Sunday, December 14, 2008

Social Gospel or Real Christianity?

I know that the criticism for Shane Claiborne's books is that he's preaching a social gospel and not just THE gospel. Whatever he's preaching, I can't stop thinking about it. I first read Jesus for President and then shortly after read Irresistible Revolution. These books have made me question what it means to follow Jesus and pushed me to reread the Sermon on the Mount through new eyes. As someone who has grown up in "the Church," I didn't think it was possible to see something new in the Bible. But I did. Honestly, it has made me fearful of what God is calling us -me- to do.

We are not just called to be candles. Candles make for nice Christmas services and for a nice peace vigil (or a pretty Elton John song). They can remind us that God's light dwells within us and that we are to shine that light in this dark world. But we are not just called to be candles. We are called to be fire. Candles can be snuffed out by the slightest wind or by the smallest child on their birthday. But it's harder to put out a fire. We are to be fire, to weave our lives together so that the Spirit's inferno of love spreads across the earth.
From Irresistible Revolution, Page 352

I was already feeling pretty critical of Christianity in the US and more specifically the whole "seeker-friendly" movement. My husband and I have been pretty frustrated that we can't seem to find a church that's interested in pursuing an intellectual discussion about the Bible. It seems lately that the evangelical churches that we've attended are full of fun, entertaining videos and emotional self-help style messages with a few random scriptures thrown in. Maybe that's a bit harsh, but like I said we've been pretty frustrated. Then we'd find a church that seemed to be on track for deeper discussions but find out that their view of women or child discipline was not in line with our views - two areas that are really important to me. Those areas aren't total deal breakers unless they're being preached from the pulpit or endorsed by leadership. I just couldn't be in a church that I felt like I was always defending my views. So we've been frustrated.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I've been experiencing a crisis of faith. I saw these amazing people who treated others with kindness (even me - a Christian), gave of themselves and their money, cared about animals and the planet, treated their children with so much gentleness. And guess what? They weren't Christians. They were Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans...all of those "evil" things I had grown up learning to be afraid of. And guess what I had found in the church - men demeaning women, parents physically and emotionally hurting children in the name of God, hearing that environmentalism is a sin, money for big screen TVs so we could see the preacher better but token amounts going to the homeless. I know that God isn't his people. What a relief! But, I was feeling pretty confused and discouraged.

If someone asks if we are Christ-followers, can we say, "Tell me what you see"? Is there enough evidence to prove that we are taking after the slaughtered Lamb? What if they ask the poor around us? What if they ask our enemies? Would they say that we love them? Christians haven't always looked like Jesus. Perhaps the greatest barrier to Christ has been Christians who pronounce Jesus so loudly with their lips and deny him so loudly with their lives.
From Jesus For President, Page 230

So I was probably ripe for reading Claiborne's message. Maybe there is hope for Christians. I'm still digesting it all, and still not sure if I agree with all of his views on things. I'm having to go back to the Bible to see if I agree with his interpretation of scriptures. He takes a very anti-war stance. I get what he's saying and in a lot of ways it rings true for me, but I'm having a hard time reconciling it with the "real world." As a parent, it's hard to imagine opening my home to strangers who need help. What does it mean to give to others in such a way that it makes a difference in their lives and yet still take care of my family? Lots of stuff to think about. And I am.

eta: I just wanted to add that I have many wonderful inspiring Christian friends who truly desire to honor God with their lives. Friends that have encouraged me that I wasn't alone in the things I was questioning. I also know of people who are quietly going about their work serving people who are usually forgotten.


HippieMommy said...

I'm with you. Shane Claiborne has messed Joe and I up. Our entire view of what our life should look like has shifted, and it feels great! It finally feels like our vision makes sense with what Jesus taught. It's hard to explain to others though. We keep hearing "everything in moderation" from the Christians around us when we share our convictions about living more like Christ. It's tough.

HippieMommy said...

Grammatical error: I should've said "Joe and me"... ;)