THE END OF MILQUETOAST CHRISTIANITY
A terrible virus has spread through today’s
church. It’s the cold sickness of a faith that simply "thinks"—a
Mere words, hard facts, and the trivial surface
of language hardly suffice in a world of deeper realities. So it’s
no surprise that today’s "spiritual leaders" seldom claim "spiritual
awareness." They fly blind in the Spirit, yet still expect changes
in the "flesh." Indeed,
The spiritual and social implications of
Pentecost, which define the relationship of the human spirit
to the Holy Spirit, have yet to be explored for the age in
which we live.1
So today’s faith is more passive than empowered,
more anemic than energized. It’s more an inert mass of doctrines—a
group of dormant ideas—a collection of lethargic labels than
anything else. As a result, its Milquetoast believers pretend
beliefs they don’t even have.
Incredible, as well, the church of a Creative God
has no "theology of creativity."2 This fact proves
further today’s spiritual fatigue. And this sign shows certainly we
have lost hold of the bold, inspired, and proactive faith of our
No wonder churches die day by day at the hands of
"Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall
never be disappointed."3
"Going Forth" & "Doing Things"
Yet, the trend of history offers just the
opposite. It promises a new faith—an empowered faith, a prophetic
faith, a deeply personal faith. For we are returning to an oral
culture—or more important, the faith of an oral culture—or still
more to the point, the faith of an electronic oral culture. Already,
two-thirds of the world’s population live and move in an oral
culture.4 This includes not only the stories, songs, and
comic books of illiterate societies, but the Internet, TV, movies,
cell phones, and computer games of literate societies.
So why is this important? Why should this make
any difference to the church?
Unlike modern "words" which merely "supervene" in
life (that is, they merely "add to" life), the "words" of an oral
culture "intervene" in life (they actually change life.) Unlike
written words which passively contemplate, the empowered words of an
oral community actively co-create. And, unlike our "educated" lingo
which simply "thinks," the intrusive words of in-your-face
fellowships do things.
This is not new truth, it’s forgotten truth. This
is not new wisdom, it’s neglected wisdom. The Hebrews of the Bible
lived in an oral culture and practiced its oral power. God spoke to
them through damah—or "prophetic metaphor."5 Then,
their God-grounded, God-consigned, and God-impassioned metaphors
went forth and did things.
Their believing, speaking, and creating were all
the same. All three were cut from the same piece of cloth!
As a result, they possessed a profound
understanding of creativity—a potent mixture of power and passion.
Contrary to modern opinion, creativity pervades the entire Bible.
Its language does not describe what is, it describes what is coming
to be. Its foreseen future of faith and its imagined vision of
creativity were the same spiritual force.
In other words, God created the Hebrews to
Today, our words are more important than we ever
imagined. The casual "word" is finished. In fact, it never existed.
In oral worlds—both then and now—faith and
creativity are one. Faith anticipates the "yet-to-be." It looks "to
things that are unseen" and "perceives" the things for which we
hope.6 The poet Wordsworth echoed the same vision: A
creative person is simply one affected more than others "by absent
things as if they were present."7
More important, faith and creativity move in
simultaneous worlds: In the moment of inspiration, faith gives form
to its inspiration. In the moment of vision, faith gives "substance"
to its vision.8 Then, as we share this vision with
others, we become "prophets"—because that’s what prophets do!
In other words, we have a role to play. We are
more partnered with the Almighty than we ever imagined. The fact
that oral words "do" things means we "do" things too. Indeed, the
future is more formed than found. Our passion is more applied than
After all, in an oral culture things must get
expressed, feelings must be given form, the anointing must get
announced. Yes, we contemplate the mystery, but we also express the
mystery. Yes, we stand awed in its depth, but we also give form to
We are collaborators—co-laborers—co-authors. . .
When whole systems and their parts—including
us!—mutually determine one another, the role of divine action takes
on an entirely new dimension.
Pregnant With the Future
The act of faith is always an act
of faith. There’s nothing passive or secondhand about it. The very
dynamics of faith require an intentional "acting out." We are
full-time creators in the kingdom of "As If." And, giving birth to
this kingdom, we are no more spectators than Jesus was a spectator.
This is not an illusion, it’s reality! Scripture
insists our vision of the future is more real than the world in
which we now live, which is already passing away!9 In
other words, the "actual" universe is the one coming into being. So
our present faith is pregnant with the future, with the not-yet
inside the already.
We may understand life backwards, but we live it
Indeed, everything we "expect" we are bringing
into being. No matter how small, no matter how insignificant, every
movement, every moment, has a never-ending ripple effect—engaging
and shaping history.
. . . for better or worse! Whether we are
conscious or unconscious, good or bad, believers or unbelievers,
concerned or unconcerned, encouraged or discouraged . . . one way or
another, we will change history.
The only question is which way.
So we must intentionally focus the field of our
intention. We must decide our destiny from the One who has already
destined. We must bring to pass what the Spirit has already brought
to pass. This means we "create," we don’t "invent." For creative
inspiration is something spoken to humans, not by humans to
This also means life is a dialogue—not a
monologue . . . an anointing—not a procedure . . . an
inspiration—not a doctrine. Today’s religious leaders have spoken
eloquently "about" God and "to" God. Now it’s time to let God speak
Did You See the Gorilla?
So we turn toward authentic, firsthand living—we
seek the intensity of sheer life—we enter a far larger "reality"—we
plunge into an unknown, yet absolute, Presence. . . .
How I wish!
Usually, we walk blindly through the bored
humdrum of a day-to-day, take-for-granted world. If we look at life,
we look from a distance. If we consider spiritual things, we simply
talk or read about them. "If there is a Holy Spirit," we say, "it’s
certainly not part of ‘real life’." As a result, we crowd God’s
"presence" to the margins. Worse still, we trivialize it or set it
aside for "special occasions."
But prophetic awareness is a different awareness.
It is a "wonderful waiting," a "loud listening," a "ready resting,"
a "wild patience." Of course, these paradoxical sensations more
clearly reflect Scriptural "senses" than the knee-jerk urges of the
selfish self. These senses, for example, disclose the otherworldly
difference between merely "hearing" and truly "listening." And, they
belong, as well, to a much "bigger" realm—transpersonal,
transcultural, transparent, transrational. . . .
In other words, they think "outside the
envelope." Here’s an example:
In a recent experiment,10 volunteers
were shown a brief basketball film. Before the film, they were told
to count how many times one team passed the ball. Then, at the end
of the film, they were asked if they saw anything unusual. Most did
not. Yet, halfway through the film, a man wearing a gorilla suit
walked through the players, beat his chest to the camera, then
Showing the film again, the reality of the
"gorilla" stunned the blindly focused volunteers. For finally, they
were forced to think "outside the envelope."
This experiment proves we see what we expect to
see—and we don’t see what we don’t expect to see. Again, we are
talking about the powerful role of prophetic awareness—or, the lack
A "different" awareness, by the way, doesn’t mean
a loss of common sense. We still have one foot in this world. We
still see the extraordinary within the ordinary. And, welcoming this
wonder, we never surrender good reasons for reason.
In prophetic awareness, though, nothing is junk.
Anything can catch on fire at any moment. Everything "points."
Everything "speaks." Absolutely everything is important and
"The whole earth is full of his glory."11
So inspired awareness comes to us in any form—and
through any awareness of any form. This means the religious
artifacts, rituals, and symbols we’ve constructed are not the only
mediators to His Presence. In fact, everything—whether secular or
sacred—surpasses its appearance. Everything presents a message
beyond its medium. Everything serves as a potential metaphor.
What we have wrongly set aside as "art," for
example, shows up incognito in life itself—anywhere, any time, and
in any form. What a profound opportunity!
When Spirit takes on body and body takes on
Spirit—when the "Word becomes flesh," in other words—there is a
powerful sense of another world being rendered. At first, we may be
stunned beyond belief. But, later, we are stunned beyond disbelief.
For this is the evidence of "immediate experience"—the same evidence
that proves anything and everything.
No prima donnas
Am I speaking to the "leaders" of the church?—the
higher echelons of holy hierarchy?—the CEO’s of the sacred? No. I’m
speaking to all believers—the "sheep" as well as the "shepherds."
The "sheep," though, languish with gifts even
more latent than those of the "shepherds." They’re taught, for
example, not to compete with "real" spiritual leadership. So they
stand in line for their cupful of stale, second-hand spirituality.
And, all the while, they suffer this meanspirited paradox:
. . . a Spirit that is much too obvious
to see and much too close to reach.12
Yet, God shares His Spirit equally among all
sentient beings. There are no prima donnas here. Wonder and sacred
power are available to all. Sadly, though, these "powers" usually
come as carbon copies of someone else’s story. And these
hand-me-down reports always prove poor substitutes for the "original
Let’s face it. Each of us is an active,
proactive, creative agent. In other words, we "kick-start" every
moment of history—no matter how big or how small that moment may be.
And regardless of our ineptness, God still works through the least
of us to accomplish His purpose.
So we count, and what we do counts. The Lord of
History places awesome imperatives on empowering the "sheep." And
this empowerment is far more significant than "getting
what’s-his-name to read a prayer."
If leaders refuse this responsibility, who will
teach the sheep? Who will stake their lives on lived
parables—dangerous make-believe—and grace-filled "fictions"? Who
will boldly demand the prophetic lifestyles needed in today’s
You! There is no one else.
Come join the real world—a place where the
world’s action truly takes place.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in
the New Millennium Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999)
2. We have long worshiped the great artistic
achievements of the ancient Greeks and have blindly put down similar
attempts among the ancient Hebrews. A closer, more honest
examination of Scripture reveals, however, the Hebrews understood
prophetic creativity far more than any culture then or since then.
3. Benjamin Franklyn, Poor Richard’s Almanack,
5. Hosea 12:10.
6. Hebrews 11:1.
7. Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth,
8. Hebrews 11:1.
9. I Corinthians 7:31.
11. Isaiah 6:3.
12. Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything: An
Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality
(Boston: Shambhala, 2000) p 141.