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Maybe It’s A Letter Written to Me (by Brian McLaren)

Brian McLaren has a letter that he sent out to the Emergent folk that I just read that sort of hits me closely with a lot of this revival talk and more specificaly my post. Read the whole letter here, it was really well done I thought. Here are some quotes.

If I were to add a tenth item, it would be about avoiding speaking critically or uncharitably of any individual or church. I’ve made it my goal to avoid doing that for a couple reasons. (Even though I fail, it remains my goal.) First, I aspire to follow the Scriptures that teach not to let an un-edifying word come out of my mouth. (Again, I fall down on this, but keep getting up again.) Second, as someone who has received my share of bashing, I am more sensitive than ever to what it must be like to be Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Josh McDowell, Chuck Colson, Joel Osteen, or anybody else who is bashed by their fellow Christians for one reason or another. Most of us are doing the best we can, and all of us have walked a hard road and gotten some scars along the way. So whenever anybody is bashed, I’m sympathetic to them.

Some of us have been so turned off by negative approaches to evangelism – rude, insensitive, canned, programmatic, high-pressured, glitzy, or whatever – that we have unintentionally backed into some degree of silence about the good news. This is especially true where churches are caring for the de-churched and overchurched – alienated and wounded refugees from fundamentalist, Pentecostal, charismatic, or other evangelical churches where evangelism was practiced insensitively or in an otherwise unhealthy way. It’s understandable that these folks would need some “detox” time, where they can heal and recalibrate their spiritual lives without an unhealthy degree of pressure to evangelize. There are a lot of wounded (and sometimes angry) Christians out there, and they need to be cared for with patience and sensitivity.

Many folk from fundamentalist, Pentecostal, and evangelical backgrounds have become deeply disillusioned with the methodology of revivalism – calling people to “make a decision for Christ” by walking the aisle, raising a hand, filling out a contact card, saying “the sinner’s prayer” and so on. They rightly point out that these are rather recent traditions and techniques – not Biblical requirements, even though they can be Biblically defended in various ways. They have seen the downsides of using revivalist techniques, many of which seem to border on high-pressure manipulation or sales gimmickry. They realize that these techniques arose during late Christendom, at a time when and in places where nearly everyone was at least nominally Christian – when it made sense to call nominal people to immediate and dramatic decision to “accept Jesus” or “get saved” or “get the-baptism-of-the-Holy-Ghost” or whatever.

Too often, though, this decision-focused approach produces a series of raised and dashed expectations, as people “make a decision” but nothing really changes. And in settings that are in some ways more pre-Christian or post-Christian than typical of Christendom, calling people to immediate commitment without understanding makes no sense at all.

As an alternative, many of us wisely want to emphasize process – the process of coming to faith in Christ, the process of becoming and growing as disciples, the process of opening one’s life to more and more fullness of the Holy Spirit, and so on. Again, I think this emphasis is sensible, and the problems it seeks to avoid are real.

But it would be a shame if we lose the very real insight that some people are ready to make a decision or commitment and need to do so. They may be like the rich young ruler in the gospel story, or like the Philippian jailor in Acts: they want to take the next step, but they don’t know how, or even if there is a next step. My hunch is that baptism – which marks a key milestone in a process, and is both an ending and a beginning – should become a bigger focus in many of our churches. Perhaps some kinds of membership processes, or induction into a team of leaders or monastic community, can also help us explore new ways of calling people in process to decision and commitment in a healthy way. We need to be careful we don’t respond to an overemphasis on simplistic decisions and high-pressure events by accepting a low-intensity process without events or milestones or commitments, when what we need is an approach that looks for processes that include decisive events of commitment.

4 Comments

  • I agree with many of his sentiments but

    … Is there no space for critique or correction? Even in the face of abject silliness or even church abuse? Is critique always uncharitable?

    … Having admitted that sometimes they have unintentionally backed into silence about the good news is there not space to be a little more self-critical?

  • That I think is the golden question Matt.
    Cause obviously no one enjoys being critisized, but where and when should it be? Only in the context of a relationship maybe? not sure…

  • I appreciate where Brian “is coming from.” I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly during the Cornerstone Festival last year, and not only did he have a throng of appreciative listeners in his seminar audience, he had his share of critics preparing to pounce. We evangelicals often eat our own, and it is apparent that Brian, and perhaps many others in the EC are coming from this experience.

    Perhaps this then is the reason behind much of the tendency of the EC to prefer “embodied apologetics,” and to engage in lifestyle types of evangelism, accompanied by a lack of verbal proclamation. If bas experiences in evangelicalism (or other Christian “isms”) is the reason, then we are seeing the pendulum swing too far in the other direction by way of response. Perhaps those of us who are supportive of the EC, and yet have concerns about aspects of the movement, can come alongside our brethren in order to help the pendulum move to a place of balance in holistic ministry that involves both deed and word.

  • Hey I was at Cornerstone last year also and saw him every time he spoke. That means we were under the same tent. Very cool. The best part about that experience was that we got to go chat with him after one of his sessions for an hour, he really is a gentle and intelligent, humble guy.

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