reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why is church in black and white?

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |
Great session at Ch Ch with Steve last night (despite the presence of marauding pigeons) thinking about the view of spirituality presented by Velvet Elvis and Blue Like Jazz.

The verdict: we didn't like it. Although we think that they have very useful things to say, doctrine is not formed out of a conversation with ourselves, our stories or our culture. In fact, as Steve helpfully pointed out, doctrine is the far more exciting revelation of God's story and the call for us to join in and be part of that.

The question though: why are so many of the things that Bell, Miller et al say true about our churches? Where is the emotion and engagement? Where is the sense that we are operating in "full colour" in church, in the same way we do in the rest of life? Good questions, and ones we need to face up to.

2 punts at answers:
1) Sometimes, and I get the overwhelming impression that this is true of most reformed churches I have visited, I don't really want to experience the emotions that the truth is calling me to. I don't want to enter into God's anguish in Hosea 11, the valley of death in Psalm 23, the frustration of false doctrine in Galatians. It's easier not to. To be honest, church is a lot more straightforward when it's in black and white, and a lot more easy to deal with on a Sunday morning.

2) The second thing is that I don't really let church people into the full colour version of my life, and my sense is that they don't often let me in either. When did I last honestly answer the question "how are you?" When did I come clean about what a sinner I am to my church family? Much more likely I smiled, covered up my need for help, and went on my way. Easier for me and them that way - but ultimately black and white.

I guess that's not the whole issue - but it is part of the way there. The answer isn't to try and bring full colour into what was always meant to be black and white - the story God has revealed, but somehow, me and the raggedy bunch of people I call church need to find a way to experience the story in glorious technicolour. We can only do it together.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post! Point #2 has me thinking. I don't think most church people, myself included, let folks in your congregation know who you really are. I think the answer to the question, 'how are you?' is far too complicated for a Sunday morning. We'd rather hear 'fine' and be on our way than hear 'my car broke down/my husband left me/i dont have a penny to my name.' I hope we can work on this aspect, though, because if you cant be honest and seek change in church, where can you?

2:53 PM  
Blogger étrangère said...

"why are so many of the things that Bell, Miller et al say true about our churches?" I actually get annoyed with B, M et al (especially Al) over these sweeping statements about our churches. About Christ's church. I don't find them to be true of churches I've been in, and if they are, then I'm a part of those churches and I can't detach myself from 'them' to judge them. I get the following impression from Bell, McLaren, Chalke & Miller (different from Driscoll) which drives me up the wall: 'In the few churches I've been a part of, there's been some X. I don't like X. Therefore I'm going to say that X is their problem (I didn't contribute to it), and that X is true of every and all of the Church worldwide for the past N centuries. Therefore we must come up with something entirely new and set it up as the opposite of the old which invariably produces X. (PS Isn't God good to provide us to come along and correct it!)'

Of course, there may be X wrong with a church. But I've never found it as dire as they describe, and grew up with a mentality which said, "In our church we're lacking in X. Let's pray & work at it. Or if I'm not in a position to do anything about it, I'll pray and continue to serve my Family in the ways God's given me." Not that that isn't hard...

But as I've trawled through these, for the little bits & pieces picked up here & there, overall I came away from the last one thinking no-one under 40 should be allowed to write a book. But I'm not sure that'd help. It makes me scared to blog - I think I'm too like that. Too like teenagers whining about their parents - knowing a little truth, see a little wrong with parents and rebelling against them, loudly and immaturely as if the teens were the first to have such insight.

3:19 PM  
Blogger thebluefish said...

a love for the church has to be foundational for anyone writing to the church - are we lauding it over others, or are we wanting the best place on earth to become even more like it's meant to be. church is great, main problem with it is probably me.

3:53 AM  
Anonymous Christy said...

A#1 most people are not courageous enough and confident in their identity in Christ enough (not other peoples opinions of them) to be HONEST.

B#2 people who are less mature in churches see people who are "more mature" acting like my point A. and they do not feel safe to be real and honest and open up. I have heard it scores of times in the past couple years... "if they knew i struggled with this sin, or that question i don't think they'd accept me" Somehow people have gotten an idea from poor modeling and a lack of vulnerability in the church that grace is not going to be offered if they don't have it all together.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're a cool thinker, and clearly highly intelligent. Maybe in this blog entry you answer your own question without realising it.

I was kind of frustrated by the way you summarised your opinions about "the view of spirituality presented by X+Y" as "We don't like it". What does that mean? It's way too simplistic and a bit huffy - as though someone asked, what do you think of the MichelAngelo's Statue of David? and disparigingly reply "I don't like it!" - you fail to acknowledge any positives or creativity or respect for the work at all - "I don't like it!" "I could have done better myself!"

Does that mean you don't like it but find some benefit it in, similar to "we don't like vegetables (but acknowledge that they are good for us)", or does it mean, "we don't like it - because it made us feel uncomfortable"? and therefore "we'll dispense with the whole lot rather than accept a degree of discomfort for benefit of other positive things it offers" Or is it more like if you were to say, "I don't like it" out of a place of personal taste eg: "I don't like classical music - its just not my taste - and I see no reason to ever try and gain any appreciation of any of it."? Are you expressing a personal preference for writing styles, or are you taking issue with the theological foundations from which they spring?

Maybe what you "don't like" in the books is the exact thing you point out that the church is often lacking to a degree - the genuine, heartfelt and honest exploration of personal and contempory issues offered by these writers - who never claim to be theologians or "doctrine formers", but just fellow pilgrims trying to encourage others in the right direction. If they waited till their theology were perfect before speaking, they'd never encourage anyone, cos they'd never say anything! In my limited reading, they openly acknowlege their deficits, and implore their readers not to take their word for it, but to seek the One whose Grace is made all the more perfect in weakness.

Lets find ways to encourage one another towards Truth, rather than bagging them out when they try!

12:07 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...


First of all, I do think if you are going to post a comment like that you shouldn't do it anonymously.

Secondly, I made it clear in post why I don't like the view of spirituality put across by Miller, Bell at al, where I say, directly after my, "we don't like it" comment "doctrine is not formed out of a conversation with ourselves, our stories or our culture." That is what I "don't like" about their theology. Sorry that was not clear (etrangere above has pointed out another salient issue to do with people not seeing their own role in the problem of the church and setting up false antitheses, which I also think is a correct analysis)

I don't know what "bagging them out" means. But I also thought I was trying to address the issues that the books raise about the nature of church, because, as I made clear, I think the writers have some useful insights into the state of the church. I just think their answers are wrong.

Does "not bagging someone out" mean "not offering alternative answers to their questions"? If so, I'm afraid bagging people out is probably going to be a feature of my blogging.

1:03 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

My second paragraph should reas "I thought I made it celar". Otherwise it comes across a bit grumpy. Soz.

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"Bagging them out" means 'Having a go at someone' - speaking negatively, especially in their absence; paying out on them. It must be an Aussie phrase.. Sorry, don't know what the British equivalent is.

Thanks for your prompt response.

Not being a regular comment-leaver, I am unfamiliar with the etiquette, but as you'll see below am only to happy to leave my first name :-)

I accept what you're saying, and I think I understand it, but I still feel that "we don't like it" is the wrong term. I think you should say you disagree with it, or with elements of it - you could even say you vigorously disagree with it - rather than "we don't like it". - it leaves a more pleasant ring in the ears, as though it's something you would be happy to listen to differing opinions about, and discuss with the aim of fostering mutual understanding, whilst still being immovable in your foundational beliefs. "i don't like it" is, to me, bordering on arrogant dismissiveness.

I realise that life isn't only about being polite and sensitive and getting along with everyone, but I confess I bring to the discussion the experience of an "unchurched" background, and prior to accepting Jesus Christ, (at age 20) one of the biggest turn-offs was the way that Christians and 'churches' squabbled amongst themselves.

And it still irks me - so good on you, seriously, for your committment to pure and clear doctrine, and your genuinely heartfelt analysis of these books, so as to understand them - Books and views which I totally agree could potentially threaten the church with their watered down, me-and-my-feelings based approach to Christianity. But when appropriate, I humbly ask that you keep your less learned readers and listeners in mind, and respond in a way that is both firm but also edifying, so as to open the doors of ongoing discussion, rather than slamming them shut.

Yours sincerely
Cara, 28yo, Melbourne Australia

7:09 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...


Thanks for your gracious response - it's great to engage with people from across the world!

I guess you are right about the potential misunderstanding with the phrase. But, I am afraid to say, I really [b]don't[/b] like it! It's not just that I disagree, but I actually actively dislike the tone and content of what Bell and Miller have written! I didn't think saying so was slamming the door on conversation. I guess our mileage varies on that.

FWIW, what I meant was what I attempted to clarify in the next paragraph.

Blessings to you!


8:21 AM  

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