Tagged: Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

Storming the Gates of Hell

In chapter 14 of Unfinished, Stearns directly discusses spiritual warfare that the church finds itself in, although he has been using the language throughout the whole book. He spends a bit of time discussing how we don’t always know what is going on behind-the-scenes in the spiritual realm, like the book of Job, and some other elements that a lot of mainstream Western Christians wouldn’t even consider because we tend to think of it as superstitious.

The most interesting part to me, though, and an analogy I’ll definitely use in the future, is comparing the cross to D-Day. Some wonder why, if Jesus defeated death and evil on the cross, there is still evil in the world. The cross is a now but not yet victory, much like D-Day. When the Allies established a Western front through the D-Day landing, victory was assured; I don’t think any historian would argue that Germany was doomed from then on as they spread their resources across two fronts and multiple attacking nations.

Similarly:

The cross was D-Day in God’s plan to rescue his children. It was the decisive battle in a great struggle and represented the defeat of Satan. And it, too, was costly.

5 Markers of an Unhealthy Church

To put it bluntly, Unfinished by Richard Stearns was starting to get a little boring. He was saying a lot of the same things over and over again and mostly seemed to be tiptoeing around them to avoid offending somebody too much.

Then I hit chapter 13 and he seems to suddenly stop holding his punches, offering up 5 ways to tell whether your church has stopped acting within its role as an outpost for the Kingdom of God. I would probably argue that the first one, valuing belief over behaviour, is a major factor in creating the other problems so I’ll start there:

So many of our churches have hung their hats on right belief. We will stand on solid ground only as long as we believe the right things: about salvation, the Trinity, free will and predestination, heaven and hell, the rapture, and fill in the blank— marriage, divorce, Israel, sexuality, evolution, abortion, big government, and so on. Over the centuries cherished beliefs not only have caused a great deal of strife and division within the church but also have been used often as judgmental clubs to alienate those outside the church. But loving our enemies, living with integrity, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and being generous with our possessions don’t ever seem to divide or make enemies.

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

Deciders and Disciples

Continuing through Richard Stearns’ Unfinished, he next distinguishes between deciders and disciples. It’s a distinction that I think it is fair to say Anabaptists have been making for 500 years, but it is amazing to watch as more and more people brought up in decider traditions – like many who are the target audience of this book – realize that it just isn’t enough.

Most of the Western Church has reduced Christianity to a religion for deciders, especially in the evangelical variants with ideas like the Sinner’s Prayer. Deciders are those who have intellectually assented to some idea. The specific idea will vary from church to church: sometimes saying that Jesus is God, sometimes expressing a penal substitutionary understanding of the atonement, sometimes things even more peripheral like a 6-day creation and voting in a certain way. But the common thread is that it is a matter of intellectual assent and generally stopping there with little or no influence on daily life.

Why Did Jesus Leave? and How We Have Failed

In chapter 3 of Unfinished, Richard Stearns asks an important question: why did Jesus leave? It isn’t one we ask often, but by the way that we usually talk about God, wouldn’t it have made sense for him to continue to do his healings and other miracles, his teaching about radical love and restorative justice, his self-sacrificial modelling of grace even toward enemies?

Partnership, not Control

If we start with the assumption that God is only interested in control and getting what he wants as quickly as possible, an assumption many Christians and non-Christians hold, there is no reason at all that Jesus wouldn’t have stuck around.

Bible

Living in God’s Story

In the first chapter of Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning, Stearns focuses on three general approaches to answering the question of purpose of life:

  1. Living as though there is no greater story
  2. Creating your own story
  3. Living by the author’s story

They may be a little simplistic but it gets the point across. On the one end, Stearns quotes some atheist thought leaders about the ultimate meaninglessness of life. The vast majority of people live by the second, including most who call themselves atheists and most who call themselves theists, mashing together bits and pieces from various worldviews into what seems like it will give them the best life. And on the other end, we have the choice of whether to seek out a greater overarching story. The book assumes that you’re at least investigating the third option if you continue from this point on.

Unfinished Christian Faith

Unfinished by Richard StearnsOver Facebook, Brethren in Christ Canada is holding a book club using the book Unfinished: Believing is Only the Beginning by Richard Stearns. I began reading today and love this fundamental idea from the introduction about how to approach Christian faith as part of the bigger story of God and his people:

Listen carefully to these next few statements: You don’t have to go to the Congo or to Uzbekistan to change the world. You don’t have to be brilliant to change the world – or wealthy or influential or a spiritual giant. But you do have to say yes to the invitation. You do have to be available and willing to be used, and you may have to pay the price that comes with following Jesus because changing the world and following Jesus isn’t easy, and it doesn’t come cheap. There will be some sacrifice involved – there always is.