Note from CM: This is a really old Michael Spencer reflection, but one with which I identify more and more each day. It talks about the kind of craziness that is simply taken for granted in religious subcultures (in this case, the world of Christian evangelicalism/fundamentalism). Many have lived in this bubble for so long and have been formed to think and talk in certain ways that we simply can’t imagine anyone would question our jargon and persuasive techniques. I think it’s one reason why Bonhoeffer eventually said he felt more comfortable with the religionless than with the saints.
Even if you are not from this subculture, Michael’s words stand as a warning to us all. Don’t just assume that your little world is the be all and end all, and don’t expect others to understand if you don’t work at listening first, then speaking.
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Monday with Michael Spencer
Today I listened to the preacher in chapel. Really, really closely for a change.
It probably wasn’t a good idea. See, God is giving me a gift. I’m starting to hear sermons like non-Christians hear them. I’m starting to feel what they feel, and it’s disconcerting.
It’s scary. Some of my Christian friends won’t like this, but that may be a good sign.
The first thing I noticed was the insulting approach tactics. The speaker had an object lesson, and took quite a while to work through the object lesson. In someone’s universe, people being forced to listen to a talk will have their minds pried open by these kinds of illustrations. You supposedly totally put aside that you are in church, that you are going to be evangelized, and you just think about the box of donuts or the picture of the puppy, or whatever. Then, while your mind is relaxed….bang! The real point comes flying out of the blue and jumps into your open mind.
This is cool. No…this is stupid. Anyone who is taken in by this sort of thing shouldn’t be subjected to religious appeals anyway. It’s unethical. But this is the way we approach unbelievers that we want to listen to us. We goof with them, and treat them like they have no idea what’s up.
Then it’s assumed we need Jesus. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you are lost right now. But assuming you know what Mel Gibson’s movie was about, you get at least something of what’s going to be the main issue of the evening. The speaker say that you need Jesus more than he says anything else. Over and over. We need Jesus. If you are awake to what’s going on, you know that it’s likely to prove true that anything and everything will be said until you finally admit you need Jesus. Does this seem like trying to get you to “break?” Yes.
There is, behind this appeal, a kind of crass sales pitch that really can make you angry. It’s like being told by the guy in your living room that you need a vacuum cleaner or Tupperware. You can’t help but feel that your “need” is really about this guy’s need to be right, or to make the sale. What you “need” is hardly his business, especially standing up there without really knowing you at all.
It must be insulting to constantly be told you need Jesus by someone who doesn’t know you. Even if you DO need Jesus, how about getting to know me at least as well as a telemarketer? You may even hear this guy say Jesus loves you and Christians love you….because they are telling you you need Jesus.
Gee thanks. I feel warm all over.
Of course, we have the Bible. The Bible is read, and quoted, with authority. It’s the bottom line, the final word on everything. It is the proof that this guy is right and everyone else is wrong. The fact that he isn’t explaining why the magic book is right, and your experiences and thoughts are wrong doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. You need to do more than accept Jesus. You need to accept the way this guy reads the Bible.
A preacher earlier in the week said he believed the Bible was true because it was controversial. Other people say it is just obviously from God. (Explain that please.) Or it’s full of proof by way of prophecies. Or the change in lives proves it. Or the sheer number of Bible-toting Christians proves it.
Is anyone else bored? This preacher was no better or worse than thousands of others: the appeal to authority was everywhere, and you are simply SUPPOSED TO ACCEPT IT. If you don’t, that’s proof you are on your way to hell. If you are going to heaven, you buy this without serious questions.
The content of the message? I have to admit, listening to it as an unbeliever might, it was so irrelevant I can’t imagine why anyone would listen. It would make sense to Christians, but to anyone else? Would anyone else ever start to find it interesting or worth believing? It was just a way to spend time yacking. Logic, reality, honesty. Not on the radar screen. We’re talking about filler for the weakened mind, and nothing for the serious thinker or seeker.
The real point is always the same: You need to accept Jesus. You need to accept Jesus. Whatever the heck that means. Best I can tell, you tell the preacher that you accept Jesus, and they say you accept Jesus, and from then on you get to tell people that you accepted Jesus. Say some religious things, do some religious things and join the Jesus team. Be one of the bunch that is sitting there nodding.
Perhaps nothing stands out as much as the total submersion of every word and action in the sticky-sweet, sappy overtones of being RIGHT and “You better listen to the guy who is right.” Christians live in this so much they can’t see it. They make absurd, ridiculous, bizarre, almost insane, fairy-tale statements as if they are run of the mill.
“Now when Jesus spoke to the Apostle John…”
Well, we’re not even stopping. That’s baby stuff. Have a miracle. Or some answered prayer. Or an incredible story. Or a Biblical example. Or a “can’t fail principle.” Or a talking snake, fallen angel or vision of heaven. These people have the book, they read it right, and they have the answers. They know what you need, and what everyone around the world needs. They will do the talking, and if you are smart, you’ll accept Jesus.
Is this the way it sounds most of the time? Are we really so insulated from real communication that we don’t realize how we come off?