Monday, October 31, 2005

"Christian Pop Culture": An Oxymoron?

I recently posted on the sad state of Christian Pop music, and I was thrilled to get a handful of like-minded responses as well as a string of great suggestions on good bands. One of the comments was from Kenny:

I think that the problem is just about "Christian pop culture" (a contradiction in terms) and how this culture demands that everything be watered down into the Prayer of Jabez and the Purpose Driven Life and can't deal with any real content. It doesn't encourage artists to show their struggles. It also allows artists to become popular without really being any good musically.

I think he is right on the dot with this insight. I think there are some productive ways of thinking about the phrase “Christian pop culture” as being an oxymoron. What kind of traits and virtues does pop culture provoke in general?

Pop culture, the kind we encounter in grocery lines, on TV, and in the movie theatre rewards things like: fame for fame’s sake, shallow thinking, sound-byte discussion, herd mentality, concupiscence, covetousness, lust, influence as an automatic result of fame, gluttony, relatively blind obedience, style over substance, historical myopia, age discrimination (no respect for elders), and so on.

None of which are compatible with a Christian worldview. So what are we doing to our Christian culture if we inject into it things like Christian celebrities and protean Christian niche markets? Well, one result many of us seem to agree upon is that it makes Christian music fairly one-dimensional and pathetic.

And what in the world does it mean to our culture to have Christian celebrities? Do they command the same kind of following that movie or TV clebs command? Doesn’t being a celebrity automatically demand you exude a certain amount of pride and/or arrogance? And if you were a humble person, wouldn’t your celebrity status demand a certain amount of pride?

Anyway, just a handful of thoughts.

Strangest Saint

For about four years now, our group/church has performed our own little homage to "All Saint's Day." One of our members, Eric Lind, does a little research to find a saint with a, how shall we say it, strange story. This year's was a doozy. If you haven't heard the story of St. Joseph of Cupertino, the 11 minutes or so of this mp3 should be worth the listen.

St. Joseph of Cupertino

Saturday, October 29, 2005

God on Relevance

I am currently teaching through Jeremiah, and this passage caught my eye this morning. Jeremiah is struggling with his call, the judgment going on all around him, and the personal pain it has put him through. He complains in the passage preceding this one that he has separated himself from common society for God’s sake, and that he is feeling the effects of being alone. When God replies, he lays a mild rebuke at the feet of the prophet. Then in Jeremiah 15:19 God says:

“If you return, I will return to you,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not
what is worthless,
you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you
but you shall not turn to them.”

That last phrase in the New Living Translation goes like this:

“Let your words change them. Don’t change your words to suit them.”

Jeremiah is struggling because he is different than the surrounding culture. God attempts to comfort and edify his prophet by telling him in essence, “and don’t let that change.”

I want to know your thoughts. What impact does a passage like this one have on our tendency to want to be “relevant”?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Should Evangelicals Even Be Allowed To Vote?

As a life-long resident of Colorado Springs, and as someone who has grown up in the shadow of New Life Church, there is so much to comment on in this piece of journalism by Tom Brokaw on NBC called, "In God They Trust." But for various reasons, I will limit myself to just one little item.

Near the end of the broadcast, Brokaw began to press the issue with Pastor Haggard that evangelicals would like to have more national politicians reflect their views. Brokaw was clearly communicating the fear of many that politicians might actually do so. On balance, I thought Pastor Haggard replied well. (And in all honesty, I thought Brokaw did a decent job of fairness himself through most of the piece.) In response, Haggard pointed out that in our political system, “we” think we are right, “they” think they are right, we all present our best case, and voters get to decide with whom they agree. Sounds pretty straightforward to me.

But Brokaw pressed the issue further. He wasn’t at peace with the idea that evangelicals might take their personal, religious convictions into the voting booth, and he was especially not happy with politicians who reflected those values-he brought up the fear that some have of an evangelical theocracy.

The final line of the documentary was telling. And by “telling” I mean as transparent as saran wrap. Brokaw concluded with, “but if they gain control of Congress, they won’t need a theocracy.” Brokaw, in what is becoming an unhappily common mental practice, was trying to swap labels like “narrow” and “intolerant” for the idea of “people who disagree with me.” He was attempting to stick them on a Christian group because they happened to vote for candidates that, according to his acute journalistic insight, fit “very narrow” guidelines. Haggard again replied well by appealing to the public square of ideas. But noticed what happened. By implication (deliberate, I assume), Brokaw said that conservative, evangelical Christians were wrong for thinking they had right ideas, and for voting for candidates that reflected their set of values.

Now, if Brokaw is to avoid the label of hypocrite, he must then argue that he, and those with whom he agrees, do not believe they have right ideas, and that they do not vote for candidates that reflect their values. But certainly Brokaw does not believe that. I am just as certain that Brokaw, and those with whom he feels in league with politically, believe they are voting for stances on issues they would label right or correct (if even to say that their supposedly tolerant views are right), and for politicians who will attempt to implement their rather narrow set of guidelines.

So what did happen in that one, little line? Without any argument, without any of the mental work necessary to address issues, principles, or theories, Brokaw attempted to label those with whom he disagrees out of significance. The move is called ad hominum-it is the oldest, cheapest, and in reality, the commonest argument around.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rant Warning...

Why the heck is popular Christian music so contemptibly boring? Why is it that I find more provocative lyrics and better musicianship on the local hard rock/alternative station? Why is it that people who are supposed to be writing music out of ineffable praise to the Creator of the universe can’t come up with a single interesting or thoughtful lyric?

I am bewildered, befuddled, and utterly frustrated out of my mind! I imagine this kind of scenario taking place between a Producer looking for the latest and greatest thing in Christian music and Young Christian Rock Star (wearing the requisite hipster-retro t-shirt, beaded choker necklace, the “livestrong” bracelet over his old “W.W.J.D.” bracelet, and trucker-style baseball cap barely covering their mop head).

Producer: I’m looking for the next great Christian rock band.
Young Christian Rock Star: Jesus loves me, and so he, like, made me play, like, my guitar.
Producer: I think you might be right for our demographic.
Young Christian Rock Star: Huh?
Producer: What is your sound? We are looking for something cutting edge enough to be liked by twelve to fourteen year old evangelical girls, but mainstream enough to be endorsed by Focus on the Family.
Young Christian Rock Star: I would say we are, like, a mix between Pearl Jam and, like, Third Day.
Producer: Aren’t they the same band?
Young Christian Rock Star: Huh?
Producer: Do you have any songs you have written? Anything you do good?
Young Christian Rock Star: You know that, like, one mediocre worship song that has been remixed, like, a dozen times?
Producer: I think I catch your drift…
Young Christian Rock Star: We do, like, a praisin’ version of it that is, like, a mixture between, like, Pearl Jam and Third Day.
Producer: I think you might be right for our demographic.
Young Christian Rock Star: Huh?

Where is Steve Taylor when you need him?!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Divorce Parties: The Next Inevitable Step

ABC News: Many Throw Parties to Toast Divorces

Apparently a growing trend among women is throwing a party to celebrate the end of a marriage and the start of a "new life." This seems different from taking a recently divorced friend to dinner or golfing to console them. The parties are for the purpose of celebrating-feeling joy and happiness at the end of a marriage.

Putting aside all the situations in which reasonable people would see possible merit in divorce, I think this reality exemplifies well the next inevitable step in our shameless culture. Instead of allowing an appropriate measure of shame and guilt to do its moral work in our lives, we strive effortlessly to make the shameful acceptable and the guilty asuaged and vindicated. An appropriate moral reaction to divorce (even divorce in extreme and horrible situations) should contain a great deal of remorse.

Replacing remorse with glee dulls our moral senses, our ability to reason morally, and thus the ethical shapes of our lives. We become more reprobate and feel better about it all the time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Critics of ID Make the Same Errors Over and Over

Review of "Creationism's Trojan Horse" by Johathan Witt

If you have the time and inclination, this is a great review that helps put the story straight-what exactly is the relationship between ID, the Discovery Institute, and the Plot To Take Over The World By The Evil Creationists.

HT: Wittingshire

Monday, October 17, 2005

Why James MacDonald Is Not Emerging

Leadership Blog: Out of Ur: Why James MacDonald Is Not Emerging (Part 1)

I don't know off-hand who James Macdonald is, but I like this post. His description of why he has not "become emergent" resonates well with my own reasons. Take this entry under #2:

We are expected to obey our Master and to accept His Word without equivocation. Cavalier questioning of the explicit statements of Scripture regarding the necessity of the new birth, the priority of biblical proclamation or the binding authority and sufficiency of Scripture cannot build a stronger, more Christ-honoring church no matter how sincere the messengers. Critiquing the church is good; disregarding or diminishing the revealed truth of our Founder is not good, no matter how ‘nice’ the people are who do it.

Sounds good to me. I am not exactly sure why questioning without answering (or even really wanting to or attempting to answer) is all the rage right now, but it is clouding a lot of good judgment out there.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Are We Rediscovering Theology?

Trying to fall asleep tonight, I ran across this new blog by Leadership Magazine. Based on what I have seen just in these few minutes, I am looking forward to watching their future entries with interest.

One entitled, “Theology Is Back” caught my eye. I am please to hear that there may be a contingent of young pastors who see the deep importance in theology and its application to real life, but the floppy influence of emergent thought and pomo culture couldn’t help but come to the surface. In noting the manner in which theology was important to his particular congregation, the pastor noted:

“We’re dealing with a new breed of college students coming in with a lot of questions. And they’re theological questions,” said Rusty. “They’re looking not so much for answers, but for discussion, for acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the questions.” Questions such as: Where is God? Is a tsunami an act of God? Was Katrina a random consequence of weather patterns or an intentional judgment by God—and if so, what exactly was he judging? Why is my sister dying and I’m not?

That is not at issue for me-many people need to know they can be safe asking those kinds of questions and wrestling with those issues. (Except that, speaking as a former college pastor, I think college students have always had these questions.) It is the next step in the argument that doesn’t make sense to me. The blog continued:

These questions are unlike the theological questions of a generation ago (Is the Bible best described as ‘human’ or ‘divine’, or by the term ‘authoritative,’ ‘infallible,’ or ‘inerrant’?) Many of the theological questions a generation ago proved divisive, separating Christians into competing camps.

This is certainly the wrong conclusion. First, we should note that the debates listed in the quote and so presumptively dismissed were, in some very important ways, the results of the very questions the parishioners were asking in the first quote. If you want to seriously wrestle with God’s revelation in light of these questions, you are going to begin asking yourself how to take Scripture: is it metaphorical? mythical? inerrant? erroneous? Frankly, if someone does not do the work to answer this second set of questions, the “answers” to the parishioner’s questions remain nothing but hallow emotionalism and opinion.

Second, it is popular in pop-theological circles right now to label the debates of “a generation ago” as divisive and separatist. The presumption in this slogan is false: division is not an evil. How exactly are the divisions of a generation ago different than real answers to the parishioner’s questions, and if those debates are attempting to separate good answers from bad, exactly how is that bad thing? In other words, if two of us answer the parishioner’s questions in two different ways (and ways that are not totally reconcilable), how is that not divisive? The parishioner will need to decide between the two answers if they are truly seeking resolution. (I can hear the rebuttal now, “They don’t need to decide between the two. They can accept the mystery and live in awe of God.” I am not a neophyte to these kinds of discussions, and honestly, if someone is seriously asking questions, they are typically not interested in mysterious and evasive answers.)

I find it encouraging that young pastors are finding the importance and import of theology, but if they do not yet see the crucial role of the previous generation’s debates, have they really discovered theology at all?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Are We Becoming Afraid to Say What God Says?: The Truth About Theological Particularism

I ran across Jeremiah 12:14-17 the other day, and it got me to thinking. The passage is a little hard to grasp at first because of the use of pronouns in most translations, but paraphrases and some contemporary translations make it clear. The Message puts the pertinent part like this:

Once I've pulled the bad neighbors out, I will relent and take them tenderly to my heart...Then if they will get serious about living my way and pray to me as well as they taught my people to pray to that god Baal, everything will go well for them.

The point of this passage is the truth about the particular nature of the Gospel message. God does not tell Jeremiah He will show compassion upon their pagan neighbors if they return to their lands, learn to dialogue like civilized (postmodern) people and worship their gods sincerely. God (and the prophets, the apostles, the wisdom literature, etc.) is not shy about the particular nature of the Gospel-there is no god but God and He is the only way to salvation.

Many today express distaste for words like “particularism” and its ugly cousin “exclucivism.” They say the words and theologies behind them are too unkind, restrictive, and not generous enough for a loving God. But certainly a couple of realities have been missed, not least of which is who or what is being excluded. To listen to the critics of the orthodox position of the unique nature of the Gospel, you would think it was designed to exclude people from the Kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth-it excludes false Messiahs.

Another reality that seems to be missed is that God is not afraid to talk in these terms. Quite obviously, God thinks that worship outside His revelation is idolatry and that idolatry destroys souls.

So what are we to make of current pop-theologies that are afraid to speak in terms of the truth of the Gospel as revealed in Scripture, or afraid to speak in terms of true and false religion generally? We are to conclude that they may lack the courage of Scripture and the courage of their own faith.

The generosity of the Gospel is not shown in demurring about truth, but in its call to “whosoever will.” Even in Jeremiah, in the midst of so much lamentation and impending doom and judgment, God calls out to the pagan nations to receive His eternal compassion and become members of His kingdom.

Friday, October 14, 2005

What Are We Making Of Ourselves?

This weblog from the prolific Al Mohler is definitely worth the read. It deals with and details the growing biblical illiteracy among American Christians. Some quotes from the weblog and from the Barna research it cites:

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: "Americans revere the Bible--but, by and large, they don't read it. And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates."

Some details not surprising to those who have run across these kinds of studies before:

Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can't name even five of the Ten Commandments….
Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham.

This, I think, is indicative of a deep and profound problem within American church circles today. As the culture goes, so goes the church. We have become so enamored with relevance and the latest and greatest in cultural movements, that we have become their slaves. Mohler continues:

Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation's time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study.

Youth ministries are asked to fix problems, provide entertainment, and keep kids busy. How many local-church youth programs actually produce substantial Bible knowledge in young people?

For various reasons, we have decided that being a church in America today means being relevant to the culture. And while we are to reach out to the lost, relevance is neither a biblical nor a sound theological notion. Relevance entails capitulation and requires a protean soul. The Gospel is neither.

This will upset some of my readers and interlocutors, but this is the core disease with the Emergent church movement. Its reform does not begin where the great and lasting reforms of history have begun-a theological corrective. It begins with cultural corrective and then moves to its theology. That particular flow of influence is equivalent to making the same mistake the worst portions of the seeker sensitive movement made-making the masses sovereign instead of the message. Ironic, if you ask me.

A couple of books that are absolutely terrific on this particular issue:

Os Guinness, No God But God.
Dorothy Sayers, Letters To A Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments For The Relevance Of Christian Doctrine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Journal Review-Spiritual Counterfeit Project

SCP Journal
Volume 28:4-29:1 2005
“Soul Traps of Thought and Culture”

This is the first time I have been exposed to the Spiritual Counterfeit Project ministry and their journal. After doing some reading on them and what they do, I am impressed with their goals and longevity, and am glad to have such people involved in this sort of ministry. There has been, and will continue to be, a great need for Christians to do the sometimes hard but necessary work of addressing the issues of spiritual deceptions.

I was provided with their latest journal as well as their latest printed newsletter for review.

The journal itself is well produced. I was impressed with the quality of the cover, the layout, and the general form of the contents. It contained a (supposedly) complete list of back issues and their contents for purchase. I found this a positive addition in that many people who are dealing with or struggling with these sorts of issues would likely be interested in picking up articles that cover certain topics.

This journal edition contained three articles: The Soul Under Siege: Part II by Lee Penn, From Old Gnosticism To New Age: Part I by Alan Morrison, and The Suicide Option: When Life Has Lost Meaning by Josh Ong. Each article was very informative and extremely well researched and cited. There is no lack of follow-up potential within each set of topics dealt with.

The first article was a bit of a surprise to me in that I was anticipating an article of more theological focus than it turned out to be. The thrust of this article was a description of the players and potential players in the New World Order and a tide of growing global spiritualization/mysticism. The first third or so was devoted to setting a political scene within which a potential global scheme might come to the surface, and the last two-thirds of the article was devoted to establishing a connection between that political analysis and a New Age-style New World Order. Again, this article was very well researched, and I do not doubt many of the political ties that the author makes. But I did not think the link between the first theme and the second was as tight as it could have been. The most straightforward connection in the article comes on page 10 when the author notes that many global leaders hold to a view of how social change happens: “via a dramatic event that shapes a new consensus of that is possible and desirable. Groups and agencies that act as [catalysts] can build this new consensus creating a New World Order from the rubble of the old regime.” The very next paragraph is the logical connection: “These leaders are following a trail blazed for them by New Age theorists.” The rest of the article then proceeds to argue for a very real New Age-style New World Order. Though the research was clearly in-depth and thorough, I was not entirely convinced by the argument.

The next article is a well-done intellectual history of Gnosticism and its contemporary incarnations. Along the way, the author takes time to engage the various forms of Gnosticism and Neo-Gnosticism from a Christian worldview, and this helps the article reach its potential goal of elucidating the differences between Gnosticism and Christianity. The strengths of the article lie in its research, order of argument, and importance of topic. Many researchers and theologians have noted that Gnosticism has survived through the ages in many forms, and this piece does an admiral job of detailing and documenting much of that. If there was a portion of this article I wasn’t convinced by it was some of the biblical application. At one point the author contrasts the body of Christ with what he labels the “body of Antichrist” and the point and biblical support seemed just a bit stretched.

The last article is a much more personal reflection by one of their staffers on his own experience with suicidal tendencies. The article combines his own present reflection on the issue, several of his journal entries during that period of his life, and then ends with some reflections on aspects of the current culture that lend to suicidal tendencies in the youth culture today. I would highly recommend this article for anyone who is or who knows a young person struggling with this extremely difficult issue.

The newsletter I received was also a wonderful resource. It contained two pieces. One was an insightful reflection on the differences between the original War of the Worlds and the recent Spielberg version, and the other was a shorter piece on the importance of picking justices for the federal court system. Both articles were well written and well reasoned. What I am supposing was the primary purpose of the newsletter, presenting the ministry’s news and work for those struggling with relevant issues, was well highlighted.

Overall, I found this journal to be a thorough and insightful resource that would make a wonderful addition to anyone’s library that is interested in or involved in ministry to people struggling with different spiritualities and religions.

I would like to thank SCP for the journal and the newsletter, and Mind and Media for the opportunity.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Battling Stupidity-A Full Time Job

Battling stupidity is a full-time job: it is probably akin the thankless but necessary job performed by septic tank cleaners. The odor is similar and the fact that the tank always seems to fill right back up seems to be analogous as well.

Out of the respect I have for the ministry, I won’t produce the link, but the relevant text should help your Premature Hair-Graying program just fine all by itself. As some context, the ministry whose forum board this is is a bit like Awana’s on prescription grade steroids. It combines intense biblical memorization and elimination style competition on a National level. The thread raised the important question of how to balance competition and discipleship in such a ministry.

My response included this gem of a thought: (Some of the posts justified an overly competitive spirit by appealing to Scripture.)

But I get a little concerned when I hear people quote Scripture to justify a competitive mentality. I simply can’t see a justification of that kind of usage. Is sport-like competition really what the Epistle writers had in mind when they penned those passages? Did they want Christians to win every event they entered, or did they want believers to exemplify Christ in a world in which they were the “least”? Quite frankly, the more difficult achievement is reflecting Christ in the midst of disappointment, loss and frustration than striving to win a competition.

The response, coming from the Nute Rockny School of Biblical Interpretation, went like this:

I do believe we have to ask ourselves, "what is our biblical example?" Is it one of being "born to lose," or are we called to win? The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain," (1 Cor. 9:24). Paul is saying, play to win, work to win, work very hard to win. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like Paul is saying that the objective is to win. He uses an athletic example to make his point, as though there's an obvious connection.

I must admit-Paul’s deep interest in the ancient games and their importance to our faith is news to me. It continues:

So when Paul writes to the Philippians, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus," (Phil. 2:5), what sort of image does it conjure up in our thoughts? Christ the "loser" who died as a wimp on the cross, or Christ who suffered and died to conquer sin, and rose again to conquer death?

Jesus was a winner! Just like Pikaboo Street and Andre Agassi! So what should we tell these poor kids who don’t yet understand the value of winning to their faith?

What are we coaches supposed to tell our quizzers when they compete and lose? "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain," (1 Cor. 9:24). We need to tell them that they must work harder, developing the kind of Christian character that is truly Christ-like; they must strive to be winners.

We need to tell them they are losers for Jesus, and that Jesus will like them more if they win silly little competitions!

I almost don't know where to begin...