There have been several revealing things in the book that have helped me re-examine my own faith and how I am living it out, but I recently read one section that sort of blew my mind, and I really just wanted to share it with other people, so I figured a blog post might be the best way to do that. I could paraphrase it and put it in my own words, but I think I'll just leave it all in the author's original words.
It's a little long, but whether you are a committed believer, a former church attender, or an unbeliever with preconceived ideas about Christians, I think you will find this insightful and beneficial to read.
[T]he rise of the Christian subculture has confused many and has made the gospel remarkably unattractive to unbelievers (and to a lot of young believers)... take a look at what happens to so many of us (including me) who do love Jesus but who also grew up in the Christian subculture.
1. We need Christ. We all start here, dead in sin, desperately in need of Christ.
2. We become believers. I am talking about those who genuinely come to salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of the work accomplished by Christ alone. Christ changes our lives by His power through the cross. We have newfound joy, a hunger to grow, and begin to see our lives changing. At the same time we have a deep burden for those who do not know Jesus. We pray for them, talk to them, and hope to reach them. But something happens early in our growth in sanctification... we make a fundamental shift in our basic understanding of what a Christian is, away from discipleship and toward church attendance.
3. We become a church attender. We hear talk in our churches about faithful attendance and see it celebrated above all else. We hear less about radical obedience than Sunday school, more about attending small group than attending to our character. Before long we learn the drill: What seems to be valued more than just about anything is church attendance. We begin to see Christianity less as a movement of people daily in the culture and more as a building to attend consistently. We still care about those who do not know Christ, but we are more likely to invite them to an event than to pray for them as we had before or speak to them directly about Jesus. This shift into church-attendance-as-great-Christianity leads to the next step.
4. We become part of the Christian subculture. Or, the Christian bubble. Or, the Christian ghetto. Ghettoes in cities are easily recognized. They look different from other parts of the city, and [outsiders] avoid them. In our Christian bubbles we may actually confuse a good activity with the best... We go to 'Christian' day at the theme park and put a fish on the back of our car. We start speaking Christianese, which makes us increasingly incapable of talking to people not like us. We become more like people living in a ghetto than people transformed by the gospel. Certainly, the gospel does change us, and we should look different from the world, but not in an 'odd-for-God' kind of way. The change we hear championed has more to do with external conformity with other believers than demonstrating Christ to the world.
5. We become fans. Instead of following Christ and encouraging our children to chase after Christ more than college or career... we trade a surrendered life of a follower for the more convenient life of a fan...
6. Fans then become clones. Jesus commanded His followers to make disciples of Him, not clones of them. But an overly zealous Christian subculture easily creates the mind-set that we must look like each other to be truly spiritual. Educate your children in the approved manner, listen to the approved musicians, [dress in the approved way, etc]...
7. We become awkward, especially around unbelievers. Because our focus is the bubble, what difference does it make if those outside the bubble are impressed or influenced by me? It is too hard to convert them to my kingdom with my rules anyway. So we stay around those like us because it takes much less work to impress them. Hence, we are awkward with unbelievers, because we have no desire for their souls that compels us to care.
We go to movies and play golf or go fishing with other bubble believers, but often never even think about doing such things with the unchurched. On the rare occasion when we do find ourselves talking to the unchurched, we find ourselves uncomfortable with their language or perspective on politics or other issues. Rather than seeing conversations as an opportunity to share Christ, they make us long for fellowship with people who share our worldview. We do not find ourselves praying for those as we once did, but we do find ourselves pitying people not like us.
8. ...Some of us become like Jonah. After years in the bubble, we relate to the culture around us mostly by complaining about it. 'Like Jonah... who ran away when God told him to go to the wicked city of Ninevah, we don't want anything to do with those who aren't following God.' The church becomes a place to protect us from the evil world rather than a sending base for the mission of God. We fill our calendars with activities that keep us at the safe church building, which has become more monastery than mission center. We don't think about the lostness of those who are apart from Christ, at least not as much as we think about how awful they are for being lost. As a result, we spend far more time nitpicking little disagreements over nonsense, while people are perishing all around us. I have been here too many times, and it is a sorry way to live.
This is not a little issue. This is idolatry, the exchanging of the Great Commission for the Great Presumption - we presume our Christian bubble actually represents the gospel. No, that is actually what Jesus came to confront (see Matthew 23). We are not to be like the world. But our subculture is definitely not making us more like Jesus... God saves us to send us into the culture to spread His love.*
- You abandon the whole thing (church, Christianity, God) because it starts to feel silly and abnormal
- You become so entrenched in the bubble that you become hostile to unbelievers and ineffective or even counterproductive to the purpose of Christianity; or
- You are awakened to the idolatry that you have been blinded by, and Christ (not the church, not the Christian bubble, not your morality) appropriately becomes the center once again as you pursue heart change in yourself and sharing/showing God's grace and love to others.
I think it is incredibly helpful and important to think about these ideas and examine where we are with regard to the Christian bubble... or maybe where we have allowed it to take us and how we have allowed it to influence our response to the real, life-changing gospel of Christ.
*Alvin L. Reid, As You Go: Creating a Missional Culture of Gospel-Centered Students, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2013), 129-133.