Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sectarianism and Syncretism

Mark Driscoll has a way with words. He may be a little too blunt and irreverent for some readers, but I like his message. This is a quote from his book The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out:

"To let go of culture is fundamentalist sectarianism. Sectarianism is the huddling up of God's people to enjoy each other and Jesus without caring about anyone who is lost and dying outside of Christ. To justify themselves, sectarians will often quote 1 Thessalonians 5:22 from the King James Version, which poorly translates this verse to say that we are to avoid every appearance of evil, when the text actually says that we should avoid every kind of evil, which is a different matter altogether. Sectarianism inevitably leads to irrelevance and is unfaithful to Jesus' prayer that we not leave this sick and dying world that does not know him.

"While sectarians may cling to the gospel for their personal piety, they hide their light under a bushel. And so the story of Jesus stays at home with my family, with my church, and with my Christian friends because for us salvation is a place to end and not a place to begin. Eventually, sectarians become so dated and removed from people in the world that their churches are little more than museums dedicated to the past, with dumb reader boards outside that sound like silly telegraphs from an alien planet.

"To let go of the gospel is liberal syncretism, which also leads to irrelevance. How? By rarely, if ever, speaking of sin and repentance in personal and not just institutional and systemic terms. Syncretism simply baptizes unscriptural beliefs in the name of limp-wristed relevance, social progress, being nice, and making a good nonjudgmental impression. Syncretism inevitably dissolves into a universalism in which God loves everyone, and will forgive everyone's sins and take everyone to heaven because he simply lacks the courage to judge anyone. Eventually, syncretists become less distinctively Christian in favor of an inoffensive spiritual mush. Visiting syncretistic churches is like entering a mutual admiration society in which people pat each other on the back for having a social conscience and nod in agreement through sermons that sound like sappy greeting cards strung together to make us feel like we just got a divine back rub while doing aromatherapy, drinking herbal tea, and listening to taped sounds of running water.

"The problem with both syncretism and sectarianism is that they deny the clear teaching of the Scriptures that the power of God unleashed through the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform anyone. Sectarians do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that evil hearts and sinful actions and worldly social structures are more powerful than God, unable to be redeemed, and therefore are a waste of our energies because they are destined to be meat on God's grill anyway, so why bother? Likewise, syncretists do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that the hearts of people aren't that bad, their actions aren't that sinful, and since people are doing the best they can, we can't expect any sort of radical transformation, and so we should simply bless them with a sentimental love.

"Sectarians love God but fail to love their neighbor. Syncretists love their neighbor but fail to love God. Jesus expects us to love him and our neighbor (including our enemies) and says that if we fail to do so, we are no better than the godless pagans who love their drinking and strip-poker buddies (Matt. 5:43-47). To love our neighbors, we must meet them in their culture. To love our neighbors, we must call them to repent of sin and be transformed by Jesus" (pages 143-145).

I don't know about how anyone else reacted to those words, but I found them challenging and honest. I recommend his book as well as his blog (see my blog roll).


Christy said...

I don't know, Terry. He sounds awfully bitter to me. I guess it's hard to judge it though, since this is just a portion of the book. I'll admit that I don't think I would be interested in reading it. I hope this doesn't offend.

Terry said...

Don't worry, Christy. I'm not offended. If Mark Driscoll doesn't offend me, you have nothing to worry about:). I have the same problem he has: I can be too blunt and sound bitter, too. Thanks for the comment!

westcoastwitness.com said...

Great book - we're going to go through it as a ministry team here in SF after we get done with the one we're currently working through.

Terry said...

That's a great idea. I love to hear about what you are doing to reach the people of San Francisco with the good news.