Last February, Maria McKay wrote an article for Christianity Today about Brian McLaren was speaking at the Faithworks Conference in London. In it, she summed up Mclaren’s message with this statement: “The Kingdom of God is not about me but about transforming the world and everything in it“. This is not the first time I’ve heard that sentiment, but Ms Mackay said better than most. McLaren went on to say that we put ourselves and getting to heaven at the center of our faith. And, unfortunately, we don’t consider what significance our faith has on the world around us. To that end, he said “We are not passive players conforming to the world but with transformed and renewed minds, we are agents of transformation”. This really seemed to raise the hackles of some folks. Well, that’s not entirely fair. Here’s the statement that got them torqued, “The Kingdom of God is about God’s Kingdom being done on Earth. It’s not a plan of upward mobility and how we get to Heaven but about how God’s Kingdom comes down to Earth … it’s a downward movement.” Now, Brian McLaren says some things I’m not entirely on board with (that’s true of almost any author I read), but this one isn’t one of them; this time, I agree with him 100%. The sooner we realize that end result of following Jesus is bringing the Kingdom here to earth and not getting to sit on a cloud with wings and a halo, playing a harp, the sooner we can start actually making it happen.
I suppose the standard vision of heaven works for some, but I find it a bit boring. Perfect joy, perfect peace and the rest? Where’s the fun in that? Besides, isn’t that idea a bit selfish? I mean, God gives us a magnificent gift and we take just so we don’t burn? God, being God, doesn’t really care why we accept it; he’s just happy to take care of his children. I know it’s grace and completely unearned and all that, but shouldn’t we at least attempt to do something worthwhile with it? Getting back to Ms Mackay’s article on the Faithworks conference, “Christians, he (McLaren) said, have become “consumers of religious goods and services” who view the church as something that exists to fulfill their needs and house their soul until they went to Heaven.” I wonder how many of us are comfortable with this view of our faith? And, what does that discomfort say about us? Are we willing to do something about it? I was teaching the youth Sunday School class one week and the subject was the negative stereotypes most people have about Christians. I started naming some and the kids had heard most of those and even added a few of their own. Then, we talked about ways to change those impressions and they had some great ideas. Finally, I asked how many planned on trying to do this in the next week. Not a peep, not a hand raised, nothing. After I pressed a bit, they said they probably wouldn’t try. When I asked why, they said it was easier to continue the way they had been. They weren’t willing or able to step outside they’re comfort zone and try something different. Typical teenage behavior. But, how many adults feel different?
“Our theology is perfectly designed to produce the results we are now getting. If you want a change in results you need a change in theology,” This statement of McLaren’s mirrors a famous Einstein quote “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So, what are we doing over and over and yet expecting different results?
At a time when Protestant Christianity is shrinking, we continue to preach the same old message in the same old way. And, we get the same old result. A few young families, with a smattering of older folks making their way back to church. There remains a huge group who are desperately seeking something spiritual, some deeper meaning to life than making money, getting stuff and, when it comes to church, going to heaven. More of the same isn’t going to cut it for these people. New ideas, new ways of looking at things, new ways of worship will. If Protestant Christianity isn’t to end up as a historical footnote, we’ve got to find the lever that moves these folks. Because they’re where any real growth is going to come from. Those folks we’re getting now? We’d get them anyway. Pastors are always calling on us as individuals to step outside of our comfort zone and make a difference. Maybe it’s time the Church practices what it preaches.