September 4, 2018

Resisting the Irresistible

There’s going to come a time when the younger generation of Christians who are sick of being marketed to say “Enough is enough!”

But not before we get one more book that promises to uncover the secret to the Christian faith that has been lost in the mists of time.  A secret that will change everything.  Again.

Andy Stanley’s latest book Irresistible is presenting itself as the latest in a long, and increasingly frantic and jammed together, line of books in the past two decades that promises to unlock the mystery.

The marketing people are nothing if not optimistic:

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Is there something new that we missed?  It would seem so if the pre-order blurb is any indication:

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It’s perfectly fitting that the story begins “Once upon a time”, because what follows is pretty much the fairy tale we’ve been spun the last twenty years, as we continue the hand wringing about how much we’ve lost the plot.

And the charge is right there is it not? “Is your Christian faith irresistible”. What sort of question is that?  Well, no sort of question as the graphic does not contain a question mark at that point.  Perhaps they’re making more of a statement: Your Christian faith is not irresistible, and you know it, you slacker.

Well, mine’s not irresistible, if you ask me. Even to me sometimes.

And lots of people resist my faith all of the time.  And I’m a pastor.  It’s my job to make my faith irresistible.  But frankly, the strike rate among my long term non-Christian friends, who I love dearly, spend time with,  eat meals with, attend funerals with, is zero, nix, nada.

And I’m not an amazing evangelist either, so even when I think I’m about to knock it out of the park I don’t.  And don’t start with what a general slacker I am.  I am Mr Mediocre, and nobody finds mediocre irresistible in our culture.

Yet, there’s a lost version of the Christian faith that, surprise surprise, is unavailable to you (and presumably me, despite my fairly solid knowledge of the Bible) through the reading of Scripture and a popular understanding of church history.  This lost version is as lost as the Lost Ark and requires an Indiana Jones (hello Andy Stanley) to find it and bring it to the surface.

Frankly I am surprised that this narrative among Christian book publishers in the US has not run its course, so predictable of message and so frequent of occurrence it is. But when times are as desperate as they are, we’ll give anything a go, right?

The trend seems to be to find a word that maxes out and go with that.  A word that’s kinda “extra” as my 17 year old daughter would say. Something irresistible and radical, like “irresistible” or “radical’ even.

Concerns have been voiced about Stanley’s stance towards the Old Testament.  Which is kind of ironic, given the promo raises the question: What did the early Christians know that we don’t.

Well they knew their Bibles for a start and we don’t, that’s what.

The apostles and other church leaders ensured that the first converts were steeped in the Scriptures of Israel; the Scriptures that were fulfilled in Jesus; and the Scriptures that were able to “make them wise unto salvation.”   The Bereans proved themselves to be “more noble” because they diligently searched the Scriptures to see if what St Paul was saying about the Christ was so.

Yet Christians  now have to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith according to Stanley: A position that Jesus himself would have, in fact, found fairly resistible, given his assertion in Luke 24 that the Old Testament Scriptures pointed directly to him.

At least there’s a free bonus chapter on offer called “What about the Glory?”  Mind you, given how central the glory of God is in the Bible one wonders how it manages to be a bonus chapter, and available only to those who pre-order their copy of the book.  One would have thought it would be the denouement, the crowning “glory” of such a book.

Yet as I cast an eye out over the growing number of twenty somethings attending our church, they’re just not buying it.  Not simply not buying the book, they’re just not buying a culture, Christian or otherwise, that offers them the endless hype of a quick fix.

They don’t want it for their normal lives, and increasingly they don’t want it for their Christian lives. And they’re saying that.  And in that they could teach our Boomer/X-Gen crowd a thing or two.

That bunch of twenty somethings are going to face a secular context much more hostile and invasive to their faith than I ever experienced.  There is going to be an obtrusive element to the secular frame that requires obedience on any number of ethical matters.

There’s a sobriety about many of them that is encouraging to watch.  They’re looking to their older brothers and sisters in Christ to watch their back, to give them ongoing, drip-filter support as they move into the increasingly hostile culture they have inherited from us.

What they don’t need, don’t want, is another book with an irresistible title.  What they need, and what they are discovering they want as they practice them, are the ongoing, ordinary means of grace that have served the church down the centuries; turn up, do community, hear the Word, share the communion, respond in unison with the prayers of confession, seek support for the life they will lead Monday to Saturday.

They need a cohort of mature Christians in their thirties and forties who are not so distracted by their careers and their goals, to disciple them.

But it seems like the message is not getting through to the evangelical promotional machine: Your products are not merely not working, they’re making things worse.  They’re over-promising and under-delivering to a generation that is sick of the hype.

Look, I’m going to have to read that book now, aren’t I?  Especially before everyone piles up and tells me not to judge a book by its cover.

Except the cover looks the best part. It’s the promotional material, the list of descriptors that tell me what the book is going to do for me; the manner in which it presents itself as the key we have never had before; the beguiling promise of finding “the original version of your faith” that has been kept from you by someone (the Illuminati perhaps?).  That’s the stuff we’re just tired of.

So, okay. I’ll buy it.  I’ll review it.  But will this book transform my life?  It will not.  It will go on the shelf with all of the other books that breathlessly present themselves as “the answer” to “the problem” that “the church” has lost some time between 120AD and 400AD. But I’m simply not buying it.  And I suspect neither will the up and coming generation of Christians.


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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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