About the Author
Collin Hansen (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) serves as the editorial director for the Gospel Coalition. He previously worked as an associate editor for Christianity Today magazine and coedits the Cultural Renewal series with Tim Keller. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter at @collinhansen.
Timothy J. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is the best-selling author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
Timothy J. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is the best-selling author of The Prodigal God and The Reason for God.
Read an Excerpt
Pointed Fingers and Helping Hands
It can be embarrassing to identify as a Christian. Every time you turn on your smartphone, car radio, or cable TV, someone is mocking your antiquated, harsh, prudish religion. You'd better avert your eyes from the comments sections and message boards. You don't want to scroll your mentions on Twitter. And that's just the Christians talking about each other. Sure, we've lost some credibility with the culture. But how did we also lose trust in one another inside the church?
You're not sure whom to believe in this hazardous climate of perpetual outrage. Yet you feel pressured to pick sides. At least I'm not that kind of Christian, you assure yourself. I'd never attend that church with the sign out front that says, "Stop, drop, and roll doesn't work in hell." Or that church across the street promoting a "50 Shades of Grace" sermon series. Body piercing may have saved your life, but you let your actions and not your T-shirts do the talking.
Even so, it's not enough to disagree privately. You need everyone to know your disgust for whatever those bigoted/compromised/know-it-all Christians said this time. How dare that man on TV claim to speak for God and you! Hell hath no fury like an embarrassed Christian.
We talk a lot about church unity. So where is the evidence that we actually want it? If you're anything like me, you're as much of the problem as the solution. You love other Christians so long as they make you look good to the world. You lament the divided church, yet you're quick to speak about the problems you see with other believers. You bemoan the church's ineffective public witness in a changing culture, yet you offer the same self-congratulatory solution to every new challenge. You find problems at the end of your pointed fingers and solutions in the mirror. In reality the finger pointed toward the mirror tells you where to search first for the problem.
We all have blind spots. It's so easy to see the fault in someone else or in another group but so difficult to see the limitations in ourselves. Unless you learn to see the faults in yourself and your heroes, though, you can't appreciate how God has gifted other Christians. Only then can you understand that Jesus died for this body, which only accepts the sick. Only then can we together meet the challenges of our rapidly changing age.
Maybe God has softened your heart with compassion for the broken, weak, and abused.
Or he has gifted you with great courage to stand with truth.
Or he has commissioned you with particular zeal and effectiveness to make disciples in all the nations.
God doesn't want us to look down on and suspect the worst of one another. Rather, he intends us to use these diverse gifts to love the world in a church united by the gospel of Jesus Christ. This moment demands our humility, bravery, and creativity. Why should the world know us by our disharmony, discouragement, and disillusion?
Never beyond Hope
As we point fingers at each other in the church, the world desperately needs our helping hands. Consider our predicament. We in the West learn from a young age that we're happy only if we're free to choose our life adventure. So we trust no one and commit nowhere. Until we turn to Christ, we worship nothing more sacred than self. And we have no greater goal than to be personally healthy and wealthy.
Thankfully, the gospel speaks to every age, including one with no higher aspirations for life than the freedom not to need anyone else except on our guarded terms. And God makes you, Christian, an ambassador of that good news: we can be reconciled to our Creator and live at peace with one another.
Rather than see us as ambassadors of peace, much of the world views the church as oppressive and self-interested. As a result, religious authority has been displaced, despite two millennia of Christian formation that gave shape to nearly every hope and right the West treasures. The new reality can hardly be considered an improvement. The world wonders why our social ties have frayed. Why neighbors don't look out for each other. Why couples don't want to get married and don't stay together when they do. Why we're plunging into demographic crisis as we wait so long to have children and then stop at one. Why corrupt, ineffective politicians think shouting at each other on news programs will solve problems. Why businesses subsume ethics to the bottom line. Why revolutions depose one despot to replace him with another. Why media promise leisure but leave us nervous and bored with yet another reality TV show intended to make our lives seem somewhat tolerable by comparison. Why our children feel the need to look and act like porn stars if they want to feel affection.
The picture looks bleak. You see it every day in your neighborhood, on the TV, and on your favorite websites. Christians dare not gloat over such suffering. We share in both the responsibility and the effects. We can relate to this disenchantment, because we're tempted even inside the church to see life in terms of control and power. We, too, fear everyone else is out to get us by limiting our freedom. We can't escape the culture wars.
Compelled by gospel love, however, we ambassadors of Christ know how to negotiate a truce — that is, if we'll first lay down the arms we've taken up against one another.
This book aims to help you see where perhaps you've gone astray and how to reorient yourself to follow Jesus and love your neighbor. Let's start small. Can you love a fellow Christian who sins differently than you do? That shouldn't be hard. You've confessed sin. You know you fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Now let's get specific. If you live in an affluent area, do you regularly spend time with Christians tempted by laziness and gluttony? If you live in a middle-class neighborhood, can you identify close friends who confess their greed and arrogance?
If not, you may not understand the significance of God's forgiveness of your sins, and you may neglect to point others to find that same forgiveness by believing the gospel. This good news unites you as family to someone who may seemingly share nothing else in common with you except humanity. And the gospel creates an alternate community that reminds the world how much we all share as we bear the image of God.
What a contrast this gospel offers to the world! Everywhere we see the need and longing for community. On this planet we've never been more closely linked together due to our social media, volatile climate, massively destructive weapons, and multinational corporations. To live together peacefully and in prosperity we need basic consensus on what makes life well lived. True community shares a vision for the kind of character we want to cultivate in our children. But you can't even count on such agreement these days at your local PTA meeting or Little League game.
By the grace of God we Christians can show the world a better way. Jesus is our guide. He tells the truth about the world. And he gives life to all who ask. When his followers rest together in the love of a long- suffering God who does not share his glory with another, we can give up the fight for our reputation and get on with the work of the kingdom. Even now you can enjoy fellowship overflowing from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who from all eternity have loved in perfect harmony. If this God is for us, who can be against us? And how can we be against each other?
Because of this gospel, we can see opportunity in the rubble. We can find hope in the ruins.
Already you can see encouraging signs of this counterrevolution of grace. In your Christian community you can almost certainly find youthful zeal to love your neighbors near and far in practical ways. Look hard enough and you'll see new churches that love their neighbors and welcome the stranger to hear about Jesus. You'll see Christians standing courageously against injustice and telling the good news about Jesus at great risk. You'll enjoy artists and musicians who beautify our world to serve our creative God. Our heavenly Father forgives our finger-pointing and forbears our foolishness. With Jesus we're never beyond hope.
So that we don't squander that hope, you and I need a new narrative to understand our debates in the church and engagement with the world. Since at least the late 1800s and early 1900s, American Christians have been preoccupied with the battle between fundamentalists and modernists. This struggle has sought to situate Christians along a spectrum where they tend toward one side or the other. Depending on your perspective, modernists either update Christianity as necessary for a changing world or sell out the fundamentals of the faith for popularity. As for fundamentalists, they either defend Christianity in a hostile world or consign their neighbors to judgment. You could try to make peace in the no-man's-land at the middle of this battle, but that only means both sides shoot at you as they aim for their enemies.
I can't muster much sympathy for the modernists, whose project has destroyed the very churches it has purported to save. When you lose the distinctive doctrines of Christianity — starting with the resurrection of Jesus — you lose everything. But I reject the narrative that offers only these two solutions to our problems. And I resent the skepticism that pushes Christians toward one pole or the other. Consider the outcome as we look back on this battle for the soul of Christianity. The fundamentalist/modernist war left a legacy whereby, in some churches, you're branded a liberal heretic if you take away their hymnals. And in other churches a minister will sooner marry a man and his avatar than allow you to cite Ephesians 5 at a wedding.
As I survey the contemporary evangelical church, I now see three main responses to the world. You might use different names to describe them or even add additional characteristics — you could claim, for example, that a fourth group prioritizes "experience" of God over any other virtue. I have aimed to root my analysis in Scripture but don't claim that my three categories cover everything important to the Christian life. Rather, with an eye toward the limitations of the earlier fundamentalist/modernity divide, I want to show that none of these responses on its own reflects the depth and breadth of the way Jesus taught and the apostles followed. We tend to cluster around Christians with similar personalities, who reinforce our strengths but turn a blind eye to our weaknesses.
Many Christians are like me: we grew up in stable communities with strong extended families. We went to church because that was the right thing to do. We honored authorities and tradition because we believed they safeguarded the ways of wisdom. So if you're like me, you tend to see the church's problems as a failure of courage to walk the time-worn paths.
But a lot of Christians have different stories. If you scraped by in childhood and suffered abuse from leaders who should have protected you, you may see compassion as the great need of our day.
And if you've been weaned on the power of technology to effect needed change, you might think the only thing hindering unprecedented church growth is our resolve to fulfill the Great Commission through creative new methods.
None of us is entirely wrong. But you and I tend to reason from the personal to the universal and judge each other for our different experiences and perspectives. For every illness you see in the world you write the same prescription. And I do likewise, only with my preferred cure-all solution. Then you and I turn against each other in the church when we don't get our way. The problem is, we tend to separate what God has joined together. And he put you and me in the same church to build up one another according to our different gifts (1 Cor. 12:7). He wants to illumine our blind spots so we can see our differences as opportunity.
Where, then, do you fit in this description? Fill in this blank: The greatest problem with the church today is _______. Ask yourself, Where do I invest the bulk of my time, money, and other resources?
God variously calls us to champion certain causes. Such differences should be celebrated where we see them in our local churches, among evangelical churches in the same city, and even across movements of Bible-believing churches. Don't be concerned about "single-issue Christians," those believers with particular passion to end abortion, relieve poverty, adopt orphans, or close the 10/40 Window by sending missionaries to unreached people groups. Even if you don't share their interest or gifting, you can pray for them, support them, encourage them. But look out for "only-issue Christians," those believers who don't just want your help. They demand you to fall in line behind their agenda. They do not tolerate other priorities.
You can learn to decipher between God-given difference and sinful divisiveness. Here's how you know you're divisive: you thank God you're not like those theology-obsessed fundamentalists. Or those bleeding-heart liberals. Or those pragmatic megachurch pastors. You already know the enemy before you know the details. You know the solution before you even know the specific problem. Furthermore, you don't pray for these opponents in the church. If anything, you pray against them.
But Jesus himself told us to pray for our enemies. Can you do so? Can you understand that different approaches may be needed in different scenarios, like a counselor exercising discernment and care? Even better, can you admit that we need all the compassionate, courageous, and commissioned Christians we can muster to work together out of respect for God's gifting and in obedience to Jesus? The magnitude of our challenges today ought to dispel the illusion that any one wing of the divided church can go it alone.
We need new hero stories. Or at least we need to vary the tales you and I tell each other to explain the solution for our problems. Think about the biographies you'd find on the bookshelves for each of these three groups. If you're compassionate you cheer the prophet who dares speak truth to oppressive authority on behalf of the wounded. If you're courageous you celebrate the lone warrior, bloody but unbowed by popular sentiment. If you're commissioned to reach the lost for Jesus you look up to the creatives, the influencers, the entrepreneurial leaders who leverage new measures for greater results.
In isolation these stories can conceal as much as they reveal. You and I suffer from a curious case of self-blindness. Only one Hero is above critique. Only one Hero is an infallible guide in every circumstance. Following Jesus warns us not to think every challenge demands the same solution. Sometimes you must shed a tear. Stand your ground. Brainstorm a fresh approach. Indeed, the example of Jesus reveals that our problems often compel all three responses at the same time. And the best way to respond faithfully and effectively is to lock arms with someone who sees the problem from a different perspective, who meets the challenge with a different skill set while staying faithful to Jesus above all.
Unless we shine light onto our blind spots and measure ourselves against Jesus, we will be tempted to apply our standards inconsistently.
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 preconceived notions about the way of the world.
Instead of representing Jesus in all his wisdom, we're tempted to cast him in our own image. Having manipulated Jesus, we wield our chief concern like a stick useful for beating up other Christians who don't understand the problem. Unfortunately, those other Christians often hit back. They don't see things your way.
Meanwhile, no one sees the bigger picture. Each stick is like a side of a triangle that represents either the heart, the head, or the hands of Jesus. Together these sides form the fullness of God's testimony to the world. Remove any side of the triangle and the whole edifice collapses into a pile of sticks useful only for beating.
Please understand: I'm not telling you to search for the perfect balance between heart, head, and hands, or compassion, courage, and commission. I'm telling you that if you want to follow Jesus in this world, you need all three in full, blessed abundance — in ourselves, our local churches, and the church at large.
The problem with blind spots is that they tend to hide behind good traits. Your weakness is often the flip side of your strength.
If you're compassionate, you sense your neighbors' needs. Good! So did Jesus. But you can be so concerned with what others think that you shrink from telling the truth, especially about Jesus.
If you're courageous, you stand fast in the face of pressure. Good! So did Jesus. But you probably fail sometimes to hear and heed legitimate criticism.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Blind Spots"
Copyright © 2015 Collin Hansen.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Tim Keller,
1 Pointed Fingers and Helping Hands,
5 The Counterrevolution Will Not Be Televised,
What People are Saying About This
“I would recommend any book Collin Hansen writes because he’s one of the most thoughtful and devout men I know. But when it’s a book about what full-orbed and united ministry looks like in a post-Christian culture, I enthusiastically recommend it. The church has a big job in this era, and Hansen’s book helps us face into it with courage, compassion, and conviction.”
—Mark Galli, Editor, Christianity Today
“Collin Hansen is one of the best younger writers and thinkers in the Lord’s church today. Here he calls on followers of Jesus to manifest three marks, each of which is essential for full-orbed discipleship: holy boldness, loving kindness, and a gospel witness that crosses all bounds.”
—Timothy George, Founding Dean, Beeson Divinity School; General Editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture
“Courage to speak the truth, compassion to care for the broken and the oppressed, commissioned to evangelize and plant churches—but how often do all three of these commitments meld together, surfacing as unified Christian maturity in our churches? The simple thesis of this book is that eager submission to the Lord Jesus requires such a unified vision. To opt for only one of these commitments while dismissing those who opt for others is to turn aside from Scripture while flirting with sterility and ugliness.”
—D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
“This book is Collin at his best—with humility and wit, he examines our moment in history and asks, ‘What is wrong with the church?’ Collin’s answer: I am. From that vantage point we begin to understand the beautiful thing God is doing in our generation, encompassing the various gifts he has placed in different Christian traditions. Collin is confident enough in his convictions to write with clarity and authority, yet humble enough to learn from others. This book not only provides insight, it models how to learn from others.”
—J. D. Greear, pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; author, Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send
“Collin Hansen provides a valuable framework to the evangelical community to assess our witness and examine our weaknesses in light of Christ’s strengths. This book provides timely, helpful, winsome and wise counsel for believers seeking to encourage others and effectively expand their witness to a watching world.”
—Ed Stetzer, Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism, Wheaton College
“This is a little book that goes to war against all of the right enemies: self-righteousness, pomposity, and anger misplaced. Let’s face it. We've heard enough of our ‘heroes’ thunder from the mountaintops. We’ve planted accusatory fingers into the chests of our fellow believers. We’ve lamented a culture in decline. The truth be told, we’re sick of our own Twitter and Facebook feeds. In response to all of these, Collin Hansen knows the source of the problem. It’s you. It’s me. And in the spirit of Carl F. H. Henry’s ‘sober optimism,’ he points us back to the compassion of Christ for a remedy.”
—Gregory Alan Thornbury, President, The King's College; author, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism
“Collin Hansen is a thoughtful, convictional, and wise leader. This book will help equip all of us to ask what we’re not seeing in the mission field around us, and in our own lives. You will find this book both convicting and rejuvenating at the same time.”
—Russell D. Moore, president, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
“With this timely and challenging publication, Collin Hansen has provided churches with a scripturally based and balanced look at congregational life and ministry. Based on his discerning reflections and an open acknowledgment of his own imbalance and previous blind spots, Hansen offers us an invitation to join him on this important journey toward mature, healthy, and gospel-advancing congregational life. Carefully and thoughtfully written, the descriptors in the subtitle, ‘Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned,’ point us toward the need for collaborative service involving head, heart, hands, and feet. I am most pleased to recommend this important book.”
—David S. Dockery, President, Trinity International University
“Collin Hansen offers the multifaceted evangelical church an incisive, sympathetic approach to self-diagnosis. Here is a hopeful vision in which our differences are not ultimately obstacles but opportunities for greater unity in courage, compassion, and commissioning. My hope is that this brief book will win a broad hearing.”
—Stephen T. Um, Senior Minister, Citylife Presbyterian Church, Boston, Massachusetts; coauthor, Why Cities Matter
“What I most appreciate about Collin Hansen’s Blind Spots is the call to be generous with one another. Hansen’s three paradigmatic Christian camps will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with church culture. But he reframes these differences as opportunities for mutual instruction and learning rather than divisions to be reinforced. The result is a work that is at once refreshing and edifying and that will hopefully contribute to a more holistic Christlikeness throughout the body of the church.”
—Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, Chair, Global Task Force on Nuclear Weapons, World Evangelical Alliance; author, The World Is Not Ours to Save
“In this insightful and challenging book, Collin Hansen charts a path for principled Christian collaboration in the midst of our post-Christian culture. Comparing ourselves to Christ more than to others, we will humbly work with fellow Christians and their multitude of gifts to further the purposes of God’s kingdom.”
—Thomas S. Kidd, Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University; author, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America