Archive for the ‘church’ Category

The fourth bomb on why young people leave the church we now discuss.  According to Barna headline it is summed up in this sentence: Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.  The article expands to the following.

One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality.

Regular readers of this blog have seen the sexuality issue pop up several times.  For this post two things need to be parsed out: what is official view of the evangelical church, how is it simplistic (and harmful), and what ought we to do?

Simplistic testimonies: Out of Touch and Out of Date.

Evangelical theology is quite often folk theology.  This is not to say that it’s bad.  It is more a comment on how a message gets accepted and how it gets communicated.  You’ve seen it work if you have ever had someone “testify” to the goodness of God or their working in their life.  Evangelical theology is deeply rooted in the folk experiences of God’s winners.  That is, people who can tell us how great it is to live a holy life, all by the grace of God of course.

Exhibit A among “God’s Winners” is Mark Regnerus.  Several years ago, he argued for the case for young marriage.  In it he extolled the virtues of marrying young.  Naturally, he answered many of the objection such as economic insecurity, immaturity, and even a kind of romantic perfectionism.  He wisely admitted that it is unrealistic to expect people to wait.  Instead, he argues that our crisis with sexuality is really a misunderstanding of marriage.  Overall, he feels that inspiring young marriage (and helping people to get there) is the solution to our woes about sexuality.  Not surprisingly, Mark Regnerus married young.

Another issue, we can call it exhibit b for God’s winners, is he frequent testimonies and sharing on podcasts like boundless.org, such as this story about bachelor pastor who got married late in life.  In podcast 246, Steve DeWitt, talks about his lengthy time unmarried life up until age 44.  He shares his thoughts on loneliness, expectations on perhaps always being single, and a scatterings of relationships a long the way.  He remains one of God’s Winners because he remained pure.

Stories like this that help motivate the standard lines of the evangelical sexual ethic.  It can be summed in few sentences: virginity is how the unmarried stay holy.  Multiple partners will make used up.  Young men should not dishonor young women.  Young women should not dishonor themselves.  If you ‘burn with passion’ just get married young.  Marital sex is totally hot.  Look up these in any evangelical message board, any evangelical sermon, and you’ll see these memes repeated ad infintum.

Meanwhile, Tamar tempts Judah like its no big deal.

Meanwhile, Tamar tempts Judah like it’s no big deal.

Overly simplistic, harmful and marginalizing.

For the young Christians the party line creates familiar feeling.  It’s like a baby boomer telling you to “just get a job.” 

Why are these messages so completely out of touch?  Part of it is that the way church leaders dogmatically ignore bad consequences of the evangelical sexual ethic.  Feminist Jessica Valenti outlined some of the interesting lopsidedness of what she pejoratively calls “virginity fetishism.”  At purity balls, young women promise to keep their virginity intact.  Young men promise not to defile a young woman by ‘taking’  her virginity.  Does this not seem strange?  Is virginity only a quality that women have?  Why?  Such a strange emphasis on one gender is damaging.  I like to think that there is a bit more to being a ‘Godly woman’ than what doesn’t happen prior to marriage.  It is also seems to imply that women are not interested in or tempted by sex.  This is such an archaic, outdated notion that I face palm even typing it.

There are however more dramatic examples.  In one instance a kidnapped rape victim, Elizabeth Smart, endured sexual slavery at age fourteen.  She was rescued when her captors brought her out into public.  Why didn’t she just run away the first chance she got?  Elizabeth explained that rape victims struggle with a feeling of worthlessness and that this is made worse by conservative, abstinence only sex ed programs.

Some might say that this is an extreme example.  Indeed it is.  So consider the idea that virginity somehow helps single people prepare for a great marriage.  It is rare to find a Christian in their mid 20s who doesn’t know someone who wasn’t hurt by this myth.  It’s ugly result is a quick divorce to get out of a premature marriage.  One candid story, entitled “My Virignity Mistake” the author tells a story of an expensive marriage, a disappointing sex life, and a subsequent divorce.

She ends with a hopeful note:

Soon after our divorce, he got remarried to someone who suits him better than I ever could have. And years later, I can confirm that I am not that woman who has no interest in sex. I don’t quilt. I haven’t compiled a grocery list in bed in years, and I now know that sex can be amazing … with a bartender who only knows your first name, a pilot you meet on vacation in Costa Rica and yes, with the right guy – sex in a marriage can be beautiful. The key is to figure that out before you find yourself walking down an aisle in a dress that costs more than the family car (my mother has since reminded me). It isn’t the most important thing when it comes to love. But for me, I learned that sex is important enough not to wait. -Salon

As you can see by this quote, this description of sex doesn’t fit with the idea that multiple partners make a person feel used up like a piece of tape that looses its adhesive power.

Shut up and Listen

Many people will see the negative results here -a shamed rape victim, a young divorce, and a lopsided sexual dogma- and insist that these are the results of sin not the morality about sex.  Honestly, can such an attitude really reflect a thorough understanding of how “God’s losers” are experiencing sex?  Remember, part of the problem is that Evangelical sexual ethic is folk theology that’s not just proclaimed but created by the testimonies of folks like a 44 year old bachelor pastor.  I can see no justification to ignore or reinterpret stories of people who failed to get to meet the cut.  These problems are not the result of sin.  These problems are the result of an archaic, out-dated, lopsided, and completely out of touch sexual ideal.

The 80% of young Christians who are having sex anyway likely agree with this point.  If we keep beating the drum about virginity, abstinence, and the virtues of young marriage we expect more young people to leave out of sheer alienation.  If we trudge along with idealistic views of sexual purity, relationships, and dating we will lose the attention of young people who already know it isn’t working.  I can’t emphasize enough that we need to re-evaluate our sexual ethic in light of our contemporary context, rather than appealing to an imagined past or somewhat selective examination of scripture.

Let’s start by honoring young women.  You read that correctly.  The current sexual ethic is not not really helping any woman who feels used up after sex, or is feels guilty about wanting sex.  It bothers me that there are Christians out there who think that dating or marrying a non-virgin is either a taboo or a consolation prize.  We need to erase the virginal purity idea from our minds.  A women’s intrinsic worth as romantic partner no more depends on her not having had sex than a man’s not having viewed pornography.  By way of example, consider this.  Years ago, a friend once asked if she would be ‘used goods’ if she tried to date post-divorce.  I told her that any guy who would think that of her isn’t worth dating in the first place.  Why?  Most likely because he is not totally aware of his own failings when it comes to his sexuality.

More generally, we need to have a more candid two-sided dialogue, when it comes to sex.  You will notice that I did not talk about the famous passage in Corinthians.  Equally, I did not reference lesser known references to the unexpected sexuality of the old testament.  This because I find those conversations hard to start.  The impression I get from most Christian romance media and message-board discussions is that Evangelical zeitgeist is still mired in a very black and white, very dogmatic, way of thinking on this matter.  This is especially true for the organizations like boundless who speak just a bit too authoritatively about purity and romance.  We need to understand what the Bible actually says about sex, and I do mean all of the Bible, not just the verses that reinforce the folk theologies.

Fortunately, the attitude is changing.  Articles such as the ones of shared in this blog, this nice one at Internet Monk, and this wonderful documentary give me some confidence that other people’s stories will be heard.  I hope also that most of the young Christians in what Relevant calls the “secret sexual revolution” will have the confidence to be less secret about it.

Make no mistake: it’s not going to be enough to revise or re-articlate the old ethic about sex.  The current sexual ethic needs to be replaced.  If we expect to keep the coming generations, we need to get sexual ethic that makes sense.  We need to get one that works.  This will begin only when more and more young people become honest and candid with themselves.

God’s losers need to be heard.

This blog continues the perpetually prolonged discussion on why young people leave the church.  Now at last, we discuss the second hottest topic out of the original six at the Barna research.  Young people leave the church because it comes of as antagonistic towards science.  The Barna research expounds:

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

No one can hardly do this subject justice in one blog.  I hope then, to keep the comments brief and allow others to expand in comments.

Who is actually at fault here?

If Christianity is perceived as anti-science, than who is actually at fault here?  I mean this very seriously.  Is it entirely the dogmatic young earth creationists out there who give Christianity a bad name?  Or is the folks like Dawkins whose beliefs about science versus religion are equally dogmatic?

Consider the famous play Inherent the Wind.  The play dramatized the famous scopes monkey trial: a classic, early 20 century, courtroom case about evolution.  In the play, William Jennings Bryon is portrayed as religious fanatic who refused to read Darwin’s godless nonsense.  He ends the play in a kind of crazed mania.  However, during the actual trial, William Jennings Bryon is a bit more cool headed.  He did, in fact, read Darwin thoroughly.  The irony here is that the original court transcripts are available for anyone to read.

Another issue is the famous Galileo trial.  You will still find people on the internet who believe that the church thought the earth was flat, and that geocentric astronomy was written in the Bible.  This story is frequently told as if Galileo was the first person to look at the universe ‘rationally’ and his religious detractors were knuckle dragging barbarians.  This is not true.  The geocentric model was handed down to western civilization from Ptolemy -hardly a religious source- from the ancient world.  It was based largely on observation.  It tracked the motions of the sun, predicted eclipses, and it didn’t have to explain why “the earth moves even though it we don’t observe it.”  The Roman Catholic Church has long sense acknowledged that it was wrong to put Galileo on house arrest.  Furthermore, there were rational reasons to be skeptical of the heliocentric model.  The geocentric model has never been intrinsic to Christianity anyway.

I do think there are Christians who are anti-science.  However, I think that the perception that Church is anti-science isn’t not entirely the shoulders of Christians.  We can’t be held accountable for theatrical exaggerations or a simplified, anachronistic, text book telling of major scientific paradigm shifts.

Dropping it like it’s Hot

There is one point that Christians are at fault.  It’s one doctrine that needs to go away.  It’s called Young Earth Creationism.  I feel the need to be blunt on this one.  Young Earth Creationism -with its instance that the earth is less than ten thousand years old- has already been declared “embarrassing” by William Laine Craig.  That’s William Laine Craig, the conservative evangelical scholar at Biola University.  Some might say that we should “teach the controversy.”  It’s also true that Christians can disagree on this issue.  It this is true, now remember why young people leave.  They’re turned off by this entire debate.  Who is making the trouble then?   Consider that Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, was dis-invited from a home schooling convention because of “unchristian” behavior and rhetoric.

It is not that I think that Young Earth Creationism is bad for that reason only though.  I feel the dogma is riddled with holes and is ad hoc in responding to them.  It is a superficial interpretation of scripture promoted by sophistry and cute cartoons.  It is not that I simply think that YEC is the wrong.  It is that I feel it is so wrong it doesn’t even deserved to be discussed.  Is the church antagonistic towards science?  Not it is not.  So let’s kick YEC to the curb already!

Other Alternatives

There is at least one promising alternative to the (perceived) antagonistic attitude towards science.  Before going further, it needs to be clarified that this is not really about science itselfbut rather issues about the philosophy of science.  The former most high school students have a surface level grasp on.  The latter is not usually covered except by upper level college courses.  I guess what I am saying is, you’d have to be have a pretty exception home school program to hear about this one.

Consider the approach of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  The really simple version of is like this: given a fully, unguided, naturalistic evolution, why should we trust our senses and our minds to fully understand reality?  This is not a scientific question that can be answered in a scientific way.  Trustworthy senses and minds are an assumption of science.  However, we know that there are cave-dwelling creatures that never evolved eyes, thus they cannot perceive the reality of light.  What would make us so sure that we have the adequate senses to understand all of reality?

Plantinga’s lines of argument endorse something he calls Augustinian Science.  While this is a complicated subject in itself, the thrust of the argument is this: anytime you do science you assume certain things about reality.  For Christians, we should have no problem assuming that God exists.  This doesn’t mean that we should freely invoke God anytime a scientific problem comes up, but it does it mean that we can be more consistent when we trust our senses and our minds.

Is this a perfect solution?  Honestly, this isn’t even a complete presentation.  Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction.  If we want to keep the younger generation, than we can drop the whole “creation versus evolution” framework that young earth creationistism has set up.  Equally, we can avoid the “science versus religion” framework that atheists seem to pigeon hole us in.

Plantinga’s approach, in my opinion, satisfies both requirements.  It isn’t dogmatically tied to a particular interpretation of Genesis 1-11.  Furthermore, it reminds full-blown atheists that they have deep seated assumptions about science, reality, and what philosophers call metaphysics.  It deals with the whole faith versus science issue where the problem where the actual problem lies: philosophical assumptions about knowledge and reality.

Maybe we can give young people a bit more intellectual credit and assume that they can sort it out.

This short blog continues a series on the reasons why young people leave the church.  The emphasis for this series is to not to rehash out problems, but to find a solutions.

In the previous blog, we talked about a shallow experience of Christianity.  We talked about how the responses aren’t helping.  The evangelical church knows boredom is a problem.  They know that many people feel that Christianity is not relevant.  The response, over the last 30 years, has to been to create what Catholic libertarian Ann Bernhardt* calls “Super Fun Rock Band Church” as well as baptize sagely life coaching so that young Christians can have better careers/lives.

Rock bands and life coaching can be found outside the church.  Why do we need to stay in church to get it?

What any Church needs to do to retain young people is two things.  First, offer them something that cannot be found outside of the Christian faith.  Secondly, respond to the objection that the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough.  Coincidentally, these are the same thing.

Those of you from reformed traditions probably already have an idea of what the answer might be.  Chances are, you feel it looks like this:

Reformation Begins with the PulpitOkay, I am sure you weren’t thinking of Elvis, but you get the idea.  The perscription is this: if the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough, than we need more “Biblical preaching” or whatnot.  The sermon is the centerpiece of the service, and the minister is the man delivering the word of God to the congregation.  Let’s sing to the Lord for twenty minutes and then listen to a forty minute “conversation” since calling it a sermon isn’t hip anymore.  Does this work?

Maybe.

Looking at the pulpit is a good start.  But it is only a start.  There are at least two problems why concentrating on a minister and sermon aren’t enough.  The first is this: like it or not, the minister is a position of power and authority.

By power and authority I do not mean that he is specially anointed by God.  I mean that he speaks, persuades, and motivates a crowd (power), and is given his position through whatever process his church recognizes (authority).  It is very easy to find examples of individuals who persuade hundreds, even thousands, to believe that what they teach is divine and Biblical.  Yet their teachings are the result of proof-texting at best and outright lying at worst.  Their influence comes from the power of rhetoric, motivational speaking, and use of psychological forces.  Yet the lay-person in church is not truly equipped to understand the difference between the work of a clever speaker and the work of Holy Spirit through preaching.  I blame public eduction.

The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.

The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.

It’s natural to think “not my church” or “not my pastor.”  It is my sincere hope that this is the case.  However, even if a minister is perfectly benign, he still wields a fair amount of rhetorical power of a congregation.  Have you ever heard a pastor talk about how many people are going to a special event?  Or how many people were baptized on an Easter Sunday?  These are both examples of social proof, and it’s a damn powerful psychological (but not spiritual) force.  If the sermon is central, than the pastor is bit elevated above his congregation (often literally).  At best, he is a great lecturer of correct teaching.  Sadly, most the ability and power to decide what is correct teaching resides in himself unless the congregation understands how to interpret the Bible as well as he does.  I can’t be the only one that sees a problem here.

This leads to the second issue: “Biblical preaching” is always top down.  It often aims the lowest common denominator.  In other words, the speaker speaks the truth.  The lay people are silent.  There’s a strong performance/audience dynamic here.  The speaker, especially in large churches, must make his message as accessible as possible.  This will help reach new Christians and non Christians.  But what about the members of church who have heard the most accessible messages?  Are they ready to move on to something deeper?

I may sound like I am a bit distrustful of ministers.  Frankly, that’s because many times I am.  My context is probably not the same as many readers.  In southern California, mega churches are often the only game in town.  So it is entirely possible that cult-of-personality leadership leaves me chagrined.  However, I’ve also been an educator.  This leads to what the solution could be.

Don’t teach the Bible: Teach people to understand the Bible.

Years ago, my friend and recounted his experience as a 19 year student at a now defunct Bible college.**  He recalled how he had never heard of concepts like cultural context, the nuances of Greek language, idioms, and in general plain old principles of hermeutics, until he was at college.  My own journey began when I borrowed a book on Biblical interpretation from my then youth pastor’s library.  Like many others, both us began to scratch our heads and wonder why we didn’t get a sense that these concepts seemed to make their way into the sermons we listened to.

These days, I notice that a lot of preaching some to come in several gradients.  We have ministers who are conscious of the principles of hermeneutics.  They successfully apply them to even the most accessible messages.  This means they use the heavy duty work of Christian intellectuals, but still communicate a message people understand.  Others preach questionable folk interpretations (I’m looking at you John Eldredge!), and show contempt for Christian intellectuals (Beth Moore).  Among the laity, I notice that many people would like to know more about how to understand the Bible.  It seems wrong that they’d all have to go to a Christian college to figure these things out.

The solution for a shallow Christian experience is a wiser laity.  The laity could never be expected to know and learn as much as a “professional” minister.  However, they should understand enough to be able to know a good, thorough, interpretation from a purely rhetorical, pop-psychological, folk-wisdom message.  This type of spiritual growth cannot be achieved with sermons alone, because it questions the aforementioned performer/audience dynamic that sermonizing uses.

Rather, churches -espeically large and diverse ones- ought to find ways to facilitate an interactive and more egalitarian way to train its laity.  There’s a big difference between sitting silently before a spotlighted, jumbotroned, holy-man and joining in a lively discussion among peers.  In many education circles, the role of the teacher is not to be some kind of faucet that passively fills buckets, but rather a kind of facilitator, and coach who helps guide learning and discussion.

We have to stop worrying about accessibility of a message.  You can’t expect maturing Christian to stick around if you keep ignoring their needs.  These needs aren’t going to be the same as new Christians.  Not everything needs to be about evangelism either.  Someone who has been a Christian for a few years is ready to talk about things that aren’t going to be accessible to someone completely unchurched.  This is okay.

We need to have serious discussion about how we understand the Bible rather than repeating what we think the Bible means.  Many Bible studies are too quick to jump from Bible verse to applicability to everyday life.  This is why we get tragically flawed folk interpretations of verses like Jeremiah 29:11.  We have to invite the opinions and viewpoints of Christian intellectuals rather than sidelining them.  All of this would make an experience of Christianity deeper.

While many people may dismiss this blog, I hope that I have at least hit a chord some people.  One blogger once commented that if younger Christians can get through an AP class, then they can handle a bit more.  My hope is that churches will pay attention to people like this.  After all, if younger folks are able to work that hard to get into college, than surely they are willing and able to into the grit of serious hermeneutics.

==============

*This woman seriously is nuts.  Barbie Pink AK-47 nuts.  That’s a special kind of crazy.  Here references to “superfun rockband pastors” can be found on her blog.

**At least it still has a website.  Ahh Bethany, how I miss my misbegotten summer camps in your dorms…

This is a continuation, of the series on why young people leave the church.   The idea of this series  to suggest possible right turns and solutions.  This next section has proven increasingly difficult to write.  Primarily because it deals with Christianity becoming “deep.”  This faces problems of its own because depth in spiritual experience is a notoriously subjective thing.  Ultimately, this issue will be dealt with in two parts.

Here then is the problem according Barna.

  • One third say ‘Church is Boring’
  • One quarter say ‘Church is not Relevant to my Career Interests.’
  • One quarter say ‘The Bible is not taught clearly or often enough.’
  • One fifth say ‘God is missing from my experience of Church.’

This blog addresses the first two.

Church is Boring

If the church is boring, than it seems the obvious solution is to make church exciting for young people.  While this might be intuitive, what if if it makes things worse?  Let’s be honest here: we’ve been doing the Christian rock thing, we’ve had all kinds of contemporary worship, we’ve gotten all the young dynamic pastors youth group games, hell we’ve even had Christian videogames and collective card games.  This has been going on for at least thirty yearsand it still isn’t working.

Entertaining, exciting, Christianity actually backfires.  One Redditor put it nicely:

At least in Protestant churches, it seems that a lot of youth ministries try to be “hip” by portraying Jesus as their buddy, like a dude who hangs out with them but also happens to be God (see “Jesus is my homeboy” paraphernalia for example). By extension, a lot of youth pastors will try to be a friend, like they’re “just one of the guys” instead of an adult mentor. Instead of attracting young people to the church, I find this approach very alienating and annoying. Young people don’t need another friend, they have plenty of those already. What they’re looking for is answers to the bigger questions, and if you fail to deliver on that because you’re just trying to look cool, pretty soon they’ll stop taking you seriously. –Reddit

As further evidence consider this.  High church liturgy is, by many people’s account, rather boring.  If young people are leaving the church for lack of hip pizzazz, than any church that centers on the smells and bells, cannot hold a youth’s attention.  Consider though, that a Catholic colleges can still pack a mass.  Also consider that there has been a resurgence of interest in high church liturgy among the emergent (or whatever we may call this group) over the last decade.

044-Youre-making-rock-n-roll-worse

If young Christians are bored in church, entertainment is not the solution.  If they need to be entertained, they can find plenty of ways outside church.

Relevant to Career Interests

What about the next issue?  That is, Christianity is not relevant to career interests.  Here the intuition might be to find ways to make Christianity relevant to anyone’s career path.  In many cases, I believe this is needed and laudable. Right now, I enjoy working under the guidance of a faithful Christian.  Patience, as a Christian virtue, is something that certainly applies in a businesses context.  More generally, if we consider the financial collapse of the last few years.  We all understand why some businesses could have benefited from Christian ethics (or really, ethics of any kind).

The risk though, is same as entertainment: an individual can get everything they need outside the church.  What then is the need to Christianize them?  Wouldn’t this annoy people who have spiritual needs, but get only baptized businesses advice from the pulpit?  Too much “relevance to your career interests” can produce a sermons that are a re-wash of cultural values.

Maybe the question itself is wrong.  Perhaps answering the question “How is Christianity relevant to Career interests” but rather, “how are your career interests relevant to Christianity?”  This question does two things.  First, it forces a serious reconsideration of what we actually value.  Maybe the church isn’t wrong, maybe we’re doing something wrong with our lives.  Maybe we need to look again at the parable of the builders and concentrate on those last verse, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”  A second, and less radical, application of this question flip is this: no matter who you are, no matter what you do, God calls you.  God called both humble fisherman (our usual heroes), but he also called doctors (Luke), scholars (Paul), soldiers (Cornelius), and priests (Joseph of Armathea).

Rather than looking for Christianity to help our careers, perhaps we should consider what place our careers have in God’s kingdom.

A Right Step

What then is the solution?  We cannot simply keep offering young people something they can get elsewhere.  Careers and entertainment can be had elsewhere.  It seems the better thing to do is to offer something that cannot be found in the world.

While this feels very simple, I think maybe a little simplicity is needed.  That of course, is a the subject for another blog.

This blog continues the discussion on why the young are leaving the Church.

Have ever heard this only partly ironic joke: Don’t smoke, drink, or chew or go with girls/boys who do?  While the phrasing is archaic, the spirit of the statement continues in evangelical culture.  It might be better said today as “Watch out for those video games, movies, music, internet chat rooms and Pokemon.”

demon_with_child

How stupid can you look?

Reason number one why young people leave is that the church seems overprotective.  As the Barna research reports expands:

A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

I can still remember fear-based tactics to encourage a kind of ghetto, tribal, thinking under the guise of spiritual purity or holiness.  Most of the readers can probably know this too.  See if any of these statements sound familiar:

  • Colleges encourage hedonism and secularism.
  • It’s not acceptable to watch movies with nudity, foul-language, violence etc in it.
  • Harry Potter encourages witchcraft.
  • Martial Arts and Yoga worship demons.
  • Halloween is a pagan holiday.
  • Good Christians only listen to Christian music.
  • Is that a “Christian” video game, movie, book, school, person etc?

Most of these look rather reactionary, strange, and often just plain stupid.  It seems very odd to me that a movie or videogame ought to be denounced for sex and violence, but yet we are still expected to read passages like this in the Bible:

 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your counsel; what shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, the ones he has left to look after the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom upon the roof; and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. -2 Samuel 16:20-22 NRSV

I want to be clear with the irony here.  An overprotective church says that sexual content or violence is something Christians shouldn’t watch or see.   However, it’s okay to read a story were a prince usurps his father’s kingdom through sexual exhibitionism.  This is only one example of how the overprotective impulse would have us stop reading the Bible.

Little needs to be said here about Harry Potter, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, or a host of other forms of entertainment that children and teens have enjoyed.  Harry Potter was actually infused with Christian symbolism.  Pokemon and Magic the Gathering never turned children into little satanists.

But what about movies and television?  Don’t these influence teenagers and young adults?  Shouldn’t we be worried about our Christian witness when watching a film that has a premarital sex, gay people, occult activity, and curse words?  A good Christian could never watch Dexter or Game of the Thrones for sake of these sins in those shows, or so it is said.

I actually do think that movies, television, and video-games influence behavior and even personality.  Yet this kind of mentality concentrates on incidental superficialities, rather than evaluating a work of fiction as a work of fiction.  In other words, an overprotective church complains about some presence of “sin” in a story, but fails to evaluate its role  in the story.

Let’s use Game of Thrones as an example.  Throughout season one, when see Daenerys Targaryen develop as a person.  At the first, she is little more than a pawn (and property) in her brother’s ambitious schemes.  At the end, we see her grow into a self-made monarch-to-be, the mother of dragons, and is also naked.  “Also naked” is the superficiality that an overprotective church fixates on.  There is no discussion about character arcs, themes, or anything else that a work of fiction should be evaluated by.  Someone is naked, and it is therefore “not Christian.”

Doing entertainment differently

Let’s be clear: young people are going to encounter the world outside of the Christian ghetto.  Attempting to censor what they read, watch, play or listen to out of fear will server only to make them resentful.  An overprotective church does the Gospel no service.  It only makes people appear awkward.

The solution to this is two fold.

For the first part, I am indebted to Glenn Peoples over at Beretta Online.  I recommend everyone simply listen to this podcast.  In it, he argues that we should not filter our entertainment between “Christian” and “everything else that is evil.”  If we are to evaluate a song, a film or a video game we ought stop asking “is it Christian?” and instead ask “is it good?”  Plenty of good things came outside of Christian ghetto.  Plenty of things inside the Christian ghetto represent a lousy form of Christianity.  What do I mean by this?  Listen to the podcast.  His accent is really cool.

The second part is this.  When we do evaluate a work of art we should not be counting how many sins it represents.  Rather, we should dig into its substance and evaluate the work of art as a work of art.  In the case of works of fiction, we need to be discussing characters arcs, genres, three acts just to start.  If we’re listening to music, we should be talking about musical arrangements, lyrical quality, vocal talent and so forth.  If we’re playing a video game, we’ll talk about game mechanics, plot development, and other things that make a game fun.

For all of these things, I count myself lucky to be in Southern California.  For all my gripes about “touchy feely west coast Evangelicalism,” it is wonderful to be surrounded by artists, musicians, actors and other Christian creatives who understand their faith well enough to interact well with the creative world.

So go out and watch something sinful tonight.  Read a book where someone does witchcraft.  Get yourself some funny shaped dice and slay a few dragons.  Listen to a rap lyrics was bad language.  Play a videogame where you shoot nazis.

When you’re done, ask yourself “was it good”?

I don’t think God is going to condemn you for your entertainment.

Young people leave the Christianity they were raised with.

Now that is hardly a headline.  Every young person who was raised a Christian has either seen this happen or gone through it themselves.  It is a shared cultural experience.  It happens despite the efforts of many youth and college pastors.

This means that despite the grandiose so-cal mega churches, the inspiring baptisms, and the stories of conversions you hear on Sundays, faith is not passed from one generation to the next.  If there is any church that lasts, it is probably perpetually a church “first generation” Christians.  In sum, Evangelicalism is great at marketing, but terrible at retention.  Somehow, I do not think this is what Jesus had in mind.

Why is the younger generation leaving?  Barna research group noted six reasons why young people leave:

1. Churches are over protective.

2. Teens and Twenty somethings experience of Christianity is shallow.

3. Churches come across as antagonistic towards science.

4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.

5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.

6. The Church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

One of the most important points of the article is this one:

David Kinnaman, who is the coauthor of the book unChristian, explained that “the problem of young adults dropping out of church life is particularly urgent because most churches work best for ‘traditional’ young adults – those whose life journeys and life questions are normal and conventional. But most young adults no longer follow the typical path of leaving home, getting an education, finding a job, getting married and having kids—all before the age of 30. These life events are being delayed, reordered, and sometimes pushed completely off the radar among today’s young adults.

I am sure that many people reading this blog can relate to these six points.  I also know that many (myself included) can relate to the “non-traditional” lifestyle.

Many of these problems stem from, in my opinion, the mistakes and oversights of Christianity in the United States going back at least fifty years.  So these six points need to be put in a bit historical context.

But we’ve all beaten the problems to death by now haven’t we?

The real turn that we need to make is not discussing problems, but discussing solutions.  That is what the next few blogs will be about.  We need to talk about what Christianity would look like if it had some depth in it.  We need to really get down to the issue on this science thing.  We need to discard some excessive protectiveness for the young.  We need an entirely new sexual ethic.

We need to do some things different.

Over the next few weeks, every Monday, I will post short blogs on each of these issues.  My hope is to generate discussion on solutions.  I hope that everyone will contribute in comments.

As final caveat, I realize that many of the things that people suggest will be dismissed or not taken seriously.  Some things suggested will even look like “compromising with the world” or “being soft on sin” or a myriad of other complaints.  This perspective remains important.  Nonetheless, if we want different results we will have to reconsider what we are doing.

All of us who have responded to Andrew’s Story at Mars Hill in Seattle are quite worked up.  Glenn Peoples at Beretta Online has reminded us that we are only hearing one side of the story.  I am personally grateful to him for doing so.

Andrew has made his case known and Mathew Paul Turner has played the role of the prosecutor.  This means he has the burden of proof and must present evidence.  In my opinion, he has made his case well.  He did not make vague allusions to foul treatment at Mars Hill while calling Driscoll a poopy-head.  He demonstrated a specific incident and has included written statements and correspondence from Mars Hill.  By your own words, be judged and all that.

Is Mars Hill pointing, or pointed at?

The Defendant Takes the Stand

Mars Hill now has a chance to respond.  This is good, because a candid world deserves to hear it.  As a detractor of Mars Hill, I am very happy to listen.  If you are also  not a fan of Pastor Mark Driscoll, then I please put your feelings aside as you read their response.  Maybe Andrew withheld some key information from the incident.  Maybe we can hear from his former leaders as well.  There is no doubt a lot of information that they could share, that would help us understand the situation better.  Let’s hear it:

In recent days, there has been some discussion surrounding Mars Hill Church and our process of church discipline. We do not wish to comment on the specific scenario in question, as this is a private matter between church leadership and members, all of whom have voluntarily agreed to this prior to becoming members. We do want to be as clear and forthright as possible in presenting our theology of repentance, forgiveness, and church discipline and make clear that our convictions on this come from our study of Scripture and our deep love for our members and a desire for them to enjoy the freedom that comes from walking by the Spirit in response to Christ’s work on the Cross on our behalf. At the heart of the process is our deep belief that church discipline is about the grace of God, not penance. (Mars Hill Website)

Oh… huh… well at least they offered a link to Driscoll’s book, Vintage Faith, which explains their theology.

Why would Mars Hill not offer a specific defense here?  I realize that Mars Hill isn’t under some kind of legal obligation, but I would assume that the church is concerned about its reputation before the rest Christendom.  Andrew has went public with this, but I understand that confession is often considered sacrosanct and private.  Maybe Mars Hill did not want to break confidentiality.  Let’s check that book to see if that’s why:

Members of Mars Hill Church are not guaranteed confidentiality regarding issues of church discipline, and understand that in submitting themselves to the authority of the church, issues of a sensitive or personal nature may become known to others. This includes, but is not limited to, notification of the authorities if a crime has been committed or if a real threat of someone being endangered exists, as well as other violations of scripture that may not result in physical danger.

Oh, I guess not.  Though nothing in the Andrew story seemed to imply physical danger or legality.  Maybe they wish to stay mum on the details because Andrew decided to leave.  This makes sense.  If you voluntarily join, and you voluntarily leave, then the relationship is over.  I could see why Mars Hill might prefer to let things be.

There is a sense in which you never really let the unrepentant sinner go. Though you don’t associate with him, you keep calling him back. He is put out for the purity of the church but is always admonished to come back.

Okay.  So Mars Hill is not tight lipped because Andrew left or because of guaranteed confidentiality.  In fact, this seems to imply that they still want to be involved with people who leave.  Though I guess Andrew did leave under bad terms, and is considered an unrepentant excommunicate.  Maybe Mars Hill is doing the best they can do to avoid tarnishing his reputation anymore than he already has:

If someone under discipline begins attending another church, we notify the leaders of that church that they are unrepentant and have been removed from fellowship in our church.

Nevermind.  Mars Hill does the exact opposite.  If you have a bad reputation at Mars Hill, they will do their very best to make sure you have a bad reputation anywhere.  Mark Driscoll is like Khal Drogo: he doesn’t do anything half way.

If you still feel that Mars Hill is tight lipped because it is “private matter,” don’t forget that they circulated a letter to the congregation regarding Andrew after he left Mars Hill.  Also, Andrew has gone public with this, so who are they trying to protect?  The best thing I can think of is that they do not want any current member named and “dragged into all this.”  That much is fair.  However, the response was unapologetic about their actions, and they don’t deny them either.  Is Mars Hill simply owning and acknowledging what they did?  That they feel everything was right?

The Repentance Smackdown

Mars Hill has done well to present its view of Church Discipline.  I realize it is not the entire book, but it still feels a bit lacking.   Here then, is what is mysteriously absent:

First, Driscoll’s chapter offers no details how about how a confessor (the person who hears someone else’s sins) should respond.  They make no mention of announcing Christ’s forgiveness, assuring the sinners that they are loved by God, whether to stay quiet about what you hear, how you might pray for repentant sinner, and pretty much any other act of compassion that I can think of. Remember, the recent statement from Mars Hill said: our convictions on this come from our study of Scripture and our deep love for our members.  Perhaps Mars Hill believes that we should only confess to another person if we sin against that person specifically.  Are we to keep silent then, about all other sins?

Secondly, they detail out all the signs of false repentance and conjoin true repentance with a desire to change our lives.  Yet that desire for change and actual change is seldom instantaneous.  Ask any former substance addict how long they desired change before they had actual change.  There seems to be little room for “same time justified and sinner” in Mars Hill’s church discipline.

Third, there is no mention of the sin of withholding forgiveness, or even a way to make forgiving another person easier.

Here then, are questions to consider:

1. If “true repentance” necessarily causes behavior/life changes, could this not become a salvation-by-works in practice even if it is still salvation-by-grace in theory?

2. Who judges whether or not a sinner has repented truely?  Church Leadership?  Can we trust their judgment as infallible?

3. If someone voluntarily joins a church, then voluntarily leaves, does the church have a right to negatively influence that person’s life?

4. Why is church discipline arranged in degrees of severity of punishment, rather than in degrees of restoration?

5. If you attended this church, had sinned grievously, would you feel comfortable sharing your sins with leaders at Mars Hill (James 5:15-16)?  Why or why not?

In interest of fairness

In deference to Glenn’s post, I’d like anyone who comments in this blog to be candid with their comments, but please avoid inflammatory speech.  I myself am trying to be as charitable as possible, but it is hard -from their response- to think that the conclusions Matthew Paul Turner reached are false.  Still though, if Mars Hill ever wants to offer something more specific, it would be great to hear it.

Hateful preachers are like cassette tapes. Why do people still listen to them?

A few years ago, I criticized Pastor Mark Driscoll’s angry, self-righteous, antics. At the time, I had only read praises of his popularity, and thought I was one of the few critics. Turns out I am far from alone. The entire zeitgeist of Christian blogs is starting to turn on this guy. Examples include Rachel Held Evans and sojouners magazine. Free speech and the internet topple tyrants: whether they rule Middle Eastern countries or Seattle area churches.

Is it over the top to call Driscoll a tyrant?

You can judge it for yourself if you read the story of “Andrew” in part one and part two. Please read through it in its entirety, but here’s the skinny if your in a rush. A young guy named Andrew attended Mars Hill. He became engaged to one of the elder’s daughters, but then fell into sexual sin with another girl. He confessed to his fiance, his small group leader, and others of his own volition. The reaction was not positive. They demanded that he sign and agree to a contract, in which he would have to share -in detail- his sins and was forbidden to date. Andrew felt that this was both invasive, creepy, and voyeuristic. He decided to leave Mars Hill. When he announced this, a letter was circulated to the Mars Hill community, detailing his “lack” of repentance. It detailed instructions on how members of Mars Hill were to treat him. According to Matthew 18:17.

Here is the verse:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But he does not listen to you take one or two more with you so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every face may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. -Matthew 18:15-18 NASB

Now, Driscoll thinks that last verse means that you should shun someone from your community and publicly shame them. I ask you though, how did Jesus treat gentiles and tax collectors?

What makes the Driscoll method of church discipline so horrid is not that it is a bit cult like, but that Andrew was doing the right thing. No, not that he cheated on his fiance and lied about, but that he actually had the courage to come out and confess it. So is this how confession is supposed to work? That we should muster courage to confess, and then become chastised for it?

I’ve already discussed what I think confession could look like for evangelical protestants and why it directs us to what people already want their churches to be. Here though, is the Book of Common Prayer. The church leader responds to someone like Andrew with this statement:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinnerrs who truly repent and believe in him of his great mercy forgive you all your offense; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, if a Lutheran minister says something like this after a prayer of public confession:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and for the sake of the sufferings, death, and resurrection of his dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, fogives us all our sins. As a Minister of the Church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare unto you who do truly repent and believe in him, the entire forgiveness of all your sins: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

In both cases, the reference to “authority” is an allusion to Matthew 18:18 (“whatever you bind on earth…”). Leaders, ministers, and lay people are given an “authority.” We are given the authority to represent Christ to penitent sinners like Andrew. How should we represent him?

Andrew confessed his sin. He confessed because the Holy Spirit convicted him. There was no “finding out” and no coercion. He confessed it to the person most hurt by it. He went further confessed it to leaders. Mark Driscoll does not seem to think this enough “true repentance.” Forgiveness must be earned. Sign the fuckin’ contract, or we’ll shame you.

How would you do it?

I will admit, I have heard only a few confessions in my life. Many people reading this have probably heard more. I have never been involved in a addiction recovery group. I am completely ignorant of how church discipline is handled in charismatic circles. Neither am I a pastor or official leader. Of course, you don’t have to be to hear a confession. I’d like to know though, how would you react to Andrew? What is your church’s policy? How would your leaders react to some dark secret a member shared with them?

In closing, I am happy that Andrew had the courage to not only confess, but to leave a church that he felt abused by. That could not have been easy, since he is several states away from home and family. If he ever wants to, he could do what many evangelical diaspora do. He could check out a local Lutheran, Episcopalian, or otherwise “liberal” protestant church.

We’re a pretty fun bunch, actually.

Yes, I am posing this as a question for everyone here to contribute.  However, please understand this is a question of whether Christians debate over Harry Potter, but at this point the question is why?!

We all know what the debate is.  When Harry Potter first became popular concerned parents started wondering if it was the devil’s work because their kids enjoyed it, but did not get it from the Bible book store.  This is a common recurrence.  It is the same semi-fundie to completely fundie mentality that raised issues over things like He-man, Pokemon, The Smurfs (the Smurfs?!), and Dungeons and Dragons.

Is Harry Potter the Devil’s work?  Well, no quite the opposite.  Harry Potter is Christian literature in the same tradition as Tolkien and Lewis, which the concerned parents typically praise!  The debate really should end with this quote from the Christian Post:

J.K. Rowling wrapped up the final book in the seven-volume series, and finally spoke openly in several interviews about her Christian faith.

She went so far as to say she had hesitated to talk about her faith previously because it would have made the series’ conclusion too obvious to discerning readers.

We know the authors intentions now.  That should close things right?  John Granger has also written a few papers on the Christian themes of the Harry Potter series.

In fact, many of the themes are fairly obvious.  A friend of mine once said that if people simply read the books, they’d see the Christian themes in them.  Perhaps though, prejudice and lack of aesthetic sense prevents people from doing so.

Nonetheless, this blog is for readers of Harry Potter who did notice Christians themes in the book.  Share what you saw in the books that were Christian themes.  Re-post it on facebook.  Share with everyone example after example of Christianity in the Harry Potter series because only when the opposition looks silly enough to be silent.  Let everybody know that this debate needs to be closed.  Be as specific as possible, and cite the books if you have them.

One example comes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  While in the forest, Harry Potter sees a figure suck blood from the body of a slain unicorn.  It is one of the first truly scary scenes in the book.  A centaur, Firenze, comes upon the scene after the dark figure has escaped.  Firenze shares this insight with Harry Potter:

“It is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn,” said Firenze.  “only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime.  The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price.  You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.” -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Immediately after reading this, the first thing that came to my mind was a passage from 1 Corinthians:

Therefore whoever east the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.  But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the World. – 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 NASB

This association is reinforced by John Granger’s observation that a unicorn symbolized Christ in medieval artwork.  This was a remarkably subtle connection to the Bible and a passage that is very important to many Christians in high church traditions.

So what did you notice in Harry Potter that struck you as distinctly Christian?  What in the book looked like symbol for Christ or anything else from scripture?  What symbols did Rowling use that the Bible also uses?  The longer conversatinos like this get, the better the position will be.  Please comment as much as you like, and remember to subscribe for future comments and discussion.

>Internetmonk.com has a had a few blogs on individualism lately. There are particurlarly angry words against individualistic autonomy which is rightly contrasted with extremely communal living of some Christian traditions.

As Americans, individualism is the water that we swim in. We might not actually know what it is. If we do know what it is, we are used to praising it. I myself, am a incurable individualist at times. I do not think that individualism is bad per se, but it certainly affects Christianity in the United States. Pictures, however, are worth a thousand words. Here are some images I dug up when googling “Worship.”



Notice a pattern? The images are always of the lone person communing with the God up on high. That individual worships God all by himself, with no one around. Such an emphasis on the individualistic Christian worship is so strong that it was lampooned at Saddleback church

I didn’t stop there. If you have ever been through a Bible bookstore you have also seen images of individualism. Like these:




Like the images of worship, these book covers privilege a spirituality that is “me and God.” It is a belief in sola ego with sola scriptura. The Osteen book even has it in the title: …a better you. Again, individualism shows itself better through images than words can express.

There is also another way to notice individualism in our churches and worship. Listen closely to words used in worship songs. Do they emphasis the singular pronouns (I/me) or the plural pronouns (We/us)? The former emphasizes individualism. For sake of contrast here are the lyrics from two songs. First an old hymn:

A mighty fortress is our God.
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper he a mid the flood,
of mortal ills prevailing.
-A Mighty Fortress

here is a more contemporary song:

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise
-I will Rise by Chris Tomlin

Notice the pronouns I highlighted. The contemporary song uses individualistic language (“I will rise”), while the older hymn uses communal language (“our God”). Also, try reading both of the lyrics as if they were sentences in your second grade English class. If your teacher said “please underline the subject of this sentence,” what would you underline in each of those songs?

Now again, I am not saying that individualism is bad per se, but it does affect American Christianity. This is something we need to be aware of, and evaluate our practices accordingly.

So what do “you” think? 😉