I know this guy David only from reading his blog and his comments on mine.
He knows me only from reading my blog and my comments on his.
And yet, in spite of the limited nature of our virtual friendship, he has thrown down a gauntlet that I cannot help but take up. It seems that David wants me to do more than just point out the church’s problems, he actually wants me to offer some answers! (You know, for just a blog friend, he is pretty demanding.)
Okay, David, I have done a bit of deconstruction, now I will attempt something constructive. This response represents my opinion du jour, and if you ask me next week I may have something new and different to say. But here’s where I am right now.
In order for the church to respond to our image issues, we need to reclaim a healthy theology of the cross. Not the bloody sacrificial violently beaten up because I am so bad according to Mel Gibson kind of cross. That’s just gross. Mel Gibson’s Jesus is merely a prop, not an individual acting with a will of his own. I want to reclaim a healthy theology of the cross that acknowledges discipleship of Jesus (rather than church membership) as a meaningful life-path into right relationship with God.
I’m currently rereading “The Cost of Discipleship” and so maybe that is why I’m in my current mode of thinking. I never was a big Dietrich Bonhoeffer fan before, but I’m giving him a second chance. He says, “The figure of the crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.” It seems to me that the church has taken success for its standard. We think our purpose is to succeed, and what’s worse we define this illusory ecclesial success with the very same earthly principles we use to measure the success of everything else, from the balance sheet of the corporation we work for to the new brownie recipe we just tried. (mmm … brownies) “If we are 'in the black' or if the brownies taste good, then we have succeeded … which means we must be doing what God is calling us to do,” is how the illogical yet common thinking goes.
And what do we mean when we say a church is “succeeding?” Lots of people, (and more and more people every week), lots of money, lots of programs, super-cool facility, high-tech sanctuary, snappy t-shirts and coffee mugs with the church logo emblazoned on them. Yes! Absolutely, the church that exhibits these fruits can properly be said to be a successful church. The problem is, we are not supposed to be holding the church up to the yardstick of success in order to assess our faithfulness to the gospel. We are supposed to be holding the church to the yardstick of the cross of Christ. Bonhoeffer writes, “In the passion Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honor. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus.” (emphasis mine)
I want to be as clear as possible: I do not intend to glorify suffering. I intend merely to refrain from glorifying success. I also do not intend for us to aim for failure. I am saying that assessing the church must transcend the categories of success and failure altogether. When we break out of the “success as our standard” mode of thinking, we will clean up the church’s image.
There are a multitude of critiques to this incomplete, shallow attempt at an answer, but I think I’ll address them in another post. In the meantime, David, I hope that I have provided something constructive for you to chew on. (That reminds me, I need to go take my brownies out of the oven.)