I haven’t been doing “point by point” critiques of blog posts much anymore. I don’t think it is terribly productive. Having said that, I am going to make an exception here because of something I read Sunday morning in a Tabletalk essay by Kevin DeYoung. Tabletalk is a widely read publication put out by Ligonier Ministries and Kevin DeYoung has become the de facto spokesperson for and defender of the institutional church, so an essay like this is going to be widely read and referenced. His essay The Glory of Plodding makes the case for Christians (at least the laity) to plod along through life. What I am writing is not a shot at men and women in traditional churches, laity or clergy. It is a poke at those who refuse to recognize that a) there are problems in traditional churches and b) refuse to consider as legitimate any expression of the church other than what they are used to. Here is the the key passage:
My generation in particular is prone to radicalism without followthrough. We have dreams of changing the world, and the world should take notice accordingly. But we’ve not proved faithful in much of anything yet. We haven’t held a steady job or raised godly kids or done our time in VBS or, in some cases, even moved off the parental dole. We want global change and expect a few more dollars to the ONE campaign or Habitat for Humanity chapter to just about wrap things up. What the church and the world needs, we imagine, is for us to be another Bono — Christian, but more spiritual than religious and more into social justice than the church. As great as it is that Bono is using his fame for some noble purpose, I just don’t believe that the happy future of the church, or the world for that matter, rests on our ability to raise up a million more Bonos (as at least one author suggests). With all due respect, what’s harder: to be an idolized rock star who travels around the world touting good causes and chiding governments for their lack of foreign aid, or to be a line worker at GM with four kids and a mortgage, who tithes to his church, sings in the choir every week, serves on the school board, and supports a Christian relief agency and a few missionaries from his disposable income?
Is there much that is mundane about Christian life? Sure, we have work and bills and dirty diapers and meals to make. Are there a lot of people who talk a lot about community and radical discipleship who think coffee once a week at Starbucks equals community and radical discipleship means a soul patch and cool glasses? Absolutely. Having affirmed that, I can’t see any reason, Scriptural or pragmatic, to believe that we are best served by “plodding” along. I don’t see any warrant in Scripture for paying professionals to do ministry on our behalf while we stumble along through life waiting to die or the Second Coming, whichever comes first.
Is the Christian life for those of us not in vocational ministry nothing more than working during the week, shuffling into a church building, sitting quietly for an hour or two, putting our “tithe” in the offering plate to pay for the building we shuffle into and the man we listen to and then shuffling out at the end, repeated week after week and year after year for our entire lives?
Or is it more accurate to say that the Christian life we are called to and see demonstrated in Scripture is one of self-denial, sacrifice, ministry by all Christians, not just a select few. There is nothing terribly sacrificial about putting a check in an offering plate and getting dressed up once a week. Rather than a faithful life of Christian discipleship, Kevin is advocating the perpetuating of a religious system that hampers the maturity of Christians. The evidence for that statement is all around us.
DeYoung closes with this quip that I guess is supposed to be pithy:
Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.
I suppose that is supposed to be terribly clever. I found it smarmy, unbecoming and insulting. Using that as your closing paragraph is exceedingly odd since he is so concerned with what the New Testament does and does not know. The New Testament knows nothing of institutional Christianity nor professional clergy nor monologue sermons nor huge church budgets designed to prolong the institution of the local church nor VBS nor ritualistic “Lord’s Supper” ceremonies and on and on and on. You have to be cautious when you throw out “The New Testament knows nothing of…” statements in defense of something that the New Testament truly knows nothing of.
So we have yet another essay that makes a faulty argument based on the “either-or” error, i.e. either you embrace the traditional church without question or you reject the church entirely. There is no middle ground. It apparently never crosses the minds of some of the best thinkers of the church that the traditional church might not be the Biblical model. Faithful church plodders are noble and everyone who questions the traditional church is a perverse blend of emergent/social justice/liberation theology/neo-Marxism. Kevin DeYoung is a bright guy and writes some thought provoking stuff on many topics but when it comes to this topic (the church) he all too often reverts to gross mischaracterizations, groundless blanket statements and unbecoming mockery that strike me as pandering to an audience.
Invisible Christians are not the people who have become disenchanted with religion and sought a new path. The truly invisible Christians are the ones who plod through life, shuffling in and shuffling out of “church” on Sunday (always sure to pay their “tithe” of course!) who never mature in the faith beyond attendance and have no fruit to show for years of plodding except for a giving statement to file with their taxes.