–Daniel S. Ferguson
Beth Moore spoke last weekend at Passion 2017 in what was nowhere near the first statement from the last generation of Christians about the current one. You can watch the whole session below.
It’s an interesting 20 minutes. Okay, maybe it’s only interesting for nerds like me who actually like this stuff. For all the rest, let’s look at just one quotation, which in the video starts at 17:32.
“You will watch a generation of Christians–of Christians, of Christians–set the Bible aside in an attempt to become more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. And this will be perhaps the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice truth for love’s sake. And you will rise and fall based on whether or not your will sacrifice one for the other.”
Hmm…I have two reactions that come straight from the gut.
First Reaction: Millennials Aren’t Weak, but Shrewd
My first thought is that I’m always leery when a church leader talks like this. It has a painfully familiar, if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us vibe, and I’m naturally biased against that sort of rhetoric. That’s probably unfair of me, but I have a sensitive radar for it. Either out of a natural hip-check against authority, or a sinful pride in my own understanding, or a righteously angry defense of the ‘other’ (sometimes all three), I usually end up siding with the heathen. That’s often not good for either the heathen or me.
What Moore is doing rhetorically, however, is something I would do. She’s espousing the problems in a false dichotomy. She’s saying that we Millennials are being offered two seemingly contradictory choices–love and truth–and that we’re being culturally pressured to choose only one of them. She maintains that choosing both is possible. That sounds like something I would do–if I thought that such a dichotomy was actually being culturally forced.
But I don’t. And here’s why. By and large, Millennials are already resilient against false dichotomies. We hate them, really. We often look at older dichotomies, like Republican v. Democrat, Free Will v. Predestination, and Democracy v. Socialism, and we ask, “Why not both?”
We really hate labels. We didn’t even want other people to name our generation for us. So of course we hate dichotomies: they’re really just labels. So we constantly try to blur the lines between them. We’re a generation that loves to think of things in terms of spectrums, not poles.
This is exactly what we’ve done with church, actually. So many of us are checking “None” when we’re asked what religion we are, not only because we may have left the church, but because we believe so independently about our faith. We don’t often think of faith as an external identity to which we are submitting, but an internal identity that others happen to share.
That has its ups and downs, but it’s the natural result of having 8 bajillion denominations. We’re going to end up choosing a faith that’s wholly ours because we have a host of options.
So no, Beth Moore, I don’t think we’re going to be forced to make the choice between Truth and Love. I don’t think we’re going to be forced to choose between the Bible and Jesus, either. I think we’re very critical of all of the above, actually. If we seem overly shrewd about any of them, it’s only because we’ve seen all four of those used to hurt us, our friends, and others so many times. Therefore, we are reluctant to commit to any of them, especially as an identity or label.
Second Reaction: Stop Building Off-Ramps Away from Jesus
My second reaction is that Beth Moore and other Evangelical leaders are continuing their subtle and not–so–subtle jabs at Andy Stanley, who, in his efforts to reach “de-churched Millennials who outgrew their faith” has said some things that have made Fundamentalists squeamish. Btw, if you’ve not seen Stanley’s sermon series called “Who Needs God,” close this blog and watch any of the six sermons in it. (I recommend “Gods of the No Testament“). Seriously, it’s fantastic.
Given how much splash Stanley made in the last year by openly asserting that Christianity does not depend on the Bible (where he’s actually right, by the way), what Moore said and where she said it are of no surprise to me. She’s standing in front of the very Millennials that Stanley targeted last year. She’s perhaps worried that many of the prospective ministers in her audience might be swayed by Stanley’s success and certitude into thinking that because our faith is the premise for the Bible (and not the other way around) that the Bible isn’t important to our faith. Even Stanley doesn’t agree with that.
So she’s making it a point to talk about it. But I think she misunderstands her audience. Stanley’s audience wasn’t Millennials as such. It was Millennials (and others) who had left the church because they outgrew their faith. He was very specific in who he was talking to. Moore is talking to Millennials going into the ministry. They clearly, then, didn’t leave the church or outgrow their faith. They’re committed to the Bible, the Gospel, and the truth of Christ. While Moore’s words might be a potent reminder to these leaders in five years when they might be tempted to sacrifice Truth for Success, there was no one in that room who didn’t already agree with her that the Bible is essential to Christian faith.
That creates an issue for me. Moore forms an Us-v.-Them framework in her statement: The truth-lovers against those whom the devil has tricked away from truth. If her audience was already committed to the truth she was presenting (odds are they were), then all Moore did was help these future church leaders create more distance between themselves and those they’re supposed to be ministering to. Based on her admonishment, they would ‘otherize’ those who were “soft on truth” and be more inclusive of those who were like-minded to themselves. That little piece of separation, that tiny nudge toward a smugness about truth–that’s just enough to create an off-ramp away from Jesus.
The last thing the church needs is more off-ramps. If there’s any hope for my generation’s church, it is in blurring the lines between Outsider and Insider, not sharpening them. We have to be more inclusive, not more dogmatic, and I don’t hold to the idea that I have to sacrifice truth to be more inclusive because truth and inclusiveness aren’t opposites and aren’t exclusive of each other. I don’t have to give in on the Bible as truth to show you that Jesus loves you. Rather, the Bible tells the truth that Jesus does love you.
I do, however, have to sacrifice any pride I may have about truth. The humility to say “This is what I believe to be true, even though I acknowledge it may not be” is the most attractive thing in the world to me and to many others. So far, at least with the people I’ve known, it’s precisely my willingness to say that which has attracted others to listen to what else I have to say about Jesus.
That may sound like giving in on truth, but it’s not. It’s giving in on pride, which the Bible, from what I can tell, is all for.