In the most recent issue of Relevant Magazine (a preeminently cool magazine that blends culture and Christianity into a beautiful, artistic, and thoughtful format) they have feature on Zachary Levi, star of the NBC series “Chuck.” Read the feature as Levi discusses how he lives as a Christian in Hollywood. He also discusses the role of Christian community in balancing his new-found fame. An interesting article about a funny and talented actor. Levi comes across as sincere, fun-loving, and down-to-earth (a breath of fresh air).
This is heartbreaking. The tragedy of the earthquake was magnified when I read the personal story of Arno’s adoption. Prior to the earthquake Haiti had some 50,000 orphans. I can only imagine the number of orphans in the country today. Read this story for yourself. The article is lengthy but well worth your time.
I must confess — I like Christopher Hitchens. I think he is funny, witty, intelligent and is a fabulous writer. Obviously I would disagree with Hitchens on a number of philosophical and historical issues.
Recently Hitchens was interviewed by the Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell. In their encounter Hitchens makes quite a few stunning observations.
Amid the nonsensical questions (Hitchens categorizes one of Sewell’s ambiguous spiritual utterances as a “statement that [has] no meaning — at all), Sewell stumbles on Hitchens view of the non-material portion of a person (i.e., a soul). Hitchens, though not subscribing to an immortal soul or something of that nature, acknowledges that there is a portion of each human that is not “entirely materialistic.” His evidence? Innocence in children, existences of love, and other “unquantifiable” attributes. This sounds vaguely reminiscent of the classic Christian triad of “truth, goodness, and beauty.”
I am not one to normally criticize “liberal Christianity” (whatever that means), but Sewell so clearly believes she is a part of the Christian tradition. She self identifies with Christianity though she believes virtually nothing of the Orthodox Christian faith according to the Scriptures. I was pleased to see Hitchens candidly point out the inconsistency in Sewell’s belief systems. Here are portions of there exchange:
Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
Sewell: Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God — as you might as a matter of fact — as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish-fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?
Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning — at all.” Christianity, remember is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you.
Sewell: Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change. I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian. You do: You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually.
Hitchens: Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.
The rest of the exchange is quite fascinating. If anything, Sewell reveals that she is more akin to Hitchens (an atheist) than a Biblical Christian.
This whole Tim Tebow pro-life commercial fiasco is particularly odd to me. I understand why Tim Tebow might rub some people the wrong way. He makes all of us look bad (e.g., handsome, athletic, nice, etc.). The wisdom of Tebow’s evangelistic tactics can be debated: Are eye black Bible verses really helpful? Does Tebow come across as preachy and unapproachable? That being said, I have never doubted that Tebow believes what he says. Further, he has demonstrated genuine Christian character on and off the field.
All of this is neither here nor there. CBS (who is televising the Superbowl) has every right to approve any commercial they think will get them better ratings. If people do not want to support CBS because of their decision to air a Focus on the Family funded commercial starring Tebow and his family, then they have every right to do so. I am very comfortable watching commercials with which I do not agree. I expect varying points of view in a pluralistic society.
What bothers me with the Tebow Commercialgate conversation is the way sports writers, radio hosts, and special interests groups have been phrasing the question in moral terms. Abortion is a moral issue to be sure, but freedom to produce and air a commercial is probably not. I don’t think it is wise when Christians make a big deal about boycotting Pepsi or Disney and I don’t think making a big deal of a Tebow Pro-Life commercial is wise.
I just finished reading the most recent DeYoung/Kluck collaboration (they previously teamed up on Why We’re Not Emergent). My only previous experience with either writer was through DeYoung’s blog and hilarious book on finding the will of God (“without dreams, visions, fleeces, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.). I was excited by the subject matter (as evidenced in the title) and the praise from theological heavyweights such as J. I. Packer, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever. This book is well-informed, balanced, readable, funny, and God-glorifying.
The basic premise of this book is that there is no such thing as a “churchless Christianity.” The authors are clear that they are trying to correct the common notion that Christians do not need “organized churches.” In fact, the Scriptures indicate that organization (i.e., structure in corporate worship, leadership, etc.) is essential to the health of a church.
“Community” is a buzzword among modern evangelicals, but many “emergent” (whatever that means) types are unwilling to be shaped by a community of believers that does not mimic their particular hipster style. It is essential that each believer be a part of a church that is full of imperfect Christians. The result of old and young coming together to worship despite differences of opinion regarding musical style and church architecture is mutual edification and personal sanctification.
DeYoung and Kluck are particularly critical of modern Christian “revolutionaries.” Christianity, they argue, needs more “plodding visionaries,” that is, people who are concerned with obedience to the gospel and faithfulness to the commands of Christ. Giving up on local church because it does nothing for you or because you can find a deeper spirituality somewhere else is, frankly, narcissistic and contrary to the commands of Scripture.
I was thankful for the historical perspective the authors provided in two areas: (1) They clarified the oft repeated maxim that “Christians have done terrible things throughout there history.” While this statement, they say, is true it is not absolutely true without qualification. For example, while race-based slavery was condoned by some Christians it was also abolished largely because of Christian abolitionists. (2) The authors also busted the myth of the early Christian utopia. You and I have both heard the call to be a “New Testament church.” There are few problems with this statement. On the one hand the Bible is full of terrible churches rife with division, heresy, and immorality. On the other hand, just because something is not mentioned in the Bible does not mean that is impure (e.g., buildings, pews, etc.).
The authors argue that the most important reasons to love the church are because it is the God-ordained means for the proclamation of the gospel and the sanctification of believers. Good reasons that stand in stark contrast to the modern Christian’s “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality.
This book is an admirable attempt to correct many problems in modern evangelicalism. Despite claiming a robust ecclesiology, this book is far from comprehensive. It has barely a mention of issues such as covenant membership and ordinances.
The authors demonstrate a great balance in their personal understanding of the church’s relationship to God and culture. However, they set up a false dichotomy between “emergent-types” and “traditional-types.” The authors unfortunately caricature “emergents” as a modern incarnation of the liberal social gospel. This dichotomy is unnecessary. One can be concerned with a true gospel and a culturally appropriate presentation of that gospel.
Though I understand the intention to defend the “traditional” church, I am still uncomfortable with the language of church as “institution” and the authors consistently assume that particular incarnations of modern church are Biblical and healthy.
On the whole this book provides balance to contemporary tendency to “church-hate.” While neither comprehensive or without fault, the authors are clearly attempting to glorify God and obey the Scriptures. Love Jesus and love his bride.
Many of our North American churches seem to have everything — culturally relevant outreach, attractive facilities, and a broad range of programs to match any and every lifestyle. Add to this the experience of dynamic speakers, professional-quality music, and inviting small groups. How could those who are most active in these churches be stagnant and dissatisfied?
There’s nothing wrong with top-quality facilities, creative programs, and a genuine sense of community. But the fundamental question is, “What message are we sharing in our community and within our walls through our programs?” I believe its our substance, not our structure, that is leaving so many stagnant and dissatisfied. A church may have polished programs, well-trained staff, and dynamic speakers.
But content is what people walk away with.
(Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel)
As you may or may not know, my wife loves weddings. She loves making someone’s wedding day beautiful and memorable. Recently she told me about a trick some people use to save money on the wedding cake. For those particularly concerned with a beautiful and ornate cake sometimes decorate Styrofoam or cardboard with fondant and decorative sugar flowers. This is all well and good because during the serving of the cake the wait staff takes the cake in the kitchen and swaps it with a pre-cut bargain priced cake. No one ever has to know.
Not a big deal when it comes to wedding cake but a very big deal when it comes to a church! My concern is that many Christians and churches have become more concerned with the look of the church rather than the substance. When someone goes to cut into our proverbial cake, all they find is a piece of cardboard.
In Christian Smith’s national study on the religious beliefs of young adults he found that most young Americans subscribe to a form of “moralistic, therapeutic deism” or (as I like to call it) “be good, feel good, believe-in-God-as-a-concept” religion. While no one has an excuse before God, the self-help and behavior-focused teaching in most churches leaves little room for revelation-based, gospel-centered, sacrificial relationship with Jesus.
Most people have as their central goal to be happy and feel good. Many pastors cater to their audience rather than oppose this self-centered form of idolatry. The gospel cannot be stripped of a call to “come and die.”
Tomorrow I have the privilege of speaking at a chapel service at a Christian High School. I speak at various Christian schools somewhat frequently throughout the year.
Tomorrow I will be speaking at my high school alma mater. I recognize that many of these students have attended a “Christian” school for many years and their view of life is uniquely shaped by this environment. Tomorrow I hope to clearly communicate the gospel and avoid any hint of “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” My goal is not behavior modification or indoctrination.
Today I read a great blog post entitled “Myth of the Good Ole Days.” The author makes many cogent arguments.
There is no such thing as the good ole’ days. It is a myth constructed by people with amnesia who have forgotten or have chosen not to remember the problems and perils of earlier days.
This is a subject that I have thought about frequently.
The other day a sweet sister in Christ sincerely asked me how I could work with young adults. “They’re just so much worst than when I was young,” she said. Now I have no doubt that she was sincere in this observation, but I had to remind her that sin is not limited by generation. Technology and style has changed, manifesting sin in new and creative ways, but the human condition remains the same. In the twenty-first century Americans struggle with internet pornography and materialism, in the 19th century it was legalized segregation, in the 18th century slavery and oppression of Africans and Native Americans, and the list goes on and on. Materialism and greed is cross-generational and we still struggle with the early heresy of America as a Savior-nation.
As sinners we like to set ourselves up as the standard of “what is right.” We demonize the sins of others (e.g. homosexuality, abortion, etc.) and minimize our own (e.g., materialism, greed, etc.).
The gospel is for every generation. The human heart has always struggled with idolatry and self-justification.
Parents and high school students are often asking my advice in regard to their undergraduate education. To those students who are well-grounded in their relationship with Jesus I almost invariably recommend attending a public university.
In my own life I decided to attend a public university for very specific reasons (in no particular order):
1. Quality of education. I have found in my state (Virginia) that public universities have the highest quality of professors and students. My undergraduate institution (The College of William and Mary) carefully selects students who are serious about academics and extra-curricular activities.
2. Campus Culture. Every university and college is different. You have to know what type of campus community is important to you. I wanted to go to a school that offered plenty of educational and extra-curricular activities but maintained a genuine feeling of community. I also wanted regular access to my professors outside of the classroom.
3. Cost. An in-state education is a significantly better value than most private or out-of-state colleges and universities.
4. Exposure. A public university offers diversity in so many ways. Many parents use the teenage years to shelter there kids. I believe it is essential to give young people opportunities to interact with persons who look, think, and act differently. Diversity of thought is essential to understand one’s own beliefs and learning how to articulate those beliefs. A “big view” of the world will combat narcissism, expand access to information, and give a more accurate portrayal of the world. Pew Research Center has found that 57% of United States Citizens have never lived outside of their hometown and 37% have never left their hometown!
A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age (C. S. Lewis).
A public education will ideally provide access to a wide range of scholarship and a diverse student body to deal with this common error.
5. Mission. I had been told that sharing the gospel to all people a la the Great Commission was important, but outside of a few short term mission trips in high school I had no real gospel opportunities. All of my friends went to my Christian high school or my church (read: Christian bubble). My undergraduate education was the first time in my life were the majority of my regular contacts and friendships were with non-believers. Sure my Mom was scared of the “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” but she trusted me as a mature Christian young man (though she almost peed her pants when I mentioned that I was living in a co-ed dorm). Further, the context of a university lends itself to the free exchange of ideas. I have found few contexts more hospitable to the gospel (the dog park is coming in second right now). Further, bringing the “gospel to the nations” is particularly simple at college because the nations come to you in the form of international students. In addition, the university will help fund your own international excursions via study abroad programs!
At this point you might ask why I am really writing this post. I minister to parents and teenagers every week and I have noticed a particular brand of “bunker mentality.” It is essential to develop meaningful relationships with non-believers in which to model and articulate the gospel. These relationships cannot happen unless young adults are given opportunities to interact in the “real world.” Many Christians claim to be missionaries but have given up on going to hard places. Most college students in America go to public universities. How will we reach them with the gospel unless we go to public universities? Most of the world’s population lives in large, urban cities. How will we reach them with the gospel unless we go to these cities?