Michelle Van Loon: Unintended Consequences of the Jesus Movement

Today I wish to direct your attention to a periodic series at Michelle Van Loon’s blog entitled “Unintended Consequences of the Jesus Movement”.  Look through the archives and you can find posts which address various aspects of the Jesus Movement’s influence on evangelicalism, such as the seeker-sensitive model of doing church, the corporate org-chart model of church leadership, voting Republican, and Christian kitsch.  Each post looks at what the original Jesus movement had hoped to reap through each of these phenomena and contrasts it with what we have seen instead now that we are a generation removed from the Jesus Movement.  These are well worth a read, if you have the time or the inclination.

The one I wish to highlight is the latest in the series, which deals with the unintended consequences of evangelicalism’s emphasis upon decisions:  that is, trying to get people to make “decisions” for Christ and “pray the prayer”.  This impulse is not new in evangelicalism; it has been around ever since the days of Charles Finney and Billy Sunday.  But the Jesus Movement has seized upon this impulse and ratcheted it up several notches within the past generation.  Here is Van Loon’s analysis of what the Jesus Movement hoped to gain through the emphasis upon decisions for Christ, as contrasted with the fruit we are now reaping a generation later.  See if this doesn’t ring true for you:

What we hoped for a generation ago when we focused on encouraging others to pray that prayer:

  • Individual responsibility for faith – Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus called individual people to follow him. A “Get Out Of Hell Free” card inked with infant baptism or childhood church attendance was not the way Jesus changed lives.
  • Simplicity – We could talk about faith in an easily understandable way. You didn’t need to be a theologian or a pastor to understand the message in the Four Spiritual Laws.
  • Marketability – Too many of us downplayed what discipleship might cost in our excitement to invite others to join our team. (See Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23.) We may have done so because we ourselves simply didn’t understand the cost.

What we’re reaping today:

  • Confusion – Stories abound of kids who’ve prayed that prayer dozens of times, insecure about whether they’re “in” or “out”. Others rest in the notion that they just prayed that prayer at some point, and can tuck that salvation card in their back pocket and go on with their regularly-scheduled program. A prayer of repentance is one step in the marathon. It is not the entire race.
  • Frustration – Simplicity in presenting the decision was a bait-and-switch for the Christian life. “Just pray this prayer and you’ll be saved” was a gateway drug to “Just send the televangelist your paycheck and you’ll be blessed” for some. Others discovered that praying a short prayer had little to do with the challenges of lifelong fidelity to Jesus. We don’t live it alone, because God himself is with us, but neither is it easy – and may cost us our lives.
  • Abandoning of the faith – Shallow roots don’t grow healthy plants. A measure of the statistical numerical decline in Christianity in recent years comes from those who once prayed a prayer and were taught this was the most important thing they could do to sew up their eternity.

Donald Trump and I Are Kindred Spirits

trumpBefore I begin, let me say up front that nothing I say today unsays anything I have said about Donald Trump in prior posts.  Namely, that he should never in a million years be allowed within a million miles of the nuclear codes, and those who have foisted him upon us as the champion of conservative values are guilty of a most egregious, perhaps unforgivable error (Wayne Grudem, your phone is ringing).

But part of being an adult and thinking like an adult is recognizing that many issues are complex and multi-layered and cannot be resolved with a simple, black-or-white, yes-or-no answer.  In many instances there are competing, conflicting, and even apparently contradictory truths in play which cannot be resolved and must instead be held in tension with each other.  For example, your crazy uncle Bill whom you only ever see at Thanksgiving.  You love him to death because he’s family, yet you wouldn’t want him alone with your kids.  Both of the above are true, though they are apparently conflicting truths.  You must hold both these truths in tension with each other.

So it is with Donald Trump.  As noted above, I believe he is monumentally unqualified for the office of president.  Yet at the same time, as I read this analysis from McKay Coppins at Buzzfeed, I see that Donald Trump is in some ways a kindred spirit.

In a lengthy Buzzfeed article, Coppins lays out the history leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential run and how he thinks an article he wrote back in 2014 may have goaded Trump into the race.  But along the way Coppins offers this insight into Trump’s motivations:

What had most struck me during my two days with Trump [prior to writing the 2014 article] was his sad struggle to extract even an ounce of respect from a political establishment that plainly viewed him as a sideshow. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that he’d felt this way for virtually his entire life — face pressed up against the window, longing for an invitation, burning with resentment, plotting his revenge.

I can relate to this, to a certain extent at least.  Though I have never paraded mistresses all over the New York tabloids in an attempt to gain the attention and respect of the New York establishment as Donald Trump did when he was first trying to break into the Manhattan scene–the closest I have come to that is parading my imaginary wife and 2.6 imaginary kids all over Facebook–and though I will probably never resort to Donald Trump tactics to get revenge, I can still relate to the feeling of being an outsider, face pressed up against the window and longing for an invitation.

This is because my ability to form meaningful attachments (especially with the opposite sex), and experience connection and belonging is impaired.  Yet I deeply desire these things, I am a human being after all.  But instead of the resentment and desire for revenge that Trump feels, what I feel is a deep-seated and pervasive longing for something which can probably never be mine.

Now I am part of a church community where I know I belong and I have many friends who know me well and love and accept me, and I know this.  Yet it has taken a long time to get to this point.  And though I know all this in my head, it is very difficult for me to feel it in my heart.  Why?  Because I am different.  In each of the social environments of which I am a part (church, work, small group, Thursday night running group, etc.), there is some part of me which others do not share.  Also, in each of the social environments of which I am a part, it seems as if the others have a shared life together–shared experiences, shared memories, etc.–of which I am not a part.  I hear them talk about it in their conversations and inwardly I fill with regret and envy because I want so badly to be part of that shared life, to have a part in all those shared stories and shared memories.

So I can empathize, on some level at least, with Donald Trump’s long, sad struggle to gain even an ounce of respect from a political establishment that views him as nothing more than a buffoonish outsider.  Doesn’t mean that I think him any more qualified to be president or worthy of my vote.  I don’t.  But part of adult life is learning to live with unresolved tension, in this case the tension between knowing that Trump should never in a million years be allowed within a million miles of the nuclear codes, and yet also being able to empathize with him on some level at least.

John Piper on Children’s Ministry

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post from John Piper at the Desiring God website.  His starting point is a reader who writes in because his church is struggling with the issue of whether to have a separate children’s environment during the Sunday morning worship service.

While Piper ultimately comes down on the side that children should be in the same service with their parents, that is not what I wish to argue.  I am part of a church that has very well-developed children’s ministry environments separate from the regular Sunday service, and they have very good reasons for doing it that way.  Other churches do children’s ministry differently, and they have very good reasons for the ways in which they do it.  So the issue of whether or not to have a separate children’s ministry environment on Sunday morning is neither here nor there as far as today’s post is concerned.

What I wish to argue is Piper’s view of what the Sunday service ought to be, which is best summed up in the catchphrase “sustained maximum intensity of moving reverence”:

…It seemed to us that for at least one hour a week out of 168 we should sustain a maximum intensity of moving reverence. Now I am going to say that again, because I really like that phrase: a sustained maximum intensity of moving reverence. And our arguments for bringing children to worship, of course, will only carry weight with parents who really love that, who really love to meet God in worship and really want their kids to get that and grow up breathing that air. The greatest stumbling block for children in worship is parents who don’t cherish doing that worship.

This proceeds from the Neo-Calvinist way of looking at things, in which everything begins and ends with the greatness and glory of God.  The idea is that God is something so great, so completely and totally other than us, that we have no choice but to fall upon our faces before him in absolute, mind-blowing worship.  Anything less is unworthy of our unfathomably great and glorious God.

Now I am not arguing that any of this is not true, i. e. that God is not great or glorious or deserving of worship.  What I am arguing is that if you make that your starting point, if you make that the end-all, be-all of the Christian faith, you end up with a monumentally incomplete and unbalanced view of God.  It is, in fact, a view of God which would be much more at home in Islam than in anything remotely resembling biblical Christianity.

As Christians we have a story to tell.  It is a story that begins and ends at the cross.  It is the story of how this great and glorious God set about to redeem and restore a creation broken and marred by sin by choosing and calling a people of His own.  It is the story of His engagement with this people, the people of Israel, which reached its unexpected climax in the person of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.  That is where our story begins and ends.

The greatness and glory of God is part of our story, to be sure.  But it is not the end-all, be-all of the Christian story.  Making it the end-all, be-all of the Christian story results in a woefully incomplete and unbalanced view of God, and it reduces Jesus Christ, who is in fact the center of our story, to a marginal character at best, an assumed but unimportant presence.

Jonathan Merritt Takes Evangelical Trump Supporters to Task

Today I direct your attention to Jonathan Merritt at The Atlantic, who gives evangelical Trump supporters who opposed Bill Clinton back in the 90’s a well-deserved taking to task.

To many evangelicals back in the 90’s, Bill Clinton was a lying, pot-smoking, draft-dodging womanizer who was the poster child for everything that was wrong with America.  And when Monica Lewinski emerged from the Oval Office with that famously semen-stained dress, that ratcheted up the evangelical opposition to Bill Clinton by several notches.  It was all about character, we said.  Bill Clinton didn’t have it.

Two decades later and here we are, with evangelicals falling all over themselves in support of Donald Trump, a lying, foul-mouthed, draft-dodging womanizer who is every bit as deficient in character as Bill Clinton ever was, if not more so.  This shows that it is really not about character, as we said.  Instead, it is all about power and cultural influence, and resorting to any means, no matter how underhanded, to get it.

Read:  Trump-Loving Christians Owe Bill Clinton an Apology by Jonathan Merritt

Wayne Grudem: Voting for Donald Trump is a Moral Imperative

trump

An updated listing of those who have endorsed Donald Trump:

  • Dolores Umbridge
  • The hunter who shot Bambi’s mother
  • Skeletor
  • A gun with flames drawn on it
  • A grease fire in the kitchen at Denny’s
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
  • The mullet hairstyle
  • A continuous loop of “Sweet Home Alabama”
  • Kid Rock
  • An actual rock
  • A robot programmed to be racist
  • The word “humbuggery”
  • The Spanish Inquisition
  • The white rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • A literal ticking time bomb
  • A disgusting fart no one will admit to
  • That feeling you get right before you die
  • Wayne Grudem

I’m not kidding about that last one, people.  Wayne Grudem, Mr. Systematic Theology himself, has now endorsed Donald Trump.

Who is Wayne Grudem?  you ask.

Wayne Grudem is the name when it comes to systematic theology in evangelicalism.  He has written an almost 1300-page book on systematic theology which is required reading in many places in evangelicalism.  Lately Grudem has come to fancy himself an expert in public policy; a few years back he wrote a 600-plus page textbook which purports to offer a biblical understanding of contemporary political issues.  Now he has given us a 5000-plus word article in which he attempts to offer a moral justification for voting for Donald Trump.

I have said this before and will say it again:  Donald Trump is an idiot.  He says and does the most spectacularly inane things anytime the cameras are on him.  He has run not one but two businesses into the ground.  He has had multiple wives and cheated on them multiple times, bragging salaciously about it in the process (Marla Maples, anyone?).  He is vindictive toward those who disagree with him.  He is painfully and embarrassingly slow to distance himself from David Duke and others on the lunatic Neo-Nazi fringe.  He is hateful toward Mexicans, Muslims, and other immigrants.  He routinely says and does the most misogynistic and inappropriate things toward women, especially those in his own family.  He has suggested that he would order American soldiers to commit war crimes (he would later backtrack under pressure on that), and on countless other occasions shown that he knows less about foreign affairs than your middle-school child.  He traffics in absurd conspiracy theories, including that stubbornly persistent urban legend that childhood vaccinations cause autism.  Shall I continue?

A Hillary Clinton presidency would be morally repugnant, in some respects at least.  But a Donald Trump presidency would be nothing short of ruinous folly.

Yet in Grudem’s piece, he goes beyond merely attempting to excuse the inexcusable and defend the indefensible, arguing that there is in fact a categorical Christian imperative to excuse the inexcusable and defend the indefensible in support of Donald Trump.

Grudem starts out honestly enough, listing a few of Donald Trump’s many flaws and seeming to have reservations about supporting him:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages.

Yet from there he goes on to say that Donald Trump is in fact “a good candidate with flaws” and that these flaws are not sufficient to disqualify him from consideration, while many other areas of concern are nothing more than the result of him being misunderstood and quoted out of context, victimized by a biased media.  He argues on the basis of Jeremiah 29:7 (“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”) that as Christians we are obligated to seek the welfare of the nation with our vote.  He then paints a frightening picture of what America would look like under a Hillary Clinton administration and the far-left activist judiciary that would inevitably follow with respect to abortion, religious liberty, economic policy, immigration, foreign affairs, energy policy, healthcare, executive orders, etc., and offers a vision of what America would look like under a Donald Trump administration which is so unabashedly rosy that even I am almost persuaded.  He brings it all together as follows:

…The most likely result of voting for Trump is that he will govern the way he promises to do, bringing much good to the nation.

But the most likely result of not voting for Trump is that you will be abandoning thousands of unborn babies who will be put to death under Hillary Clinton’s Supreme Court, thousands of Christians who will be excluded from their lifelong occupations, thousands of the poor who will never again be able to find high-paying jobs in an economy crushed by government hostility toward business, thousands of inner-city children who will never be able to get a good education, thousands of the sick and elderly who will never get adequate medical treatment when the government is the nation’s only healthcare provider, thousands of people who will be killed by an unchecked ISIS, and millions of Jews in Israel who will find themselves alone and surrounded by hostile enemies. And you will be contributing to a permanent loss of the American system of government due to a final victory of unaccountable judicial tyranny.

When I look at it this way, my conscience, and my considered moral judgment tell me that I must vote for Donald Trump as the candidate who is most likely to do the most good for the United States of America.

Many in the blogosphere have written responses to Grudem’s piece, including David French at National Review, Scot McKnight, Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service, and Amy Gannett.  You can read what they have to say; I will add my own thoughts.

–First of all, where does Grudem get off making these moral pronouncements in support of Donald Trump?

I am a blogger.  As such it is my calling and vocation to offer my unsolicited opinion on subjects about which I know nothing.  Grudem is doing essentially the same thing, yet passing it off as expert analysis derived from the application of his systematic theology to the field of contemporary politics.  This sort of behavior is rampant in conservative Christianity and it stems from a view of the Bible where you start with the Bible as the inspired word of God and arrive at the conclusion that the Bible gives you automatic, infallible expert knowledge on any subject it addresses.

There is nothing wrong with offering your unsolicited opinion on a given subject.  Just don’t attempt to argue that your opinion is a moral imperative binding upon all Christians and that to resist said imperative is sin.

–Next, is “seeking the good of the city” really connected to voting in a certain way, as Grudem seems to intimate that it is?

Ever since Reagan, evangelicalism has inextricably linked itself to Republican politics.  It has now come to a point where “conservative” and “evangelical” are inextricably linked in the public consciousness, despite the fact that there is a great deal of diversity in evangelicalism.  Grudem has taken this alignment and ratcheted it up several notches.

Jesus never promised us that we would have any role in shaping culture.  Much of Scripture was written under the assumption that God’s people (whether Israel or the Church) would have no say in shaping the politics or culture of the world in which they lived.  It is clear from Scripture that the passages on “seeking the good of the city” do not envision attempting to gain political power or cultural influence and then using said influence to reshape society according to a set of ideological principles which claim to be drawn from Scripture.

–Next, is Hillary Clinton so morally reprehensible that she must be defeated and denounced in the strongest possible way, at any and all possible cost?

As noted above, a Hillary Clinton presidency would be morally repugnant in some respects.  There is the elitist air about her, which says that she and the elite class she is part of know what is best for America and that anyone who disagrees is shamefully stupid and woefully ignorant.  There is her tie to the scandals of the Bill Clinton administration, in which she was excruciatingly complicit.

Indeed, the whole Democratic enterprise of which Hillary Clinton is part, is repugnant because it arises out of a classical Western liberalism which, in the name of tolerance and inclusion, says that you and I are nothing more than interchangeable parts in the machine that is society and culture.  People are inherently good; they are only victimized by corrupt systems which need to be dismantled and replaced with more enlightened and benevolent structures.  There is no conception that we are dead people who need to be brought back to life, to be reconciled with God and with each other.

Yet hasn’t the Democratic project accomplished some good in our world?  People talk about how awful political correctness is, and yes, it has come too far.  Yet it is now impossible for public figures to demean and belittle women and minorities (all people for whom Christ died, I feel compelled to note) and go unnoticed–how is that not a good thing?  Professionally there are more well-paying opportunities available to women than ever before, and in the world of academia there are more female voices than ever before–how are these not good things?

–Finally, does Donald Trump really represent “the good of the city”?

As noted above, a Donald Trump presidency would be ruinous folly.  Grudem gives an unabashedly rosy depiction of what America would look like under a Donald Trump presidency, yet it is all based on the assumption that Donald Trump will do all that he has said he will do in this campaign.  If we know anything about Donald Trump, especially given what we are seeing in recent days, it is that he is woefully unstable.  It would be ruinous folly to assume that Donald Trump will do all that he said he would do, or that even if he did it would work out as well as advertised by Grudem.

In order to arrive at the conviction that Donald Trump is a morally good choice, as Grudem does, you have to believe that some concerns about Trump are just not that pressing.  Namely, those concerns which arise from his attitude toward and treatment of women and minorities.

Every person you will ever come eyeball-to-eyeball with is a person for whom Christ died.  Yet Donald Trump wants us to believe that some of those people count for nothing because they are women or immigrants or minorities.  Grudem wants us to believe that this counts for nothing.  It doesn’t, people.

When you consider this, ask yourself the question:  What does love require of me?  If you can make a clear and convincing case that what love requires of you is to vote for Donald Trump, then hey, go do it.  But as for me, I refuse to believe that what love requires of me is to vote for a candidate whose message is none other than anger and hatred for Mexicans, Muslims, and other immigrants, dehumanization and objectification of women, and a good solid dose of Donald Trump to solve all the world’s problems.  Grudem’s arguments have not convinced me in the least, and I don’t think they should convince you either.

The guy who wrote your systematic theology textbook gets it wrong sometimes, people.  And he has got it wrong this time.  Please please please, for the love of God, do not pay attention to a word he says.

Pastor Challenges Women to Arm Wrestle Him

In today’s news of the weird and somewhat disturbing, I direct your attention today to pastor Steven Anderson.  In the midst of a recent sermon about his take on the verses which say that the husband is head of the wife, he challenged women who disagree with him to arm wrestle him:

… I challenge any woman right now to come up and arm wrestle me… I’m gonna make the challenge that I’ve made over and over again… I’m not the strongest man in the world! Any woman can come up and arm wrestle me right now. And if you can come up and defeat me in an arm wrestling match, I’ll admit that women are as strong as men.

Anyone?

… I’ve had about five women take me up on that over the years, and they all went down, and they went down hard, alright?

For your viewing pleasure I have linked the video below:

Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Orlando Tragedy, and Conservative Evangelicalism’s Not-So-Peachy Relationship with the Gay Community

While we are on the subject of Nadia Bolz-Weber, I would like to direct your attention to a sermon she preached in response to the Orlando tragedy a couple of weeks back.

In my review of Accidental Saints, I noted that there is much about her life and story to shove the evangelical gag reflexes into overdrive.  There is the progressive politics for which her strain of Lutheranism is known, the radical activism and resulting swath of scorched earth and burned bridges and denial of the existence of very real human differences, all in the name of tolerance and inclusiveness.  This shines through clearly in her response to a tragic shooting which was targeted directly at the gay community.

She references a piece by blogger Ben Moberg from his response to the tragedy:

And this is what I love about God: The Church has driven out LGBTQ people for centuries, with an especially intense malice over the last several decades, and in response to this, God just says, okay, fine, we’re good out here. Where you chase my people, I will be with them. Where they gather, I will be there. Clubs. Conversations. Protests. In lament and anger and tears and laughter and way too many drinks. I will be with them and make this right for them. I will love them more fiercely for their wounds. I will draw them close. I will know them and they will know me. They will tell you my name.

…and one almost gets the impression that there is a certain sanctity inherent in gays and other minorities by virtue of the fact that they suffer persecution at the hands of mainstream society.  In fact, the Moberg piece screams “Look at us (the queer community) if you want to see God moving in the world today”, a sentiment which I find equally distasteful whether it is coming from the Tim Challies and Al Mohlers of the world or from one of the oppressed and marginalized who are the special focus of God’s care and concern.  It is as if homosexuality is all part of God’s good and beautiful order for the world.

Heads up, people:  It’s not.

Homosexuality was never part of the divine pattern for marriage.  All along it was one man and one woman for life, and it was never anything different.  That is a conversation we have to have at some point, and I don’t see very many places in progressive Christianity where that conversation is being had.  So if your evangelical gag reflexes are kicking in at this point, I am totally with you.

And yet, this haunts me.  It grabs hold of my heart and will not let go.  Why?  Because it is the voice of a people who are oppressed and marginalized, a voice crying out to God to see their suffering, hear their anguish, and make it right for them.  Though there is no automatic sanctity for gays by virtue of their oppressed minority status, though homosexuality is not by any stretch of the imagination part of the divine pattern for marriage or part of God’s good order for our world–even so, God still hears their cries.  He will make things right for them.  He will call the perpetrators of this injustice to account.

For though homosexuality is not part of God’s good order for our world, the fact remains that we live in a fallen world.  Many things do not function the way God intended.  Human sexuality is one of them.  Thus it stands to reason that a small percentage of the population will be homosexual, or at least be predisposed toward homosexuality.  Some of these people are going to be in our churches, whether we want them there or not, whether we even know they are there or not.  We must make space for these people, in some form or fashion.

Our movement has, by and large, done a horrible job of this.  Though we are called by God to love all people, we see the biblical prohibitions of homosexual activity as clear license to shit on gays and the gay community and any who sympathise with them.  Well-known and respected evangelical leaders opine about the importance of the “gag reflex” when discussing homosexuality, while others opine that any attempt to make space for gays in our midst is “cultural capitulation” and is to be denounced in the strongest possible terms.  And when a well-known Christian organization announces that it will in limited circumstances hire gays, we howl and yell and scream so loud that in only days they reverse that decision.

That is not right, people.

Though it may push the evangelical gag reflex into overdrive when it seems that gays are accorded a certain sanctity by sheer virtue of the fact that they suffer persecution and discrimination (and believe me I’m right there with you, feeling the gag reflex too), the reality is that God has made it immensely clear that He is concerned with how other people are treated.  There is an abundance of Scripture to back this up.  So more than likely God is going to have some things to say about our engagement with the gay community.  And they will not be good.

Every person you will ever come eyeball-to-eyeball with is a person for whom Jesus died.  As a church we are going to have to answer for our treatment of people for whom Jesus died.  So even if there is no sanctity inherent in the gay community merely because they experience persecution and hate from mainstream society (there isn’t), the truth remains that they are people for whom Christ died.  For that reason God is immensely concerned with how we treat them.  God sees their suffering and marginalization, and He will make it right for them and call the perpetrators and all who support them to account.

We have got to figure out ways to make space for gays in our church communities.  It is no longer good enough (as if it ever was) to say that being gay is an automatic bar to being Christian.  Otherwise, we are just as bad as the liberals who, in the name of tolerance and inclusiveness, deny that there are any differences between human beings (any that matter, at any rate) and reduce us all to identical, interchangeable parts in the machine that is human society.