Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Another "Me" Generation in the Church, or Why Don Miller Thinks You Care What He Ate For Breakfast Eight Years Ago....

Okay, I confess that I liked Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz. Currently, I am enjoying my colleague Jim Belcher's book Deep Church. Both of them could be broadly classed as the concerns of "emerging" Christianity (though not "Emergent" Christianity, an important distinction for those who are paying attention). I resonate with many of their concerns, and I agree with Jim Belcher that the Emergings are asking many of the right questions, particularly about the church as real community, against the modernistic assumptions of the "church growth" movement of the 70's-90's, and about concern for ministry to the poor contra the consumerism and materialism that have been baptized too often by the church. Belcher's use of Lewis's image of "deep church," I find very helpful, and a more generous orthodoxy than the counterfeit of it offered by Emergent gurus Rob Bell and Brian Maclaren.

My concern is somewhat tangential to the books themselves, and it is a concern because I see it in myself and others, and that is this --much of emerging Christianity seems obsessively concerned with self. Blue Like Jazz is a personal narrative of a journey of faith. I resonated with it, but I was left thinking, "There has to be something more than this." Deep Church is a picture of what the authentic church can be, but it is filled with extended personal narratives. Now, personal illustration is helpful --it can humanize what we are teaching, and put us in the pew as a fellow-struggler. Destructively, it can become "I am so deep. Be like me." Shades of the Colossian problem.

From my own experiences in the miry clay, I can say that, when I have felt bereft of God's presence, I have turned for help and solace to more subjective, heart-oriented writers like Tozer. From my vantage point now, though I love Tozer, I see the seductive danger of some of what he says --a questing for deep personal experience. The truth is --when I am trapped in the bottom of the wet well, I don't need to drive myself deeper into self-analysis, I need my eyes lifted up to see the great objective realities of the Christian faith. The fact that justification is something accomplished in real space and time, apart from me, means it is independent from how I feel about it. There is great security in that --the same security a child feels when he is at odds with his parent. Deep down, he knows his dad is still his dad, even though he is being punished. He knows that love is unconditional and irrevocable. The manger, the cross, the empty tomb, and my own justification are outside of myself, and they lift me out of myself.

There is always a tension between the objective realities of the Christian faith and my subjective appropriation of those realities. There is dead orthodoxy. There are those who presume upon the promises, and have no heart reality. Many who believe the facts will be lost at the last. Ryle was right and Tozer was right and Lloyd-Jones was right and Piper is right. One can fall off on both sides. The caution here is to get outside of ourselves and our own experiences. If we are bereft of joy and the light of God's face, the answer is not introspection. The answer is extro-spection --gazing upon the glories of all God has done for us in Christ. The answer is not doing more with Martha, but listening more with Mary. The answer is not shame over what we are leaving undone, but rejoicing in what God has done. The clouds will lift, comfort will come, and kingdom productivity will follow.


  1. A good post, Ken --

    A writer pointed out that almost no one spent any time asking, 'where were you when you first heard about Pearl Harbor being attacked?' and yet a near generation later we did spend time all sharing 'where were you when you heard JFK was shot?' The writer went on to say that no one thought Pearl Harbor was about 'me' but today we are so self-absorbed that it is our experience of events, not the events themselves, that matter.

    Tim Keller

  2. Thanks, Ken, for admitting to growth in your ideas and therefore reassuring others that it is okay that we are all in different places with our faith. And, as one of your sheep, I appreciate your firm acknowledgement that there is a definite, even if it is distant, city to which we are traveling. I was telling Danny Sunday night that I'm so glad you do not allow all the various tides of popular thought to knock you off balance. (It's just as easy to swing with the pendulum in the opposite direction.) -Patty