An Insider’s Look At How We Do It
John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
Baker Books, 2003, 191 pp.
Stackhouse is professor of theology and culture at Regent College but is probably best known for his contributions to Christianity Today and Books & Culture magazines. Writing as if for a series of magazine columns, Stackhouse deals with issues in the evangelical church that irritate, annoy, and trouble him. His insight, satire and wit make for enjoyable reading.
Issues are categorized under the general topics of worship styles, preaching, leadership, fellowship, education, revival, denominations, money, and mission.
The 10-page summary of the history of denominations is worth having for reference.
I was particularly interested in what he had to say about God’s mission, his thoughts about Jesus as a nice guy, and our evangelistic preoccupation with the well off.
“God’s work is greater than any one cause. Or to put it better, God’s one cause is the extension of his influence, his kingdom, into and over all the world, every corner of it. God’s view is total, his resources infinite, and his ambition literally universal.” (170)
He tells about Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park where a Marxist was denouncing Jesus for not being a nice person. Stackhouse spoke up and suggested, ‘Well, of course Jesus was not a nice person! He called the religious leaders of his day the most terrible names possible in their vocabulary: ‘sons of Satan.’ He denounced the nation of Israel as deaf and blind to the revelation of their own God. And he promised hell to all those who didn’t believe in him. Of course Jesus Christ was not a nice person. You don’t crucify nice guys!”
From this point he challenges us. “I’m afraid…too many of us Christians want our acquaintances, above all, to see us as nice guys, and therefore we want our religion and even our Lord to be seen that way. I’m afraid it’s because too many of us Christians are so worried about looking like those angry fundamentalists, those nasty TV preachers, those lunatic religious bigots that we have run too far in the other direction.
“English writer Harry Blamires has suggested that the reason why most people in our culture don’t care much about Christianity—as manifestly they don’t—is that we never provoke them to consider it. There’s nothing about us that confronts them with an alternative vision, another set of values, a different orientation.” “…our commitment to Christ and his kingdom ought to be such that those around us cannot help but see—in the day-to-day, decision way we live and talk—that we’re heading one way and they might be headed another.” “If the world does not hate us—does not resist us or despise us or fear us or mock us or challenge us—perhaps it is because it recognizes in us nothing very different from itself.” (172-73)
Ch. 39 is titled, Spending Too Much on Those with Too Much. In it he challenges our overwhelming efforts to attract the satiated.
“When I look at Jesus’ evangelistic career…I see that he doesn’t seem to go out of his way to approach people who are preoccupied by ‘the cares of this world.’” “I wonder: Are some of us spending a great deal of God’s resources to try to attract the attention of those who are successful and contented by the world’s terms, when Jesus himself came not to the ‘healthy’ but to the sick?”
“Does God want us to devote so much of our creativity and effort to attract the attention and the fair-weather esteem of the dazzled, preoccupied, and complacent? Or should we concentrate on welcoming those who know that they are needy, those who would come in if they knew we wanted them, those who would likely receive gladly any grace we would give them in the Lord’s name? How many of our God-given pearls are we presenting, with all the cleverness and charm we can muster, to ungrateful and uncomprehending worldlings who despise the gospel riches we offer and prefer instead the sensual pleasures of the trough?” (178-79)