that people want to see truth. Sure, they might talk a big talk, talk in circles, etc, but the ultimately they want someone to say something and mean it. Pentecostal churches are growing because they believe in the spiritual gifts as being active and alive AND they believe that the gifts (a display of the power of God) is enough to bring people to Christ. If you read the Gospels and the book of Acts, the only message being preached was Christ crucified & resurrected AND their message was backed by the power of the Holy Spirit through physical healing, casting out of demons, raising the dead, etc.

    I grew up and attend a strong Bible evangelical church but have recently been going to a prophetic training school. I’d define myself as an Evangelical Pentecostal – too charismatic to be an evangelical and too evangelical to be a pentecostal.

    Over the past 3 months, I’ve been entertaining some Mormon missionaries in my home. Each time different missionaries come but one missionary remains the same – and his heart is open to the Holy Spirit. ALL of them are amazed at the testimony of what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life – power that they simply don’t have access to.

    If we walked in a relationship with the Father, like Jesus did and didn’t stray from the message of the Gospel, we’d see the harvest that Jesus promises is Matthew 10 and Luke 10.

    Love the topic, Matt!

    • I really can’t wait for a Mormon or JW to show up again because last time was a few years ago and I was honestly scared to death of them. I totally blew it. I’m not going to do that again.

    • I knew that I would agree with you, Andrea! 😉 Apparently you are like my spiritual twin sister.

      I think we need to stop making denominational labels and get with the biblical program for church growth, which is the word preached with signs and wonders following. Of course that is rooted in a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

      1 Corinthians 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
      David recently posted..There is Lots Going on in the World

    • Keep up the good work of sharing your life with those Mormon missionaries. I have a good friend who did that, and when one of the female missionaries left the mission because of a faith crisis, the LDS church no longer sent female missionaries to the town that my friend lived in.

  17. Maybe that’s why everyone’s flocking to Mars Hill in Seattle. Who knew that young kids really want some macho jock to yell “You’re going to Hell!” for an hour?
    Travis Mamone recently posted..Lenten Meditation- The Both-And Gospel

  18. “Love the shades of grey”? No. Not me.

    I’d love to have things black and white. However, much as i would prefer that, it is not what i see in the world and black and white has a tendency to make justice arbitrary, even tho that seems a contradiction.

    So, those of us stuck with shades of grey, well, here we are.
    Kathryn recently posted..Title

  19. The research on religious growth is solid. Hard line groups grow faster. Want to grow, draw a hard line.

    Jesus had a funny relationship with this though. He was a hardliner sometimes, very hard line. Other times he would just “catch and release” especially with people he healed. You’d think the Gerasene Demoniac would have been a terrific follower. Talk about faithful. I’m sure he would have made a terrific disciple but he’s old to go tell his people about what God had done for him.

    He takes a hard line with the rich ruler and a soft line with the sinful woman of Luke 7. The rich ruler would have been a catch if you could get him to tithe. I suppose he’d be up for that, not the “sell everything” hard line Jesus gives him. I suppose he had to “catch and release” the sinful woman. hard to walk with her lips attached to your feet, but she would have been a great disciple.

    In terms of building a big group the JW and LDS seem to know what they’re doing.
    Paul VanderKlay recently posted..The Servant of the LORD in the Time of Trial

    • To me, this tells me that Jesus wasn’t black and white, either, but knew what that particular person needed. That there was no one hard and fast rule to be applied equally to all people. That he treated persons as individuals.
      Kathryn recently posted..Title

      • In terms of being individuals, I believe it was Doug Addison that identified 14 steps (a series of decisions) that must be made by an individual to make a heart felt (THE) decision for Christ.

        I believe that Jesus saw that path to salvation in terms of moving folks to the next step or small series of steps, IE: not all the way to THE decision. It includes understanding where people are in the process. Not all flowers bloom at once.

        As believers, if we would see our contact with outers as an opportunity to identify, and minister to people where they are, then I think we could get away from the clinching the deal mentality that doesn’t work for folk on steps 1-13.

        Not everyone that gets healed or has demons cast out, becomes a believer.
        David recently posted..You Might Be Religious If

  20. I’m not sure your assessment is 100% correct here. I’m not necessarily going to argue your points on the seeker-friendly, open Christianity that is becoming prevalent. I will say that I’ve listened to McLaren (and read some stuff) and have disagreed a whole lot, and I’ve agreed with everything I’ve read/listened to from Rob Bell, and it’s expanded my understanding and faith in Jesus.

    However, I think the reason that Mormonism and JW are gaining speed is the same reason that Islam is. They’re not relational. They’re works-based. All of them are based on a principle that if you do a + b you’ll get c. They take away the power of God, or at least put him outside the equation.

    It’s easier, especially for Americans, to wrap our brains around a cause and effect mentality. But God really doesn’t work that way. Just ask anyone that’s prayed for a loved one to be healed and they still die. I don’t believe it’s necessarily the “ease” of rules that draws people in. It’s the predicability.

    What makes me stumble in the conversation of breaking down the “rules” is that people aren’t willing to allow God to move outside of notions that they’ve come up with. Based solely on their interpretation. The whole heaven/hell discussion seems to distract from Jesus, in my opinion. They’re so focused on reassuring believers that they haven’t wasted their time. That the bums aren’t getting inside their crystal fortress that they miss out on the real vision of hell and the sadness that comes from living without Christ, and the glory of heaven where the goal isn’t to live for eternity, but to spend eternity with Christ.

    It’s all distractions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Satan’s laughing his ass off.
    bman (The Underfold) recently posted..Daily Reminders

  21. Here’s another resource: “Questions to All Your Answers” by Roger Olsen. We want black & white answers because we’re too spiritually lazy to think, and want to be spoon-fed instead of engaging our minds with Scripture to carefully consider what we believe and why.

  22. This is a tough one Matt.

    I think that the church trying to figure out how to be more impactful in their communities is a good thing. Culture moves and changes. For the church to be effective it has to also. Now I don’t believe that means the Bible changes or God changes…but I believe God tailored His message to different cultures back in Biblical times, so why not do it today?

    I think that there is no “across the board” answer for whether our attempts to be more likeable is actually making it worse. I agree that there are some people who don’t like the endless questioning and debates, and would prefer lists and dos and don’ts.

    I think of my parents and their friends. They go to church because that is what they were taught. They don’t need any explanation. Tradition is respected by them, and followed without any answers as to “why” they go or do what they do.

    Then I think of myself and my generation. Tradition isn’t always good enough. I want to know “why” I am told to do things and not do other things. I welcome the debate and the questions, because in the end it helps make me more involved and connected to God and the church.

    What might work for my parents and the rest of baby boomer generation, will probably not be as effective for me or my generation. So I guess I think that the Protestant Church’s attempts to be more impactful can make things better and can make things worse.

    But the fact that there now exists a generation that has had zero connection or involvement in the church, I think it is important for the church to discover how to impact a generation or generations like that.

    But that’s just me.

  23. Most “Christians” went off the deep end a long time ago. We’re more interested in not having people call us names than actually stand up for the truth of Christ. Jesus didn’t run around making people feel warm and fuzzy about their own beliefs and he didn’t tell people it was OK to do whatever they wanted to do. Unfortunately, that seems to be the way most people want to take the church today.
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  24. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this here before, but I think it goes to this post as well – it all boils down to a fundamental (ha!) difference of opinion on the purpose of the church. Is the church for believers or is it for non-believers/seekers?

    I think that it is for the encouragement, equipping, and education of believers. Not that we should kick non-believers out when they come in out of conviction or curiosity, but that the VAST MAJORITY of the services, programs, and classes should be geared toward the believer, NOT the “seeker.” When we gear everything to the “seeker,” we get stuck on the “milk” side of Christianity instead of ever progressing to “solid food.” And as a result, we’ve raised up a generation of folks who prefer the milk (universalism, etc.) and think that the solid food (having an opinion) is bad.

    A similarity to LDS and JW again – they don’t allow non-believers into certain parts of their buildings or to take part in portions of their services. There’s no “seeker sensitivity” there. You’re in or you’re not.

    Now, clearly, “having an opinion” can be taken too far (as anything can) – see the funeral picketteers (whose church name I don’t even want to repeat). But I think that if we are truly teaching believers what is actually in the Bible (even the “social justice” portions), and we actually become a _community_ of believers who take care of themselves and their neighbors as themselves…then we (that is, Christ) will become absolutely riveting to the people around us and they will be drawn to Him. The problem is getting to that point, given all the internal strife.
    Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

  25. This is SO GOOD! Thank you for pulling the rug out from under a bunch of mumbo jumbo and calling us all to give an account. I LOVE IT!

    I don’t know that we need more “rules” but we do need to acknowledge that there real answers to real questions and that the Bible speaks authoritatively to even the hardest, most tragic, and most controversial life issues. God is sovereign and loving and always acts with redemptive purpose. He is good in what He commands and good in what He forbids. The world is dying to know this, and we are settling for buying lattes and handing them through the bars of their cages. Either we have a key to set people free or we don’t, but “conversation” alone isn’t going to cut it.
    Jeanne Damoff recently posted..My Beloved Speaks

  26. You make some great points, Matt. I’ve noticed churches trying to be seeker friendly not only by offering all kinds of shades of gray, but also by their need to be relevant and hip. Churches might have 50 discussion groups on different beliefs or the coolest sound and light crew with a worship band that puts Jeremy Camp to shame, but are they offering any real truth? Are they changing lives? I think if you question what your pastor actually believes (Rob Bell) then there is a problem. I’ve disagreed with pastors before, but at least I knew what they believed.

    If we look at the New Testament church and the church of Acts we see mention of “and another 2000 were added that day” over and over again. There were hoards of people coming to Christ. We’ve seen similar things in days of revival. I think the church of the apostles and the churches of revivals all have something in common. They preach the Gospel of Jesus. Period. People are hungry. They can discuss politics and question the way things work at the local coffee shop. They can see spectacular concerts for $60 and they can hear confused people wonder what they believe on Comedy Central. What has got butts in the seats of churches for 2000 years? The Gospel of Christ, according to the Bible. Sure, there are some things that are up for debate in the Bible, but many things are pretty clear. And what’s with all this speculation and interpretation anyways? Are we trying to understand the Bible with our intellects or are we letting the Holy Spirit, who resides in us, guide us.

    After college I was confused Catholic who loved Jesus, but didn’t like a lot of His followers. I had created this idea of what Christianity should be based on my “experiences” and some half-hearted prayer time. There was a lot of gray about me and what I believed and I was proud of that and I thought I was pretty awesome. Then my faith was rocked by something not so gray- at the age of 24 my 53 year old mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was slowly forgetting me. Suddenly I didn’t like all the questions and debate because I was lost, confused, and broken, and I needed something stable(like most people out there “seeking”). Even though my grayness fought, God sent people into my life to show me the truth. I had to change what I believed and conform it to what Jesus told. It was painful, but I’m better off for it. Am I still awesome? Probably not, I got over myself, but I am filled with joy (not perpetual happiness, but joy) and I have less questions. Do I still enjoy a debate and gray areas, yes, but they don’t consume my entire life. The truth of the Gospel with less debate coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit is what got my butt in the seat of a church, and my nose in a Bible.
    Carla recently posted..Holy Ghost-&gt Are things supposed to be this Scary

  27. “Do we actually need more rules to attract people?”
    No doubt thats why The Pharisees were such an attractive bunch and so highly spoken of by Jesus!

    I have got that right havent I? :)

  28. I wanted to add two things. One, have you noticed that JWs do not believe in Hell and that Mormons teach that only an extremely small few will end up in hell eternally? Two, Seventh Day Adventists are actually growing pretty quickly, too: http://far-above-rubies-and-pearls.blogspot.com/2011/03/seventh-day-adventists-fastest-growing.html They also deny the existence of Hell in the Evangelical Protestant sense, viewing it as simply the grave.
    Alisha recently posted..Youre HUGE &amp Other Dumb Things Not to Say or Do to a Pregnant Woman

  29. I think people need to take a stand on issues, but be willing to admit the could be wrong if proved to be.

  30. Matt: All I can say is, Amen and Amen. I am SO tired of the wishy washy crap that is permeating the internet. This was a true breath of FRESH air that I really needed. Thank God for people like you who are not afraid to say what needs to be said! Lori
    Lori recently posted..Twenty five years down the road

  31. No one becomes a Christian because he/she chooses to become a Christian. We have all made our choice, to reject God.

    But God calls and chooses us, through the hearing of His Word. Faith is a gift. The bible is clear on that.

    Our “free-will” is not the answer to the problem…it IS the problem.
    Steve Martin recently posted..This one’s for you

  32. @ John Cowart (1st comment you posted) I consider myself now an ex-fundamentalist, but I would agree with everything you wrote when you stated what you believed as fundamental to following Jesus.

    I also am 100% confident having just read ‘Love Wins’, that Rob Bell would agree with you too.

    A lot of the book is making the same point you made that most of what we talk about (or get obsessed about) as followers of Jesus is ‘froth’ as you described it, and Rob makes the same point.

    Yes we can disagree with each other on whether the concept of hell that we have existed for the Jews in the OT, or whether Jesus always meant exactly the same thing when he talked about/used the word ‘hell’ (and even was it always the same word?), but in the end, it is froth because it’s not the centre of our faith.

    The centre is as you say, that God sent Jesus to show us God’s love and to save us (yes from sin and it’s consequences) and to point us to a Father who loves us and a Spirit who wants to guide us, and he did by coming in flesh, dying and rising again. The rest really is froth.

    I think if people really sat down and talked with each other about what and who they’ve experienced God to be, and listened to each other with patience and humility, they’d be surprised at how close they are.

    Unity isn’t about agreeing with each other on every single point of minutae of doctrine, (or even bigger doctrines) it’s about loving each other in Jesus, and pointing to him (Jesus!) and saying that He’s the point of it all. That’s what Rob does in the book, very clearly.

  33. haha wrong post, this should have been on the previous one sorry! (dangerous laptop mouse)
    Jm recently posted..The Weather Man

  34. Matt, you make some great points and I’ve wrestled with these things. I do feel strongly that we need to be confident in what we’re confident and that the mystery is something we’ll have to live with on some things. Thanks for adding to the ‘conversation.’ :)
    jasonS recently posted..What Can You Give Me Right Now

  35. You’ve reminded me of when Mormons used to come to my church because they were curious about “how we worked”. They wanted to write a manual on how to counteract our influence in the area we were in. How times have changed!

  36. Isn’t it ironic though that the places where Christianity grows today are also arguably the hardest, stoniest soil? The decline of the Western church has a lot to do with the success of Screwtape.
    Andrew recently posted..A fools’ paradise

  37. I really can’t even tell you how much I love this post. Really.
    Nicole @ Here’s the Diehl recently posted..Great Mysteries of Motherhood- Part 9

  38. for me it isn’t as much about denominations or local church style/preference. (sidenote: i accidentally typed it as “demoninations” first. freudian slip? anyway…)

    for me, it’s more about a questioning of my own personal beliefs… things i’ve just “known” or believed without even realizing it — it’s just how i’ve always done things or always thought about things. in recent years i have realized so many untruths in how i was raised (both in my household and at the churches we went to), and i’m having to undo them in my mind and heart in order to fully grasp real truth. it’s a hard process. and i have further to go than i’ve already come.

    it is disheartening and sad in some ways, but i’m grateful to finally be thinking for myself and asking God questions i’ve never bothered to ask before.

  39. I think the fact that intellectual Christianity is take a nosedive is actually good. The kingdom of God is not about talk anyway, it’s about power. The Pentecostals believe in the saving, healing, miraculous power of God in their everyday life; not as some historical figure that once was. They are growing everywhere, and mostly in places where people have desperate needs for health, food and of course, the relationship with God where he speaks to them, and they do their best to obey.

  40. I am completely aware that this comment is a year late, so I know nobody will probably ever read it. But I was browsing your archives and I thought I’d post my thoughts anyway. In case you do read this Matt, I’d like to say that I wish I could attend whatever church you pastor. I feel like I’m spiritually fed more by this blog than I am by any other voice who’s tried to help me spiritually, other than God and the Bible itself.

    I’m thisclose to trying to convert myself to Catholicism. No, I’m not joking. Why? Because I crave rules. Tradition. I need a church that is a home, a place where people who believe the SAME THING are brought together. I need to know what I believe and know what to do when I believe it. At this point I know I believe in God and I know Jesus was God’s son and I know Jesus died to protect me from myself, but I don’t know much else. I search and search and search and I never find what I’m looking for. All I want is a God who sits up in heaven and doesn’t look like a big question mark. And also a God who doesn’t look like me, that would be good too. I find the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be a pretty hard thing to swallow, but damnit I’ll swallow it if it means finding peace with this big God that I know nothing about.

    • Well, someone does read the comments! Because i commented last year, your comment was automatically forwarded to me.

      I like the structure of a liturgical church (not “the rules” so much). I was Anglican/Episcopalian for years, but there is not that church in the area to which we moved. So we are with a Lutheran Church. We started with a Missouri Synod, but that church wasn’t healthy. We are now in an Evangelical one. The Catholic church here is really focused on the Mary issue, which gives us problems. The Lutheran branch one tends to be “soft on homosexuality,” although the one we attend doesn’t really address the issue at all.

      It is hard to find a place where you feel you “fit.” Best wishes with this.

    • Wow! Just by seeing what you want out of God, I can tell you already know more about Him than you give yourself credit for.

      My wife and I visited a very popular church and agreed we could never make that our church home. But more distressing, we feel like we’d have a very hard time making any church our home. We feel like the strangers and aliens described in Hebrews 11. Churches are corrupt, apostate, or just idolatrous.

      I hope you find what God has put in your heart, but I would caution you about taking on unnecessary beliefs just to get there.

      And feel free to email me privately if you would like to continue this conversation – thechurchofnopeople@gmail.com.

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  1. Jesus didn’t preach grey sermons | lorisprayercloset - December 14, 2012

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