You are hereHis name is Sam
His name is Sam
by Virgil Vaduva
There is a perception I have that smoking cigars and discussing theology is a mix that God is somehow present in; the smoke of premium, hand-rolled cigars rolling up to the heavens must be reminding God of the good aroma of temple sacrifices, prompting him to descend and participate in the conversation. There is a verse somewhere supporting that, isn’t it?
Today I walked into the cigar store to spend some time reading and meditating, but after about an hour someone sat down close by and started discussing with someone else the book I gave to the storeowner earlier which was likely laying on the counter, A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. As I was also reading the same book, I interjected and asked what his objections were – I couldn’t understand how a 200-page book could be critiqued after a minute of examination.
Sam, the older African-American man explained to me that the chapter on Who is Jesus? was way off, and that McLaren is not teaching solid, biblical theology. He was clearly familiar with who Brian was so I did not want to wander in a debate over Brian McLaren. Instead I started talking to him trying to find out what really is the source of his antipathy; but despite my efforts, I could not connect with Sam at all. I found that everything I was saying was subjected by Sam to an If/Then conditional analysis, in that I would make a statement, Sam would compare it with his paradigm, then say that he agrees or disagrees with it. The truth is that I really was not interested in whether or not this man agreed or disagreed with what I was saying – I was simply interested in talking to him.
After about 30 minutes, the nicotine finally kicked in, and after being grilled on what I believe about the Bible we finally sort of connected; I shared with him my story, I told him about the problems I see with western Christianity and I encouraged him to look at me based on what we have in common rather than where we differ. Sam shared with me some of his story, his love for John MacArthur, and his previous hate of white men telling him about Christ. I asked him if he sees the arrogance and the imperialism in western evangelical Christianity, and he said he does. I even told Sam about the wonderful news of the Kingdom of God being a reality, something within his grasp, but he rejected it in favor of a depraved present world but a positive future judgment and bodily resurrection, which he told me, is the good news of the Gospel.
We ended up having a great conversation and exchanged some opinions, but somehow I still felt disconnected; I never really, really connected with the guy. I realized that Sam and I operate on two completely different levels. Sam’s world is that of modernity, the world of John MacArthur, one of neatly organized doctrinal points where a person either is in or out, saved or damned, where very little happens outside of the well-established game rules, the world where Sam feels the need to tell me how things are, or at least how things should be. My world is a bit more chaotic, a world where everything is questioned, re analyzed constantly, where anything goes and very little stays the same, where I don’t really feel the need to convince Sam that he is right or wrong, or that he is saved or damned to hell for eternity, where I don’t subject someone to a set of questions before conversing with him.
Today’s conversation with Sam really opened up my eyes to how far off I have walked from evangelical Christianity, and my friends, that makes me very happy; but it also makes me sad. Sam is obviously a good man, his love for God was tangible and real, he had passion about his faith and about what he believed; I can no longer connect with someone like Sam, at least not well – even if we try, we end up talking past each other more than to each other. And that is sad and frustrating; despite the embrace I gave him when he left.
I am not writing this to claim that I am better or superior in my approach than Sam, that is far from it; I am just writing about it to illustrate the generational shift taking place within the Church, something which perhaps confirms Phyllis Tickle’s claim that we are in the middle of a Great Emergence, a new reformation or perhaps self-assessment of the Church, where we sit back, sifting through what we’ve accumulated over the past 500 years, deciding what to keep and what to toss out. One thing is for sure; we cannot continue the way of Sam and expect our message to be viable; note that I said, our message, not Christ’s message.
And the identity of the message is really the key here; the modern church is slowly losing viability over the requirements it places on those walking in, while the “emergent church” (whatever you want that to mean) doesn’t object to being full of hypocrites, liars, adulterers, prostitutes, homosexuals and degenerates – yes, with people like me. It’s message before change, not change before message – embrace of all men, not conditional interaction.
His name is Sam; I hope I see him again – next time I’ll start with the embrace.