I'll be getting back to my new series of posts on "Christianity as a Practical Romance" soon, but today I want to offer another snippet from Tim Stafford's excellent article, "The Church: Why Bother" in the most recent Christianity Today.
In February 2003, Christianity Today featured Bono, lead singer for the rock group U2, and his campaign for the church to become more involved in the fight against AIDS. Bono emerged as a star example of the unchurched Christian.
Having once been involved in a loosely structured Irish fellowship, Bono now seldom goes to church. He does pray. He likes to say grace at meals. He has a favorite Bible translation. But he doesn't want to be pinned down.
"I just go where the life is, you know? Where I feel the Holy Spirit," Bono told Christianity Today's reporter, Cathleen Falsani. "If it's in the back of a Roman Catholic cathedral, in the quietness and the incense, which suggest the mystery of God, of God's presence, or in the bright lights of the revival tent, I just go where I find life. I don't see denomination. I generally think religion gets in the way of God."
In an editorial, "Bono's Thin Ecclesiology," CT appreciated Bono's thirst for social justice, yet criticized his lack of churchly commitment. Bono had voiced sharp criticisms of the church, suggesting it was in danger of irrelevance if it failed to act on AIDS. Wrote CT, "Any person can stand outside the church and critique its obedience to the gospel. Part of God's call on a Christian's life is to walk inside and die to self by relating to other human beings, both in their fallenness and in their redeemed glory."
Letters to the editor fiercely defended Bono. One pointed out that U2 travels with a chaplain—isn't that equivalent to church? Another suggested that Bono avoided church out of respect for other Christians, since his fame would disrupt worship. A reader complained that white evangelical churches were to blame for Bono's alienation, since they have become more Republican than Christian. Another reader whose lifelong illness kept her from church wrote, "I do not believe not attending a regular church service … takes away a person's beliefs, Christianity, or their salvation … . I have faith that Jesus Christ is more fair than that."
All good points, as far as they go, except that Bono is not too sick to attend church, could find an unpoliticized church if he tried, and doesn't mention respect for worshipers as a reason for staying away.
Clearly, Bono has chosen to keep his distance from the church, or at least to stay in the shallow margins of the pond, where he can dash for the shore at need.
He has plenty of company.
In my book, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the Community of God Transforms Lives, I cite some (favorite) Bono lyrics about spiritual searching (U2 is one of my favorite bands). In many ways, he represents exactly the kind of Christian that many of us evangelicals actually endeavor to be: socially aware, compassionate to the downtrodden and outsider, prayerful and passionate, incredibly cool and deeply individualistic in faith. When I read characters like the hero Neo, in Brian McClaren's (excellent!) novels, I can't help but see some of the similarities.
Is this ultimately what it means to be "emergent"? Does it mean that we are going to "emerge" from the church and create a faith of our own making, with the people of our own choosing, in the manner and time of our own doing?
I am incredibly sympathetic to the Bonos and Neos of the world, indeed, my book was a challenge to make the church the kind of place that seekers need it to be--a representation of God in the world. But if I read the New Testament correctly, we bother with the church because it is the ONLY body of Christ in the world--disappointments and all.
So, then what do we do to make the church more Bono-Neo friendly? Hmmm...