A Crisis of Integrity
A few weeks ago the news story was of how the mega Elevation Church uses shills planted in audiences to manipulate people to come forward for "spontaneous" baptisms. (http://www.wcnc.com/news/iteam/How-Elevation-Church-Pastor-Furtick-produce-spontaneous-baptism-246072001.html)
Then there was a news story that David Yonggi Cho, founder of the massive Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, had been found guilty of embezzling $12 million in church funds and was sentenced to three years in prison.
This week there is a news story that Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church paid a consulting firm to purchase thousands of copies of Driscoll's latest book, for the purpose of "gaming the system" and causing Driscoll's book to appear on the New York Times Bestseller list:
"The details of the agreement between Mars Hill and [consultant] Result Source are complicated. Result Source received a fee of $25,000 to coordinate a nationwide network of book buyers who would purchase [Driscoll's book] Real Marriage at locations likely to generate reportable sales for various best-seller lists, including the New York Times list. Mars Hill also paid for the purchase of at least 11,000 books ranging in price from $18.62 to $20.70, depending on whether the books were purchased individually or in bulk. The contract called for 6,000 of the books to be bought by individuals, whose names were supplied by the church. Another 5,000 books were bought in bulk. Mars Hill would not say whether the funds for the purchase of these books, which would total approximately $123,600 for the individual sales and $93,100 for the bulk sales, came from church funds." (http://www.worldmag.com/2014/03/unreal_sales_for_driscoll_s_real_marriage/page1)
This comes on the heels of revelations that Driscoll (or the ghost writers who produce books in Driscoll's name) have had an ongoing habit of plagiarizing the work of others.
These publicized lapses in integrity by Evangelical Christian leaders make the news because they are well known figures, but I suggest they are the tip of the iceberg of a crisis of integrity within the Christian church. Perhaps these embarrassing public failures serve as bellwethers to point out a serious flaw in the way we have been *doing* Christianity. The late Christian philosopher, professor and author Dallas Willard wrote a few years ago, “Much of the current distress on the part of Western Christianity over how to conduct our calling as the people of Christ derives from the fact that the goal and measure of Christian spiritual formation…is not accepted and implemented. ... The current situation in which faith professed has little impact on the whole of life, is not unique to our times, nor is it a recent development. But it is currently at an acute stage. History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally. That is where we find ourselves today." Paradoxically, the focus on sin seems to result in the opposite of its intended effect. Sin isn't eliminated so much as hidden from view, because the root causes aren't dealt with. I've come to believe that sin, in and of itself, is not the problem. Sin is only a symptom.
The Protestant Reformation placed its emphasis on teaching and preaching. John Calvin (whom Driscoll named one of his sons after) stated “God does not wish to be heard, but by the voice of His ministers.” I believe that this Reformation emphasis on preaching and scripture led Protestantism down the path of de-emphasizing the mystical, inward experience of God’s presence which, in turn, brought us to the point of paucity that Willard speaks of. As Paul wrote to the Colossians "They have lost connection with the head [the Living Christ], from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow." (2:19)
But there has been a gradual resurgence of interest in the contemplative/mystical approach to Christianity. This approach, found in the teachings of the ancient Desert Monastics and Medieval Catholic Contemplatives and some segments of Eastern Orthodoxy and the perpetual minority Protestant outliers such as Quakers, emphasizes quiet inner spiritual formation and union with God. This inner transformation results in outer holiness. In his book The Great Omission (2006), Dallas Willard wrote "The reason for the recent abrupt emergence of the terminology [of spiritual formation] into religious life is, I believe, a growing suspicion or realization that we have not done well with the reality and the need. We have counted on preaching, teaching, and knowledge or information to form faith in the hearer, and have counted on faith to form the inner life and outward behavior of the Christian. But, for whatever reason, this strategy has not turned out well."