In Which I Revisit the Evangelical Circus

I don’t know who invented the phrase “evangelical circus,” but in many ways it describes exactly the Christianity I left behind many years ago.* I can’t speak for all churches, or even many, but the few I have been involved in were certainly circus-like in their unrelenting desire to entertain the audience, with never a wasted moment. As I said, I left that world behind years ago, and I’m now a part of a smaller church that focuses more on worship, community, and holiness than felt needs and Christotainment.

This past month, I went back to the evangelical circus and found myself even more confused than I was 10 years ago. Below you’ll find my thoughts on what I experienced, but please take these observations and criticisms only so far and with a grain of salt. I have different obligations now, and don’t have the context to completely understanding what is going on. I also would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I don’t believe my current tradition is perfect; it certainly has its many flaws and no doubt an evangelical church-goer would be confused by the liturgy and its insistence on the spoken Word. Continue reading

Stop Reading Blogs

Typical Blog Comment

Dear Reformed Blog Reader, or “That Guy”:

What I’m about to write here, I mean in all truth, sincerity, and brotherly love. My goal is not to offend or create a flame war, rather I just want to tell you the truth (in love). So, here goes.

Please stop reading blogs. For the love of all that is decent in this sinful world, stop going to your feed reader, stop checking in with the Reformed Baptists, and please, for the love of God, stop commenting on these blogs.

I don’t write this selfishly; I can easily avoid reading these blogs and your idiotic comments. I write this for your health, and for the health of those you love: Stop. Reading. Blogs. It’s for your own good, like when your mom took away your security blanket. You need this.

If I can be blunt here, you are really annoying (I’m struggling with language, my baser instincts tell me to be honest and say “You’re a douchebag.”) All this constant blog reading, trying to straighten up everyone’s theology, and especially the comments about how everyone but you (and your church of 20) has gone down the path of worldliness, well, it’s gone on long enough.

Please, just stop it. Go out and do something else. Leave all of your theology books behind and go out and enjoy life. Go to a park and see how much fun a slide is. Pet a puppy. Talk to a girl. If you’re married, try talking to your wife about something she‘s interested in. Go to the mall and have an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. Watch one of those really crappy Syfy movies on a Saturday afternoon. Please, just do something other than blog reading.

Listen, I’ve been where you are. I’ve looked around and seen all of the errors, and I have wanted with all of my heart to correct everyone’s theology. In the end, it’s just not worth it. You are not doing anyone any good; condemning people to hell with a keystroke might seem like fun, but it’s ruining you.

When you come back, the world will still be here (assuming you aren’t reading this is 2012, because if you are, you’re screwed). Christians who confess Jesus Christ as Lord will still be doing something wrong. But maybe, prayerfully, you’re perspective will have changed. Maybe you will see that change doesn’t always require turning over tables and telling people to castrate themselves (I’m not denying there aren’t times when this is required). Change can oftentimes be achieved by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope it helps.

Your friend,


PS–If you are thinking about commenting, keep in mind the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

To You Who Has Blessed Us

Our Father:

To you who has blessed us, has made us to prosper, and has loved us. To you we bring these gifts and offerings of our own free will.

We know, o Father, that your Son was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, giving up all of his riches so that we might live. He made himself poor, so that we might obtain riches. It is this love that propels us to give according to our means, and even beyond our means, to your church.

We ask you, our Father, that you give us the ability to excel in this grace of giving, that we may prove, both to you, ourselves, and the world, the earnestness of our love.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who sits at your right hand and reigns forever more.


Why the Obama Antichrist Email is Important

Since I first posted on the email saying the Bible teaches Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, I’ve received a number of emails and a few comments suggesting that I am any number of unmentionable things, including a racist anti-Christ.  Not once did I actually ever say I believed Sen. Obama is the anti-Christ (unless you count sarcasm), but people’s perceptions about my hidden intent made them believe I was saying just that.  In fact, even after making it clear I do not believe the email, people still wrote to me claiming I did believe it “in my heart.”

So why do I keep subjecting myself to this?  Aside from the humor of it (and don’t get me wrong, I find it amusing to no end), is there any reason to even bring up this crap?  I mean, it seems to be doing nothing other than getting people mad.  Well, I believe there is a purpose to posting on these emails, and it has everything to do with the Gospel.

First, it’s important because people actually believe this stuff.  I still know some co-workers who are against Obama because he won’t put his hand over his heart when the national anthem is playing, or he was sworn into the Senate with a Koran.  Even after pointing out, with proof, that it’s not true, these people still persist in believing he’s some kind of secret Muslim terrorist.

For some reason, and I really don’t know if I completely understand it, when some people get an email that confirms their suspicions, they hold onto that belief despite any and all evidence to the contrary.  So, these lies need to be brought into the light and mocked.  I suppose I’m contradicting myself, because I know they probably won’t change their minds, but the more absurd we can make these lies, the better.

I’m not telling people to support Obama, but if you’re going to be against him, be against him for what he actually does believe, not some lie you read in an email.  And the same goes for Sen. McCain.

Second, and perhaps the most serious, pointing out this email is important because someone, in the name of Christianity, is lying.  This email, and many others like it, are bald faced lies.  I don’t know the author, so it could be someone pulling a prank; I’ve often thought of making up an email about a supposed threat, just to see how long it takes to get back to me.  But assuming it isn’t, some person out there sat down at their computer and composed an email full of lies for the express purpose of defaming a man’s character (to say nothing of connecting it to an innocent man, Dr. John Tisdale).  This is serious stuff, and if I were the one doing it, my church would probably have something to say to me about it.

Finally, I find it important to bring up this email and mock it because it advances unbiblical teachings.  I have never tried to be a discernment blogger, nor do I think I’m smart enough to be one, but the crap in this email purporting to be biblical truth needs to be pointed out for what it is.  I don’t know of a single respected dispensationalist who teaches what is found in this email.  I know there’s a rich history of “discovering who the anti-Christ really is”, but not in serious academic circles.  If this is really what is being taught in some churches, then it is a sad commentary on the state of Christianity.

So, I bring up and mock this email, not because I’m a McCain supporter (I’m not), or because I’m a racist in the KKK (I’m not and I don’t even know where they would meet or how you would sign up), nor because I am the anti-Christ myself (I don’t think someone can accept Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God and be anti-Christ) but because it’s full of crap and needs to be made fun of.

N.T. Wright on Biblical Authority

Debates about the authority of scripture have tended to get off on the wrong foot and to turn into an unproductive shouting-match. This is partly because here, as in matters of political theology, in the words of Jim Wallis ‘the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it’. And sometimes the other way round as well. We have allowed our debates to be polarized within the false either/or of post-enlightenment categories, so that we either see the Bible as a holy book, almost a magic book, in which we can simply look up detached answers to troubling questions, or see it within its historical context and therefore claim the right to relativize anything and everything we don’t immediately like about it. These categories are themselves mistaken; the Bible itself helps us to challenge them; and when we probe deeper into the question, ‘what does it mean to say that the Bible is authoritative’, we discover a new and richer framework which simultaneously enables us to be deeply faithful to scripture and energizes and shapes us, corporately and individually, for our urgent mission into tomorrow’s world. Read the rest here.

Bishop Wright, as he is wont to do, seems to put things into categories that no one is going to be comfortable with.  In that sense, I would kind-of, sort-of disagree with him.  The rest of the section, which is linked to, is spot on.  Talking about the authority of the Scriptures without first talking about the authority of Jesus Christ himself is pointless.  As he says, “When the risen Jesus commissions his followers for their worldwide mission, he does not say ‘all authority in heaven and earth is given to – the books you people are going to go and write.’.”  The Scriptures, in so far as they have authority, speak from Christ’s authority and nothing less.

Spirit Led Preaching

Discussions about preaching, in my opinion, are usually too inside-baseball for me.  Even though I do frequently preach and listen to a good number of sermons, hearing/reading people talk about sermon preparation is just about as interesting as hearing someone talk about how they create Powerpoint presentations.  Maybe I’m just comfortable in the way I preach and feel that my shortcomings (which are many) have less to do with delivery and more to do with my character.

Nonetheless, I’m going to talk about preaching, specficially whether or not to use notes when you preach.  Scot McKnight, in talking about a new book that advocates no-notes preaching, raises the question.  The author, Fred Lybrand, gives many reasons we should not preach with notes, but this one stuck out to me:

Holy Spirit led. Obvious and potentially a source of abuse and an excuse for lack of preparation. Still, Lybrand gets this right. Preaching on the feet is more susceptible to Spirit guidance — in the moment — than reading the ms [manuscript]. But, Spirit guidance occurs as well in the writing of the ms. But it is not in the moment. (McKnight’s summary; it should also be pointed out I have not read this book, I’m reacting to this comment alone.)

This is something I’ve heard since I first started preaching (at 20 or so), and never quite understood.  Why is it that the Spirit leads more “in the moment” and less in the office?  Is this true?  Is the act of speaking before the congregation somehow more spiritual than preparing beforehand?

If this is true, and it should be obvious I don’t think it is, then why don’t we come up with songs on the spot?  Shouldn’t a congregational song, an act of worship, be Spirit lead and spontaneous?  What about prayers?  Is it wrong that I ask the people who are collecting the offering to spend time preparing a prayer before Sunday morning?  And what about churches that use liturgy?  Are they less Spirit-led than others?

Now that I’ve asked a lot of questions, let me get down to some answers.  No, it is not true that those who preach without notes are more Spirit-led than those who do.  I’ve seen preachers read their manuscripts and it was obvious the Spirit was in it; I’ve also seen preachers who are making it up on the spot and it was obvious they were just rambling, getting things off of their chest.  And I’ve seen the exact opposite.  The problem with making such generalizations is that they are almost always wrong.

The pastor who spends time studying, reading, and writing is proving that he cares for his people.  There is no reason to believe the Spirit is not guiding him (or her, if you don’t mind me saying) while sitting at his desk.  He is ostensibly bathing the sermon in prayer, crafting each portion knowing the condition of the people in the church and what their unique needs/problems/gifts are. 

Just for the sake of disclosure, I should point out that I use minimal notes while preaching, and usually just refer to them if I get lost.  I write the majority of my sermons in my head, although I do spend a good deal of time studying. 

Anyone who has ever spoken before a large group of people knows that you might need to change things on the fly.  You might be running out of time, certain portions might be redundant to your audience, your jokes might not be going over well, etc.  But the fact that you write out your sermon beforehand, and use notes while preaching, does not mean you aren’t Spirit-led, it means you want to keep your language precise and concise and yourself from running off on tangents and soapboxes.

So, what do you think?  For those who preach, do you use notes (or a full manuscript)?  If  you don’t, what is your preparation like?  For those who listen to sermons, do you care?  What are your experiences with either kind of preaching?

A Prayer for Labor Day

Labor Day, being an American civic holiday, has little to do with the church.  While many churches celebrate other non-religious holidays (Memorial Day, 4th of July, etc.) this day is largely ignored.  (Perhaps because conservative Christians are often at odds with organized labor?)  Work, however, does have much to do with the Christian, and as such I find this prayer apt.

St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, is the Catholic patron saint of workers.  The hope of this prayer is that we will live the example that he, as well as others such as Peter and Paul, have set before us.  To work is a mandate from God, no matter who we are (or what Child we are responsible for).

O God, the Creator of all things, You have laid the law of labor upon the human race. Grant, we beseech You, that by the example of St. Joseph we may perform the work You command and attain to the reward that You promise. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When a Church Becomes a Cult

The word cult gets thrown around a lot these days.  For the most part, a Christian definition of a cult is a group that believes something close to Christianity but misses on an essential doctrine that puts it firmly outside of orthodoxy (and we all know what our dads said about close…).  A more precise definition of a cult is any group, whether orthodox or not, that closely controls its members behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions.

Using this method, and taking it is a general truth that orthodoxy does not necessarily equal orthopraxy, it’s easy to see that many churches can become cultic in practice, to the detriment of the Gospel.  (And I’m using the word cult in the modern sense of the word, not the original meaning.)  So, what are some ways that a church can become a cult and what can we as Christians do about it?

First, when a church fosters an us-vs.-them mentality.  To a certain extent, this will happen in any church, because of what we believe, but it can be taken to an extreme.  “The world is against us and we alone are holding onto true Christianity.”  “Modern Christianity has given over to worldliness, but we stand true.”

Whether it’s the world, other denominations/sects, or other churches, this kind of thinking can lead to a distrust of outsiders and greater reliance on the grace dispensed by the church.  Think about it, if you are constantly taught that only your church/group remains true to the Gospel, how could you ever leave?  A church can become a cult when its members are only a part of a small, insular community, never a part of the world at large.

Second, when submission to leadership is paramount and dissention is not allowed.  I know that we are to submit to the authorities above us, but often times leaders use that to force church members into unbiblical matters.  They are told what to wear, what to read, what kind of music to listen to, who to associate with, which doctrines are essential (invariably, they all will be), and ultimately what to think.  Anyone who dissents, even lovingly, is branded a trouble maker and ostracized.

Often times, this is couched in “protecting the sheep” language, but it is more accurately a form of control.  Consider approved reading lists, which some churches have been known to employ.  If the pastor believes his people will easily fall victim to every wind of doctrine, then he either does not believe in his own doctrines or is not doing his job in teaching the members.  Either way, the people lose.

Finally (and this isn’t intended to be exhaustive), a church runs the risk of becoming a cult when the preacher/pastor/head guy is the leader, with no other accountability.  An elder is not to be a dictator, but rather a servant.  Too many churches are led by men with way too much power, too many yes men, and zero accountability.  What do many ultra-conservative churches more resemble, Branch Dividians or the church at Jerusalem?

This is not to say that every church is a cult, or even close to becoming one, but that many churches have the potential to becoming very cult-like in their practices.  All the while, they maintain their orthodoxy, but do the members no good because the Gospel isn’t actually lived out.  We, as church members and leaders, must be on constant guard to keep from this error and promote the community Jesus founded.

Obstacles to Community

We are all searching for authentic community in our lives.  While we recognize the church should be the center of this community, we have all (in some way or another) experienced quite the opposite in a church.  Seeking what the church does not give leads us to all sorts of groups that may or may provide us what we truly need.

Randy Frazee, in his book The Connecting Church, identifies three major obstacles to authentic community that the Church must overcome.

Christians were once a part of a close knit group that a part of a larger worldwide movement, with a set of shared values and beliefs.  Individualism is the opposite of this, with each member having a me-first (and perhaps me-only) attitude.  A common mission, as well as mutual submission, tradition, and a recognition of our interdependence, is the break in this obstacle.

Our modern lives can often be lived in complete isolation from each other.  I come home from work, pull my car into the garage, go into my suburban home with no front porch, and maybe play with the kids in our fenced in back yard.  We live with little to no connection to our streets, neighborhoods, and larger communities.  Front porches have been replaced by massive back yard decks and block parties by individual barbecues.

The solution to this, says Frazee, is in rekindling the neighborhood.  The community church is important, where people are not driving long distances to church meetings, but are worshiping close to their homes with their very neighbors.  (Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?)

The final obstacle to authentic community is consumerism.  I’ve written about this elsewhere, but it bears repeating: the amount of stuff we are accumulating is damaging to us both spiritually and psychologically.  We are quick to point out our private property and to set the limits of availability to our brothers and sisters, even while we gain as others suffer.  This is tragic, as we are called to support each other, and not to continue to heap our gains upon our lusts.  The lesson remains, even if we don’t practice it, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

So, these are Pastor Frazee’s obstacles to true community, along with some of his suggestions to remedy them (as well as my own thoughts).  Do you agree with his assessment?  Is it too simplistic?  Too critical?  My thoughts run along his, as I question whether the modern church can provide the solutions without being radically reformed (which is what the missional movement is seeking to do).

Critiquing the Emerging Church

Over the past few weeks I’ve overheard a number of discussions about the emerging church. The people involved in these discussions are intelligent and godly people, but the discussion bothered me because of their lack of charity, accuracy, and honesty. Because of that, I’ve come up with a few ideas to consider when critiquing any movement, although in this case it’s the emerging church movement.  (And keep in mind, I write this as someone who is not “emerging” and has no stake in the debate; all I want is honest dialogue by all involved.)

One of the things you hear a lot is “The emerging church believes…” as if everyone who remotely identifies themselves as emerging believes the same thing.  You can say “they” don’t believe in absolute truth, but you can’t possibly mean everyone believes that.  It’s like saying “Baptists believe drinking alcohol is a sin.”  Really?  Every Baptist does?  Understand there is diversity in the emerging church just as there is in Protestantism, evangelicalism, and Reformed Christianity.

In critiquing any movement, make sure you’ve actually read at least something by someone representing that movement.  It never ceases to amaze me how Calvinists on the one hand get so angry at Arminians who have only read Dave Hunt’s critique of the doctrines of grace while on the other hand critique the emerging church having only read John MacArthur.  Read some of their stuff and engage with that, don’t take someone else’s word for it, even if you respect that person completely. 

Along the same lines, if you read a critique of the emerging church by someone who has not actually conversed with the people he is calling out, be suspicious.  It’s all about being honest when you make a critique, something I hope people would be towards me.

One of the things I’ve observed is people making the worst possible assumptions when an emerging church does something or a leader says something.  Imagine if everything you said was taken to an extreme end, making you seem as if you’re a nutball (assuming of course that aren’t a nutball).  Extend some charity to those with whom you disagree, the same charity you would extend to someone like John Piper, who has been known to say some pretty outrageous things.  It does not mean you have to agree with them, only that you don’t have to assume the worst until you are certain.

As I said before, I have no stake in this.  I’m not emerging, and I really don’t know anyone who is (in real life), so I don’t have a need to defend anyone.  What bothers me is when people I love, people who are my family, people who are godly Christians behave in a way that is unseemly towards other Christians.  This bothers me because in it I see the way I have treated other traditions and how un-Christlike I have been toward other members of the family of God.