Thursday, August 21, 2008

#32 Formulas

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[image via The Resurgence]

Christian culture likes to dissect prominent Christians' lives and figure out how they do stuff. They study what their daily life looks like, how they balance family and ministry, how many books they've published, and how large their churches that they founded are. Then they make study groups based on this or preach a sermon series on it. It makes us feel good to get it down in black and white so we can have steps mapped out.

Faith is uncomfortable and illogical but when you distract yourself with details then you don't need it. Faith requires sitting in the discomfort, feeling tension and wrestling with God and unfortunately it requires doubt, which is scary because then you question your own worth, your worldview and God's very existence. This is not fun.

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Human nature rejects gray areas and we would way rather have a goal to work towards so we can feel accomplished about something. A sermon series on a "successful" Christian or a Christian labled "arguably the greatest" at anything (preaching, church planting, parenting, serving, leadership) is pleasantly distracting and even inspiring but if Jesus didn't need to die in order for that sermon to be preached, then it's not a Christian sermon.

Formulas are at the core of Christian culture: distract yourself from the unsavory realities of faith and relationship and focus instead on projects and being "certain" instead of "struggling with God." It really is a lot easier this way, but the price is that you can't be a whole person.

7 comments:

Bitebark said...

"Formulas are at the core of Christian culture . . ."

My mother, who is sweating her way through the last of her ordination exams, will be ecstatic to hear this.

Robert Redford said...

So true. Very insightful post.

jimmy jimmy said...

i don't think it's human nature to reject gray area. i think it's cultural conditioning.

and ps, Wow! Robert Redford reads your blog!

Cafe Mocha Momma said...

I've been perusing your blog posts this morning, and I must say that this particular one has a great deal of truth to it. In my experience, formulas, methods and other step-by-step how-to's abound in Christian and non-Christian circles alike. It is so much easier to check off a list of tasks as each one is completed than to engage in the real work of pursuing a personal relationship with Christ. Without that struggle of faith and fortitude, it becomes very difficult or impossible to experience true freedom in Christ.

pete santucci said...

I think your post misses the point of what you’ve observed. I don’t think Freddy Buechner has been helpful in saying that doubt is essential to faith. Doubt is not as aspect of faith; not-seeing is. The writer of Hebrews 11 would say that faith is evidence of things hoped for and assurance of things not seen. He would argue that our paradigm for faith isn’t so much Jacob wrestling the angel as his grandfather and grandmother setting out on a journey that took them to unexpected places as they followed their unseen God.And Jesus in John’s gospel would say that it’s not Thomas who doubts until he sees who is our paradigm, but those who follow who don’t see and yet don’t doubt.

The problem with Christian culture is that we’ve bought into American self-help culture. We want formulas because we want to take over our God-given lives. Buechner is helpful here when he says that “Principles are what people have instead of God.” We’d much rather have a list of things to do instead of resorting on trust in God (“trust” being a much better word than “faith”). I mean, who wants to wait for God to do something when I can get busy and get it done now myself? The biggest problem with all these self-help spiritualities is that they seem to work. But to have some modicum of “success” in your life and lose God along the way … it’s like gaining the whole world and losing your soul: a pretty lame exchange.

Dani said...

I'll never forget one time in college when I was going through a really doubtful phase in my 'Christian walk' (only to realize later, that's just life!) and my roommate at the time said to me:

"You should just add 10 more minutes to your quiet time. It will really help you out with those thoughts."

Please do a post on quiet times, devotionals, or 'devos' as they were so affectionately known as at my Christian high school and at campus crusade in college.

Uncle Groucho said...

"but if Jesus didn't need to die in order for that sermon to be preached, then it's not a Christian sermon."

Boom.

Which is atheist for "amen".