Bill Whittle recently explained California. There is an unreality to how the “coastal elites,” as Whittle and Victor Davis Hanson and other California watchers have come to call them, live and see things. There is a tendency to blame it on the natural wonders of California, but I think it is deeper than that. California is built on a series of distorted economies. What do I mean when I say that?
The economies that grow up around products with rapidly growing and very inelastic demand are distorted. The chief example that everyone can relate to is medicine. It has an entirely inelastic demand, hence the ever escalating prices. But California, beginning with the gold rush, is built on a succession of booms that represent the phase in the development of a product where it is so novel that the growth curve is steep and the demand seemingly unquenchable. Many of the booms California was built on have matured to commodification, but when they do so, they move elsewhere because most Californians are busy chasing the next boom.
California has been settled in waves as people migrated this way to take advantage of the latest boom. Whether you and/or your ancestors came chasing gold or stardom, or in the military in war time, or as in my case to ride the first waves of the tech boom, California has been settled by people playing a high risk/high reward game. But like people that win the lottery, the enormous wealth gained from booms is largely unearned – as much a matter of good fortune as business acumen. That is where the unreality in worldview comes from. Most Californians of means made their money in a huge pile in a short period of time – they do not earn it in moderate amounts, saving with discipline and seeking constant but minor improvement.
There is a lesson in this for how we do evangelism and build churches.
In my lifetime the foremost theological emphasis in Protestantism has been on grace and the unearned nature of our salvation. The intention has been to make people feel loved unconditionally. The theological truth of the unearned nature of salvation is undeniable and the goal to make people feel loved is a good one. But in that emphasis I cannot help but think that we have distorted the Christian “economy.”
Ministries seem to run in boom-and-bust cycles. Some ministry, or church, is “hot” and everybody jumps on board then the next big thing comes along and suddenly the last big thing is a big nothing. People love going to church and their “felt needs” are described as being met, but where is the maturity? Where is the personal growth? Where is the church that is called not just to save people individually, but to save and change the world?
And even individually I know far, far too many people that jumped into faith with both feet only to burn out and settle for Sunday morning pew sitting – and little else. Oh the rush and boom of that initial religious experience is to be savored and enjoyed, but then what? I also know many people that chase that rush and boom over and over again rather than taking the next step. Like Californians content with the large pile they have accumulated, we become strangely content and in that contentment we lose sight of the realities of life. We fail to mature, which is a good description of California politics.
Christian maturity is not in the rush and the boom – it is in the minor improvements and the discipline. We must do more than call people to the rush and the boom; we must call them to and encourage them in the minor improvement and the discipline. Otherwise, I cannot help but think that the church is headed in the same direction as California. That is not somewhere I want to go.