Sunday, January 11, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (3)

This might be one the best blog posts I’ve read from anyone of any denominational stripe.

If that sounds like dangerously high praise, give me a moment to convince you.

Andrew Heard starts by telling us that “The most dangerous people in our Christian community are the leaders and evangelists who not only long to see growth but who also have the closest sympathy with the needs and concerns of the sinners we are seeking to reach.”

Really? Seems a bit counterintuitive.

Passion and Compromise

But passion easily leads to compromise in the pursuit of an important goal:
“The more passionate a person is to see the church grow and the more their sympathies rest with the sinners we are trying to reach, the more open they become to the danger of compromise. Leaders and churches can become ‘sinner driven’.”
This I can believe, because I’ve seen it far too often, with the best of intentions. Mr. Heard explains further:
“We are very aware of how secular businesses can become consumer driven — they exist to get people to buy their product and will bend and shift almost anything to increase sales. But a church that is sinner driven can adopt an almost identical set of values — we will shift and change whatever we need to make church more attractive to the community of people we are trying to draw in.”
“Satisfactory Underperformance”

Okay, fine, we’ve heard this sermon, and even preached it a few times. But there’s more to it than simply “churches do not exist for the community around them”, or “let’s hunker down in the trenches and wait for the return of the Lord”. Mr. Heard coins the memorable term “satisfactory underperformance” to describe the state of becoming content with a lack of growth:
“As dangerous as a passion for growth is, and as necessary as the warnings are concerning that passion for growth, if we are to be faithful to Jesus, true to the spirit of the apostles, and read the New Testament rightly, then we need to have passion for growth!”
Mr. Heard doesn’t just say this, he goes back to scripture to assemble evidence of it, and the evidence is compelling.

The Bottom Line

So how do we reconcile a passion for growth and a simultaneous passion for faithfulness? I guess you’ll have to read it all to find out. Yes, it’s long, and worth every minute you spend considering it.

Andrew Heard posts at Matthias Media, an evangelical ministry with things to sell. As with all such collaborative efforts, the site is a mixed bag depending on the day and writer. It should go without saying (but doesn’t, so I’ll say it) that as with every site I mention here, enthusiasm about a particular post or writer is not a blanket endorsement of everything they believe or an endorsement of the views of everyone with whom they associate. It is also my personal opinion and may or may not reflect that of others who post at ComingUntrue.


  1. Comment 1:
    I guess this blog site is dedicated to a lot of housekeeping for either a particular Canadian brand of evangelicalism or the more general evangelical/protestant church (or both). Whichever it may be, it is of course important to face reality, and I am not only talking about reality for this particular setting but for all of Christianity. The reality is a bit unsettling to a natural scientist or engineer in the following sense. If you design or invent an airplane, e.g., you will eventually be forced to come up with an optimal design tailored around the purpose and function of this device. In other words, there is an optimal way of building it depending on its purpose and anything else would result in an inefficient and uneconomical device that no one would want to buy or use (excluding the fact that unnecessary frills can always be added to anything without necessarily impacting its performance). This is like a natural law without which the species will eventually die out or at least severely decay until this process is adopted. In the sciences this is called a process or method for optimization. As an analogy, in a 3D view of optimization (in reality life is much higher dimensionally) you could envision it as a landscape of rolling hills and valleys where the top of the hills represent a partially optimized (better) set of parameters and the tallest hill (within your visual range, or your selected parameter boundaries) the most optimized process. "Most optimized" of course refers to your initial intention for reaching certain types of goals.

    To the unbiased observer of the landscape it is pretty clear which is the optimal, highest, hill and in the sciences the machine or computer algorithm, given enough time, will inexorably land you on the highest hill having tested for the optimal route through the various hills and valleys. But this does not seem to be the case in the social sciences or for religion. An optimization landscape for those disciplines will show all the hills (and valleys) populated with various groups of people and they are all shouting to each other - come over here, this is the best place to be. So, who is right and where should everyone be?

  2. Comment 1 contd.
    My take on this is that I agree to some extent with Einstein (and others) that God does sit back somewhat from his creation and lets it run a bit like a clock. He does have the overview and provided for the highest hill. He undoubtedly also knew/knows that as humans we are only capable to look this far and that the highest hill can therefore not be made to be elusive but must be visible and within range to everyone (I did mention that this was a much higher dimensional problem then just 3D).

    There is a consequence to this theory. This metaphor implies the following. God knows that there are mostly handicapped creatures in these various hills and valleys, some with a wooden leg, some with bad spiritual arthritis, some wheelchair bound and so on. He knows also that he has made it clear what the travel guide is, what equipment is needed, etc. in order to get to that hill. Not only that, but he also knows that he has made it obligatory and informed everyone that they must get to that hill. However, seeing the handicaps, it is my guess that he is less interested in whether you made it to the hill but rather he is really interested in whether you are attempting to do so and have started on the journey. After all, he sent Christ to walk by your side and level the hills and valleys for you if needed.

    Now, here is the problem that motivates my observation. Given the above scenario, what prevents people from starting to travel? Obviously, when interested in our travel, which is not static but is a dynamic activity (a static one is if you only sit in front of the boob tube all day), God is really interested in our character, in who we are and in what will and will not motivate us to travel. Thus, the landscape, journey, path, it seems, is much less important to God than who it is that is or is not traveling and the reasons behind that. Contrary to a scientist of this world, he is obviously less bound by the min/max algorithm and more by an entirely different set of parameters that only he is really capable of evaluating and that he is attempting to help us optimize without us necessarily being fully aware of his methods. Clearly, he is more interested in how we respond to his prodding in our lifes then in where our own wanderings have placed or misplaced us. Clearly, what we must do is pack our bags and start to travel to that high hill, discerning God's voice above the tumult of the voices and the crowd. Doing that we should at least get closer in our lifetime, but it still must be with the aim of reaching that tallest hill. And that's where the problem lies, the misplaced aim for the wrong hill due to who we choose to be and become. Instead of aiming for the hill, many are aiming for a morass, a swamp, a barren piece of land, or a deceptive plot of jungle in a deep valley.

    1. "I guess this blog site is dedicated to a lot of housekeeping for either a particular Canadian brand of evangelicalism or the more general evangelical/protestant church (or both)."

      I love this! The "housekeeper" designation kind of appeals to me, though I'm not sure I'd rise to that level all the time. I would say my experience might be largely within a particular brand of evangelicism, but my interests are considerably more general these days. I think IC would probably say much the same, though he's got a little broader experience than I do of fellowshipping with a variety of Christians.

      IC and I spent 10 days on the road this summer (with a number of others), enjoying gathering with Christians we might not otherwise encounter. We deliberately stayed out of our comfort zones, so your assessment is not far off, Qman.