OK, not that anyone needs another bog- post on Willowcreek’s REVEAL. But I’m frustrated that the interview (WMBI radio this morning) turned into an apologetic for Willow without any feedback. Julie at the station did a great job and we both agreed this is the nature of radio. Anyways, here’s some quick retorts (poorly edited) on the interview between myself and Scot McKnight on WMBI this morning. This is what I would have said if Scot had given me a chance to get a word in edge-wise (wink-wink Scot … just kidding).
1.) HERE WE GO TRYING TO SATISFY NEEDS AGAIN – THIS TIME IT IS SPIRITUAL GROWTH NEEDS. The big problem with Willowcreek and many forms of American church is that it assumes the church is an institution that exists to satisfy needs – as they exist – unredeemed. When we organize church to do this it changes the very nature of the church making it unrecognizable as the people of God called to live the reality of His excellence before the world (1 Pet 2:9). The problem with the REVEAL report is that it takes all of this one step further, making spiritual growth into a consumerist personal need to be serviced by the church. Spiritual growth cannot be met as an individual separate from community, confessing sin one to another (James 5:16), speaking truth as real people to other people we know in love (Eph 4:25), worshiping and reorienting ourselves to The Reality – God of Jesus Christ, working out our lives in regular communal fellowship in submission one to another (Phil 2:12 after the order we are to be shaped into Phil 2:1-11). These practices cannot be mass-organized. They take intentional community.
2.) THE PERSONAL DISCIPLINES ARE NOT ENOUGH. Willow’s REVEAL thinks the answer is for them to train each of their people into the individual disciplines. The so-called Navigator wheel. Personal bible study, prayer, fellowship and service to others. Yet I know, from talking to Navigator leaders high up that this approach alone has been a failure. We need communal spiritual practices as well. They are essential.As I said, these practices are more akin to a missional order and cannot be mass organized.
3.) The problem with THE MEGA-CHURCH approach is its processes BREEDS PASSIVITY. REVEAL says our problem was we made people too dependent upon us. Yet this is the nature of the large attractional show church service which all mega churches are built around and get their name. IT IS POWERFUL SPIRITUAL FORMATION. It breeds passivity from the very start. To sit anonymously, take in the show of Christianity and pick and choose what I want to use for that day. It in essence makes Christianity unrecognizable. Can REVEAL do some research on this?
4.) The REVEAL report continues to assume the church is about CUSTOMER SATISFACTION. And so SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS SEEN AS A PRODUCT (see p. 90 of the report). But this is the root of the problem for those of us who see consumerism as the problem. Christianity is not about individual benefits although there are many derivative of participating in a life ordered by God’s Mission. To turn spiritual growth into something we offer as a church is once again to repeat the same mistakes all over again.
5.) REVEAL says we asked churches outside of Willow. But THE QUESTIONS THEMSELVES ASSUME A CERTAIN VIEW OF THE CHURCH which in itself is the problem. The questions about “rating satisfaction” regarding “church benefits” (I have to believe) would be laughed out of most missional churches I know. (the quotes are from p.53 of report).
Finally, when you see the church as God’s chosen social strategy for redeeming the world, the place where he is working, the social embodiment of His new way of life displayed before the world, it is hardly appropriate to ask someone if they are satisfied with it. It is like asking someone if they are satisfied with God’s salvation in Christ. Rate your satisfaction?
There is much more to be said. But what was telling in the WMBI radio interview was the callers who called in. A slice of American Christianity – extolling the virtues of putting on a show because alot of people show up, it works (uh in what way?) therefore quit criticizing, alot of young people show up to see a movie and the show, so our kids are in church – everyone should be happy (and when they graduate high school all the statistics say they will never come back), “double dipping”- going to a church to get things.
To me this is what American churches try to play to in order to survive. And in a few short generations, we shall see we have not survived following this way. THIS IS WHAT REVEAL REVEALS.
No one is trying to demonize Willow here. This is the most influential, self published, promoted ecclessiology in the world. If I am a theologian of any worth, I and others must engage the theology and cultural assumptions of this organization and its vast publications. We do this for the furtherance of Christ and His Mission. We do this seeking more faithfulness. We submit it to the Spirit for him to work (Acts 15). To this end, I continue to encourage Greg Hawkins of Willowcreek, Scot McKnight, and others to talk. In fact let’s talk together.
Yesterday on WMBI, Willow Pastor Hawkins (one of the authors of the report) said the bloggers have not read the report. I have. He said that we should call and talk. I have written in the past. No response. Not blaming anyone. You all are busy I know. But in response, I put out an open invitation to get together. I am willing to organize a conference that is off Willow’s campus, bringing Willow, theologians and pastors together. I will charge only the cost to cover the expenses. LET’S GO! You know where to reach me. Put a comment on this blog or e-mail me via lifeonthevine.org. Blessings!