Put Down the Lollipop
About two years ago, I wrote a guest post for the blog of a friend - a pastor - who was, and still is, far more established than me in the realm of sharing through online blogging. Then, I was a pastor of another church, in Bethesda, Maryland, and ran into, over and over, an attitude about Christianity that I found... troublesome. It seemed to be to be an attitude and an interpretation about Christianity that didn't produce the result we like to trumpet in seminary: "to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." Instead, it worked hard to suggest that affliction itself was entirely unnecessary... an attitude that, quite literally, offended and still offends me. This post is two years old, and the emotion in it is plain, but while I might be tempted to tone it down as a more experienced pastor, I won't. I think there's something in all the fire that's valuable, so I'll keep it as it was, on May 25, 2017 (link to follow).
I would like to add further thoughts at the end; I hope you'll bear with me.
I find postmodern Christianity offensive.
I don’t mean I find it offensive like I find people that order their steak well-done to be offensive, or the people that eat pizza crust first, or whomever invented the Tofurkey (I’m mostly offended by bad food choices).
I mean I find postmodern Christianity offensive to my status as a sentient, intelligent, adult human being.
I don’t just ‘dislike it.’ I don’t tell people it’s ‘not for me.’ I don’t think it should be for anyone.
Why so much vitriol, Max? Maybe going a bit far, eh? Why get so riled up?
Postmodern Christianity is offensive because it infantilizes Christians. It encourages you to take easy answers that make you happy, rather than wrestle with the God revealed in Scripture and come out a better person at the end.
Instead of boiling down the vastly complex issues of our faith into concentrated reductions of AWESOME, it goes the opposite way. Postmodern Christianity waters those issues down until they’re a big pot of meaningless… all so you, the believer, won’t feel yucky.
Take the Final Judgment, as one issue of many.
It’s a big concept - Christ on His throne, the nations before Him, separating sheep from goats - and it makes you feel uneasy. So you’re saying I’ll stand before God and account for my actions?
Yeesh. Sounds heavy. How about we just… don’t believe that, but still call ourselves Christians?
“This emphasis upon the graciousness of God in the message of Jesus often leads to questions about whether there is any element of judgment at all… the notion that our life on earth is primarily about meeting God’s requirements so that we may have a blessed next life is, it seems to me, foreign to Jesus. Though I think he probably ‘believed in an afterlife,’ I don’t think his message was about how to get there.”
(Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time, Borg, 85) [Emphasis mine]
Whew, problem solved. Just string together a few sentences about how you don’t think it’s true, and ignore all the times Jesus talked about judgment and the next life, and you’re golden. Ignore the evidence in front of you, because it leads you to a conclusion that feels yucky.
There’s no time to hit every rest stop on this particular road, but suffice it to say, that sort of ‘analysis’ pops up all throughout a book like Borg’s, or Rohr’s, or McLaren’s… some of the scholarship seems like… well, scholarship… and some appears to have been pulled out of a magic hat of dreams and wishes and comfortable things.
Look, here’s the deal: following Christ is hard. He’s the one that gives us rest, that lets us lay our hardships at His feet, but following Him comes with its own burden. Taking up your cross and following Jesus means you’re going to have to wrestle with what it means to be a Christian in the modern world. You’re going to have to face hard questions, and answer them boldly.
“Is how I answer this question about my wants and my needs, or is it about what God desires of me?”
“Do I seek out a church and a pastor that give me upbeat sermons so I feel like I can take on Monday a little better? Or do I seek out a church and a pastor that give me sermons that make me see the God in Christ a little more clearly?”
“Am I a better American than I was yesterday? Or am I a better member of Jesus Christ’s Kingdom than I was yesterday?”
If you’re choosing the easy answers - the ones that are the most comfortable, the ones that don’t challenge you to be a better person every single day, to follow Jesus a little better every single day by following your own desires less - if you’re choosing those answers, then that’s not the Gospel you’re following. That’s not Christ you’re following.
If you don’t like what you read in the Scripture, wrestle with it. Try and find out more information about the context it was written in. Pray about it.
But don’t accept easy answers from ear-pleasing men and women that don’t encourage you to dig deeper or try harder or imagine more. They’re not treating you like intelligent adults. They’re treating you like children, and giving you a lollipop so you’ll like them and buy their books.
Put down the lollipop. Pick up your cross, and follow Jesus.
The original post can be found here: https://unsettledchristianity.com/put-lollipop-guest-post/
As a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor, I know full well that there are lots of ways to find what God is saying to you, and sometimes, that might come from reading books like Borg, Rohr, or McClaren... but that doesn't mean I would ever recommend you read only those books. I think their theology is largely lazy, and I'll say so, but I would never say that reading those books at all is, in any way, problematic. I've read those books. But I've read a lot of better books, too. I've read books that challenged me, books that I vehemently disagreed with, on both the liberal and conservative ends of Christian theology; I've read books about history, and culture, and context... and then I made decisions about what I believed God was trying to tell me about the direction of my life.
At the end of the day, if you don't find your relationship with Christ to be challenging at times? You're probably not walking with Christ, but a God of your own making.
Don't get me wrong... I GET that we want God to be safe... our sanctuary, our guard, our strong tower, and the one that covers us with his feathers, I get that more than I think I've yet communicated, BUT... He is safe because He is Lord over All. That includes me, and that includes you, and He probably has more than a little to say about how our lives should be lived.
We'll be challenged, and we should be. We will endure trials, and we should endure them. As we go through challenge, we will grow in Christ. As we should.