Some people settle for the bare minimum. Whether it is in our work, educational commitments, or even our faith, we look for the easiest path or the path with the least resistance. A problem I have observed in some who claim to follow Jesus is a minimalist attitude. People want to do the bare minimum to be considered right with God and nothing more. I am not suggesting that salvation results from human effort.
I affirm with a longstanding tradition that justification is by grace through faith in Jesus alone. I reject any notion of Pelagianism or Semi-Peligianism, which might surprise some of my readers since I come from an Arminian theological tradition. My readers should know that James Arminius was neither a Peligian or Semi-Pelegian.
I am deeply concerned, though, about the rise of minimalism in biblical spirituality within the church in America.
Here’s what I mean when I refer to minimalism in the Christian church. People have been led to believe that if they simply pray the sinner’s prayer, attend church, or if they are “basically good” they are Christians on their way to heaven. This has led many to be content being “babes in Christ” and never “moving on to maturity”. An even greater concern is that minimalism has contributed to a false sense of security.
At least two depictions of minimalism are observed in the context of the local church: a consumerist attitude and a refusal to engage with theology.
A Consumeristic Attitude
I have written before about Christian consumerism in the context of the 2020 pandemic. Many professing followers of Jesus are content with consuming Christian content without doing anything with their faith outside of Sunday. These believers might attend worship services faithfully yet never open their bibles or pray outside of church. One might attend a Beth Moore study group for years yet never make her own disciple or lead her own group of disciples.
The congregation I served at that time decided to continue publishing recorded services even after we were able to return to in person gatherings. We made this choice for two reasons: to minister to our shut-ins and expand our evangelistic reach. I am concerned ,though, that some people are far too content watching a worship service. A church is an actual gathered community of Jesus followers. When the community does not gather can it still be considered a church in a biblical, theological, and ontological sense? I don’t think so.
Christian consumerism is depicted in various ways. We cannot miss the connection between it and a minimalist attitude. It is a great thing that many families are enjoying worship services from the comfort of their homes. At the same time, some have wrongly concluded that watching the service video is all that is expected of them. Never mind personal and family worship, missional living, intentional outreach, or intercessory prayer for fellow believers. A minimalistic attitude fuels Christian consumerism. I fear that Christian consumerism has increased during the pandemic.
Consumerism and minimalism are related. Minimalism is also evidenced in a rejection of theological reflection.
Minimalism and Theological Reflection
I first studied theology at Welch College. During those early days of Dr. Hester’s systematic theology or Christian Philosophy courses I just wanted to get to the “practical” concern of ministry. Who cares about the ontological properties of a table? I actually viewed theological studies as a waste of my time during those early undergraduate years.
Eventually God led me to repent and reframe my understanding of the value of serious theological, philosophical, and hermeneutical engagement. I am grateful the Father’s work of grace in me has produced a greater desire to know God by engaging my total personality.
I was raised in North Alabama. I came to Christ through the faithfulness of my local church. I appreciate the biblical foundation I received as a result of my environment during my early teen years. I do not look down on my family nor the many people who had a definite role in forming me into the person I am today. I actually think we can all learn from the simplicity of my rural upbringings.
Even so, somewhere along the way I began to adopt a minimalistic attitude toward theology. Prior to my enrollment at Welch, tehology was almost viewed like a curse word.
That experience is not uncommon among small churches. What gets considered as “good preaching” is not always preaching based on careful exegesis and in-depth reflection on things like hermeneuctics, textual criticisim, and issues of canonicity. Sadly, what is considered “good preaching” is based on the emotions and charismatic ability to communicate with people.
People want a sermon that will just “bless them”. People would rather be entertained in a worship service and settle for the minimum rather than going deeper into the things of God. I do not say these things as an indictment against my congregation or any others in the theological tradition I am privileged to serve. My intention is to point out that most people settle for surface level preaching and doctrinal engagement. That follows from a minimalistic attitude. God is calling us to more, brothers and sisters. That has implications on the ways we serve in ministry as well as how we live out our own faith.