Palmer, Wide open Spaces

I got this book through the subscription I had to the Relevant leader. As far as subscriptions go, i wouldn’t recommend this one. It’s promotional, meaning I way overpaid and didn’t get decent material back. These days, if I want to get buzz information I use the internet, not subscription services (sorry, Interlinc).

SO, Jim Palmer (an active blogger) is a guy who claims to be recovering from organized religion. I need to admit up front that I really struggle with this kind of thinking. What the heck is organized religion? Would you rather have disorganized religion? Do you just have a problem with the pope? For me, you can’t love Jesus and not love His church; it’s disingenuous and ends up with a dichoomized relationship.

In this book, Palmer basically writes about how freeing it is to hold to neo-liberal theological views and pay no attention to historical orthodoxy. When he does this, it helps him to really tap into and understand what it means to have a personal (and freeing) relationship with Jesus, but at what cost? He does a great job at deconstructing current evangelical assumptions, but when he pushes through, he lands in a place where I am not comfortable.

Needless to say, I struggled to push through this book. It has some great stuff in it, but also some stuff that I would disagree with. I don’t always read books that I simply agree with, but this book didn’t stimulate new growth in me because of it’s illogical presupposition against the church.

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5 thoughts on “Palmer, Wide open Spaces

  1. This comment was left on my “contact” page and I approved it there, but it belongs here. I’m honored that he even read my blog. Let’s have the conversation!

    Jim Palmer Says:
    November 4, 2008 at 3:57 pm e

    Hey James,
    It’s Jim. I read your post; Google Alerts. Sorry you didn’t like the book. It was the follow-up book to, Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the unlikely people who help you).

    Over the past few years in my own life, and in the lives of others I’ve come to know personally, and people I’ve met through writing and speaking, I’ve learned that there are many people who follow in the ways and teachings of Jesus but who hesitate to identify themselves as “Christians.” I lead seminars for Christian leaders and pastors called, “Connecting with the spiritual interests of non-religious people.” In the seminar I share some of the characteristics of this group, which includes:

    •Interested in Christ, not Christianity
    •Interested in truth, not doctrine
    •Interested in community, not church
    •Interested in spirituality, not religion
    •Interested in earth, not heaven
    •Interested in freedom, not knowledge

    Many of these types do not find “organized church” or “institutional church” helpful, and so they connect and gather into other forms of church such as house church, or relational church, or simple church. They don’t view practicing a different form of church as a denial or rejection of church. There are an endless number of forms of church…high church, home church, traditional church, contemporary church, seeker-targeted church, purpose-driven church, emergent church, etc…Research presented in the book, A Churchless Faith by Alan Jamieson shows that these “church leavers” (people who left organized church) prove to be some of the most mature Christ followers.

    You are right that the term “organized religion” is a loaded term. In short, what I mean by the term is equating or reducing Christian living to organizational involvement. For example, when “community” is essentially attending a program or mission/compassion is a program you sign up for as opposed to a way of life.

    In my own experience, organized church or institutional church (IC) has some risks.
    I don’t think every IC has all of these characteristics in total. I’m not looking for an argument here, you may disagree with some or all of these ‘problems’…the purpose of my making this list is food for thought for those still involved in an IC. I rode around in the IC vehicle for most of my life and didn’t see any of these problems until I stopped the car, got out and looked at it from the outside. What I thought was a Ferrari turned out to be an old clunker barely running with a cracked windshield, dirty glass, square tires, rusted body panels and all the while spewing volumes of black acidic spiritual pollution.

    Here are some possible issues:

    1. IC’s by the nature of their buildings and vernacular say to the community and their members (both verbally and non-verbally); “church is a place, a location, a building.”

    2. IC’s by nature of their programs and scheduling say “church” and/or experiencing God only happens at their services/gatherings, whatever day(s) they hold them.

    3. IC’s by their format, programming and tradition separate children from their parents to communicate the most foundational truths of life (i.e. Sunday school, youth ministry, training union, big church/kids church). The vast majorities of parents (who are honest) rely on the IC’s teachers and spend very little time, if any, teaching their kids about their personal relationship with Jesus and understanding of God. So kids are taught, by the nature of the program/format that “other people”, who know more than mom & dad, will teach me about God.

    4. IC’s separate the giver (tithing or otherwise) from the actual recipient of the gift by teaching old covenant giving (i.e. bring the tithe to the storehouse which they define as the church). This process says to the receiver that the church (i.e. the IC) is the “giver” and to the giver it says, “we know what better to do with your tithe/gift than you do”…. they may not say this out loud but it’s the message the process sends. The method also complicates the process of getting the gift to the person in need – committee meetings, phone calls and such. Finally, the giver and receiver don’t get to communicate the reason they give or the thanks for the gift or interact at all…both of which God uses to “do” something within them…. i.e. the giver “sees” the need and the receiver “see” God. Imagine the impact of a body of believers dividing up their annual budget between them and giving to whom God directed when God directed? Think of all the lives affected, relationships started and how each individual believer’s radar for the needy turned on if each person had something to give and the green light to give it.

    5. IC’s, because of the building, paid staff and programs, only give 10% (I’m being conservative here probably more like 2%) of their budget, in ministry, to their community and those in need. The community looks at all the “extravaganza” (i.e. buildings, programs, trips, dinners, etc), without the ministry (i.e. meeting their needs), and views the church as a Christian country club…the member’s do too.

    6. IC’s establish a hierarchy within the church. Paid staff knows the answers and the average believer receives truth and takes orders from them. This communicates to the average believer they’re unable to make “spiritual” decisions on their own or be led to truth by any means other than a pastor or teacher. The staff may ‘preach’ the Holy Spirit is our teacher but their programs, preaching and actions drown it out. We do all have the same Christ living within us; “He” is the head. It also is a “pride” danger for the staff, as most average believers come to “them” for answers and the staff feels they must have an answer.

    7. IC’s focus on growing larger, by far out ways their focus on the need for individual believers to grow in depth. Think about pastors going to conventions and saying, “my congregation is only 50 folks but they have incredible relationships with and understanding of God”…. yeah right. Who said bigger is better? Isn’t God capable of growing up a vast number of godly leaders to lead smaller groups?

    8. IC’s by their size, even with small groups, prevent deep relationship from forming within the body of Christ. Too many programs, events, meetings tie up “members” discretionary time. Programs and the many areas of service “jobs” orient member’s discretionary time to service where they receive kudos, rather than building relationships, which develop community and foster iron sharpening iron.

    9. The casual nature of IC relationships and the standard of behavior that is rewarded and approved, limits open sharing of life’s troubles and trials to empty phrases “How are you doing? Great…and you?” Sharing real needs, trials and struggles receive punishment and the boot. What of the ministry of reconciliation?

    10. IC’s teach by the nature of the services and vernacular that worship happens on Sunday morning in the “worship center” and while sitting and standing singing praise songs with our hands up or stoically with our hands folded. What of Rom 12 that defines worship as presenting our bodies as living sacrifices?

    11. IC’s through their “prayer meetings and lists” teach prayer as a mechanism to prod God into action on that which ‘we’ deem important. The system teaches God as a vending machine; a couple of quarters of prayer get a package of lifesavers. They teach the number of people praying has more effect in motivating God into action (i.e. more quarters, more lifesavers). Who is the initiator, God or man?

    12. IC’s substitute good marketing for the work of the Holy Spirit. Their drive for numbers and success in the business model sense keeps staff looking toward worldly mechanisms (promotion, marketing, door to door, events, services, etc) to advance those goals rather than relying on the Spirit.

    13. IC’s promote believers to identify themselves by what they “do” at church and assign value, higher and lower, to their areas of service. A praise singer is awesome while a stagehand is trivial. People who dress nicer, attend more services & activities, pray out loud in front of others, give the more money, quote more scripture, sings or teaches, has some position on a committee, holds more “jobs”, wins more people to Christ, has a daily “quite time”, has well behaved children, has no bad habits, is more spiritual and thus of greater value than the one with less of the above. Funny how Christ modeled an attitude of valuing both the disciples, drunkards, tax collectors and harlots equally. They may say that “all” service is equally important but they treat people in different positions with high/lower values in mind. Their actions/attitudes are deafening. Shouldn’t our identity be solely ‘a child of God’?

    You also mention in your post that I have left historical orthodoxy. Or is it that I’ve left your version of “historical orthodoxy.” Have you read a lot of the church fathers? I feel like I’ve moved closer to historical orthodoxy. A couple interesting books I would recommend are:

    The Torch of the Testimony by John W. Kennedy

    Saving Paradise by Brock and Parker

    Anyway, don’t feel like you have to respond. Like I said, I have no interest in debating. I just felt compelled to offer a little more info on where I’m coming from. I’m not even saying I’m right but it is where I am.

    Peace,
    Jim

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  2. well that’s a long comment 🙂 It makes me nervous when the comments are longer than the blog posts.

    Anyways, here’s the thing I’d shot back right off – I don’t like being called out for my own “version” of historical orthodoxy based upon a challenge of having read church fathers or not. Instead of arguing a position, the only way to defend this suggestion is to list out the desert fathers I have read. Then if it meets some standard, then “my orthodoxy” is ok? I cannot accept, either, that the desert fathers were not into institutions; they went into the desert and set up monasteries that were far more demanding institutions than today’s churches.

    Really, I agree with most of what was in the book, and what was written in the comment, but I don’t get down with the logic in getting there.

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  3. wow, that was really…. long.

    sorry but I lost interest after the first paragraph, although number 4 caught my eye, and I kind of liked it.

    Probably would help peak my interest if I actually read the book.

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  4. James, Just so you know. I never intended what I wrote to be a blog comment, which is why I sent it to you on the “contact” page as an email, and not in the comment section on the actual post. My intention wasn’t to “call you out” on your orthodoxy, but only to suggest that there are different opinions among Christians historically and presently about what orthodoxy is. I don’t have any desire to change what you believe; I was mainly just giving you some further context or sense of where I was coming from.

    Sounds like we agree on some things; it’s likely we don’t agree on other things. Either way, may we both continue to grow and live in the way of Jesus.

    Jim

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  5. my apologies for posting it Jim. It actually appeared as a comment on my contact page, not as an email so I removed it and put it here. Then i disabled the comment link on my contact page, because of the confusion. If you’d like me to remove it, I’d me more than willing, just say the word.

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