The 2008 American Religious Affiliation Survey made headlines (and the cover of Newsweek) with the announcement that the single fastest-growing category of American religious life is “no affiliation.” In less than twenty years, the percentage of people who listed “none” as their faith identity nearly doubled, from 8% to 15%. This category has grown so quickly that it now outnumbers all but two Christian denominations. The percentage of people who call themselves Christian has dropped 11% in the same period. Meanwhile, affiliation with virtually every major Christian denomination plunged. The “nones” appear to be beating the “nuns,” noted author Stephen Prothero, although he demurred somewhat from the conclusions generally drawn from the survey.
A recent Pew survey found that about half of all American adults have changed religious affiliation in their lifetime, and that most people who change religions leave their childhood faith before they are 24. Cathy Grossman writes that the Bible Belt is becoming less Baptist; the rust belt is becoming less Catholic.
Pollsters and social scientists continue to argue about the best way to measure church attendance. But the REVEAL report from Willow Creek Community Church indicates that even people who are attending church more may be benefitting less. The study, which has now involved many thousand respondents from diverse churches, has found that around 1 in 4 people are either stalled out on their spiritual growth or dissatisfied with the church. The finding that has spurred the most conversation is that at a certain point in spiritual development, increased involvement in church activities ceases to predict an increase in spiritual growth. This has challenged a long-held but unspoken assumption that we can grow people up spiritually by having them attend more church programs. If that turns out to be untrue, what’s Plan B?
Books from those written by the New Atheists to So you Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore[i] are tapping into impatience with institutionalized religion. The movie critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, when asked recently what kind of movie would not get re-made in our day, pointed to “Going My Way”—a 1940s Bing Crosby vehicle about two parish priests—because it was set against the backdrop of a generally recognized civic faith that can no longer be assumed.
All of which points to a fundamental question for church leaders. It is not a question about branding, or relevance, or style, or traditionalism, or architecture, or leadership models, or cultural awareness.
The question is: are churches producing excellent people? Do sincere people of good intent look at churches and say—‘that’s where I’d like to go to learn how to live’?
Are people receiving a robust faith in a way that shapes them? Are there being created what Dallas Willard[ii] called “schools of life,” where people are regularly learning to interact with a present spiritual reality that nourishes the soul? Are pastors and seminary faculty and thought leaders talking about what such people would look like? Is there clarity about what aids in their formation? Is it possible to gauge effectiveness of such attempts?
Theologian Ellen Charry notes that writers of classical texts of Christian theology from Athanasius to Augustine to Anselm to Aquinas “understood human happiness to be tied to virtuous character, which in turn comes from knowing God. Becoming an excellent person is predicated on enjoying God. For these theologians, beauty, truth and goodness—the foundation of human happiness—come from knowing and loving God and nowhere else.”[iii]
“Becoming an excellent person”, as Charry writes about it, is simply another way of speaking of sanctification, or of the redemption of the imago dei, or what Paul told the Galatians he was in the pains of childbirth over: “until Christ be formed in you.”
The concern of teachers of Christian doctrine historically was not simply informed learners, but re-formed learners. The goal was never simply to be able to parrot a formulation of divine sovereignty or scriptural authority. The goal was the growth of people who think noble and true thoughts, who experience worthy and deep desires, who engage in acts of moral beauty, because they are increasingly immersed in the reality of a God who is just such a Person.
They understood God’s aim throughout human history to be the creation of a redemptive community of such persons. It has always been the challenge of the church to think deeply and act effectively to be used by God as He forms such persons. But a number of indications suggest a new level of urgency.
An emerging generation
Authors David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons prompted widespread conversation with their book UNCHRISTIAN. In it they publish survey findings that a generation of 16-29 year olds outside the church associate Christianity with judgmentalism, hypocrisy, homophobia, insensitivity, and political extremism. To take one striking finding: 3% of those surveyed had a positive association with the word ‘evangelical.’ To what extent these associations are accurate is debatable. Their existence is not.
This means that a generation of young people is coming of age who are not simply unfamiliar with the church, they understand the church to be an institution that actually impedes the formation of truly excellent persons. They view it as part of the problem.
Added to this is a new developmental feature of life that makes it harder for the church to reach out to a new generation. Christian Smith is a sociologist at Notre Dame who specializes in adolescent faith development. He coined the phrase ‘moral therapeutic deism’ to describe the spirituality of many young people—‘I think God wants me to be nice; I turn to him when I feel broken and need comfort, but beyond that I don’t think much about Him or his claims on my life.’[iv]
Smith notes that church involvement has long declined when young people graduate from high school. A generation or two ago, this period last for five years or so, after which they married and had children—and there’s something about having children that prompts people to look for God.
But we live in a day of what is being called ‘emerging adulthood’; when financial independence and vocational clarity and marriage happen much later, if it all. The separation from church that used to last 5 years now lasts 12 to 15 years, which makes it increasingly unlikely that the return to church will ever happen at all.
Compared to people their same age in 1973 and 1985, emerging adults today are less likely to attend church, less likely to pray, less likely to identify themselves as people of faith, and less likely to believe the Bible is God’s Word. Scholars of faith development are using the image of a mysterious ‘black hole’ to describe the absence of young adults in the American church.
Furthermore, churches—like movies and music and fashion—are increasingly age-niched and narrow-casted. Young adults have fewer relationships with older believers who are likely to create for them a sense of being part of a community of faith.
Years ago when my wife led a ministry to twenty-somethings, I used to tease her that she could fill a room by teaching on just three subjects: sex, the end times, and will there be sex in the end times. But according to research findings a majority of emerging adults considers serial monogamy if not outright promiscuity entirely normal. They aren’t looking to the church for answers. And as Mark Noll has noted much of what certain branches of the church have said about the end times has short-circuited discussions about topics from justice in the Middle East to environmental concerns that emerging adults consider crucial.
An emerging psychology
For most of the twentieth century, the assumption has been that the best hope for true change lies with those who specialize in psychology. I got my doctorate in clinical psychology at Fuller Seminary from the first Christian-based program to be accredited by the American Psychological Association. But a funny thing happened on the way to the couch.
Easily the biggest trend in psychology over the past decade has been the rise of what is generally called ‘positive psychology.’ It has been spearheaded by former American Psychological Association President Martin Seligman—famous for his theory of depression as ‘learned helplessness.’ Seligman grew disenchanted with psychology’s obsession with pathology, and gave a celebrated address calling for the field to look at human behavior that have to do with strengths and flourishing rather than just aberrance.
The movement has become a flood. There is now a peer-reviewed, academic journal called The Journal of Happiness Studies. The most popular course at Harvard these days is a course on happiness, which has been turned into a book. You cannot go to the self-help section in any bookstore without being inundated by happiness (the late George Carlin said that when he asked the clerk where the self-help section was the clerk wouldn’t tell him because it would defeat the purpose.)
Serious academic psychologists are now asking the question “what does the well-lived life look like?” But this moves them beyond Skinner boxes and psychoanalysis (Freud famously said his goal was to help people move from the torments of psychopathology to everyday human misery; a standard which makes failure difficult.)
This movement offers great opportunities for the church. Christian philosopher Robert Roberts notes that what is really happening is that psychology is embracing the study of ethics. Psychologists are now speaking of entities like ‘signature virtues.’ And discussions of meaning and virtue always lead to discussion of the spirit. (Seligman himself writes of how as a scientist he always veered between the comfort of atheism and the uncertainty of agnosticsm, but finds himself now asking questions science alone has difficulty answering.) Interestingly, this branch of psychology literature quotes ancient Greek philosophers and Buddhist text more often than Christian sources, even though Christianity has clearly influenced western culture far more over the centuries.[v]
Knowledge—including knowledge of God—depends in part on the character of the knower.
During my psychology internship days a supervisor advised me on how to approach a psychopath in therapy. Never tell him that you’re here to help him. A psychopath is incapable of altruism, and therefore incapable of perceiving altruism in others. If you tell him you’re here to help him, he will not believe, and will search for your ‘real’ motive. Better to tell him that if he cooperates you will get paid; then there will be enough trust to move forward.
In other words, there is an indissoluble connection between character and the ability to perceive. A narcissistic pastor may have memorized every one from Polycarp to Pannenberg; he will still present a God who is a cosmic narcissist, because his mind is not capable of understanding God any better.
Knowing God is not something we can do ‘by doctrine alone,’ apart from our lives. Our lives and characters will shape what we really think the doctrines mean.
Of course, no one understood this better than Jesus. That is why he said things like, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
This is an opportunity to speak to basic questions about what is a good life, and who is a good person, and how do good persons get formed. But it will require a wisdom and depth that contemporary churches have not always shown. Richard Lovelace noted that for many centuries, spiritual writers discussed the human condition with a deep understanding of our complexity and ambiguity. They understood that much of sin lay beneath our conscious control. But somewhere around the Victorian era much of the language of the church became superficial and moralistic. Divorced people are bad; married people are good; the ‘world’ became equated with ‘people who don’t go to church’ rather than the spiritual opposition to God that runs through each one of us. A large part of why people turned so quickly to the writings of Freud was that here at last was a language that offered depth and nuance to describe the human condition.
Through the history of the church great writers of the soul offered deeply textured probing—think of Teresa of Avila in INTERIOR CASTLES. The church has a great advantage—we are able to speak the language of sin and moral agency without which human life is never adequately named. But we will have to do it with greater accuracy and granularity than we have shown in a long time.
An emerging plurality
Peter Berger notes that what sociologists once called the secularization theory—the notion that modernity would bring about the end of religion and spirituality—has largely been discarded by sociologists.[vi] Around the world, religious faiths are more vigorous than ever, with the exception of Europe and certain parts of what might be thought of as a global intellectual elite.
It is not true, he says, that modernity secularizes. But what is true is that modernity pluralizes. It creates options. People perceive themselves as having choices where once they took a commitment as a matter of course. Even when they do commit to a faith, they still view themselves as having a potential exit strategy in a way unknown previously. People will say, Berger notes, that they are ‘into’ Catholicism. The language implies choice. If I’m into Catholicism today, I might be into Russian Orthodoxy or Shintoism tomorrow.
This does not mean faith has to be unstable. In some ways, it is a return to a ‘marketplace of religions’ much more similar to first century Mediterranean culture than the age of Christendom was. A faith deliberately chosen is more binding than a faith thrust upon one.
But it does mean churches must become much more intentional about how we communicate and educate people into faith. There are many items on the menu now. And people do comparison shopping. A seeking friend a striking question recently: “Isn’t Christianity kind of like Buddhism for lazy people?” I’d never heard it described that way, and was intrigued by the description
He explained—having grown up in the church himself—that his understanding of Christianity boiled down to this the claim that you can get into heaven as long as you believe the right things about Jesus’ death and resurrection. You don’t have do anything to get the primary benefit. In Buddhism, on the other hand, if you want to experience enlightenment you will have to actually work toward it. There is, he said, a greater ethic of personal responsibility there.
In a similar vein, a publisher said that the reason books on Eastern religions often outsell Christian books (at least in bookstores that are not explicitly ‘Christian’) is that they are religions of ‘practices’, where as Christianity is a faith of beliefs. I wondered what Jesus would make of the notion that he did not offer a way that involves ‘practices.’
An emerging confusion
Another indicator of the pressing need for spiritually formative instruction in the church is confusion within the church itself. A recent study by the Barna group indicated that by and large even people inside the church do not know what spiritual formation consists of. Half of church attenders could not even come up with a guess of what their pastor or church defined spiritual growth. A top candidate was ‘trying hard to follow the rules in the Bible.’ The great passages of Colossians 3 or Ephesians 4; or the fruit of the Spirit, were sighted rarely or not at all. People noted a lack of motivation or being distracted as their main barrier. And they also said they were pretty satisfied with their current level of spiritual growth. In other words, when it comes to spiritual maturity, people in the church did not know what spiritual growth was, they did not know what their church thought it was, and even if they knew they thought they had enough; and even if they didn’t they were motivated to look for more.
When the REVEAL study came out, some people interpreted it as an indictment of the kind of ministry associated with Willow Creek—that it was revealing a problem with doing seeker services, or contemporary music, or a lack of exegetical information. But this is a misunderstanding. REVEAL showed a much more pervasive problem, one that exists in ‘traditional’ churches as much as elsewhere. Simply getting people to attend more programs or classes as churches provide them is not bringing people in greater fullness of kingdom life. Information alone does not bring about the transformation of character. And the primary problem in most churches is not a lack of information. What we lack is a concrete, wise way of life through which deeply rooted habits and patterns can be lifted out and replaced by joyful aliveness to the presence of God.
Much of the confusion lies in the idea that it is possible for people to learn and even believe without actually being changed. It may well be that even church leaders are confused about the kind of belief that is to be aimed at.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it is to be carried out with a view to “initiating the hearer into the fullness of Christian life…” It is the ‘fullness of life’ part of belief that requires examination.
Michael Novak noted that we might think of three kinds of beliefs—what might be called public beliefs, private beliefs, and core beliefs.[vii]
Public beliefs are those that I want others to think I believe, whether I do or not. If someone close to me asks, “does this dress make my hips look too big?” the correct response is, “I didn’t even know you had hips.” These are public relations believes. This is Herod telling the wise men he wanted to worship Jesus when they found him.
Private beliefs are more subtle. These are beliefs I think that I hold, but when circumstances change they turn out to be fickle. Peter claims he will follow Jesus to his death. Was this belief sincere? Undoubtedly. Did it turn out to be true? No. It turns out to be surprisingly difficult to know what we really believe.
Core beliefs are my fundamental ideas about the way things are. They demonstrate themselves in what I do. I believe in gravity. I don’t have to conjure up conviction. I cannot violate this belief. It is my mental map of ‘how things are.’
Public beliefs are what people say they believe, private beliefs are what they think they believe; core beliefs are what they actually believe as demonstrated by what they do.
All too often churches aim merely at public and private beliefs. For example, a church attender will claim to believe in the authority of the Bible. He may be able to give many reasons for doing so. He is convinced of his sincerity.
However, when you look at his checkbook, he clearly does not believe it is ‘more blessed to give than to receive.’ When you look at his relationships, he clearly does not believe that ‘the greatest of these is love.’
The modern western model of education has involved pouring information from the teacher into the student. It aims at public and private beliefs, without taking seriously how the core beliefs of a human being get changed. When the church is at its best, it always aims at the level of core beliefs.
Rich Mouw[viii] is fond of quoting a sonnet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote in the early twentieth century that was eerily prescient…
Upon this age, that never speaks its mind,
This furtive age, this age endowed with power
To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar
Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find
What swims before his prow, what swirls behind —
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Falls from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric;
We have waked the moon with footsteps. We have been flooded with facts. Will there be a loom?
A Conversation with John Ortberg
Gary W. Moon: John, you have had a front row seat for observing a certain type of church “hospitality”—making the church more sensitive about removing unnecessary barriers to visitors. In your essay, however, it seems you have a vision for a different way for churches to be hospitable, to welcome (back) strangers—actually answering the real-life questions people are asking, becoming a “school of life,” a place where a person can come to learn how to live, how to become “the type of person his dog already thinks he is?” Am I reading you right, except for that dog part at the end?
John C. Ortberg: Actually, we have a young yellow lab that thinks I am far better than I am. We also have a prodigal cat that has been living with our daughter who may be returning to our home (sans the daughter, who is going to a cat-free apartment). Cats always think you’re their personal robot.
GWM: Yes, I believe that is right, and if there had been more cats around in Jesus’ day he very likely would have talked about separating the sheep from the cats—especially the Siamese.
JCO: So it may be that the best estimate of human life is somewhere between the cat view and the dog view. As a HypoReformed (as opposed to HyperReformed) friend of mine says, anyone who believes in total depravity can’t be all bad.
GWM: I believe this interview has already become sufficiently depraved. So…
JCO: Anyway, I love this definition of hospitality.
GWM: I was hoping we might get back to that.
JCO: Hospitality as making space for people that you don’t have to make space for. In this, God is the inventor and lead actor. Creation was God making space for little creatures who were not necessary. Moltman said that the first miracle of creation is that God—who fills up all things—had to withdraw Himself in order to create space for other creatures who have wills of their own to exercise their own dominion.
And even now God is exercising hospitality—“In my Father’s House are MANY mansions…I go to prepare a place for you.”
At the heart of the faith is the ultimate expression of God’s hospitable nature, expressed in the cross. We used to sing an old hymn that put it like this: “There’s room at the cross for you…though millions have come, there is still room for one.”
So I love the theme of hospitality as central to the community of faith. It’s needed in individuals as well as the church.
GWM: Agreed, John. We specifically chose the cover art for this issue of Conversations because of the space at the table in Rublev’s icon of the Trinity suggested hospitality, welcome.
And as a follow-up, John, I liked your reference to Ellen Charry’s observation that throughout the centuries becoming an excellent person is predicated on knowing, loving and enjoying God, or simply as another way of speaking of sanctification. How can churches do a better job of helping people on the pew to enter into a transforming friendship with the Trinity?
JCO: They can buy every book that Gary Moon has ever written, as well as becoming regular subscribers to Conversations.
GWM: I mean beside the obvious.
JCO: Well, beyond that, those of us who teach and preach have an obligation to regularly live up the vision of the redeemed life. I love this recent line of Dallas: “Your time is already in the pawn shop of lost souls.” Most of us live lives of such pressured mediocrity; we lack a vision for—not just what a redeemed life looks like—but for how it would elicit unforced desire if we ever truly understood it. Then I also think this is a day when there should be tremendous experimentation. Every age has its own particular pressures; ways it which it will try to ‘squeeze you into its mold.’ In our day, dynamics like busy-ness, stress, mobility, technology, globalism, media, and so on have created a context that demands new vehicles for a ‘way of life.’
GWM: Thank you, John. And I’d like to ask you to say more about two things you discuss in your essay that have rocked the Christian world. Let’s start with a question raised by the book UNCHRISTIAN where David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons present the raw numbers suggesting that a generation of young people is coming of age who, as you said it, are not simply unfamiliar with the church, but “they understand the church to be an institution that actually impedes the formation of truly excellent persons. They view it [the church] as part of the problem.” What do you think has played the biggest role in creating this impression?
JCO: I supposed the human race.
GWM: Can you be less specific?
JCO: No, but I could say that the human race—including the church—has an inevitable tendency toward drift. All movements seem to begin with very little power but with a compelling idea. In the beginning everything is about the beauty of the mission, and there is little concern for survival. Overtime as the institution grows; people become more concerned with its perpetuation than with what it was actually trying to accomplish.
We simply forget what the beauty of a transformed life looks like. WE become, as C. S. Lewis put it, ‘far too easily pleased.’ We accept litmus tests for who’s in and who is out. We adopt highly superficial and visible behavioral indicators for spirituality rather than a life that is transformed by having a truly well formed, re-formed core. We let ourselves off the hook. We exaggerate the differences between those of us inside the church and people outside the church. We don’t want to live in the pain of our own lack of transformation. We want to make ourselves feel better by pretending we are superior to people when that is not the case.
GWM: Yes, and if the church is very intentional to avoid doing so, it can fall into the seductive trap of presenting ways of avoiding ones personal cross—death to willfulness and ego self—as opposed to offering a vision for how the cross itself is actually the “Tree of Life.”
JCO: Yep, I think that is exactly right.
GWM: John, you reference the REVEAL Study. Thank you for pointing out that this study was not an indictment on any particular church, but rather, the church at large.
The finding that has spurred the most conversation is that at a certain point in spiritual development, increased involvement in church activities ceases to predict an increase in spiritual growth. As you said: “This has challenged a long-held but unspoken assumption that we can grow people up spiritually by having them attend more church programs. If that turns out to be untrue, what’s Plan B?”
So, what is your Plan B?
JCO: Probably the greatest dream that I have for our day (and I’m not sure who all will do this, but I’d love to be a part of it) is the discovery of a way of life through which people living in our world can actually grow toward greater transformation. When Jesus was alive, this involved physically following him around. After the ascension, the early church became a community whose way of life was radically different from the Greco-Roman world around it. There was no such thing as a nominal Christian, because the price paid was simply too high.
Then as Christianity grew more popular, it became easier to be a nominal Christian than a nominal pagan, and it happened by the millions. This is part of what led to the movement into the desert, where followers like Antony wanted a taste of that power that characterized Jesus and his disciples. Those communities became place of great spiritual experimentation and alternative ways to the general culture, though they often reinforced a kind of two-tiered picture for spirituality. But the rules of life brought great treasures of practical deep wisdom to human transformation.
More recently, AAs twelve steps is a kind of secularized picture of a way of life; not to mention Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.
I think this should be going on in spades in churches and schools and small groups and ministry communities all over the world. And we should talk with each other about how it is going.
GWM: In all seriousness, I do know this is very close to your heart and to the mission of the church where you serve and I’m delighted to see all that is happening there.
John, you reference that the Catechism of the Catholic Church states it is to be carried out with a view to “initiating the hearer into the fullness of Christian life…” If you were to create just one catechism-type question and answer to help pull a student into this fullness of life, how would you craft each?
JCO: “Who can best teach you how to live?” Answer: Only one, Jesus Christ, who is the master of Life as he was the Master of Death. He always has the best information on all things human. His wisdom has yet to know a serious rival. His guidance has yet to be bettered. He is present in each moment, and offers power as well as light. All humans learn how to live from someone; to learn from him is the great invitation of history.
GWM: Yes, I love that and also would love for the second question in your Catechism to be, “So now, how do I live my life in a constant and transforming conversation with Jesus?”
JCO: Are you going to write the answer to that one or are you thinking I will?
GWM: You planted the Catechism notion. Plus the only person who reads what I write is my mother, so I’m thinking you.
Now, you mention in the essay that the concern of teachers of Christian doctrine historically was not simply informed learners, but re-formed learners. Is this the heart of it—the problem—drifting in the direction of information giving instead of a way to experience life in full?
JCO: I’m not sure that’s the HEART of it, but its certainly a problem. In our evangelical tradition, we have often lived under the illusion that the way to produce more mature people is to cram them full of more exegetical or biblical information. The illusion gets revealed by a simple question like: Have you ever known someone who had ten times more Biblical knowledge than the average person, but was not ten times more loving than the average person?” As Dallas Willard says, ‘the will is transformed by experience, not information.’
However, I don’t want to DISCOUNT the need for information. For most people in our culture, the biggest problem is not that they are receiving too much good spiritual or biblical information; they are getting their information from other and less reliable sources.
GWM: Thank you, John. You also discuss the church as often being content to focus on “sin” at the surface, versus tackling a deeper problem, something not under a person’s conscious control. Please say more about that definition of sin.
JCO: I will mention a fascinating book:
GWM: John, you are making me blush.
JCO: I was thinking of Addiction and Virtue. Much of this deals with the centrality of habits to human life. Habits are necessary to live; they are deeply rooted patterns of behavior that allow us to do critical tasks without having to think about them (driving, typing, hitting Moon-shot 300 yard drives). You are a collection of habits.
But sin has gotten into the habit-level. That is the great human tragedy. It brings blindness along with it. And it is impossible for us to root out by direct effort. It is a spiritual force of unexaggerable proportions.
GWM: And uprooting ingrained habits, creating new habits, requires intentionality, effort. Along these lines, you reference a friend who asked, “Isn’t Christianity kind of like Buddhism for lazy people?” This raises an interesting point, but how do you explain the effort aspects of formation without offending anyone wearing a Calvin College sweatshirt?
JCO: I would never try to avoid offending someone wearing a Calvin College sweatshirt.
On the other hand, if you simply look at the life of Jesus and his disciples, the notion that following him simply involves affirming correct statements stands as obviously ludicrous. To be a disciple meant to sign up for a life full of practices—study, prayer, serving, giving, traveling, fellowship, confessing, worship, and so on. The reality is that practice and an understanding of how reality works are always connected; the only question is whether or not we make that explicit.
GWM: Thank you. We are running out of time and space, so let me close this out by saying I loved the Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnet you used in closing. And I remember when you worked primarily with limericks.
Anyway, weaving “facts” into “fabric” is a beautiful summative image. For the church to be a place for people to find the path to “joyful aliveness to the presence of God” seems the most hospitable thing imaginable. So, in all transparency, do you see the church being able to offer this type of loom?
GWM: We are not that short on time and space.
JCO: Only Jesus can. And sometimes we get hints and glimpses. Sometimes it leaks through a kind word someone says. I did a funeral service for a man yesterday who was estranged from his neighbor for ten years. One day he heard a sermon on Matthew 18. He invited his neighbor over for dinner, and repented, and they were reconciled. In moments when someone repents, or gives, or serves, or rejoices, or encourages, or sacrifices—the fabric is woven once again.
GWM: Your reference to the movie “Going My Way,” reminds me that you are quite the movie buff. What are five classic movies—filmed before you became rich and famous—that have been the most formative for your soul? And don’t say the obvious choice, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
JCO: Shawshank Redemption
Citizen Kane (a great picture of the complexity of sin and human nature)
Singing in the Rain (for sheer joy)
A River Runs Through It (for the grace of it)
Chariots of Fire
A close sixth would be Milo and Uncle Otis—that isn’t a movie but there should be one with your Uncle Otis in it.
To hear a sermon by John Ortberg on Jesus, compassion and hospitality please click the play button.
[i] Still looking for sources? Really? By now you should have moved form milk to meat.
[ii] This and pretty much everything else in John’s article or anything else he ever said, wrote or thought about was said earlier and better by Dallas Willard.
[iii] You will find all the words for this quote in Webster’s Dictionary, just in a different order and further apart from each other.
[v] Hey, what do you think Google is for?
[vi] Ibid, too.
[vii] Lady Gaga
[viii] Quote originally found in an article titled, “Unlikely Partners”, by Justin Bieber and Martin Buber.
John Ortberg is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, California. He is passionate about spiritual formation and sees generosity as key remedy for materialism for so many stumbling believers. John’s teaching brings Scripture alive through practical application and warm humor. His education includes a master’s of divinity degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Fuller Seminary. He is the author of many books, including He is the author of many books, including God Is Closer Than You Think, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat and, most recently, When The Game Is Over, It All Goes Back In The Box. He is the husband of Nancy and father of three children.