Do We Need the Church?


In our fiercely individualistic and overly cynical society the statement, “I don’t need the Church,” has become somewhat of a truism. Typically followed by something like, “I don’t see why I need to go to some building every Sunday when I can experience God just as well on my morning walk?” Faith or, as it is nebulously referred to these days, ‘spirituality’, is viewed as purely a private affair. Church is perceived as some drafty building filled with stuck up, superstitious, people who gather to hear some stuck up preacher foist his opinions on a bunch of mindless drones for an hour. Ironically, these sentiments are increasingly shared by Christians who feel all they really need is their Bible and a personal relationship with Jesus.

Now, it is certainly true that we can experience God on our morning walks (or whilst doing any number of things); it is equally true that we need to read Holy Scripture and have a relationship with Jesus. But, is the Church largely irrelevant in this process? Can a vague spirituality, practiced in relative isolation, ultimately satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts? To answer these questions, let’s examine the popular sentiments I just canvased a little more closely.

Experiencing the Numinous

Clearly, there is more than one way to experience–to have some sort of contact or interaction with–a person. Take my wife, for example. One way I can experience her is through her art (she’s an extremely talented photographer). When I observe her photos–paying attention to the way she frames each shot, to the colors and lighting she utilizes, and to the story each picture tells–I, in some limited way, experience her thoughts, her intentions, and her creative power. Yet, I am far removed from her. She is the cause and her art is but an effect.

Another, more intimate, way I might experience her is through reading her blog. Her writings afford me a glimpse into her mind. In them I discover her hopes, dreams, and desires; I learn about her values, convictions, and overall philosophy of life. I become very close to her; yet I am still one step removed. For she is not wholly present to me; her words are but a shadowy extension of the reality that is her.

Which brings us to the next level of experience: personal contact. When I sit down with my wife, and speak to her face to face, I encounter the creative power behind the photos and directly interact with the mind from which the writing sprung forth. I have come into personal contact with the reality I had, up to that point, only experienced from afar. I am no longer interacting with the cause through its effects but dealing directly with the cause herself.

Yet, I can get even closer still. As her husband, there is an even deeper way in which I can experience my wife; and that is through the nuptial embrace. When she and I become one; and share ourselves with one another in the most intimate way possible.

Each of these interactions describe very real ways to experience my wife; yet, clearly, these experiences vary greatly in terms of the level of intimacy involved.

The point being, many of us only seek to experience the numinous from afar; avoiding any intimate or personal contact. This is not to downplay the importance of such interaction. For, surely experiencing God through the beauty of His creation whilst on our morning walk is a great good (like any experience of great art). However, if I want to draw closer to and fully experience the Creator of all things I have to come into direct contact with Him; I must move beyond the Universe and interact with its ultimate cause.

Just as with my wife, I might seek to experience God through something He has written (or has inspired to be written). Again, this too is a great good. For, without a doubt, reading and meditating on the Bible will reveal much about God’s character, His motives, and His plans for my life. The key question is: Is this all God has to offer? Are we stuck merely experiencing God vaguely through the Universe He has made or through reading His inspired writings? Or, has He provided a more intimate, more personal, more direct way to experience Him? Something akin to the intimate relationship that I share with my beloved bride.

A Personal Relationship

As I said before, many Christians advocate having a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet, most understand this relationship, this experience of the numinous, to be an isolated, private, affair; one that is mediated almost entirely through the private study of the Bible. Perhaps, however, this is only scratching surface; it is only the tip of the proverbial ice-burg. Perhaps, God is interested in something deeper; something more profound. Perhaps God is offering Himself to us; that we might intimately experience Him in a way analogous to that of the relationship I share with my wife.

The biblical theologian Brant Pitre explains:

 …none of these ways of seeing God–as a distant watchmaker, as an impersonal force that binds everything together, or as a kind of invisible superhuman hero–is the way a first-century Jew like Jesus of Nazareth would have seen God. From an ancient Jewish perspective, the one true God–“the LORD” or “He Who Is” (Hebrew YHWH) (Exodus 3:15)–is not just the Creator. From an ancient Jewish perspective, the God of Israel is also a Bridegroom, a divine person whose ultimate desire is to be united to his creatures in an everlasting relationship that is so intimate, so permanent, so sacrificial, and so life-giving that it can only be described as a marriage between Creator and creatures, between God and human beings, between YHWH and Israel.

Christians believe this divine marriage was fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ who, through His incarnation and passion, initiated a New Covenant between God and men; who gathered for Himself a people; namely, a Church; i.e., the New Israel. St. Paul communicates this idea, utilizing the imagery of marriage, on multiple occasions. Perhaps, most clearly, in this passage from Ephesians:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the Church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Ephesians 5:25-30).

Being a Christian means being grafted or adopted into a community; a family. It means entering into the life of God who exists as an intimate communion of three distinct persons sharing one essence and will: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It means being part of a living Body–the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church–whose head is Christ. It is within this community that we fully and completely encounter the risen Lord; the Bridegroom who desires us to know Him and to experience Him directly.

Within this community, this communion of saints, we are able to experience Christ in a very real, very tangible, very personal, and deeply intimate way: namely, through the most Holy Eucharist. Through partaking of the Eucharist–the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord really present in the bread and wine–we not only become one with our Lord but He draws us into union with each other as well. St. Paul explains:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of the one bread (1 Corinth. 10:16-17).

Understood in this sense, asking the question, “Do we need the Church?” is on par with asking, “Do I need to spend time with or make love to my wife?” I suppose I could get by with a long distance relationship; but that is not my hearts deepest desire and longing. My desire is to be near her, to experience her personally, and to be as intimate with her as I possibly can. Likewise, we can get by on our own, experiencing God from a distance, but this will never satisfy the deepest yearning of our hearts: which is to be known by and to know the God who brought us into being in the most intimate way. Such an experience of the numinous can only take place within the context of the Church.

The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin or, Neither Jew nor Gentile

St. Moses the Black - you should really read about this saint

St. Moses the Black – you should really read about this saint

The early 90s presented to America the reality that it hadn’t gone very far since its days of segregation just a decade earlier. The beating of Rodney King and subsequent rioting at the acquittal of the officers showed that black Americans and white Americans viewed our judicial system differently. This difference was underscored by the trial of OJ Simpson and his subsequent acquittal. Both actions deeply divide white Americans and black Americans to this day.

Here we are, 2013, many decades removed from government-instituted segregation and we’re still very segregated. Now I do realize that I am white and some think that this invalidates me from speaking on matters of race, unless of course I am willing to bash “white-privilege.” But this only underscores how racism has so deeply infected our culture; last time I checked, I am human first, just as is any black person. In other words, racism is a problem we all have a voice on, it’s something we can all talk about and should talk about, because it impacts us all at some level because we are all human beings.

This is why the events of the Trayvon Martin killing and trial of George Zimmermann should be something any American, especially Christian, should mourn over. In the immediate facts of the case, Zimmermann shot and killed Martin. Without arguing over who’s at fault, the facts of the situation are that a young man who could have become someone had his life snuffed out. Whether he was responsible or not is irrelevant; he was made in the image of God, just like you and me, and his life was taken from him. He had feelings, he had thoughts, he had dreams, he had friends, and he had a family; any death, even if we bring that death upon ourselves, is a tragedy. If he attacked Zimmermann or was defending himself is irrelevant to the fact that his death is a tragedy.

Likewise, for Zimmermann, his life is ruined. Again, regardless of his innocence or guilt, he killed someone, he took someone’s life, and any person of conscience must struggle with such an action. If he killed this young man needlessly, if Zimmermann is the cause of the actions that led to Martin dying, then he must live with the guilt of murder and also face quite some time in prison. Any future he hoped for is now gone. If he is innocent, if he was defending himself and is found innocent, he must live his life knowing he still took a human life. He must live his life looking over his shoulder and living in fear that someone may come after him for retribution. No matter what, he’ll always be the man who killed Trayvon Martin.

A final victim has recently emerged on the witness stand, mocked and ridiculed by the media or viewed as a symbol of black culture by others. Rachel Jeantel has introduced white Americans to he more urban America, and what we’re seeing is two completely different cultures failing and refusing to understand each other. More to her own situation, however, this is a girl who must live with the knowledge that she was the last person to talk to Trayvon Martin. Yes, she lied to prosecutors, but only because she’s been raised to turn away from admitting to fear, and she lied because she was afraid to see Travyon’s body at the funeral and afraid to see his mother. For taking the stand she has been made to look like a fool to the rest of us. What finally got my blood boiling was seeing Glenn Beck read her tweets and mock her, failing to understand that inner-city education is a product of American values (or lack thereof).

The outflow from this has been devastating. If Zimmermann is found innocent or guilty there is the risk of riots from anyone. Some people on Twitter have claimed (though I hope it’s mere bravado) that they would kill a white person if Zimmermann is found innocent. Some responded saying they welcomed a race war (this came from whites and blacks). Such venom and glee over murdering a fellow human being shows, in my opinion, that we’re regressing. The Civil Rights movement was great because it was able to change the law, but it failed to change the people. That is not an indictment on the Civil Rights movement, but an indictment on our culture.

While this debate over the Trayvon killing takes place, we see another divide over a TV cook Paula Deen. Deen admitted in a very nonchalant manner that she used the “N-word.” This, of course, caused her to be let go by the Food Network and various other organizations. To me, this seemed like the obvious response, especially when you consider the context. She wanted to throw a plantation dinner where the black men served the white guests. Certainly, any modern company that cares about its image (and doing the right thing) would let her go. But apparently white Americans disagreed.

Even now, there’s a backlash forming against those who have turned against Deen. Many have said, “Well she apologized” or pointed to the fact she was raised in the South, so it’s just her culture. Others have said it’s hypocritical because rappers can say that word anytime they want to, but white people apparently cannot. The apologists for Deen have come out in legion.

What is interesting is how these two cases overlap each other. Jeantel said that Martin had a “crazy-ass cracka” following him. The use of the word “cracker” was viewed as offensive by many white Americans, the same white Americans who attempted to defend Paula Deen for using the “N-word.” Likewise, those who condemn Deen have seen no problem with calling a white person a derogatory word. The justification I’ve seen is that “cracker” can’t be demeaning to a white person because white people have never suffered under black people, so no dehumanization can occur because white people are in charge.

At the root of it all we have people talking about white privilege, black culture, slang, what words are acceptable, and the answers are dividing down the race lines. One side sees no problem with using dehumanizing language as long as you apologize, thinks their will be a race war, and implicitly looks upon the other has less-educated and articulate. The other side sees no problem with using dehumanizing language as long as it’s against the “ruling elite,” thinks it’s okay to retributively kill someone from a same race, and implicitly looks upon the other as oppressive. But in trying to fix the problems of racism we’re only touching a symptom, not a problem. It’s like trying to repair termite damage by painting over the wood; no matter how good you make it look, it’s still rotting from within.

The problem with racism goes down deeper to a problem with sin. In the American context the problem of racism as a sin is highly problematic for churches and something we really don’t want to deal with. If ever there was proof that churches have kicked Christ out of their presence it would be our average Sunday morning. Walk into a church and look at the congregation; chances are that 95% will all the be same color, one way or the other. That’s a sickening tragedy and is antithetical to the Gospel. America has a race problem because America has a sin problem, but that problem begins in the churches. It begins with an unwillingness to view someone else as a human being. It begins with an unwillingness to forgive. It begins with an unwillingness to fall more in love with Christ than to fall in love with what’s culturally comfortable.

The solution to America’s race problem isn’t found in more government legislation. You can’t legislate thinking. The solution is found in the Church acting like the body of Christ. It’s found in churches of different races coming together and working together. It’s found in working past some cultural differences and acknowledging that there is a bigger mission for us. In short, the solution to America’s race problem is love. And it is possible because I’ve seen it first-hand.

I attend a church where I think over a dozen languages are spoken (or at least close to it). North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa are all represented in the congregation. While the people are imperfect – especially since I started attending – to me this serves as an icon of Heaven; in Eternity we will all worship Christ forever. In our church the cultural distinctives are not lost, yet we all worship the same Christ and work with one another. And that’s part of the cure to our racism in America; we shouldn’t seek to be the same, but we should seek to love the same. That is, we will always have cultural distinctives and differences, and that’s great, but we shouldn’t let those distinctives turn into differences.

Think to the early Church which grew out of a very diverse culture. We like to think that because the Roman Empire was an empire, there was only one culture that Christians were speaking to. But within the Roman Empire there were many cultures, and it was to these cultures that early Christians went. They preached to Greeks, Romans, Africans, Asians, Barbarians, and so on. Of the many early saints few, if any, where white. There’s even African saints, such as St. Athanatius (called the “black midget”) and St. Moses (probably my favorite saint because he had such a hard time converting; I respect that), as well as many others. The early Church is often viewed as monolithic movement where everyone was the same; but the reality is that we only view it this way because the teachings were unified. The cultures, however, were various and diverse.

The Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov argued that God is many, yet one. That is, God is three Persons in one Essence. God is also infinite, meaning that God is infinitely diverse, yet infinitely unified. Every human being is made in the image of this same God, but we are finite. This means that every single culture is incomplete, though good (so long as what they do follows God’s holiness). Thus, our distinctives are a celebration of God, because in our distinctives we can still see God. But this should be met with our love for one another, that though distinct, we are not different, that though many, we are still one. Though our rooms may hold different decorations, we are all in the same house. The solution to our race problem, the solution to the ugliness exposed by the Trayvon murder case, is not the harsh rationality of justice, but the soothing paradox of love.

A Contemporary Theology?

IMG_0106Over at The Gospel Coalition, they did an interview with Gregg Allison over the challenges of writing a contemporary theology, specifically on the doctrine of the church (lower ‘c’ intentional). He points out that among evangelicals there are a wide variety of beliefs on how the church should function and look, which makes a contemporary theology over the issue quite a challenge. But the challenge, in my mind, undermines evangelical ecclesiology and not only makes the task of defining an evangelical church difficult, but proves it is ultimately impossible. The reason is that a contemporary theology of the church is impossible simply because we refuse to look at the ancient theology of the Church.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Whittenburg door, a lot of his grievances stemmed from the authority of the Roman Pope. This, of course, was not the first time in history that the authority given to the Roman Pope caused problems in Christendom. Prior to Luther’s call for reform (and subsequent excommunication), the Western Church had endured some of the most corrupt and violent popes in history. Even prior to the corruption, one of the driving factors in the Great Schism was the great authority the West was giving to the Roman Pope; at the time, there was a Pope of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. Due to the collapse of the Roman government in the West, the Pope in Rome (or archbishop) gained quite a bit of political authority. While he was always viewed as the “first among equals” by the Church in the East, those in the West began to see him as having more authority than the popes in the East. Thus, while not the sole contributor to the Great Schism, the authority given to the Pope was a driving factor in the split, much like it was in the Reformation.

The problem with the Protestant Reformation, however, isn’t that it rejected the level of authority given to the Pope, but instead that it ultimately elevated every man to the office of the Pope. Prior to the Reformation, the Bible was often interpreted by Bishops, Cardinals, and ultimately the Pope. He held (and still holds) the power to declare an interpretation or teaching ex cathedra (“from the chair”). While this power was no more than implied prior to the First Vatican Council, it still carried quite a bit of weight; the Pope’s view of how a passage should be interpreted often influenced everyone else’s view. The Reformation didn’t remove the Pope from their hermeneutic, they simply made every man a pope. Thus, John may interpret a passage one way while Peter interprets it another and the entire time both are left to argue endlessly without having an actual way to solve their differences.

The Reformations failure to eradicate the office of the Papacy (as it was known) and instead transfer its authority to the common man is what led to thousands of denominations. Seemingly small differences became massive when mixed with the pride of a self-interpretation. It wasn’t a matter of discovering the truth, but instead it became a matter of declaring x to be true, that we are the keepers of it, and all others are wrong. It gave every layman the ability to declare his interpretation ex cathedra, to say that the Holy Spirit had revealed the interpretation to him. Any attempts to refer to Tradition or how Christians had typically interpreted the passage were (and are) put on the back-burner or outright ridiculed as Papist.  Continue reading

Mystic Mondays – One Body

In the West it has become popular to associate Christianity with colonialization or other horrors of the Enlightenment period. It’s often viewed as a “Western Religion” or a “white-man’s religion.” While there is some accuracy to those critiques when it comes to specific churches, those critiques go out the window when looking at the broader Church.

One of the unique things about Christianity is that I can sit down next to a Christian from India, or Peru, or Russia, and have more in common with that person than a relative who is not a believer. I may not speak the same language as the other Christian, I certainly don’t come from the same culture, but he and I are unified on a level deeper than any culture could potentially provide.

Ultimately, Christianity is cross-cultural when appreciated in its true form. When we attempt to make Christianity cultural – which have had a tendency to do in the West – and adopt cultural mores into the Christian ethos, then we begin to make Christianity exclusive. For instance, the liberal Christians who have limited the miracles of God or the works of the Bible have necessarily excluded Christians from around the world who have avoided an Enlightenment influence. Likewise, the conservative Christians who equate Christianity to Americanism, or place patriotism ahead of their faith, have necessarily excluded all Christians who are not American. That is not the call of the Body.

One of the mysteries of the Church is that we are all united even without knowing each other, and must subsequently think globally about our brethren in other nations. We must think about the global persecution of Christians or the poverty they must endure. While this stands true of all humans and our concern for them should also be great, it is even more true for those who are Christians, who are of our own family.

Christianity is universal and unifying. In its truest form it reaches across cultures, languages, and national borders to create a bond among the nations that nothing can surpass.

An Impractical Solution for the Southern Baptist Convention

Last week it was announced that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has dropped in numbers of baptisms and membership. While some have attempted to offer up reasons as to why and potential solutions (many of which have been good), what ahs been far more typical is the SBC response. Either a person will sit in denial and say that this is simply a trend or he’ll offer up more methods and programs. Sadly, the solution for the SBC is incredibly easy, yet impossibly difficult.

Before going into a solution, however, it would probably be best to understand the problem. To provide a spoiler for the article, while I acknowledge that the problem and solution is theological (and existential), I do not go the way of Brian McLaren or the Emergent movement in asking the SBC to reconsider or rethink some of its core tenets, but rather implore the leaders to become more traditional, more orthodox, and more true to the original faith.

Why the SBC is Declining

The reason the SBC is declining is the same reason that mainline churches have declined for all these years; they’re irrelevant, though the SBC is irrelevant for different reasons. I am not suggesting that the SBC should be seeking relevance either, but instead differentiating two types of relevance. The pursuit of relevance is a dangerous one, one where we wish to fit into the culture. We can think of that kid who just doesn’t fit in, but wants to, and so he tries his hardest to fit in. That kind of relevance is a negative kind of relevance.

The SBC is irrelevant in that it’s simply unnoticed in a positive manner. After all, in seeking out solutions for the economy, in looking on how to help the poor, when attempting to decide what environmental policies we as a nation should pursue, how many Southern Baptists are consulted? Now some might argue that this is merely symptomatic of a secular worldview, but this apologetic is quickly turned back on them when we ask how we got there in the first place. Though we can chase this line of thinking for a while, ultimately it becomes a problem of the SBC, and the Church in general, not living or acting in a manner befitting to Christ.

For the SBC the problem of being irrelevant begins with them being a primarily method-driven and program-driven denomination. Lectures on how to grow a church, success in missions, and the like are often backed up with stats, figures, pie charts, and graphs all showing how a certain method or program can achieve the goal set forth. Every problem seems to have a program assigned to it. As the advertisement for Blackberry is, “Yeah, there’s an app for that,” the advertisement for the SBC seems to be “Yeah, there’s a program for that.”

In short, we’re irrelevant because we’re too practical. In pursuing relevance we have become irrelevant because we found very practical ways to be relevant, but as it turns out Christianity and practicality don’t mix very well. We have pastors who look like modern-day billionaire CEOs; we have Mark Cubans in the pulpit, wearing their t-shirts and jeans and using the lingo of the day. They teach a message for the masses and tone it down in order to be relevant to their audiences.

In other instances we have niche churches. We have churches that cater to the young and therefore play music that appeals to them. We have churches that cater to the traditionalist and therefore they play the hymns. We have biker churches, surfer churches, cowboy churches, and the list goes on. As any marketing director will tell you, these churches are extremely successful in displaying gains in their niche market. But therein lies the problem.

If a company wants to market their product in a city they have to look to the demographics of that city and essentially alienate certain aspects of the city in their marketing. So they’re marketing widgets, which 20-35 year olds love, but 50 year olds hate. Well, they’re not going to advertise these widgets in a retirement community, rather they’ll advertise them near a college campus, which of course will alienate part of the population, but will achieve their goal.

Since the Gospel is universal it cannot, by its very nature, operate in the same fashion. Anytime our spread of the Gospel results in alienation, that is, in refusing to give the Gospel to people because they fall outside of our targeted marketing group, then we are not presenting the Gospel. Thus, in becoming practical we’ve become irrelevant.

The problem for the SBC and the cause of its decline, however, goes much deeper than having programs and methods; it also extends into how the majority of its members and leaders live. The old adage “actions speak louder than words” is absolutely true. A person can spend years saying the same thing, but if one thing he does contradicts it then all those years of speaking are unwound. Likewise, if our actions back up what we say then our words have life. As it is, the SBC says quite a bit, but it lacks the action to back up those words.

While no one should expect any congregation to be perfect, the problem for the SBC extends well beyond the pew and goes to the pulpit. Having spent time in an SBC seminary, I can say that the SBC simply hasn’t caught on to the fact that there’s a giant dissonance between what is taught in the classroom and what occurs in the real world. Consider the following:

We’re a denomination that puts an emphasis on preaching methods, but not on how to reach the poor. We require our seminarians to agree that the Bible is inspired and infallible, but don’t require the same out of their own lives. We’d rather rip each other apart on whether or not God chose us or we chose God than help eradicate the world’s ills.

Now to be fair, the seminaries have been working on this problem by hiring more professors with a true heart for the world. Sadly, however, it seems that it’s simply not taking with the students; they’re rather debate over who wrote the book of Hebrews than live the precepts put forth in that same book. We have pastors who tell their congregation how abortion is wrong, how homosexual marriages are dangerous to our society, and how we should pray for our troops, but won’t chastise them for neglecting the poor, for abandoning the widows, or for withholding food from the hungry. For many pastors, such sermons would result in being fired. Thus, for all the positive change that is occurring in the seminaries, the congregations are still light-years behind.

An Impractical and Idealistic Solution for a Practical Problem

When I say my solution is impractical or idealistic, I mean that it’s impossible. It can never be achieved. It can never be fully enacted. It will always have flaws. So why work for it? I turn around and ask, why not?

God calls on us to be holy as He is holy, which is simply impossible. We can’t be holy like God is holy, but we’re to strive towards it. That’s the whole point of placing an ideal as your goal; even if you don’t reach it, you’re still a lot better off than you were. Thus, our goals should be impossible, we should have a 0% chance of achieving them, that if we do, when we do, we’ll know that it wasn’t by any work of our own, but instead by the Spirit who lives in us.

Now, the above isn’t to say that we should sit around and wait for the Spirit to work. We should be working towards the ideal, but we should also recognize that methods and programs place parameters around the ideal, which limits how the ideal can be achieved. So what is the ideal towards which we should strive?

The ideal of the Christian faith is two-fold and hierarchical, yet tied together. Jesus stated the ideal when He said,

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

For the Christian, all of life boils down to loving God and loving others. That’s the entire direction of Christianity. We could say, “It’s to display God’s glory” or “to enjoy Him fully,” but all of this simply falls under the greatest commandment. The end goal of Christianity isn’t the “Great Commission” because even this falls under the two commandments. The end goal of Christians is to love God with their entire being and to love their neighbors as themselves. Under such an ideal we should realize that more is involved than just missions and evangelism.

Many in the SBC leadership have commented on how the congregation at large is seemingly apathetic if not outright opposed to missions (both domestic and foreign). I have experienced this in my own life, where my church was questioned by some of the members on why we would “waste money” helping support a church in Mexico. But this attitude isn’t caused by a lack of proper programs, but is indicative of a larger spiritual problem. Namely, it’s indicative of a people who have lost sight of the Christian ideal.

If one is close to Christ, how can one be apathetic about Christ? Growing in faith naturally leads to growing in works; if our congregations aren’t growing in works, they aren’t growing in faith. Thus, programs don’t solve the problem of apathy, but only begin to exist once the problem of apathy has been overcome.

We should overcome the apathy prevalent in the SBC by emphasizing the things Christ taught us to emphasize. How this is carried out is beyond me and I don’t think there can be a universal method or program. After all, how we display our love to a person living on the Upper West Side of New York City is going to be completely different from how we display our love to someone living in Harlem. Thus, there isn’t a program or method to enacting the ideal, there is just the ideal.

But we can know what to emphasize, as follows: Continue reading

“I’m a Progressive/Emergent Christian, so I can’t be a hypocritical, unloving, insulting, jerk you simple-minded fool!”

"Yo, back off!" - Francis Chan (not an actual quote)

When the video of Rob Bell came out in early March promoting his book Love Wins (see my review here), controversy ensued when Rob Bell and other Reformed leaders began to critique the video. Many progressive/emergent Christians were up in arms, decrying such actions saying, “You haven’t even read the book yet!” So of course when Francis Chan wrote a book and then posted a video for it, one that is supposed to function as a response to Love Wins, you’d expect that people would follow their own advice and wait to read the book.

But no. That didn’t happen.

Instead, what many of the neo-Calvinist were accused of doing (e.g. hating Rob Bell, insulting him, going after him as a person, jumping the gun, assuming things about his theology, etc) they have actually been up to themselves. When Bell was criticized before his book was even out, many decided to say that the criticism revealed more about the critics than about Bell’s book. They were upset that people would slam Rob Bell as a person. They accused the Calvinists of hating Rob Bell in fact. Even I implicitly pointed out that we should read Bell’s book before criticizing it or uplifting it.

But with Francis Chan’s announcement of his new book, the Progressive and Emergent ground has apparently forgotten all their righteous indignation when it was Bell being attacked. For one, back during the Bell controversy, one progressive Christian went so far as to insinuate that any Christian who believed in Hell should be treated like a moron. In response to the Chan video, one emergent blogger essentially did a hit piece on the video, criticizing how Chan came across and making light of Chan’s theology (essentially treating Chan like an idiot). The same writer who compared people who believe in Hell to children also attacked Chan as a person rather than dealing with the message. He goes after the style of the video and then attacks Chan’s beliefs on Hell…even though Chan never states his beliefs and his book isn’t out yet. In essence, the same criticisms people had against the Reformed crowd concerning Bell’s book could easily be levied against the progressive and emergent crowd concerning Chan’s book.

Now make no mistake, I’m not a fan of Chan (rhyming not intended). It’s not that I’m against Chan, I just don’t know who he is. I haven’t listened to any sermons by him or read anything written by him. Perhaps it’s because I’m a closet hipster and haven’t read him because he’s too mainstream for my taste, or I just haven’t had time to read him because I’ve been busy reading other things. But this post isn’t meant to be a defense of Chan or his beliefs. I don’t know what his beliefs are. I haven’t read his book.

The bigger point I want to make is one that I’ve made numerous times before; the emergent movement is highly hypocritical and woefully lacking in its own self-criticism. How many posts can you find from an emergent author criticizing anything about progressive Christianity or emergent thinking? It seems that for all their finger-pointing and ridicule of all things conservative, the emergent crowd has forgotten to look into the mirror.

Now I don’t say this in a triumphal way or as a way to negate anything they’re saying, but instead I point it out as an honest plea to those who consider themselves emergent (or those who just want to be “beyond labels,” which is a label…). For all the criticisms the emergents have towards the Reformed authors (some criticisms I agree with) they forget or ignore how self-critical these authors are when it comes to conservative Christians or their own churches (some criticisms I agree with). For instance, the best books I’ve read about how dumbed-down many conservative evangelicals seem to be have come from conservative evangelical authorsContinue reading

We are material and immaterial

Over at Hugh Hallowell’s website there’s a giant debate between him and a commenter named ‘pastorboy.’ The debate is essentially over how Hugh worked with a homeless couple to get them a home and get them off the streets. Hugh got this couple a house even though the couple is unmarried (but is getting married) and gave no indication of whether or not he shared the Gospel. ‘Pastorboy’ took issue with this, noting that the couple was sinning and that they needed to hear the Gospel of Christ. Hugh’s response on whether or not they were saved was,

They are saved –  from the hell of sexual assault, the hell of living on the streets, the hell of no hope, the hell of hunger, the hell of being alone in the world

It’s debates and arguments like these that often leave me shaking my head – both sides are so entrenched in their viewpoints that neither side is willing to concede they could be wrong in some areas and work together to find common ground. In essence, both sides are right and both sides are wrong.

It is easier for me to begin with Hugh’s position because, on this issue at least, I tend to agree with him more than I disagree. I think all Christians will agree that helping the poor is good, but I like that Hugh went beyond the system to help this couple. Too often the local church “help’s” the homeless by putting them in vans, bringing them to the church, giving them a special service (so they’re not mixed with the general population of the church) while feeding them, and then sending them home. While I do understand the danger of helping the homeless – as there are homeless who are mentally ill and/or extremely violent and prone to act out in violence – there are others who are homeless and harmless. All they need is help, they need someone to take care of them. Some are homeless because of a defect in the economy while others are homeless because of a defect in themselves, but both are harmless and both are worthy of our displayed love. The Church would be better off if we did what we could to help the homeless or at the very least worked to repair a damaged system in order to help the homeless more (rather than throwing violent/anti-social people into homeless shelters along with those who genuinely need help and will receive it). Continue reading