I finally found a moment to skim through my March issue of Christianity Today, and I came across a long and wonderful interview with Eugene Peterson, Spirituality for All the Wrong Reasons, Eugene Peterson talks about lies and illusions that destroy the church. A pastors’ pastor, Peterson is probably best known to Christian laymen as the author of The Message.
Oh, my goodness. I would love to quote and comment on every part of it. Please, do yourself a favor and read the entire article.
Here is just a snippet:
Repentance, dying to self, submission—these are not very attractive hooks to draw people into the faith.
I think the minute you put the issue that way you’re in trouble.
Because then we join the consumer world, and everything then becomes
product designed to give you something. We don’t need something more.
We don’t need something better. We’re after life. We’re learning how to
I think people are fed up with consumer approaches,
even though they’re addicted to them. But if we cast the evangel in
terms of benefits, we’re setting people up for disappointment. We’re
telling them lies.
This is not the way our Scriptures are written. This
is not the way Jesus came among us. It’s not the way Paul preached.
Where do we get all this stuff? We have a textbook. We have these
Scriptures and most of the time they’re saying, "You’re going the wrong
way. Turn around. The culture is poisoning."
Do we realize how almost exactly the Baal culture of
Canaan is reproduced in American church culture? Baal religion is about
what makes you feel good. Baal worship is a total immersion in what I
can get out of it. And of course, it was incredibly successful. The
Baal priests could gather crowds that outnumbered followers of Yahweh
20 to 1. There was sex, there was excitement, there was music, there
was ecstasy, there was dance. "We got girls over here, friends. We got
statues, girls, and festivals." This was great stuff. And what did the
Hebrews have to offer in response? The Word. What’s the Word? Well,
Hebrews had festivals, at least!
And then there is this:
But many Christians would look at this church and say it’s dead, merely an institutional expression of the faith.
What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who
doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the
church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church.
There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I
really don’t understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I
really don’t get it.
Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the
church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s
dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree
grows and grows and grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s
prone to disease, dehydration, death.
So, yes, the church is dead but it protects
something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it
doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all
kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.
In my writing, I hope to recover a sense of the
reality of congregation—what it is. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Why
are we always idealizing what the Holy Spirit doesn’t idealize? There’s
no idealization of the church in the Bible—none. We’ve got two thousand
years of history now. Why are we so dumb?
Don’t miss reading this wonderful article. You don’t even have to subscribe. Just follow the link to Christianity Today