Six Pieces of Weird Christian Baggage Still Worth Redeeming

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If the Church is a family, it’s a family with a lot of baggage. It’s easy, in any family, to let our choices be shaped by the baggage, as we try to avoid the extremes of our history.

But if we’re reactionary, we end up setting aside the way scripture defines our mission, as we throw out many babies with much bathwater. If we’re not careful, we find ourselves living in the negative space left between the baggage.

In an attempt to live against the constraints of our history and according to scripture, here are some practices I’m stepping into to watch how they can be redeemed.

If the Church is a family, it’s a family with a lot of baggage. Click To Tweet

Six Pieces of Baggage Worth Redeeming

1. Talking as if God is engaged in our daily lives

We’ve all heard Christians making crazy claims about God’s guidance and provision. The prosperity gospel approach makes us cringe so we no longer know how to thank God for his provision. We’ve been manipulated by people telling us God’s will for us, we’ve watched people prophesy moments when Jesus will return.

It’s easier just to stop crediting him, stop listening for him. But if scripture is about anything, it’s about moment by moment reliance on the Spirit of God, trusting that every good and perfect gift is from him, that he is with us in suffering, that his spirit guides and comforts us.

My staff has made a commitment to talk as if God is at work and it’s surprising how uncomfortable it is to say “Praise God!” or “I sense God leading us . . .” But we’re pressing into the discomfort and finding hope.

We made a commitment to talk as if God is at work and it’s surprising how uncomfortable it is Click To Tweet

2. Praying for healing

We’ve seen dramatic healing ministries on TV. We’ve heard stories of scams. We’ve watched God look weak or uncaring when healing doesn’t happen as promised. We’d rather not set foot into the insanity.

But it’s pretty clear in James 5 that we should pray for healing for the sick. As much as we focus on scriptural practices of communion, prayer, baptism, my church has not had a regular practice of praying for healing. So, although it is terrifying, we’ve started asking for literal, physical healing (with anointing oil and everything).

We can’t claim any miracles (yet) but we’re choosing to do what the church is supposed to do.

3. Talking about the enemy

If cartoons and horror movies weren’t enough, we know there are real Christians with real deliverance ministries finding demons under every bush. We don’t want to sound like everything in life is explained by angels or demons and we’d rather not smack of the Middle Ages (or a Frank Peretti book).

Scripture talks of a very real battle with very real victims and very real victories. So while it feels like a script from a bad movie, we’re learning to call out forces which oppose us, as little as we understand their efforts. And we’re learning to claim the power of Jesus. We’re discovering His power from watching how much those forces seem to respect it.

We’re learning to claim the power of Jesus. Click To Tweet

4. Speaking with authority

We’ve seen leadership abused in so many ways that we’re crippled. As some become aware of their privilege, they don’t feel the right to speak at all. As some become disillusioned with top-down, authoritarian leadership models they want to do away with all forms of leadership.

When we don’t have an official, paid title, we don’t know how to speak with authority. But people were astounded by Jesus’ authority. He didn’t have an official title (in fact, most of his ministry, people asked “Who is he to say these things?”) but his authority grew from his own experience of the Father.

So, as we engage in scripture, as we seek God in our lives and through prayer, we’re learning to sense his priorities, learning to watch him in our story. And from his call upon us, we’re learning to trust the authority he has given us, speaking not to dominate or manipulate but to guide to God’s heart.

5. Allowing for emotion

Because we’ve seen examples of extreme faith, entirely based on emotion, we flee to the other extreme. For years I wanted so much not to have a faith based on emotion that when any kind of emotional response arose—gratitude at a sunrise, tears during a worship song—I pushed it away, critiqued it: “Maybe I’m just feeling good because I slept well. That doesn’t prove God is with me.” This creates an illusion that we can be purely rational creatures, only wanting to engage God with one part of ourselves, only trusting things that can be explained.

So, I’m choosing, as subjective and silly as it makes me feel, to accept any good feelings that come. In scripture, we see David dancing and praising, crowds responding with emotion to Jesus. God has no problem with our emotions. So how can we redeem them? This life and faith are hard. I don’t rely entirely on emotion but at the same time, I’ll take whatever good feeling I can get!

God has no problem with our emotions. So how can we redeem them? Click To Tweet

6. Longing for large scale change

We have seen human efforts at large scale things in Jesus’ name—book campaigns, celebrity pastors, mega-churches, huge conferences. We’re turned off by the compromises involved and so turn to small things. When Satan tempted Jesus with kingdoms and authorities, the temptation was to have a mass-marketing approach in the face of the immensity of the mission—he showed Jesus glorious kingdoms, not human faces.

At the same time, Jesus was called to a staggering mission. When he called his disciples to be fishers of men, he used the illustration of bursting nets. I don’t know how to tread the tricky path of letting God do big things through us without compromising the human scale of our mission.

I want to repent of my fear of big things and confess that I long for God to touch every heart on this planet! When we see a mission of that scale, we jump into action with business schemes. But is there a way, instead, to pray for immense change, and ask God to call us to do the small, faithful things that will bring it? (See this article on the power of the recent Urbana event.)

Let’s Call Out the Weirdness

It’s painfully uncomfortable to reclaim these scriptural practices. We’ll be weird to the world and even weird among enlightened believers. But the only way I’ve found to get over the weirdness is to name the weirdness and do it anyway.

As I’m stepping into stretching myself beyond my baggage on all these things one thing is bringing healing: a new approach to certainty. Most of the ways these practices have been abused involve how certainty has been shown in the specifics of God’s behavior: exactly when he will heal, what the enemy is up to, how God is leading the church, how God is making us feel, what God is doing in the world.

So, instead, I’m choosing to have confidence that God is at work but retaining the mystery of the details. It leads me to say, “I don’t know what God will do but I know what he can do.” When we talk about healing we say, “Father, you are able to do this very specific thing. And we leave it in your hands.”

When we talk about being led by him we say, “I’m sensing this from God, does this resonate with you?” When we confront the enemy we say, “We don’t know what he’s doing but we know God is greater.”

Both extremes in these practices look like certainty in ourselves: “I know for certain God does not work in those ways” and “I know for certain exactly how he works.”

What if we stepped into a different kind of certainty? “We know for certain God is at work in weird and wonderful ways. We don’t know the details and that forces us to seek him, to rely on the community and to watch, day by day, for his wonders.”

As we step into where we have certainty and where we still need him, we will shape a powerful expression of his church, unhindered by the baggage.

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8 responses to ““The Gospel Coalition” and Post-Christendom: Will it be a Coalition or an Expedition? 5 Years Later

  1. “Such statements however encourage me to believe that Neo Reformed and Neo Anabaptist should be in dialogue together to further Christ’s Kingdom”
    Absolutely. While I find blind spots and rigid dogmatism in both the neo-Anabaptist and neo-Reformed camps, they both have important things to teach each other. As someone who holds to many distinctives of both groups I truly hope that these estranged step-brothers of the Reformation era are reunited.

  2. I’m surprised you’ve only gotten one comment thus far.
    I’ve only got one foot in TGC’s bandwagon. I don’t think they’re pro-megachurch, though. The most prolific bloggers are mostly small-town pastors and ministry leaders from the Midwest and South. If they are indeed pro-megachurch, then they aren’t pro “rock concert” worship. Their posts on worship tend to lean heavily the opposite. They seem to want hymn-like theological poetry in a quieter “blended” setting, and they really like Keith Getty.

    1. Jim,Yes, I think I can agree with you. My inkling was that they would be more open to the mega church as the driver for church. Their focus on gathering and preaching opens the door to see church in that way. Thus we have Driscoll, Chan, Chandler, MacDonald, etc. all of who I see as once part of TGC nexus. But I agree, this is not a general driver as I thought it might become. And the music varies …


      1. A couple of weeks a go I was at the Forge conference in Scotland and Alan Hirsch was saying that missional was one approach to church which he promoted but that megachurch/attractional churches should not be written off. We needed multiple apporaches to church in every nation. The problem is when megachurches become the only model of church. He name checked Hillsong as an example.I suppose I would see the TGC approach as being similar. It’s not that they are promoting megachurch/mutlitsite/whatever as much as they are not actively opposing those things. You could be in TGC and be in a mega church, or you could be in TGC and be in a missional community.

        As for “Driscoll, Chan, Chandler, MacDonald, etc. ” it’s interesting how each of those people have developped.
        Driscoll and MacDonald have left many of their old networks and have moved into a more Rick Warren stlye direction – something that members of TGC openly admit.
        Chan famously quit his megachurch, has been working in the Verge Network and majoring on discipleship (along with David platt). TGC founder Tim Keller is also a supporter of Verge Network and is concetrating on missiology.
        Chandler now heads up Acts 29, a group which while it has a very strong confessional statement is very diverse on the ground and in the types of churches it is planting. Some would look like wannabe mega chuches, others would be much more missional.

        So even within those who started in TGC there is a large amount of diversity.

  3. Hi David,
    Thanks for this – I think your original post was pretty well on target. I do think there have been some positive ideas and people associated with TGC in the years since you wrote this – Greg Thornbury’s “classic evangelicalism,” for example, or Tim Keller (though I haven’t read much by him) emerging as a public voice for thoughtful faith. But by and large, I find it troubling that’s group of hitherto unknown TGC bloggers like Kevin DeYoung and Trevin Wax have become disproportionately influential in evangelicalism, becoming the gatekeepers of orthodoxy for many people. (I say this after grading my 100th paper on “Love Wins.”) This is bad news for women – whose leadership we badly need in the church – as well as for theological diversity within evangelicalism. As folks like Mark Driscoll and Don Carson regularly forget, complementarianism, Reformed theology, and orthodoxy are not synonymous.

    I also think you are right that an Anabaptist “stream” is on the rise and could serve as a good corrective. This is, I think, a good thing. I would also hope, however, for more liturgical/high church influence on evangelicalism as well. I have considered the idea that most of the criticism lobbed at the Emerging Church was essentially veiled anti-Catholicism. I don’t think the Gospel Coalition is a step forward for an “evangelical catholic” church in North America.

  4. Interesting thoughts. As a conservative Mennonite, I find the YRR crowd like DeYoung, Wax, Anyabwile, Platt, etc, to be beacons of hope amongst the evangelical leadership. I’ve just returned from attending T4G, and was quite bowled over by the consistently humble and God-glorifying worldview shown by these brothers. Historically, those of the Reformed persuasion majored on maintaining a vigorous allegiance to theology that has endured for 2000 years. Anabaptist believers have paid more attention to sanctification, emphasizing faith-based obedience and community over doctrines such as justification or the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. In recent years, however, I have observed an encouraging shift among leaders and churches represented by The Gospel Coalition, a shift that is taking up the call for sanctified living, for building sustainable community, while maintaining or even raising the bar of affirming the inerrancy of Scripture, the glorification of God in Christ, etc. Indeed, this latest T4G witnessed what I am convinced will be known as some of the most influential sermons of the decade. Kevin DeYoung delivered a brilliant message on the inerrancy of Scripture, David Platt on desperate prayer, Anyabwile on repentance, Ligon Duncan on the Gospel in Numbers 5, and of course the inimitable John Piper on the doctrine of election and how it DRIVES evangelism rather than stifling it. This Gospel-centered movement is what is so desperately needed not only in evangelical churches, but especially in Mennonite or Anabaptist churches.

  5. Hi,
    thanks for reposting the article.
    On one of the things you mention:
    “I worried that TGC would reject in totality the New Perspective on Paul, N T Wright, Scot McKnight and others seeking to break the gospel out from from the evangelical narrow focus on subtitutionary atonement.”

    I’m still quite new to the missional movement so sorry if what I say sounds simplistic. But I think TGC have learnt a lot from Wright and McKnight. The resurrection and new life are defnately vital parts of the message TGC promotes. But I’d also say it is (and was) a bit of a sterotype anyway. Wright describes himself as being in the Conservative Reformed camp. And if you read works by people like Mike Reeves on the love of God, or Adrian Warnock on the resurrection, even older generations like J I Packer and John Stott and you’ll soon read of a much wider focus than just the attonement.

    I would see an appearance of focusing on subtitutionary attonement as a reaction to those who want to remove it entirely. TGC quite often have posts about all the things the cross accomplishes for us other than attonement. But when others in the church are saying that attonement is unncessary, or is barbaric, then I’m not surprised that those who do believe in it want to push back and say “hang on, this really happened, and it’s really important”. And the problem is that when you do that some will label you as only being concerned about that one issue.

    I suppose that’s how I see the TGC approach to doctrine as a whole. Not that they are saying “if we get our doctrine right it will lead to revival and mission” (though obviously what you believe about conversion, church and mission will have a major impact on those things) but rather “As we do mission and hope to experience revival, lets make sure we don’t lost these vital truths.”. And in a pragmatic age that seems like a good thing to want to do.

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