Archive for the ‘Christianity Today’ Category

ImageOffended by this picture?  Put God and money in the same headline, and you’ll get unwanted attention.  Of course, a chrome-domed financial guru like David Ramsey can take little flack.  Gurus like him assume a fundamental axiom: one’s habits/choices determine one’s financial well being.  Recently, Ramsey posted a list (not of his own making) of the habits of the poor versus the habits of the wealthy.

In reaction, a trio of Bloggers from Her.meneutics (Caryn Rivadeneira, Rachel Marie Stone, and Marlena Graves) denounced his list.  They implied that the list showed a contempt for the poor, did not apply to the third world, and rightly said that it is not easy (and maybe not possible) for the 1st world poor to follow the “rich” people habits.

Rachel Held Evans hit the nail on the head when she wrote:

One need not be a student of logic to observe that Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.

Overall, the fair criticism raised important questions.  Marlena Graves acknowledged in her twitter feed that Ramsey helped people.  RHE did the same in her article.  By far, the best point made was that correlation does not imply causation.  What does mean?  It means that the first time you read that list, you might think that regular gym time will help you get rich.  But what if it’s the other way around?  What if it’s your 85k a year job that provides a nice gym? It’s the one of the building’s first floor.  The one you go to before you commute home elsewhere in Silicon Valley. Also, Marlena Graves is right that many of these habits will simply be impractical for the bus-riding, two-job working, members of society to follow.  Who can encourage their kids to read or volunteer if both parents are working 60+ hours in a week?  What is the point of networking when you have no skills?

But were these strong words as constructive as they could have been?  It’s true that nothing in this list applies outside of the first world.  But was it supposed to?  Ramsey’s niche audience in evangelicalism is the American Middle class.  He can’t be faulted for speaking primarily to their context.  Does the list show contempt for the poor?  Yes, someone who does show contempt for the poor can think these things.  But does everyone who think these things show contempt for the poor?  Finally, it’s a low blow to call Ramsey’s message part of the prosperity Gospel.  I’ll believe that Ramsey is one of them when he says that Jesus’ disciples were rich, sprinkles gold gust from his pulpit, or similar tripe.

Is Dave Ramsey’s fundamental axiom totally wrong?  I worked as teacher’s aide to an “at risk” community.  One day, I learned that many vocational programs at the school were cut.  This cut had a noble intention (“get them all to college!”), but it had the practical effect of denying those students opportunities that were available to their middle class counterparts.  So yes, there are plenty of when outside forces keep the poor, poor, in America.  At the same time (and there’s no delicate way to put this), I listened to 15-17 year old girls talk casually, candidly, and even enthusiastically about how they planned to have a baby -while still in their teens.  Can anyone really deny that this is a poor choice that is indicative of a poor lifestyle?

The most constructive approach is not to attack perceived contempt of the poor.  Neither is it to opine that such a list applies only first worlders.  It certainly is not helpful to hyperbolicly group Ramsey in with people like this:

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Did you budget for those shoes, or is that on your credit card? Stupid Tax! Stupid Tax!

The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to take the best of criticism from RHE and her.menuetics.  We should realize that correlation does not imply causation.  The habits can either help get your rich, or are things you can do when you’re already rich.  Second, take the criticism that some of these are going to be harder to do when your poor *and* that many of these can be done regardless of your net worth.

If we can find habits that people can do regardless of their net worth, than those are quite possibly the ones that should be endorsed.  I won’t go through them all, but here’s a few openers for everyone’s thoughts:

Habit 1: 1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.

If we define “junk food” as sugary snacks, pre-packaged chips, and anything loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, than this is something that does not depend on your net worth.  No matter where you live, you can pass on soda and snickers.  Gambling is very much something that is anyone’s control.   Casinos are designed to separate fools from their money, regardless of the skill or talent of the fool (yes, I realize that poker and other games are exceptions, but these are exceptions); thus it is obvious that avoiding gambling will more likely bring financial success.

Habit 5: 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of poor.

Does anyone think you must be financially successful before you can make a to-do list?

Habit 13: 67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.

In the her.menutics article, TV was almost lauded as one of the few leisure’s of the poor, which is maybe why they can’t not watch a week long Honey Boo Boo marathon or other poverty porn.  I strongly disagree with this.

The list will go on.  Go ahead and read it and ask: which habits can you do, no matter how much money you have in the bank?

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Mark Galli at Christianity Today has posted a nice article on the need for “Chaplain” rather “Catalytic” pastors in the church. He cited a study on church growth which praised the Catalytic pastors for their charisma and bringing in new converts. Chaplains are not so good, because they focus on “healing souls” and do not grow a church numerically.

If you feel this is backwards, then you will enjoy the article.

It has been years since I spent time with future youth ministers and pastors (many are just regular ‘pastors’ now), but I remember there was an old saying among evangelicals: “I’d rather have a small ‘on fire for God’ church, than a large lukewarm one.” What people meant by that is that they did not want to be involved in a church that measured everything in numbers.

The mega-churches love big. Whatever gets more people in the door, is the right thing to do. This is why Easter Sunday is “leveraged” to get more members. What if the demand for “growth” overshadows a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ? Also, Isn’t a little weird for a leader of a megachurch to use words like “advertise” and “promote”? Mega-churches are primarily concerned about numbers. The pastors act like the ad-men.

What happens when churches grow? Most people think that it is a good thing, but it has dark side. Mega-churches over step their bounds as they get more attention at a national level. Why should a handful of “catalytic” leaders in Colorado Springs, Orange County, and Seattle speak for rest of us? Besides, when churches get that big, you have to wonder what really drives that growth. A professional advertiser says “millions of satisfied customers [so the product is good].” A catalyst pastor says, “Our church has thousands of members [so God is with us].” Is it the Holy Spirit that drives the growth, or a clever leader who has created a self-perpetuating system of social proof?

The ministers and pastors I appreciate the most aren’t catalyst pastors. Most of them lead small to mid-size churches and are fairly anonymous outside their congregations. Their typical duties are not leading a great new sermon series under a spotlight. Rather, you’ll find them officiating a baptism, or delivering a mercifully short, yet effective, sermon to remind Christians how to best be Christians. They likewise want to connect people to Jesus Christ, but do not see explosive numerical growth as a necessity. These are the chaplain pastors that seem to be getting poor reputation. Yet I find it much easier to work with -and trust- these anonymous pastors than any mega-church poster child.

What kind of pastor do you trust the most?

 

“Where ya gonna live?…The best thing you can do is buy a home. From an investment standpoint, from a tax standpoint, from a security standpoint, particularly you single guys…” -Mark Driscoll 18 Oct 2008

And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” -Luke 9:58 NASB

I have long hesitated to this blog. This is mostly because I try not be totally negative. It’s also because the podcast that motivates this blogs annoyed me. There was so much fail in it that I didn’t know where to start. Then again, I might just be being hissy. I digress a bit.

Anyway, it was very strange when Christianity Today included Mark Driscoll in their list of hipster, cutting edge, pastors. Every time I listen to the guy, he sounds like a stick-in-the-mud conservative. Nowhere was this more evident that his Biblical Man Sermon. This teaching starts with a few verses from proverbs, and then continues with practical advice for about an hour. This “Biblical” teaching is so deeply seated in cultural assumptions, self-help wisdom, and patron-saints of middle class that it raises the question: what does “Biblical” even mean?

When I ask that question, it is not for you to think it is a joke. This is serious. What do you think of when you attach the word “Biblical” to a term? What synonyms would you use? How do you define that adjective as you understand it? Maybe you would agree that it means something like “from the Bible” or maybe “in adherence to the Bible”? Whatever it means when said in the evangelical vernacular, I think we can all agree that it recognizes the Bible in some sense because of its very spelling.

In listening to this sermon, it is hard to understand how Driscoll can mean Biblical in that sense. Now, the sermon is not bad rhetorically. It is sprinkled with stimulating, engaging, questions. The problem is with the answers. The idea is that we need to set goals, and make plans to achieve those goals. We need to think about what lives we want in the future and “reverse engineer” it so that we will arrive. For instance, in planning our lives we must understand what is urgent and important. We must get the job and own the home. We must also make a list of appliances, furniture, and other such things that we will have in our home. In that home we must also be prepared to add equity and value to it so we can buy a bigger home, so as to make our wife and children happy. Sound good?

The problem with all of this is that it it is not “from the Bible.” The first chunk of advice seems to come from an amalgamation of books like Rich Dad Poor Dad, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and probably a dozen other books of the same genre. He even cited Stephan Covey at the end of the sermon, who by the way, is a Mormon! The other huge chunk are anecdotes of Driscoll’s own success. It probably does not count as bragging, but Mark Driscoll did not write an Epistle. So do not think this is biblical.

Now, understandably, some might think that I’m endorsing laziness, sloth, or perpetuated adolescence. You might be thinking, “so you don’t think setting goals is good? Do you believe that developing plans is bad? Setting yourself up to build wealth or provide for yourself and others is evil?” To all this I answer an emphatic, “no of course not.” I think a books like 7 Habits or Getting Things Done, are great reads. Rich Dad/Poor Dad gave me a lot to think about. Of course all these things are good, but they are not biblical.

So why bother writing this blog? Well, because it is important -for Christians- to know where their values come from because God might challenge them. Some of the things we hold as Biblical might not be so Biblical after all. Take the whole home-ownership issue. Does owning a home, building equity in the home, and buying a better home make you a Biblical man? Is it a necessary goal for the Biblical man? Well, interestingly enough I know lots of men in the Bible who had no homes. Most of the patriarchs were nomads, and Jesus as cited above, warned those who sought to follow him that “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Let’s not forget that he was born in a stable.)

It seems that Jesus is not a Biblical man. Furthermore, he seems to caution would-be disciples that if the follow him, they may not have homes either! I can imagine that many missionary families understand what this means. So what about the denizens of Seattle?

But maybe I am being harsh? It wasn’t as if Driscoll didn’t use some distinctive Christian topics in his sermon. Driscoll did, after all, talk about God as a gracious God. He also encouraged men to “walk with God” in this sermon. Yes he did. God is so gracious, that he might get you into the home of dreams (complete with white picket fence!). “Walking with God” means prayerfully setting up your plans. If you think this is hyperbole, listen to the sermon yourself.

It seems so blindingly obvious that the pervading culture, not an exegesis of scripture, is what is authoritative here. It leads to the bizarre conclusion in which Jesus wouldn’t live up to Driscoll’s standards. I am not the first blogger to notice this either. If hipster Christianity is the liberal-arts student, who smokes clove cigarettes while reading “the Imitation of Christ” at an indie coffee shop, than Mark Driscoll is the transparent poser wearing his high-school letterman jacket over a Radiohead t-shirt. According to Christianity Today, the Christian hipsters want a faith that distinguishable from the values of suburbs. They probably need to look outside of Mars Hill.

So what does the word “Biblical [man]” mean? As far as I can tell, it is nothing more than a synonym for “upright middle class [man]” or “socially and fiscally, conservative [man]” or maybe just simply “right.” It is nothing here than a staple phrase for the American Civic Religion. And you know what? Let’s go for it. I am not against the nuclear family, setting goals, or steadily building financial success. There’s nothing wrong with finding the right career and being nice to your neighbors. I wish that all guys reading this would pick up 7 Habits and all those other great books to enhance their relationships, careers, and share such guidance with others. We can all be on the suburban band wagon and our kids can play little league together.

But when we do, let’s drop the pretense. Let’s remember that the civic religion is nothing more than that. Let’s discard the illusions that it is “from the Bible” and remember it has but a thin connection to the Christian faith.

Thanks for reading, and your comments are always welcome here.

>Hello again, my fellow Christian Hipsters. Thanks everyone who responded to my previous post on this subject. You make me glad when you post comments. Today, I hope to continue this conversation on the important phenomena of Christian Hipsterism -whether you are at Mosaic, Mars Hill, or any other church.

I’m sure everyone already knows that this is not the first wave of “Christian Cool” or however you want to term it. Years ago, in the sixties and the seventies, there were people who also wanted to be hip, follow Jesus, and avoid the established Christian culture. They too, wanted a more authentic version of Christianity that did not simply mirror the culturally conservative, suburban, nuclear family, consumerist, American life-style.

They were called “Jesus People.”

Now, they Jesus People have cut their hair. They traded their sandals for dress shoes. They have beat their VW vans into SUVs. They now puchase the veggie-tales videos for their kids. They help run Calvary Chapel. The patronize the Christian book stores. They vote republican. In other words, they became the Christian establishment.

So if the previous generation of edgy, Christian cool, eventually another nominally Christian establishment, what will stop the current trend from becoming the same thing? It does not have to be. The mistakes of the past do not need to be repeated.

There is another important question for a good discussion. I can’t put it any words better than Brett McCraken himself. He wonders, have Christian hipsters simply traded one way of conforming to the world for another way of conforming to the world? This is a quote from the end of the Christainity Today Article:

Isn’t Christianity supposed to be distinguishable and set apart from the world? Christian hipsters are rebelling against a mainstream Christianity that they see as too indistinguishable from secular mainstream culture (i.e. consumerist, numbers-driven Fox News-watching, immigrant-hating, SUV-driving), but their corrective may not turn out much better. Some hipster Christianity is as indistinguishable from its secular hipster counterpart as yesterday’s megachurch Christianity was indistinguishable from secular soccer-mom suburbia.

Finally, he puts down an important challenge

The challenge for hipster Christians is to figure out what it means, in their cultural context, to put on a new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24). We are new creations, and the old has passed away (2 Cor 5:17). How does that mesh with the Pabst-guzzling, Parliament smoking nonchalant image that seems important to many hipsters?

So here are two questions everyone can answer in the comments:
1) How might the current trend in millennial Christian hipsterism, avoid the mistakes of the baby boomer Christian hipster-ism of the 60s and 70s? Specifically, how do we not simply turn into the next generation of SUV-driving suberbanites?
2) How can we be certain that we are really fulfilling Eph 4:24 and 2 Cor 5:17? How can be certain we are not simply conforming to the sub-cultural values of wider “hipsterisms”?

Thanks for reading… and for commenting!!

>Initially I wanted to write a blog about my reactions to the world of Christian Hipsterism. Of course, I have already gone down that bit of self-indulgence in a previous blog. While a blog is always at least a little bit self-indulgent, I’d rather spare my readers more boring stuff about me.

Instead, it would be better if I asked all of you for your thoughts on Christian Hipsterism. Part of being a Christian Hipster means that you were a “Cradle Evangelical,” which I never really was. For those of you who enjoy reading you can check out the Brett McCraken’s article at Christianity Today because it is pretty cool.

The article opens up with a fair description of what a Christian Hipster is. A Christian hipster is someone who was raised Evangelical from youth, desires to continue being a Christian, but wants to disassociate from the culture of Evangelicalism (including “Churchianity” if I may use the Internet Monk’s term). So if you were raised in this culture you are familiar with flannel graph Sunday school lessons, the obsession with left behindist end-times, republican-party Christianity, and people like Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the other crazy uncles of the Billy Graham generation. You were taught well “do not smoke drink or chew, or go with girls/guys who do.”

The Christian hipster either remembers these things as something happily outgrown or denounces them with strong anathemas. Chrisitan Hipsterism can then be defined negatively. By what it is not.

Positively defined, Christian Hipsterism is probably someone meeting at Mosiac West LA –a church I happily sojourned at for two years. A church like this embraces all the good things about the arts and entertainment. It assumes –even expects- that part of Christianity is an interest in creativity. It seeks to encourage Christians and even non Christians to deeply explore their talents and potential in music, dance, writing, visual arts and so on. This is not a crass form of evangelism. The arts are not meant to be advertisements for Jesus, but are rather a natural part of the Christian life.

Another token of Christian Hipsterism is a casual willingness to discuss the sex from the pulpit. Driscoll, (“the angry one”), delivered a podcast on the Song of Solomon. McCracken cited this sermon as token Christian hipsterism. The sermon, “the Dance of Mahanaim,” paints a picture of good sex, in which both the man and the women fulfill certain roles based on their partner’s psychological disposition and biology. I listened to this sermon myself. Even here Driscoll still had to apologize to his audience that the Bible contained sex. Nonetheless, it was an upfront discussion of a normally taboo subject.

A third pillar of Christian Hipsterism is an emphasis on concept of Social Justice. This is quite a nebulous concept, but it reflects a strong theological trend that wants to broaden the notion of the Gospel. The Gospel is not “go to heaven when you die when you accept Jesus.” The Gospel is not are mere acceptance of “salvation by grace alone.” The Gospel contains all these and so much more. The Gospel, as championed by Shane Clairborne, frees slaves, liberates the oppressed, and living a life of simplicity in face of consumerism. If the Kingdom of God is at hand, then the people of God will live according to new kind of life that resists and overturns systematic injustice in the world. Interestingly enough, this has a eschatological component, but that will be addressed another time.

There is also an interest, among the Christian hipsters, of recovering liturgy. This will also be another blog.

So, with no loss of irony, are you a Christian hipster? Are you not quite a Christian hipster? Are you to cool to be called a Christian hipster?

You might want to comment on the blog and re-post it.

>Christianity Today published an article on the case for young marriage. The author argues that in addition to teaching abstinence, Christianity needs to emphasize the virtues of marriage, specifically young marriage, to Christians. This is clearly a step in the right direction, but I have mixed reactions to the article.

For instance, the article cited that 80% of Christians have pre-marital sex. The author also admitted that “not all indulgers become miserable or marital train wrecks.” It’s nice of him to say so. There is however, an obvious implication here that is unaddressed in the article: of what value, then, is our abstinence culture? It seems that the promises of abstaining do not guarantee a good marriage and sex life later on. Likewise, pre-maritial sex does not curse one’s later marital unions. The high statistic (80%) seems to make the abstinence culture as much of a sham as Sarah Palin’s views on sex-education while bumbling to explain her pregnant 17-year old daughter. Maybe I’m harsh, but I know I can’t be the only one thinking, “the Emperor has no clothes.”

Nonetheless, the author advocates that teaching young people about what marriage is and what it is not. This, I think is a great idea. I have known many young marriages that have turned out beautifully, despite the economic and social hardships that he lists. Yes, getting married young, in many cases, is a still a good idea.

On the other hand, I am also old enough to have known more than a few divorced friends. This is not an issue to be taken lightly. One friend feels like he was simply “following a script” when he was married at 20. Another peer and his spouse where not emotionally or financially ready for the commitment -even despite the idea of marriage as formative institution. I could list a few more, but the examples need not be multiplied. The authors knows well that young marriage correlates with divorce. He is also right to point on that this is not a casual connection.

But in answering objections, I still have some questions -especially economics. The author is right that we have set a higher-than-realistic economic standard for both weddings and young marriages. I also think that he is right that helping young marriages economically is something that Christians ought to be doing. If more established people see new married couples in need of some kind assistance, providing that assistance should be the norm not the exception -if we truly believe it is as important as we claim.

However, I still don’t think that the economic concerns can be so easily overcome. The author writes from Texas, and the situation may be very different out there. I live in Los Angeles. Very, very, few people I think, are established enough to be married here by their early twenties. Putting off marriage to either establish oneself in your career or to pursue more education is, I think, I very smart decision for many people. This kind of thinking is further exacerbated by the economic outlook of my generation. Many of us know that government services like Medicare are not going to be there for us in the future. We are also keenly aware of the high cost of raising children. These are all legitimate concerns and are completely justifiable reasons to delay marriage.

Finally, there was something that the article did not address: that the divorce rate is slightly higher among evangelicals than it is in the general populace. It very likely the lack of teaching about marriage, which the author advocates, that causes this. The consequences of the present circumstance are dire however. I think many young Christians put off marriage because they see less value to it. Why push marriage on ourselves if our ideas about marriage came from the discontent unions of many of our parents, the divorces of our relatives, or even the divorces of our peers? I do not mean to denigrate the institution. I think marriage is a good thing. But if it is the intention of older Christians to inspire younger Christians to be married, then the older generation must understand that many of the young are disappointed with the institution and why.

>A recent article in Time, and another (and older) one in Christianity Today cited a growing trend of the new Calvinists in the United States. They’re interesting articles, so go ahead and read them whenever you get a chance. I thought, as this is a blog mostly about religion, that I should give a few cents worth of thoughts.

I am pretty far from Calvinism. Granted, I understand it a lot better now than when I was nineteen and stupid, but it is still not on my theological radar. My litany of objects can wait for some other time, as I am not really an “anti-Calvinist” as many Christians are.

There are few good things I should say anyway. I am actually not surprised, and think it is a good thing, that people are attracted to … doctrine. Such a word is just as scandalous as “religion” in many evangelical minds. It’s good to know that people are paying attention to the theological well, instead of scorning it as un-spiritual. Secondly, there seems to be a great sincerity in feelings one’s sinfulness and being truly amazed that God would save anybody. I think this is a nice check to a lot of the “touchy feely west coast evangelicalism” that is common in southern California. Finally, reformation theology poses a nice challenge to the dispies of the world.

Still though, I always cringe at the phrase “biblical.” I do not affirm the reformed doctrine that one can only believe what you read in scripture and nothing outside of it. This is sola scriptura in the “exclude all else” sense not in the “above all else” sense. Such a thing, I believe, leads to a bad hermeneutic as one must constantly search for where scripture speaks to some issue it was never meant to speak to. People eventually start proof-texting. Also, many of the “young reformed” are passionate about how they came to believe Calvinism via studying the Bible, and not by listening to Calvinist. Isn’t this alleged purity a little naïve? No one reads the Bible without assumptions, and if you’re guided by a charismatic Calvinist preacher chances are, you’ll start reading the Bible like a Calvinist. I’m still Wesleyan at the core myself.

In the larger picture though, I still think this is probably a good and expected thing. I feel that a lot 20-something Christians are dissatisfied with the evangelicalism handed down from the Jesus people generation. It is no surprise that something different attracts our attention, just by virtue of it being different. For some it’s Protestantism with a capital P. Others it’s the emergent church. Some may jump ship completely and go to the RCC or EO.

So I expect, at least for now, for Neo-Calvinism to grow into the next generation. Unless the rapture happens, of course.