i know i sometimes sound like i am dissing the evangelical church and its rigid ways. please know i recognize there are so many good, lovely, beautiful sincere people in conservative traditional churches who truly love Jesus and are serving him in amazing ways. at the same time, i am sometimes struck by how pervasive the “truth” culture is in these systems and how dangerous any potential threat to their systematic theology is. so here’s something that just happened to me this week. when i first read it, i laughed out loud. then i sat with it a little longer and while a chuckle was still under my breath, another feeling slowly pervaded—sadness. sadness for how small and limited Jesus can become and how elevated and worshipped “the Bible” is. this is a letter from a women’s ministry leader who was considering using refresh at their church. here’s what she says:
“there was concern that arose when i presented this bible study as a resource…the quoting of oprah and ghandi. both are good people but not someone we would want to give credit to as knowing or having spiritual insight. we feel it would stumble some of our ladies especially new believing women who would take it as a stamp of approval, especially of oprah. our question to you is why you felt a need to include people who are not spiritually minded to reinforce biblical truths? “
i call this throwing the baby out with the bathwater in its finest form.
gandhi doesn’t have spiritual insight worth passing on. oprah has nothing worthy to say because she isn’t “christian”. their words will actually cause someone to stumble. the message of peace, love, valuing yourself, compassion, dignity, caring for others, being a good citizen—these i guess aren’t Kingdom principles unless they are attached to someone who professes to be a Christian. they don’t count if they don’t somehow come with a scripture chapter and verse. come on! many systems only feel comfortable if “biblical truth” is shared in a specific way but one small smack of “worldliness” and we’re getting deceived and in big trouble. to me, biblical truth is meaningless if it is just words and not practiced in relationship with each other.
Jesus is bigger than language. he is bigger than our stupid systems and rules and man-made craziness. He can move through people that don’t know a lick about the Bible but know a thing or two about injustice and the poor and marginalized and oppressed. Jesus understood the times and was able to meet people where they were at. i’m not saying i believe in everything oprah or gandhi says. i don’t believe all of what almost anyone says.
but i know this: they have something to say and i can learn from them. to say i can’t is arrogant, rude, and small-minded.
God made clear—don’t make idols and worship them. the Bible has become that—an idol that has been elevated above basic human respect and kindness and a belief that God is alive, at work through the people he created whether they say the “right things” the “right way” or not. this kind of Jesus is too small for me.
ps: this cool painting was done by my friend jenny herrick. yes, God is not in the box.