This month a nearby church changed its name from “Christ Community Church” to “C3Exchange.” Besides the obvious benefit of being mistaken for a Star Wars character, the pastor said the name change indicates their desire to be an “inclusive, spiritual community” which includes Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists.
The church will remain true to its heritage by embodying words that begin with the letter C—“compassion, community, collaboration” and—wait for it—“conversation.” The church also plans to take the cross down from its bell tower, for while “the cross is one symbol that is important to us…it’s not the only one.” The pastor continued: “We want to put something else on the wall that says ‘all are welcome,’ and we welcome people of all different paths.”
The surprising thing is that until 1997 the church was a member of the Reformed Church of America—the same denomination that has room for Kevin DeYoung. How does a church go from the RCA to full-blown liberalism in 13 years?
Part of the answer may lie in a column that Juanita Westaby, a reporter for the Grand Rapids Press, wrote for last weekend’s religion section. Westaby mentioned how some Protestants were offended by tracts which suggested that everyone but pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics were going to hell. Non-Christians were offended that these Protestants were offended, for they were only getting a taste of their own medicine. How do the Protestants think others feel when they tell them that they are going to hell unless they are saved?
Westaby said that we will all get along better if we stop proselytizing. Be content to love your God and live out your own faith. If others are attracted to what you have, then fine. If they aren’t, then nothing you can say is going to make them want it anyway.
Westaby makes a good point that the beauty of our lives should draw others to our faith, and there’s no point in trying to argue someone into your religion if they don’t like what they see. But she makes the jump from it’s futile to tell someone that they need your God to it’s mean and offensive to do so. She said that “whenever we are telling someone else how to live, who to believe in, how to believer, whether or not to believe,” then we are tearing “down another’s belief to elevate [our] own.”
She complained that “in 15 years of religion reporting, I have been asked countless times if I am saved. There is only one reason for asking that question: that person thinks their six-geranium yard is better than Chris’ Garden, where I am heading” (Westaby compared a person’s sorry flowers to Chris’ beautiful garden to illustrate the difference between religions—people will head to the flowers they like, and nothing you can say will stop them).
Westaby concludes: “There are countless people in West Michigan who just do not want to be in your yard. They want to climb mountains, sail seas, cross deserts and enter gardens of their own human experience without someone else’s religious prescription. Please leave them be.”
Where does Westaby get the idea that it’s wrong to tell others they need Jesus? Part of the answer may lie in the popular distinction between centered and bounded sets. And here is where evangelical Christians need to be especially careful. Two weeks ago John Ortberg wrote an essay for Leadership in which he argued that centered sets were better than bounded sets. Agreed that we should be centered set people who focus on Jesus, the center of our centered set. But it would have been helpful for Ortberg to clearly say that there is a boundary which we must cross when we move from darkness into the light, from death into life.
“The key question” is not merely whether “someone is oriented toward [Jesus] or away from him,” but also whether their orientation has brought them across the line. Agreed that “God is in a much better position than we are to know who’s in and who’s out,” but there still is an in and an out. And we must not be afraid to say it. Rather than succumb to the false dualism of centered vs. bounded sets, we should follow the Gospel Coalition’s lead in acknowledging our “centered-bounded set.” Christians are centered on Jesus, and like every other meaningful set, we also have a boundary.
My point is not to blame Ortberg for C3Exchange—I am sure that he would be as horrified as me with the news from that church. My point is merely to explain how the slippery slope to liberalism may occur.
- Evangelical Christians play the center off against the boundary, elevating the person of Jesus over the importance of believing the facts about him. Concern over right doctrine is seen as a boundary play, which gets in the way of following Jesus. [Please note that Ortberg does not make all of these assertions. He merely emphasizes the center at the expense of the boundary, which inadvertently feeds the increasingly popular view that doctrine, inasmuch as it is associated with the boundary, is unimportant. Given how widespread that view is, we are guilty of pastoral negligence if we discuss centered and bounded sets without declaring our need for boundaries and right doctrine].
- More progressive Christians emphasize that Jesus is love, and that he wouldn’t want us fighting over the facts about him. As long as you love others, which cashes out as respecting their religious beliefs enough not to tell them that they are wrong, then you are following the way of Jesus.
- Liberal “Christians” figure that if Jesus is love, then we are being especially true to our faith when we open our churches to include those who belong to other religions. Now we are all following Jesus, or Mohammed, or the Buddha, or whatever (in truth we’re just following ourselves). And voila, you have C3Exchange.