Remember Those “If You Like Band X, Try Band Y” Posters At Your Local “Christian” Bookstore?

September 30, 2010 at 9:26 am

picture-24I love Jesus. I love music. But I don’t love most music about Jesus. I’ll be honest; most of what passes for “Christian” music is really not all that good. I can say that because I love music. I listen to a lot of it. A lot. By no means do I claim to be an expert but I’ve been told I have a pretty good ear. Lots of people seem to like music I recommend to them.

Christian artists should be the most creative and adventurous because we have the most to celebrate and the least to lose. There was a time when Christians were at the forefront of the arts. They created the best art. But by and large, those days seem to have passed us by. The “Christian music industry,” if there really even is such a thing, seems to have simply adopted the role of “sanctified copycats.” That is to say, we look at the trends “out there,” we see the Gospel message as propaganda to spread at all costs, we take the musical form that was popular a couple of months ago, we replace the content, give it back to the world as an evangelistic tool and our kids as a “safe alternative” and we don’t understand why no one takes us seriously.

But why do you listen to music? Simply to get a message? No, there is something there that you connect with; an emotion, a moment of life captured in time, an artistic expression, a passion, whatever it may be. Everyone can spot a fake a mile away, except Christians. We have largely come to approach art and music simply as vehicles with which to get out the message of the Gospel. We judge an artist by a single song and criticize them if they don’t mention Jesus or meet the hallelujah quota. All the while, the only real criteria to be called “Christian” music is marketing. It is not about content but about distribution lines.

What made me embark on this rant, you ask? My friend Mark (with whom I do the Habañero Hour podcast and house shows with the express intent of shattering all of these notions of “Chrisitan” music) recently sent me to the Music Pear website. The purpose of this site/service is to find out what “mainstream” artists you like and then provide you with a “Christian” alternative. Except, they have no match for Tom Waits, so what good is the site, really?

I don’t know the makers of this site and I’m sure their intentions are good. But they’re misguided. They have bought into a false dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular” and they have encouraged false notions about music and culture as a whole. There is more “Christian” content in songs by Bob Dylan or Sufjan Stevens than many of the artists I can purchase in my local “Christian” bookstore. For so many of us, discernment has become nothing more than a point-of-purchase decision. I bought it at a “Christian” store so of course it’s OK! I can’t buy that artist at that store so of course they’re not “Christian!” There is just so much wrong here that goes unchecked and uncritically accepted.

We need to develop a view of the arts as big as the Gospel. We must encourage our artists to openly express their faith in an entire body of work and understand that a biblical worldview expresses itself in songs about suffering and love and daily routines and that some songs may explicitly mention Jesus and some may not and that’s not only OK, it’s beautiful! Christians have lost the notion of creating beauty for God’s sake and have come to view the arts as little more than a vehicle with which to get our propaganda out.

As I anticipate pushback, I can already hear someone saying that I’ve somehow condoned anti-God rock n’ roll messages and that of course all music is not edifying music. Of course it’s not! That’s why we need to develop discernment instead of simply creating alternatives! I need to stop now.

To Multi Or Not?

September 29, 2010 at 6:02 am

Multiple Sites: Yea or Nay? Dever, Driscoll, and MacDonald Vote from Ben Peays on Vimeo.

By now I’m sure many of you have seen this video featuring James MacDonald, Mark Dever and Mark Driscoll about the concept of the multi-site model. The idea of multiple services is also included but the primary discussion centers around church planting versus the multi-site model. My friend Steve McCoy posted some of his thoughts on this video and issue here yesterday and I’ve been thinking on it since.

I was disappointed that Dever was never actually allowed to develop his argument. Near the beginning of the video, he begins developing the point that in the New Testament, the word ekklesia means “assembly.” He’s promptly cut off and his arguments really aren’t allowed to develop any deeper but I wish that they had.

I was also a bit surprised/disappointed at how pragmatic the arguments from Driscoll and MacDonald were. I was also interested that Driscoll made the argument that, for him, this discussion fell under the rubric of missiology while admitting that, for Dever, it is under ecclesiology. This is a strange argument for me: church structure does not fall under ecclesiology? Really? I mean, I understand that people are being reached and coming to Jesus but it seems to me that church structure certainly falls under the doctrine fo the church.

This seems to be the real impasse between Dever and MacDonald/Driscoll. I am much more sympathetic to Dever’s position here. When we consider the many “one another” passages of Scripture (Galatians 6:1-2, etc.), it seems that these notions lend themselves to a church context in which you not only recognize someone in passing but walk in discipleship with them. This seems difficult, if not impossible, when you are in a different “service” than someone, much less a different building across town or even in another state. Are you really even in the same church at that point?

Both MacDonald and Driscoll said that the ultimate goal of each site was to eventually make it an autonomous church plant of its own but both seemed to say that this wouldn’t happen until the end of their careers or if they died. I understand the pragmatic arguments of leveraging celebrity status to meet people for Jesus but is it really helpful? Is it really beneficial for the equipping of saints for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13)?

Ultimately, I think this had the potential to be a meaningful discussion but it just didn’t live up to its potential. There was some fist-bumping and number-comparing but very little biblical/theological discussion.

Almost Christian

September 27, 2010 at 6:43 am

almost-christian1I just started the book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean, Associate Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theology Seminary. From 2003-2005, the National Study of Youth and Religion conducted an ambitious study of adolescent spirituality.

The study found that, while three out of four American teens claim to be Christian, only half consider it very important and fewer than half actually practice their faith as any regular part of their lives. In addition, the study found that the vast majority of teens are “incredibly inarticulate” about their faith and what it actually means for their lives.

Dean introduces her book by saying:

Let me save you some trouble. Here is the gist of what you are about to read: American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith – but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.

One more thing: we’re responsible.

Dean opens the chapter “Christian-ish” with two other quotes I’d like to include:

We have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that it is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition . . . it is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith (Christian Smith with Melinda Denton).


I am personally not very much worried about the reduction in numbers where Christianity . . . [is] concerned. I am far more concerned about the qualitative factor: what kind of Christianity are we talking about (Douglas John Hall)?

I can’t help but be reminded of Alan Wolfe’s fantastic 2005 book The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith. Wolfe, who is not a Christian, makes the case that Christians only talk about living differently; we don’t actually do it, so the secularists really shouldn’t be so alarmed by us. Wolfe contends:

in every aspect of the religious life, American faith has met American culture – and American culture has triumphed. Whether or not the faithful ever were a people apart, they are so no longer.

This is certainly nothing new. Ronald Sider’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? begins with these words:

Once upon a time there was a great religion that over the centuries had spread all over the world. But in those lands where it had existed for the longest time, its adherents slowly grew complacent, lukewarm, and skeptical. Indeed, many of the leaders of its oldest groups even publicly rejected some of the religion’s most basic beliefs.

Why are so many people saying the same things and no one is listening. This concept, that many Americans who profess to be Christians but don’t actually live like it was the premise of Francis Chan’s wildly popular Crazy Love. The problem is that we turn to the problem as the solution. We opt for marketing, we try to make worship more cool and attractive, we strive to be relevant but we don’t actually live the kind of faith we say we want because we don’t actually live as disciples making disciples because we don’t actually believe that salvation is a miracle and that God’s ways are truly better and, and, and, and . . .

What needs to happen for the same book to stop being written over and over? What might be different if local churches actually put discipleship at their cores? Not classes. Not studies. Not programs. Life, together, on mission. Disciples making disciples. What might happen if we stopped trying to entertain people on Sunday mornings, if we didn’t think of our Gathered Worship as a production but actually as Gathered Worship? What might change if we really believed that salvation was a miracle?

What needs to happen for the same book to stop being written over and over? We need to love Jesus more than we love being consumers.

The Weekly Town Crier

September 24, 2010 at 5:59 am

town_crier_provincetown_ma1Weekly. Town. Crier. Lots of links for your linking pleasure.

Read about Sacha Baron Cohen being cast to play Freddie Mercury.

Browse this guy’s list of “overrated beers,” topped by Dogfish Head?!?! Wait, what?

Was David Letterman in on the Phoenix mumble-fest?

Read about the Vatican astronomer who says he’d baptize extraterrestrials . . . if they asked him.

The MacArthur Study Bible is now available for ESV. Will you buy it? Why or why not.

Ha ha ha! Read this post from someone what it might be like for N.T. Wright to read Humpty Dumpty.

R.I.P. Leonard Skinner, the inspiration for the name Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Read about the study trying to explain how God parted the Red Sea.

Read Time‘s piece finding that kids begin swearing between ages three and four.

Read as Time wonders if yoga is anti-Christian.

Read about the new Facebook group trying to get Stan Lee to host Saturday Night Live.

Read about how Pavement became the best band of the nineties this year.

Browse this list of the top five websites to download free and legal concert recordings.

Read about R.E.M.’s new album.

Read about the things U.S. soldiers receive in the mail vs. the things they’d like to receive. Stop sending cookies. Start sending chew.

Read about the return of Joaquin Phoenix to Letterman. Apparently Letterman wasn’t in on it and now wants to be compensated.

Watch Jon Stewart issue a “clarion call for rationality.”

Read about Apple topping the list for satisfaction in smartphones.

Read about the scholar who says the Israelites drank beer as well as wine. Maybe it was He’brew?

See a one-of-a-kind Nixon watch created for the champion of the Street League Skateboard championships.

Get Low: Everyone Wants To Be Known and Forgiven

September 23, 2010 at 6:48 am

get-low-posterYesterday I had the chance to see the movie Get Low and I was really moved. Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek are all brilliant but Duvall really shines.

Without giving too much away, the story centers around a man who has isolated himself for forty years while hiding a deep secret. He plans a funeral party for himself in order to finally let the truth be known.

I was powerfully reminded that the best stories, the ones we most resonate with are not always the most far-fetched but those that make us examine ourselves in a new light. Those stories that are close enough to real-life but more vivid are those we often most clearly identify with.

We are all shaped by our stories, we all want to be known and we all long to be forgiven. We just don’t all admit it.

When we try to bury things, the root of bitterness begins to settle in(Hebrews 12:15). This is at least one of the levels of meaning behind Jesus saying that the Truth sets us free (John 8:32). Not only is Jesus the Truth, when we hide the truth behind lies or even silence, we are enslaved. At one point in the movie, Duvall’s character says that he built himself a prison and locked himself away with his secret for so long so that he would have to live every minute with it. Even though he lived on 300 acres, he was enslaved. He was longing to be set free by the truth. But he was also longing for forgiveness and forgiveness requires truth.

I was powerfully reminded about how important gospel-centered community. Though we are saved as individuals, we are saved into community. But comply being together is not enough. We must be part of community that fosters transparency and mutual burden-bearing (Galatians 6:1-2). Though this seems so self-evident, it is rare. Duvall’s character epitomized the negative impact of isolation.

Watch the trailer for Get Low:

Planting A Church Through Missional Communities

September 22, 2010 at 8:02 am

My friend Chris Gonzalez and I have been asked to co-lead a breakout session at the upcoming Phoenix Acts 29 Bootcamp: “Surge.” We’ve been asked to teach on the topic of “Planting A Church Through Missional Communities.” I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity and I want to give you a chance to help shape our session. What topics would you like to see covered? What questions would you like answered? If you were attending a session like this, what would be the most helpful for you? I’m not promising we’ll answer all of your questions but I’m just curious what you might expect from a session such as this.

Satchel Willoughby And the Realm Of Lost Things

September 20, 2010 at 7:00 am

My friends Stephen Roach from Songs of Water (read my interview with Stephen here) and Vesper Stamper of Ben + Vesper (read my interview with them here) are collaborating together on a new book called Satchel Willoughby and the Realm of Lost Things. Watch this promotional piece for the upcoming book done by Ben Stamper:

Satchel Willoughby and The Realm of Lost Things from stephen roach on Vimeo.