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.

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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.


ecumenism

September 26, 2007

another post related to my experience from looking at episciopal blogs (particularly Father Jake’s  who, even though I disagree with him theologically, is a pretty level-headed guy I must say)

There is a lot of problems in the Anglican Communion. A lot. Because of the differences in theology between the conservative, global south and the liberal west (I think that is an accurate geographical split) who both consider the other to have strayed away from true Christianity, there may be a schism. Both sides are beginning to feel like staying in Communion with one another is not worth it anymore.

I will agree, the tension is definitely there, and perhaps there is legitimacy to seeing a brother who will not repent of their sins and leaving them. But I wonder how far the separation needs to go.

Do we ever excommunicate a brother and leave him to his own ways forever, or does there have to be some sort of general sense of communion to make sure that he knows that we still love him? I fear that an actual split between the factions will not help in our attempt at Christian unity, but instead take a step backwards.

I see far too many churches in the evangelical tradition splitting and starting up new churches for the most ridiculous of reasons. Church plants are one thing, but how many churches are there that have no accountability to anyone; no relationship with any other church? How is there any expectation of unity within the church when there are estimated to be over 20000 Christian denominations in the world? Add to that the number of churches which claim to not be part of any larger group. How do we teach about the universal Church,  when we make no attempts to make our church universal?

I am not saying everyone forsake their differences and hold hands and sing kum-bay-ya, but there has to be some sort of steps taken to unity. And sometimes that unity is going to require us to be in dialogue with people who believe very different things.

So would I be happy if the Anglican Communion split? I don’t know. I think the best opportunity is for there to be actual conversation between the sides, but I wonder if that ship has sailed.


degrees of sanctification

September 24, 2007

The Christian life is one of constant change. We are always trying to take more steps away from self and towards Christ. Repentance is a daily need, and we can all agree that there is no person who has no room for improvement.

Where my new problems lie is in where I mentally place myself along this scale. About a month ago at our church’s men’s group the question came up of whether we think of ourselves as sinners or saints. Do we act in life as if we are fallen humans, constantly making mistakes, or do we assume that we are positionally justified and think in terms of how we are positively affecting the world around us?

It seems like an innocuous difference, one that will only bother philosophers and people who over think details. But in reality how we view ourselves will greatly affect our lives, especially our lives in Christ.

When we think of ourselves more in the camp of a depraved, fallen human who is unable to please God with our actions (which we are), we will be quick to accept our mistakes. “I couldn’t help but sin because I am just a sinner,” we lament, all the while justifying our sins because we have accepted our fate as sinners.

At the same time, however, if we think of ourselves too much in the realm of saints (which we are), as holy ones, we can falsely think too highly of ourselves. It is possible to then go through much mental strain when we inevitably fall into sin because we have assumed that we will not sin. At the same time, that bar is set high because of Christ who was tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

What I think we have to keep in mind, is first off, we are a new creation. The old self is gone and a new has come so that we are able to live free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:4-7). In my recent dialogues with people on a wide number of blogs I am finding more people who accept sin and throw their hands in the air. That beliefe seems pretty incongruent with Paul’s teaching on the matter.

Secondly, I think that the Bible does not encourage us to think of ourselves as completely changed. In 1st John we read that anyone who claims to be without sin lies (1 John 1:8). We will not be perfect until the day of the Lord and we are give our glorified bodies.

What I think is the right way to think about personal sanctification is to never give the old self any foothold in our thinking, while recognizing that we are fallible. We must never recommit our minds to thinking that we are still part of the kingdom of darkness, who no longer has power over us. We are under a new kingdom. There has to be striving and real commitment to living as close to perfect lives as we can – for (as Peter Akinola said this Sunday) there is no alternative to obedience. Any part of our lives that is not changed into conformity with God’s commands is still to be changed. But our identity, at its core, has to lie with Christ and his kingdom. We are not of this world anymore.

So wherever you find yourself on the sliding scale of sanctification, do not allow yourself to think that you are still a hopeless sinner, because if you are in Christ you no longer answer to your former master. You are part of the body, and we all ought strive to make that identity more and more prominent in our lives.


angry anglicans

September 17, 2007

so, recently there has been quite a stirring in the Chicagoland episcopal church due to an upcoming visit from ++Peter Akinola to a joint service of several conservative Anglican churches out in Wheaton, IL. lots of blogs are calling for protests, and many of the people posting are pretty hate filled.

And so I throw my two cents into the pot.  It seems like there is a considerable amount of misunderstanding between the Episcopal Church and those of us who are in churches departed from the Episcopal church. We say that we believe the Bible to be true and our highest authority, and so what Paul calls sin we call sin. We will be the first to acknowledge our own many sins, and can not begin to judge any person – that is God’s role. We do say, however, that if something is called sin in the Bible, we will not affirm that behaviour. We do not hate sinners, but we can’t affirm that their sin is acceptable

What is heard, or at least what it seems like is being heard, is that since we will not affirm sin, we hate sinners and refuse to accept them as people. I quote a comment from josh on akinolarepent.wordpress.com

“We don’t care what your thoughts are, or your justifications; those positions aim to assert heterosexual superiority in every aspect of public life. And just like the old doctrine of white superiority, that’s profoundly bigoted and sinful.”

The problem is that the argument is constantly leaving its roots and hitting side issues. Conservative Anglicans do not aim to fashion ourselves higher or better or superior to anyone. We simply can’t accept homosexuality as something that is pleasing to God, not because we formed that opinion by ourselves, but because that is what we believe that Bible says – and the Bible is the chief authority in our thinking.

And frankly, you will find that in a lot of these churches, GLBT people will be much more accepted that not. I have been in two different AMiA churches, and both of them had open arms to anyone in their church. There was no hate directed at GLBT people. Instead there was enough love to not carte blanche accept their sin, but instead to help them through it. In fact, I wish that attitude was presented more thoroughly to my own sins, that they would be brought to light so I could change them.

I know I have offended enough people already, so I end with this: the gospel is not about acceptance and affirmation, but about repentance and transformation. (I know wordplay is cheesy, but I can’t help myself…)


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.