Thursday, April 27, 2017

Apologies for Apologetics

I'm a little behind, but in catching up on potential post ideas, I ran across this link I saved from Easter weekend. I saw it on CNN and was curious what Ed Stetzer, who I've known to be pretty creative, might have to say about "Why do Christians keep inviting you to Church?" I'm sure it was a boon for CNN, who's become quite click-baity these days, to have a recognized evangelical name talking about church on Easter weekend, but I was really disappointed by the lack of, well, anything in this piece.

The main ideas at the top, which CNN always pulls out for those too lazy to read more than three sentences, say "Christians who share their faith aren't intolerant," and "It shows they believe what Jesus said and care about those around them." To me, it all seems a bit tone deaf. The column basically argues (very politely) against the notion that its offensive to try and influence someone else's belief - and I'm sure that's an issue for some people.

His main points, though, that it's not intolerant because Jesus told Christians to do it, that everyone wants to influence people when they find something they're passionate about, and that Christians really believe Jesus changes lives, aren't wrong, but they're likely missing the point.
He points out, rightly, that Penn Jillette, the entertainer and oft-critique of Christianity has said many times he only trusts Christians who try to convert him, because it seems hypocritical to believe someone is going to hell and not do everything you can to stop it.

I'm just not sure that's why people are uncomfortable with invitations to church. I don't disagree, necessarily, with Stetzer's three points here,
but I think one easy misconception is the unaddressed source of the real problem. Evangelical Christianity, especially in the US, particularly of the fundamentalist tradition, is obsessed with apologetics - a word most people have never heard. Apologetics is essentially the verbal and logical argument for faith; young evangelicals are trained from an early age to "be able to give an answer for the hope that you have," which, in typically fundamentalist fashion, is taking one verse and ratcheting up its importance to an almost comic level.

It's made of good intentions most of the time, but it creates all kinds of problems - namely that no one can be talked into faith. Yes, CS Lewis is a prime example of someone who reasoned his way to Christianity, but it wasn't reason alone; there is a real difference between faith and theology (although, in the world of apologetics, that might not be true). The other problem is that Jesus' "call" to do such things was really a call to "make disciples," which has gotten translated into, "lovingly argue people into faith." Many evangelicals think, if they can't do it,
at least get this person to church, where the pastor can take a crack at it.

I'd say, from my perspective, this is the most important misinterpretation of scripture in evangelical culture today, the notion that "make disciples" equals proselytizing. There is far more scriptural support for the Church to live faithfully as a means of witness and allowing God to draw people to Christian faith and practice. This doesn't preclude talking to people about faith and developing relationships with those around us, but it's got a very different purpose at the core - it's me trying to be the best Christian I can be, vs me trying to make you into a follower of Christ.

Maybe I'm wrong about that - you're certainly free to disagree - but I think it fits with why, I suspect, people are often uncomfortable with the invitation to church: we're not living what we claim.

I get that nobody's perfect and people expecting Christians to be wonderful people is a big hurdle for Christian to overcome. As we Christians like to say, "We're all just sinners." However, when we use our words to try and convince people, when we set our worship services up as a means of converting or proselytizing, we're sort of communicating that we've got something you don't. There's an implicit judgement, even if it's not done judgmentally.

If we respect people as people, we need to respect that they've arrived at whatever beliefs they have honestly, through experience and thought.
Stetzer asks that people give Christians a chance, listen to them and don't just write everything off right away. I'd say that's good advice,
but it's good advice for everyone, Christians included. My faith has been shaped and challenged positively far more often by talking to people who don't share it than it ever has listening to a sermon or sitting in a class.

Yes, I do believe most of the time when people ask you to come to church its because they believe Jesus can make every life better. I share that belief. But also, it's often because they don't feel confident enough in themselves to present Jesus honestly. This is what has to change.
We say "We're just sinners," and get upset when people expect Christians to be perfect, but we're rarely willing to be imperfect, to be real,
to be honest with people we're "trying to save."

Even that phrase is really missing the point. Christians often view themselves as standing on the shore throwing life preservers to loved ones who are drowning - but w'd be more effective (not to mention accurate) if we thought of everyone (ourselves included) as struggling in the water.
Just because we're pretty convinced of the best way to shore, doesn't mean we shouldn't listen to what those around us have to say.

I suspect people get uncomfortable with invitations to church for a lot of reasons (unfamiliarity being the biggest), but I don't think an aversion to intolerance is high on the list. I suspect there is some internal notion that "you don't have it all together, why tell me what to do?"

I hope that's an unfair assessment of every Christian and every congregation, but we all know it's not. Perceptions chance not from words - in our mouths or on CNN - perceptions change with action and experience. The change begins with me.

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