Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Old, Tired Ideas (warning: irritated rant ahead)

I don't know if I'm really going to start blogging again. If I do, I'll probably need a different site than this one. But today I got the urge:

I'm reading yet another of these “new” “evocative” “forward-thinking” books by church guys who've made a name for themselves by gathering a few thousand people around their charisma and now are taking it upon themselves to save the church in the western world with a one-shot, 200 page aphrodisiac, nicely broken down into bullet points and acronyms.

What I just can't get over – what I can't believe – what I can't understand how LCMS leaders don't see – is that these “new” books are so full of “old” ideas as to need a walker or a cane to get around. Check that: the guys who first spouted these ideas have been dead nearly a century.

The most recent waste of my time is “Breaking the Missional Code...” by Ed Stetzer and David Putman. Ed is a middle-aged mildly successful “church-planter” who now serves as a board member for his church body. David is a young middle-aged guy with hip glasses and thinks he has a finger in the emerging church movement.

Out of the door, these guys are fixing the world, giving us the answers that we need here and now in our breaking age of the “glocal” (yes..."glocal" = global & local) community. They point out that the American church is hemorrhaging at the seams, that culture is changing, that Christians are tired of “church as usual” (all the classic complaints of the Church Growth Movement which took this self-same failing Christendom by storm thirty years ago.)

But then there's the shocker: they admit that the Church Growth Movement has missed the mark. It hasn't worked. It's been shallow.

What? Really? Might they actually break out of their box and come up with a genuinely new idea, perhaps drawn from Scripture, perhaps less man-centered?

Nope. Apparently the current trend in the CGM is to admit you're ideas have failed and then turn around and say that the same ideas are the answer, only nuanced.

New term + old idea + breakthrough dustjacket = $.

Long before the token confession of "We, the CGM had a log in the our eye," the authors of this diddy have lauded such greats as Saddleback CC and Willow Creek as congregations who are truly breaking the missional code, as the real pioneers of what the Church must do now or die.

Huh? Wait a minute. Wasn't it Saddleback and Willow Creek who have led the charge into this catastrophic failure? Well, yes, they say. BUT! It wasn't that they were actually wrong. We just imitated them wrongly. We took their methods and ideas but we didn't really take their methods and ideas rightly. So here's what we really need to do now:

And then the catalog begins...every tired, old idea in the book of classical liberalism is dragged out once again to conclusively prove their point.

We can't start with Scripture, we need to start with the culture. Forget that this sucker goes back to the 1880's and the liberalism which led Mainstream churches to the cliff's edge of existence they're now at. Forget that such greats as John Tietjen, former (Seminex) President of Concordia Seminary St. Louis was convinced that his historical criticism lined up hand in hand with this idea. Forget that the book comes right out and admits that “If there is no point of [human] connection [manufactured by us] the message is meaningless...” (which sounds an awful lot like “the Bible only contains God's Word, but is not actually God's [ahem] Word.”) Forget all that we have seen this disastrous message do to the Church over the centuries. I swear: It's a new idea! We need it now! Build bridges to the culture! .... No one's tried to do that in the CGM. Nope. Not once.

But wait wait! It gets better. You're not gonna believe this breakthrough: “We need to make the message relevant.”

What? Is that all we have to do? And all this time I've been trying to make the message irrelevant. Silly me. I'm so glad you wrote a BOOK and published it hot off the missional presses in 2006 to make sure I understood this. (Because nobody was doing this in 1973 [ahem]). <-----look over there<------ If only I'd known that God's Word doesn't actually work without my tinkering with it, I wouldn't have wasted all this time preaching what it says and would have spent more time...doing...what? How do I make it relevant? Pray tell. Boom! Again! Another breakthrough! These two guys must have a direct line to God. They knew a poor sap like me wouldn't know how to make the Bible relevant on my own, so they came up with something no one has ever thought of before: tell human interest stories about life and then show them how Jesus is relevant. Course, they do coin a new term - go figure - "Redemptive Analogies.” “There's something that serves as a cultural compass to point men and women toward Jesus, something that is in their own background, part of their own culture.

So I just need to figure out how and where God is imparting a special weakened form of revelation to non-Christians (maybe we could call them "waves" - wait a minute...did Rick Warren say that back in 1995? it doesn't matter - change now good!) ... [take 2] so I just need to figure out how the hidden God is manifesting his Kingdom in the world (in my context) apart from his Word and then dance on top of this "common language" experience with my redemptive analogies and "boom!" I might just complete the Great Commission in a few years.

After all, that's only what Jesus did.


Yup. "Redemptive anaologies are twenty-first-century parables.And as every one knows, Jesus told parables to relate to the common (idiot peasant) people who are too common (stupid, idiot sycophants) to understand something like “I'm going to die and rise again” without having it be in a story about a flower.

Shocking. A brand new idea, right? So clever and insightful - never saw it before in one of these spilt ink press books. Not once.

Again...this breakthrough is almost as old and tired as the 24 hour day. But seriously, do they really need another book that says this? The first time I heard Jesus' parables used as excuse for not preaching the Bible was when I was in college, (late 90's), finally back in Church, and my CGM pastor made the claim. It pissed me off. I wanted to know why Jesus had said what he said in the Gospel reading cause it scared me. He skipped it entirely. The next time I heard it was when a “dechurched” friend of mine said that he couldn't stand going to his CGM baptist church any more because “why the heck should I care about my pastor's great life? All he ever does is tell useless stories.” Good point, I thought.

This tired “relevant breakthrough” is at least as old as John Tietjen, and probably older. And each time I hear some pious save-the-lost(tickle-my-ambition) pastor say it, I get a little more angry, because to blame this sappy story time on Jesus is a flat out lie. Read what Jesus has to say about his parables: he told them in order to confuse the unrepentant and leave them trapped in their sins (Matt. 13:10 ff is just one time he said it.) He didn't tell pretty stories to help the dumb plebians learn who he was. And neither did Samuel or Isaiah tell their analogies because they were being culturally relevant. Parables are judgment talk. You wanna judge people for God? Put them under the Law? Leave them confused and as lost as you found them? Then tell your funny stories.

But please please please please please....

Will you stop writing books in which you act like this is your very own brand spanking new idea? Go ahead with your CGM game - I can't stop you. Just stop telling everybody how clever and new it is. Stop acting like anyone who disagrees with you does so because they're not as forward thinking and smart as you are. You're movement and ideas are at least as old and tired as classical 1880's liberalism mixed with the strange bedfellow of 1700's revivalism. Your assumptions, assertions and theology are your practice and it's not just a new style. It's an old tail trying to wag an older dog while claiming to be a new trick.

Here's my advice. Really. Go back and start reading the classical liberals. Without question, I think you'll love 'em. It'll give you all sorts of ammo for saying, "See, this smart guy way back thought it, so it must be right." You'd probably even learn a lot and find some real "new" old insights that got lost in the past.

But for heaven's sake, be honest about it. Admit that you're a liberal and dance away. The Emergent dudes are light years ahead of you here. They're not making any qualms about their love of Hegel and his good ol' boys. They're authentic about it. You're just selling books to try to convince yourself that you haven't wasted the last 30 years, millions of dollars and lost an entire generation for Jesus.

Seriously...I mean....seriously....there is nothing new under the sun.


Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis! I enjoyed reading it.

Matt Gunia

RevFisk said...

Thanks Matt. I appreciate the feedback. :D A little more of it in this week's, "In the Name of Jesus."

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