I’m cleaning out my book collection right now, but before I give away my copy of Reaching for the Invisible God, I’d like to record one meaningful quote that apparently resonated with me 15 years ago and resonates with me right now:

I mention these failures not to dampen anyone’s faith but to add a dose of realism to spiritual propaganda that promises more than it can deliver. In an odd way the very failures of the church prove ts doctrine. Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part. We in the church have humility and contrition to offer the world, not a formula for success. Almost alone in our success-oriented society, we admit that we have failed, are failing, and always will fail. The church in A.D. 3000 will be as rife wit problems as the church in A.D. 2000 or 1000. That is why we turn to God so desperately. [emphasis mine] – p. 20

Just for writing that alone, Philip Yancey is my new BFF. It reminds me of this recent book review in The Atlantic of Rachel Held Evans’ new book, Searching for Sunday:

But even for regular church-goers, she said, sin may not be something many readily embrace. “Why do we mumble through rote confessions and then conjure plastic Barbie and Ken smiles as we turn to one another to pass the peace?” she writes. “What makes us exchange the regular pleasantries—’I’m fine! How are you?’—while mingling beneath a cross upon which hangs a beaten, nearly naked man, suffering publicly on our behalf?”

Some of this is cultural, she said—the idea, particularly in the ever-hospitable, perfectly polished South, that you should “bring your best self to church.” But “even in faith communities that aren’t Southern, there can still be that pressure to perform, and be Instagram-y, and not be honest and talk about your sin,” she said.

That’s why upbeat music and stylish services don’t do it for Evans: Hers is a Christianity that is fully aware of darkness. “So much of what Christianity produces as far as books and literature and even music in our worship—it’s all very rosy, when that’s not really life, and that’s not really church,” she said. “We carry the weight of many, many centuries of injustice, and that matters, and we can’t just ignore that.”

That might sound cynical, but it doesn’t sound much like B.S. It’s also not a pat plan for reinvigorating Millennial life in the church. Other than making space for those who wish to worship, Evans said, she isn’t worried about who fills church pews. “Death is a thing empires worry about, not a thing resurrection people worry about,” she said. “As long as there’s somebody baptizing sinners, breaking the bread, drinking the wine; as long as there’s people confessing their sins, healing, walking with one another through suffering, then the church is alive, and it’s well.”

I haven’t read her book, and I don’t agree with her on all of her views. But I do heartily agree that there is a tendency for the American church to preach a gospel that isn’t quite the gospel. You always hear pastors mocking other churches that dispense a prosperity gospel, but they never seem to examine whether they are doing that themselves. I think there’s a lot of pressure for pastors to fill their pews… because that means more tithes… which means money for pastors and their livelihoods… So a sobering message that says, “hey, the only true hope that we have is in Heaven and eternity, and we have absolutely no guarantees for tomorrow,” will not fill pews or collection boxes. Instead they will preach messages that inspire hope, but I will argue that the hope is false hope… It’s hope that God will come through in the next moment for us because He can… I agree that He can, but I don’t agree that He will. He’s not tame. What happens in one Bible story for one person does not apply to all of us. Sarah’s pregnancy in her mid 90s shows that anything is possible, but not that anything is likely. It just gets annoying when pastors pick that story of Abraham and Sarah apart and draw lots of inferences that just weren’t meant for us. Folks, it’s a story, albeit true, but it DOES NOT APPLY to us common folk. God did not make a verbal promise to most of us that He would have our descendants number the stars. Few of us have received any verbal promises from God. Let’s not deign to think we are as special as Abraham.

I used to feed off of the false hope that was delivered to me every Sunday from the pulpit. It kept me going for the week and it kept me going back to church every Sunday. But then over time, as this hope did not materialize into reality, I finally realized that there was a lot of false talk that was being churned out at me, and the false hope ended up doing more harm than good… And causes me to pause and take a step back and reexamine all my underlying assumptions about faith and following Jesus. It’s scary living in a tension of knowing that God may not come through for you in the ways you wish, and it’s not super reassuring that God’s already come through for you in the way that counts most (conquest of death). But that’s reality and that’s where we have to live. Deal it to me straight. No more fluff. I want the truth.

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