Shades of Grey

Thursday, July 15, 2004

In yesterdays BreakPoint with Charles Colson, he writes a small critique on the Alt Church movement. Part of what he writes is this:

Now, younger Evangelicals are ?creating alternative churches in coffee bars and warehouses . . . ? And, just as the alternative music scene is an implicit criticism of the musical mainstream, the ?alternative church? sees itself as a corrective to the churches many of its members grew up in.

One participant told the Times that his ?generation is discontent with dead religion . . . ? They ?don´t want to show up on Sunday, sing two hymns, hear a sermon, and go home . . . ? He added that ?the Bible says we´re supposed to die for this thing. If I´m going to do that, this has to be worth something . . . ?

That´s obviously true. What´s not as obvious is how playing basketball after church or worshiping in a coffee house brings us any closer to that kind of sacrificial faith and the hard demands of the Gospel.

There´s something else that both alt and seeker-driven churches often have in common: Their goals are to create a model church that conforms to the individual´s needs and expectations, rather than the other way around. In other words, people demand a church that will tell them what´s in it for them.

If the Alt Church movement is just a church redux for the new century, done in a way that's acceptable to "Todays Generation," then I agree with him. It will eventually turn out the way the church of the 90's is turning out.

As much as we don't like it, we become like those we judge. If the Alt Church is just a reaction against the way the church carried out its mission in the end of the last century, it will be no better. In fact, it may end up worse off, because the movement was immature, and it was based on the rejection of the established church. 

However, it was always my hope that a large part of the Alt Church movement was a desire to move past the "Dead religion" that was a part of many churches. That it wasn't about the basketball or coffee shop religion, but it was about the fact that there was more to worshipping God than "Sunday, sing two hymns, hear a sermon, and go home," stuff they experienced in the church.

And yes, it is obviously true that "(we´re supposed to die for this thing.) If I´m going to do that, this has to be worth something." The question is how do you respond to the tension of living with an established church that has it's questionable moments and sometimes a spirituality that seems on life support. A church that doesn't always get that a faith or religion or a walk with Jesus is required that is worth something. 

Well, sometimes you stick around because God's called you there. You work and live with those around you, challenging and coaxing them to the deep end of the spiritual pool where you find a faith that is worth something.

And sometimes God calls you out to meet an unreached group of people in your own town who won't set foot inside a church but they will have coffee with you. Or God will connect you with a growing group of disillusioned, hurt ex-sundaymorningatelevenchurchgoers. Who were hurt and got lost in the churches push to get big and blessed and forty days closer to something or other.

Yes, there are good established churches, and there are churches that should have their lampstands removed.

And I know that there are Alt Churches that are right where God wants them, out there on the edge, livin large, making the difference, helping create faith within people that is worth something.

And, given the nature of the human heart, I suspect there are Alt Church guys out there who are just trying to stay young or create their own following. Trying to pay the bills and stay relevant.

Time, and God, will test the depths of our hearts.

And if the Alt Church doesn't learn from the boomers mistakes, then they will repeat them and another generation will rise up in complaint of the emptiness and powerlessness of the God of the Alt Church.

I like Colson, but this time his brush strokes were a little broad.



  1. Marc VandersluysJuly 16, 2004 at 5:07 AM

    Very well said. We need that balanced view. New is not necessarily better. Trendy certainly isn't better.

    You said Colson's "brush strokes were a little broad", but your comments seem to be more or less in line with his, only perhaps a little softer and more balanced.

  2. Perhaps he wrote it to stimulate thought, but I thought he could have been much more open to AltChurch. He seemed to condemn the whole movement, all the while blessing the established church.

    The esablished church needs to be poked and the tires kicked, see what she's really made of. And it can't be assumed that the AltChurch is all good, just because of her title.

    We need the "good churches" in both groups, and we need to find ways to challenge one another. That's why I'm hopeful for

  3. I think it would be very difficult to define what the "alt-church" is. In the US the very visible forms of emerging/postmodern/alt church are just Willow Creek with more narrative sermons, coffee, candles and cool. There are other smaller, lesser known fellowships that don't follow this trend. I also think the movement is different in Canada.

    The harsh reality is we haven't gone deep enough. We question the things that bug us like church consumerism or gender roles, but we don't tackle problems at their root. I think we need a greater reverence for scripture. I think we need to address the myth of uncertainty - the idea that no one can know anything well enough to challenge anybody. Ahhh, there is so much to say.

    That all being said, I think Chuck Colson is very married to his rational worldview and seems very unable to critique the humanistic assumptions that govern his thinking.

  4. I think Colson is pretty much right on the money. When the emerging churches started to surface I was hopefully that they would infuse the church with a fresh movement of the Spirit -- bringing balance to the consumer mentality that dominates a lot of what we do. But that was five or six years ago. I'm less optimistic about the movement at this point. There are bright spots but I'd suggest that the alt.churches are just repeating the boomer mistakes -- by reinventing things in their own image -- this time with an edge. They tend to be disconnected to the Church catholic with little concern for mission beyond their own little corners of the world and their own "generation." Again, there are good exceptions -- but on a whole it is a rerun of the thinking that has come to dominate our culture -- only with a new facade. There is a lot of talk about community -- but mostly it is talk. There is a lot of talk about being missional -- but that requires major sacrifices.

  5. My initial reaction over this was a fairly harsh take on the .alt churches. Glad I didn't post my first thoughts! A little time and a little more time with God has cooled feelings and allowed me to remember my own shortcomings. So I'll post out of the weaknesses I see in me.

    I think a major danger that has swallowed some is focussing on the 'alt'ness, rather than the one that's called them out. The form, rather than the why.

    The alt church IS just like all the other forms. Where people are alive to God and moving with him then provided it doesn't run counter to what God's doing, the form isn't really important. Conversely where He isn't the centre then the form becomes the focus in the same way it has for any other denomination. I think that's how it is with churches made of humans.

    IMO the key for those stewarding churches is not to concentrate on maintaining the pattern, but instead to do what Jesus did, and do what they see the Father doing.

  6. Good responses, thanks Toni for waiting ! :-)

    I agree. If you gather around being Alt or any other thing, you miss it, or should I say Him.

    If you gather around Him, well, the rest is gravy.


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