Editor's note: This is the second of two parts of Gary's interview with Sharad Yadav (pictured above with his wife, Evelyne), teaching pastor at Bread & Wine, a church in Portland, OR near Humble Beast HQ. Catch the first part of the interview here.
G: So, with so many Christians’ primary focus on getting butts in pews, how do we intentionally love on those who won't step foot in a church building?
S: I would say that most churches are aiming much higher than butts in pews. Generally speaking, I don't think any church is saying, "please don't live a life of fervent worship, service, and evangelism – just sit back and enjoy!" And many of the larger churches in the area have the most vibrant ministries to the poor. I would agree that the time and money spent on pleasing worshipers as consumers, the knee-jerk rejection of the church's history and tradition and subsequent splashing around in the theological kiddie pool all make for unwittingly immature communities. But to the degree that this is true of churches, it is true of the wider culture and it is more cultural captivity than reckless abandonment. And it’s as true of "missional" churches with house communities as it is of "attractional" churches gathered in large spaces. The challenge is for Christians to actually have the mental, emotional, and spiritual space in their hearts to want to love and serve other people who would never step foot into a church building (or the living room of your home group; or any intentional religious association). And the only way to make room is by first personally receiving the love that clears out our guilt, anxiety, fear, false loves, dependencies, addictions, and distractions that make us live in defensive survival mode. The only way to receive it is by taking hold of the gift of salvation in Jesus, which we grasp through word, prayer, sacrament, and the disciplines which open our hearts to those things (contemplation, solitude, fasting, feasting, etc.). And the only way for individuals to learn and grow in these practices that nurture faith is in Christian communities that invite people into that ancient way without trying to control them.
G: Well said! Would you mind expounding on what it means to "take hold of the gift of salvation" for anyone who may not understand how to do that, or the implications of doing so?
S: Yeah, I guess that phrase might not mean the same thing to everyone. Salvation is a term used in some Christian circles to mean the rescue of their immaterial souls from hell into a heavenly paradise after death. That is a somewhat foreign emphasis to the Bible. Salvation in the Bible has to do with the restoration of human beings from our hiding, turmoil, strife, futility, self-defeat, and self-destruction that inevitably comes from all our attempts to make life on earth the way it should be in our own way and by our own power. It is a restoration to a fullness of those things locked inside human experience–truth, goodness, beauty–which we only glimpse now and again in fleeting moments of peace, joy, sacrifice and love. That fullness which we experience is called God. Experiencing it is experiencing Him. That fullness is revealed in the human life of Jesus, who models it and then offers it to us. The way He offers it to us is in the death of Jesus, in which God takes upon himself all of the shame, guilt, hatred, anger, misunderstanding and chaos of our lives upon himself. In his death he offers total acceptance and love in the face of complete knowledge and intimate experience of our brokenness. And in the resurrection of Jesus he offers the beginning of new selves that are the beginning of a new world where shame and guilt don't control us, violence and power can't bully us, and we live under the power of God's love and acceptance. Death has ended and been swallowed up in life. Instead of being driven by desires to fix the world and satisfy our desires by using the world and other people, we now look to God for that satisfaction and are finally free to love the world and other people without expecting anything in return. Through our broken past and broken bodies, we radiate deeds of love and mercy which beam from broken hearts that are being healed until the day when all will be restored by Jesus. And all of this is a gift. To be received, it requires nothing but the trust which looks to Christ and says, "Yes." If that faith is receiving the gift, the practices of prayer, contemplation, solitude, silence, etc are ways of opening it, taking it out of the box, playing with it and delighting in it.
G: Thank you so much, Sharad, for your insights on the gospel, community, and Scrooge McDuck. Finally, are there any resources you recommend for anybody looking to dig deeper into any of this?
S: Thanks for asking me! It's been a pleasure getting to know you better online over the last few months (which sounds more scandalous than it is). There are so many books that I count as friends, I'm not sure how to choose–NT Wright's "Simply Christian" is fantastic (as his follow-up on Christian discipleship called "After You Believe"). Henri Nouwen is peerless in his description of the spiritual journey. Authors who discuss the rationality of believing in God are legion as well, but I have particularly enjoyed Edward Feser, David Bentley Hart, John Haught and Keith Ward.
Sharad Yadav is the teaching elder at Bread & Wine Church in Portland, OR. Visit their website at BreadandWine.org