Wednesday, February 27, 2008

CT on Willow's Reveal: A Disturbingly Low View of the Church

From Christianity Today's editorial on Willow Creek's Reveal:
As admirers of Willow, we offer one critique, as well as praise.

Our ongoing concern about seeker-sensitive churches is not their willingness to change church culture so that it is not a needless stumbling block to the unchurched. We're only troubled when such churches uncritically accept the metrics of marketing culture, and let consumer capitalism shape the church's theology.

In Reveal, talk about the church is framed as if it were merely a distribution point for spiritual goods and services. For example, the study says that the dissatisfied, more than any other segment, have a much higher level of expectation "for what the church can and should deliver." Furthermore, the dissatisfied say that when it comes to engendering personal spiritual growth, "the church is letting me down."

The study's answer suggests a disturbingly low view of the church: It concludes that the dissatisfied need to realize that "much of the responsibility for their spiritual growth belongs to them" (emphasis in the original). And "We [at Willow] have to let people know early on in their journey that they need to look beyond the church to grow" (emphasis added).

But according to the apostle Paul, the church is where each one is given a gift "so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:12–13).

For Paul, solid spiritual growth cannot be found "beyond the church," but only in its midst. The study rightly says, "Our people need to learn to feed themselves through personal spiritual practices." Unfortunately, the study fails to hint that these spiritual disciplines are intrinsically grounded in the ongoing life of the church. This implicit dualism (between private and corporate spiritual growth) suggests something different from Paul's view that it is in the body of Christ that we are joined together to "grow up into him who is the Head" (Eph. 4:15).

Willow's study, of course, invites this very exercise in iron sharpening iron. It's precisely because of Willow's passion to grow people in Christ, its humility to undertake a self-study, and its vulnerability to publicize the results, that we're all thinking more deeply about what it means to be the church. Would that more congregations have such passion and humility.

Update: Jonathan Leeman blogged through the REVEAL book at the 9Marks website. Click here for his conclusion.