The editors of Leadership journal have posted another incisive commentary on the state of the Church today in their Out of Ur weblog. It’s about how we (in the Western church) have turned the gospel into a pimping enterprise. There’s nothing really new here, it’s the same complaint Bonhoeffer had about “cheap grace.” But the language is, well, provocative. From church planter Jonathan Yarboro:
I was standing before 200 people at church when I said it: “Salvation is not a walk down the aisle, a prayer, and wham bam, thank you ma’am, you’re done.” Jaws dropped; some faces turned white; some turned red. I was clueless, so I just kept teaching. It turns out that the phrase, “wham bam, thank you ma’am,” meant something different to me than it did to the rest of the world. Afterward some of my listeners enlightened me. I was embarrassed. I didn’t intend to equate one’s conversion experience to some sort of sexual encounter in the red light district.
Over the last few years, I have pondered the statement, and despite the fact that I originally meant nothing so profound, I believe the statement to be true—we are tempted to turn conversion into something of an act of prostitution. We are the consumers, and we might as well say it—we’ve turned Jesus’ invitation into a seductive, greasy, trick-turning lifestyle. Doesn’t that make your blood boil?
I am reminded of the article I recently posted about Carlton D. Pearson (“The Charismatic Bishop of Heresy”), a prime example of the logical out-working of this kind of productized theology. Or consider Joel Osteen’s fangless self-help theology. Or consider Dr. Schuller’s Crystalline Cathedral Christianity.
When Jesus is reduced to a feel-good agent of positive self-improvement, when he is no longer the Son of God who died for our sins, when his sacrifice and resurrection are cheapened by gospels that serve him up as just another means of getting to Heaven, we are pimping out Jesus. I couldn’t agree more.
And, I believe, this lies at the heart of flagging church growth in denominations everywhere but in the Global South. In America there is often little cost to following Christ. We don’t really put to death the sins that beset us. We accommodate the spiritual dissonance of our pet sins right alongside out pet theologies. And we do not embrace the spiritual transformation and mental renewal promised by Romans 12:1-2. We are not being transformed by the renewing of our minds.
But what is the solution? Where do we lay the blame? How do we shift the paradigm? Do we hold more Sunday School classes? Insist on Sunday night services? Require our pastors and preachers to graduate only from conservative Evangelical seminaries? Do we fire them all and start over?
I am confident that many (most?) of you who read this blog and read the Out of Ur piece will agree with the thrust of the criticism leveled. But, if the truth of the statements are so easily recognized, where is the heart of this problem?
Too often we are like the cargo-cults, who, in an effort to return to the days of plentiful goods literally falling from the sky during World War II, vainly erect bamboo air-towers and dirt airstrips in hopes that someday the cargo bearing planes of old will return and their culture will enjoy material abundance once more. Are we going through the motions, waving our hands, building our sanctuaries, resting on the promises of our grandfathers and grandmothers, without ever having experienced true spiritual blessing ourselves?
Or am I just romanticizing the past? After all, if it was Bonhoeffer’s complaint in his day, and if it was Jesus’ complaint to the church of Laodicea, then this is nothing new to the Church.
But how do we put away this business of pimping and get about the work of transformation?
[tags]cargo-cult, cheap-grace, heaven, hell, witnessing, Joel-Osteen, Bonhoeffer, grace, evangelism, BlogRodent, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic, salvation, missions, laodicea, gospel, pimp, global-south, discipleship, spiritual-transformation, church-growth[/tags]