The Christian Workarounds

In my work as a communications adviser, one of my primary tasks is to help people let go of their workarounds. Sure, it takes 10 extra steps, 3 more documents, and 1 sacrificed squirrel to get it done – but it’s what they know, it’s comfortable, and change is scary. I totally get it. I hate change too.

What I recognized early on as a pastor is that Christians have these workarounds too. At a “book study” one night at my house going through whatever popular Christian Living book we were using at the time, a new Christian asked: “Is it really this hard to be a good Christian?” She was referring to all the “simple steps” articulated in the book. Why does being a “good Christian” take reading all these books?

I had had enough. I looked at my group and said, in my overly brash/arrogant early 20s way, “No. It’s not that difficult to understand. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor. Defend the poor. Give up all you own.” But that’s terrifying. It requires actual sacrifice. So Christians in America have spent the last 50 years developing dozens of workarounds, ways to be “good Christians” without actually having to do the hard things Jesus talks about.”

Was I arrogant? yes. Was I wrong? I don’t think so.

As Kierkegaard says, “Being alone with God’s Word is a dangerous matter. Of course, you can always find ways to defend yourself against it: Take the Bible, lock your door – but then get out ten dictionaries and twenty-five commentaries. Then you can read it just as calmly and coolly as you read newspaper advertising. Can’t we be honest for once! It is only all too easy to understand the requirements contained in God’s Word. The most ignorant, poor creature cannot honestly deny being able to understand God’s requirements. But it is tough on the flesh to will to understand it and to then act accordingly. Herein lies the problem. It is not a question of interpretation, but action.” – For Self-Examination & Judge For Yourself 26–35

Some of us evangelicals have more of an academic bent, so we tend to create workarounds that involve defending esoteric doctrines that no one has ever heard of. Others of us evangelicals have more of a contemplative or pragmatic bent, so we tend to create workarounds that involve those aspects of our lives.

Are these bad practices in themselves? Probably not. As always, it’s about the heart.

Why do we defend doctrine rather than the poor? Why do we grow in learning to be kinder and more patient but not growing into solidarity with people who make us uncomfortable? Because the former increases our comfort and control while the latter decreases our comfort and control.

But to admit that we just don’t know how to love well would be devastating, our fragile egos often cannot handle it. So, we create a workaround. We create a new system where Jesus doesn’t really mean what he says and where defending doctrine is a wonderful substitute for defending the poor. All the reward without any of the sacrifice.

It’s like the Christian version of the diet pill, putting money in the manufacturers’ pockets & helping people find a solution for their dilemma of wanting to change without the pain that change causes. Sounds like a win-win. Is that bad? I am not interested in right or wrong, good or bad. I’m just saying that if we want to be like Jesus, increasing comfort and control doesn’t seem to be a good tactic. There is no Resurrection Sunday without the Death of Good Friday.

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6 responses to “The Christian Workarounds

  1. It also comes, I believe, from the modernistic tendencies of the Enlightenment. We need to be able to quantify, qualify, etc, using reason and rationale. It needs to be able to fit into a nice, neat, step by step, bullet point power presentation. And it takes a LOT of study and books and such to put that all together, obviously…

    …meanwhile, Jesus is a LOT messier… And we need to be reminded that when it comes to being a Christian, we follow a person, not a book…

    • Well put! Yes, but again, the Enlightenment project is still rooted in control. Once we understand the Logos, we control it. We do not like the messiness of the Bible & Jesus – not because it’s not practical – but because it cannot be controlled.

      • Good point… perhaps an innoculation to this tendency is to return to an old confession… not the confession of “I believe in Jesus” but the confession “Jesus is Lord”. No more control… Jesus is Lord…

  2. That issue of control is huge. I’m really glad your 20-year old self unpacked all the workarounds (excellent use of this concept!). There seems to be a lot of talk these days of deconstructing certainty. I am sure that this will unhinge many people, but the fruit of that can result in a profound relationship with God built on trust. Because if we’re in control and got it all figured out, there’s no need for trust.

  3. “I’m just saying that if we want to be like Jesus, increasing comfort and control doesn’t seem to be a good tactic. ”

    This echoes much of my experiences lately.

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