In the Western nations where Christendom once was dominant, it is dominant pretty much no more. I for one don’t grieve this one bit. I regard “Christendom” as a morally dubious phenomenon that probably did as much harm to the gospel as it ever did any good. It consisted more in the promotion of institutional power of churches and church officials. It may have had some effect in shaping professed public morals, and perhaps even some effect on moral practice. But I don’t like the idea of any religion being able to exercise social coercion, and I think that religious faiths should live or die solely by their ability to commend themselves to the consciences of people…
So, I find pre-Constantinian Christianity much, much more exciting than what comes later, with much more to say to churches, Christians, and non-Christians too in our modern era in which Christianity is essentially one religious option in a religiously plural world. If Christians want to figure out how to be authentic and particularly Christian while also negotiating their contributions to the wider society, it’s Christians and texts from the first three centuries that provide the best resources.
This is similarly related to a conversation I had with a fellow pastor at our church. He was telling me how he used to want to live in the South, deep in the buckle of the
Bible Belt “Religion Belt.” He was commenting on the change in his attitude over the years. He would rather live somewhere that the gospel and Christianity was not culturally assumed. In a non-Christian environment he could share the joy of the Christ without having to disabuse people of their religious idols.
This is a good reminder for me that the decline of Christianity’s social and political impact is an opportunity to elevate the life-changing, life-saving, power of the gospel.
HT: Alan Knox.
In his massive Christian Theology, Millard Erickson notes that the first effect of sin on one’s relationships with other people is competition. Erickson is clearly referencing something bigger than competitive sports but his point seems appropriate, nonetheless.
With the American football season upon us, I wanted to briefly explore the legitimacy of competitive sports for Christians. Are competitive sports sinful?
1. Is competition sinful?
Yes and no.
Yes. It depends who you are competing against. Anytime you are doing something merely to prove your superiority, you are basing your identity on the need to win. You are, in essence, worshiping yourself when you are trying to prove your value and self-worth by validating your dominance.
No. Self-competition that promotes humble excellence can be positive. Some people are never satisfied with their abilities, appearance, or the like. Discontentment is as much a sin as arrogance. Pursuing excellence and pushing yourself to the limit can be a very healthy activity. Many people learn a lot about their inabilities and abilities by attempting difficult and challenging things.
2. Are competitive sports sinful?
Like most things, competitive sports can be used as an opportunity for sin and might even tend to promote sinful behavior when they overemphasize proving one’s superiority. However, competitive sports are not, by default, sinful. I think it is important to keep score in many games to maintain an objective grasp on reality. The better team should, all things being equal, win the game. Without a score a team is unable to fully evaluate their performance to ensure they are giving maximum effort.
Anytime winning, however, becomes attached to one’s value then sin has taken hold. Whether a team wins is of no consequence as long as everyone involve is giving maximum effort.
Pastor Tim Piland shared an excellent message from Matthew 28:19-20 this past Sunday at Nansemond River Baptist Church. I love to listen to Pastor Tim share; he is biblical, passionate, and relevant. I like to tell people that he’s 65 going on 20. He has the energy and passion of a young man with the wisdom and wit of a seasoned veteran. I think he has a faint hint of Jimmy Stewart in his voice as well .
In any case, Tim made a comment (I think I’ve heard similar comments before) about sharing the gospel:
The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; it is a relationship to be shared.
I grew up learning all the methods of evangelism (E.E., Romans Road, 4 Spiritual Laws, Steps to Peace with God, F.A.I.T.H., etc.). As I’ve grown (a little) older I’ve found methods to be helpful but often inadequate. Each person is different and, therefore, every time I share my faith it sounds a little different. The content must always be biblical but the method of organization and communication is often ad hoc.
More important than the method, however, is the relationship. We must build relationships with people that can bear the weight of the gospel. The message of sin and salvation is heavy stuff and casual conversations rarely offer the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. Talking about football and the weather is hardly a natural segue to the magnitude of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Too often fervent evangelists see people as converts to be won. I am reminded of Kevin Roose’s experience at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University chronicled in the book Unlikely Disciple:
When I told the Liberty students at Thomas Road that I hadn’t accepted Christ as my savior, the entire dynamic of the conversation changed. It began to feel distant and rehearsed, like a pitch for Ginsu knives.
People are unique and interesting and the gospel is not formulaic. Different people have different objections and hangups to the gospel. I know that I value authenticity and honesty much more than a polished presentation.
I’ve mentioned before how much I love Relevant Magazine. To be honest, the Relevant Magazine podcast is the real reason I ever subscribed to the magazine itself. The free podcast, which is recorded most weeks, is a conglomeration of random news stories (Ice T’s Bullfrog, Punching Whale Sharks, etc.), entertainment recommendations, live music performances, interviews, and more. What it lacks in consistency it makes up for in cost.
The Relevant Magazine podcast is like a hilarious and random conversation between a group of Christian friends. My only complaint? Every time Jesse or Cameron try to introduce a bit of sporting news, the anti-ESPN audience revolts. Apparently being a tree-hugging, vinyl collecting hipster precludes a deep love of professional athletic competition.
So where do I turn for an equal dose of humor, indie music, and sports? Enter the Sklar Brothers. Jason and Randy Sklar are identical twin comedians who I first heard on the Jim Rome Show. The topic of their comedy is often related to sports (though they incorporate random pop culture references from the last 3 decades). It’s amazing to listen ostensibly to the same voice have a rambling comedic conversation with itself. Every week they have a comedic caricature of a famous sports personality (such as Vin Scully) as well as guest comedians.
You heard all this right. My two favorite podcasts both concern pop culture, music, and humor. One, however, is produced by young evangelical Christians and amateur radio hosts. The other is hosted by professional Comedians who push the boundaries of traditional comedy. The best part about both: hilarious and free.
When a grown man is weeping uncontrollably by himself watching ESPN on his lunch break then you know something unique is happening. Such is the situation I found myself while watching the story of Josiah Vierra. When the doctor cried, I almost lost it. Doctors aren’t supposed to cry. His life just might be a miracle. I also felt there was a lot to learn from Josiah’s understanding of heaven. What is heaven like? Jesus.
I have some friends whose functional savior is romance. They love the emotional porn that is evidenced in popular series such as Twilight. Romantic comedies form their picture of male-female relationships. They write Facebook posts saying that they “can’t live without” such-and-such a person. They give other people the place in their lives reserved only for Jesus. They want so badly to have unconditional love and acceptance from another person. Only God can love completely and unconditionally. Putting that kind of hope in another person will only lead to disappointment. In fact, it’s not fair to the other person. No person can love you like Jesus.
I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the declining morals of modern American culture. It is basically assumed that the morals of the ’50s were vastly superior to whatever values still remain. Anecdotal evidence usually cites the terrible entertainment on television (think Jersey Shore instead of Leave it to Beaver) or changing sexual ethics (think premarital sex and homosexuality).
I would like to caution us not to be unnecessarily concerned. First of all, sin is trans-generational. Changing technology and access to information have made certain forms of sin more visible in the wider culture but sin has always existed. People in the ’50s had moral lapses. In fact, a view of morality that focuses merely on externals has to pick and choose what is and is not the essential determiner of right behavior. The ’50s mights seem more upright in regard to conservative views of sexual ethics. However, if the standard has anything to do with institutionalized racism then the ’50s might be seen as significantly worse than today. This all depends on whether external morality is the sole basis for which one wants to judge a culture. If the ’50s are a bad barometer of external morality then the Bible fares much worse (adultery, incest, homosexuality, murder, lying, stealing, etc).
I’ve seen a great deal of positive movement in my generation toward care for the environment, concern for the poor, economic equality. All the while, my friends have maintained a strong commitment to defending the unborn and other “traditional” causes of conservative evangelicalism. In addition, all of the focus on external behavior can easily devolve into outright hypocrisy. My generation is much more concerned with authenticity, humility, and honesty than any pretense of performance or righteous charade.
I suspect there is a bit of historical naïvity and unsubstantiated nostalgia when certain people discuss the past. Whatever the case, external morality misses the point. The gospel realizes that no amount of “good behavior” warrants salvation and that real life change only comes from Jesus Christ. People do not need behavior change, they need to go from spiritual death to spiritual life. Focusing on external behavior is like giving a dead man Tylenol. Standards of external morality will change based on cultural situation, we need a basis for behavior that is rooted in the character of God and not the fashions of the day.
It’s been a crazy couple of months. Whitney and I just got back from Harrisonburg where we spent the weekend ministering to high school students from Immanuel Bible Church. We had a lot of fun talking about the book of Jonah and asking tough questions about our own commitment to the call of God.
I think I have a chance to breath in the coming weeks, so I hope to get back on a regular blogging schedule. There are a lot of things to discuss!
Just browsing through the contents I’m excited to see the feature on Shad (one of my favorite hip-hop artists). I’m over Rob Bell and all of his pseudo-spirituality (“God is the God of the groove. We need rhythm in our time. It gives shape and color and form to all of life.” What does that even mean?!?) but I’ll see what he has to say (or not say) about advent.
The article I am most anticipating is “Deck the Halls (Not Your Family)” by my fellow Greenbrier Christian Academy alumnus, Jesse Carey. His article walks through the art of greeting (hug, handshake, fist bump, cheek kiss) and helps you avoid the passive-aggressive dinner table questions (so, when are you guys gonna have kids?). Most importantly it claims to help you “avoid the Clark Griswold meltdown.”