There's a difference between faith and religion...hmm... So I did what most preachers do when returning from such an experience: I took the teaching out for a little 'test drive' in my next sermon or two. In fact, the test drive was so pleasurable, I bought the premise (and their book) and have been driving it ever since. Over several years of teaching and preaching this idea, I've learned that, in general, people older than me (I was born smack-dab in the middle of the Baby Boom) have some trouble with the distinction and often politely reject the notion. But, more interesting to me is the fact that people born after me hear the teaching with a sense of relief as if to say, "Finally...someone gets it!"
In the past four weeks, this idea has come into sharper focus for me. I've been taking an online course with author, preacher, and professor Leonard Sweet. Taking the course with me are nearly 20 other pastors from around the country and representing several denominations. During the course, we read Sweet's So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church. In it, he quotes this spiritual equation from a blog by Alan Hirsch: Christianity minus Christ equals Religion (p.22). If you're like me, you have to stop here and ponder that just a bit. Don't fight it - don't reject it out of hand - read it again and give it a minute...
OK...we're back. So, following this, Sweet makes this observation about today's church in the U.S.:
"Today's church crisis stems from one thing: Jesus Deficit Disorder. The church's narrative is biblically, theologically, and spiritually bankrupt. The church has been busy telling stories other than God's story, dreaming other dreams than God's dream revealed by Jesus" (So Beautiful, p. 22).When I read this, I was reminded of what a retired pastor told me in my first pastorate: "Most folks have been inoculated with a weaker form of Christianity for the same reason we've been inoculated by a weaker form of many diseases...so that when the real thing comes along, they won't catch it."
In light of all this, dear readers, I realize I have, from time to time, been giving inoculations. So, I confess:
- It's easier for me to inoculate Christians than offer the 'real thing.'
- I'm more popular when I water down the Gospel...and I like being popular.
- It's easier and safer to preach/teach about religion than it is faith.
- Whereas growing churches grow on the edges of challenge and a desire to be something they aren't presently, often making them feel discontent, I prefer 'happy churches' over discontent ones - even though the complacency in 'happy churches' is killing them.
- I am a product of a church culture weakened by Jesus Deficit Disorder and only by the grace of God in Jesus Christ can I be healed of this disorder.
Gene Rawls and Kirt Eldredge are two dear brothers in Christ who attended a church I served in Iowa. They used to come up to me before the service and say things like, "Challenge me today, Preacher!" or, "Don't be holding back today." Sometimes a powerful prayer would follow. Those were healing moments in which I could feel myself being gradually liberated from the symptoms of Jesus Deficit Disorder. I truly think the only way to be healed of JDD is by being in community with others who have also identified the disorder and seek to be made whole.
Stay tuned for part 2.