So how was church yesterday? If you’re like the majority of Evangelicals in North America (and increasingly, the UK) it probably went down something like this:
- you were casually dressed
- there was an opportunity to have coffee either before or after the service, or in some cases, during the service
- either at the outset, or part-way through the service your kids were dismissed to enjoy their own worship “experience” in a kid-friendly “environment”
- you sang a number of modern worship choruses, perhaps with a hymn or two added for flavor
- your pastor — equally casually dressed — preached a message from a topical series he is working through with key points and texts projected on a large screen at the front
- after the service you had a couple of brief conversations with people from your small group who you will see later in the week at someone’s home
Such is Christian worship in 2009.
But now you’re sitting at your computer and you’re surfing for some good Christian blogs to read, but finding yourself in a kind of spiritual twilight zone. The people you’re reading — in many cases anyway — don’t look or talk like the people you meet on Sunday mornings. You ask yourself, “Why can’t I find a blog by someone online who looks like me?” So you keep searching.
Why is this?
It’s largely because the Christian internet is dominated by a number of people who have a particular axe to grind. Once you’ve been doing this for awhile, you’ll recognize them — “By their links ye shall know them” — but until then, here’s a primer on what you’re finding on your computer screen…
Militant Calvinist Soldiers
There’s nothing objectively wrong with being Calvinist. Most people are either Calvinist or Arminian in terms of their core doctrines, so you’re going to end up as more one or the other eventually. The problem is that these people are consuming vast amounts of bandwidth engaging all kinds of deep debates which, while they might prove valuable in terms of Bible study on obscure points of doctrine, no one can remember how they got started.
The other problem is that they tend to use the word “Calvinism” or “Calvinist” ten times more often than they use words like “Christian” or “Jesus.” Or worse, they use words like “Monergism.” Believe me, if you think you’re coming down with a case of Monergism, you might want to get it checked.
Personally, I want my ticket to Eternity to be based on Christ’s finished work on the cross for my sin, and not that I stood for a particular organization, denomination or doctrine; or that I could recite all the proof-texts for a particular viewpoint.
King James Onlyites
Somewhere along the line, the joy of their salvation got sucked out and replaced with a mission: That all Bibles everywhere on earth be eliminated save for their one copy of the King James Version in black leather. With a red ribbon marker. And a zipper.
Which, is fine if that’s what you like. Goodness knows one part of my Zondervan Bible software is still set up to do keyword searches in good ol’ KJV, though it displays the results in something more readable. But Onlyites aren’t allowed to have preferences. They have to spiritualize everything, and if they can’t find enough external evidence supporting the supremacy of one particular translation, then they make stuff up.
Never get in an argument with these people because there is nothing — absolutely nothing — you can say that will sway them. Yea, verily, their mind hath been firmly fix-ed, neither shall anyone dissuade them. Thus spake I.
The Law and The Gospel Litigists
The fact is, we’re all sinners in God’s eyes. We’ve all missed the mark in various ways at various times. Our attempts at righteousness are as far from “pure white” as the paint rags I used during our last kitchen reno. So yes, nobody is going to get on God’s heaven registration list just by trying to live a good life and be a good person.
On the other hand, this approach, as true as it is, while it works well if you’re doing somewhat random “witnessing” to strangers, is about as far from lifestyle evangelism as you want to be; especially with friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow-students, etc., that you want to see cross the line of faith over the long-term. Plus, at least you’ve earned the right to be heard, instead of spouting volcanic eruptions of guilt and condemnation.
So while it’s true that there aren’t many roads to God, there are many ways to introduce someone to Jesus. L&G people tend to get upset if you’re not doing it their way, or winning as many people as they are, or feel called to do street ministry.
Years ago, a rather cool guy named Walter Martin figured out that with all the cults and “isms” out there, it would be good for someone to track the beliefs of different writers and organizations whose beliefs bear a strong external similarity to Christianity, but also hold to other ideas that are somewhat off the wall. He started what is often called a discernment ministry.
With some of the excesses sometimes found in the Charismatic movement, that investigation started hitting closer to home. Which may be justified. Especially when you have a research staff documenting everything so that your end product isn’t just a load of innuendo and veiled accusations.
Today however, it seems like there is a Walter Martin wannabe around every corner. And they don’t trust anyone under 40. Which means they can — and probably will — show up at your church on Sunday morning and nitpick over the use of words and phrases and pronounce you apostate, cultic or — even worse — Emergent. (Note: Emergents who quote Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards totally confuse them.) And you don’t want to know their views on music.
These people never actually blog anything original but simply cut and paste vast amounts of sermon texts, often completely omitting to include anything resembling paragraph breaks.
Like the Hindu temple priests who believe there’s something in the incense that rises up to God, these Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V bloggers believe that there’s something of value in posting these vast and usually impossible-to-follow sermons online, that apparently can only be perceived by God Himself and other Sermon Scribe bloggers.
Personally, I’ll take a podcast over text. You get the inflection of the speaker who, if they are tech-savvy enough to post a podcast, usually has a communication style that’s less 1910 and more 2010. Plus you get the audio equivalent of paragraph breaks: Deep breaths.
There are some good leadership blogs out there. I even link to some of them in my blogroll. But if you’re a new Christian, you need to know these aren’t for you so much as they’re for pastors to communicate with other pastors.
Frankly, pastors have different issues than the rest of us. They live in a world that is vocationally as far removed from you are as the east is from the west. They work odd hours. They drink a lot of coffee. They read books that even the staff at your local Christian bookstore don’t know how to find.
I have great respect for these men, and 99.44% of them are men. But their blogs should exist on some kind of private blogging network that only other pastors can access. One of my favorites is actually not on my blogroll for just that reason. I started thinking about how frustrated and confused I would be if he were my pastor. It’s good stuff, it’s just not good for everyone.
Some people think the big money to be made off Christianity these days is in running conferences and seminars. I disagree. The big money is actually in the airline business and the hotel business. And those lanyard name tag things.
This crowd devotes at least 66.7% of the blog postings in anticipation of a forthcoming conference and another 66.7% coming down from the conference high. The remaining 66.7% is spent live blogging from the conference itself. (Hey, it’s arithmatic license, okay?)
There is an saying among modern Evangelicals: “Send a man to a conference and you’ve recharged his spiritual batteries for a day. Teach him how to organize and run his own conference and you’ve kept him run off his feet for life.”
With this category, we’ll end this this theme, and since you’ve all been patient enough to get this far, you can read more about this in my latest book, which, while you’re ordering it online, you can actually pre-order my next book which is coming out next month.
Plus, we just got in a skid of my first book, and if you’re interested in buying these in case lots (only 72 copies to a case) to give away to all your friends, we can ship them to you free freight if you order them by Friday. Christmas is coming, and you don’t want to be without a gift to give that unenlightened pagan who lives next door.
Also below you’ll find a link to my latest video promoting all four of my books, plus a PayPal donation button if you really enjoy the great insights I post here daily. On the sidebar, you’ll also find a link to a story about me in the New York Times and a picture of me receiving CBA Book-of-the-year in the category “Christian non-fiction miscellaneous;” as well as all the details of our “Holy Land of the West” 14-day tour of Wheaton, Illinois (with optional day trips to Barrington, Elgin and a two-day side trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota.) Did I mention my book?