I have noticed a trend among popular evangelicalism lately. There is an increasingly lay movement in the critique of the church. In the US, bloggers/writers like Rachel Held Evans (Biblical Womanhood), Jon Acuff (Stuff Christians Like) or i-Monk have been launching critiques at the church. Many of the critiques are accurate. In Hong Kong where I served close to three years, bloggers like Chan Do, Black Sheep, and Hung Kwok Him have also been making a splash. Then, you have my friend Dr. Snow’s book that critiques the church being on the HK bestseller’s list (thanks, Snow, you knocked me right off the top-ten chart). Although Rev. Hung is a pastor, there are not many like him who blogs critically about the church. In Canada, Howtindog, the controversial artist who likes to critique Hong Kong politics and church, has caused such a sensation that even some mega-church pastors feel threatened. I heard rumors, in fact, that certain mega-church has assigned people to monitor and even respond to Howtindog … a Youtube artist!
Here’s the problem. With the few exceptions like Rev. Hung (and my young friend Kelvin Lee), fellow ministers are either silent or worse in their blogs. The very same goes for the pulpit. Some have focused on why we need to be MORE Reformed (whatever the scale is supposed to look like) or why all sorts of sex-related issues are bad (I know this sounds absurd, but this topic actually received full attention in certain circles) or why we should all obey a conservatively oppressive government. Others act like the residents of Laish in Judges 18.7 who “live in safety, unsuspecting and secure. And since they lack nothing, they were prosperous. They had lived far away … and had no relationship with anyone else.” Their preaching, Facebook updates, and blogs are full of pseudo-spiritual junk food that causes food coma (i.e. the bad feeling you get after eating too much bad food and want to sleep) for listeners and readers. Everyday, to these people, is just full of the “joy of the Lord”, “just a closer walk with Thee”, and “be the best you can be.” These amounts to the Christian version of rainbow and unicorns along with hearing “small still voices” while wearing a tin hat with a wind turbine on top. Many not only see oasis in a mirage but also lead others towards that illusion. Such jingoism, ironically, does not appear in any of the aforementioned influential bloggers’ content, other than in sarcastic form.
On many social issues and even church issues, many intelligent lay people are miles ahead of what I hear and see on the average blog and pulpit of many of the prominent ministers. This is the puzzling part. Many of us have read more theological books and biblical studies journals and written more papers (and even books) than the above lay people. What many ministers write however has no bite and clarity at all. We may not agree with everything the above people write, but they do cut to the chase and point out some important problems. They don’t beat around the bush with five thousand shades of gray and ten thousand shades of muddle but get right to the center of the problem. Why is that?
I suggest the main cause are four. First, many ministers simply don’t dare to deal with these issues from a biblical perspective (I don’t mean the biblical proof texts method I decry in my book but from a broad biblical narrative via Christian scriptural reasoning). Saying the “wrong thing” can often gets one sacked. Second, some have taken a pragmatic route of as long as the pot is not stirred, the gospel will flourish. This mistaken notion would have allowed people to continue to worship Baal in Elijah’s time, to force gentile circumcision in Paul’s time, and to pay indulgences in Luther’s time and so on. Third, some are just not in touch with real problems because no one in their theological education has ever reflected over and addressed these problems in their biblical studies and homiletics classes. After graduation, many should read a few more books besides the ones on how to grow a church or the latest Christian fad. Fourth, many have not studied other disciplines enough (and worse, don’t feel that we need to) understand how our world actually functions. As a result, even the most common sensical logic is lost when it comes to running a church or creating a church culture. Thus, quite often, the church is stranger than fiction.
The challenge to myself and to all fellow ministers is to look for solutions in our own charge. I don’t think we can stay in our little Laish any longer. The shepherd is supposed to lead, but at the moment, it appears that, in some quarters, the sheep are leading and doing a good job. That is not the norm.