Category Archives: culture

Social Networking Faux Paus

My social networking pet-peeves:

1. Anonymous, passive-aggressive posts.

“I wish someone would learn how to mind her business” (sometimes there is a “you know who you are” inserted). If you want to call someone out, use their name. If you are talking about a general subject then leave the personal pronouns out of it.

2. Misuse of the LOL phrase.

Using the phrase LOL after something does not necessarily make it funny or nice. I can’t just say, “Johnny is a selfish jerk, LOL” unless there is some inside joke or personal anecdote to which it refers.

3. A distinct online personality.

People who are witty, sarcastic, extroverted, and bold online but are dull, quiet, and passive in real-life exhibit tendencies of multiple personality disorder. Be who you are in real-life online (and vice-versa). Don’t say something on the internet you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Sometimes I’ll catch people tweeting something in the moment that they are too afraid to say aloud. Live in reality and use social networking for what it is. Do not use social networks as a venue for your alternate personality or to substitute for reality.

Do you have any social networking pet-peeves that you want to add to this list?

Aaron Rodgers Photobomb

Just to settle any arguments regarding the epic awesomeness of Aaron Rodgers I had to post this picture. Not only is he a Superbowl MVP Quarterback, he is a master of the photobomb (he is “sneaking” in between 73 and 36).

If you think that this might be some sort of one-time-occasion, check out this collage of him repeatedly bombing the pre-game team captains picture. He ‘bombed almost 30 pictures! Nice!

As the teenagers and adults at my church know, I enjoy a good photobomb as well:

The Benefits of Christendom’s Waning Influence

Some time ago I read a post by Larry Hurtado on the fall of Christendom in Western cultures.

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.

Changing Values of Morality

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.

Relevant Mag (Nov/Dec)

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!

I should be able to read the newest issue of Relevant Magazine featuring the epicly bearded Zach Galifianakis on the cover. Beards are clearly a sign of ultimate manliness.

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.”

The Bible as Icon

Beyond doubt, the Bible for many Americans is, as Martin Marty phrases it, an “icon” as well as an object of study. With no American group is this more the case than with evangelicals… Evangelicals, by reputation and self-definition an antiliturgical folk, have nevertheless made a formulaic phrase, “the Bible says” (or its variants, like “my Bible says”), an all but essential part of the sermon. The iconic place of the Bible accounts for the fact that so many evangelicals profess belief in scriptural inerrancy, yet know little about the book’s actual content. It also helps explain why many different bodies of evangelicals continue to insist that they follow “the Bible alone” and are not influenced by historical or cultural conditioning, as they go their mutually exclusive ways in doctrine and practice.

– Mark Noll, Between Faith and Criticism

Watered Down Christianity

I read this the other day on Jim West’s blog.

Christianity would be better of if it had fewer adherents rather than more.  The reason is simple—the Church is the best kind of wine until water gets added.  The more water one mixes with wine, the less wine there really is.  Water down the wine enough and before long there isn’t anything left of it but a little smell.

I often feel the same way.  Being a Christian in name only is not being a Christian at all.  I would much rather spread the gospel with those who see it as good news than those who have grown familiar with the amazing story of Jesus.  There are too many counterfeit Christians who distort the gospel yet they seem to get all the press.

Why is Glenn Beck Restoring (Christian) Honor?

I have seen a lot of discussion about Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 (we’ll save the debate over the appropriateness of such an event at the Lincoln Memorial on such a significant date for another time).

One of my good friends mentioned how moving it was to see thousands of people singing Amazing Grace.  I could tell she was shocked when I responded with caution and skepticism rather than whole-hearted affirmation.

The more I have examined this event the more I am convinced that it is nothing more than an ecumenical, atheological, universalitic form of the often seen idolatry of patriotism.  While some well-intentioned evangelicals may have been involved in this event, Beck presented nothing more than a moralistic, patriotic call to everything but the Biblical gospel.  I heard no mention of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus or the call of Christians to love their enemies and sacrifice their preferences for the sake of the gospel.  It is no surprise that Beck, a self-identified Mormon, would miss the mark on the gospel.

For many undiscerning evangelicals Beck’s morality, Biblical references, and theistic language is enough to convince them He is on God’s team.  Unfortunately, as his Mormon theology and alliance with clerics of various faiths demonstrates Beck is not a believer in the Trinitarian articulation of the Christian God.  One can support Beck’s politics but be very wary when he begins using theistic language about “returning America to God.”  Whose God?

The best and most well-reasoned response I have read is by Dr. Russell Moore.  Everyone should read his measured response (some lengthy excerpts are included below):

Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads.  We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.  There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship.  The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death.  The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt.  Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah…

Mormonism and Mammonism are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  They offer another Lord Jesus than the One offered in the Scriptures and Christian tradition, and another way to approach him.  An embrace of these tragic new vehicles for the old Gnostic heresy is unloving to our Mormon friends and secularist neighbors, and to the rest of the watching world.  Any “revival” that is possible without the Lord Jesus Christ is a “revival” of a different kind of spirit than the Spirit of Christ (1 John 4:1-3)…

It’s sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not pessimistic.  Jesus will build his church, and he will build it on the gospel.  He doesn’t need American Christianity to do it.  Vibrant, loving, orthodox Christianity will flourish, perhaps among the poor of Haiti or the persecuted of Sudan or the outlawed of China, but it will flourish.

And there will be a new generation, in America and elsewhere, who will be ready for a gospel that is more than just Fox News at prayer.

Do we overvalue freedom?

A recent Time magazine article profiled Jonathan Franzen and his new novel, Freedom.

“It seemed to me,” Franzen says, “that if we were going to be elevating freedom to the defining principle of what we’re about as a culture and a nation, we ought to take a careful look at what freedom in practice brings.”  The weird thing about the freedom of Freedom is that what it doesn’t bring is

Cover of

happiness.  For Franzen’s characters, too much freedom is an empty, dangerously entropic thing… No one is freer than a person with no moral beliefs.  “One of the ways of surrendering freedom is to actually have convictions,” Franzen says.  “And a way of further surrendering freedom is to spend quite a bit of time acting on those convictions.”

These are provocative and jarring statements for those of who are rapidly devoted to our independence.  As a nation we often centralize the virtue of freedom.  After all, it is our freedom that is central to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

I can anticipate the objection from my Christian friends: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).  No matter that such a verse is often taken out of context.  Remember that Paul urges everyone to use their Christian freedom as a means to sacrificial service (Galatians 5:13).

Freedom for most Americans means freedom from — from responsibility (e.g., marriage, family, employer, rules, etc.), from tyranny, from authority.  As American Christians most of us have uncritically imbibed this idea that freedom in the Christian life is freedom from sin, freedom guilt, and freedom for fear.  All of these things are true.  As Christians we are free from many things.  However, to define freedom as merely from is incomplete.  We are free for.

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness… But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6: 18, 22).

How can freedom lead to slavery? Freedom from sin leads to willing submission to God.  “I have been bought with a price” and, therefore, am willing to serve God.  I am free to serve God and to serve others.  Jesus willingly sacrificed his heavenly status and comfortable position for my redemption (Philippians 2).  Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for him?  Am I willing to sacrifice my freedom for others?

Self-sacrificial love that values the gospel above all personal fulfillment and comfort is the greatest testimony of the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.

Islamophobia and the Gospel: Thoughts on the Ground Zero “Mosque”

The Issue

Months ago I was asked to blog about a proposed mosque (actually it is an Islamic Community Center) being built at “Ground Zero” (more precisely it is being built two blocks from “Ground Zero”).  At the time I felt it was a lose-lose proposition and my feelings haven’t changed.  I do, however, feel obligated to clear up some common logical missteps that are being circulated around the “interweb.”  This story combines many emotive factors: race, religion, and war.  There is an explosive mix of misinformation, anger, xenophobia, nationalism, and religious fervor.  The scars of 9/11 run deep in the lives of many Americans.  However, the recent “War on Terror” has, among other things, produced a caricature of Muslims in the mind of the everyday American.  I am very sensitive to the feelings of those effected by 9/11.  Nevertheless, “feelings” are not a proper form of argument in a discussion on religious liberty.  Many Americans have unfairly designated Muslims as terrorists in post-9/11 America.  As a Christian it is important to be calm and fair while discussing the building of a “mosque” at “Ground Zero.”  There is no room in Christianity for “Islamophobia” or dishonest caricature.  A Christian response to Islam should be centered on the gospel (e.g., graceful and honest) while generously embracing religious liberty.

Improper Categorization

It is dangerous to categorize religious groups as homogeneous entities.  In many ways there is no one form of “Hinduism” or “Buddhism” or “Islam.”  While various sects share overlapping beliefs they often exhibit more diversity than unity.  Even in Christianity it is difficult to categorize modern day Christians as a unified group.  While I think the standard of Christianity is the Bible, the diversity of self-proclaimed Christians stretches the meaning of the word infinitely thin.  I bristle at the thought of being identified with the likes of Ted Haggard, Benny Hinn, Fred Phelps, or any number of infamous “Christian” personalities (in my opinion these self-identified “Christians” are some of the least likely persons I know to actually be followers of Christ).  These are only the famous examples; countless people claim to be “Christian” but deny the basic teachings of Jesus in their lifestyle.

Treat Others as You Want to Be Treated

If I am unwilling to allow unbelievers (i.e., non-Christians) to define me by the actions of other Christians, then I must be willing to allow Muslims a voice in their self-identity.  Surely some Muslims have used Islam as a means to justify war against others.  Does the Quran encourage violence?  That is a debate outside of our purview and I would caution my Christian friends to remember the often violent stories in the Hebrew Bible before hastily condemning the Quran.  Many Muslims (if not most Muslims) insist that Islamic fundamentalists and Islamic terrorists do not represent the whole of Islam.  If my “Christianity” is different than that of Fred Phelps then I must allow Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (the project’s lead architect) to distance his faith from that of Osama Bin Laden. The August 16, 2010 issue of Time Magazine did a good job explaining the irony of a moderate Muslim (i.e., Rauf) being categorized with Islamic Terrorists:

The project’s critics range from those who believe Islam was the malevolent force that brought down the towers to opportunistic politicians.  Ironically, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, the project’s main movers, are precisely the kind of Muslim leaders conservative commentators should welcome: modernists who condemn the death cult of al-Qaeda.  Rauf is a Sufi, Islam’s most mystical and accomodating branch, yet he finds himself accused of extremist leanings.  This browbeating of a moderate Muslim empowers the al-Qaeda narrative that the West loathes everything about Islam.  As New York Mayor Mike Bloombergs said, caving to Park 51’s critics “would be to hand a victory to the terrorists.”  Rauf and Khan hope their project will promote greater interfaith dialogue.  The furor underlines how much it is needed.

Newt Gingrich and several other public figures have tried to compare America with Saudi Arabia.  “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia” said Gingrich.  The silliness of this statement is astounding. First, Saudi Arabia is governed by Sharia law which is based, ostensibly, on the Quran and the teachings of Islam.  It would make sense that a country like this would be exclusive in their allowance or disallowance of other religions.  However, Saudi Arabia (though central to Islam because of the holy city of Mecca and other such religious sites) is not the sole representative of the international Muslim community.  In any case, America is founded on religious freedom.  I expect America to have a higher standard than most countries in regard to issues of religious freedom (for a humorous look at this issue you can turn to the always hilarious Daily Show).

America and the False Pretense of Freedom

Some of the most fervently patriotic people I know are opposed to a Mosque being built at “Ground Zero.”  Apparently, all of the talk about America as the “land of freedom” is a lie.  For those who are interested, freedom means that people can do things that upset you as long as it does not break any laws or endanger the lives of others.  As long as a group can finance a building and it fits into the zoning restrictions of a particular locale then they are permitted to build.  If we do not allow Muslims to build religious buildings where they desire then the American ideal of freedom is a charade.  You cannot say we live in a free country and then deny a significant group of people the right to build a religious building.  If a Muslim group wants to build a community center in New York City, they can!  I do not want any group of people telling me where I can or cannot build a Christian community center, therefore I cannot oppose Muslims building a mosque.  Just as free speech applies to idiots who say things that I do not like, freedom allows a Muslim group to build a community center near “Ground Zero” (despite the perceived insensitivity of those in charge of this project).

A Note to My Christian Readers

It is easy for Christians to be so consumed with special interest causes that they miss the plot of the gospel.  Christianity is not at war with Islam (despite the way some Muslims may feel toward Christians and vice versa).  There is no room in Christianity for hatred toward another religion, race, or people group.  Further, Christians cannot use dishonest representation to make a point.  Christians should be the first to embrace Muslims around the nation, showing them hospitality, love, and genuine care.  In the process there might be an opportunity to model the gospel that was demonstrated by the scandalous (e.g., Luke 7:36-50) love of Jesus that breaks through social barriers (John 4:1-42; Galatians 3:28).  Jesus died for me, a sinful, rebellious, angry person; I was spiritually opposed to God (Romans 8:5-8).  I was, in some sense, spiritually at war with God.  Yet Christ found me in a dead and decaying state and graciously gave me new life (Ephesians 2:1-10).  I didn’t deserve the love of God.  Therefore, I do not love Muslims because they “deserve” it or because they have been particularly kind to me.  I love them because Christ first loved me (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14).  I love them because of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a Christian I am glad that the myth of Christian America is quickly crumbling.  People are no longer able to substitute heritage and tradition for genuine faith.  In the process of spreading the gospel to the nations, the nations have started to come to America.  I no longer have to travel to the Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, or any of the myriad of Muslim majority nations to share the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ with a follower of Islam.  Instead, Muslims are in my community.  Rather than opposing their traditions and customs I embrace their culture and seek to honestly and lovingly expose them with the beauty of the true and living God.

As a Christian I am confident that the only hope for everyone is the gospel of Jesus.  The solution is not legislation, picketing, name-calling, or fighting but the power of the gospel demonstrated through the honest, sacrificial love of Christians to all people.  A love that is willing to endure insult, abuse, injury, and death for the sake of the gospel.