To my eyes the problem with this:
has less to do with gender than it does with a “leader” not knowing how to treat fellow Christians.
Seriously: what does it say about the American church that Mark Driscoll is a celebrity pastor?
I have to admit I don’t understand why “worship leader” replaced “choir leader” or “music leader” as (as they say ) a thing, and I don’t understand why the men who lead music are so much more likely to have product in their hair than say the pastors, etc. I’m inclined to chalk it up to the influence of some form of entertainment (television, maybe, or theater) on church services, and churches generally getting richer and more middle-class. But that’s not what this is about; it’s about Driscoll belittling people he shares the stage with and/or his employees.
(Thanks Brian Daugherty [link]).
A couple of years ago a friend of ours popped a CD of praise music into the CD player at her moms group meeting, and one of the other moms responded with something like
Oh let’s not listen to that; we wouldn’t want anyone to think we support the war in Iraq.
At the time the connection struck me as odd; I mean, I don’t especially like contemporary praise and worship music, and I don’t and never have supported the Iraq War, but I didn’t see the two as related. I mean, “Here I Am To Worship” dates from December 2001 [link] and the Iraq War didn’t begin until March 2003 [link]. Etc.
The link came to mind repeatedly as I read Bill Bishop’s 2008 book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart [link]. Credit where due: I first heard about this book on Brian Daugherty’s blog [link]; see also [link]. Bishop’s main thesis is that there are basically two kinds of voters in the United States, and they tend to live in homogeneous communities consisting of exactly one kind of people: those who vote the way they do.
That’s a vast oversimplification, but then Bishop is engaging in a vast oversimplification. For some reason the 2000 Presidential election separates the past, loosely defined, from the current era, loosely defined, in the minds of many people, and Bishop is one of those people. He talks confidently about Red States (states whose Electoral College votes were casts for George W. Bush in 2000) and Blue States (similarly Al Gore) and suggests that the people who cast their votes for Bush or Gore live in increasingly separate worlds; not just Red or Blue counties, but Red or Blue precincts, neighborhoods, social circles, and churches.
It is of course the last part (Red Churches, Blue Churches) that interests me, and I think it’s worth a post of its own. But that’s not this one.
Reading Bishop’s book I wondered why he chose the method he chose; why 2000? Why Presidential voting results? Because after all not many people actually take their primary identity from this distinction. I honestly couldn’t tell you whether the pastor at the church I attend tends to vote for Democrats or Republicans. When we had two the prevailing rumor was that one voted one way, the other the other. I never found out which was which.
I am tempted to conclude that this is because
- The data is available, more or less. The 2000 campaign was national and was much more data-driven than the 1996 campaign.
- Elected offices are very important prizes to modern people. They’re not just positions of power, influence, and indirect wealth; they represent our faith in the modern nation-state if not modernity itself.
- In many areas in 2000 the Republicans did a very good job of exploiting existing affinity groups. This was apparently part of the genius of Karl Rove.
So when we learn for example that Republicans were able to sniff out religious conservative voters by asking questions about land use and property rights (page 231) maybe it’s reasonable to conclude that the story above about praise music and war support isn’t so strange; it’s just a matter of an amateur doing the same thing for free a professional does for money. Or votes.
A few weeks ago over at Phoenix Preacher in one of his Linkathon postings Brian Daugherty asked why we don’t see more “Why I Am Not A Calvinist” or “Why I Am Not Reformed” postings on various blogs. It’s a fair question, and one that has been much on my mind.
It isn’t a subject I want to wade into very deeply now, but I think if I had to I might start with something like “because I would go out of my mind hearing a sermon out of Romans every Sunday.” But that’s hardly an adequate answer, and it’s not what I want to talk about today.
If instead I had to put together a list of reasons why I’m not a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I might start with a couple of recent sermon reviews from Issues Etc.:
- A review of what appears to be a sermon from Saddleback Church on “The Daniel Plan” diet program [mp3], featuring Chris Rosebrough
- A review of a sermon by Brent Kuhlman on 1 Corinthians 2:1-12 [mp3, link]
I’ll give you a clue up front: Wilken and Rosebrough hate the first sermon, while Wilken doesn’t just love the second sermon, but recommends it as a pattern for every sermon.
The first sermon (if you can call it that) is a discussion by Rosebrough and Wilken of Rick Warren’s endorsement of a diet plan based on the story of Daniel and his fellow captives and their choice not to eat the king’s food, but to eat only vegetables and drink only water (Daniel 1). Let me be clear: I think it would be a great idea for many of my fellow Christians (including myself) to get a grip on their calorie intake, be mindful eaters, etc. I think it’s a great spiritual discipline, and a defense against the sin of gluttony. That being said, I can’t agree with Warren’s approach here. I don’t think this is appropriate use of the pulpit, and I’m embarrassed for Warren and Saddleback.
But I can’t take the tack Rosebrough and Wilken take here; I don’t hear Warren suggesting that losing weight gets a person into Heaven, and that’s what they say he’s saying by responding to this with the neat soundbite “there are lots of skinny people in Hell.” They’re right to call Warren out for connecting God’s blessings with our “blessability,” or whatever, but their analysis is all wrong. I think they’ve misunderstood what he’s saying, so their response is unhelpful. Fleeing various sins is part of the process of sanctification, not a part of salvation, and I’m surprised to hear them responding to this as if Warren were saying it is.
I hesitate to mention that when Wilken has a Roman Catholic guest on Issues Etc. he doesn’t cover this same ground, where it would seem to be more appropriate. But I digress.
By way of contrast, Wilken highly recommends Kuhlman’s sermon. The core of the text is Paul’s quote that when he was in Corinth he was “determined to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.” Wilken interprets this to mean that every sermon should be about Jesus’s death on the Cross as the sufficient sacrifice for our sins. This is apparently orthodox Lutheran teaching, at least in the LCMS. I tend to understand this text as being a description of Paul’s description of his intent when he was visiting the young, vulnerable, worldly, etc. Corinthian church and not as a basis for a universal directive applicable to all believers at all times in all places. It’s indicative, not imperative. Also, I think this reading is contrary to the spirit and intent of Paul’s letter; I consider his letter to be a sermon, since it was meant to be read openly before the church, and Paul deals with many issues in addition to soteriology.
Beyond that, Kuhlman’s sermon makes me cringe. He trots out straw men, and lousy ones at that. He belabors familiar and accepted points in a funny voice. And Wilken’s analysis of Kuhlman’s sermon compounds the problem by drawing a false dichotomy between Kuhlman and straw men of his own. I have to suggest that when Wilken suggests that the only choices for preaching style are either what he and Kuhlman have to offer and ear-tickling consumer-driven pablum he’s at best oversimplifying and at worst condemning other Christians on the basis of the teaching of men.
I have to admit that if I had to sit through a sermon like this every Sunday I would go out of my mind. The only rationale I can imagine for doing this week after week would be the mistaken (and I dare say mystical) belief that simply hearing Scripture read is a means of grace, and the text itself doesn’t matter, etc. Wilken suggests that he has been accused (conveniently by unnamed accusers) of creating fat, lazy, spoiled Christians by preaching the same sermon every Sunday. Let me be one of them: I believe preaching the same thing every Sunday dulls the soul and stunts spiritual growth. I can’t imagine why anyone else can’t see this too.
BrianD picked up an interesting interview with Matt Chandler at Out of Ur [link] as part of his weekly Linkathon [link, link]; as an aside I recommend Brian’s link collections; I don’t know how he keeps up with as many sources as he does to produce such consistently good collections of links.
Anyway, this interview is mostly about what Chandler has learned during his bout with brain cancer. He’s the 36-year-old pastor of the three-campus Village Church, a 3500-person megachurch in Texas. He was diagnosed with brain cancer in late 2009 and has been undergoing radiation treatment. Of course we wish him a complete and speedy recovery.
The part of his interview I found interesting were these:
It’s made me think a lot more about my mortality. For example, if I die and The Village Church falls apart, do I care? I’ll be honest, I don’t. It seems to me that when you look at history, God raises up certain men for certain seasons in certain places. He pours out his Spirit on them, and when they’re done its very rare for God to continue the work that was done uniquely through him. If I die and The Village ends, I’m alright with that. If believers here find a place where the gospel is preached, and people are being saved, and the mission is being lived out, then I will not have failed.If I’m going to die in two years, I started asking God what I should do. I put a lot of pressure on myself because in our culture there is the expectation that a ministry has to flourish even after you’re gone. That’s unfair, unhistoric, and maybe even unbiblical. Realizing that took a lot of pressure off of me. I had peace to just faithfully do what I’ve been doing here since day one. Then just let go and see what the Lord does with it.
They’re focused on “their legacy.” That’s why we see churches with senior pastors in their 70s and no succession plan. They can’t let go.
Let me say first that I don’t know anything about living with cancer and I’ve never been a megapreacher, so I have no idea what the world looks like from Chandler’s perspective. I really do think that when dealing with a person who has suffered one needs to give that person a great deal of leeway. I might feel qualified responding to someone whose suffering resembles something I’ve lived through personally, but that’s about it.
However I have to admit that I’m troubled by what Chandler says here. It seems to me that he’s overestimated how necessary he is. I’ve bolded two pieces above, where it appears to me that he believes that The Village Church will come to an end if he dies. He mentions succession plans in the interview, but he doesn’t mention having one himself. I’ve heard the language he uses here, e.g. “God raises up certain men for certain seasons in certain places” before, and it has always turned out to be damaging. Where I’ve heard this language in the past the pastor has seen himself as being the primary thing that God was doing, rather than the church (or parachurch ministry, or whatever) being the primary thing God was doing.
I am inclined to suspect that if I were in Chandler’s shoes (subject to the disclaimer above, etc.) I might be tempted to believe something like this: God doesn’t need Matt Chandler. I am a little puzzled not to find a takeaway to that effect in this interview.
Here’s a quick grab bag of topics, each of which probably merits a post in and of itself, but will probably present itself again in due time.
A couple of weeks ago Brian D. linked [link] to half of David Sessions’s list of “The Ten Worst Christian Media Hacks” [1-5, 6-10], for which I am grateful. These two articles are well-written and for the most part his ten hacks are well-chosen. Here’s the description from the article:
The following are the top 10 Christian commentators you’re most likely to waste your time reading. Chances are high, perusing any random piece of their work, that you’ll find worn-out political banalities, repetitive tropes, or a general absence of anything that might enrich a reader’s mind. In a couple of cases, they’re egoists and opportunists. You’ll immediately notice that many of them are conservatives…
If I were picking a list of top ten baddies in Christian media I’d probably pick a different organizing principle for my list; I’d be more interested in people who seem totally devoted to selling out conservative Christians for political purposes, to confusing political conservatism with Christian orthodoxy, etc. At the risk of trading empty Enlightenment values for ambiguous theological concepts, I’m more concerned about people selling out the gospel than in their failing to enrich readers’ minds. Nevertheless, Sessions makes a good case for his rogues’ gallery:
- Dinesh D’Souza
- Joseph Farah
- Frank Schaeffer
- L. Brent Bozell III
- David Limbaugh
- Albert Mohler
- Michael Novak
- Chuck Colson
- Jim Wallis
- Michael Gerson
I’m not familiar with a couple of these names, but I can’t disagree with the ones I know. I’d probably substitute Richard Land for Albert Mohler (seriously: who is more guilty of selling out the Southern Baptist Convention to the Republican Party and getting nothing in return than Richard Land?) and I’d rank Colson ahead of D’Souza. Perhaps I’ve grown tone-deaf in my dotage, but it sounds to me like everything Colson does has the intent or the effect of either lumping Evangelicals into a Catholic voting bloc, pressing Enlightenment values onto Evangelical thinking, or both.
I just finished reading D’Souza’s 1984 or so book on Jerry Falwell; as best I can tell he was attempting to work in the opposite direction and the result is a readable mess. More about that later.
Anyway, I recommend the two Sessions articles; it’s never too late to become a careful consumer of media product, and one may as well start with what one already sort of understands.
Robert Jeffress is in the news again, this time with his “Grinch Alert:” a list of retailers who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” more or less. I’m not sure I could do better than the analysis offered by David Head [link], with a couple of disclaimers. I agree with Head that shows of political or economic force are not the best expressions of Christianity in action; I’d probably encourage fellow Christians to just downsize their Christmas spending instead. To my ears the whole “War on Christmas” refrain has more to do with flexing middle-class buying muscle for the sake of an imagined social or political past than with Christianity per se. Christmas itself is such a vulgar thing I’m ashamed to have it associated with Christianity, so I’m inclined to say good-bye and good riddance to the whole thing, so I don’t understand why it’s something worth fighting a war over.
Perhaps I’m wrong; all I’d need to change my mind would be a reference in the New Testament showing that the early Church celebrated Christmas.
Finally, Chris Hedges has written another book (Death of the Liberal Class [link]) and put in an appearance on Alternative Radio [link] over the weekend (Yes, I’m an occasional NPR listener; about which more later). Sadly, while AR congratulates itself on its spotless Socialist values it doesn’t make its content available for free, so you’re going to have to take my word for what Hedges said unless and until you’re willing to drop $5 for the mp3.
Hedges is an acknowledged theological liberal (he counts among his avowed influences Paul Tillich and William Sloane Coffin) with a Masters of Divinity from Harvard University and writes from a perspective that seems stubbornly pre-Eighties: he really thinks e.g. the Berrigan brothers and the World Council of Churches should have continued to set the tone for Christian engagement on political issues. As a result he tends to mix helpful observations of what’s wrong with the Christian right with unhelpful critique of same tending to scorn and spite.
This time around Hedges points out that there’s no common ground between Christianity and corporatism [def], and there’s a great deal that conservative Christianity has failed to do by taking on the corporation as its model of incarnation, along with its values, etc. Unfortunately Hedges considers Marx to still be the last word on capitalism, so the result makes for occasionally painful and tedious listening.
I have to admit that while I can’t agree with Hedges moment to moment and point to point, I have to agree that something has gone seriously wrong inside the conservative corporate Church. I’m troubled that I have to listen to someone from so far Left to hear this disquiet examined and expressed.
Finally, it’s worth noting that both Hedges and Sessions are affiliated with The Daily Beast. I have no idea what it means that they both work for former New Yorker editor Tina Brown.
Brian of BrianD blog was kind enough to link here after I commented over there the other day and I’m returning the favor.
Brian and I go back a couple of years from our shared time at Phoenix Preacher, a blog run by former Calvary Chapel pastor Michael Newnham, and a home for wayward (and occasionally not-so-wayward) current and former evangelicals. I like Brian a lot and have had some good exchanges with him online; if I remember correctly he’s a former evangelical, and he’s increasingly Reformed. Me not so much.