Friday night I was sitting at a dinner. The speaker was talking about revival. More specifically, Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan was talking about the Fulton Street Revival, a(n) (…um…event? movement? process?) thing that started with a guy deciding that he needed to spend lunchtime once a week praying and invited other people to come and pray, too.
As he was talking, Keller said, “The default mode of the human heart is to revert to self-salvation.”
I would love to argue with this. Except I can’t.
This morning I was looking for my shoes. Nancy innocently asked what I was looking for. I was polite, but inside I thought “don’t ask me. I don’t need help. I’ll look myself.”
A month ago, a four-year-old was in my office. There were balloons on the walls because a friend had decided (correctly) that I needed encouragement. The little one’s dad wanted her to ask me for a balloon. She resisted, was told “no” to taking one without asking, went through a period of tears, calmed down, got down from her dad’s lap, and was told again to ask me for a balloon.
“I don’t need to. I can reach myself.”
We looked at each other, the dad and I, and laughed the kind of laugh that doesn’t show up on the face. We laughed because we recognized the independence of spirit which characterizes humans, showing up clearly in this four-year-old.
Every face I look at, every mirror I see, shows this same fierce commitment to fixing things myself, to fixing myself. Even as I put myself into this picture with my close friend Manhattan, there is a strong sense of me.
Practically, such independence is silly. I cannot save myself, not even from myself. Now, I do have to take care of myself. I am responsible for my actions, for my reactions, for my attitudes, for my attempts to live life in a meaningful way. But I cannot function apart from other people. If I tried, I would die. I can’t grow enough, work enough, whatever enough, to sustain myself.
And if I try, I prove that I’m an ornery cuss. To function as a person, as a social being, I need other people.
Now Keller’s comment wasn’t talking merely about the practical level. His point was that unless we stop trying to save ourselves and acknowledge that God has to do that, we will fail at revival and we will ultimately, eternally, fail.
What is important to understand is that he is talking first to that collective entity of people who call themselves The Church. Keller was saying that The Church, or the little clusters of people who call themselves churches are stuck in this self-salvation too.
We end up saying that if we believe exactly right or if we care for the poor exactly right or if we have the precise kind of worship service services that make
me God happy or if we go to church the requisite number of times a day/week/month/year or if we consume the right kinds of music/movies/books or if we do ______ exactly right, then God will be happy with us and love us.
And that is exactly wrong because it puts all the burden for our salvation on us. It makes us responsible for fixing ourselves.
It’s no wonder that people get annoyed with “church”. It’s because we often are helping people get LIKE US rather than helping people get TO God.
I was reading about Jesus a bit ago. He was talking to and healing and touching people who never would have made it into a church. In fact, he was even doing all those things with people who didn’t even, well, didn’t even know whether they believed in him or not. I mean, they saw him, and knew that he was cool, and knew that he healed them, but they didn’t understand any of the theological stuff about him.
All they knew was that what they were doing wasn’t working. So when Jesus talked about good news, they were all (deaf) ears and (blind) eyes and (broken) hearts.
What if the church stopped being so churchy? Maybe there might be evidence that God actually is necessary rather than just our rules.
Or at least that’s what I think.