Archive for the 'church and culture' Category

I think I’m turning into a pacifist…

February 18, 2009

Yesterday’s church history class opened up with our professor telling us that we would be covering all that was wrong with the Medieval period of Christianity. We then trudged through the inquisition, rival popes, and the crusades.

There is no need to talk about how bad the crusades were. It did, however, encourage me to think a little bit more about what I think about violence.

I don’t think it is hard to come up with a Biblical argument for non aggression. Personal aggression, that is. There seems to be little or no interpretation room to think that we ought to be a bunch of bullies, pushing each other around. Feel free to prove me otherwise, but I am not sure that citing Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is proof-texting. I think it is pretty clear that the way of Christ is not one laden with physical attacks.

In fact, even the cross (often used to cite that the Christian God is an angry, violent God) is an argument for personal non aggression. God, in his infinite wisdom, chose for the path to salvation for many to be sacrifice rather than siege. Christ’s victory is found in his submitting to his assailants instead of destroying them, and then raising from the dead showing their physical attacks to have been in vain.

So, enough preface, on to being a peacenik.

So where do we get a justification for war at all?

It is clear that God does not condemn the idea of war. The New Testament seems to allow for soldiers to remain in their occupation (although you could make the case that some Roman soldiers were just meant to keep internal peace rather than external, but I don’t think that argument holds up), and in the Old Testament God calls the people of Israel to war.

Luther made the argument for a just war based on the idea that governments have the right to protect their people – and have been given that charge from God. Romans 13 (among many other passages in the Epistles) makes it pretty clear that Christians are not supposed to try and overthrow the government, because God has given rulers their authority (we can talk about how that works with oppressive dictators another time). Therefore, as just war advocates say, governments have authority to use their power for governing their people, including their protection.

Other may dispute this, but practically it seems unthinkable that any country would not have an army or any system of defense. And whether or not you agree with the current war being waged, the logic of strike first is not completely flawed, nor is the idea that the big kid on the playground has a duty to look out for the little guy (a concept that would not be hard to draw out of the sundry commands in the OT prophets for Israel to watch out for the oppressed). You know, Uncle Ben “With great power comes great responsibility” business.

So what is my problem?

My problem is that when I over simplify the situation, I believe that killing someone else to stop them from killing you is not right. It is more than possible that this has different implications in a war setting, (God did not allow murder in Israel, but did allow for war), but it is still a mental, ethical hurdle that I struggle with.

My problem is the fact that when I became a citizen of the United States, I pledged to take up arms to protect Constitution if necessary. And I have no idea if I could do that with singleness of mind. I understand that there are many brave, and honourable Christians who are part of the armed forces, and by no means do I think that what they do is wrong.

I do think that Christians (particularly Evangelicals) support sending missionaries to the 10/40 window and sending more troops to the middle east without ever thinking that there might be a contradiction in those efforts. This is an over simplification, but the internal struggle should be there.

I don’t have answers to this one. This is my personal, ethical gordian knot that I am working through. War may be a necessary evil, a product of a fallen world that still needs to be redeemed by Christ, an unfortunate last option when peace is not an option, but none of that changes the undeniable fact:

War is bad.


Product Christianity

March 26, 2008

So, my blog may go more and more towards my experience in youth ministry, but without any dedicated readers, I suppose it won’t make much of a difference ¹

After reading a post on Once a Youth Pastor, I thought I would write something about product Christianity.

It seems to me like there is a deluge of books and seminars about how to make your church attractive to those outside the church. Put up fancy banners. Sing songs with cool waterfall video on a screen. Do things that will make the product of our faith look streamlined and trendy and sexy. Do special things on Sunday mornings so that new people will get hooked on Jesus.

We do not need a host of new graphics and designs with the best sound systems to attract people (although, if we are going to do graphic design, we ought do it well. Stop using clip art – NOW!). We also don’t have to try and have the best programs for everyone’s needs to attract people to our Sunday morning services (although we ought try and attend of the needs of those around us).

People outside of the church need to see Christians totally surrendered to God, meeting together to worship Him, and spending their time outside of church being His hands and feet. That will be attractive enough. When our faith is tailored to look how people want it, it is no longer the worship of God but a glorified social club.

As much as Christians (particularly Evangelicals) have blasted post-modernism (or at least, what they think post-modernism is) they continue to cling to cultural problems as if they were gospel. Commercialism and Materialism have become second nature to us, and we don’t even fight it. Bigger ‘auditoriums!’ (I have a problem with that word, but I will rant about that another time) Nicer video displays! Get the best pulpit around! Make sure the ‘stage’ (don’t get me started on these words..) is nice a big. And as we focus so much on stuff, the product of Christianity gets shinier and shinier until it is covered in so much gloss we can hardly see Christ’s possession-less lifestyle.

None of these things are problems in and of themselves, but they are merely a signpost to what church and Christianity has become: something we are trying desperately to sell to others. If our LORD is really what we say he is, and if the Christian faith is so self-evidently true, why do we try so hard to gussy it up like a show pig at the county fair? ²

And so (to get to the youth ministry part that I warned you about earlier) a generation that is being bombarded with ads and their need to have stuff more than any other is being introduced to a church that fits so much in with culture it looks like just another part of America. But it isn’t. Christ is an alternative to how the world lives. A different approach.

I am all about contextualizing messages for different cultures, but not to the point where we take on the worldliness as our own.

And so, to try and tie this all in some sort of tidy bow, when the church stops thinking it is a product, an option for people to choose among many, then we can return to being the counter-cultural, life changing institution Christ intended us to be.

¹ Blog rule number one: self deprecation is not appealing. No one wants to see you all down on yourself.

²  I tried to think of a really cool Charlotte’s Web reference here. To no avail. Pretend like I did.

how does Jesus relate to politics?

November 2, 2007

I just read on msnbc that Evangelicals are having problems deciding who to vote for in the next election. Several leaders met together to talk about it. (here is the article, if you are interested)

My question is this: why do I care about who James Dobson is going to vote for?

In a country whose two party system has caused severe disunity in its people (especially so in the last two elections) why do I want to vote as a block with every other white, male, conservative Christian?

The answer I often get is that what I should be looking for is a candidate who is on the right side of two issues : abortion and gay marriage. Those are the problems facing our country today, and those are the biggest issues that we face. But has our current ‘evangelical’ president done anything in his tenure to help those causes? Is there really much that any president could do to change the public opinion, to whom Congress is a slave to? I fear that Bush touted an amendment to the constitution before his last election, which stirred up controversy but solidified his standing among evangelicals, only to win the election – and we never heard of that amendment again. (I had totally forgotten about the amendment till I watched ‘So Goes the Nation,’ and interesting documentary about elections – I recommend it)

I do not deny that God is concerned about both the lives of unborn children and sexual purity, but are there not other things that God is concerned about? Sodom and Gomorrah may have been punished for Sodomy, but Israel was punished for its inability to take care of the oppressed, poor, and hungry (Isaiah 1:16-17). And should social policy and internal affairs not also determine our political positions, not just the fake litmus test of the middle east, or abortion?

Good theology would dictate that God is not only concerned with what we often delegate to the “religious” realm, but that (to use a catch phrase one of my professor’s loved) ‘everything is theological’

(no joke – a question on my midterm was “Everything is _______)

Maybe all the other problems have various and sundry hues of black and white, whereas abortion and civil unions are black and white. Maybe we are deluded into thinking that those are the tests to make sure that the candidate is “one of us,” and once we figure that out, we can be reassured that he (or she) is one of the good guys. But I do not think that those two typically evangelical issues are the only ones which win my vote. And I certainly feel like this country has more issues than just moral ones.

As a Christian, I feel like my responsibility is to make every facet of my life look more and more like Christ’s, and to change the situations that I am in to look more and more like Christ wants them. And living in Chicago I can see a broken education system, a failed attempt at public housing, environmental issues galore, and the list goes on. My brothers in Christ seemingly suggest that God does not care about the poor black boys in the Cabrini Green projects avoiding the gang scene – only that they don’t marry other boys. I can’t believe that God doesn’t care about the poor.

Maybe I will be voting for the same third party candidate that the evangelical big wigs do. but only if I feel that the candidate I vote for will take the country in the right direction. Does that include my conservative views on abortion and gay marriage? Yes. Exclusively? Not at all.

the poison of Christians

April 27, 2007

Richard Dawkins is right…well partially

I have been looking a little bit into what he has to say about Christianity, and although I may not agree on every point, he does have some good conclusions to make. Albeit, I don’t agree with the things that he probably wants me to agree with him on, but that is alright

I mean, as far as the lack of existence of God, he is considerably missing a lot of things. And, to be honest, despite his polite sounding demeanor, he is very ungracious to the other side of the argument. But when it comes down to the problems that religion has caused, he is spot on.

In the name of religion many awful things have been done. And as a dedicated Christian, I can never apologize enough for either the cruel things my fellow Christians have done, or for the things that some people who claim to be Christians have done.

There is no excuse for Westboro Baptist “Church.”

There is no excuse for the bombing of abortion clinics, the beatings of homosexuals, and the constant snobbery that comes from Christians.

Don’t even get me started on the crusades.

the only thing I can say in response to this is that this is a flaw of people, but not of God. Our failings to properly live out the example Christ set for us is not the fault of Christ but of us. We have done a terrible job of feeding the poor and helping the oppressed.

I am really really sorry.

But what that means is not that God does not exist, or that Christianity is false. It means that the church has some shaping up to do. We have some serious work ahead of us. Frankly, the gospel is an offensive enough message before we get to it. It does not need any help to cut to the core of people.

I apologize also that some parts of the church have told the world that God loves you just as you are AND that He does not desire change for you. I think we can all agree that people at least all have flaws, and at most are inherently evil and sinful because of the fall of Adam. What kind of God would love you and not want you to be the very best you can be? What sort of God would allow us to wallow in our error, without even giving us the opportunity to better ourselves and become more and more like Him?

And I am not even getting into the issue that a holy God requires us to strive to rid our lives of evil.

So, in short, the church has made two vital errors: one of which is attacking the world and hating it instead of loving it, the other is loving it falsely and pretending as if God did not possess any power or will to make people better than they are able to do on their own.

Schaeffer and the antithesis

April 17, 2007

I am reading Francis Schaeffer’s “The God Who is There,” and I am intrigued by his emphasis on the antithesis. Essentially, according to Schaeffer, the problem for the church in this new age stems from the world’s abandonment of the antithesis, or the belief that if something is true, then it’s opposite must be untrue.

The question that I am now asking myself is this: do I have to dedicate to such a strong position on truth? I will be the first to claim that things in direct opposition to truth can’t be true (and in that manner deny relativism in any form) but I feel hesitant in rejecting the idea that the opinions opposed to mine are without strong points. Maybe this is not what Schaeffer is suggesting, but I do not want to suppose that those who are outside of the church in no way display the image of God that all of mankind is created with.

I, like so many more Christians dedicated to truth, do not want to compromise the truth that Christianity is the one and only true way to live life, and others do not have a full understanding of God. At the same time, I do not want to ignore that other people’s beliefs do have things in common with mine, and so to say that they are opposite and completely lacking in truth would be a mistake.

So how do we reconcile the problem? I agree with Schaeffer that presuppositional apologetics are the only way to approach discussion with those outside of the faith – that no one can think outside of their context and biases and therefore we have to listen and understand the box in which people are living. I also agree that Christianity is the only true rational way to think about the world because, frankly, God is the basis for reason and logic. Without Him there is nothing ultimate reality we can base anything on.

At the same time I see that many outside of the church are speaking and proposing good things: helping those in need, the recognition of evil in the world, the need to treat all humanity with respect and dignity. These are things that I can agree with.

Ultimately, I think that there is a value in recognizing the antithesis, in that those who do not believe in the truths that I hold dear do not hold truth in its purest form. A true premise based on faulty reasons is still flawed. We can still realize that the efforts for social justice in the world are good things, but continue to dialogue with those who are not in Christ, encouraging them to understand that it is only in light of God’s love that we can truly love others, and that without Him there is no basis for reason at all.

I suppose Schaeffer might write about this later, but I am impatient….and a slow reader.