To My Anonymous Exhorter: A Response
I feel a response is necessary. I will excuse the length of this response on the grounds that I am not only responding to the critiques of my opinions of the series, but also I expound my view of engaging the culture we live in. I do not know if my original commentator is a regular reader of my blog, or someone who stumbled across that post while looking for the Left Behind fanclub, but no matter, his/her comments merit attention.
I will reproduce the comment below in italics, and intersperse my reply point by point.
I agree with you - that the church in America is theologically atrophied. That's a good word picture.
Thank you, I'm glad my essential point got across.
But I'm afraid that the passion with which you write to communicate your very valid points are overshadowed by your use of a certain word - which in most Christian circles, evangelical or otherwise - would be considered offensive and a cursing of God's name. Sort of pours water on the fire or righteous indignation.
I dealt with my defense of my studied use of that word below, but I will give a few more comments. I remember in college, being assigned the film Cromwell in one of our classes. After viewing it, my professor felt he had to make an explanation for the more timid among the class. At one point Cromwell enters his church and sees the King has forced the trappings of the Roman church into English churches. He is then confronted with one of his friends whose ear had been cut off for some offense or other. Cromwell, righteously indignant, exclaims "God Damn this king." Dr. Stacey pointed out that Cromwell was NOT blaspheming, that this was a sincere prayer to God to punish this ungodly king. In that context, my use of the phrase should only indicate the depth of my righteous indignation, not the hypocrisy of it.
Maybe if we modeled self control more, the world would see our commitment to Christ rather than our rampant hypocrisy. (and I don't just limit it to language; Lord knows there's a plethora of "addictions" we Christians have)
Ok, so herein I'm accused of not having enough self-control in my posting. So be it. I feel there is a greater danger within the church, self or imposed control approaching legalistic Phariseeism. While we should not "sin so that grace can abound...", who is more likely to seem "real" to an unbeliever and truly evidence God's grace, one who has bought into the fundamentalist line that to be a Christian means you don't drink or swear or watch R rated movies, or someone who does not reproach the unbeliever if their language is a bit salty, who shows that the true message of the Gospel is that Christ cares who we are more than what arbitrary rules we impose on ourselves. Christ hung out with profane fishermen, prostitutes, and corrupt government officials, not the "good" people of the established church. Peter denied Christ three times with blasphemies, and yet God still used him mightily at Pentacost to found the Church. This is not meant to condone true blasphemy, only to show that is is not what God is more concerned about. Profiting off the gospel to the detriment of the work of the church is even more blasphemous of our faith and our calling. My point here is that the "world" will see who Christ is, not because we are the most self-controlled people in the world, but because God gives us grace even when we are not.
Out of curiosity, how are you personally ministering to the world? [Personal note: We may differ on this, but I don't believe that Christians must become LIKE the world in order to minister to them and show them their need for Christ.]
I hesitated to respond to this question, but I feel I must. For one, none of us truly does as much as we should, but if we are following Christ, we should at least know that there is more that we can do, rather than promoting our own works-including apocalyptic fiction-as the answer. The prophets of the old testament (not to say that I consider myself a prophet-more a critic) did not solve the world's problems themselves, rather they called the community to repent and get on track with what God wants.
That said, yes, the gauntlet has been thrown and I will try to respond charitably and without pride. I have not been called to a world stage, nor do I have the influence and public exposure which Lahaye and Jenkins continue to squander to their own profit. However, I try to live a life which exemplifies my vision of Christ's overpowering grace as explained in my second paragraph of response above. Living Christ to the world, not as "the world" writ large, but to individuals. Not classifying everyone into a worldview box, labeling them, and then saying "you're an existentialist/nihilist/pagan/pluralist/postmodern" and then beat them with the baseball bat of six or seven points of sunday school rhetoric my Biblical Reasoning prof taught me "prove" Christ to that "group." I will not deny my faith, nor live in sin in order to reach others, but I will try to discard all the non-essential legalism which all my readers who grew up in the fundamentalist church are familiar with, in order that the message of Grace, the gospel of Mere Christianity*, will shine through. We are to discard every weight so that we may run the race before us well. I cultivate relationships as I can, and in fact I am often more comfortable sitting in a coffeshop discussing God, life, and faith with all those individuals created in the image of God who make up the monolithic "the world" we so dread, than I am sitting in a holy huddle in church exhorting ourselves with how much we love us some Jesus over a shot of grape juice.
So that is my ethos of relational evangelism. I have seen God do mighty things with that approach.
I realize I am a bit of an iconoclast. I see opportunities to point out problems in the church, and if I do it with any regularity, maybe it is because the American church is so atrophied we are consumed with expending enormous amounts of time and effort combating gay marriage and Roe v. Wade, so that we will miss the opportunites to preach the truth in love to the homosexual, the pregnant teen, or dare I say it the Human Rights Council staffer or abortionist. I am not saying that all these will come to Christ, but I would like to hope that God will grant me the grace to live a life where they can look at me and say they saw Christ's love despite our disagreements, rather than repudiate Christ with how unloving His church is. However, I am making efforts to be constructive as well as deconstructive, since both in unity will, I believe, bear fruit.
As far as what I am doing in the church, well, I am not a leader, but I do try to follow Christ when He affirms the priesthood of all believers. I contribute in small groups in my church, and have recently led a Bible study on Grace. I am discipling several new believers as we work through the gospel of John and Mere Christianity.
*Not as Lewis wrote it, but as Christ preached it.
More to the point, one reader commented on my indictment of the Left Behind series.
So what exactly do you propose is wrong with Christians composing literature and offering it on the free market? Forget whether you or anyone else actually considers it "literature" (before the CLAers come and mug me). They had an idea and wrote a story. Do you really think these authors are offering their works as an alternative to Scipture and the only way to salvation? Or should Christian ideas never be offered on the free market at all for fear of their corruption? And what if one - even one soul - did pick up the books just because they were interested, and decided to investigate more, and that ended up being their first step toward salvation?
God uses even the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. That's not an excuse for Christians to be foolish, but neither is it prudent for so members of the body of Christ to spend time distancing themselves from brothers and sisters with whom they fundamentally agree that Christ died for that we may undercut the very tools God may be using for His own ends - whether we care to recognize them or not.
Let me explain my problems with the concept. I will not address the theology (if you can call it that) of the series, as that was not the point of my original essay. For example, how did what was going to be a trilogy end up becoming seven books, then twelve, then 15, as more and more people bought the books, as the authors were seduced by Amazon ranking and profit margins and marketing. Yes, God can use a deeply flawed work to bring people to him, ie: the NIV and the Roman church, and the Pentacostal movement. (Please, hold the emails on those topics.) Why did the head of marketing for all of Tindale House publishers suddenly become head of marketing for the Left Behind series alone? Does a genuine attempt to bring people to God need a head of marketing? Haven't the attempts to modernize and market Christianity resulted in some of the greatest abominations of our pop-culture faith?
If the series had never been written, I believe that God's sovereign grace is more than capable to bring all those people whom He has called before the beginning of time to saving faith in Him. I repudiate the idea that attacking errant preachers or novelists on a theological point like the prostitution of our faith on the altar of Mammon will reduce God's kingdom by even one soul. Maybe that's just me.
Yes, we may fundamentally agree that Christ died for us, but when the means people use become apparently destructive of those ends, then I believe there is call for pause and reflection, and if needs be, condemnation from the Church. Many will have cast out demons in Christ's name, or brought people to God, or written enormously popular works of fiction in his name, and He will say "depart from Me I never know you." Now, I am not questioning these gentleman's faith, just saying that if the former sentence can be true, then certainly there is reason to question things done in Christ's name, for not all those things, even if they bear some fruit, are of Christ. And marketing Christ into a series of 15 "fiction" books to record profits, slapping four initials on an armband, or giving your coworkers "Testamints" are most likely not of Him.
Note: To my fellow travelers, check out Nathan Wilson and Dr. Sock's great satirical reposte, Right Behind and Supergeddon.