Great question. It’s something I’ve pondered every day for the last three years, which is how long it took me to finish the book. Writing is one hell of a time-consuming task, and not something I’m ideally suited for. What pushed me along? The answer is simple: It’s my churning sadness over scores of people I know who’ve walked away from church in the past twenty years. I’m talking about people who desire God deeply.
Hurting, frustrated, burned-out people—men especially—are abandoning church in droves. I offer some alarming statistics in the book that show how widespread this trend is. What’s at the heart of these people’s struggles—Christians who’ve become disillusioned, disenfranchised and disconnected from Christ’s body?
The conversations I’ve had with many believers—and as a lay ministry leader, I’ve had thousands—are mainly about how churches make faith complicated and alienating. Most people I talk to came to faith with a profound gratitude, a newfound purpose and a lot of zeal. They had boundless love to offer and reached out to people with the Good News that had transformed them. But over time, church life added a heavy burden to them, through a lot of man-made “extras”—rules, rituals and doctrinal judgments that actually chipped away at their zeal. They realized man was dirtying up what God meant to be pure and straightforward. They wondered, “Whatever happened to the simple journey of following the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”
Today I’ll spend an hour over lunch with a buddy talking about the three primary elements of Christian faith—our Creator, Savior and Guide—in the most real and practical ways. We’ll talk about the hope that’s found in having a Creator—a loving Deity who exists beyond what we can see and hear. One whose existence speaks to our deep desire that when we close our eyes for the last time, we’ll have a spiritual world in which to live for eternity. We’ll talk about our need for a Savior—One to cleanse us from all past sins and forgive us our daily trespasses. (It only takes a few minutes into our salads to acknowledge the pesky stumbling blocks on our way toward “perfection”—something I, more than anyone, have yet to achieve. Maybe next week.) We’ll end up talking about our need for a Guide—the Holy Spirit—to help us deal with all of life’s issues and trials. We need One to remind us that no matter what our situation, there’s a way of life that brings joy and peace.
I’m convinced this is a regular conversation every Christian can have—with any other Christian. The core elements of faith are found in the simplicity of knowing a Creator, Savior and Guide—something I affectionately refer to in the book as “C-S-G.” Of course, anything as complex as God’s amazing reality can’t be reduced to “three simple steps.” I’m not advocating that at all. Good theology is complex for good reason, I grant you—but when it comes to Christians actually walking the talk, we’re all called to a simpler faith. Everyone starts their spiritual journey—and sustains it—based on three core elements: C-S-G.
The problem is the “extras”—the man-made add-ons. In the book I call these divisive traits our distinctives—the unique ways we “do church” in the world of Christianity. There’s nothing wrong with believers approaching the journey differently—as long as we have respect for those whose approach is different from ours. (I’m talking here about all faith groups who embrace the concept of the Trinity.) Too often we dismiss those who aren’t in step with our distinctives. We end up creating an “us vs. them” mentality within the walls of Christianity.
This issue of distinctives, more than any other, is what drives good people away from church. When these things become the dominant focus—stressing who’s right and who’s wrong—people get fed up and leave. Who can blame them?
I want more than anything to help every disconnected believer find their way back to faithful, thriving Christian community. Deep down, our alienated brothers and sisters long to be in fellowship. It’s on us in the church to make a way for that to happen. I outline ways to do this in the book—and I’ve personally seen it happen for dozens of disaffected Christians I know. By boiling down the core of faith to its essentials, we help people reconnect with their Creator, Savior and Guide—and that makes it easier for them to stay in the game.
I’m not talking about starting a new group or denomination—hell, there are too many of those already. And I’m not saying we should do away with our churches’ distinctives. They can be important. But when we get away from C-S-G and focus on the secondary things, we do damage to Christ’s church.
Jesus did not die for distinctives. He died for our sins. I guess that answers the question I asked upfront in this blog entry: I wrote A Simpler Faith so believers could focus on the core things—really, the one thing that should draw us together: the cross—and stop getting sidetracked on the things that draw us apart—the “extras.” That’s a simpler faith we all could use.