This is in response to three items recently published in The Christian Courier
- http://www.christiancourier.ca/news/entry/how-do-we-reform-the-church (Church Life Nov 26 2018)
- http://www.christiancourier.ca/news/entry/post-christendom-canada (Church Life Dec 3 2018)
- http://www.christiancourier.ca/news/entry/peterson-redeemed (Church Life Dec 10 2018)
I need to start with a friendly shout out to Ken: Hi Ken Benjamins! It’s been a while!
Now, a parable:
A little Italian Restaurant has been operating at the corner of x and y streets. Started by an immigrant couple, it served authentic Italian dishes to the community for 4 decades. The neighbourhood has changed, and is now gentrifying. None of the children of the owners–though they grew up helping out in the restaurant–had interest in taking over operations. When the parents reached their mid sixties, and felt the fatigue of serving even the few customers that still came, they were faced with the question of what to do… They have a family meeting… Dad says if we just repaint and redo the menu the people will come back and we can make it work. Mom says if we redo the kitchen and put some modern equipment in and have live music… The kids try to explain that the customers have no appetite for what is being offered, so deal with it.
As Peter Schuurman mentions in his response, “How Do we Reform the Church” reads like a lamment–a legitimate one. The changes and losses are real. The church as we know it is not faring well in the culture. Part of that could well be “mediocre faith at home that’s equally reflected in the life of the church.” Except, to me, it is more that the forms of faith expression of the past do not speak in today’s culture. So to call us back to them rings hollow and unmotivating. And I mean “forms” as particular practices, such as devotions at meals and attendance at church services. The “principles” of having personal spiritual disciplines and coming together in worship of God are sound and solid. But living out the principles has become too tied to particular ways of doing them. To call people back to those particular ways sounds like a call to come live in a living museum.
As principles, I support a call to Commitment, Literacy, Family time and Finding our true Identity. Yet each of those are really, when well motivated, indicators of something deeper in a person: A relationship with God. That is of core importance, not the particular practices. In the language of leadership culture today, they are technical expressions that are presumed to indicate one’s heart has changed. But they will not necesarily grow a person spiritually if no one has taught them about having the relationship first. Calling people to double down on those practices without deep heart-changing relationship with God through Jesus can create an active looking Christianity that is really at its core a mediocre faith in action. In the same way, in the parable I give, revamping aspects of a restaurant that offers items no one has an appetite for is futile. The restaurant must adapt to a new reality, and let go of the past, even as it lamments that those days are gone. The church needs to find out how to meet the spiritual appetites that everyone has with the gospel message in a manner and place that connects. We reform by finding different forms of living out the principles we hold dear.
In my experience people quite like to hear the kind of lament pastor Benjamins voices. They like it especially when accompanied by calls to return to faithful institutional practices of yore. The crying out about the lost past seems to comfort them in an odd way. Could it be so because it leaves them less responsible for the problem or it’s solution? I wonder, do they like the helplessness of lamment more than the difficult task of trying to comprehend new ways of connecting with ‘outsiders’ and pre-believers (not ‘onze’=”our own culture and kind of people”). Such opportunities are right under our nose and on our doorstep.
And that is where the Jordan Peterson phenomenon rises to the foreground for me, and where the interview with Paul VanderKlay is such a refreshing juxtaposition. Here we have a professor who is not necessarily our kind of Bible believer who has tapped a nerve in our culture which has a lot of people saying ‘ouch.’ The ouch from many of the young men that are attracted to what he says is a painful one to behold. There is a known new intrigue and interest by that wounded, incomplete identity group, motivated by the pain of trying to figure life today out as guys, and there is a new openness to the Bible and the gospel of forgiveness and grace and of taking responsibility while relying on Christ, that we do well to jump into instead of waiting for people to come back to the pews. But it will be messy. We have an opportunity to create new forms. Lets roll!