Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Jesus Way and the American Way

Remember the old joke regarding Ford's Model T?
In what color can I get my Model T?
You can get it in any color you want as long as it's black.

Assembly line wonder brought America a car they could afford.

That same mentality has created made-to-order USAmerican evangelical spirituality. We laugh off being "cookie cutter Christians" and then try endlessly to be just like each other. We are a herd of Xerox-copied sheep, not a unique individual with our name, our fingerprints, our DNA, our life of faith.

Eugene H. Peterson in his latest book, The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way (Eerdmans, 2007), wrote a short few sentences that stopped me. Peterson writes, "For faith cannot be learned by copying, not by imitating, not by mastering some 'faith-skills.' We are all originals when we live by faith" (emphasis added).

"We are all originals when we live by faith."

As freeing as that sounds, we evangelicals are scared witless by Peterson's comment. We can't handle such a reality. Isn't it easier to receive the booklet, the 6 steps, the 7 purposes? Like all things American, we get our spirituality pre-packaged, even pre-digested?

American spirituality is made to order: no need to think for ourselves; no need to wrestle with God; no need to cultivate our own intimate love language with God; no need to walk the rough terrain of not knowing. No need to read "the meat of the Word" when daily vitamins will do. And, hey, by the way, the pastor is supposed to "feed me." Baaah, baaaah.

"We are all originals when we live by faith."

Originals? Or cookie cooker? Hmmmm.



At 5/11/2007 12:53 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Thanks. Excellent thoughts on our spiritual impoverishment and the importance, as Peterson so rightly points out, of being originals when we live by faith. Subversives to the cookie cutter assembly line and following 5 steps to the spiritual life, we need fresh and refreshing new ways of being spiritual people. I also tried to address these very issues in a recent post: The Exodus Church Part 4, and more deeply in my book: Living Spirituality.

Lamentably, much that stands for evangelical spirituality is probably closer to spiritual adultery as the chruch so often mirrors culture. Through science and technology, and I might add Macdoo and BK, the West, and in particular the American West, has attempted to reach out and turn everyone else into a faithful replica of much of what it stands for - power, domination, and neutrality - far traits indeed from following the crucified and risen One - the true rebel, the true original, who allows all who follow him to truly be originals.

At 5/11/2007 4:46 AM, Blogger Adam Gonnerman said...

A while back I blogged on "Finding Purpose" and discussed the need for individuality and diversity in the body of Christ. Now I am preparing a series for my church's small group in Kearny, NJ on the life of Abraham, and am revisiting the issue. Specifically, I've been mulling over the apparent (to me, at least) tension between rural individuality and urban conformity that we see in much of the Patriarchal cycle of narration. It almost seems as though the evil wasn't so much the city, but the tendency of many people living in close contact to adopt each other's habits, including sinful attitudes, and thus actually encourage them in each other.

In high school it was called "peer pressure."

Thanks for bringing it up.

At 5/11/2007 4:49 AM, Blogger grace said...

I think the greatest hindrance to spiritual transformation is an unwillingness to accept the messiness that is a part of real spiritual growth, and perhaps a mistrust of the Spirit's ability to bring about transformation.

Not only that, I think often we would rather follow 10 easy steps to behavior modification than to follow Christ on a path in which we have given over control of our life.

Your post reminded me of an article I read recently by Scot McKnight in which he describes an inadequate understanding of the gospel producing a shallow spirituality.

What you've described here, Christianity in a safe and tidy package, demonstrates that kind of imitation "faith."

At 5/11/2007 6:24 AM, Anonymous Susan said...

It is all too true that the modern values of efficiency, technique, speed, replication have crept into religious organizations of all kinds. Christianity has been on the production-line too long.

Everything wrong with the church today seems to trace back to the seduction of philosophies that have nothing to do with our life in Christ. Whether that philosophy be the "American way" or any other "way"...if its not Jesus' way, we cannot expect things to go well in the long run, even if it looks impressive initially.

This is why I love E. Peterson so much; his is the kind of wisdom that is widsom. He doesn't waste time with "time-saving" techinques, ministry maximizers, or other gadgets. He gives the reader Jesus, every time.

At 5/11/2007 10:06 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

The insidious creep of the dominant culture into the ways of the church is staggering. We in the USA have created our own religious syncretism with capitalist values rather than kingdom of God values. The sad thing is that it happened without hardly a peep from anyone.

At 5/11/2007 10:07 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Great insight! We keep our eyes and hearts aimed horizontally and forget to seek God, and then wonder why we've lost our edge, our holiness.

At 5/11/2007 10:09 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

In a church culture where we worship a God of "decency and order," messiness is the last thing wanted or accepted. That little phrase has covered a graveyard of church deadness and killed the hearts of many passionate Jesus followers.

At 5/11/2007 10:11 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

A hearty amen regarding EHP. He dances to no one's tune. He amazes me--being a presbyterian and yet so able to speak from the outside into the church!

At 5/11/2007 5:38 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Yes, yes and more yeses (which you've already gotten, ha).

We need to be ourselves in the Lord yet in harmony with each other. That's where I can fail. I can be myself yet be out of harmony. Though I wonder oftentimes if all of us are really singing the Lord's song to begin with, sometimes!

At 5/11/2007 6:16 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

You are right about the have a robust personal faith while maintaining community.

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