I absolutely love Donald Miller and I sincerely believe he loves Jesus. There’s no but and this isn’t leading up to a negative critique — I really do think he’s great. His books re-energized my faith during a particularly bad slump, and like Lewis or Keller, he will always be one of my biggest influences in my personal faith journey.
I attend church. Donald doesn’t. We can still be bros.
I agree with just about everything that Donald Miller wrote about church. How could I disagree? When we’re really honest about it, the state of the entertainment model of the evangelical church is downright horrifying. We’ve managed to package the eternal saving power of God into a 1-800-number enterprise. We’re mostly tickled one hour a week to compensate for the guilt of our secret second lives, which only enables us into the spiral.
But the thing is: I can find discontent in just about anything. It’s hard to disagree with most criticism because as soon as you find something wrong, it’ll be wrong for life. Look hard enough and you will see flaws. A critic-filter will always taint how you enjoy a movie or a book or a friend or the church. It’s inevitable that imperfection will rear its ugly head.
I was talking with my friend recently about Timothy Keller. I love Keller’s work, but my friend was less impressed. I asked why, and he said, “I think he’s great, it’s true he does good work for the city, he has solid theology … but just, you know, I don’t get him. Just something about him.”
I really couldn’t understand this. Something about him? Couldn’t we say that about anyone? Isn’t it enough that he does good work for the city and has solid theology? What more could we ask for?
Not to demonize my friend here: But if you dig deep enough, you will always find a reason to dislike someone or something. That’s easy. And we can write off an entire group or culture or work because of it. For most people, they will never be pleased no matter how good they have it.
There’s the rub. You can never be fully satisfied with anything on this earth, because complete satisfaction in transitory things is an impossible standard. To look for it is futile. There will always be something missing. And if you hold people or systems or churches to that curve: you have already damned yourself on the same curve. When I try to be satisfied by any manmade system, no matter how good its intent, I will always come up short. I will always be restless on this earth. I think it’s unfair to squeeze the burden of my satisfaction from any one sermon, preacher, or church building.
I can find something wrong with anything. That’s how a lot of bloggers appeal to their readers. It’s how pastors build churches. It’s how politicians build platforms. They throw around a ton of complaints, talk about those “other people across the street,” and their whole agenda is born of a reactionary whiplash. The battle cry is, “I’m not like them.”
It’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to sit in a room and go on about why the church has failed us, why those “other Christians” lost it, why those tribes and camps are so wrong.
Think of every successful blog or author or speaker. They appeal to you because they pick apart things like crazy, and this presses our critic-button. Their posts begin with a snarky smug deconstruction of “what’s wrong with the world today.” “Oh your pastor is wrong. Oh your church screwed that up. Oh you’ve been right the whole time. We feel the same way about your problems with church.” Maybe they’re right on every point. But in the end, it’s a cheap direct appeal to your right-ness, which is the same as permissively enabling your flesh, which is the same as Pharisee-like self-righteousness — and there are still zero offered solutions. There’s no grace.
Anyone can do that. People get rich from it. I’m probably doing the same exact thing in this post.
The hard part is looking forward to constructive restoration.
None of the comments on Donald Miller’s blog really offered anything except “My way actually works, you should come to my church.” There was really nothing inclusive that attempted to bridge the disunity. Most of it was banner-waving triumphalist horn-tooting. I can understand that, because we believe my way works.
But I wanted to see someone say, “I agree. So what next? What can we do about the church today? What do you propose? What can we do together? How can we pray for us? What can we repent of? How can we extract the poisonous elements? How can we go to God on this one?”
I wanted to see dialogue. Because going at this side-by-side is how we arrive to a better place. Christians are called adopted for a reason. We have a Father and we’re family. We can disagree — but we can rise above those disagreements to something better than the world. We can even use something impulsive like the internet and flip that for the better good — or so I can hope.
And you know, there’s plenty the church has done right. We don’t celebrate that enough. Any ounce of true-to-God goodness in our churches is a God-given miracle. Can we maybe thank God for that? Can we cheer when we actually see grace? Because as much as Jesus is probably grieving over our craziness, I’m sure there’s a lot he’s happy with. It’s overly romantic to be so negative on things, but it’s really not as bleak as we want it to be.
I’m still a fan of the church. I love my church, in all her flaws and everything. I apologize for the church a lot, but I still love her, and Jesus died for her. I agree that she needs work — but that means I myself need work, that I need Jesus. It means we need each other.
I will probably always be dissatisfied with the church somewhere: but that doesn’t compel me to give up on her. It only compels me to take care of her while I still have days left on this earth. I will only be satisfied when I’m face to face with our Lord. Until then, I’m serving hard.