01 Jul 2016
A while ago, there was a book that caused a stir among Christian leaders. It was called The Simple Church. Its thesis was that we have all made church too complicated when all we really needed to do was to focus on some really basic stuff. If only we cleared out all the clutter and simplify, the church would be all that it was meant to be, and people would be coming in droves. The impact the book made was such that every fellow pastor I spoke to had read it, and what I noted with some amusement was their defensive response; without exception, each one felt obligated to claim that his church was really, honestly, already a simple church.
If you have not read or even heard of that book, you can be forgiven. Not merely because you are not a pastor and have no interest in such books. The book was destined to have a short-lived burst of popularity anyway. It was one of those books that became wildly fashionable for a very brief stint because it tapped into a deep yearning that most people have, but its underlying premise is false: there has never been, and (this side of heaven) there will never be, such a thing as a simple church, except in our dreams.
It’s not just church. Life is complex. Any adult who doesn’t believe that either happens to have lived an extraordinarily sheltered life, divorced from the realities and choices that the rest of us constantly grapple with, or they are simply blundering and stumbling their way through life unknowingly.
Go to any bookstore and look at the shelves of self-help books, or trawl the endless online tips on how to make life work, and the same approach runs through almost all of them. They present us with one-dimensional, linear, and simplistic maxims that supposedly would change our lives for the better if only we applied them consistently. It’s as if all that we really lack is the motivation or discipline to pursue them with sufficient rigour.
Drive and passion is all well and good, but what we really lack is wisdom. The great challenge of living well is not choosing between “either-or” options, but maintaining “both-and” positions. It is not about being prudent or audacious in our decision-making; both are necessary for success. It is not about choosing between maximising our lifespan or maximising our enjoyment of life; one without the other is futile. It is not about opting between using our heads or our hearts in our interactions with others; all healthy relationships require both. True genius is the ability to hold and manage the tensions of paradoxical positions.
The most important application of this principle comes in the decision of whether to embrace the Christian story. The tension here is one between facts and faith. Without sufficient evidence and adequate consideration, all you will have is a blind faith that is no different from wishful thinking. Without the courage and willingness to believe, no amount of evidence will ever suffice to convince you, because it is always possible to rationalise away what we would rather not believe. The claims and blessings of Christianity are simply too crucial to ignore, but they can never be meaningfully evaluated and received if we take a simplistic approach. Christianity is not simple, but given the difference that it would make if true, it’s well worth the effort of grappling with the facts and exercising faith.