Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Seeker-Sensitive Ministry

I'm generally ok if churches want to experiment with a little bit of the seeker-sensitive strategies suggested by some of the Emergent Church crowd, but never at the expense of any watering down of the Gospel message. Use "Christ-follower" if you want rather than "Christian", as long as you emphasize the need to adopt Christ and leave your former world behind. Come up with new and different ways to explain the cross in order to make it easier to understand, but never leave it out of the picture in order to make "Christ-following" easier to market. If you do, what exactly is it you're marketing? What is Christ-following without the Christ? As Paul put it, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (I Corinthians 2:1-2) Paul says this despite knowing that, "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (I Corinthians 1:22-24)

Paul preached a doctrine that was foreign and offensive, not in spite of those facts, but BECAUSE of them. If this world and everyone in it is fallen, then why would we expect the greatest and most elevated fact of human history to be palatable to a fallen world? Why would we WANT to make it palatable to a fallen world? Stooping down into the mud rather than washing off the muddy isn't loving, it's just silly. Christ came to shake sinful people up and offend them out of their sloth and self-love. Isn't He the God who chased moneylenders out of His temple and called the Pharisees "vipers"? Did He approach the Samaritan woman with seeker-sensitive strategies or did he remind her that she was shacking up with her boyfriend? When he talked to Nicodemus, he purposefully confused the man in order to shake him out of his confident complacency.

The McLaren approach (not to pick on just one emergent guy) goes like this. "I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord." (A Generous Orthodoxy, 260, 262, 264)

The traditional Christian approach is something a little closer to St. Boniface. When trying to evangelize among Germanic pagans, he found that they feared conversion because they were afraid of reprisal from their own god, Thor. In one community, there was a sacred oak at which the worship of Thor took place. Boniface cut down the tree, saying in essence, "Thor isn't striking me dead for chopping up his sacred tree, so what are you afraid of? It's either the god of the tree, or the God of The Tree."

Boniface was facing a crowd who saw Christianity as something foreign, just like any unchurched person in the world today. In fact, they were probably more alien to it than today's non-Christians, because even many foreign societies today have been influenced by, or at least exposed to, western christian values. His challenges were far greater than anything McLaren is worried about having to overcome, and yet he was concerned with content, not delivery or audience comfort. Honestly, which approach do you think is most pleasing to this guy?