Listen to “Episode 78: Uncomfortable Church” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s so nice to be with you here in the warm office of Defenders Media in downtown West Chicago, home to the best international podcast from West Chicago, of course, Chris, as you like to say. Now Chris….
Chris: On apologetics.
Kurt: Yes. On apologetics. We may very well might be the only podcast to come out of West Chicago so far as we know, but certainly the only one on apologetics, yes, that’s right. Chris has been gone for three weeks and he’s been very missed. I’m so glad he’s back here handling the tech stuff. How was your break?
Chris: It was really good. Very adventurous. Happy New Year, Kurt.
Kurt: Yes. Happy New Year to you. I must ask you since we have been living in the arctic tundra, have you just been prancing around lollygagging in the fields?
Chris: I have. I was out west in Iowa for a little bit and the wind chill at night became -31 so it did rip right through my soul for a little bit.
Kurt: So you were outside in shorts and a T-shirt then.
Chris: Yeah. Definitely. Had my margaritas there and Hawaiian shirts.
Kurt: Cross-country skiing.
Chris: Yes. It was great, but it was bitterly cold.
Kurt: Yes. It is bitterly cold.
Chris: It’s going to be 30 tomorrow.
Kurt: I know. We’re getting relief. Praise God. I’ll take my dog for a walk at 30 degrees. Yes. It has been cold here, but we are looking forward to it getting warmer here in the suburbs of Chicago where are we coming to you live right now if you’re listening on the web site or if you’re following us on the livestream, let me say this. If you are following us, we’re doing a book away today. We’re giving away the book Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken, The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community. Why are we giving this book away? That is the topic of today’s show. Thank you to Crossway for sending us this copy we can give away to you. Here’s how you enter, if you’re watching the livestream, all you do is click that share button, share it with your friends on your profile. That will enter you to win the book and we will pick a winner at the end of the show or perhaps likely after the show and we’ll contact you and let you know that you’ve won. You’ll send us your address there and then we’ll send you the book. Simple as that. Hope that if you’re watching, you share the livestream right now and if you have questions about the topic today, if you have questions for our guest, you can send those in a couple ways. First if you’re following along the livestream, you can just comment right there. We’re keeping our eyes on it to see what you guys think. Secondly, we’ve got our texting software program open so if you want to text in a question, just text the word VERACITY to 555-888 and I will get your question or comment and we can read it right here on the program. Lastly, you can shoot me an email. I’ll be trying to keep tabs on that as well. And of course, you can be in contact with me through any of those ways throughout the week, but especially if you’ve got a question for our guest, this would be the time to do that. We look forward to your interaction on the program today and we will remind you of the giveaway a little bit later on in the show.
Before we bring our guest in, just a couple announcements. Defenders Media finished off the year well. We had a matching grant opportunity and so I want to thank donors that contributed to that to make that a success. Also, on last week’s program we formally announced that Seth Baker, who is a regional associate of ours in New Mexico, will be moving here to West Chicago in May to do work for Defenders and also to help out on the podcast. He will be the associate producer of the Veracity Hill Podcast so we are very excited about that opportunity to bring his voice here on the panel on a regular basis and the work that he’ll be doing for us, so if you miss that, go back and listen to last week’s episode where Seth and I were very much shooting the breeze, reflecting upon 2017, favorite episodes and what we are excited about for this year which we are now in, so I hope that you have had a Happy New Year and that you have maybe not made resolutions, but some aspirations, things that you aspire to, those I think can in the long run, be a bit more important than resolving to do something. When you aspire, you make it your goal. Perhaps you’ve made some aspirations. If you have, I’d love to know what those are and so just let me know and we can talk about some of those things. I’ve got some aspirations myself, the main aspiration I have is to finish the Ph.D. program that I’m in. I’ve got just about a year to go here and I want to have a rough draft of my dissertation by June so this spring will be pretty busy for me and then, hopefully, it will be sort of downhill from there making revisions and working on the bibliography and such, but getting that big chunk, all that writing, is a big task. It’s not necessarily my gifting, but that provides a great segue here because for other people it is a gift and our guest is a very fine writer, a clear thinker, and I’m very glad to call him my friend as well. Joining us now on the program is Brett McCracken. Brett. Thanks for joining us.
Brett: Hey, Kurt. Thanks for having me.
Kurt: So for us to give an introduction to those that perhaps don’t know you. Of course, we’ve been friends for a number of years now, you are the senior editor at the Gospel Coalition and you’re the author of I count three books. Is that right?
Brett: Yep. That’s right.
Kurt: Okay. Good. So we’ve got Hipster Christianity, Gray Matters, and now we have Uncomfortable. You’ve been a blogger for many many years. Your writing is very lucid and thoughtful and it really is a gift that God has given you.
Brett: Thank you. It’s something I love doing and it comes with stress as any writer knows and in the internet age when you have instant feedback every which way on social media, it’s even more stressful, but I love it and I’m grateful to God for giving me the opportunities.
Kurt: Nice. On today’s program, we want to talk about this topic of the uncomfortable church and so before I pick your brain on some of the areas that you wrote about here, what was your thinking and desire for writing something like this?
Brett: Yeah. A couple things. One, it just kind of stemmed from my own personal experience with church. I’ve grown up in the church as you have and Christianity’s been a part of my life for most of my life, but I’ve noticed in my own personal experience a bit that when I get kind of comfortable, when I’m in a church, when I’m in a Christian context that’s just very comfortable and I’m surrounded by people who look like me and think like me and there’s never anything challenging about it. It just doesn’t seem conducive to my growth and yet in the last couple of years, Kira and I have been going to a church here in Southern California that is very different from what either of us grew up in and it was very stretching and for some reason, we went, we visited, and we decided this is different, this is kind of weird, this is stretching us, but we’re going to keep going, and eventually we became members, and then five years later I’m an elder there so the book really came out of my journey with this church and just realizing I’ve grown so much in the last couple of years in a context, in a local church context, that is not really close to what I would say is my perfect church or like the perfect fit for me. It’s very different than that, and yet by committing there and just saying I’m going to commit to this community and commit to growing and being stretched, I’ve actually seen a lot of life in that, and so I just wanted to write a book about that idea of you grow most in anything in life when you’re outside of your comfort zone whether it’s a sport or a skill you’re trying to get better at. The same is true for our spiritual lives and I think it’s easy for Christians to get comfortable and to just kind of follow the consumeristic bents of our society and just taking the path of least resistance and choosing a church that meets your needs and meets you right where you’re at and does everything for you that you want it to do. That’s easy to do because that’s the air we breathe in a consumeristic society, but I think that that’s not conducive to growth and it’s not conducive to a healthy church and so I’m just calling Christians to really embrace the cost of discipleship, the cost of following Jesus, and how that works itself out in the local church context specifically. That’s a long answer.
Kurt: No. That’s great. You mentioned the consumer mentality. In the early church, there was just one church in each town in the very early church so you really didn’t have an option on where to go to church, but here in 21st century America there are many churches and if you’re in the South there’s a church on every corner and so there are lots of options. It’s not that so many churches is a bad thing. I recall here an interview I had with Ed Stetzer and he said, “Why shouldn’t we plant more churches?” But at the same time, it does create this issue where people can just get up and leave and go to a church that’s more comfortable for them and so…
Brett: It just plays into consumerism when there’s so many options and so many good options to, the wealth of good churches can be a curse too because it can perpetuate this cycle of “I’m going to go to this church, but the minute it becomes less than perfect, less than ideal for me, there’s twenty other options in my town I can choose from.”
Kurt: Yeah. Or that people start anew and they’re comfortable for the time being and then in a couple years time when something arises.
Brett: Invariably it does.
Kurt: It creates the cycle of people moving so that does seem to be one of the problems of having so many options available to us, so the way you structure this book is you’ve got really two main sections here. The uncomfortable faith and the uncomfortable church and for me, I think even as I was looking through the book here, I would probably myself feel more uncomfortable through the church section, but before we get to that let’s talk about the faith section. What were some of the ideas here for where you have perceived a need for people to become uncomfortable in their walk with the Lord?
Brett: Yeah. The idea for the people was originally more on the church side, the kind of difficulty, the discomfort on the local church, but when I sat down to write the book, I realized there’s a whole, have to lay the groundwork for this with just the uncomfortable things about Christianity, about following Jesus in a general sense, before we even get to the nitty-gritty of local church life. There’s things in the very essence of Christianity that we have to be clear on that are uncomfortable and so the first chapter in the first part of the book is on the cross. That’s the paradigm that informs the whole book because if we’re talking about uncomfortable Christianity, uncomfortable church, the cross should tip us off to the fact that this is a faith, this is a religion on a guy who was crucified in a brutal way on a Roman execution device, on a cross, and this is the central symbol and paradigm for the Christian life so that is how I start the book is just reminding us of that and then the cost of discipleship. Jesus says take up your own cross and follow me and to be imitators of Jesus is to imitate that kind of sacrificial counter-cultural idea and so the first half of the book is really just exploring different aspects of what we believe as Christians and why it’s not about our comfort. It’s actually quite uncomfortable. There’s a chapter on holiness that we could talk about and that’s never comfortable, that process of sanctification of growth from our sinful status quo to the growth that God wants for us, the growing pangs of that is never easy. There’s a chapter on mission. There’s a chapter on love. There’s a chapter on truth.
Kurt: Truth. Yes. I was going to inquire on that one.
Brett: Certain very uncomfortable truths that we’re called to believe as Christians that are not popular, that are not easy to advocate for in today’s world.
Kurt: Yeah. So what might be a few of those truths that would be uncomfortable for us to hold either internally, personally, just truths we are uncomfortable with, or truths that while we might be personally comfortable with, nevertheless, pose a threat to our comfort through external forces?
Brett: Right. There’s so many that we could talk about, but the ones that I focus on in that chapter of the book, I really wanted to think about what are the truths that we’re called to believe biblically that are the most unpopular or the most hard for 21st century secular people to get on board with? I talk about the supernatural, in a materialist kind of secular age that we live in, just getting people past that threshold of believing that the supernatural is possible, that something like the resurrection could have happened, that’s an unavoidable essential part of our faith that is unpopular. It’s hard for people to get on board with that. They might like Jesus as a moral teacher, but they can’t get on board with the supernatural element. I talk about God’s wrath and judgment and hell and that whole thing, that topic, that’s a very unpopular idea. There’s even a lot of Christians today who downplay that idea and try to avoid that, and then of course, the big one is sexual ethics, the idea that God put boundaries and parameters around sexuality which He created as a beautiful thing, as a good thing, as part of His order in creation and yet anytime we take it out of that context for which He created it, that’s out of the boundaries of what He wants for it and, of course, there’s all sorts of aspects to that that are controversial and hard for people.
Kurt: That reminds me, just this past week the Mormon prophet, I’m forgetting his name, shame on me, at any rate, he passed away and the New York Times tweeted about it and they tweeted negatively about his passing, that he didn’t recognize homosexual behavior as a good thing or something like that. It was a total just botched job. They recognized Hugh Hefner for all the great things he did. It’s just a testament to the idea that even for truths that can be known outside of the Christian worldview, suppose like a natural law theory or something, that for people that still recognize these truths, there are people in the world that are uncomfortable with it and even willing to attack it because these truths can be a threat to their way of living.
Brett: Yeah, and one of the things that saddens me the most and I talk about this in Uncomfortable, is with these difficult truths that are admittedly hard, it’s not easy to be speaking publicly about biblical sexual ethics in today’s world. We all have friends and family members who might be gay or whatever, but for pastors, especially for Christian leaders to not have the courage to speak about these topics and to own them and preaching the whole counsel of Scripture, it saddens me and that’s one of the big things I wanted to hit on in this book Uncomfortable is part of following Jesus faithfully is going to mean we’re not popular always and in fact, increasingly in this secular society which is hostile towards these certain beliefs of Christianity, it’s just going to be unavoidable that to be a faithful Christian, to live faithfully, and to not avoid speaking about these topics is going to be hard for us, it’s going to be costly, and so I think we need to just count the cost and be okay with that and be okay not being popular. We’ve made popularity and relevance such an idol in evangelical culture in the last fifty years, really since the Jesus People movement in the 60’s and the birth of the kind of popular evangelical movement, we’ve seen this cycle of relevance is everything and packing out the megachurches like the seeker-sensitive movement and I think we’re reaping the problems of that now in terms of the culture looks at us and sees hypocrisy and doesn’t see moral consistency. They see things like the Roy Moore thing and kind of looking the other way with certain sexual ethics, like divorce for example. Evangelicals have been totally fine with divorce, have never…
Kurt: At least the past few decades. Right.
Brett: Past few decades, and yet to be consistent on what the Bible says about these topics we need to speak about divorce in the way the Bible does just as when we speak about homosexuality and a whole range of other things.
Kurt: So the church has just been lax on moral issues and it’s been unappealing. Like you said, we come across hypocritical. You said this idea, the seeker-sensitive, draw that out a little bit for those that might be unfamiliar with the term. That’s where churches might do things to appeal to people on the outside.
Brett: Yeah. I think that term kind of developed in the 80’s. It became a big thing in the 90’s and it’s just this kind of moment in evangelical Christianity that really bought into the marketing mindset, listen to the consumers, pay attention to the audience and what they want and develop everything in your church with that in mind. It came from a good place. I think the intention ultimately behind it was just to get the gospel out there, to get more Christians, more converts following Jesus, and so I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because that’s a noble goal, but the downside of it and what happened is that seeker orientation, that seeker-sensitive orientation, what it ends up doing is naturally it leads preachers to pastors to avoid these uncomfortable topics that we’ve just been talking about. Why would you willingly talk about a difficult part of the Bible if it might mean ten people won’t come back next week to your church? When we’re focused entirely on the seeker and the people who are on the fence, if that’s our focus, then it’s going to naturally lead to a distorted kind of mutation of Christianity because if we’re 100% on board with everything the Bible says it means to follow Jesus, that’s not going to be a message that brings the masses running. It’s a message that goes against the grain of our culture. It’s about losing yourself to find yourself, dying to yourself, not living in this kind of narcissistic, I am the center of everything, world that we live in. I think the seeker-sensitive movement had unfortunately kind of bought into that cultural value of individual autonomy and your best life now and self-actualization and kind of Oprah culture, the seeker-sensitive movement wants to appeal to that so they want to frame Christianity as something that’s going to make your life better, easier, and more comfortable, and I’m saying in this book is that if that’s how we’re selling Christianity, it’s ingenuous. It’s not accurate. There are comforts, of course. There are benefits. First and foremost the presence of God in our midst, our being in the family of God. There are wonderful things about it, but….
Kurt: And that’s a deep satisfaction. That’s not necessarily as opposed to just a surface level comfort.
Brett: That’s right. And that’s where we’ve put the emphasis on the wrong sort of comfort I think and if we take a step back and look at the big picture, we can see that it’s a wonderfully comforting thing to be in the family of God, to have the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst and yet on that kind of practical kind of day to day life level, it isn’t going to necessarily mean our lives are super easy and comfortable.
Kurt: I’d like to pick your brain here about uncomfortable mission and what that looks like I know in my own home church we’ve got a mission board and what not, but if I can say this, our outreach is a little, I think if I had to make observations, it’s struggling a little bit, and so sort of viewing the local community as a mission field is something we struggle with. What were some of your observations and proposals regarding being uncomfortable in mission?
Brett: I think first and foremost it’s just that the orientation in a comfortable church context is going to be inward. It’s going to be like our community, our programs, that’s just naturally the default I think a lot of times that we go to, but mission calls us outward. Mission calls us to get outside of our walls, to be knocking on doors, to be engaging our neighborhoods, and that’s uncomfortable, that’s just unavoidably uncomfortable. I talk about that. I talk about how sometimes it’s actually easier and more comfortable to do overseas missions.
Kurt: Where you don’t know anybody.
Brett: Sometimes going to India is easier than going across the street and sharing the gospel with your neighbor. That’s an uncomfortable thing that we need to be reminded of and calling people to in our churches, which is the mission field is right where you are and we can’t view mission as just this category that only a select few Christians do and it’s overseas and we give them money and they go do that. No. Mission should be a paradigm for everything we do, and so I talk about just evangelism and kind of the whole two-pronged aspect of Christian mission which is the kind of serving, but also speaking, and I think for millennials especially, for our generation, the serving aspect of mission is a lot more comfortable, it’s a lot easier, to go build water wells somewhere or even just serving at a homeless shelter in our community, but speaking the gospel and actually having gospel conversations in coffee shops with strangers or whatever, that’s a lot of harder, or even with family members or friends that we know, but that I think is an important thing to be reminded of when it comes to mission. We have to do both.
Kurt: It almost seems, yes, it’s true, we have to do both, but if we had to say one should take priority over the other, if we had to break it down by percentage, that the greater percentage would be on the local community more so than the international one, but yet that does not seem at least in terms of outreach, that does not seem to be the case. It seems to be 80-20 maybe. 80% international missions, because I think people are more comfortable sharing the gospel with people they might never see again.
Brett: Yeah. I know. It’s always riskier to share with the person who you might see on a walk on the neighborhood the next day.
Kurt: Yeah. All of a sudden they might think something about you. Oh no. That was the person that told me about Jesus. Heaven forbid.
Brett: I know, but the thing is in America right now, it’s a secular, we’re moving in a direction where it’s just as secular and unknown to the gospel as any other place really in the world. Living in Los Angeles, I see that especially. I grew up in the Bible Belt and maybe that’s a few decades removed from where L.A. is right now, but it’s a very secular place out here and there’s lots of people that wouldn’t know the first thing about Jesus or the Bible and in some ways I think that should excite us and should be a motivation to see mission in a new way, as uncomfortable as it will be to actually open our mouths and speak.
Kurt: Yeah, and if anything too, it might be an indicator that in many ways, the church has failed to make people Bible literate, that we’re losing these sorts of people in these sorts of numbers. It just means we’ve got work to do. We’ve done a poor job in XY&Z over the last few decades. Let’s try to improve upon that and that’s going to stretch people, but it’s worth it. We’ve got to take a short break here. Before I go to that break let me remind people, if you want to win Brett’s book, just share the livestream here and you will be entered to win. We will pick a winner after the show and we’ll contact you so please do share the livestream video here and we will hopefully pick you to be the winner, so we’ve got to take a break here. Stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us from that short break from our sponsors. We love our sponsors. They help us to keep this engine going. If you are interested to learn about how to become a sponsor of the program, you can go to our website veracityhill.com/patron. You can see the different ways you can support us whether you want to be a sponsor or just a donor, we’d love to get your support, and let me mention this as well. We have had a wonderful past few months here. We did a fundraiser at the end of last year, and then all of a sudden there was an unexpected opportunity that presented itself to us. We were invited to have the program air on the radio here in Chicago on WYLL. Of course, there was a cost associated with that, but the unexpected development was that 75% of that cost has already been pledged. What that means is we’re looking of 25% more or roughly $208 a month, so if we could get $208 more per month designated toward bringing Veracity Hill to the radio, we would love to make that happen. That’s part of our long-term goal, and so WYLL is a very popular Christian talk radio station here in Chicago. It also reaches all the way into Milwaukee, so it’s a great opportunity to hit two different markets with one station and we’d love to get your support to partner with us and to bring Veracity Hill to people on Saturday mornings on the radio. If you’re interested just go to our website and you can learn more about that.
I am joined here today by Brett McCracken. He is the senior editor at the Gospel Coalition, and the author of three different books. We are talking about Uncomfortable, his most recent book, by Crossway, the Awkard and Essential Challenge of Christian Community. Before we took the break we were talking about the uncomfortable aspects to faith that present itself, uncomfortable holiness, uncomfortable truth, uncomfortable mission, and in this second half here I want to get more into doing church together, and how that can make us feel uncomfortable, but that’s it’s a good and healthy thing, but before we get into that Brett, we are going to play a round of Rapid Questions where we just ask you short questions and we want as many answers as you can give us. So are you ready?
Kurt; Okay. Hopefully, I’m not sure if you’ll hear the game clock, but we will hear it, so as soon as I hear it, I will start it and it will be a minute long so here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Kurt: What school did you go to?
Brett: College? Wheaton College.
Kurt: What song is playing on your radio these days?
Brett: Anything by the War on Drugs.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Brett: Oh man. Probably Dallas Cowboys.
Kurt: Okay. What’s your favorite movie?
Brett: The Thin Red Line.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: That’s a shame. Would you drink a Dr. Pepper if it were handed to you?
Brett: Sure. Not against it.
Kurt: Nice. What’s one thing you’d be sure to keep with you if you’re stranded on an island?
Brett: A Dostoyevsky book.
Kurt: A book. I think that’s the first time we’ve had a book be mentioned.
Brett: I would want to start by reading a Dostoyevsky.
Kurt: Nice. Great. Thank you for playing that round of Rapid Questions.
Brett; Sure. That was fun. Very random, but fun.
Kurt: That’s the idea. Especially for the more, the super academic sort, these sorts of questions can be perplexing to them.
Brett: Are you a Dr. Pepper fan?
Kurt: Oh yes. Is the
Pope Catholic? I, indeed, love Dr. Pepper, and in fact, if I reach around my
computer here, let me see if I can reach the bottle. Where am I, Chris? Am I
Chris: You’re close.
Kurt: I’m close. There we go! A classic Dr. Pepper bottle. If you come across Dr. Pepper memorabilia, please let me know, and I will Paypal you the money to get it.
Brett: Now I know who to send Dr. Pepper things to.
Kurt: I think that’s my only actual Dr. Pepper item, but I would love to have a real collection. Okay. But we’re not here to talk about Dr. Pepper. We are here to talk about Uncomfortable. Let me ask you this. As you were writing this book, you had mentioned your primary intention was to talk about the doing of church and having that be uncomfortable, but you found yourself talking about faith. What were some of the original ideas you had about the doing of church together that inspired you to write the book?
Brett: Right. I think part of it was just I’ve seen how my generation, millennials, have grown a little bit apathetic about the local church or just kind of having less of a commitment level to it and so part of what I wanted to do in this book is just to kind of push my generation to invest and commit to the local church even though it will be uncomfortable and it’s not going to be this easy comfortable thing and so everything in the second half is really just about all the different things about doing life with people in a church community that are hard and that are going to stretch you and be uncomfortable, but are nevertheless important for us to do. I think it just starts off with people. That’s maybe the biggest challenge with a church is that it brings people together from so many different walks of life and from so many different backgrounds and very little else in our world today does that. We live in a world where it’s easier to ever to self-select, to curate your feeds and media environments exactly to you liking. We’re losing the ability as a culture I think to relate to people who are different from us and to have community with people who are different. The church of Jesus Christ from day one was this revolutionary leveling force that brought people together from different walks of life, different kinds of strata from society that had never been brought together before, and that’s at the heart of the gospel. If you read Paul’s epistles, that’s an important part that we can’t forsake and so that idea of people from so many different walks of life coming together, diversity as well, making sure our communities are not homogenous and are not defaulting to that easy comfortable road of doing church with people who are just like me, who look like me, who think like me, who like the same worship style as I do, that’s not the vision of the New Testament for the church. The church is meant to be this place that embodies the diversity of humanity united in the person of Jesus Christ in that kind of one body, one baptism, one spirit, unity. That’s why I think the local church is so important and so important to lean into in the uncomfortable diversity, in the uncomfortable amalgamation of people. If we can, as the Christian church, if we can model this well in our society today, which doesn’t know how to do this anymore, what a gift, what a vision, what an alternate vision we can be in a world where there’s nothing else doing this. We can’t forsake it ourselves as Christians. Otherwise we’ll just go the way of the world.
Kurt: Yeah. So in this case you talked about how on the one hand there’s diversity in the body of believers, but on the other hand we still stand for a unified message. Would you say there is unity among Christians, but there’s not uniformity where we’re all identical to each other. Is that right?
Brett: Absolutely. Yeah. In the chapter on unity, there is a chapter on unity, I think I talk about that. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity and there’s all sorts of expression of Christianity in various traditions that are valid and we should not view each other with suspicion as if that tradition, that denomination, is wrong and my way of doing church is the only right way. I think we’re prone to do that unfortunately. We’re prone to think that my way is the gold standard and that everyone else is doing it wrong, but I think the beauty of Christianity and part of it why it has always and continues to thrive cross-culturally in every culture, in every place in the world, I think no other religion really does that in the way that Christianity does. Part of the reason it does that is it’s intentionally kind of adaptable. There’s enough that isn’t said in the New Testament church is to be done that it can be adapted. It can fit different contexts and so unity in essentials, but charity in non-essentials is the name of the game for us and I think we need to model being unified with one another across denominations, across contexts and cultures, in the person of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit to unite us and we can become so factional and we can become so divisive, because again, just like consumerism is the air we breathe, I think division is the air we breathe in today’s world. You look at social media on any given day and you can become despondent because Christians are attacking each other with…
Kurt: Political stuff. Yeah.
Brett: Political stuff. It’s just so important I think that we look to Jesus as the unifier and our oneness comes from him and not from our own fleshly attempts at debating things to our satisfaction or whatever. We still need to do that. We need to have good conversations and the things that we disagree over are not unimportant. They are important. These non-essential things are still important to some extent to be wrestled through.
Kurt: But they shouldn’t hinder our relationship with one another, make us feel awkward.
Brett: That’s right. I think Jesus, He wants us to be one. He prayed for that in John 17. He prayed for us to be one, and so if we’re not kind of striving for that at least and making practical steps and attempts for that, I think we’re being disobedient. That’s another uncomfortable thing that we’re called to because it’s much more comfortable to default to our happy little homogenous groups and our happy little denominations. It’s much more uncomfortable I think to strive for that unity even amidst diversity.
Kurt: Yeah. For me, I can think of the worship experience and how that can make some people feel uncomfortable, and there are a variety of different styles of worship, worship music, and that was a bit of part of your journey as well. Is that right?
Brett: Yeah, absolutely. That was one of the things about the church that we started going to five years ago that we currently go to is the music. The worship style was not our ideal. It still isn’t, I would say, my ideal, and I think music style is one of those things that it’s so subjective and everyone has their own unique background and the type of music they grew up with and the type of things they like. For example, I like hymns. I grew up in a Baptist church in the midwest singing old hymns and with organ and I loved that and that would be my preferred style, and yet the style of my current church, we occasionally do hymns, but often they’re like the jazzed-up kind of contemporary version.
Kurt: It’s not the same.
Brett: It’s not the same, and it’s just largely electric guitar and very loud. You can’t hear yourself sing. What I eventually came to understand and this is what I write about in the chapter on worship is we can worship God in any context. It’s about your posture. If you go into it with the posture being about me and my preferences and just kind of sulking with your hands folded like this is not good, this isn’t my preferred style, you’re not going to be able to worship, but if you unfold your arms in my case, lift up my arms, that was one thing in my church worship that was new to me. Raising hands wasn’t something I ever did and I thought was weird, but that’s the worship style at my church, it’s more charismatic, so literally a physical posture, helped me, it helped my heart, kind of get to my place where now I still wouldn’t say it’s my preferred style of music, but I love it, and I can worship God singing these songs in community side by side with my brothers and sisters in church. I just give it my all. I give myself over to it. I abandon myself to the worship. I think it’s all about a posture and it’s kind of moving from a consumeristic posture where it’s about me and what I get out of it to a more sacrificial humble posture where it’s about how can I make God the hero of worship and not think about myself and just kind of engage for the sake of worshipping God, giving Him glory, and being present with one another in community.
Kurt: Let me pick your brain here, a little bit more of a harder question here. If beauty is objective, then couldn’t we say that there are some musical styles which are better than others? Is that a safe conclusion to come to?
Brett: This is a whole other conversation Kurt, but we can have a whole podcast just about that question, beauty as objectivity. Yeah. I think, sure, there’s certain objective elements to playing a wrong note or getting the chords wrong is not beautiful, and to a certain degree the excellence of the musicians matters and it should matter, but I think what I’m talking about more is style and kind of I think any kind of style of music can be beautiful and even talking cross-culturally, like the style of music in like a black church. I didn’t grow up with that. It wouldn’t be my natural preferred choice, but it’s beautiful. Any style can be beautiful when it’s done from a place of passion and striving for excellence. The objectivity question is one thing, but I think what we’re called to in our churches is really a posture of wanting to be truly worshipping God and not performing, it shouldn’t be about my own glory as a performer, even as a participant, as a singer, it shouldn’t be about is this fun to sing along with, is this my preferred style? Ultimately it’s about God and worshipping Him together and things like excellence matter. If it’s about God, worshipping Him, we should be wanting to have that objective good, beautiful, music, but again, that can come in so many different forms.
Kurt: The way I kind of view it is when someone is considering that tradition from one style to another, I kind of view it like, think of it like learning another culture almost. Even though we’re in this same country, if you went to another country, you would have to learn the other culture, the way that they worshipped God, and so you would integrate yourself, assimilate, to that culture and participate in that communal experience. That’s the way I kind of view it.
Brett: That’s totally right. I talk about this in my second book Gray Matters, but the taste for something is learned. You’re not born liking coffee. Coffee is something that you have to learn to like. Any food really…
Kurt: Or Dr. Pepper.
Brett: Or Dr. Pepper. You acquired a taste for that. There was some journey you went on. It takes time to learn to love things. You’re exactly right. If you’re in a new church and the worship style is not immediately your favorite. You might hate it at first, but just give it time and make sure your posture is open and eventually, I almost guarantee that you’ll come to appreciate it more. You’ll come to be able to worship in that new style.
Kurt: So let me ask you about in the church today, I think a sign of a healthy church is that you have people on different sides of the political aisle. Jesus is not a Republican. Jesus is not a Democrat. Those categories would be anachronistic to apply to Him. Nevertheless, how we might draw out and apply Jesus’s teaching into our 21st century American government, how we vote, that’s of course relevant, but nevertheless, what would be some advice, personally, I get along great with some people that like to talk politics and I enjoy it, they enjoy it, I have a nice friendly relationship with some people. With other people though, I can tell there’s a struggle. They know that I hold to some beliefs, XY&Z, and I know they don’t hold to those, but we still want to be cordial. What would be some advice you have because there is some awkwardness? Some people are unwilling and in some cases alienate you because of one’s political beliefs. What would be some advice that you would have for us in that sort of situation?
Brett: Hmmmm. We can have a whole other podcast just talking about how do we solve this crisis, I think we are in a crisis of being unable as a society to have civil political discussions, because everything is so hyper-politicized like in the media, in the last couple of years even things like the NFL have become politicized. Politics is becoming all-encompassing. It’s just having negative effects in our own personal relationships, because every conversation turns to politics somehow, and everything is politicized and so yeah, in the church context, first I would agree that a healthy church has a mix of people on all sides of the political error, but I think a healthy church is also not politicized and I think we have to be really careful when churches become politicized and when every sermon sort of has that political overtone to it and certain churches that are homogenous on one side or the other can easily do that. Right? You can have a hardcore red state Baptist church somewhere in the South that finds it easy to talk about political things because everyone agrees and nods along and you can have the same thing on the other side. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I don’t think that’s what church is meant to be. It makes the focus less on Jesus and kind of the transcendent truths of the gospel and more on the immediate pressing social issues of our time and like you said, it’s not that the Bible doesn’t speak to that and we shouldn’t apply that to politics today, but when that becomes the emphasis and when we kind of make Jesus and make the Bible kind of fit our political agendas, we’re just doing it wrong. I don’t know what other advice I would have. Just practically, if you’re in a church, get to know people who have different political views and get to know them on a level of you’re a brother and sister in Christ. Let’s worship together. Let’s be in a small group together. Don’t get together with the sole focus of let’s hash out our political differences together. Build relationships across these divides in the unity of Christ and on the basis of what we have in common which is ultimately much more important than the things that divide us. Politics is a fleeting thing. In a billion years in Heaven we’re going to look back on 2016 and hardly remember, it’s going to be a flicker. Republican and Democrat are going to be words that are faint in our memory, but our identity in the family of God is an eternal identity. These relationships, we’re part of an eternal constituency. It’s going to outlast the Republican and Democrat thing. It’s going to outlast America, every empire, and we just have to have that bigger picture view I think. As members of the body of Christ, we are members of an eternal entity, and that needs to be our primary identity and not these kinds of fickle categories of political identity in 2017, 2018.
Kurt: Yeah, after all, who remembers what the American Whig party stood for?
Brett: I bet you do, Kurt. You’re probably a Whig expert.
Kurt: For most people though, it just doesn’t matter. It’s lost to history. That’s a good point. By the way here, we’re looking at your comments online here. Michaela, who happens to be a beautiful woman, she comments here, “Really finding this helpful. Thanks Brett.” She’s tuning in. We’ve got a number of picture watching. It’s not too late if you want to win Brett’s book, just share the livestream and we’ll pick a winner at the end of today’s show. Brett. Next I want to ask you to talk about uncomfortable authority. That seems to be an aspect in the consumer-driven church and almost coupled with commitment as well. Talk about uncomfortable authority there.
Brett: I think those two chapters are a good pair because they both challenge the kind of obsession with individual autonomy that we have in our culture. Right? We live in this American culture which is basically have it your way, no one should tell you who you are to be, what you are to do, accept[NP1] yourself, it’s your own destiny, it’s kind of the lyric from Frozen. Right? No right. No wrong. No rules for me. I’m free. That’s the paradigm of the world we live in and so the Christian idea of authority outside the self, primarily, the Lordship of Christ as the authority over all things, but then, Scripture, the Word of God, God’s spoken revelation to us, that has an authority over our lives that is far more important than my own kind of autonomy, and then I also talk about the authority of community and how the church, the local church, is meant to be an authority that has a greater importance than your own individual authority and that last one I think is especially hard for 21st century people and it’s hard for a couple of reasons. One, the church is made up of fellow sinners and so there can be unhealthy church environments where you don’t want to submit to that authority because the leaders are perhaps wrong and so that’s a really hard one for people to think about is the authority of my community, my church community, but if you’re in a healthy community and you have godly pastors, godly people around you, I think it’s so helpful to run every decision through the lens of what would my community say? How would they speak to us? And yet in an individualistic society that’s kind of a second level thought. Maybe you ask your community to kind of sanction what you’ve already decided to do or bless it, but you don’t go to them to help process it at the front end. So yeah, authority is ultimately for our good. If we were left to our own devices, as individuals, as the final word on things, our lives would be so messed up. We’re prone to wonder as the song says and that’s where we would go all the time. Authority is the structure, it’s the grid, it’s the bumpers that God has put in our lives for our flourishing and yet, commitment to, we’re so commitment-phobic in our antsy kind of fomo[NP2] age that we live in where there’s so many options always at our disposal, but I think commitment is so important. It’s the whole covenant idea that is so crucial in the Bible from start to finish. This idea that God wants to be in covenant with us and He’s faithful to us and we are called to be faithful to Him and I think how that works itself out today in the local church and actually committing to a group of people that you submit yourself to in terms of embedding yourself in a profound deep way in a community, so that you can grow, so that you can be known in a deep way and actually be stretched and grown to be more effective for the kingdom of God, because when you’re not committed anywhere, when you’re not rooted, when you’re just kind of this rolling stone that’s just going around from church to church or from place to place, I just don’t think you’re going to grow very well and you’re not going to be that effective because you’re not accountable to anything except yourself and it’s the same thing with authority. We don’t flourish if we’re just left to ourselves to kind of wander aimlessly and be unrooted and unaccountable. That’s not how we were created and it’s not how we’re going to flourish.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s a
great thought. We’ve got a couple minutes left here. Before we let you go, I
want to just pretend I’m a hypothetical church person here and I’ve got a few
ideas about my faith and I want you to tell me if I’m right or wrong? Okay? The
first one here. Brett. There is absolutely no friction between my Christian
belief and my partisan politics. My political party always reflects my
Christian worldview. What would you say to someone like that?
Brett: I would say your Christianity is too comfortable. That’s not a good thing.
Kurt: Okay. This is the second thing here. I have all of the answers to my Christian faith. I have figured everything out, no unresolved questions. What would you say to someone like that?
Brett: Same thing. Your faith is too comfortable. You should not feel that way where you’re never challenged, you’re never questioning anything. Christianity is a mind-blowing faith that should always be pressing in on us and challenging us in different ways.
Kurt: Third option here. Brett. I went to work and told a co-worker that I’m a Christian and they were surprised. What can I do to better represent Christ in the workplace?
Brett: I think that that’s not a good thing. If no one, your co-workers, within your context doesn’t know you’re a Christian, then there’s something about your Christianity that hasn’t infiltrated your whole being, your whole life, but I think that’s the goal, that’s what Christ wants for His people is for our faith to kind of be shown, be manifest in everything we do and say.
Kurt: And that’s not to say that we should shove our faith down our co-worker’s throat, but rather that we need to emanate Christ and it should be clear that that person, there’s something different about them.
Brett: Yeah. That’s right, and it goes back to what we were talking about with mission earlier. Opening our mouths and speaking about our faith. That’s an uncomfortable thing to do, but if you’ve never done that, of course you shouldn’t be surprised people don’t know that you’re a Christian. There’s only so much our lives can exhibit. We have to say something at some point. We have to be like, I go to church. It’s important for me for these reasons and here’s why Jesus is important in my life. It’s not that hard to just be honest with people about this aspect of my life that is important to me.
Kurt: What would you say to someone who just struggles to remember the sermon that they just heard on the following day?
Brett: Yeah. That’s also a sign that your church is maybe too comfortable. When we can come and go to a church service on Sunday and it have so little effect on our weeks, I don’t think that’s the ideal. We should be listening to sermons that stick with us and that we revisit. We should be changed by the church we go to on a week to week basis and if you’re not, I think that’s a sign of comfort being too much of a value.
Kurt: Brett. I like everyone at my church. We get along great. I’m never annoyed at anybody. What would you say to someone who says that?
Brett: I would say that’s also not a good thing. As counter-intuitive as that might sound, we should be annoyed at people. I think that’s a sign of health because the church of Jesus Christ brings together people who would have no other reason to get together. People of different classes, ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures, and that is going to create fiction. It’s going to create discomfort because we’re not going to always relate well to those people and there’s going to be awkwardness. There’s going to be annoyance perhaps, and that’s a beautiful thing. That’s a sign that we’re trying to do this together. We’re actually, we’re trying to make it work as a community of unified people in Christ and that’s going to be messy, but I think that’s preferable to the easy kind of homogenous community where no one ever annoys you.
Kurt: And still the uniformity there.
Kurt: It’s good to have diversity and the challenges it presents. A couple more here. What would you say to someone who never feels challenged by doing faith?
Brett: Yeah. Same principle as before. It’s not a good thing. Christianity should be challenging daily, to pick up your cross and follow Jesus daily is not easy. It’s not to say that we should live these lives of constant, woe is me, struggle, but to follow Jesus should be a daily cost in some way.
Kurt: I know it can be uncomfortable for some people, but what does it mean to have a truth in love conversation.
Brett: I think that’s something I talk about in the love, the uncomfortable love chapters. Love, true love, calls us to speak truth to people and not just tolerate things that we see and that’s where our culture has redefined love as tolerance which isn’t love at all and part of the uncomfortable cross-shaped sacrificial love of Jesus is being willing to sit down with sinners and actually call out their sin while also exhibiting grace and love to them at the same time and that’s an uncomfortable tension, that’s an uncomfortable balance, truth and love together, but it’s one I think we need to strive for.
Kurt: And lastly here, I know for many evangelicals, they believe they’re just passing on through this world to the next, and so for many of them it seems that there’s not a need for growth in their life, they might be 70 years old and they’re the same exact sort of Christian as they were thirty years prior. Why would you think that that’s problematic?
Brett: I think it’s problematic because it is neglecting our mission. Ultimately our transformed lives, the growth that happens in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, is for the sake of mission, so that others will see our lives and see growth and see transformation, wonder, how is that happening? What is the source of that? Ultimately it’s about giving glory to God, the source of our transformation. If we neglect that, if our lives as Christians don’t reflect that, if we’re just kind of always the same, just in this cyclical pattern and there’s never any growth, then of course, it would be right for people to be skeptical. What is their faith? What is this Christianity? Doesn’t seem to be making much difference in their life so why would I need it? First and foremost, I think holiness and sanctification, we need to look at it through that lens of mission. Becoming more Christlike in our lives is a powerful testimony to what Christ’s presence by the Holy Spirit does in a person with authentic faith.
Kurt: Yeah. Great. Brett, this has been a wonderful conversation with you here this afternoon. I want to thank you for coming on the program and telling us about your very thoughtful reflections upon why and how church should be uncomfortable for us. Thank you so much.
Brett: Thank you, Kurt. Super fun.
Kurt: Take care. God bless, my friend.
Brett: Alright. You too.
Kurt: That does it for the show today. I’d love to get your thoughts on what you took away from today’s episode, some things you liked, maybe some questions of pushback. I’d be happy to entertain those questions. You can email me, Kurt@veracityhill.com. You can also comment on the video here, or get in touch with me through texting. Just text the word VERACITY to 555-888. I’m grateful for the continued support that we have from our patrons, those are folks that just chip in a few bucks a month. If you’d like to learn how you can become a patron, you can go to the website veracityhill.com/patron and for donors that give $20 or more a month, we will send you this USB flash drive, preloaded with some of our favorite episodes and you can also use it on your phone too. It’s got that really neat USBC end, a dual-end flash drive there, as a thank you gift to new recurring donors. I’m also grateful for the sponsorships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank the tech producer today, Chris, so glad to have you back in the office. Thank you my friend, and also want to send again, a thanks to Brett McCracken, the author of Uncomfortable The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community. We’ll be sure to post a link to the book on our website so check that out and hope that you will get a copy yourself. Brett is a great writer and a very thoughtful person and it makes for easy reading so I’m very appreciative of the gifts that God has given him in that respect, and last but not least, I want to thank you for supporting this podcast and for being willing to listen in from time to time on the thoughts that we’re presenting to you week after week, and for your interest in striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]55:55. Is it accept or except?
[NP2]Unsure of this term at 58:25
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