I talked here about the Bible study group that I will be attending at my church, which will be going through Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God. I said that I was initially afraid of going, but now I’m not because the Discussion Guide appears to focus on spirituality rather than doctrine, and that meets me where I am, since I am skeptical about a lot of doctrine, and yet I would appreciate wisdom on how to live a spiritual life. As I look more through the Discussion Guide, however, my worries return, for I wonder what I will do if I disagree with something.
I’ll illustrate. First of all, on page 63 of the Discussion Guide, there is a quote from Tim Keller’s book, which states that “there is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers.” There is then a question: “Why is this true?”
I don’t necessarily dispute that community can help a person to grow spiritually. I found that the time when I was meeting with a mentor and a therapist on a regular basis and getting an outside perspective on my life helped me to grow. (I don’t know if Tim Keller would classify that as deep community, though.) But I’m not presently willing to be in “deep” community with evangelicals. I’m not interested in baring my soul before them, or in enduring their judgment, or in being pressured to think and act in a certain way. And I struggle with being in a group, period. One thing I hear from a lot of evangelicals is that being in deep community makes believers more loving, since they are learning to put up with each other’s bull. There’s a rhyme-and-reason to that, but I wonder why, if this is true, so many evangelicals are not loving.
Moreover, please understand: I’m not saying no one should be in a community with other believers. I’m not like a lot of evangelicals, who think that everyone should do things their way. I often got annoyed when I was in an evangelical small group, and we were discussing what “we” should be doing. Why should “we” all be doing the same thing?
So this is how I feel. Ideally, in the Bible study group that I will attend, I can just be quiet when this question is discussed. But I fear that the pastor will say, “Why do you think this is true, James?” I’m not sure what I would answer. I wouldn’t want to convey that I’m reluctant to be in deep community with the people at my church, because that would be offensive, plus the people at my church are nice people. I’ll probably answer that it’s good to get an outsider’s perspective—like I did with my mentor and my therapist. I just hope that people won’t take that to mean that I’m willing to spill my guts on my life and hear people judgmentally analyze it.
Second, on page 24 of the Discussion Guide, there is this question: “Why do you think many churches today are not attracting the broken and marginalized with Jesus’ message of grace?”
I can think of different reasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people in the group will come up with those reasons as well. But I’m afraid that this question will be turned into pressuring people to witness. “How can we attract people to the Gospel?” Frankly, I’m not interested in attracting people to a religious system of thought. Why do I have to be selling something? Again, hopefully, I can just keep my mouth shut during this question. But I fear that someone will ask, “What do you think, James?” Then I’d have to look unspiritual by saying that I feel no desire or compulsion to witness.
I may just be projecting, and my fears may be groundless. I’ll see what happens, and I’ll share what happens, since I’ll be blogging about each session that I attend. (I won’t be going into every detail, but just the parts that stood out to me.) But my problem with Bible study groups is that they work best when people are on the same page, in some manner. A reason that I don’t really fit into many of them is that I’m not on the same page, and the format of Bible study groups usually pressures people to be on the same page.