Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Today is a unique moment in light of our postmodern and post-Christian day. This reality is forcing us to think about things differently than we did in a previous generation when the culture, although not Christian, was predominately influenced by Christianity. Attempting to carry on a discussion about Christianity with non-Christians in this day requires a different way of thinking about this important intersection and a different approach to engaging with those living in this present day.
In Collin Hansen’s new book, Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church, Tim Keller writes (10) “it is an extended essay on how Christians in Western societies today are responding and how they need to respond to a culture quickly growing post-Christian. Christians have not come to consensus on how to respond to this new world.”
Hansen writes of his own experience and gives thought to the Christian’s and church’s engagement in culture. This voice has often become shrill and cacophonous, which has negatively impacted our gospel witness. Hansen believes, with which I concur, there is a better way to understand and respond to our culture with biblical truth and to do so with “humility, bravery, and creativity,” rather than manifesting to the world “disharmony, discouragement, and disillusion” (27).
All Christians are grounded in the gospel. It is ever-true and never-changing. However, each person that lives and communicates that gospel does so with and through their own unique gifts, passions and callings, and they do so in a specific cultural context. Hansen desires to help us grow in our awareness of those different expressions and become increasingly gracious in living and serving with those who have different gifts and passions.
The problem is when we think and respond as if the way we respond is all that is needed. The solution then is that everyone else ought to respond in the same way I do or they compromise some aspect of the gospel. We have a tendency to universalize our own personal experience, passion, gifts and response. Not only do we then ostracize those who differ from us and wonder if they are compromising the gospel, we also partner with those who think like us and we reinforce our response as an absolute demanded of all Christians if they are to be faithful. As noted by Hansen, “we tend to cluster around Christians with similar personalities who reinforce our strengths but turn a blind eye to our weaknesses.”
Hansen identifies three groups (32-33, italics original):
Many Christians are like me: we grew up in stable communities with strong extended families. We went to church because that was the right thing to do. We honored authorities and tradition because we believed they safeguarded the ways of wisdom. So if you’re like me, you tend to see the church’s problem as a failure of courage to walk the time-worn paths.
But a lot of Christians have different stories. If you scraped by in childhood and suffered abuse from leaders who should have protected you, you may see compassion as the great need of our day.
And if you’ve been weaned on the power of technology to effect needed change, you might think the only hindering unprecedented church growth is our resolve to fulfill the Great Commission through creative new methods.
None of these is entirely wrong. But neither are they entirely right. It is important to illumine the blind spots. Hansen asks a question to ascertain what the reader’s passion is (33): “Fill in this blank: The greatest problem of the church today is _____. Ask yourself, Where do I invest the bulk of my time, money, and other resources?”
Responding to this question will not only give you your “vision,” but also enable you to assess your “blind spots.” Hansen identifies some (35):
The compassionate struggle to empathize with their critics.
The courageous don’t like truth that makes them look bad.
And commissioned Christians don’t always enjoy the mission when it jeopardizes their lifestyle and preconceived notions about the way of the world.
Hansen’s aim is to remind us that we need one another and we are better together. This unity reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ in practice which we proclaim in principle/truth. As he writes (38),
We’ll explore how compassionate, courageous, and commissioned Christians can work together to meet the challenges of our day. We’ll identify our God-given motivations and personality, appreciate these gifts as they correspond to the ministry of Jesus, illumine our blind spots, and consider how each of us makes a vital contribution to the church and the world.
Fred Sanders summarizes Hansen’s book in the following manner: The Christians Who Annoy Us Are the Christians We Need Most
Hansen proposes that Christians learn from believers who make them uncomfortable, because the ones who annoy us are likely the ones we need most. Instead of trying to be well-rounded, we should settle for being well-surrounded. If we can’t embody all the strengths of every Christian tribe, we can at least associate with brothers and sisters who have what we lack (and lack what we have).
This book spells out in principle what we in the EFCA attempt to live as we affirm our commitment to the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ and our commitment to the significance of silence, i.e. we will debate an issue but we will not divide over an issue. Our commitment to the centrality of the gospel in doctrine is reflected in our functional centrality of the gospel in practice. Our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ, that which is of first importance and which we are “diligent to preserve” (Eph. 4:3), trumps our differences.
For those of us in the EFCA, this book would be a helpful aid to this end.