Thinking Out Loud

January 28, 2017

What Americans Wanted

“These presidential orders are what many Christians voted for. This is the fruit of their political labor, but it’s not the Fruit of the Spirit.”

face-of-refugee-crisis

“For the last few years Christians have been singing worship songs that include lyrics like “keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise …” and yet have rejected refugees who’ve seen loved ones die beneath waves, who themselves have literally struggled to keep from drowning in oceans. Those American Christians — particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people…”

…Continue reading Stephen Mattson’s article American Christianity Has Failed at Sojourners.


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November 12, 2016

When the Meaning of Evangelical Changes

About two miles down the road from me is a church whose denomination has the word “Evangelical” in its name. Therefore the church had the word very prominently displayed in very large letters on the side of the building.

About two years back, some very wise people at that church deemed that the word was losing the value it had once held and those large letters were removed. (Actually, along with another word in the church name; the sign was shortened from four words to two.)  We call this loss of meaning pejoration.1

pejoration-definition

Over the last 15 months in the United States, the word has become politicized to the point where any implicit sense of sharing the euangelion [εὐαγγέλιον] from which the word derives (meaning good news; gospel) has been lost.2

So while others have bid goodbye to the term (not necessarily the movement) I wasn’t surprised this week when Skye Jethani joined those who wish to abandon association with the label3:

Skye JethaniTo the label “Evangelical”:

There is so much to admire about you, your history, and the theology you represent. You mean “good news,” and came to identify a movement birthed by a commitment to the gospel, the euangelion, of Jesus Christ. Seventy years ago, those called “evangelicals” rejected the angry, condemning rhetoric of the fundamentalists, and they saw the error of theological liberalism that abandoned orthodoxy. They sought a third way that was culturally engaged and biblically faithful. I love that heritage.

But look at what you have become—little more than a political identity with a pinch of impotent cultural Christianity. You’ve become a category for pollsters rather than pastors, a word of exclusion rather than embrace. Yes, there are still godly, admirable leaders under your banner, but many are fleeing your camp to find a more Christ-honoring tribe. When more people associate you with a politics of hate than a gospel of love something is terribly wrong. I take no joy in saying it, but like Esau you have sold your birthright for a bowl of soup. You have exchanged the eternal riches of Christ to satisfy a carnal appetite for power.

In the past I willingly accepted your name as my own. I even worked for your flagship magazine. More recently I have avoided you because of your political and cultural baggage, but I’ve not objected when others identified me with you because your heritage was worth retaining. That passive acceptance is over now. What was admirable about your name has been buried, crushed under the weight of 60 million votes. I am no less committed to Christ, his gospel, and his church, but I can no longer be called an evangelical. Farewell, evangelicalism.

With regret,

Skye

What do you think? Can you blame him? Is “Christ-follower” going to be the next identifier?


1 We looked at pejoration 3 years ago here in reference to possible overuse of the term radical in light of the more recent term radicalization.

2 I’ve always wanted to include some Greek text here. Though I’ve not formally studied the language, I’m a huge fan of feta cheese.

3 This was actually one of four open letters (see the link above) with the others being, “To my children,” “To my Muslim neighbors,” and “To Christians who did not vote for Trump.”

October 30, 2016

Where’s My Casserole?

For that very small percentage of my readers who live in my local area, please know that as we often do at Thinking Out Loud, the purpose of today’s piece is to provoke thought and is not intended as criticism of any church or churches.

As readers here know, my mom died on October 10th. Because I have my feet planted in two local churches and am known to people in other churches as well, I felt very blessed to be surrounded by the prayers and support of a loving Christian community. The emails, cards and a couple of phone calls were deeply appreciated.

One of the two churches follows the larger church model that is probably familiar to many in Thinking Out Loud’s mostly American readership. There isn’t what’s called the “pastoral prayer” in weekend services, so hospitalizations and bereavements are therefore not always made known to the broader congregation. There is an email that goes out however, though I believe this is a different list than those who receive the weekly announcements email.

casseroleIt was many days after the funeral that in jest, I said, “Where’s our casserole?” It wasn’t that I wanted one, truthfully I don’t even like casserole, especially one that my wife didn’t make, as she is an excellent cook. But after we laughed — and laughter is something that was rather absent in the weeks before my mother’s passing — she noted that it might have been nice to come home the day of the funeral and simply stick something in the microwave…1

We showed up at North Point’s Buckhead Church on a rather quiet day in 2008 and got what I believe was a rather unique behind-the-scenes tour. There were things I didn’t know about Andy Stanley’s church; things you don’t see or don’t think about when you’re streaming the Sunday services. I wasn’t surprised that Andy doesn’t do weddings. A lot of megachurch pastors don’t. But even the army of campus pastoral staff doesn’t do them at any of their locations. There isn’t a chapel. The couple-to-be must source a location on their own, and then a North Point pastor will officiate. I suspect the funeral protocol is somewhat similar. A few years back, I do remember seeing this discussed on an FAQ page, but this week I couldn’t locate it…

I understand that things must change. In another time and place the local radio stations would broadcast funeral announcements at noon each day. They also interrupted programming if the police were trying to contact someone on an urgent family matter. (“Mr. Roger Millberry of Jefferson Heights, believed to be vacationing in the area is asked to contact police…”) Even the more progressive rock and roll stations persisted in this and more, including afternoon announcements of which horse took the win, place and show at the local track, well into the 1970s. (“Pinocchio, by a nose.”) Well, at least on AM. FM was too cool for such things.

Our church services have become performance-oriented and we certainly wouldn’t expect announcements of this type at the movies or sporting events, would we? But church is supposed to be different. It’s supposed to be about the family of God gathered together. This is what I believe Millennials are longing for and what will draw them into the Christian communities they will form. (That in turn begs the question we posed in February, what will happen to the abandoned megachurches?)

So you have to ask: Did God ever intended for church to look like today’s megachurch that now sets the agenda in even medium sized churches as well? Would members of the early church even recognize the form our weekend worship takes?2 And, Dude! Where’s my casserole?



1 It occurred to us later that there may be younger readers here unfamiliar with the tradition of church people bringing a casserole over to the house when there has been a bereavement or serious illness. (For the record, my wife’s friend brought us a half-gallon of pumpkin spice ice cream.)
2 One book I read recently suggested something along the lines that a First Century Christian would find a service at the megachurch similar to the shows the Romans staged in the arena. Hard to argue that one.
3 ADD does that to you.

August 2, 2014

A House is Known by the Company it Keeps

Our Big American God - Matthew Paul TurnerWith all the buzz on Twitter, I would love for this space to contain a review of Matthew Paul Turner’s Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever Growing Deity but alas, getting review books from Hachette Book Group is like pulling teeth and only once — with Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book which, by the way, is coming out in paperback in September — have I been successful. (I really wanted to review Rob Strong’s The Big Guy Upstairs so I could present my conspiracy theory that Strong is really Rob Bell; a theory I maintain despite the lack of physical resemblance…)

But I found it interesting who is on the list of review citations appearing at Ingram Book Company, the world’s largest book distributor.  It’s certainly A-list, but it’s also a list of progressive writers who would be unlikely to say anything negative. (Not that they would; from what I hear the book is a must-read.)

Here’s a sample:

  • Ed Cyzewski author, The Good News of Revelation and A Christian Survival Guide
  • Jon Acuff, New York Times bestselling author of Start
  • Micha Boyett, Author of Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer
  • Nish Weiseth, author of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World
  • Frank Schaeffer, author, And God Said, Billy! 
  • Peter Rollins
  • A. J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically
  • Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist
  • Timothy Kurek, author of the bestselling book, The Cross in the Closet

Okay, so maybe I’m not quite in their league, but I’m not asking to be part of the print edition, I just want to review the book on the blog. Jericho Books, are you listening? Still, it’s interesting to see the omission of endorsements by Max Lucado, Jerry Jenkins or even Bill Gaither. (Does Bill read?)

Oh and by the way book marketing people, Peter Rollins looks really lame on this list, so I will say what the online product detail didn’t: Peter is the author of at least seven books and an unpublished PhD thesis that “offers a survey of religious thinking in the aftermath of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. It engages directly with Martin Heidegger’s critique of onto-theology and explores the religious significance of Jacques Derrida’s post-structural theory and Jean-Luc Marion’s saturated phenomenology…” (Wikipedia) Hence the doctorate in “Post-Structural Theory.” But onto-theology is out of my league also.

And that’s just a sample of what my research department would provide Matthew Paul Turner if Hachette/Faithwords/Jericho wants to ante up with a print copy, mailed to my lavish executive offices (see yesterday’s post) in the next 72 hours. 

#unreview

#ainttoproudtobeg

 

May 29, 2014

Thursday Link List

Species rarely seen: The Thursday List Lynx

Species rarely seen: The Thursday List Lynx

A few things missed out this week by a few hours. We might repeat some of these on the PARSE list anyway, but I wanted to share them while they were still fresh.

  • Did someone in your church write a great modern worship song that’s only being sung by your own congregation? Enter it in the Sing It Sunday song contest, and it could be performed in front of 13,000 people at Catalyst Atlanta. Contest details here.
  • I debated whether or not to make this one the sole subject of today’s blog post… Do you know someone who labors in ministry and gets discouraged by what seems to be so little fruit? A pastor whose small church seems lost in a megachurch world? A youth worker who spends long hours working with kids who seem unresponsive? Send them this story.This is the recently uncovered story of a missionary who died thinking he was a failure. 84 years later a thriving church is found hidden in the Congo jungle.
  • In the wake of the death of Fred Phelps, there was a small mention that in the seemingly quiet months before he passed away he had been excommunicated from his church. I remember reading that, but not really focusing on it. It’s possible the reason is that he mellowed; that he softened his stance on some issues to a degree not acceptable to church hardliners.
  • Relevant Magazine did a list of six well-known church figures who, if judged by the standards of modern Evangelicalism, would simply never make the cut. The provocative headline calls them “6 Heretics Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism.” The last one will surprise you.
  • A piece that was in the link list yesterday sparked some follow up articles that appeared too late to meet the Wednesday list deadline. The topic was racial balance in the author mix at InterVarsity Press. I’ve often commented that the Christian publishing world is dominated by Reformed voices, which by implication means white and male. But we tend to think of IVP as having more of a global focus. At the blog, By Their Strange Fruit, here is part two of that article, as well as a more general piece which is less IVP-specific.
  • UPDATE: The son of the pastor of a snake-handling denomination who died in February was himself bit this week but refused to be hospitalized. Cody Coots replaced his father as pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church in Middlesboro, Kentucky.
  • Finally, many Christian people feel that since ‘God hates divorce,’ they are obligated to stick with a marriage no matter what. As Lee Grady points out, there are at least four instances where it’s right to leave.

 

 

May 15, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Giving Thanks

“For what we are about to receive…”  The human and the dog seem sincere but cats are always overly dramatic. (And why does the cat have a marking that looks like another cat’s tail? Photoshop? No way!)

Time for another link list. Try to have your suggestions in by 6:00 PM Eastern on Mondays. More during the week at Twitter.

Songs with substance: Classic worship

If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

March 23, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Intro, intro, blah, blah, blah… [nobody reads this paragraph anyway…]

  • Opening and closing cartoons today are from Sacred Sandwich
  • So what do you when you’re Rob Bell and everybody who has read Love Wins and everybody who hasn’t read Love Wins is asking, “What’s up with that?”  Answer: You do what you do best and go on tour renting large auditoriums in places like New York.
  • Though I’ve never been able to visit his church, this five-minute clip demonstrates why Pete Wilson is one of my favorite pastors.
  • Honestly, I don’t make these links up.  The choir members at the big glass church must sign the “Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant” affirming the church’s stand against homosexuality.   Yet oddly: “John Charles, a spokesman for the cathedral, said this does not mean gays are banned from the choir.’This contract is to educate choir members about what our church believes in,’ he said.”  Read for yourself.
  • My prediction:  Within 3-5 years a segment of Calvinists and neo-Calvinists will complete their breakaway from the rest of us and form an isolated denomination called The Gospel Coalition that will separate them from both Protestantism and Evangelicalism.  They’re already building concensus for their own hymnbook.
  • The Message Bible translator — and I do mean “translator,” not “paraphraser” — Eugene Peterson has a new book out, The Pastor, A Memoir (HarperCollins) and it’s reviewed at Christianity Today by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, co-editor with Shane Claiborne on the recently released Common Prayer liturgical resource.  The review contains this quotation from the book: “”North American culture does not offer congenial conditions in which to live vocationally as a pastor. Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins.” The impression one gets of a book that is half autobiographical and half prescriptive.
  • Ryan Dueck asks the musical question, “Why Should We Then Blog,” which should be must-reading for those of us who blog.
  • Hannah Goodwyn at CBN News has a list of the top ten current Christian bestsellers you should read, though I personally disagree with her #1 choice, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  All are recently released except for Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.  And no mention of Crazy Love which we covered here yesterday.  Not sure why people do these lists.  Not sure why I just linked to it.
  • Speaking of books, Jason Hood writes at Christianity Today that Eric Metaxas’ book on Bonhoeffer may lead to misunderstandings as to where, from an Evangelical perspective anyway,  the subversive/pastor “fits in” theologically.
  • Meanwhile, Sherry at Semi Colon blog recommends using Bonhoeffer‘s Cost of Discipleship this year for Lent.
  • If you watched the Grammy Awards, or have an awareness of current music, you may be somewhat aware of a song that was performed as “Forget You,” but also has another similar, but different title that can’t be printed here.  So here’s an equally disturbing parody of the song from a Christian perspective, “Bless You.”
  • Mark Almlie at Out of Ur asks the question, “Is being a Protestant single pastor like being a married Catholic priest? Is it an oxymoron?”  Okay, that was really two questions.  If you’re an Evangelical, have you ever known or had a pastor who was unmarried?
  • Zac Hicks’ worship blog reviews a Neue magazine article and carefully differentiates between traditionalism and tradition.
  • The original Friendly Athiest (the one that’s not Matt Caspar) breaks out the list of the Ten Most Religious and Ten Least Religious U.S. States.  By the way, is it just me or is “Utah Jazz” a rather conflicted name for a sports team?
  • Anthony Bradley says the best apologetic is simply to live a radical Christian life, and that’s how believers in earlier generations understood it.  “Being different is a struggle for American Christians who often find it desirous to be as much like our society in every way except for the occasional Sabbath from culture for religious activities.”
  • Thom Rainer, CEO of Lifeway, which regular readers know is one of my favorite Christian publishing company in the whole world [Note to not regular readers: That was a lie] offers four principles for pastors and leaders who find themselves in a change-resistant church.
  • For Lent he went on an all-beer diet.  Seriously.  It’s a long story. He’s now up to day 15 of 40.  Personally, based on yesterday’s post, I’m not so sure that J. Wilson is going to go the distance.  The above link is to his blog, this one to a media story about him.
  • Link suggestions are always welcomed.  Here’s another from Sacred Sandwich (click images to link).


February 23, 2011

Wednesday Link List

In addition to usual type of links this week, there are some general links to the whole of some blogs you know and some that will be new to you.

  • Here’s a C201 post dealing with the subject of balanced worship that also contains a couple of classic CCM songs. Check out Worship with Both Hands.
  • Sadly, the hostage drama off the coast of Somalia did not end well. Our prayers are with the families of the two couples who perished in the rescue attempt.
  • Trevin Wax raises the issue of Evangelical churches baptizing children by immersion at very, very young ages. Here’s the link, and we’ll also return to this discussion on the weekend.
  • Got 66 minutes?  Elevation Church (Steve Furtick) has put together a video on their church’s story on the occasion of their fifth anniversary.
  • Speaking of videos, here’s the latest from Hillsong at GodTube.
  • Speaking of the number 66, here’s an idea: A series of word images (or clouds) processed in the style of Wordle of the text from each book of the Bible sold as 11 x 17 posters at 66 Clouds.  See sample at right.
  • Once again, another biting commentary at Shaun Groves’ blog. “According to some college chaplains… long term exposure to Christian music may have unsavory side-effects. They feel like they’re fighting bad theology and unbiblical perceptions created by the music business. Their students grew up listening to K-LOVE in the minivan on the way to school with mom. They grew up in “event-driven” churches singing songs from “stars” who also came to town to play concerts.Did the industry change the church/students or did the church/students change the industry? ” Read the full article.
  • Bluefish TV inexplicably decides to make a total mockery of purity rings. They’ve finally produced a video that isn’t appropriate to show at church or at youth group. So guys, why bother?
  • Philip Yancey returns to Christianity Today with this question, Is America Going the Way of Europe in Turning Its Back on Christianity? Using the example of the Netherlands, he shows that dramatic change can occur within just two generations.
  • Follow Pete Wilson’s ten day trip to Kolkata, India — he’s back now — by linking to his blog and scrolling back to February 9th and reading forward.
  • Random link: I really enjoy Stuff Fundies Like.  This site has a lot more edge than that other Stuff…Like blog, and is, in reality, more like a Fundamentalist version of Growing Up Catholic. (Or if you grew up in the Evangelical world, you might call this, “Killing Me Softly With His Blog.”) If it’s not part of your online routine, check it out, and go right back to the beginning and read every single post!
  • More serious random link: I don’t know any blogger who has faithfully kept the pro-life agenda on the front burner like La Shawn Barber.  Blogging since November, 2003, her blog is a history of events in that movement, and textbook must-reading for anyone who wants to understand this issue.
  • Here’s how Drew Marshall described Chad and Sarah Markley: “They grew up in the church, got married, fought everyday, then began to get wasted and party on the weekends just to escape and cope, even while Chad was leading worship in their church. Eventually porn crept into the marriage. Eventually Chad became a workaholic. Eventually Sarah had an affair with Chad’s friend. Eventually one of Sarah’s friends told their pastors. Eventually…” This couple survived her three-year affair and discussed it openly on last week’s show — online audio available Friday — and continues to discuss it at her blog.
  • Here’s another general link, not to a specific post, but I think this blog deserves an award for its most unusual name.  Check out Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary.  (Loved her Feb 3 post for her son’s 13th birthday.)(And the rest of her honesty and transparency.)
  • Warning to all concerned: Never show up at The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky on Date Night with a same sex date. (Typical date night pictured at right.) And tickets are non-refundable. But step back for just a moment: Why do they even have a date night?  (“Hey Lisa, we’re going to the Creation Museum tonight.” “Oh Mark, you pick the most coolest places.”)
  • If you gave up sports a long time ago, but you’ve still got a thing for statistics, here’s more analysis on the differences between the old NIV and the new NIV.
  • Let me see if I’ve got this one right: Your kids go door to door selling “magabooks” (half magazine, half book) which answer the musical question, “Will My Pet Go to Heaven?”  All for just $14.95 U.S.
  • One last general link here, from which yesterday’s post here at Thinking Out Loud was stolen borrowed; reiterated here because this grandfather of all blogs has been around since January of 2000. Yikes! It’s in its twelfth year! Check out GraceWorks.ca
  • Tomorrow begins the fourth year of this blog! How will we celebrate? Stay tuned. (Actually, I have no idea at this point…)
  • Our closing picture this week — I know you would have preferred another shot of Adam and Eve at the Creation Museum — is from Cathy at the USAToday blog, Faith and Reason.  Just so ya know, the church is Catholic and the retail is $39.99 U.S.

January 16, 2011

John Shore Launches The ThruWay Christians

You stop watching your favorite television program — play along, you do remember television, right — for a few weeks only to tune back in and discover there’s been a major plot twist, there are two new characters and a key character is off the show. Your reaction is, “Hey guys, I only stepped out of the room for a minute…”

In this case, I got out of the routine of reading Christian author John Shore’s blog over the holidays returning to discover I’d missed all the excitement —  he’s launched a major movement.  Okay, major in the sense that while it only has 300 members as of Saturday, it has the potential to shake things up a bit. Or a lot.

He had me at the opening sentence on the December 16th blog post that launched it all:

We are Christians who find conservative/right-wing Christianity too oppressive and exclusionary, and progressive/liberal Christianity too theologically tenuous. We embrace both the conservative Christian’s belief in and fidelity to the core message of the Gospels, and the liberal Christian’s dedication to inclusiveness and social justice.

Rather than continuing to choose between these two roads, we hereby establish the following, which we recognize and affirm as a thruway running between them.

There then follows a 16-part statement which touches on some current issues dividing the two camps, a manifesto that really comes alive in a 16-part “teen” edition also presented.

“The ThruWay Christians” may sound like an excellent title for a B-movie. Several decades ago, some people we knew despaired over the lack of crossover potential in the term ‘Contemporary Christian Music,’ and sought an alternative to describe music that causes you to reflect on the greater issues of life, coming up with… “Reflecto Music.” Seriously.

That was my reaction here. “They’re mean, they’re tough, they’re worshiping under a bridge near you — The Thruway Christians. Starts Friday. Rated PG-13.”  (Sorry, John, I couldn’t resist.)

Okay; having got that out my system, let me state some reasons why I think there is some need for some middle ground; reasons why I think John and company may be on to something.

A couple of the recent blog posts at JohnShore.com have happened because of correspondence from Christians who are also identify as LGBT.  (The short form for “L or G or B or T,” in case you’re wondering.)  Now I know for some, the idea of LGBT Christians is an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp,” or “honest politician.” But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover people whose desire to follow Jesus is real while at the same time, their sexual identity is different from yours. Or mine. That’s not the point here, and I’m not going to go down the comment trail on that issue.

What is the point is that some individuals’ felt needs are not being met by the church (local) or The Church (universal). Which, I will admit, probably suits some people just fine. That’s because Christianity in the U.S., where John Shore lives, is becoming like politics in the U.S.: extremely polarized.  Issues that are black-and-white. Attitudes that are us-versus-them. Faith without mystery.

It doesn’t suit me. I’m not sure how obtainable the goal of inclusiveness is in the light of scripture that seems to speak strongly to certain issues, but I am impressed with the idea I took away from reading the W. P. Campbell book I reviewed here on Thursday; the idea that the “extremes” currently visible can be best expressed as “Grace with compromised truth” and “Truth with compromised grace.” There is a need for middle ground.  A need for a highway (as we Canucks call it), a dual-carriageway (as the Brits say) or a thruway (as the Yanks say) running through the middle.

(Can’t help but be reminded of Isaiah 40:3 at this stage: A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD ; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”)

And so, first John had the ThruWay Christians Facebook Group.

And then due to a glitch, because Facebook is completely unwieldy, we now have the ThruWay Christians Fan Page.  (Which is why both of the above “links” actually take you to the second one; it’s not a mistake; you can still find the other ! one if you wish.)

And lastly, we have the ThruWay Christians Website. If the idea of looking for something where you feel you identify resonates, check out what’s going on here and follow the developments as they happen.  Right now there are too many people falling through the cracks; there are always going to be, perhaps; but this is about making the cracks a little smaller. (Be sure to click on the forums and visit the “welcome” section where over 300 people have signed in.)

In a weekend post, John says he knows he’s going to take a lot of abuse for this. (I’ll probably get some, too for helping publicize it. )

Publishing the document for ThruWay Christians threatened me. It was not to my personal advantage to do that. It wasn’t ambitious of me. It was the exact opposite. That was me nearly committing career suicide.

…I do encourage you to bookmark or follow or whatever it is you do; the early days of this venture. Is it a tempest in a teapot? Okay, perhaps. But I can’t help but thinking that somebody had to be the first guy in line to use the term “missional.” Or the term “emergent.”

I think there’s something of value here.

I think we should all be listening.

– Blog posts by others about ThruWay Christians:

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