Archive for December 23rd, 2009

So it’s 6:09 AM, Wednesday. I haven’t slept at all, and I won’t be anytime soon. I have to work in three hours so there is no point in even trying. So here I am: awake and blogging.

I have recently blogged about Shane Claiborne’s book Jesus for President and some of that blogging caused heated exchanges and much good, very good, and worthless conversation. I’m intrigued by Claiborne–not least because of the really cool glasses he is often pictured wearing–but also because he irritates me, sort of like that sand that gets stuck in swim trunks after a day at the beach. There are few people who irritate me in such a way and yet, like the beach, I still go back. Not too often, but enough.

He recently wrote an article for Esquire. Well, it was a month ago. I don’t know if you read it or not but he (or the editor) titled it, What If Jesus Meant all that Stuff?. The article is written in the form of a letter to his ‘non-believing, sort of believing, and used to be believing friends.’ I like that. Those are the people he should write to. Here’s how he began:

I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

I admire Claiborne. He is in the trenches of the place he lives, with the hurting and weak. He, obviously, has great compassion for the people of the world–the down and out, the weak, the poor, the hopeless, and helpless. It is nothing short of the ministry of Christ and I’m glad that he does it. I’m not criticizing that at any level.

Nor am I particularly concerned with his theology either. He has some important things to say and I think he gets a lot of it right–in the sense that I also get a lot of it ‘right’. He’s a fan of grace, as am I:

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.

This is not a post about universalism. I don’t particularly care one way or another whether any of us believe all will or will not be ’saved.’ You won’t change my mind, and I’m not asking you to change yours. Nor is this a post about the merits of hell either. I don’t particularly care if you believe hell is a place we go or if it is right next door to your house.

What I am concerned about is this idea that Claiborne feels the need to apologize for me, for you, for other Christians as if he has been appointed to such a place. God himself doesn’t feel particularly compelled to step down out of heaven with his megaphone and apologize for us so why should Claiborne do so? Part of the idea of Claiborne’s article is that God did not come to condemn the world but to save it and then, as if speaking out both sides of his mouth at the same time, he condemns the very ones God has already deliberately saved–Christians. Why? Because he disagrees with the way some Christians convey the message and the use of some of the words that Christians use in doing so. (Condemn might be a harsh choice of words here, but hopefully, even if it is hyperbolic, you get what I am saying and won’t get stuck in that moment.)

There is a terrible incongruity in that, don’t you think? If God hasn’t condemned us (and Paul seems rather convinced in Romans 8 that he hasn’t; and won’t; and that no one can) then who is Shane Claiborne to do so? What right does Shane Claiborne have to apologize for me and my actions and my failures and my triumphs? What right does he have to condemn his brothers and sisters–simply because they do things differently than he does–while at the same time acting as if he himself is the father of all humility who alone has tread the path of righteousness? (Because that’s how he comes off at times with his apologies on behalf of me and you as if he somehow stands apart from all that is ugly about the church.)

You know how he sounds don’t you? We pejoratively refer to those who cast stones and heap scorn upon the church as ODM’s. There is an instinctive discomfort experienced by those who hear such things from other christians. Why do we shoot our own? No one has ever said, as Claiborne falsely dichotomizes, that Christianity spreads better ‘by force’, but who is to say his way (’fascination’) is any better? (Although Matthew 11:11-13 might suggest differently.) Who can say if God uses a preacher and a megaphone and a coffin or if God uses a man who grows vegetables in old toilets or if God uses humbled world leaders to accomplish his purposes? And who are we to criticize when he does? And who are we to apologize? I may not find street preaching particularly appealing or effective way of sharing the Gospel, but Jesus did and used the method quite often himself.

And who is Shane Claiborne to apologize for me? God has already ‘apologized’ for me: it’s called the cross. And the way I see it, no other justification is needed. That’s grace.

Maybe God used Slice of Laodicea to minister to the needs of people. Maybe God used Nooma to minister to the needs of people. Maybe Ghandi was a bag of hot air and his opinion of Christians is meaningless because he is DEAD. Maybe Mark Driscoll is just as effective as John McArthur? Who’s to say? I have a hard time reconciling this statement:

So if God should choose to use us, then we should be grateful but not think too highly of ourselves. And if upon meeting someone we think God could never use, we should think again

with his statements at the beginning where the street preacher with the megaphone is somehow the bad guy. If God can, and does, use anyone or someone (as Claiborne writes) we think he could never use (such as ‘bullhorn guy’), maybe we should take Claiborn’s advice and, well, think again.

Maybe he should too.

Look, I get his point: many (all) Christians have done many stupid things. OK. We get it. And humility is good. Right on! I’m with you. But we don’t need a spokesman and the world does not need apologies. All the ‘I’m sorry Christians are such a lousy lot of buggers who killed witches in Salem and Muslims in Jerusalem and did a  bunch of other unsavory things in the name of Jesus in hopes of converting a few’ will not change the world one iota. Enough of those apologies have been uttered or muttered.

If, as Claiborne rightly asserts, God can and does use people like murderous and adulterous king David, whoring and lying Rahab, slithering and scandalous Solomon, adulterous Samson, and the whole lot of them (just look at the list of nasties in Hebrews 11) and saved their stories as the articles of our faith, and didn’t apologize for doing so, then I think it is right to ask whether or not Shane Claiborne or any other ODM has the right to criticize fellow believers or apologize on behalf of Christians in this world who routinely make a mess of things and give unbelievers a reason to unbelieve.

If God is for us–that’s us: stupid, simple, weak, sinful, fragile, faithless, unkempt, makes bad choices, don’t honor God’s name properly, us, we, the church–then who can be against us? Shane, my friend, my brother: That’s the whole freaking point of grace! When I foul up, I will say I’m sorry for myself, to the person I hurt, for the sin I commit. I don’t need help thank you very much.

Who needs to apologize for us when He has already done so at Calvary?

For another point of view, click here.

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