Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Simple Way

Well, my vacation is over. I’m officially back from the Outer Banks of N.C. where we had a wonderfully relaxing and restful time. As you can see I also took a vacation from blogging. Now that I’m back there is much to talk about. And though I had a slew of topics I wanted to get into, something I listened to recently really piqued my interest. It concerns the age old discussion of the Christian witness in word and deed. Often these are pitted against each other while advocates on both sides insist that both are necessary for the church to have a more complete biblical witness.

This issue came to my mind when listening to an interview with Shane Claiborne one of the founding members of ‘The Simple Way’ which is a community of believers who serve, live among and live like the poor they’re called to minister too. Shane was given the opportunity to describe himself, the ministry he’s apart of and his view of biblical Christianity on the 6/13 edition of the Radio Times program. While I looked forward to hearing about The Simple Way and how they lived out their incarnational community ministry among the poor, I was disappointed to learn that Shane appears to be an advocate for a word vs. deed approach to ministry instead of a word and deed approach to the biblical witness.
For instance, Shane described the church solely in terms of a community of people who are focused on being the church by growing into an organic fellowship of love. The church is not a gathering of people who worship the living God through Jesus Christ, but only a group of people looking to create a loving community. Few of us would argue that the church is indeed called to be a loving community who relate to each other beyond our formal worship services, but we are also called to be God’s people who prioritize the public worship of the Triune God through Jesus Christ.
The heart of Shane’s view of biblical Christianity appears to center on a certain slice of Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle. In my view (you’d have to listen to the interview yourself) Shane didn’t make a distinction between the words and life of Jesus and the rest of Scripture, he made a definite separation. From there he promotes a view of faith in which living the example of Jesus takes clear precedence over believing in the Person and work of Christ. In fact listening to Shane I came away thinking that he could have just as easily used Gandhi, Mother Theresa or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to pattern his life after. I don’t mean in any way to even suggest that those who claim to follow our Lord should dismiss His earthly lifestyle as our supreme example of how one ought to live his or her life. But does that mean we must downplay the central reason Jesus came to earth? Must we mute the message of the cross in order to highlight the mandate to take up the cause of the poor? Additionally, what kind of witness do we give when we ignore the centrality of the cross and tell unbelievers that what really counts is how they live, not what they believe?

What troubled me most however was Shane’s response to a caller who expressed her gratitude that he promoted a version of Christianity that didn’t call for belief in the exclusive Person and work of Jesus Christ. From her vantage point disbelief in Jesus does not disqualify one from being in a right relationship with God. Shane responded to this not by claiming that Jesus Himself declared that He was the one and only way to be in a right relationship with God, but by making an analogy to his preference from Italian ice. (called Water Ice in Philly)
In effect he said that matters of faith are essentially issues of taste and preference. He has a particular preference for the lifestyle of Jesus Christ, and recognizes that others may have a preference for another system of faith.
Please listen to me folks. I do not in anyway want to be nitpicky, insensitive or doctrinally uptight. But when someone calls one who claims to be an evangelical Christian and says they’re comforted that people don’t have to believe in Jesus to know God our response cannot be that our faith is simply a matter of private personal taste.

What I want to know is this: why is it that some who claim to believe in our Lord insist on ripping away the integrated aspects of the Person and work of Christ and then only focusing on those that suit them? How is it that we can all have the same bible, read the same words and yet some conclude that what one believes about Christ isn’t as nearly important as how one follows the lifestyle of Christ? Conversely, why do some act as if we can believe and proclaim the Christ of Scripture and yet never truly adopt or even consider the kind of lifestyle He led?
Finally, why do some on either side of the issue persist in creating a jagged distinction between word and deed when speaking to the culture, yet when in Christian circles adamantly proclaim that the church must have both for a true, biblical witness?

To Him Who Loves Us...
Pastor Lance


christian said...

Very interesting post, I tried to follow the link to the radio website but was unsuccessful in finding Shane's interview. I am very interesting in hearing it since his book "Irresistible Revolution" was very influential on me and my wife and some friends/family and what we are looking to do in our near future.

AndyHigg said...

I was recently teaching at my church on this subject: We can't truly reach the world with the love of Christ unless Christ and His being lifted up is central in our "social gospel". We must bring both saving gospel and social change to the world in need.