In the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, I have frequently thought of Wendell Berry's essay "Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community." Here are some key quotes.
"A healthy community is like an ecosystem, and it includes--or it makes itself harmoniously a part of--its local ecosystem. It is also like a household; it is the household of its place...And to extend Saint Paul's famous metaphor by only a little, a healthy community is like a body, for its members mutually support and serve one another."
"If a community, then, is like a household, what are we to make of the artist whose intention is to offend? Would I welcome into my house any stranger who came, proud of his bad taste, professing his love for vile people and proposing to offend almost everyone? I would not, and I do not know anybody who would. To do so would contradict self-respect and respect for loved ones. By the same token, I cannot see that a community is under any obligation to welcome such a person. The public, so far as I can see, has no right to require a community to submit to or support statements that offend it." (155-156)
"I would distinguish between the intention to offend and the willingness to risk offending. Honesty and artistic integrity do not require anyone to intend to give offense, though they certainly may cause offense. The intention to offend, it seems to me, identifies the would-be offender as a public person [note: Berry contrasts "community" vs. "public" throughout this essay]. I cannot imagine anyone who is a member of a community who would purposely or gladly or proudly offend it, although I know very well that honesty might require one to do so."
"Our public art now communicates a conventional prejudice against old people, history, parental authority, religious faith, sexual discipline, manual work, rural people and rural life, anything local or small or inexpensive. At its worst, it glamorizes or glorifies drugs, promiscuity, pornography, violence, and blasphemy. Any threat to suppress or limit these public expressions will provoke much support for the freedom of speech. I concur in this. But as a community artist, I would like to go beyond my advocacy of the freedom of speech to deplore some of the uses that are made of it, and I wish that more of my fellow artists would do so as well." (157-158)
"I wish that artists and all advocates and beneficiaries of the First Amendment would begin to ask, for instance, how the individual can be liberated by disobeying the moral law, when the community obviously can be liberated only by obeying it. I wish that they would consider the probability that there is a direct relation between the public antipathy to community life and local ('provinicial') places and the industrial destruction of communities and places. I wish, furthermore, that they could see that artists who make offensiveness an artistic or didactic procedure are drawing on a moral capital that they may be using up. A public is shockable or offendable only to the extent that it is already uncomplacent or uncorrupt--to the extent, in other words, that it is a community or remembers being one." (158-159)
"The idea that people can be improved by being offended will finally have to meet the idea...that books, popular songs, movies, television shows, sex videos, and so on are 'just fiction' or 'just art' and therefore exist 'for their own sake' and have no influence. To argue that works of art are 'only' fictions or self-expressions and therefore cannot cause bad behavior is to argue also that they cannot cause good behavior. It is, moreover, to make an absolute division between art and life, experience and life, mind and body--a division that is intolerable to anyone who is at all serious about being a human or a member of a community or even a citizen." (159)
When the only thing that is sacred is the right to act as though nothing is sacred, then it would seem that, in Berry's terms, all you have is a "public," and certainly not a community. That's a statement about Berry's logic, not an empirical observation about contemporary France. But Berry raises important questions in this essay from the early 90's that are more relevant than ever.
News headlines today highlight Brittany Maynard's decision to end her own life, many noting that she was an advocate of 'death with dignity.' What does that mean?
The Death With Dignity National Center, a non-profit advocacy group, says it this way:
"The greatest human freedom is to live, and die, according to one's own desires and beliefs. From advance directives to physician-assisted dying, death with dignity is a movement to provide options for the dying to control their own end-of-life care."
Dignity is about choice. Dignity is about freedom. Dignity is about control.
If this is true, you can have death with dignity. But you can't have life with dignity.
My mother and father brought me into this world through no choice of my own. Did I have the freedom to choose whether I existed or not? Certainly not. Did I have control over when I would be born, to whom, or where? Did I have control over what kind of species I would be, over my body type, my genetic susceptibility to certain forms of disease, my hair color, my height? Good grief--I don't even have a say over the thickness of my toenails and fingernails! Is my dignity really found in my choice, my freedom, my control?
If nothing is less dignified than being out of control, without choice, without a say in the matter, then all of us begin utterly devoid of dignity and spend most of our days there.
But what if dignity is not first and foremost expressed in my choice but in being given a gift I did not and could not choose? What if dignity is not about what I actively choose but what I cannot help but passively receive? What if I am not my own, body and soul, life and death, from beginning to end?
My only reasonable response, then, would be a grateful heart and a commitment to be a living sacrifice, a thank offering offered up daily to the end of my days. For in gratefully receiving that which I could not choose, I become increasingly free.
Here are two mistakes Christians make when interpreting what the Bible says about human sexuality, in particular in the debate about same-sex sexual relationships.
First mistake: assume our culturally-specific words and concepts map directly onto the Bible
The phrase "identity mapping" is used by Roy Ciampa to describe what happens when contemporary English readers "map" an English word and all its connotations onto a word used in Scripture. For example, when Paul talks about "slaves," what do contemporary readers think of? If you're American, you likely think of slavery as it existed in the antebellum South. I once heard Doug Moo make a similar point by asking how many in the American context think of a white person when they hear the word "slave." Ciampa points out that the term "homosexual" is a relatively recent English word that has been used in English translations of the Bible, but does not exactly map onto the Greek terms used in Scripture (I've addressed this elsewhere as well). In other words, when we're using terms for people groups--even groups like "husbands" and "wives" --we need to be attentive to how the words and world of Scripture is different than our own. Otherwise, we're likely to have a "naive" view about how the Bible speaks into our context today. So we should NOT simply assume that the text has in mind precisely what WE have in mind when we hear certain words. It is relevant to consider, then, what same-sex relationships looked like in the 1st century and WHY Scripture would speak against them (what James Brownson refers to as the "underlying moral logic" of the text). This exercise is something that all good biblical interpretation should do on any topic, not just questions of human sexuality. This is something that the more conservative side of the same-sex debate needs to acknowledge and be clear about.
But people on the 'progressive' side of this issue engage in this kind of "mapping" as well. For example, when President Carter was in Grand Rapids a few weeks ago, he stated that "Jesus wouldn't discriminate against anyone," a statement that was received with a round of applause. I get what he's trying to say. But this is a classic example of mapping modern identities or concepts back onto the Bible. The concept of "discrimination" is fundamentally linked to modern notions of human rights, especially the rights of the individual. It's anachronistic to say that Jesus either did or didn't discriminate; it would be like asking if he drove a Ford or Chevy. Of course, Christians have to think through how to wisely and pastorally address various issues of rights in the modern world. But we're not helped by naively mapping our concepts of rights and justice onto the Bible's. If by 'social justice,' we mean something like "making sure everyone's individual rights are upheld," we need to acknowledge that's not what the Bible means when it talks about 'justice.' It can't, because the concept of human rights doesn't exist in biblical times.
Second mistake: assume that if our culturally-specific words and concepts don't map directly onto the Bible, then the Bible does not really speak to the issue
Some conclude that unless there is exact one-to-one correspondence between the biblical world and our world, then the Bible has nothing to say on the topic. For example, some commentators argue that monogamous, committed, long-term same-sex relationships didn't exist in ancient Israel or the 1st century Roman world. Nor did the modern concept of sexual orientation. If they are right, the question is precisely what impact this observation should have on our biblical interpretation. With a text like Romans 1, some will note that Paul's use of the term 'natural' is connected partially to procreation, but also partially to gender roles in sexual intercourse and to issues of honor and shame woven into ancient patriarchal culture. So some will argue that unless we bring ALL of these aspects forward into our time, then we shouldn't bring ANY of them forward into our time. Or others will say, more simplistically, that because there's neither monogamous, committed, long-term same-sex relationships nor the concept of sexual orientation in Bible times, then the Bible doesn't speak one way or the other to the issue.
There are a couple reasons that thinking is flawed.
First, this doesn't follow the pattern within the Bible itself. Take the concept of human sexuality. In Leviticus, human sexuality is not only a moral issue but also tied to the ceremonial practices of purity and impurity. The Jewish writers of the New Testament assume that human sexuality is indeed a moral issue even though it is no longer tied to the ceremonial purity laws of the Old Testament. In other words, bringing SOME aspect of the Old Testament text forward doesn't require bringing ALL aspects of the Old Testament text forward. Indeed, this is why we distinguish between civil, ceremonial, and moral law in the Old Testament: as the story of Scripture unfolds, it is clear that some elements of the law are universal and transcultural, whereas others are not.
Second, thinking about other examples helps us to recognize the complexity of biblical interpretation. In many cases, there is not a one-to-one correspondence between our moral, cultural issues and their moral, cultural issues. Nuclear war didn't exist in Bible times; does this mean the Bible has nothing to say on the issue of nuclear war? Capitalism didn't exist in Bible times; does this mean the Bible has nothing to say on the issue of capitalism? The idea of social justice--conceived especially in terms of human rights--didn't exist in Bible times; does this mean the Bible has nothing to say on the issue of social justice? Egalitarian marriages--where husband and wife are considered equal in terms of being, function, personhood, and legal standing--didn't exist in Bible times; does this mean the Bible has nothing to say on marriage?
Here's the kicker: most Christians who hold that Scripture prohibits same-sex sexual relationships and most Christians who hold that Scripture gives us good reason to advocate for social justice are using a complex path of interpretation to get there. I'm increasingly convinced that the biggest issue in numerous debates (including dialogue surrounding same-sex relationships) is not that we fail at the practice of biblical interpretation; rather, we are not very good at explaining to others and to ourselves the principles that do (and should) guide our biblical interpretation.
So, on all these issues, how do we interpret the Bible? For starters, we...
1. Pay attention to the historical-cultural context of Scripture to understand the communication of the biblical authors within the context of Scripture.
2. Pay attention to the literary genre of the text.
3. Pay attention to where this text falls within the unfolding drama of redemptive history.
4. Interpret Scripture with Scripture. Whether Leviticus, Revelation, or anything else, we interpret these texts within the entire canonical context so that we see similarities and differences throughout the entirety of Scripture.
5. Pay attention to the surrounding context so that we don't pull verses or paragraphs out of context.
Once we've done our best to put on the ears of the original audience and examined the totality of Scripture, then we're prepared to think through how the message originally written to a different audience is still for us today. My point here is not to solve all issues relating to the complex question of same-sex relationships. But we need to avoid (a) thinking that our words, concepts, culture, and circumstances map directly on to the world of Bible times, and (b) thinking that if our words, concepts, culture, and circumstances DON'T map EXACTLY on to the world of Bible times, then those texts are irrelevant to contemporary discussions.
In all the discussions and disputations I had with fellow American Christians in 2002 and 2003, I don't recall anyone once raising the issue of what this would mean for Iraqi Christians, probably because most of us had no clue (a) whether there were Christians in Iraq or (b) any understanding of the political and social complexity of the situation. Saddam was a bad guy, right? And he had weapons of mass destruction, right? What could go wrong with taking out the bad guy?
After all, if Iraqi Christians are displaced or killed as part of the American push for democracy, then it's worth it. Right? Because being killed, injured, or losing your home in the name of democracy or freedom makes it worth it. But if you are killed, injured, or lose your home because of ISIS, then it's bad. (I also want to be clear: it might be possible to draw lines of direct causality from the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 to what's going on with ISIS today. I'm not knowledgable enough to do that. But I do think it's clear that the invasion created some of the conditions that have led to the rise of ISIS.)
Hear me clearly: please, please, please, stand in solidarity with the Christians in Iraq who are being persecuted and targeted because of their faith. I just wish the idea of solidarity with Iraqi Christians had come on the scene 11 years ago or 23 years ago. Just like I wish solidarity with Japanese Christians had come on the scene before Nagasaki's Urakami Cathedral was the main target of American atomic weapons. Solidarity shouldn't be a last resort for Christians, but a first principle.
Where do American Christians find their identity? In their nation or in God's kingdom? These need not always be mutually exclusive, but I guess it takes outright slaughter of Christians in other countries for Americans to start to think about their CHRISTIAN identity as something that might trump national loyalty. What if we had that sense of connection all the time? It would make it harder to drop bombs on other Christians for the glory of the US of A, democracy, and freedom. It would make it harder to look the other way when confronted with economic injustice that is perpetuated in part because of the American way of life. It would make it harder to see Ebola as somebody else's problem, not ours. And of course, a lack of solidarity isn't just a problem overseas, as evidenced in the fact that most American churches are still functionally segregated.
Christ stood in solidarity with us while we were yet sinners. Christ measures our solidarity with him by our solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are naked, hungry, thirsty, without shelter, imprisoned, and facing death.
The topic of unconditional election (the "U" in the Calvinist TULIP) often generates a lot of discussion when I address it in the classroom. Here are a few keys to understanding unconditional election:
1. Unconditional election is about present misson not postmortem mansions.
2. Unconditional election is about doxology.
Doxology is a fancy word for worship. Election is about whether at the end of the day we sing, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" or "Praise God and me from whom all blessings flow." This is also why...
3. Unconditional election is about humility.
Election is not about patting ourselves on the back. Quite the opposite. When we say "election is unconditional," we're answering the question, "Why would God choose Abraham? Israel? Us?" The Calvinist says, "It's not because Abraham, Israel, or we are so great."
The opposite of unconditional is conditional. In other words, God chose you because of something you bring to the table. Is that what we want to say? The question everyone asks is "Why would God choose Abraham? Israel? Us?" Calvinists say, "We know it's because of the love and grace of God in Christ, but we ultimately can't get to the bottom of this mystery. But we know it's not because of something good we bring to the table." It's the alternative here that sounds horribly prideful to Calvinists: "Why? Because God knew about our faith, our spiritual intelligence, how in tune we would be with him. That's why he chose us!"
4. Unconditional election is a call to action.
This can get quite confusing for some. Election means we're all just puppets, right? False. God draws people to himself through the various means, especially the proclamation of the gospel and through the witness of the new creation people. There's some complicated philosophical and theological discussion to be had here, but suffice it to say that if someone says, "Election means we don't have to preach the gospel/care about the lost/do anything but kick back and relax," they most certainly don't understand election. Election also gives us the boldness to proclaim the gospel, not a watered-down version that appeals to itching ears or the spirit of the age. Election means trust in God's Word and Spirit.
There's obviously a lot more one could say, but I'll stop there. If you'd like to add your voice to the discussion, I'd be happy to hear your thoughts, comments, or questions on this topic.
5. Yoder does apologetics
What?!? I thought apologetics were soooo modernist/foundationalist/fill-in-the-blank-of-old-thing-we're-supposed-to-be-past! In his essay "Believing is Resurrection," Yoder takes on those who would deny the resurrection. First, these "quasi-historians" say, "As a general rule, resurrection do not happen." Secondly, they say, "The general rule can never be broken." In response, Yoder says, "This second statement is not a scientific statement. This second statement is a confession of faith in the unbroken regularity of the universe." He continues,"The confession of faith in unbroken regularity makes sense within the limits of the laboratory...It makes sense within the limits of outer space where there are no people moving around to get in the way of the stars. It does not make sense within history because history is a different mode of truth. History is a kind of reality that is by definition always unique." So what can we say? "This doesn't mean we know all about the resurrection. It doesn't mean that we know anything about how it happened or how it could have happened. How could it have happened? It could not have, but it did." (Real Christian Fellowship, 42-43.)
4. You get Yoder's theology of culture in a nutshell
3. An absolute gem on evangelism
The chapter "Evangelizing like Jesus" is short but sweet. With his typical keen insight, Yoder notes that when we hear the phrase "fishers of men" (and I can't say it without hearing the Sunday School song ringing in my ears), we usually think of the typical North American angler, not a middle eastern, Sea-of-Galilee type fisherman. What's the difference? The angler focuses on one fish at a time. He often catches it by deceit, dangling a worm (or something meant to look like it) on a hook. The angler usually fishes for the thrill of combat and sense of victory. The goal is simply to catch a fish. They may not even eat it; it's all about the thrill of the hunt. Those who fished Galilee were different in all respects: they fished for a living not as a luxury. They worked with the sea, and gathered many together at once. Yoder's summary is worth quoting: "Whether the angler is the farm boy going down to the creek or the prosperous suburbanite taking the weekend off to fight with a trout or a tarpon, the entire enterprise is more recreational sport than it is essential for survival and community building. Fishing is an alternative to real life, not a source of sustenance. Our theology and evangelism would be better if we clarify that Jesus called us to be fishers of people and not anglers." (146)
2. Yoder on singing
In the final four essays of the book, Yoder engages Psalm 136, 24, 137, and Revelation 4-5. Despite reading Yoder extensively, these essays were the first time I read Yoder directly engaging the practice of singing. This is significant because, for many Christians, their most memorable and substantial teaching comes from songs.
I found one particular suggestion from Yoder interesting and compelling. While discussing Psalm 136, which tells the history of Israel while echoing the refrain "for his love endures forever, Yoder asks what it would look like to extend this way of talking about church history. What if we didn't stop with Jesus and the early church but continued to includes the saints of church history, including God's working through the saints at our particular local church? So Yoder asks, "What if we named specific names and events and then responded, 'For his mercy endures forever'? Would we not have a different feel for God's power? Would we not have a different feel for our own identity? We would have a feel not only for the past, but for the future. That is the funny thing about the past--if you know from where you have come, you know where you are going." (158)
1. Two for one: how to read the Bible and Christian social strategy
This last reason is a two-for-one, because you get both in one essay. In "Embracing Equality," Yoder engages 1 Corinthians 11 and the question of head coverings for women. When Yoder originally gave this sermon in 1969, the congregation at Prairie Street Mennonite Church (where Yoder was a member) was going through the process of discerning whether women should still be required to wear a head covering at worship services.
I've learned a lot from Yoder. Whether as a historian or biblical interpreter, Yoder is constantly on guard to read and assess texts and people based on their own time. So rather than first lamenting how "oppressive" the Bible is, he seeks to understand the text in its own terms. A lot of contemporary readers get mad that the biblical authors and audiences weren't as enlightened as we are, but Yoder's hermeneutics help us to avoid that kind of cultural imperialism and arrogance that imperils both good biblical interpretation and good historiography.
Second, Yoder articulates a social strategy here that is sure to offend both your liberal and conservative friends alike (I like it already!). Conservatives, says Yoder, often fail to recognize the new creation brought into being in Christ. Quietists, says Yoder, are people who recognize the newness but don't think it is important to witness to this newness in word and deed. Revolutionaries, says Yoder, are people who believe newness has come but that open and often hostile confrontation with the old age is the only way for truth to be known. Yoder takes issues with all three: "The kingdom of God means change in the direction of equal dignity for all people. Some conservatives are not really sure about that. The kingdom of God sparks an urge to witness, make something known, and show it to all people. Contemporary quietists are not very keen on that. The kingdom of God means trusting God's power and exhibiting uncommon patience. Modern-day revolutionaries are still not convinced of that." (108) In contrast, Yoder casts a vision for God's people that witnesses to the new creation not by might, nor by activism, but by the patient movement of God's Spirit. The kingdom is radical in its newness and revolutionary in its patience. If our fellowship exhibits both that newness and patience, we'll be neither liberal nor conservative but, with God's grace, simply the church.
In the second essay in Real Christian Fellowship, "Believing is Resurrection," John Howard Yoder contrasts two different ways of reading the Bible. Some read the Bible like Kansas--it's flat, with everything being of equal importance. In actuality, it's more like Switzerland, Yoder says: it has high points that serve as orientation for the surrounding landscape. And the resurrection is the high point of high points in Scripture. Echoing Paul in 1 Cor. 15, Yoder says "No resurrection, no Christianity." This fits with how both Anabaptists and Reformed folks read Scripture: as a story of promise and fulfillment that reaches its apex in Jesus.
But what does the resurrection mean for us? Some have criticized Yoder as focusing too much on cross and not enough on resurrection. Those who have read him closely and broadly, however, will realize that this is a mistake, and one that Yoder refutes here. The new life of the Christian community rests on the new creation initiated with the resurrection of Jesus. The life of discipleship is, as the Schleitheim Confession puts it, for those who have "learned to walk in the resurrection." Thanks to the resurrection, Christians are empowered to walk in newness of life even in the present. This doesn't mean Christians are perfect in the present. But we dare not limit the power unleashing both in the resurrection and at Pentecost. To do so would amount to a functional denial of the resurrection.
I appreciate Yoder's point here. I worry that good Protestants often are so worried about emphasizing sin that we underemphasize the resurrection. Our faith is not in the inherent goodness of human nature; our faith is in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The power of the resurrection affects the moral choices that we are confronted with on a daily basis. I can't do better than summarizing Yoder here: "The resurrection in the actual, historical experience of the disciples meant that when the cause of God seemed utterly defeated, it was not. The universe is not closed. For a Christian, there is no such thing as a dilemma [where one is forced to do evil]. Certainly there are difficult moral problems. There are situations in which it is not easy to see that one way through is much better than the other. But the Christian is never condemned to doing wrong because nothing else is possible. In fact, no one is ever thus condemned. Christians, of all people, should know that. The resurrection was not a unique accident but the revelation of who God is and how God operates. There was only one resurrection of Jesus, but every time an individual comes to Christian faith, as the apostle [Paul] has been telling us, there is another resurrection. The God we serve is a resurrecting God; we live from that daily."
Too often, Christians act as though we have to commit "necessary evils." Theologically, though, "necessary" is precisely what evil is not. God didn't make the world this way, we did. The path of suffering love, forgiveness, and resurrection is what God does in the face of "necessary evil, " and as Paul notes in Philippians 3, our hope for the resurrection in the future is directly connected to our willingness to embrace the cross and resurrection in the present. Though it may seem a bland, black-and-white approach to a watching world, the resurrection life is a technicolor new creation cast by the light of the empty tomb. With the first dumbfounded disciples, Christians continue to confess that we're not in Kansas anymore.
In Darren Aronofsky's re-telling, Noah comes to the conclusion that everyone--his family included--is due for God's judgment. Sin hasn't just affected the sinful line of Cain; it's infiltrated the line of Seth as well. Noah thus becomes a 1-point Calvinist (Total depravity) and draws the logical conclusion: his family will die too and humanity will end. Aronofsky's Noah eventually leaves this view behind. But I think Noah's instinct is picked up by a later Jew, the Apostle Paul.
In Romans 1-3:23, Paul underscores that those nasty Gentiles are indeed idolaters and sexual immoral. But, like Aronofsky's Noah, Paul sees that sin hasn't just infected the "others," but pervades God's chosen covenant people as well. With the Psalmist, Paul declares: "There is none righteous. No, not one!" Like Aronofsky's Noah, Paul declares that the problem is not merely with the line of Cain or the Gentiles. No, the entire line of Adam is caught in the snare. So what is the solution? It is not to pull ourselves up by our moral bootstraps and make better choices (the final Pelagian note sounded by Aronofsky's Noah). No, in Jesus Christ, the answer has been given: Adam and his line must drown, must die.
And so the second Adam takes on himself all the weight of our misery and sin. The cross is thus the bookend to Jesus' baptism by John, a baptism of repentance. For the only true baptism of repentance is one that ends in death, for the line of old man, the line of Adam cannot rehabilitated. He must be drowned. And just as sinful humanity drowned in the days of Noah, so the One who walked on water was dragged down to the deepest depths because of our sin.
But the sign given by the Son of Man is not only that of Noah but of Jonah, who both descended into the depths but miraculously ascended as well. So this new Jonah calls us to pass through the waters of death and new life.
Scripture affirms that we cannot be rehabilitated. We cannot be reformed. We cannot be reoriented. We cannot be reeducated. We must die. We must pass with Christ through the waters of death and emerge into a new life. "Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Rom 6:3-4)
Today we remember and give thanks that, in Jesus, the old Adam was drowned so that we might be born anew by the water and the Spirit.
"Our age...is one of sneer and cynicism. We are freer from hypocrisy, since it does not 'do' to profess holiness or utter high sentiments; but it is one of inverted hypocrisy like the widely current inverted snobbery: men profess to be worse than they are."
So wrote J. R. R. Tolkien in a 1963 letter to his son Michael. The day after reading this, I happened onto a blog by a Christian writer. I'll let his blog title speak for itself.
Here's part of the blog:
"I have no idea what I believe at least half the time, and I’m afraid to write because I know I’ll look back on it in a few months and realize I was wrong.
I say swear words sometimes, even when I pray. Especially when I pray.
I have all this baggage about the Bible and the Church, but I believe desperately, deeply in Jesus and His Kingdom.
(Except for when I don’t.)
We don’t have our shit together. Not at all."
Now, I commend the writer for his honesty. But I'll be honest too: I think a lot of younger evangelicals are overreacting against hypocrisy. They grew up in churches where everybody had to pretend to have their lives together. Now, everybody has to pretend that they don't have their stuff together. We risk creating a culture where people who actually are growing in grace, wisdom, and maturity dare not acknowledge it, to themselves or to others. We risk creating a culture of shame for those have their stuff together rather than those who don't.
I imagine Jesus re-telling his parable of the Pharisee and tax collector like this:
"Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The tax collector stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like this Pharisee. I never fast, I don't tithe, and I really don't like going to church. Thank you, Lord, that I'm a mess because now I'll never be tempted to be a hypocrite like that horrible Pharisee. And I really, really thank you that you haven't given me your Spirit in order to shape me, mold me, and in general help me get my stuff together. I pray that you would leave me as I am so that I'll always feel superior to the hypocritical Pharisees. Help me to have the boldness to proclaim my brokenness over and over so everyone will know how genuine, authentic, and humble I am.'"
Jesus says that those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. But I suspect that we sometimes try to humble ourselves (and do it loudly and publicly) as a way of exalting ourselves--look how humble and messed up I am!
Hypocrisy is a huge problem. But so is inverted hypocrisy. We're all sinners. We're all saved by grace. And we're all being molded by the Spirit more and more into the image of Christ. The goal is not to put on a good face. The goal is not to put on an "authentic" face. The goal is to put on Jesus.
So I don't just want leaders, writers, and fellow Christians who will tell me how bad and broken they are. I also want leaders, writers, and fellow Christians who have the Spirit-empowered audacity to say, as Paul did, "Imitate me, just as I imitate Jesus" (1 Cor. 11:1)