I wrote an article for the July/August issue of a great youth workers journal called Immerse. Immerse is trying to foster rich theological conversation among those who work with students in the church. My friend Mike King is the managing editor. If you have a youth minister, or volunteer working with students at your church – you really should turn them on to this resource! I’m really grateful to Mike for allowing me to be a part of the rich conversation at Immerse.
In 2007 a Kitsap County, Washington man had been working on his old Lincoln Continental for weeks outside his home. Apparently he had been attempting to remove the right rear wheel from the car, but one of the lug nuts was stubbornly stuck in place. The 66-year-old man had tried everything he could think of to loosen that lug nut when, after reaching the pinnacle of frustration, he went inside, got his 12 gauge shot gun, loaded it with buck-shot, and shot the wheel. The Sherriff’s report says he fired the shotgun from about an arm’s length and was immediately peppered from his chest to his feet with shot and other sorts of debris. “Nobody else was there and he wasn’t intoxicated,” the Sherriff said.[i] (Note to self: if while explaining your actions someone else feels compelled to clarify that you have not, in fact, been drunk out of your tree – you have derailed.) “He’s bound and determined to get that lug nut off,” said the Sherriff. Really?
The man’s problem – apart from a startling lack of judgment – was that he was using the wrong tool for the job. Shotguns and automobile maintenance just don’t go together. I remember doing the dishes when I was a kid, struggling to get spaghetti sauce off our dinner plates. My mom noticed my frustration and showed me that if I’ll use the hottest water my hands can stand, the sauce will come right off. I was so amazed when it worked that I almost enjoyed doing dishes for a few days. Hot water, who knew?
We were all handed a set of tools – beliefs, doctrines, strategies, and especially stories which were meant to help us understand and convey the Christian faith to others. These tools were meant to make us effective and faithful witnesses for the gospel. They were supposed to work, and I suppose they did to some extent. Yet, sometimes I think perhaps they have worked because God works with whatever broken thing God can, not because they were terribly effective or faithful tools. We spend thousands of dollars on programs and events meant to save souls – but we never get around to changing the world. This is a problem. When faced with a particularly sticky lug nut, like the way the gospel seems to be ineffective sometimes, one might be tempted to reach for the shotgun (which I think we can all agree is a big mistake).
Many of us have come to believe American Evangelical Christianity as a whole has been using the wrong tool for the job when it comes to the way we understand and talk about the gospel. Over the past few centuries, our version of the story has become overly individualized; reduced to a way of managing the guilt of our personal sins. Our gospel was reduced to something like, “If you admit you are sinful, admit Jesus is God, believe he died for your sins, ask him into your heart, you will go to heaven when you die.” Yet, this gospel is not faithful to scripture, nor is it faithful to church history. Worst of all, it holds few if any moral or ethical implications, and makes no demands on our lives right now.
What if the gospel we tell has become ineffective because it has been co-opted by individualism? What if our gospel is more about individualized religion than authentic good news to the world? What if the gospel has become so dominated by individualism, that in a country full of individualists, it doesn’t call us to live any differently? Is this is why we spend thousands of dollars on programs and events to try and share the good news with people only to be frustrated and disappointed with the results? How can we recover the missing elements of the story? These are the questions I’m asking… Keep reading here.
[i] Associated Press, “Revenge of the Lug Nut.”