Sunday, April 30, 2006

Donald Miller's Problems With the Church

I finished Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller tonight. It is a fantastic book to provoke thought and challenge you, as well as to give you insight into what is important. But the review will come later. I wanted to list and comment on what Miller says are his problems with almost every church he has been to. To give a little bit of background, Miller grew up Baptist and at a time, walked away from the faith. He has sense come back to Christ and now writes and speaks to churches and colleges. Here are what he says are his 3 major problems with the church:

1. "I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus."

"[Preachers] were always pointing out the benefits of the Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong. It's not that there aren't benefits, there are, but did they have to talk about spirituality like it's a vacuum cleaner? I never felt like Jesus was a product. I wanted Him to be a person." Pg 131

I think Miller makes a great point here. I believe that evangelism is a major part of the role of us as Christians, but we must always be careful not to come across as salesmen. We do not share the Gospel to get another notch in our belt. I fear that many people have felt used by Christians in the past because of this salesmen mentality. What are your thoughts.

2. "They seemed to be parrots for the Republican Party."

"Do we have to tow the party line on every single issue? Are the Republicans perfect? I just felt like to be part of the family, I had to think George W. Bush was Jesus. And I didn't." Pg 131

I am a pretty strong Republican, but I have to say that I agree on this too. I think we often make being a Christian synonymous with being a Republican. I think there are some major problems with the Democratic Party, but with the Republican Party as well. I think we should be Christians first, deep thinkers second, and political proponents last. I hesitate advocating activism, because I think a Republican and Democrat should be able to worship next to one another in the same body of believers and call each other "brother." In our current state of political polarization, I'm not sure that is possible.

3. They continually used "War metaphor."

"The churches I attended would embrace war metaphor. They would talk about how we are in a battle, and I agreed with them, only they wouldn't clarify that we were battling poverty and hate and injustice and pride and the powers of darkness. They left us thinking that our war was against liberals and homosexuals. Their teaching would have me believe I was the good person in the world and the liberals were the bad people in the world. Jesus taught that we were all bad and He is good, and He wants to rescue us because there is a war going on and we are hostages in that war." Pg 132

Again, interesting point. I think that we need to be very careful not to alienate people, as Miller alludes to. I think we should be speaking the truth about issues and what the Bible says about them, but I think when we start accusing (which is the Devil's job), we lose our love. We must always be for the liberals, the hippies, the homosexuals etc. even though we are against some liberal ideas, homosexuality etc. We must value people as Jesus did, and sadly, we cannot hold a candle to the way Jesus loved. Tax collectors. Prostitutes. Drunkards. He loved them all. Let us love like Jesus loved. To paraphrase Rick Warren, I want to be known by what I am for, not by what I am against.

There you go. I have given you plenty of ammunition to use against me. Fire away. What do you think about Miller's (and my) critiques?


Lori said...

About your point on political activism ...

I don't believe that the term Christian and Republican are synonymous. There are ideas in each party that I disagree with. That being said, if we look at some of the issues there are certain things (I believe) that we should value as Christians:

1. We need to value life
My examples are obvious ones: abortion and euthanasia. Obviously there is a party line in terms of abortion, but not so much with euthanasia.

2. Less government involvement in our lives means more freedom.
As the government injects itself into our lives, whether that means taxes or more control, that lessens our individual freedoms. A good example is all this wiretapping business. I do not like the idea of the government looking at my phone records. To me, it smacks of fear more than national defense.

I worry about this erosion of our freedoms and wonder how much pressure will come to religious freedom at some point in the future.

3. Genuine care and concern for other human beings.
I would rather support a party that emphasized private charitable programs (like through the church people!) rather than waste all my tax money on bureacratic administration of old, archaic social programs that don't work. Social programming is not bad, but most programs usefulness declines before the program itself dies.

In my mind, these are some of the issues we should consider when we're voting for our leaders. I know that neither party or the people in them are perfect. But most people just say "I am a X because they stand for the working people" or "I am X because they support tax cuts" without digging deeper into the issues. Either of these statements is so much more complex than hanging on one line heard during a political speech or debate.

That lack of thought and information is most disturbing to me.

Nick said...

You make some great points, Lori.

Your first point is right on. I think the value of human life is a no brainer, supported by the Bible, and issues like abortion can not be supported in a clear conscience as a Christian. I have never heard a good arguement for abortion.

As far as the government's involvement, whereas I might agree with you, I think this is far less black and white. I think it is much more opinion, and whereas a person may be able to support a certain side of this view biblically, it would be a lot less firm than the privious example.

Concern for others is another big issue, but I would argue that niether party has a corner on this market. I think if we are honest we see that both parties are much more concerned with terms of offices and diplomacy and money and power than a genuine concern for people. It is sad to say, and I know this is a pessamistic view, but I think this is the world we live in.

I totally agree that we need to think more and never blindly accept. Thinking is good!!!

I'd be interested in your ongoing thoughts on this Lori. Thanks for the comment.

Chip Burkitt said...

Nearly everyone is ambivalent about sales people. Most people want to learn about a new or complex product, but they are always suspicious of someone who stands to gain from what he or she is telling them. That's why many retail stores no longer pay on commission. They want the information provided by the salesperson to be in the customer's rather than the seller's best interest.
So I don't have a problem with someone who tells me about the benefits of knowing Jesus as long as the claims are true and the "preacher" doesn't seem to be getting some kind of reward for it. I want to be clear here. There is an appropriate reward for telling others about Jesus. It is the joy of sharing in a life transformed and renewed by the power of God. But there are also inappropriate, extrinsic rewards. Some churches, for example, have periodic soul-winning campaigns that remind me of the efforts of grade school children to raise money through selling magazine subscriptions. There's always some kind of incentive for bringing the most people to church or getting the most "decisions." Such efforts may yield short-term results, but they also encourage a mercenary view of evangelism and produce an artificial pressure on Chrisitans to "reach" their friends and neighbors. As a result, some have been guilty of misrepresenting the benefits of knowing Jesus as prosperity here and now. Others have been burdened with guilt because they could not bring themselves to sell the gospel, and so they have seen themselves as ineffective witnesses to Christ.
Jesus is not a product. But knowing him is great gain. For knowing him is life and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. And he promises even greater things in the world to come. Still, I prefer the advice of Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

Lori said...

Well, one of my reasons for being concerned about the level of government involvement is a shifting hostility towards Christian values. Take anti-discrimination laws as an example. Catholic Charities recently shut down its adoption program because Massachusetts required them to allow gay couples to adopt, contrary to the Catholic stance that homosexuality is wrong.

If you project that example further, what stands in the way of the govt telling the church they must marry gay couples? Separation of church and state? I don't think so. Our courts have largely interpreted that to mean that the church is left out of govt, and not the other way around.

I think that's a good reason to be concerned about increased govt control and involvement.

I agree with you that neither party has paid enough attention to social justice issues like poverty. I think that the church as a whole has turned inward and not cared enough about these issues. I believe that if the church was truly doing its job and reaching out in every community, the govt wouldn't have to fund social programs to the extent it does right now.

Politicians are certainly more concerned with being re-elected rather than the overall public good.

I think the biggest hurdle our country has to face is the apathy of its citizens. With a growing emphasis on living out faith in every area of our lives, I am hopeful that our generation will impact the public sector for Jesus.