HOME ARTICLES SEARCH ARTICLES BOOKS SUBSCRIBE NEWSLETTER ABOUT US COMMENTS

 

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 "thinking-man’s" religion.

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 spiritual fathers.

No wonder churches die day by day at the hands of the unempowered.

"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 create!

Today, our words are more important than we ever imagined. The casual "word" is finished. In fact, it never existed.

Collaborators—Co-laborers—Co-authors

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 perceived.

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 that depth.

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 forwards.

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 themselves.

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 too!

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 walked off.

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 of it.

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.

No Junk

In prophetic awareness, though, nothing is junk. Anything can catch on fire at any moment. Everything "points." Everything "speaks." Absolutely everything is important and significant.

"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 copy."

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 prophetic world?

You! There is no one else.

Come join the real world—a place where the world’s action truly takes place.

© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt

ENDNOTES

1. Leonard Sweet, SoulTsunami: Sink or Swim in the New Millennium Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999) p. 378.

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, 1739.

4. http://www.gospelcom.net/guide/resources/webull04nov1.

php#lausanne_focus_on_effective_communication

5. Hosea 12:10.

6. Hebrews 11:1.

7. Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth, http://www.newi.ac.uk/rdover/words/ballads.htm

8. Hebrews 11:1.

9. I Corinthians 7:31.

10. http://www.gospelcom.net/guide/resources/gorilla.php

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.

 

Future Church Administrator