Something has gone wrong with the church and the Christianity it adheres to. It comes from a failure to properly understand and faithfully live out the radical call that Christ has placed on the lives of his followers. This is the basic premise of countless books that have emerged on the market, playing on this generation’s dissatisfaction with its Christian experience. This dissatisfaction is expressed through statements like: ‘the church isn’t meeting my needs’, ‘there is no authentic community’, ‘we are too narrow and judgmental’, ‘the culture views us negatively’, ‘we aren’t making an impact in the world’, or ‘we don’t look like the New Testament church’.
The answers to this dissatisfaction differ depending on which stream the author of the book swims in. For some, we have grown fat and happy on the American dream and need to take seriously Christ’s commands in the Scriptures. For others, the church needs to let go of the traditions and moralities that are weighing it down and embrace a new, yet ancient faith that is more real and authentic. For others still, we need to re-evaluate the theological truths and dogmas we have fought over in favor of a more open and evolving concept of God that welcomes diverse and outside perspectives. There are many more; the basic idea is if we could get back to what Christ taught and lived and the way early Christians existed and then effectively apply it to our time the dissatisfaction would cease and we would usher in a golden age for Christianity in our culture and in our lives.
And we love this stuff, don’t we? At some level, all of us have experienced this dissatisfaction in one way or another and we are eager to embrace a solution that feels more right. We believe we clearly see the problems in the church and in Christianity and we are more optimistic than ever of our ability to make it all right. I love the way Owen Strachan puts it in a blog on the Gospel Coalition site:
“Having pushed away, at least in principle, from big-box, cookie-cutter, megachurchdom, we have warmed to an activist, nonjudgmental Christianity that soars with hope and promise. We can end sex trafficking, we are told; we can transform the political scene; we can end world hunger in this generation; we can go so green that the secular green movement will see our greenness and renounce its secularity; we can right the wrongs of the historic church, one state-fair confession booth at a time; we can correct the heinousness of the Religious Right and win our progressive friends to the faith; we can reclaim the life and practice of the early church; we can reconstruct the American polis through soup kitchens and after-school mentoring; we can redeem entire cities by going block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, until the whole thing is Christian; we can rediscover the secret of true community through monastic living; we can dial down the fire-breathing tone of past evangelists and win our friends, in massive numbers, through gentle conversation; we can turn back whole denominations and movements from heterodoxy and faithlessness; we can heal families, generations of them, by advocating our views; we can plant churches by the bushel and they will all succeed and flourish; we can complete, like a bulleted check list, the momentous task of evangelizing all the people of the world in this generation; we can create culture that is so beautiful, so stirring, so epic that people simply will not be able to turn away from it and deny the faith that fuels it but will embrace it in a great wave that will break over the art galleries and cinemas and coffeehouses of the upculture bohemians.”
While this is satire, many of us hunger for it to be reality and readily gobble up the latest book, message, blog, or organization that claims – humbly or not – to be able to make it all happen based on their latest bit of Bible study, historical investigation, or transcendent experience that can be applied to your life and the church. Now I’m not picking on these speakers, authors, and leaders; many of them are faithful servants of Christ who have advanced the gospel and the kingdom far more than I will ever do. Some are influencing thousands of Christians to love God more deeply and follow Christ more passionately. Some are influencing thousands of Christians away from the God of the Bible and into foolish myths that will render them useless for Christ.
What I am doing is simply pointing out that “revolutionary” Christianity usually fizzles. We hunger to see the realities listed above come into being but are constantly frustrated when they don’t. We read a book or hear a message or go on a mission trip and get excited about living radically for Christ but a month later its back to the same mediocrity. We have armies of young Christians surrendered to do whatever it takes for Christ but our churches and our culture are largely the same. Why?
In the next two posts we’ll examine (1) Why revolutionary Christianity fizzles and (2) How we can prevent its fizzilation (I made that word up). I’m not saying I live this out well or that I have special wisdom to offer. Simply that I’ve received some wisdom from others I’m passing along that will hopefully challenge you as much as it has me in my journey to live for the glory of God.