Tag Archives: conspiracy

The Law of Religious Evasion

Currently I’m reading Dallas Willard’s classic book The Divine Conspiracy. There are so many good things that Willard writes that we could talk about but one section really impacted me due to current events and the church plant that I’m in the process of exploring.

In the section in question, Willard brings Clyde Reid into the conversation and quotes from Reid’s book The God-evaders (1966). Willard writes, “A few years ago Clyde Reid wrote a painfully incisive discussion of how our church activities seem to be structured around evading God. His ‘law of religious evasion’ states, ‘We structure our churches and maintain them so as to shield us from God and to protect us from genuine religious experience’ ” (201).

For Willard, Reid’s  “law of religious evasion” is just another example of how “it seems to be a general law of social/historical development that institutions tend to distort and destroy the central function that brought them into existence” (201). When we strip away the building, the programs, the institution, and the money away from church, what is the church’s central function? It is, in Willard’s beautiful words, to be a “school of eternal living” where we learn from Jesus as “apprentices of eternal living.” Jesus is the master teacher and we are called to learn, as apprentices, his ways.

Think about the way an apprenticeship works. The student follows, watches, copies and tries to imitate the master. Often the apprentice begins with no skills but through the process of learning (seeing, then doing), skills develop and as they are mastered the apprentice is able to assist the master in his/her work. Apprenticeships consist of careful and deliberate steps of teaching, trial and error, re-teaching, practice and finally the student begins to do the skills in such a way that there is little difference in the work of the master and the work of the student. In the end, the apprentice that began with no skills has become a copy of the master.

I think you can see how that description overlaps with the Christian life- or, at least, is supposed to. How well are our churches taking those with no skills and teaching them to copy the Master? If we took an honest look at ourselves, how well are we apprentices of the Master?

I think many of our churches do exactly what Reid describes. We hide God behind  our amazing worship music. We hide God behind our traditions. We hide God behind our bureaucratic structures, policies and procedures. We hide God behind our ministry programs. Sometimes, we even hide God behind our mediocrity. If someone comes into our church, are they getting their fill of those things while missing God entirely? Instead of allowing for a genuine religious experience, do our churches actually assist us in evading God?

More importantly, why would that happen? Reid says it covers up the fact that our churches don’t actually “change lives or influence conduct to any appreciable degree.” Willard says it’s because we worry about the judgment of others and desire praise from men rather than God. I agree with both of those conclusions and want to add my own as well. Another reason our churches actually assist us in evading God is because we cannot control God but we can control a worship service, a ministry or a bureaucratic structure. When we really reveal God, things begin happening, they often force a choice between the institution and God.

When it’s all said and done, are we trying to make apprentices of the institution or the Master?


* If you want more information about what a church plant in Midland might look like, please pass along your name and email here (at the bottom). We are also looking to have an informal get together next Tuesday (10-6-15) night- I’ll be inviting people through text, email and phone call but if you want the where and when, let me know.


The Great Conspiracy: Part 3

Over the last couple of weeks I have been looking at the theme of conspiracy. Much of the backdrop for this series has come from a look at the Apostle Paul’s use of the world “mystery” in his letters. In Part 1 I referenced Romans 16 and we looked at Ephesians 3 in Part 2. Now in the final part of this series, I want to look at the mystery in Colossians 1.

Within the span of about three verses, Paul uses the word “mystery” twice. He says that he has been made a minister to preach the word of God; he calls the message he preaches the “mystery” that was hidden but is now known and he tells us in the next verse that the mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The mystery of Christianity, the conspiracy of Christianity, lays in the fact that we have Christ in us. And Paul calls this our hope of glory and the riches of the glory of God.

All good conspiracy theories have a treasure at their heart. Area 51 has the treasure of science and technology. The Freemasons have the treasure of power and secret knowledge. The Holy Grail has the treasure of immortality.

The Christian conspiracy is no different but the treasure at the heart of Christianity is not wealth, power or technology it is, rather, a person- a person that is Jesus Christ.

We have tended, and I have tended, to make Jesus anything and everything that he is not. (Just search Jesus in images on Google and you’ll see what I mean.)

Paul calls Jesus the riches of God’s glory and the mystery that was hidden but now has been made known- and it is that Jesus that is in you and in me as Christians.

What does Paul do with this? “For this reason also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Paul works, he labors but not with his own strength but with the strength of the power of Christ that is now within him. I pray that we will do the same.

I also pray, for as much as we know or think we know, about God, that we would once again embrace the mystery of God and the conspiracy of the gospel.

© Ryan Vanderland 2013

The Great Conspiracy: Part 2

imagesOver the decades there have been a variety of conspiracy theories proposed: the JFK assassination, Area 51, the Holy Grail, Freemasons and aliens- just to name a few.

The word conspiracy is defined as “an agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful or subversive act.” What we often call a “conspiracy” is really a conspiracy theory, which is defined as “an explanatory proposition that accuses two or more people, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through deliberate collusion, an even or phenomenon of great social, political or economic impact.”

The Christian faith could fall under both definitions: an agreement to perform a subversive act and an explanatory proposition that a group of people caused for great social impact.

But for those definitions to hold, there must be something that the Christian faith is subverting or something that the Christian faith wants to socially impact.

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains the subversion of Christianity. Paul writes that one of God’s mysteries is that, through Christ, Gentiles are now fellow heirs and fellow members of God’s chosen people. Paul says he was given the task to preach this mystery to the Gentiles so that the full wisdom of God could come, through God’s people, to those who rule.

The conspiracy of Christianity is that as people of God, we are called to speak the wisdom of God to all people- even to those who rule and are in places and positions of authority.

What is the wisdom of God? Read the words of Jesus: love your enemies, the first will be last, the last will be first, the outcast have a place at the table, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, love your neighbor as yourself.

Those are radical messages that stand, or should stand, as a contradiction- a subversion- to the social, political and economic statuesque.

Have we forgotten how truly different the wisdom of God is and have we made so many qualifications to Jesus’ words that they have lost their subversive meaning?

The Great Conspiracy: Part 1

Why are we so intrigued by conspiracy theories? Just Sunday, as I was eating Sunday lunch with my family at a restaurant, a man went from table to table dropping flyers about how the US government was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and how the government is murdering American citizens. The most confusing thing was that this flyer was covered in Bible verses. Even now, as we approach the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, there will be TV shows and articles on who really killed JFK and who knew what and who covered up what. We love books and movies about conspiracies- for some reason we like conspiracy theories.

I think there is, at least, a couple reasons we like conspiracy theories. One is because we want to know secrets. Another is that we want to be a part of something bigger than us. A third is that we want to have secrets- because having secrets makes us important and gives us power.

There have been those that have claimed that Christianity is a huge, and successful, conspiracy. Authors like Dan Brown have built their careers on painting stories about conspiracies, secrets and mysteries within the Church.

What is amazing is that the Apostle Paul calls the gospel a mystery – a conspiracy, if you will. In Romans, Paul writes: “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever.” (Romans 16:25-27)

What is the mystery that Paul is talking about?

The mystery is Jesus.

But why does Paul call Jesus a mystery that has been kept secret? Why is Jesus a conspiracy?

That is the question I want us to ask and answer over the next couple of weeks during this blog series.