Austin Fischer’s Response to Critics of His Post about “Passion”

Austin Fischer’s Response to Critics of His Post about “Passion” January 12, 2013

Reflections on Reflections to Reflections on Passion

Here are some reflections on the reflections people had to my reflections on Passion.

Handling Sacred Cows

Voicing critique while also voicing appreciation and approval is tough. It’s tough on the part of the communicator, but just as tough on the part of the hearer. When we listen to something, our first impulse is to categorize it as positive or negative…not a lot of patience for something with a bit of tension. This is ever more the case when the thing being handled is a sacred cow, which Passion—understandably—is. If you’re going to handle a sacred cow, better be ready for the horns. But if you’re willing to be patient, please hear that…

A.) I like Passion. In a delicious twist of irony, just yesterday a student asked me to help him understand how to make the Holy Spirit an actual reality in his life. I asked him where this impulse came from. His answer: I went to Passion and felt compelled to take my faith more seriously. Hooray, Passion! I hope he goes back next year…honestly. And predictably, I received lots of emails and messages from people, sharing stories about how much Passion has meant to them (so if Louie wants some Passion testimonies for next year, tell him I’ve got the goods!!!). That’s great and I believe it and love it, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t also say…

B.) I think Passion could use its platform a bit more responsibly. They can’t squash all the hype and it’s not the worst thing in the world anyways and God will still be on the throne either way, yada, yada. But maybe they (and we) can stop throwing gasoline on the hype, hyping the hype. Maybe they can redirect some of the hype towards faithfulness to a local church. I, for one, find this quite feasible. And I really think that the Passion folks are good folks and probably have this on their radar. Is it a bad thing for us to have it on our radar? Are we—especially pastors—not equally responsible for letting the Passion powers-that-be know we want this to be on their radar? I think we are.

Laissez Faire

So there were three primary responses to the post.

1.) Agree that Passion does some of this and we should address it.

-Obviously I agree.

2.) Completely disagree, how dare you, sour grapes, raining on parades, cynical, etc.

-Not a lot I can do with this one except to say, if it’s really as sacred as you think, then a little criticism will do it some good. It’ll give you a chance to look under the hood, kick the tires, and feel even better about taking a ride in it. Kind of like biblical criticism: if you got nothing to hide, don’t be afraid to poke and prod a little bit.

3.) Kind of agree, kind of disagree, but it’s not worth talking about.

-This response—laissez faire—surprised me with its frequency: there’s probably some truth here but it doesn’t really matter, we should just let it ride, it’s a necessary evil, get over it. Reading between the lines a bit, I hear, “Look, we agree consumerism isn’t good, but it does a lot of helpful dirty work in attracting people, so just leave the skeleton in the closet. Besides, talking to Americans about consumerism is like trying to talk to a fish about water…it’s not worth the hassle. Jesus will sort it out.” Truth be told, this is the way I have usually thought about consumerism. Maybe it’s lazy, maybe it’s fatalistic, maybe it’s realistic, but I’m no longer sure it’s responsible. I don’t know what a responsible answer is and think it will vary in each instance, but whatever the case may be, l don’t think laissez faire will cut it.

I’ll let Tim Keller help me out a bit here. I was listening to an interview with him in which he was asked about adapting the gospel and making it relevant at his church, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. I’ll paraphrase him:

Do you have to adapt the gospel? Yea, you have to adapt. We adapt our communication of the gospel to the context, but there’s other ways in which I don’t want our church to look like the world. We tried not to be too hip, too political, too anything. It’s needs to feel alien and familiar. If it becomes too familiar, we lose the ability to convert people.[1]

What stuck with me was Keller’s line about losing the ability to convert people. He didn’t elaborate so I’m left to fill in the gaps a bit and assume he meant something like this. The trappings of consumerism and its cognates are, in some sense, a gospel issue. They’re not peripheral, not superfluous. They disfigure our humanity and are something the gospel intends to convert us from.

If this is so—and I think it is—then a “gospel” laced with consumerism simply lacks the ability to convert us thoroughly enough. We don’t need to be converted from people who don’t know consumerism is bad and are addicted to it to people who do know consumerism is bad but are still addicted to it. We need to no longer be addicted to it, and thus need the Christian community to be a place where this conviction is made incarnate. Switching around the mental furniture won’t do if we’re not willing to switch around the actual furniture.

Why Pick on Passion?

As plenty of people have pointed out, if we really want to have this conversation, Passion certainly isn’t the only guilty party. All of our hands will be a little dirty. So why pick on Passion? Well first off, because Passion can take it. It’s not going anywhere and Louie won’t read this and then retreat to a dark room to suck his thumb and assume the fetal position.

Second, I mentioned Passion because Passion is so influential—and if you don’t think Passion is that influential, my hunch is you don’t work with college students. If we can have the consumerism/hyper-spirituality conversation about Passion, I think we’ll begin having it about some other things. Where does the conversation stop? I don’t know, but that’s a poor reason not to start. Passion seemed like an obvious choice to me. Consider it a compliment!

Stay Out of My Dome

A friend of mine who is also a smart dude and great pastor[2], made the comment that most of us take a yearly pilgrimage to a dome/temple, even if they look different—maybe it’s a camp, a log cabin in the woods, Passion. And of course I’d agree and this raises two questions. Are all “domes” created equal? …and …Who are we to criticize another’s “dome”? These are tough questions because they deal with the ways in which we process, experience and practice faith, and as such they quickly step into deeply personal and intimate territory.

Because of this, we should tread softly when entering—much less critiquing—another’s “dome”. And yet, it is precisely because they are so personal, intimate, and spiritually formative that I think it is healthy to ask ourselves if a bit of renovation is not occasionally in order. To tweak what I said in the end of the previous post, I think true gospel conversion only happens through ruthless self-evaluation and continual repentance. We’re all a work in progress; at least I hope we are.




[1] Interview is on the King’s College Website. This selection comes from the last 7 minutes.

[2] I’m looking at you, Josh C.

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