I enjoyed reading these thoughts from Alan Hirsch on the power of future vision to shape the present. Using his language, a bold future vision contributes to liminality, or an out of balance state, which in turn creates a response of individuals and communities toward missional engagement.
Working on Chapter Three right now, which is titled “Hypocritical”. The basic premise is that the common perception of Christians is that we are two-faced and have double standards. Simply put, we do not practice what we preach. This has led to significant disillusionment and departure of many from the church.
- “…what they [outsiders] see from Christians creates their ideas about the reality and authenticity of following Christ” ~Page 43
There are a couple of thoughts from this quote. First, the sheer importance of being a faithful and obedient disciple in the world means understanding the Gospel is not good advice, but Good News. We are not moralists teaching self-improvement, but heralds preaching the Good News of God’s kingdom and the greatness of our savior Jesus. Reality and authenticity flow from the humility of grace understood and applied, not simply intellectually ascended to. Secondly, it is somewhat frustrating that individuals from inside the church would base their reality of following Christ on anything other than the Scriptures. It points to a degradation of the understanding of the great doctrines of God’s word–authority, inerrancy, clarity, sufficiency, and necessity–within the church, and the necessity for the elevation of the Scriptures within church.
- “In many ways, our [Christians’] lifestyles are no different from those around us.” ~Page 46
Adding statistical support to this statement, the authors show how woefully large the gap is between the believer and the non-believer is. The question this coerces me to ask is “is transformation evident in my life, my ministry and the body of Christ in Austin?” This is a great, gut-check question, and I pray that we are continuing to be transformed into the image of Christ as a church here in Austin. We must continue to ask God for His transforming work to continue!
- “Living with integrity starts with being transparent” ~Page 55
The authors highlight the difficult balance of transparency that is appropriate versus transparency that is self-absorbed and for shock value. I think this quote could be expanded to understand that living with integrity begins with transparency in relationship.
- “As Christians, we should articulate the reality of a situation, but we must be careful to choose the appropriate time and manner to address it.” ~Page 59
This concept highlights the necessity of relationship in the communication of truth. The majority of ministry time must be encapsulated in relationship to communicate truths effectively, and simply cannot be accomplished by pulpit/preaching ministry alone. Discipleship is a hands-on ordeal, and all relationship for the believer is ordered toward discipleship, even those with “outsiders”.
This chapter concludes with a challenging question about whether we are adding burden to the already heavy-laden, or demonstrating freedom and love we have in Christ as Christians. I pray my life will demonstrate the latter.
Chapter 2 presents some of the research findings about the perceptions of outsiders toward believers (the terms “evangelicals” and “born again Christians” are used), and breaks down the rest of the book on the lines of six general themes: hypocritical, too concerned with converts, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental.
- “The primary reason outsiders feel hostile towards Christians…is our “swagger”, how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project.” ~Page 26
Reflecting on this quote is a good exercise for me…the Gospel has no reason for pride whatsoever. To have an inflated sense of self-importance is to completely misunderstand the Gospel of grace.
- “We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for” ~Page 26
This quote points at the departure of the church from the Gospel toward cultural battles. I do not think that this quote tells the whole story, and one must only look to the first chapters of Revelation to understand that cultural engagement is indeed necessary for faithfulness to the mission of God, and we will necessarily become known in some cases for what we oppose. It is the supercession of religious activism over the core message of the Gospel which will get us into trouble…
- The book presents a finding that a significant portion of young people within the church share a similar viewpoint as those outside the church along the six themes presented above. The insinuation of the authors is that much of the Christian message about absolute truth has been heard, but the message of grace has been lost.
In my experience in the church, I would say that the opposite is true. Much of the deficiency in ministries has been the lack in-depth instruction on the biblical Gospel, especially with respect to college ministry. Most of our students hunger and thirst for Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, challenging truths which demand their very lives. The answer, in my experience, to what the authors deem “unChristian”, is passionate exposition of Scripture and faithful discipleship to a life of sacrifice. I am curious to read more…
As a former scientist who recently made the leap into pastoral ministry, I am always thankful for rigorous research and the numbers this books presents. Many of the conclusions in Chapter 2 I hope are expounded on later in the book with their statistical backing, expecially assertions like that in #1 above.
- “We are not responsible for outsiders’ decisions, but we are accountable when our actions and attitudes–misrepresenting a holy, just and loving God–have pushed outsiders away.” ~Page 14
This book is a research-based analysis of the 16 to 29 year-old generation’s perception of Christianity, and how the church ought to respond. I agree with the quote above, but my suspicion is that this book will do little to point us to the heart of the Gospel of grace as the solution to our perception. Much of our “cultural exegesis” in pop-Christianity seems so narcissistic with respect to the church, devoid of any true interaction with a deep and rich Gospel of Christ. It will be interesting to see how this book compares with David Wells’ Above All Earthly Powr’s, which was one of my favorite books of the last year, and a fantastic study on the actual worldview of whom this book labels “outsiders”, and an appropriate Gospel response to that worldview.
- I often wonder about the usefulness of large scale research in American Evangelicalism, and if it isn’t really a cop-out to actually engaging the real people around you. Although these kinds of books are helpful at diagnosing broad, generational opinions, are they really that effective for shaping ministry? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to shape ministry around a more specific calling to minister to those whom God has placed you among?
- “Perhaps as you read this book, you will discover a more complete picture of Jesus, a transcendent, yet personal God who loves and accepts you perfectly, who wants to shape you and give your life deep meaning and purpose.” ~Page 20
This statement echoes the Purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive sentimentality and strategy of ministry, which would make sense considering the two authors’ roots. My initial impression of this book (which is based on no evidence whatsoever) is that it is simply the research methods of the seeker movement applied to a new generation. I’ll keep reading to see if my presupposition holds true.
Hopefully blogging through this book will help me to process what I am reading, and be useful to anyone who might be considering reading it.
We’ve had a lot of fun this Christmas, in spite of me having an ear infection and our dog fighting a bout of kennel cough. We haven’t done much, but it has been great having chill time with the family to play, rest, and generally relax. GTB especially loved his new GeoTrax setup we got for him, and OTown and I have enjoyed it quite a bit as well.
I’m sure the rest of this season will include more pajama time, some fun potty training adventures (GTB has peed on the dining room chair three times already), and some good fun as a family. Christ’s peace is reigning in our home, and I am thankful for the light entering into a dark world, that we might have joy abundant. Praise the Son!