Well, here we are. On the one hand, I have Tim Stevens' Pop goes the Church, which Pastor Stevens wrote, as he says, because "I think that, just as he did in the first century, Jesus would disciple a small team of leaders while at the same time looking for opportunities to attract and influence large crowds."
On the other hand, we have David F. Wells' The Courage to be Protestant, in which Professor Wells asks, "But what happens when the middle class -- or worse yet, the middle aged -- also begin to sport tattoos on their sagging skin, let their pants sag halfway down their thighs, and sport hoodies as well?"
Indeed. That's the contrast between these two books -- and I want to be as fair as possible in contrasting them because, at the very least, we're talking about the contrasting opinions of two men who are pastors.
So first -- why bother to contrast these two books? The answer is utterly obvious: they are both written to the larger Christian community with the health and mission of the church at large in mind. Pastor Stevens says explicitly, "It has been encouraging to see a segment of the church wake up to the potential of leveraging the culture to reach our friends. These writings are helping us learn how to negotiate relationships with the unchurched, utilize pop culture to start spiritual conversations, and be discerning so as not to pollute our own souls in the process." It's sort of ironic that what Pastor Stevens recognizes in the next paragraph on page 32 is that these books have mostly abandoned the necessity of the local church -- which I would argue demonstrates whether or not these books are capable of teaching how to "be discerning".
On the other hand, Professor Wells says this: "But if the traditional church is so inept, ... so painful, and so boring, why not let it die peacefully? Why keep kicking it? Because the real target is not the traditional church but the traditional theology it lives by." (39)
Now, because Tim Stevens is not a new kid on the block -- he's at least in the third generation of Hybels-esque pastors to write books on this subject -- he has a whole chapter (Chpt 8) dedicated to the theology behind his idea that, as he frankly says, "you have to scratch people where they itch". (Chpt 7, and especially pg 121) His review team of over 50 seminary-trained men and women (I assume this is the list of people listed in the back of the book, pp. 251-253) has gone over Chapter 8, so it must be theology. And in that chapter, he says the following passages relate these truths:
- Acts 17 (cited from the Message) indicates that Paul used Athenian culture to reach the Athenians because that's what he always did
- Paul "[quoted] the first-century version of Dave Mathews"
- Paul quoted Greek philosophers in Titus and 1 Corinthians to admonish Christians
- Jesus was the only person in the NT to use the word "hypocrite", but this then proves Jesus was "redeeming the culture"
- Because a non-Jew wrote Prov 31, apparently all secular lyrics have the potential to be the Word of God
- Jesus did not invent the genre of parables, but instead employed a common literary device -- apparently endorsing the use of all common literary devices including "YouTube"
- Because Jesus mentions two "current events" in the NT, "topical" teaching therefore has an open door
- Jesus didn't live in a hole but actually met people like prostitutes and adulterous women -- though Pastor Stevens is clear to point out "Jesus never sinned"
- Paul was "all things to all people"
- And Paul exorted Christians to live "an everyday, ordinary life" (again with the Message, Romans 12)
The problem is that they don't hardly make the point he is seeking to make. His point is that if you don't serve the immediate needs of people ... wait -- let me quote him for you from Chapter 7:
You see, if you don't offer people something they need, they won't come. If people don't come, you can't teach them the truth. So an effective church is busy identifying people's needs and letting the community know you have some help they should consider.His point is not that we are, for better or worse, a church in an American landscape and society in which we have to speak in words and idioms people will grasp: the "scratch their itch" purpose is not merely to communicate but to commoditize the church into something which works for people better than whatever it is they are trying now.
I have my own opinions about that, but here's what Pastor Wells says about such a thing:
The church is not our creation. It is not our business. We are not called upon to manage it. It is not there for us to advance our careers in it. It is not there for our own success. It is not a business. The church, in fact, was never our idea in the first place. (222-223)And again:
Organizations are everywhere in the Western world, andn there is nothing unique about an organization. The church is utterly unlike any other organization in the world. In the church are those who belong to another world. ... Because when it gathers, it is hearing a summons to stand before the God os all eternity, to worship in awe before him, to acknowledge his greatness, to humble itself, to learn to live in this world on his terms, and to do its business as his. (223-224, italics in original)These are the two conflicting opinions, dear readers. If you have read both of these books, you are welcome to comment here regarding which one offers the more compelling vision of the church and its mission.
If you have not read both books, feel free to read along and lurk -- but people simply looking to voice uninformed opinions need to keep those opinions to themselves. If I think you haven't read both books, I'll ask you once for some proof, and if it doesn't come I'll delete your comments.
Because that's how I roll.