Blind Spots

blind-spots

A lot of people are going to hate Collin Hansen’s new book, Blind Spots.

Some are going to be upset because it seems too accommodating. Others are going to be upset because it’s not accommodating enough. Yet those who feel this way are the most in need of hearing what Hansen has to say.

And in case you hadn’t already guessed, that includes all of us.

Blind to our blindness

You’re no doubt familiar with the concept of a physical blind spot—the place where you don’t have visibility in your vehicle. You’re also most likely familiar with the concept of psychological and emotional blind spots, too. We’re unaware of our own personality or behavioral ticks, though they are painfully obvious to everyone else (one of mine begins with, “The reality is…”). We have certain people we continue to think the best of, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Is it any surprise, then, that if we contend with physical, psychological and emotional blind spots, we would also have to address our theological ones?

Regardless of where we land on the theological spectrum, we have our heroes—the people we look to, and tend to trust without hesitation. We have our systems of theology that we either wholesale reject or unquestioningly embrace. We even have churches we look at in our neighborhoods where we’d say, “They’re not a true church” (even if it’s just to ourselves).

We look at the churches where people are doing good deeds, but no one is hearing about Jesus as lacking courage. We look at churches contending for the truth but ignoring the needs of others as lacking compassion. We look at churches that seem to be all about unbelievers or seekers, yet not about godly living as lacking conviction. Not only is this unfair, it’s dangerous. It presumes we have a lock on Christian truth. The only problem with that, of course, is  you. And me. And that guy over there.

What we need to do is to learn to “see the faults in [ourselves];” because until we do, we “can’t appreciate how God has gifted other Christians” (26).

Embracing our weaknesses and pursuing unity

Hansen argues the need for Christians to embrace courageous, compassionate and commissioned ministry—to pursue the Christian life with our heads, hearts and hands. But he is quick to clarify: We are not to pursue each in a balanced way, but to practice all three in “full, blessed abundance—in ourselves, our churches, and the church at large” (36).

This is important: To pursue the lost is good. To practice compassion is good. To contend for the faith is good. All of these are completely and utterly biblical, and anyone who says otherwise may need to check themselves before they wreck themselves. But we can’t just be good at one. We need them all.

Together. All the time. Among all of us.

In other words, we need to pursue biblical unity.

We are our own worst enemies

When it comes to the pursuit of unity, though, we are our own worst enemies. Unless it’s just me. I work for an organization where the staff are from all sorts of streams of evangelicalism (with a couple of mainliners and a Messianic Jew thrown in for good measure). We don’t agree on a lot of things. But we do agree on the majors (or at least most of them). But it’s easy to forget that. There are times when I find I have to remind myself not to make assumptions, and to remember that if I have a question or a concern, I don’t need to write out a theological treatise. I can just ask my question or have a conversation.

Now think about your own experience: where do you see the need to pursue biblical unity to a greater degree? Where do you see God giving you opportunities to put into practice what you already know about it?

No finger wagging, and no free passes

Some critics will no doubt be quick to point out Hansen’s connection to The Gospel Coalition, a ministry that is often accused compromising the gospel (from the right) or corporatizing it (from the left and the right). And it’s fair to bring it up as Blind Spots is an explanation and application of the core convictions of TGC. However, it would be wrong to assume this book is a “do life and ministry the TGC way” piece of propaganda. It’s not an apologetic for that particular ministry, any more than it’s one author pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong without pointing to himself first (even if there are more “yous” than perhaps I would have used). No one gets a free pass, including the author himself. Why? Because no one is exempt from the need to walk humbly before God. Regardless of the level of responsibility we have or the position we hold, we are all called to humble ourselves and repent. To abide in Christ—to pursue unity in its biblical fullness by pursuing Christ (109). For that, Hansen says, is our best hope:

Abiding in Christ is the best defense against the blind spots that destroy our joy in following Jesus and set us against other believers with different gifts and callings. Abiding in Christ will protect you from growing discouraged and getting sidetracked in trying to obey Jesus’s commandments.… Whatever direction the world tries to steer us—toward retreat, compromise or assimilation—the Spirit points us to Jesus, the true north on our moral compass. Only when we abide in him will we resist the cares of the world and the snares of the flesh. (111-112)

So, do I really think a lot of people are going to hate this book? Okay, maybe not hate. But they will definitely have a hard time with it. Though it’s a small book, it offers much by way of challenges to our thinking. And regardless of the degree to which we agree with what Hansen writes, we need to consider what we are going to do once our blind spots are revealed. I can’t easily answer the question, not because there isn’t an answer, but because it’s one you can’t answer hastily. But it is worth answering—because when we do we will find ourselves better equipped to bear witness to Christ in the world.


Title: Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate,and Commissioned Church
Author: Collin Hansen
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

Book Review: Young, Restless, Reformed

Young-Restless-Reformed

In 2004, Collin Hansen came on staff as an editor of Christianity Today, and the emerging/emergent church, with its tweaking and questioning of theology in light of a postmodern outlook, was all the rage (as it continues to be in some circles today). Many on staff thought that Hansen should know more about it than anyone given his age. However, he found that, within his circles, there was a disposition towards traditional Reformed theology, and he began to ask the question: Is it just us, or is this the beginning of something bigger? This question led him on a two year journey across America, and the results form Young, Restless, Reformed, first published as an article in Christianity Today, and expanded into this book in 2008.

Travelling across the United States, Hansen visited several “hot spots” of emerging Reformed theology including: The Passion Conference, Atlanta, Georgia; Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky; Covenant Life Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland; New Attitude Conference, Louisville, Kentucky; and Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington. While certainly not covering all of places he could, Hansen does a great job of creating a solid cross-section of this movement.

Hansen shows us a growing group of young men and women who are sick of the empty, shallow, Christless religion that has supplanted biblical Christianity in many of North America’s churches, which Christian Smith & Melinda Lundquist Denton, in their work Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, refer to as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” As quoted in Hansen’s book, they say that this religion teaches that “God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process” (pg 22).

Instead, these younger evangelicals are looking for depth. They want more than just “Your Best Life Now;” they want Jesus. And the search leads many to Calvinism. For those who aren’t aware, Calvinism is most easily described in the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perserverence of the Saints. Twenty-five-year-old Matt first learned of Calvinism while attending a Christian high school. As Matt began to read the Scriptures for himself, he found passages such as Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 standing out. “‘Calvin wasn’t just being difficult,’ Matt said. ‘He was just seeking to systematize what I was seeing in Scripture…People are brought up with one conception of Calvinism as the stale “frozen chosen,” [o]r they’re like me and haven’t previously read the Scriptures themselves so when they do they’re like, “Whoa, wait a second. There is a pretty strong theme throughout the Old and New Testament of God’s extreme sovereignty over the wills and decisions of people”‘” (pg 30).

As Hansen continues his journey, he meets interesting characters such as Robin, a young man raised in the Adventist church and self-described “Piper-fiend;” and Irene, a student at Yale who spent years having phone-dates reading Jonathan Edward’s Religious Affectionswith her long-distance boyfriend. He also delivers impactful interviews with leaders in the emerging Calvinist movement, such as Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, and John Piper, as well as providing insights from opponents to Calvinism like Arminian theologian Roger Olson and Emergent Village’s Tony Jones.

While there are some elements of the emerging culture depicted that make me a little nervous (and in the interests of full disclosure, I am part of this movement), particularly a proclivity for some to idolize the godly men teaching the doctrines of grace and the system itself, this may simply be the arrogance of youth that will be tempered as God’s grace continues to transform these young men and women who have found a deep passion for Jesus Christ unlike any they’ve seen before.

For those who are unfamiliar or wary Calvinism and it’s sudden cool factor, Young, Restless, Reformed is an easy place to gain an understanding of why this resurgence is taking place. For those who would identify themselves as part of the new Calvinism, this book provides a helpful look at the movement that can help us to repent of our arrogance and grow in the grace God has given us.

Purchase your copy at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo.