There were particular books that donned the shelves and coffee tables in pretty much every Christian home in the 70s and 80s. There was, of course, Joni — the autobiography of Joni Erikson, the Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, and a book called My Utmost for His Highest. Parenthetically, I went on Twitter recently asking what I should title my latest book and my very favorite suggestion was, My Lowest for His Highest…but anyway… Another book that was on every Christian coffee table when I was growing up was titled “How Should We Then Live” which was a brilliant title since basically it felt like that was the main question being answered in church. Being Christian was — more than anything — a lifestyle — one that demanded great discipline and restraint. The good thing was that it was pretty easy to know how you should then live because you could rely on the preacher to let you know the law — what to do and not do so that you would be righteous and God would bless you — what to do and not do so that you would be a sheep at Jesus’ right hand and not a goat at his left — and if you started doing the wrong things, there was a group of old straight white men, called the elders who would discipline you. So things were pretty clear…. Anyhow, given that we were taught to read the Bible literally — I find it fascinating that the list I was provided for what Christians should do — never seemed to include feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and welcoming the stranger.
Bolz-Weber can be a fabulous preacher, but this sermon saddens me. It simply takes the sheep/goats binarism and reverses it. Ah, those poor benighted old white fundies, they just didn’t get it. They read the wrong books — you can tell just from the titles that they’re wrong — and they read them in the wrong way and they drew the wrong lessons from the Bible. (Did they, by the way? They utterly failed to feed the hungry and care for the sick and welcome the stranger? You sure about that? Because that’s a pretty damning charge to make if you’re not sure. And I know a great many benighted old white fundies who have done more of all those things than almost anyone else I know, including, especially, me.) Anyway, the whole message is simply We thank you, Lord, that we are not like those stupid old fundamentalists. We thank you, Lord, that while they just didn’t get it we totally get it. The aroma of self-congratulation fills the room.
If as a pastor you’re teaching people to compare themselves favorably to others, including their mothers and fathers in the faith, I don’t think you’re doing them any favors.