Friends,

Truth is, I don’t know too much about Brian MacLaren. I have read about him, yes; I cracked on of his books one time in the bookstore to look at the table of contents, yes; but curl up on the couch with a cup of Earl Grey and warm up to his teaching, no. So forgive me, please, if I happen to come across the wrong way in this post. I am commenting ONLY on the below information and nothing else. These comments are reserved for ONLY the below post and nothing else.

Here’s what I just read at Christian Church Today (.com) in a short article by a fella named Dr Bobby Harrington who happens to be Lead Pastor (whatever that means) at the Harpeth Community Church in Franklin, TN:

My Two Cents

I like many things Brian McLaren writes (some more than others). But I love what Brian McLaren writes in an essay called “Christian” in David Kinnaman’s new book UnChristian. His vision is GREAT! Here is what he says…

In thirty years, research could show us that when people think Christian, they think things like this:

  • Christians are the ones who love people, whoever they are—gay or straight, Jew or Muslim, religious or atheist, capitalist or not, conservative or liberal.
  • Christians are the ones who have done more than anyone in the world to stop the HIV/AIDS crisis.
  • Christians are the people who gravitate toward the poor and who show compassion through generous action and seek justice so that the systemic causes of poverty are overcome. They call the rich to generosity, and they call on rich nations to work for the common good.
  • Christians are people who believe that art and creativity are important, so they consistently produce the most striking, original, and enriching art.
  • Christians are willing to give their lives for the cause of peace. They oppose violence in all of its forms. They will lay down their lives to protect the vulnerable from the violent.
  • Christians care for the environment. They don’t just see it as raw materials for economic gain, but they see it as the precious handiwork of their Creator.
  • Christians have personal integrity. They keep their marriage vows and are aware of how destructive misused sexuality can be. Yet they are compassionate toward people who make sexual mistakes, and they never consider themselves superior.
  • Christians build harmony among races. You always know that you’ll be respected when you’re around a Christian.

Perhaps I am a dreamer. But when the hard realities jolt you out of denial (as the research presented here can do), the status quo becomes less acceptable, and one is motivated to dream of better possibilities. I hope that this research will push others toward becoming dreamers too, and that those dreams will inspire the needed creative and faithful action.

You know, I have to be honest with you I hope this is not what Christians are known for in 30 years because if we are, then people will have greatly misunderstood us, and we will have seriously misrepresented the mission of the Church. You know, it is not the responsibility of the church to solve or stop the HIV/AIDS crisis. I’m sorry, but it is not. That is not the commission that Christ gave us. And the problem with assuming it is, is that we can get so caught up in solving/stopping HIV/AIDS that we never get around to doing the real work that Christ has called us to. This is not to say we shouldn’t be compassionate, helpful, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent like the good Boy Scout church we should be. But I will say this, helping people with any disease and not sharing the Gospel is meaningless. I just cannot see how giving someone a cup of cold water is going to help them when they still end up in hell because we didn’t tell them about the Jesus in whose name it is given. But let me take the point further: Why is it always about HIV/AIDS? Why should Christians be known as leaders in that particular area? What about cancer patients? What about cirrhosis of the liver patients? What about people in Methadone clinics? What about prostitutes, strippers, or pornographers? What about helping homosexuals before  HIV/AIDS? What about pediatric AIDS or crack babies? What about emphysema patients? What about being leaders in the fight against RLS? Seriously! Why does it always come back to HIV/AIDS as if that is the only disease ravaging this planet? What about Malaria patients? TB? SARS? Bird-Flu? Anorexia? Bulimia? Paralysis? Common cold? People with HIV/AIDS are not the only people on the planet dying from disease.

Do you get what I’m saying?

I’m not sure where this stuff comes from. Who said Christians aren’t the ones who ‘love people’? I think the only problem right now is that there are a bunch of important people who are trying to convince the world that Christians don’t love all sorts of people. I serve in a church, I have for the past 12 years or so, and I have never met a single person in any of the churches I have served who has hated any of the above groups mentioned. In fact, I have found it to be quite the opposite: We tend to love the sinners more than we do one another. The problem that Christians have is not that we don’t love the sinners–oh, we are only too eager to do that!–our problem is that we don’t love one another. Calvinists battle with Arminians. Lutherans battle with Baptists. Pre-tribbers battle with A-tribbers. Instrumentalists battle with non-instrumentalists. Emergents battle with, well, everyone else. Catholics battle with Protestants. Free-willers battle with Sovereign Gracers. It is a rather sickening cycle and truth, but it is true: Christians don’t like one another. That, in a nutshell, is the largest part of our problem right now. And I submit to you that the world will become richer, more harmonious, more peaceful, when Christians learn to love one another per the command of Jesus.

I’m not going to comment on every one of those bullet-points. I think they are rather shallow to be honest with you. Neither do I happen to think that any of them are necessarily Christian virtues. Every single person on the planet could stand to be for peace, for the environment, for art! Why it is that only Christians should be known for these things is beyond me. Thus my point: The only objective in pointing those things out is to make the world think that Christians are not those things already. Maybe the authors of the books need to work on those things. Maybe the book is an exorcism of their own demons.

There is something more we should be known for. Jesus said we should be known for our love for another. He said, By your love for one another will people know you are my disciples. We could start right there. In my estimation that would be the best place to start. (John 13; 1 Peter)

Another place to start would be with Jesus. I think the church should be known as a place where Jesus is exalted and glorified and honored and obeyed. Yes, obeyed. You see the Bible says that Jesus is the head of the church. That means, in part, that he is in charge. He sets the standard. He makes the rules. He governs the church. He determines the church’s path and direction. (Colossians 1; 1 Corinthians 12)

Still a third thing we should be known for, not just in 30 years, but now, is that the church is a place where sin is not tolerated. That’s right. We are called as the people of God to be pure, holy, blameless. How about the church start eradicating sin from its members? How about we start to purify ourselves so that when Christ returns we are more than ready? (Romans 6)

A fourth thing is this: How about the church is known for its proclamation of the truth of God’s Word? I know, I know: I’m crazy right? But just what might happen, get ready…if the Church actually started believing in the Bible as the Word of God instead of continuing to think of it as a book of moral stories designed to enlighten us and teach us how to be wonderful, happy, art loving, tree hugging, people? The reason we are not a people of peace now is because we do not love the God of peace or His Word. The Bible is just another book that can be mined for practical, self-help BS. (Colossians 1)

I hope in thirty years, should the Lord tarry, the church is known for one thing: That we belong to Christ.

The fact is, some people may be ‘called’ in their Christian faith to minister to the poor in a special way. Others may be called to minister to HIV/AIDS people in a special way. Still others may be called to care for the environment in a special, God-directed way. And I say: GO FOR IT! But not everyone is called to those ministries. Not everyone on this planet is going to be a peace-maker in the above sense of ‘opposing violence in all forms.’ After all, if we did that, we would not be justified because then Christ would not have been killed: There’s a time for peace; and a time for war. Some will be soldiers who bring peace through breaking things and killing bad people who want to kill us. Still others might be called to build harmony among the races through diplomacy and government. But not all.

The point is this, to suggest that there is a list of things that we should be known for is to insist on a rather narrow definition of what a Christian is in the first place. I’ll be honest, at this point in my life I am not called in any way, shape, or form to minister in a special way to people with HIV/AIDS. Ten years from now that might change; ten minutes from now that might change. I am not called to minister to the environment in a special way–that is, I’m not called to tie myself to a tree or protest the wholesale slaughter of cattle or to become a vegan–although I can plant a garden in the spring and grow lots of flowers and enjoy the birds that live in the birdhouses I build. Still, I question whether this is of any significant value. Does God reward me because I built a birdhouse more than if I shared the Gospel? Everyone has to recognize their gift and calling from God. God gives some people great wealth that they might be a blessing to others. God gives some people poverty that they might be blessed by others. You see, for as much as Mr MacLaren wants to define what Christianity is, he is also defining what it is not. Christianity is not merely about the social services we render to the population in general. Christianity is always, first and foremost, about Christ. We do what we will for him because we can, we do what we ought to because we owe it to Him, we do what we ought to because we love him.

Here’s how the article ended:

Perhaps I am a dreamer. But when the hard realities jolt you out of denial (as the research presented here can do), the status quo becomes less acceptable, and one is motivated to dream of better possibilities. I hope that this research will push others toward becoming dreamers too, and that those dreams will inspire the needed creative and faithful action.

I agree: The Church should dream of better possibilities. We should dream of the possibility that we have been entrusted with the truth of the mystery of God. We should dream of the possibility that Jesus is coming back soon. We should dream of the possibility that if we don’t share the Gospel with the lost they will suffer an eternity in hell. We should dream of the possibility that poverty is a reality in this world as is HIV/AIDS, as is cutting down trees, as is bad art, and that it is not the responsibility of the church to fix these things. We should dream of the possibility that war will always exist in this world because sin will always exist in this world because sinners will always exist in this world (if war is a reality, how can we make the innocent victims, and the guilty perpetuators of war, safer and warmer).

We should dream of a world where Christians of all stripes love one another deeply. This is the problem of the hour: There is no grace in the church. The way things are now, there is only room in the church for one person: Me. And if you don’t agree with me, or MacLaren, or Warren, or Carson, or Horton, or Piper–or whoever, then there is no room for you. The reason the church has failed, and will continue to fail, is because we do not love one another. 

Even MacLaren’s list is nothing more than a legalist trap: Do this and be saved or respected or liked or warmly welcomed. No. Who ever said it is our job as the church to be well-liked in this world of hate? Who ever said our message would bring peace? Who ever said we would be liked if we did things that made people like us? We don’t serve the poor, the homosexual, the Muslim, the tree, or peace just so people will like us. That’s absurd. We do it because we love the God who gave His Son as the propitiation for our sins. We serve because we love, because we can, because we should. 

Our problem is not war, not poverty, not HIV/AIDS, not bad art, not fur-trappers, not disharmony, not Muslims, Jews, or anything else: Our poblem is sin. The Bible says there is only one way to deal with the guilt and power of sin and that is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. This should be what the church dreams of: eliminating the status quo of sin: We are far too accepting of sin, much too often in denial of its power.

So I say: If the Church wants to be known for something, for anything, let’s be known as the one place on this planet, the one people on this planet who take/took sin seriously, who offered a serious solution (Grace), and helped people to realize it in their lives. I would much rather be known for this than for any thing else.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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