An Honest Response to John Pavlovitz

A dear friend of mine sent me a text this afternoon with a link to a blog post he had read and a question, What are your thoughts on this?  The post, which was published yesterday by John Pavlovitz, was titled My Emancipation from American ChristianityIf you haven’t read it, please do.  While I disagree with some of what he wrote, there is a lot of truth in his words and it is quite thought provoking.  That being said, I’d like to offer my own little response to the author and his claims.

A Few Observations

“I’ve outgrown…”

A few things that I noticed as I read John’s post was this uneasy feeling he describes is much like the feeling I used to have.  As he talked about moving on and outgrowing his preconceived notions of what it meant to be a Christian, I remembered the times when I would be infuriated by what I saw around me in the Church.  Was this a righteous indignation?  Sure.  But was it more than that?

Is it appropriate to list the “Christian” things that we outgrow?  I suppose, though that can be walking the fine line of arrogance, but as maturing Christians we ought to be growing and changing to be more like the real Jesus.  As the author of Hebrews wrote:

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…” –Hebrews 6:1 ESV

In my own life, I’ve experienced this same feeling but I do see the importance of taking a step back and remembering that it’s not always easy to see the truth behind the emotion.

“I’ve outgrown the furrowed-browed warnings of a sky that is perpetually falling.
I’ve outgrown the snarling brimstone preaching that brokers in damnation.
I’ve outgrown the vile war rhetoric that continually demands an encroaching enemy.
I’ve outgrown the expectation that my faith is the sole property of a political party.
I’ve outgrown violent bigotry and xenophobia disguised as Biblical obedience.
I’ve outgrown God wrapped in a flag and soaked in rabid nationalism.
I’ve outgrown the incessant attacks on the Gay, Muslim, and Atheist communities.
I’ve outgrown theology as a hammer always looking for a nail.
I’ve outgrown the cramped, creaky, rusting box that God never belonged in anyway.

Most of all though, I’ve outgrown something that simply no longer feels like love, something I no longer see much of Jesus in.

-John Pavlovitz

I understand what’s being said here, but behind it is a spirit of revulsion that makes me have to ask, Is that how Jesus would feel toward the Children that He died for?  There is an encroaching enemy, he’s just invisible but he shapes many events in this world.  Our faith is not the property of a political party nor should we allow anyone to try and tell us otherwise.  I’ve not seen or heard about violent bigotry, but nonetheless sometimes biblical faithfulness does require that some people are going to be offended (though many of us seem to struggle with doing that lovingly).

I’d agree that Christians ought not be attacking gays, Muslims, or atheists, but we do need to be honest about what we believe.  We (as a society) also need to learn how to have civil discourse without being constantly offended by everything.  Theology, in my humble opinion, can be a beautiful thing.  It’s also worth noting that it can be an overbearing thing, and that’s what turns people into Pharisees.  And regarding the God-box: amen.

I really hope this is coming across as a fair and honest response because John does bring up some valid points that each of us should be concerned with.  Are we loving God with all that we are, and are we loving other people (Matthew 22:36-37)?  Are we more concerned with party politics and American pride than we are about Kingdom commitment?   Are we more focused on being like the church at Ephesus: theologically sound jerks (see Revelation 2:1-7), or like the Church at Philadelphia: Jesus loving, world changing, Bible believing, and faithful til the end (see Revelation 3:7-13)?

Regarding the Church

How often do we hear criticisms of the Church at large, and the American church in particular?  If you say never you’re either lying or you are delusional.  If we’re honest we can admit that some, if not many, of these claims are applicable.  However it is vastly unfair to condemn the Church at large because of the misbehavior of a few members.  I stand by the conviction that words are important, and we need to be careful when using them (James 1:26-27).

Furthermore, if we believe in Jesus as Messiah and believe the Bible is inspired by God then we’re family.  More than that, we are immediate family.  When my boys start cutting each other down with their words, we have to put an end to it quickly and decisively because we’re in this together.  The correction still comes for the disobedient child, but turning on each other is not the way it’s supposed to go.  In the same way, we’re supposed to correct each other lovingly, but we’re also supposed to build one another up to be more like Jesus.  And in case I didn’t mention it Jesus died for you just the same as for John Pavlovitz, for myself, and the guy at church that you don’t particularly want to get to know any better (be honest, you know it’s true).

A Final Note on Comments

The last thing I’ll touch on come from the comment section.  I noticed this, most likely, because I have been looking over comments from people on Facebook and news sites lately (I know… I’m such a nerd) and one thing that stood out to me was the immediate argument that broke out between the commenters with thoughts like John’s, and those with thoughts like those that John wrote about.  Each party made their case and tried in vain to convince/convert the other but in the end it went nowhere (as usual).

If there is one thing I think is safe to say about Americans, it’s that we are obliged to tell you why we are right and why you should listen.  If there’s going to be an ounce of civility in our disagreements we, as a people, really need to humble ourselves before Jesus and allow Him to guide the discussion.  Otherwise we’re just clamoring on while saying nothing of consequence (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

Be sure to check out John Pavlovitz‘s site and don’t forget to subscribe to Ancient Abandon.

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