Just Beyond the 100th Time
by Michael Spencer, Dec. 2008
Dedicated to all of you on the same journey. Keep faith and keep going. You’re not alone.
It’s time for one of your favorite programs here at Internet Monk.com: “Secret, Terrible, Unspoken Thoughts…REVEALED!”
Today’s secret thought was uttered by a commenter in a recent discussion thread, but it’s the kind of terrible thought that lurks in the minds of many of you reading this post. What terrible, shameful, embarrassing secret thought am I referring to?
Frankly, I’m to the point where there isn’t that much a pastor/teacher is going to be able to say that I haven’t heard 100 times already.
I know, I know. Shameful. Can you believe there are people like that out there? Someone call the watchbloggers!
Well…..I’ve thought about his kind of statement a lot. I preach about 10-12 times a month, and have preached as often as 20 times a month at my current ministry. I’ve listened to thousands of hours of sermons on tape, mp3, cd. I’ve read sermons- thousands of them. I’m on both sides of the comment, both criminal and consumer.
Some of those preachers have been my very best teachers. I absolutely believe in the value of the right kind of repetition. Gospel proclamation calls for it. Biblical preaching calls for it. It’s commanded. I do it in the classroom.
But let’s have an honest go at, shall we? What is this commenter actually talking about? (Now the REAL shocking truth will be REVEALED!)
The commenter is correct, and he isn’t saying “tickle my ears with something new.” He’s saying that the model of Christian spiritual formation now extent in worship is one that sees the 40 minute information dump as the primary means of spiritual growth. The sermon, the sermon and the sermon from the preacher, the theologian and the teacher. Plus a daily quiet time. That’s evangelical spiritual formation in a nutshell.
It’s hit me like a ton of bricks this past year: the blogosphere is full of voices that think we are all a bunch of big brains, and nothing more. We need more information. More data. More sermons. More books. More facts. More lectures. We are what we think. We are what we hear, read and think. So open up those brains and pour it in…after an appropriate prayer.
Behind this is a view of humanness that needs to be called out. (More SHOCKING REVELATIONS!!)
What thousands of evangelicals are experiencing is not a call from the Holy Spirit to become an overstuffed theological brain with a vocabulary that can only be decoded by a committee of seminary professors and a reading list that looks like the “atonement” shelf at a seminary bookstore.
No, they- we- are longing for authentic humanness in the Gospel. A full and genuine human experience. Normal human life as God created and recreated it. Not more information in a competition to quote the most scripture and do the best imitation of a walking apologetics class. Not more religion of the (fill in the blank) _______ sort. No….humanness made alive in the incarnation. Created, incarnated, redeemed, resurrected humanity.
We long to be human beings, fully alive to who we are, to God, to one another and to all that being made in the image of the incarnated God means.
We long for beauty, for multiple expressions and experiences of beauty.
We long for relational and emotional connection; to know we are not alone; to love and be love; to be heard and to hear our human family.
We long for worship to engage the senses, the body, the whole personality. We long for mystery, not explanation. We long for symbolism, not just exposition. We long for a recognition of what it means for God to be God and for each of us to be human, not for more aspirations to know as much as God and instructions on how to be more than human.
We long for Jesus to come to us in every way that life comes to us, and not just in a set of propositions.
We long for honesty about the brutal pain and disappointments of life, and we long to hear the voices of others experiencing that brokenness.
We are tired of the culture of lies that Christians perpetuate in their fear that someone will know about the beer in the fridge, the porn on the computer, the affair, the repeated abuse, the unbelieving child, the nagging doubts, the frightening diagnosis and the desperate fears.
We long for a spirituality of stillness, contentment and acceptance in the place of spiritual competition and wretched urgency. We have grown weary and sick of being “challenged” to do more, be more committed, more surrendered, more holy by our own energy.
We long for prayer that is not a means to accomplish things, bring miracles, generate power, impress the listener. We long for the depths of spirituality, not the show of being spiritual.
We long to be loved, to be quietly accepted, to be told to lie down in green pastures, to stop the race, to pray in silence. To be given a spirituality of dignity, not a spirituality that is a feature of this week’s sermon series on how to have more sex, make more money, have better kids, smile more, achieve great things and otherwise turn the salvation of Jesus into a means to an American end.
We long to understand the spirituality of those whose religion does not drive them crazy. We long to know the Bible’s message and then be free to live it. We want to be lifted up, not beaten down. We hope for a simple spirituality, not an exciting, never-before-experienced high from the show.
Yes, the commenter speaks the truth, we have heard the same answers a hundred times. Not the same Gospel necessarily, or even the Gospel applied in 100 different ways. But the same 100 moral exhortations. The same 100 life lessons. The same 100 theological necessities. The same 100 spiritual demands. The same 100 pastors sounding like the same 10 pastors. The 100 same catch phrases. The same 100 commercials. The same 100 half-truths, convenient half-truths and agreed upon untruths.
We have heard evangelicalism’s products, its promises, its prosperity promises, its prevarications and protests at least 100 times. Those of us with longer track records have been through all of this, under different names, with different spins, different bumper stickers, t-shirts and gurus. But it is all the same.
It is far less than the glories of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. It is far less than it thinks it is. And we feel the emptiness in our souls, even as our minds and senses are overwhelmed by the “wow!”
Where in the New Testament does anyone say how great their church is? Where in the New Testament does anyone brag on their favorite preacher? (Other than in Corinth.) Where in the New Testament are we told to spend money on church advertising and making our pastor’s name the brand of the entire church? Where are we told we know so much that we are experts on everything and can fix anything? Where are we told in the New Testament that we are producing experiences? Where does it say we are competing for the world’s attention the world’s way?
Yes, we’ve heard it all 100 times before, and our children will hear it a 1000 times more if they stay in evangelicalism. They will hear it because the entire gassed up, energized machine is launching itself into the future with all the arrogance it can muster, replete with every answer and all wisdom, learning nothing and seeing nothing wrong.
In , we will hear it all 100 times again and again.
But not all of us. Perhaps less of us than you think.
Some of us will finally say good-bye to this insanity. Some of us will stay, but we will not be listening anymore. Some of us will discover others ways, other paths, other pilgrims and friends.
In fact, many of those standing to say the same things and do the same things and insist on the same things will feel the Great Emptiness in it all.
Somewhere, just beyond the 100th time we hear it all again and the 100th time we hear the new version of it in the latest church, latest book, latest sermon series, latest CD, latest web site and so on….somewhere, we’ll hear it the last time and we’ll walk away.
We will be hearing something else….someone else. Other voices and other music.
Another way of being Christian.