Thinking Out Loud

September 19, 2022

When Celebrity Comes to Church

Review: Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church by Katelyn Beaty (Brazos Press, 2022)

Katelyn Beaty is one of a number of writers who has been part of the Christianity Today (CT) orbit, as I was briefly, and generally speaking, I find that people who come out of that environment have a healthy and balanced perspective on issues facing the church, and are often granted access to information which provides for additional insights.

Celebrities for Jesus is very much (almost) equal parts

  • history lesson
  • analysis
  • memoir

As a (recent) history lesson, because of my involvement over the years with this blog and its attendant attention to Christian news stories, there was a sense in which Katelyn and I had much of the same information. As soon as she stated something, my brain would signal ‘Yes, but you really need to mention ___________,’ only to find her doing so in the very next sentence.

My wife reminded me that not everyone has the same knowledge. While it’s true that some of the stories she covers in this book were part of Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez and A Church Called TOV by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer (which we reviewed here and here respectively) there was coverage of situations and people that were beyond the scope of both books, and at least one name that caught me off guard given the context.

Generally speaking, the context was American, which left me wondering as to the preponderance of superstar pastors in other places. (We do hear occasional stories from South America and Africa; but these were not mentioned.) Is the case of Christian celebrity somewhat unique to the United States?

This brings us to the next part, analysis. This is where I felt the book shines the brightest, especially when the author compared the present state of Christianity to its Biblical ideals.

We do fall short in various ways. Our willingness to confer celebrity shows a flaw in our character, long before the man or woman in question has a misstep. Our stories are looking for heroes.

In each chapter, I never questioned Beaty’s qualifications to offer us some of her perspective. My only wish is that she had explored some of these things further and deeper, which would have resulted in a welcomed longer book.

Finally, there was memoir. On page 158, speaking about the high rates of deconstruction and “faith detox” among her peers, “I sometimes wonder why I am still a Christian.”

That could be said about so many that work or have worked at CT or similar environments such as Religion News Service or Relevant, and get to see the spectacular crashes of individuals and ministry organizations close-up.

And yet, she celebrates that something “about that early faith… that could blossom into an orientation that could withstand doubt, the loss of dreams and cultural pressures.” Absent the more progressive identification of an author such as the late Rachel Held Evans, she still shares that honest vulnerability as she’s wrestled with all she has seen and heard.

Celebrities for Jesus covers its topic well. I even wonder if this needs to be required reading for those younger leaders whose desire to do something great might materialize more about building their kingdom instead of God’s kingdom?

It might have helped a few people not trip up.


Celebrities for Jesus is published by Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for which its author is also employed. A review copy was made available through publisher representative Graf-Martin Communications who provide publicity, marketing and brand development for clients from their base in Elmira, Ontario, Canada.

September 1, 2022

Frustrated Leaders: As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter

As Christianity 201 became my primary blog, I have found myself writing more original devotional articles for it over the past few years. This is one from last week.

There’s a bad Sunday School joke that goes something like, “Who in the Bible broke all ten commandments?” The answer is Moses, when he returned from the mountain and exasperated over the sin of the people sent the tablets crashing to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First of all, the giving of the commandments in a physical form does not mean that this is the first time God establishes moral and behavioral boundaries of the people of Israel. The website Life Hope and Truth states,

…The answer is found in a fascinating statement God made about Abraham, recorded in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

This is significant because Abraham was born hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Mount Sinai!

In order for Abraham to obey God’s commandments, statutes and laws, he had to know what they were. This means that Abraham was taught the laws directly from God or from others (or possibly both). God was not giving Moses a brand-new law on Mount Sinai. He was merely giving a codified, or formal, version of His law so that it could be used to govern the emerging nation of Israel…

The article then goes on to illustrate instances of such laws existing prior to Moses.

Let’s pick up the store in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20

NIV.Ex.19.20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”  …

NIV.Ex.20.1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  …

It’s verses 4-6, which we call the second commandment — see the post from last month where we break them up into commandment 2a and 2b — where we want to focus. It’s reiterated in verse 22

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Then, for nearly a dozen chapters, God gives Moses instructions for worship, and also some amplification of the “big ten” commandments given. But then he tells Moses it’s time “get down to earth” because there’s trouble stirring.

NIV.Ex.32.1  When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”…

…7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…

…15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Moses returns to see the people breaking the second commandment which was cited above. And he is livid. In his anger and frustration he shatters the “big ten,” which we’re told God Himself engraved.

It’s a very Moses thing to do. In his anger he will later strike a rock he is told to simply speak to, and that particular act of anger costs him entry into the promised land.

But here’s my point.

Before I started writing this, I gave it the title, “As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter.” I was thinking about Moses and what the people did in his absence. But I was also thinking about pastors and church leaders today.

Depending on whose statistics you read, in North America 1,200 or 1,500 pastors resign (quit) from ministry each month. While conservatives are busy arguing about women in ministry, it’s probably a good thing some of those women are in place, because the mostly-men pastoral workforce is abandoning ministry in droves.

There are a number of reasons, but I’m sure one of them is frustration over the lack of spiritual dedication among the parishioners. Or, as Moses observed, a flagrant disregard for the will of God.

So figuratively, over a thousand each month are throwing the tablets up in the air and letting them crash to the ground while literally, they pack up of their church office library and dust off their resumés and begin to look for another career path.

Vocational ministry life can be frustrating. I write that even as a member of my immediate family prepares to enter into a greater level of vocational pastoral commitment. I am sure that like Moses, I would get exasperated by what I would see and would want to toss the tablets up in the air as well.

In North America, October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” however if people were serious about appreciating their pastor, they would, to use an archaic word, “harken” more to the things about the ways of God that he or she is trying to teach the congregation. Yes, they should live a certain way because it’s what God desires and what God requires, but there should also be a recognition that the very reason this person has been set apart for career ministry is to teach them such things with the expectation that they will follow.

Otherwise it’s all just empty words and meaningless worship.

Are there “ten commandments” violations that you see that would cause your pastor/rector/priest to want to toss the stone tablets in the air?


Related:

 

 

August 18, 2022

Skye Jethani Adds 3rd Title to “Serious” Series

Book Review: What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended (Moody Publishers, 2022)

Two years ago I was able to review the first book in what we now know has become a series, What if Jesus Was Serious? At the time, I mentioned that the use of “napkin doodles” therein was foreshadowed in one of Skye Jethani’s older books, With. I was unable to get a review copy of the follow-up, What if Jesus Was Serious About Prayer? but when the subject-at-hand for the third book was the modern church, I knew I wanted in, and despite the publisher’s great reluctance to grant review copies, was able to request one.

The reason I wanted to own this one in my personal collection is because this is a theme on which Skye is most outspoken when talking to Phil Vischer or interviewing guests weekly on The Holy Post Podcast. As a former pastor himself, and a former writer for over a decade with Christianity Today, Skye is able to articulate the challenges faced by the capital “C” Church worldwide, the small “c” church locally, and those whose vocational employment is church-related.

The podcast for which he is quite well known fails (in my view) in one respect, in that it is far too American-oriented. If you’re reading this review in the UK, or Australia, or Canada, and you’ve sensed that as well, you’ll be happy to know that the book casts a wider perspective beyond the U.S. I promise you’ll only roll your eyes once or twice.

So for those who need to play catch-up, as with the first two books, this one consists of short — never more than four page — chapters, each of which commences with a little drawing which might be a chart, or a diagram, or a cartoon, or a meme. It’s hard to describe them. Hence the reference to “napkin doodles.” The thing you would draw on a napkin (or blank paper place-mat) in a coffee shop when trying to explain an idea. (Again, the book With is must-reading to see how the concept evolved.)

This one has 51 such chapters, grouped in five sections; The Family Reunion, The Family Meal, The Family Gathering, The Family Business, and The Family Servants.

I immediately shared the second part with my wife. I find that I can never read enough about the Eucharist, Last Supper, or Communion Service, and our need to keep its centrality in the modern worship service. It and the third part, about the manner in which we worship are the longest two groupings in the book and include subjects that are important to the author.

Skye Jethani is so forthright and authoritative on these subjects, and I feel he is a voice that everyone in Evangelicalism needs to be hearing.

Because I tend to gush about the books I review — I choose them and don’t get books sent automatically — I do have a couple of criticisms. One is that for those who obsess over page counts, the 232 pages in this one include about 45 which are essentially blank. That’s a product of the way the book is formatted, and in balance, one needs to also consider this digest-sized paperback uses color process throughout.

The other thing was the ending. For me, there wasn’t one. The 51st article ended abruptly, which I expected given the concision that Skye employs throughout. But then I turned the page looking for a conclusion; something that would tie everything altogether, and there wasn’t one. No closing statement. Perhaps, as with the podcast for which he is known, there is a bonus chapter only available to Patreon supporters.

Those complaints aside, I encourage you to consider this. It’s fairly quick reading, and if you or someone in your family is employed in ministry, it contains a number of great conversation starters. If you simply care about where modern Evangelicalism is headed, it contains even more topics to provoke discussion.

August 8, 2022

Honoring the Offering

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:16

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Cor. 9:7

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. – 1 Timothy 6:18

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-21

Many years ago my wife worked in a church leading worship where one of the members of the church’s “Program Team” objected to her sometimes having the congregation sing another worship song concurrent with the offering being received. She was okay with an instrumental song, but felt that combining the congregational singing with the placing of cash and envelopes in the basket being passed failed to “honor the offering.”

I have no idea where she got that concept.

Today we have quite a different situation. There is no offering received in many of our churches. During the pandemic, places of worship were told by local health authorities to avoid the surface contact generated by passing an offering plate or a tray of communion elements.

Long before the outbreak, some churches had switched to a box at the back of the auditorium. (I loved it when Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids would announce the “Joy boxes” and the congregation would cheer!)

Moreover, many of us give online these days. We use neither cash nor envelopes, and our electronic giving replaces checks. (That’s cheques for my Canadian/Aussie/UK readers.)

But giving is an act of worship, right?

If so, it follows that act of worship should be part of a worship service, right?

So how we incorporate “taking up the offering” when we’re not actually taking up the offering.

In once church I visited, people take a small card (business card size) that said, “I use automatic bank withdrawal giving,” as they walk in and then as the plate or basket is passed, they drop the card in. (Hopefully they’re being honest, or there’s a whole set of Ananias and Sapphira admonitions we could mention here.)

But one church we watched online did something different. It was an offering liturgy prayer that the entire church spoke, a declaration of a giving spirit (or perhaps the intention to do so as soon as the service ended.)  It’s worded this way:

Holy Father, there is nothing I have that You have not given me. All I have and am belong to You, bought with the blood of Jesus. To spend everything on myself, and to give without sacrifice, is the way of the world that you cannot abide. But generosity is the way of those who call Christ their Lord; who love Him with free hearts and serve Him with renewed minds; who withstand the delusion of riches that chokes the word; whose hearts are in your kingdom and not in the systems of the world. I am determined to increase in generosity until it can be said that there is no needy person among us. I am determined to be trustworthy with such a little thing as money that you may trust me with true riches. Above all, I am determined to be generous because You, Father, are generous. It is the delight of Your daughters and sons to share Your traits and to show what You are like to all the world.

This statement of what it means to be generous toward the world and toward God, both corporately and individually, replaces the offering for this church.


Source of Giving Liturgy: Westside AJC (a Jesus Church), this is the congregation founded by Phil and Diane Comer and taught for years by John Mark Comer. Click image to see full size or visit: https://westsideajc.org/about#giving-section

Scriptures used in the preparation of the Giving Liturgy (click the above link to see the version where these footnotes correspond.

(1) Psalm 24 v1, Psalm 31 v19, Ephesians 1 v7, James 1 v17, 1 Timothy 6 v17
(2) Proverbs 11 v25, 1 John 3 v17
(3) 1 Timothy 6 v17-19, Romans 12 v2, 2 Timothy 3:2-5, 2 Corinthians 9 v6-8
(4) Acts 4 v32-35
(5) Luke 16 v10-11
(6) Psalm 81 v10, Matthew 7 v7-11, John 16 v23-24, Romans 8 v32, Ephesians 1v3, Ephesians 1 v7-8


For our Canadian readers: Coincidentally (honestly!) this ran Sunday on our ministry Facebook page, but U.S. readers can give to this as well, though you won’t get a tax receipt.

It’s Sunday, and there are people reading this for whom it’s been a long time since you were in a place where an offering plate was passed. Searchlight’s recommended Christian charity of choice continues to be the Welcome Home Children’s Centre in Haiti. Your donation today can provide shelter, food, clothing, supervision, school fees, school uniforms, transportation, and more for 14 children, at the orphanage located two hours north of Port-au-Prince. Click on their page at Canada Helps to donate, or donate by credit card or Paypal using Welcome Home’s own donation page at this link.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the very nice people at Christianity 201.

April 7, 2022

Lessons (Hopefully) Learned from Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel

Living in what the people of Chicagoland call “the northwest suburbs” theologian Scot McKnight and his daughter, teacher Laura Barringer had a front row seat when things began unraveling at Harvest Bible Chapel and Willow Creek Community Church, and furthermore were acquainted with many of the people who became a part of our daily Twitter and blog feeds about both stories.

For this writer, the allegations about James MacDonald were hardly surprising, but I was more deeply invested in Bill Hybels, so there I found the greatest shock and disappointment. That the actions of these leaders were both shielded from the parishioners and the general public, and/or softened for public consumption meant that other leaders were culpable as the accusations intensified.

As I pointed out in this article, by the end of 2020, the damage done to the lives and legacies of various church leaders — not just pastors — was devastating and in no way limited to Harvest and Willow. So in writing A Church Called TOV: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing (Tyndale House, 2020) McKnight and Barringer were not afraid to name names.

This serves as an example of the truth and transparency that they see as just one of the seven marks of what they call “the circle of TOV,” which ought to be a mantra for every church wishing to have a healthy internal governance culture. Before getting there however, the first 80-or-so pages define the problem, and only then do they embark on what I consider the redemptive properties of the book, though they do not, by any means leave the naming of names behind, but continue to address situations that are relevant to each of the seven healthy characteristics they are defining.

It is at that point that some more positive anecdotal content is presented, including some very moving accounts from the late Calvin Miller. And the scriptures. In some chapters, especially the scriptures. (I ran a very brief excerpt from the book at Christianity 201 a few days ago as an example.)

If you get a copy, you need to copy and print an enlargement of their “circle of TOV” and hang it in whatever room your church board/elders meets. It should guide every aspect of the decision-making processes.

So why review a 2020 book now? In publishing marketing and publicity, this isn’t done, but reading Jesus and John Wayne (reviewed here) and The Making of Biblical Womanhood (briefly reviewed here), I simply had to include this one in my personal reading, especially knowing how much it has impacted many church leaders since its release.

(Unfortunately, Tyndale House doesn’t have representation in Canada, so I had to use a borrowed copy, but by mentioning the book here and now for my U.S. readers, I am trying to practice in this situation my own culture of grace and goodness.)

The book also begs the question, ‘Should megachurches even exist?’ Or to say it differently, ‘Was the modern megachurch ever part of God’s plan?” If you’re reading this, and in the middle of a search for a church home (a new church, or you’re looking for the first time) I would strongly suggest looking at churches with 200-500 in attendance (or 100-300 in Canada) as your best options.

With the passage of time since the book’s release, our emphasis now, rather than focusing on what went wrong, should be to look to the future with a vision of local church communities which promote the good, just as God, when he saw all that he had made, said that it was very good.

 

March 31, 2022

Patriarchy’s Historical Roots

I originally thought that The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr was a book that needed to be read either in tandem or serially with Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes DuMez. I’m now of the opinion that at least the first third of A Church Called Tov by Scott McKnight and Laura Barringer should be thrown into the mix.

So I hope you don’t mind if I discuss the book in comparative terms with the other which I reviewed here about a month ago.

It took me a long time to finish this — I read J&JW in the middle of the process — and also due to various interruptions, and complicated by the fact that due to certain deficiencies in my high school education, I have problems processing things related to history. (It’s a long story.) Beth Allison Barr is a historian, and she takes a historical approach, not a theological approach. Her concern with today’s popular patriarchy, which is best expressed by organizations such as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), is understanding how we got to this place, something that she contends did not happen overnight, though its meteoric rise to a default doctrine in Evangelicalism is relatively recent.

I’m continuously drawn back to a quotation I can no longer source where it was said that the purveyors and propagators of today’s patriarchal culture, and the pastors and authors which helped promote it, these people never dreamed they would be the object of historical or sociological study, they never imagined that they would be the focus of academic or scholarly research. They never expected their motivation and actions to be dissected and analyzed. They didn’t foresee books like TMBW and J&JW becoming part of the conversation.

Barr’s book goes back much further than DuMez’ however, back into medieval Times, to show both that some of this thinking did not emerge yesterday, and yet at the same time to show that historically women have occupied a much larger and more active place in the history of Christianity. In the most general sense, the current situation does not have strong historical precedent, even if there are glimpses of that attitude.

Beth Allison Barr also makes this story personal, inserting places where studying the historical timeline has intersected her own story. It genuinely puts a face on what might otherwise be a dry academic research paper. It matters. It matters to her. It matters to the women who have been completely marginalized by patriarchy in the church, and more than a few men who have suffered trying to defend them.

Because I’m late getting to this review, I’ll keep it short, except to reiterate that I really think it and J&JW really do need to be read together, perhaps along with others that are yet to be written, as those of us with a different understanding of scripture try to compassionately and gracefully put an end to misogyny within the church, including conditions with which many of us were raised.


The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr (Brazos Press, 2020, paperback 2021); page at Baker Publishing Group.

March 14, 2022

On the Ignoring and Smothering of Church Visitors

Once upon a time, evangelical church services, usually during the announcements, would include the question, “Are there any first-time visitors, today?”

Some folks would sheepishly stand and then (horror of horrors) be asked to say their name, and perhaps where they were from.

Given the stress people might feel getting up to speak in a room full of strangers, and in the name of being “seeker sensitive,” this practice was scrapped in the 1980s, along with the practice of making them wear a sticker that said “VISITOR” as you might in a hospital or a factory. (Going public wasn’t entirely without its blessings however; given the right church you might get a gift bag with a church coffee mug and a copy of the pastor’s latest book.)

Instead today, we have the practice where visitors can attend our churches with complete anonymity, but then, in churches of over 300 adults in attendance, they leave not having had anyone speak to them at all, for the simple reason that in today’s larger churches everyone figures that someone they don’t recognize is simply someone who has been there before — which is sometimes true — but they simply haven’t met or noticed them before. (Interesting that it moves from not wanting to embarrass visitors to longtime church members not wanting to embarrass themselves.)

After hanging around for five to ten minutes, and perhaps even taking a self-guided tour, many first time visitors eventually give up.

So tell me… how is this an improvement over the way things were?

Many times I’ve heard people say, “I visited that church and nobody spoke to me.” Or the one that really got to me, “The three of us went for three weeks and afterwards stood in a spot by the wall in the lobby smiling, just to see who would be friendly and initiate conversation, and for three weeks, nobody said a word.”

They moved on, as they should have.

Part of this is simply a liability of larger churches. Note that I said “over 300 adults in attendance.” It wouldn’t happen in a church of 50. I can’t see it taking place in a church of 100 adults. I still think it’s remote in a church of 150.

Conclusion: Even as the evangelical megachurch dominates the conversation, there’s something to be said for the smaller church communities (under 100 adults regularly attending) which before the pandemic made up over 25% of U.S. churches and nearly half of Canadian churches. Furthermore, I’d propose that maybe the fallout effects of the pandemic won’t be entirely all bad.

February 16, 2022

America: Christianity’s Wild, Wild West

Review of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes DuMez (Liveright Publishing, 2020)

This is a very American story. As I type this, I’m reminded that over three-quarters of my Thinking Out Loud readers are in the U.S., and almost from the beginning, I’ve written to an American audience using American spellings and vocabulary. But I also write this sitting one country removed, north of the 49th, where Evangelicalism wears a different face.

Nonetheless, to say “Evangelical” is similar to saying “Hollywood.” Both are two significant U.S. exports.  While Americans didn’t invent The Great Commission, they certainly defined it in unique terms.

While visiting Nuremberg in Germany a few years back, my wife and I had an impromptu meeting with some Evangelical leaders there who, while they used the adjective themselves, mostly rolled their eyes as U.S.-style evangelists and ministries were rolling over Europe staking their identity on social issues, rather than theological constructs.

I would argue that after reading Jesus and John Wayne, it’s necessary to pick up a copy of something like Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century by Brian Stiller, Todd M. Johnson, et al to remember that the shape and form of those who take the name Evangelical in other parts of the world is quite different, and far less politically-affiliated than what the term has come to mean in the 50 states.

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation is the work of a historian. Kristin Kobes DuMez teaches History and Gender Studies at Calvin University and since the book’s release both it and she have gained significant attention. If you wanted to catch up on the last 20 years of American Christian blogs, tweets, podcasts and magazine articles, this is the place to do so, with some previous decades thrown in for good measure. It’s a “who’s who” and “what’s what” of the major writers, influential pastors, and high profile organizations, and high profile politicians who have shaped U.S. Christianity or been shaped by it.

This is not a theological book.

While DeMez knows the value of a well-placed adjective, time and space do not allow for much beyond the rapid unraveling of the basic timeline, and while I haven’t counted, the stage version would involve a cast of hundreds and hundreds, often with a great many occupying the stage at the same time. So it is also that time and space do not allow for her to inject commentary or opinion or theological reflection on the events in Christian America. This treatment might be seen by some as rather sterile, but a glimmer of the writer’s personal perspective does get through in the way the material, much of which is direct quotations, is arranged and presented.

Christianity in America, so it seems, is unable to operate without either intentional or unintentional political ramifications. Yes, the body of frequently-attending Evangelical churchgoers influences the course of elections, but it would appear that just as often, the U.S. church is influenced by the political process itself which hangs over the U.S. church like a low-hanging thundercloud touching the church steeple. American Christians — Evangelical ones at least — have lost the plot on having an apolitical Christianity. (It might have been worth mentioning that Jesus never once directly addressed the Roman occupation, though ‘if someone asks you to go one mile…’ and the coin illustration certainly hinted at it.)

I am often reminded of 2 Timothy 2:4 “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.” If Christ is our commander, our desire ought to be to build his Kingdom, right? But I’m also aware of vivid personal memories of Pat Robertson encouraging television viewers on the importance of having Christians “in the public square” and being willing to engage in that context. For Americans, a House of Representatives or Senate Chambers (or Supreme Court or even White House) devoid of a Christian presence is seemingly unimaginable, but if the expression of Christianity is light years removed from the everyday application of the teachings of Jesus, is it worth calling it a Christian presence at all?

So where does John Wayne fit in to all this? Surprisingly, he’s more than just a motif, but turns up all through the book as an example of the rugged masculinity of the wild, wild west, from California actor-turned-President Ronald Regan, even to the point of President Trump standing next to a wax figure of the celebrated actor. (The book is peppered with relevant news file photos.) Given the choice between someone who shares Evangelicalism’s values and someone who is simply a strong leader, American churchgoers seem to prefer leadership qualities over faith pedigree. If anything, that was my top takeaway from reading the book in full.

Those things, in a nutshell, are my two primary takeaways from reading Jesus and John Wayne. American Evangelicals have conflated Christianity with various types of hyper-masculine imagery and role models; and that sadly, given the choice, American Evangelicals have often chosen power over principles.

Professor DuMez, much like the anchors on the network newscasts, does not inject much in the way of commentary or personal opinion. Toward the end, she does allow one bias to emerge, a longing for a significant course correction. It seems overly idealistic however, and perhaps she and the rest of us may have to wait for a day when churches in other parts of the world take the lead roles in Evangelicalism.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution in Canada for an opportunity to finally get my hands on a copy of J&JW. Much appreciated.

 

 

 

February 12, 2022

Planning Women’s Ministry Events

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:35 pm

I know what you’re thinking…

Why is HE writing about women’s ministry?

Don’t worry, this isn’t mine. It’s actually a Twitter thread unravel of something that landed in my feed a few days ago from someone I don’t actually follow.

Gena B. McCown is the author of Women’s Ministry with Purpose: A Vibrant, Gospel-Centered Approach (Leafwood Press, 2019). Admittedly, the phrase “gospel-centered” is a trigger phrase for me, as it often means “Neo-Calvinist,” but let’s not allow that to make us miss the wisdom in what follows.  You can follower on Twitter at @GenaBMcCown or learn much more at her website, GenaBMcComb.wixsite.com.

This really resonated with Ruth, who has had experience with women’s ministry, and even more experience avoiding women’s ministries in various churches. The complete thread, with comments, may be found at this link.

Women’s Ministry Leaders:

When you are planning your events please remember not every woman in your church is a wife or a mother. You can have amazing events that cater to women without focusing on these 2 roles.

Not every woman in your church has the ability to go hiking, sleep in a bunk bed, or icebreaker games that involve moving around spaces. You can have amazing events that are accessible by all of your women, regardless of age and health.

Not every woman in your church is an extrovert. You can have amazing events that factor in the introvert. Where we do not publicly put people on the spot, or incorporate times of quiet and solitude (especially at weekend long retreats) for our introverts to reset.

Not every woman in your church has childcare support (even if she is married), budget for expensive trips, or a home that she can entertain in. You can have amazing events that provide childcare, are affordable, and can allow women to come to a safe space.

Not every woman in the church is going to be excited by the same things you are. You can build a Women’s Ministry team with a diversity of women, so that you can build up a Women’s Ministry calendar that has a little something for everyone.

Not every woman in the church is looking for another place to socialize or fellowship. Some are looking for discipleship, mentoring, and even deep theological training. You can build an amazing Women’s Ministry that includes both social opportunities and spiritual growth at varied levels.

A vibrant women’s ministry is one that sees the fullness of the women of the church and says there is room at the table for all of us. All are wanted and welcomed.

…I thought that was worthy of being seen by more people. There are also some principles here for which application can be extrapolated for the church as a whole. Thanks, Gena.

 

February 1, 2022

John Mark Comer on Culture Non-Conformity

The phrase has grown antiquated.

The seven-letter phrase was standard in Evangelical preaching in the mid-20th Century: “The world, the flesh, and the devil.” It was the stuff of spiritual warfare seminars, revival meetings and Pentecostal preaching. And then, like some other words and phrases, it became outmoded.

That is, until Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace by John Mark Comer (Waterbrook, 2021), though this time around, the order is reversed and Comer considers “the devil, the flesh and the world,” and in ways the seminar leader, revival leader and Pentecostal preacher of days gone by might not recognize.

Like his previous work, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer is all about awakening people to recognize the ways in which they have become conformed to popular culture. Or trapped by it. Or enslaved to it. As much as I wanted to review that book when it released, as a regular listener to online sermons at Bridgetown Church in Portland where, until recently, Comer was lead pastor, I’ve heard much of the sermon material which gave birth to both books and the link between them is so strong, I can’t help think there’s got to a third book to complete the trilogy.

But Comer’s methodology is always somewhat subversive. What if you, while taking a firm stand against popular culture and the hold it has on people, were to quote the culture’s own poets, authors, playwrights, and spokespeople? It’s not a new idea, Jesus and Paul walked that road before, and unless you’re extremely conversant on things written by academics, trend-spotters and cultural analysts, you’re going to indirectly hear from voices which are new to you.

But what if you don’t believe in the devil?

Comer is very charitable toward readers who are in a different space. He’s created a book that you could hand to that non-church-attending neighbour or coworker or relative and say, ‘Check this out and tell me what you think.’ The use of the aforementioned ‘secular’ pundits and experts helps facilitate that type of book-giving. The Bible is also generously applied to the discussion, but the book’s primary text is devoid of chapter and verse scripture references which can only be found in the endnotes. There are also quotations from Christian writers ranging from the Desert Fathers to Comer’s mentors and contemporaries.

In calling us to resist the pressures of the dominant culture, Comer seems to include both an individual and corporate response. In other words, a mixture of ‘What can I do?’ and ‘What can my Christian community do?’ in observing and reacting to the world in which we live.

For the ADHD readers among us, each of the three sections contains a two-page recap with key points on how we fight and overcome the devil, the flesh and the world in this cultural moment.

Live No Lies is not however a spiritual warfare manual in the sense of other books you’ve read before. It’s more of a manifesto, seeking to challenge and inspire readers to build a different type of kingdom.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource (distributor of Waterbrook Press titles to the Canadian Christian bookstore market) for an opportunity to finally get my hands on a book I was dying to read!

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