I have a soft spot in my heart for locally-produced religious programming, whether it’s good or bad, and I tend to seek it out wherever I can find it. Unfortunately in the age of TBN, saturation syndication of folks like Creflo Dollar, Pat Robertson, and Kenneth Copeland it’s getting hard to find. And that’s a shame. You’ll hear themes and topics on these small-market shows you just won’t hear anywhere else.
CTN is a smallish network based in Florida [link] with I think thirteen affiliates, only one west of the Mississippi. Their programming mostly consists of second-tier health-and-wealth folks; think TBN without the Crouches. Instead their marquee program is a telethon-style show called The Great Awakening, which I think I’ve mentioned before.
I have been picking up their programming on KFXB, their only K-callsign affiliate, based in Dubuque. Right now they run local ministers in their 9:30PM timeslot four nights a week, and they’re a mixed bag [link]: a Presbyterian, a Lutheran, a Baptist, and (wait for it) a graduate of Liberty University.
Let me refer interested viewers to the KFXB YouTube feed [link]. It isn’t easy to find half-hour videos on YouTube with zero views, but you may find one or more linked there. So far I’ve managed to catch Rhonda Wink, she of the hot pink blazers and lime green set, and Jeff Pedersen, whose production values predate the invention of chroma key. At a passing glance the casual viewer may be forgiven for thinking Wink’s show is a children’s show. Or that she just might be Suze Orman with dark hair.
I caught about twenty minutes of Pedersen tonight; I have no idea what his text was, but I can’t remember the last time I heard a preacher call out playing slot machines as a sin. Joe Bob says check it out.
Every pastor has a mental model of the pastorate that he considers normative. Some pastors have a well-defined, explicit model they can describe to you in clear sentences; others take more intuitive approach and decided case by case and instance by instance whether a particular task is their right or responsibility. I’ve even met some pastors who behaved as if everything they saw represented God’s calling on their lives in some sense, so that nothing was beyond their job description.
In contemporary evangelicalism the abstract concept of leadership is pretty popular; John Maxwell, for one, has made a career out of talking about the Bible as some sort of leadership manual, and suggesting that Jesus is the perfect role model for modern leaders. I’ve also heard preachers explicitly claim a right to a “Moses Model” of leadership; and I’ve often heard preachers lay claim (typically implicitly) to a Pauline leadership model, suggesting somehow that they were the prophetic voice speaking to a bunch of barely-Christian pew-sitters with a relationship like Paul the Apostle had to say the Corinthians.
But I rarely hear a preacher lay claim to the offices of Christ; I occasionally hear metaphorical near-nonsense like “our Mother the Church” but never “the Pastor our Savior.” So imagine my surprise when I heard about the recent article in the Orthodox Presbyterian publication New Horizons with the title above. It was written by someone named Jeffrey A. Landis, and it’s the cover article of the July-August 2011 issue [link].
Having read the article I am tempted to conclude that Landis is just being sloppy; the article is really about how a pastor’s job includes preaching, caring for people, and administrative duties, and Landis grabbed for an apt metaphor that sounded nice, added a weak introduction with this awkward transition
The Shorter Catechism reminds us that Christ, as our mediator, executes the offices of prophet, priest, and king (SC 23). Since pastors are Christ’s representatives, serving as undershepherds of their flock, it is helpful to think of their calling in terms of the same three categories. I have found that I cannot be a faithful pastor if I am not actively involved in all three areas.
And called it a day. And for whatever reasons the editor (Danny E. Olinger), managing editor (James W. Scott), editorial assistant (Patricia Clawson), and editorial board decided not to exercise any editorial options that involved making him rewrite the piece so it didn’t sound like it appropriates the Offices of Christ Himself for your rank and file OPC pastor.
It is a popular and common practice among those of us who try to both think like moderns and believe like Christians to use short but serious-sounding truisms, to wit:
- “Words Mean Things”
- “Theology Matters”
- “What You Win Them With Is What You Win Them To“
And we use these truisms as if they were both obvious and important. We treat them almost as incantations against liberalism, or modernism, or whatever.
So let me offer Landis’s article at the link above as a counterexample. Either words don’t mean things as neatly as we would like, or the folks at New Horizons really can’t tell the difference between an administrator and a King.
I’m not going to suggest that Liberty’s 27-24 loss to Lehigh this past Saturday [link] was God’s judgment on the football team for reinstating defensive lineman Asa Chapman following his arrest for drug possession. That would be presumptive of me.
They probably just ran into a better team; Liberty is unranked in the NCAA FCS top 25; Lehigh is #14 in this week’s coaches poll [link].
Casual readers of this blog may reach the mistaken conclusion that I dislike Issues Etc. I’m not. I’m grateful for Issues Etc. and wish there were more programs like it.
That being said, I am sometimes given to wonder if it is meant to inform “the thinking Christian” or whether it is meant to reinforce Lutheran prejudices and keep Lutherans from engaging with different points of view.
I would take as a case in point a recent appearance by Craig Parton, a lawyer from California, who visited to discuss a recently-released report on international religious freedom [link]. Parton’s visit is mostly uneventful, but with about six minutes to go he starts to talk about religious freedom in Israel. That’s the modern nation-state of Israel, of course, the one founded in 1948; not the ancient people group descended from the biblical character Abraham via his grandson Jacob.
Parton is right to point out that Israel has a poor record on religious freedom; but then for some reason he takes what is apparently a compulsory swipe at Evangelicals when he says
Some Evangelicals give the impression that salvation has already obtained by the Jews.
Parton, as a lawyer, should know better than to make a statement like this: first because he doesn’t go on to name any names, and second because he’s using what are sometimes called weasel words [link] by placing the emphasis on a received impression (by whom?) instead of on an action actually done by his anonymous Evangelicals.
Let me be clear about this: I don’t know any Evangelicals who say salvation has already been obtained by “the Jews.” I will offer the usual reward (my undying gratitude) to anyone who can find me a YouTube video of any Evangelical leader saying anything of the kind.
In the interest of fairness I occasionally hear the same sort of anonymous aspersions cast by fundamentalists and Evangelicals when they speaking vaguely but knowingly of “replacement theology.” This is usually followed closely by a reference to Hitler, or the Nazis generally, and is similarly unhelpful. But that’s another post for another day, when I’ve got an archival example to refer to.
As even the most casual reader of this blog is well aware I am a graduate of Liberty University. I first became aware of Johnnie Moore during the Ergun Caner episode, where Moore was responsible for press relations as a University spokesman during the period of time that it was becoming clear that Caner had misrepresented his personal story as a convert to Christianity from a Muslim background [e.g. link]. That’s probably the most polite way I can put what happened and Moore’s role in the controversy. A less gracious way to put it would be to say that Caner lied, Liberty prevaricated, and Moore was on occasion the public face of that prevarication.
So let’s just take it as read that I connected the dots here between Moore’s involvement in the Caner situation and the title of his new book.
Moore is the campus pastor at Liberty. It’s a difficult job to be a campus pastor anywhere and not many people do it well. This is Moore’s first full academic year in the position; he replaces Dwayne Carson, who left in the spring to be an assistant pastor at a church in Ohio. I honestly couldn’t tell you who the campus pastor was during my time as an undergraduate there in the late Eighties; he might have been Gary Aldridge; I’m not sure. I worked most Sundays and rarely attended church on campus, and we had so many guest speakers at church and at chapel it would have been difficult for anyone to have engaged in real pulpit ministry in the position at the time. I’m hoping that in the interim there have been changes, etc.
I have to admit that I’ve got pretty modest expectations for Moore’s book. Here’s the bio from his Amazon page [link]:
Johnnie Moore is a twenty-something Christian who is also the vice president and campus pastor of Liberty University, the world’s largest Christian university (with more than 70,000 students). He is a popular speaker, a professor of religion, a communication advisor to educators, preachers, and politicians. He is on the board of trustees of World Help, leads North America’s largest weekly gathering of Christian young people (10,000 students) and has led hundreds of students on humanitarian and missionary excursions to more than 20 nations.
Turns out Moore is 28. If he graduated college at 22 that means he’s been in the workforce for 6 years; it looks like he’s spent most of that time communicating, advising, and speaking. Perhaps he’s been on some sort of arduous spiritual journey that doesn’t show up in the blurb above; perhaps he’s wise beyond his years; perhaps God has singled him out for some sort of special purpose I can’t imagine. All these things are possible; I might humbly suggest they’re all unlikely.
Regardless, the book is currently reasonably priced as a Kindle e-book at only $2.51. At that price I’m willing to give it a try.
I’ve been so busy with so many things lately I’ve only had time for recreational reading when I’m actually on an airplane, and then mostly just during the parts of the flight that are unsafe for electronics and not too bumpy. I’ve been trying to catch up on the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, particularly in the period 1975-1990 or so, during what is sometimes called the Conservative Resurgence. I’m a couple of volumes into James Hefley’s six-volume The Truth in Crisis, which is a mix of straight reporting and argument for the conservative position, and I’ve found myself returning to Fisher Humphreys’s 1994 book The Way We Were, which deals more with the ideas behind the moderate position.
I’m picking “conservative” and “moderate” here after Hefley’s use of the terms, without necessarily agreeing that this is the right way to describe the conflict. Humphreys’s description of the conflict is cleaner; Hefley gives more of the nuance. “Conservative” and “moderate” are probably better terms for describing the ideological conflict; they’re not as helpful in describing the politics.
Humphrey lays out the conflict in historical terms as a sort of sea change: the Convention has always had a set of majority traditions and a set of minority traditions, and in the present conflict that balance is changing somehow. This descriptive formulation has with it a near-twin prescriptive formulation that goes something like this: “these traditions are Baptist; those traditions are not,” and for Humphreys the change in balance among various traditions is a betrayal of Baptist heritage.
He lays out the groups of traditions by first locating the Baptists in the context of Christian historical belief: as Christian, as Protestant, as uniquely Baptist, and as revivalist. It’s important to note that Humphreys is making a distinction between the latter two; I am inclined to see this as the imprint in Humphreys’s analysis of a demographic reality that loomed large in the political fight, namely that the conservative churches typically had lots of baptisms while the moderate churches typically had relatively few. But that’s another topic for another day.
Here’s Humphreys’s list of beliefs Baptists share with all Christians:
- There is one God
- God created the world
- The world is a fallen world
- God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- The Father sent His Son into the world
- Jesus lived, preached, taught, loved, died, and rose again, to save the world
- The Father and the Son poured out the Holy Spirit on the Church
- The Spirit guides and empowers the Church on its world mission
- The Church preaches the Gospel and observes the ordinances of Christ
- God will complete His work in the future
- The Bible tells us this wonderful story
Humphreys appeals to the Baptist Faith and Message and The Baptist Hymnal as evidence that Southern Baptists believe these things; he doesn’t really have a reference to say that they are shared by all Christians, but I’m willing to give him a pass on that. I don’t know how I would go about proving “all Christians” believe almost any particular thing; the believers define the belief and vice versa and it’s a matter of choice whether we situate one or the other as fundamental. Beyond that I have to say that there are specific beliefs or practices that may from one perspective define a particular believer as either a heterodox Christian or an apostate, and between the two there are often distinctions but not differences.
It’s a helpful list, though, and there’s not much I can disagree with here. He appeals to 2 Corinthians 5 for his use of the word “world” in point 6 and doesn’t elaborate; point 7 has one of the shortest discussions, and he ignores any questions of whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or the Father and the Son; he says “ordinances” instead of “sacraments” in point 9; he explicitly defers the question of inerrancy in point 11. I think given the nature of the discussion this is a pretty helpful list. For those of us who grew up without creeds and confessions (a point Humphreys returns to later) it is sometimes helpful to try to write down a list like this.
Next Humphreys situates the Southern Baptist Convention as a Protestant denomination, and again he’s more focused on beliefs rather than history. But that’s another topic for another post.
Here’s a great article [link] from the Kansas City Star, written by Judy Thomas and Laura Bauer, about the foreclosure on First Family Church in Overland Park, Kansas. It’s medium-long and full of facts, and it supports the thesis that even in hard times churches don’t fail financially unless there’s been some sort of pastoral malfeasance. Here’s an example:
Neither Johnston nor the church board has ever revealed his compensation. But a February court filing by Regions Bank related to the foreclosure put Johnston’s annual salary as of August 2010 at $400,000; his son, Jeremy, at $210,000; and son-in-law Christian Newsome at $180,000. Johnston’s wife, Christie, made $60,000, the document said, and his daughters, Danielle Newsome and Jenilee Johnston, earned $40,000 and $25,000. That totals $915,000.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if a pastor puts family members on the payroll it’s a good indication something fishy’s going on.
Oh and: as a Liberty University graduate I’m disappointed to see Jerry Falwell’s name mentioned repeatedly in this article, including
For example, Johnston referred to himself as “Dr. Jerry” for years until questions were raised, and the title was prominently displayed on a large sign at First Family Church’s entrance. It was an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree he received from Falwell’s Liberty University in 1998 when he was the speaker for a baccalaureate service.
I wanted to point out a fascinating discussion with Mark Chaves, Duke University professor of sociology of religion at (wait for it) Issues Etc. [link]. He’s discussing his recent book, with findings summarized at Duke Today here [link]. Here are some interesting quotes:
Americans attend church less often than they say they do. About 25 percent of Americans attend religious services, which is lower than the 35 to 40 percent who claim to do so.
I have no idea how a survey can discern this. Just saying. Regardless, 25% seems high to me. There must be very religious towns somewhere picking up the slack.
Chaves challenges the popular belief that religion has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the United States. In fact, traditional religious belief and practice are either stable or in decline, he says.
The public misperception is fed in part by the rise of very visible mega-churches, which suggest that more people are actively religious than is actually true, he adds.
“A 2,000-person church is far more visible than 10 200-person churches,” Chaves says.
I am tempted to say here that because Chaves is a sociologist he picks this measure; I might also suggest that megachurches benefit from an economy of scale, and are more visible because they are in some sense richer and more powerful than their smaller counterparts on a per person basis. I’d love to see an economist answer the same questions; good data would be hard to get since e.g. churches aren’t required to disclose financials via the IRS Form 990.
Santiago Leon has a post today about the return of suspended player Asa Chapman to the Liberty University football team, with video from WSET-TV [link].
I don’t believe the piece actually mentions that Chapman was arrested for possession of cocaine and marijuana; it just mentions a “felony drug arrest.” In my estimation the piece is otherwise fine: it lays out the charges, it gives Coach Rocco ample time to defend his decision, and it draws a straight line between team performance and the decision to return Chapman to the team (they’re 1-2 and facing Lehigh Saturday).
During my time at Liberty students who got caught doing something dismissal-worthy disappeared literally overnight. I definitely got the impression that students were often tricked into making some sort of confession with a false promise of leniency, and that the standard of justice for serious offenses was unevenly applied. So I am inclined to view the Chapman situation with something of a jaundiced eye; it really looks like there’s one standard of behavior for athletes, another for almost everybody else.
Still, Coach Rocco has a reputation in the community for being something of a stand-up guy who could generally be relied upon to do what is best for the University community, rather than being a win-at-all-costs guy. But that’s mostly based on anecdote and rumor; I think this episode constitutes a real test of character for Rocco in particular and the University in general.
I don’t believe for a split second that anyone arrested for felony drug possession in my day would have been welcomed back on campus. Something must have changed in the meantime, and I’m not sure if it’s for better or worse.
I would like to encourage readers to listen to this [link] visit by LCMS 1st Vice President Herb Mueller with Todd Wilken on Issues Etc. where they discuss the growing shortage of pastoral calls in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. I wish all church organizations were this forthcoming when facing systemic or organizational problems.
In the LCMS churches are to a degree self-governing, and they issue a pastoral call when they have a staff vacancy. There are currently more seminary graduates than there are open positions, and the shortfall has grown over the last several years. According to Mueller this is due in part to tough economic times; pastors of retirement age are deciding to hang on longer because they can’t afford to retire, and as a result they aren’t leaving the workforce and opening positions that could be filled by new seminary graduates.
It has been my experience that churches tend to avoid questions about organizational nuts and bolts unless there’s a crisis, by which time it’s too late to get helpful answers to tough questions. For example: we may not ask whether it’s a good idea to have a member of the pastor’s family be the church treasurer, or whether nursery workers have background checks, or who technically owns a church building, until there is some sort of crisis and we discover substantial spending irregularities, or a predator in our midst, or find out that the pastor or one of the elders can sell church property without consulting the church or returning the proceeds of the sale to the church. We tend to paper over questions about this sort of thing with vague God-talk, without any consideration for whether in the worst case we’ll face a crisis of faith to go without financial or organizational crisis.
So I was surprised when Mueller and Wilken took a call that asked bluntly if God is the one ultimately issuing the calls how there could be a shortage. It’s a fair and unpleasant question, and I will defer to Mueller and Wilken to speak for themselves at the link above rather than try to characterize what they say.
I am tempted to take a cheap shot at Wilken here; he is one of those people who claim that the collapse of Evangelicalism is inevitable if not imminent, and so it seems ironic that his church, which he presents as being part of the solution to the problem of the shallowness/heterodoxy/ahistoricity/whatever of Pop American Evangelicalism would be facing what seems to be a demographic problem while Evangelicalism for all its problems, doesn’t seem to be actually shrinking. But I’m going to pass on the opportunity, not least because a shortage of calls doesn’t mean the LCMS is imploding, and it’s awfully hard to make fair comparisons here anyway.
The easy trap to fall into when looking at long-term demographic trends (or even short-term boom-bust cycles) is to say something like “my church is growing (or shrinking) because we are right; your church is shrinking (or growing) because you are wrong.” I suspect we’d do well to think twice before claiming any of these premises is actually true.