In fifth grade, I was sitting on the bus to school next to a friend from church. We were talking about sixth grade and she told me she had decided to transfer to our local Christian school. Without mincing words, she told me that anyone who stayed in the public school system was opening themselves to corruption from The World and would have to work much harder at being a good Christian. I was enough of a skeptic, even at 10, to give an internal eye-roll and we parted ways. She graduated from the Christian school and I graduated from the public school, my faith still more or less intact.
In his new book, Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey challenges this mentality amongst the Christian majority. By so insulating themselves from others, but focusing on the wrong movies and wrong habits rather than on issues like poverty and racism, the politics of Christianity is showing up more as a moralistic ideology rather than a radical inclusion of grace (227). He gives statistics that those who don’t identify as Christian view Christians as judgmental and hateful. This is far from the message of grace, acceptance, and love that Jesus shared.
Throughout the book, Yancey reminds others that the Kingdom largely exists for outsiders (159) and that by building walls and creating legalism, the American church is reflecting more of a political view than the gospel of love. He gives many examples of how the church operated best when it was the minority – having to look past differences, work toward social justice, and fill the gaps of government, the church thrived in those counterculture situations. He gives consideration for how we can view our faith as a corporate body now that Christians are the majority religion in America. How can the church create a new culture rather than mimic pop culture? (p 105) How can the church continue to serve its community in a loving, grace filled way, even as it has gotten involved in politics and mainstream ideals?
Yancey is not all negativity. He tells stories of churches and communities who are doing things well, who are trying to embody the idea that Jesus was about forgiveness but also about social justice and hospitality. He ends on a note of hope for the future church and its place in modern society.
He challenges Christians to stop the name calling, focus on matters of significance, and really review what the incredibly radical message of Jesus was: To spread love and grace to those who need love, to those who are hurting, to those who are othered in society. I feel that this is a timely book, given current American events and Yancey writes it in his usual approachable style that has engaged many over the decades.
What is your experience with the church? Do you find it inclusive or judgmental? Do you think it’s changing?
GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Vanishing Grace. To enter, leave a comment about your church experience, positive or negative. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, December 12, 2014. (United States addresses only.)