Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, started a little kerfuffle last week when he wrote about how he doesn’t really go to church any more. He doesn’t learn much about God through sermons, and he doesn’t connect with God through songs. Church just doesn’t connect with him in any way and doesn’t fit within his own learning style, which is far more participatory. He says the Church is all around us and in believers so he feels free to “have church” in the way(s) that most connect him to God and others.
Well, this caused quite the backlash. He wrote again a couple of days ago in response, but it seems that most people still really disagree with him.
But here’s the problem: Donald Miller is absolutely right in everything he says if he still insists on calling himself an “Evangelical”, or at least using that as his frame of reference.
If you consider yourself an Evangelical in any traditional sense, and you’re looking at Donald Miller’s church practices with dismay, well then welcome to your future–the logical conclusion of your theology and how you’ve practiced church for a few generations now.
This is the logical endpoint of Evangelicalism’s Dualistic view of reality.
This shows up in Miller’s posts in several places, but no more clearly than when it comes to “meeting God”. In a dualistic view of the world, something is either sacred or not sacred, which means (in their view) that a church service is no more “sacred” than wherever it is you end up meeting God. Nature? Work? Family? Home? Doesn’t matter. If you can meet God there, then that can be church for you, supposedly.
But reality isn’t structured that way. There are degrees of sacredness. Yes, everything can be sacred, but at least biblically-speaking, some places are sacred-er. There are, as N.T. Wright puts it, “thin places” between us and the divine.
But what determines those “sacred-er” places? Contrary to Evangelicalism (and Miller), it’s not where you experience God. It’s where he has promised to be. Sacredness is a result of covenant, not experience. There’s a difference between Sacrament and sacrament.
This is also the ultimate manifestation of Evangelicalism’s individualistic view of everything.
Evangelicalism’s purely individualistic and experience-based approach to faith empowers people to leave once they’ve “checked off all the boxes” of spirituality. Prayed the prayer? Got a quiet time? Hang out with believers? Tell non-believers about your faith? No major sins weighing you down? Is your doctrine right? Do you believe in the authority of Scripture? Do you feel like you experience God? Then you’re good to go.
If that’s all Christianity really is, then congratulations, Evangelicalism: in Donald Miller you have a man that may be able to check off all those boxes–and still feel free to stay home on Sunday. If he’s able to hold on to all those things, then what’s the harm in him not going to church?
Evangelicalism has treated Sunday morning as the time for individuals to cultivate all of those checkboxes–getting your personal doctrine, behavior, and experience in order–and that’s it.
But these things are pretty surface-y to the human person. There’s so much more that needs to be cultivated in us–liturgized, if you will–for us to learn all the more what it means to be human–together. Sunday is just as much about what is done to us by the Spirit as a corporate Body than it is about how we take it upon ourselves to accomplish personal “spiritual maturity”.
So why do we go to church (and why should Donald Miller)?
We go to church to commune with believers in the present (not just “fellowship”). To find our place within the rhythm and flow of a Body of Believers that has preceded for millennia past. To bring many voices together to offer one voice in praise and adoration of God. To confess our sins as a corporate entity and not just as a mass of individuals. To lament together that things are not now what they will be. To live out the vocal unity in those final words of the Bible: The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”
We go to church to watch others baptized and join this Body and join them in celebration and invitation. To stare each other in the face and speak a blessing over them: the body of Christ, broken for you; the blood of Christ, shed for you.
We go to church to participate in the worship of the entire company of heaven, which is done in unison, and not in individual passion. We go to declare our corporate identity as citizens of heaven and in so doing flood the Present with the World to Come. We then get sent out to flood heaven itself into the streets around us.
We go to church not just for ourselves, not just for believers, but for the entire world.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.