Friday, January 18, 2008

No Perfect People Allowed - Chapter 2

Even thought it's going to be a bit tedious, I'm trying to blog my way through John Burke's book, "No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a come as you are culture in the church."

Chapter 2: Cynical and Jaded: Results of the Postmodern Experiment

"All the diagnostic experts keep pointing backward to the era of the '60s and '70's as the fatal hour when everything started going to hell." - Howe and Strauss, 13th Gen.

"How do we best contextualize the unchanging truths of Scripture in ways they can understand and live out in their culture?"

According to Burke (and everyone else and their dog) our culture took a huge turn in the '60s and '70s. We embarked on what Burke calls the "Postmodern Experiment." Which he defines as "a generation deciding to test what life would be like living out the philosophy, 'if it feels good, do it... Americans went out for a three-decade binge on self, and now our country is vomiting up the consequences uncontrollably." The consequences have been neglect, physical abuse, sexual molestation, drug abuse, porn addictions, eating disorders, anger issues, serious crime, abortion, STDs, AIDS and sexual addictions passing from one generation to the next.

These factors have created what Burke calls 5 main sociological struggles Christian leaders now face to reach emerging generations: Trust, Tolerance, Truth, Brokenness and Aloneness

"Trust is the cornerstone of relationship and faith. Without it, we cannot engage others or God in intimate relationship. Trust comes from a deep conviction that I matter, that I can trust the other person because he has genuine concern for my well being. The ability to trust often gets established or destroyed early in childhood." And that's exactly what has happened as kids' lives are torn apart by the national divorce rate of 50%. Burke quoted the song Father of Mine by Everclear to point to this erosion of trust.

Kids grew up learning their parents personal happiness or their material goods were more important to them by watching their parents divorce or in becoming "latchkey" kids so their parents could make more money. One of the best quotes of the chapter is the following, In my experience, adults affected by these trends will not necessarily connect them with their struggles to trust today. Just as children of adult alcoholics never knew their always-drunk father had a problem, in the same way, what we grow up with becomes "normal" for us. The resulting wounds of distrust fester, however, and they affect our ability to trust others and God.

"When you create a culture to deal with these painful issues of trust openly, with sincerity and honesty, you begin to see two things. First, you will hear more and more stories of wounds that once remained hidden and festering. But you will also hear increasing numbers of stories of God's healing work as people are brought into the light."

To a lot of conservative Christian leaders, Tolerance is a four letter word. To some Christians, it's synonymous with permissiveness. To those who don't know Jesus, it's a question of our love. Burke tells the story of his neighbors he'd invited to church for years finally deciding to come but asking him an important (in their mind) question first, "Are you a loving church... but how do you feel about gays?" "During the first two years of Gateway's existence, I consistently was asked two questions by spiritual seekers more than any other questions: 'What do you think of other religions' and 'how do you feel about gay people?' I've discovered the real question they're asking is: 'Are you one of the narrow-minded, bigoted, hate-filled, intolerant types of Christians I've heard about?' What they really want to know is whether we promote love or hatred."

"The way we must navigate these cultural shallows comes from understanding that in a postmodern culture, the messenger is the message. How we are perceived is every bit as important as the truth we espouse. What they see is what they get. The attitude of the church culture will either convey the person of Christ and his attitude, which was outrageously accepting of and attractive to the 'sinners' of his day, or our attitude toward others will reinforce a stereotype that does a disservice to Jesus. Christ-followers must remember that people are never our enemy, and if we can stand alongside people in the things Jesus stands for (like human rights) we can best undermine the schemes of the real enemy who uses lies to paint Good as Evil and Evil as Good."

This probably won't surprise anyone, but a national survey taken by the Barna Research group revealed that only one-third of Americans believe moral truth is absolute and unchanging.
Usually when I hear that stat, it's followed by church leaders explaining how we need to teach people to get all the right intellectual beliefs, they're usually coming from a very modern (rationalistic) approach. It doesn't surprise me that Burke takes a different approach.

"Since neither modern nor postmodern culture holds a lock on truth, this cultural transformation offers an opportunity for Christ-followers to assess what the Scriptures really teach about truth. Fundamentally, truth is not primarily propositional, but personal. Jesus said, 'I am the truth...' The best way to help emerging generations find truth is to introduce them to him."

When emerging generations are asking, "What is true?" they are ultimately asking, "Do I want to be like you?" Truth is relational. Which puts the church (an authentic community of Christ-followers) in a great position.

Burke tells the story of a lady who's dad walked out on her at a young age. As a result, she never knew what it was to be loved by a man. She used her body to get attention, but was never loved. When she finally met the perfect man and began what could've been a healthy marriage, she fell back into the same pattern of wanting attention from men and had eventually committed adultery. It was at the lowest point of her broken marriage that she came to Gateway Church. At Gateway she gave her life to Christ, built relationships in a small group and eventually became a leader. But one day she just dropped out and moved to another city to be with her fiance. Her small group had been challenging her about the speed of the relationship, but she fell back into the same old pattern. As I read that story, a face came to mind and once again the decisions that person has made hurt in my heart. But I can see how that comes out of both a lack of trust and brokenness.

"Nothing has been more difficult for me than watching people react in destructive ways to brokenness. Nothing poses a greater challenge and opportunity to the church than the overwhelming emotional pains that drive our generation into so many addictive behaviors."
"Broken people are wounded people. Like abused puppies, they often run from those attempting to help them. Leaders must create a safe climate, so the healing work of God can begin in their lives. It will take patience and time. People will come and go, walking toward the light of freedom, then plunging back into the darkness. But they must see the church as a light-house; always there to lead them into the safe harbor of God's grace."

"Can we lovingly accept them 'as is' and offer love, hope and healing as Jesus did to 'go and sin no more?' To do this, we must begin to see how we too are broken, and in need of a Savior. We must show others how our brokenness leads us to daily dependency on a merciful Saviour who brings healing for our souls and hope for our futures."

Travel, personal entertainment, career mobility have all combined to make us more isolated from each other. Gone are the relational safety nets of family and neighborhood. People are feeling more and more alone.

"This provides a tremendous opportunity for the church. According to Scripture, the church is to function like family. We are to be that supportive community, that extended family to one another... I am convinced authentic community provides the context where the majority of spiritual growth and healing can take place. Emerging generations, like never before, crave this sens of community inside a spiritual family. If they don't experience hope for authentic relational support, I don't care how hip the service, or rippin' the music, or how vintage the vibe, they won't stick. The challenge for leaders is to learn how to live in community with others, and then to provide ways to ensure that nobody stands alone."


BillMarty said...

I'm having some trouble reconciling

"How do we best contextualize the unchanging truths of Scripture in ways they can understand and live out in their culture?"


"Truth is relational."

I'm not sure how exactly how "relational" is being used here, but the way it comes off on the surface seems a little hazardous.

It seems to say that what is necessary to reach a person and bring them into the church community is relative - changing based on the person and their circumstances.

I don't think that is a very good way to define the Truth. The approach, as far as evangelism, would do well to adhere to that interpretation, but the core has to remain the same.

Jesus did indeed say "I am the truth." He said, in fact "I am the way, the truth, and the life." and then said "No one comes to the Father except through me."

He didn't say "No one comes to the Father except by a custom built path tailored for each individual relative to their experiences."

I agree that a church should have wide open arms. None should ever be turned away, and it does disturb me when I see it happen. That said, it is a slippery slope to "reinterpret" too much when representing the Truth to someone.

A friend of ours says this on his blog page entitled "Emerging Me":

"What if truth is a constant pursuit? What if it changes as we understand God’s love better? God does not change. And TRUTH does not change, but MY understanding of what I thought truth is changes."

"What if [truth] changes..."
"...TRUTH does not change"

That doesn't work. The truth isn't a constant pursuit, though your understanding may be. You might, though, have been right the first time. Then you aren't being progressive. You're falling away.

If one has truly misunderstood, and has come closer to God by working through this misunderstanding, I think that is great!

That line of thinking; however, can be abused by rationalizing a denial of difficult truth by simply "understanding" it away. It seems like a pretty patronizing attitude to take with the King of Kings.

I think it is a matter of balance. On the cultural side, there are many ways to bring people to the Son. On the Truth side lies only one way to get to the Father.

I once asked a relative how she felt about someone dying and really not being sure if they were in heaven or not.

She said that she believes that regardless of life on earth, everyone gets a chance to accept or deny Jesus once they have died.

It isn't true. No matter how good it makes you feel, or how much it motivates you to get up and get to church - it isn't true.

Donnie Miller said...

You keep me on my toes, man. It would've been better to write the "Truth is relational" sentence as "To a postmodern mind, truth is relational."

People will only experience truth as they build relationships with those who know Jesus. Long gone are the days of "have you heard of the four spiritual laws" and we're living in the days of "let's build a relationship and as you see the way I live, you can see the One who is Truth." People get connected with Truth through relationships with those who know Truth. People are converted to community before being converted to Christ. That's the way it works for a lot of people these days, although not all. I liked Burke's comment that people want to know whether they want to become like us. There are a lot of Christians who may know Truth, but can't convey it because their judgmental lifestyle is repulsive.

I would say though that Truth is relational because Jesus Christ is Truth and we know Him through relationship with Him. Truth is a person and that person is Jesus Christ. The Truth of Jesus is not the Nicean creed (although that informs us about Jesus) but Jesus himself. I would say the point is to know Jesus, not simply know about Jesus. Truth is not a list of propositions about reality, Truth is simply Jesus Christ. And then we come to assumptions about reality by looking at the world through the knowledge of Jesus. Scripture itself isn't Truth, rather scripture is the way we believe God has chosen to reveal Truth (Jesus Christ) to humanity. The word exists to lead us to the Word.

And because of the revelation of scripture that we'd disagree with your relative's comment. Scripture exists to guide us to the Truth and we interpret Jesus through what's been revealed in scripture.

Hope that helps clarify.

BillMarty said...

That is what I hoped was being conveyed...

Sometimes I see the pendulum swinging to close a unitarian philosophy of "no absolute truth or morality" and that isn't the direction I want to go.

Thanks for being so responsive!

Gary Christensen said...

I believe that God is Truth. He speaks only the truth. Jesus said "I am Truth." Truth is a person and His name is Jesus. He dwells within me. He lives inside of me. I walk with Him every day. He never leaves me. He's always there, to guide, to suggest, to point the way, to listen to my needs, care about my problems, always there, never leaving me. That is more than religion. It's about a relationship with a living God who is closer than a friend. He is right inside. "The Kingdom of God is within." That's what keeps me going. His name is Jesus.
(by Gary,