It is all becoming a little clearer to me now. After having read a good portion of Bean’s book , Being a Christian Without Going to Church, I am beginning to see where the thrust of her perspective lies. I will not find too much fault in her general approach to ministry but will say that it is incomplete and in my opinion misses the big picture. She calls for us to get out of our church buildings and to connect with the outside world. We must stop the us and them thought processes. We need to walk in the community and not be isolated behind our church doors. I so agree. It is a weakness in the lives of many congregations. We can get very comfortable in the pews. But I am still missing something in Bean’s description so far of ministry.
I am missing the gospel message. I see a very clear social gospel aspect to her examples and stories that she shares in her book. These are wonderful stories of people sharing community with the homeless, the struggling, the needy. I hear her speaking of creating together. These are beautiful stories of transformation. But they seem incomplete as witnesses of true gospel ministry. I have yet to hear her speak clearly of repentance and restoration as it pertains to our greatest need and that is our sin and alienation from God. We can feed and walk with and create with all we want to, but in the end, there is one overarching need and that is salvation not social restoration. Please do not get me wrong. We are called to minister to the real needs of people and we need to do a better job of that. But we must not do those things in lieu of the clear message of salvation being preached.
Just a few words from Bean will show you my concern. Bean states, “Whether the ‘making’ is music, art, or food, the process of creating something brings people together like nothing else can.” My concern is with the last part of the statement. “Like nothing else can”, is this true? What about what happens when one comes to a saving knowledge of Christ. All things will eventually pass away. The most beautiful things we can create and share will one day be gone. A changed and redeemed life will last!
Bean writes, “When we as humans engage in creative action, we embody the Spirit of God the Creator, who formed us to bear goodness in this world.” What does it mean to bear goodness? Her descriptions are more of art, music, food, the things of this world. What is the goodness we are called to bear? It is the good news of Jesus Christ and his offer for our sins. What I am saying is her emphasis on community and beholding others and creating with others is great, but it is not the gospel and it is not enough. She has opened my eyes to the needs out there, but the overall goal or target is not creativity but real transformation and the building of a community of believers who are truly in Christ. We are called to build the Church. Only those in Christ, embody the Spirit of God within them. We may end up doing social good in the temporary and miss out on the eternal. We can not substitute the gospel message here for social change.
One final statement from her book will suffice, “If we are motivated by love and begin by building relationships and learning about the cultural and social context we are entering, healthy action that fosters real community will follow naturally.” This statement is beautifully written and when applied within a context of clear gospel presentation in the process, then yes, real transformation will take place. This will be lasting transformation- not just social reform.