One of the writers that I’ve continued to learn from over the years as a person in ministry is Eugene Peterson. Listen to this insight from his book with Marva Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor:
“The ‘herbicides and pesticides’ that promised to revolutionize the work of spiritual leadership are rationalism and functionalism–the scholars in their attempt to clean up Scripture and the church management gurus in their attempts to clean up the church–which promised to banish ignorance and error in our biblical and theological thinking and to get rid of the inefficiency and waste in the way we conduct our community and institutional lives. We bought it, and they did, in fact, deliver on what they promised–made us far more knowledgeable about God and the Scriptures, made us efficient in the management of religion. But at a terrible cost: theology that is less and less interested in God-with-us; pastoral work that deals less and less with persons-in-relationship.” (Dawn, Marva & Eugene Peterson. The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000, p. 77.)
In this quotation, Eugene Peterson had just been talking about additives to the Christian life and to how we do church. In our reliance on “knowing things” (rationalism) and “making things work” (functionalism), we end up with a “things” orientation rather than a God- and people-orientation. There is a kind of “knowing” and “working” that is not rooted in communion with God or community with fellow followers of Jesus. It may “work”, but it’s not very fruitful. It is as subtle as it is diverting.