The Prayer Of The Ugh-Churched

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned against You in my heart and thoughts. I have grown discontent in my journey towards You. I love you still and seek You fervently. In fact, this love for You and desire to grow more like You has fanned the flames of frustration. I want more than church programs. I want the church to live like family. I want to be challenged to grow more dependent on You, not on gifted teachers. I want to be equipped rather than rely on someone else for my spiritual development and I want to be engaged rather than entertained.

Many Christians say they want “real” and “authentic” community but the very structures we adopt for the local church tend emphasize intellectual growth over relationships. We have classes to teach people how  to live in community but we don’t actually expect anyone to be in such a community. In fact, we’re a bit taken aback when we do see it.

When we say “doing life together”, it usually means superimposing some sort of academic study on to people who may or may not actually grow the most from academic study. We approach the Christian life as if we were simply disciplined enough, everything would be better. We academetize everything to the point that we discourage people who have no business being discouraged about following Jesus. It’s great if you can tell me the declentions of a Greek verb but I’d rather know you were trying to love those in your path as best you can. We make people who don’t like to read books read books other than the Bible so that they will understand the Bible better. And if they won’t even pretend to like to read to appease their leaders, they are deemed as somehow less spiritual and not “leader material”. We ask people to take time away from their families so we can tell them to love their families better. We ask people to meet with other Christians to learn how to talk to people who aren’t Christians. Really? Is this what it’s come to?

I’m sorry but if we can’t talk to our neighbor about everyday life, we’re not going to talk to them about Jesus. And if that’s the only think we ever talk to them about we’re just going to seem weird and they’re going to think that we view them as a project rather than a friend.

We use verses out of context to promote our own agendas like the (hopefully) well-intentioned pastor using Hebrews 10:25‘s admonition to not neglect gathering together with other believers to say that you have to be at every worship service (I’d be happy to elaborate on this at some point, but for now, I’ll say that I’m pretty sure that the writer to the Hebrews did not mean that we should attend a production once a week where we passively listen to a speaker tell us for 45 minutes how to live while a band urges us to sing along to their performance.). We draw lines in the sand that don’t need to be drawn and we call it “inerrancy” (the Bible was not given to tell us the age of the earth and to believe in an old earth does not mean not believing the rest of the Bible). We major on the minors and wrongly divide (I have not applied to several churches because they require someone who believes a Pre-Trib/Pre-Mil eschatology. Yes, I think eschatology is important. No, I don’t think this is something to divide over).

Father, protect me that my frustration does not sprout into bitterness. Surround me with people who want more.

Help us, Father to own our weaknesses rather than pretending they don’t exist. Help us to to find a better way forward instead of retreading the same well-intentioned but dead-end paths. Surround me with people who believe that the church is neither a building and who believe that worship is not an event and certainly not a performance. Lead me to people who believe that growth occurs primarily in community and understand that you can’t program real community. Lead me to people who believe that growing in discipleship is not necessarily the same thing as growing in knowledge about the Bible, though the two are often deeply intertwined.

Father, help us to move beyond cliché understandings of words like “authentic” and “organic”. Fill my heart with love and patience. Teach me as a leader to equip others rather than make them rely on me. Please deepen my own love, not only for You but for your your people. May I come to understand my faith, not as an add-on but as a marinade for life.

May my frustration be an instrument of healing for others. May I never lead out of opposition but from joyful obedience. May my love for you increase and may I become more dependent on You. Grant me wisdom, fill me with joy, lead me to serve and surround me with others who want the same.

Amen.

 

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyI don’t know about you but I love spicy artichoke jalapeño dip. I mean, with some wavy potato chips or the thicker plain chips. Not the thin ones because the dip is too thick for those sissy chips. No sissy chips up in he-yah. Know what I mean, Vern?

Man, sometimes it just hits the spot if you know what I mean. No? Well, you really should try some.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

R.I.P. Harper Lee.

R.I.P. Umberto Eco.

R.I.P. Samuel Willenberg, “the last known survivor of the Nazi death camp Treblinka.”

R.I.P. Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.

R.I.P. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.

R.I.P. First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Browse the lineup for this year’s Pitchfork music festival.

Browse Phoenix New Times‘ list of “Arizona’s 30 Most Influential Musicians.”

Learn about caffeinated toothpaste.

Read about Sub Pop Records offering “college scholarships to ‘losers’ and ‘art-enthused misfits'”.

Read as Smithsonian considers “How the Phonograph Changed Music Forever”.

Read as Salon argues: “Stop buying old Bob Dylan albums: “Every time somebody buys a reissue, they’re just taking money away from new musicians”. But I like Bob Dylan and new music . . .

Watch a “1970 documentary about Hunter S. Thompson‘s run for mayor of Aspen”.

  • Read as The Washington Post opines: “If only Hunter S. Thompson could have lived to take on this election”.

Browse as NPR’s Jazz Night In America considers the history of “Jazz slang”.

Read as The Washington Post considers three cocktails that “pair perfectly with classic literature”.

Read USA Today‘s profile of Mavis Staples.

Browse as The Guardian compares streaming services.

Browse Paste‘s picks for “10 Essential Short Story Collections”.

Read as The Guardian considers: “Slave to the algorithm? How music fans can reclaim their playlists from Spotify“.

Read as Consequence of Sound reports that a “Fall Coachella Festival” is imminent.

Read reports that Apple is implementing a trade-in program for iPhones.

Read Vinyl Factory‘s report that new printed city guides for vinyl are being made available for select cities.

Read The Atlantic‘s report on the return of Planet Earth.

Ever wonder why you sometimes feel “phantom phone vibrations”?

Read Smithsonian‘s piece: “Long Before Jack Daniels, George Washington Was a Whiskey Tycoon.”

Read as Gillian Anderson talks about Dave Grohl‘s X-Files cameo and how it came to be.

Read as AV Club urges us to reconsider “the grim and gritty Dark Age of superhero comics.”

Read Live For Live Music‘s report: “The Leaked Tracklisting For The National‘s Extensive Grateful Dead Tribute Is Incredible”.

Hear “a giant 800-track alt/indie-focused 90’s playlist in chronological order”.

Read about the new vinyl-pressing plant promising tw0-week turnaround.

Read CNN‘s report: “Beyoncé offered security for concert by Louis Farrakhan“.

Browse as Consequence of Sound considers “Which Artists Are Still Holding Out on Streaming”.

Browse “Relevant”‘s list of “8 Biographies Everyone Should Read”.

Read Paste‘s report: “Pixar Made an App That Helps the Blind Experience Movies”.

Read Fact Magazine‘s report: “Discogs sold 6.6 million records in 2015”.

Watch Bill Gates DJ on Jimmy Fallon.

See shoes that grow with you.

Read “Relevant”‘s piece: “Justin Bieber: Without God I’d Be a Terrible Person”.

Listen as the BBC discusses poetry form.

Read as Lucinda Williams discusses her discography with Spin.

Browse Flavorwire‘s picks for “The 10 Albums You Need to Hear in March”.

Ever wonder: “How Does ‘A Wrinkle in Time‘ Look on a Map?”

Read Paste‘s: “4 Questions for Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver”.

An Introduction to the “Ugh-Churched”

ugh-shirtI am Ted Wiggins and I speak for the trees!

No, that’s not right. I am Brent Thomas and I speak for . . . well, I might not speak for anyone other than myself. However, I have the hunch that I speak for a growing number of Christians who are increasingly frustrated by American Christianity.

Discipleship is the primary task Jesus left His people (Matthew 28:18-20). This simply means helping ourselves and others become more like Jesus. This is the fundamental task of Christians and encompasses all of life including all of our relationships. We are publicly trying to live out the ways of Jesus and striving to help others (no matter where upon the faith journey they might currently find themselves) to see the beauty in doing so (This is different from evangelism. Evangelism is not a thing in and of itself but is a subset of discipleship. Maybe more on this later.).Many churches grasp this, using pithy, easy-to-remember phrases like: Make, Mature and Multiply (Disciples), or Gather, Grow, Go.

Few seem to argue the fact that the core of Christian Living is discipleship. Over the years, I’ve asked over a hundred people: How well do you think the American Church as a whole, has done at the fundamental task of Discipleship?

I have yet to have a single person tell me that “as a whole,” we’re rocking it. Several people have been able to point to specific times when they have been spiritually cared for and encouraged and seen significant growth but these cases seem to be the exception rather than the norm. No one has argued that, “as a whole,” we’re doing well. There was one guy who was adamant until I realized that he was arguing that Young Life did a great job of discipling, not the church.

93434191-einstein-tongue_custom-36fb0ce35776dc2d92eda90880022bf48a67e192-s6-c30And yet it seems like just about every church is doing the fundamentally the same things. You remember how Einstein defined insanity, don’t you? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That seems to be the current predicament for American Christianity. Sure, the flavor might change but nearly every church seems to have the basic, Sunday-driven, education-based, program-driven structures. Two or three songs, a sermon and some more songs. Some churches are showy-er about it than others. Some churches have different emphases within those parameters but nobody seems to question the basic. passive, education-based approach.

But there is a growing number of people who believe that the Christian life is more, not less than the modern church experience. Many people sincerely want to follow Jesus and find a divide between how we see that suggested in the New Testament and how it is largely practiced here in the United States of 2016. Drawing from researchers like Thom Rainer and others who discuss the “pre-churched,” the “de-churched,” the “un-churched,” etc., I have come to think of this group as the “ugh-churched”.

The “ugh-churched” as I understand them, are not abandoning their faith nor do they want to abandon church participation. Much ink has been spilled rebuking people who say that they love God but feel no need for church. These are not the ugh-churched. The ugh-churched, if I may speak for a category I’ve just made up, believe that the current model is lacking at best and broken at worst. The ugh-churched believe that so many modern churches rely on programs because real relationships simply don’t exist.

But it’s a catch-22, isn’t it? Many churches see the New Testament’s expectations that we will “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:1-2), that we will rejoice and weep together (Romans 12:15), that we will speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:25), that we will live as family and so we create programs in which these things are supposed to occur but these things do not occur in programs because programs are not relationships. People oftentimes don’t know how to have these types of relationships because they’ve been caught in programs. A growing number of people have become disillusioned with the current approach and long for Christianity to be lived out in the context of meaningful, challenging relationships. Though there’s lots to do in the American Church, it just doesn’t always seem worth the time and energy and many are left wanting more.

As my friend April recently said:

I’m at a point in my Christian faith where I don’t want to go to a church with a “tag line” or catchy mission statement. I’m so over it, like way way over it. I want to go to a church that really wants to be the Church and not some cool kids club, that strives to be relevant, or hip, or urban, or progressive, or liberal, or seeker sensitive, or “down to earth”. I’ve found that there’s a lot of flavor out there without a lot of substance (kinda like Doritos). Hoping God will bring us into a community of believers who want to do honest, raw, life together for the long haul. Keep our family in your prayers, and keep me in your prayers that God will show Himself to me in his people and that I would be encouraged.

The problem is that we’re left with cliché’s like “authentic”, “genuine” and “organic”. They sound great but have largely lost their meaning in the current church context because every church uses these terms but seems to mean something different by them and the result is has simply become a standardized approach to how we “do church”. This is why many of the ugh-churched feel increasingly disenfranchised from the American church; they want more, not less. They want substance over performance and they believe that following Jesus is about more than superficial slogans like “Win at Life”.

This means that we must stop doing church the way we’ve always done it. Far from being threatened by the ugh-churched, we should revel in the desire for deep and meaningful community faith. This is an exciting time for the American Church. We are faced with an identity crisis and we have reached a tipping point. How will we emerge? Will we embrace the growing desire for simplified schedules and deeper relationships or will we create another church program?

 

 

Reading and Listening

Alrighty there, cowgirls, cowboys and cowboy pups, here’s the lowdown on the downlow of what I’ve been reading and listening to this week.

Reading

Last week I read Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones . I picked it up because I love the movies of Hayao Miyazaki. Only after seeing his adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle did I come to find out that it was a book first. I know, I know, I’m just not that up-to-date on the young adult fiction department. Anyways, let me tell you something; as much as I love Miyazaki’s artistic vision, he really butchered this book. Though he made a fine movie, it fails to capture the emotion and tenderness of Howls relationship with Sophie. Clichés often have their root in the truth and this is definitely a case of the book being better than the movie.

Last week I also started Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s The Brothers KaramazovIn last week’s post, I made the confession that I have never read this classic work. And now I see why it’s considered a classic and I have to wonder why it took me so long to get around to. Perhaps I felt intimidated by the idea of dour Russian literature? Well that’s silly because it’s great so far. I can’t wait to continue making my way through this one. Oh, and I now realize where the band Ivan and Alyosha‘s name came from. Sort of like when I read Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughter-house Five and realized that Ramsay Midwood‘s album Popular Delusions & the Madness of Cows is an off-handed nod to the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds but not quite.

 

Listening

I’m really digging The Ghosts of Highway 20 by Lucinda Williams and jamming to Interludes For The Dead by Circles Around The Sun but otherwise not much new this week.

 

What are you reading and listening to?

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyDo you remember that time we were together at that place and we did that thing? Oh man! It was the bombdiggity.

Wait, you don’t remember it? Are you sure? It was bombalicious, yo.

You’re sure, because it was bombtastic. Truly and for reals.

No? Not ringing a bell?

Sorry, wrong number. Sorry to bother you. Perhaps I can offer you some online thought-provoking entertainment? I have collected some links. Why don’t you grab a container of your favorite beverage, put your feet up and peruse.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

R.I.P. Dan Hicks.

R.I.P. Giant Sand.

Meet the 107-year-old’ man who’s “secret to a long life is four bottles of red wine a day”.

See some amazing “these Tiny Hand-painted Wes Anderson Sets”.

Read Rolling Stone‘s interview with Lucinda Williams in which she “Talks Meeting Dylan, Southern Identity, Shopping Online”.

Read Washington Post‘s piece: “A Stanford psychologist explains why spacing out and goofing off is so good for you”.

Read as The Guardian considers” “Villain or victim, Shakespeare’s Shylock is a character to celebrate”.

Browse “10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People” at Fast Company.

Read about a rare, unreleased Rolling Stones album that was recently stolen.

Read as Warped Speed considers why having a beard is good for your health.

ReadWilliam S. Burroughs on Creativity” at Brain Pickings: “The price an artist pays for doing what he wants is that he has to do it.”

Take a Peek Inside Neil Gaiman‘s Library”.

Read/watch as The Chicago Tribune profiles a new documentary about John Prine.

Maybe movies should end whenever a character says the title out loud“.

Read as Slate wonders “Why Can’t Apple Figure Out Television?”

Meet the man who created Papyrus, the world’s second-most hated font.

Read about the “First U.S. Doctor Sentenced for Patient ODs”. “A California doctor was sentenced to 30 years in prison on murder charges Friday in connection with three overdose deaths from medication she prescribed.”

Read as The Guardian considers “From Berlin’s warehouses to London’s estates: how cities shape music scenes”.

Read about the priceless antique Martin guitar Kurt Russell smashed during the filming of Quentin Tarantino‘s Hateful Eight.

Read as “Andrew Zimmern Explains How to Acquire a Taste”.

Watch Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy sing Stephen Colbert a lullaby.

Read as Inc. wonders: “Why Are Millennials So Unhappy at Work?”

Read: “Proust on What Art Does for the Soul and How to Stop Letting Habit Blunt Our Aliveness” at Brain Pickings.

Ever wonder “What happens to a tiny town when Walmart disappears?” Find out at The Washington Post.

Looking for a new career path? “Stone Temple Pilots Launch Open Audition for New Singer”.

Read as The New Yorker wonders if we’re maybe missing the point in our hatred of Martin Shkreli.

See “What $1 USD Gets You In Food All Around The World”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “The Pastor of China’s Largest Official Protestant Church Has Been Arrested”.

Read The Guardian‘s piece: “In 1971, librarian Marguerite Hart asked famous names in the arts, sciences and politics to write to the children of Troy, Michigan, encouraging them to cherish their new public library.”

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “Josh Brolin to star in George Jones biopic from Straight Outta Compton writer”.

Browse “America’s Largest Collection of Early Tavern Signs”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “Seal Will Play Pontius Pilate in Tyler Perry’s Televised Passion Play”.

Read Ars Technia‘s piece: “The NFL wants you to think these things are illegal”.

Watch the Harlem Globetrotters interrupt Jeff Tweedy at AV Club‘s offices.

Read as Glenn Danzig discusses his recent Portlandia appearance with Rolling Stone.

Learn “How to Read a Book a Week”.

Read Sojourner‘s piece: “Why I’m a Politically Correct Christian (And You Should Be Too)”

See David Bowie‘s art.

Watch a guitarist play “the World’s Last Playable Stradivarius Guitar”.

Read Stereogum‘s report that Belly are reuniting.

See “Gorgeous, Extremely Private Writing Retreats” at Flavorwire.

Read Paste‘s report that Beyoncé told Coldplay that she did not want to collaborate with them.

See the “Last Known Photos of Jim Morrison“.

Read as Alice Cooper reflects “on His Dinner With David Bowie and Ray Bradbury“.

Read Fact Magazine‘s report: “The Pirate Bay now streams torrents in your browser”.

Read AV Club‘s report that a Saved By The Bell-themed restaurant and bar is coming to Chicago.

Learn “How to Make Your Own Moonshine Still from Hardware Store Parts” at Man Made.

Read as Stephen King confirms rumors of a Dark Tower movie.

Read about the Titanic replica set to set sail.

Read Vinyl Factory‘s report that The Gap has now entered the vinyl market.

Read as Noisey considers which musicians have the most positive Twitter followers.

Read Kanye West‘s comments about his new album: “It’s Gospel with a Lot of Cursing”.

Read about the lifetime collection of 1000,000 records now up for sale.

Read reports that the eighth Harry Potter book is on its way.

Read as Peter Gabriel wonders what is the point of music at The Guardian.

Read Pitchfork‘s report that Bruce Springsteen is releasing an autobiography.

Read as “Justin Vernon: Bon Iver Is “No Longer Winding Down” at Stereogum.

Read about “Woodstock Organizers Exploring 50th Anniversary Concert”.

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyThough I have not yet made it over to the Welcome Diner, I welcome you to the Weekly Town Crier. This is the spot on the Interwebs where I regularly collect and distribute links of interest to people of interest. The goal is to think about a wide variety of topics in such a way that we’re all the better for it. Now, go, browse, think, talk with those you love and those you’ve just met. Make the world a better place.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

R.I.P. Toyota’s Scion brand.

R.I.P. Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire.

R.I.P. BMX legend Dave Mirra.

Read about the man helping classic punk and hardcore bands get years’ worth of royalties.

Trumpdonald.org.

Read an article claiming that intelligent people have messy rooms and cuss like sailors.

Read Hypebeast‘s report that “Pepsi Is Opening a Restaurant in New York City”.

Read NME‘s report about the petition to get Snoop Dogg to narrate Planet Earth.

Read about sake flavored Kit Kats being introduced in Japan.

See a $30,000, bottle of 75-year old scotch.

See police sketches of famous literary characters.

Visit the website for The Seer, a new film “Portrait of Wendell Berry“.

Read about the study that “Finds That if You Spend More Than an Hour a Day on Social Media, You’re Probably Not Sleeping Well”.

Read Paste‘s report: “Lego Has Finally Released A Wheelchair Figure”.

Browse “Relevant”‘s picks for “12 Francis Schaeffer Quotes That Will Challenge the Way You Engage Culture”.

Watch as a “Custom 3D Printer Turns Songs into Ceramics”.

Read about the history of “The 27th Letter”, the ampersand at Poetryfoundation.org.

Read as Spike Lee reflects on the role of Michael Jackson being cast to a white actor: “The Legacy Has Been Hijacked”.

Browse the “the Greatest (and Only) Stray Shopping Cart Identification Guide Ever Made”.

Read about “What Happened When Muhammad Ali Met Malcolm X” at Time.

Read as The National Post considers “How comics became literature”.

Read as The Atlantic reflects on Groundhog Day.

Read about “How Gin Became The Meth of 18th Century England”.

Read as Daily News Feed argues: “Americans Becoming Less Christian, More Atheist”.

Read Paste‘s report that Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop” transportation system is more than just a pipe dream.

Read as The Atlantic wonders “What Happened to Nina Simone?”

Browse The Telegraph‘s list of the world’s “most ‘hipster’ neighbourhoods”.

Browse Atlas Obscura‘s list of “Awesome Places (Arguably) Ruined By Popular Books”.

Read as T.S. Eliot considers what makes great detective fiction at The New Yorker.

Read as The Atlantic considers the National Endowment For The Arts and the question: Who should pay for the arts in America?”

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “Dolphins love Radiohead“.

Watch Stephen Colbert interview motivational speaker, Joel Osteen (whom I refuse to link because I will not be a party to his increased wealth).

Read The Seattle Times‘s report about Mark Driscoll planting Trinity Church in the Phoenix area.

Read CNBC‘s report that Amazon is planning on opening hundreds more brick and mortar bookstores. Read as The Atlantic wonders why.

Read as Sojourners wonders: “Should Christians Be Socialists?”

Browse Paste’s picks for “The 6 Best New Albums of January 2016”. What were your favorites?

Read as The Guardian considers which book the most people lie about having read.

Read Market Watch‘s profile of “the atheist capital of America”.

Read as First Things considers “David Bowie‘s Search For God”.

Read as Aquarium Drunkard considers “The Darker Side of Diddley“.

Browse The Daily Beast‘s picks for “The 40 Most Intriguing Musicians of 2016”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “Televangelism Has Started to Come to Netflix”.

Read as Salon argues: “No, America is not a Christian nation”.

Read Paste‘s report that Batman and Wonder Woman are becoming Barbie figures.

Browse photographs of Kurt Cobain‘s “most intimate belongings”.

See “The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy Explained Perfectly With a Simple Animation.”

Read Noisey‘s report that Martin Skhreli has threatened to slap Wu-Tang Clan‘s Ghostface Killah and read about Ghostface’s response: ““I’ll Break Your Heart In Four Days”.

Browse Paste‘s picks for “The 10 Most Underrated Breweries in America”.

See the “Guitar Pee Urinal” that “lets you play a guitar solo as you tinkle”.

Read comicbook.com‘s report that MacGyver is getting a reboot.

Read Consequence of Souns‘s report that John Kasich has promised to “reunite Pink Floyd if elected”.

Read Pitchfork‘s report that “The Flaming Lips and Kurt Vile Were Answers on “Jeopardy!”

Read NME‘s report: “Romantic comedies encourage female viewers to tolerate stalking”.

Read Time‘s report that “McDonald’s Will Serve Happy Meals With Books Instead of Toys”.

Read as The New Yorker considers “Why Apple and Beats Should Sell Turntables”.

Read Brooklyn Vegan‘s report: “Rivers Cuomo, Ben Gibbard, Andy Partridge & more wrote songs for The Monkees‘ first album in 20 years”.

Read as Rolling Stone argues “In Defense of the CD”.

Trumpeters And Gospel Deficiency

12342869_10153827861846450_6195041571918097602_nMuch to my dismay, it’s a mixed bag that the ol’ Donald, who, if you have not heard, is running for President, has been in the press lately in the context of American Evangelicalism, of which I am loosely a part.

I say “much to my dismay” because it pains my heart that some self-professing Christians seem to support Donald Trump as, not only a viable presidential candidate but have come out in support of him. As you may have heard, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. recently endorsed Donald Trump for President.

I say “it’s a mixed bag” because at least this has caused toe “mainstream media” to try and understand Evangelicalism, even if it’s just to say: “Are some of you people really considering voting for this guy who so openly and adamantly opposes so many of your views?!” For example, CNN recently posted “3 questions evangelicals should ask about Donald Trump“. Have we really come to this point where the American Church is being told by CNN why a potential presidential candidate is simply not sympatico with our stated beliefs?

Even with all of this, there may yet to be some good to come of this socio-political fiasco identity crisis. Rightly or wrongly, Christianity has long held a special place at the table of American culture. It has been the assumed religion. So much so that many claim this to be a “Christian nation”. This is dangerous for Christianity because it implies that following Jesus is somehow equatable with the “American Dream”. It is not and it seems that there is a growing number of people coming to believe that the predominant version of Christianity practiced in America is not “Christianity” at all but something called “moralistic therapeutic deism” (oh look, I wrote about this very thing!).

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As a church planting pastor, I do think it’s worth seriously considering the fact that some people who claim to be Christians have publicly come out in support of Donald Trump’s bid for the White House. What, if anything does this say about the version of Christianity adopted by many in the United States? We are left with some serious questions regarding the heart of of how Christianity is or is not practiced.

Trump clearly plays on a competitive spirit. What does the Bible say about trying to get ahead at the possible expense of others? Trump talks tough with threats of violence to adversaries. What does the Bible say about how we should treat others, even our enemies? Trump brags that he has never asked forgiveness. Not even from God. What does the Bible say . . . do I really even have to finish this one? Trump says that he will deport the refugees and build a wall around our suburb. What does the Bible say about how we should treat the foreigner? Those less fortunate? Those seeking safety and security?Trump has repeatedly left his current wife for his next. What does the Bible say about the importance of marriage? Trump has repeatedly denigrated women. What does the Bible say about equality? Trump has repeated denigrated anyone he disagrees with. What does the Bible say about how we use our words? What does the Bible say about the relationship between our words and what’s in our hearts? I could keep going but I’ve even exhausted myself.

What I do want to consider is the saddening fact that those people who do claim to be Christians and express support for Donald Trump may, in fact, suffer from what I have dubbed “gospel deficiency”. We don’t have time (or the patience right now) to address every question raised in the previous paragraph, but I would like us to consider some generalities when it comes to the outlook on life assumed by the Bible for those brought to life by the Gospel (the good news of who Jesus is and what He’s done).

Consider just a few verses in light of Trump’s campaign and public persona:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20-21)

How can people who claim to love Jesus consider supporting a candidate like Trump? I believe that the answer is not political but theological. If you support Trump it’s because you don’t fully understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for life and how we should live. In fact, it is likely that you suffer from Gospel Deficiency. I’m not saying that you can’t be saved and support Donald Trump. Far be it from me to judge someone’s heart. But it does seem that in order to support Donald Trump, you must turn a blind eye to many of the things God says to describe His people.

You can be alive but be iron deficient. I suppose you can be a Christian and suffer from Gospel Deficiency as well. You believe enough to put your faith in Jesus  for salvation but not enough to know that Jesus tells us that our hearts should not focus not found in this world (Matthew 6:21) and to be anxious for nothing (Matthew 6:25:-34). Paul tells us to consider others as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:1-11). You can identify as a Christian but the truth is that if the Truth has set you free, you will reject principles based on fear, prejudice and anger while Donald Trump openly accepts the “mantle of anger“. When the Gospel takes root, we begin to flower with kindness, meekness, self-control, (Galatians 5:22-23) all things conspicuously absent from Trump’s public persona.

I suppose the real issue I’m wrestling with is this: I just don’t see how you can understand biblical teaching and then support someone like Donald Trump for anything other than class clown.

Can you help me understand?

He Shines In All That’s Fair (A Three-Volume Music Mix)

He Shines3

Who else could bring together this kind of who’s who of musicians?I mean, come on. Think about some of the artists included in this mix:

And that just scratches the surface. As I’ve said, I’m not trying to read anything in to the heart-motivation of any of these artists. But I will say that each song here has meant something important to me in the years of my own faith journey. I hope you enjoy.

  • Read about the background to the mixes here.

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He Shines In All That’s Fair (01)

  1. Something Beautiful by Sinead O’Connor
  2. Nobody Knows My Name by Rickie Lee Jones
  3. ’40’ by U2
  4. Amazing Grace by Ani DiFranco
  5. The Truth Is A Cave by the Oh Hellos
  6. Thank You by Glen Phillips
  7. His Truth Is Marching On by Mike Doughty
  8. Jesus Gonna Build Me A Home by John Davis
  9. Please Come Home by Dustin Kensrue
  10. Whiskey & Jesus by Owl Parliament
  11. Jesus Shot Me In The Head by Hiss Golden Messenger
  12. You Give It All Your Heart (Live Parable Version) by Vigilantes of Love

 

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He Shines In All That’s Fair (02)

  1. On My Knees by Seryn
  2. Amazing Grace by Daniel Lanois
  3. Walking With Jesus by Spacemen 3
  4. 100th Psalm by All Saved Freak Band
  5. Jesus Is Just Alright by Doobie Brothers
  6. I Was Healed By The Wounds In His Side by Sister Gertrude Morgan
  7. Jesus Gonna Be Here by Tom Waits
  8. Saved by Bob Dylan
  9. To Make A Ring by Wovenhand
  10. Higher Power by Ramsay Midwood
  11. Tree of Life by Wilson McKinley
  12. Spirit In The Sky by Norman Greenbaum
  13. Brazos by Matthew E. White

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He Shines In All That’s Fair (03)

  1. People Get Ready by Imperial Golden Crown Harmonizers
  2. Jaya Dev by Aradhna
  3. Though I Have Wronged You by J. Tillman
  4. King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3 by Neutral Milk Hotel
  5. After Forever by Black Sabbath
  6. Amazing Grace by Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues
  7. Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down by Uncle Tupelo
  8. Jesus Walking On The Water by Violent Femmes
  9. God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash
  10. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by Doug Burr
  11. I Still Believe (Great Designby The Call
  12. The Transfiguration  by Sufjan Stevens
  13. Every Grain of Sand by Emmylou Harris
  14. Doxology by Kelly Joe Phelps

 

He Shines In All That’s Fair: Thoughts On Common Grace, Creativity and Introducing My Music Mix

He Shines3The doctrine of common grace, like many doctrines, can be a contentious one. The basic issue centers around whether or not God is “pleased” by the actions and creations of those not numbered among His people? Because, Christians are in the continual process of aligning themselves, including what we do/can and can not take pleasure in consuming.

While the issue at hand may not seem immediately apparent to those unconcerned with pleasing God in everyday life, the issue may be summarized as something like this:

Christians understand sin to be the heart of idolatry and includes anything antithetical to God’s character. It is, by definition opposed to God since we believe that He is the sole source of all our hearts seek. So to look for fulfillment, security, joy, etc. outside of Him is in fact, opposing Him. It is a question of the posture of one’s heart.

Christians are thus left in the perpexing situation of what to do with anything not done from a heart’s posture to bring glory to God since it is thusly, in some way opposed to God?

Or is it?

What about things that in and of themselves might be benign? Moreso, what about things that somehow point to God’s character, even if they creator doesn’t know it or intend it? Music? Art? movies? Books? Poems? The very creative process remind us of a God who brings order from the chaos and flowers from the ashes. But what if the creator isn’t thinking of this or might even be opposed to such a worldview? Can Christians take pleasure in art made by n0n-or-even-anti-Christians?

As Richard Mouw summarizes the situation in his book He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace:

How do we take with utmost seriousness the need to be clear about the lines between belief and unbelief, between those who live within the boundaries of saving grace and those who do not, while at the same time maintaining an openness to – even an active appreciation for – all that is good and beautiful and true that takes place outside of those boundaries?

While some in my own past theological streams argue that the doctrine of “common grace” is not appropriate, Mouw and others have come to believe that it is not only acceptable but appropriate for Christians to celebrate beauty and cultivate creativity. Wondering at a painting, being swept up in a piece of music, moved by a string of words or ideas, marveling at a sunset, hiking a mountain, smelling hops, tasting coffee, laughing, singing, crying, these are glimpses of God’s grace. They remind us of His goodness, of His character.

For many well-intentioned Christians, the fact that such glimpses are not sufficient to bring someone to salvation, they are not worth our while at all. Or more severely, they should be condemned. How else could someone come to believe that burning music albums brings glory to God more the creative process they contain?

I’m not making light of the struggle many Christians face as they try to align their consciences with God’s character as they choose what to watch, read or listen to. I’m simply trying to make sense of how we’ve come to a place where “American Christianity” rejects so much artistic expression without creating anything worthwhile of our own?

Do we believe that the terrific painting by a non-Christian somehow less valued by God than the horrible painting by a Christian simply because of the intent of the heart? Is there not inherent value in both? The value may be perceived differently by the eyes of faith but the eyes of most people would rather look at a great painting than a bad one (now is not the time to enter into the subjective nature of much art).

This may seem like a rather nebulous rambling (even for me), especially since I’m not here today to really look for answers to many of these questions. I’m simply giving you a context for the three-volume mix album that I’ve come up with. All of these questions and more have been rattling around my head for years, especially as I listen to music. Which I do. A lot. So over the years, I have kept various private playlists of songs which have presented me with an unexpected glimpse of God. A bit of grace in the everyday. Not every song explicitly mentions Jesus.

Some songs are by Christians. Some songs are meant as worship. Some songs are meant as evangelism. Some songs are by more skilled musicians than others. But, not every song here is even by someone who would claim to be a Christian. Some have said these songs are not even about Jesus (though they don’t mind them interpreted as such.). Not every song is to be understood as a theological statement or even representative of my own personal beliefs regarding God (specifically Jesus). And, please be forewarned, there is at least one “F-Bomb” for those sensitive to such things.

But over the years, every song here has, at some point, reminded me of, encouraged me on or challenged me in my own journey of following Jesus.

It’s OK If We Don’t Worship The Same God And It’s Not Intolerant To Say So (Right?)

coexistBy now you may have heard the tale of (former) Wheaton Professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins. Hawkins was recently let go from the college, not for wearing a hijab but for declaring that Christians and Muslims worship the “same God”.

This situation has stirred up the proverbial poop-storm of controversy with media outlets pretending that they understand (and can define) “Christianity” (and religion in general for that matter) better than its practitioners who themselves can’t seem to agree on definitions and boundaries. Miraslov Volf has tried to play with the meaning of the word “same” (as in “Muslims and Christians worship the same god”) while Scot McKnight and others have contradicted him.

For many, the controversy centers on the ideas of tolerance and intolerance. Some seem to believe that Hawkins’ firing was an act of intolerance by Wheaton College. Much of this, of course has to do with how we perceive the ideas of “tolerance” and “intolerance”. Tolerance used to mean something like we disagree and that’s OK, we can and probably should continue in dialogue and cooperation while still owning our distinct beliefs. But somewhere along the path to politically correct town, it has come to mean something more like: we disagree but you can’t say I’m wrong and you probably need to make room in your set of beliefs for mine. I paraphrase, of course.

The key issue at stake is not whether or not Hawkins wants to wear a hijab but her assertion that Christians and Muslims worship the “same God”. As an employee of a Christian institution of higher learning, Hawkins has committed herself to live and teach within certain parameters. The leadership of Wheaton has decided that her current beliefs are outside of those parameters.

Screen-Shot-2015-12-16-at-8.49.56-AMWe need to remember that every system of religious beliefs has boundaries. This is what makes them unique and distinct. This is the root of the idea of “Orthodoxy”, which every religious system of belief has. There are some beliefs within the bounds of orthodoxy for every religion and there are some beliefs that simply disqualify from walking that religious path.

If I reject the Koran en toto or the legitimacy of Muhammad, I am not a Muslim. If I reject the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the legitimacy of Joseph Smith, I am not a Mormon. If I reject the legitimacy of the Pope as a vehicle for God’s revelation, I am not a Catholic. If I believe that Jesus is God and the long-awaited Messiah, I am not a Jew.

If you do not worship the God who has revealed Himself as One God in Three Persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), each distinct yet fully God, then we do not worship the same God and you are not a Christian. In other words, if you do not believe in the Trinity or if you do not believe that Jesus is fully man AND fully God (along with the Father and Spirit), we do not worship the same God.

Jews are not Christians. Mormons are not Christians. Muslims are not Christians. And it’s not intolerant to say so. In fact, it does each religion a disservice to pretend otherwise.

Pretending that all religions are somehow the same or lead to the same place devalues all of them. While there are certainly areas of agreement, there are also most certainly differences in belief and practice. Tolerance dictates that we acknowledge those differences while seeking ways to work together for the common good. It is not intolerant to acknowledge and own our differences and it doesn’t help to try and change the commonly accepted definition of words like “same” as Volf has done. That’s akin to Bill Clinton trying to blur the definition of “is” to escape ownership of transgressions. It’s not only unhelpful, it is destructive.

It’s OK to acknowledge that we worship different gods and it’s OK for a professing “Christian” college to fire someone who holds different beliefs. In fact, this seems to me a better alternative than pretending that the distinctives of Christianity are no longer distinct.

I’m sure I’ll hear from you and I look forward to it.