Thinking Out Loud

September 3, 2019

In Religion Reporting, There’s a Tradeoff Between Objectivity and Accuracy

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

I’ve said before that only insiders can report a news story in Evangelicalism.

I realize this means that there is a certain loss of objectivity that a reporter borrowed from the business beat or the political department would have, but I believe it’s worth sacrificing that aspect of objectivity if it means getting the report mostly correct.

The reason is simply that there is so much terminology, so much nuance behind our stories that an outsider simply can’t appreciate. In the name of objectivity, it would be possible to get the story wrong.

I wouldn’t consider writing a piece about a Muslim cleric or a Buddhist community any more than I would consider writing about NASCAR, South African politics, or gourmet cooking.

Fortunately, there is the website Get Religion, which keeps us abreast of the missteps by (mostly) print media in attempting to cover stories of (mostly) Christianity. Usually these include things like wrong terminology, poor theological understanding, unawareness of the full history of the story, or missing entirely the sub-strands of the story being covered.

I was reminded of this on the weekend reading some tweets from religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, made, as it turns out, in reference to an item I now also see covered on Get Religion.

She wrote,

I’ve been reporting on religion, especially the inner workings of U.S. evangelicals, for 12 years now. I’m fully aware of the skeletons in the closet. I have fun stories to share! BUT if your publication can’t write a fair piece about them, you risk alienating 25% of the country.

I was inspired to become a religion reporter after Bush’s re-election, when reporters were baffled by what many of them portrayed as stupid evangelicals willing to vote for a buffoon. I thought perhaps I could explain. 12 years later, I don’t think the media has woken up.

I’m tired of watching the media botch religion coverage, whether news or opinion.

If you see your faith poorly covered, you will instantly distrust the rest of that outlet’s coverage.

That last sentence is key. Can you truly put your faith in a media outlet if their coverage of the subject that is perhaps closest to your heart is being rendered carelessly?

For Sarah, I suspect it’s doubly discouraging, knowing she could have been asked to write the piece and done a better job. Full disclosure: In this instance, the piece in particular at the New York Times was an Op-Ed — an opinion piece — and not hard news. But I know for writers and reporters like Sarah and others like her this is a constant frustration.

I’ve had the privilege of writing some print pieces for nationally distributed media outlets. But for 30 years I’ve also lived in a small town, doing a somewhat visible ministry that interacts with all the churches and parachurch organizations. In all those years, I’ve never once been interviewed as a source to help the local newspapers clarify a religion story, and often it means they’ve missed the mark almost to the point of getting the story completely wrong.

It leaves the public misinformed, and leaves the media outlet looking less than they would desire.

September 6, 2018

Anabaptist Distinctives: Bruxy Cavey

Bruxy Cavey Bus

In light of yesterday’s item in the Wednesday link/roundup (see below*) I thought we’d rerun this item from 2013. These were originally a series of tweets.

  • Anabaptists tend to emphasize following Jesus’ teachings and example more than perfecting our systematic theology on eschatology, atonement, etc.
  • Even slight shifts in emphasis (eg, how to live like Jesus vs. systematic theology) create very different church cultures.
  • Anabaptists not only differ to other Christians in the content of their theology, but also in the emphasis or focus of their theology.
  • Yes I find Anabaptists to be as flawed as any Christian group, but I hold out more hope for healthy growth when Christians focus on Christ.
  • We have confused gentleness with quietness. It’s time to hear and be heard…
  • Because we emphasize following Jesus, we must remind ourselves of grace
  • Anabaptists live and think like a church mentored by James. We need fellowship with churches more mentored by Paul (& vice versa).
  • Rather than fear, guilt, or shame….inspire people with hope, beauty, and courage. Let’s fascinate, not force, people toward the Gospel.
  • Evangelicals = Paul (rich theology, grace emphasis).
    Anabaptists = James (faith without works is dead so go live it). 
  • If the early church needed the teaching of Paul and James, Gal 2-5 & Matt 5-7, today’s church needs the voices of Evangelicals and Anabaptists.
  • Evangelical Emphasis = Jesus is Savior/Substitute. Believe! Anabaptist Emphasis = Jesus is Lord/King. Follow!

Bruxy Cavey is the teaching pastor of The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest growing church movement with satellite locations across Ontario. Although he grew up in a Pentecostal tradition, Bruxy’s church is part of the Be in Christ (BiC) denomination a subset of the Anabaptists.

For an excellent understanding of this, visit a sermon-series Bruxy’s church did in the summer with guests from various other churches. This link takes you to option for both audio video of the final episode with Bruxy interviewing Mike Krause from Southridge Mennonite Brethren Church in Welland. (Click the audio or video buttons in the download area, the others are not always functional. The video message begins following a promotional building fund clip and some quotes.) 


*Item referred to yesterday:

Allegedly under pressure from large financial donors, Fresno Pacific’s University’s graduate program in Anabaptist Theology has removed the visiting lecturer status of Bruxy Cavey, Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, and has also demoted its president to professor status after he takes a sabbatical. Yikes! In one cohort, 21 out of 23 students have signed a letter of protest, while meanwhile 11 out of the 18 students who were registered for this year — many on the premise of getting to interact with these very lecturers — have withdrawn. Greg Boyd said he had, “letters of support from [Mennonite Brethren] pastors apologizing and worrying about their denomination losing Anabaptist distinctives and acclimating to American fundamentalism.”

September 10, 2017

Charts: Ten Largest Churches in America

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus is quoted as saying, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
But you’d never know that by the American obsession with church size.
Image: Journey Online, Australia (click to link)

The Outreach Magazine list is always considered the most authoritative, but only includes participating churches. Nonetheless, here’s how it looked in 2016:

  1. North Point (Atlanta) 39,056 (Andy Stanley)
  2. Church of the Highlands (Birmingham) 38,346 (Chris Hodges)
  3. NewSpring (Anderson) 33,761 (vacant)
  4. Gateway (South Lake) 28,399 (Robert Morris)
  5. Saddleback (Orange County) 25,612 (Rick Warren)
  6. Willow Creek (NW Chicago) 25,371 (Bill Hybels/Steve Carter)
  7. Christ’s Church of the Valley (Peoria, AZ) 24,108 (Donald J. Wilson)
  8. Christ Fellowship (Palm Beach) 23,845 (Todd Mullins)
  9. Southeast Christian (Louisville) 23,799 (Dave Stone/Kyle Idleman)
  10. Crossroads (Cincinnati) 22,458 (Brian Tome)

So right away many of you noticed that Lakewood (Joel Osteen) and LifeChurch (Craig Groeschel) are missing. That’s the problem with this list. It only lists churches that completed Outreach’s full survey. They charge money for their reports, and that’s disturbing because almost by definition, the lists are incomplete.

Go to The Christian Post and you’ll find what might be a better list, but it doesn’t have the data:

  1. Lakewood
  2. Willow Creek
  3. LifeChurch (North Oklahama City; Craig Groeschel)
  4. North Point
  5. Saddleback
  6. Gateway
  7. Shadow Mountain (San Diego; David Jeremiah)
  8. New Season (Sacramento; Samuel Rodriguez)
  9. Prestonwood Baptist (Plano, TX; Jack Graham)
  10. The Rock (San Diego; Miles McPherson)

Regular readers here will notice that there are many churches I would consider to be presently more influential that don’t make these attendance-based lists.

Some readers here would be able to rattle off a list like this off the top of their heads. What I thought would be really interesting would be to list the Top Ten Catholic Churches in the US by attendance. Such a list proved elusive. At least one branch of Christianity isn’t focused on numbers.  Other churches on similar lists include Woodlands (Kerry Shook),  Potter’s House (T.D. Jakes) and Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale (Bob Coy).

If you want to sort by denomination, or state, this list at the Hartford Institute is a good one to know about. They also have an alphabetical Canadian list, but I’m not sure when it was last updated.

Image: Christianity Today (click to link)

 

March 31, 2017

The G-Word

Two quick stories by way of introduction, then the application.

Story #1

There was a time, not so long ago, when Evangelicals would do something each spring called door-to-door visitation. In other words, teams of two people would pick a neighborhood and knock on doors inviting people to come to church. Or to consider the claims of Christ. Or to come to church in order to consider the claims of Christ. Or accept the claims of Christ and then come to church.

Honestly, I’m not sure which was which because I’m pretty sure back then you had to believe to belong, but now you can belong before you believe. But now I’m a thousand miles off course.

The thing I really wanted to say here is this: Going in twos door-to-door was pretty much co-opted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. They took the form or the methodology and totally dominated. They killed the category.

Today, you can’t go door-to-door without being taken for JWs or Latter Day Saints.

Story #2

A church near where I live did something a few years ago did something I would consider quite wise. They’re part of a Canadian denomination that has both the word Missionary and Evangelical in their name. So emblazoned on their building in rather large letters was the name, Evangelical Missionary Church.

Bob, do we have a picture? No but we have a picture of the church bus.

Anyway, the leadership of a few years back decided the word Evangelical was losing its respect in the broader world. (Think televangelist.) If you follow Christian authors and pastors online, you know this discussion is taking place across Evangelicalism. (Try this article on for size.)

They also felt the word Missionary was somewhat archaic. It conjured up an image of Beulah Baker with her hair in a bun heading off for seven years in the Belgian Congo. Honestly, I agree with the need for change; I accept the Missionary position on this issue. 

So today, the sign reads, Grace Church. Short and simple.

Application

So where are we going with this today? We have a story of a form being co-opted. We have a story of the meaning of words shifting, at least in perception.

The word in question: Gospel.

The Gospel is the good news, the heralding that something of vital importance has taken place. As the great theologian Linus once said, “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.”

But now it’s a code word. Think “Together for the Gospel.” Or “The Gospel Coalition.” Now you know to whom I refer. The Neo-Reformed. The New Calvinists. (Or as I will often use as alternatives: Militant Calvinists. Internet Calvinists.)

Preparing this, I was reminded of an article I wrote back in 2011, with a screenshot of a note about an upcoming conference and the writer’s joy over how great it was that “three real friends of the gospel” were speaking. This implies that:

  • The others are not real (or true) friends of the gospel
  • Anyone individual or group not part of the YRR (Young, Restless & Reformed) crowd are simply not friends of the gospel

Where does this end?

  • The others don’t like the gospel
  • The others don’t preach the true gospel
  • The others are heretics
  • The others hate the gospel

Yikes; that last one was hard to type, but are we really that far away from a schism of that nature? That’s where this rhetoric is taking us. Words matter. What we say counts. 

Or…the rest of us, who would have been happy continually using those words, have to find new ones.  To the reformers: That wasn’t your word to steal. But now you’ve ruined it for everyone…

…What’s that, Bob? You found the picture? Well, okay:

 

 

November 5, 2016

Circles

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

“I don’t move in Charismatic circles.”

“I can get you in contact with people who run in Presbyterian circles.”

“You’d need to ask him, he knows people in Baptist circles.”

christian-denominations-8

Every denomination has its own culture. There are things you just won’t get until you’ve spent some time among that church crowd, or made a strong friendship with someone who has and can explain the finer nuances of it to you. This is a microcosm of what happens when the secular press tries to cover religious news. We end up saying that they truly don’t get Evangelicalism, or that a specific reporter obviously didn’t grow up Roman Catholic. But those two distinctions also break down into finer subgroups.

Last week someone asked me to recommend a book, but implicit in the request was that he was looking for a book which would appeal to him, even though it would be given away. I am blessed with both a vocation, and a personal church resumé which allows me to speak many denominational dialects, but that’s no guarantee I’m going to get it right each and every time. But without my recommendation, I know this person would have been searching in a relative vacuum. Online vendors are programmed to recommend either the latest hot thing, or the thing they’re overstocked on and need to get rid of.

So my recommendation might mean something except for the fact that each time I thought about this, I kept coming back to one particular author who it has become very fashionable to bash right now (for reasons that totally escape me.) To complicate matters, the person making the request identifies as one denomination, but has strong allegiances to another very different set of authors, musicians and conferences. He’s really moving in two very different circles which, trust me, do not overlap except for maybe him and six other people in the entire world.

Late yesterday I was looking at a six-week curriculum. I loved the topics. I trust the publisher. The price was reasonable… And then I noticed the author’s name. Hmmm. I’ve just never been comfortable with that person, but then again, I don’t move in those circles. He’s probably someone else’s favorite.

Frankly, I wish this person would just give me their full-out trust. I’d probably pick a newer author. Someone nobody has ever heard of. That way there would be less bias on both our parts.

April 22, 2016

Everything You Wanted to Know about Evangelicals

A few weeks ago we reviewed a book by Brian Stiller, Praying for the World, in which the author provides a wealth of information about world conditions based on his extensive travel and interaction as a former Director of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale College and Seminary, and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance.

Evangelicals Around the World - Thomas Nelson - Brian Stiller editorBrian is actually at the center of another recently-released project, this one also global in its perspective and one which also deserves to be in every church library and on several coffee tables as well. He serves as general editor for Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson, 2015), a collection of over 50 essays and reports from almost as many different writers, each with a particular expertise on their given topic.

I’m not sure who it was, but about five years ago, I read a blogger making the point that we need to make a stylistic change from small-e evangelical to capital-E Evangelical. Of course, Evangelicals came of age long before that. Most people reference Jimmy Carter, the born again President, and of course the birth of Billy Graham’s ministry.

But in the book, the roots of Evangelicalism are traced back to 1521, followed by an exhaustive history of the contributing streams to the movement from the 1700s to the present. There is a chapter defining the core beliefs of Evangelicals, their commitment to world missions, their interactions with other denominations and religions, their role in urban ministry, their involvement in politics, their approach to environmental issues, their sensitivities on gender-related issues, their relationship to the similar-sounding word evangelism, and a chapter I personally found interesting, their appreciation of and contribution to the arts.

The authors of each section also include a well-chosen bibliography for those who wish to pursue any given topic.

Halfway through, the book’s focus becomes regional with a look at Evangelicals in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. While the articles about these regions continue the detail of the earlier articles, there is the addition of demographic charts which help paint a clear picture of where Evangelicals rank in different countries, both among Christians in general, but also the general populace.

Particularly challenging is an article on the future of the Evangelical movement, how it will be identified and the type of people who will define its ranks; though that essay needs to be qualified in light of the regional analyses.

Evangelicals Around the World is a hardcover reference book; 422 pages, $34.99 US; but its topical scope exceeds the bounds of academic textbooks. Rather, if you are part of the movement and want to know your roots; or if you are an outsider who wants to learn more about this particular expression of Christianity; this is certainly the definitive work on this subject worth owning.


Postscript: In this review I speak about their role and their perspective, but this is the tribe with which I identify. After a many years of working in interdenominational settings and  trying to be all things to all people; today, when the declaration that “I am a Christ-follower” fails to suffice, I am pleased to say that “I am an Evangelical” and have identified this way decisively for more than 20 years. I did not receive a review copy of this, but sought the book out because I wanted to study it personally and look at it more closely.

November 22, 2015

Door to Door Evangelism: Marginal Groups Willing to Invest the Time

Several years ago I met with a man who was a somewhat lapsed Episcopalian (or Anglican as we say here) who had been meeting on a monthly basis with some Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had a lot of questions about various issues, and so he invited them into his home and they returned regularly, staying about an hour each time.

There was a time when Evangelicals were very big on the concept of door-to-door outreach and visitation. Many a Saturday morning in the 1950s and 1960s might be spent in twos or threes ringing doorbells in a local neighborhood.

But as time went by, people tended to associate the “two by two” approach with only two groups: Mormons (LDS) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These two groups took ownership of this method of proselytizing, with the result that today it’s not widely used by others.

Before anyone starts dismissing these groups out of hand, I want to commend the approach for the following reasons:

  1. It’s Biblical. The disciples were sent out in this manner. I’m not sure that by concluding that certain groups had taken over this approach and the simply giving up, Evangelical Christians did the right thing. What contact do we now make with our surrounding neighbors?
  2. They deliver. If the last few years of Missional Church has taught us anything, it’s taught us the importance of being sent. So much of what the church calls “outreach” is really “in-drag.” Millions of people are falling through the cracks of printed brochure distribution or mall campaigns or e-mail invites. But it’s harder — though not impossible — for them to ignore a knock at the door.
  3. The people who this man met at his front door were willing to invest the time with him. On hearing that, I made sure that I took out as much time as he wanted. Fortunately, the phone at my workplace didn’t ring and no one else needed to see me. I would have given him all day.
  4. They knew their subject matter cold. He was impressed with both their depth and their passion as they presented answers to his questions and introduced their beliefs, and also how their various doctrines fit together. It’s important that we are able to do the same. It has been said that of all the religions on earth, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.
  5. They are optimistic about the results. I asked one Mormon missionary what would constitute the ideal “at the door” contact. He replied, “Someone who hears the message, receives the message, and commits to be baptized.” I asked if he’d ever heard of that happening all in the very first visit, and he said, “Yes, for sure.”
  6. They followed up. They returned to see him several times.

Hopefully through meeting with me he met someone with an equal passion for and knowledge of the true Christian faith. I encouraged him not to seek answers from the single source he has been using, and told him about a variety of resources available online. We continued meeting and while in recent years the contact has been somewhat fleeting, he always knows where to find me.

April 2, 2015

This is Maundy Thursday

Over the past five years we’ve seen a major shift in Evangelical observance of what the Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches call Holy Week. There is much more consciousness of Lent and even debates — because of the rapid shift in some denominations — as to its incorporation in Evangelicalism. While we’ve always been observant of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, there is also an increasing awareness of Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. This article appeared here exactly five years ago…

2The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. ~John 13: 2-5 (NIV)

What’s that saying? “A fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” Today I felt somewhat spiritually outclassed.

I spoke with someone and asked what their church was doing for Holy Week. They told me that their church was doing a service on Thursday, as well as Good Friday.

Thursday is called Maundy Thursday. The theological page Theopedia doesn’t cover it for some strange reason, but the regular Wikipedia site offers two explanations for the name, of which I give you the first:

FootwashingAccording to a common theory, the English word Maundy in that name for the day is derived through Middle English, and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (13:34) by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. The phrase is used as the antiphon sung during the “Mandatum” ceremony of the washing of the feet, which may be held during Mass or at another time as a separate event, during which a priest or bishop (representing Christ) ceremonially washes the feet of others, typically 12 persons chosen as a cross-section of the community.

As an aside, if you’re into church hopping, this is the day for you:

The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is an ancient practice, probably originating in Rome, where early pilgrims visited the seven pilgrim churches as penance.

Anyway, this church is having a foot washing as part of their Thursday service, and I was told, “Come and join us and we will wash your feet.”

I’ve never said that to anyone. And I’ve never washed anyone’s feet. I’m not totally comfortable with doing this or having it done for me. But the Biblical mandate to do this is quite clear. I feel like my spiritual pilgrimage is somewhat incomplete, like the person who has never been to Israel (or Wheaton, Illinois; the one time Evangelical equivalent, now displaced by Colorado Springs or Nashville; I’m not sure which.)

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. ~John 13: 14-17 (NIV)

Does anyone see a loophole here? An opt-out clause? A reason why this doesn’t apply in the current dispensation?

I don’t.


…since the original article appeared, I have had to, on a couple of occasions, help my mother with some moisturizing lotion on her feet. Normally she has someone who does this for her. Another time when we were swimming and my wife was sitting on the side, I sort of pretended to be washing feet that by that point were obviously clean. I can’t describe it but there is something spiritual in the servitude of this; something God knew all along and something Jesus modeled for us. You may not want to go to a church and experience this — not yet, anyway — but it’s something you might start by doing as a family.

April 23, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Promised you last week when we did a feature on Kevin Frank there would be one more panel in it for you (see Genesis 8:20) …

Noah's Sacrifice by Kevin Frank

Time once again for things on Christian blogs and news feeds you may have missed and some you’ll now wish you had. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, which paid $1,000,000.00 for exclusive rights to this weekly feature, plus a third-round draft pick.

WordPress says this is Wednesday Link List number 200, but it doesn’t count the times I typed the word Wednesday in a hurry, or the variety of names it existed under before uniformity set in.

 

We leave you this really simple explanation of how to pray; at least according to one denomination.

Prayer image 041814

April 9, 2014

Wednesday Link List

New Pews

I am a linkoholicSo, if I go to see one of the many faith-focused movies currently running, can I skip church that weekend? While you ponder that, here’s this week’s link-o-rama:  Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the link list’s benefactor.

Paul Wilkinson’s writing the rest of the week is made possible by readers at Thinking Out Loud and at C201, and by viewers like you.

Between Services - Sacred Sandwich

Above: After a forever away from posting something new, Sacred Sandwich awoke as from a giant sleep.

Below: This is from the Abandoned Pics Twitter feed: @AbandonedPics and is a wooden church somewhere in Russia. 

Click the respective images to link. (Or the irreverent ones.)

Abandoned Wooden Church in Russia

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