stay just like they've always been.
Do you remember the altar calls?
Back when I was getting ready to enter the adult world and leave college behind, I went to a little conferrence put on by Campus Crusade called "KC '83." Elizabeth Elliot, Howard Hendricks and probably Bill Bright (though I can't remember now) spoke. Scratch that. They commanded the 20,000+ students gathered there to be "the next generation" that would change the world because we had finally understood the real mission of the church. Go to the ends of the earth. Die for Jesus, if need be, just like Lizzie's hubbie Jim. (I must have memorized Shadow of the Almighty.)
I hooked up with the U.S. Center for World Mission (USCWM) in Pasadena after that. Those folks took missions seriously. They had maps of remote, least reached-peoples locations like the Maldives Islands glued to the walls of their church basement apartments with prayer reminders on post-it notes. I remember feeling like I had descended into the depths of the most important room on the planet when I first visited the leader of the Maldives team at the time.
The USCWM was a magnet for serious Christians. We read the Bible through the lens of the Abrahamic covenant of being a blessing to the ends of the earth. We would bring a contextualized message, not the usual missionary strategy (so we had heard) that brought hymns and jackets and ties along with individual style salvation to indigeous peoples. It would work because we were following the true Gospel principles.
It all made a lot of sense, the Bible sprang to life, the young adults signed up.
By the time I hit thirty, the whole thing felt hollow and I was hearing a new message about what the Bible really meant, how we were to understand the Gospel in light of this "better" interpretation. We were being called to not ignore the gifts, to trust God's Spirit to use miracles to reach the ends of the earth, to create houses of prayer in every city on the planet so God would be moved to send a mighty wind of the Spirit to sweep the lost into the kingdom for God's glory, not ours.
I dedicated the next ten years to pursuing that vision. It hurt to hear preachers tell this new crop of kids that they were the ones who'd really do it this time, who'd really bring God's glory because of their much "better understanding" of the Gospel.
But I went with it... until I couldn't any more and started grad school.
What is eating at me now is that I am listening to Rob Bell and his sermons about the marriage of the personal salvation message to the social gospel message as though we have "finally" got it right, we now have the right mix. Maybe this next generation of kids will "be the ones."
The rhetoric is toxic for me.
I am not able to be moved, broken, open, inspired, surprised or even enlightened by these kinds of sermons. They remind me too much of the old altar call, of the old Bible studies, of the thousands of sermons... like a rehash with a new twist.
I started asking myself what is moving me these days, what vision of the Gospel do I care about, what role do I see myself playing in the scheme of things (now that grandiose idealism is dead)?
I realized that I don't have the heart any more to be swept up into idealism, answers to complex theological issues, well-crafted systematized explanations of ancient texts. I am a living question mark. What moves me now is to be around people who ask really good questions.
Somehow in the mix of questions ought to be some recognition that Christianity just doesn't have the answers. It doesn't. It offers some lamps along the road, it gives us some principles and narratives that help us to reconsider our selfish ways, it even creates a collecting pool where lots of interested people intersect.
But it is no longer an answer to me. It is one big question... which keeps me interested, which causes me to wonder. When someone sews it up too neatly, I start to lose my interest and I feel myself shut down... remembering how genuinely I have given my heart, have listened to others, have believed and trusted the answers I was taught. I am weary of needing answers. Maybe that will change, but not today.
As long as Christianity can sustain the questions, it is of value to me. The day it answers them, I lose faith.