Friday, September 16, 2011

Teach the Controversy

by Rev. Jason Blanton

"We just don't talk about that kind of stuff!"

That is a common thought among families trying to "get along" during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. People from far flung reaches of the country, with very different lifestyles and values coming together around the table can be quite challenging, so, in order to make things less challenging, we typically are taught to avoid certain topics.

Politics? Nope, can't talk about that!
How we raise our kids? Off limits.
Religion? Heavens No! (pun intended, wah wah)
How we hang our toilet paper? Forget it!

Unfortunately, that kind of attitude has infiltrated our churches, and so over the years we have avoided really talking about some things that really are quite important to believers, or at least should be. Now, in recent months, a couple of those topics have burst into the public conscience, and many believers have been left asking more questions than non-believers about what it is we actually believe.

It began with Rob Bell's book about Heaven and Hell. You guys remember that little tiff, right? It seems that what we have "always believed" about Hell may not be what WE'VE always believed. Or what we've ALWAYS believed. Or what we've always BELIEVED.

Many Christians were shocked to find that different interpretations of Hell, its nature and/or its existence have been prominent among different walks of faith for centuries - really since the very first theologians began to talk about such things. Yes, there is a general consensus, but it certainly isn't as open and shut as we've been led to believe.

Next came the Rapture - except, well, it didn't come! Evangelical American Christians were thunderstruck to read that a great majority of the world of believers think those "Left Behind" books should have been left behind - on the shelves of book stores.

At this point, the fangs and claws are usually extended, and we begin to divide ourselves up over these issues, not always fully understanding what it is that we think we understand so well.

So what happened?

A few thoughts. First, we've taken the Great Commission, to " as you are going, make disciples, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you..." and we've turned it into "go make converts."

We (I mean Evangelical Christians, because that is my context) have said that the most important thing we can do is get people to "accept Jesus," and we have structured ourselves according to that vision.

Frankly, I think that is all fine and dandy on Sunday Morning. Though I personally don't choose to do things that way, I understand why others do. It would have continued to be fine until we stopped having any other kind of discipleship.

I already hear you saying to your screen, "but Jason, we still have Wednesday services!," or, "we do small groups each week!." Those are great. Sincerely, I mean it, they are great, but they are only great if they are used as they are intended, to allow people to ask and probe and explore the depths of their faith.

If those smaller group times are only about teaching one particular viewpoint, or one particular interpretation, or one particular brand of orthodoxy, then we aren't making disciples at all, we are making robots.

Who do I blame? Me. Well, not just me, but all of my friends and co-workers who pastor churches. You see, we like being liked. And we like being smart. And we like being right.

We don't like when people question us, especially when they do a good job of it!

I distinctly remember going through seminary, and on a daily basis thinking, "why aren't the people in the pews being given any idea that these kinds of debates are happening every day among the people who stand in our pulpits every Sunday?"

I don't know if it is a lack of trust in our congregations, or a lack of trust in God, or a lack of trust in ourselves - but whatever the reason, we haven't done a great job of building theological depth in our modern congregations.

Its time to teach the controversy! Its time to have time set apart, in Sunday School, on Wednesday, or in small groups where people aren't just encouraged to ask questions, but also made to answer questions from believers in other denominations, or from other cultures.

Muscles only strengthen when you work them, and our faith only strengthens when we put it to the test.

I realize most of you reading this aren't preachers, so you may be asking what you can do. Take some initiative. Read more. Read people outside your comfort zone. Ask questions. Work your faith out with fear and trembling, and understand that God is big enough for any questions you may have, and that truth is true no matter how well examined.

Jason Blanton is the pastor of Grace Crossing in Charlotte. This article originally appeared on his blog,

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