First of all, I don’t know Jen Hatmaker. Second of all, she’s waaaay more hip, ‘in,” connected and choon than I am. Third, I’ll probably make some mommy bloggers mad at me for this entry. Jen (not that we’re on first name basis, but it’s only three letters and easy to refer to her that way) is a fantastic writer and has authored several Christian books and Bible studies. Her blog is consistently well-traveled and popular (unlike other blogs whose URLs rhyme with ferny lie rot bomb). She recently wrote a blog entry that has exploded in the Christian blogosphere. That’s probably why you haven’t read it. It’s titled, And Then the Conference Uninvited Me to Speak.
She describes a recent experience in being uninvited to speak by a large church. Having not been invited to speak in large churches in the first place, I figure that I’ve had similar experiences so I could readily identify with her indignation. Her blog entry is a beautifully-written description of the importance of Christians having a loving heart towards all people. She expresses deep concern for how some in the American church have turned off genuine seekers by their arrogance and judgmental attitude.
I loved her description of her traditional, Bible-belt upbringing:
I grew up immersed in typical Christian subculture: heavy emphasis on morality, fairly dogmatic, linear and authoritative. Because my experience was so homogenous and my skill set included Flying Right, I found wild success in the paradigm. My interpretations were rarely challenged by diversity, suffering, or disparity. Since the bulls-eye was behaving (we called it “holiness”), I earned an A.
Immediately following that, however she quotes research that seems to indicate that “80 percent of those reared in the church will be ‘disengaged’ by the time they are 29.”
80 percent. Gone.
From there, she passionately and eloquently urges Christians to a more gracious lifestyle. Count me in for that.
However, the deeper I read into her article, the more uncomfortable I grew with her conclusions. She said:
Jesus is a hero, a brother, a Savior in every since of the word. He is everything good and gracious. His love for us is embarrassing, boundless, without standards at all.
Here’s the problem. I want to agree with all she is saying, but I believe there are at least two mistakes in her blog entry:
1. The research she quotes is both misleading at best and completely erroneous at worst.
Youthministry.com debunked the statistic (and others have been attempting to do so consistently), but these stats are constantly being used as a doomsday cry for the church of “We’re losing young people!” I reviewed Christian sociologist Bradley Wright’s book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies We’ve Been Told here, and I think it should be added to Jen’s reading list. She would be deeply encouraged by it. He points out how prone statistics are to poor interpretation and application and cites the surveys she mentioned, among many others.
Jen used them to stir our hearts. Our hearts should be stirred by the heart of God for the lostness of people without having to use questionable conclusions by well-intentioned research organizations.
2. Her eloquence about Jesus and His love for all peoples goes a bit too far in claiming that His love is “without standards.”
It is boundless, but it has standards. The standard is this: His love must be received and returned. Jesus’ boundless love isn’t so powerful that every person will go to heaven. We must act in response to His love and His Word. Jen seems to be saying that Christians should unquestioningly love and embrace whatever lifestyle or behaviors people choose.
I totally agree with her that:
Christianity is too thrilling to reduce to middle/upper-middle class First World Problems, encapsulated in issues and gauged by a nebulous moral compass that lost its bearing decades ago.
However, in her zeal to demonstrate the radically amazing, transformative grace of Christ, I wonder… If this were the only blog of hers that someone reads, the only piece of one of her many written works, would she be satisfied that she’s communicated that Jesus is the God of grace and truth in this post? Or is this more reactive to a specific situation that she would never want to become her magnum opus?
At over 400 comments and counting, she’s certainly created a ruckus.
I’m willing to wrap us all in grace, because one day we’ll both discover we got some parts right and other parts wrong. Jesus’ mercy is going to be enough for us all.
I don’t know which “one day” she is referring to, but there is a day foretold in scripture which indicates that while Jesus’ mercy IS enough for all, not all will be recipients of it. Jesus said:
“The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12.48)
I love her heart, but I’m concerned that she’s gone too far in trying to appeal to those who dislike or even hate the church. It is, after all, the bride of Christ, the people of God. We cannot hide with eloquence what might hinder our acceptance with others.
Christian leaders and influencers need to be very careful about motivating through statistics. Does the American church have issues? Absolutely! Do we sometimes demonstrate a love deficit? Check. But the solution is not to leave the dance floor upset by someone’s lack of grace and rhythm. I think we need to dance with greater grace… and offer lessons to the side-step-steppers along the way.