Consider this quote from Tim Keller: ‘
The church has got to become such that every part of its life is hospitable to people who are not believers or don’t know what they believe. So they can come into the groups and into worship, into virtually everything we do and not feel confused or offended or kind of badgered, so that they can have multiple exposures to the gospel in myriad different ways because it’s the only way they were going to have deep world-view change. They need multiple exposure from multiple perspectives and the only way that’s going to happen is if every part of the church is changed so that it is hospitable to them.’
What about the following scriptures:
‘..we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23a)
‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (Jn. 16:33)
Taking the biblical context into consideration, particularly for the latter text, where he is specifically referring to his disciples, I don’t think it is beyond the pale to apply the principle into our modern day lives, particularly considering the multiple churches just burned down by extremists in Egypt. The church was warned to expect opposition to the message of the gospel and my goodness did it come. A quick perusal of the New Testament confirms that! We are studying the book of Hebrews together as a church and we have been learning that many of the early Jewish converts were under enormous pressure to leave the faith and return to the ‘old ways’. They faced enormous persecution and the pastoral advice was to hold fast, remember that Christ is better and that they had not yet resisted ‘to the point of shedding blood’. Food for thought in our mollycoddled age!
I am sympathetic with what Tim is trying to communicate (at least as I have understood it). The church does need to be a hospitable place where people with legitimate faith questions can feel able to come and engage in meaningful ways. I am not suggesting for one moment that we are inhospitable but I do question the thought that suggests that we can somehow lessen the offense of the gospel. I am not sure how we do that or even if we should do that given the bloody cost of authentic gospel living (how many of the early disciples were martyred) and the price still being paid in blood today by believers all over the world.
Tim also talks about effectively engaging with world-views. The ‘baseline cultural narrative’ he calls it. We need to answer the question for people about what is wrong with the world and how do we go about fixing it. In order to do that effectively we need to be engaging with people. When I talk to some people about some of the sexy phrases: ‘postmodernism’ ‘metanarratives’ and ‘micronarratives’ I get the feeling that all their knowledge comes from Don Carson podcasts rather than engaging with real life human beings.
I suppose my overall concern is: once we get past all the cultural baggage (on all sides) and get down to the ‘nitty gritty’, people are lost sinners, going to a lost eternity, judged by a Holy, Loving and Just God and the only way to fix it is through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. I am not quite getting how we make that sound more hospitable.
I am constantly looking for ‘cultural gaps’ in order to bring the gospel to bear in our specific culture here in inner city Niddrie. For instance, many people here go to ‘Spooky Church’ (the local name for mediums and spiritist meetings). They go to connect with the dead or to receive some ‘good news’ or a ‘future reading’. My approach is not to belittle what they are doing, nor even attack it but to seek to understand their motivation behind attending. I remember one young lady being surprised after a conversation we had. Her: ‘You Christians don’t believe in all this stuff do you?’ Me: ‘don’t kid yourself love. We deffo believe in it. It’s very powerful stuff.’ It was a great gateway into a gospel conversation. It resulted in her coming to a couple of meetings but the rubber hit the road when the term sin came up quite naturally from the pulpit. She was not a sinner – end of involvement. She continues to go to the ‘spooky church’ because it makes her ‘feel better about herself’. My point is that yes we can be observers of culture and world-view and look for connection points but sooner or later people must face up to the full gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no hiding it or soft soaping it. People are sinners, rebels and they suppress the truth. Our job is to proclaim it in ways that are meaningful, but proclaim it all the same. The rest is God’s business.