Friday, September 18, 2009

The Need to Feel Small Part 2

This is part 2 of a series of blogs called The Need to Feel Small. Read Part 1 first here.
When I was in my early teenage years I remember occasionally going to the local First Baptist Church youth group. The youth group was a standard youth group with a very common approach to evangelism. This meant that one was likely to hear the words “if you were to walk out of this room and get hit by a car and die tonight where would you go?” quite frequently. So, as with many of the other teenagers, I found myself praying the sinners’ prayer often just to cover the bases because one can never be too safe with one’s eternal destiny. But this was by no means the only kind of appeal to get the kids of the youth group to respond to God. Another evangelistic argument that was used just as frequently as more of a positive motivation went something like this, “God loves you so much that even if you were the only person on planet earth Jesus would have died for you.” This certainly put things into a bit more of a positive light than say, getting hit by a car when you walk out of the room tonight, but I can’t help but thinking as I continue my faith journey, just how small this kind of thinking is.

The problem with this kind of thinking is not God’s love or for us but that it is so focused on the individual with no greater context other than being forgiven and going to heaven when you die. While the argument was compelling in the moment it certainly didn’t seem to connect with my actual everyday life very effectively. So I was saved, but for what, some kind of disembodied state of bliss when I die? (Bliss, by the way, always seemed to be defined in these contexts as a never-ending church service in the sky which wasn’t all that appealing to me as a teenager and I can’t find it that appealing at this point in my life either.)

I needed to know God’s love for certain, but I needed to feel small as well, not in an insignificant way, but small in terms of being a part of a much greater story. When I responded to the evangelistic messages of the youth group as a teenager the story that was communicated to me, rather unintentionally I suspect, was that I was the story, that I was the point of it all. It’s no wonder that it failed to really affect my real life that much. Perhaps we need to realize that we as individuals are not the point but one of many points in a much larger story of which we are invited into by Jesus to be a part.

I can’t help but think of the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings. They were small both physically as well as in their place of prominence in the world. Yet Frodo and company found their purpose in a much larger story of overthrowing evil and bringing freedom and peace to middle earth. In the story of Lord of the Rings there was no lead character, it was an ensemble cast, a fellowship where everyone involved played a part in overthrowing darkness. It simply wouldn’t have worked if any of them had had too large of a view of themselves or of their particular place in the world. The fellowship worked precisely because they understood they were each a part of something much, much larger.

God loves me and God loves you but He is not simply after setting his kids up for a great retirement community in the here after. He is actually calling each of us to be a part of something much bigger, a fellowship in a much larger story than we have likely settled for. Perhaps we need to take a step back and see the story in it’s epic glory. Perhaps we need to feel small again.

For further reading on this subject I recommend checking out Christianity Beyond Belief by Todd Hunter


Pi Man said...

This is another topic worthy of much discussion, Bro. I know, coming from a background where I was a member of (not just attended) the Catholic, Baptist, and Methodist churches, not to mention those I attended for brief periods of time (Assembly of God, Church of Christ, other non-denoms… you get the picture), I questioned for years why the delivery and focus of their message, the implementation of their “calling” as best they understood it, was/is so different in their evangelism techniques? Back then I simply did not have the spiritual maturity and experience that I have now, and am of course continually growing in, by the grace of God. In the finally analysis, while I initially was sometimes angry at and frustrated by the tactics used (and am occasionally still working through an issue or two), I am at a point where God reminds me that I need to focus on and embrace with grace the “big” issues that we have in common. That is, the Trinity, God’s plan of salvation through the all sufficient, atoning death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, forgiveness, mercy, charity, etc. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 3: 1-23. While a main contextual application of this passage is to be cautious of how high we elevate church leaders, I would extrapolate Paul’s statement of “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” to this situation. Rather than me condemn the other main stream Christian denominations for what I now consider questionable tactics, I have to believe that they were fulfilling their mission the “best” way they knew how at that point in time, frankly, as even we do now. Certainly I, you, and others have been grieved or hurt by some of these practices. And may we continue to receive God’s healing accordingly, as well as have the privilege of being a conduit of God’s healing for those still in need of recovering from similar practices. But with that said, may we also have the grace to be careful not to condemn all their practices, and remember that God can still make these precious seedlings “grow” into healthy, whole creations that can experience a bit of heaven on earth now, as is one of our missions at The Vineyard. And may we not fall into the terrible trap of “we have it more right than you,” as that can be divisive and Pharasitical. May we rather focus on fulfilling our perceived missions with grace and mercy and in the strength and will of Almighty God’s perfect will. Amen.

Crispin Schroeder said...

Good points Tim. I have certainly come to appreciate many things from a variety of streams in Christianity. I wasn't trying to pick on the Baptists here. My point is that what I experienced in the Baptist youth group is indicative of a much bigger problem in evangelical Christianity. So I am not pointing the finger because I very much place myself in that same camp and have frequently appealed to the exact same approach. I just find that we have so individualized the response to God that we have made "me" big and the story small. The narrative that much of Christianity in America promotes, rather unintentionally, is that salvation is simply about God's love, blessings, and eternal destiny for you and me as individuals. And while those are certainly aspects of why Christ came and endured the cross and was resurrected, there is a much larger story into which those aspects fit. I will go on to more of those aspects in the next part of this series but I just wanted to make it clear that though I am not down on anybody who is engaged in evangelism, I just think that we can call people into something much bigger than we have typically settled for.

I like the way Todd Hunter puts it in the book I referenced at the end of the blog (Christianity Beyond Belief). In it he writes how the question should not be what if you died tonight but what if you lived tomorrow? The first question seems to make the point about simply going to heaven when you die while the second question puts the emphasis on living a life now in the kingdom and partnering with Jesus in his work in our world.

Some good thoughts to ponder.