Bags of Bran

Three Days Among the Evangelicals: The “More”
March 1, 2014, 5:33 pm
Filed under: Biography

One apparent theme that frequently arose in the music and haunted some of the preaching at the conference was an ambiguous sense of discontent. The status quo, from the perspective of the platform, was not really good enough: the speakers and performers commended a foggy fascination with an unidentified “more.” More what? Good question! I could not tell. Supply your favorite Sunday School answer: Jesus, God, gospel, power… a nebulous sense of importance in the divine scheme, perhaps? Whatever the “more” is, it must be truly fleeting, because of the asking for the “more” there was no end. This asking invited neither repentance nor introspection, but only participation, and the conference attendees were at least willing to participate.

John Piper’s “talk” (for that is the term they use–it carries none of the baggage of “sermon”) was full of this…what shall we call it? Ennui? He spoke longingly of longing and of seeking after…something. It was more of the sub-theme of his message, and indeed of much of his ministry, as far as I’ve followed it, than the message itself. He used Hudson Taylor–a fellow with deep roots in Keswick and perfectionist circles– as an exemplary seeker of the “more.” After a brief and sympathetic discussion of the Keswick movement (without really mentioning its highly pertinent antecedents), Piper concluded that Hudson Taylor was really a soul brother after all: Taylor was looking for the “more”; and according to Piper, ’tis better to search for the “more” wrongly than to fail to search for the “more”. A sine qua non of Piper’s idyllic imagination, evidently, is longing for the “more.” It is, to borrow the metaphor, the peak to which there is no wrong path of ascent.
Strange that such a message, or such an underlying feeling, should come from a ministry whose byline is something like “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” I vaguely detect the vestiges of the “restlessness” that characterized the Young, Restless, Reformed trend that has now become the “Middle-Aged, Comfortable, Antinomian” movement. I say that on adequate grounds for near certainty because the clientele at that conference were men who seemed deeply satisfied, at least religiously, with the current situation. They did not evoke pilgrims wandering the wastes by chart and stars in search of a city built without hands, but rather bored shoppers induced to purchase by the adventurous decor of an Eddie Bauer store. These are men who will never, under their own steam, search the heights; but who will gladly listen to people who talk about people who, in remote times and faraway lands, did search the heights. The thrill of vicarious spiritual experience of the “more” is a vital part of their program. It is certainly worth their singing about, and the notion came up in an offhand way more than once in unscripted moments such as announcements.

Since I struggle to really put my finger on exactly what was happening, I would equally struggle to prescribe a treatment. It’s not my disease to cure, since I’m less than nothing among them, being not qualified to join their reindeer games. But I do think that it contributes to the generally low state among those who would aspire to be the last, best hope of Christianity, a hope that I had hoped would provide some sort of safe place for me and my kind. So, the final diagnosis is still pending, awaiting a more penetrating eye or a more insightful mind than my own. Perhaps a few years’ time will provide more perspective for a real historian to come along and analyze the situation. I’m probably not that guy, but I will buy the book, because I’m genuinely interested.

At the risk of overflowing the banks with cynicism, I think the appeal to the “more” is an appeal to the same part of the soul that longs for big, capable SUV’s to commute five miles on city streets, or that considers technical parkas from The North Face to walk back and forth across parking lots. The “more” adds a whiff of adventure to punctuate one’s safe, sanitary, midbrow existence. It is aspiration to a “more” so nebulous that the absence of the moral will to actually lay hand to that nebulous “more” generally does not strike participants as a troubling situation. Is it enough to be motivated, even if the “more” toward which one is motivated is obscured by clouds of faulty anthropology? Does it suffice that one sings passionately of the “more”; that one listens intently when his gospel guru murmurs reverent paeans about the “more”; and that one buys the latest bestsellers about the “more” to bedeck the shelves in his office, even if he doesn’t know what the “more” is? Somehow I feel like there ought to be “more.”


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