Andrew Sullivan has the cover story for the latest Newsweek (do people still read magazines?) and he has caused something of a stir with his article Christianity In Crisis. Mr. Sullivan lays out his case that the church is broken and overly concerned with politics, self-righteous and hypocritical. All well and good. I have made some of the same statements of concern.
I get why this message resonates with people because at a superficial level it resonates with me! The problem is not so much in the observation of the issues as it is in the proposed solution and the messenger. First of all, Sullivan's solution is a strange blend of a selective "pick and choose" hermeneutic ala Thomas Jefferson and a new asceticism based on the life of Francis of Assisi. Sullivan approach is to reduce Jesus to a moral teacher, failing to capture that the message of Jesus was not a message of morality but of the impending judgment and Kingdom. Trevin Wax wrote a nice response to Sullivan, Christianity in Crisis? A Response to Andrew Sullivan, and this really captures it:
Unfortunately, his solution is woefully inadequate. He wants to return to the simple message of Jesus as if that message can be divorced from the Man who delivered it.
That gets to the heart of the matter. If Jesus is nothing more to you than a moral example, He is little different from any other human. He is nothing more than an ancient Gandhi. Gandhi might have been a swell guy but following him isn't going to save anyone. In his call to abandon the self-righteous, hypocritical church Mr. Sullivan also guts the Bible and the Gospel and reduces Jesus to a moral buffet line where we pick and choose what we like and leave what we don't. Does the church utterly seem to miss the call to self-denial and care for the poor and love of enemy? Yes, yes and yes. Does Sullivan miss the point of the Kingdom and the non-negotiable call to repent and turn from sin? Sadly he clearly does. The solution we need is not less of the Bible, it is more and taken what God has revealed and preserved for us more seriously.
As far as Sullivan, while God often uses the most unlikely among His followers to speak prophetically, I don't think that Mr. Sullivan falls into that category. Perhaps more like the donkey that warned Balaam. As an open homosexual who "married" his partner, Sullivan seems quite self-serving in his rewriting of the Bible to create a new Gospel that doesn't see sin, at least his preferred sin, as a problem. It is always easy to overlook the convicting nature of the Bible and focus only on the forgiveness. Lots of people love the story of the woman caught in adultery but seem to neglect the parting words of Jesus "Sin no more". Whether sexual sin or divorce or disregard for the poor or support for militarism or anger, we always have an easier time wagging our finger at others sin and finding cover for our own.
The same Jesus who spoke of loving your enemies also said that a man looking upon a woman in lust has committed adultery with her in his heart and that it was better to pluck out your eye than have it cause you to sin. That is a pretty extreme statement and He was speaking of a man merely looking at a woman. Not sure how you can reconcile that with a man engaging in an open and unapologetic homosexual relationship with another man who is preaching to us about "following Jesus". Because of this, Sullivan is easy to dismiss out of hand and the important points he raises get lost in the fatally flawed "solution" and messenger. Those who defend the status quo can just chalk up anyone who raises legitimate questions as malcontents and heretics, lumping us in with Sullivan. This is a real danger. The church needs to heed some of these warnings. The church is far too political, far too concerned with institutional preservation and our "rights" and living the American dream and not nearly concerned enough with the poor and the orphan and the widow or even with the lost.
As importantly, Andrew Sullivan needs Christ. Not the moral teacher Christ. Not some perverse revisionist Jesus that would approve of a wantonly sinful lifestyle. He needs Christ to be His Lord and His Savior. He needs the supernatural change of heart that will turn him away from his love of sin and into a born-again new creature that rejects rather than celebrates sin. Please pray with me for the salvation of Andrew Sullivan. He is a talented writer and a pretty smart guy but none of that will be worth a thing when he stands before the King.