Fighting “The Man” that Jesus Died For

A lot has already been written about Jefferson Blethke and his poetic attempt to express his devotion to Christ even while he denies the church, an attempt that went viral on YouTube (see here). Even others on ESI have written very intelligently about this video, and I feel completely inadequate (and largely unmotivated) to the task of adding anything of value to the theological discussions swirling around it.

However, New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks had a really interesting write-up yesterday about Blethke and his recent capitulation in response to the dissenters of his message. Brooks has an interesting perspective on the whole debate, but my thoughts went in a different direction. (Probably not nearly as intelligent or maybe even original – but I’ll share them, nonetheless.)

I would encourage you to read his entire piece, “How to Fight The Man,” but here’s a relevant portion:

Bethke watched a panel discussion in which some theologians lamented young people’s disdain of organized religion. “Right when I heard that,” he (Blethke) told The Christian Post, “it just convicted me, and God used it as one of those Spirit moments where it’s just, ‘Man, he’s right.’ I realized a lot of my views and treatments of the church were not Scripture-based; they were very experience based.”

Bethke’s passionate polemic and subsequent retreat are symptomatic of a lot of the protest cries we hear these days. This seems to be a moment when many people – in religion, economics and politics – are disgusted by current institutions, but then they are vague about what sorts of institutions should replace them.

We can all theorize why the intense desire for change has so far produced relatively few coherent recipes for change. Maybe people today are simply too deferential. Raised to get college recommendations, maybe they lack the oppositional mentality necessary for revolt. Maybe people are too distracted.

My own theory revolves around a single bad idea. For generations people have been told: Think for yourself; come up with your own independent worldview. Unless your name is Nietzsche, that’s probably a bad idea. Very few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview.

I think the overarching point of Brooks’ theory – that if you want to be a rebel and oppose “the man,” you might put more than your own experience and five minutes of thought into your rebellion – is a valid one, but as I read his editorial, I thought his question has a fairly obvious answer…at least, from a Christian worldview, it does.

The question is, “Why does an intense desire for change produce so few coherent recipes for change?” My answer, though potentially simplistic, would be that any other “recipes for change” would be equally flawed, just in different ways, because we live in a broken world. Institutions, policies, governments, organizations and people – especially people – are flawed.

Is the church messy, hypocritical, complicated and hopelessly imperfect? Yeah. Of course. “The church” is made up of sinners, every one of us. “The church” in its purest form – which I will very loosely define as faithful believers of Christ who believe in his sinless life, atoning death and resurrection, and who are seeking to genuinely live out life together in the pursuit of serving Him for His glory – is still going to make mistakes.

From the very beginning, the followers of Christ have lived in community (Acts 2:42-46). I don’t think it’s because within community there aren’t failures and mistakes. However, I do believe that living outside of community is dangerous. Outside of community – and that is what the church is, a community – we are left on our own to perceive accurately, judge rightly and respond confidently based on our own perceptions.

Dave Cover had a great illustration in his sermon a few months ago that makes the point. He showed a video clip done by National Public Radio that compiled the result of several studies showing what happens when a person is blindfolded and then asked to simply walk (or drive, or swim) in a straight line. Without the ability to fix themselves on an end point, the result, time and time again, is that the blindfolded person will start out going straight, but will inexplicably begin to turn and will eventually go in circles. The most interesting point of the studies, to me, is that the blindfolded person, while turning in circles, is convinced in and of themselves that they are still going straight.

Dave asked the congregation, “What does it say about our own sense of guidance, direction and intuition? Well, I think it says it’s for sure wrong.” I completely agree.

Dave, this study, and God’s word (Jeremiah 17:9) are all pointing to the same truth – on our own, we can’t possibly judge what’s right and wrong, because we are hopelessly trapped in our own logic, bound by our own experiences, held back by our own finiteness, blind to our own blindness. We need outside wisdom. We need each other’s help more than we even know.

Like Blethke, you might have problems with the way in which organized religion has failed humanity historically in various ways and at various times. You might criticize one particular denomination for beliefs you don’t think are biblical, or churches whose priorities may not seem in line with what Christ is calling us to.

Brooks posed the question as to why the anemic protests of individuals create so few relevant “new options.” That’s not what I would ask in response to Jefferson Blethke and anyone else standing outside “the church” and throwing rocks it. What I might say is, “So you see some problems inside the Body of Christ? Great! When are you going to walk through the door and invest your heart, soul, mind and strength, to the glory of God, to work alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ to solve them?”

Get involved and join the flawed, sinful folks in that church in serving their community. Seek the greater good of the Body of Christ by becoming a part of it, as best a flawed, sinful person such as yourself can.

Hebrews 10:19-24 (note the many uses of us, we and our in this passage)

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


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