December 20, 2014

Gospel Cowards

WizardLionCloseA church-planting friend just wrote me about a conference he’s attended in one of our state Baptist conventions. Plant those churches, boys, was the rallying cry, but stay out of those pubs.

Take the Gospel into the world, but stay out of anyplace that serves beer. That’s someone’s version of how the Gospel applies to church planting. Go to jungles, mountains, into the tribes of cannibals or the roughest ghetto, but stay out of O’Charley’s.

Here’s my current theory: it’s not that we are simply ignorant of the Gospel. We can stop announcing that the church needs to hear the Gospel for the first time. It’s more than that. I think most people in most evangelical churches have heard it more than adequately. (Though I am not disagreeing with myself or anyone else that many in evangelicalism’s darker corners haven’t heard the Gospel with accuracy, understanding or personal application.) They may not have your footnotes on justification memorized and they may not be wrath-anxious enough for some of you, but a lot of Christians understand the Gospel.

The problem isn’t simple ignorance. It’s primarily cowardice.

Here’s the Gospel. Here’s life. Let’s apply the Gospel to life, to sin, to church, to ideas, to boundaries, to traditions, to power, to the accepted way of looking at everything.

Or let’s not….because it could cause some trouble and we’re afraid. We aren’t going to go where the Gospel goes. We’re going to get some brakes on that sucka.

The Gospel should create a whole room full of problems from the extreme nature of grace and God’s radical forgiveness. Instead, we want our church planters to stay out of pubs. That’s not the beginning of the cowardice that accompanies the Gospel these days. We want to have fun and feel great, but we don’t want our message- THE message- to upset, overturn and explode our predictable experiences and presuppositions.

We want to blame the Muslims. We want to hate our enemies. We want our money left in the bank. We don’t want to forgive anyone who isn’t sorry. We want the men in church and the outsiders out of sight and quiet. We want the music enjoyable and the youth group fun. We want our values, politics, opinions and certainties left alone. We’ll praise the power of the Gospel to save, but we don’t want a Rock to crash into our comfortable club.

We don’t want the Gospel to DISTURB the way things are. We want the Gospel on a leash. This far and no more. We want it in a box so we can put it where we want to do what we want.

We resent- deeply- those voices who tell us our Gospel is a mini-Gospel and its power is a prop to the way we’ve always wanted things to be. Radicals are annoying. And the Gospel isn’t radical, is it Marge?

If we could hear ourselves talking about all our opinions and “values;” if we could see ourselves making the world safe for our comforts, assumptions and presuppositions; if we could see our no-risk, no-rankle, no-rock-the-boat religion- and how we keep the Gospel tamed- we would be ashamed.

At every place in history, in every church, in every sermon and book, there is one common fact: NO ONE LET THE GOSPEL GO FAR ENOUGH.

We wimped out. We didn’t want to be called liberals, fanatics, johnny-one-notes, progressives, trouble makers. So it was the Gospel that got pushed back into the closet and told to be quiet.

We don’t want a revolution that causes us to question what we’ve always been comfortable with. We want the predictable path, going where we want to go and no where else.

We will venerate other cowards, imitate their tactics and say how much they helped us understand the Gospel. In almost every case, they brought us nothing of the demands and power of the Gospel. They let us be today what we were yesterday.

If someone goes with the Gospel and strange, new, different, unlikely and uncontrollable things start to happen without our permission, we already know that’s divisive or dangerous or just wrong.

Our Gospel is safe. The Gospel isn’t safe.

Our Gospel is predictable and familiar. The Gospel is flying in a new direction.

Our Gospel is familiar and affirming. The Gospel overturns the status quo and shakes us up/down.

Our Gospel is the scenery for our little play. The Gospel runs us all out of the theater because the world is on fire…or could be.

Do we need to know more? Or do we need the courage to stop taming and neutering the announcement that turns the world upside down?

While we’re still tying the Gospel down with the Lilliputian legalisms of culture and religion, the Gospel doesn’t need our entourage around. We need to stand back and let the Gospel go places, do things and set precedents that testify to a whole new Creation brought about by a death-defeating resurrection.

We need to repent of being cowards with the Gospel.

Every so often I hear someone say “I want to see the Glory of God in all spheres of life.”

Really?

I wonder. I really do. If it moved us all out of our political/social/religious/personal/financial comfort zones- if it even challenged the opinions of our favorite pundits or preachers!- would we recognize such a thing?

Or do we mean: I want to see more of the way I think, the way I operate, the way I justify my words, attitudes and actions. When more people agree with me and act like I think they should, then Glory to the Gospel.

Like I said. Our problem isn’t that we don’t know what it means that Jesus is Lord now. It’s that applying that could make a lot of people upset.

So waiter, more of the same please.

Comments

  1. My church has been going down a 3 year church planting internship and we are having this very conversation. I agree with you 100%… the gospel is amazingly scary. What if we let it take us where it wants to go?

  2. Amen!

  3. I’m tracking with 98% of this but not sure if I understand your take on the church having already heard the gospel.
    I don’t know which “young theologians” you have in mind (although the nods toward justification and wrath give me an idea), but the “young’uns” of my sort know the church has heard the gospel and that she understands its proposition. But it’s precisely because of this cowardice that we think the church doesn’t “get” the gospel and needs to keep hearing it. But that gets into my weird differentiation between gospel comprehension and gospel wakefulness.

    As I said, though, I am with you on this stuff. I just think gospel cowardice is a result of gospel deficiency.

    • I edited several things to be less obtuse. I am primarily talking about those who do understand it. Osteen doesn’t apply because he doesn’t believe or preach it. But vast numbers who do know the Gospel- like my own SBC in the 1960’s- just aren’t going to go where it’s taking them.

      I have to admit I’m concerned that we not say “We just need to keep explaining it.” All our problems aren’t rational. Many are simply volitional and are made of fear and sins of comfort.

    • Guys who say don’t go to pubs understand the Gospel. They are simply cowards. Pure and simple.

      • Patrick Lynch says:

        I have trouble with this one; on the one hand, I agree with the premise, but on the other, I know that it DOES take a certain amount of faith for some people to adopt the kind of reservations that often get voiced in culture-warrior terms – which, as a kind of vernacular, is as much about “I don’t want to be that way anymore” as it is about “Good Christians Don’t Do x”.

        Sure, there are lots of chubby, bitter, middle-aged Christians who could never feel un-self-conscious in a bar or with Different people – these are failed people who will never be cool and they tend to feel maddeningly self-defensive around people who don’t feel the way they do – but there’s a good deal of heart inside of them despite their inability to make sense of a world they broke up awkwardly with a long time ago.

        How to encourage the cowards is the real question, as far as I can see.

      • Thanks for clarifying. It helps greatly. I’m trackin’ with ya, friend.

      • Way to preach the law that we all need to hear!

        Let’s remember though that the source of our bravery is not obligation imposed on us by the law, but the work of the Holy Spirit in us when we have faith!

        So the problem isn’t really cowardice, but sin and lack of faith, the cure for which is more Gospel!

  4. The Gospel known is one thing, the Gospel applied is quite another.

    Well said.

    The more I consider how the Gospel applies to my life, how it changes every part of who I am, or was, the more I wonder how the church could be known for so many very strange things.

  5. Hi iMonk,

    I’m wondering if you’re speaking to a particular group or if you’re referring to every single person when you refer to the problem not being Gospel ignorance but rather Gospel cowardice. If it’s a particular group like some in the SBC, I’d like to know that, but if it’s all inclusive, then that throws the White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation under the bus as well who teach pretty clearly that the problem is Gospel ignorance (ex. of this: Just listen to any of their shows where they go to Christian conferences and poll people). The way you’ve written this article now, I’m really not sure so I’d just like some clarification. Thanks.

    • Nevermind, I just read your reply to Jared that you wrote when I was writing my comment. Thanks.

    • I’m a bit buzzed that the response is “Who is he talking about?” I’m not handing out “exempt” cards because I think we’re all challenged here. The guys with better theology should be the first ones to recognize we must pres on with the Good news of the Good and forgiving God.

      peace

      ms

  6. I’m a coward too. I live on a ship with 350 sailors, 90% of whom aren’t only not saved, but couldn’t care less. And I chicken out. Yes, I’m that guy. I need to change.

    • 90% unsaved? Are you in the US? If so, I would find that peculiar in the US with a population that is majority Christian.

      • A population that is NOMINALLY Christian. I always assume that the number of people in the US who KNOW why they are Christians is about equal to the number who know why they are atheists – about 10%.

        Then again, I have become quite the curmudgeon in my middle years…

      • This was meant as a joke, right?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Back in the Eighties, radio talk-show host Rich Buhler used to refer to “Not-a-Muslim Christians”, who didn’t understand Christianity except it meant they weren’t Muslim or something.

  7. I agree with Jared about an inherent “gospel deficiency” in many of our efforts. Where I believe iMonk to be directing this conversation is an added element to a “baseline” of gospel realization in our individual Christian lives and in our communities of faith: Even when we KNOW that the gospel ought to be realized in this sphere or that sphere, there is an inherent cowardice or even stone-walling that can kick in.

    Is it fair to say that greater “gospel realization” (BOTH knowledge and action) is the antidote to both cowardice and deficiency when it comes to proclaiming and living Christ-centered?

  8. “A church-planting friend just wrote me about a conference he’s attended in one of our state Baptist conventions”

    This wouldn’t happen to be the California State convention would it? I know you were trying to be ambiguous, but since they just met the day before yesterday and I missed it for work, I couldn’t help but wonder. As a California Southern Baptist, I am concerned about this approach, and if this is truly the state of our leadership, it’s no wonder our local associations are going broke…

  9. Bravo! Long live the radical, subversive, challenging, uncomfortable Gospel.

  10. YES!

    You’ve put your finger on something that has been bothering the dickens out of me for a while now, and I think defines a lot of the challenge we face here at home. So many people have given intellectual assent to the Gospel but allowed it no further, and it’s heartbreaking. Fact is, discipleship is neither comfortable nor easy. It is something that should and WILL change every aspect of your life, and that is seriously scary stuff.

    I’m glad I’m not nuts for thinking this stuff.

  11. Rob McLeod says:

    “We don’t want to forgive anyone who isn’t sorry”

    I little, older, saintly woman at church, reminded me, that someday, I will have to forgve the man that murdered my daughter. I can’t do this, but I know she’s right. For now, Christ will have to do this for me, as I repent and feel too weak to do so.

    Mike, you are so right, the Kingdom looks so different than we want it to.

  12. I say, Bring the pubs to the church! Instead of having Starbucks corners in our megachurches, we should have brewpubs! For further information, read this:

    http://www.oakdown.com/books/drinking.shtml

    And while you’re at it, replace the miserly cracker crumb and thimble of grape juice with a real slice of bread and a glass of real wine – or even a whole meal. After all, it’s supposed to be the Lord’s Supper, not the Lord’s itty-bitty snack!

  13. Of course everyone knows that if Jesus were here in the flesh he wouldn’t be caught dead in a pub. After all, he said “It’s not the sick who need a doctor, but the healthy.” Or was that the other way around?…

  14. I am that guy. I know I’ve been that guy for a long time. I’ve talked about these same things you’ve spoken so well with those around me. I’ve read and journaled extensively on it. I know that, for the most part, that it’s not “knowledge about” but “knowledge of” that is the problem with our church today. I know that most evangelical theology/doctrine is solid but hollow because we “do not do what we say/believe”. I know I hide behind needing “just a little more information”, “just a little more clarity on what you really meant by what you said and did – and say to me, Lord, before I go off and really live the Gospel as you’ve revealed it”. Which translates to,” I doubt you, I want control, I want a thorough CBA before signing off, I am afraid and am a coward, I am unbelieving and have pride is somewhere at the bottom of all of this”. I’m afraid of appearing foolish for Christ and become a fool instead. I know I need the Holy Spirit to transform gospel truths into gospel realities. I need the Holy Spirit to transform my knowledge of Jesus ways and christian “lifestyle” into Jesus power and life. I need “love in action” to teach me, to “see” after believing rather than believing only if I see it, verify it, make sure the costs are manageable and convenient, and then I’m in! (As long as it doesn’t conflict with my schedule of pious pleasures). I need to learn with my heart more than with my head or my head for the gospel has to descend into my heart and become the “living water” that Jesus reveals himself to be .

    I struggle with having been “that guy” for so long, knowing the difference, being the “radical mystic” in my little circle because I’ve talked about it for so long but still am so “slow of heart” to really believe. I sometimes fear it’s too late for me. That I’ve quenched the Spirit for too long. At first this “too lateness” was tied to being some covert super-spiritual “man of God”. Now, I wonder if it’s too late to live anonymously but authentically in the simplicity and power of the gospel life (and death) that Jesus has meant for me to experience.

    • Mick, I don’t totally understand what you are writing about here. And I don’t totally know exactly what I-monk is writing about here. Is it about beer? Is it about stinginess and smallness? Is it about cowardice? Is about now we’ve heard the Gospel we better get out and do something more radical than live out our vocations and receive God’s mercy daily?

      I just want to say to you that Jesus loves you exactly the way you are now, the way you feel now, no matter where you’ve been or would really like to be. You are ok, right now. He forgives you over and over. That’s your homebase. Don’t search for an experience in your life. Just trust his words, now and next minute and always. The Gospel itself is the power. Rom 1:16.

      • Brigitte, thanks for being concerned, and no, it’s not about beer. Can’t speak for the Imonk but beer is one of God’s good gifts. For me this blog is partly about smallness of what we make the gospel to be (and for whom), it’s partly about narrowmindedness, and for me it’s mainly about having the courage to the let the passage you reference be metabolized and incarnated in you. To borrow from Hans Urs Von Balthazar, if someone were to ask you where Romans 1:16 or John 3:16 is, you could say, “well that’s him, walking over there”. It’s letting the Spirit and the Word become enfleshed in me. “Not I but Christ living in/thru me” is becoming routine vs. “on the spot”. Knowledge, orthodoxy, great “god talk”, fathoming of mysteries profits little if the love of Jesus is not being allowed have it’s perfect way in me. The occasional rant comes in when a chord is struck in me that exposes the gap between knowing – and – being, doing. Hope this helps.

        • mick: thanks for trying to explain. And I don’t want to pretend to have anything figured out from these few lines. Nor do I know Hans Urs Von Balthazar. Just looked him up briefly, Swiss Catholic Jesuit Theologian of the last century. Empahsis on beauty as a way to teach about love and Christ’s passion.

          but this:

          “To borrow from Hans Urs Von Balthazar, if someone were to ask you where Romans 1:16 or John 3:16 is, you could say, “well that’s him, walking over there”. It’s letting the Spirit and the Word become enfleshed in me. “Not I but Christ living in/thru me” is becoming routine vs. “on the spot””

          still strikes me a little tortured rather than joyful. And the “letting” and you having to be the embodiment of this, just sounds a little self-focused and vague. See the Gospel is powerful and you don’t even have to “let it’. You sound like you are making a stepping-stone out of this letting. It just does. It’s like letting a lion roar. You don’t “let it.”

          Forgive me if I’m stepping way too close or am totally wrong and don’t understand anything about Balthasar. I find no liberation except in the objective word.

        • Mick,

          I totally get it! I’ve been feeling the same way for months now. I’ve been reading a lot of Scripture and reading a lot of theology – soaking up knowledge *about* God without really *knowing* God. There was a time, I remember, when I felt the opposite – like God was getting into my heart and not just into my head. I’ve been trying to recapture that. I picked up “New Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton and been plowing through it. Great stuff in there about living *with* God in every aspect and facet of life. You might check it out too.

          -L

        • Oh, and I’ve resumed lots of prayer – praying the Daily Office twice a day from the Shorter Christian Prayer book. Also helping, but I’m still struggling with it.

  15. L. Winthrop says:

    I can’t tell what you mean by “the gospel.” Believe in Jesus and poof, you’re saved? A lot of churches believe that already (and complain loudly when others don’t), but that requires no special courage, just doctrinal conformity (with Jack Chick!).

    Love your enemies and give to all who ask? Now that *would* be radical, and some of the peace churches have gone about as far as can be expected in this direction. The thing is, I don’t accept the supposition that God wants (“calls”) us to behave radically. Giving all that you have to the poor may be possible for a few monks, but ordinary people should keep our money in the bank–we have responsibilities to our families. Prudence is a virtue.

    Or is your complaint that Christians don’t have the courage to spread (or apply) the gospel, whatever it might be, in certain areas of life? I know of Christian biker groups–you know, like Hell’s Angels, except for the other team?–and they probably go to bars, but somehow I don’t think this is what you meant.

    The thing is, Jesus is pretty vague about what he expects of us. What commands are given are largely impossible to practice, which some Christians take as a sign that we should feel guilty, guilty, guilty (you seem to come from a tradition like this), or that “works” are a dead end anyway. The way I look at it is, we have responsibility. The answers are not all set out for us. Many things in life are judgement calls, and since God is difficult to reach for consultation, the judgement is left to us.

    Take “give to all who ask.” This is clearly impossible, or at least very ill-advised, but we might manage a little more generosity…a little more forgiveness…etc. in our day-to-day lives. Make it more of an organic thing. My two cents, anyway.

    • Hear! Hear!

      I’m with you, Winthrop. Shotgunning has its place in trap or skeet, but when the target is sitting still, a bullet is needed instead of scattershot.

      I would like to see more definition in both the target and what we’re trying to hit it with. As bad as “Those Churches” are, they seem to be filled with a large number of unsung, unheralded folks who work in AWANA with kids, stock and staff the food pantry or clothes closet, answer the crisis pregnancy hotline, not to mention the countless hours spent by good folk just going about living their lives as they are led by the Holy Spirit.

      I’ve been involved in church stuff my whole life and the one thing I’ve learned is that the map is not the territory. Nor is the pulpit or popular published materials the territory. Just because it’s in a book somewhere or bouncing around the pastors conferences, doesn’t mean it reflects what is really happening in the pews (or more importantly out in the community once the pews are empty).

      I work for a humanitarian not-for-profit organization. I see the pew-warmers M-F and 9-5, so I know what they are doing to live the gospel every day. It’s not as bleak as our pulpiteers would have us believe, nor as cut & dried as the armchair theologians imagine. Out here on the streets it’s pretty much happening as we wish it to be, just lacking all the fanfare and hoopla of the limelight. Basically, the gospel is getting out and doing its work. The reason we don’t see it is because it is like yeast in three measures of dough, working quietly and unobtrusively without drawing attention to itself.

      Basically – if we can see it, it’s not the gospel. If we can’t see it but we see change in its wake, then it is the gospel. I read somewhere once that the work of the Holy Spirit is like the wind – you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes, but you can hear and see its effects. The invisible that you don’t see is the Holy Spirit of the gospel at work.

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      If “give to all who ask” is bad advice from GOD HIMSELF, what good is good advice?

      You can keep ‘a little more forgiveness’, as far as I’m concerned.

  16. Last year, when I was contemplating my move from the SBC to a Lutheran church, an acquaintance told me, “You won’t hear the Gospel in a Lutheran Church the way you hear it in a Baptist Church.” He was right, but certainly not in the way he imagined.

    N.T. Wright says that Christians generally fall into one of two groups: epistles Christians and gospels Christians. The epistles Christians generally lean conservative, while the Gospels christians tend to lean liberal. According to Wright, each holds to an important part of the Gospel, but each is missing an important part of the gospel, the part held to by the other camp. Being a cradle Southern Baptist, I was firmly in the epistles Christian camp. The Gospel I was taught boiled down to “you’re a sinner; Jesus died for your sins; say this little prayer and you’ll be saved.”

    A couple of years ago I taught the gospel of John in Sunday School. In preparing for those 24 weeks of lessons I read and studied John more intently than I ever had. It was during that study that I recognized how much of the Gospel I had been missing. It was in some ways a frightening experience. I thought I had been living the Gospel, when in reality I had only been living part of it.

    The Spirit has introduced a lot of changes in my life in the two years since that study of John. One of the changes was moving to a Lutheran church. I’m not trying to disparage the SBC, and I’m not saying that Lutherans have the “real gospel.” But what I can say is that, from the corporate confession to the lectionary readings to the recital of the creed to the eucharist, I hear and experience more of the Gospel each sunday at my current church than I ever did on any given Sunday at any of the SBC churches I attended over 30+ years. And that Gospel is more wonderful, more frightening, and more challenging than I ever would have imagined.

    • K Bryan, My wife and I have had a similar experience. We went to Boston and experienced worship at a liturgical church. I was blown away by the reverance, the inclusion of the whole Trinity, and communion was unlike anything i had experienced before in my walk with God. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but i am glad that the Lord interupted ME and changed my heart and spirit to a way of thinking and worship that makes me want to get up in the morning and to have fellowship, with believers and non-believers!!

    • I do think lutherans have the [mod edit] gospel in the confessions, which makes all the more maddening when you don’t see much difference in missional effort! Motivating with love is much harder than law! Thank goodness were forgiven, forgive us for our weakness!

    • Perhaps you have benefited from the Lutheran church in a way that cradle Lutherans can not because you have the chance to merge your epistle upbringing with the gospelness of your new church home into a more complete Gospel.

      • I can attest to that, though my conversion was from Evangelical to Roman Catholic. My Scriptural knowledge far exceeded the others in my RCIA class, most cradle Catholics, and maybe even a couple of our catechists. All converts develop a unique kind of perspective I think.

    • Our associate pastor once spoke about this phenomenon in other terms: “grace people” and “truth” people. Grace people sometimes emphasize grace to the exclusion of truth, and truth people often emphasize truth without including grace. Grace people are usually sure that truth people are too legalistic and conservative, while truth people tend to know for a fact that grace people are too liberal and compromise-y.

      Neither group is like Jesus, though. He was “full of grace and full of truth.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “A fanatic is someone who has one piece of a pie and thinks he has the whole pie.”
        — Pope John Paul II (anecdotal, from one of my local clergy who attended a Papal audience)

  17. Why not take it up a notch. How many in the Church these days are willing to carry the Gospel (and its life-changing power) into our burgeoning prisons (2.3 million souls)? Or—watch this!!—to visit the homes of registered sex offenders? Is there anyone on earth in more need of Jesus than a registered sex offender? Yet, sadly, most Christians have written them off as irredeemable. –Just as Christ has, of course!

    • FollowerOfHim says:

      RWVNRAL:

      We recently experienced some severe floodings in the Atlanta area. One of the unexpected consequences was that some registered sex offenders were flooded out of their residences, but due to the conditions of their paroles, couldn’t just move any old place. Thus, for a brief period of time, there was a homeless camp made up of some number of these men in a local woods here in Cobb County.

      This was reported in the local (and perhaps national) news in a more or less balanced manner, but in the retelling of the story around the proverbial water coolers, it was described as if it were some sort of weird sex-offender conspiracy. At the time, I remember distinctly feeling that I (not just somebody somewhere, someone with a counseling degree from a well-respected seminary, but me, the guy who puts “Follower” in front of “OfHim” on blog comments) should show up there and be some sort of Salt/Light. I did not.

      I was a coward.

  18. 8-) Very cool.

  19. Ross from KY says:

    Is there something that just happened in relation to “pubs”. Or is this just a reference to the long time SBC abstinence position?

  20. Those of you who do not come from teetotaler backgrounds do not really have an appreciation for just how frustrating this really minor issue can be for baptist. I have a good friend that from as far as I can tell is a Christian, not very active now, but very active younger. He has a wife and two young kids. He ask me one time, “Why did he go to churches ( he was talking about baptist) and hear with the same emphasis about not drinking along with everything else?”

    His point was that he felt he knew enough scripture to know that drunkeness was a sin, even though drinking was not. Then what else was the preacher trying to play fast and loose with?

    Another example.

    There is a man in our community. Deaf about 55, some intelectual impairment. His elderly mom who has taken care of him has just been put in a nursing home. One of my deacons was working with him b/c he had no food, no electricity, no running water. We were trying to work with govt. agencies to get him the type of significant help he needed. Long story short. A lady, who knows him by the way, said she saw him walking to the store to get some food the other day, it was a long way home, she said she almost pulled over to offer him a ride, but she didn’t, not when she saw, but when she expected he might have beer in his bags. She said she didn’t want to be around it.

    It is that sort of almost pagan belief about the evil of a physical substance that is maddening.

    • Thanks for explaining Austin. I’ve never lived in such context.

      Throw off the lilliputian shackles, then. Let it be people’s choice. It is against the Gospel to bind people with such rules.

  21. I don’t think anyone already said this, though I haven’t read all the comments.

    It seems to me the gospel is not for being explained. It is for being proclaimed. And that repeatedly, to both those who have heard it before, and those who have not. When proclaimed, we hear it deeper each time we hear it.

    • A few weeks ago, I taught an apologetics conference based on Acts 17 (Paul teaching in the synagogue at Thessalonica and at Mars Hill in Athens). I think that passage addresses our role in explaining the gospel. Paul spent considerable time in the synagogue discussing Scripture and explaining the Gospel. His audience knew Scripture well enough that they needed explanation about how Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies. Later, at Mars Hill, Paul had to take a different approach with an audience that wasn’t knowledgeable of Scripture. But in each case, the listener needed someone to explain how Jesus was relevant to them. I think that often times, we presume that people know more about Jesus and Scripture than they really do. We tell them that Jesus is the answer without really explaining the magnitude of who he is. Many of the folks that I’ve interacted with have expressed that they feel like the church hasn’t thoroughly explained why Christ had to die and how his death and resurrection is relevant to them today. I’ve also heard them say that they feel lost in church because they don’t know the material to which the pastor refers. We tend to forget that the majority are biblically illiterate and need A LOT of explaining.

    • I think this post might be hinting more towards the idea of St. Francis:

      “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.”

      • Patrick Lynch says:

        iMonk, you should have your web guy put up a counter for the number of times somebody pipes up with that St. Francis quote!

      • This quote bugs me, too. Preaching by definition involves words. Teaching, perhaps can be done in a number of ways. Preaching, confessing, spreading God’s word, absolving, proclaiming God’s favor, involves by definition words. Not wanting to speak to me is “cowardice.”

        The atheist, too, can be a nice guy/girl. My mother-in-law sewed and sent clothes to Mongolia for years to a nun from Australia, til she learned that she was a Buddhist nun. (She stopped sending things after that, which I don’t agree with.)

      • The quote is not from St. Francis. That is a myth. Source is unknown.

      • Ah, my bad.

        I still think it’s a good quote. Preaching does not have to involve words by definition. From http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/preach it seems to be “1. to proclaim, or make known; 2. to deliver; 3. to advocate or inculcate in speech or writing”

        So not every definition includes speech or writing … and that seems to ring true. Anyone see Wall-E? The first half hour of that movie delivers an incredibly powerful message about love with little or no speech or writing at all.

        I don’t think it’s an issue of not *wanting* to speak as much as it is not *needing* to speak. There are some of those things we can only proclaim with words – like confessions, Scripture, etc. But who says we have to use words to proclaim God’s love, or God’s healing?

        I have a bunch of friends who continuously go on medical “mission” trips to Africa. They’re not preaching Scripture and creeds over there – they don’t even know the language. They are pulling rotten teeth, draining and stitching infected wounds, etc. Do the patients learn about the doctrines of the Trinity or the revelation of Truth in Scripture? No. But they walk away knowing that someone cares enough for them to help them in their distress. And isn’t that the Gospel?

  22. I worked in the “secular” world for years, my children go to public universities, and give me that any day over a closed community of Christians. For the most part, I find Christians very scared of the world. My son worked at a Christian camp one summer and most of the other workers were absolutely amazed that he could tolerate going to a big university. When my daughter had signed on to go to a Big Ten University, I can’t tell you how many people pulled me aside and in hushed tones askes me if I knew “what goes on there.” Most Christians I know won’t listen to or read anything but Christian radio or books (or Fox News), spend lots of time fretting about the world going to hell in a handbasket around them, and hunker down content in the fact that they are not allowing themselves to be tainted by the world’s worldliness. A very Us vx. Them mentality. If we just stay away from Them, We won’t be compromised. Unfortunately, they end up fighting a straw dog and expend much time and energy fighting an enemy that does not exist except in their minds.

    • Your post really helped me (an Atheist) understand what iMonk was talking about. Thanks.

      • And I am a Christian! But I get so tired of the fear I see among my Christian friends. The so-called “World” is not what they think it is at all, but they never get out in it to understand that.

    • Tee Dee, I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote (and also Greg, further down).

      It is as though we’ve wandered into back alley in the City of Man, crawled into a beat up cardboard box, and declared it the City of God!

      One of the most depressing moments of my life: Sitting at my graduation from an evangelical college, listening to a fellow student speaking for ten minutes in weepy tones about — and I nearly quote — “We already have everything we need. We already know everything we need to know. Now we just need to remain faithful in this dark world.” Appropriately (?), this pep-talk was accompanied by a commencement speech in which the speaker promised we would be tempted and would have to persevere. The best example he could invent of this dilemma was coming across a pornographic magazine on a stairwell and having to decide whether to pick it up.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        “Fellow student who spoke for ten minutes in weepy tones” wouldn’t last ten seconds at a Furry con. Or Hobby Day over at the local KoC hall. Or at my job or attempts at a second career writing SF.

        And I always wonder what somebody who’d obviously been raised in Christian Bubble Wrap would call “pornographic”. I’ve seen the real thing. Most of what Christian Hothouse Orchids call “horrible pornography” doesn’t even come close.

        If they’re so freaked out in their hothouse, what will happen when they step Outside and encounter the real thing? If footmen tire you so easily, what will horsemen do?

  23. To start with a slightly flippant quote, as it was the first thing that came to mind when I read the opening paragraphs.

    “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
    -Benjamin Franklin
    (The quote about beer is a corruption of this one, I believe. Even if it isn’t, Franklin never said it.)

    In all seriousness, what would a fearless proclaimer of the Gospel look like? Are they like the person in the train station, passing out tracts and rambling on about Jesus? How do they bring the Gospel into a bar? I wonder if part of the cowardliness is a fear of being ignored and mocked, ridiculed.

    In one of the subway stations here in New York, (I believe it is in the Times Square one, but I could be wrong), there is a table laid out with Chick Tracts, with signs quoting various verses from the Bible along the walls. They people are always there and seem to have worked out a deal with the transit police, as they are never hassled. But they are ignored. I do not believe I have ever seen anyone stop to talk with them, although I have been tempted to ask for a couple of tracts- I have a friend who collects them as a joke. I always wonder as I walk by if the table, the quotes and the people have ever actually caused anyone to convert.

    I enjoyed reading this entry. But I’m very curious as to some particulars of a solution.

    • I could send you some tracts in Georgian if you’d like. I get them every now and then from the local Baptist community of missionaries in Tbilisi. People who have flown in from America and their sole goal is to hand out Bible tracts. It was funny at first because in the beginning they were in English, even though not many here speak that. Now they’ve gotten them in Georgian. But the additional funny thing is how they go around asking people if they’re “Christian”. The word in Georgian for “Georgian Orthodox” is “Christian”, and everyone here is proud of being Georgian Orthodox, so everyone says, “of course”! Hahaha! And Baptists of course, don’t think Orthodox believers are Christian. So it’s doubly funny in that ironic sense.

      • Of course we Catholics aren’t Christians either! ;)

        (For others: Saint and I are the only two Catholics in our large group of Protestant friends. This is a common joke we all share.)

  24. Michael,

    The “coward” title is too easy.

    I know many who stood up, did what God told them to do, then got beaten to a pulp by brothers and sisters in Christ who told them they’d never work in this town again. And they didn’t.

    I know many who stood up, did what God told them to do, and immediately the Enemy came and brought cancer, mental illness, or a wayward child, and that frontline warrior had to step down and attend to other duties, often with little or no human support.

    I know people who stood up, did what God told them to do, and years later others are still wondering why there hasn’t been any observable fruit in that ministry.

    I know all sorts of people who didn’t have a cowardly bone in their bodies who went out there and got blasted and are now not out there anymore.

    And yes, some of them get called cowards by people who simply have no idea at all what happened—and neither do the coward-callers have the time and patience to hear the tale and help bear the burden.

    We both know this to be true.

    Anymore, I can’t pin that “coward” title on anyone. All I can do is ask, “How can help you?”

  25. gospel light has 1/3 less calories than the regular gospel.
    tastes great.
    less filling.

  26. I for one vote for you staying out of the pubs. I do not go to a pub to listen to people tell me about God. It is rude and intrusive. If I want to hear about your god, I know where a church is.

    • Ross from KY says:

      No one said a Christian in a pub has to be preaching.

    • OK, then….now we know where Donalbain stands; I vote that you stay out of my conversations where , at times, Jesus and church is the topic of conversation….when we aren’t busy talking about how crappy our pool shooting is, or something else. Sorry if someone has pushed Jesus on ya, but don’t ban us just because some other church guy was rude.

      Pax,
      Greg R

    • Yeah, preaching in or at a pub is rude and pretentious. We go to our local pub on Wed nights for $3 burger and 1/2 price pint nights. There’s a guy on a bicycle out there handing out stupid “get saved” tracts at the door and everyone ignores him. I remember I walked past him on Ash Wednesday with a big black cross on my forehead from morning Mass and he still handed me a tract. Like, really – you can’t even look at me long enough to see I’m already part of “the club?”

      Christians shouldn’t go to pubs to preach. We should go to pubs because we should love people, and people go to pubs. If a few pints loosens minds and tongues enough to talk philosophy or theology or religion, that might be cool too I guess. But we need to drop all these taboo’s and just get out there to live and love like Jesus said.

      • Amen, luke! I am not much of a pub-going person myself. I think I would like the Irish style of pub that folks visiting there tell me about. Martha may be able to tell us if this is accurate, but their pubs sound more like community gathering places than places where a lot of folks go to get drunk. (Although I am sure some get drunk too.) I don’t mind a few drinks myself and I don’t mind being with people having a few drinks and getting “relaxed,” but I really dislike drunkenness. My husband is an alcoholic and some of his friends as well and I see the destruction it does. I read once about alcoholism: “The man takes a drink. The drink takes a drink. The drink takes the man.” It is a sad and horrible thing to see men being taken by alcohol. :(

        I think we live out our relationship with God by loving people the best we know how. We don’t have to be “preaching.” If someone asks us about the hope that we have, we tell them. I do believe a very wise man said to do that.

        • Patrick Lynch says:

          I don’t know the bars you’ve been to, but pretty much every non-chain bar I’ve been to eventually divulged itself as a place where a loose but standing community of neighborhood people gathers; you’re less anonymous at a bar than at Starbucks, that’s for sure.

          Sorry to hear about your husband.

          • Patrick, a lot of bars in rural Maine are about regulars getting together to just talk, relax, drink. BUT…a lot of them also need the police to get involved due to fights, threats, OUI, and the like. I’m sure it’s not much different than most places in the USA. In Maine, though, most folks do their drinking at home where it is cheaper and where they can smoke! (No smoking by law in Maine bars now. Yay!) And at home they can just “crash” when they can’t drink anymore.

  27. I agree, Michael, that American churchianity is steeped in and stunted by mediocrity and apathy and a far-too-narrow vision of what the gospel can and can’t do and where it can and can’t go. I also think a good portion of the church-going populace is well aware of their stunted condition and hungry to actually get out there and do something in the real world outside the painted glass windows. What I believe is largely lacking is permission and empowerment to do so from their church leaders. Institutional Chrisitanity far too often promotes the self-image of dumb sheep among their lay people, disempowering them from doing much of anything except listening to sermons, putting money in the offering plate, and maybe participating in official church outreach programs. Generally not encouraged is the idea that nonprofessional-class Christians might have Spirit-breathed ministries and giftings locked up inside and begging to be expressed and acted upon — and that the Spirit might actually lead them to do things that fall outside the box of established church programs and ministry avenues. Protestantism gives lip service to the Biblical premise of the priesthood of all believers, but rarely is this encouraged to actually manifest itself in the life of the church in a real and active way.
    And to all the church pastors and leaders who might be reading this, I double dog dare you to actively pursue a policy of granting permission to your flocks to instigate and organize ministries and outreaches or whatever else God has put on their hearts to do for Him. Invite them to come to you and share the visions for ministry that are in their hearts and imaginations. Then, if you think they need it, spend some time and effort training and equipping them to go out there and do it. If you think it’s something the whole church should participate in, then adopt it as an official church program and let those with the vision for it head it up, organize it, and see to funding it. If not, then give them permission to pursue it on their own with your blessing. Use your pulpit to inspire and empower your congregations toward independent and corporate activities that spread the gospel and show God’s love to the world. Give them ideas and listen to their ideas — and work together with them toward expanding the activity and ministry of your church well beyond its present boundaries. And dedicate your time and efforts in the way that Paul said for leaders to do in Ephesians Chapter 3 — to train and equip and disciple every willing member of your flock to do anything and everything that you yourself have been trained to do. I know it sounds crazy, but actually seek to decrease your church’s dependence on you, while seeking to increase the fullness of Christ in the lives of your church members.
    And if you do all this, and they still just sit on their pew warmers and do nothing — then at least you know it’s not your fault.

    • Our church has adopted a lay-driven mission policy and even appointed the associate minister to “equip” the congregation. Gee whiz, the associate minister! Must be important.

      Now I don’t see everything that goes on in this medium-sized church but out most visible “ministries” have consisted of a fund-raising consignment sale and a similar Art Show. Essentially, the congregation has continued doing whatever it was going to do before. I believe that this was the intention of the so-called Planning Document that introduced the policy.

      Nothing will happen until someone kicks some butts, overturns some tables and demonstrates what it looks like for someone to practice the gospel without going off to Africa. Even awakening 1% of a congregation to start the journey would be quite an accomplishment.

      The sad thing is the senior minister preaches the occasional sermon that calls for radical action – like the one about the church whose sanctuary burned and was rebuilt as a dual purpose facility – worship and soup kitchen. But the call to action never comes.

      I am not really a Christian – I attend with my family – but I am often struck by the divide between the power of what is proclaimed on Sunday morning and the reality of what is done Monday-Saturday. Sad, but the world is like that I suppose.

    • Churchianity is my new favorite term!

  28. I’m reminded why the old Tsar of Russia chose the Orthodox Church…

    He brought in three religious ambassadors, a Catholic, an Orthodox Christian and a Muslim. First the Catholic spoke. The Tsar said, “Sounds like a fantastic religion. But I’d have to bow to a pope? No thanks.” Then the Orthodox Christian came in and spoke. “This is like the Catholic religion without a pope? That is excellent. But still, I want to hear the Muslim.” The Muslim came in and talked and the Tsar stood up excited and said, “This is the best religion I’ve heard!” and someone whispered into his ear and he calmed down. “Wait, what?! You can’t drink? Send back in the Orthodox guy! Vodka is the heart of Russia!”

  29. i’m a church planter in france and i can’t tell you how frustrating it is to have cultural convictions attached to the gospel. i live in a country that celebrates wine but am told to not drink it and to encourage others to follow suit. i might as well try to teach them that cheddar is the best cheese and that they should get rid of their 370 different types.

    we aren’t trying to plant indigenous churches around the world. we are trying to plant southern, evangelical churches around the world. if we can prescribe what they look like, what they believe, how they eat and drink and dress, then we never have to question our own preconceived notions of what it means to be a follower of christ. what we don’t understand is that trying to control the transforming power of the gospel is like trying to lasso the wind.

    • I remember a story I heard once about some American Evangelical women who were having a meeting or luncheon with some German Evangelicals. The Americans were frowning at the Germans because they were smoking cigarettes. Meanwhile, the Germans were tut-tutting the American women for wearing makeup.

  30. Back when I worked in our church office our pastor used to joke sometimes, as he was preparing a sermon, that he was putting on his prophet robes and getting out the big hammer. Sounds like what you did when you wrote this post. I agree with you in general, though I think there have always been people on the margins going further with the gospel then the church as a whole dared. And I do see some hopeful signs in the church. I’m Church of the Nazarene, which is also a teetotaling denomination. Our district (!) recently sponsored a seminar on the organic church in which we were encouraged to plant churches without going through all the usual ecclesiastical hoops, even if the church was at the bar in Applebees or in the local strip club. I couldn’t keep my chin off the floor.

  31. I like going into pubs.

    Very nice post.

    I am critical of “touchy feely west coast evangelicalism,” but at least it isn’t bothered when I have Guinness.

  32. I hate this idea of making the world (or this country rather) comfortable for us. I’ve gotten in a few tussles with some family members over their political picket-line Christianity. They call me a liberal when I say that marching outside of Planned Parenthood doesn’t count as evangelism.

  33. Very refreshing to call it as you see it. I see more and more Christians retreating from the World rather than being lights in the World. Prime example is yesterday I learned of the Twitter alternative “Christian Chirps”. Let’s all go hid in our safe, warm and fuzzy world and make believe “bad people” aren’t out there. I see Christ invading the world of “sinners and the so-called ungodly”, not retreating. In my view if you can’t live in your own skin and be who you are wherever you are or whoever you are with, maybe this Christian thing isn’t real to you. A toast to keeping it real.

  34. While I agree with what iMonk says, as well as the comments by others, I doubt that the exhortation to stay out of pubs is directly due to cowardice (though ultimately it is, and a narrow distorted understanding of Scripture). It probably is motivated by the traditional SBC stand on alcohol. Here in Missouri the state convention has (over)reacted to an Acts 29 church in St. Louis (the Journey) that has an apparently effective outreach in a local brewery. The state Executive Director lost his job mainly because he originally supported this church plant and arranged for a loan or loan guarantee by the MBC. Once the Pharisees found out how awful this church really was, off came the heads. As a result, the MBC last year passed a motion requiring anyone who serves in any capacity within the MBC, including serving on boards of MBC-supported institutions (including colleges), sign an affirmation that they will abstain from alcholic beverages. I guess I won’t be asked to serve as a trustee of my alma mater any more.

    Ultimately this is a matter of cowardice – fear of anything remotely ‘worldly’ – as we define it. We do retreat to our Christian ghettos where we don’t have to face the world, happy in our legalistic fear and making every attempt to maintain control (and often attempting to extend that control into ‘the world’) so our kids will grow up perfect and sheltered from anything that might challenge their faith (the way we have taught it to them). Whether the issue is alcohol, evolution, or the ‘Christian nation’ myth, when our kids get to college (even many Christian colleges) they learn the truth and abandon their faith (or rather, our faith) in droves. And we can’t figure out what’s wrong with ‘them’.

    Unfortunately, the reason for this cowardice is a faulty understanding of Scripture, based on faulty methods of interpretation (the biblical illiteracy iMonk wrote abour recently) which leads to faulty theology. Because of that we have constructed a fearful, legalistic gospel that relegates Jesus as Lord of the church but you better keep him out of society at large – it’s not save even for him! We have done for ourselves what the secularists have been clamoring for – made ourselves irrelevant and marginalized. We have a small gospel because we have a small god (small g is intentional). Hopefully, prophetic voices like iMonk and N. T. Wright will have an impact on young Christians so they will see that Jesus is Lord of all and does not cower in the face of ‘the beer monster’.

    • That is pretty much what I think, too, only I believe you said it much better! Christian ghetto is right…and very, very sad. Just like any other ghetto, it’s not a place in which most people want to spend much time. I sure don’t.

  35. I sometimes hear people saying, “How can I know what God’s will for me is?” It’s like they are spending all their lives straining to hear a voice in their radio’s static while the Gospel is playing loud and clear on the TV. (Ooo, sorry for that analogy!)

    Whenever I hear this expressed I immediately wonder if they are waiting for the “call” that won’t require any risk or inconvenience. They are waiting for the Holy Spirit to move them so that they can be assured that it will be easy.

    I agree with you iMonk, that the “church” is hopelessly stuck. You are never going to move 90% of those pew-dwellers. Ten percent might be awake enough to know that they are being called. One percent may respond. Unfortunately only one tenth of one percent are likely to do it spontaneously. The rest need leadership and that is sorely lacking. I have some sympathy for the leadership as a certain creativity is required to turn the Call into something doable given the means available. It also takes grit (or is it faith) which seems to be in short supply.

  36. Re N.T. Wright’s statement that Christians generally fall into one of two groups: epistles Christians and gospel Christians, a former associate pastor of ours used to speak of two groups of Christians using a different set of terms: “grace people” and “truth people.” He said that grace people know they are right and tend to view truth people as narrow, legalistic, and too conservative. Truth people know that they are right and tend to view grace people as worldly, compromise-y, and too liberal. Each group knows it is more like Jesus than the other.

    Both groups are wrong. Jesus was “full of grace and full of truth.”

  37. Michael, thank you for this post. As a missionary in Europe, the alcohol issue is one that I face regularly. Hearing in your post that church planters were encouraged to stay away from pubs saddens and frustrates me. I wish it could say it surprises me. The organization that I’m with is one that currently requires that its missionaries not imbibe alcohol. I’ve always honored that expectation, but I hate it and I think it does real damage to work here. I’ve never been drunk (my sins to date have been in other areas), and I don’t like the way beer and wine taste (having tried them before joining this organization), but I have no problem with others drinking in my presence. Whenever I’m invited to a household, I show up with a bottle of wine because it’s the thing you do in the culture I serve in and because people seem to be less bothered by my abstinence from drinking when they know I brought them a bottle of wine.

    Your post reminded me of a student I met last year. The group that I work with has American college students join us as summer missionaries from time to time. One of the students last year was from a Southern Baptist college or university. He shared with me that one of the rules of his college was that he was not allowed to drink while enrolled there. I wasn’t surprised since that’s been the case for all of the Southern Baptist institutions that I’ve had contact with. What did surprise me was that he went on to say that he could also be written up at his college for being seen having a meal off campus with someone else who was drinking. Basically, if there was any alcohol on a table during lunch at Chili’s, no matter who was drinking it, if seen, he could face repercussions for being there, just for being there, not for drinking, for being there, at lunch at Chili’s. What does such a rule communicate to students and those students’ friends? How poorly equipped are those students going to be when they go out into life and try to represent Jesus and his grace? I guess such an educational institution would maintain that, when Jesus shared a table with sinners, the table was always bare.

    A few months ago, I was in a pub that I had never been in before. While there for a couple hours, I was welcomed by the regulars, who made it evident that they would like me to join them at the bar, even when it was clear I wasn’t drinking alcohol. Before joining them at the bar, I had been listening in on their conversation (they were pretty loud). They were discussing Jesus. They seemed to speak more about Jesus than many of the local religious types I knew. And so, in that pub, I was made to feel welcome and found Jesus to be an acceptable topic of conversation. So maybe church planters should stay away from pubs, I mean, why mess up a good pub? I’m kidding.

    You’re so right about us being cowards. I’m always nervous about going to parties where drinking is going on, and pubs aren’t my preferred scene. So I have to remind myself that if it’s where people are, then Jesus might want to go there. And then Jesus turns my world upside down. I discover Jesus was in the pub before I got there, and that people want to see me again, even after I tell them I’m really into stories about Jesus. And it is messy. Their lives are messy, and I find myself trying to figure out in real time what it means to love them, people who I don’t understand, people who are just as afraid of me rejecting them as I am of them rejecting me. I am a coward, and some nights I get over it and go out the door, and sometimes I don’t. But fear is no way to build your life and it’s not how Jesus lived as far as I can tell. Again, thank you for your post.

    • They were discussing Jesus. They seemed to speak more about Jesus than many of the local religious types I knew. And so, in that pub, I was made to feel welcome and found Jesus to be an acceptable topic of conversation. So maybe church planters should stay away from pubs, I mean, why mess up a good pub? I’m kidding.

      That’s great. Too bad you were just kidding!

      • Greg, sarcasm always gets me into trouble :) By “I’m kidding”, I was trying to signal that I was being sarcastic when I said, “So maybe church planters should stay away from pubs, I mean, why mess up a good pub?”. If I seemed to indicate that my story was untrue, my apologies for the confusion. What I described did take place in the pub while I was there. In my experience, pubs can be a great place to go in hopes of connecting with people and talking about Jesus. If that’s what church planters are about, then they should visit pubs, in my opinion.

    • Yeah, I loved this too. I actually find people are MORE willing to talk about God, religion, theology, Jesus, philosophy, etc. after a few pints!

  38. This is timely, this is true. I’m glad I’m not the only one out there writing about such things, telling people about it, praying about it.

  39. It took me a couple years in a liturgical non-Evangelical/non-Protestant church where beer and wine were part of the church functions to no longer feel guilty about being seen drinking such. When it comes to alcohol, the “making your brother stumble” thing has been carried to a Pharisaical and hyper-casuistic and ridiculous extreme.

    Yes, I understand the reasoning behind it.

    But they are straining out gnats and swallowing camels and damning themselves by their self-righteousness while they think it’s the imbibers who are damned.

    Oy!

  40. Haven’t read all the comments, but I have to say that the behavior described in the post isn’t simply cowardly, it’s also nonsensical. What they are saying is that they can trust people with the greatest story ever told, with spiritual leadership, with the radical, life-chaing good news of Jesus that will turn the world upside down. But these same people can’t be trusted with a glass of wine or a mug of beer? Wow. Just wow.

    I had my choice of two seminaries to attend years ago. This is why I went to the one that didn’t have the silly rule that I couldn’t drink alcohol while attending.

    • But these same people can’t be trusted with a glass of wine or a mug of beer? Wow. Just wow.

      I guess another way to say this is: the Holy Spirit cannot be trusted to moderate the drinking….which led C.S. Lewis to remark somewhere that christians were the only ones who really SHOULD be drinking, because of the H.S. and His ability to give the drinker a spirit of moderation. Ah……those Anglicans…..(I think he was Anglican…)

      We routinely abouse food and sex, no whole sale prohibition there….hmmmmmm.

      Greg R

  41. Wow, this post really hits home. I’ve been a Christian since 1986 and have only recently begun to feel the Lord’s leading that I’m living too lukewarm a faith. Every time I tell myself not to worry about wanting comfort and prosperity, I read something like this that convicts me that our God is not necessarily a God of “comfortable” faith. Jesus did not say, “Follow me to a place of comfort and prosperity,” but just “Follow me,” and the New Testament is full of people who followed him far from comfort and prosperity. In fact, it’s reading blogs like this, books like Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love” (and oh by the way, the BIBLE) that leads me to beliieve our faith should be an UNcomfortable faith, that true Christian, Gospel-based faith is a faith that should lead us to UNcomfortable territories.

    I raise my hand. I’m a Gospel Coward. But I’m hoping and praying God helps me become more fearless, more willing to become uncomfortable in my faith in Him and in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Michael, for your continued illumination of the Gospel truth.

  42. As the prophet Derek Webb said, “Don’t teach me about moderation and liberty. I’d prefer a shot of grape juice.”

  43. I have a couple of questions:

    1. Can anyone comment on how the SBC would handle Proverbs 31:6-7?

    2. Is drunkenness portrayed as a worse kind of sin than haughtiness or pride? If so, what is the rationale given? It seems imprudent to rush quickly to pride in order to avoid drunkenness. Couldn’t pride (especially insitutionalized and sanctioned pride) be considered more harmful to society as a whole than drunkenness?

    I’ve always struggled with the specific problem of should I give a homeless person a $5 bill. “What if they use it to buy alcohol?” echoes through my soul. Sometimes, especially on a cold night, I feel like saying “Alcohol has got ample calories and temporarily numbs the pain.” Maybe I should tell them, “Just promise me that you will buy some alcohol with this.” Probably not.

    Your post has me thinking through my pat answers in order to see if the Gospel can shake things up a bit. Thanks for that.

    • 1. I’ve read anti-alcohol Biblical arguments based on the Hebrew words for things like ‘wine’ and ‘strong drink’ which could be non-alcoholic drinks. Which is funny because they’ll use Proverbs 23:29-35 as a condemnation AGAINST alcohol – i.e., the same word for strong drink.

      My uncle makes a habit of carrying gift certificates for restaurants that don’t serve alcohol like McDonald’s or Burger King. When someone asks him for money for food, he knows they can only use it on food.

      • A couple of years ago the president of an SBC seminary wrote a rambling article about the evils of drinking and concluded that every believer should want God’s ‘ideal’ and that certainly didn’t include drinking. My response to that was that God himself says that at the great Messianic Banquet (surely God’s ‘ideal for the believer’ – we’ll be in his very presence), HE himself will provide a feast of ‘well-aged wine’ (the ‘good stuff’).

        On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. (Is. 25:6)

        Baptists will be the only ones drinking grape juice at the Messianic Banquet when Christ returns!

  44. I’ve been reading Merton recently, and he has lots to say about finding the Holy in all created things, even things we consider taboo.

    “A saint is capable of loving created things and enjoying the use of them and dealing with them in a perfectly simple, natural manner, making no formal references to God, drawing no attention to his own piety, and acting without any artificial rigidity at all. His gentleness and his sweetness are not pressed through his pores by the crushing restraint of a spiritual straight-jacket.”

    “Do you think their love of God was compatible with a hatred for things that reflected Him and spoke of Him on every side?
    You will say that they were supposed to be absorbed in God and they had no eyes to see anything but Him. Do you think they walked around with faces like stones and did not listen to the voices of men speaking to them or understand the joys and sorrows of those who were around them?
    It was because the saints were absorbed in God that they were truly capable of seeing and appreciating created things and it was because they loved Him alone that they alone loved everybody.”

  45. Michael,

    If your point here is to suggest that not going into bars with the gospel reflects cowardice on the part of these Christians, aren’t you being a little unfair? I mean really, in the name of spreading the gospel, do we need to catch a show at the local strip club, or grab a drink at the local gay bar, or attend a “leather and chains” meeting of the local fetish chapter. Seriously, I think we can manage to evangelize much of the world without putting ourselves in morally questionable (or objectional) circumstances.

    Also, the issue isn’t about drinking. Even if I choose to drink as a Christian doesn’t imply that I will ( or should) feel comfortable going into a bar and spending time around a bunch of drunken and rowdy unbelievers.

    “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. ” (1 Peter 4:3)

    • For you to go from my example of O’Chaley’s to your example of “strip clubs” is rather amazing.

      • BH, ditto to what Michael said. Strip clubs and pubs are very different things. In my time in pubs in multiple nations, I’ve rarely found them filled with “a bunch of drunken and rowdy unbelievers.” And I don’t think Michael is saying we should feel comfortable in all the places we go. Following Jesus is often all about going where we feel uncomfortable. Jesus didn’t live a comfortable life or experience a comfortable death. Also, I think in your reference Peter is talking about not participating in sin rather than being in places where people sin. I concede that just being present in a strip club is participation and should be avoided, but sharing a table with someone drunk in a pub doesn’t make you a drunkard. If it did, then I’d say that none of us should go to church pot luck dinners because if we do, we might have to sit with gluttons while they commit gluttony.

        • What about sitting in business meetings with people focused on making as much money as possible with no regard for the societal consequences?

          Just because a Christian is in a place where everyone is sober, has their clothes on and appears “normal” doesn’t mean much.

          Prostitutes rarely are in charge of figuring out how to deny health insurance claims or lay a couple of thousand people off in order to pump up their annual bonus.

          Hanging out with gay people in a dive bar or hanging out with AIG executives in their walnut-paneled boardroom – which group do we think Jesus would be incensed at?

        • I’m using extreme examples here to make a point. I’ve been in my share or bars/pubs/clubs in my past life and they’re dens of iniquity. I’ve been invited by homosexuals I work with to join them for a private party at the local gay bar where people are drinking and doing lines of cocaine. I have friends who have invited me on numerous occasions to go to strip clubs with them. The question is this: Do we as Christians need to put ourselves in situations like this in order to witness Christ to these people.? I’d suggest that 99.99% of the time the answer is no. Also, when people are in these environments, they’re usually not in the best or proper state of mind to think seriously about spiritual things.

    • Patrick Lynch says:

      bh, I fail to see how kicking it with some gays at a bar is categorically wrong when hanging out with prostitutes is a ministry.

      If your faith doesn’t make you MORE comfortable around unbelievers than hypocrites, I don’t know that you can call it faith in Christ at all.

    • Who are you going to share the gospel with if you avoid unbelievers?

  46. I am convinced, convicted and committed to try and change this in my life & community. Preach it, brother.

    Peace,
    Jamie

  47. Pure and Utter Gold! My mind is on fire right now! Love the comparison of “our gospel” vs “The Gospel” everything that I have been thinking and delivered… as usual exquisitely!

    My readers are definitely getting a look at this.