Jonathan Merritt has been kind enough to address a couple of questions about his book A Faith of Our Own that was reviewed in the previous post. I appreciate his openness and willingness to take time to respond.
You mentioned how refreshing it is to have participated in the Cross Pointe church plant. The vast majority of churches are like the one that Cross Pointe came out of…around for 125 years “and steeped in tradition”. It is a shame that we have to start something entirely new to embrace the Gospel as fully as we would like. What do you do with those “left behind” in those churches that will remain in their tradition and yet are still seeking to please God just as much as any of the rest of us?
I don’t think you have to start something new in order to fully embrace the Gospel. A church plant was the calling on our lives, but there is a need for communities to reform themselves too. My advice to pastors and church leaders is to begin cultivating in their people an extravagant love for the Gospel that loosens their grip on tradition. It’s often easier to just take off and start something new, but God hasn’t called us to the easy. Without a distinct calling to plant a church, we need to do the hard work of enacting change right where we are.
In chapter 8 you tell a story about going on a mission trip to Kolkata working with Mother Teresa’s people. In what was probably the most powerful chapter in the book you talk about ministering to the sick. There was a line in that chapter that said, “It is your hands that do the changing”. Do you feel the church has tied hands rather than equipped our hands to minister to the hurting? It seems even when we plant churches we still fall back into traditional and institutional means for “doing church”. We collect money, get a building, have a staff…is this too stuffy? How do we get more people in the trenches to actually do the difficult work of changing the world rather than just talk about changing the world?
We have a few problems with regard to this point, I think. First, we’ve professionalized church ministry rather than “equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry.” This has created both a sense of entitlement to withdraw and also a sense of accomplishment for throwing a couple of bucks in the offering basket each week. Second, we’ve been guilty of reductionism. So, as I argue in the book, we often think that our commitment to an issue can be reduced to how we vote. If you’re pro-life, you just vote pro-life. Never mind having to get your hands dirty and actually care for unwed mothers or adopt children into our own families. Both of these problems need to be fixed. We must learn to embody our faith.
There are several negative statements and critiques in the book of the older generation. What good qualities and perspective do you think the older generation has to offer the younger in order to give them a healthier perspective on life, ministry and even politics?
The last generation has many positive qualities that cannot be overlooked. First, they were protectors of Biblical orthodoxy in a time when it was fading. Second, they committed to fulfilling the great commission, spawning and expanding all sorts of global missions organizations. And third, we have to admit that their political witness was not all negative. During most of the twentieth century, evangelicals were noticeably absent in the public square. They felt like they shouldn’t be involved in politics in any concerted way because it distracted from their true task of evangelism. But beginning with Carl Henry’s Uneasy Conscience that changed. Evangelicals began to recognize that we have an obligation to be good citizens and even advocate for good public policy. This was a good turn. But they took it too far. And rather than just engage the public square, they bit into the poisonous apple of partisanship. And they placed their hopes and dreams into elections and legislation and such. This was the bad turn that accompanied their good one.