The Weekly Town Crier

January 28, 2011 at 8:18 am

Welcome to the Weekly Town Crier. Stuff and other stuff. And then other stuff about stuff.

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Read as Techland wonders why Amazon mp3 can’t be more like iTunes.

R.I.P. Captain Beefheart.

Read CNN’s profile of Francis Chan.

Read about Starbucks’ new logo dropping the name.

Read about skateboarding bringing the world together.

Read about the thousands of dead birds that fell from the sky in Arkansas.

Read about the thousands of dead fish that washed ashore, also in Arkansas.

Read about the 40,000 dead crabs that washed ashore, sorry, not in Arkansas this time, but the UK.

Browse as Andy Crouch considers the 10 most significant cultural trends of the last decade.

Browse the 2011 Coachella lineup.

Read Paste’s review of the new Social Distortion album.

Browse as Trip Advisor names the nation’s dirtiest hotels.

Watch an NPR Tiny Desk concert with Basia Bulat.

Read an interview with Over the Rhine.

Read this profile of Bandcamp.

Read this profile of the recently reunited Jayhawks.

Read Darrin Patrick’s reply to John MacArthur’s misunderstanding.

R.I.P. Jack LaLane.

R.I.P. Charlie Louvin.

See it be so cold that water instantly evaporates.

Give your love an oozing anatomically correct fake heart for Valentine’s Day.

The Trailheads of Mission In Suburbia

January 26, 2011 at 7:38 am

My friend Jamie and I were talking at lunch yesterday about how slow-going mission in suburbia can often seem. In particular, we were talking about the idea of moving cultural Christians in suburbia into missionaries, understanding the overarching grip of the Gospel on all life. It can often feel like we are “re-churching” people, helping them understand the Gospel’s impact on all of life, just just our souls.

This isn’t a conceited thing, as if we somehow have everything figured out and no one else does (or at least it shouldn’t be). Instead, it’s a humble thing, admitting that, maybe the Gospel has more to say about all of life than we’ve been raised to think. Maybe the American church has aided in us becoming consumers rather than calling us to die to ourselves as we follow Jesus and maybe we’ve not fully understood some of these things.

Many Christians, not just in suburbia, are going through a process of wondering if there is more to the Christian life than what much of modern, American Christianity has given us. There is a growing consensus that something is wrong. A growing number of people are looking towards missional/simple church models as a solution. But this means that many of our existing paradigms about how we “do church” must come down. My friend Jamie offered a good illustration about why this can often seem to take so long.

Imagine you’ve come to a fork in the road and you clearly know that the path on the right is the right way to go. As you head a bit down the path, you can hear that many of your friends are on the path that forked left, which you know is the wrong path. Now, because you care deeply about your friends, and even though you’re on the right path, you head backwards, back to the fork. Then, you head down the road on the left until you catch up with your friends. You have to stand in the path for quite some time while you show them the map and try to convince them that they are on the wrong path and that the right path is near even though they can’t yet see it. So, your friends agree to at least go back to the fork in the road with you and when you get back to the fork, you have to spend some more time convincing them why the path on the right is the right path to take. Now, you finally set off all together.

Of course, every analogy breaks down, so please don’t send me a bunch of comments about why the analogy doesn’t really work. Just give me a little suspension of disbelief here, right?! I mean, seriously, you’re willing to spend six years watching a television show about people lost on a magic island but you won’t even work with me on a little analogy, come on!

In many ways, planting a missional church with simple structures in suburbia with already-Christians is like the scenario described above. Many of us have been raised with very particular traditions about how to “do church” and when someone comes along and begins to question those methods, even suggesting that there’s probably a simpler, more effective way, we bristle a bit. We take some convincing. We are being asked to look at the map again differently, to see Scripture afresh and be willing to question the path that we’ve taken. This is not an easy thing to do, but a growing number of people are longing to be both “deep and wide.”

By no means am I saying that I’ve got this process figured out. But I am saying that it is worth and I am humbled and excited to see a growing number of people re-examine that fork in the road.

  • Read AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
  • Read Total Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester
  • Read The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch
  • Read Planting Missional Churches by Ed Stetzer

Slow Going In Suburbia

January 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

I was born and raised in suburban Phoenix. Until later in life, I knew nothing else. It was the only filter I had; it was the only experience I knew. But since then, I’ve had the chance to live elsewhere and travel a bit. Having done so, as much as sometimes I wish it were otherwise, I have developed a heart for suburbia and its particular challenges.

I know that there is a lot of emphasis (and rightly so) on church planting in urban centers, and valuable experience is gained in small rural churches, but suburbia needs the Gospel just as much. Suburbia, by its very nature, breeds spiritual consumerism and complacency. Many people move to suburbia with an almost utopian vision, the upper middle class breeds notions of security, comfort and status. We want to get in to the right neighborhood with the best schools, close to the freeway. Surbia, by its very nature, often carries with it the idea of self-sufficiency, and having “made it” and breeds consumerism and isolation.

Almost every modern suburb (at least in Phoenix) is centered around, not a cultural center, but a shopping center. But, while consumerism is center, choice is not necessarily the center. Drive a few miles in any direction and you’re likely to see the exact same strip mall configuration, Wal•Mart, Target, Best Buy or a Grocery Store as the foundation, surrounded by Chili’s, Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse and a movie theater.

Though consumerism is central to suburbia, so is individualism. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in the Phoenix suburbs, it is entirely likely to live in a home for 5-7 years without ever knowing your neighbor’s name. Our backyards are walled in by six-feet high “privacy” fences and once you get 500 feet from your home, you hit your electronic garage-door opener, pull in and close it behind you before ever even getting out of the car. You went out of your way to be friendly if you nodded or waived to a neighbor who may have inadvertently been caught outside when you passed. Though we move to particular suburbs because of the quality public schools and kids’ sports leagues dominate our weekends, we are strangely isolated creatures with a thousand of the same choices before everyday.

Churches are often the spiritual equivalent of shopping malls. There is something for every age group and every interest (The Spiritual Life of the Knitter class, etc.) and every taste. If you don’t like a particular music or lighting style, don’t worry. You can come to the “traditional” or “contemporary” or even the “Gen X” worship style because your personal preference reigns. If you can’t make it Sunday morning, don’t worry, we can serve you Sunday night or Saturday night or you can watch online. Yet, even with all of the choices we offer you, there will something strangely familiar, almost like you just saw the same strip-mall a couple of miles back or you’ve seen the same church somewhere.

As I’ve moved more and more in a reformed, missional direction, the challenges of suburbia have loomed large over my thoughts. Jared Wilson is quoted as saying:

“To the cultural Christian, there is nothing attractive about a small church that expects relational community, practices regular neighborhood service, highlights the cost of discipleship in every message, has a minimalist menu of programs to partake from, and gives most of its money away (precluding a “nice” facility and assorted bells and whistles).”

By its very nature, a missional/simple approach to church life means that it will be slow-going in suburbia. By your very organizational structure, you are confronting people’s idols of consumerism and isolationism/individualism. If people move to suburbia sometimes (half-heartedly) chasing the shadow of community, the best way to confront the idol of individualism is to demonstrate real community for them. If consumerism is king in suburbia, the best way to de-throne that idol is to display sacrificial lives willing to give rather than driven to consume.

This also means that much of the missional/simple church’s time and energy will be spent breaking down and breaking through existing paradigms, “re-churching” people. This means that if you are convicted and committed to be missional in suburbia, you will likely grow slower than other models of church and you simply have to be OK with that. You will be forced to measure success/failure, no longer in the “3 B’s” (buildings, budgets and butts in the seats) but by someone learning their neighbor’s name and watching the football game together.

I am convinced that people in suburbia want more than the typical suburban church has offered. Many people want to be challenged and be swept up into something larger than their daily routine. They want to understand the significance and importance of their work-a-day routine. The Missional mindset requires that we view life as more than simply a collection of errands.

As we teach our children to sing, there is something special about being both “deep and wide.” It just takes a while to get there. But it’s worth it.

(One Of) The Problem(s) With Public Forums, or, The Criticism Of Online Criticism

January 24, 2011 at 8:39 am

Last week I wrote about John MacArthur’s public comments about Darrin Patrick. Now, I don’t know MacArthur, though I’ve met him (in fact, when my oldest son was four-months old, we took his picture with MacArthur and Al Mohler). Nor do I know Darrin Patrick. And that brings us to one of the difficulties in a situation like this.

I don’t know if John MacArthur contacted Darrin Patrick before publicly criticizing him. I do know that I did not contact John MacArthur before publicly lamenting his remark and its tone. And for that, I was taken to the proverbial woodshed, both publicly and privately.

My concern was not simply with MacArthur’s comment regarding Darrin Patrick. I perceive that, over the years, his tone has changed; become more harsh and divisive. It was coupled, in my mind with MacArthur’s harsh words for Mark Driscoll and his general disdain for contextualization. I realize that you may not agree with this but I know others who do. This latest comment was simply (for me) more evidence of this and that prompted me to think publicly about MacArthur’s comment.

I was also told that my reaction was not in direct proportion to MacArthur’s comment, that I needed to grow up, that if I had an issue with MacArthur then I should simply go to him personally and that I was arrogant, and guilty of the very things I was regretting in MacArthur.

I have to wonder what all of this means. In an age of public discourse, how is it that we don’t seem to know how to disagree in love? To add to that, how should we handle “celebrity” comments made in public settings. Apparently, a good number of people think that it’s not appropriate to address someone’s public comments unless you’ve first gone to them in private. Others, however, seem to believe that comments made in a public setting can be addressed publicly. I do think that our “celebrity” culture has only complicated matters. We have given some people a wide forum in which they often make 0ff-the-cuff comments in very public manners. This leaves the question of how to address these comments appropriately when they are inappropriate. Should it be left to other “celebrities” to go in private or can a common citizen express public concern? Apparently, there is little agreement on this.

I obviously lean towards the position that public comments may be addressed publicly, but I was surprised by the good number of people who adamantly disagreed with me. To the credit of one person, I did receive a private message asking if I had contacted MacArthur before writing. However, I also had several people ask me the same question publicly, which is a bit confusing. Apparently, there is little agreement on this.

I was honestly a bit surprised by the criticisms of my criticism. As far as I can know my own heart, my concerns did not arise from conceit and I did not write that post out of arrogance, but that was how a good number of you took it. It could certainly be the case that I was not as careful with my words as I should have been but I also wonder if it’s simply the case that we don’t know how to disagree well. When criticism is simply dismissed as arrogant or divisive, we have closed the gateway to meaningful dialogue. On the other hand, the public forums in which we now live have made it easier for criticism to simply be arrogant and divisive. Even when a writer is careful with their words, a good many people seem to think that to criticize at all is arrogant.

As we live more an more in an a time of public forum and as Christians give in more and more to celebrity culture, we must think carefully about how to tread these waters. Public criticism is not going away any time soon so we’d better think well about how to deal with it.

I have always said that one of the reasons I blog is not to simply make my opinions known but to interact with other people and ideas. One of the ways I process ideas is through dialogue and the blog format can be very useful for this. But this also means that I open myself up to a lot of criticism and people who are simply not careful with their words. It is my prayer that iron can still sharpen iron (Proverbs 27:17) and that we can have enough humility to listen to others (James 1:19) and to realize that all criticism is not arrogance.

Love Hopes All Things . . . But Do We? (MacArthur on Patrick)

January 21, 2011 at 11:00 am

I’ve had an interesting journey over the past few years. I have made the trip that some of you have, from run-of-the-mill Arminian who was that way simply because that’s all we’d ever known, to angry, argumentative Calvinist, through the gymnastics of “theological precision,” from “High Calvinism” to “Low Calvinism,” and finally, to reformed (with a little “r”), missional and, I pray, gospel-centered.

It’s been an odd experience, because as I’ve moved through certain theological circles, I have gleaned tremendously from certain groups and individuals who, later, only seem to say they would no longer have me. The Southern Baptist Convention’s move across the nation against Acts 29, public comments asking to ban Mark Driscoll’s book from Lifeway stores have led me to infer that the SBC doesn’t want me.

John MacArthur has been a tremendous theological influence throughout my formative years. Though I have never aligned with his Dispensationalism or some of his views on the role of a pastor (it seems to me that he is fully content spending 40 hours a week in the study, which is a teacher, not a pastor. Pastors pastor; among people, which requires you get out of the office) he has helped me understand theological nuance, partly because I don’t always agree with him.

But lately, it seems as though MacArthur is saying to a myriad of young men who have benefited from his teachings that, while that’s nice, he doesn’t want anything to do with us. MacArthur has had harsh words to say about Mark Driscoll, saying that he “rapes” the Scriptures and more recently, MacArthur made reference to Acts 29 Vice President Darrin Patrick. As my friend Steve McCoy has pointed out, MacArthur was recently interviewed by Phil Johnson,. After railing against Piper and Grudem for their non-cessasionist views, and telling us that this is why what he does is so important, and that Phil Johnson actually writes much of the more controversial material, MacArthur had this to say:

You know, there’s a new book on church planting written by a guy named Darrin Patrick and it says if you want to be an effective church planter, develop your own theology.

You know when I read that I just almost fell off the chair. What? I mean, can you think of anything worse than to have some guy develop his own theology? This is ultimate niche marketing. Develop your own style, your own wardrobe, and then your own theology.

I’ll be honest, as one who has benefited from MacArthur, and one inside the Acts 29 camp (though I am not writing for them in any way), this breaks my heart. After having learned so much from MacArthur positively, it now seems that I’m forced to learn from him in the negative. His comments are not only careless, they are against Scriptural mandates regarding how we should treat one another. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul goes to great lengths to show us that:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Earlier in the same chapter, Paul warns against knowledgeable men who do not demonstrate love:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

In 2 Timothy 2:22-26, Paul warns us to avoid ignorant controversies and to restore false teaching with gentleness seeking the restoration (or salvation) of the one in error. I could certainly be wrong, I don’t know MacAthur at all, but as an outsider looking in, it seems to me that recently, not only has he chosen to pursue controversy with fellow believers, he has not believed the best about those with whom he disagrees.

I have to wonder if MacArthur has read Patrick’s entire book or listened to him preach, or really taken time to look at Acts 29 as a movement. His notion that Patrick was somehow advocating that every person come up with their own unique theology is simply laughable. I have rarely been around guys who take theology as seriously as my brothers in Acts 29. Patrick was warning against simply adopting other people’s theology, we must make it our own; we must do the hard work of wading through concepts, understanding nuance and weighing Scripture carefully until it is our own. It would seem to me that if MacArthur has actually read the book or listened to Patrick preach or spent much time around Acts 29, he would know that what he condemns is not what we are advocating. Not in the slightest. Acts 29 and Patrick are very firm in holding to the historical, confessional faith.

MacArthur’s comments are careless and they break my heart, if only for the fact that, at least from my vantage point, they don’t seem to believe the best about Patrick. If Patrick worded his assertions poorly then shouldn’t MacArthur give the benefit of the doubt? If anything, MacArthur’s comments have forced me to examine my own heart and attitude, especially in theological debates. I have a tendency to care more about making a point than the person I’m speaking with. At least MacArthur is still teaching me, albeit now by forcing me to examine my own faults by displaying his.

  • Read Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission by Darrin Patrick
  • Listen to Theology and Ministry: an Interview With John MacArthur

McCarthy Goes To Yale

January 20, 2011 at 9:34 am

I recently finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s
disturbingly unforgettable book Blood Meridian. It’s
not a book for everyone. In fact, it’s harsh brutality
and matter-of-fact-violence-as-a-way-of-life-ness is not
for most people. McCarthy makes no excuses for the
violence, nor does he simply use it as a gimmick or
mere plot-mover. In many ways, the violence is the
plot. If Camus’ Stranger had kept on killing, we might
have something of the kid/man.

This is a book that requires a lot of the reader.
Within the first few pages, we are jarred to attention
by what seems to be senseless violence perpetrated
by men without conscience. The violence does not
relent through the entire novel and it’s almost as if
McCarthy is asking the reader not only to persevere
but to become desensitized to the violence. It is
the proverbial car-wreck. You know you shouldn’t
look, but you want to. You can’t look away as the
kid and Judge Holden play their parts in the dance
of war; “the last of the true.”

The novel is heavy on allusion and is planted firmly in
the traditions of several literary forms. Its prose is often grand while focusing on minutia. I recently came across
these two lectures from Yale’s course “The American Novel Since 1945″ which I found extremely interesting:

 



 



The Sin of Fiction (Or The Fiction of Sin)

January 19, 2011 at 8:17 am

I’m not the fastest reader you’ll ever meet, but I love to read and I try to read a lot. I don’t always accomplish that goal, but still, I try. I try to read all kinds of books, because I read Mortimer Adler’s How To Read A Book, and I realize that there is a difference between being “widely” read and “well” read.

I also have a love for well-used words. I’m not saying that I always use my words well, just that I appreciate great prose; even poetry. I have always understood poetry to be the art of trying to say the most possible with the fewest words possible and prose as simply expanding on that concept; allowing for more “wiggle room.” I know it may sound trite to some, but I’ve recently become captivated by the prose/literature (where is the boundary, really?) of Cormac McCarthy. Like some of you, my first exposure to McCarthy’s apocalyptic vision was the Coen Brothers’ visitation of No Country For Old Men. Since watching that movie, I have now read six of McCarthy’s novels and I have been pushed to think, which I always appreciate.

As a pastor, and as a Christian, I often think, not only about my own sin but the sin of mankind as a whole, something which theologians often call, our depravity. If you are a parent, you know by harsh experience that you don’t have to ever teach your children to disobey. It comes quite naturally to them. In fact, it comes so naturally to them that you spend a great deal of your time and energy trying to get them to think thoughts and do deeds that actually seem unnatural to them. In other words, I think a lot about sin.

I have found that, personally, one of the best ways for me to think about sin is by reading fiction. Not just any fiction. Certain authors and certain books. I realize that there are Christians who claim that we should read only books that help us grow in faith, but I not only think that looking sin in the eyes helps us grow in faith, I think that this is a short-sighted understanding of man’s role as creator in reflecting the image of God (Imago Dei) to creation.  In fact, there are three fiction books that have helped me think about the concept(s) of sin like no other: Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead/Atlas Shrugged (OK, so that’s actually two books [two very, very, very loooooong books], but for the sake of argument, we’ll consider them as one, primarily focusing on The Fountainhead) and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

The order in which these books have helped me think about the the various prism-angles of sin is not necessarily the order in which I read them. But, Rand’s emphasis on “the virtue of selfishness,” and her characters, who pursue nothing but self-interest seems to me to be the perfect starting point for understanding our own rebellion against God. We alone want the ability/right to define what is right and/or wrong and we wan to take that right from God. When these pursuits are thwarted, this often leads us to outright violence in our actions (Blood Meridian), and when our internal/external violence does not accomplish our goals, this leads us to a detached state of being driven about by our circumstances (The Stranger/Blood Meridian).

I know that I have experienced this trajectory in my own life. You may or may not have had the same experiences but I’m fairly certain you can relate (if you have not read these novels and want summaries of the plots, go buy the Cliff’s Notes, sorry, I am taking it for granted here that you have read them). As we pursue self-interest and things get in our way, we become violent, or at least internally angry. As that anger does not accomplish what we hoped it might (James 1:20), we become detached and blown about by our circumstances (James 1:7, etc.).

Though there is much more to be said about each of these magnificent novels, all of this is to say that I think many Christians need to revisit their notions of reading fiction. So often, we believe that to remain “unstained from the world” (James 1:27), we have to entirely separate ourselves from everything “they” do, their art, music, speech, politics, etc. Quite to the contrary, fiction is a wonderful way for us to understand the heights of grace without having to plumb the depths of depravity ourselves. Writers like Camus, Rand and McCarthy should not be overlooked simply (and blindly) because they do not write from “a Christian perspective, whatever that means). In fact, they should be mined for the riches they reveal to us about the human heart, riches we often overlook in our attempts to be “holy.”

I’m not saying that these novels are for everyone. In fact, they’re probably not. But if you really want to understand grace, at some point you have to look at sin. No one sees fireworks in the broad of day. You have to see them against the backdrop of night. You don’t fully understand the variegated firework-colors of grace until you see them against the backdrop of our proclivity towards sin. Fiction has helped me think about these concepts in a way that I’m thankful life never had to. Maybe we should all go read more good fiction to draw closer to the Cross?