Just Tell Me What to Think

April 30th, 2011

A lot of people are trying to “detox” from evangelicalism.

That means that people are taking a second look at our previous “assumptions” about the Bible.  People are not so sure the Bible says what we thought.  People are trying to create a gentler Christianity, one that’s not so fundamentalistic.  People are trying to build bridges, break stereotypes, and avoid (or remain vague about) topics like sin and hell.  We’re trying to stop making people mad at us for being Christians.

We hope all this makes us more attractive to “seekers” and outsiders.  We’d like people to think that it’s easy to become a Christian.  We don’t have to agree on much, just one or two really important things.  The rest, well, who can really know what the Bible says?  It’s all up to interpretation.  Sounds good to me.

But while a lot of young evangelical Christians are comfortable staying in this cloudy, Brian McLaren / Rob Bell kind of Christianity, branded as a perpetual “conversation,” who is actually winning the hearts of this generation? 

Black Tie Army

Protestant Christianity is on the decline in America.  The only growing denomination is the Pentecostals.  Outside of Protestantism, who’s winning converts left and right?

People like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

You might not believe that.  Everyone knows Mormons and JWs showing up at your door are the butt of jokes.  But they are growing, quickly.

And what do they not have in common with Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, their disciples?

A hundred different people can have different opinions about what Rob Bell might believe.  But there’s no question about what a Mormon believes.  Two Mormon denominations is nothing compared to the confustion of postmodern Protestantism.

There is no room for vagueness disguised as “nuance” or “conversation” as a Mormon or JW.  They are proud of what they believe.  They don’t feel bad about what they believe just because you think they’re goofy.  The Mormons believe Jesus will definitely return to Jackson County, Missouri.  They have a huge temple built a few miles from my home for just such an occasion.  If you don’t believe Jesus will return to Jackson County, or that women should wear ankle-length skirts, or that Joseph Smith recieved the Book of Mormon by looking into a hat, you are not a Mormon, end of story. 

No Rules?  No Thanks.

By the logic of the Mormons and JWs, a lot of us have it all wrong.  We’re trying desperately to not be “fundamentalists.”  We’re being “seeker friendly,” trying to lower the bar on what it takes to be a Christian.  And we’re getting our lunch handed to us by people wearing little black ties.

It’s pretty easy to be a Protestant Christian.  You can come to church, or not.  You can tithe your money, but no one really expects you to.  It’s up to you to decide if anything under the sun is a sin or not.  We love to tell people that there are “no rules, just Jesus.”  There really are few rules, except for when you sit or stand in church. 

But it’s not easy to be a Mormon or a JW.  If you want to be one of them, you will spend two years as a missionary.  You will tithe your money.  You will submit to the church’s authority.  And if you don’t, you will be kicked out.  And rather than people “freeing” their minds of legalism and leaving, they are coming in droves.

Friendly, But Not “Seeker” Friendly

The grand irony is that while we’re trying to make church as accessible as possible, to be seeker friendly, maybe our efforts are making our churches less seeker friendly.

Maybe people who want to join the church don’t want the endless conversation, debate, interpretation, and shades of gray that you and I love.  They just want to know what we believe.  A person who has no church experience probably can’t handle (and doesn’t want to handle) a bunch of choices.  They want to know, black or white, what should they do, what is right and wrong, what does God think.

Maybe that sounds wrong to you.  Christianity isn’t about “rules,” it’s about a “relationship,” right?  But every relationship has boundaries.  People want to know what the boundaries are.  They don’t want to be confused.  They want to know what you believe about about homosexuality, about hell, about sex, about war, about abortion, about money.  You’re going to piss off someone no matter what you believe.  So you might as well believe something, and at least act like you have a right to believe it. 

Just in case you’re trying to keep the “conversation” going to avoid “fundamentalism,” be careful.  The shades of gray, the vagueness, the “conversation” we love might become our legalism, our fundamentalism, the hill we die on because we’re certain our fundamentalist neighbors are wrong to be so sure about what the Bible says.  How can you be so sure of what we can’t be sure of?

What do you think?  Do we fight legalism with endless questions, or have we gone off the deep end, and just need to tell people how it is?  Do we actually need more rules to attract people?

Read more from Matt Appling on his blog, The Church of No People.

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