So I’m going to venture a guess: most Christians probably assume on some level that the way they live out their faith is the right way. Justice warriors, doctrinal stalwarts, innovative contextualizers–we all see our faith a certain way, and we think that if only those other Christians would get back on mission (i.e., the way we see/do things), the church would get back on track.
Anyone want to cop to this attitude? Just me? Okay, then. (Cowards.)
In his new book, Blind Spots, Collin Hansen turns the mirror onto Christians like me/us. His short but powerful book pokes around in the heart of evangelicalism and reveals that we can easily become blind to our own weaknesses, even in the midst of doing the work of the Kingdom of God.
Hansen identifies 3 kinds of Christian responses to the world: the compassionate, the courageous, and the commissioned. He argues that the church needs all 3 kinds in order to function well: the compassionate, who see the need and injustice of the world and rush to help; the courageous, who guard against doctrinal corruption and boldly stand for truth; and the commissioned, who seek new ways of presenting and proclaiming the gospel so that lost people will hear and believe. The problem Hansen goes on to describe is that each group has its own blind spots and weaknesses: “The compassionate struggle to empathize with their critics. The courageous don’t like truth that makes them look bad. And commissioned Christians don’t always enjoy the mission when it jeopardizes their lifestyle and preconceptions about the way of the world” (p. 34).
Rather than addressing our own issues, Hansen says, we can sometimes turn and blame each other for not being more like us. Throughout the book, he addresses each group’s self-blindness and points us back to Jesus our Lord’s example.
This book was incisive and direct. There’s no fluff here. I really appreciated that.
Further, I really liked Hansen’ s repeated affirmation of Scripture as our rule of life and practice. Every single chapter, he called each group to hold onto Biblical truth. And he didn’t shy away from stepping on toes and pointing out errors. To the compassionate, he says that our mercy must flow from our message of the crucified Christ, and that the world may well reject our compassion because of its source. To the courageous, he warns against short-sighted nostalgia for the doctrinal “good old days,” and says that pessimism about the church should not be confused with heroism. To the creative and commissioned, Hansen warns that pragmatism in the name of outreach waters down and destroys the message and turns pastors into feel-good pitch men selling empty phrases that don’t do any good.
There are lots of quotes I want to put in here, but I fear I’ll just be stealing the book’s thunder. Suffice it to say, there are several tweetable bits, and lots of food for thought.
However, there were also a few places where I had real trouble with Hansen’ s recommendations. The biggest issue I had was in regard to “coalition-building.” On page 77, Hansen urges building “diverse coalitions” to address social ills. “Real courage,” he says, “values making a difference over merely appearing courageous in defeat.” This has become a rampant attitude in evangelicalism, and Southern Baptist thinking in particular. I think it’s problematic primarily because it leads Christians to join with non-Christians to address what are essentially sin issues. How can someone in spiritual darkness truly partner with a believer to address a sin issue, unless the agreed-upon solution is built on something other than the Gospel? Yet Hansen (and others) trumpet the importance of coalitions in addressing societal ills. I agree that I can work together with my Hindu and atheist neighbors on community improvement–but in areas of moral right and wrong, what positions would we really share, and how strong would those bonds be? Rather than seeking wide-ranging coalitions with non-believers, perhaps we should be so grounded on the truth of Scripture that we are unified within ourselves first. The more we link arms with people of other faiths (on things like marriage, for example), the fuzzier our Gospel distinctiveness becomes.
There were some other things in the book that hit me wrong. But this was the big one.
I think Blind Spots was a beneficial book for me. It challenged me to consider not only my own blind spots, but also the contributions of my more compassionate and commissioned brothers and sisters to the Kingdom of God. For that, I am immensely grateful. I always need a little dose of humility to keep me focused on what matters most.
That said, I have concerns about some of Hansen’s arguments, and his eagerness to reach outside of the Church to partner with non-believers in fighting moral battles. I worry that the more we make these kind of pragmatic gestures in the name of results, the more we will find our message being lost in a vague haze of “morality.” That would lead to another and more menacing form of blindness.
The distinctions we draw as followers of Jesus need to be much cleaner and more clear than that–as different as light and dark, in fact.
Please Note: I was provided a physical copy of the book for review through Crossway’s “Beyond the Page” review program. My personal comments above are unbiased and freely offered.