Thinking Out Loud

March 12, 2022

Some Evangelicals Never Thought They’d Be Under the Mircoscope

In May of 2011, I posted the following picture in an article titled, “Christians Everywhere, Meet Your Spokesmen.”

For the record, that’s Harold Camping, Terry Jones and Fred Phelps

The point that day had more to do with men in gray suits. Others would quickly want to add Pat Robertson or Jack Van Impe. Non-Reformers aren’t too impressed with John Piper, either.

In 2018, I wrote that “as each of these exits the world stage, as we all will do, it seems disappointing when new ones step up to replace them. Some don’t really fit the suit — and these are invariably males — but the effect is the same. Others are so young, but are already on a clear trajectory for crazy uncle status… Others are so called “watchdogs” like the self-righteous, Pharisaical Chris Rosbrough. Others, like Ed Stetzer enjoy a measure of acceptability within a large denomination such that people miss how totally obnoxious and self-absorbed they truly are.

I went on to mention John MacArthur sidekick Phil Johnson, and “the snarky, sarcastic, caustic, infantile attitudes of the guys on the Happy Rant Podcast.” And I didn’t forget J.D. Hall.

Fast forward to 2022, and Robertson is in semi-retirement, and many wish MacArthur would follow suit. But Piper still pops in and out of our Twitter feed, directly or indirectly.

Alongside this we have this interesting phenomenon where books like Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes DuMez, and The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr are part of everyday conversations by rank and file church parishioners, at the same time as church abuse survivor stories find a greater audience and are received as having greater credibility.

It was in reference to the two above-mentioned books that I read something online that I wish I could provide the reference for; but I need to forge ahead and repeat it here as best I can. The gist of was that many Evangelical church leaders never dreamed that their actions would be the object of academic and scholarly study. To say it differently, they never considered that things they did one or more decades ago would be placed under the microscope and closely examined by so many for so long.

Regardless of how they viewed their actions, church historians and sociologists and journalists are now casting their gaze back over years and years of trends in Evangelical thought and saying, ‘Here is what was actually happening.’ Yes, they have the benefit of hindsight, but that is exactly a key aspect to the historical method.

There’s a news radio station in a nearby city that had a tag line, “Read it tomorrow, see it tonight, hear about it now.” The reference was to sourcing our news through newspapers, television news, and radio. Going the other direction on the spectrum, we find the weekly news magazines like Time, the year-in-review publications, and finally, at the farthest end, the history books.

Many of the things that Evangelical leaders have said and done were probably, in their own minds, things which would be on the minds of people today, tonight and tomorrow. And no longer. Politicians have known for years how people tend to forget. But the radio station tag line might reached back to “Consider it next week,” and ultimately, “Analyze it in ten to twenty years.”

Which is where we find ourselves. The men in suits — maybe not just the ones in the picture above, but the ones in the books I mentioned (and many other books) — did not realize they were shaping a greater movement (or sub-movement) within the Church and the true nature of the legacy they were leaving.

To some extent, many of us went along with it. We bought the Focus on the Family resources and found them helpful in raising our children, never considering the possibility that the jury, which seemed to be out for a long time, might return a different verdict on the impacts of purity balls and homeschooling in general. We adored the charismatic nature and speaking ability of pastors like James MacDonald and bought our tickets never realizing where the ride was taking us, and him. We bought the Left Behind books and watched the movies without a thought that the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine is absolutely nowhere to be found in Christian writing prior to 1870, because we found great comfort in an eschatology that gets us the heck out of here.

But the time for reflection and analysis is here.

…Don’t beat yourself up over any peripheral involvement you may have had with days of Evangelical zeal. Don’t imagine yourself going back to tell your 30-years-younger self something, because that version of you would not have understood what you were saying. Or recognized you as you.

At the same time though, realize that one thing did, as the proverb says, lead to another, and if you can still reflect on those ‘glory days’ fondly, without any regrets, then you have missed out on the blessing of being a thinking Christian, of being self-aware of where you stand (as we all do) at the intersection of faith and culture.

 

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.

 

 

 

December 16, 2019

Danielle Strickland Tackles the Gender Controversies

Danielle Strickland has a new book and 6-session DVD study releasing in February with Thomas Nelson. We profiled Danielle in May of 2018. She’s spoken at Willow Creek and NorthPoint Community Church and at various conferences. This Canadian author has already written for Monarch, NavPress and IVP.

The book, Better Together: How Women and Men Can Heal the Divide and Work Together to Transform the Future releases in paperback on February 11th. The publisher marketing describes the book as follows:

We are currently at a strategic cultural intersection with relationships between women and men eroding. And it seems no one knows what to do. While it is good for women to expose their pain, what often happens is that they immediately blame the person at the other end of it, which sets up a never-ending cycle of accusations, denial, avoidance, and ultimately devastation for everyone involved.

This moment of discovery should not signal the end but instead become an opportunity to create a different world where men and women are better together.

Better Together is a beacon of hope in a challenging storm. It’s where thoughts can be re-channeled and hope rekindled as author Danielle Strickland offers steps toward a real and workable solution. Her premise is that two things are needed for change:

1) imagine a better world, and
2) understand oppression.

Understanding how oppression works is an important part of undoing it.

Danielle says, “I refuse to believe that all men are bad. I also refuse to believe that all women are victims. I don’t want to be just hopeful, I want to be strategically hopeful. I want to work toward a better world with a shared view of the future that looks like equality, freedom, and flourishing.

The video curriculum releases two weeks later on February 25th. Again, the publisher description:

This six-week video study takes on the most difficult issue our culture and the Church is facing today: gender division. Known activist and speaker, Danielle Strickland shows that we are stronger, freer, louder, and livelier in alignment with one another.

In a time when societal disruptions are rampant—have you wanted to cut and run?

Have you considered your own gender versus the opposite in a defensive way?

If we are honest, we all have. And that truth is where we begin to be set free. We are only as strong as our understanding of our differences—and they are many and varied and begin with each our fingerprint. But we were not created alone, or separately. We were in fact created of and from and in the image of the same God. Until God created man AND woman, he called everything he created ‘good.’ When he saw us together, he declared, “It is VERY good” Gen 1:1-31.

So how then, in a current state of division at every intersection of life, do we return to the flourishing of men and women together as originally intended?

In this six-session study, author, activist, and headlining international speaker Danielle Strickland will guide us through our differences and mutuality with a biblical lens and foundation. She will teach and inspire us to face the core challenge that drives all division—FEAR—and to change the story of our culture. We will transform and become examples of equality and equity as in the Garden of Eden where we were made better, together.

The video trailer for the study series, posted above, released just a few days ago.

 

 used by permission of Christian Book Shop Talk Blog

September 23, 2009

More of the Best-Of From September, 2008

Filed under: Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:42 pm

Keep Your Mind Pure

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

~ Phil 4:8 & 9 – The Message

.

.

.

Are You a Spectator or a Participant?

Are the people at your church participants or just spectators? Cathy Lynn Grossman asked this question on her discussion forum on the religion page of USAToday (linked on my blog, but a new topic may have been introduced, pushing this one back to a ‘previous week’ status). She wrote:

When I looked at the challenges and changes in the realm of megachurches this week, pastors I spoke with were concerned.
They’re proud of the high quality of their worship services — good music, clear preaching, creative artistic touches and lots of talk about serving the world.
But they see a worrisome number of people who come to church the way they go to a movie or concert. A little entertainment, a little something to think about and then it’s time to move back to real life.

But one of the most interesting responses came up this morning from a Mormon woman. Here’s what she wrote:

As a member of The Chuch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you cannot be an active member of the congregation and be just a spectator. All of the adults in the congregation take turns giving talks over the pulpit, we do not have our Bishop preaching to us each Sunday. I personally like hearing from those different people, their experiences, testimonies, and it’s nice to look at new faces across the pulpit each week. Also, we each serve in the congregation to make the rest of the Sunday meetings possible. From serving as adult Sunday School teachers, to teaching a youth class, or one of the many children’s classes. There are people who are asked to play the piano, lead the music, work in the library that provides supplies for the different classes, run a nursery class for the children 3 and under. We are all working together and contribute to have a wonderful Sabbath day experience worshipping at church. I think because of that, we are stronger members of the church and we feel like we need to “practice what we preach”, because we are all doing the preaching in one aspect or another.

There is much being written today about the small group movement and the house church movement, and I believe that the message to those of us who have chosen to remain in the institutional church is to greatly increase the interactive element in our services, and greatly increase the number and degree of lay participation.

The Male Domination of the Christian Internet

Although the blogroll at right lists a handful of sites I think are worth visiting, my personal bookmarks include some 70 + Christian blogs which I try to check out at least every other day. That’s a lot of blogs. And you know what? They’re all written by men. As in males. As in not women.

Tonight I landed on a couple of blogs written by women that aren’t part of my bookmarks. I immediately bookmarked both of them. I need to hear their perspective. I need to listen carefully to what they’re saying. I realize there is a certain dimension, possibly even a certain depth of spirituality that I don’t find reading stuff by fellow guys. A different understanding of God’s dealings with us in this broken old world.

I think that much of this has to do with the fact that men “publish” on the internet with the intention of reaching the widest audience. Women tend to be truer to the idea of blogs as online diaries; they write about raising kids, about intimate feelings, about deep personal discoveries in their reading of the scriptures. In that sense, women bloggers often tend to be more “Psalm-like” in their online composing. In the Psalms, David (or Asaph, or whoever) unleashes both high praise and extreme frustration towards God, who is always there as listening friend, whatever David’s mood that day. The Psalmist just wants to express something.

What do you think? Is it just me, or is Evangelical Christianity totally dominated online the way it’s dominated in the church, and in Christian publishing? What percentage of the bloggers you read are female?

Blog at WordPress.com.