Archive for December, 2010

Shepherd of the Lake (ELCA) loses pastor

December 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Shepherd of the Lake Church (ELCA) is losing its lead pastor, Peter Strommen, due to health issues, at least partly stress-related, according to a recent article by Lori Carlson in the Prior Lake American, Prior Lake, MN [link].

The church grew rapidly over the period 2003-2006 and moved into a big (60-acre) facility, but the former pastor, Stephen Haschig, resigned in 2006:

The church took many hits, including the 2006 resignation of longtime pastor Stephen Haschig, who disclosed what he called “an improper relationship” with a woman while serving at the church, and the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, which kicked into high gear shortly after the church moved to its new campus. In 2009, the church made major staff cutbacks to keep itself afloat.

This article is chock-full of detail, including the fact that while younger members have continued to attend the church, older members left after Haschig’s resignation:

“The whole point is that our building was built and designed for a very large congregation, one that continued to grow at significant rates after the move in 2004,” Strommen said. “This has largely been true regarding young people, but not so much in terms of adults, because many stepped back after the 2006 resignation.”

Unfortunately this article tries to put the church’s financial problems into the context of the broader recession, when it seems more likely that local problems (see above) are more to blame. The recession is tough all over, but church bankruptcies continue to be the exception, not the rule, and all the cases I’ve seen can be blamed on leadership problems (malfeasance or poor transition plans) rather than on the recession.

Finally, I have to note that while the article refers to Shepherd on the Lake as a megachurch, it doesn’t appear in the Hartford Institute database [link], nor does the article give attendance figures to justify calling it a megachurch.


taking a (Christmas) break

December 25, 2010 Leave a comment

I will be taking a little break from this blog starting tomorrow through the first of the year or thereabouts due to travel and poor Internet access. I’ve got another church visit lined up that I hope will turn out to be interesting, among other things. Watch this space.


Categories: Self-referential

I hate Christmas

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I hate Christmas. You can quote me on that. Here are 10 reasons in no particular order that I hate Christmas:

  1. The music. There are a handful of (like, literally, five) Christmas tunes that are instantly recognizable and utterly transcendent. I’m thinking maybe Silent Night, O Holy Night, possibly Greensleeves, parts of Handel’s Messiah, and not much else. Beyond that most Christmas music is awful. And not just secular Christmas music of the Jingle Bells/Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer variety.
  2. The Christmas Cantata. Yes, we as Protestants know that Baby Jesus grew up to be Our Lord and Savior, and He died on a cross, and rose from the dead on the third day. Do we really need to muddle the Incarnation with the Crucifixion every single year? Isn’t the Incarnation miracle enough for one season?
  3. Advent. In more high-church traditions we spend a whole month of the liturgical year covering roughly the same handful of Scripture verses; this is one of the problems with the liturgical year: we tend to give most of Scripture short shrift and camp out on some aspect of either Matthew’s telling or Luke’s telling every year. This year my home church is spending an entire month on Auden’s poem For the Time Being [link]. I wish I knew why.
  4. The War on Christmas. My best guess is that this is a fund-raising exercise on the part of certain parties in the outrage industry. Yes, it grates for someone to wish me a “happy holiday;” who celebrates a generic holiday? Are these the same people who drink “a beer” [link], listen to “an album” [link], or make “repetitive generic music” [link]? Of course not; nobody would admit to doing these things. But everything about the War on Christmas strikes me as cynical and manipulative. Seriously: what’s a war without a body count on both sides? And who kills for Christmas?
  5. Christmas movies. Seriously; name three good Christmas movies. And I don’t mean movies about “the Christmas season” (e.g. Love Actually or It’s A Wonderful Life) or “the Christmas Spirit” (any telling of Dickens’s Christmas Carol), but movies that are actually about Jesus.
  6. Christmas specials. The fact that Charles Schulz lost his faith [link] kind of undermines the Charlie Brown Christmas Special for me; once we get away from Linus Van Pelt’s rendering of Luke 2 is there anything left worth seeing in a Christmas special?
  7. Operation Christmas Child; do we really want Billy Graham’s son exporting American consumerism in the name of Christmas? Are there any worse examples of mixing the consumerist aspects of American Christmas with the religious aspects of Christmas than Operation Christmas Child? Have I mentioned that this is a charity with a budget of more than $300 million?
  8. Christmas charity generally; there is no worse indictment of the soullessness of contemporary American Christianity than the Christmas appeal. For a Christian there really should be no “season of giving” any more than there should be a “season of love” or “season of forgiveness.” That there is is embarrassing.
  9. Commercialism. This is the easy one: seriously, don’t you cringe every time you see a commercial featuring some big-ticket item wrapped with a giant red bow? How about the current commercial showing the transitional couple crumbling inside because hubby bought his wife the wrong car for Christmas? Who, apart from the occasional divorce lawyer or ad man, loves this commercial?
  10. Well, Christmas generally. I’d love to see any evidence that the Early Church celebrated Christmas (especially as an alternative to Saturnalia) alongside Easter.

I wish you and yours the best and hope your Christmas is tasteful, authentic, and on-key. Oh, and may you not be subjected to the Ron Howard/Jim Carrey version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Seriously.

And if you do anything that helps you make Christmas meaningful I’d love to hear about it. I’m all out of ideas here.

“Among the Evangelicals”

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment

This post is a pale follow-up to the prior article about the article of the same name at The Chronicle Review [link].

The comments are, as they are almost anywhere, a mixed bag, but a couple of them caught my eye: one because it suggests an appropriation of the redemptive theory of history; the other because it suggests that the Reformed Resurgence (or whatever you want to call it) has been overlooked by the mainstream press. Here’s part of the first (#16), talking about Francis Schaeffer:

But, it’s foundational to the Evangelical worldview, which itself rests on a quasi-mythological structure that everything must begin with an initial paradise, followed by a fall, then an increasing degradation, then a final redemption. This is how Schaeffer sees the world, though he thinks the world begins with the Renaissance, presumably because that’s the period where his favorite paintings come from. This is also how Evangelicals see the world (note their fundamentalist understanding of America and its constitution: the US begins as a paradise (the “Founders”), there’s a fall (FDR?), followed by degredation (the 60s), then comes the redemption (the Christian Right).

I think as fundamentalists we would have to plead guilty to seeing history on the pattern of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: one age gradually giving way to the next, each grand in its own way but lesser somehow, until some sort of cataclysm of external origin destroys history itself. I’m not sure this view of history is necessarily redemptive; Dispensationalism is linear, not cyclical. The rest I’m not so sure about; I think Schaeffer had a better argument for the relevance of the Renaissance than just his preference for one kind of art over another. And finally, I don’t know many evangelicals see the Christian Right as any redemption of or restoration of the actual Founding Fathers; they just consider the Constitution a contract, and the definition of who we are as Americans. Because as much as it pains me to say it, I think we tend to like the Founders as symbols but we tend to ignore them as people, etc.

The second comment (#25) starts off well and gets strange right away:

I read Michelle Goldberg’s _Kingdom Coming_ and she missed the entire Calvinist/Reformed/neo-Calvinist movement that is threatening to tear the Southern Baptist Convention apart.

I would have to agree that there is some sort of ongoing Reformed Resurgence somewhere. If it is “threatening to tear the SBC apart” I haven’t heard anything about it. The stories I’ve seen (see e.g. [link]) suggest that the SBC is suffering more strain from tension between its megachurches and the rest of the SBC than anything else.

Much of this neo-Calvinist movement is disseminated by home schooling networks and materials, now including lots of blogs. Several prominent Southern Baptist seminaries are headed by adherents of this neo-Calvinist movement and the Baptists are just trying to keep it from taking Baylor and Liberty (as far as I know.) Falwell, supposedly, before he died, said “Liberty will never go Calvinist.” Or something like that. Patrick Henry College, too, had some kind of blowup over St. Augustine who is one of the darlings of the neo-Calvinists. Liberty just got rid of the main guy standing against Liberty going to this movement, Ergun Caner. Forgive me if I get some of this wrong–I would LOVE to read ALL about it accurately, but even the Michelle Goldbergs and Jeff Sharlets miss this whole movement. I am convinced this is why Kenneth Starr, a non-Baptist at the time, was made head of Baylor. The Baptists didn’t want Baylor to go the way of Southwestern and Southern Baptist Theological Seminaries (I THINK.)

At the heart of this movement is, as someone else pointed out, a strong desire to undo the 1960’s, especially feminism. Many in this movement teach that women shouldn’t go to college. I thought that would get y’all’s attention. Mark Driscoll, a “four-point Calvinist” who heads a very popular megachurch in Seattle, preaches that women shouldn’t “waste money” going to college. Patriarchs in the neo-patriarchal movement (just a step to the right of the “Complementarian” movement in Baptist and Neo-Calvinist circles) say that no unmarried daughter should live out from under her father’s roof, even to go to college. Google “Visionary Daughters” to see about this movement.

I hate to admit it, but I initially read “neo-Calvinist” as some sort of neologism that’s meant to be scary; it has three of the markers of a scare word:

  • It has a prefix (“neo”) suggesting that the concept is related to something the reader might understand and dislike, but is different and worse somehow
  • The dread hyphen
  • It ends in -ism, -ist, or -ology; this is often a sign that the speaker is going to wrap up a bundle of concepts into a term, show that the described has some of them, and then criticize the described for having the others; see e.g. modern uses of “Gnosticism” to describe people who aren’t Gnostics; also “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

But as the kids say nowadays “Neo-Calvinism is a thing” [link]. It’s a term used to describe people who read and and influenced by Abraham Kuyper [link]. This would of course include Schaeffer and by implication the Evangelicals, so I’m not sure this is what the author means. I think he means something else here, some other kind of new Calvinists: evangelicals who for whatever reason move from an Arminian or third (neither Calvinist nor Arminian) perspective to a Calvinist perspective, with the usual pitfalls.

I really had no idea that Calvinism was prevalent among Christian home-schoolers; if this is true it doesn’t include any of the home-schooling families I know.

The passing mention of Mark Driscoll is not surprising, but the author’s take on Complementarianism strikes me as odd: I’m more accustomed to hearing Driscoll’s views on gender roles described as liberal (e.g. not conservative Pauline) rather than authoritarian. But maybe that’s more a byproduct of the company I keep.

But the author’s suggestion that Ergun Caner was “the main guy standing against [neo-Calvinism]” at Liberty is an interesting take on Caner’s demotion: Caner was demoted, he did tangle with at least one Calvinist, but he was demoted because of his repeated mischaracterizations of his personal story while representing Liberty during speaking engagements, not for failing to be sufficiently Calvinist.

I could be wrong; Caner’s demotion could have been the final act of some Calvinist coup. I guess we’ll have to wait to see whether Liberty starts e.g. observing Reformation Day in say 2011 or 2012. Hint: I wouldn’t hold my breath.

“Among the Evangelicals”

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago an article by Timothy Beal titled “Among the Evangelicals: Inside a fractured movement” appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s publication The Chronicle Review [link]. It’s a neatly-written survey article, laying out the main strands of evangelicalism within American Christianity, discusses some of the history of the study of evangelicalism by academic writers, and provides a pretty good reading list. I recommend it with a couple of clarifications (and maybe corrections), and I’d like to point out something from the comments section that made my head spin.

Beal breaks down evangelicalism into “revivalist, fundamentalist, and charismatic movements that feed into contemporary evangelical Christianity” and that’s as good a set of distinctions as any, since it gets the revivalist and fundamentalist movements before what we know as evangelicalism and positions the charismatics as different but still part of the movement. Because I come out of a background with elements mostly of the first two and almost none of the latter I tend to think of charismatics by turns as “not one of us; probably not Christians” and “second-rate interlopers,” neither of which is likely fair or accurate.

Beal points out that evangelicals are typically ahistorical, having no sense of their own history and little of anyone else’s; this is a fair criticism but as it’s a byproduct of our tendency to think of ourselves as being just two generations removed from Pentecost (okay three if you count the English Reformation) and at most one generation from the Rapture it’s probably not going anywhere. It does as much to explain why we think e.g. the Founding Fathers would have been at home in Eisenhower America as anything else. Anyway, if I understand him correctly it’s the fact that evangelicals have gotten rich, together, and politically involved that we’ve come to the attention of second-generation academic researchers (e.g. not Balmer, Carpenter, or Noll).

I think Beal makes a mistake by lumping Jeff Sharlet’s book in with Kevin Roose’s; those people Sharlet studied for the most part aren’t theologically Christian and their behavior is almost entirely political. I’d offer his portrayal of Senator Sam Brownback as being typical. On the other hand Beal gets kudos for mentioning Ned Flanders.

The article devotes a substantial section to books published in 2009, including a study by Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke of various megachurch leaders as savvy innovators in a religious marketplace, a book by Johnathan L. Walton on “the ethics and aesthetics of black televangelism,” and one by anthropologist James Bielo which is a field study of interpretive practices in small-group Bible studies. Of these three the first two make me wince just to think of them and the latter sounds fascinating. Here are the numbers:

Bielo observed 324 Bible-study meetings of 19 groups of evangelicals over more than a year and a half. Within those meetings, he often noticed tensions among different readings of particular biblical passages, as well as different understandings of the Bible itself, that potentially threatened group identity and coherence.

There’s a lot there: imagine attending 300+ Bible studies with nearly 20 different groups. Imagine the worst of the browbeating behavior you’ve ever seen in a Bible study multiplied over numbers like that. “We don’t interpret the Bible; the Bible interprets us” indeed.

There are also paragraphs devoted to home-schooling and pro-life activism (but surprisingly no mention of the Quiverfull movement); unfortunately it seems like any discussion of evangelicalism nowadays starts and ends with politics, as if evangelicalism had no internal narrative of its own, but only makes sense in terms of its politics. Beal also doesn’t really mention evangelical alternative (not to say derivative) culture; maybe there haven’t been enough serious treatments of it to merit mention. I don’t know.

I will have to come back to the comments on this article in a later post; hint: they mention Mark Driscoll and Ergun Caner.

Nazario Moreno, John Eldredge, and “muscular Christianity”

December 21, 2010 2 comments

I do not pay a lot of attention to the Mexican Drug War, in spite of the fact that it qualifies according to most people who pay attention to this sort of thing as a real war [link], is in danger of causing Mexico to qualify as a failed state, and is just a five-hour van ride from my house [link]. Michael Newham, owner and sole proprietor of the Phoenix Preacher blog [link] pays a lot more attention to these things than I do, and keeps up with much of the news coming from the conflict.Michael and I tend to disagree on how the Mexican Drug War should be viewed; he sees it as primarily a spiritual conflict with public policy implications; I tend to see it as a public policy problem with spiritual implications.

Over the weekend an article from The Economist [link] surfaced in my news feed that mentioned the death of Nazario Moreno, until recently the head of La Familia/La Familia Michoacán [link], a drug gang noted partly for their brutality and partly for their embracing of the works of American evangelical writer John Eldredge [link]. Eldredge for his part does not return their admiration, as articles on the connection take varying degrees of care to state [link, link, link]. In its simplest form, the relationship between La Familia and Eldredge goes like this: Moreno was both a professed Christian and a drug lord, read at least one of Eldredge’s books on what is sometimes called “muscular Christianity,” appropriated at least some of Eldredge’s concept of the Christian man as a (dominating) man of action, and applied it to his chosen field of work as drug lord with brutal consequences.

For the record I don’t think this one little point necessarily means my analysis of the Mexican Drug War is better or worse than Newhham’s: I think he suggests that some sort of Christian revival would end the drug war; I’d be inclined to claim that it wouldn’t if the various believers involved in the revival didn’t leave and resist the drug trade. I mean, I don’t really believe anyone can be both a Christian and a drug lord, but I’m not sure I’d make that claim foundational to my soteriology.

Also, for the record, the modern “muscular Christianity” shares a name and some characteristics with a Victorian movement [link], but the two aren’t closely related: one was primarily a mainline Protestant phenomenon, the other is primarily evangelical/nondenominational. There’s probably no good reason to bring up Tom Brown at Oxford when discussing e.g. Mark Driscoll. Teddy Roosevelt yes, Mark Driscoll no.

Various authors have taken Eldredge to task for recasting God in his own image and for presenting a loosely-defined “biblical manhood” that doesn’t really start or end with the Gospel. From having read a couple of his books (Wild at Heart and The Journey of Desire) I think I’d have to suggest that Eldredge also tends to adopt biblical stories that are historical as illustrative without good reason. Of the three points mine’s probably the palest.

Anyway, the strange case of Nazario Moreno gives me pause; it seems crazy on its face to read books on biblical masculinity and apply the lessons learned to running a drug gang, but honestly I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a weird isotope of Jesus CEO [link].

“Watchmen for Christ” a national group?

December 20, 2010 3 comments

If I understand correctly the folks at Old Paths Baptist Church Roswell were portrayed as part of a national street preaching group called Watchmen for Christ in Sunday night’s story on KRQE; if such a group exists they don’t have much of a presence online.

The only online presence I’ve found is this blog [link] run by someone calling himself James Preacher. The blog title is “Watchman for Christ” and while its sidebars deal primarily with street preaching it hasn’t been updated since August. Perhaps the author has been too busy with his street preaching to maintain much of an online presence.

The Old Paths website [link] doesn’t mention any affiliation with any street preaching groups (see e.g. the Ministries tab) so whatever affiliation the gentlemen from OPBC have with a national street preaching group it must be coincidental with and not part of their affiliation with the church.

I guess the uncharitable alternate suggestion would be that the folks from OPBC aren’t actually part of a national group and the folks at KRQE didn’t do much fact checking.

As always I’m open to the possibility that I’ve overlooked something here, etc.