Wednesday, June 13, 2007

So You Want to Become a Christian?

There is an interesting blogpost at Out of Ur about the consequences of our Gospel presentation upon the life of our church in our culture. Scot McKnight, theologian, blogger (Jesus Creed), and writer, has thought deeply about what is written in the Scriptures about becoming a Christian and living Christianly. In the blogpost he contrasts two forms of "Gospel Presentation"; what people "sign up for" when they become Christians often profoundly shapes what the rest of their Christian life is like. Thus, if you want a robust Christian life, one needs to consider what kind of Gospel is initially offered to them.

Below is an extended quote from the Out of Ur blogpost concerning this issue:

"Scot McKnight summarized the “Standard Gospel Presentation” this way:
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
Your problem is that you are sinful; God can’t admit sinners into his presence.
Jesus died for you to deal with your “sin-problem.”
If you trust in Christ, you can be admitted into God’s presence.

"He went on to say that the problems with this popular evangelical gospel include:
1. No one in the New Testament really preaches this gospel.
2. This gospel is about one thing: humans gaining access to God’s presence.
3. This gospel creates an individualist Christian life.
4. This gospel sets the tone for the entire evangelical movement.
5. This gospel leads to spiritual formation being entirely about “me and God.”
6. The evangelical gospel has created a need for evangelical monasteries.
7. The evangelical gospels turns the local church into a volunteer society that is unnecessary.
8. The evangelical gospel is rooted in Theism or Deism, but not the Trinity.

"In contrast to this anemic gospel, McKnight believes a more accurate and “robust” gospel presentation would include the following features:
1. A robust gospel cannot be “tractified” (meaning, reduced to a formula).
2. God made you as an eikon (Greek for “image”) to relate in love to God, to self, to others, and to the world.
3. The “fall” cracked the eikon in all directions.
4. Bible readers cannot skip from Genesis 3 to Romans 3.
5. Genesis 4-11 reveals the “problem” of sin: the climax is a society of eikons trying to build their way to God.
6. Genesis 12 begins to restore the eikon by a covenantal commitment and forming the family of faith. The rest of the Bible is about this elected family of faith.
7. The “problem” is finally resolved in “four atoning moments”: the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
8. The “locus” of resolution is the family of faith: three big words in the Bible that describe this family of faith are Israel, the Kingdom, and the Church.

As I reflected on this article, I was particularly struck by Problem #7 "The evangelical gospel turns the local church into a volunteer society that is unecessary." Lately I've been wondering about the point of the church gathering on Sundays, of recruiting volunteers to serve during these and other church gatherings...does it matter if people do this stuff? What about all the other people who have gifts and desires to serve Jesus - but who aren't a good fit for Sunday School, ushers, greeters, music stuff, mowing, and general event volunteer opportunities. Even if people do all of that stuff, does it really matter? Does it matter why people do that stuff, or just that they do it? Does it matter how they do it, or just that it gets done? I think of our regular Sunday gatherings and often despair: not that our gathering is a painful experience, but rather that something significant is not embraced by most of those gathered. There is little sense of how gathering together is essential to the ongoing following of Jesus Christ in everyday life. Some get it, but even then it is amongst a distraction of duties on Sunday morning.

The line in the nineties used to be "unchurched"; if you were unchurched, the goal was to get you churched. Thus we redesigned the purpose and activities of churches to get the unchurched involved in events, tasks, programs and experiences. But becoming churched did not necessarily mean becoming a Christ-follower. It could, but not in most cases. From my perspective, I'm not that impressed with churches as an institution; I know they have a role in the kingdom of God and in our culture. But when it comes to Jesus-followers gathering together as part of their following of Jesus, I'm just not convinced that what we do on Sunday morning contributes to that sense.

I'm striving to find words for what I sense; I'm striving to understand what I'm being led towards. The New Testament word for church is ekklesia; of which the common translation was often "assembly" or "gathering". For obvious reasons, the ekklesia of God has become primarily understood as an institution; but at its heart, the ekklesia of God in Jesus is about people devoted to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer; to providing awesome miracles and meeting the needs of all. Obviously if people organize themselves to better live out this kind of life, their is an institutional determinism that results.

But rather than focus on the virtues or vices of institutionalism, I think it is more fruitful to focus on the Scriptures Gospel Presentation: what is Jesus proclaiming to us, and how do we proclaim it for our culture? Institutions that get God's Gospel right are powerful; local gatherings of Jesus-followers who get God's Gospel are potent. I want Anchor, our ekklesia, to get God's Gospel.


Anonymous said...

Tim, I like what you say here. I have also wondered what is accomplished by our meeting on Sunday's. If we all come in and then leave the same, what was the point? Are we really making a difference? I believe getting back to our first love is important. Sometimes I think we just have it all backwards. Like we put too much importance on things that don't really make a difference.


Tim Hallman said...

What are some of things that you think people put too much importance on which don't make a difference?

I don't suppose that I would remove singing and other arts, prayers and scripture reading, announcements, offering, sermon, and koinonia from whatever it is I envision for a Sunday gathering...

Maybe since I don't know what I want, I can't teach or lead people towards what I want/envision. And since I can't lead/teach people towards what I want, I get frustrated. So maybe it's not my church or any other church that I'm really frustrated with, I just don't know what I'm looking for, I still haven't found it.

chris said...

Sorry this is going to be long

In response to your first question, I guess I would say everything. We can go about daily life doing all that we do. Spending time at practice, polishing up the message, making sure the nursery is well stocked, doing the landscaping around the church, making sure the bulletin is spelled right and looks nice. We can do all that and much more, but I suppose that if we don't know why we do it, if there is no vision for the end goal, what is the point?

You mentioned not removing the Arts, scripture reading, offering, and things of that nature from a Sunday morning gathering, but tell me, do people understand the specific purpose of these events, or is it just something that they expect to see done in church on a Sunday morning, and therefore they have become common place?

I would guess that many people in churches all over have a very full plate of responsibilities that they believe must happen for life to go on, and for "church" to happen. But I would also guess that many of them, if asked, couldn't tell you what the goal of it all was, and most importantly how it fits into the overall plan.

I honestly don't know the answer myself, but I too am restless with the fact that Sunday after Sunday I see people come in the door and leave as if nothing happened. Or at least it appears that way sometimes.

I think they don't come expecting to meet Jesus in that place or time, and therefore miss the opportunity and chemistry that is available when God's people join together in song, prayer, reading of the scriptures and offering's of their first fruits and life.

1 Corinthians 14:26 says "What then shall we say, brothers? when you come together, EVERYONE has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church."

How can we do that when people come in and are not engaged to respond, or come in and refuse to contribute??

I want so badly to see people engage, yet in a microwave culture that spoon feeds everything to people, I wonder how and when it will happen......How can we intentionally lead people to live outside themselves and live to edify the body to devote themselves to the teachings of the word?

My prayer is my friend that God will speak clearly to us, and to his people. Calling them to once again pick up the torch and hold it high above their heads so that those in the dark may find their way home. And that we will once again, place the utmost importance on His word and constant thirst for it.

Your Brother,