Whoever marries the spirit of the age will soon be a widower. William Ralph Inge
Rachel Held Evans is an author with a progressive agenda aimed at Evangelicals. She’s written a book called, Searching for Sunday which is a journal of her experience leaving and then returning to church. A recent Washington Post article seems to be a synopsis of the book.
Rachel critiques a trendy approach to church she affirmed in the past called the Emergent church. Like every movement, it has some excesses. Now she seems to be over-correcting.
IRONY #1 When trendy is authentic
The Emergent church “branded” authenticity. It measured authentic worship by how current and relevant it feels, which of course is not very authentic! But you can’t paint every trendy church with the same brush. Some edgy church leaders sincerely (and authentically) have a style which happens to be current. Yes, relevance can become a false front or even cynical marketing. But some level of relevance is necessary to connect an ancient message to modern lives. Relevance without compromise shows how truth transcends time and place.
IRONY #2 When uncool is the new cool
Rachel’s reaction to trendy churches should be limited more to the half-baked efforts of seeking market share. Trendy culture itself is not the issue. Every church must live in some kind of culture. In fact, the style and culture of worship Rachel now affirms also could be considered trendy for Millennials. Some years back it was dubbed the “ancient-future” church. It’s the latest movement returning to history, tradition, and liturgy.
Searching for Sunday?
Rather than drawing sharp contrasts between styles, I think it’s helpful to consider the forms of liturgy and music as akin to languages. Some people connect genuinely with God through what the Psalmist celebrates as “a new song.” While traditionalists may perceive new music as self-indulgent, some people genuinely shift their focus from themselves to God through popular forms of music.
On the other hand, traditions and enduring rituals also can become personal and heartfelt. People do gravitate to it after few seasons of trying to outdo last Sunday. That pressure, whatever the style, eventually can “Jump the Shark.”
BUT, in “searching for Sunday,” let’s dispense with knee-jerk criticisms of trends and traditions themselves. In the end, God measures the heart.
The hour is coming…when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. John 4:23
Rev. Jason Haas says
Can a blog “jump the shark”? Ha. Hope you are well, friend.
Tim Filston says
Let me know, Jason!
Joani Jack says
From the forward of “Searching for Sunday” by Glennon Doyle Melton (Momastery.com):
“Rachel’s Christianity is a daily discipline of boundless grace–for herself, for the church, for those the church leaves out. The faith she describes in Searching for Sunday is less of a club to belong to and more of a current to enter into— a current that continuously carries her toward the people and places she’s been taught to fear. Rachel finds herself not only loving these people, but learning that she is these people. In Searching for Sunday , Rachel convinces us that there is no them and us ; there is only us. This idea of hers is both comforting and slightly terrifying. I have a hunch that comforting and terrifying is exactly what faith should be.”
Tim Filston says
Joani, couple thoughts–
First, Jesus’ love for lepers was powerful, but his love for his enemies was revolutionary. When someone has persevered in the church alongside their enemies, then they’re ready to cast vision for the church. I’ve seen what happens when people bury the call to love their enemies under victim advocacy. Anger festers. Grace for marginalized people calls us to be more compassionate. Grace for our enemies calls us to die to self. Now that’s terrifying. Second, the sacraments are every bit as rich as Rachel describes so beautifully–the means by which a limitless God meets us within human limits. But they are not to become an alternative to speaking truth in love, as though grace abounds only in vagueness and mystery. The danger in ignoring doctrine for the sake of unity is losing what distinguishes Christianity from religion in general. As Philip Guedalla said, “Any stigma will do to beat a dogma.”
Joani Jack says
I hear you, Tim, and understand your concern. But what’s so compelling about Rachel’s story is the depth of love for the church – a love so deep and ingrained that she couldn’t quit on it even when she desperately wanted to. I think she’s given a precious gift to the Body of Christ, to listen to her with open ears as she gives voice to many who have left the church silently. Two more quotes from her book – one of the best I’ve read in a very long time – Then I promise to hush.
“For me, talking about church in front of a bunch of Christians means approaching a microphone and attempting to explain the most important, complicated, beautiful, and heart- wrenching relationship of my life in thirty minutes or less without yelling or crying or saying any cuss words.”
That resonates deeply with me. And,
“Church showed up at the front door with a chicken casserole when the whole family was down with the flu and called after midnight to ask for prayer and to cry. It gossiped in the pickup line at school and babysat us on Friday nights. It teased me and tugged at my pigtails and taught me how to sing. Church threw Dad a big surprise party for his fortieth birthday and let me in on the secret ahead of time. Church came to me far more than I went to it, and I’m glad.”
As I read Rachel’s words, her love and her hurt and her doubts and her faith, I hear myself saying (along with many, many front-row Christians), “Me too”. Given that her faith and love for the church was deep enough to bring her back, seems we would do well to humbly listen… let her heart and hurt resonate… rather than critiquing.
Thanks, Tim, for your wise brain and willing heart.