Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Our problem

Everything I'm about to write might be completely wrong, and nobody would be more happy about that than me.  But I think I've observed this one big problem with my lot, that is to say evangelical Christians of a relatively conservative persuasion.  The problem is that we misidentify our problem.

Specifically, I think we often assume that our problem is with our borders, and that our centre is sorted.

For example, we assume that we're basically sorted when it comes to Sundays - preaching, worship, that sort of thing - and that the real issue, the thing that is holding us back, is our difficulty with evangelism or apologetics or general engagement with the world.  Or perhaps in the realm of ideas we assume we've basically got a handle on theology, but that we need to work hard at understanding the culture.

Two qualifications.  Firstly, I don't mean that anyone out there is saying, 'hey, I've nailed preaching, no need to work on that anymore'.  But I suspect that most of our work on preaching is basically tinkering.  The same sort of thing, mutatis mutandis, could be said about worship or theology.  Fundamentally we know what we're doing, or at least what we're trying to do.  Second, I don't mean that evangelism and apologetics and cultural engagement aren't important, or that we're doing okay at those things.  They are, and we're not.

But here's the thing.  The church lives from its centre, which is Christ.  In particular, the church lives from the proclaimed word, in which Christ comes to it again and again in the gospel, and draws his people again and again to himself.  That is where the life of the church begins, and begins again and again each Sunday.  Then again, that life of the church flows directly into liturgy, into prayer and praise and adoration.  That is both the immediate outworking of life in Christ and its ultimate goal.  That is the expression of the life of the church.  Then again, theology is the crucial rule of the church, the direction of its life, the mirror in which the church sees itself as a people shaped by union with Christ.

So if there's a problem in the life of the church - specifically, let's say there seems to be a problem with our ability to evangelise the world around us, for that certainly is the great challenge we face and it is a challenge in which we are making remarkably little headway - I would suggest that we ought not to immediately look to the presenting problem, but to the centre.  Is the life of Christ evident in the church?

Practically, do we really know what we intend to do when we stand up to preach a sermon, or sit down to listen to one?  Are we sure?  If we are sure, why is so much of our preaching tediously didactic, or dully sentimental?  Where is the power?  Why do we find the sermon over-long when we sit to listen?  Why are we glancing at our watches all the time?

Practically, is our worship an expression of Spirit-fuelled joy, as the Spirit-filled community with Spirit-unveiled faces perceive the glory of Christ?  Do we know what we are doing when we stand up to sing, or sit to pray?  Are we sure?  If we are sure, why have we ended up with so much thin liturgy, so little seriousness?  Why does the joy look more like froth, that evaporates quickly into the air, than deep seated contemplation of the beauty of the Lord?  Where are the holy hands uplifted?

Practically, are we sure we've grasped what theology is all about?  Do we know what we're going about when we seek to read and study or to teach?  Are we sure?  If we are sure, why does so much of our theology seem either totally untethered from what the church of all ages has believed, or alternatively to be a mere repristination of thoughts someone had in the seventeenth century?  Where is the creative engagement with Holy Scripture?  Why is there such impatience with theological questions, the rush to pragmatic solutions, the inability to see the links between different theological loci and practical church life?

Maybe I'm wrong.  But I do wonder whether instead of looking to our borders we ought to be crying out for renewal from the centre.


  1. Additional label: lament

  2. Replies
    1. Perhaps another way of asking them: where is the word that burns like fire and breaks the rocks? (Jer 23:29)

    2. Yes. And how you approach that question is revealing. If you say 'hey, the word of God is being preached and it always achieves what God sends it for, so don't worry too much about the result...' - well, I wonder. What if instead you were to say 'hey, this doesn't seem to be achieving what we'd expect - maybe preaching the word of God is not so simple as we thought? Maybe we need to cry to *him* to speak his word...' - well, then I think we might be on to something.