Thursday, May 10, 2007
Being Good or Not Being Bad?
This morning I had the privilege of sitting in on a small group discussion at Wheaton Bible Church with my friends Jim Henderson and Helen Mildenhall of Off the Map. Chris McElwee, the current leader of their church's emerging worship service, Ecclesia, apparently invited Jim to come and talk to their leaders about the insights from Jim's new book, Jim & Casper Go to Church. The book is in a similar vein as Hemant's, I Sold My Soul on eBay, in that an atheist (Matt Casper) and a former pastor (Jim) go to some of the more well-known megachurches around the country and review their impressions of them for the book. Since Wheaton Bible is a megachurch, it seemed they wanted to learn from Jim how they can improve and do better at reaching people like Matt Casper. As an emerging, missional church planter who is most definitely not leading a megachurch (and would never want to) it was very interesting for me to sit in on this discussion and learn what kinds of struggles and questions they face in their context.

At any rate, the conversation was good and ranged over a number of topics. Jim offered a lot of good insights, and one that especially struck me was something he said in response to a comment by one of the Wheaton Bible pastors. The pastor said that he had grown up with a faith that was mainly just about being a good person. Jim suggested that it might not have been mostly about being a "good person" but really more about just not acting like a bad person. And further, he suggested that if we were really concerned with being good and doing good, that would look very different than if we're just concerned with avoiding being bad.

I thought that was an exceptionally profound insight. Jim, of course, is very right. In the legalistic Christian circles I've been exposed to as well, the focus really wasn't so much on trying to actually do good works. The focus was primarily just on avoiding sin, on not doing certain "bad" behaviors that were associated with a certain stereotype of "bad" people - e.g. smoking, drinking, cussing, going to R-rated movies or listening to secular music, etc. If we avoided these sins, we thought we were pretty good people, even if we never actively did any positive good things (like helping those in need, standing up for the oppressed, loving our enemies, giving our care and attention to others around us, etc.)

And Jim is right that actively trying to be good will look very different than simply trying not to be bad. The legalism of the latter would be replaced by a missional attitude, and by spiritual habits that help us start being aware of others around and how we can serve them. The focus shifts from being all about me and my own moral purity, to how I can love and encourage others.

In some ways I think actively trying to be good is harder and more challenging than just trying not to sin. It certainly takes more creativity. Though, on the other hand, I personally find it more freeing and more exciting as well. It's depressing to be constantly thinking about all the things you're not supposed to do because you're a Christian. It's more invigorating to think about the difference you can make in the world by doing good.


posted by Mike Clawson at 4:52 PM | Permalink |


At 5/10/2007 10:28:00 PM, Anonymous Jim Henderosn

"I think actively trying to be good is harder and more challenging than just trying not to sin"

I do to.

Mike it was a pleasure to be with you today. I am excited to see your interest in helping other leaders.



At 5/11/2007 08:23:00 AM, Blogger gerbmom

LOL - nothing to do with your post. Just laughing at the new explanation on your tagline.....


At 5/11/2007 03:43:00 PM, Blogger julieunplugged

Waves to Jim Henderson!! (Julie Bogart here)

Mike I came to find your email address and discovered you know Jim. He's a good friend of ours. Anyway, my purpose in writing to you is to thank you for your terrific comments at Jesus Creed, vis a vis politics and postmodern critique of power structures that oppress. Yes!

Somehow it seems that many evangelicals are wary of admitting that oppression is a part of this question. They'd rather focus on whether or not it's biblical to "permit" women leadership in ministry. Yet they miss the point... women have not been permitted to be leaders for centuries and it was political changes that have caused us to reevaluate, not better biblical exegesis.

Thumbs up!


At 5/11/2007 05:45:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks Julie. A lot of people don't realize that the whole postmodern movement (at least in philosophy) was begun in response to WWII when Westerners started to realize how oppressive their ideological systems (whether Communism or Facism or Capitalism or religious fundamentalism, or patriarchy, etc...) had really become. It's like we needed the wake-up call of a World War and a Holocaust to finally make us look in the mirror and see what our theologies and ideologies were really causing us to become and how they were justifying injustice.


At 5/11/2007 07:45:00 PM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

This is a great thought. Being good, while it does involve not sinning, it also involves so much more. The religious leaders in the NT were so concerned with the tora that they neglected all the needy among much else. I think Jesus made it very clear in Matt.25. Besides the Commandment wasn't Don't sin with all you are. It was love God with all you are, and love people. The not sinning comes naturally through this. BTW, just saw the new tagline, very funny. :-) I actually looked pensees up on last night to see what it meant. Good post Mike.


At 5/13/2007 03:09:00 PM, Blogger Helen

Mike, it was fun to see you. Guess what? It turned out to be useful you gave out those flyers for the Midwest Emergent Gathering. One of the people we met with at Tyndale was interested to know more about it so we left a flyer with her.


At 5/13/2007 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

That's cool! Thanks for helping us promote Helen. :) Maybe Tyndale will want to help sponsor - give us some freebies to leave on the chairs or something.


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