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Q&a With Rich Nathan

Q&a With Rich Nathan

In the late 20th century, as America grew more pluralistic and continually more secular, the majority of the Western church either retreated into their sanctuaries, throwing stones out at those who didn’t measure up to their biblical standards, or found their religion extraneous as they compromised their faith in order to involve themselves in seemingly good social programs. Unfortunately, neither had the power to change lives or to really offer truth to the hurting and disenfranchised. Now, as we move into the 21st century, the result is that the church is largely seen as either ridiculously full of hate and hypocrisy or tragically irrelevant.

It was against this backdrop that Rich Nathan wrote his book: Who Is My Enemy: Welcoming People the Church Rejects. A statement of inclusion and grace, Nathan’s book engenders a more biblically balanced approach to relating to and evangelizing to those that have traditionally fallen into the church’s category of “enemy.” The senior pastor of the Vineyard Church of Columbus in Columbus, Ohio, and a former law professor, Nathan uses his background as a jumping off point to look at the issues with both a lawyer’s eye and a pastor’s heart.

[RELEVANTmagazine]: What prompted you to write Who Is My Enemy?

[Rich Nathan]: I think that as I look out on the church in America, churches seem to fall into two different camps: one camp is the sort of welcoming camp. Typically, they’re called liberal churches or mainline churches, and there seems to be a real vacuum of willingness to judge any behavior there, with no ties to Scripture or any concern about whether something is scriptural. And then the other camp is made up of those who proclaim biblical morality, but it’s done in a way that’s so off-putting that lots of people just believe there’s nothing for them in the church. Especially those on the cultural left. The postmoderns, gays, women (especially those with feminist agendas) are just excluded. So, what I’m trying to do is build bridges. How do you hold on to Scripture and yet open your arms as wide as the arms of God?

[RM]: You speak of a sort of polarization between the liberal camp of Christianity and the fundamentalist camp. In your book, your views seem to careen somewhere between views that could be considered fundamentalist, and then, at the same time, views that could be perceived as more liberal…

[RN]: Well, I don’t think that the Bible can be pigeonholed. I don’t think that lots of biblical counsel can be labeled. When Jesus said, “Go and sin no more” to the woman caught in adultery … is that fundamentalist? You know … when he says, “Neither do I condemn you” … is that liberal? When Jesus talks about hell, he sounds like a hellfire and brimstone preacher, and yet when Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners … he seems like the most tolerant individual in the world. So … I think that’s the way we’re supposed to sound. I’m just trying to reflect as best I can what I see in Scripture and how the Holy Spirit is leading me to apply Scripture to today’s culture.

[RM]: In your book you were very careful, even during, maybe, the more academic parts of the discussion, to make sure that there were always feet to what you were saying. Maybe not purely pragmatic, but at some point it seemed that you favored an approach that was …

[RN]: I wanted the book to be brought down to earth so that we’re not just talking about issues and theories. Our faith needs to be incarnated … it needs to be put into flesh, just like God was made flesh. Something that stays up in the air is not Christianity. It’s really Gnosticism. Gnosticism had a dualism to it. It had the upper story, and then what we did down here on earth. Christianity is not in any way dualistic, Christianity is a faith that really works. So, if I’m going to talk about an issue like Feminism or how the church relates to homosexuals, it’s not sufficient to just talk about it theoretically. It’s got to be, “Well, what does that look like?” How does it manifest itself in the life of a Christian?

[RM]: This is, overall, a vision of Christianity that seems vastly different than the one portrayed in secular media…

[RN]: I think that the approach that the church has historically taken is to say, “Listen to my views of things … what I’m telling you is true even though nothing in my life bears witness to the truth.” I think that’s incredibly off-putting and it’s not biblical. What I’m trying to say is, “Hey guys, this book comes out of my life and the life of the church that I pastor.” So, all the examples [in the book] are from our church, everything is what we’re trying to do in Columbus.

[RM]: One more question: Any advice for the next generation of disciples?

[RN]: Well, I think that the major way that we follow Jesus is by actually “doing Christianity,” not talking about it. For anyone who wants to grow as a Christian, you’ve got to take risks. Most people don’t put themselves at risk enough. We may have lots of thoughts about lots of things, but never put ourselves at risk. You can’t experience the Kingdom of God unless you’re out there. Unless you’re actually handing food to someone who’s homeless and you’re uncomfortable in that situation, unless you’re actually on a short-term mission around people who are different than you, unless you’re actually trying to hear from God in putting your hand on a sick person and praying for their healing, you just can’t theoretically have all the right ideas and call yourself a follower of Jesus. You’ve got to actually put yourself in uncomfortable positions and then the kingdom comes…




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