October 27, 2016

Chris Kratzer: I’m Done: Why I’m Completely Walking Away From Church, Ministry, And Most Everything “Christian”


Note from CM: Today we hear from Chris Kratzer, who blogs at Putting into Words What Only Grace Is Brave Enough to Say. Chris, believe me, I understand. Thanks for letting us share a bit of your journey today.

• • •

I’m Done: Why I’m Completely Walking Away From Church, Ministry, And Most Everything “Christian”
by Chris Kratzer

I promise, it’s not you, it’s me.

That, I’m convinced.

I’ve tried, I really have. Twenty-two years of ministry—even more time, simply being a “Christian.”

I can’t do it, and it’s high time to call the wizard out from behind the curtain.

This whole American-Christianity thing, I’m just not good enough. I can’t pull it off.

Church, ministry, “Christian” stuff—I simply don’t have what it takes.

I mean, you Church folks are amazing, I don’t know how you do it. The way you keep your righteousness and closeness with God afloat through a vigilant life of sin-management, do-gooding, and Christian faithfulness, I can’t even begin to lift that kind of weight, let alone hold it up. For me, every time I’m admonished with things I need to do in order to be a better person or become a more “fully devoted” follower of Jesus Christ, I don’t even get close to mastering just one of them, not to mention the five others listed in the sermon notes. And before you know it, the next Sunday, we’re on to a whole new set of things I need to go after. Honestly, I just can’t keep up like you. I’m so far behind from being a “real deal Christian.” And quite frankly, I’m ashamed of my incapacity to spiritually perform at your level. I truly don’t know how you field that kind of pressure and keep good going with all the spiritual consequences ahead of you if you don’t. Your fear management skills must be impeccable.

Something is wrong with me, I’m sure. All the accountability partners, prayer warriors and small-group interventions have somehow fallen flat. Years of Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, pastors, and mentors hoping I’ll get serious enough to get my life on track. I feel like such a hypocrite and fake to just take a step towards your fellowship, as if I’m even close to making the grade or would ever be capable of drawing within your lines. It all leaves me so empty. I feel everything in my soul shutting down at just the thought.

I look around, and everyone else is so much more spiritual. All the inspirational posts they have on Facebook, all the good things they are doing for the Lord—so deep into worship and prayer with their eyes closed and hands raised, loving every minute of it with complete abandon. There’s this ardent love and commitment to Jesus that’s just dripping from everybody’s lips with such eloquent and Jesus-flavored verbiage. And here I am—riddled with serious doubts and questions, embarrassed that I’m not feeling nearly as into Jesus as apparently I should. Heck, truth be told, I’m still struggling with a good amount of the bad stuff you folks seem to be so far beyond. My beliefs change, my behaviors fall short, my passions fade—no wonder why, from time to time, I’ve gotten the disappointed looks, cold shoulders, and leadership “time outs.” What was I thinking, I’m way out of my league. Repentance here, pointing out sin there, keeping people from an eternal torture in hell prescribed from a God who is Love—I don’t know how you stomach it all. It’s true, I really should be so much further along by now, but for some reason, all the formulas, disciplines, rituals, steps, and “soaking” in worship aren’t working for me. And trust me, I’ve tried—really, really hard.

Church, I want to fit in so badly, I want to feel like a genuine follower in American Christianity, but I just can’t. Whatever it is you have, I simply don’t have it in me.

I mean, you people in ministry—you got it going on. All of you, rockstars for sure. How you keep up in the whirlwind of competitive Christianity is beyond me. It’s everywhere—in all my searching, I’ve been hard pressed to find a layer of Christian ministry that hasn’t been turned into pretty much a kind of all-out ministry cage match. Quite frankly, I don’t know how so many of you do it—making sure your ministry is out-growing the next, your blog posts are the first written on the latest controversial subject, your platform is increasing, your branding is on point, your engaging your following, updating your Twitter account, promoting your latest “thing”—on and on and on, keeping up with ministry trends, making sure you’re “in” with all the right people, all while having the picture perfect marriage and family pimped with the latest fashions, fohawks, tattoos, and skinny jeans required in order to be relevant. Wow, I bend a knee in your honor and awe.

And then, the criticism. All the people determined to misunderstand you—the people who treat you unfairly, kick you to the curb, and hang you out to dry. The fellow people in ministry who sabotage you, seek to undermine your influence, use you, and are always trying to “out minister” you. How you shrug it all off and plow through—my hat goes off to you.

I’m sure I just don’t have enough faith and I am way too insecure. I should be so much stronger in my identity in Christ, but a lot of times, I’m just not. Thank God there are celebrity ministers out there within every camp and kind who do, say, and write so much better than the rest of us—makes up for all my floundering for sure. You folks are heroes, how you stomach and swim in the business and enterprise that is empire Christianity is way beyond my capacity—the compromises you have to make, the duplicities you must have to embody—yours is a high wire act I’m just not good enough to swing. As much as your table in the lunch room captures my attention, I can’t hang with you all, though my ego might keep on dreaming. I must concede, I just don’t have it in me.

I mean, “Christian” stuff—your imagination is mind-boggling. Christian yoga, Christian yoga pants, Christian basketball, Christian football, Christian dance, Christian art, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian television, Christian bathrooms, Christian food, Christian fast food, Christian books, Christian book marks, Christian clubs, Christian groups, Christian values, Christian principles, Christian nations, not to mention, Christian ___________. Oh, and I almost forgot, Christian_____________.

I am amazed, you are the masters of drawing lines—defining who’s in and who’s out, what’s in and what’s out, what’s good for me, and what’s not. My radar for sin and uncleanliness just isn’t that good. Thank God, you label it for me.

But even still, if I’m honest, I find myself deeply wanting to “be with” and “in with” so many of things that aren’t necessarily “Christian.” And for that, I know I am suppose to feel, “dirty”—but, I don’t.

Surely, something is wrong with me—terribly wrong with me. I’m damaged goods, falling away, chasing wayward spirits of doctrine, or something “biblical” like that. Yet, I can’t help it. Something inside of me that I have been told for years is so weak, meek, and poor feels, yet all so strong and divine, drawing me away— far, far away.

I’m pretty sure I am going to hell, at leasts that’s what “they” say. So, I guess that’s just how it’s going to have to be, because I simply can’t fake-it-to-make-it anymore. You folks have it, I don’t.

I know breaking up is hard to do, but I’m done. I’m walking away.

Church, ministry, so much of this “Christian” stuff.

I’m done playing the game, running the rat race, never measuring up or doing enough. I’m done competing, sacrificing my sanity, and being spiritually cross-checked every time I have an open shot on goal.

I’ve simply resigned myself to a life of trying to fully be myself—relying on Grace and loving some people along the way as best I can, believing that in so doing and in so being, Jesus is somehow pleased.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t lose friends, you lose people who you thought were friends.

And better than that—you don’t stop loving, you just learn to love more honestly.

I sense I’ll be doing the former, and I know, I’ll be doing the latter.

For honesty is the first thing that grows from a life planted in Grace.

NT Wright: The Problem = Abandoning Our Vocation


Set forth the goal accurately and diagnose the problem correctly, and you have a much better chance of finding the right solution.

I’m currently reading the first part of N.T. Wright’s new book, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion, and I find his diagnosing skills and his ability to communicate his findings exceptional.

In his other books, particularly Surprised by Hope, Wright has been critical of the goal that has been set forth (especially in popular presentations of the faith) as the Christian hope: going to heaven when we die. In The Day the Revolution Began, he reiterates this.

The death of Jesus, “freeing us from our sins” and “purchasing a people for God,” was not simply aimed at rescuing humans from “hell,” so that they could go to “heaven” instead— which is the picture most Christians have when they think about Jesus’s death.

But Wright insists: “Humans are not made for ‘heaven,’ but for the new heavens and the new earth.”

In contrast, the hope of dwelling with God forever in heaven as often presented and understood is a “Platonized” hope, a blessed eternal future that involves overcoming some problem with our “earthly” and “fleshly” selves so that our “souls” may escape this wicked world and find peace and rest in a perfect spiritual realm.

Wright’s formulation of the Christian hope is quite different: “The ‘goal’ is not ‘heaven,’ but a renewed human vocation within God’s renewed creation.”

If we get this wrong, we will misunderstand the true nature of the human plight.

In light of the Platonized goal of “heaven,” we have concluded that the problem is human “sin,” defined as bad behavior that deserves God’s punishment. Wright describes how much Christian theology has been built upon what he calls “the works contract.”

The “works contract” functions in the popular mind like this. God told his human creatures to keep a moral code; their continuing life in the Garden of Eden depended on their keeping that code perfectly. Failure would incur the punishment of death. This was then repeated in the case of Israel with a sharpened-up moral code, Mosaic law. The result was the same. Humans were therefore heading for hell rather than heaven. Finally, however, Jesus obeyed this moral law perfectly and in his death paid the penalty on behalf of the rest of the human race. The overarching arrangement (the “works contract”) between God and humans remained the same, but Jesus had done what was required. Those who avail themselves of this achievement by believing in him and so benefiting from his accomplishment go to heaven, where they enjoy eternal fellowship with God; those who don’t, don’t. The “works contract” remains intact throughout.

N.T. Wright spares few words in rejecting this paradigm, calling such a view of the relationship between God and human beings a “travesty” that is “unbiblical.” It ignores the message of Israel’s scriptures. The plight it concocts is trivial, compared with the actual plight in which we find ourselves.

What the Bible offers is not a “works contract,” but a covenant of vocation. The vocation in question is that of being a genuine human being, with genuinely human tasks to perform as part of the Creator’s purpose for his world. The main task of this vocation is “image-bearing,” reflecting the Creator’s wise stewardship into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to its maker. Those who do so are the “royal priesthood,” the “kingdom of priests,” the people who are called to stand at the dangerous but exhilarating point where heaven and earth meet….

…Within this narrative, creation itself is understood as a kind of Temple, a heaven-and-earth duality, where humans function as the “image-bearers” in the cosmic Temple, part of earth yet reflecting the life and love of heaven. This is how creation was designed to function and flourish: under the stewardship of the image-bearers. Humans are called not just to keep certain moral standards in the present and to enjoy God’s presence here and hereafter, but to celebrate, worship, procreate, and take responsibility within the rich, vivid developing life of creation. According to Genesis, that is what humans were made for.

The diagnosis of the human plight is then not simply that humans have broken God’s moral law, offending and insulting the Creator, whose image they bear— though that is true as well. This lawbreaking is a symptom of a much more serious disease. Morality is important, but it isn’t the whole story. Called to responsibility and authority within and over the creation, humans have turned their vocation upside down, giving worship and allegiance to forces and powers within creation itself. The name for this is idolatry. The result is slavery and finally death. It isn’t just that humans do wrong things and so incur punishment. This is one element of the larger problem, which isn’t so much about a punishment that might seem almost arbitrary, perhaps even draconian; it is, rather, about direct consequences. When we worship and serve forces within the creation (the creation for which we were supposed to be responsible!), we hand over our power to other forces only too happy to usurp our position. We humans have thus, by abrogating our own vocation, handed our power and authority to nondivine and nonhuman forces, which have then run rampant, spoiling human lives, ravaging the beautiful creation, and doing their best to turn God’s world into a hell…

The problem we humans have gotten ourselves into, the “sin” that has exiled us from God, is that we have rejected the vocation for which we were created — to be God’s image in the world, his royal priests who reflect his glory back to him in worship and into the world in faithful stewardship — and we have turned from thus serving the living God to worship idols. This has unleashed the powers of disorder and corruption to enslave humans and the good creation.

It ought to be clear from all this that the reason “sin” leads to “death” is not at all (as is often supposed) that “death” is an arbitrary and somewhat draconian punishment for miscellaneous moral shortcomings. The link is deeper than that. The distinction I am making is like the distinction between the ticket you will get if you are caught driving too fast and the crash that will happen if you drive too fast around a sharp bend on a wet road. The ticket is arbitrary, an imposition with no organic link to the offense. The crash is intrinsic, the direct consequence of the behavior. In the same way, death is the intrinsic result of sin, not simply an arbitrary punishment. When humans fail in their image-bearing vocation, the problem is not just that they face punishment. The problem is that the “powers” seize control, and the Creator’s plan for his creation cannot go ahead as intended.

It is important to get the goal properly in focus: we are destined for renewed human life and vocation in the new heavens and new earth.

It is also important to diagnose the problem accurately: we have abandoned our creational vocation and have turned from God to idols, unleashing the powers of darkness and death upon this world and our lives.

Then, we can begin to talk about why Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1Cor 15:3).

Another Look: Jesus as the New Adam


Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

      So God created humankind in his image,
      in the image of God he created them;
      male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

• Genesis 1:26-28 (NRSV)

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

• Psalm 8:3-8 (NRSV)

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

• Luke 7:18-23 (NRSV)

As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus…

• Hebrews 2:8-9 (NRSV)

• • •

I have come to think that one of the main questions we need to ask when trying to understand the true nature of the gospel message is: What was the vocation that Adam and Eve failed to live up to, but that Jesus fulfilled? 

Also, through the help of teachers like N.T. Wright, whose new book we will begin to talk about this week, I have come realize more fully how the life and ministry of Jesus is important.

In my evangelical life, the focus was almost always on Jesus’ death (plus some on his resurrection). We didn’t spend much time studying the four Gospels, and when we did I usually found teaching about why Jesus traveled around Palestine teaching and healing to be vague and rather insubstantial.

This led, I believe, to an impoverished gospel.

Jesus came as “the last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). One thing I take this to mean is that Jesus came to fulfill the vocation which Adam failed to fulfill.

Humans were created, Genesis tells us, to live in God’s blessing as his image in the world (his temple), his priestly representatives who were to extend his blessing throughout the world. As we have seen in our study of John Walton’s books and in other posts, God made the world a “good” (ordered) place, a cosmic temple in which he would dwell with humans and give them gifts of life and wisdom to “rule” the world. Because the work of creation was incomplete and chaos (forces of non-order and to some extent, disorder) was also present within creation, God called humans to “subdue” the world as part of their priestly calling.

The Jewish teaching of tikkun olam emphasizes this as well. The Ari taught:

At the beginning of time, God’s presence filled the universe. When God decided to bring the world into being, to make room for creation, He contracted Himself by drawing in His breath, forming a dark mass. Then God said, Let there be light (Gen. 1:3) and ten holy vessels came forth, each filled with primordial light.

God sent forth the ten vessels like a fleet of ships, each carrying its cargo of light. But the vessels—too fragile to contain such powerful Divine light—broke open, scattering the holy sparks everywhere.

Had these vessels arrived intact, the world would have been perfect. Instead, God created people to seek out and gather the hidden sparks, wherever we can find them. Once this task is completed, the broken vessels will be restored and the world will be repaired.

In an intriguing piece at his blog, Ron Rolheiser contemplates how this original vocation of human beings fits with the understanding of biological evolution. He discusses how “the survival of the fittest” is only one part of evolution’s story.

As Rolheiser puts it, nature itself is not “interested” in becoming a one-dimensional place where only the “strong” exist. Everywhere we see evidence of an advantageous complexity that is only possible when the “strong” and the “weak” and everything in between coexist in various kinds of harmonies and partnerships. However, nature by itself shows a “cruelty,” an entropy that also works against such harmonization. It is the task of humans, the most evolved of creatures, says Rolheiser, to assist nature by doing what nature cannot always do for herself: ensure the survival and flourishing of the weak. To use John Walton’s terminology, in partnership with God humans continue the task of bringing order to chaos and of redeeming disorder so that it becomes ordered anew.

When God created human beings at the beginning of time, God charged them with the responsibility of “dominion”, of ruling over nature. What’s contained in that mandate is not an order or permission to dominate over nature and use nature in whatever fashion we desire. The mandate is rather that of “watching over”, of tending the garden, of being wise stewards, and of helping nature do things that, in its unconscious state, it cannot do, namely, protect and nurture the weak….

• “Evolution’s Ultimate Wisdom”

Now think of Jesus:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. (Matthew 4:23-24, NRSV)

What was Jesus doing here but bringing order to non-order and disorder? Bringing wholeness and shalom in place of chaos? He was fulfilling the vocation God had originally bestowed upon human beings at creation. Here is Jesus, the new Adam, ruling over his world in love, subduing the strong forces that were feeding on the weak and poor and restoring them in God’s blessing.

We also know that Jesus worked miracles in nature, showing power over the forces of chaos and non-order (Matt 8:23-27). We read that he not only healed bodily infirmities but also pronounced forgiveness of sins, redeeming people from the disorder of personal, moral, and spiritual alienation (Matt 9:2-8). In all this, Jesus was doing more than just “showing he was God” (the answer we used to get when we asked why all this was important). Yes, he was presenting himself to Israel as her Messiah, demonstrating that he was Emmanuel, God who had come to be with them to save them from exile. But there was more to that simple explanation than meets the eye.

Jesus was pointing to what God intended human life and life in this creation to be about: shalom— wholeness, peace, dignity, harmony, restored relationships. A world made right. With each healing, exorcism, pronouncement of cleansing, restoration of wholeness, and with each teaching that stimulated hope and imagination and wonder, Jesus brought a few pixels on the screen of this world into focus so that one could see life for what it was meant to be. A few more sparks were gathered. A few more of the weak were protected and nurtured. A few more cells in the body of the universe became healthy again. Non-order became ordered. Disorder was demolished and replaced by an embrace.

One can almost hear the words, “And God saw that it was good,” after each act of tikkun olam Jesus performed.

Jesus was acting as Adam and Eve and all humans were meant to act from the beginning, extending God’s blessing to the chaotic little corners of his community.

Of course, by the time Jesus came, disorder had spread and developed in countless ways so that it became part and parcel of the very fabric of life and creation. “The whole world [was lying] under the power of the evil one” (1John 5:19).

In order to break the absolute dominion of death by which the evil one held us enslaved, Jesus took death upon himself. I like the way one of our commenters put it: “In his complete identification with us in death, the lowest point to which one can go, as God he disarmed death. He had to ‘get into’ death in order to smash it from the inside out.” On the cross Jesus faced the forces of chaos and disorder and absorbed all their dark power. As Alan Lewis said, “God has begun to conquer death not by omnipotent annihilation of the enemy but through submission to its clutches.”

In his triumphant resurrection, then, Jesus became the firstborn of the new creation, representative of a new humanity and a new creation. The evidence of that “newness” in our lives and in our world is often scanty, we must admit. Just as Jesus’ ministry was small and obscure, localized in a way that few appreciated it, even so people today who become new in him by grace through faith begin gathering sparks little by little, finding the lost here and there, comforting that lonely one, protecting the weak who are off the radar, and advocating for those hungering and thirsting for justice, whose voices are rarely heard.

As new “Adams and Eves” in Christ we are called to take up the original vocation God gave to humans. We do this not through spectacular, public triumph, but rather by trusting in God’s wisdom and not our own. We are to exercise “dominion” by laying down our lives as Jesus did, subduing chaos and planting seeds as small as mustard seeds that will one day produce harvests of righteousness because God’s life, love, and blessing are in them.

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