Update: Deep & Wide
Well the third fifty pages has proven faithful to the pattern of the first two. A few things Stanley has said come off as completely arrogant and angered me to no end. But then again, most of what he said resonated pretty deeply with my ministry experiences. On the positive side, his approach to spiritual formation is not about a system of classes. It’s about creating an environment where people have the opportunity to grow in faith. He zooms out to a bigger picture than most people writing about spiritual formation. The most fascinating element of his 5 Faith Catalysts is the last one: Pivotal Circumstances. He shares that life-altering circumstances are always opportunities for faith to grow or shrink. The difference is how we interpret them. I’ve found this to be true in ministry. As a result I am often trying to help people develop a way of looking at their circumstances through the lens of Scripture. But for many years I tried to do this as people were walking through life-altering events. I eventually figured out it’s often too late. Either they were ready for it and able to draw near to God for strength, or they were caught off-guard and rarely able to recover gracefully. But Stanley is the first person I’ve seen bring this issue right out onto the table as a ministry focal point. I like Stanley’s approach and I’ll urge you to read it and take it to heart. His example with Jesus and John the Baptist is just excellent! It’s worth the cost of the book. All 5 of his Catalysts have value and I like the way he makes it clear that a cookie-cutter approach is too simplistic. This section is very worth reading.
In my humble opinion (and people are almost never actually being humble when they say this, but I’m trying to be) I think when Stanley talks about culture he’s at his weakest. He goes too far. He says people are far more interested in what works than what’s true. Andy often sets up these kinds of either/or conundrums when he knows there isn’t an obvious biblical or theological principle involved. And what’s more, he almost always says, take it or leave it. You’re living in a fantasy world if you don’t fully buy-in to his view that the wants and desires of people should drive the packaging of our truth. He even hijacks the Beatitudes to do it. I don’t buy it. When it comes to preaching over the long haul, if we always start with what people are interested in and then try to make the Bible relevant we are fighting an uphill battle we will never win. Not that we should never do it. But if we always do it the price might be too high. The implication would be: ultimate reality is defined my experience and curiosity. The Bible then remains an interesting secondary reality that might “work” for me or might not. We think we know what is broken in our lives, but the Bible shows us that it’s actually much more serious and only God can help us. So at some point we have to help people submit their desires and dreams to what’s really true. The longer we wait, the harder it is. Of course, nothing works long-term that isn’t true. So it’s a false dichotomy. That’s my opinion. Start with the Bible and encourage them to discover their story in its’ pages. It works with what’s really broken. The Bible is good stuff. Interesting stuff. Sometimes even sexy and exciting stuff. We don’t need to apologize for it or dress it up like a clown.
I tend to think people are pretty smart. If they make it to church they are usually looking for something true. We should give it to them. Not in a boring package, not without handles, and not without next steps to put it into practice. But all the time helping them see that what is true is what works. On these last parts I’m fully agreeing with him, just not that we should always start our sermons one way. I always start informal conversations with people with what they’re interested in and curious about. But preaching should be different. Not boring but helping us make our lives relevant to ultimate reality, not the other way around. Sometimes even the order in which we talk about it communicates a lot.
I hope I’m hearing it wrong, but what I possibly hear him saying on page 115 seems arrogant and ugly, implying that the only two options are his way or zero impact on the world. Such a scenario might exist, but many who disagree with his priority have much more impact than he implies. And to me he’s too crass in how he says it.
So I love 90% of this section of the book. It’s deeper than some would give him credit for. It has some fresh insights and good wisdom. If he would rewrite pages 113-115 I’d love it all. I’m going to keep reading. But I may Tweet him about page 115…