5 Types of Christians: Philanthropists (part 5 of 6)

This article is part 5 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 6 of this series!

The philanthropists (as Gabe Lyons calls them in Next Christians) may be the most compelled toward interfaith work while still lacking a strong call to be evangelical in the interfaith space. After all, the interfaith movement is built on shared values like feeding the hungry, ending oppression, and fighting poverty – activities that are deeply motivated by the Christian tradition.

But while I perhaps identify the most with a philanthropist of any of Gabe Lyons’ categories discussed thus far (by the way, we’re referring to the Christian who is driven to help others, not necessarily the excessively wealthy who make noble donations), the philanthropist lacks the urgency of sharing and spreading the gospel.

Here is how Gabe Lyons describes them:

“Putting an emphasis on doing good works is their defining mark. They serve in soup kitchens, clean garbage off the side of the highway, and help lead Boy Scout troops. One of their highest values is to make the world a better place. Some admit to enjoying a sense of earning God’s approval through their efforts.”

The problem, however, is that the philanthropists risk losing sight of the message that should motivate this work. Many philanthropists seem to be doing good works because Jesus did, not because of who Jesus is. Lyons explains: “what’s missing is the compelling narrative of the Gospel from which all their good works emanate.”

So what does the philanthropist offer to our interest in communicating the gospel in the context of the interfaith movement? They’re good people to know, of course, and perhaps their lifestyle of kindness can do something positive in breaking down stereotypes held by those who have had sour experiences with Christians. What I have realized through being involved in interfaith work, however, is that doing service is only part of the goal – it is just as necessary to be able to tell the story that motivates the service. The inspiring thing to me is that, while many can tell a story of how one example of good deeds motivated another, only a Christian can say that their service is motivated by God becoming man, making the ultimate sacrifice in death and rising from the dead, in part symbolizing the restoration that he offers to all of humankind.

When this message of restoration is communicated from Christian to non-Christian through interfaith cooperation, then we have discovered how to be evangelicals in a religiously diverse world. Should we as Christians lose sight of this good news, then we have lost sight also of the reason why we serve.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

Testing, Testing…

Well, it’s late Thanksgiving night, and I’m laying in bed at my grandparents’ house, still recovering from the self-induced food coma from earlier in the day. In this downtime, I thought I’d try out updating FLP from my phone. Hopefully it works!

I know it has been awhile since you’ve heard anything from me. Greg has been carrying the weight for the most part over here while I’ve been busy with thesis research, exams, papers, work, and ordination stuff. I hope to get a few posts up soon, especially as it nears the end if the year and we begin to reflect on (and celebrate) one year of FLP. In the meantime, I just think it is cool I can do this from my phone while lying in bed.

– C.

5 types of Christians: The blenders (part 4 of 6)

A different kind of blender

This article is part 4 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 5 of this series!

So far, I’ve discussed “types” of Christians that Gabe Lyons calls “separatists.” My next two entries, including this one, will address two “types” that Lyons labels as “culturalists.”

The first of those types is the “blenders.” These might be the folks you know as “cultural Christians” or “nominal Christians.” They go to church on Sunday, but the rest of the week faith doesn’t seem to matter – there is little evidence of the characteristics that distinguish a Christ-follower from the rest of culture. Here is what Gabe Lyons has to say in Next Christians:

“This group best reflects the next generation’s values. Their lives mirror much of what everyone else is doing with little delineation between how they behave or what they believe. They are not all that interested in taking public stands for their convictions or faith: they think that’s what the ‘crazy Christians’ (the Separatists) do. Blenders have one concern: being like everyone else. They’ve seen how Christians who wear their faith on their sleeves have been alienated from the ‘in’ crowd. They have no desire to go down that path. As far as they are concerned, serious discussion about religion is a taboo topic – off-limits for casual conversation.”

While I’m not interested in judging the authenticity of a blender’s faith in this space, I would like to discuss the ramifications of the blender approach to Christianity as it pertains to the interfaith movement.

It is certainly possible that the blender would take an interest in the interfaith movement, as the prospects of interfaith cooperation as a social norm can be both apparent and compelling with just a superficial introduction (interfaith dialogue can provide a way of talking about faith that mitigates the taboo status that Lyons mentions above). As the blender enters the space of interfaith dialogue, however, the distinguishing qualities on which we rely to communicate the gospel may not be present.

What characterizes blenders is that faith doesn’t inform or transform the majority of what they do. If it did, their actions and aspirations would contrast with the rest of the world in some notable way – thus they would no longer be blenders. When these folks enter into interfaith dialogue, however, they still introduce themselves as Christians all the same.

Now, some have expressed concern over this scenario – especially various separatist type Christians – and some have even cited this as a barrier to their participation in interfaith cooperation. It is important to realize, however, that this has not been a concern in my experience with interfaith dialogue. I have found it frequently stressed that assumptions should never be made about one person representing a specific faith tradition in its entirety and that one person’s faith experience is necessarily the same as that of another person from the same tradition. Although impressions may be formed, they can be re-shaped by encounters with individuals who live out their faith more genuinely.

But the point that I’d like to stress about blender Christians in interfaith dialogue is that they lack the qualities which enable other Christians to communicate the gospel in such a unique way. Here on Faith Line Protestants, we often highlight the opportunity that interfaith dialogue provides to communicate our faith through relationships. While this often starts in interfaith dialogue, it continues in the relationships that interfaith dialogue can initiate, enable, and accelerate. But if blending into society is a higher priority than living under the influence of the radical example of Christ, what will be communicated in that relationship?

This is where the blender misses the opportunities that compel evangelicals toward interfaith work. The fascinating truth, however, is that interfaith dialogue can also be an opportunity for Jesus followers living with a profound understanding of God’s desire for restoration to communicate to other Christians – such as the blender – what is being missed.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

The evangelical tension and Scot McKnight on the gospel

The purpose of Faith Line Protestants is to talk about evangelicals and the interfaith movement. But that has led me to talking a lot about the gospel. Why? Because the tension between Christians and people of other religious and non-religious traditions almost always lies in (a) the message that is being communicated and (b) how that message is being communicated.

This observation has led me to ask the questions (several times, in fact): (a) what is the message that evangelicals are communicating? and (b) what’s the best way to communicate that message?

I become concerned when negative  interfaith tension comes from the evangelical’s emphasis on personal salvation (i.e. the “heaven or hell?” focus) and fails to tell the whole story of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. When this is the case, the problem lies in both the (truncated) message and the method of communication.

Scot McKnight was recently interviewed on the Covenant Church website about his latest book The King Jesus Gospel and touches directly on some of the issues related to my thoughts above. Enjoy:

http://www.covchurch.org/news/2011/11/08/expanding-the-gospel-beyond-who%E2%80%99s-in-and-who%E2%80%99s-out/

Evangelicals and foreign aid

Check out this article by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision USA:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204190704577026391811161000.html

Stearns says:

… a Pew survey earlier this year found that 56% of evangelicals think “aid to the world’s poor” should be the first thing cut from the federal budget. In September, a Baylor University survey found that Americans who strongly believe that “God has a plan” for their lives—as evangelicals do—are the most likely to oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor.

Does opposing government intervention on behalf of the poor reflect the message of the Christian faith? Helping the poor and feeding the hungry is so central to following Jesus that evangelicals should be the strongest supporters of this “moral issue that people of faith, across the political spectrum, agree upon.”

5 types of Christians: The evangelizers (part 3 of 6)

This article is part 3 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 4 of this series!

Please read my short narrative “The Good Test” before reading this post, where I describe my encounter with a man on the University of Illinois campus (“Kevin”) who was proselytizing on our main quad. Talking to Kevin was revealing of the barriers that not only kept him from being interested in interfaith work, but that made him opposed to it. I’d like to share my own perspective on Kevin’s approach to evangelism.

I believe that Kevin had the greatest of intentions to share the good news of the Christian faith. But something about Kevin’s approach shuts the door nearly as quickly as it is opened. And I hope that my conversation with Kevin has shed light on the reason for that. I also believe that Kevin is what Gabe Lyons calls an evangelizer (the third type of Christian we’ve discussed so far in this Next Christians-inspired series).

In Next Christians, Gabe Lyons describes Bill, a man who evangelizes to his neighbors by handing out Gospel tracts to trick-or-treating children on Halloween, which upsets their parents. Lyons explains:

“Bill is an evangelizer, and to be fair, he thought he was doing what was best. Driven by a desire to spread the ‘good news,’ he felt compelled to use any method possible. Thinking he was building bridges, he had actually accomplished the opposite. His plan to show love to his neighbors had backfired.”

I think that Kevin’s approach backfires too, although perhaps in a different way. His failure to make meaningful, genuine connections with other people denies him the opportunity to communicate the big picture of the faith – an it turns off many with whom he does have the chance to talk.

He was also caught up in the perception others held of him, seemingly to overlooking that fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors (Mark 2:13-17) while the religious leaders (Pharisees) whispered about him in the background. Kevin may have forgotten also how Jesus healed on the Sabbath without concern for the Pharisees’ judgment  (Matthew 12:1-14).

Where some might have stopped for fear of being perceived incorrectly, Jesus proceeded brilliantly, always communicating the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: that Jesus offers restoration, and that his followers are called to restore and be restored.

This is what the evangelizer is missing. His or her message is only about hell and the decision that can save you from it. But the gospel is about the restoration of the individual (yes, from sin and the punishment of hell to life to the full) as well as the restoration of the whole world. This is what Jesus demonstrated in his healing and relationships. This is what the Pharisees never understood. But this is what the Kingdom of God is all about.

The evangelizers that Lyons describes don’t fit into the interfaith movement because the movement doesn’t mesh with the techniques people like Kevin employ to communicate the gospel. But the gospel message will be told when we as Christians take our place in the Kingdom of God narrative: a narrative of restoration – the child suffering from malnutrition, the community destroyed by an earthquake, the sinner in need of forgiveness.

Remember how Jesus communicated the message? Service, storytelling, and relationships.

And if you ask my friend Adam (mentioned in my last post), I bet he’d tell you which approach is more effective at communicating the message. If I’m wrong, I guess I better get my business card updated…

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

The consequences of youth ministry

Skye Jethani commented recently on an idea put forth by Tony Jones, suggesting that relational youth ministry is responsible for the emerging church movement (read Tony’s blog here).

Jethani suggests some of the unintended consequences that may have come from the model of youth ministry that has been practiced for the past several decades:

…I’m concerned that youth ministry is forming the values of isolation and activism into Millennials. They’re relationally isolated from other generations in the church, and their faith is isolated from any sense of calling or vocation. At the same time they are linking faith to social action toward the poor and marginalized, but this is often emotionally driven without a theological rootedness that can fuel engagement when emotion runs dry. Without a robust theology of justice, in time compassion fatigue may set in and activism slip into apathy.”

And it got me to thinking. What does this mean about the way the next generation of Christians relates to a religiously-diverse world? Social action that is not rooted in theology is a concern – especially when social action is the way one relates to people of other faith traditions. What do you think?