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The “best” church would be the one where we get along with everyone. No one asks us weird questions. We have perfect timing in our responses to anything anyone says. The community helps us when we’re in need. They understand our Meyers-Briggs personality type and Enneagram and understand how often to call (or not to call) us. The worship music is always our favorite songs, and there’s always that one line that finds our tears. The sermon has just enough teaching that we learn something new, and it so pinpoints where we are in life that the Word becomes alive.
This sounds perfect, but rarely does a church run this smoothly. In fact, it can often be down-right uncomfortable. Doing what is right is often uncomfortable. (When was the last time you confessed your sins against someone you somewhat kinda-sorta knew? The last time your church (rightly) disciplined a member? The last time some in your church supported another in need through money, food, time, or fellowship?). These are sacrifices of our time, of what we have, of what is ours. They are awkward; they are uncomfortable.
Brett McCracken, a writer and journalist in South California and author of Hipster Christianity, says we need to destroy our consumeristic approach. “Rather, church should be about collectively spurring one another to ‘be fit’ to the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4–5). And this can happen in almost any sort of church as long as it’s fixed on Jesus, anchored in the gospel, and committed to the authority of Scripture” (25).
Divided into two sections, McCracken gives us an explanation of the uncomfortable faith and the uncomfortable church. He says, “A healthy relationship with the local church is like a healthy marriage: it only works when grounded in selfless commitment and a nonconsumerist covenant” (26, 178).
Christianity is becoming less normal, “and that’s a good thing. Christianity, founded on belief in the supernatural resurrection of a first-century Jewish carpenter, has been and always will be abnormal” (35). This outward discomfort will help us realize how much those in the Church need each other—because we will be all we have. There is growth in discomfort. The cross is uncomfortable, because it was our sin that nailed the naked, mocked, and bashed God-man to a cross in order to save us. He suffered because he loved us.
Because we are his we are called to be holy, but people want authenticity. “It’s far more acceptable to say, ‘My life is so messed up,’ than it is to say, ‘I am striving to be holy’” (64). We speak the message of the gospel with our mouths and bear it’s virtuous truths in our bodies. For us to be different than the world, we must have boundaries. “Holiness… is strange. But not for the sake of strangeness. For the sake of Yahweh” (64). Jesus understands us better than anyone. He was authentic. He was real. He was holy (Mic 6.7–8).
The discomfort is that the requirements are self-denial instead of self-actualization (at least according to our view of self-actualization, cf. Phil. 2:5–11). Uncomfortable sacrifice is actually “liberating rather than stifling” (72). We have weird beliefs, which include the supernatural, exclusive salvation, God’s wrath against his enemies, and sexual ethics (which extends to all). McCracken doesn’t try to solve these difficulties, but wants to summarize why they are uncomfortable (and provides a Further Reading section at the end of the chapter).
“It’s vulnerable to speak up to a friend about a damaging pattern you observe in their life. It’s vulnerable to enter a potentially dangerous situation in order to help someone at risk” (90). Love is risky, especially when you don’t know how someone will respond. But we’re called to enter in to love and be patient. A long-suffering love requires the Holy Spirit’s power. Yet even with that power, “in the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd” (123).
Chapters 8 and 13 (Uncomfortable People and Uncomfortable Commitment) go together. Many want a “Jesus and me” Christianity. The church is full of hypocrites, there are too many problems, I am the church, so I’ll “church” wherever I go. But a finger without the body is gross, and a disconnected pinky toe is creepy. It is covenant over comfort. Keeping our covenant promises to the churches we attend (even if you’re not enrolled in an actual “membership”) shapes who we are. Keeping a promise to another “is more important than being true to yourself” (189). “Christ utterly identifies with his people,” says Allberry. “Neglecting the church is neglecting Jesus” (185, Sam Allberry, Why Bother With Church?).
Our services are diverse. Either (hopefully) racially diverse, socially diverse, or diverse in our personalities, we are not the same people. We have different preferences on worship music, teaching styles, and church methods. In a world of sovereign autonomy from rules, who wants to follow Christ the sovereign Lord? We fit into Scripture, Scripture does not fit into our perceived reality. There is mystery and paradox in the Bible, and we are to embrace it, wrestle with it, but accept it. This requires unity with a sinful people. Just as we grow through training and practice, we grow through discomfort. Instead of growing into a better musician, we grow toward unity, holiness, lives pleasing to God. We are growing as his temple, one rock on top of another, looking forward to the holy city, growing in character together.
The Spoiled Milk
McCracken has a keen imaginative sense for detail, and it’s quite obvious in his “ideal” comfortable church in the beginning of the book. I’m not good at giving good descriptive detail, only vague generalities, so the precision detail McCracken gives impressed me. It’s one you can see, hear, and feel.
But his precision cuts the other way. In his chapter titled “Uncomfortable People,” McCracken lists “some of the weird church-people types” he has “had the hardest time with over the years” (125). He doesn’t list five generally odd types of people, but fifteen all-too-specific types of people whom he has met. Some types on this list are indeed frustrating (e.g., condescending explainers), while other examples are unnecessary—people with hyperhidrosis, those who still can’t remember your name, “far-too-happy” people, and those who weep during the worship service (which sometimes results in you feeling like an emotionless Christian).
I would like to add this to McCracken’s list: people who are nitpicky “ad nauseam” (126). These fifteen types are too accurate, and such detail is dispensable. What if these types of people are reading this list?(—and with fifteen types of listed, that idea is not farfetched). How would they feel? While some (#6) should think through their questions before they ask an offensive and personal question, some (#2) don’t know whether to hug or shake a hand because they do think through their actions, and they don’t want to be offensive.
The rest of the chapter, however, was great and reminds the reader that they are in a covenant community, one of many living stones making up God’s temple and one of many holy priests serving one another in that temple.
McCracken has given me a greater appreciation, care, and concern for the church in his short book. It is a simple book to read, but in it’s simplicity were deep truths. Bonhoffer has said, “Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation.” Yet it was the excruciating cross that allows us to be uncomfortable which allows us to grow closer.
- Author: Brett McCracken
- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Crossway (September 30, 2017)
- Book Excerpt
- Previous Post: The Uncomfortable Cross (from chapter two)
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Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.