Archive for the ‘iconoclasms’ Category

It’s all to common with a liberal arts education: my degree has about as much economic application as horseshoeing on a spaceship.  I’m reminded of this monthly, when I write those checks to loan companies.  There’s an extra reminder now.  The Alma Mater, Azusa Pacific, has hired students to call me up.  Yes, we all know why.

With some exaggeration, it is easy to feel like this when you get calls from a private educational institution.

"but we gave you 10k in scholarships!!"

“but we gave you 10k in scholarships!!”

Every single alum has at least one reason not to donate.  Additionally, there is a second.  Specifically, many alums are disgusted about the public, and dramatic issue regarding Adam (formally Heather) Ackley the transgender theology PhD who was dismissed (as graciously as possible?) from APU.  Whatever an outsider’s perception of this event, many from the APU community are not in agreement with this dismissal.  A number of students on campus have come out with the supportive slogan “we stand with Adam.”  They may speak for others; students and alum at APU are perhaps more free to speak their minds about human sexuality and Christianity than the people on the campus payroll.  While equally LBGT supportive alums appreciate this, we still know our alma mater has embarrassed itself by doing something we find morally objectionable.  All of this leaves us with a feeling of disgust, frustration, irritation.  No matter how sweet the other person sounds on those cold calls, these feelings aren’t going to go away.

I suggest that these feelings are reasons for alums to donate, rather than an additional reason to shun our alma mater’s inconvenient phone calls.

First, APU’s dismissal of Adam Ackley is horrible mark, but it does not invalidate everything else the school does well.  I regret that I will not be able to attend APU’s celebrate Christmas choral and musical performances this year.  A few weeks ago, several other alums and held a fantastic night of singing, dancing, and improvised comedy.  These nights could never have happened without our APU connection.  There are more altruistic causes too.  One of my former classmates is finishing  up Psy D program with the express purpose to help women pro bono.  Another friend has worked for a children’s non-profit for years.

Second, I think it behooves recent alum (and by that I mean anyone who is between 24-30ish) to consider why APU bit the bullet and dismissed a transgender individual.  It can be only in part because of “Christian Values.”  Whether we like it or not, the older generation has the deep pockets.  These people make up the donation base.  They’re also more conservative on issues of gender and sexuality.  Do other APU hold these views that strongly? I have a hard time believing that any the intellectuals at the campus actually wanted to see their colleague go.  Enough students on campus have shown support for Adam.  As blunt as it is, a transgender professor is probably more offensive to donors than to students or scholars.

I think this is where a humble, and slightly more than symbolic, contributions from recent alums come in.  The silver lining of entire Ackley fiasco is that the university (and anyone connected with it) has to confront this issue of gender identity and Christianity.  We all already know what the result will be in twenty years.  Transgender individuals will become more and more accepted.  Eventually too the broader Christian community will wonder why we thought that dismissing a transgender individual made any kind of sense.  Most of the younger than 30 Christians I know aren’t particularly bothered by LGBT acceptance.  Even those who disagree with things like gay marriage aren’t the type who are pro-actively opposing it.  Eventually, the views of the younger generation will supplant the views of the older.

Therefore, I’d like to put a little money to demonstrate this to University.  I want APU to know that I support my Alma Mater.  I want them to know that I believe in its mission and goals.  I want them to know that my time at APU is still a time I remember well.

Furthermore, I want them to know that I’m sympathetic to LGBT causes.  I believe that “Christian Values” do not demand exclusion on this basis.  Finally, at some point in the future, I want APU to make decisions on LGBT based on purely on conscience, not on donation ledgers.  The only way APU can be freed from the fear of offending a donation base, is if enough of their donation base is demonstrably supportive of LGBT issues.

It might be a drop in the bucket, but I like to show support with my wallet.


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 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.


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.

Sometimes, you have to smash a few Icons and overturn a few tables.

Bear with this technical introduction a moment. In undergraduate, we were taught to think about our opinions, beliefs, and practices according this list, commonly called the Wesleyan quadrilateral. This is common among many Evangelical institutions:

  • 1. Scripture
  • 2. Tradition
  • 3. Reason
  • 4. Experience

It is number four that is important here.

Experience can be narrow or broad. In the broader sense, experience means culture. If you think of it narrowly, think of it as a pastoral principle: diagnose before you prescribe. A pastor or church leader may be mentoring a new member. Appropriately, that leader first asks the new member about their relationship with God, encourages them to be open about their spiritual struggles, shares in the triumphs and so on. In addiction recovery, for instance, a person who is taking the twelve steps also explores their family history. How they play out those twelve steps will depend on their own experiences.

Experience, however, is also used to prescribe. Here’s how: A popular, and effective, method of teaching and preaching is telling stories. If you listen to any popular Evangelical preacher, you can probably think of dozens of stories they tell. I remember a church leader sharing about a time he had to ask forgiveness for how he treated his sister in law. Greg Boyd, in God of the Possible, shared a story about a divorced woman. Mosaic Church, in LA, publishes a magazine dedicated to sharing stories about what God does in their individual lives. Old-fashioned evangelicalism still encourages people to tell their personal testimonies about what God has done in their lives.

There’s nothing wrong with stories or testimonies. In fact, they’re good teaching tools. They’re so effective that the officially endorsed stories -that is, the ones that Evangelicalism approves of and repeats via blogs, sermons etc.- are sometimes more important or just as important as the Bible.

No where are the official stories more important than when it comes to sex. The official stories go something like this (this is a summary from a meagchurch podcast): Boy is virgin. Girl is not. Girl feels “damaged” and is hesitant to marry boy. Boy says he’s ready to be “damaged.” They have sex. Girl feels used, and they break up. Here is another official story (summarized from a chapel speaker): Football was my high school idol. Sex was my college idol. I had really bad, empty sex. It took me years to recover. Save yourselves for marriage. Finally, there are the inspiring stories: We met in college. When we was 21 and I was 19 we got married. The sex was great. Get married young. It’s worth the struggle. Think about all the testimonies about sex that you have heard from pulpits, speakers, and popular Evangelical media. What do they sound like most of the time?

Now, let’s turn to what don’t hear. Here are the unofficial testimonies of romance, sexuality, and marriage that are not given their due attention:

  • Our relationship began with a romp in bed. He wasn’t my first, I wasn’t his. It’s amazing, though, that we found each other when we did! We’ve been married six years now.
  • I got married when I was 21. It was the worst mistake of my life. Neither of us was emotionally or financially prepared, and we divorced. I am glad that we didn’t make babies, but I know many people who did.
  • Years of religious sexual repression caused me to fear sex. When I got married, I was unable to reach orgasm or even enjoy it. This damaged the spiritual, emotional, and sexual connection with my husband.
  • I am not able to interact romantically with the opposite sex because I cannot tell what is physical attraction and what is lust.
  • The “duck tape parable” made me afraid to be vulnerable with anyone. Then I entered into a sexual relationship. Somehow, that gave me confidence.
  • My family refused to attend my wedding because I married a divorced woman. This hurt both of us deeply.
  • I am gay, and in a happy monogamous relationship.
  • Lot’s of Christian couples wait until marriage before first penetration. They also do everything else before marriage.

Can you imagine these spoken from a pulpit or published by a focus-on-the family webzine? Some of the stories here will actually get you removed from a church, or at least marginalized while you attend. That’s because these testimonies violate the official moral paradigm of Evangelicalism. It’s a kind of spiritual censorship, which makes the goal of “authenticity” impossible. Does that seem right to you?

Despite the dogmatics that come down from Colorado Springs, the spot-light pulpits, and the megachurches, most young evangelicals aren’t buying the official stories or at least aren’t following its subsequent moral prescription. This means that the value-makers and leaders of Evangelicalism are out of touch with reality. If any of us presume to use the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” we have to be candid about what the collective experience is.

It’s for these two reasons that I will donate to this cause:

Jesus, don’t let me die before I’ve had sex.

I hope that you will too because their deadline is less than two weeks away. The website is here, at and they accept pledges from one dollar to a thousand. No one knows what the result of this documentary will be when it is completed, but I think it will do justice to many people who felt the power of religious censor. At the same time, it will help any minister or pastor to take hard look at their congregations, espeically their college ministries.

And it wouldn’t hurt to promote the cause via twitter, reddit, Facebook, or similar means. That’s what the buttons below are for.

I hope though, that we can all be kind when we pick up the hammers and shatter the stained glass.

I feel that there are three holy days on the Evangelical calendar: Christmas, Evangelism Sunday, and the Super Bowl.  The third is coming up this Sunday.

This year, I won’t participate in any of sacred rituals of the Superbowl.  This means I won’t be gathering around a TV with a bowl fulls of snacks, I won’t be voting for the plethora of Doritos/Pepsi commercials, and I certainly will not be procuring the services of a teenage prostitute.

Real men raise them.

By now, most people are probably aware the Super Bowl is one of the biggest hubs of sex traffic in the United States.  This should probably concern Christians because -despite various other doctrinal differences- we all believe that forced prostitution is a horrible thing.

The above is an illustration of understatement.

It’s good to know that many Churches and blogs are speaking up against this.  Right now, many Christians are helping to put a stop to it.  Churches, like Mars Hill, also speak out against it.  I have attended churches were the super bowl was an event for the church, but those churches did not speak aboutthe trafficking.  I am little chagrined about that, but I could have missed a Sunday.

Obviously Christians aren’t going to be tacit about this, but we can’t all be at the Super Bowl either.  So if you can’t volunteer at the Superbowl, what can you do to stop the trafficking?  It’s something I’ve been thinking about.

For me, I am personally boycotting the Super Bowl this year.  I don’t want the event to get any of my attention or any of cash if it also attracts that much sex trafficking.  Is this unfair to the great American Sport?  Maybe it is, but last year the Super Bowl committee was pretty silent on this problem.  Should I buy their product if I don’t have to?  I specifically walked out of the foreigner bar in Korea last year because they were hosting the Super Bowl.  I did that despite the fun I otherwise might have had that night.

Of course, I freely admit that I am not exactly a grid-iron gremlin.  I don’t even know who is playing this year.  Yet, I understand how passionate people are for this game and the sense of camaraderie it brings.  Besides, who isn’t up for an excuse to barbeque, right?

So for those who will celebrate the Super Bowl, please consider this: count every penny you spend on the Super Bowl this year.  This means the snacks, the meat, the beer/soda, and even the gas you use to drive.  Figure out what that dollar amount is and multiply it by two.  Then donate that dollar amount to International Justice Mission an organization that fights human trafficking.  You’ll spend money either way, but this way you’ll spend money to stop the injustice as well.  If a 2:1 ratio is too high for sex trafficking, trying matching every dollar you spend on fun with a donation.  If you’re like me, and already ignoring the Super Bowl, then post one of the links in this blog somewhere for a honest, descent, football fan to see.

This way, the a giant hub of sex trafficking could turn into a giant sting operation against sex trafficking.  I’d love to read blogs on Monday about how many arrests were made and victims freed.

Go celebrate the Super Bowl, and help clean up the mess in its shadow.

By now, you have all already seen the “Love Jesus / Hate Religion” meme.   That video is exactly the kind of message I believed when I had been a Christian for about four years.  As I type this, I have been Christian for well over ten.  Please keep that in mind.  If you haven’t watch the video yet, please pull yourself out of the cave, and watch it now.

The video’s author,Jefferson Bethke, is sincere.  He wants all of us to see and understand something that he sees.   But what if we already see it?  What if Bethke, in his zeal, has missed a few things?

Now, the entire performance is a spoken word poem, which means terms can be little fluid.  Still, there is a very important question that has to come up here:

What is Religion?

I’ll share what Bethke says, and then offer my own definition.  No, we do not mean the same thing.  I have no problem being “religious.”

Religion according to Bethke’s poem.

Without picking out every section, I’ll comment on a few lines/stanzas.  Let’s start with the part I like.

Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean
It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken
Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin
Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him
See because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan
He looked down and said I want, that, man
Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools
Don’t you see so much better than just following some rules

Bethke really wants people to understand how important Grace is.  He wants people to understand what Grace means to him and what grace means to everyone.  Yet, as someone who self identifies as “religious” I agree.  I get it.  I’ve been involved with Lutheranism for the last few years.  We’re so full of grace that I played drinking games with church friends.

Would it surprise Bethke to know I understand how tiresome the rules are?  That I too feel that they are foolish?  However, I learned those rules from people who preached like Bethke does.  People who told me that “it’s a relationship, not a religion.”  That probably doesn’t surprise many readers of this blog.  Those darken the doors of non-evangelical churches do so because we were tired of those rules.

Let’s look at another important line:

Why does it [religion] build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor

I attended a Lutheran Church in my hometown and I also attended a nice missionary church in Seoul South Korea.  We built churches.  That cost money.  It is little bit like pouring an expensive bottle perfume onto Jesus, even though it could’ve been sold and given to the poor.  (Check out John 12:3-5)

One church building was used to regularly house “families in housing transition.”  One of the families was a single mom and her five year hold daughter.  I spent most of the evening working on a coloring book with the child while the mom got much deserved evening of relaxation.

In Seoul, we were renovating our building.  We were also collecting money to pay rent for a woman in need due to medical emergencies.  Furthermore, we also held an event to collect donations for North Korean refugees.

Do church buildings fail to help us worship God?  Don’t Church building provide a means to serve the poor?

Here’s another verse.

Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man

One of my favorite sayings come from an early Christian Mystic: do the crops grow because the rain falls from heaven, or because the farmer tills the field?  I think all Christians, even religious people like myself, believe that God gets our attention first.  Our response, though, might still be considered “searching for God.”

Here though is the real kicker.  Read these next few lines:

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion
What if I told you voting republican really wasn’t his mission

I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars
Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor

Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see

You can tell a lot about what people mean about a word by how they use it.  In these lines, Bethke tells us that religion is something Jesus doesn’t like, republicans probably do, and that it does bad things.  But what is “religion” itself?  Try this: re-read these stanzas, and mentally replace “religion” with the the phrase “bad thing” or “evil.”  Would the meaning of the stanzas change at all?

The word “religion” is an evangelical idiom, and is used like a curse word.  It is catch-all phrase to describe beliefs and practices that they don’t like -and indeed could be bad.  This can be anything from self-righteousness, to recited prayers, or in Bethke’s case, a self-accusation of hypocrisy.

Does everyone use “religion” that way?

Another definition of Religion

Here are a few of my own habits and beliefs.  You might share a few of these, and Bethke probably would too.

1. I believe in a specific, monothestic, God and accept a specific book as his revelation over all other books that allege divine inspiration.

2. I go to church about every Sunday.  I consider, at minimum, two other days of the year extra important.  These days are called “Easter” and “Christmas.”

3. I pray to the aforementioned God.  I often do this with other people who share my beliefs.

4. I believe that this God expects that I act in the world and has a purpose for not just people who worship him, but all of humanity.  In fact, my Church in Seoul was built specifically to introduce people to this God.

5. Certain rituals are very important to me.  “Baptism” is one, another is this thing called “the Lord’s Supper.”

6. While I have never done a Youtube video, I have a blog that often refers to this God, his followers, the authoritative book, and other the history connected with these three things.

Now what word would you use to describe me?  Would you say that I practice a religion?  Even if you do not agree, you have to admit that most people outside of the evangelical world think that the phrase “religion” applies pretty well here.

That then, is why I have no problem owning the term “religious” or “religion.”  I am a religious person.  So is Bethke.  So are you if you share a few of those beliefs/habits.  Why should religion imply ‘bad’?  Couldn’t the above list be morally neutral?

Now, some people might ask why bother harping on this?  Religion might be a curse word, but what is the big deal?  To some extent there isn’t a problem.  There is no need to begrudge Bethke on his differing usage of the term.  He is perfectly sincere in his beliefs and has even responded in a very fair and considerate manner to the criticisms of his poem.  Despite that there are two problems, one smaller and a another larger.

There is a problem with communication.  The Evangelical world wants to reach people outside of it.  I suspect then, that they might consider how their audience understands this word.  Many people know what Evangelicals mean, but I think others might be confused.  Can you imagine someone joining an Evangelical church because “it’s a relationship, not a religion” but then feeling tricked when they are expected to get baptized?

The more serious problem is one of association.  Evangelicals are not the only people who use ‘religion’ like a curse word.  The New Age, synergistists use it often too.  You’ve seen these people on Opera.  They call themselves “spirituality experts” and are quick to explain that all human spirituality is fundamentally the same.  According to them, god isn’t really Incarnate in Jesus, or Triune, or active as the Holy Spirit.  Those are rather subjective expressions of a spiritual whatever.  The spirituality experts often ask “Are you spiritual or are you religious?”

Why shouldn’t Christians say that we are both spiritual and religious?  As Christians we have a long tradition of mysticism, prayer, and devotion like any other faith.  We also have pretty clear cut, creedal, and religious doctrines that are fundamentally incompatible with New Age synergism.  The spirituality experts might call this short sighted, but I say that it is rude and superficial to lump all religions together.

I don’t feel that a “I got Jesus, not religion” attitude is as very strong when talking with people who keep trying to redefine Jesus for you.  Why not take ownership of the word religion, so that we can disassociate ourselves from the new agers?  They may accuse of us of never getting in touch with god, but we own them no justifications or explanations.

One final thought.

My friends who studied youth ministry have also studied developmental pyschology.  According to them, adolescence is often marked by radically disjunctive, black or white, thinking.  There is not always an appreciation for the grey in between.

Watch the video one last time, will you?

>There comes a time in every Christian’s life when they get bored with listening to sermons on Sundays. Can we all admit it? Preaching is the central focus of a Sunday service in just about every evangelical church, but inevitably many of the attendants are going to get bored.

Many churches come up with new ways to circumvent this problem. They might update with some nice power point. They could even euphemize “sermon” with “conversation.” Maybe the preacher needs to dress down a bit and put more clever stories in his sermons –err conversations. We can even remove pulpits. We can shorten their length. There are so many things we can do –even sermon notes!- in order to keep the congregation engaged in what the Holy Spirit has to say to them.

But what if none these are really solutions? What if the problem is not with the manner of preaching, but the fact that preaching is central to the sunday worship to begin with? What if the expectation that you go to church, sing songs, and then “tune in” to “the man of God who gives you the word of God” is the problem? None of these the adjustments above would seem to offer a solution.

I realize that many people reading this can’t imagine going to “church” and not expecting the pastor’s sermon to take up most of their time. Sitting reverently during a “conversation” is part of Sunday worship. To do otherwise might seem to fail to make God’s Word important.

It is for all those out there that I write this blog. Please bear with me a bit. Sure, what I’m writing is not going to be popular, but I think if you read it you’ll see that I am not completely mad.

Making preaching the center of the service can create problems. Not all the problems I list are inevitable, but I believe that they pop-up more often than is easily seen. With an iconoclast’s hammer in hand, here I go:

Making preaching central can reduce the communication of God’s truth to verbal mediums only. Of all the reasons I could list, this is probably the most abstract so let’s get it out of the way. Not all communication is verbal. Not all communication uses words. Preaching reduces our worship and learning to what we do with our ears and one person’s voice. The other senses of touch, sight, and smell are ignored.

In older high church traditions, the senses of hearing, sight, smell, and touch are used in concert with each other. In a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church I attended the central visual focus of the church was stained glass image of Christ the King. The pastor stood off to the side when he preached a short homily, not a grandiose sermon. The senses of touch took place through the partaking of the Eucharist, which was preceded by prayer and singing, not an explanatory sermon.

Thus the worship and learning was not through words alone, but through other senses and experiences.

Making preaching central can give an inordinate amount of authority to the pastor. Ignoring other mediums of communication doesn’t mean that something is not communicated through them. Consider what is visually center. Often the pastor stands on an elevated platform above a crowd that is sitting. All eyes are on him. He might have a pulpit or not, but that makes no difference –especially when the pulpit is replaced with a spotlight. The most reverent Christians are the ones passionately taking notes. This lasts, in many cases, for the majority of the Sunday service. It goes on week after week, year after year.

All this communicates that this man talking, is not only a special, specific, role, but that he is to be followed and to be obeyed. This is a bit autocratic, no matter how benign the leader maybe. It is also incredibly ironic that a single person becomes the center of attention for the greater glory of God. Are we not able to look to God directly? Do we follow Apollos?

There is also a problem with a commitment to have the Bible as the authority. Most people in the pews do not have the time, the resources, or sometimes even the will to learn how to study scripture (and I can add that neither do many ministers!), thus the job of interpretation falls to one person. Eventually, what the pastor says gets conflated with what the Bible says. (Admittedly, there is always an interpretation of some kind going on when we read the Bible.) Still, when the pastor’s sermon and the Bible get conflated, it produces a kind of dogmatism. Questioning the pastor becomes the equivalent of questioning the Bible. This is too much influence in one guys hands.

Making preaching central can create a “cult-of-personality” or outright sacredotalism. It should go without saying that there is a problem when a well-known minister receives celebrity treatment when he walks into a room or attends a conference. Again, this pastor becomes the center of attention for the Glory of God. What is even worse is when it turns into sacredotalism.

Sacradotalism is a ten dollar word that is lost in evangelical vocabulary, but it is alive and well in practice. It means that there are two types of Christians; the lay Christians and the really spiritual ones. Sacradotalism means that there is a “man of God who delivers the Word of God” to the lay people. That one person has the role of being extra holy and has an almost exclusive access to the Holy Spirit. He delivers it to the congregation through his presence and speaking –with the appropriate humility of course. In some circles, the pastor may even declare himself the anointed man of God who is accountable only to God. (I recommend running from such people.)

People sometimes shrug and ask what the problem is. There are two. First, this creates problem with the congregation. Now, not only is authority of the pastor conflated with scripture, but pastor can become proverbial prophets who can be no more questioned than the Apostles. As bad as this is, it is only a small problem compared to what it can do to a pastor.

Exactly how holy is holy enough for the “man of God who delivers the word of God”? I think very few people can appreciate the kind of pressure it takes to be “extra holy.” Pastors often talk about how they need to watch their own moral and spiritual lives for sake of their congregation. The problem is you can never be holy enough. The external pressure of a spiritual perfectionism can be crushing. A pastor cannot pray enough, fast enough, avoid sin enough and such if his condition so dramatically determines how much of the Holy Spirit gets to his flock. One has to wonder if pressure like this paves the way for downfall through hidden escapisms. Ted Haggard anyone?

It is not that I don’t like a good message and a good sermon, and I don’t think they should be abolished. In fact, my wonderful iPod has kept me busy as I have downloaded various messages from ministers all over the country. Neither am I saying that I think that all these problems will happen every time, in every church, on every Sunday. I am saying that the problems are there, and I think for the most part unadressed because they are unknown. As long as preaching central to sunday worship, problems like these will eventually come up somehow.

And I can never get over the subtle irony that worshiping god Sundays means (in part) sitting down, passively, while focusing on someone other than God for forty-five minutes.


Just Give me Jesus…Which Jesus?

One of the most difficult endeavors anyone can undertake is describing what “water” is to fish. Or in this case, how American culture influences Christianity to members of American cultural Christianity.

Yet this is exactly what Stephen J. Nichols accomplishes in his book Jesus Made in America.

This book is a historic survey of American Christianity. It begins with the puritans and ends with the present day. Some chapters on the past help us understand the present. Who is Jesus according to founding fathers or Jesus according to cowboys? Later, several chapters of the book are dedicated to issues relevant to the present day Christians. Who is Jesus according to the political right (and left) and who is according to Bible book stores? The book is a flowing, and fascinating read that is neither boring nor heavy on jargon. All of it is quite illuminating and challenging.

But this book is not for faint-hearted or the non-introspective. Nichols criticizes much of contemporary evangelicalism as having missed the mark on the understanding of Jesus of all matters. Not only does he tell fish what water is, he tells fish that the water is polluted. There are more than a few sacred cows (golden calves?) that Nichols wants scratch at. He even calls out a few heroes by name, including Max Lucado, Beth Moore, and James Dobson. Not even Veggie tales remains untouched!

Space does not allow me to cover every section of this book, but I there were two that hit close to home for me. The first was Christian music. Nichols points out how often Evangelicals get their theology from their songs, and their songs are sometimes –shall we say thin. Much of evangelical CCM creates and then perpetuates the cultural image of Christ that Nichols decries. There is too much emphasis on “how Jesus makes me feel,” little regard for “what Jesus has done in history,” and barely any “who Jesus is.” He even points out how close Christian lyrics are to pop love songs*, as has been satirized on South Park. At one point the Christian Contemporary music was a grass-roots, spontaneous and genuine before in turned into a money making industry that watered down its message as it tried to evangelize. This leads to the second section of the book I enjoyed: Jesus according to consumer culture.

Many Christians are often shocked when Jesus overturned money tables and chased out the lenders with a whip. Strange think is, Nichols probably believes that Jesus would do the same thing at most Bible bookstores. Jesus and consumer culture form an unhappy marriage in Nichol’s view. One of the saddest points in the book is a story of women who was not able to buy a Jesus fish for her car. She wondered who she was supposed to witness. Nichols is fair in his belief that the Holy Spirit can use anything, but the culture of T-shirts, endless mass-market books, childhood media, etc makes him wonder if this is because of or in spite of a mass-market Jesus. Yet this is the water that many people swim in. What kind of Jesus are we really looking at? Is the culture conforming to Christ or is Christ revised to fit the culture?

Even thought the book is critical, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Nichols, in the epilogue, explains that he believes evangelicalism can hit the mark. To do so, Christians must learn to look outside their own generation and pull on resources from the past. He suggests the great Creeds (while recognizing the bias they had) as a guide for evangelical Christology. He also admits that the Christology has never been an easy task, but we should never be afraid of complexity. It is our job, as Christians in the dominant west to ensure we both learn and pass on these teaching of Christ. No matter how difficult the task.

Thanks for reading. Now go read this book or see a few other interesting ones.

*May I gently add a point to all the Christian girls/women who ask “where are all the good, single, Christian men?” this comment: please consider that men worship God differently than women do. For instance, Christian heterosexual men are generally not interested in relating to Jesus as if he is our boyfriend. We’re not interested competing with him either.

>While it was never my intention to be overly negative or deconstructive when it comes to this blog, I think I finally need to comment on Dispensational Futurism, otherwise known as “end times” by the popular evangelicalism. Dispensational Futurism, for those of here who may not be familiar with it, is a specific understanding of the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24, Revelation, Daniel and such. It represents the popular dogmas like the rapture (when Christians disappear) the coming tribulation, black helicopters, and a world government of the Anti-Christ. It was popularized by the Left Behind series, which is a whole different blog entirely.

At this time, I not only think that Dispensational Futurism is off track, I think that dispensationalism faces quite a bit of problems; problems that I think are not easily overcome. Here are some of the reasons why I am frustrated with futurism.

Dispensational Futurism is not a “conservative” view. Dispensational Futurism is often taught in evangelical churches, and especially charismatic and very fundamentalist churches, “what the Bible teaches.” Deviations from futurism are often taught as “liberal” viewpoints to be viewed with suspicion. Dispensationalism is right because it is conservative.

The strange thing is, dispensational futurism is far from conservative. It began in the 1800s –very late by Church History standards- and it was incredibly novel of an idea even then. Most Christians, including the big names in Protestantism like Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, never knew of futurism like we know it today and would not endorse it if they knew of it now. Furthermore, when futurists first came on the scene, they snubbed ministers who they considered to intellectual (and were consequently the actual conservatives) as not having anything worth saying.

Dispensational Futurism is a liberal view. In fact, if one considers how futurists approach scripture, the positions might actually be radical. This leads me to the second point…

Dispensational Futurists are hermeneutically challenged. While I am sure that there are futurists out there who are very conscious and aware of their interpretative methods, I am beginning to think that many futurists not only do not know their own hermeneutic, but do not even know what a “hermeneutic” is.

The more I talk to futurists, the more I am convinced that they do not know the difference between an interpretive method (a hermeneutic) and the act of interpreting. Furthermore, some of the most basic principles of interpretation are outright doubly ignored, such as reading a passage in its literally context or according to the time period it was written.

I believe that the conclusions of futurism are matters of presumption, and it is a presumption they are not aware of. The parable of the Purple Cow exemplifies this problem.

Dispensational Futurism has made Too Many False Prophecies. One can pick up a book at a Christian bookstore entitled “Charting the End Times” but chances are you aren’t going to find “88 Reasons why Jesus is coming in 1988.” Most books that talked about the end of the world around the year 2000 are less than likely to available for purchase too. I also doubt anyone is reading “the Late Great Planet Earth.” Why? Because these books prophesied about then current events that turned out not to be true.

There is a serious problem with consistency here. Many Christians rightly denounce the latter day prophets of Mormonism and the Jehovah Witnesses for their failed visions of the end of the world. Rightly, people invoke the test of a false prophet in Deuteronomy 18.

For even one false prophecy made by the founders of Mormonism, your average evangelical will rightly say “away with them and their theological projects.” Why then do we tolerate the failed predictions of dispensational futurism? Is it because names keep changing every ten years or so? Failed prophecies are failed prophecies. This should be enough to make at least reevaluate futurism if not dump it completely. Sadly, people seem to have a short memory about these things.

Dispensational Futurism encourages a “fire escape” Gospel I almost entitled this section as “Dispensational Futurism has a suspicious genesis.” But I think it suffices to say this, Dispensational Futurism, since its inception, has taught that the W.A.S.P.’s are alienated people, losing control in their society, and thus will eventually be sucked away from world because they’re just that special. In other words, get on board, and get out. Many articles, like those found at the and the slacktivisit have already noted this same attitude in the Left Behind series, and I need not expound on them here.

I do not believe the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, and such is about escape planet earth and letting all God’s creation burn. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that starts small and then grows into something huge within the soil it was planted in. It is not like a soldier in a foxhole waiting for helicopter evac. Christians should not be looking to things like the rapture index to see how horrible the world is getting and looking foreward to our escape with self-satisfactory smugness, rather we should be doing the work of God in the world and preparing it for his coming.

So there it is: Four reasons why I am frustrated with futurism. It is a liberal view supported by poor interpretation. It has a bad track record when it comes to predicting the future and encourages, if only implicitly, that Christians need not care about the condition of the world around them. This is something I have been frustrated with for years.

So suck it, LaHaye.