The Weekly Town Crier

February 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm

town_crier1Oh, why not.

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Read about what pastors can learn from Steve Jobs.

See the funniest faces in figure skating.

Read about Christianity Today announcing that Phil Ryken was named president of Wheaton University before he could tell his church.

Read as Carlos Whittaker asks what one thing you would say to a church planter. What would you say?

Read as John Piper suggest how pastoral ministry should shape pulpit ministry.

Read this speculation that you might have to pay to get Hulu on your iPad.

Read about the (new) world’s strongest beer.

Read about Tim Keller’s new book.

Read “How Ministry Can Be Dangerous To Your Spiritual Health” from Tim Keller.

Read about an Israeli archaeologist who says he’s found evidence supporting the biblical narrative.

Read as the New York Times explores the world of Belgian ales.

N.T. Wright is speaking at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York?

Follow as Conan O’Brien says: “I had a show. Then I had a different show. Now I have a Twitter account.”

Read Scot McKnight’s review of Brian McLaren’s latest.

Watch Mark Driscoll’s summation of Avatar.

Read as eMusic profiles Joe Pug.

Read as Fast Company makes a case for unlinking our social media outlets.

Music Friday

February 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Here is our friend Matt Haeck performing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry:”

Matt Haeck Live @ The Dewveall’s from Dewveall on Vimeo.

How Not To Be Missional: Lessons From Olympic Ice Dancing

February 23, 2010 at 7:01 am

picture-110I love the Olympics. I like the idea of the world’s top athletes coming together to compete (though I’m personally not much of a sports person). I even like the idea that I have absolutely no interest in many of the sports I find myself watching, that my horizons are broadened by the whim of the broadcasters. I love the fact that my boys scream out Apollo Anton Ohno and Shawn White’s names when they see them on television as opposed to some other sports stars.

I also like the fact that, if we’re paying attention, the Olympics offers us some valuable lessons for the rest of life. Hard work and dedication can pay off. Not only that, but it’s all the better if you can love what you do and foster a passion for your pursuit. But all of the lessons we might learn from the Olympics are not necessarily positive.

As we were watching the Olympics the other night, we got stuck with “Ice Dancing.” Yes, I said I like that the Olympics helps expand my horizons but I mean that I would never otherwise watch ski jumping, not people dancing. On ice. But that’s what happened. As we watched, we found ourselves being bombarded by one bad cultural impersonation after another. Foreigners in cutoffs dancing to Thank God I’m A Country Boy, followed by Americans dressed as Indians. Some other people impersonating Spaniards and, perhaps the most well-known by now, the Russian team who chose to “go” as Aboriginal people. Nearly everyone knew that most teams had no clue about the culture they were impersonating and nearly every team came across as a cliché rather than a tribute, much less as authentic.

Christians should pay attention to this farce because, lest we forget, this is exactly how we come across to much of the surrounding culture. The Gospel is always communicated in the context of culture. As God’s sent people, it is our mission to transform these cultures from within with the power of the Gospel (this is the power of salt and light, etc. Matthew 5:13-16, etc.). This is done most effectively when we are most authentically transformed by the Gospel.

Yet, the problem for many Christians is that we have bought into false ideas of holiness. So much so that we are quite uncomfortable really being ourselves. Then, when we try to reach out to others, because we don’t truly know who we are in Christ, we don’t know how to reach out to others, we don’t even know our relationship to culture, so we end up coming across as fake, we end up coming across as clichéd, we end up looking like Aboriginal ice dancers. Not to mention the fact that ice dancing is to ice skating what tee-ball is to baseball. No jumps! It’s just not as exciting.

Not only is the problem that we don’t really know ourselves, we have come to believe that everyone outside of our own walls is so evil (which we all are outside of Christ), that we don’t ever really take interest in the people we’re trying to reach. Part of the reason so many Aboriginal people (if I may venture a guess) found the Russian ice dancers so offensive is because the Russian team had no real interest in the Aboriginal culture, it was simply a means to an end for them. This is exactly the way many Christians treat our surrounding cultures. We have no real interest in the people around us other than as projects and numbers and they know it, they sense it, they can spot it a mile away. The ice dancing teams that were most effective were those who didn’t have to reach as far for their personas (at least in my opinion).

We need to learn to adopt the posture of good missionaries in our own neighborhoods, at our jobs, at our grocery stores, where we already exist, where we’re most authentic. Why is it that we can spot fakes anywhere and everywhere except when it comes to Christian culture?

Drops Like Stars: Thoughts On Seeing Rob Bell

February 22, 2010 at 10:28 am

ijkiLast Friday I had the chance to attend Rob Bell’s Phoenix stop for his “Drops Like Stars tour.” This was a minor big deal in and of itself because I come from a theological tradition (Reformed Baptist, both with capitals) that is not generally interested in listening to anyone outside of their immediate circle, unless it is with a specific ear to debate what’s being said. With that being said, I disagree with Bell on several points of important theology, but I was nonetheless interested in seeing him. Regardless of your thoughts on his content, I have come to think of him as one of the best preachers (at least presenters/public speakers) out there today. Here are some initial thoughts from the day:

The first thought I had was how weird it was to be in an auditorium of people who paid to hear a pastor speak. Granted, this wasn’t a certain, it was a dramatic reinterpretation/presentation of Bell’s latest book, but still, the “Christian celebrity culture” is such an odd thing to me. Granted, I was there, so how much room do I really have to talk, but I got my tickets for free, so maybe I have some room? I was reminded that, though we claim to be different on so many levels, we are the same as everyone else on so many levels. We even have our own celebrities. None of this is necessarily Bell’s fault, unless you want to say that by embarking on a “tour” in the first place feeds the celebrity culture.

This celebrity culture is often built around the same things that the world’s celebrity culture is built around: hip people doing/saying things we think we could never do/say. Bell is bright, funny, articulate, charismatic and looks good in all black (trust me, it’s harder than it looks). He presents concepts in understandable yet deep ways and often tweaks things in just such a way that people are left thinking “I wish I had seen that.” In many ways, this is the job of artists and writers and in some sense, it is also the job of pastors. But, where it differs for pastors is that pastors must take that extra step and equip people to do/say the same things they are doing. Ephesians 4:11-16 clearly reminds us that the role of the pastor is not to impress but to equip. I don’t know how well Bell does this in his church in Grand Rapids, but the very notion of a pastor embarking on a “tour” where people pay money to hear him speak; well, I don’t know exactly.

I’ve tried to discern whether or not I just have sour grapes, if I’d like to be the hip pastor who people pay to wow over, but I really don’t think that’s it (as much as I can know my own heart). You might argue that the tour is not part of his role as pastor but as author and even to a lesser extent, artist, so it is perfectly fine. But we’re still dealing with Christian celebrity culture, aren’t we? Is this just an unavoidable byproduct of marinating in the culture that we do?

Bell’s presentation was great. He has commands attention and uses his body and the stage area not just as means to an end, but as part of his presentation as well, marking different points with different positions on the stage, etc. He is a captivating speaker who weaves a variety of allusions together in both the familiar and the unknown in just the right mix. His use of repetition (“his mother’s SUV”) works tremendously to paint vivid mental pictures and his language is at once poetic and simple, not an easy balance. His use of mixed media was spot-on and his timing was impeccable. Many preachers have much to learn here from Bell. I come from a tradition in which the primary role of preaching is information (doctrine) transfer, so it doesn’t matter if you’re an engaging speaker or not.

The danger here, of course is that many of us will simply try to copy Bell’s style. But it’s not our own and everyone (except us for a long time) knows that it’s not our own. While there is much to learn from Bell’s presentation style, there is nothing to be copied. We must learn to be sanctified versions of ourselves rather than watered-down versions of someone else. We must know our context and culture and we must strive to be good at what we do. Bell has obviously worked hard at his craft and that alone is a valuable lesson for many of us. The point is not to become a performer but a better preacher and I really think Bell has some good things to say on the practice of preaching.

The content. I received a couple of e-mails/texts immediately after the show (let’s be honest, that’s what it is) asking what I thought. Though I can’t be sure, I suspect that at least a couple of those messages wanted to know what my concerns were with the content. After all, isn’t Bell one of those people. The content was actually pretty generic if you’ve spent much time thinking about suffering, the Christian life and art. I don’t mean that in any way to belittle Bell’s book or performance, but the point really was that suffering plays an integral part in both the Christian life and the creative process.This something many of us need to think more deeply on. We forget that suffering and the Christian life cannot be separated.

Whatever concerns you may or may not have about Bell’s theology as a whole, this tour really won’t raise many eyebrows. For some, the presentation of the Cross as being God’s solidarity with us may be troublesome, but if it is understood as one aspect of the Cross and not the whole and total, I don’t see anything wrong with this except that it’s not the whole of the truth and I didn’t get the impression that that was Bell’s point. I just wish Bell had made that clarification. His metaphor of life as art is an interesting one, somewhat in line with Donald Miller’s recent thoughts on life as story.

Bell reminds us all of the need for biblical discernment. Just because someone says something very well, that doesn’t mean someone says something very right. I think Bell is a great public speaker but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says. In fact, Bell reminds us that, sometimes, the more charismatic the person, the more careful we need to be. It is sometimes the case that when someone is a great public speaker, we implicitly trust them a bit more and let our guard down. Bell serves as a reminder that we need to test everything and everyone.

Now if I could just pull off the all black . . .


February 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm

The Weekly Town Crier

February 19, 2010 at 7:10 am

babj_brantfords_famous_town_crierWelcome to The Weekly Town Crier. He cries and you console him by clicking on the links and telling him how much you like them.

Be my friend on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter.

Read this piece about why Captain American actually hates America.

Read this piece about “Why Diological Teaching.”

Listen to D.A. Carson lecture on Christ and Culture at Moore College.

Read as the New York Times considers “The Power of Art.”

Read as Tim Challies suggests that Brian McLaren may love Jesus but he hates God.

Read as Ed Stetzer considers “The Church, The Kingdom and The Mision.”

Read Paste’s piece about Fela Kuti’s work being reissued. If you’re not familar with Kuti, please do yourself a favor and pick up a couple albums.

Read as Alan Hirsch considers “Shema Spirituality” (this piece is on Facebook, so you’ll need to log in to view it).

Read as EMI puts Abbey Road up for sale. Anyone want to go in with me?!

Read as Paste considers this year’s lineup for the Sasquatch Music Festival including Pavement, Vampire Weekend, MGMT, Massive Attack and others.

See the trailer for Toy Story 3.

Read John Piper’s account of how he almost quit.

Read Elliott Grudem’s thoughts on why to celebrate Lent.

Read Bill Streger’s piece on Ash Wednesday.

Read Leadership Network’s interview with Rob Bell.

Read as The Resurgence considers the importance of vision to leadership.

Read this piece which argues that younger generations are less “religious” than previous generations.

Read about Benny Hinn’s wife filing for divorce. I wonder if it’s because he didn’t have enough faith in his marriage. Sorry, I couldn’t pass that one up.

Music Friday

February 19, 2010 at 7:09 am

I first discovered Basia Bulat in 2007 (I think) when her first album Oh My Darling came out. Last month she released her new album Heart of My Own. Here is “Gold Rush” from the new album:


Last week, my wife and I, along with some friends had the chance to see Joe Pug, one of our favorite artists. He just released Messenger, one of the year’s best albums (yes I’m confident in saying that this early in the year):